Tag Archives: YA fiction

Clancy of the Undertow: A Delightful and Unconventional YA Protagonist

Clancy

Remember how I said I hadn’t read any novels since the start of the year? Yeah, poor Clancy of the Undertow has been sitting, patiently, on my desk since literally February. Which is a damned shame, I tell you—this was a wonderful little queer coming of age story set to a wonderfully rich (but not overdone) backdrop of small town Australia, paring back what could have been a story all about The Hardships of Being Gay in a Small Town to an intricate and fun character study of our titular leading lady, Clancy. Though it was recommended (and loaned, by a generous person who now finally has their book back after seven months) to me on the basis of it being Some Good, Good Gay YA, Clancy’s sexuality isn’t the focus of the book nor the focus of her character arc. It’s much more than that, and Clancy is built into a detailed, believable picture of a girl that became one of my favourite YA protagonists I’ve come across. Continue reading

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Overthinking Bargain Books: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

necromancer

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an old proverb that we all know, and while it’s lovely as a metaphor about acceptance and understanding, there’s an entire industry devoted to the fact that we do this literally all the time. If I’m scanning a pile or web page full of books not looking for anything specifically, I’ll pick up the ones with eye-catching, interesting covers or titles that jump out to me. This title-based method is how I ended up reading Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers and The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex. I read Sellevision because it was meant to be a witty satire of home shopping channels, and I mean, it certainly was that, but it was also a bizarre and hellish rollercoaster of an experience.

Anyway, this is also how I ended up reading Hold Me Closer, Necromancer—I saw it in a sea of Book Depository sales items and went “Whoa, now, what is going on there?” It’s not just a pun, but a singable pun, and promises to be about raising the dead. A book with that much ridiculousness and black humour just in its name had to either be amazing or terrible. Unfortunately, Lish McBide’s debut novel with the delightful pun title wasn’t bad, but didn’t commit to being dreadful either, so it just ended being kind of heartbreakingly mediocre. With spontaneous cage sex. Continue reading

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Platonically in Love with Radio Silence

radio-silence

He laughed again and hid his face under the blanket. “Why are you so nice to me?”
“Because I’m an angel.”
“You are.” He stretched out his arm and patted me on the head. “And I’m platonically in love with you.”
“That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

Radio Silence p.108

[This post is mostly spoiler free! Minor spoilers are noted when they appear.]

Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence has rocketed into place alongside Fangirl and Afterworlds to form a sort of holy trifecta of YA books that effectively present and deal with fandom and creativity. Though, interestingly enough, out of those three Fangirl stands out like a sore thumb for being comparatively super straight and super white. But Radio Silence stands out, to me, as well as for being a book about creativity, for being a book that is overwhelmingly and positively about the love between friends. Which, though it’s an integral part of most people’s lives, you don’t normally see as the star concept of a novel.

Radio Silence follows seventeen-year-old British-Ethiopian study machine Frances Janvier, who knew she wanted to get into Cambridge University as soon as she heard of it at age ten and figured that was where the smart people went. She became Head Girl so it would look good on her Cambridge application. She has read hundreds of books she can’t really get her head around so the list will look long and impressive in her Cambridge interview. She’s not really friends with any of her friends because what she’s best at is studying, and when they make fun of her for being boring her immediate response is always “fair enough”. Her only spark of passion outside the Cambridge goal is a surreal sci-fi podcast called Universe City, which she secretly adores and spends her spare time drawing fan art for. So imagine her surprise when the podcast’s creator asks her to do the official art for the show… and imagine her double surprise when the creator turns out to be a quiet and unassuming friend-of-a-friend she knows in real life. Continue reading

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Reincarnation Stories in YA and Eternal Silliness

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Man, I read a lot of crappy paranormal YA in high school.

The novel Elegy—coming out this year—is about how “in a small Australian town, the most epic love story of all time is unfolding…. again”. Two teenaged stepsiblings, Michael and Caitlin, turn out to be the reincarnated souls of every major tragic mythic love story of the past: Pyramus and Thisbe are named, Lancelot and Guinevere are highly implied, and many more are vaguely alluded to along with the sweeping mention that they have been gods, slaves, and rulers in the past. The novel’s decision to be deliberately and irritatingly vague about everything in place of actually building tension and mystery is a gripe for another day, because oh, I have so many gripes about this book, the biggest one being something that should by all means be an absolute dealbreaker in any romance, especially romance that crosses time and space, but somehow slipped through and got published:

I have no idea why Caitlin and Michael like each other.

In fact… they don’t. They spent their entire childhoods being standoffish with one another, largely due to Caitlin remembering that they’ve lived a thousand magical lifetimes before and Michael not, and the emotional gulf this created. Even once his powers emerge (because he has those) he and Caitlin quite blatantly don’t get on most of the time, until some magical moment of bizarreness happens and they… I don’t know, decide to embrace it? Their personalities don’t change, and indeed neither does much of their dynamic except that Michael is more open to accepting his powers and place in the universe, and so they fall back into the patterns of the past. They are deeply passionate and in love, as they have been many times before, as they are doomed to always be. Because there’s nothing more romantic than doom. Continue reading

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Fairies, Aliens, Bisexuals and Other Fantastic Creatures: Alex Reads Malinda Lo

Malinda LoI always admire authors that can switch between genres with ease, just as I admire authors who can write progressive stuff without wholly making a fanfare of how progressive they’re being. And if nothing else, I have to admire Malinda Lo not just for her lovely and addictive prose but for her ability to create a problem opposite to what I usually have: being emotionally invested in a YA love triangle and legitimately interested in how it turns out, perhaps even more than my interest in the main spine of the story. Holy cow, right? Is that even possible?

