I am not, as a rule, a huge fan of YA literature. I was when I was the target audience's age, but I haven't much taken to the trend over the last few years wherein adult bibliophiles go gaga over books meant for preteens. That said, I was quite excited to read The Obvious Game. Why? Because the author, Rita Arens, is a favorite blogger of mine (she blogs at Surrender, Dorothy). I've been reading Rita's blog for several years, and I admire her honesty, enjoy her stories, and relate to her voice. I've really loved peeking in on her work to get The Obvious Game completed and published, too--though I don't have a particular dream to publish a YA novel, it's been fascinating to read about how it happens. It's fun to watch anybody you admire work hard to accomplish something important to them, and that's how I've felt whenever I've read Rita's updates about getting the book published. Given that, it seems almost like icing on the cake that I really enjoyed the book itself.
The Obvious Game lets the reader in on just enough of Diana's internal monologue to both feel for her and get frustrated with her. So often, not just kids' literature, but in adult novels as well, looks inside a character's head, particularly when they are repeated or thematic, start to feel forced. The things that Diana thinks, though, skip right past forced and just make a weird kind of sense. For example, there are several points throughout the book where she calms herself by imagining what type of wig the person to whom she is talking might wear, if s/he needed, like Diana's bald-from-chemo mother, to wear a wig. Each time this device is used, it makes you like Diana more, and hurt more for her.
Another strength of the book is the relationship between Diana and her parents, particularly her mother. Again, something that sounds like it could be a YA novel stereotype (the mom with cancer) feels not like a plot device, but like something real. Diana's mom isn't a sickly saint--she cries, she yells, and she's a lousy cook. Even though she's not the book's central character, Rita takes the time with her to make her feel like someone you know--maybe not your mom, but your friend's mom. It's a great characterization.
I also like Diana's friends. Not Amanda, so much, but her "real" friends, who are fairly minor characters in the book but still feel fleshed out. I like that Diana has a relationship with a male friend, Seth, that is believably platonic--you see that so rarely in media about teens, but I remember it happening when I was in high school. I appreciate that it was included, especially as a counterpoint to Diana's relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse, which was the one relationship in the book that didn't really work for me.
The thing that most impresses me about Rita's book is that she takes theme that are so typical to YA novels that they're almost stereotypical--a teenaged girl with an eating disorder, a sick parent, an unequal friendship, first romance/loss of virginity--and makes them feel not like she's writing yet another novel about them, but like she's telling you a real story about a teenager named Diana that happens to include those elements. It doesn't feel preachy, or like you're supposed to be learning a lesson. It doesn't feel like ground that has been covered a million times. It feels like its own, unique story. That's really impressive.
So, obviously, I think this is a book you and/or your teen/preteen daughter should read. And Rita has been kind enough to donate one copy, either in paperback or ebook, to a lucky WINOW reader, so you can! Leave me a comment and tell me your favorite YA novel. For a second entry, tell your social network of choice (Twitter, Facebook, whatever the kids are using these days) about this book and leave another comment. I'll pick a winner on Friday, February 15. GO!