Tag Archives: YA

Clinch by Zachary Bartels

“How many Marilyns do you know who go to our church?” she asked, “because I only know one.”

“This is none of our business, Judith.”

“And that’s her car,” she said, pointing at a battered old Lumina with a Clinch Rock Wrestling bumper sticker. She looked over to Trent. “Marilyn Fisher.”

“Look, we shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in there. Just let my Dad deal with this, okay?”

“But he can’t now. Don’t you see? Confidentiality, the confessional and all that stuff. He can’t go the cop route. He’s stuck. But I’m not.”

At the start of this summer, Zachary Bartels released the half of the script of his podcast of fiction and not-fiction. It was the fiction half called Clinch. The story follows a couple teenagers who start at a Christian summer camp and just about end up there. Trent is the son of the small town’s chief of police who is transitioning to full-time pastor. His long-time friend, Judith, is also very close to his dad, who treats her like the daughter he never had.

Their close relationship is tested in part by the bad guys, because this is a YA thriller, and in part by a book called, Insane Faith: A Guide to Extreme Christianity for the Truly Faithful. It’s a book that urges readers to give 120% of everything for everything.

“Jesus never said no to anyone who asked for his help,” the book teaches. “When we say no to an opportunity to exercise insane faith, we’re refusing to be like Jesus.”

Such a mindset pushes Trent’s dad into full-time ministry, challenges Trent’s perspective of his fairly average life, and inspires Judith to take up a superhero mantle. Because despite the real world setting, big city bullies, teen antics, and cool Goonies-level mystery, Clinch is essentially the story of a girl who sees corruption in her town and works to oppose it. With an ox goad.

I loved it. I listened to the whole podcast series and enjoyed all of the not-fiction parts too. If that’s not quite your thing, you can pick it up as an ebook or paperback.

Klavan and the Imp of the Perverse

Today, Andrew Klavan announced the release of his new young adult thriller, Nightmare City. In an interesting post on his approach to writing for that market, he makes some cogent points:

Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.

The term “The Imp of the Perverse” is a reference to story by Poe.

Crazy Dangerous, by Andrew Klavan

Andrew Klavan has taken a small (but worthwhile) detour in his writing career over the last few years, producing top-notch thrillers aimed at the Young Adult audience, published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. His previous four books, The Homelanders series, brought the Christian YA field to a whole new level. All in all, I think the stand-alone novel Crazy Dangerous is even better.

One improvement is the narrator/hero of Crazy Dangerous, Sam Hopkins. Unlike Charlie West, the hero of the Homelanders books, Sam is not an adolescent James Bond, outstanding at everything he does and equipped with a black belt. Sam will be far easier for most kids to identify with. He’s a smallish, not very popular, not academically outstanding, not very athletic teenager, struggling with the challenges of being a preacher’s kid in a small town in upstate New York. When he receives an odd offer of “friendship” from three of the shadiest kids in his school, he gets involved with them, just to escape the public expectations that face every PK.

But the situation changes when his new “friends” make an attack on Jennifer, a vulnerable classmate with mental problems. Rescuing Jennifer, and paying the price for it, seems to be the end of Sam’s adventure, but it’s only the beginning. Because Jennifer’s mysterious, oddly articulated visions of impending death and disaster have more truth in them than anyone guesses, and everyone in Sam’s world is not what they seem. But the lesson Sam is learning—“Do right. Fear nothing”—steers him through a variety of strange paths to the right decisions in a big, explosive story climax.

Great story. Great values. I found it interesting that Sam’s pastor father, though a good dad and a wise man, seems to be a liberal Christian, and therefore blind to some truths that might have helped his son. That was an intriguing—and narratively useful—nuance.

The plot was weak at one point, I thought, where Sam made a braver choice than I thought consistent with his character. But that might be just a coward’s reaction to reading about a better person than himself. It certainly won’t bother young readers, who will consume this book like nacho chips and shake the bag for more.

Highly recommended for teens and up. Great for adults too. Intense situations, but no foul language.

The Final Hour, by Andrew Klavan

I’ll get out, I told myself. Rose’ll get me out. Two months, maybe three. I just need courage. I just have to survive.

That’s what I told myself.

But I was way wrong.

Andrew Klavan has completely realized his purpose in writing The Final Hour, the fourth and last in his The Homelanders young adult action series. He’s crafted a moral story that’s so exciting teenage boys will put off going back to their video games until they’ve finished it.

Is it over the top? Unquestionably. Poor Charlie West, the hero, caroms from one deathly peril to another, chapter after chapter. It’s like an Indiana Jones movie, except that Indie wouldn’t be able to keep up Charlie’s pace.

If you’ve been following the series, or just my reviews, you’ll know that the first book, The Last Thing I Remember, opened with Charlie waking up bound to a chair in a strange room, with terrorists outside the door discussing how much further to torture him. Since then he’s escaped and learned that (during a year that he’s forgotten completely) he’s been arrested and convicted of the murder of a high school friend. He’s escaped from custody since then, and has been on the run—gradually learning bits and pieces about the terrorists’ plot.

At the start of The Final Hour he’s in custody again, an inmate in a federal prison. The radical Muslim prisoners hate him for opposing terrorists, and try to kill him. He’s rescued by Nazi skinheads who want something from him, but he doesn’t want to have anything to do with them either. And oh yes, the corrupt prison guards have it in for him too.

Through it all, Charlie teaches lessons in Christian decency and patriotism, not by talking about those things, or even thinking about them much, but through practicing them—living out the lessons he’s learned from his parents and his karate teacher, Mike.

Which prepares him for his improbable but edge-of-your seat final confrontation with the murderous Homelanders.

Well done, Andrew Klavan.

Suitable (and highly recommended) for teens and up.