The Evolution of YA Fiction

Young Adult fiction is a term whose meaning has varied wildly over the years. It can apply to coming of age tragedies or serialized adventures of babysitters, or insert really dated twilight joke here. But where did this young adult genre come from? And why did it get so big?

The voting referred to in the video is here, but it is for North American people only. I mean, it is about the Great American Read after all. Which obviously means that the rest of the world’s opinion on that doesn’t count. Neither does South America’s.

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Book review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what Waterworld would have been like with supervillains in it? Yeah, me neither.

In the second instalment of The Reckoners, David Charleston has become Steelslayer: killer of Epics. Which means that Newcago, whilst freed from tyranny, has regular visits from Epics intent on killing Steelslayer. The Reckoners discover that the ruler of Babilar (Manhattan) has been sending these assassins, so they go to confront Regalia, an Epic from Prof’s past. Because that will end well.

Firefight is an interesting sequel to Steelheart in that the first book was about revenge, whilst this novel was about trying to understand your enemy. In fact, it even flirts with the idea that evil can’t be addressed with killing but instead requires compassion. Pretty heady stuff for a YA novel. Don’t worry, there are fights, guns, and even some swords in the story too.*

This was an enjoyable read. If anything it had more humorous similes (or is that metaphors?) that were such a welcome feature of the protagonist’s narration. I’m looking forward to finishing the series with book three: Calamity.

*Can’t sneak the moral indoctrination in without a bit of violence to hide it.

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cancer really does suck, okay? Okay.

The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly straight forward novel, telling the tale of two teenagers who meet and fall in love. With cancer. And it has the audacity to treat teenagers, cancer, and life with humour and without being patronising. No wonder the Daily Mail didn’t like it.

Anyone at all familiar with John Green, either via the Nerdfighteria community or his Vlogbrother-ing with Hank, will instantly recognise the casual wit and humour that forms the backbone of The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t claim to be a Nerdfighter, well, aside from subscribing to all of their Youtube channels and supporting their charity campaigns, since it has taken me so long to read one of John’s novels. But I think it is the humour John uses throughout the book that sets TFIOS – as it is known in Nerdfighter circles – apart from the generic “kids with cancer” novels.

I enjoyed TFIOS and would recommend it to most people. Just gloss over the generic plot, stock characters, and scenes that are only there to hold up jokes.

NB: I have the deluxe audiobook version narrated by John himself. Hard to imagine anyone else narrating, what with his dulcet tones.

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Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind GamesMind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn’t easy to write Young Adult stories that have appeal to adults. The melodrama. THE MELODRAMA! Nothing brings out the wrinkly curmudgeon quicker than reading teen angst.

Fia and Annie are sisters who are offered a place in a school for gifted girls after the tragic death of their parents. Annie is blind but can see the future. Fia (short for Sofia) has perfect instincts. And the school is a training ground for spies. Let the fun begin.

Paranormal isn’t a genre I’ve read a lot of in recent times, and young adult is not generally a genre that entertains me, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by Kiersten White. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that allows the reader to experience the teen angst and melodrama without it playing out like a TV soapie. Now I used the terms teen angst and melodrama but these are reactions to situations and events that warrant reactions of this kind. Which is probably why the novel worked for me.

And let’s be honest, we all remember being teenagers and thinking the whole world is against us. Kiersten’s novel plays on this whilst telling an interesting tale of two sisters being exploited as seers and assassins.

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Book review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to review. For starters, I saw the movie first, which starred Timothy “Raylan” Olyphant. I mean, sure, he didn’t have the hat, and he barely shot anyone, and it was only a supporting role, but just his mere presence made the film watchable. Then there is the infamous history of the authors of the book. That is an interesting tale about an author, who prefers to fictionalise his non-fiction works, recruiting some starry eyed grad students to write a bunch of novels for him. Upon receiving the novels he paid the students in lumps of coal. Then there is the fact that this book reads like it was written by someone who was paid in valueless commodities.

This begs the question: why did I even bother reading it? I did mention Raylan Givens was in the movie, right?

