Young Adult

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.

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Timebomb by Joelle Charbonneaux

timebombLook at all those 5 star reviews and I’m giving it a 3.5. I found it hard to get into at first, it felt a little bit messy at the beginning, however once the story gets going it really rocks along. You’ve got a lot of characters being set up at the start which you need, but there are so many people I just got a little bit lost. Then once they are all at school on a Saturday for their various reasons you realise they are in terrific danger and then it becomes a great big rollicking survival story. Being stuck in a multi story building where bombs are going off is a very scary scenario and the story is about how they survive and deal with this horrible situation.

I like Joelle Charbonneau’s writing, her The Testing and it’s sequels are one of my really popular books at school, she does tension and teenage drama really well. She has a lot of characters in here and they all have issues. The kind of issues that teenagers all over the world are dealing with, these are all dealt with really well. A few of characters I didn’t actually come to grips with until they were at the centre of the action but the majority of them were people I came to understand and feel for.
There are some really good plot twists and as the book goes on, it is as tense as a really good crime novel.

In summary, it is a good book, thoroughly engaging once you get into it This is a novel which has mass appeal, I’ll definitely be buying copies for my students.

Thanks very much to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Sparrow by Scot Gardner

SparrowOne of the best books I’ve read this year! Scot Gardner is one of my favourite authors, he gets teenagers and he writes them well. This one is particularly good. It is the story of a boy called Sparrow, it takes place in dual time settings, beginning on an uninhabited island where he has washed up after his ship sinks, this island is far from idyllic, there are terrible creatures everywhere all of which want to hurt (or even eat) him. We also meet Sparrow before this happens when he is living on the street, helping out in cafes to try and get free food to keep himself from starving. We begin to find out how he ended up in this situation and there is nothing good about his past life. He has been abused, mistreated, lied to and abandoned. Despite all this Sparrow is loveable and kind to others.

Sparrow’s journey from abandoned urchin to imprisoned youth is gripping. I fell in love with him from the very first sentence and I cried at some of the appalling things that happened to him. Sparrow’s relationship with the cafe people is wonderfully written, very realistic, full of pathos and at times raw and edgy.

If you are looking for books for teenage boys just head out and buy all of his books for them. They are properly real and beautifully constructed, but their real beauty is in the characters of realistic boys who deal with the crap life throws at them in amazing ways. A real contender for my YA book of the year.

Below is Scot Gardner reading the first chapter.  You should definitely listen to it. Definitely!

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.

A response to the question Why Don’t Kids Read NZ Young Adult?

Tonight I have read an article in the wonderful The Sapling which has made me cross.  I’m responding here because I’m forming my thoughts and this is my blog and therefore my opinion.  This is a bit stream of consciousness, so apologies for it’s rantishness.

In the article, promoting her book review site, Eirlys Hunter makes the argument that NZ kids don’t read young adult fiction written by New Zealanders. She asked teenagers if they had read Margaret Mahy, and they hadn’t heard of her.  I can assure her that she is right in supposing that teenagers currently at school right now will never have read Mahy or Tessa Duder or a heap of other NZ writers who were popular in the 90s. This is for a really good reason.  These books will have been weeded from libraries long ago. We have to keep our collections current, they have to cater to the tastes of our current students.  If we cater to students by providing the books they should read, we will have no readers.

Now, I’ve been working in school libraries for nearly 18 years now, I have never read the Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe or Memory, in all honesty I’ve not even heard of them. While they might be admirable books, they are not books that I would ever attempt to pitch at a 14 year old in 2017.  But maybe a movie of The Changeover will start a Margaret Mahy resurgence, but maybe not.  Books and authors are not perennial in the YA world.  Despite the marvellousness they might have, they fade.  It is totally the same as with adult books.  20 years ago everyone was reading Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, now they are not (I do understand that they are not literature!)

If you ask some students now if they have read some of the common crop of New Zealand authors, people like Mary Anne Scott, Brian Faulkner, Fleur Beale and Melinda Szymanik you will find that there are quite a few who have.  Definitely not lots of them, but definitely some.  These are students who have either had a book sold to them by an awesome librarian, or they have come across the book been attracted in some way, in some cases this is definitely because of the cover!  There are certainly some dreadful covers floating around the NZ YA world.

I don’t think it is true that NZ YA is better than other places, there is some pretty ordinary stuff published here sometimes, but there is also some excellent stuff.  It is the same in every country.  The Self-publishing boom is getting even more books out there, and a few of those are great.  But when the Council tell us that only a small percentage of teenagers read, and some of the borrowing stats around the country would bear that out, you need to do more than just tell people that they should be reading books ‘from the olden days’.  Our teenagers want the cool stuff.  They are totally influenced by social media and librarians who are purchasing books are equally impressed.

