February 14, 2006

Gritty Realism with a Purpose

I don't often gravitate towards novels you'd describe as "edgy" or "gritty." Often I find them to be all grit and no substance, if you know what I mean. But even upon first picking up E.R. Frank's America, I had a feeling that statement wouldn't hold true with this book. In fact, I wondered if this book would even be too intense for me--a young boy named America who has lived in foster homes, treatment centers, and on the streets; who has suffered abuse and fallen through the cracks of the system.

And yes, this is a very intense book, and very saddening. At the same time, though, it's achingly hopeful. I was amazed at the level of realism, of sensitivity, that this social worker-author achieved in giving this all-too-familiar story life and individuality. She's given a name and face to a problem we'd often prefer to remain faceless and nameless, and that name is painfully symbolic.

The writing and the narrator's use of language are frank and raw, and the story is at times distressing and upsetting. I definitely recommend this for older YA readers. However, the character isn't as old as you would think, and this is one of those books that might save lives if if falls into the hands of those that need it. America's story is difficult to bear, but crucially important, because it reveals that even the most painful of stories can have a hopeful ending, and that sometimes there are people worth trusting in this world.

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