I think it is fair to say that author James Frey is not highly regarded for his ethics in the publishing or business world. This is a key reason to downgrade any rating this book receives. That may seem harsh – judge the writing, not the author – but it is hard to enjoy something you know was produced via exploitation (hi to everyone reading this review on an iPad or iPhone). But I still felt I had to give the book a chance.

The book itself is very similar to the movie. If you have seen the movie you know this isn’t high praise. That said, the movie was watchable fun, if immediately forgettable. And that pretty much sums up the book as well, (barely) readable fun. The main difference between the book and the movie is that the characters were actually portrayed far better in the movie, especially John and Sarah. In the movie Sarah had a depth of character that wasn’t really present in the book (which could just have been the writing perspective), while John in the book comes off as a whiny teenager as opposed to the more broody movie portrayal.

This should all add up to a book I wouldn’t normally bother finishing. But the story itself, the ideas presented, some of the scenes; were well done. This was just enough to overcome the sections of hackneyed writing (we get it, high school is tough, blah blah), and to make you ignore the ethics of the book’s production. But even Raylan couldn’t encourage me to read more of the Lorien Legacies series of books.

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Book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book for my wife when it first came on sale. When she finished reading the book she was immediately asking me when the sequel was being released – a year later, of course. So considering that this trilogy has been finished and the movie has already been released, it shows just how long my TBR list is that I’ve only gotten to this one now (even then, only as the audiobook).

There is something refreshing about a young author writing young adult novels. And it is enjoyable to have a good mix of action, introspection, character development, and social commentary. Some have criticised the five factions, that are the basis of the story’s society, as unrealistic…. Because wars over fuel would never happen in reality – the criticism levelled at Mad Max. What I’m saying is that people making this criticism have kinda missed the point being made.

Definitely worth a read, even for non-YA fans.

NB: This cool cover art was the reason I originally bought the book. I knew nothing about it, except that the cover looked cool and the blurb sounding like it would appeal to my wife. Cover art is really important (for me at least).

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Banned Books: The Huff Post sequel

It seems that the Huffington Post are stealing my article ideas. Only three days after my article lamenting censorship of books, they do an article on the 2013 Banned Books campaign (September 22-28th).

Now I’m not bitter, in fact, I’m currently covered in orange sherbet. So this follow-up article is to add my support to the Banned Books Campaign and talk about the most frequently challenged books of last year. The annual report of the American Library Association had a lot of interesting findings. They are still having problems with publishers allowing them to loan ebooks (sigh – I bet the same arguments were made when libraries first started lending books), the people using libraries still think that they offer a very important service, they have become technology and research hubs for people, but visit rates have dropped a bit. The really interesting thing for me – because I’m not American, let alone a member of an American library, so all of those points are belly lint to me – was the top ten list of challenged books for 2012.

Here is the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books in 2012:

■ Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (offensive language, unsuited for age group) TA: Exactly what were parents expecting from a book with this title?

■ The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group) TA: Oh noes, a young adult book that doesn’t treat the readers like kids!!

■ Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group) TA: Another young adult book that deals with real issues, can’t have that!

■ Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James (offensive language, sexually explicit) TA: An erotica book that is sexually explicit….. Words to describe the stupid, fail me.

■ And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (homosexuality, unsuited for age group) TA: Based on real penguins, must be evil!!

■ The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit) TA: Be warned, the characters aren’t white or Christian!!

■ Looking for Alaska, by John Green (offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group) TA: Written by John Green, so clearly the complainants were too stupid to enjoy the book.

■ Scary Stories(series), by Alvin Schwartz (unsuited for age group, violence) TA: The title clearly didn’t give the game away for some sensitive little souls.

■ The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (offensive language, sexually explicit) TA: Real life is clearly too confronting for some readers.

■ Beloved, by Toni Morrison (sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence) TA: Someone clearly thinks that slavery is a lot more fun than the author portrayed it.

The thing I find striking about this top ten list is that the books are all multiple award winners (except that crud by EL James, which makes up for lack of awards with sales to keep a publishing house afloat). As such, I’d hazard a guess that most of the complaints are coming from people who haven’t read the book, nor let their little darlings near a book. We can only hope that next year people are too busy reading good books to complain about them.