I picked up Kate Scelsa‘s debut young adult novel Fans of the Impossible Life (2015, Balzer + Bray) at the Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA, when I was visiting there for a conference a few months ago. I’ve started to purchase books at independent bookstores in the cities I visit because I just LOVE the feeling of supporting independent bookstores.
The kind gentleman at the counter spoke highly of Fans of the Impossible Life, so I was really excited to read it. I finished the book last night. The only word I could think of when I finished was WOW! This is one of those poetically provocative YA books that gets to you.
Fans of the Impossible Life is about three teenagers (Jeremy, Mira, and Sebby) who need so desperately relevance and visibility in a world that has pushed them to the margins. If only in its telling of their stories, Fans of the Impossible Life gives them relevance and visibility.
Jeremy’s comment in English class about implicit homosexuality in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the fact that he is being raised by two dads make him a target of bullying. Jeremy’s teacher Peter helps through the bullying incident and helps him start an art club, where he meets Mira and her friend Sebby. Mira and Sebby met in the hospital after Mira tried to kill herself. Jeremy forms a deep relationship with both Mira and Sebby and begins to fall for Sebby, who abandons his foster care home to sleep over at Jeremy’s house. But when Sebby becomes closer with Nick, Jeremy wonders if what he and Sebby had was ever real. A moment between the Jeremy, Sebby, and Mira at a high school party only complicates these three teenagers’ relationships with one another. And soon Mira and Jeremy find out that they can’t help Sebby anymore. He has chosen a path which is impossible for them to truly understand.
This is not a fairy tale YA book. In its poetic (there are so many absolutely brilliant lines that I just had to mark with sticky notes for read-alouds!) and artsy way (Jeremy is an artist and many of the characters find a release through art), Fans of the Impossible provides a raw look at these teenagers’ lives. And it is explicit in just about every way possible. There are sex scenes. There is drug use. Sebby is kicked out of his foster home. Jeremy confronts his sexuality. And Mira endures her depression: “It was a familiar sensation, her mind turning in on itself, turning away from the world because it didn’t want to be seen. This feeling was an old friend. It had been a while, though, since its last visit. She hadn’t been expecting it” (pp. 99-100). Scelsa has an extraordinary ability to portray teenagers’ suffering in a real, harsh way. Whereas I sometimes wondered if Scelsa tries to tackle too many issues in one text and if the book’s ending is too rushed and a bit cliched in its presentation of a multitude of issues, I do agree the book’s strength is its explicitness. YA literature and the kids who read YA literature (many of whom also need relevance and visibility) need the raw sourness of Scelsa’s depiction of teenagers in Fans of the Impossible Life.
Here are a few teaching ideas for Fans of the Impossible Life:
(1) Add it to a reading club selection list that includes Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep and Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Ask students to speak about the varying presentations of depression and art within these different texts.
(2) Although I believe in exposing students to all types of YA texts, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I believe some school districts may ban this book. If your teaching context permits you to either teach this text as a whole-class read or if you offer this book as an independent reading selection in your classroom library, you might consider having students write about whether they believe this book should be banned or not. Having students’ voices heard in the banned books debate is so very important.
Let me know what you think of Fans of the Impossible Life in the comments below!