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This Book Will Get You Through Your Next Hangover Headache
Young adult fiction is the best-kept secret in publishing. Rather than getting stuck in the midlist graveyard, like Daniel Handler before he became Lemony Snicket, authors - and readers - would be doing themselves a favor to check out the genre. Crossover titles from this field have made it onto bestseller lists and into the hearts of us Not-So Young Adults quite a bit recently. If you've already pre-ordered your Harry Potter, and you're getting gray hairs (Old Adult?) waiting for the movies based on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to come out, we'd like to suggest the lighthearted and wonderful Gabriel's Gift by British writer Hanif Kureishi.
Gabriel's Gift is an escape without being escapist, into a world of young British boys with unreliable ex-rocker Dads and bitter waitressing Mums. The harsher details of this world, like Dad living in an awful flat after the parents split and Gabriel messing around with drugs, are not sugarcoated. But there are cues of magic that come in through Gabriel's art. When he draws an object, like a yellow chair or a pair of boots, he can make it appear in the room. He gets into difficulties copying a painting that he, his father, and his mother all want - because his copy is better than the original. Gabriel makes his way in the world through his art, and eventually his art makes a way in the world for all the people he cares about. It's the dream of every teenager with a Top Secret notebook - as if Harriet the Spy had been able to hold onto everything she wanted. It's also a very funny story, sending up parents, rock stars, and all sorts of pretension.
Kureishi lets the happiness get too far away from a more troubled reality for my taste in the end, when a group of rich older men seems to descend on Gabriel's family problems and solve them all through money, employment, and the offer of free camera equipment. It all works out in the end for Gabriel and Co., because this is YA. But if you can put aside your sardonic hat for awhile to enjoy some British color and Kureishi's clear, quick writing, you won't regret reading Gabriel's Gift. And when the London fog fades and you're still in Los Angeles, still broke, and still haven't booked a commercial in six months - check out Kureishi's writing for adults. We particularly love the jumbled sexuality and dry humor of The Buddha of Suburbia. It's just as sharp, just as visual, but it'll go down much better with that heartbreak.