Out of the 60+ books I read last year, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert was one of my favorites. So I was thrilled to win an Advanced Reader's Copy of her new book Ballads of Suburbia!
Kara hasn't been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad-boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park....
Amid the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.
You know those Young Adult Fiction books where the heroines are glossy, perfect girlie-girls who obsess over makeup and fashion, have perfect, prince charming boyfriends, and live happily ever after?
This isn't one of those books.
And that's why I loved it.
I'm not going to lie. Ballads of Suburbia is serious. Don't let the use of "ballads" in the title fool you. This isn't a sweet, slow, melodic story about love. It's a fast, hard-rocking, gritty tale of sex, drugs, abuse (at the hands of others, at the hands of yourself), and death.
After moving to the suburbs, Kara and her brother Liam find themselves in the middle of the party hard lifestyle of Scoville Park-- the place where kids who don't fit in with the popular crowd and aren't immersed in sports and clubs hang out after school.
It's through the friends Kara meets at Scoville that Stephanie Kuehnert creates the raw, gritty story of kids surrounded by self-absorbed, absentee parents and a desire to feel loved-- to feel anything-- and simply fit in.
Kara's story is interspersed with the ballads of her friends. The ballads are part of "Stories of Suburbia," a notebook passed around and filled with newspaper clippings about the suburbs and true stories of mistakes made and events that changed lives.
Kuehnert creates real characters with flaws and issues and makes you care deeply about them. Furthermore, she helps you relate to them.
I wasn't anything like Kara and her friends. In fact, I was one of the girls who hung out at cheerleader practice and various after-school activities. But the need to fit it, to feel love? That's universal.
At the end of the day, Kara's demons were still there. Her problems weren't solved. Still, I got a sense of hope. We don't all live happily ever after, but that doesn't mean we aren't happy in our pursuit of understanding, closure, and growth.
Kuehnert gets that. Probably better than most YA Fiction authors.