Two new young adult novels open in Boulder, Colorado, and find their teen protagonists in the wilderness—struggling to save themselves or someone they love.
With a host of deftly drawn characters, Emily France’s Zen and Gone is a paean to the multicultural mountain mecca of Boulder.
With no father, a stoner mom who burns through boyfriends like cigarettes and a little sister to look after, Essa is not a carefree teenager. Determined to give her little sister, Puck, the stability and attention she so desperately needs, Essa spurns drugs and dating for the clean thrills of orienteering and the practical wisdom of Zen Buddhism. Everything changes when a Chicago transplant named Oliver arrives in Boulder for the summer, and Essa’s self-imposed no-dating rule is put to the test. But when the couple signs up for a survival game in the Rocky Mountains, Puck breaks the rules and tags along—and promptly goes missing in the Colorado wilderness.
Though Zen and Gone toggles back and forth between Essa’s and Oliver’s viewpoints, with the latter struggling to come to terms with his sister’s schizophrenia, this story belongs to Essa. And as she searches for Puck, it becomes a tale of faith as much as anything else.
While France’s promotion of mindfulness and her foregrounding of Buddhist principles make Zen and Gone a unique contribution to the YA canon, its vivid rooting in place and its granular depiction of present-day Boulder is its greatest achievement.
Kathy Parks’ Notes from My Captivity also features a complex female protagonist who is thrust into the unknown, but Parks favors quick-witted dialogue over detailed description, resulting in a story filled with high-energy prose and off-kilter humor.
When Adrienne leaves Boulder to join her anthropologist stepfather in the Siberian wilderness on a mission to find the elusive and possibly mythical Osinov family, she quickly finds herself out of her depth. In a matter of pages, their entire search party dies and Adrienne is captured by the Osinovs. The only eligible woman for miles around, Adrienne decides her best shot at surviving rests with the Osinovs’ youngest son, Vanya. If she can make him fall for her, then she might be able to survive long enough to convince him to smuggle her back to civilization. Though it begins as a ploy, their real attraction threatens to develop into something else entirely.
When Adrienne learns that the Osinovs can communicate with the dead, her focus turns from her budding romance and dreams of escape to her deceased father. She would give anything to speak to him just one more time, but if it means losing Vanya and forgoing the chance of returning to her home, will she go through with it? With a touch of magic and a heavy dose of humor, Notes from My Captivity is a fast-paced summer read sure to thrill.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.