Fifteen years ago, I occasionally found a book that connected with me hidden among the Francine Pascal and Christopher Pike novels that dominated the library's teen shelves. Some of these stories resonated so strongly that I remember more about them now than I do much of what I slogged through as an English major.
Teens who come across High Dive, by Florida writer Tammar Stein, might experience a similar rush. Stein's narrator, 19-year-old Arden Vogel, grew up an Army brat, moving frequently. The only place that feels like home is her family's vacation house in Sardinia, but now, three years after Arden's father died, her mother, an Army nurse serving in Iraq, has sold it. During a flight to Sardinia, Arden befriends four seemingly carefree girls beginning a vacation. They invite her to join them in Paris and Florence, and Arden agrees, seeing an opportunity to delay something she dreads.
Arden's lingering grief over her father and the girls' inevitable conflicts give the story drama, and the descriptions of European sights will make readers consider booking a trip. Where High Dive scores highest, however, is in the voice it gives to families of deployed soldiers.
Arden provides a perspective few teens will find anywhere else. She notes, for example, the way people react to news of her mom's deployment "like something awful had already happened," conveying their "concern, pity, and that slight hint of distaste." Arden can't escape her anxiety. Even when she's transfixed by Michelangelo's David, her mind drifts to her mother's e-mails about the trauma she has witnessed, and Arden has to remind herself, "Be present in the moment."
I worry that a book like this will get lost behind the manufactured series about It Girls and A-listers that have replaced the Pascal and Pike of my time. With High Dive, Stein tackles weighty issues without being patronizing but, more important, she offers a timely story that will ripple for readers long after they jump in.
Vikas Turakhia is an English teacher in Ohio.