Diversify Yourself: Debut novel sets YA tropes ablaze

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Diversify Yourself: Debut novel sets YA tropes ablaze

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Meredith Miller’s debut novel, Little Wrecks, takes everything that one thinks they know about young adult literature and sets it ablaze. Containing no romantic love story, no vampires, and no male main characters, it is as if Miller made a list of tropes, went down it, and checked off every one to make sure it was not included. The story follows three girls, Ruth, Magna, and Isabel, as they desperately attempt to find a way out of their run down town, which holds painful memories and undeniable truths for all three. Along the way, they realize that the idea of getting out may not be as cathartic as they need it to be.

Throughout the novel, Miller introduces characters that the reader can’t decide whether to pity, despise, or adore. Much like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, her novel is unwilling to give away any easy answers. While reading, I found myself laughing at pieces and crying at others. I firmly convinced myself I would stop reading for nearly two days, then found myself inexplicably picking up the book because I just had to know if the girls would make their way out alive.

Most high schoolers have at some point wished they could be somewhere else. For some, that’s a big city, with art galleries and live theater; for others, it’s a beach and a chance to relax. For Magdalene Warren, it doesn’t matter. She just has to find a way out of a home where she’s the only one to take care of her six-year-old brother and she runs the risk of getting hit by her father if she does anything wrong. Magda has always been the strong one of the friend group – the one who makes the plans, sets the fires, and takes the fall. She is unabashedly unafraid, except when she finds herself alone. Only the reader knows that she faces constant fear of disappearing without anyone noticing, because she feels that they don’t really know her at all.

Ruth, meanwhile, has always so blindly followed Magna that when she and Isabel propose a plan to steal another classmate’s marijuana stash, Ruth astonishes herself by resisting. Charlie is a friend of hers, one who has to support himself in the absence of any adult guidance and who relies on dealing to buy food and clothes. Ruth is the only character whom Miller ties to fiction, because the boy she meets who teaches her about her own identity and independence may or may not really exist. She is the type of girl who befriends bikers and the homeless veterans who roam the Long Island piers, because she finds them far more interesting than her own life. However, that’s mostly an attempt to run from it.

Isabel O’Sullivan, finally, struggles to define herself when there isn’t someone to do it for her. Initially, the girl is spacey and distracted, always the first to get bored and the last to come out of the clouds. Then, she snaps. With one impulsive action, Isabel finds herself questioned by the police for a crime that she did commit. Whether or not it was justified is something the reader must determine for themselves, but Isabel can’t return from the darkness that she unleashes within herself, and she goes the way of Capote’s Dick and Perry before she turns eighteen.

Readers should be warned that there are several instances of explicit references to both sexual assault, harassment, and physical abuse. In a world where the #MeToo movement has revealed that nearly 18 million women have reported sexual assault since 1998, these instances in the novel strike a painful chord at the heart of society. Miller examines the reality of sexual assault through the lense of three teenage girls, which is incredibly difficult to rationalize for both them and the reader. Little Wrecks opens up the conversation surrounding the issue and it isn’t afraid to demonstrate a reality that must be accepted if anything is going to change.

Miller claims fire as a motif throughout the novel, and rightly so, because each girl finds herself out of control quickly and often. No outside force can contain them individually, and when brought together, the three leave unrecoverable damage in their wake. The fresh start they offer their town, though, might be the only thing that’ll save others from their own fate.

Little Wrecks is, by far, the most intense YA novel I’ve ever read. Miller doesn’t pull any punches in an unflinching explanation of what it’s like to grow up surrounded by bad influences and bad people, though she manages to pull it off without leaving one entirely hopeless. If you’re a reader that requires a happy ending, look elsewhere. If you’re seeking truth, here it is.