Posts Tagged ‘YA fiction’

Thoughts on YA

September 17, 2014 @ 8:26 pm | Filed under: Books

So I wrote this really long post about YA fiction on tumblr, and then I was like ARGH, maybe it should go at Bonny Glen instead, what am I even doing? So now you know exactly how decisive I am.

Well, it’s there, and I’m leaving it there, but here’s a piece of it, and if you have trouble commenting on that site you’re welcome to bring the discussion here.

Something I’ll be thinking about as I gorge is what stories these writers are telling and why. (Not just how, which is a primary measure of a book’s merit—how is this story being told? How well? How vividly? How compellingly? How convincingly? How searingly? Does it leave something behind? A scar on the mind, a rune engraved on the heart? A face you can’t ever forget? How? How?)

In an endeavor like this, selecting a Cybils shortlist, the what and why questions are equally pressing. What makes this book stand out from the crowd—and a crowd it will be. Why this plot, this narrator, this voice. Why verse, or why prose? When you read a lot of books at once you can’t help but spot patterns and trends. Small details, perhaps, like the naming of cars—in 2010 we had a gaggle of them, including not one but two cars named “Holden,” (totally by coincidence I have no doubt). But larger trends as well, clusters of books exploring similar subject matter. In realistic YA fiction this very often means suicide, addiction, medical or mental disorders, sexual or physical abuse. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about what the world is like for teens. And is why the best YA is both gripping and probing—that’s what teens do: they grip tightly to each other, to ideas, to hopes, to identity, to music, to fears; and they probe and dig and ponder and search. In this light the naming of cars makes perfect sense—the quest for identity, the assignment of personality to objects of significance, the search for the real, true meaning of things. Naming a thing helps define the thing. Naming it Holden—oh there’s so much to unpack there. Holden Caulfield, the original teen gripper and prober.

You can’t read a book that is gripping without being gripped, and that’s what I’m preparing myself for. To have my mind shaken, my heart squeezed.

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From the Archives: The Sherwood Ring

March 1, 2010 @ 6:52 am | Filed under: Books, YA

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

Is there anything more promising than a novel that opens with a young person traveling to a mysterious ancestral home for the first time? The Secret Garden, The Children of Green Knowe, The Little White Horse; even, if you stretch it a little, Emily of New Moon. Delicious books with perfectly delicious beginnings.

The Sherwood Ring is a book of this sort, and it’s one of the deliciousest. The very moment Jane finished reading it, she was imploring me to begin, and I’m glad I heeded her plea. What a fabulous book: mystery, romance, humor, history. Most wonderful wonderful, out of all hooping.

Seventeen-year-old Peggy’s father has died and she’s been sent to live with her curmudgeonly uncle in upstate New York, at a (you guessed it) mysterious ancestral home called, delightfully and evocatively, Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Uncle Enos’s passion and lifelong obsession is Revolutionary War-era history; he has spent his life preserving the late-eighteenth-century aura and custom of the huge family home in which George Washington himself was reputed to have spent a night.

Not only is Rest-and-Be-Thankful rich in history, it has ghosts. At least, that’s what Peggy’s father tells her shortly before his death: family ghosts that not everyone can see.

“It’s not being able to see them himself that gets under [Enos’s] skin,” he tells Peggy. “Well, if I were a ghost I don’t know that I’d bother appearing to Enos either; but he seems to think that being the head of the family ought to have given him some sort of priority, and—the truth is, Peggy, if they do happen to get after you, it might be a good idea not to mention it. He’d never forgive you.”

Fortunately for Peggy, the ghosts do “get after her.” Hopelessly lost on the longish hike from train station to family estate, Peggy encounters a curiously dressed young woman on horseback, wrapped in a long red hooded cape—a surprising choice for a May afternoon, one might think. A greater surprise still will come later that day, when Peggy discovers a portrait of the same red-caped girl painted in 1773 by the great American artist John Singleton Copley.

This ghostly horsewoman points Peggy toward the correct fork in the road and promises that she’ll run into someone who can show her the rest of the way to Rest-and-Be-Thankful. And indeed Peggy does: a handsome young Englishman, a visiting scholar named Pat Thorne, is pulled over with car troubles on his way to see—who else?—Uncle Enos. He too is a historian, and he’s looking for information about a diary one of his ancestors was supposed to have written hundreds of years ago.

