Leftovers by Laura Wiess published Jan 2008, by MTV books. Dysfunction seems to be the prevailing theme of Ms. Wiess’s second book. I read her first book, Such a Pretty Girl, when it first came out in 2007. The theme of that story was about surviving sexual abuse. Leftovers spotlight teens in crisis. The author describes her protagonists journey within this novel as being “evolutionary.” At the end of it all, I wonder what her point is because after closing this book, I was grateful that my teen years are far behind me.
Ardith and Blair are ninth graders who are best friends; their narrative reads like a confession. Each girl alternates in explaining what drove them to do what they did in the last chapter of the novel, which is described as being a “desperate act” of justice. In order for readers to sympathize with Ardith and Blair’s actions, readers must start at the origin and understand what shaped their motivations and what leads them to commit this “unforgivable act” to correct a wrong. Both girls come from broken families with socially and economically different backgrounds. The two become fast friends and develop a life line for each other that helps them deal with their “dysfunctional family life.”
Starting with Ardith, her house is always filled with strangers who do nothing but party 24/7. Her parents–party goers themselves- allow their son’s friends to drink and sleep over night after night. So Ardith keeps a padlock on her door and a screwdriver and hammer under the pillow. She is no fool and takes no chances. I liked Ardith. She has dreams of becoming a podiatrist and wanting to be a successful person despite her crappy home life and the lack of support for her dreams. Her parents overlook a lot in allowing her freedoms most teens would kill to have but not Ardith. She sets limits on herself and carefully maintains a pretty good school record and reputation. She is somewhat self-disciplined, makes good grades and doesn’t drink or get high with her family and their friends.
Then there’s Blair, who is an only child whose parents are absent almost all the time. Her mother is rich, having made partner in a major law firm and is seeking a judgeship. Since the promotion, her parents are in the process of moving into a bigger home and have no plans to allow Blair’s beloved pet, Wendy, to go with them because she is “incontinent.” Blair finds out immediately that they’ve put her dog to sleep after her parents have lied to her stating that they’d find a nice home for her. After that incident, Blair starts to rebel but her mother soon puts a stop to that with threats of boarding school or sending her off to her grandparents for the summer.
Her father is more of a lame duck who doesn’t rock the boat and lets his wife call all the shots. Blair’s mother pretty much dictates their social calendar, always wanting their family seen in a positive light and socializing only with the “right people.” Her mother doesn’t care for Ardith and the two girls are forced to keep their friendship hidden. Meanwhile her mother tries to keep up appearances, disregards her husband’s discreet affairs as long as they stay “discreet.” She is looking for the right case with just the right amount of media attention to help secure her succession to the bench and she gets it, defending of all people, Ardith’s brother in a harassment case. Ardith’s brother is a “player”, the kind of guy teen girls can’t seem to resist.
The girls navigate their way through the usual middle school theatrics of peer pressure, cliques, guys and vicious rumors. On a more serious note, there is the hint of rape or “date rape” that doesn’t get too graphic. The girls feel as if they are “invisible” at home and at school and they tire of the game. Out of desperation they “lash out” to correct a wrong. I won’t elaborate on what they did just in case you may want to read this book someday. Moving on, I pretty much guessed who the girl’s “confessor” was early on in the story because they are telling this story to a character who has very few scenes but whose character plays a more of a significant role towards the end of the novel’s story arc. After closing the last page, I had to take a couple of days to think things over. The novel felt overly dramatic to me and far-fetched. Like her previous novel, Wiess seems to focus on teens that are thrust into adult situations that require them do desperate acts using what the author terms “kid logic.”
The ending was a triumph of sorts for the girls but the author leaves the ending with a bit of a question mark in regards to their future. What will become of them? More importantly, what did they gain in doing what they did in the end? My grade for this story would have to be a C, because I was not as “captivated” by this story as I was with her previous book. The pacing of the novel overall wasn’t bad but I grew bored quickly with school stuff. Ms. Wiess says that she enjoys writing about this demographic but I hope the next novel she pens has more of an upbeat message. If teens today are in a crisis then I appreciate her enlightening me. This was a decent read overall. C+. I felt underwhelmed when it was over.
[tags]Laura Wiess, YA literature, Revenge, Teens[/tags]