Book Review: Essential Maps For The Lost


“A husband might ditch the joint, but a daughter never can,” eighteen-year-old Mads reflects. Having graduated high school early, she’s now living with her aunt and uncle taking an intensive community college course so she can get her realtor’s licence, and join her mother’s practice. Never mind that it’s not what she wants – that her dream is to study English at university – this is the path that’s been set out for her. And she’s drowning in it.

This sophisticated YA novel by the prolific Seattle-based Deb Caletti, who’s produced a book a year for over a decade, is set near the water, and drowning both metaphorically and literally is at its heart. On a morning swim, Mads encounters a dead body and pulls it to shore, an experience that pushes her further into the depression that she’s struggling with. She becomes obsessed with the drowned woman, who threw herself off a nearby bridge, and goes to her old home – where she meets her nineteen-year-old son, Billy, for the first but not the last time.

Billy is a decent guy, but haunted by his mother’s death and the years of upset before that; now he lives with his unsympathetic grandmother and steals badly-treated dogs from their owners, then deposits them at the shelter he works with, claiming that they’re ‘lost’. Without hammering the point home, we can see that both he and Mads are lost in their own way, living in a world where terrible things happen and there are no easy answers. “A why without an answer,” Mads thinks, “is the worst kind of lost thing – a lost thing you never had to begin with.”

And then there are maps – the maps that can help lost travellers along the way. Billy’s mother’s favourite book was From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg, and he still carries around the map from within the novel – a floor plan of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, where the two characters in the book run away to. Mixed-Up Files becomes a touchstone for Mads and Billy, and this novel – deviating from Caletti’s usual tendency to write in the first person – uses the same ‘God voice’ that Konigsburg adopts, allowing us to see two rounded, imperfect characters trying to figure out how to deal with the different kinds of grief that hit us in life – and how to handle the love that sometimes feels too scary or fragile to trust.

Caletti’s prose is fresh and quirky without ever getting irritating; optimistic without being saccharine. As in her other YA novels, the teenage protagonists being the central focus doesn’t mean that the others – the adults, the children, and the dogs – in their world aren’t carefully characterised as well. Fans of Gayle Forman’s I Was Here or Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places should pick this one up.

Favourite YA Books of 2014

Here we go again! My last post of 2014, consisting of… my favourite YA books of the year. See you all in 2015 for more book reviews and writerly thoughts.

The list
(in no particular order)
E Lockhart – We Were Liars
Deb Caletti – The Last Forever
Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours
Stephanie Perkins – Isla and the Happily Ever After
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald – The Apple Tart of Hope
Christine Heppermann – Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Meg Wolitzer – Belzhar
Amy Zhang – Falling Into Place

The breakdown
Dystopian/sci-fi: 1
Magical realism elements: 2.5
Contemporary/realistic: 3.5
Fairytales-in-verse: 1
Historical: 0
Books with boarding schools: 3
Authors I’d read before: 3
Authors new to me: 5

– Lots of ladies, again.
– More new writers.
– A fair couple of books that are more-or-less contemporary but have cool magical-realism or other elements, like Belzhar, Falling Into Place, Poisoned Apples and We Were Liars.
– No historical fiction!
– The book I’ve raved about most is Only Ever Yours, followed by Poisoned Apples. Both very feministy as well as being compelling, unsettling reads.
– The book on this list I have the most mixed feelings about is We Were Liars, but ultimately it still needs to be here.

Bonus mentions
(read in, but not published in, 2014)
Christa Desir – Fault Line
A. S. King – Ask The Passengers

Past years:
Favourite YA books of 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Book-review post!

And now, for some YA titles.

Kody Keplinger – A Midsummer’s Nightmare
Whitley’s spending the summer after high school graduation with her beloved father – and his new family, which includes the guy Whitley hooked up with on graduation night. Although there’s a romantic plot running through this, there’s also a lot more about Whitley’s relationship with her dad and how unfatherly he’s been to her, which she starts to see, and also some good stuff on slut-shaming and attitudes towards girls and sexuality. (Keplinger blogs wise things about the latter.)

Deirdre Sullivan – Primperfect
The third and final Prim book is as funny and touching and think-y as the previous instalments in the series, with Prim now sixteen and having trouble with Joel – who can’t forgive her for something awful she did to Karen (even though Karen is a wagon) – as well as dealing with love and friends-in-love and terrible terrible things that happen at parties with too many drinks. Relatable and readable.

E Lockhart – We Were Liars
Many thoughts. Oh so many thoughts. Trying not to have spoilers for The Twist, which did work for me. The logistics of the incident that makes The Twist be a thing, however, irritate the hell out of me and feel implausible and stupid, and that took some of the delight out of this book. But. It is still gorgeously written, and the privileged world of this rich family with their private island, and the outsider-boy that Cadence, the narrator, falls in love with, is captivating. Interwoven with Cadence’s attempts to understand what happened two years ago – the accident that led to her chronic migraines and selective amnesia – are stories, fairytales and Shakespearean, that shed light on the family dynamics. It is beautifully done. And then there’s the frustration of the reveal of what really happened that night. So. I think this makes it onto my favourites-of-the-year list, but not without some serious footnoting. (Also, why were they called Liars? Why? It is a brilliant title but not relevant to the story. Frustration!)

Cathy Cassidy – The Chocolate Box Girls: Sweet Honey
The fifth Chocolate Box book – but not the last – focuses on Honey, now in Australia staying with her dad and his new partner, trying to start over after all the trouble back at home. But she misses home – and after several books of Honey-as-villain, it is lovely to get inside her head and see what she thinks about things, and who of her sisters she’s protective of, and what happens when she’s forced to confront someone who’s been making her life hell through hacking into her social media accounts. Everything you’d expect from a Cathy Cassidy book – real problems, and hopeful-but-not-sappy solutions.

Deb Caletti – The Last Forever
Read this, read this, read this. One of my favourites of Deb Caletti’s books, this is the story of a girl who’s just lost her mother and who meets a beautiful boy and whose goal is to keep her mother’s plant alive for as long as she can, because it’s the only thing of hers she has left. This is about loss and love and hope and growth and death, and a seed vault at the edge of the world, and it manages to handle all that without ever getting overly didactic or repetitive. A joy to read.

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

– 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?