Review: Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan

Title/Author: Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan
Publisher/Date: Perseus Books  – March 22nd 2011
How I Got This Book: Accepted pitch from author

Set in one of the most politically charged eras in America, Purple Daze lets us see 1965 through the eyes of six young adults as they wade through the typical high school experience while in the midst of some serious social and political revolutions. Told in verse, these six teens share a glimpse of the issues of the time–riots, anti-Vietnam war sentiments, sex, drugs, feminism–and really help to paint a picture of the undertones that propelled the counterculture movement.

One thing you should know about me: At heart, I’m a Bob Dylan singing, peace sign throwing, groovy little hippie. So this book, along with its gorgeous cover, had me ready to start donning some flowers in my hair and burning all my bras….ok, I kid on that last one. But seriously..I find myself so drawn to the 60’s for some reason so this book was definitely something I wanted to check out because I haven’t really ever seen any YA books set in the 60’s.

The only novel in verse I’ve read is Crank by Ellen Hopkins. For whatever reason, that one was a lot easier for me to keep up with because it was a fluid storyline. I thought the free verse style was PERFECT for this book  because I think it really reflected the freedom of the era but at some points I just felt my mind wandering. That could have just been my own issue as a reader but reading a novel in verse really is quite a different experience. That being said, the author did a phenomenal job incorporating all of these different perspectives in the form of letters, journal entries, and thoughts with tidbits of history. I was so interested in learning a little bit more of some major events that happened in 1965 through speeches and news clippings, etc.

I found it interesting to see how these teens were interacting with some of the social and political issues of the time and seeing a snapshot of how the counterculture reform really started stirring in this time period. These teens were questioning the traditions of their parents and their political decisions especially when it came to the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement. You could really get the sense of just how real the consequences of some of their parents decisions were to these teens especially when there friends and boyfriends were going off to war.  There were some really really powerful lines in this book and I thought the author really captured what I would think it would be like to be a teen during this time period.

I think the one aspect of the book that was hard for me was that I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters aside from Cheryl and Phil. I felt like I got a sense of who they were and really cared to know what happened to them. I wanted to care about the others but I just didn’t. I was more interested in learning about the time period through most of the novel. I felt like it was really hard to feel something for the rest of the characters because there were so many different perspectives and the writing isn’t as dense because it IS in verse so it was difficult. I wanted to keep the story going and find out more about them..but I understand that the author was just providing a snapshot of that year and how it shaped the teens.

My Final Thought: While I thought that the writing and concept was really great and that the balance of story and history was done well, I really had a hard time feeling something for the characters and at times found myself wanting something more that I can’t quite figure out. If you really love history and are looking for something that delves into the Sixties in an accessible way for young adults–this is for you. It’s wholly unique and well-written but may be hard for readers who are looking for a whole lot of movement. I personally enjoyed being in the characters heads and jumping around 1965 in that way… so much that I think I would have enjoyed an even longer novel.

A few of my favorite songs to get you in the 60’s spirit:

Light My Fire — The Doors
Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan
Paint It Black — The Rolling Stones
Turn! Turn! Turn! — The Byrds
White Rabbit — Jefferson Airplane
And obviously..Purple Haze — Jimi Hendrix Experience

And you can’t go wrong with some Beatles or Joan Baez.

Have you read any other good books set in the 60’s? (YA or adult)

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