Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Up close to real-life in Jamaican young adult fiction

Continuing my comments on books for older children and young adult readers, these are not reviews, but simply telling you what I liked about the books or why I think they are important.

How close do we want to be to real-life in Jamaican fiction for young adults? I'm not sure that we know, or if we know, are we just a little bit afraid of being too up-close and personal? This has been a concern for some of us writers.

So it's interesting to see two writers who have bravely taken this on. These books might be said to be 'making meaning' for some of our teenagers.

Bad Girls in School by Gwyneth Harold is a part of the Caribbean Writers Series, Heinemann, 2007. This story gives a very realistic picture of the lives of some troubled girls in today's Jamaica. It shows clearly the problems they have to face in their personal lives, challenges resulting from changing social structures, and consequently, how easy it is for them to let go of the opportunities at school which will give them the security they need, or put another way, how difficult it is for them to grasp the opportunities. We too often say, 'Why don't they (a nebulous they) avail themselves of the things which will change their lives for the better? This book leads us towards a greater understanding of situations which no doubt exist in other Caribbean countries.

Inner City Girl, by Colleen Smith-Dennis, LMH Publishing Ltd. 2009. In a way this book gives the answer to the question posed above. 'Why don't they...? In fact, you are astonished that the protagonist, Martina, survives any at all. I scrunged up even more in my bed, with anxiety, fretting ... It is gripping; you fear for the protagonist; and cheer her on. You know there are some books that you want to go on and on (usually for me, in adult fiction, sweeping family sagas). However, I got to the point with this book where I hastened to get to the end so that I could see Martina survive and overcome the trials of her young life, trials not uncommon to a number of our children today.

These books, each in different ways, share with us a reality which, as children's writers, we may not know how to handle, digging beneath the perception of the 'safe ordinary life' of school children. These books put a face to the 'they'.

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