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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Rising Star
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Pete Hautman

A boy gets drawn irresistibly into the world of high-stakes poker; a girl's diabetes brings her intimate knowledge of her own blood and the conviction that she's a vampire; a group of teenagers decide to worship the town water tower as a god. These are some of the plots of YA novelist Pete Hautman, who is rapidly carving out a niche for himself as one of the most original storytellers in books for youth. And while originality isn't an asset if there's nothing offered beyond novelty, Hautman brings plenty more to the literary table.

Initially an adult novelist, Hautman began writing books for young people with Mr. Was (1996); even in the classic time-travel plot, he brought his own original twist in the bitter intergenerational rivalry (this is the only time-travel fantasy I know where a guy elopes with his young grandmother); it also gave an early indication of the cool mastery that was to power his novels. It's a cool mastery that's YA-aimed, though, rather than the overly adult viewpoint that some authors of adult material find hard to abandon when moving to a younger audience. These books have YA understanding as well as YA appeal.

He has a particular knack for depicting that blossoming independence of adolescence that often displays as defiance; his protagonists are generally mavericks, occasionally bouncing off the consequences of their autonomy but never really regretting or forfeiting it (even when, as in Stone Cold, they should). This isn't separation painted as gradual and gentle, but a more challenging picture: Stone Cold's Denn ends up financially independent at sixteen, staving off his mother's attempt to claim custody with a lawyer; Godless' Jason mocks convention as well as questioning it by declaiming his new religion. Nor does the author shortchange the alluring side of this independence: Denn's financial power is seductive indeed, Sweetblood's Lucy is as attracted by the dangerous aura of an older man as she is by his apparent understanding; Jason's glorious nocturnal escapade of swimming with friends inside the town water tower makes such an action a nearly irresistible prospect.

The captivating concepts make these titles easy booktalks, and once into the books, readers will empathize with the edgy protagonists: young people going somewhere that may not be safe and may not be wise, but it's always interesting.

--Deborah Stevenson

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This page was last updated on February 1, 2004.