by REBECCA, May 15, 2013
Hey, folks, today I’m a guest over at the wonderful Housequeer, with a list of Queer Young Adult Fiction to Curl Up With. Come on over and say hello!
by REBECCA, May 15, 2013
Hey, folks, today I’m a guest over at the wonderful Housequeer, with a list of Queer Young Adult Fiction to Curl Up With. Come on over and say hello!
Posted by Rebecca on May 15, 2013
by REBECCA, May 13, 2013
We all have our ethical coming out stories—the moment we came to knowledge about what we thought was wrong or right or necessary in the world; often we have many of them. For 11-year-old me, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders provided one such moment. But, really, if I look back at The Outsiders, it’s startling how many of the lessons I would need to learn (again and again) are there. Which makes me pat my 11-year-old self on the back and say, “oh, well-spotted, young squire.” (Yeah, sometimes I like to call myself “squire”; don’t make a big deal out of it.) So:
All I Really Need To Know I Learned From The Outsiders
1. “Things are rough all over.” Cherry Valance says this to Ponyboy in response to his notion that Socs all have perfect lives, and, while it is totally clear that things are not as rough for the Socs, this is something that I would do well to remember, both in moments of feeling like my own shit isn’t bad enough to deserve others’ attention, and in moments of feeling bitter about people complaining about things that seem not-so-bad to me.
2. “I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.” Ponyboy is trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care if his brother hates him (which, of course, Darry doesn’t). Being able to be honest with yourself, even—perhaps especially if—you can’t be honest about yourself or to others is An Important Thing. Knowing what you want, even if you can’t have it right now; knowing who you are, even if you can’t show anyone quite yet; knowing how you feel, even if you won’t tell anyone yet: these pieces of self-honesty are the first steps to all the rest of it. (I like to think that I don’t lie to myself, but it’s probably not true; being overly harsh on yourself is just as much of a lie as being too easy, right?)
4. “It’s not just money.” When Ponyboy, Johnny, and Two-Bit are walking Cherry and Marcia home from the movies, they’re talking about what separates the Socs and the Greasers and, long story short, they realize that class divides aren’t just about money, but about the inextricable strands of taste, gender, race, prejudice, regionality, and culture that knot together to form group identities, and the material consequences thereof:
“‘It ain’t fair that we have all the rough breaks!’ I didn’t know exactly what I meant, but I was thinking about Johnny’s father being a drunk and his mother a selfish slob, and Two-Bit’s mother being a barmaid to support him and his kid sister after their father ran out on them, and Dally—wild, cunning Dally—turning into a hoodlum because he’d die if he didn’t, and Steve—his hatred for his father coming out in his soft, bitter voice and the violence of his temper. Sodapop . . . a dropout so he could get a job and keep me in school, and Darry, getting old before his time trying to run a family and hang on to two jobs and never having any fun—while the Socs had so much spare time and money that they jumped us and each other for kicks.”
5. “If you don’t stick up for them, stick together, make like brothers, it isn’t a gang anymore.” Loyalty is something that Ponyboy learns to complicate throughout The Outsiders: sometimes you should be loyal to a person even if you disagree with what they do; and sometimes you have to be loyal to yourself and your beliefs even if it means not sticking up for that person. Either way, a gang, be it friends, family, or chosen family, is wicked important. Brothers!
6. “Nothing gold can stay.” But that’s what makes it magical. That tenuous, liminal moment before something becomes something else wouldn’t have the same power if it were permanent, and learning to appreciate those moments instead of mourning their loss is one of those lessons that I’m still working on.
7. “By the fifth day I was so tired of baloney I nearly got sick every time I looked at it.” If you’re going to kill a Soc to keep him from drowning your friend and you’re going to go hide in an abandoned church on Jay Mountain and you’re going to go get supplies from the store to last you for the week, you should not buy all baloney; aka, food is important and so’s variety and you should take care to ensure both.
8. “Southern gentlemen had nothing on Johnny Cade.” Honor, bravery, and generosity have nothing to do with your station and everything to do with your choices. As Jerry tells Ponyboy in the ambulance, after Pony and Johnny have saved the kids from the burning church,
“‘I swear, you three are the bravest kids I’ve seen in a long time. . . . Mrs. O’Briant and I think you were sent straight from heaven. Or are you just professional heroes or something?’ Sent from heaven? Had he gotten a good look at Dallas? ‘No, we’re greasers,’ I said.”
But that also doesn’t mean being a hero, necessarily. There are a lot of ways to be brave.
9. “So even Dally has a breaking point.” Everyone, no matter how tough, cold, disciplined, or unfeeling they may seem, has something they care about and something that will push them over the edge. And the tougher, colder, more disciplined, and more unfeeling-seeming they are, the farther out they may have gotten before they hit it, and the harder it can be for them to come back from it.
