If you need a moment of reflection or a step away from the telephone screen, look no further. Alma Presses Play throws the reader back to 1982 a time where teens would listen to their Walkman and bike down the streets of the Village. Here, Alma Rosen is starting to take on the world.
The book follows a year in Alma’s life through a series of poems, lists, and letters. This style evokes a personal connection with Alma, as we read her thoughts in diary-like verses. It takes a little getting used to—there are pauses after each phrase or so—but it adds a sense of reflection. We are reading along and discovering life at the same time Alma is. In a delightful fashion the novel-in-verse is sometimes more like a scrapbook than a novel.
Alma is quiet and thoughtful. For example, after a friend moves away, she feels like the only one who misses her. It is encouraging to read a book and find a character who is a patient observer of the world such as Alma. The novel is an ode to teenage life, to making mistakes and figuring oneself out. Alma is not always patient though. She has outbreaks with her parents and frustrations with the school counselor. This friction is part of growing up, it isn’t romanticized, just relayed into the pages by Alma.
Cane weaves themes such as starting your period and kissing boys for the first time along with those of grief and moving schools. She understands that growing up is both about big events but also the little conversations had with friends that no one else remembers. There is such care put into the lives of Alma and her friends, it feels like a gift to teens today. A gift saying to slow down. The nights of watching for UFOs on a friend’s roof seem in sharp contrast to the culture we see in today’s teens, that everyone needs to monetize their hobbies and moments away from school.
The publisher Make Me a World has a message on the copyright page. They strive to publish books that encompass the experiences of all sorts of young people. In their words, “We make books where the children of today can see themselves and each other”. Alma Presses Play is a shining example of this objective. As a mixed person myself, I was especially touched by a scene in the book where some neighbors are trying to guess Alma’s ethnicity, “I feel like I’m about to cry…Chinese I sigh I’m half-Chinese”. Cane does not shy away from showing hard parts of growing up with a mixed heritage. There are points where Alma wishes she could look different, that her friends would understand, or that she knew more about certain parts of her culture. I commend Make Me A World for their goal in publishing stories that address all different backgrounds, I would have loved to read about Alma when I was a teen.
Alma Presses Play is a book about friends, it is a book about growing up, and it is a book for the teens of today. It is crafted with care and love for adolescence in New York, and for growing up between cultures. Tina Cane’s debut young adult novel-in-verse is a place for quiet teens to feel welcome. I’m sure that the genre could use more stories like Alma’s.