This terrific 2008 debut novel by Jennifer Bradbury, a mystery involving a cross-country bike trip taken by two best friends the summer after high school graduation, has two things going for it that I'd personally like to see more of in YA:
1. Boy narrator
Yes, the elusive college setting! For half the book! Granted, it's only a few weeks into freshman year, but still -- I love it when rules are broken. When I first considered trying my hand at YA a few years ago, I attended a YA panel and asked the authors if early college experiences were okay to write about. The answer was a resounding "No." Apparently, and this was a surprise to me at the time, YA rarely ventures into college territory.
The theory is that teens like to read "up" about kids who are older than them. Junior high kids like reading about high schoolers, and young high schoolers like reading about older high schoolers, but older high schoolers don't particularly want to read about college kids, because by the time they're 17 to 18, they're reading "adult" and classic books instead. As a result, college-set books for teens have a hard time getting published. Thanks to Amy and her lending library, I can think of two recent exceptions to this rule: Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn; and An Off Year by Claire Zulkey.
But now I can add Shift to the list. Told in alternating chapters (first semester in college, with flashbacks to the summer after high school, when the amazing bike trip from West Virginia to California took place), Chris tries to figure out how and why his best friend, Win, disappeared. Win ditched Chris toward the end of their ride, and now the FBI wants to know what happened.
Last year, I read A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner, another YA novel that centers on a teen's epic bike journey to California. While the structure is similar to that of Shift (alternating chapter flashbacks), the stories and lessons are quite different. In fact, I'm hooked on bicycle-trip stories now. I want this to be its own genre.