Friday, May 11, 2007

Inside that young teen brain

Jenny Han, the author of Shug, seems to have settled comfortably right inside the brain of 12-year-old Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug, and -- to me -- has utterly captured that combination of sophistication and childishness that comprise so many 12 year olds. I certainly remember feeling that utter dismay at being around peers who seemed so much smarter, more sophisticated, and worldly than I; wanting people not to change; that ache to be included; the inability to stop myself from making serious 7th grade social errors; and ultimately that knowledge that aspiring to those heights of popularity are just not in the cards.

Shug -- nicknamed by her mother after the character in The Color Purple (which seems a little advanced for even a smart 12-year-old) -- is starting 7th grade and it is just agonizing listening to her try to leave childhood behind. Because, for all her book smarts, she is pretty darn young. And the more mature of her classmates know it and are turning their backs on her attempts to be one of them. As Shug turns her back on her even more clueless friend, Shirley [?].

I'm liking the reader, and thoroughly enjoying the painful story of Shug's maturing. I'm having trouble figuring out the right aged listener, though. Except for the young voice of the reader, this book has all the earmarks of an adult book about a young teen. Shug is facing some serious issues: alcoholic mother, absent father, older sister keen on getting away from the family. I can't see many younger readers enjoying this, but I can't see many older teens either.

Sometimes I guess, you've got to let a book wash over you, without worrying about the "intended" reader.

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