Book Club: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert


Joelene:

Keuhnert-Ballads coverCover

A slightly psychopathic-looking rocking duck in a kids’ playground.

Characters

There’s a pretty big cast. It’s easy to get mixed up or lose track of who’s dating who until it’s mentioned again. I like how everyone is initially described. They all seem larger than life and visually dynamic.

Favourite

Cass. Hands down. She’s in one of the most awful situations out of everyone, but instead of running away or lashing out at the others, she tries to look out for everyone.

Least Favourite

There were a few that might qualify. I’d probably choose Kara. Partially because this is her story so we’re stuck with her for so long, but partially because she just has no reason to be the way she is. It’s like she blames the world for giving her a raw deal when, by anyone else’s standards, she has it pretty good.

Beginning

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the night she almost overdosed in the park next to the boy she loved. She’s changed a lot since then, but going back brings a surge of memories.

Storyline

The story follows Kara and her friends as they make the choices that lead to the night she almost dies.

Ending

Is in keeping with the rest of the story. It’s a satisfying conclusion that brings the story full circle.

Thoughts

This is a book I would have appreciated when I was younger. Not that drugs or parties were ever my scene, but it was kind of hard to find out about things like drugs without trying them first-hand. Half the people said that you’d try them and die; the other half said that they were the best thing ever. There wasn’t a middle ground. I guess this book is the middle ground, though it’s kind of excessive.

I appreciate that Kuehnert explores abusive relationships, but wonder why her warnings are about the guy who listens to people’s problems, respects women and can see where he’s gone wrong in the past; rather than about the guy who carries a knife, likes to get in fights and has no respect for women. Sure, anyone can be an abuser, but one of those guys shows all the classic signs, and it’s not the one she picked.

There’s not much in this novel for me, but it’s a safe way for younger people to find out about darker parts of the world. When I was fourteen I would have gotten a lot more out of it.

 

Quote

When his gaze locked on mine, I mentally chanted my mantra of I can’t stay, and then I let him embrace me. His scent had always reminded me of a muskier version of the air off Lake Michigan, and as soon as it reached my nostrils, it shattered the icy indifference that I’d tried to force myself to feel about him. As I melted into his familiar arms, I could no longer deny it: I’d missed him and I’d missed home and I’d gone too long without facing all of my bad memories and old ghosts.

 

keuhnert_IWBYJRwebBel:

Cover

A playground at sunset. A fair representation of where most of the situations happen.

Characters

Between wanting to smack sense into all of them and then do it again, just to be sure it sunk in, it doesn’t bode well.

Favourite

Not sure that I had one.

Least Favourite

Pick anyone, they’re all really horrible for many different reasons.

Beginning

Teen in a social crisis because her friend moves away and decides to hang with the druggies.

Storyline

Self harm drugs, drinking, and teens thinking their lives suck because of external reasons (not at all because of their personal choices).

Ending

The ‘don’t try this at home kids’ message come through.

Thoughts

Did I think this book was well written? Yes.

Do I like the topics covered in the book? No.

As a teen, I felt like life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. But even for me back then, drugs were not the answer. We had our druggie kids at school, and the number of times I ended up with a second hand buzz from the pot smokers who were never busted for lighting up on school grounds was ridiculous. Those kids were total LOSERS. Four years after graduation, one of them shot a local police senior sergeant. This is reality folks.

A book like this would have them revelling in how awesome it is that someone finally wrote a book about them. In other words, they’d be missing the point entirely.

As a parent, I get the fear factor. Be alert for what your teens are up to. Get help quickly. Do not be an absentee in their live or else THIS could happen.

This book was set in an era where, at least in Australia, safe sex, stay in school and keep away from drugs were HUGE campaigns in schools. I have no sympathy for any of the characters.

I just do not see what MTV was hoping to achieve by publishing this book. The truth is, this is a representation of such a small number of teens. The ones who would read it would either think it’s glorifying their behaviour, or curl their lips and look away.

All choices have consequences; it’s up to you to make good choices.

Krista:

 

Cover

A lot of the big moments in the story  happen in the park in which they all  hang out, so the cover does represent the story well.

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this story and part of the story of this book Ballads of Suburbia in which teens tell their stories of their messed up lives. The story focuses on Liam and Kara but we are really introduced to this whole community through their stories.

Favourite

None. I believe this story focused more on the negative side affects of life and although some healing does happen, there are no role models.

Least Favourite

Shelly: she is the one that throws the parties… every week. A place that supplies the drinks, drugs, atmosphere that never has an adult present. A lot of things stem from Shelly’s house and what it represents.

Beginning

Liam and Kara find out their parents are divorcing. Neither has any friends or other family to lean on for the emotional support and they look to others their age to fill that void. All of the characters in this story are going through emotional turmoil and don’t have a positive support system to lean on. They are all looking for a way to not actually have to live the life they are in. Being teenagers they do not feel they have any way out.

Storyline

It is a mixture of different stories from teens in the Oak Park area of Chicago during the early 90’s. The stories look at the variety of a ways that these kids are searching for an escape: self harm, sex, drugs, alcohol and a feeling of friendship and community with each other.

Ending

A lot of the kid’s stories are about hitting rock bottom and forcing their parents or police to take action. This causes a lot of them to separate into their own lives, graduating and moving on from the situation they put themselves in. And some don’t make it through.

Thoughts

While I agree with the points that Bel made regarding the book, I had a different childhood. I was lucky enough to make some very smart decisions, but also made bad ones. I even saw some very good friends and family make some of the bad decisions. I had this book on my want to read list because, looking back, I still question some of the decisions I saw being made around my life. When it came down to it, my decision to not participate is what made me the avid reader that I am. But I have always had a bit of interest of seeing what it was like for those I know who made other decisions.

This book is not for everybody, perhaps not the best book for a book club choice, but I still feel that there is no harm done by educating ourselves on things that may happen in the world. Even though everybody may not understand or relate to these characters, they do exist. It took me a long time to get through the story because it is heavy. It is sad and it has a powerful message.

Paperback, 344 pages

Published July 21st 2009 by MTV Books (first published July 15th 2009)

ISBN 1439102821 (ISBN13: 9781439102824)

 

Discussion Topics

Are the kinds of self-harming habits explored in Ballads of Suburbia – things such as excessive drinking, drug use and cutting – being glorified in novels, or is it important that these issues be explored?


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