Book-review post!

Jeri Smith-Ready – Shine
The third and final volume in the Shade trilogy. Aura has finally said goodbye to Logan, but there’s still trouble and heartache again – especially when something terrible happens to Zachary, and the anti-ghost anti-Post-Shifter measures are amped up by the government. As with the previous volumes, this is a compulsive page-turner – a terrific blend of romance and mystery. The reasons for the Shift are further delved into, alongside what the Shift means for big business and government. The world of this trilogy is really appealing and so well done – with characters that feel real even in that alternate-world – and it’s a shame to say goodbye to them. Really looking forward to seeing whether JSR writes any more YA fiction.

Laura Jane Cassidy – Eighteen Kisses
The second story about Jacki King sees this girl detective with paranormal abilities haunted by another missing woman. This time Jacki has the support of the police (well, mostly) and some definite leads – yet it seems like someone involved in the case, about a girl who went missing on her eighteenth birthday, is lying. As part of her cover story, Jacki’s back in Dublin, doing an internship at a music magazine and reconnecting with her old friends – and making one or two new ones. As with the first book, the balance between the paranormal stuff and the real-life emotions is expertly handled – the world here is completely believable. Fast-paced, with some marvellously funny bits alongside the creepier and angsty ones.

Deb Caletti – The Story of Us
I generally adore Deb Caletti’s books, but this one felt a little ‘meh’ – which I even feel vaguely guilty about saying. I love the quieter feel of Deb Caletti’s books, and the rich cast of quirky supporting characters, and the reflective parts, but in this case it felt a little too understated at the quiet parts, a little too reflective, a little too quirky. The story is centred around a wedding, and the focus is on high school graduate Cricket, who’s worried that her mother will run off before the wedding (as she’s done before) and also concerned about her own relationship with her long-term boyfriend. There’s also a lot about dogs. Maybe that was it, for me. There’s a lot to like, and I really did enjoy Cricket’s insecurities and uncertainties about moving away from home, but I felt the show/tell balance was off a little, I guess. YMMV – I’ve come across reviews naming this as Caletti’s best book yet.

Meg Rosoff – Vamoose
Short yoke from a while back. A teenage mother gives birth to a moose. Just the right level of zany and snarky you’d expect. Nice quick read.

Leigh Stein – The Fallback Plan
Ah, 20something post-college angst! My second-favourite kind (after, of course, teen). Esther has just graduated with a degree in theatre and is back living with her parents, hoping she develops some kind of chronic illness so she can stay cocooned forever. Instead she finds herself with a job – nanny to a family still recovering from the loss of their first child a few years before. This moves along nicely and there are some gorgeous observations in here – looking forward to reading her next book.

Sarah Rees Brennan – Unspoken (via Net Galley)
I mostly want there to be a whole book about Holly and Angela. There is lots of other good stuff in here, but mostly that’s what I picked up. Basically, this is the tale of a young intrepid reporter, Kami, and what happens in a small village when the creepy gothic family, the Lynburns, return. There are lots of gothic-y tropes and secrets and intrigues, blended with realistic contemporary heroines and heroes. The tone is very very Sarah-ish, especially in the dialogue. Worth checking out – on shelves in September.

Favourite YA books of 2011

… in my opinion, entirely subjective, yadda yadda. And in no particular order. (My favourites of 2010 can be found here.)

The list
Jeri Smith-Ready – Shift
Caragh M O’Brien – Prized
Laura Jane Cassidy – Angel Kiss
Denise Deegan – And For Your Information…
Deb Caletti – Stay
Gayle Forman – Where She Went
Veronica Roth – Divergent
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Cat Clarke – Entangled
Lauren Oliver – Delirium

The breakdown:
Dystopian: 3
Contemporary/realistic: 3
Paranormal: 2
Magic-realism-ish-maybe: 2
Authors I’d read before: 7
Authors new to me: 3

