Sometimes a book can surprise you. Sometimes you open a book and don’t know what to make of it. Sometimes you stay up until midnight reading a book and then stay up until three, reading it again. Sometimes all three are true, and (for me) that was the case with YA novel PURPLE DAZE by Sherry Shahan (March 2011, Running Press Teens).
A compelling dip into the colorful world of 1965, the story revolves around the lives of six California high school kids: Good girl Cheryl and her sexually frustrated boyfriend, Don. Voluptuous, self-declared slut, Ziggy, and her flirting-with-disaster boyfriend, Mick. And love sick Nancy and her upstanding beau, Phil. But what makes PURPLE DAZE noteworthy isn’t so much the story, but the format in which the story is delivered.
In PURPLE DAZE, the plot unfolds not through narrative, but rather through the six characters’ varying points of view, told through poignant yet accessible free verse, traditional poems, journals, and letters, which are woven together with news reports and political speeches from the “outside” world, a place to which the kids are often oblivious.
Despite the Viet Nam war, the burgeoning feminist movement, and local race riots breaking out around them, the six friends are remarkably insulated from it all–focusing instead on the timeless teen pursuits of sneaking out, going to the movies, and seeing how far they can go without getting pregnant. Prime example, when Ziggy is forced to watch a movie about JFK in social studies class, she comments:
I fell asleep and dreamed I was in the
White House, classy as Jackie before
Lee Harvey Oswald.
looking cool in silk taffeta.
But when one of the boys gets called up for the draft, that singular event shatters the last remaining remnants of their innocence and changes the trajectories of their lives forever.
Another spin, I trip on the hem of my
fringed jeans, trying to laugh, except I’m
crying and can’t stop.
“I don’t want you to die.”
The end result is a brilliantly crafted time capsule that is as addictive as anything Ziggy would try. It makes me wonder though. How many of today’s teens are going to pick up this book with its anachronistically-styled cover and pages of free verse?
I sincerely hope all of them. This story is theirs.