Thursday, February 21, 2008

Condie's Debut A Refreshing Change

(Image from Amazon.com)
I've read so many crappy LDS novels, that it's really refreshing to find one that isn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm not giving Yearbook by Allyson Braithwaite Condie an A+, I'm just saying it was a very decent effort. It suffers from issues that plague all LDS fiction, but all in all, it was not a bad book. In fact, it was actually pretty good.
This young adult novel revolves around that most venerable of institutions - the local high school. In its halls, we are introduced to a group of students and teachers, who are beginning a new year full of hopes, fears and anxieties. Some of them (like class clown Dave Sherman) cruise through the hallways with confidence, others (like Goth Avery Matthews) slink by hoping no one will notice them, while still others (like English teacher Mr. Thomas) only want to forget their despair long enough to make it through the day. Most of the people profiled are LDS, but not all. Even among the Mormons, there is some diversity as the kids struggle to find, keep or strengthen their testimonies. Each one is different, but as the school year wears on, they all experience both trials and triumphs.
The voyeur in me liked peeking at each of the character's stories, although some rang more true than others. I found Andrea Beckett's storyline most authentic. She's a perfectionist, who works hard to make her life look effortlessly neat and tidy. For the most part, she succeeds, but deep inside, she's terrified of losing her composure. Her parents' divorce has embittered her, making her pull away from church and friends. On the outside, she's still perfect little Andrea, but on the inside she's screaming for help. Other characters leaned more toward the stereotypical. For instance, Michaela Choi is a typical Molly Mormon, with few problems more intricate than trying to catch Ethan Beckett's eye (which she already has, she just doesn't know it). The waters are pretty calm for her - in fact, she even manages to convert a friend during the school year. Another example is Avery Matthews, an angry Goth girl who feels as if she can't shake her reputation as the sister of two bad-boy-troublemakers. Predictably, she smokes, gets in trouble at school, and writes poetry. I thought Condie could have been a lot braver - after all, good girls sometimes get in trouble, too, and not all Goths are poets.
Like all LDS novels, Yearbook strives to be uplifting, and it is. There's a lot of talk about forgiveness, repentance, hope and endurance. I won't lie to you - in some spots, it gets mighty preachy, which is my pet peeve with YA literature of any variety. Condie seems capable enough as a writer to get her message across in a more subtle manner; she really doesn't have to resort to sermonizing, which seems alternately phony and preachy.
Another thing I thought the novel lacked was cohesion. Its theme is spelled out on the back cover: People are not always what they seem. Condie makes this point by allowing a different character to narrate each chapter, thus giving us a glimpse into their thoughts and feelings. However, the stories kind of stand alone, without an overall plot to unite them. The fact that all the characters have something to do with the high school works in a way, but bumps off track when Condie includes the Becketts' grandmother as one of the narrators. It was all a bit random without a unifying theme.
Still, Yearbook offers an interesting glimpse into a group of individuals who are more than they seem on the outside. It's an easy, pretty well-written novel that kept me reading. I especially liked Condie's idea of incorporating yearbook inscriptions in the story - I'm not sure I've ever seen that done before. To me, this proves that Condie has a lot of potential, and that not all LDS fiction is crap. Refreshing, isn't it?
Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. It's good to know there is some LDS fiction out there that isn't too bad. I read a decent amount of LDS fiction in high school but have tried to avoid it since - way too cheesy for me. Maybe I will have to give this one a shot.

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