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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Caroline Cooney, Unflinching Moralist of YA Fiction

I enjoy reading YA fiction. One of my favorite YA authors is Caroline Cooney. I don't know how I first discovered her, but she's remarkable.

What most interests and impresses me about her is her moral focus. I've found no other author besides George Eliot who so clearly forces us to confront the irrevocable nature of bad choices. In one of her novels, where youthful thoughtless irresponsibility leads to the death of an innocent bystander, she periodically repeats the line, "She is still dead." It's like the tolling of a bell, the obsessive chant of a guilty conscience.

In Cooney's books, if you take a big risk, it may kill you. If you screw up, it may kill someone else. You may start the day as a regular kid and end up ruined, or ruinous -- or heroic. The other side of her moralist's coin is everyday people -- naturally, young people -- rising to the occasion, astonishing themselves and those who supposedly knew them well.

Many of Cooney's young characters also ponder explicitly religious questions, often experiencing estrangement from and reconciliation with God. My lifelong interest in religions -- the interest of an agnostic outsider -- means that I enjoy these journeys. But it is Cooney's nonreligious explorations of moral choices that move me more, and linger with me longer.

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