Great novels give us new information and new ideas. They also make us more humble. They help us see ourselves as part of the universe rather than at the centre of it. They give us courage to keep going when none of our plans work out and we have to start all over again.
Here are two stories about current world events that are unfortunately not so great, even though they are quite entertaining and even informative:
Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz (Harlequin Teen, 2016) is not a great novel. It tells the story of a teenager who wins a National Scholarship Award but discovers she is ineligible. Her Filipino parents have been working without proper documentation and now the whole family is about to be deported. Jasmine, a popular cheerleader, has always worked hard to do everything perfectly. Now all her plans are in jeopardy because her parents have failed to become legal residents of the U.S.A.
The portrayal of life for undocumented residents is informative. The depiction of emotional pain encourages empathy. But the story is altogether too much of a fairy tale: Jasmine is a self-pitying heroine who must prevail over the forces of injustice. This 432-page novel, inspired by the author’s experiences, is recommended for teenagers looking for a romance story that doesn’t threaten their own sense of self-importance.
Red Glass by Laura Resau (Delacorte Press, 2007) is another disappointing novel. Sixteen-year-old Sophie learns more about life for illegal immigrants while travelling from Arizona to Mexico and Guatemala. The story vividly portrays the hardships faced by people fleeing their homelands. It loudly declares the unfairness of showing compassion for refugees from Europe while rejecting immigrants from Central America. And that is much of the problem. Everything is just so obvious. And so this book, too, turns into a fairy tale: an innocent heroine learning to overcome her fears in order to show her true goodness. Despite winning several awards, this 275-page novel can only be recommended for readers willing to learn about current events but really wanting a romance.
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