I’ve been reading some proper grown-up books lately too, promise. But here are some thoughts on some recent mostly-YA reads.
Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl (via NetGalley)
I was excited about this book the second I heard about it, so it was a real treat to read it and find just so much in it to love. Cath has just started her first year of college, and for the first time isn’t sharing a room with her twin sister, Wren. Wren’s her best friend and in the real world, the more popular one – but in the world of internet fandom, Cath is a Big Name Fan with a following of her own. The Simon Snow books (a Potteresque series) are about to come to an end, and Cath wants to get her novel-length fanfiction (featuring the hero and antagonist in a romantic relationship) finished before the final book comes out. But as tempting as the world of Simon/Baz is, there are people in her life tugging her out of this fantasy land – her snarky roommate and the roomie’s boyfriend, the cute boy in her writing class, her sometimes-manic father, and her newly-returned-after-a-decade flighty mother.
This is a gorgeous read and despite having so much in it to love about fan culture and slash fic and all that, also has a lot of other stuff going on. Cath is a relatable and awkward character, the kind of girl who ‘smiles tensely’ in social situations and would much rather stay in and make up stories about other people’s fictional characters on a Friday night than go out partying. She’s spent years writing love stories but hasn’t really let herself love anyone – and, oh, god, the love story in this is gorgeous. (Spoiler alert: there is reading of fanfiction while snuggling. It is incredibly nerdy and incredibly pretty and I adored it so much.) And she’s haunted by her mother’s departure, and there are moments that will just break your heart.
I am so glad this book is in the world, and suggest you all go read.
Robyn Schneider – Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (aka The Beginning of Everything)
I loved this book, and I both love and hate the fact that so many of the reviews reference John Green, because oh good grief John Green is not the only smart snarky reference-y American YA writer out there. So I hope the attention the book gets because of that doesn’t mean that the book isn’t reduced to being Green 2.0, because honestly the main influences that struck me here were the Great American Novelists – F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger. There are references to The Great Gatsby peppered throughout and there is this lovely sense of reading the sort of classic self-reflective coming-of-age book that The Catcher In The Rye was (and still is) for so many people. Ezra Faulkner is a high school senior whose life was changed forever when a car accident put an end to his athletics career; the book is about what happens next and the semester that includes reconnecting with his childhood best friend, taking part in debate, and going on adventures with the mysterious and quirky Cassidy Thorpe. (I did ponder whether Cassidy was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, as you do, but she’s a deconstruction. And kind of a mess. I liked her.) There’s wit and wisdom and a lot of fun here, and a vivid set of characters (I loved Phoebe and Toby, especially) that stay with you after the story’s come to an end. Do check out.
Cathy Cassidy – The Chocolate Box Girls: Bittersweet
This is a short mini-book, originally released for World Book Day, which is told from the point of view of Shay – Cherry’s boyfriend and Honey’s ex. The story takes place after Honey’s started getting into a lot of trouble, and when she needs a shoulder to cry on, it creates complications for Shay and Cherry. There’s also a focus on Shay’s own dreams – Cathy Cassidy books are often about hopes and dreams – and what happens when your parents don’t support them. A short and (well, the title kind of says it) bittersweet look at these familiar characters.
Andy Robb – Geekhood: Mission improbable
I loved the first Geekhood book, which depicts the trials and tribulations of Archie, a self-proclaimed Geek with a ragtag bunch of pals and a yearning for the beautiful Sarah. This is the sequel, where Archie et al discover LARP-ing and the girls get involved –but things are made more complicated by Archie’s invented and showing-off-on-Facebook relationship with another girl. Archie’s also dealing with his dad’s new family, and the fact that his own father is starting to seem like – gasp! – a bit of a Tosser (like Archie used to view his own almost-stepdad) around them. This is pretty much what it says on the tin – completely geektastic. References to various fantasy/scifi/superhero things abound, but there’s also a fair bit of lusting after girls (and the sexual references are a bit more explicit in this one than the first – would say 12+ for this at least). Very funny, but still with a lot of heart.
Sarah Crossan – The Weight of Water
This novel in verse focuses on thirteen-year-old Kasienka as she moves from Poland to England; her mother is searching for her father, who walked out on them. At school, the teachers are mostly unseeing and uncaring, and the other girls are nasty; she’s picked on by someone she thought might be a friend and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. The one solace she has is in the water, swimming, where she meets someone who does care about her. This tackles a lot of dark issues but does so in an accessible and melodrama-avoiding way; the poetry is simple but effective. For 9+.