This weekend, I read a YA novel (Young Adult novel) called Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe. I picked it up at the Writers' League Conference in Austin two weeks ago, and cracked it open for a light summer read as I curled up in bed. I teach a university course on coming-of-age themes, so YA literature is more than a "guilty pleasure."(Oh that I could teach a course on wine-tasting.)
Riptide was not a light summer romance, which is what I thought it might be from the cover. It's a story of two teens, best friends who have fallen in love but, for several reasons, can't bring themselves to submit to their feelings. Grace Parker surfs to forget about her troubled home life and her confusing feelings for her best friend, Ford. And Ford is entangled in a tricky employment situation with Grace's father, which prevents him from confessing his love to Grace. Both Grace and Ford narrate alternating chapters. Perfect setup for a book for teens.
I couldn't put the book down for long. Literally. When I needed to take my son somewhere, I put the book in my purse so I could read it at Jules' tennis lesson or the car wash or the grocery story checkout line. I am not kidding. I even pulled it from my purse at red lights so I could read a few sentences. That's kind of embarrassing to admit. This is not literary fiction. It's full of surf jargon, teen angst, and "whatev"s. It's about how teens are cruel to one another, competitive to a flaw, and how, despite our feminist advancements, both girls and boys still see each other in (and limited by) the gender-constructs of the past. But that is one reason why I couldn't get my paws off the book. I was a teenager again, feeling those angsty emotions, in spite of the safe-calm of my current life.
The other reason is this: Grace is in an abusive situation at home, and the tension is cable-tight. I knew things were going to be okay in the end, but I needed to see Grace's decision, the one that would free her. And the end of the book was satisfying. All the little plot lines didn't magically resolve, and some were left stranded. But they needed to be abandoned. That's the point of the book. Sometimes we abandon things to make the right decision in life.
Teenagers who speak their own dialect are not stupid. Teenagers who suffer indecision and inconsistency are psychologically normal. Intense angst over romance/love does feature prominently in the lives of many (of not most) teens. And, unfortunately, so do "issues." One in every four girls will be sexually abused by the time she's 18, according to the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center. Imagine how many others suffer from physical (beating) abuse and neglect. These are the unfortunate ones that I wrote about in a previous post. Books like Riptide tap into the heart of the unfortunate readers, those who have secrets, shame, and fear. Someone else suffers. Someone else has found a way to not only survive, but to find real love. And books like Riptide give those "fortunate" readers--those who have never suffered abuse--a gift that will enlarge their souls: compassion.