Archive for June, 2011

If I Stay – By Gayle Foreman
June 14, 2011

As you have probably surmised, I love YA. I love it because as a virtual grown-up, its always an escape for me. I gave up on “serious fiction” a long time ago. I made the decision that I didn’t want reading to be a chore, I wanted it to be an escape. I wanted it to be fun. I live a real life, with real problems and I don’t really want to read stories about real life.

This book is real life, and in this case it hit particularly close to home for me.

This book was pretty serious. It is the story of a girl named Mia who takes a drive with her parents and younger brother one winter morning. The drive ends in an accident which takes the lives of her parents and brother – leaving Mia gravely injured and trapped in a limbo of sorts. Like a ghost, she wanders the hallways of the hospital where her body lies comatose, reflecting on her life and trying to decide whether to try to live her now-shattered life….or to give up the fight and die.

Pretty heavy, right?

It is very heavy, yet still enjoyable to read. Mia’s life is simple and beautiful. She has no superpowers, there are no vampires or shapeshifters making things interesting. It is simply the story of a 17 year old girl – the child of mellowing punk rock parents. Despite her punk roots, Mia has become a talented classical cellist and has applied to Julliard.  Her life is filled with the usual drama and moderate angst that are the hallmarks of teenage life. Her boyfriend Adam is a talented musician in a local band on the rise, he fits almost perfectly into her quirky musical family – but in the days before the accident Mia had begun to fret that they would grow apart when high school drew to a close.  Before the accident, it wasn’t quite clear to Mia that her life was filled with such possibility and love.

Her reflections on her life paint a portrait of a family both unconventional and extraordinary and make the choice that Mia makes  all the more heartbreaking. She watches as her family and friends implore her to stay, but whisper quietly that they will forgive her if she cannot bear the weight of the tragedy.

I won’t tell you what Mia chooses, but I will say this: As I read this book I was quietly annoyed that the author recently published a sequel, Where She Went. I love a series, but I also appreciate a good stand alone story.  I hate to see perfect single volume tale ruined after the fact by the desire for sequel sales. I prepared myself to use this story as an example of an unnecessary sequel and rant and rave about greed and how series are ruining YA, etc etc etc.

But, when I finished the story, I realized I was dying to know Where She Went. So, I will continue to read Mia’s story.

Just not yet. As I was reading this book, friends of mine lost a young family member to a tragic car accident. I had only met this young woman a few times, but she was sweet and kind and her family loved her dearly. She was a real young girl, who lived and laughed and danced and loved – and in a moment she was gone.  There was no time for her to choose to stay or not. Her shattered family stays behind – grappling with the unimaginable – and comforted only by the dark reality that she did not suffer.

And that’s more than enough real life for me right now.

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Paranormalcy By Kiersten White
June 12, 2011

This was the first book I read on my brand new Kindle, so its kind of special.

I love my beautiful book machine, but I miss cover art. And this book has lovely cover art, so who knows if I would have loved it more or less if I read it the old fashioned way.

Paranormacy is the story of Evie, a 16 year-old  government employee who loves pop culture, is enamored by teen culture – specifically high school –  and hunts paranormal creatures. So, yes, its pretty much the story of my life. Except that I only act 16, but in reality I am actually a few years older. Yeah. Who needs reality anyway, right?

Also, you say Evie I think Out of This WorldWho else is with me?

Anyway, back to this Evie.

Hers is a glamorless life. Allegedly human, she is able to see past all supernatural glamor – and is thusly very valuable to the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA), where she works as a paranormal tracker and trapper. An orphan, she is cared for by the agency and assigned to a woman named Raquel, who is kind of like a cross between her foster mother and boss. Given that Evie lives this very unconventional but sheltered life, never attending high school, never knowing anyone her age, she wants nothing more than to be a normal teenaged girl. Her only knowledge of teenaged life comes from watching TV shows – her favorite is a teen soap called Easton Heights. (In my mind this is a reference to this 90s show that somehow never caught on, despite featuring a rocking hit song sung by a pre-90210 Jamie Walters.)

Oh and she loves anything pink and sparkly. Ok. So, no one is perfect.

