Book Talk: *The Local News*, by Miriam Gershow
Sibling relationships can change dramatically when kids reach their teens, and it's happened to Danny and Lydia Pasternak. Danny morphed into a popular jock, one of the kids who can't be bothered with brainiac outsiders like his younger sister Lydia. Actually, other than her friend David Nelson, a brainiac outsider himself, most of the kids at Franklin High School can't be bothered with Lydia, and she's accepted that. But when Danny goes missing, suddenly everyone in town wants to be involved with the Pasternaks somehow, and Lydia doesn't know what to make of the attention that comes with being The Local News.
Danny Pasternak is the character that sets Miriam Gershow's story in motion, but it's told through Lydia's perspective, and in Lydia, Gershow has a distinctive and memorable narrator. Lydia has spent enough time on the fringes of suburban high-school life that when she's suddenly brought into the middle of it - sought out by the people who hovered around her lost brother - part of her remains on the edges, observing and dissecting the dynamics of keg parties and aimless hanging out even as she takes part in the drinking and the confused, confusing social maneuvering. Lydia's own feelings about her brother's disappearance are just as confused and confusing, as she is strangely drawn toward the private detective investigating it at the same time she and her parents seem to draw further apart from each other.
Gershow has crafted a resonant and thoughtful exploration of grief - its public rituals and often unpredictable private expression, the ambivalence and conflict that sometimes accompany it - that's an involving, suspenseful page-turner at the same time. Some of the suspense comes directly from the mystery of Danny's disappearance, but for me, a great deal came from my engagement with Lydia and how she experienced the effects of it. I related to her sense of displacement, worried about her misdirected efforts to do something, and hoped she'd find her way through the confusion. While most of the novel is actually told in flashback, Lydia's voice and behavior are realistically adolescent and convincingly portrayed; however, I never had the feeling that this was anything other than a novel for adults. A novel like The Local News brings me back to my occasional ponderings of young-adult literature, because if "a teenage protagonist" is the primary criteria for classifying fiction as YA, this book would fit in there. However, I really don't think that's what it's meant to be, and I'd like to keep this one for the grown-ups.
It's impressive to realize that this is Miriam Gershow's first novel, and I look forward to reading what she does next.
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