Tag Archives: YA Fiction

October Reading Wrap-Up

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I started the month with a short free ebook of Jim Smith’s My Dad is a Loser by Barry Loser. The Barry Loser series is really popular with children 7+ and I hoped this promotional ebook would give me a taste of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t really enthuse me to check out the rest. These free ebooks are so difficult to get right though, and I imagine it might not be entirely representative of the series as a whole, which has previously won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. I would take a bet that it would be a good addition to the shelves of any child who has already made their way through The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Mr Gum, and who enjoys the series format.

My second children’s book of the month was an absolute favourite of mine: Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death. This is the second in the Goth Girl series, which follows the adventures of Ada Goth, daughter of Lord Goth, in their enormous and mysterious home, Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Riding on the Great British Bake Off bandwagon, this installment of Ada’s story sees celebrity cooks, from Nigellina Sugarspoon and the Hairy Hikers through to Mary Huckleberry and Gordon Ramsgate, arriving at the hall for the Full-Moon Fete and the Great Ghastly-Gorm Bake Off. It is witty and full of clever references that will inevitably appeal to parents reading along with their children. Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring the story alive and the incredible production of the book, with shiny red sprayed edges, beautiful gothic end pages and a ribbon, make this a stunning object to own and a fantastic gift.

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Later in October, I picked up the third in the series, Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright, at a Waterstone’s event with Chris Riddell and Emily Gravett, and I can’t wait to read it. The event was fantastic. Chris Riddell is constantly brimming with enthusiasm and ideas, which he willing shares with everyone. I got the impression that he has been a great mentor to the wonderful Emily Gravett (author and illustrator of Wolves and many other picture books) and, after hearing him speak, I am more pleased than ever that he was appointed as Children’s Laureate.

Moving on to some YA, we reached a momentous point this month… I finally finished The Hunger Games! I am incredibly behind the times, but I felt Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay was a fitting end to the series. I gradually became more annoyed by Katniss’ ongoing Peeta/Gale dilemmas, but it was still a very enjoyable and addictive read. It even infected my dreams for a couple of nights. I think I was on a mission to kill President Snow!

My graphic novel of the month was This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, which I picked up at Gosh! Comics in Soho. I bought it primarily because it is one of the first graphic novels aimed at the teen market that I’d really heard people talking about. On an initial flick through, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me where the buzz surrounding this book had come from, but I was pleasantly surprised. On the face of it, it is a classic coming of age story: two young girls who have spent many summer holidays together at the beach discover secrets, boys, heartaches and family breakups. Once you dive in, however, it is an incredibly realistic portrayal of teenage friendships with some surprisingly dark subject matter and a healthy dose of feminism thrown in. I found the characters annoying and infuriating at points, but it only added to how real they felt.

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I picked up I’ve Lived in East London for 86½ Years by Martin Usborne at the Photobook Weekend in Shoreditch, where lots of small, independent and local presses were selling their photography books. I’d had my eye on this one, the first in Hoxton Mini Press’ East London Photo Stories series, for a while. It is a beautiful book full of photographs celebrating both East London and a man, Joseph Markovitch, who lived there for 86½ years. His wonderful character comes across in the photos and his select words which are scattered throughout: “I like to walk because I see things that I would never see, like boats and ships and strange people’s faces. I would like to walk in the rainforest but I’d have to be careful of the snakes and the spiders, it’s very dense over there.”

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Finally in October, I read some non-fiction. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science is a fascinating look into the study of sexual physiology. Mary Roach is a truly brilliant writer who made this book addictive reading with hilarious stories of her research (which took her to pig farms, sex toy labs and inside an MRI scanner) and insights into the aspects of sex most people have never even thought to ask about. I would particularly recommend this to anyone who is just getting into reading more non-fiction or anyone who enjoyed the recent Institute of Sexology exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London or the Masters and Johnson drama on Channel 4. I warn you though, you will get strange looks if you read this on the tube, which only goes to show how much time commuters spend reading over other people’s shoulders. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so nosy if they thought to bring their own book. Don’t they know they are wasting valuable reading time?!

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September Reading Wrap-Up

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As the clock struck midnight on 1st September, I was tucked up in bed reading Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, a set of five intensely creepy graphic short stories. These spine-tingling tales had me turning on all the lights and checking for monsters under the bed before I could even think of attempting to sleep. It is an incredibly impressive piece of work that rewards repeated readings. The more time you spend with each image, the creepier they become; trees turn into spindly hands and deep reds melt into blood. With very few words, Emily Carroll’s haunting illustrations brought a cloud of terror over me. I wasn’t really sure what I was frightened of, and that is, of course, the most frightening thing of all.

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In need of some light relief, I turned to YA contemporary How to Be Bad, a collaboration between E. Lockhart (author of the fantastic We Were Liars), Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski. The basic premise of this book is that three girls, the stereotyped good girl, the wild-child and the posh new girl in town, take a road trip and discover the true meaning of being ‘bad’. It’s a fun take on the classic coming-of-age road trip novel and, despite it taking a good few chapters to properly get into it, I became really invested in the characters quite suddenly about halfway through. Definitely an enjoyable, easy read for the end of summer.

