Monday, July 20, 2009

Ballads of Suburbia ~ Stephanie Kuehnert review

Ballads of Suburbia
MTV Books
July 21, 2009
368 pages

After four years, Kara has come back to Oak Park.

It's only a visit with her childhood best friend Stacey and meeting Stacey's young daughter that have finally brought college age Kara back home. Home where her whole life changed during high school.

Kara's an entirely different person now but for three years everything she knew fell apart around her and reformed into something else.

Like I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert's second book is far from a happy, fluffy little light read but really, that's what makes it amazing--there might be music all over this book but there's certainly no 'sophomore slump' at play.

Razor blades, Ecstasy, heroin, and whiskey bottles all abound in Ballads for sure but so do pain and truth and friendship and love and reality....and being a teenager. It might be what everyone's reading to say after reading a Sarah Dessen book but then afraid to after reading this or IWBYJR, but for some teens, they're more likely to see themselves in this book. Maybe not exactly, but if you read some lighter contemporary YA book, chances are you don't have that many guys chasing you or as many mishaps. So, maybe you can relate to Kuehnert's characters but with certain events downplayed.

I know while half of my friends would be more at home in a Sarah Dessen or Meg Cabot type world, some I know would identify much better with different characters in Ballads.

Why I'm saying this at all (and I hope I'm making some sense!) is not only because a) some bookstores (and my library) have Joey Ramone and presumably ballads as adult fiction and a few have it as YA and I hope teens will read it but also b) there really are not a lot of YA or YA-ish books that are, grittier ? That's not necessarily the right word but I don't know what is.

Even if you think I made no sense with my 'relating to this type of character here and that one there' talk, know that you really should read Ballads of Suburbia. It's one of those rare first person books that doesn't feel like it's a book written in first person. What I mean is, it feels like you're reading Kara telling her story, not Stephanie Kuehnert telling you Kara telling her story. The story manages to read with the ease of a well written novel, but with the truth (the 'yeah, this stuff really did happen, didn't it?) of a memoir. You can believe that Kara and Stacey and Maya and everyone else are real people.

Partially, I think, that's because it sticks with Kara's POV, it doesn't switch off to someone else to aid in the storytelling even if just for a minute-you know what she knows. There are 'Ballads' interspersed with the chapters that are written by other characters to fill some things in but the main story is all told by Kara. I think the other part is that there's never anything that's too outrageous, nothing's unbelieveable. There wasn't one event that you had to chalk up to it being fiction.

Most definitely go out and buy this tomorrow-or possibly now! (ooh, I'm still grumpy about my ALA thing not working so I didn't get one there...I miss my Chicago!!)

Thank you to Stephanie Kuehnert for having the contest so I could win the ARC :D
And Amazon's little bio thing says it's her first novel...they were off on Gena Showalter's novel count, too...shame Amazon, shame!


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