It is a strange thing that reading, which is supposed to be pleasurable and a lovely thing to do, can so often be treated as a ‘should’ kind of thing by some of us.  That students are asked to write ‘proper’ reviews, of at least 500 words.  Surely that just turns something that could be fun, into something that is now work.  A surefire way to kill a love of reading is to make it a chore. Or worse, to make it homework.  Kids are already doing all kinds of other stuff which is drawing on their time, they don’t need to be guilted into writing pedantic reviews.  There are kids who yearn to be published authors, there are heaps who are writing for fun in their spare time but forcing it, taking away the joy and insisting on terms which are outdated and irrelevant to their lives.  We old people have to accept that the world has changed.  And engage with what youth think is cool.  Want to see some decent reviews by the target audience.  Go to this Goodreads List.  Read the reviews of people who read YA.  Who are the target audience for YA.  And then go and check out this You Tube channel.  There are lots of people who do this stuff.  They are not the book reviews of old, they are much more likely to be read by teenagers and they are the opposite of ‘proper’ book reviews, but I can guarantee the books are more likely to be read by teens when they are recommended in this way.  So yes, peers are the way to sell books to teenagers, But don’t discount librarians working in their libraries recommending books to readers, selecting great books and chatting to readers every day.

I want to address a comment in the article:

A side issue: how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?).

Well that is simple.  They haven’t been set as prescribed texts.  Schools can teach whatever books they like.  They tend to go for books from which they have seen great exam responses in previous exams.  Some of the books they do read are amazing.  In our school we have class sets of books by David Hill, Denis Wright, David Hair, all New Zealanders, while some students might not encounter those books, lots will.  And there is another thing, you need to get teachers to read the books.  In every school, in every English Department, you struggle to find a bunch of teachers who are reading YA, let alone those reading NZ YA.  There is a lot of good talk about reading and it’s importance to literacy by English teachers across the land, but very little in the way of reading the product and .  It constantly amazes school librarians!

And while I’m ranting, were you aware that it is considered in literacy circles that school librarians are inherently connected with literacy in schools! Yes, I know.  Ridiculous, but it is a fact.

I could go on.  But it is late and there is a leaders debate to watch.

 

 

Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

otherworldI’m always looking for books which the gamer guys, the Ready Player One guys will enjoy, this book fits the bill really well. In the same way as RPO you are immersed in the game with competing with other players. You’ve left your body behind and you are in the virtual reality of a world which feels completely real. It is very cleverly done, scene after scene with a very real feeling, an almost breathless ride, action pushing forward all the time. There is a lot of tension between the characters, mystery and mayhem are all taking place in a breathless rush.

There is such a lot going on that it gets a bit relentless at times. It has a feel of a book which is written for a specific audience and which nails that well, but at the same time there is a slight feeling of emptiness. Maybe the characters could have been developed a bit more. Simon’s obsession at all costs, even to constantly endangering his life for the sake of his friend are at times unbelievable. There is a huge conspiracy, bad doctors and dodgy hospitals all over the place, Simon in in the game and trying to save his friend. There is a lot going on. I got a bit over the relentless struggles inside the game but I can imagine that these would be thrilling for the target audience of teenage boys.

Given it is labelled #1 it is obvious there is going to be another and I’ll definitely be buying this for our library.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this title.

A love story starring my dead best friend by Emily Horner

First book of the school holidays and it was a great choice.  This is a great cross-over novel, meaning written with appeal to both teenage and adult readers.  Emily Horner has a great website with lots of good stuff about this book and a thoughtful blog as well.

Cass is desperately missing her friend Julia.  Julia was killed in a car crash and it has rocked all her friends and her boyfriend, but Cass and Julia had one of those friendships which was deep and complex.  A finish each others sentences kind of friendship.  Julia was obsessed with drama and was writing her masterpiece when she died, the friends decide that they should put on the show she wrote.  This creates lots of difficulties because it isn’t exactly  your standard school musical, the title is Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad which is enough to set alarm bells ringing with the school staff.

In the meantime Cass sets off on her bike, to complete the journey to California that she and Julia always planned to make, bringing Julia’s ashes with her in a tupperware container.  The bike trip is beautifully written.  The relationship she has along the way, the feelings this brings on and the mechanics of the relationship are written in a realistic way. Tentative and scary, but also with comfort. The lonliness of being on the road, the dangers from big trucks, people you meet and dealing with the memories of someone you love who has gone from your life, dealing with your emerging sexuality and also love, lots of love in many forms, all make for riveting reading.  This is a wise book.  I know my girls would have loved it when they were teenagers, but it is also a book I would give them now.  This book has lots of the feeling you get when you read John Green or David Levithan and I’m really looking forward to reading more by Emily Horner.