Book-review post!

Oh, so much catching up to do on books I have read in the last… several months. Let’s get started!

Anne-Marie Conway – Forbidden Friends
For 9-12s, this is a story about two girls whose families are bound together by an accident that happened years ago. When they meet on holidays, they have no idea of the secrets they’re about to uncover… cue ominous music. Told from dual perspectives, it does a good job at getting inside both their heads and exploring their concerns. Would be interested to read her other books.

Meg Rosoff – Picture Me Gone
Latest Meg Rosoff is dreamy and quirky, focusing on a watchful and precocious twelve-year-old girl on a road trip with her father to find a friend of his. The adult world is filtered through her sensibilities and it does that very unusual thing in YA of being about a younger character who benefits from being read by an older reader (see also: Emma Donoghue’s Room and John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which are not YA but work in a similar fashion). Not much happens, but it is a lovely read.

K.A. Tucker – Ten Tiny Breaths
New adult. Kacey’s haunted by the deaths of her parents in a car crash, and has run away with her younger sister – she’s old enough now to take care of them both. She’s tough – for which read: dysfunctional – and she doesn’t let anyone in. So why does hot new neighbour Trent get to her so much? And as they get closer, it becomes clear he has secrets of his own… (dun dun DUN!)
This was a good read, but formulaic enough – I have yet to be wowed by NA.

David Levithan & Jonathan Farmer – Every You, Every Me
Oh David Levithan, how you love the collaborations. This is a blend of text and photo and it’s about this girl who is no longer around, and we’re left wondering why…
Shocking confession: I was not mad about this. Obviously there are gorgeous bits in it, it being a Levithan book, and there are some cool typographical things done that work really well, but there was nothing overly surprising in there and it lacked some of the loveliness of his other books.

Julie Halpern – Have A Nice Day
Sequel to Get Well Soon, which I adored. Anna’s just out of the psychiatric hospital and back in the real world, dealing with all the issues there – I loved this thematically but was less adoring of its execution.

Maureen Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle – Let It Snow
Three novellas by three YA writers of joy. I’d read work from all these writers before. I was underwhelmed in the extreme. They’re fluffy holiday stories – competent but not ‘wow’ worthy in the way that I’d expect from these guys. And also no redeeming cheerleaders whatsoever. Meh.

Right. Next book-review post I promise there will be something gush-worthy instead of ‘ah yeah, sure it’s grand’. :)

Book-review post!

All YA this time around, including two I read a while back for the CBI Bookfest Recommended Reads, so held off on posting here ’til that came out. Print reviews are in italics, extra comments are… extra.

David Levithan – Every Day
Every day, A wakes up in a different body. For sixteen years, that’s all A has ever known – shifting from one person to another, taking over their body and life and trying not to do too much damage. But today A meets Rhiannon – the mistreated girlfriend of Justin, whose body A is inhabiting. And today A falls in love. What happens next is fascinating and wise and thoughtful and pretty much everything you would expect from a David Levithan novel. Despite the fantastical element, it’s still very much grounded in our world, with lots of musings on identity and love. Well worth reading.

Laura Jarratt – Skin Deep
Fourteen-year-old Jenna is scarred, psychologically and physically, from the car accident eight months ago that left her best friend dead. When Ryan arrives into town with his New Age traveller mother, he’s the one person who treats Jenna like she’s normal. He’s also the one the police suspect when a body is found. Jenna and Ryan’s burgeoning relationship is moving while still being realistic; the murder and its amplification of the town’s post-crash tensions make this debut novel completely gripping.
This is so very good. Told in alternating viewpoints, we see two vividly-realised characters and a love story that is both about connecting emotionally and being attracted to someone physically (really well handled). One of my favourite YA books of the year.

Natasha Farrant – The Things We Did For Love
A teenage love story unfolds against the backdrop of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. The war has not left Luc and Arianne untouched, but their blossoming romance is enchantingly hopeful. World War Two tearjerkers are not uncommon, but the elegance of the writing here and the lack of sentimentality make this a haunting and memorable read.
This is gorgeous. I don’t want to say too much but it is worth reading, and also worth reading without reading anything about what prompted the author to write it. So stylishly written. If you like Eva Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels, or Meg Rosoff’s books, or Adele Geras’s YA novels, this one is likely to appeal.

