Some Great Contemporary YA Reads That are More Than Their Romance

 

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Let’s face it: romance is a staple of contemporary YA. Even so, that doesn’t mean that the story has to end there. Many wonderful contemporaries also explore other avenues of life, love and relationships. That’s why today I’m sharing some of those YA books!

Sisterhood everlasting

#1 Sisterhood Everlasting– I feel like I can rarely talk about contemporary YA without bringing up one of the books in this series. I adore how Brashares shows love and friendship in all of her books- this finale is special though in that it takes a sadder turn. Annnd I’ll leave it there, cos I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that hasn’t read it!

words in deep blue

#2 Words in Deep Blue– another moving book, this delves into the depths of loss, family and friendship. This exquisite story really takes a lot of the themes of this genre to another level.

second chance summer

#3 Second Chance Summer– this was my first Matson book and definitely not the last! I don’t think I could ever forget reading this for the first time- mostly cos it involved lots of crying in public… oops 😉 Seriously, this does not pull its punches. If you want an excellent read about family and grief, then this is the book for you!

cinder and ella

#4 Cinder and Ella– in fairness, this is the most romance-heavy of the books on this list. That said, this Cinderella retelling does a *brilliant* job of demonstrating complex family dynamics and offers more than your standard YA contemporary fare.

simon vs the homosapien agenda

#5 Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda– this is also fundamentally a romance, but along with a good dose of cuteness and a strong hint of humour, this book also delivers by telling a powerful coming out story.

A thousand perfect notes

#6 A Thousand Perfect Notes– I read this fairly recently and haven’t had the chance to review it yet- but rest assured I will get to it, cos this book deserves a lot of attention! I have a difficult time with books on abuse- however I really do believe that this does an outstanding job.

all the bright places

#7 All the Bright Places– possibly the most controversial book on this list, as like many books on mental health, it’s incredibly polarising. Personally, I connected very strongly with the representation and found the characters realistic.

eliza and her monsters

#8 Eliza and Her Monsters– I have made no secret of how much I liked this book- it’s a colourful, exciting contemporary, which also happens to deal with anxiety, friendship and even living on the internet. Hence for a lot of us online, it’s not to be missed!

stargirl

#9 Stargirl– an ‘un one but a good ‘un! This is aimed at a bit of a younger audience, but I read it in my late teens and still got a lot out of it. This is far less about getting a crush and more about dealing with bullying.

And *Bonus*- cos here’s a contemporary without romance at all:

wonder

#10 Wonder- such a powerful read about friendship and overcoming hardship. Words tend to fail me when it comes to this book, so I’ll simply say: if you haven’t read it, you really should.

So have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And what other contemporary YA books do you think are more than their romance? Let me know in the comments!

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Trying Not to Shoot Down STAGS…

stags

But it’s so gosh darn hard! Let’s start by going on the prowl…

orangutan huntin' new0007

 

Don’t get me wrong- it wasn’t all bad- when I first picked it up I thought I was in for a winner. The opening was fantastic: it captured the voice, showcased the writing and presented an ominous concept. I think I might be a murderer… Very intriguing start- it was just a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t live up to that.

Now I really want to take aim at the main character… The thing is, some of the things I just mentioned as selling points get old fast. Peculiarly, even though I was initially drawn in by the protagonist’s snarky voice, it quickly went from fun to irritating. Everything she said was backed up with bitterness and resentment- which made it hard to see her as jokey and ended up coming across as unpleasant. Here are just a couple of examples of her in bitchy mode:

  • “But underneath all the varnish she’s really nice”- it seems pretty presumptuous to assume she wouldn’t be nice based on her appearance.
  • “crack about her freaky husband”- well that was rude and judgemental of you.

The other main issue I had with her was that there was an over-the-top attempt to make her relatable. There are ways to integrate references- but this was not it. Everything from her name (Greer) to her actions is some kind of movie reference. Look, I get the theme- the book’s literally a retelling of The Shooting Party- only the trouble is the narrative was completely overloaded with these references that it became distracting. The narrative was completely overloaded with it. I suspect this was to make her seem *hip*, *trendy* and *geeky* all at once- the problem with this is that a) a lot of these date the book, and b) they also come across as try-hard. Like this:

