It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.
The Decoding of Lana Morris
Laura & Tom McNeal (Young Adult Fiction)
If you had one wish…just one…what would it be?
Sixteen-year old Lana Morris lives in a two-storied foster home that she shares with four special needs kids (Snicks for short) and her foster parents, Whit and Veronica. Lana wishes for a different foster mother; she wishes to fit in with the cool kids; she wishes she didn’t have to live in Snick House; and she wishes she understood her feelings for Whit better. Lana wishes for a lot of things and soon, after she visits Miss Hekkity’s Oddments & Antiques, she’ll have not just one wish, but 13.
First, I want to focus on the positive aspects of this book, which is the attention the McNeals devote to young people with special needs. They give us insight into their daily lives and allow us to understand their challenges and individuality. Too often society judges these amazing people by their outward appearance or behavior alone. It is also heartwarming to see Lana’s role evolve from disparager to defender as she connects with her housemates and appreciates their uniqueness.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of this book vastly outweigh the positives. The McNeals make Veronica excessively cruel and evil for no apparent reason. Her treatment of Lana is childish, snippy, and incredibly mean-spirited. The authors provide no insight as to why this kind of person possesses such disdain and disregard for the children in her care. We find out late in the book that she is unable to have children of her own. So, are we then to assume that these children are somehow meant to fill a personal void or is she putting her own feelings aside and doing it out of selfless love for Whit? Surely, she can’t be putting herself and these children through such torment for just a monthly stipend.
Additionally, and more disturbingly, is how the authors portray Whit. Before Lana gains access to her “wishes”, Whit is a beloved, meek, and kind foster father. The children adore him and Lana views him as a father (although her affections often overlap between familial and hormonal). After her visit to Miss Hekkity’s, Whit inexplicably becomes increasingly salacious and lecherous toward Lana. As a lonely teenage girl in want of a father figure, Lana is naturally drawn to Whit, but Whit’s reciprocation, and even encouragement, of her interest cross a very distinct line which is both disturbing and unsettling. If the authors merely did this to shock their teen readers with provocative and edgy content, they handedly hit their mark. What is supposedly a book about a teenage girl desperately trying to find love and acceptance dives abruptly into a world filled with infidelity, child exploitation, abuse, and neglect.
If I had one wish…just one…it would be that the McNeals had stayed a little truer to their book’s proposed purpose. Unfortunately, the strong and encouraging themes of love, acceptance, and friendship are overshadowed by hate, jealousy, and lust and no amount of wishes can overcome that.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com