Book-post!

Aha, yes, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Thoughts on recently-read books, some more detailed than others.

Stephanie Perkins – Anna and the French Kiss
This debut from Stephanie Perkins is adorable, and funny, and sweet, and painful, and deeply deeply romantic. Anna is spending her senior year of high school at an American boarding school in Paris (Paris!) but despite appreciating that it’s, you know, Paris, she’s also nervous about being in a new city alone, without speaking the language, and wishes she’d been given a choice. Very quickly, though, she makes friends, including the delicious Etienne (actually British, despite the French name), who she very quickly falls for. Trouble is, he has a girlfriend. The will-they-won’t-they plot is handled beautifully, woven in throughout Anna’s other friendships and relationships (both in Paris and back home in Atlanta) and her exploration of Paris. I loved that Etienne was a history nerd (not the exact phrasing used in the book, but, oh, gosh, he so is, and it’s delightful), and afraid of heights, and so very much not perfect. Theirs is a very messy but very authentic and sweet story, and one that’s definitely worth reading. (Plus. Boarding school. In Paris. These things make me happy.)
(Also – there is a bonus scene on the author’s website in which Star Trek is discussed. Oh my.)

David Levithan & Rachel Cohn – Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares
Another collaboration between Levithan and Cohn, a he-said she-said romance which travels around New York and mentions The Strand bookstore an awful lot. I loved reading this – it’s full of the usual quirky, insightful teen characters that you’d expect from these two, but it also let me live vicariously through them and do Christmas-in-New-York. Worth reading.

Melissa Hill – Something From Tiffany’s
This was another book with a Christmas-in-New-York part, strangely enough, though it concentrates on the less bookish corners. After an accident, two Tiffany’s boxes get mixed up, and widower Ethan, who’d been planning to propose to his new girlfriend, instead finds a charm bracelet. Meanwhile, restaurant co-owner Rachel can’t stop herself from peeking in her boyfriend Gary’s Christmas shopping – and when she finds a ring she’s absolutely delighted. The mix-up scenario, and the fall-out from it, is made plausible, and there are a few extra twists and turns along the way. Highly enjoyable.

Melvin Burgess – Kill All Enemies
To be honest, every time I’d heard about this book it had been linked with the London riots, so my impression of it before reading was that it was some kind of dystopian nightmare. It isn’t – it’s the story of three teenagers in PRUs (pupil referral units) in England, the acting-out types who all have reasons for it. Much more optimistic than I was expecting, and well worth checking out.

Ella Griffin – Postcards from the Heart
Fun, readable and moving chick-lit from a debut author. Really enjoyed this and looking forward to her next book in 2012.

Orla Tinsley – Salty Baby
I found this fascinating – a life of illness and campaigning but also much more generally about growing up in Ireland and having passions and interests and being stubborn. I know other people have noted this, but it would have been so easy to present a sanitised, polished, glossed-over life here. Instead it’s incredibly honest. Tinsley doesn’t always come across as the nicest, saintliest person, but it makes for a much more interesting read this way.


Cecelia Ahern – The Book of Tomorrow
The first Cecelia Ahern book I’d ever read – particularly drawn to this one as it has a pretty cover and is about a teenager rather than a proper grown-up. Tamara’s father has just died, and she and her mother move to the country to live with her aunt and uncle, near the ruins of a castle. The take on Celtic Tiger Dublin is really well handled – in some ways I’d have loved to see this as a realistic teen novel rather than chick-lit with a magical twist. Tamara finds a book, a diary, that reveals what’s going to happen the next day, but that device is less important than all the secrets lurking beneath the surface of the family and the castle. The ending felt like a little too much, pushing the bounds of plausibility even as far as the story’s world was concerned, but until then it was an interesting read.

Maria Duffy – Any Dream Will Do
Very cool to see Maria Duffy’s first book out so quickly! Jenny Breslin has Twitter friends on their way to stay with her – but she’s never met any of them in real life before and is a little concerned how things might go. Rightly so, as it turns out – they’ve all got secrets of their own, things they haven’t been 100% honest about on the internet. Fun, funny and fast-paced – a great holiday read.


