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Gravel Queen

October 20, 2010

Gravel Queen by Tea Benduhn
Published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, March 1, 2003

Aurin is an adolescent aspiring filmmaker who pictures how she’d frame each scene in her life for the camera. She’s coping with major meltdowns in her parents’ marriage and her mother’s urge to control her life. She’s also busy with her two best friends, Kenney and Fred, and is about to make wonderful, frightening discoveries about her sexuality and her own heart.

There is a delicate balance among Aurin, Kenney, and Fred. When they decide to bring a girl named Neila into their circle, along with Neila’s handsome cousin Grant, who is Fred’s crush, the balance totters. Kenney is used to being in the spotlight and feeling in control of their trio, and she’s jealous of Aurin’s budding friendship with Neila. A romantic spark quickly ignites between Aurin and Neila, which will definitely complicate things further. In the midst of the delightful rush of first love, Aurin needs to rework her relationships with her mom and with Kenney, who are both intent on controlling her and holding back the tide of change.

One of the things that attracted me about this book was the fact that it’s about an imaginative teenage film buff. I was intrigued by the way most chapters include scenes from Aurin’s imaginary movie about her life. But truthfully, I found the cinematic aspects of this novel heavy handed. It sometimes felt like style over substance, and I never got to know the characters or connected with the story as much as I wanted to. And while I liked the four teens whose lives were created in Gravel Queen, I felt the novel lacked the depth of Keeping You a Secret, which touches on similar themes.

On the other hand, it’s an engaging coming of age story and a sweet, light romance between two girls. This author did a beautiful job of evoking the tingling joy of first love. It shows a young woman, on the cusp of maturity and independence, just beginning to explore her feelings about falling in love with a girl. She embraces her feelings without needing to label herself or “come out.” This seems to make sense for her. And she tentatively starts to explore whether this affects her sense of identity.

I also liked Aurin’s complicated, ambivalent connection with her controlling best friend. The combined affection and fun, manipulation, selfishness, and resentment that comprise their relationship all rang true.

While I didn’t fall in love with this novel, there is much here I admire. And other readers, particularly those in a YA novel’s target audience, may connect with it more readily.

Read a more detailed review at AfterEllen.

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