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07 Aug, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Books about forensics and sci-fi captivate readers

In the last few years, the market for young adult books has boomed in part because publishers have seen that these books can have enormous crossover potential. The Harry Potter and Twilight series are two examples of how books targeted at teenagers can draw in a much wider adult audience.

On the flip side, some books that are marketed towards adults end up becoming popular among teenagers, especially when a young protagonist is involved. Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness or even J.D’s Salinger’s classic Catcher in the Rye, demonstrate that teens can handle complex themes and challenging characters when they can relate to the story being told.

Although it is difficult to predict which books will have that crossover appeal, publishers are definitely attempting to find the next title that will make the leap from teen to adult readers. The result is an outcrop of young adult books that feature complex plots, themes and characters, and that are increasingly blurring the line between traditionally adult and youth literature. Here are two recent titles that live up to the potential of finding readers who transcend age categories and simply want to enjoy a good book.

Virals (photo above – Penguin Canada, $22.50)
by Kathy Reichs (Ages 12­ and up)

Montreal author Kathy Reichs has developed a huge following with her series of mystery novels that feature Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist.

Brennan solves murders using her unique ability to see clues. And with so much interest in forensics these days, it’s not surprising that Reichs’ books have been adapted into a hip television series named Bones, which features a younger, quirkier version of the Brennan in the books. It seems like a natural progression then that Reichs would now be interested in writing a book for teens, which she recently completed and titled Virals.

In this book, Tory Brennan is the 14-year-old main character and long-lost great-niece of the famous Brennan. We meet her when she has just gone to live with her father, whom she has never met, after the unexpected death of her mother. She lives on a remote island in South Carolina where her father works as a biologist. Tory quickly becomes friends with some of the other researchers’ children. The group sets off on many scientific adventures together, but soon become embroiled in a mystery involving the suspicious disappearance of a young woman and a dog infected with a deadly virus.

As it turns out, Tory has inherited her great-aunt’s scientific mind and intuition for sniffing out hidden clues, and her friends equally share in Tory’s penchant for everything scientific. Tory and her friends may not seem like your average teens, yet Reichs has given Tory a strong teen voice. She is full sarcasm and questions about life, and grapples with teen insecurities like school crushes and fitting in. The book provides an excellent stepping stone for readers who may want to eventually transition to Reichs’ adult novels.
And as for Reichs’ adult fans, Virals is a perfect quick fix that holds the same fast-paced storytelling, etched with forensic twists and turns that has gained the author such a wide fan-base in the first place.

Front cover of The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games (Scholastic Canada, $9.99)
by Suzanne Collins (Ages 14 and up)

Published in 2008, The Hunger Games has gained huge momentum among readers of all ages, who devoured this novel set in an apocalyptic future where North America as we know it has disappeared and has been replaced by Panem, an area of 13 districts all subject to the powerful Capitol.

Each district has a specific role to play and decreases in wealth the further it is from the Capitol. When District 13, the poorest of the group, stages a rebellion, it is completely annihilated by the Capitol. Since that time, the defeat of this oppressed population is commemorated by the Hunger Games, a brutal competition that pits two youths from each district against one another until there is only one youth left standing alive. The entire event is televised as a reminder to the people of Panem the high cost of rebellion.

The only problem is that the poor are at a far greater disadvantage in the competition. Not only do they have little training for the event, they have far greater odds of being selected from the lottery draw since they can put their name in multiple times in exchange for food and supplies that otherwise they would not have access to.

The plot of the book is centered on Katniss, a 16-year-old girl from District 12, who gets selected for the next Hunger Games. She may not have the physical might of the Capitol or the training of her peers from the wealthier districts, but she is determined to survive through her wits and kindness.

It’s not surprising that The Hunger Games has gained such a wide audience. Collins has created a thought-provoking reality that brings to the surface serious questions about the inequalities in today’s world. She challenges the myth that the poor have earned their place in life and reveals how the structures of society can corner people. She creates a mirror into our own world that shows a frightening reflection, but one that offers hope if we make room for kindness, innovation and questioning.

Katniss is also a fascinating character, one who will inspire readers of any age as she never drowns in her own sorrow or despair. She challenges conventions, analyzes her situation and carefully considers her actions, which initiates change and transformation.

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