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No Such Thing As the Real World

Review

No Such Thing As the Real World

Many teens spend their high school years longing to escape from the artificial confines of curfews, grades and deadlines, eager to launch themselves into the so-called real world. But what happens if those expectations and hopes about life in the real world are dashed by grim realities? As editor Jill Santopolo notes, the six stories written for the collection entitled NO SUCH THING AS THE REAL WORLD are about characters who “are thrown into the ‘real world,’ find out it’s not exactly what they imagined it would be, and struggle to find themselves.” Written by some of contemporary young adult literature’s most respected authors, the stories share, for the most part, an appropriately serious tone.

In An Na’s “Complication,” a rape victim whose attack leaves her with a young son blatantly uses her attacker’s brother to gain the freedom she longs for. M. T. Anderson’s “The Projection” is a continuously shifting dialogue about two improvisational theater students assigned to construct a “situation.” Readers (especially those who choose to re-enact the drama by reading the selections aloud) will be challenged to revise their understanding and expectations throughout this mind-bending selection, an intellectual exercise that seems to reflect the process of adapting to the adult world.

In K. L. Going’s “Survival,” a high school graduation speaker uses the last 20 minutes before commencement to replay her sister’s ongoing betrayals and the real meaning of “Surviving High School” and beyond: “This wasn’t what we learned from high school; it was what we learned from life. It was what we would always have to learn again and again. No invisible line would be crossed, no diploma handed out, no age limit surpassed that would ever change this fact.”

Beth Kephart’s affecting “The Longest Distance” is about a young woman struggling to move on --- and even find laughter --- following her best friend’s suicide. “Arrangements” by Chris Lynch, probably the lightest-toned selection in the bunch despite its sobering topic, illustrates how nothing makes a young man grow up as fast as the sudden death of his father. Finally, in Jacqueline Woodson’s “The Company,” a gay young man grows up quickly when he witnesses the dark underbelly of professional dance from the inside.

Throughout, the realizations of the characters are complex and somber, providing plenty of fodder for reader reflection about their own lives and situations, and perhaps even the realization that the artificial, safe environment of the teen years might not be such a bad thing after all. These stories may also provide inspiration as the collection includes an invitation to aspiring teenaged writers to contribute their own selections on the theme for possible publication.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

No Such Thing As the Real World
by M. T. Anderson, K. L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch, An Na, and Jacqueline Woodson

  • Publication Date: April 21, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0061470589
  • ISBN-13: 9780061470585