by Charles Benoit
9780061947049, $16.99, Harper, Pub. Date: August 2010
You is a powerful, searing work of realistic teen fiction. The title comes from its second-person point-of-view narrator; a voice that makes the work immediately accessible by encouraging the reader to become the main character.
The main character is sophomore Kyle Chase. He’s smart, but took a wrong turn at some point in junior high. He didn’t turn in a few tests, and starting hanging out with a slacker crowd known as the Hoodies, due to the black hooded sweatshirts they wear every day. This landed him at Midlands High, one of two town high schools. His old friends went to Odyssey, the high school that caters to overachievers with good GPAs. That’s what he tells himself. He could be there if he wanted to. But what’s the point? His mother nags him to get a job, his teachers nag him to get homework done, and the only bright spot to his day is his friend Ashley who he wishes was more than a friend and who he gets to spend time with by courting after-school detention so he can stay late to nonchalantly see her. Each day is the same as the next until a new kid, Zack McDade, transfers to Midlands.
The raw voice of You is reminiscent of the writing of Ellen Hopkins; a voice that will tell you the truth, no matter how hopeless or disheartening. This is the story of millions of American teenagers from middle-class backgrounds: smart, promising youth who slip through the cracks, get overlooked, become disenchanted with their overstimulated, over-informed lives. You is an exposé and a call-to-arms. Drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy – these issues all have concrete roots and identifiable plans of action to combat. Juvenile apathy? Ten times harder to identify and counter.
This could have been my story. I’m so lucky it wasn’t. But I cried for that possibility, for the friends I lost to this malaise, for my brother still in high school battling this every day, and for the children I hope to have and the future I imagine for them.
Every teenager, teacher, and parent, anyone who works with children and teens, should read this book to understand the spreading lassitude of America’s youth.