Another book-post! Shockingly up-to-date with these, which are mostly April and May reads.
Violet Haberdasher – Knightley Academy
Knightley Academy is pretty much as it says on the tin: an academy for knights. The twist is that in the alternate history, combat has been outlawed, so it’s a slightly skewed version of knighthood, involving diplomacy, chivalry, medicine, etc that the students at Knightley learn. Although some comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable (new poor-yet-exceptional student at specialist school), the book works well. The world of the story is an intriguing one, too. (I remain amused by one of the reviews at Amazon which talks about the author’s Britishness – it is not exactly a secret that Violet is the alter ego of California girl Robyn Schneider, whose debut novel Better Than Yesterday also looked at the boarding school environment, but I digress.)
Erin Dionne – The Total Tragedy of a Girl named Hamlet
Hamlet is a girl called Hamlet, which is clearly tragic, and has a genius little sister who’s taking classes at her school. All of the family except Hamlet are strange and brilliant, and all Hamlet wants is to be normal. It’s a funny and realistic read, particularly on the matter of thirteen-year-old politics.
Ann M Martin – The Babysitters Club: The Summer Before
Okay. So. BSC sequel. It is not amazing. It is not particularly telling us anything we didn’t already know, because there are ten million books, including Portrait Books with flashbacks, but nevertheless… it’s still kind of exciting that there’s a new BSC book out. And a non-ghost-written one, at that. So, a general yay.
Beth Younger – Learning Curves: Body Image and Female Sexuality in Young Adult Literature
Non-fiction, if the title doesn’t give it away. Interesting look at, well, body image and female sexuality in YA literature (subtitles are so handy for summarising non-fiction texts). Nice balance of academic and readable.
Lauren Oliver – Before I Fall
Groundhog Day meets The Lovely Bones. Eighteen-year-old Sam dies – and wakes up to relive the day over and over. She’s popular and kind of mean, but also perceptive about how popularity works and happens, and the book, thankfully, has a lot more going on than just ‘selfish girl is taught a lesson’, which is nice. The supporting characters, including Sam’s three best friends, her boyfriend, her childhood friend, her younger sister, even the weird girl at school, are well-drawn, and the story moves along smoothly each day, with small changes rippling their way through, until the last day. It’s well worth reading.
Natasha Walter – Living Dolls
Another non-fiction one. The first half is a British answer/version of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs; the second half, which is terrific, looks at ‘the new biological determinism’, that lovely charming ‘I know this will be shocking to the feminists and we’re being really daring by saying this, but actually men and women are different and science says so!’ vibe in the media as of late. I did a lot of nodding along enthusiastically (not so much that it’s cheerful stuff, mind you), particularly when she’s talking about science and how studies are represented. It always surprises me the absolute faith people put into “science” as though something has been absolutely “proven”, instead of realising there’s usually a collection of studies, some with biases of various kinds, and often not agreeing. But people believe what they want to believe – whatever science backs up the cultural need. It’s a good book, an important book. And Walter will be speaking at the Dublin Writers’ Festival this Saturday, if you’re interested.
Sarah Darer Littman – Purge
Janie finds herself hospitalised for her bulimia, after an incident at her half-sister’s wedding, and the story takes place almost entirely in the hospital, with flashbacks and journal reminiscing about the steps that led her there. There’s a teeny bit of a ‘ahaha, actually I’ve been keeping this from you!’ which partly works because of the narrative style, but might irritate some readers, but in general it handles the emotions, and the gruesomeness, of ED behaviour well – Janie purges into socks and throws them out the window, because bathroom breaks are monitored by the nurses. I was, however, intensely bothered by the section which overdosed on ‘lost my virginity’, ‘gave my virginity’, ‘took my virginity’ phrasing, which seemed to come out of nowhere. I agree with much of what websites like Scarleteen have to say on the matter of virginity; and that section of the book just did not work for me. It seemed to be assuming a whole lot about its readership, right there, and it makes me far less likely to read books by the author in the future.
Michael Cart (ed.) – How Beautiful The Ordinary
I actually read the bulk of this collection, which is a gorgeous anthology of LGBTQ-related short stories for teens, last year, but the last contribution (Gregory Maguire’s) is a novella and that delayed me slightly. David Levithan’s story is gorgeous, in that heartwarming-yet-not-vomit-inducing way that he has. Emma Donoghue’s story – a non-birth mother’s letter to the daughter she lost when the relationship with her mother dissolved – is terrific. Julie Anne Peters is on top form, as is Francesca Lia Block. There are stories told in comic format as well as straightforward text; the tales play around with format in interesting ways. Definitely worth reading.
David Levithan – Love is the Higher Law
And more David Levithan. This is a 9/11 and post-9/11 story, and it’s short but intense. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve ever read or encountered relating to 9/11, having avoided films and such like, and not counting allusions, and it is interesting to see something that just looks at it, and the days and weeks immediately following, and from a teenage perspective.
Sarah Rees Brennan – The Demon’s Covenant
The second book in the trilogy focuses on Mae, she of the pink hair, slogan-y t-shirts, and love for brothers (whether they’re her own, the delightful Jamie, or those wacky Ryves brothers, Nick and Alan). As I said on twitter as I was reading it, “I know there’s magic & stuff in this book, but mostly I am noticing everyone flirting with everyone else.” The trilogy has so far, for me, been about seeing the nifty effect of magic and danger on the well-developed characters, and seeing the things you can do with that, rather than going ‘oh, shiny world, shame about the two-dimensional heroes’ as can sometimes be the case with fantasy or scifi.
Julia Hoban – Willow
Angst. Death. Misery. Willow’s life changed seven months ago when she drove her parents home from dinner one stormy night and was left an orphan. Living with her brother and his new family, she moves awkwardly in this new strange world where the idea of having ordinary everyday worries seems both pathetic and also incredibly desirable. When she meets Guy, and he discovers her secret cutting habit, she’s confronted with someone who cares about her, and makes it known. I am torn about this book – it’s wonderfully written, but there’s an uncomfortable element of knight-in-shining-armour-ness (even though Guy is far from perfect) in their relationship.
John Green & David Levithan – Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Green and Levithan’s styles mesh well in this collaborative novel, about two Chicago teens called Will Grayson, and what happens when their lives intersect. There is a high school musical (oh yes indeedy) and the scene-stealing Tiny Cooper, who is the best friend of one Will Grayson and the potential boyfriend of the other. I was fond of Tiny, but would have preferred more of a focus on the Will Graysons. Especially because Tiny is sweet, and all that, but, y’know, will grayson is depressed. And he is damn right to be annoyed that Tiny doesn’t get it. And has that heartbreaking moment where he talks about mental health days. Oh, will grayson. Tiny will be fine anyway, but what about you, hmm?
Maureen Johnson – Girl At Sea
Clio is seventeen and has a plan for the summer: working at the local art store where her crush, yummy Ollie, works, plus a discount on paints and such like. Hurray. But instead, her mother’s job takes her away to the middle of nowhere, and Clio ends up spending the summer with her dad on a boat sailing around Italy, which sounds like a fabulous idea in theory, but in practice means spending time with her dad, who has great and wild ideas but slightly disastrous decision-making and follow-through skills. It’s a fun read, there’s a historical backstory involving a mad tablet with a secret language, and there’s diving and tension and other good things.