Nothing Tastes As Good

A few years ago I mentioned I was really excited by what Hot Key Books were doing in YA-land… interesting, edgy, thought-provoking titles from both US and UK writers. This year they’ve published some incredible authors, including E Lockhart, Julie Mayhew, Jennifer Donnelly, James Dawson, Laura Dockrill, Chris Priestley, Keris Stainton, and more. And next year – even more shiny! Sarra Manning. Anne Cassidy.

And, um, yours truly. Nothing Tastes As Good, a novel I am so so eager for you all to read, will be out in July. You can read a little bit more about it here and here. I think/hope it’s funny and sad and angry and romantic and snarky. I hope people will like it. (Eeep.)

So that’s the writerly news… your book reviews and pop-culture musings will return shortly!

Book Reviews (quickfire version)

There are thoughtful book reviews and then there are the fragmented thoughts and impressions you have months after reading something. This post will most definitely embrace the latter approach, in the interest of working through my little text file labelled ‘books read in 2015 – to blog’ before the end of the year.

First up: Kathleen MacMahon’s The Long, Hot Summer, her follow-up to the much-discussed This Is How It Ends, and once more set specifically at a point in our recent past, in this case the heatwave of 2013. Chapter by chapter each member of a media-darling family reveals themselves to the reader, as we witness presenters and politicians caught up in the aftermath of a horrific attack on one of their own, including a series of crises culminating in a family tragedy. The fact that we move from one character to the next and never return means that it does feel like a short story collection sometimes, but overall it’s a pleasing piece of smart commercial fiction.

Yvonne Cassidy’s How Many Letters Are In Goodbye? was published as an adult novel here, but features a teenage protagonist and feels very much like it could fit into the edgier end of YA, so it’s not too surprising that Flux in the US will be publishing it as such in 2016. In a pre-smartphone era, Rhea writes letters to her dead mother as she finds herself homeless on the streets of New York, inspired no doubt by Cassidy’s own work with the homeless there. Disabled – missing an arm following a childhood accident – and gay, on top of everything else, Rhea isn’t the kind of heroine we typically see in fiction, but her story is relatable and the unfolding of the events of her past throws up a few surprises.

Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a novel that pulls you in – Delia, the woman who abandons her family and creates a new life for herself, is the kind of character that still exists today. I read this on holidays, along with another title from the vault, Ross Macdonald’s The Chill, which I remember mostly as seeming terribly modern despite a few problematic moments around the portrayal of women. (I know, I know. Classic crime novels not being great about the women? I’m shocked!)

Finally, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was one I missed out on during the initial buzz about it, but was recommended to me again and again, so ended up on the list. The scrapbook format, in which thirteen-year-old Bee compiles all the documents that might help explain her eccentric mother’s disappearance, provides both intrigue and humour. The turf wars between the suburban parents are hilarious, while news articles from further back reveal Bernadette’s past as an acclaimed architect, who hasn’t created anything new in twenty years. It’s a novel about motherhood and being an artist, and what happens when the two clash – but it’s also a funnier, more modern take on the subject than we often see.

Book Reviews

Recent book reviews in the paper (I’ll be getting notions!):

1) John Connolly’s Night Music, a collection of short stories and two delightful novellas, including one about a mysterious library:

Mr Berger, an old-before-his-time lover of books, finds the library after taking early retirement and encountering a woman with a red bag who throws herself in front of a train, then promptly vanishes. This would-be suicide is Anna Karenina, and her fate has already been written – is, in fact, part of the reason she is such a memorable and significant character. But Berger is determined to save her anyway.
The modifications made to certain manuscripts and first editions one drunken night, including some hilarious attempts at rescuing Hardy’s characters from their gloom and hardship, invite the reader to consider the intertextual nature of fiction and the reasons certain characters “become real” to us.

