Sunday, April 26, 2009

New This Month: Inferno by Robin Stevenson

Aside from being a name to watch in the world of young adult publishing, Robin Stevenson’s story is the type of overnight success that really is one. While on maternity leave from her job as a social worker and counselor in 2005, Stevenson began to write seriously. Four years later, she is the author of six books.

The most recent of these is Inferno (Orca), Stevenson’s take on the teen angst novel. She does a terrific job, capturing the impossibly large emotion and the power that propels teenage girls. I think back on that age and shudder. One gets the feeling that Stevenson is able to recreate that feeling for herself with ease. Or it feels like ease, at any rate though, admittedly, good writing almost always looks like that.

In Inferno we meet 16-year-old Emily, though we meet her as Dante, after a series of events have caused her to rethink herself. Having read The Divine Comedy, she recreates herself as Dante because, as she tells someone early on, she liked what the author said about “how we need to take responsibility for the world. As individuals, I mean.”

Clearly, Dante is intelligent and somewhat different. These things, together with Stevenson’s understanding of human nature and developmental behaviors, combine to create a character young readers will have no trouble relating to. We all feel different sometimes. We all feel a desire for reinvention on occasion and so we relate to Dante who seems, at times, hell-bent on creating a divine comedy of her own.

Are there elements of the story and aspects of Dante’s character that seem stereotypical to this subgenre? I think so. But where do stereotypes come from? Readers who are on the other side of Dante’s 16 will remember that age and identify with the character. This is skillful writing featuring a strong female protagonist. A good story well told.

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