I don't read much contemporary YA. I'm not really drawn to realistic narratives. I like my angst with a side of fantasy, supernatural, demons and witches. So I don't know why I started to read Jennifer R. Hubbard's books, other than she was appearing at the YA Fest I was going to and I was curious about her work.
First I read her debut, THE SECRET YEAR. I was immediately hooked and quickly picked up TRY NOT TO BREATHE (which she kindly signed for me at the event.)
It's a very different kind of read when you read about teens and don't expect one of them to shoot sparks from their hands, or confess they are fairies. I'm not knocking those books, they are the kind I love (and the kind I write) I'm just saying that realistic contemporary books engage different, quieter parts of the brain.
Ryan is a sixteen year old recovering from a suicide attempt. It's a remarkably melodrama free situation - He's not the kind of kid that has so many insurmountable problems that you can't relate to him - he's just like you. The thing he lacks is the ability to cope when things progressively spiral downwards. Hubbard does a very good job of making his situation and his responses understandable. You may not ever find yourself in the same position, but you can see the path that Ryan took to get there.
Hubbard is never patronizing and never goes for the cheap emotional tug, even when Nicki, a girl tormented by her own father's suicide, seeks Ryan out - looking for answers he just doesn't have.
Suicide is a heavy issue, and it can be handled awkwardly by writers trying to do 'right' by such a loaded topic. But I think Hubbard's touch is light and truthful. What amazes me about both her books is how authentic the voice is - I never had that feeling of "Wait, no teen would ever say that," that I've had with some other YA books.
One last thing about Hubbard's writing. I liked THE SECRET YEAR a lot. I was looking forward to reading TRY NOT TO BREATHE, but I still was surprised at how good the writing was. It had gotten better in the second book - no small feat considering that the first book was already a win.