Jennifer Weiner – Then Came You
The story of a surrogate pregnancy as told from the points of view of the rich mother, the egg donor, the surrogate, and the half-sister. There’s a rich backstory for everyone involved and it all comes together beautifully in the end. I’ve heard so many great things about Jennifer Weiner’s books – will definitely be reading more of them after this one.

Leigh Fallon – Carrier of the Mark
Paranormal romance centred about an American girl who comes to live in Ireland. Picked up mostly for the setting – there are a couple of nifty scenes in Trinity, especially.

Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid #6: Cabin Fever
Funny as ever. It’s holiday season, and Greg’s looking for a way to make money. Disaster inevitably ensues.

Book-post!

Anne Fine – The Road of Bones
Nifty book set in a vague version of Soviet Russia – very fable-like in some ways (reminded me of John Boyne’s stuff for kids) but with an appropriately dark edge to it.

Neil Gaiman – Stardust
I haven’t read nearly enough Neil Gaiman. This one is a sort-of pastiche of Victorian fairytales, and very fun, particularly when it alludes to the goings-on that we don’t see. The world of Faerie is a dark place where transformations and manipulations and trickery and treachery abound, but also where heroes can do the right thing. I liked this one a lot, even though I’ve been advised by Those In The Know that it’s not his best work.

Lauren Oliver – Delirium
I’d been looking forward to this one for ages – Lauren Oliver taking on a dystopia? Fabulous! It didn’t disappoint – like Before I Fall, the fantastical elements are grounded in the very authentic and thoughtful relationships between the characters. In many dystopias, it’s love – the power of love, the appeal of love – that helps protagonists see the flaws in their society, and (particularly in YA) gives them the strength to rebel. The society portrayed here takes it one step further – love is seen as a disease, something dangerous to be cured. (This makes a lot of sense, actually.) How and why this began isn’t something that’s explained in enough detail (though as this is the first book in a trilogy, we may see more explanation in later books), but how the world is now, and the genuine beliefs that its inhabitants have, are conveyed wonderfully. Looking forward to the next instalments of the trilogy, without feeling as though the first book needs them in order to make sense – it’s nicely done.

Jonathan Kebbe – Noodle Head
Really funny, poignant, thought-provoking book on incarceration, juvenile deliquency, and medication – described as a ‘junior One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest‘. Marcus is a cool dude – so cool that he’s found himself in the Dovedale institution in order to be reformed, a process which consists mostly of hard labour and drugging up the inmates. The story moves along quickly and even though the ending is an upbeat one it’s not entirely cheerful. The possible benefits of medication are touched on a little too briefly, though the book does generally avoid an all-out attack on prescription drugs. Worth reading.

Sheena Wilkinson – Taking Flight
This wins many, many bonus points for being a) a Belfast book that is not about the Troubles and b) a dual-viewpoint book where the two opposite-sex characters don’t get together (they’re cousins). Declan is a tough guy who finds himself drawn into his cousin ‘Princess’ Vicky’s world – including her horse, Flight – after his mother ends up in hospital. Tensions ensue, and the characters are genuinely horrible to each other at times. The often troubling backstory isn’t sensationalised, and it’s a great piece of dramatic realism.

David Levithan – The Lover’s Dictionary
Levithan’s first adult book is told via dictionary entries – attempted definitions of significant words which explains the history of a relationship. It’s frustratingly short in some ways, and at the same time this works for what it’s trying to do. We’re not getting a direct chronology, more like a series of telling snippets, and while that works in a lot of ways it may raise more questions than it answers. Nevertheless it’s definitely worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of his YA stuff.

Siobhan Dowd – A Swift Pure Cry
Cheerful, uplifting… no, wait. Grim tale of a girl who gets pregnant in a small Irish village in the 1980s, is benevolently ignored by the community, gives birth to a stillborn baby, and is then accused of murdering her own child when another body is found. Even though it’s based on true events it felt a little far-fetched, particularly how things turned out, and Shell’s mix of naivety and knowingness didn’t quite work for me. Also, unless a character has psychic powers, I am sceptical of them just ‘knowing’ things. It is a good book, a moving book, but I suppose like so many others, when it’s been hyped up and deemed extraordinary it’s difficult not to be disappointed when it’s not quite as wow-worthy as expected.

