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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Living Outside the Lines

Today is Raise-a-Reader day in Canada. This is an initiative to raise awareness and funds for literacy programs. Melvin Moon saw lots of the color yellow around this idea, and if you don't know what that means, you haven't been reading the right books!!

In my opinion, reading really does open up the world and precipitate change. It's how we find information, test out concepts, sample the lives of others, and learn about differences and similarities between humans, humans and nature, and humans and the unknown.

I have been reading lots of different types of books lately and have been trading books back and forth with friends. To me, there's really something special about borrowing or lending a book to a friend. It really seems to be a positive transfer of energy in some way that I truly appreciate. Perhaps it because it really helps you connect with the other person and see a side of them that you might not have otherwise known. I've really found connections with people during the casual discussion of a good book it turns out we both read. I've often been surprised to discover what someone else read and enjoyed.  Often it encourages me to see the person in a different light. The recommendation of a good book is not something to be taken lightly.

So when favorite teenager I know lent me a copy of Lesley Choyce's, Living Outside the Lines, I took special care to read it. When the teenager lent it to me she told me she thought it was "my kind of book". It was.

This novel tells the story of a high-school student that is enrolled in an advanced writing class with the assignment to write a novel. The character's novel is expectantly picked up by a publisher and sets in motion some pretty powerful events that actually take place in the future. As the story progresses, the lives of the novelist and the novel become intertwined in a bit of a science fiction/alternate dimension way. In the character's novel, teenagers have increased political and social power. They become the decision makers for society. The years of career productivity become between 15 and 21. At 21, people retire and turn the reins over to the up -and -coming teenagers. The older adults revert to consulting, volunteer, retirement, or scaled back work capacities.

Part of the premise of the book is that teenagers have more to contribute than adults give them credit for. I agree with that. The character's novel  suggests that "childhood" was a concept invented in the 1800's that might not have have the best interest of children at heart, but might have been more of a political control move. That's interesting...

I think somewhere along the line we started to devalue teenagers a bit. If we consider what children were doing at the age of 15 a few centuries ago and what they are doing now, we might be hard pressed to consider all of that progress. Perhaps we are underestimating what teenagers could be doing.

In Living Outside the Lines, the main character, Nigel, has to make some pretty tough decisions. He faces questions around love, dying, euthanasia, career choice, family values, recognition and control. He makes his choices according to careful thought and a deep knowing. And the teenagers that are reading this book, at least some of them, are responding to, and can relate to that. They "get it". I think they too are capable way beyond what we give them credit for.

In my opinion, Living Outside the Lines is not "just" for teenagers. It's the teenage voice put into the written word. I applaud Lesley Choyce for doing that so well. And if Nigel's world is anywhere near future reality, we better start paying attention.

Maybe if you've already "Raised-a-reader", you should check out what they are reading. It might make you think. It might help you understand. It might bridge the disconnection.

And if you just want a good read that might make you think outside the lines, pick up a copy of Living Outside the Lines, curl up in your favorite chair with your favorite beverage and celebrate the fact that you have been raised-a-reader.

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