If Peggy is surprised at the gruff and dismissive manner in which her uncle greets her upon her arrival to her new home, she is even more surprised at his uncivil reaction to Pat Thorne’s arrival. “I have nothing whatsoever to say to you,” he glowers. “You will leave this house at once.” Pat, taken aback, politely retreats, but he’ll be back.

These are only the beginnings of the mysterious happenings that befall Peggy at Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Why, she hasn’t even met the dashing Continental Army officer yet, a genteel and amiable sort (I told you we quote that a lot!) who has quite a story to spin for her. And so begins the tale-within-a-tale, the high drama of the young officer’s long and eventful quest for a British officer-slash-guerrilla, a wily and charismatic underground agent whose schemes for disrupting supply lines and raiding storehouses are causing General Washington’s army no end of frustration, and may well turn the tide of the war in favor of the redcoats. This harrowing story is revealed to Peggy gradually, humorously, grippingly, by those ancestors of hers who actually lived the experience. And it seems that the more Peggy learns, the more mystery there is to puzzle out—especially regarding Uncle Enos’s apparent hatred of Pat Thorne.

Despite the abundance of ghosts, The Sherwood Ring is not at all creepy or terrifying. It’s a mystery, not a horror story. And a darn good mystery it is, with twists in all the right places.

To Have and to Hold

June 5, 2009 @ 10:04 am | Filed under: Books, TBR

My monster TBR-pile woes are well documented on this blog. I’ve already accumulated more books than I can read in a lifetime. The trouble is, people keep writing new ones. And then other people go and read them, and write captivating posts about them, and next thing I know, I’ve spent the clothing budget on books we don’t have room for, and my library hold list is, well, an embarrassment. Seriously, ma’am, you think you’re going to get through all those in three weeks? Let’s face it, you and I both know that’s not going to happen.

(Which is why I never actually make the library pick-up myself. I send Scott. Let him take the rap. Ha.)

The trouble is, half the time I can’t remember where I heard about the books in the stack. And this matters to me, both because it helps me decide what to read next and because I like to give people credit for their excellent recommendations. Also, sometimes if it’s a children’s book, I won’t remember that I’m the one who put it on hold—I’ll assume it was a Jane pick, and then suddenly the book’ll be due and Jane will say, “Mom, are you sure you want this to go back today? You haven’t read it yet, have you?”

For example: Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Was this my pick, or Jane’s? If mine, where’d I read about it?

So, OK, I’m going to try keeping a record here of the library books I reserve and where I heard about them—which review made me want to read the book, to quote Jen Robinson again.

This morning’s early blog perusing added a number of titles to the hold list:

Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder. Anything by Laurel goes automatically in my TBR pile, but in this case it was Book Aunt’s review that reminded me to add it to the queue.

Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray is going to cause a relapse of Scott’s back problems when he has to haul home the pile of books I have my eye on after reading this post. I’m going easy on him by starting with only two titles:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (wah, our system only has it on order; could be a while before it arrives). Psst, Becky, have you seen this one yet? Seems up your alley.

Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns. This was another memory spark. Who reviewed it last year and made me go ooh? Susan, was it you?

Any Which Wall is in that post, too. Along with a number of other books that look quite intriguing. Be warned.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland. I just read about it this morning and have already forgotten where. Bookshelves of Doom, perhaps? Oh, wait, I remember! It was Monica Edinger’s post on the theme of hope in YA books at educating alice.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Have been meaning to add this one for a while, but didn’t remember to until reading BEA roundups and hearing about people snagging ARCs of its sequel, Fire.

Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. Surely I heard about this one at Mental Multivitamin. And yet a quickie Google search doesn’t turn up a link, not on the first page of hits, at least. Can this be? I must be missing it.

I see we’ve reserved a copy of Battle Royale, a manga title by Koushun Takami, because Scott told me it’s a very similar premise to that of Hunger Games (which I loved, and whose sequel, Catching Fire, I am desperate eager to read).

