Going Under: moving kids' novel

I've just finished Kathe Koja's moving new young adult novel Going Under, and I continue to be deeply moved by Koja's work.

Going Under is the story of a bright, home-schooled brother-sister pair who struggle with their love and resentment for one another, under the hapless gaze of their clueless parents. Hilly, the sister, got involved in the local high-school's paper and made her first outside-world friends, one of whom has recently committed suicide, shattering Hilly's life. Now her family struggles to bring her back from the dark pit she's fallen into.

I first started reading Koja with her ground-breaking, lush and literary horror novels like The Cipher. These baroque, grisly novels shocked and engrossed me, impressing me with their verbal pyrotechnics. I thought of Koja as a prose stylist first and foremost.

Then Koja started to publish slim, moving young adult novels, books that were written in a simple, bare-bones style that was more Hemingway than Marquez. It was then that I realized that beneath the prose-tricks, Koja wrote amazing characters, badly flawed people whom you loved and hated, who destroyed each other with their best intentions.

Going Under has that in spades. In spare brushstrokes, Koja sketches out several people, monsters, angels, devils and bystanders, each of them climbing out of the pages and telling you their stories. After a scant 120 pages (read all in one gulp of an afternoon), I felt like I'd spent a month living with her people, getting to know and love (or hate) them.

If you are or you know a smart young reader who's ready for something different, Koja's YA books like Going Under are like nothing you've ever read before. And if you're an adult, Koja's YA novels are a visit to the horrors and wonders of adolescence, a ticket to a world where young people aren't mere literary devices, but their own species, separate and whole; vulnerable and strong.