We've been getting some great feedback about Teen Fiction Week, for which we'd like to thank everyone. I hope to talk more about your responses later in the week, but right now I want to focus on one particular aspect of this feedback: the requests for more good books for boys.
From what I can see, it seems to be an unfortunate downward spiral: Society and the educational system push hard for girls to read, meaning that more girls read, meaning that reading is seen as more of a girls' activity, meaning that more books are written for girls, meaning that fewer boys read. And as Thomas Spence wrote in a deeply insightful article last summer, while some people are noticing the problem, a lot of them have really bad ideas about how to solve it:
"According to a revealing Associated Press story in July . . . experts insist that we must 'meet them where they are' -- that is, pander to boys' untutored tastes.
"For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means 'books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.'"
Um, no thanks. From our (admittedly limited) sample on this site, I'm getting the impression that parents want something better for their boys -- something to help them "to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man," as Spence says. Today's featured novel, I believe, is just such a book.
Charlie West, the hero of Andrew Klavan's The Last Thing I Remember, is in some ways a typical teenager. Early in the book, we see him simultaneously listening to George Strait (a kid after my own heart!), instant messaging a friend, talking on the phone with another friend, watching Star Trek, and writing a history paper. Enough to make a parent cringe, right? But as we quickly find out, there's a lot more to Charlie than media overload.
Without being at all heavyhanded or priggish about it (in the unfortunate tradition of so many Christian books), Charlie has a strong faith and good values that inform how he lives his life. His worldview is already well thought out, and he's firm though good-natured about it. ("I had a history paper due. 'What Is the Best Form of Government?' . . . I wanted to title my paper, 'Constitutional Democracy, You Doofus, What Do You Think?'")
When Charlie inexplicably wakes up in a strange room with a couple of thugs just outside the door, he can't understand what's going on, but after the initial panic, he handles the terrifying situation with strength and maturity. It turns out that he's lost an entire year of his life -- a year that he now has to piece together as he goes on the run, trying to stop a political plot that he doesn't fully understand. The book has violence but nothing gratuitous or overdone.
One of the most frightening things Charlie has to face is the question of whether, during the time he can't remember, he got involved in something evil. To guide him, he has only a message from a mysterious stranger -- "You're a better man than you know" -- and the conviction that he would never knowingly hurt another person or betray his country. And then, of course, he has his training:
"I guess in some way I'd been training for this time my whole life. I'd been training every day, even in simple things, little things. I trained to keep my mind sharp when I went to school. I trained in karate to keep my body and spirit strong. Even when I just went to church, or when I prayed by myself, it was a kind of training: I was training to remember that I was not alone. I was never alone."
Klavan's book is very well written, with an engaging young hero whose journey is as much about good character as it is about martial arts and blowing stuff up. In short, this is one that both parents and their sons can happily get behind.