CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 10 . . . . January 4, 2007
Fullerton adds to the quickly-growing canon of teen social issues literature with her new novel, In the Garage. Barbara Jean Belanger (BJ) and Alex Fitzgerald are unlikely best friends – an overweight girl with a distinct facial birthmark and a passion for filmmaking and a popular attractive school basketball star with a garage band – who both feel alone in the world despite their strong friendship of many years. BJ’s being tormented about her appearance since a young age has badly damaged her self-esteem, and Alex experiences inner torment regarding his sexuality while fearing his father's harsh expectations for him to win a basketball scholarship, when all he really wants to do is perform Emo rock with his band. When Alex's band hires a new singer, BJ feels a rift developing between them and is drawn into the trap of two popular, beautiful girls who express an interest in BJ. It will not come as much of surprise to most readers that this interest is not genuine, and it ends badly for all as the girls persuade BJ to betray Alex by stealing his journal. This act leads to BJ's realization of Alex's homosexuality, a suicide attempt by BJ (when she is set up by the mean girls) and the eventual murder of Alex by his supposed friends.
Teen fiction has become increasingly vicious over the last ten years, which perhaps is not that shocking given the escalating violence in our culture, especially among young adults. From Columbine-inspired novels such as Give a Boy a Gun, Project X and The Last Domino, to teen mob violence novels such as Shattering Glass, The Lottery and Inventing Elliot, to the more solitary theme of contemplating or committing suicide seen in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Game, and It's Kind of a Funny Story, teen books are at an all-time high in terms of depressing subject matter. One could say that this rise in issue-ridden teen fiction is a positive movement, as teens themselves face so many unknowns, peer pressures and difficult decisions that for some of them, violence or suicide is a way to deal with these issues. Of course, I am not suggesting that these options are good or even sane choices, but I do think that in a bibliotherapeutic sense, it is helpful for teens to read about characters going through similar situations so they will realize they are not alone.
However, it very important (and moreover, the responsibility of the author) for these novels to create a scenario that provides some amount of hope for teen readers. While Fullerton's novel may not be of the same quality as some of the aforementioned titles, the final pages do provide that necessary element of hope. After attempting suicide and having her best friend become the fatal victim of a hate crime (which even worse, is committed by Alex's friends), BJ writes a eulogy which philosophically discusses love and understanding for all. It may not be a terribly realistic turn of events for the novel, but it does create a ray of light for an otherwise truly depressing ending. "What happened to Alex Fitzgerald is one of those things," says BJ, which, while one could argue is an argument for giving up entirely on life, could also be seen as the realization that many thing are beyond our control. With its alternating voices of male and female characters (including simple yet powerful poetic verse written in Alex's journal), Fullerton has written a novel that will likely be well received by high school teens of both genders.
Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.