Kate’s Review: “Feral Youth”

31556153Book: “Feral Youth” by Shaun David Hutchinson (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: We have once again found a book that is inspired by “The Canterbury Tales”, the medieval tome that I have not read. Even though I was excited about “Feral Youth”, enough so to highlight in on this blog, I was a bit worried that I would miss key components because of my ignorance. But I still went ahead and picked it up, and I’m glad that my self doubt didn’t discourage me. “Feral Youth” is a strong collection of short stories from a number of talented YA Authors, some of whom I loved before, others of whom I am now interested in pursuing.

As the description says, the premise is that a number of teenagers at a program for troubled youth are on an eighteen mile team building exercise hike, and tell stories to each other to pass the time or provide distraction. Each author of the collection has written a story for each of the teenagers, and created some insight into their personalities through the stories. As a whole the collection was pretty strong, with a few excellent standouts and a couple of clunkers. I’m going to talk about my three favorites here.

“A Ruthless Dame” By Tim Floreen: Cody is a closeted teen in a religious family. He starts up a romance with Mike, the boy next door who is visiting from college, and has a passionate, yet brief, love affair. But after Mike goes radio silent, Cody feels like he’s been used. When Mike comes home the next break, Cody finds out that Mike not only has a girlfriend, but a number of photos of underage boys on his phone… Cody included. Cody decides to follow the footsteps of the femme fatales of his favorite noir movies to get his revenge. This story was a pure revenge fantasy piece, and I greatly enjoyed Cody and his manipulations. While in many ways he has been victimized by Mike, he doesn’t take things lying down, and is brilliant in his scheming. I was cackling as I read this story, but also always had a sense for the tragic existence that Cody is living and why he loses himself in noir films.

“A Cautionary Tale” by Stephanie Kuehn: C.J. Perez has found himself in the role of Student Safety Escort during a college’s Avalon Festival. He meets Hollis, a sophomore who pulls C.J. into an urban legend and conspiracy theory about a serial killer, or something worse, that kills students at the school in cycles. While C.J. is skeptical, he and Hollis find out that things may not always be what they seem. This story was the one that pulled the rug out from under me, plot wise, and I expected nothing less from Stephanie Kuehn. You all know how much I love her books, and this short story is just another triumph of hers. The suspense builds and the behavior of various characters simmers in unsettling ways, so this combined made for an intense and shocking read. Man, I would love it if Kuehn would do flat out horror in her future works, because this story shows that not only could she pull it off, she could create something fabulous.

“Self Portrait” by Brandy Colbert: When Sunday moves to a new town and new school, she befriends Michah and Eli, two brothers. Michah and Eli have a tumultuous relationship, and Sunday finds herself in the middle of their low simmering feud. But she never could have imagined that she would find herself betrayed so fiercely by one of them. Colbert was the other author that I was very excited for, and “Self Portrait” didn’t disappoint. I feel like Colbert knows how to build up the feel of YA melodrama without ever crossing into the ridiculous, and Sunday’s story continues that theme. It was one of the quieter stories in this book, but it still packed a real emotional punch at the end of it.

The stories are strung together through interactions between the characters on the camping trip, and it was interesting to try and parse out who were reliable narrators and unreliable ones based on those moments. But all in all, it ultimately doesn’t matter if these stories are ‘true’, at least within the context of the story. The point is that they shed insight into those telling it, and with all these different authors telling these different stories it does feel like a group of unique individuals. If I missed anything because of my lack of knowledge of “The Canterbury Tales”, I didn’t notice it. It stood on it’s own two feet well.

“Feral Youth” was an enjoyable collection of short stories that showcases some good writers. If you want a taste of some of these authors, this is the place to start!

Rating 8: A solid collection of stories with a few serious stand outs, “Feral Youth” is a must read for fans of short stories collections with a twist!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Feral Youth” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA Books With LGBT Themes”, and I think that it would fit in on “Best Teen Short Stories”.

Find “Feral Youth” at your library using WorldCat!

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