Something Old, Something New: The Inner Lives of Teen Boys featuring Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas and Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
Something Old: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas
In my early days as a YA librarian, one of the first books I saw “go viral” if you will, was Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. Early YA was often thought of primarily as “coming of age” or “problem novels”, and they focused on an intimate examination of the inner lives of teens as they wrestled with real world problems. When Rats Saw God came out, it spoke to teen readers in very real ways and this book was passed from teen to teen to teen. Teens would come in asking for it by name. And it was stolen numerous times, much like the works of Ellen Hopkins are, and each time I replaced it because it was so popular I couldn’t not have it on my shelves.
“For Steve York, life was good. He had a 4.0 GPA, friends he could trust, and a girl he loved. Now he spends his days smoked out, not so much living as simply existing.
But his herbal endeavors — and personal demons — have lead to a severe lack of motivation. Steve’s flunking out, but if he writes a one-hundred-page paper, he can graduate.
Steve realizes he must write what he knows. And through telling the story of how he got to where he is, he discovers exactly where he wants to be….”
Rob Thomas went on to become the creator of the Veronica Mars series, which if you know anything about that series you know that Thomas writes wise, witty and often searing characters – this is no exception. Originally published in 1996, I still hear readers of YA lit talking a lot about this title that features a teenage boy just trying to get through his senior of high school with a broken heart. Which makes it a perfect older YA pairing for the very new . . .
Something New: Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
Sean Norwhalt can read between the lines.
“You never know where we’ll end up. There’s so much possibility in life, you know?” Hallie said.
He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she’s off to college, and he’s still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and “possibilities” isn’t exactly comforting. Sean’s pretty sure he’s seen his future and its “possibilities” and they all look disposable.
Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left.
Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job.
Like everything good he’s ever known.
The only hopeful possibilities in Sean’s life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he’d go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.
“We’re something else. Some other thing. I don’t know what you’d call it. Maybe there’s a word, though. Maybe I’ll think of it tomorrow, when it won’t matter,” Neecie said.
Sean Norwhalt is like many of the teens I have worked with over the years: He comes from a broken home. His family is struggling financially. He is about to graduate and he doesn’t necessarily know what he wants to do, and his options are very limited because of their financial status, so he eventually decides to join the military. And like many teenage boys, Sean is often one horny dude who is accompanied by his constant companion affectionately nicknamed The Horn.
This is one of the few YA books I have read where we see a teen character going through the process of thinking about what comes next, deciding to enter the military, and then going through the enlistment process. Sean contacts a recruiter and we see him going through various parts of enlistment and trying to make the commitment to get into the physical shape that the military requires. He even starts – gasp – running. He keeps a great deal of this a secret as he isn’t sure how people, particularly his family, will react.
Sean works at a thrift store where he meets a variety of interesting characters, one of whom is his new friend Neecie. She eventually becomes one of the only people to know about his enlistment and often accompanies him on his runs as he tries to get into shape. Their relationship begins as a friendship and it becomes a more complicated thing. Like Sean, Neecie has her own life and relationship complications.
Perfectly Good White Boy is a quintessential coming of age story. This is the story of Sean trying to figure out who he is, what he wants, and how to navigate the various relationships in his life. Like life, it is messy and complex and sometimes depressing but sometimes gloriously rewarding. Sean can sometimes seem lost, but he is intelligent and has a razor sharp wit when it comes to making observations about life. It is very interesting to see the various teens navigate their relationships, especially when it comes to communicating about and navigating sex between the genders.
Publisher’s Weekly sums it up perfectly when it says, “Mesrobian deftly conveys just how much drama there is in the everyday, especially for a 17-year-old trying to figure out not just what’s next, but what’s happening right now.” (8/11/2014) Publlisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews both gave it a starred review. You’ll definitely want to put this in the hands of those who like Andrew Smith, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky or, obviously, Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas.
Publishes October 1st by Carolholda Lab. ISBN: 9781467734806
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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