Evie is kind of exploited by her employer/ward for her special skills. She is kept in what amounts to a institutionally gilded cage – where she has an apartment of sorts and is home schooled and she is only allowed out into the world to capture paranormal creatures. A little bit brainwashed, she believes she is doing the right thing – protecting the world from vampires, werewolves and the like. But is she?

When she captures a boy her own age named Lend (lamest name ever), Evie begins to question who and what she is, and if she is really using her talents for good.

This book is completely devoid of profanity. Before you get too disappointed, the author devised a clever way to keep her heroine swearing without rousing the ire of any boring censors. Evie’s best friend is a foul-mouthed mermaid who can only speak via a computer translator which translates every dirty word as “bleep”, a pseudonym that Evie adopts uttering such immortal lines as “What the bleep am I?” and “Oh, bleep.”

It might say more about my unending affection for Richelle Mead’s Succubus series than this series itself when I say that this kind of reminded me of a YA version of Mead’s Succubus books. It has a bit of a derivative feel but, I enjoyed it all the same.

According to The Oracle known as Amazon.com, Paranormalcy will eventually become a trilogy.  The next installment – Supernaturally – is due in July 2011.

Can I just say, as much as I despise the terrible heat and sunshiney-ness of summer, this one is shaping up to be quite good for books – both YA and otherwise. In addition to the final book in Wolves of Mercy Falls series, this summer also brings the sequel to Once a Witch, the first book in the aforementioned Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy spin-off series Bloodlines as well as the final book in the super-adult Succubus series – Succubus Revealed.

Here’s to staying indoors all summer long!

Old People Hate YA
June 5, 2011

So, apparently the Wall Street Journal has discovered Young Adult fiction…. and they HATE it.

Whew!

For a moment I was worried that YA had jumped the shark, and even old people were into it now.

I guess old people were tired of complaining about loud music and computers, so they decided to take a trip to the YA section at Barnes and Noble, and they were shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at what they found. The Wall Street Journal – that bastion of youth-focused culture and edginess – felt it was its duty to warn the world of the horror lurking in school libraries and bookshelves all across America.  You can read the article here.

The crux of WSJ’s complaint is the same complaint that old people have had about young people since time immemorial. Why can’t you kids like good music/movies/books/clothes like they had back in my day?

The author – someone named Meghan Cox Gurdon – essentially argues that YA books these days are all about cutting and raping and incest. Letting kids read about such things normalizes them and makes kids more likely to cut and rape and incest. Or something.

Back in her day YA books were dark too, but they were dark in a more modest and appropriate way. Books used to only allude to drugs and sex and violence, and never came right out and used the F-word! The F-word! Can you imagine? Grandma Gurdon seems to think that kids should just pipe down about their issues, because if other kids find out about problems they might get problems too!

She even drags the beloved Judy Blume into her awful argument, insisting that if Publishers Weekly says that Lauren Myracle is “this generation’s Judy Blume” that the writers bear comparison. They don’t, and not just because Lauren Myracle’s writing is nowhere near the caliber of Judy Blume, but also because Judy Blume is this generation’s Judy Blume. Judy Blume is timeless. Lauren Myracle is meh.

Grandma Gurdon even pretends to be cool and relevant by suggesting a few appropriate selections for “Young Men” and “Young Women”. The best part about the suggested reading isn’t just that she thinks boys and girls would never like the same books, but also that 6 books are suggested for boys, but only 5 for girls. Because boys are better readers, right? Or perhaps girls shouldn’t be reading books anyway, they should be learning about more relevant things like housekeeping? Also, of the 11 books suggested – only 7 were published in this century.

The irony of suggesting that kids- but only the boys – read Farenheit 451 while at the same time suggesting that some books are dangerous seems to escape Grandma too.

Oh and the comments on the article are like the Circus of Your Elders. One commenter – whose user name is her husband’s name, but is adorably modern enough to sign her actual name – realizes that the reason that her YA novel has been rejected 12 times is that all the kids want to read about is bestiality, self-mutilation and gore. I think its probably more likely that her novel remains unpublished because she is clearly out of touch with what is popular in her chosen genre.

At the end of the day, it really dosen’t matter what the oldsters at the WSJ think about the state of YA literature. I’m pretty sure that the first time most teenagers heard about the WSJ was when this article started trending on Twitter today. All of this is pretty reassuring to this adult fan of YA literature. If the Generation Gap can survive global warming and the Baby Boom, maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.

