Reading the essays of Amy Tan in The Opposite of Fate makes me ponder what its inverse might be: perhaps it is hope.
Young adult fiction is not a genre I generally seek out, given my lack of interest in vampires or teen romance. But Ithaca author, Shawn Goodman, wrote the winner of the 2009 Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel and I wanted to see why.
Something like Hope (Delacorte Press/Random House) is not what I expected of teen fiction. It’s a haunting story of Shavonne, who has been in “juvie” all her teenage years. Based on Shawn Goodman’s own experiences working within New York State juvenile detention facilities, it’s a coming of age story that breaks your heart open to the possibility of hope for someone who has had the cards stacked against her. The antics of abusive guards and careless counselors give the reader an unflinchingly honest and realistic look inside these institutions which beg for juvenile justice reform.
It’s the voice of Shavonne, though, that makes this a captivating story. Angry and confused by what has happened to her, Shavonne lashes out in violence against those who come close to her secrets. As her 18th birthday approaches with imminent release into a harsh world, she begins to open up to a sad-eyed middle-aged white male counselor. He lets her come to terms with giving birth to a baby delivered straight into the system and her own crackhead mother who deserted her. He lets her see it isn’t her fault; but what comes next for her will be of her own choosing. He lets her discover these things herself.
The connections between her low self-esteem and self-destructive path lead her to the weight of guilt from the secret she keeps. The guilt she has carried for the role she played in her brother’s childhood accident builds like emotional thunderclouds. Letting go of the blame and shame for not being a mother to her brother, or a mother to her own infant, is only possible when she begins to recognize she has been a motherless child. Only now is she becoming an adult and will be responsible for her own self from now on and Shavonne discovers something like hope.
Visit Shawn Goodman online at www.shawngoodmanbooks.com.