Welcome to New York Alyssa
There is such a maturing of YA fiction writing in New Zealand. It seems we are beginning to shed the naive and, at times, repetitive ideas of the past and entering a new era of the genre with the creation of increasingly robust and challenging narratives that are both well-written and captivating. Welcome to New York Alyssa is the first in Welcome to New York series of books based around the character Alyssa, and her dysfunctional (and dystopian) situation in a strange and unusual future world.
This novel has a gutsy premise and a futuristic big brother-like feel that will appeal to high school students here in New Zealand and more broadly around the world. Set in New York – a location that has been cut off from the rest of America and now under fairly militaristic and oppressive rule – the city itself acts as a location that naturally creates intrigue – and gives the sharp impression that the novel has the potential to be a big deal on the literary landscape internationally as much as here in Aotearoa. Wellington writer, Sarah Powell, has constructed a novel that keeps the reader hanging on tenterhooks throughout with a wide range of twists and turns that, even with decades of reading YA and novels, you just don’t see coming. The final cliff hanger is a masterstroke in this genre of writing.
The might of New York has fallen to – as the blurb suggests – ‘Marines, rebels, vigilantes, the wealthy elite and the hard working lower class … imprisoned in self-sustaining anarchy.’ That’s enough to get most teenagers out of bed in the morning.
Our central protagonist comes from New Zealand and there are some references to her past as the novel unfolds, but the best thing about that is that the stereotypical references to New Zealand aren’t as overplayed as so many YA fiction pieces from our shores. No long descriptions of the beauty of the South Island; no typical exploration of parochial small towns; none of that stuff. Rather it is a plot point that is required for characterisation and referred to purposefully, but not overused. Thank goodness. Added to this is that Alyssa struggles with mental illness, which is sure to create lively dialogue as part of a broader study of the text. It is really a story of survival in the tempestuous landscape of the (new) New York.
Coming from a Marine family, Alyssa has her wits about her and takes on that traditional stoic bravado of teenagehood before quickly becoming unstuck as she gets kidnapped early in her time in New York. Now she must establish what is happening in this foreign town and what is truth and what is fiction. She must first survive if she wants to dig deeper into her own past.
The city itself is really its own central character in this novel, and the writing is full of rich and clear descriptions of the atmosphere and the struggles it has as an almost third world location following the separation from the rest of the country. Clearly Powell has spent a lot of time here as she writes with such confidence and detail.
Her writing style is easy to read and keeps the reader engaged throughout with a narrative arc that obviously lends itself to the continuation of the story, but also works well as a standalone piece. With studying the text in mind, the likelihood that students will go on to read the rest of the series is a helpful addition to any wide reading programme, and it also allows for teaching around genre and the use of orientation and set up for an ongoing story line. It is easy to imagine the Welcome to New York Alyssa will become a popular choice both for high school students and their teachers. The fresh voice of Powell comes through with language and imagery choices that feel new and exciting at each page turn.
A highly recommended piece from a talented and effective writer.
Title: Welcome to New York Alyssa
Author: Sarah Powell
Publisher: Mary Egan Publishers
Date of Publication: June 2021
Reviewer: Chris Reed, teacher, Macleans College, Auckland
How are you recommending this book? Highly recommended
Would it work as a readaloud? Yes but it is 360 pages…
What’s the book’s opening sentence? New York City doesn’t have large fuel reserves, so the plane that delivers us take off almost as soon as our feet have touched the tarmac, seeking refreshment from the parts of America that still run on fuel. Which is most of America, really. Almost all of it. New York CIty is a special case.
You can buy this book here