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SMALL AVALANCHES by Joyce Carol Oates Kirkus Star


and Other Stories

by Joyce Carol Oates

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-001217-X
Publisher: HarperCollins

Twelve stories, twelve girls—each different from the next, each pitting its teen protagonist against age to define herself. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” Connie, secure in her 15-year-old sexuality finds herself simultaneously drawn to and repelled by the mysterious and older Arnold Friend. Looking back from age, Claire recalls the world-altering moment she discovered the treachery of assumptions of safety (“Why Don’t You Come Live with Me It’s Time”). A popular girl frees herself from popularity just in time for adulthood in “Life After High School.” In all the stories, Oates (Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, 2002, etc.) explores the twin impulses of attraction and repulsion teens experience when contemplating age and its immediacy. Even as the individual stories examine the fluidity and relative nature of age, as a collection, they move across time and space, setting themselves both in a mid-20th-century past that is free from nostalgia and in a coolly hip present. Structurally, the most elliptical and untraditionally told stories open the collection, challenging readers with shifting perspectives, unreliable narrators, and a variety of narrative styles not frequently seen in teen literature. In doing so, this collection demands total engagement with the text; by denying readers easy identification with character and plot, it demands that readers encounter its ideas on its own terms. This challenging beginning has the effect of making some of the later, more straightforwardly told stories seem anticlimactic and almost pedestrian, as with a rather ordinary story of a girl’s first “Visit” to her grandmother in an Alzheimer’s-care facility. It will also have the effect of turning off less sophisticated and determined readers, but those who stay with the collection will be rewarded by haunting images, masterfully controlled language, the occasional light touch of fantasy, and no easy lessons. (Short stories. YA)