Young-Adult Fiction Gone Bad

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Teenagers have always been the most challenging of characters, and the most convincing. No book has quite gripped people over the past 30 years like The Catcher in the Rye, primarily because no book has so successfully navigated the boundary of utterly real and utterly larger-than-life the teenage mind is, and teenage problems are. Most contemporary YA literature tries to play it exactly like an MTV reality show, and make everything as normal and cliche as possible. (My own new novel, Candy in Action, went all the way in the other direction, sending a teenage girl straight from college into an action-movie sequence with Matrix-like secret agents and cell phones that can do anything.)

jenny green by amy belasenJenny Green is a paradigmatic case of running against the grain — totally grounded in reality, but totally liable to end up on another planet. The protagonist of Amy Belasen’s novel Jenny Green’s Killer Junior Year (cowritten with Jacob Osborn) is a startlingly normal, well-adjusted and acculturated Jewish teenage girl who gets into cringingly normal teenage-girl situations — boys, dances, excruciatingly embarrassing teenage situations. For her junior year, Jenny wants a fresh start in her life. She starts boarding school far away in Montreal, where nobody’s ever heard of her — except for Josh Beck, her long-time crush.

But — and here I’m going to quote from the book’s jacket, because I don’t know how else to put it — “when she discovers just how despicable the male gender can be — with the lying, the cheating, and the utter disrespect — she decides to make them pay…with their lives.”

Yeah, Jenny Green is anything but an ordinary book.

We got a chance to speak to the charming, funny, and (at least we think) totally un-mass-murderer-like Amy Belasen, herself an alumna of the eminent Canadian academy McGill University, to ask her a few questions about the role of JAPs in Jewish literature, what it’s like to write teenagers, and who she’d most like to murder.

In a lot of recent young-adult fiction, you find a lot of wrangling and murmuring and ducking in order to avoid using the J-word – JAP. You, on the other hand, come out and say it right on page 5. Did you have to fight to get some of the Jewish content in the book kept in?

Posted on January 23, 2009
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