Stephenie Meyer – Twilight
Vampire baseball. I have no words.

Favourite YA Books of 2010

That time of year for yearly round-ups, so…. here are my favourite twelve YA books of 2010. With some bonus statistics.

Short story collections: 1
Collaborations: 1
Single-author novels: 10

Dystopian: 3
Contemporary/realistic: 6
Suspense: 1
Paranormal/dead narrator: 2

Authors I’d read before: 4.5
Authors new to me: 7.5

Books I saw being fussed over and hyped up: 4
Books I would have liked to have seen more hyped up: 8

And the list itself…

Ally Condie – Matched
Caragh M O’Brien – Birthmarked
Deb Caletti – The Six Rules of Maybe
Emily Horner – A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend
Gemma Malley – The Legacy
Holly Schindler – A Blue So Dark
Jandy Nelson – The Sky Is Everywhere
Jeri Smith-Ready – Shade
John Green & David Levithan – Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Keith Gray (ed.) – Losing It
Lauren Oliver – Before I Fall
Rebecca James – Beautiful Malice

Beyond red, black, and death…

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Now. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I adore about the current wave of the red/black/death/vampire stuff in the teen sections of bookshops nowadays (Hodges Figgis actually has a separate section within their teen books for this stuff) – it is fantastic to see new editions of Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, as well as some of his other books (Read them. Read them all.), and to see teen books doing well, but occasionally (as a writer and reader of realistic fiction) I get gloomy. So many vampires and werewolves and zombies and fallen angels…

I also know that for a lot of readers, the ones who’ve been reading all along (instead of suddenly discovering books exist, as so often happens when there are big bestsellers out there), it’s off-putting to feel like something as huge in scope as young adult fiction is being reduced to a couple of its current trends. It feels like all there is is the red/black/death stuff.

One of the great appeals of having books categorised by age is that it evens out the playing field in other ways. It’s basically having, in that one section of the bookshop, what would happen if all those General Fiction/Literary Fiction/Irish Interest/Fantasy/Horror/Crime/Science Fiction/Classics/Anthologies barriers dissolved. You do hear, more frequently than is really necessary, “oh, it’s written for teens, but actually it’s a really good book”, but at the same time that snobbishness and mentality cuts down on what people say about ‘adult’ novels, the “it’s just light reading but…” or “it’s just a thriller/crime novel/romance/page-turner…” stuff that people throw out to justify reading something they actually enjoyed reading.

So there is more to the teen section in bookshops, in books generally, than the red/black/death. Lots more. This would be the part where I start making suggestions….

Meg Cabot turns up in the black/red/death for her The Mediator series (originally published under Jenny Carroll), but The Princess Diaries books, though occasionally irritating, are definitely worth reading. But the best ones are the standalones (and I’m immediately going to contradict myself here, because there are two All-American Girl books, both brilliant), including Teen Idol, Tommy Sullivan Is A Freak and How To Be Popular.

Sarah Dessen writes love stories that go way beyond love stories, the kind of entanglements that happen when you’re not quite ready for them and yet need anyway, because of everything else that’s going on. Family looms large in Dessen’s books, as does summer – the long days of a different routine and pace, when you get that little bit closer to discovering who you are. Her latest is Along for the Ride.

Deb Caletti is another one writing what are ostensibly love stories and actually journeys of self-discovery. The supporting characters are always fleshed out, and there is always a sense of the narrators figuring out where they fit in the wider world, not just at school/home/in a relationship. Her latest is The Six Rules of Maybe, though you’re more likely to find Honey, Baby, Sweetheart or Wild Roses on this side of the Atlantic.

Abby McDonald writes smart, funny, feminist books. Life Swap is the best take on the ‘let’s trade lives! Fish out of water!’ plot I’ve seen.

Siobhan Vivian writes terrific, realistic, funny, compelling books about friendships and romances and creativity. Highly recommend her second novel, Same Difference; her third, Not That Kind of Girl, is out now.

E Lockhart writes funny, quirky, insightful books about teenagers. I can take or leave the Ruby Oliver books, but Dramarama and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks are two of my favourites.

