Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Family Intact

Erin McCahan in Grand Haven, MI
It is rare in young adult fiction to find a family that gets along well, in which an author portrays teens with parents who respect them and allow them autonomy. Erin McCahan paints such a family portrait in Love and Other Foreign Words.

Josie Sheridan likes routine, predictability, consistency, and she dislikes surprises. Yet everything is changing. Her sister Kate is getting married, and Josie does not approve. Josie must work hard to do the things that come naturally to others. She practices the signature hug for her volleyball team (at home, in private) so that she can belong, but then everyone wants a "Josie hug," which was not the goal she sought.

Josie's father really "gets" her, and provides some much-needed compassion for his youngest daughter. But he also knows when to draw the line, when to point out that she's in the wrong. And he does it in such a way that she must do some soul-searching. He does not make anything easy for her, because he knows she likes to--even needs to--puzzle things out.

So often novels aimed at teens explore the rift between parent and child once he or she enters adolescence. Here's a novel in which the parents give their teen space to become the person she's yearning to become. They trust her and have faith in her, even when she's acting badly. Maybe it's because she's the third of three children. Maybe they've learned with their first two that their children have to figure it out for themselves, but this mother and father have an approach that works.

Josie's mother and father know that along with their daughter's genius come some social challenges, and they are there to guide her, but they also know she must learn from her own missteps. Yes, the friendship, the portrayal of sister relationships, and the awakening of romance are terrific, but the strong, loving relationship between Josie and her parents may be most memorable of all.

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