Malinda Lo has two branches to her writing career, the first being the fantastical Ash and Huntress, set in the same world but many years apart, and the modern-day (quite literally set a little while into the future after it was written, which gives you a hell of a surreal feeling when the story dates itself at August 4th 2014 and you’re reading it on August 2nd) sci-fi conspiracies-and-aliens-and-psychic-powers-oh-my! duology Adaptation and Inheritance. As previously discussed, the two genres really are two sides of the same coin, and though I feel like she has an easier grip of her fantasy books (the writing is much prettier, in any case) each of Lo’s series are as enjoyable as each other and retain an aftertaste recognisable to all her writing. And bisexuals. Did I mention that?

Sorry, I’m just a little excited. Apparently it’s a tricky thing to deal with in fiction, most likely because it’s also a tricky thing to deal with in real life and the swathes of erasure and negative stigmas against bisexual people in both. Which is a shame, because first of all and on a serious note, that’s ruining a lot of lives and pushing a lot of people into closets they don’t want to be in. And secondly because, as I talked about before, there’s something inherently interesting about a multi-gender love triangle, perhaps because it’s just a break from the norm (girl torn between two hunks, or hunk with two girls at war over him, typically) or because people attracted to more than one gender simply gives way to even larger and wackier love quadrangle shenanigans. I love a good tangle of affection, when they’re done well. And my gosh does Malinda Lo do it well. Continue reading

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No Good Guys in Slytherin: YA and Box-Putting

Hogwarts crest

The Sorting Hat has run off with the Scarf of Sexual Preference, so we’re just going to put everyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor and everyone who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin.

A Very Potter Musical Act I

I admit it—even though I’m not a self-described Harry Potter fanatic, it did capture my heart when I was younger and yes, I did create a self-indulgent fantastical scenario in my head and a little bit on paper where my friends and I went to study at Hogwarts. Frankly, I wouldn’t have lasted a day among the moving staircases and giant spiders (then again, having lived in Australia, maybe I’d just take such things in stride), but it was still fun. There was, of course, the big, crucial question of what house I’d end up in, as there somehow often is when it comes to fantastical or sci-fi series aimed at young people. I grabbed at straws and decided I was bookish and got good grades so I stuck myself in Ravenclaw.

Thinking about it now, I value my sense of loyalty over my smarts, so I’d be more of a Hufflepuff person, but they always kind of seemed like The Other Ones among the much more majestic houses, even when they did give us the occasional major character. Their emblem is a badger, for heaven’s sake. Lion? Badger? Weigh it up. Hell, even a snake is cooler, and those are the bad guys. Well, technically if you’re in Slytherin all it means is that your dominant trait is your cunning, but that’s the trouble with putting characters into groups, isn’t it? We come to associate them and their ilk with certain connotations.

To be fair, Slytherin also favours pureblooded wizards, so by extension they’re also all a bunch of racists. That can’t be true for every member of the house, though. What if you’re a cunning, self-serving little dude who’s also smart and brave? Would the Sorting Hat freeze up? Surely there have been Divergent style Hogwarts students who haven’t fit neatly into one house because they have more than one outgoing attribute, or students that have wanted to transfer halfway through because their personality changes and develops as they mature into young adults? Shock and horror, YA characters not fitting into boxes. Usually it’s cause for revolution, but not always, but either way it’s an interesting trend to look at in media aimed at young-uns. Continue reading

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Dystopias: Not the End of the World

Divergent movie poster

Are those pants comfy enough to change the world in…?

A dystopian future, a corrupt system of ruling, and a teenager that’s destined to bring it down. Sound familiar? ‘Course it does, my friends. Dystopias are everywhere you look, mostly dominating the YA market. This is not me griping about everyone’s unoriginality, because let’s face it, there are only so many plot frameworks that exist in the world and writing something that isn’t ‘new’ is not a problem if it’s done well. What I am wondering is what exactly this obsession with terrible future governments and the kids that take them apart says about us as writers and consumers.

It’s not as if this is a modern trend—people have been coming up with dystopian stories for as long as there have been governments to satirise or comment on, from totalitarian visions like George Orwell’s 1984 to William Gibson’s brand of cyberpunk. As one of my friends is fond of reminding me, The Hunger Games is in no way revolutionary since the exact same idea is played with in the ‘80s movie Running Man and the Japanese novel Battle Royale. So no, nothing about this love for crappy systems pitting characters against each other is very new.

The fact that it’s emerged so strongly in the young adult section is interesting to me, though. There could be a lot of reasons for that: seeing children affected drives home how horrible things really are in this imagined world, young people have always been associated with revolution and new ideas, and we all have an instinctive fear that teenaged girls have the power to destroy us. Well, fair enough. Continue reading

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