Beige by Cecil Castellucci. ARC supplied by publisher, Candlewick. Publication date: June 2007. (Amazon says May).
Notice: Yes, this is a long, long way away. But this book is so fabulous that I must blog about it now. Like many of my fellow bloggers, I'm being a total booktease, in that I'm saying I love it yet not going into any details now, but will do a follow up post once this has been on the shelves six months or so. It's one of my Best Books for 2007.
The Plot: Katy, 15, is a nice, good girl who gets along with her mother; she dresses like a prep and likes boy bands. Mom is headed off to an archaeological dig in Peru for two and a half weeks; Grand-maman is in an old age home; so Katy leaves Montreal for LA to visit her father, the Rat. She hasn't seen Beau "the Rat" Ratner since she was seven. Needless to say, she isn't happy about this at all. Picture Rory from the Gilmore Girls shipped off to the Osbournes.
The Good: I am trying to be very, very good about spoilers.
While at first glance it seems the Rat is called the Rat because Katy hasn't seen him since forever, it's actually his punk name. Y'see, the Rat is the drummer for the "famously unfamous" band, Suck.
This is not one of those books where a girl goes to LA and has a Pretty Woman shopping experience when she meets her rich and famous father. C'mon, Castellucci is better than that (tho if she wrote that type of book it would kick ass because Castellucci is that good of a writer.) Because Suck is "famously unfamous" (i.e., they never made it big) the Rat lives in an apartment and has a day job to pay the bills.
Beige does not use the "famous Daddy" teen formula as an excuse to go shopping or teach us a life lesson about being rich. The Rat is not a musician so that Castellucci can show us the life styles of the rich and famous; the Rat is a musician because it is his life, it is his world view, it is the reason he's alive. For Katy, music is something that plays in the background. She likes boy bands. How do two people, related by blood yet total strangers, create a relationship when they have nothing in common?
What else can I say without significant spoilers? As you know, I am very tough on the absentee Dad becoming devoted Dad for no good reason. Here, the Rat has a great reason for not seeing Katy for all those years: he was a heroin addict. He is now a recovered addict.
What works, again without being spoilerific:
Katy's anger and distrust of her father; Katy's deep attachment to her mother; the mother changing her life from drugged out teenage groupie knocked up by famous drummer to respectable mother earning a PhD. (Imagine Penny Lane from Almost Famous, but in the early 90s punk rock scene; she gets pregnant and leaves the whole rock'n'roll world behind.)
What also works is that Castellucci knows and respects the punk rock scene. Every chapter is headed by a song name and band.* Katy is a fish out of water -- "beige" in this land of people who live for music -- yet Castellucci shows Katy (and the reader) a thing or two or three about punk rock. (And whether it's music or something else, who hasn't felt beige every now and then? You haven't? Just me? Oh.)
Final words: Castellucci at all times respects Katy and respects the Rat. There is no "good" person or "bad" person; no right or wrong way; only finding what is one's own way.
Final, final words: While I cannot give any specific examples without being a spoiler girl (I am such a booktease!), one of the things I love about Castellucci is that she leaves things to the reader to figure out. She doesn't spoonfeed it to you. There are parts here, things about the parents, Katy, the music scene, that I am dying to talk about.
Words after the final, final words: Age: teen. Is it OK for middle school? Depends on your community. C'mon, people it's punk rock! The word f*ck appears (but much less often than Nick and Norah.) Someone gets a boner. And Katy is result of a groupie and musician hook up. The Rat and Katy's mother are now sober, but this book honestly looks at their drug use in the past and the consequences, without being all Afternoon Special about it. I think it would work in a middle school in all but the most conservative towns, but read and judge for yourself.
More words after the final, final words. I know I am old when I'm older than the parents** in the teen books I'm reading. But that aside, while I love Castellucci's YA books, given that she never falls for the "parents are evil" trap and creates well-rounded, very human people, I would be the happiest person in happydonia if she ever wrote a grown up book.
*I'm a librarian. I cannot resist a list. I knew 10 of the 45 song titles.
** Actually, older than the mom but not the dad.
Links: Beige is Punk: Essential Punk Rock songs
The Chasing Ray review
Cecil Castellucci....Between the buns at Bookburger
Win an ARC contest: Deadline February 20, 2007
The Goddess of YA Literature review