Dead Reckoning – By Charlaine Harris
June 1, 2011

There was a time and place in my life when I LOVED these books. Well, either I have changed or Sookie Stackhouse has changed.

I hate to say it, but I don’t think its me – its her.

Before I get too snippy, I must first acknowledge that this series -popularly known as the books that inspired the HBO show True Blood, but also known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries – started as a fun, genre-bending revolution in popular fiction. In a world before (and after) vampires were cool, seasoned mystery writer Charlaine Harris took a murder mystery, added a unique supernatural element and out came Dead Until Dark. At its core, DUD was a pretty standard murder mystery set in a small town, except that the small town was Bon Temps, Louisiana – home to vampires, shapeshifters and faeries, oh my!

Though she is frequently falsely accused of copycatting the human-girl-in-love-with-vampire-and-BFFs-with-shapeshifter storyline – one look at the 2001 copyright date on DUD reveals that Charlaine was well ahead of the Twilight curve. Also, where that other vampire story is all about love,  Sookie’s stories were rarely that serious. One of the things I initially loved about Sookie was that she was careful not to love any vampire, but never bashful about loving up on anyone.

In the beginning, Sookie was just a perky blonde telepathic waitress, who was smarter and stronger than she looked. She fell for Bon Temps’ first official vampire – the hilariously-named Bill Compton – mostly because she couldn’t read his thoughts. Never short on admirers, Sookie’s telepathic gift gave her an unappetizing glimpse into the mind of every man who struck her fancy, and thus she was the prettiest 20-something virgin on earth. Not for long. In the succeeding books, Sookie has relations with men of every stripe and supernatural origin.

For eight blissful books – despite murder and mayhem galore – things just never seemed all that serious in Sookie’s world. Vampire underworld politics were constantly upstaged by Sookie’s real world problems, like making ends meet on her waitress salary without taking money from her wealthy supernatural suitors.

Somewhere along the way, however, things got complicated. Money becomes the least of Sookie’s problems as she is drawn further down the rabbit hole into a confusing pseudo-marriage to a beautiful vampire and the discovery of her own magical origin.

The demands of an increasingly intricate mythology seem to weigh on Charlaine Harris. Not long ago, she posted an entry on her blog addressing nasty comments from readers complaining about the abruptly dark turn Sookie’s life takes in Dead and Gone, the 9th book in the series. She makes the excellent point that she is the author of this story, and novels are not written by committee. And she’s right.

Charlaine Harris is a far better writer than I – and I am genuinely an ardent fan of  her work. Honestly, her worst book is still better than the best work of many other authors – so far be it from me to try to tell her that she’s writing her story wrong. I just can’t help but wonder if its just gone on too long. Charlaine has said that she knows how Sookie’s story ends, and I believe her. I think she knows where it ends, and its starting to feel like she’s just killing time until her publishing contract allows her to share that ending with the world.

The latest installment, Dead Reckoning,  finds Sookie half-hearted about everything in her world. She’s unsure if she really loves her beautiful vampire “husband”, she is rightfully suspicious of the motives of her new faery family and is feeling increasingly guilty and philosophical about her role in a series of supernatural assassinations.

Through a string of misfortunes and windfalls, Sookie has more money than she knows what to do with. For a girl who started out as an orphan and an outcast, Sookie has come quite a long way in eleven books. Modern Sookie has more friends and family than she knows what to do with. She spends less time waiting tables and more time worrying about who she can really trust and who has nefarious motives.

I guess all this seriousness might feel familiar to Charlaine Harris. I can imagine that after years of quiet success as a small town mystery writer, the well-deserved fame and fortune that she has experienced in the past few years isn’t unlike what our dear Sookie is experiencing.

Maybe Modern Sookie is just more relevant to her author than she is to me.

All complaints aside, I can’t say that I am done with Sookie Stackhouse. Even when its overly existential,  I’m still invested in this story and will continue to follow it wherever it leads me.

I know I’m not done with Charlaine Harris either. As a creator of one of my favorite genres, I look forward to reading more from her. If I could make one wish for Charlaine, I would wish that she finish Sookie’s story and start on another genre-bending revolution. If there is any author equipped to change the world again, its her.