When I was in my teens I remember going to my local library and feeling very mature because I had progressed to the ‘teen reading’ section. I was also very annoyed because the section was never – never – kept in any kind of order. According to the librarian most teens found the idea of order oppressive (although I don’t think she used those words) which we can add to the list of ‘not quite truths’ that adults persist in telling themselves about teens. You know the stuff, teens don’t speak apart from grunts, teens are self-centred, teens are rude, lazy, and ignorant. In my experience most of this is untrue (most of the time) – teens are as mixed a range of personalities as adults and some of them put adults to shame as carers, volunteers and workers.
These days libraries may be changing the name of their ‘teen’ sections to ‘young adult’ and therein lies a new problem. What’s the difference between teen and YA fiction? I don’t think I know the answer but after reading various opinions I think I’m going to plump for an emphasis on ‘adult‘. We are even thinking of splitting the teen section at work into two – one for younger teens, up to about 14 or so, and the rest for older or more mature young people who can deal emotionally with more content of a sexual or violent nature. It isn’t even purely about age: I know some who can cope, quite maturely, with stories featuring graphic scenes of rape or bullying, at 13 and others who don’t want to deal with that kind of thing even as proper adults. Anyway, I suspect this is a discussion which will go on for a long time – especially now that issues of gender identity, mental health and racism feature so much more obviously and are not so much hidden away.
This is all relevant to the most recent book I have read to review, 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, as it seems to me to fall quite clearly into the YA category rather than being suitable for younger teens. The story centres on Tasha, beautiful, clever, popular and fighting to remember how she came to fall into a freezing river. She was dead for 13 minutes and can’t work out who would want to kill her, but her best friends (and fellow ‘Barbies’ in the eyes of embittered childhood bff, Becca) are acting suspiciously.
This is a great thriller with lots of plot twists. Think of a high school Gone Girl. Or Cluedo where the correct answer is ‘in the 6th Form Common Room with a set of GHDs’. Pinborough is absolutely spot on with the life of teenaged girls (and boys), what is important (status within friendship groups) and what isn’t (parental approval). It is quite chilling and makes me glad I’m not a teenager in today’s world. Part of the plot involves a school production of The Crucible and it is easy to see the parallels to the play’s atmosphere of passion, the protection of reputations and the way a community can turn against a member who is different.
I can’t say much more about the plot without major spoilers so I won’t. Suffice it to say that my final thought were that it was fitting to refer to the girls in this story as ‘Barbies’ – after all they are toys, made to be played with. To be manipulated…