If there was something that all that time had in common, what your English teacher would call a “theme,” it would be this: Don’t get caught (p 14).
The most impressive aspect of YOU is not that it is written in the second person. Though use of that point of view in fiction is rare, the second person narrative adds to the experience but it didn’t define the experience for me. I suppose this technique will have more impact on its intended audience, boys aged 12 to 18 years.
The story itself has a gripping beginning, quality on par with When You Reach Me‘s excellent opening chapter. I immediately wanted to read the whole book to find out what was happening.
You’re surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He’s surprised too.
There’s not a lot of broken glass, though, just some tiny slivers around his feet and one big piece busted into sharp peaks like a spiking line graph, the blood washing down it like rain on a windshield (p 1-2).
No, the second person narrative is not the highlight of this book. While it works well, I toyed with reading it as if it was written in the first and third person and it didn’t detract.
The voice itself is striking. Kyle, the character we inhabit through the narrative, is genuine. There is so much truth in Kyle’s experiences, some of it broad and appealing to all current and former high school students and some of it more defined, singular to the adolescent male experience – all brilliant.
Kyle’s relationship with his parents is a minor part of the story in terms of dedicated text, but their characters are so completely painted, I felt all of Kyle’s frustration with and love for them. I understood Kyle’s choices while hoped he would begin to make better choices (feeling just like his mother), all the while knowing where the story was headed.
The antagonist, Zack, is an adolescent Iago. I imagined him like a young Kenneth Branagh. His character was certainly a stretch but then I have seen his likeness in other YA novels: Gone by Michael Grant and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.
And the ending! Thank goodness it didn’t let me down, didn’t exaggerate or turn Kyle into some unstoppable teenage monster driven to random violence.
I highly recommend this book. I’m sure it will be sporting some hardware some January. While it’s definitely going on my system’s Mock Printz 2011 list, it might be a bit of a stretch to say it will be talked about for years, as some bloggers have asserted. I reserve such predictions for few books (Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Harry Potter by Rowling are the only two that pop to mind). But is this a great book? Should your teens be reading it? Should teachers read it? Absolutely! And maybe it will be talked about for years… who knows?
Possible read alikes: Breathing Underwater by Alex Finn, Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson