Favourite YA Books of 2014

Here we go again! My last post of 2014, consisting of… my favourite YA books of the year. See you all in 2015 for more book reviews and writerly thoughts.

The list
(in no particular order)
E Lockhart – We Were Liars
Deb Caletti – The Last Forever
Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours
Stephanie Perkins – Isla and the Happily Ever After
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald – The Apple Tart of Hope
Christine Heppermann – Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Meg Wolitzer – Belzhar
Amy Zhang – Falling Into Place

The breakdown
Dystopian/sci-fi: 1
Magical realism elements: 2.5
Contemporary/realistic: 3.5
Fairytales-in-verse: 1
Historical: 0
Books with boarding schools: 3
Authors I’d read before: 3
Authors new to me: 5

Trends
– Lots of ladies, again.
– More new writers.
– A fair couple of books that are more-or-less contemporary but have cool magical-realism or other elements, like Belzhar, Falling Into Place, Poisoned Apples and We Were Liars.
– No historical fiction!
– The book I’ve raved about most is Only Ever Yours, followed by Poisoned Apples. Both very feministy as well as being compelling, unsettling reads.
– The book on this list I have the most mixed feelings about is We Were Liars, but ultimately it still needs to be here.

Bonus mentions
(read in, but not published in, 2014)
Christa Desir – Fault Line
A. S. King – Ask The Passengers

Past years:
Favourite YA books of 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Book-review post!

Another round of ‘grown-up’ books, all published autumn/winter 2014 from established lady writers. Not that I have any bias or anything…

Sophie Kinsella – Shopaholic to the Stars
Shopaholic Becky is back – this time in LA, with a whole range of familiar characters in a zany new setting. The humour, voice, and social commentary are spot-on; the one thing that did irritate me was the cliffhanger ending. It’s really a ‘part one’ for the book out next year, which I wasn’t aware of, and makes it hard to assess the overall story (nothing is tied up by the end of it). Sigh.

Tana French – The Secret Place
As some people may be aware, I have a bit of a thing about boarding schools. This whodunnit is set in an exclusive girls’ boarding school in Dublin, the day after a mysterious note appears indicating someone knows who killed the charismatic boy whose body was found on the school grounds over a year before. The narration alternates between the young police officer investigating the case, who has his own fascination with the school and the privilege within its walls, and third-person recountings of the events leading up to the boy’s death. Twisty, turny, elegant. I loved it.

Jodi Picoult – Leaving Time
I have started reading Jodi Picoult with an eagle eye out for The Big Twist, and I did guess most (but not all) of this one about halfway through, which is always pleasing. The story revolves around Jenna, a thirteen-year-old whose mother Alice, an elephant researcher, disappeared ten years earlier; she enlists the help of a grumpy investigator and a disgraced psychic to help her find Alice. The dynamic between the unlikely trio works well, and the mystery is a satisfying one. It’s one of Picoult’s best books, and is also supported by two e-novellas (one focusing on Alice, one on the psychic) which are well worth checking out.

Marian Keyes – The Woman Who Stole My Life
I loved Keyes’s previous book, The Mystery of Mercy Close, so much that I was a little wary of this. Plus it seemed a little airy-fairy, possibly body-swapping… but then I quickly realised that it was a) not at all and b) magnificent. Stella Sweeney is in her forties, and her eejity ex-husband has just decided to give away all his possessions (causing an internet sensation). Her children are grown, now, with one married off and her son still at home and engaging in all kinds of wholesome behaviours like doing yoga (where has she gone wrong?). And there’s a lot that has happened in the past four years, which we start to hear more about as time progresses – the car crash and the narky driver, the mysterious illness that strikes her, the connection she makes with the narky driver (and neurologist), and the shift in her life that occurs when she becomes – upon recovery – a self-help author. I adored reading this, and, oh, it’s a cliche, but it manages to do that marvellous thing of both making you laugh out loud (slightly awkward, actually; read this on a train) and cry (also slightly awkward – may need to rethink reading venues).

Book-review post!

YA titles, mostly new.

Anna Carey – Rebecca is Always Right
The fourth Rebecca book explores what happens the summer after Rebecca and her friends have made a whole bunch of cool artsy friends, and does its usual good job at portraying teens Actually Doing Stuff And Making Things. There’s also a bit of romance, as Rebecca’s friendship with Sam heats up, and romantic disaster for Rebecca’s sister Rachel when longterm boyfriend Tom dumps her. Possibly the best bit, though, is Kookie – aspiring actress Vanessa’s commercial alter-ego, who becomes a quirky trend figure for a short period of time. It’s a lovely bit of snark and commentary on ‘quirky girls’ in the media, and was much appreciated by this reader.

Christine Heppermann – Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Fairytales and eating disorders and modern female identity and all in verse – I mean, oh god, talk about ticking all the boxes. This is one of my favourite books of the year. I am so glad it exists.

Scott Westerfeld – Afterworlds
(reviewed for Inis)

Meg Wolitzer – Belzhar
Speaking of favourite books – this was a YA bookclub read, and one we were all really excited about; the story focuses on a group of teenagers with Issues that have led them to be sent to a boarding school particularly for troubled sorts like themselves. Jam, our heroine, tells us on the first page that she’s been sent here because of a boy she loved, who died, and as the story goes on we learn more about this and the things her new group of friends have encountered. In their very special English class – a trope that has been often used but works really well here – they are given journals, asked to look out for one another, and soon discover they can enter alternate realities. Teenage heartbreak is handled beautifully here, and there are plenty of references to Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar, the inspiration for Belzhar, their name for their mysterious realm. Gorgeously done. Highly highly recommend.

Sarah Ockler – The Book of Broken Hearts
I realised I had fallen behind on my Sarah Ockler appreciation, as she’s had a new book out since this one, but I do love her YA very much. The premise of this book is a girl who falls in love with the wrong kind of boy, from a family who has previously treated her sisters badly, but it’s infinitely more complex than that. Jude, the central character, is the youngest of four sisters, all of whom have left; in the summer after high school she’s determined to fix up her dad’s bike for one last road trip. Her dad, with early onset Alzheimers, is forgetting more and more each day – but his passion for the bike still shines, and she’s sure it’s the key to hanging on to him a little bit longer. Enter Emilio, who shakes up Jude’s life in ways both good and bad. This is a novel about heartbreak, but it goes beyond the romantic; the real heartbreak here is what’s happening to her family, and the demons tearing away at the father she loves. For fans of Deb Caletti or Sarah Dessen looking for a new writer to check out – Sarah Ockler is your woman.

Farewell to Wordlegs

m4s0n501

The final issue of wordlegs was recently published, featuring a ‘best of’ roundup of the past five years, and I was super-delighted to see my story ‘Blue’ in there. There are a lot of familiar names in there too, and often they’re familiar because wordlegs has given young (and indeed older) Irish writers this marvellous space to share literary work, and it very quickly became, I think, one of the places people really wanted to have work in.

‘Blue’ was the first short story I ever had published, and it was a story that helped me get my first Arts Council bursary and a bursary from South Dublin County Council. Having it in wordlegs and then having that later recognition from Fancy Official Bodies was really one of those ‘being validated as a writer’ things (which, for all that you need a sort of resilience in yourself, are so crucial), and definitely instrumental in helping me take myself seriously as a short story writer. (Some people foolishly think stories are easier than novels. Ha!)

I’m really sad to see wordlegs go – Elizabeth Reapy and her team have done an amazing job over the past five years, and it’s been exciting and cool and good. It’s led to other great stuff happening in Irish writing, and I think has made a lot of people take online journals seriously, which is crucial in this day and age. But I’m also grateful it existed, and so grateful to have had work in there. Recessions can be wonderful times for art, and I hope we look back at these past few years and are impressed by the cultural stuff, even as we (rightly) rage about everything else.

Catering To Your Imagination

Catering To Your Imagination, the second anthology of creative writing from CTYI, was launched yesterday at DCU by Dr Martin McAleese, Chancellor of DCU. It has everything you could ever want in an anthology – hipster haikus, time-travelling detectives, noir forewords, a lot of poems about dogs, awkward match-making events in rural Ireland, love stories, heartbreak stories, girls locked in attics…

The stories, poems and scripts in the collection were workshopped during the Anthology of Writing class this summer, and it is so very shiny to see their polished versions appearing in this delightfully pretty book. At the launch, Colm O’Reilly, director of CTYI, spoke about the hard work that had gone into it, and the notion of hard work being something that actually lets high-ability people actualise their potential, instead of being something other people have to do, is so so important and at the core of a lot of my teaching of gifted students. It probably should go without saying that I am proud of these guys, but let’s say it anyway: so proud. So crazy proud of them.

Book-review post!

More book reviews… some adult titles this time.

Robert Galbraith – The Silkworm
This is the most Potteresque of Rowling’s grownup books in style, though not in content, and it makes for delightful reading. Cormoran Strike and his marvellous assistant Robin return to tackle a mystery involving an elusive author and a circle of writers and publishers – an area that Rowling knows well. It’s immensely enjoyable, full of pleasing twists and turns, and leaves me eagerly anticipating the next book.

Nuala Ni Chonchuir – The Closet of Savage Mementos
Beautifully-written novel about an Irish woman who finds herself pregnant in 1990s Scotland, and what happens next. Short but intriguing, with lots on memory, art and mothers.

Stephen King – 22.11.63
It’s been a while since I read a King novel but this one sucked me in entirely – I could not put it down. Jake Epping is a high school English teacher whose favourite diner turns out to have a portal beneath it that leads to 1958 – and when his friend, the diner owner, reveals he’s dying, it’s up to Jake to fulfil his mission – to save JFK from being assassinated, along with saving a few more souls along the way. Sounds cheesy but it becomes immensely plausible, and the life Jake builds for himself in the 50s and 60s is fascinating. Even though there’s a heavy dose of nostalgia for the good ol’ days in America, there’s also a reminder of how society has progressed with certain things (racial politics, medicine). The ending left me a little bit annoyed, though – without giving too much away, I think it would have been infinitely more interesting if the new future had been drastically different, leaving Jake with a really tough choice to make. But it’s a great read, and one I’d highly recommend.

Morgan McCarthy – Strange Girls and Ordinary Women
Three women’s lives intertwine in this atmospheric tale of suspicion and betrayal. Opening up with Alice, a middle-aged woman who suspects her husband’s having an affair, the story then moves to Vic, living in Madeira and in love with her best friend Michael, but incapable of telling him. Vic is suspicious of his new girlfriend, who seems to harbour a secret… and then we move back to England, where Kaya is determined to do whatever she can to escape from a destructive home life. As the novel progresses, the links between the women become clearer. An interesting and beautifully-written read.