YA fiction

I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

friendsThis one is right up there for me. It is the kind of voice I love and I’d personally call this a cross-over novel, one that works for adults and YA. It is set in a small Australian town where people play footy, surf and the culture of bloke is at it’s peak. It is tough to stand out in this place. You fit or you don’t. If you don’t you’ll be picked on and persecuted and made to pay. Hamish is a poor, skinny kid who has nothing cool about him. The story takes place over Hamish’s last year of high school. His only friend, Martin, whom he really doesn’t like but you’ve got to talk to someone, is even more hideously uncool. Hamish has been stuck with him by default even though he can’t stand him.

At the start we are told that Charlie one of the schools most popular guys has been killed in a car crash which also involved the utterly gorgeous Annie, the school sweetheart, most beautiful creature who ever walked the earth. Annie has survived and emerged sad and lonely. Hamish has worshiped her from afar but always known that he has no chance with her. She and Charlie are the school elite, but now Charlie is dead and everything is different. Change is on the way, one day Peter the school bad kid, gives Hamish a ride home from school and everything starts to happen. Peter and Hamish become the kind of friends who don’t talk about anything but spend time together and gradually gradually they begin to build a relationship. At the same time Hamish and Annie are becoming girlfriend and boyfriend and Hamish has gone from untouchable to being in demand. But all is not what it seems.

This book is about relationships, attitudes, sexual tension and racism. You have so much in here! I loved Peter, I loved him so much more than Hamish and what happens to him is horrific. I loved so much about this book but I admit that it isn’t perfect. There are some problems with the writing in places. And I really had a problem with Annie, she seems to be almost unnecessary to the story other than a bit player. I loved the relationship with Hamish and his parents and could totally see that playing out. I thought the sex was really well written too. There are problems but overall I thoroughly loved the story and the way that the scenes felt so realistic. I loved Hamish struggling to keep up with Peter at the beach with the way he pondered lying to his parents.

I’d love to see this book in lots of small town libraries, it is shocking and I think quite realistic in the way the casual homophobia is visited upon teenagers. It is certainly not a hopeful book. The actions of the teenagers and their rage against Peter and Hamish is horrific to read. It makes you understand why country Australians race to the big cities to reinvent themselves as gay people. I know this happens in every country! I read this at the time that I watched Hannah Gadsby and her Nannette show and possibly that is why is resonated so strongly with me.

I’m going to be buying and recommending this book. Possibly with a tighter review than this, as I’ve got a bit statementy here!

If you are a fan of Jasper Jones and books by Scot Gardner then this book is going to work for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for access to this book.

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The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

feathersOh this is such a charged book. So many things to think about and process. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old boy dealing with far too much. There is his mum, dying of MS, his handful of a younger brother Dan who doesn’t really understand what is happening to their mum and Bel, friendzoned when she doesn’t want to be and helping Bobby shoulder responsibility out of the goodness of her heart. All this responsibility is wearing for Bobby, a mum who can’t look after either him or his brother and all the drama of daily teenage life, it is boring, it is relentless, it sucks and it is only going to get worse as his mum gets worse.

Then Bobby is encouraged to go to a group for those caring for an ill parent and whammo, there he meets Lou, exotic, sexy as all get out and equipped with a vintage Vespa. And Lou likes Bobby, starts hanging with him and because they have shared experience and plenty in common it seems they might have something more than friendship looming. But, Lou is tricky, he tells stories, is he to be trusted? As things move along, mum getting worse, Dan being Dan, Bel always there and Bobby’s guilt getting larger and larger, it all gets so incredibly complicated. Lou is possibly more than he seems. A crisis point is reached when mum asks Bobby to help her die.

This is a slow, thoughtful novel. It is full of Bobby’s angst at the terrible situation he finds himself in. This huge responsibility, weighted with love for Dan and his mum, his grief and his heartache. Interwoven are his thoughts on his emerging sexuality and confusion at the way Lou treats him and all the weirdness surrounding the way Lou acts. I loved the character of Bel, so kind, tolerant and so willing to help so that she doesn’t have to deal with her own terrible homelife.

This would be a wonderful novel for students to study, so full of moral complexity and full of heart. You root for Bobby, you want him and Dan to be ok. This novel is one which will make you think and feel. I’ll definitely be buying it for our library.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragicI’m way behind on catching up with this author, lots of my friends have discovered his wonderful way with teenage characters and here and I only just getting to it. Now that I have read this one I need to get going on the other book by this author that we have in the library.

Mel has secrets that she holds close in order to protect the new life she has built in a new place, away from where a tragic event took the life of her brother, which she witnessed. This is more than enough tragedy to bear but there is also the fact that Mel has crippling mental health issues and holds them in check, but just barely. Oh it is hard. It is hard to read of her coping, hard to read of her not coping.

This book wouldn’t be for everyone, Mel can be a character who seems hard, who isn’t always nice to her friends, who hurts people, but you have to understand how tense she is and how hard it is to tell anybody her stuff. Most of the time she can manage to keep it together and hold everything in with coping strategies, but then that just isn’t enough. When the crisis comes it is going to be huge, and all you can do is stand by and wait for the peak and hope nobody gets hurt.

This is a sad story, well written but the style is unusual and that may irritate some people too. A solid 4 star read for me.
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Under the Lights by Abbi Glines

underI’ve been generous with these two stars. As the book went on I disliked the characters, their attitudes and the way they carried on more and more. I hadn’t realised that this was book 2 in the series when I started it, I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the first one, and I’m not going to read it now. I’m a bit gutted as I’ve bought the series for school on the strength of reviews I’d read, I should have realised from the gushing that it wasn’t going to be for me.

