What even is YA?

thoughts orangutan

Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Fell in Love with Contemporary YA

thoughts orangutan

It’s no secret that I didn’t always love contemporary YA. For a huge part of my childhood and teens, it was sort of just there. I was much more of a fantasy gal and while I appreciated a good romance, I didn’t think that “good” and “romance” added up to contemporary YA (I know, I had some real genre snobbishness going on). And then, when I went to uni, right at the age when I was supposed to graduate from YA, I started reading more of it when I needed to chill… and that’s when I really discovered how much the genre had to offer- whoops! 😉 Anyway, now that I’m all grown up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the reasons I love the genre. And if it’s not your jam, no doubt this list will provide all the reasons you don’t like it- so if you think about it, this list is for everybody 😉

isla and the happily ever afterThey’re relatable– this is one of the biggest draws for a lot of readers and I know it was for me. I remember the moment when YA contemporary *clicked* for me: it was reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and realising how much I had in common with the main character. While I’d enjoyed Anna and Lola (the first two books in the series), reading Isla was like finding a bookish bestie. And you know what? Ever since that point I’ve regularly found my kindred spirits in books, I’ve related to their circumstances and I’ve realised there’s a lot more to contemporaries than I first thought.

always-and-forever-lara-jean-9781481430487_hrOf course, I also love the romance. Let’s face it, I’ve always been a romance fan- from classics to fantasies, one of the biggest draws for me in books is anything that will make my mushy heart beat. Particularly if it’s super cutesy and adorable- I can’t help myself!! So naturally, I’m drawn to a genre that is centred around the *feels*.

 

serpent kingThey can be SUPER EMOTIONAL in other ways as well– that’s the biggest reason I keep coming back to these books. They make me laugh, cry and everything in between. I thought that contemporary YA was all about the romance for a really long time- not so! They’re often packing a lot more under the surface.

 

list of cagesEspecially cos they’re grounded in real world issues. As tough as it can be to read sometimes, it’s also powerful and necessary sometimes to dip our toes into murkier topics. And contemporaries are an excellent way to do that- they provide a window into the darker parts of life, whilst not losing sight of the light.

 

ps i like youThat’s why contemporary YA can be incredibly fun at the same time. They often have a lightness of touch that may be missing from other genres. When I was younger, I’ll admit, I resisted the charm of a lot of these books, before realising that a little fluff can go a long way. I guess the heart wants what it wants 😉

 

love and gelatoNaturally, for a lot of the above reasons, they make for relaxing reads! It’s not hard to find an easy-read in the contemporary genre, that’s for sure. I started getting into the genre cos I needed to switch off- they may have ended up giving me so much more than that, but they’ve frequently fulfilled that promise as well. A lot of YA contemporaries have a great summer-feel- even if it’s wintry and bleak outside, I can tell you that a lot of the time reading them, I feel like I’m lounging on a hot beach somewhere living the dream 😉

orangutan on a beach relaxing0003

So do you love contemporary YA? Do you agree or disagree with any of my reasons? Let me know in the comments! 

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!

In Defence of Bad Parents in Books

No I don’t literally mean I’m defending bad parents in books (nothing makes me *rage* more than bad parents irl, so rest assured this is not a pro-abusive parents post, obviously). HOWEVER, more and more, I’m seeing people complain that there are not enough decent parent figures in books. And this is a fair criticism, because you know, not every parent has to be a totally useless douchbag. Yet there is something that can be said for lousy parents in books and there are plenty of reasons why this is a useful trope. So I’m gonna break it down today and talk about why sometimes it’s good to have bad parents in books:

stormbreakerIt can be plot expedient– I heard an author saying when I was younger that they always got the parents out of the way at the beginning so that children could have adventures- which I was a-okay with, cos I’m in favour of adventures. So yes, it may be ridiculous that somehow Alex Rider has managed to lose 3 parent figures, but at least that meant he was free to save the world (yes, said author was Anthony Horowitz).

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverThey provide a good foil for the hero– Let’s face it, we all love to hate villains. And what is more usefully positioned as a villain than a parent? They literally have access to where the hero sleeps, eats and can even control where they go to school. Think of all the added tension this provides! I mean, it was hard enough for Harry that he had to save the world from Voldemort, but every book had to deal with the Dursleys as well… Yikes- I’d pick Voldy any day 😉……………………………

City_of_Bones (1)It’s unsettling– of course “home” or “family” is *supposed* to be the safest thing in the world, yet revealing that the villain is none other than your father of all people can make the hero question everything. Are they still a good person? Were any of their positive memories real? Think of the trauma it created in Mortal Instruments when we find out that Valentine might have fathered not one, but two of our heroes (excusing the silly love triangle it created of course)

game of thrones book“Oh sympathy where have you gone…”– (three cheers if you know that song 😉 ) okay seriously though, where would be without the amount of sympathy that crappy parents instantly creates for the main character. Who can pretend like their sympathy for Samwell Tarley didn’t surge when we realised how bad his home life was in Game of Thrones. Realistically speaking, it’s easier for us as readers to sympathise with characters who have real problems, as opposed to the whiny self-obsessed heroine whose main concern is chipping a nail or who will take them to prom.