Sara Ryan, despite being very fond of and knowledgeable about fantasy and sci-fi, has written two of my very favourite contemporary YA novels – Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts.

Adele Geras writes a number of different things, but when she writes realistic fiction, it is thoughtful and quiet and moving and stunning. Pick up silent snow, secret snow or the Egerton Hall trilogy (The Tower Room, Watching the Roses and Pictures of the Night).

Laurie Halse Anderson will blow you away. Speak is an extraordinary book about being a teenager and being afraid. Catalyst (even though I think Kate is a lot more right about things than the book gives her credit for) is another stunner about what happens when the life plan goes off-course. Prom is a fun Cinderella retelling; Twisted dissects the male teen psyche; Wintergirls is a modern day Persephone story about ghosts and eating disorders.

David Levithan has written several extraordinary books for teens, including the very brilliant Boy Meets Boy, the heartbreaking/heartwarming Marly’s Ghost, the thought-provoking Wide Awake and Love Is The Higher Law, and (with Rachel Cohn) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely’s No-Kiss List. Sharp, fast-paced, and sympathetic.

John Green gets a lot of love on the internets generally, but is being mentioned in this list anyway for smart and quirky realistic fiction – with (gasp!) male narrators. Why, realistic teen books for boys do exist after all! I have a particular fondness for An Abundance of Katherines, which has anagrams and a mathematical formula to predict break-ups.

Garret Freymann-Weyr writes exquisitely. She has written five YA novels and I can’t recommend just one, but if I had to it would be My Heartbeat. Or maybe Stay With Me. Or After the Moment. Or The Kings Are Already Here. Or When I Was Older. Hmm. The teen characters in these books are thoughtful and introspective, and the adult characters are consistently complex and compelling.

Jacqueline Wilson has written approximately ten bajillion books, for children and teenagers. Some of my favourites for older readers include Kiss, Dustbin Baby, My Sister Jodie, and the Girls quartet.

Sara Zarr writes about family and redemption of various kinds. Story of a Girl, about a girl who dreams of getting out of her small town and is still haunted by an early sexual encounter, is a moving read. Zarr’s most recent book, Once Was Lost, is about a reverend’s daughter and life falling to pieces around her one summer.

Donna Freitas‘s The Possibilities of Sainthood and This Gorgeous Game are two very different but equally compelling books about girls, love, obsessions, religion, and family.

Elizabeth Scott writes consistently readable fiction, mostly realistic, including The Unwritten Rule, Something, Maybe, Bloom, and my favourite Love You Hate You Miss You. Particularly worth noting is the way that parental relationships are always handled in an interesting way, rather than falling into either category of invisible/overbearing parents.

Julie Anne Peters writes teen fiction mostly LGBTQ-related, including the stunning Luna (dealing with transgender issues), Keeping You A secret (oh, Holland and Cece!) and Rage: A Love Story (intense/damaging relationships).

Melina Marchetta is a superb Australian author, whose Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca are well worth checking out.

Gayle Forman‘s If I Stay has potentially fantastical elements, but it’s how real it all feels that makes it so moving.

Sally Nicholls writes mostly about death. Ways to Live Forever and Season of Secrets are often shelved for older readers for partly this reason, I think. Well worth reading, but do have tissues handy.

Rachel Vail understands the details of teen friendships, obsessions and feelings. Her books ring true. Particularly recommended are Ever After and You, Maybe.

Ned Vizzini‘s It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a terrific (and funny) book about depression and self-expression. This and Be More Chill are fantastic additions to the ‘realistic fiction for boys, should they want such a thing’ category.

Ellen Wittlinger‘s Hard Love and its sequel, Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story, are two amazing books about love, writing, and self-discovery. There are no easy answers or neat solutions: sometimes people get hurt, and quite often they don’t get what they want.

Kevin Brooks writes fiction that isn’t afraid to go dark. Lucas is one of my favourites.

Melvin Burgess wrote Junk and really, that’s all you need to know. ‘Gritty’ is a word thrown around a little too much, perhaps, but it definitely applies to Burgess’s realistic fiction for teens.

(For the sake of my own sanity, I’ve left recent debut authors with only a first novel out off the list. I know we got an extra hour today, but nevertheless…)