Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So the Drama! New book takes a look at teen relationships

I recently highlighted two teen/young adult novels about vampires, pixies and werewolves. It seems about two-thirds of the books for teens these days are about the supernatural. The other third are teen dramas about love, relationships, school cliques, sex and drugs. The latter two seem to be glamorized far too often in today's teen novels. So when I received a review copy of "The Lonely Hearts Club" I cringed. The fact that Stephenie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" series, has an endorsement of the book prominently displayed on the front cover didn't sway me. I believe the "Twilight" series sets teen girls up for poor relationships with potentially abusive guys. That, however, is another review. After much consternation I brought myself to read, "The Lonely Hearts Club."

"The Lonely Hearts Club"
By Elizabeth Eulberg
For Ages 14 and up
In her debut novel Elizabeth Eulberg explores the lives of 16-year-old Penny Lane Bloom and her best friends. At the beginning of her junior year Penny decides she has had one too many bad relationships. Guys aren't worth the heartache, since they all seem to be after one thing and care about nobody but themselves. Penny decides to give up guys altogether — no dating until she is off at college. She looks to the only four guys in her life that have never steered her wrong, John Paul George and Ringo, for inspiration and forms The Lonely Hearts Club. Of course, there is only one member, herself. That doesn't last long though. As word of her club spreads the number of members quickly increases. This is also where the plot and character interaction really takes off.

Let's be clear, "The Lonely Hearts Club" is neither a man-hating club or book. The club is less about no dating than all the other aspects of life as a teenage girl. Besides, as the girls find out, it is very difficult to cut boys out of their lives altogether. The club is a support group of friends who help each other be themselves. It offers encouragement to respect yourself and have your own identity. If you remember high school you remember seeing far too many people lose themselves in their relationships and lose their friends in the process. Penny's club sets out to show teen girls that they do not need a boyfriend to validate who they are and if you do have a boyfriend make sure they respect who you are.

So the plot is somewhat cliched, but so are most of the teen novels on the market right now. We can't judge this book on the merits of its originality. What we can judge it on is character development, believability, message and entertainment value. "The Lonely Hearts Club" is driven by characters and conversation. Both of which Eulberg does a very nice job of developing. The characters are well developed, well rounded and believable. Readers will have no trouble making a connections and getting sucked into the drama. The conversations are quick, witty, and often poignant without being preachy or fake. Penny Lane and her friends Tracy and Diane are strong female characters with strong voices. They, and the rest of "The Lonely Hearts Club" are good heroes for today's teen girls.

Sexuality, drugs and drinking are too often glorified in teen novels. This is not to say authors should ignore the existence of such variables in their plots. Like "The Lonely Hearts Club," however, they should take an honest look and include such devices as sex to the extent that it progresses the plot. Eulberg does a very nice job of dealing with sexuality without glorifying it. Everyone is not "doing it." Alcohol comes up a couple times in the book and once again Eulberg does a nice job with context. She does not dismiss teen drinking nor does she glorify it.

Overall I was impressed and entertained with "The Lonely Hearts Club." Teens need good role models in their literature and Penny Lane is just that. "The Lonely Hearts Club" offers a message of self-respect, strength and the belief in oneself wrapped in an often humorous romp through high school.

Girls, or young women, who enjoyed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," in middle school will enjoy "The Lonely Hearts Club" now.

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