Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dealing with the "Devil"

I am a big fan generally of books that explore morality and decision making in interesting ways. Lately there have been several YA books that have explored these themes in what I think are fantastic settings. I think these books are important because they really make readers, both teen and adult pause to think, "How far would I go? Would I do that? What do I really believe?"

When I read about Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri, I was very excited by the premise. In a modern telling of the "Faustian bargain" (also known as a deal with the Devil), five teens are taken from their homes across Europe one night. Then five years later, they reemerge in New York's high society to dominate one of the most elite prep schools in the city. As they climb their way to the top, others begin to question their abilities, unaware of the special "talents" that the teens have received from their Governess.

Unfortunately, I did not think that the execution of the book lived up to the really interesting premise. The teens are given gifts by their "Governess," such as the ability to stop time and "hide," extraordinary beauty, or the ability to read minds, whatever it is that they desire most. Hence the title, Another Faust. Once readers delve into the story, though, and the gifts have been revealed, it is easy to discern where the story is going and unfortunately it just takes TOO LONG to get there. The book could easily have been cut about 50 pages short!

So, very cool idea...not really recommended.

On the other hand, another title, Secret Society by Tom Dolby, is very much recommended. This title is not literally based on a deal with the Devil, but it is about the proverbial selling of souls. In Secret Society, four teens are "tapped" to join an infamous secret society amongst Manhattan's elite. The four teens, very different in talents and interests, are brought together as they begin to realize just how deep the influence of the Society goes. Is membership worth their lives?

Also set in modern New York City, this book takes all of the most interesting parts of high society life in Manhattan and brings their decadence and immorality issues to light. Similar to Gossip Girl, this book shows readers the vices that teens begin to explore early in life when given the opportunity, when money and status are not an issue. The Society also allows these teens to take all of those opportunities to the next level.

Yet, while adult readers might stop to think that teens should not be participating in these types of activities (drinking, partying, etc.), teens will relate and again, this particular book approaches these issues with the question, "Should I be doing this?" Each of the four teens has to question how far they will go, what they are willing to do, to get the things they want from life. Though each comes to their own conlusions in different ways, the ending is realistic in that they all realize that they cannot leave the Society, but will have to band together to try to survive on the inside.

A very fun and slightly decadent read.

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