I didn’t start reading YA (Young Adult) fiction until I was in my early twenties, and I only started then because I was a ninth grade English teacher desperate to find something, anything, my students would read without complaining of boredom. I didn’t read YA when I was myself a YA, mostly because High School Taryn was very proud of her intellect and thought books for teens were beneath her.
To be fair, not many YA books crossed my radar at the time other than Lurlene McDaniel novels, which had titles like “No Rose Without a Thorn” and covers featuring watercolored flowers and sad-looking teenage girls. To this day, I’ve never read any of McDaniel’s work, so perhaps I’m unfairly judging it here, but I’m pretty sure someone always dies a tragic death after a long illness or bloody car accident. High School Taryn saw other girls with Lurlene McDaniel books and scoffed on her way to check out Jane Eyre. YA was clearly for losers.
Not surprisingly, it turns out YA is just one of the many things High School Taryn was wrong about. (Also on the list are the beliefs that Cheezits and Mountain Dew comprise a good lunch and that my ACT score mattered.) Once I got into reading YA as a teacher, I found tons of engaging, well-written material. Some of the most fascinating premises I’ve ever come across are in the YA genre, and this book is a perfect case in point.
Judith narrates the story, an 18-year-old girl who is abducted at age 14 and inexplicably returned two years later with her tongue cut out. Another girl from her village, Lottie, disappears around the same time, but she doesn’t survive to return. The book is set in an unspecified time, likely sometime in the 1800s based on the lanterns and blacksmith and hyper-judgy religious society. Everyone assumes Judith was raped (or in their words, “ruined”) by her mysterious abductor, and without a way to communicate (Judith, as a female, is not well-educated and can’t write), she can’t deny it. Instead of treating her as the victim she is and trying to rehabilitate her, her mother and the other villagers shun her as if what happened was her fault. I may not be a teacher anymore, but there’s plenty to talk about here regarding societal judgment and ostracism.
The town is threatened with attack from outside forces, and Judith has to make a choice that, like a snowball picking up speed down an incline, leads to lots of other interesting plot developments. Adding to the intrigue is the way Judith chooses to narrate her story—in the rarely-used second person, addressing her thoughts to her childhood love, Lucas. The tactic is a little distracting, but the mystery is so consuming that it works anyway.
The best YA books are those that you can’t actually tell were written for a teen audience. If you’re thinking of trying YA to see what you think, this would be a good one to start with. It is probably better than Lurlene McDaniel.