Young adult quandries then and now

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Here is a classic, “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens. It’s probably too long for today’s readers, but the reason it’s so long is that Dickens elaborates so wonderfully. He describes the city in detail, the country, the characters and the legal nightmare, all in detail.

His principal villain is Chancery, the system of law courts that Dickens says runs suits that never end, using up clients’ fortunes and ruining lives.

The principal characters are three young people who are wards of the court, orphans, and their guardian, an angelic bachelor. Two of the wards are cousins of his and are so fond of each other as to end up in love as teenagers. The third ward is Esther, probably the main character. She is so good that some critics have complained about the credibility, but Claire Tomalin, in her biography of Dickens, says that Dickens actually knew such a young woman, who was that wonderful. She loves and is loved by everyone.

The male ward gives the story its most interest because he can’t find himself, although that language wasn’t yet used. Rick thinks he’ll be a doctor, but his trial run isn’t happy. He thinks he should be a lawyer and help advance the suit in Chancery but he isn’t good at that either. Finally he joins the army. He is so naïve and has such bad judgment that he is constantly falling in with conmen who talk him into spending what little money he has.

A delightful story that immerses the reader in Dickens’ England. If you can take the time, you will be glad.

Written by a doctor, “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese, tells the story of two doctors, Marion and Shiva, twin brothers born to a doctor and a nurse who was a nun. If that isn’t surprising enough, the story takes place in Ethiopia. The doctor and nurse are from India, but the doctor was originally British. Intrigue upon intrigue.

Since the nun is surprisingly pregnant, she delays help until the doctor, who had surprisingly made her pregnant, fails to save her life, though he does save the twin babies. When he realizes that he has lost her, he runs away, abandoning his sons, who easily adopt an Ethiopian mother and an Indian father.

Marion learns medicine from books but Shiva does not care about anything. He draws. Marion hangs around Dr. Ghosh and learns medicine. The boys grow apart. Shiva is interested in actively helping people instead of studying. Marion accuses him of self-centeredness, which he could have inherited from his father and grandfather. Marion must have inherited his compassion from his mother.

The novel will expand your knowledge of medicine and Ethiopia, all fascinating.

“Hothouse” means “fire station” in this month’s young adult novel by Chris Lynch. The two fathers are firemen, and their sons Russell and Dave, high school seniors, have been lifelong friends. The dads die heroically fighting a house fire, initiating tremendous hero worship, which envelops the boys and, of course, the mothers.

The author succeeds in describing the poignancy of the relationships and the bewilderment of the boys as they look to their future. Russell has always thought he would be a fireman, and never considered attending college first. Dave doesn’t know; maybe he will try some other career.

The story takes a dark turn when the “standard inquiry” suggests drugs and alcohol in the firemen’s systems. The town changes from hero worship to condemnation. The boys are mocked in school, which is just starting the fall term.

Fortunately, one student remains friendly, a girl, the only girl who took firefighter training along with the boys. She recruits Adrian, still a true friend, to hold a beach party to cheer everyone up. Dave says he always knew his father was a phony. Although the drugs in his father’s system were party drugs, those in Russell’s father’s were “hero drugs so he could keep on heroing.” The saddest result was the death of a really old woman and her cat.

Dave is ready to find a new life, Russell is forgiven, and the town can return to normal.