Friday, June 6, 2008

Emo Teens, But in a Good Way

I'm not a huge fan of reading about immature teenagers. However, Nancy Kress' novelette "Call Back Yesterday" easily sustained my interest. We're first presented with a girl, Caitlin, who sees figures in her mirror besides herself. ("This morning the bathroom mirror shows only a lone person—besides Caitlin herself, of course.") She tries to ignore them and instead focus on normal teen concerns ("She washes her face, brushes her teeth, and tries the effect of pinning her dirty hair on top of her head. She looks like a dork. More of a dork.") So there's the first question to pique our interest: what's up with the mirror figures?

Next she is called to group therapy of some kind. It turns out she's institutionalized with other teenagers with similar issues—and aside from the mirror figures there's also some sort of amnesia going on. There follows a description of the sort of nasty group politics you'd expect with a random group of less-than-stable teenagers, but the "doctors" also seem a bit off. The next question for us is why these kids are institutionalized, completely cut off from the outside world. The fact that there are no windows is a nice touch to make us wonder about what's being hidden.

The story really picks up with the escape attempt. One of the boys, Josh, leads Caitlin and her friend Sheena out of the institution during a power outage. It turns out that the place is surrounded by some sort of wild vegetative jungle—not what you'd expect from North Carolina, which is where the girls think they are. Even more intriguing. The emotional intensity of the story picks up as Sheena and Caitlin begin to remember more things, Josh seduces Caitlin, and we begin to suspect that Josh is not quite what he seems.

This story grabs you and doesn't let go. The emotional intensity of the teenagers rings very true. The ending is a little disappointing; it answers some questions but not all of them, and some of the answers seem to come a little too easily to Caitlin. However, the story is less about the world the characters inhabit and more about the characters themselves, and the characters and the drama are very well done.

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