Wilder – Andrew Simonet

Jason Wilder is a high school senior who doesn’t actually attend classes. Instead, he spends his time in the Rubber Room…for his own protection.

Officially, it was In-School Suspension, but kids called it the Rubber Room. It wasn’t covered in rubber, but it was delinquent proof. […] The Rubber Room was set up to prevent tragedies like school shootings, or at least to make it look like you could prevent them.

Jason set a fire that hurt someone and now he’s a target. The thing about Jason is that he’s big and tough and, according to Meili, “a danger because [he] wants to be.”

Meili is in the Rubber Room because, according to the story that’s been passed around and likely exaggerated, she broke someone’s finger. She’s not afraid of Jason or his reputation for violence; she is fearless, mysterious, and just a tad crazy.

These are the characters in Andrew Simonet’s debut YA novel, Wilder.

Despite his propensity for violence, Jason is a sympathetic character. He has a distinctive voice and a troubling backstory. He lives alone; his mother and her boyfriend, Al, have moved to Florida, apparently to dry out. He lives in their crappy house existing on the little bit of money they send home to him. Because he is on probation for setting the fire, he can’t let anyone know that he lives alone. It’s not that hard to keep it a secret; Jason doesn’t really have any friends. Until Meili.

It is clear from early on in the story that something happens to Jason and Meili. Jason informs us

I have lots of time now to think about what happened. I’m straightening out how one thing led to the next, how I got drawn in, how things became inevitable.

Other people have their ideas, what should have happened, what I did and didn’t do. Meili has her version. This is my story, what it’s like inside my skin.

It is no wonder Jason and Meili are drawn to each other. It is also no wonder why things end up going horribly wrong.

I never want Meili – or anyone – to be so betrayed and broken. But if we’re gonna live in a world where that happens, I want this. I want her thrashing sobs and gut screams. I want to clench my body to hers and tumble. I want this velocity. I want my share.

Wilder is full of forward momentum. I found it a compelling read, by it’s definitely for mature readers. There is violence, lots of swearing and some fairly explicit sex.

Rosie & Skate – Beth Ann Bauman

Sisters Rosie, 15 and Skate, 16, share the narrative in Beth Ann Bauman’s YA novel Rosie & Skate. They live in a crumbling house on the Jersey Shore. Well, Rosie lives there with her cousin, Angie. Skate lives at her boyfriend’s house with his mother, Julia. The sisters’ father is currently in jail for committing petty crimes while under the influence. although Rosie insists that her father is “a nice drunk.”

Bauman’s novel follows the sisters as they navigate their relationship with their father (Rosie is hopeful and forgiving; Skate has given up on her father and doesn’t believe he will ever get better), and each other. Skate is clearly the more worldly of the two: her older boyfriend, Perry, is in his first year at Rutgers and Rosie hasn’t even been kissed. Over the course of a few weeks, though, each of the girls will encounter unforeseen challenges that will push them along the path to adulthood.

Rosie & Skate is one of those quiet books where not much happens, but it still feels packed. I suppose that’s because when you are a teenager everything feels momentous. Who is guiding these girls? Who can they turn to but each other when things go off the rails – as they so often have in their lives.

There are no bad actors in this novel, even Rosie and Skate’s dad is searching for answers as to why he can’t seem to stop drinking. Rosie and Skate have their own way of coping and they certainly make mistakes, but anyone who was ever a teenager will recognize themselves in some of the questionable decisions the sisters make.

Ultimately, though, Rosie & Skate is a hopeful book about family, particularly found family, and spending time with these sisters is time well-spent.