Welcome to a new series here on distraction no. 99 called Beyond the (Latest) Buzz. I’ve asked YA & kidlit librarians and bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. And I asked them specifically because, of all readers in the know, librarians and book bloggers are some of the most passionate readers we have in this industry, they read a TON more books than I do, and maybe, if I asked nicely, they’d be eager to recommend some beloved books with us here? They were—and they did.
Read on to see what book YA librarian Angie Manfredi of Fat Girl, Reading wants to share with us today…
Guest post by Angie Manfredi
“Call me Ishamel.”
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
I love first lines. When they are well-crafted they become declarations of the greatness that is to come; single line memories you keep of the moment you were about to fall in love.
For me, the first line in young adult literature that I can never forget comes from a novel published in 1996. To me, it’s just as perfect and unforgettable as anything from Austen or Orwell. It goes like this:
“Though I tried to clear my head of the effects of the fat, resiny doobie I’d polished off an hour before, things were still fuzzy as I stumbled into senior counselor Jeff DeMouy’s office.”
Do you recognize that first line? I am guessing you don’t—even though the book was named to YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and was enthusiastically blurbed by the likes of Paul Zindel, Chris Lynch, and Chris Crutcher.
You probably don’t recognize that wonderful first line because it’s from an author who only wrote four YA novels and one middle-grade novel before leaving the field to work full-time in television production. More than that, though, you probably don’t recognize that line because it’s from an author who wrote in an era when there was no social media as we know it today, no YA lit world thriving online, and authors who wrote for teens had to hope that maybe the Newbery committee would think their work skewed young enough because there was no such thing as the Printz Award.
I don’t know what would have happened if that first line was a first line that came into the young adult literature world today—but I know what happens when I read it to my teens, teens who weren’t even born when it was first written. They want to check the book out. They want to read that guy’s story.
They love the first line of Rob Thomas’s Rats Saw God and, all these years later, so do I.
Rats Saw God is two stories at once: the story of Steve York’s senior year in San Diego where he’s the kind of student who shows up stoned to his counseling meetings about how he’s ever going to graduate and the story of Steve York’s sophomore and junior years in Houston where he’s a National Merit scholar who has many friends. Of course, the real story in Rats Saw God is everything that got Steve from one place to another and, moreover, where he’s going to go next.
One of the things I like best about Rats Saw God is how Thomas creates a real sense of time passing. In showing how far sophomore-year Steve has traveled to become senior-year Steve, Thomas accurately captures something easily relatable to teenager readers: the huge changes that can happen in their lives over the years that make up high school. This also gives Steve a really meaningful character arc: as readers you are really with him as he goes from the junior who loves English class, his girlfriend, and his life full of intellectual challenges to the senior who is blurring the edges of his life to dull the pain of his losses. Steve changes, grows, and, yeah, loses and you are with him through it all, through the believable passage of time in his life.
In Steve, Thomas has created the kind of narrator I still hear librarians beg for: a smart, believable teenage boy with a sharp voice and a real heart. Steve plans pranks with his friends, lusts after girls, and struggles with his relationship with his famous and domineering father. He’s kin to young adult heroes like Pudge Halter, Cullen Witter, and Cameron Smith. His story is the story of how teenagers deal with huge disillusionments, adults that let you down in the worst ways, and crushing heartbreak without letting all of it swallow up who they are.
Steve isn’t the same person at the end of his high school career—but there’s something brilliantly, hopefully resilient about the person he ends up as and the path he takes. And it’s that change that sticks with the reader; that has stuck with me, just like that first line, from the first time I read Rats Saw God.
I often think about if Rob Thomas would still be writing young adult novels if Rats Saw God had been published today, in the community that gives young adult literature so much love and attention and, yeah, sales. I think about the novels he might have written—maybe one about a tough-talking teenage sleuth determined to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. I’d love to read that one. But then, maybe I’m just lucky I had a chance to watch it. Yes, the Rob Thomas who wrote Rats Saw God in 1996 is the same Rob Thomas who created Veronica Mars in 2004. And I was as lucky to know Veronica Mars as I was to know Steve York.
So Rob Thomas doesn’t write young adult novels anymore. He’s still active in the field of television production, and the creative world is better because Rob Thomas is still out there writing but, damn, I miss his voice in young adult literature. I miss books as incisive, unflinching, and daring as Rats Saw God and Slave Day. I miss his humor, his fearlessness in dealing with contemporary social issues, and the strong, clear, cleverness of his prose.
I miss Rob Thomas.
But I still have Steve York. I will never forget him.
You have a chance to discover him for yourself. And from the moment you open Rats Saw God and read on from that perfect first line, you’ll never forget him either.
(Rats Saw God is the only one of Rob Thomas’s books still in print. I want to buy you a copy in my never-ending quest to keep it in print. Leave a comment on this blog or fill out this entry form to be entered in a random drawing to win a copy. US residents only, please.)
…GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED:
One winner was chosen from between the entry form and the comments, and it’s… Dahlia Adler!
Congrats, Dahla! I will email for your mailing address soon. Thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you to Angie for giving away this book to one lucky reader! —Nova
Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! And read on for a chance to enter the giveaway to win the book of your choice from this great list…
Angie Manfredi blogs sporadically at www.fatgirlreading.com and tweets incessantly @misskubelik. She is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, NM, an active member of YALSA, and would happily run away with Logan Echolls.
Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?
Here are the posts in the series so far:
- YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
- YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock Star, First Day on Earth, Frost, and more
- Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things