‘Sup readers? Welcome back to another Book BFFs column, where book matchmaking happens; whether or not it’s successful is entirely up to you. So far we’ve paired comics, YA contemporary, historical YA fiction, and adult thrillers. It follows, then, that this week should be yet another round of YA contemporary books. Both of these picks flew under-the-radar, and serve as criminally underrated standalones in their genre.
If you’ve read Kathy Parks’ debut YA novel, The Lifeboat Clique, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, well, let me tell you what you’re missing:
The Lifeboat Clique follows Denver Reynolds, a scathingly sardonic teenage girl who deals with her social exile by devoting hours of her life to watching The Discovery Channel and hanging out with her unimpressed cat. Denver’s ex BFF/current tormenter, Abigail is pubing out à la Regina George with a fake Southern accent that she refuses to drop. If she has her way, Denver will remain socially celibate until they’re both in the ground. When popular, good-looking Croix invites Denver to her former-BFF’s house party with the implication that he’s wanting sparks to fly between them, Denver is only too eager to accept— she might be a sarcastic, emotionally-repressed young adult with a load of baggage that happens to make her both sharp and vulnerable, but she’s also a teenage girl who’s pretty sure that Croix would understand her perfectly. When life gives you lemons that look like Croix, you crash a house party and drink some lemonade, dangit. Abigail’s sour cat-butt-face at seeing you there is just a bonus. But all is not sunshine, rainbows, and freshly-squeezed lemonade. Disaster (actually, a tsunami) strikes the Californian town, totally killing the mood (and lots of people); Denver manages to survive, but because a solo survival story would be too merciful, she’s actually stuck on a cramped boat, in the middle of the ocean with four people who, on a good day, treat her like garbage— Chief among them is Abigail herself. Denver must knuckle down, recall the lessons from her wise tutor, The Discovery Channel, and survive, or perish at sea with people she hates.
What you should read next:
YA contemporary has a back-catalogue so vast, you might spend the rest of your life trying to sort through it (and if that’s your thing, more power to you!). There are a wonderful array of voices dedicated to telling stories that are (more or less) grounded in some kind of reality (though the likelihood of you being trapped on a boat with your worst enemies is slim, in the case of The Lifeboat Clique). If you happened to appreciate Kathy Parks’ acerbic wit, and her insightful, blunt main character, you might just benefit from reading Finding Mr. Brightside. Jay Clark’s 2015 novel is dual-perspective, following teenagers Juliette and Abram, a pair of high school seniors who have lived down the street from one another their whole lives, knowing of each other without truly knowing one another. Which is just as well, as their parents (Juliette’s mother and Abram’s father) are having an extramarital affair that ends in a fatal car crash. Despite their shared (not really, but thanks to their philandering parents, it kind of is) history, or perhaps because of it, Abram worries about Juliette and soon, covert glances and unspoken observations turn into an invitation to Taco Bell. He genuinely wants to fix the pain their parents caused. She just wants to forget he exists. Together, they are a force to behold (and even though their respective parents were definitely gross and underhanded, they make a pretty good team!)
How they’re similar:
Even though they have wildly-different plots with wildly-different end-games, Clark’s Finding Mr. Brightside and Parks’ The Lifeboat Clique cover similar territory. The Lifeboat Clique is a story of survival against the odds, yes, but it also offers a front row seat to a shattered family dynamic, and how the sins of the father (so to speak. Albeit, gender does not discriminate or determine which of your parents sucks the hardest), while not necessarily assigned to the child, can distort their perception about everything the world has to offer, affecting not only them, but their interpersonal relationships and how they make decisions. Finding Mr. Brightside marches to a similar, though not entirely identical, drumbeat. But the thing that makes both reads unique while marking them as peers is the humour and wit present in their individual authors. Bad things happen: but laughing about it can make all the difference. Also, can we please just appreciate that both Abram’s mom and Denver’s mom are wonderfully supportive, genuinely good maternal figures? YA has a serious lack of adult characters who show interest in/are communicative with their kids.
How they’re different:
Finding Mr. Brightside sets the stage for a romance so starcrossed that Romeo and Juliet (not to be confused with Clark’s own Juliette) would blanch and politely excuse themselves from the drama to go chug poison and sharpen some daggers, or something. Juliette and Abram are apples and oranges, bruised but tossed into the same basket, attracted to one another even though their parents before them left a car accident-shaped-cloud looming over any potential relationship. Bound together by tragedy, at its core, their relationship is refreshingly, electrifyingly simple: stripped of extraneous baggage, Juliette and Abram are exactly what the other person is looking for at that point in their lives. Their screwed-up history only makes their (potential) coupling a more difficult feat. By contrast, The Lifeboat Clique is devoid of any (front and center) romance. The relationships that are spotlighted are mostly of the platonic variety, though there is one gooey high school romance that blossoms later on in the book.
Why you should read Finding Mr. Brightside:
Honestly, the nicer weather might (definitely) be a reason I picked a contemporary like Finding Mr. Brightside. It’s a story with rough edges but a fluffy center, not too unforgiving, but not entirely about glossing over the raw deal that life handed its two main characters. One of the cool things about Finding Mr. Brightside, is that, even though it’s fiction, its merits are applicable to real life: bad stuff that’s out of your control happens, and sometimes, it knocks you down and steals your hope. But if you rise to the challenge, there’s always a bright side to be found, even in the most heinous of personal pitfalls (disclaimer: it may take a long time, but at least you know it will happen).