Trends:
- surprised there’s not more contemporary stuff on it, as that’s most of what I read. But also sort of feel that I tended to be more surprised by non-realism stuff that worked really well for me, and maybe liked it more because of that.
- lots of books that are part of a series, a trilogy or even a two-book set. Only three stand-alones (Entangled, Stay, A Monster Calls).
- also several books that are second books in trilogies or sequels. Now that is odd – sequels can be disappointing, and middle books in trilogies can be difficult. Wonder if these were more impressive because of typical difficulties with these types of books?
- the two paranormal ones (Angel Kiss and Shift) are ones I love in part because they seem more plausible than vampires or werewolves or zombies.
- all single-author novels this year, no short story collections or collaborations (unless you count the Ness one maybe? From an idea by Siobhan Dowd).
- I’d like there to be more British teen stuff in there – I feel like there should be, somehow. And also another male author or two wouldn’t go amiss.
- I’m still loving the dystopian stuff. It makes up for the fact that the bookshelves are still a little too crammed with sexy vampires.

Bonus mentions:
- Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution and Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss were both late 2010 releases, but I didn’t read them ’til this year, so yes, must make note of these. Both Parisian, funnily enough. The former involves time travel back to the 1790s and the latter involves a boarding school. No further explanation should be necessary as to why I adored these books.

Eagerly anticipating in 2012…

Dystopian universes that come in trilogies
Promised – Caragh O’Brien
Insurgent – Veronica Roth
Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver

Contemporary, insightful YA
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
Getting Over Garrett Delaney – Abby McDonald
The List – Siobhan Vivian
The Story of Us – Deb Caletti
Gone, Gone, Gone – Hannah Moskowitz
The Look – Sophia Bennett

Contemporary, insightful YA with supernatural elements
Eighteen Kisses – Laura Jane Cassidy
Shine – Jeri Smith-Ready
Team Human – Sarah Rees Brennan & Justine Larbalestier

High fantasy/otherworldliness
Bitterblue – Kristin Cashore
The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Ruth Frances Long

Science fiction murder mystery (a short list)
A Million Suns – Beth Revis

Smart, funny chick-lit
Mercy Close – Marian Keyes
I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella
The Shoestring Club – Sarah Webb
Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend – Sarra Manning

And I’m sure my bank balance will not thank me for asking this, but… anything else I should definitely be biting my nails in anticipation for?

Book-post!

Denise Deegan – And For Your Information…
The second Butterfly novel, this one from Sarah’s point of view. And oh dear lord, I thought it was going to be about shoplifting. And be a little fluffier than Alex’s story. Angsty, maybe, but not, you know. Not heart-breaking. Not tense and dramatic and something which would shake up everything you thought you knew about these characters – not just Sarah but the others too. Not achey and grown-up. (I was somewhat mistaken, if that’s not abundantly clear.) This is a completely compelling read. But do have tissues at the ready.

Rachel Cohn – Very LeFreak
I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did. Let’s just say I love what it’s doing – internet addiction, teenage girls comfortable being sexual human beings – but found it difficult to connect to Very as a character. I’ve adored Rachel Cohn’s collaborations with David Levithan, as well as her You Know Where To Find Me, but this seemed a little too much, a little too loads-going-on-not-really-sure-why-or-how.

Deb Caletti – Stay
Absolutely gorgeously-written book about a summer on a small island, where our narrator, Clara, is recovering from a stalkerish relationship, and her crime novelist father meets an old friend. Deb Caletti excels at writing about bad relationships, the dangerous kind that suck you in without you realising, exactly, what’s happening. Clara’s boyfriend Christian is creepy and possessive, but he is also nice, and vulnerable, and the portrayal of their relationship is completely believable. The book is about hauntings of all kinds, from the alleged ghosts that haunt the lighthouse to the real-life regrets and fears and memories all the characters carry around with them. And the setting is terrifically handled – read Caletti’s essay about developing the island.

Meg Rosoff – There Is No Dog
Terrifically weird book about love, the weather, and the cosmos. Earth’s God is in fact a teenage boy, Bob, who got the position when his mother won it in a game of poker; he is assisted by the long-suffering Mr B, who despairs of the madness of the world, and fears for the safety of his own creation, the whales. When Bob falls in love with the all-too-mortal Lucy, disaster strikes. Again. Quite Douglas-Adams-ish, worth checking out.

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…

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…)