Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Happened To Cass McBride?, by Gail Giles

Gail Giles is a new author for me, and I'm very impressed. What Happened To Cass McBride? is a 2007 Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, but I personally would recommend it to any reader, highly motivated, disinterested, or noncommittal. I've given it to my wife and my teenage son to read. If I could, I would put it on the 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults list. Period.

What Happened to Cass McBride? tells the story of Cass McBride, a teenage girl who seemingly has it all. She is pretty, smart, and popular. But she harbors an unfortuate secret: just prior to a suicide committed by a classmate, she callously rejected his awkward attempt to ask her out on a date.

Is Cass responsible for the death of this young man, as his older brother believes? Or is she a victim of circumstances beyond her control? These are the questions that Gail Giles explores within the context of a thrilling mystery and detective story.

Although the mystery of Cass's role in the suicide of her classmate drives this novel, I myself attended just as much to the critique of contemporary culture that Giles inscribes (for more on Giles's take on contemporary society, see this posting on her blog). Like John Green, Giles pulls no punches in questioning the overemphasis on achievement and material outcomes one finds in contemporary America, and in particular in highly competitive suburban settings. Cass McBride is what her high school English teacher calls a "resume packer," in other words, a student determined "to pad out that high school file and show herself in every possible good light."

The limits of this approach to life--on the part of Cass McBride, her father, and others in her community--is exactly what Gail Giles suggests in this novel. What Happened To Cass McBride? is a wonderful addition to other recent young adult novels such as Twisted and An Abundance of Katherines that question the values of the new gilded age, and explore the problems inherent in not questioning the displacement of reciprocal human relations by material goals and objectives. Unlike The Rules of Survival, which suggests that irrationality lies behind disturbing and violent behavior, What Happened To Cass McBride? contends that disturbing and violent behavior is the rational outcome of a society overly obsessed with money and superficial appearances.

I recommend What Happened To Cass McBride? to readers in 7th grade and up. It is guaranteed to engage teens of all ages and abilities, and adults as well.

Here is a trailer for the book, developed by a librarian in Arizona.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

This sounds interesting. I think I will give it a read. Thanks, Prof. Philion!