My third book of September was the fantastic Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which I read on my Kindle. This is a YA novel about Evie, a sixteen year old with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is one of the best, most realistic, depictions of OCD I’ve ever read. I was really glad to see that it went beyond simply presenting the well-known hygiene related obsessions and compulsions and gave a true insight into the thought processes of an individual with OCD, for example by showing Evie’s belief that if she touches all the lampposts on the way home six times, her evening will go really well.

I visited Penguin’s Pop Up at BOXPARK in Shoreditch this month. It was part of Penguin’s 80th anniversary celebrations and they had a small selection of their titles on sale, as well as a fun post-it note wall of messages from visitors describing what books mean to them and a live action mural by illustrator Toby Triumph. I picked up The Lottery, a 99p short story by Shirley Jackson. Originally published in The New Yorker, it caused outrage amongst readers in the 1940s. I read this short story in one sitting and absolutely loved it, apart from the fact that I found the ending quite predictable. Sadly, I put this entirely down to the small quote on the back cover which drew my attention to an aspect of the story at the very beginning that might have otherwise passed me by. This made it quite obvious from the start what was going on, but I did still enjoy this incredibly well-written and shocking story. Next time, Penguin could probably just stick the endorsements from Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt on the back though. As if I would ever turn down a book with those two names by it!

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My next read of September was the first in Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum series for children 7+, You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! This is a hilarious tale of a very nasty man, ‘an absolute lazer’, with an ‘absolutely grimsters’ house, who takes against the village’s favourite dog when it makes a mess of his garden. We follow a little girl, who has ‘a smile as happy as the Bank of England’, as she tries to rescue Jake the dog. Andy Stanton’s wacky and absurd writing style is really appealing and it took a lot of effort not to laugh out loud on the tube while reading this. You never quite know where the sentence is going to go: ‘She ran past big trees, little trees, tiny little trees, and tiny tiny little trees so small they were more like pebbles, in fact they were pebbles.’ This is a definite recommendation for fans of Roald Dahl and David Walliams.

My third and final YA read of September was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, which has just been made into a film. You can see the trailer here. I’m still not sure what I made of this one. It’s the story of Greg Gaines, a seventeen year old whose mother forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. The best part of this book is that is doesn’t try to follow the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ model of a romantic story about cancer, but, for me, the worst is that it is so in-your-face about it: ‘So if this were a normal book about a girl with leukemia, I would probably talk a shitload about all the meaningful things Rachel had to say as she got sicker and sicker, and also probably we would fall in love’. The narrative voice grated with me and was a little bit too Holden Caulfield-esque for my liking. Many people do absolutely love this book though, so maybe give it a go, especially if you enjoy different narrative formats as the story is told in bullet point lists and scripts, alongside the standard narration. I will still make an effort to see the film – I can definitely see that it would translate well onto the screen and it has already won awards at Sundance.

Finally, a shout out to Mike Medaglia’s One Year Wiser, a collection of 365 beautifully illustrated meditations. I work with Mike at JKP and was lucky enough to go along to his book launch at Gosh! Comics in Soho earlier this month. Whilst I haven’t made my way through the whole book this month, I have enjoyed dipping into the September pages whenever I feel like taking a breather or finding some inspiration. It’s a very beautiful object and would make a lovely gift (for those of you looking ahead to Christmas already!) You can see sample pages from the book here.

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The Fault in Our Stars

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has just been named the best book of 2012 by TIME magazine, ahead of the likes of Zadie Smith and Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel. I couldn’t be happier.

When we think of Young Adult books today, it’s usually vampire fiction and dystopian novels which come to mind first. These trends in YA literature spring from the success of series like Twilight and The Hunger Games and stick around for a certain period of time, before the next big trend appears.

The Fault in Our Stars is different. It doesn’t fit neatly into any trend. Whilst it is a book about teens who have cancer, it is not ‘a cancer book’. As TIME have recognised, this is not a book full of clichés about the lives of those suffering from cancer. It is the love story of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, characters who become so spectacularly real to us. It is through their love story, and their attempts at leading ordinary teenage lives, that we are presented with the realities of cancer. It is heartbreaking in its honesty and yet John Green tells the story with wit, energy and intelligence, making it distinct from any other book tackling these issues.

There is no reason why an adult shouldn’t be picking up a YA novel to read. There are some truly spectacular pieces of writing around on the YA shelves at the moment and to reject them simply because they are primarily targeted at a younger audience would be such a waste.

I honestly believe that The Fault in Our Stars will be around for years. In my head, it’s already a classic.

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You can read what TIME had to say about The Fault in Our Stars and discover the other books in the top ten here: Top 10 Fiction Books of 2012

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