Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: Jessica Lee Anderson's "Border Crossing"

Isaiah Luis "Manz" Martinez is not the typical narrator of a YA book. He is not dealing with problems at school, parents who don't understand him, or feeling awkward around girls; Manz is just struggling to make sense of the voices in his head. Uneducated, scraping by with odd jobs, and mourning the loss of a dead father and half-brother, fifteen-year-old Manz tries to support his drunken mother and his best friend, Jed. But Manz just wants the voices to stop. In a modern-day Bell Jar meets Border Patrol, Jessica Lee Anderson's 2009 Border Crossing takes the reader on an adventure through Manz's mind.

Structure: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The book is broken up nicely by chapters, which are more like episodes of a drama. Each one is emotionally charged and typically doesn't end well. Manz begins a new job on a ranch, stalks out on fights with his mother, bereaves his dead brother, helps Jed escape his abusive father, meets a girl but then doesn't know what to do, and tries to withstand the growing voices, noises, shadows, and smells that torture his thoughts.

The novel kept me reading, but sometimes because I was confused. It almost felt that I hadn't quite processed one chapter when the next one began. I would have liked to see less but longer chapters - I feel the story might have been a bit stronger with fewer conflicts and more details. Still a great read.

Characters: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I really felt like I knew the protagonist. The reader is so far into Manz's head that the reader becomes almost paranoid. Run! They are after you! was a frequent thought by the second half of the book, even though I knew no one was after Manz. His best friend, Jed, also leads a spontaneous and chaotic life. I would have liked to know more about him, or his sister, Sally. Manz's mother, Delores, is introduced but not quite fleshed out, and neither is Manz's stepfather, Tom. Anderson creates distinctive and intriguing characters, but then the reader only really gets to know Manz. However, each character clearly had their own story to tell - perhaps this sets Anderson up nicely for sequels.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

Not only does Manz offer a fascinating story, but he also presents a different voice, one not frequently found in Young Adult literature. Again, Manz isn't dealing with the typical teen YA drama. No teachers. No principals. No college applications. No messy break-ups. Manz is simply dealing with himself - his own brain. Anderson writes in a chilling manner. It is not hard to imagine what two minutes in Manz's head might sound like.

As a reader, I could empathize with Manz, but I didn't trust him and couldn't follow him at points. Unlike other unreliable narrators, I wasn't sure when Manz was hallucinating or not. While this is a powerful technique to get inside the narrator's head, it sometimes unsettled me. Every so often, I felt like I was out of the loop. Again, this may have been purposeful on the part of the author to get the reader into the narrator's shoes.

Overall, Anderson writes a brilliant piece. She has tried something different in the world of YA and, for the most part, it works. Apart from the psychoanalytical aspect of Manz's life, the author also introduces topics that have, thus far, gone mainly untouched in YA - things like immigration, poverty, and self-abuse. I recommend this book for any avid young adult reader.

Anderson is also the author of Trudy (Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature) and Calli, which was just published in mid-September.

No comments:

Post a Comment