Books

Short Takes

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION

DECLARE YOURSELF: SPEAK. CONNECT. ACT. VOTE.

By various authors. HarperCollins. 352 pages. $11.99 paperback.

We've all heard of George Washington, Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson as influential political figures. But where do Mike James, Maya Angelou, Rob Riggle, Hayden Penettiere and Maroon 5 fit? They are advocates to empower teen voters in this compilation of essays highlighting the importance of political participation and, as America Ferrera says, turning “apathy to action” among teens.

Norman Lear's nonpartisan, nonprofit www.DeclareYourself.com organization aims to promote voter registration, and celebrities share their stories on this theme. The essays range from eloquent descriptions of brave voters in the face of prejudice, like Alice Walker's account of her father in 1932, to the more contemporary movie-star rants with colorful language by Adrian Grenier. This timely collection includes suggestions to teens about where to find reliable political information online, how to register to vote, and how to be a savvy voter. -- Megan Fink, for the Observer

FICTION

DOWNTOWN OWL

By Chuck Klosterman. Scribner. 271 pages. $24.

The best thing about “Downtown Owl,” Chuck Klosterman's first stab at fiction, is this: Every key character sounds suspiciously like Chuck Klosterman. For the vaunted pop-culture critic's notoriously devoted fan base, this will be a wildly welcome discovery. Others will end up undecided and possibly confused.

“Owl” is, essentially, a literary postcard from a town that could exist, but does not. Owl, N.D., is home to our three main characters, who all seem deeply pained by their existence for various reasons.

Mitch is a high school junior with phantasmagoric fantasies about killing his football coach, a repeat (and unrepentant) statutory rapist. Julia is a Madison, Wis., transplant who is roped into teaching the “Our State” course to eighth-graders and numbs her discomfort with pot and alcohol. Horace is a stoic, silent and deeply unlucky member of the town's 3 p.m. coffee drinking crew.

These three take turns as the focus of a series of well-drawn vignettes that serve as the narrative device in “Owl.” They are filled with trademark Klosterman wit and asides, and they prove highly entertaining. The problem is that the sum does not quite feel as good as its composite parts. There are linking elements and a plot – albeit a mostly actionless one until the end of the book – but “Owl” feels slightly disjointed. The abruptness makes it feel more like a first novel than it should. This boils down to an issue with Klosterman's voice, a not quite love-it-or-leave-it argument but a deeply polarizing one, nonetheless. -- Henry C. Jackson, Associated Press

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