Friday, March 8, 2013

Young Adult Fiction: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

For today's post, I went in completely blind. I usually either read something I have had on my shelf for forever, or that made some sort of list on Goodreads, or was mentioned on Facebook by BookPeople, or I picked it up because the author has a new book coming out. But I was actually in the independent, Austin-based bookstore, walking by the young adult section, when I saw Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments on a shelf display. As you can see, the cover itself is pretty attention grabbing, so I decided to read the inside flap. Turns out the synopsis is pretty attention grabbing too. So here I am, writing a post about a formerly unknown to me young adult book and author. Usually I got into bookstores looking for something specific, but this book definitely found me.

The Situation: Colby and his best friend Bev have just graduated high school and are about to go on tour with Bev's girl band, The Disenchantments. With Bev at front on guitar, Meg on bass, and Meg's sister Alexa on drums, these girls have amazing stage presence, despite being absolutely terrible. Once the week long tour of the Pacific Northwest is over, Meg will be moved into her college dorm room in Portland, Alexa will return to San Francisco to finish the summer before her senior year in high school, and Colby and Bev will take off for their year-long tour of Europe. They have been planning this trip for what feels like forever, and Colby could not be more excited.

The Problem: The tour has just begun, and already it proves to be a difficult and tense one when Bev reveals that she applied to college, in Rhode Island, and will be starting in the fall...and oh yeah, this means the trip to Europe is off. To make matters worse, Colby didn't make any back-up plans or apply to any colleges. But to make matters even worse, Colby is madly and deeply in love with Bev, and has been for nine years. He's been hoping this trip would finally get him out of the friend zone, and he has been holding onto this hope despite nine years of watching Bev flirt and make-out with both guys and girls that aren't him. Just a few days ago Colby was so sure of everything, now nothing is for certain, not even the person who knows everything about him, since it is becoming clear to him that he actually knows very little about her.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in modern day San Francisco, traveling all the way up to Portland and a little bit beyond. So the shifting settings due to the road trip play a big part in the book. Every day the band ends up somewhere different and meeting new kinds of people. Also, because these are four art school kids, art and drawing and sculpting and painting and writing come up a lot. Even graffiti art makes a pretty significant appearance in the book. Also, these are kids that are just on the edge of adulthood, so there is a little bit of this whole figuring out who I am thing. The thing is, as many seasoned adults are now aware, that process can take years and isn't going to be figured out during a one week road trip in someone's uncle's VW bus. Sure it's fun, and sure it is a great way to spend those last few days with some of your closest friends, but it probably won't solve any major long-standing issues. That being said, it makes for a hell of a ride.

My Verdict: As I mentioned, I went in knowing very little about this book so I really didn't have any expectations. But the risk was well worth it. First off, having a road trip from San Francisco to Portland as the background and setting made for some wonderfully imaginative surroundings and scenery. Much like the cover, the entire story is incredibly colorful. And if it isn't the scenery passing by as the kids drive up the highway, it is the kids themselves, mainly Meg and Alexa. Meg is described as having bright pink hair and wears a different color retro dress every day (I basically imagined the sort of dresses that can be found here). Alexa sticks with her naturally dark hair color, but always wears feather earrings or some sort of headband that may have hit its height of popularity in the 1960s. But even beyond the excellent descriptions, there is more to this story than a guy being crushed by the girl he has been in love with and now not knowing what to do with his life. By the end, there is quite a bit going on, and LaCour ties it up nicely. There are the other people they meet on the way, the side story about an old tattoo that comes up as a result of one of these encounters, and then, because this is a band tour, the discussions of music and bands, both popular and obscure. Really, the only bone that I have to pick with this book is that Colby seems like almost too big of a chump. Yeah, "chump" was the actual word I kept thinking of. He's just a little too naive for me. I mean, I feel like he has wasted nine years of his life on Bev. And also, Bev has wasted nine years on him too if their entire friendship is based on him wanting to be more than friends. It also doesn't help that Bev is pretty annoying for most of the book, and does that thing girls do where she doesn't talk about what's going on but continues to act mysteriously and therefore attract more attention to herself. Which is why I again get mad at Colby for wasting so much time on her. But even so, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Favorite Moment: When Colby gets to meet one of the graffiti artists he studied, and this leads to an amazing opportunity of his own.

Favorite Character: For whatever reason, I was more interested in Alexa than anyone else. Probably because she reminded me of myself. She was all about staying on schedule, knowing where they were going, when they would be there, the whole thing. But at the same time, she was still a kid, the youngest member of the band, and had also just discovered the band Heart and was immediately, and comically, way into them. I just found myself wanting to know more about her.

Recommended Reading: I had a hard time coming up with a book to recommend for this one, but I think I'll settle on John Green's Paper Towns, only because it also a young adult novel that includes a road trip after graduation, but that isn't what the entire book is centered around. Still, I think young adult readers will enjoy Green's writing and perspective.

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