Sharon Flake's young adult novel shows high school at its best and worst and gets to the heart of its two teenage main characters.
If your memories of high school freshman year keep you up at night, consider Autumn Knight. Her talents include wrestling and cooking. Her problem? She doesn't know when to stop and she never shuts up. The object of her affection, some might call it an obsession, is Adonis, a bright, articulate, highly motivated young man who just happens to have been born with no legs.
Narrated by the two schoolmates, Pinned is a brilliantly told story for the younger end of the young adult spectrum. The novel begins with Autumn's funny, brash voice. Autumn loves her wrestling team, struggles with schoolwork, and has more self-assurance – and more attitude – than most teenagers acquire in a lifetime.
While Adonis's disability is obvious, Autumn's unfolds slowly. She feels smart when she wrestles – "like I know the answer to every problem every time." In her schoolwork, she rarely does. Because her grades are falling, her parents threaten to force her off the wrestling team until she gets her marks up. Because she struggles to read, that isn't happening in time for the big wrestling match.
So what could these two characters possibly see in each other? Right off the bat, Autumn mouths off about Adonis to her best friend: "One day he gonna be my boyfriend." But Adonis is not interested in a girl who can't seem to learn, talks way too much, and is determined to elbow her way into his life, whatever the cost. Adonis claims to have more interest in succeeding in school than he does in anything else. And that includes Autumn.
What Adonis wants, even though he has too much self-confidence to admit it, is not a girlfriend or even a date. He wants his respect back. An incident at his previous school has scarred him, and now he craves recognition from the adults in his life. So when his honors English teacher overhears Autumn asking him for help, Adonis can't say no. Now, as he struggles to impress teachers, live up to his mom's expectations, and make sense out of Autumn, Adonis becomes more human.
Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner Sharon Flake truly gets to the heart of these two teens. It's high school at its best, and at its worst.
The voices are authentic; the story never borders on stereotype. In fact, it often goes against what we've come to expect from teen novels. This is no simpering romance, with girls passively pining for their idols. The heroes are not superhuman or super handsome. These are real kids, who sound like and live like teenagers. Reluctant readers may recognize a friend in Autumn. Kids whose noses never leave the grindstone may see a little of Adonis in themselves. But all young readers will want to know their story.
There may be a lesson here about moral dilemmas, facing our disabilities, making the punishment fit the crime, but this shouldn’t be a novel read to teach a lesson. Enjoy it for the beauty of the writing and for a story told truthfully. "Pinned" is really about possibilities. Make that a love story, about hope and endless possibilities.