What do you get when you take a combat-boot-wearing, rag-doll-carrying, highly caffeinated girl and add a surfer boy named Shrimp, an eighty-five-year-old woman named Sugar Pie, and a secret family on the other side of the country? Gingerbread.
When Rachel Cohn's Gingerbread was published in 2003, I was fifteen. I did not have a cell phone. I called boys from the landline in the basement while twirling the phone cord (it had a cord!) around my finger and giggling in an embarrassing fashion. Christina Aguilera's "I Am Beautiful" became the anthem of angsty teenagers everywhere and we all went loopy for Orlando Bloom in both "Lord of the Rings" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." People still used the words "tight" and "phat" unironically. Yes, 2003 was a year to look back upon with fondness.
A lot has changed in the past almost-decade. I don't even have a landline anymore, much less a cord to twirl around my finger. Books, however, are meant to be timeless. A good book will last hundreds--perhaps thousands--of years and continue to touch new readers every day because a good book shares a universal truth and those never go out of fashion. But do the stories themselves ever become irrelevant?
When it was published, Gingerbread was met with cheers from critics and teens alike (although it may have given parents a few squeamish moments). It follows Cyd Charisse, a cranky pseudo-goth living in San Francisco with her neurotic mother, patient stepfather, and two squirmy younger half-sibs. Cyd is the result of an extramarital affair between her beautiful former-model mother and successful businessman father (whom she has met precisely once). Now she lives with her mom and step-dad, also named Sid. Early in the story, Cyd tells us that she got herself In Trouble last year. Unable to tell her parents (mom and step-dad) and without the support of her loser boyfriend, Cyd contacted her bio-dad for help and got herself Out of Trouble. But she never really dealt with what happened. Instead, she returns to her parents' house surly and rebellious, making her family so miserable that they decide to send her off to spend a few weeks with aforementioned bio-dad in New York. Beautiful, tragic, and heartwarming things ensue. When it came out, Gingerbread was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
So does it hold up? Technology has changed a lot in the last nine years. Teens don't know what it was like to grow up in the pre-cell phone days, the days before instantaneous and unlimited communication. There are a few sections of the book that these kids might not get, most notably a discussion of the call-by wherein you call the object of your affection to hear them answer and then hang up and pray they don't have caller-id or *69. After all, the only way to anonymously call someone today is to intentionally block your number (which, let's face it, is creepy) or to call from someone else's phone. Technological advances aside, though, this story remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published.
Teen girls still get themselves into trouble--and In Trouble--and family dynamics are as complicated now as they ever were. We still suffer through curfews, caffeine withdrawal, and broken hearts. (Except not so much the curfew for me since I am, in fact, an adult. Or so they keep telling me.) The Gritty Realistic Teen Novel is more popular now than it has ever been, as the popularity of such authors as John Green, Jay Asher, Lauren Myracle, David Leviathan, and myriad others should show. I can't keep enough copies of Go Ask Alice and A Child Called "It" in circulation to keep my patrons happy. So a book about the teen pregnancy and heartbreak of an illegitimate lovechild should still be flying off the shelves.
What's more, this is a seriously funny book. Some of the above mentioned authors have been funny in their writing but I maintain that Gingerbread is a different kind of funny. Instead of a sad story that happens to have some humorous moments, this is a seriously funny story that deals with some Heavy Stuff. But even when she's talking about the Heavy Stuff, Cyd is smart and sarcastic. I literally laughed out loud while reading, which was actually rather embarrassing as I read it mainly at the gym. We all need a little more humor in our lives, especially when facing all of life's little heartaches and heartbreaks and Cyd Cherise is just the girl to show us how to do it.