  • Twilight, I thought; Edward and Bella. And just like the movie, it was dangerous, it was all kinds of wrong, but somehow it was right”. *FACEPALM*. Ughhhh. I. Just. Don’t. Understand. Why, in the history of teen lit and film, was this what you went with?
  • “I had the talisman of Henry’s kiss still printed on my lips, like some invisible superpower from a Marvel movie”- *groan*.
  • “Reader, I’m going out with him”- in case the constant movie references don’t feel like enough of a hodgepodge, throw in a classic.
  • And also this, cos she’s a *smart* heroine: “here’s why I like the genie analogy better than Pandora. The wishes can be good or bad”- I’m not really sure if you’ve read the original Greek myth if you’re coming out with this interpretation, cos it’s actually left open (also you’d know it was a jar, not a box). No idea why there has to be a competition between the myths though.
  • And finally… “I realise that for a Buzzfeed feminist this doesn’t paint me in a very good light”- I think my exact response to this was a guffaw and an eye roll. If you’re looking for your moral arbitration from Buzzfeed, then I can’t help you. But it does bring me onto another flaw in the character…

Her obsession with politics (like the good, well-trained 21st century teen she is) and her constant need to seem profound comes across as un-frickin-believably preachy. I’ve mentioned before that I dislike moralising books and hate pointless shows of political virtue signalling- so it’s no surprise this got on my nerves. Objectively though, while I can guess that there was a political agenda behind this whole story, a lot of this commentary still seemed out of place:

  • “I thought, completely irrelevantly, how handsome he was. Some feminist, Greer”- You’re right- being a teenage girl attracted to a guy is a real quandary for feminists everywhere- now go do some mea culpas and a hail Mary and you’ll feel better.
  • And for the sake of profundity: “The kind of hunting trolls do is in every home, every day, threatening ever y young person’s mental health”- agree or disagree with that statement, it’s kinda random (also maybe more helpful to teach young people this magical trick called turning off their phone- somehow I think this would be somewhat more helpful than encouraging victimhood).
  • “A reality-TV star can become president of the United States without any experience of government.”- yeesh this book trying so hard to say somethinganything (also ironically almost like it’s sticking up for the old order).

Plus, as I’ve already mentioned, the protagonist’s main characteristic is supposed to be that she’s SUPER SMART. Except- forgive me if I’m wrong- knowing popular movie culture, while a neat party trick, doesn’t show that at all. I’m not remotely convinced she has a photographic memory, since she’s often pretty imprecise. I mean, she’s hardly reciting pi to an impossible decimal place. On top of that she’s fairly clueless about stuff she could have picked up in a book- like what a great hall looks like.

This also ends up running up against one of the biggest problems in STAGs: the smart-stupid paradox if you will. Because the mc, by the story’s internal logic has to be smart and pick up on *all the clues* for where the plots going and leave nice, juicy breadcrumbs for us reader… buuut she also has to be moronic and make all the wrong choices anyway, because REASONS.

And here lies the character’s motivation- because NOTHING she did made any sense. And yes, I’m getting frustrated- but you have no idea how many times in my notes I had to read back “wait why is she doing this? Why is she even here?!” While her two companions have logical reasons to go to the house, Greer is consistently portrayed as *above all that*- but still can’t resist delving into their peculiar traditions. She literally states that she’s obsessed with their world- yet can’t resist bashing Longcross as “a museum”. I was frankly bamboozled by this- cos it’s not like she’s gone to Narnia and *oh, big disappointment* the friendly witch previously bribing you with sweets turns out to be evil (see, I can make references too). I haven’t got the faintest idea why you’d want to stay in this stale house where the only entertainment seems to be huntin’, shootin’ and fishin. Nothing sells me on this old-worldly place- if I was the mc I’d have said “no thanks, I’m gonna Netflix and chill this holiday” when I got the invite- which ACTUALLY SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING GREER WOULD SAY. I don’t understand why the whole premise had to be based on someone acting out of character- it felt like a complete contrivance to create a plot out of nothing.

Okay, now that I’ve blasted the mc, my gun is still cocked and loaded, I may as well take out a few stray hares…

rabbits final

Unsurprising from a book that can’t tell its own mc from its elbow, the antagonists aren’t any better. While marginally more consistent, they come across as cartoons (the WHERE’S DAT WABBIT kind). Their mean, crazy and got a chip on their shoulder about modernisation. Oddly, for people that have never touched technology, sometimes they speak like people that have spent too much time on tumblr: “Privilege is becoming a dirty word” (which is also funny, cos I’m not sure upper class toffs refer to themselves that way). They’re also thick as planks (they no doubt use to beat peasants)- not realising that someone without money could learn to swim- and naturally have an insanely pointless plan. Highlight for spoiler: well, that’s if hobbyist killing counts as a plan. They are part of a religious cult though… that runs a school. Whoop di doo. Did they learn evil from Voldemort’s Stuff to do When You’ve Taken Over the World by any chance? Could’ve at least blown up a couple of bridges and had one satisfying *bang* to make it all worth it, just sayin’.