2) A round-up of recent children’s fiction, from picturebooks to YA:

…the highly-anticipated collaboration between Eoin Colfer, our current Laureate na nÓg, and Oliver Jeffers, one of our finest picture book artists, Imaginary Fred (HarperCollins, £12.99), offers up a complex and layered story about friendship and imagination. The titular Fred is an imaginary friend, ready to be called into action when “the conditions are just right”. When befriended by Sam, he prepares himself for the day he’ll no longer be needed: most people seem to eventually move on to the kind of friends other people can see. Jeffers’s distinctive style is muted here slightly, with most of the illustrations in black and white only, but his pixelated depiction of the imaginary community – the only characters to appear in colour – is cleverly done. Colfer’s text is as quirky and – when needed – poignant as one might expect, with his capacity for fine storytelling on full display here.

Recent bits ‘n’ pieces

The Harry Potter illustration wall at DeptCon1

The Harry Potter illustration wall at DeptCon1

Some recent things:

  • I’m interviewed over at ShortStops about short stories, what my writing routine is (ha), and why I think editorial roles are useful for writers.
  • I wrote an essay for The Coven, one of my favourite essay-collecting online spots, about comedy and feminism and the recent Irish musical The Train.
  • DeptCon1, Ireland’s first but not last YA convention, happened, and I wrote about it, because apparently I am incapable of going to anything without livetweeting it and/or dissecting it afterwards…

Judy Blume Gets It

Originally included in Sarah Bannan’s Why We Love Judy Blume article in the Irish Times:

Judy Blume has always been the writer who was honest with you when other adults weren’t, a theme she’s come back to over and over in her work, including her latest novel. The writer that talked about periods (even if Margaret and her friends were far too excited about that particular hellish treat of adolescence), wet dreams (who knew boys felt weird about their bodies, too?) and masturbation (please raise your hand if you wondered where exactly Deenie’s special place was). Much as the ‘dirty bits’ get attention (there are generations of women who cannot take men named Ralph seriously thanks to Forever), they’re only part of a much bigger tapestry – one that is about growing up (a process that doesn’t end with puberty, as her adult novels explore). Blume – and I’m tempted to type ‘Judy’ instead, the way so many of her readers always have – gets the nuances of identities shifting, of the secrets we keep, of the frustrations and anxieties we feel. Her characters – from the accidental bully Jill in Blubber and the angry grieving Davey in Tiger Eyes to the maddeningly compelling Caitlin and her family in Summer Sisters – are people we know. My absolute favourite is Rachel Robinson, who first appears in Just As Long As We’re Together and then narrates its sequel, Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson. “It’s true that Rachel is not every girl,” Blume notes on her website, but Rachel was precisely the girl I wanted to see in fiction: an anxious overachiever who took on too much, who was smart and friendly but also angry and romantic, who worried about whether her best friends liked each other more than her, who got carsick on long journeys. Whenever I reread it – or any of Blume’s titles, if I’m honest – I keep thinking: Judy Blume just gets it.

YA & Mental Health

As it’s World Mental Health Day today… recommended YA reads on the topic. This list was originally published in Inis #44 (April 2015).

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven (Penguin, 2015)
A relationship between a grief-stricken girl and a bipolar boy prompts an adventure into seeing the beauty in life, without dismissing its pain.

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson (Scholastic, 2011)
An intense and difficult journey inside an angry anorexic mind. Haunting and beautiful.

I Was Here – Gayle Forman (Simon & Schuster, 2015)
When your vibrant best friend commits suicide, there are questions that need answering.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan (Penguin, 2012)
Alongside zany musicals and romance, this dual-viewpoint novel explores depression.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini (Disney, 2007)
A suicidal high-achiever finds himself in a psychiatric hospital, where he begins to recover.

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher (Penguin, 2009)
This sometimes-problematic but thought-provoking novel explores the reasons behind suicide and our responsibilities to one another.

Scarred – Julia Hoban (Piatkus, 2010)
After the loss of her parents, Willow turns to self-harm.

I don’t want to be crazy – Samantha Schutz (Scholastic, 2010)
A novel in verse relates surviving the first year of college with panic disorder.

Improper Order – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island, 2013)
Sullivan’s second novel handles self-harm and grief with a light but sensitive touch.

Tyranny – Lesley Fairfield (Walker, 2011)
This graphic novel conveys the horrors of anorexia and the gap between perception and reality.