At the beginning I enjoyed meeting Willa who has had a very troubled life, with a mother who is flakey and we hear over and over how Willa ruined her life because she was born when she was too young. Luckily for Willa she has grown up with her grandmother mostly, having loads of fun with the children of the family her grandmother works for in ‘the big house’. Then Willa goes back to live with her mother and discovers sex drugs and social media and is involved in an event which lands her in juvenile detention. Now she is back at grandmothers house and rebuilding her life. This is all good!

Then we encounter the boys from the big house and the guys and girls they are friends with and it all turned to custard for me. The attitudes towards the girls are horrifying, there is not a single ounce of respect for them from the boys. The comments on their sexual behaviour are horrible, on what they wear, on what they look like. I thought this was a novel with attitudes from the 1950s. Sexist and classist and redneck. I finished it in the end because it was a bit like watching a train wreck, you know it is awful but you can’t take your eyes off the horror. I really need to strip off a star. There, I feel better now.

I hate the idea that this is popular with teens, I hate the idea that the attitudes portrayed in this novel are considered acceptable by young people in this so called enlightened age. Don’t read it.

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

unearthedI completely loved this book. Nicely played Kaufman and Spooner! Science Fiction and archaeology combined in an action packed thriller set on a far away planet where aliens have left clues for the human race. Earth has huge problems with it’s environment and is gradually becoming destroyed to the point where people will have to find either a way of fixing it fast or will have to move to another planet. The race is on to be the person who will find the technology on another planet to bring back to Earth to save us all.

Deciphering the clues in massive temples though, provides vast challenges, they are puzzles with death as the outcome if you get them wrong. Amelia is a scavenger, raiding ancient sites on far off planets to sell for cash which she is using to pay her sister’s captors back on earth. She runs into Jules, who is the son of a disgraced historian, someone who said too much and who is now in jail. Jules has travelled to this planet to try and solve the biggest mystery ever and to prove that his father was right, but also for the personal satisfaction of being the guy who solved a massive mystery. Jules has studied the messages sent back to earth by the inhabitants deciphered the codes and is on a mission to find out what the clues in the messages mean for humanity.

This is going to be hugely popular, I hope it has an awesome cover with an androgynous cover on it. the fraught relationship between the two protagonists is great. The way that total mistrust leads to complete trust is so nicely done. I love the protagonists alternating chapters.

Secondary school libraries are going to want to buy lots of copies of this. And it is just the beginning of a series, one I will be following avidly.

All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

dirtyWell, this is going to be controversial! Public libraries rush out and get this as soon as it is available, school libraries, I bet this one gets you some interesting comments! I can see the lights flashing and the censors racing to ban this from every library in the land.

Someone here on Goodreads has placed a comment that it should be reviewed by males, and I can see that, after all, we are firmly placed inside the head of a teenage boy who is thinking about sex, having sex, exploring all manner of sex and being generally a sex crazed teenage boy. This isn’t a relationship book and yet it is, this isn’t a helpful guide and yet it is.

I liked almost all of this novel.

I liked that it was short. There was no need to draw this out. Nice job Daniel Handler.

I liked that this teen guy seemed real, no stupid conversations, no helpful parents, just him and his penis and his constant thinking about using it.

I liked the honesty, the judgments that he was putting it about too much, the attitudinal change of his friends and classmates as he embarked on a relationship which excluded all of them.

I loved the way his relationship with his best friend changed as they tried out sex and then tried to figure out where they fitted in the hetro/homo state of the world.

What I didn’t like:
I didn’t love the girl in here, she seemed so one dimensional compared to him. But I get it, it is really all about her – ahem … attributes.

Many people will cringe at this book, but I’m going to buy a copy and hand it to our school counselor because I really liked it and I see it as having a voice that young people might really like, but there will be a bunch of haters and they are gonna hate real strong.

Yep, this is a novel about sex. All of the everythings about sex, from the point of view of a teenage boy and so it is really aptly named.

Thanks Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this. It was very enlightening and I won’t be looking a teenage boy in the eye for a couple of days now that I know what is going on behind those eyes.

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul

cover77953-mediumIt is hard to find books which appeal to reluctant high school age boy readers at the moment which are stand alone and which are not fantasy. I was excited to get my hands on this one via Netgalley and will certainly buy a copy when it is released.

This is Hank’s story. Hank’s mum and brother have died and left him with a broken heart and a broken dad.  His dad has taken up with a string of inappropriate, not teenage son friendly girlfriends. Dad drinks way too much and it seems his only interests are baseball and beer.  Hank is not into either of those things. As he tries to get on with his life Hank is making his way through high school and is very keen on the popular girl in his year. He decides to make a grand gesture and invite her to the prom.  But not just in any ordinary way, he decides that he will write his invitation in sparklers on her lawn.  Obviously, she will gaze upon this and be desperate to go with the person who made this awesome thing happen.  Unfortunately, Hank underestimates the flammability of the tree he ends up putting his sparklers under, and almost sets her house on fire.  He thinks he has got away with his stupid idea, but Peyton an odd girl who lives nearby has seen him and is using the information against him.  Thus, Peyton and Hank end up becoming friends, but it is a long road to this friendship.

This novel starts off as a fun romp and ends up dealing with lots of big issues.  Abuse, neglect and a serious case of pyromania, but friendship is at it’s heart. These kids really talk to each other. Through misunderstandings and miscommunications and a lot of racing around on bikes, Hank does a huge amount of growing and he is a lovely person and as we come to understand Peyton we feel for her pain. This is a great book with lots of good messages and I loved the humour. Great for year 9 – 11 boys and girls as well.