The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott. On my list because all Julianna Baggott’s books go on my list. Stay tuned for more about that. 🙂

That’s just this week’s list. This week’s library list. It doesn’t count the books I bought. (And odds are I’ll wind up buying copies of some of the above, too. With five avid readers in the house (so far), we tend to hold on to library books longer than is, perhaps, fair to other patrons. If a book is a hit with all of us, it’s better to just go ahead and buy a copy. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. And that’s why crisp new copies of Guernsey Literary Society and Mysterious Benedict Society are sitting on my table right now.)

(Also because apparently I will pay cash money for any book with “Society” in the title.)

You see why I have a TBR problem. I hope no one needed new clothes this summer.

Booknotes: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

March 30, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Filed under: Books, YA

sherwoodringThe Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

Is there anything more promising than a novel that opens with a young person traveling to a mysterious ancestral home for the first time? The Secret Garden, The Children of Green Knowe, The Little White Horse; even, if you stretch it a little, Emily of New Moon. Delicious books with perfectly delicious beginnings.

The Sherwood Ring is a book of this sort, and it’s one of the deliciousest. The very moment Jane finished reading it, she was imploring me to begin, and I’m glad I heeded her plea. What a fabulous book: mystery, romance, humor, history. Most wonderful wonderful, out of all hooping.

Seventeen-year-old Peggy’s father has died and she’s been sent to live with her curmudgeonly uncle in upstate New York, at a (you guessed it) mysterious ancestral home called, delightfully and evocatively, Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Uncle Enos’s passion and lifelong obsession is Revolutionary War-era history; he has spent his life preserving the late-eighteenth-century aura and custom of the huge family home in which George Washington himself was reputed to have spent a night.

Not only is Rest-and-Be-Thankful rich in history, it has ghosts. At least, that’s what Peggy’s father tells her shortly before his death: family ghosts that not everyone can see.

“It’s not being able to see them himself that gets under [Enos’s] skin,” he tells Peggy. “Well, if I were a ghost I don’t know that I’d bother appearing to Enos either; but he seems to think that being the head of the family ought to have given him some sort of priority, and—the truth is, Peggy, if they do happen to get after you, it might be a good idea not to mention it. He’d never forgive you.”

Fortunately for Peggy, the ghosts do “get after her.” Hopelessly lost on the longish hike from train station to family estate, Peggy encounters a curiously dressed young woman on horseback, wrapped in a long red hooded cape—a surprising choice for a May afternoon, one might think. A greater surprise still will come later that day, when Peggy discovers a portrait of the same red-caped girl painted in 1773 by the great American artist John Singleton Copley.

This ghostly horsewoman points Peggy toward the correct fork in the road and promises that she’ll run into someone who can show her the rest of the way to Rest-and-Be-Thankful. And indeed Peggy does: a handsome young Englishman, a visiting scholar named Pat Thorne, is pulled over with car troubles on his way to see—who else?—Uncle Enos. He too is a historian, and he’s looking for information about a diary one of his ancestors was supposed to have written hundreds of years ago.

If Peggy is surprised at the gruff and dismissive manner in which her uncle greets her upon her arrival to her new home, she is even more surprised at his uncivil reaction to Pat Thorne’s arrival. “I have nothing whatsoever to say to you,” he glowers. “You will leave this house at once.” Pat, taken aback, politely retreats, but he’ll be back.

These are only the beginnings of the mysterious happenings that befall Peggy at Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Why, she hasn’t even met the dashing Continental Army officer yet, a genteel and amiable sort (I told you we quote that a lot!) who has quite a story to spin for her. And so begins the tale-within-a-tale, the high drama of the young officer’s long and eventful quest for a British officer-slash-guerrilla, a wily and charismatic underground agent whose schemes for disrupting supply lines and raiding storehouses are causing General Washington’s army no end of frustration, and may well turn the tide of the war in favor of the redcoats. This harrowing story is revealed to Peggy gradually, humorously, grippingly, by those ancestors of hers who actually lived the experience. And it seems that the more Peggy learns, the more mystery there is to puzzle out—especially regarding Uncle Enos’s apparent hatred of Pat Thorne.

Despite the abundance of ghosts, The Sherwood Ring is not at all creepy or terrifying. It’s a mystery, not a horror story. And a darn good mystery it is, with twists in all the right places.