This was the part of the book that stretched  b e l i e v a b i l i t y  to the absolute limit. Admittedly, it was ridiculous fun, but the emphasis has to be on the ridiculous part. The plot twist was patently absurd- I’ve seen that episode of Buffy recently where their feeding girls to a snake monster that makes more sense. I guess it just makes sense to go with the crazy- only know it’s about as far-fetched as the Easter Bunny delivering Christmas presents on Halloween.

easter bunny halloween christmas0009

However, my biggest issue came from the ending: specifically *highlight for spoiler* that she didn’t kill anyone. There was so so much build up for the “murder” that I was incredibly disappointed to find she’d literally done nothing wrong. Not even manslaughter as she’d suggested it might be. I may be a fan of hyperbole, but this made me feel cheated. In fact, all my issues with her character being a bitter and obsessive would’ve been cleared up if she’d been the anti-hero we were promised. Instead, she’s another dumb, inconsistent YA heroine WHO CAN DO NO WRONG. And if that wasn’t enough, the unsatisfying ending continued with the whole *everyone’s in on it* at the school and the fact that the cult continues its malicious doings MWHAHAHAHA. Never mind that this again shows how stupid the heroine was that she didn’t at least consider that (especially when the headmaster/Abbot doesn’t want them to go to the police and lets the cult followers retain power “for appearances sake”). Never mind that it’s about as unsatisfying as a conclusion can be. Ugh and double ugh. I think I’m done here. Thanks to the great writing and brief enjoyment I got from it, I still gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

And one very dead deer…

dead deer0002

(No actual rabbits or deer were harmed in the making of this post- no doubt they got away from me when the story went gallivanting off in its nonsensical direction)

So have you read this? Do you plan to? Would you have got on with the main character more than I did? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Read YA

I’ve been asked before (very politely) why I, a monkey in my twenties, would read something clearly not aimed at my demographic aka YA. This is especially relevant after I read several naff YA books in a row. So today I’m gonna give a few of my main reasons why I keep going back to YA (with examples- yay!)

six of crowsBecause when it’s good, it’s damn good. Even after all this time, YA can still get my heart pumping. I let my emotions lead my choice of books, so if a book genre can still make me feel excited, then I’ll keep going back to it. Books like Six of Crows more than keep me sated- but you’ll hear all about it in my upcoming review. For now, I’ll just say books like that show how YA is always doing new and innovative things, which leads me onto…

northern lightsThey’re often extremely imaginative. The main reason why I keep going back to books aimed at a younger audience is that there’s a lot of fearlessness in the way YA authors write. There really is a sense in YA that you can write about *anything*. Being a fantasy lover, it makes logical sense that I’ll seek new worlds wherever I can find them. And since some of the boldest, most adventurous work always seems to be aimed at people under 18, that’s where I’m naturally drawn. Of course, for all this explosive talent, the genre is not without its faults. Still…

talonI am a genre whore, so I’ll read anything. Sure, all genres have “genre specific” problems- but if I was going to hold a flaw against an entire group of books, I’d have a lot of trouble finding anything to read. Though I can admit that tropey laden books like Talon exist, I strongly hold by the fact that *every single* bookish problem can be done well somewhere (who hasn’t thought about a book “wow this is a walking cliché but it’s done so well that I love it and don’t care”?). Plus, no matter how much I complain about YA, there’s always those books that somehow manage to avoid tropes and clichés altogether- I’m always on the lookout for those. But while we’re on the subject of genre…

wideacreAdult books can be a bit tiring/draining/bleak. I still remember the first time I thought “I think I can venture into the adult section now” (contemporary not classics). But when I picked a selection and read them, I came away so dejected, thinking “is this all adults think about?” All the books had been about jaded characters, stuffed with seedy subject matter and full of depressing topics (oh just wait for my review of Wideacre and you’ll see what I mean!!). Now I’ve found more books in that genre I like, but I still think there’s something to be said about returning to the innocence of a good YA novel.

peter pan and wendyA little Peter Pan syndrome doesn’t hurt. Yes, it might be a little obvious from this post and my frequent references to Peter Pan that I was one of those children who never wanted to grow up. Not only did I spend hours as a child jumping off my bed trying to learn to fly, but the adults in my life always taught me you’re only as young as you feel (my grandpa, for instance, went to Disneyworld for the first time at 75 and loved it so much he went back the next year). We all have to grow up- but that doesn’t mean we have to be old. Inside at least, we can still be young. (And no this doesn’t mean I have a Dorian Gray style picture stashed away somewhere 😉 )

Hobbit_coverAnd finally, they’re educational. You never stop learning! Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I’ve incorporated all the lessons of youth. Every time I read a YA novel, I’m learning something new and in a funny way actually growing up. And isn’t that a fundamental point of YA- staying young while growing as a person?

So there’s my list of reasons for reading YA! Do you read YA too? Why? Why not? Let me know in the comments!