C.K. Kelly Martin’s YA writing is the kind you want to give the teens in your life. It’s written for them, not adult crossover readers, and it meets teens where they live. Her latest novel, told in two characters’ alternating voices, is a flinchingly accurate look at the confusion and conviction of adolescence.
Second cousins Ivy and Lucan haven’t seen each other in seven years due to a mysterious family feud. When they cross paths again, they find themselves drawn together as they each deal with personal turmoil: Ivy is struggling with the unexpected end of her seemingly perfect high-school relationship, and Lucan with parental discord.
As in many multi-narrator stories, Delicate has a stand-out star, in this case Lucan. He gets the more interesting and complicated personal journey, and a subplot involving physical violence in a friend’s relationship.
Ivy is at her best when seen through Lucan’s eyes, other times coming across as a perfect, student-council type. But she is still believable. If anything, her naive or entitled pronouncements make her more realistic – who doesn’t remember the cringe-worthy sincerity and confidence we held in our opinions at 17?
Clunky sentences and descriptions sometimes weigh down the narrative, but strong dialogue and emotion help counteract this. The strength of Delicate is how its narrators are forced to see the grey areas in their own lives, from family conflicts to romantic entanglements. Growing up means accepting that life is not black and white; Martin has captured that well. She crafts an impressively realistic (and realistically painful) learning process for both Ivy and Lucan.