tuliptouchIt’s a fact of life– sure we’d like to believe every childhood is sunshine and kittens and rainbows, yet sadly too many children grow up in homes where abuse is the norm. Rather than normalising or encouraging these behaviours, having bad parents in books actually can provide comfort for children going through traumatic childhoods. It creates a sense that “you are not alone”. If we pretend like this is not a thing, we actually *do* risk normalising these behaviours, and ignoring the problem. As hard as sad as it is to acknowledge, books like Tulip Touch are true to some people’s experiences. So let’s not write children from abusive homes out of books, cos they do exist.

matildaIt can teach us all to be more empathetic– let’s face it, I will always champion books which can make us more empathetic to other people’s experiences. So even if a child has no point of reference for what it might be like to grow up in a negative home environment, books can be the gateway to understand different and difficult life experiences. Whether this is in realistic books, or stories like Matilda, we can identify the character traits and come to understand reality just that little bit more.

So do you agree or disagree? Do you think bad parents have a place in books? 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!

Honest YA Dystopian Book Blurb

(Un)inspired by the subject of my last review, I decided to write my own Honest YA Dystopian book blurb- enjoy!

This is one hundred percent about important issues- sort of…

I mean there will be an end of the world plot… even though the world already ended before this book began… But who cares? The world can end twice, right?

dystopian world.gif

Plus- get excited cos we have not one, but several oppressive governments nested inside each other like a Russian doll (really this book is a bargain- that’s why it’s £9.99 for a kindle edition)

And don’t worry about Instalove- IT WILL BE INCLUDED- we know how much you love it. And expect plenty of staring at the main love interest to- *lots and lots of stares*- to convey all the *emotions*. We wouldn’t want this “love at first sight” thing to be subtle. Also, we know this is important to you as a reader, so THERE WILL BE NO LOVE TRIANGLE (until book 2)…

LOVE triangle of doom

You’ve probably read about ten (better) versions of this before- but ho hum, what’s an eleventh gonna hurt? So sit up and take notice- cos I swear this will not be as exciting as the Hunger Games or Divergent (nor will the protagonist be nearly as kickass, but the narrator will tell you she is on countless occasions)

Also, if this blurb makes you *in any way* afraid for the main character, don’t be! We all know corrupt systems of government are totally useless at stopping teenage girls and their hunky boyfriend(s).

look at my knife.gif

Annd that’s it- you’ll have to read the “book” to know more  😉 Hope you enjoyed that! 

The Worst YA Novel Plan – Ever! PART 3

And now for the grand finale… In case you didn’t catch the first and second parts, you can check them out here and here. But I don’t want to keep anyone in huge suspense- cos I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats after the very uneventful events of book 2 :p

Book 3: The One Where Everything Is Conveniently Resolved

No one will talk to Sally after the events of the last book. And she doesn’t understand why Bad Boy Bob didn’t kill her- he’s supposed to be evil- but she won’t think about that again for at least another hundred pages- just put that in now because *foreshadowing*.

Worst of all, Harry the Hottie broke up with her- which is so unfair. And totally unjustified. I mean, she only cheated on him and betrayed him. But that’s nothing, because he didn’t pay enough attention to her. It was totally his fault that the world nearly ended. She will get mad at him instead.

That totally works- because whinging and whining always works in real life. Once she bends his ear back to make him see reason, they get back together and everything’s hunky dory again. Until…

world ending

Ahhh the sun is crashing into the earth again!! Oh no- that means I. M. Evil’s been up to no good again, everyone else forgives her too because they *need* her help. So now everyone comes grovelling to her so that they can have a war.

soldiers fighting

*Jam in more action than the last two books combined*

Oh and as they’re going off to war, “Bad Boy” Bob reveals he was on her side *the whole time*, even the times when he wasn’t, cos you know, he loves her and stuff- so that’s a relief, she can go back to liking him. Oh no wait- that’s not so good- because now she doesn’t know which one to choose AGAIN!!

In the meantime, I. M. Evil has the idea that instead of doing evil-bad-guy stuff, he will toy with the main character- just for kicks. This means capturing, torturing and releasing various characters to annoy the sh*t out of Sally. It’s like an attention seeking thing- and it will totally make sense when he reveals his big master plan. Which he does, immediately after telling everyone why he’s such a great big meanie. He has daddy issues or something. So now Sally totally relates to him- but that won’t stop her kicking his butt in the last act!

sad loki.gif

Because Sally was totally just using delay tactics to get this out of him. Now she can defeat him with her special snowflake superpower (you know, the one that was always designed to be the perfect contrast to his power). Yay, that’s convenient.

Just as they achieve this victory, Harry the Hottie conveniently dies. Also he gives Sally and Bob his blessing with his last breath.

harry death

All the mean people in the books decide to do whatever Sally suggests now she’s saved the world and they set up a nice, democratic government that will be free from corruption for all eternity. And all the minor characters pair off. Bad Boy Bob and Sally share a long awaited kiss. Aww.

kiss-emma-killian-breathe-out.gif

The End

So are you satisfied with the conclusion? Did Sally McEveryman end up with who you wanted? Was I. M. Evil sufficiently ghastly? Think this would make the worst YA novel ever? Let me know!