10. “I decided I could tell people.” Ponyboy can’t deal with the unfairness and loss that he’s feeling, so he decides to write it down and tell people, starting with his english teacher. Make art; tell the world!
Bonus wisdom 11. “All three of us like chocolate cake for breakfast . . . Sodapop always makes sure there’s [chocolate cake] in the icebox every night and if there isn’t he cooks one up real quick.” Nuff said.
So, what about you? What life lessons have you learned from The Outsiders?
Posted by Rebecca on May 13, 2013
Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands, in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?
BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.
There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t yet heard of it.
- Irish mythology!
Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.
This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.
Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.
- Totally epic, metal demons
Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009′s Absu:
The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame
I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.
- A new kind of adversary
Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.
- The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)
I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.
- The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.
I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.
- His website uses Papyrus as a title font.
Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?
Posted by tessabarber on May 10, 2013
Simon & Schuster, 2013
by REBECCA, May 8, 2013
Ryan Dean (yes, that’s his first name): 14-year-old junior at a posh boarding school and winger on the rugby team, he’s in love with his best friend Annie and not sure he’ll live through the year rooming with Chas, the biggest bully on the team
Annie: thinks Ryan Dean is aces, but often calls him a “little boy,” activating his desire to kill everything
Joey: rugby captain and all around delightful human being, Joey dispenses sage advice and tries to discourage Ryan Dean from fucking up his life, all while dealing with the fact that being a gay rugby player makes some people pretty dang uncomfortable
As anyone who reads the blog knows, I am a huge Andrew Smith fan. I think he is one of the most consistently amazing authors working today, young-adultish or otherwise. (I review Stick HERE and The Marbury Lens HERE.) Thus, I’ve been looking forward to Winger since Smith first announced it on his blog because a.) it’s an Andrew Smith book, duh, and b.) it’s a boarding school book, a setting that lives at the heart of some of my all-time favorite books.
Well, Winger scores a solid five out of five snort-laughs on the Rebecca Peters-Golden goddammit-I-can’t-read-this-in-public-because-I-will-humiliate-myself-and-scare-the-parents-of-small-children index of reading reactions! (you’ll get it once you read the book). Note: “Catastrophic Fucking Penis Injury”—yes, that is a quote from the book—will be my new band name. We will be a death metal klezmer band and we will serve pastrami finger sandwiches at our concerts. Come early and come often.
Ryan Dean’s humor is always paired with desperate humiliation or neurotic dread, making every paragraph a complicated portrait of a fascinating character. I loved getting to know him and I even (embarrassingly) found myself thinking, at one point, “hot damn, I can’t wait to see what an amazing grown up Ryan Dean is going to be.” For me, the true triumph of the character is in Smith’s willingness to risk his likability by doing things like exposing his feelings about how he thinks about Joey:
“I suddenly felt really awkward being here, in my bed, alone in my room, with a gay guy. And then I immediately got pissed off at myself for even thinking shit like that, for doing the same kind of crap to Joey that everyone else did, ’cause I knew what it felt like too, being so not-like-all-the-other-guys-here. And I don’t mean I know what it felt like to be gay, because I don’t, but I do know what it felt like to be the “only” one of something. Heck, as far as I know, there’s just got to be more gay eleventh graders than fourteen-year-old eleventh graders, anyway.
I wondered if it bothered Kevin Cantrell, though. Joey and Kevin had been roommates for two years, and no one ever talked shit about Kevin or wondered if he was gay, because everyone knew he just wasn’t.
I am such a loser.”
This kind of character detail is so difficult to pull off, even though Smith always makes it seem effortless. These are the details that make his characters—even the minor ones—so vivid. “Seanie slipped me a folded square of paper with flowers and hearts drawn on it, and said, ‘Here. Read this. I wrote you a haiku about how gay you are for sitting next to Joey for two classes in a row.’ . . . ‘Nice,’ I said. ‘In Lit class I’m going write you a sonnet about how nothing could possibly be gayer than writing your friend a haiku.’” Sean, incidentally, is one of my favorite characters, with his creepy sense of humor and the immense number of hours he pours into hacking other students’ facebook pages even when no one notices.
Annie shares Ryan Dean’s best friend card with Joey, and Ryan Dean is totally in love with her. The growth of their relationship wasn’t the most interesting element of the story for me, but Ryan Dean’s perspective on the feelings of first love (and his hilariously out-of-control hormones) make it more than appealing to read.
No, for me the thing that Andrew Smith does best—and Winger is certainly representative of this—is think through the knotty cluster of questions about masculinity, sexuality, bravery, vulnerability, trauma, and hope. The questions about masculinity that Winger thinks through are particularly nuanced and interesting because of the friendship between Joey and Ryan Dean, the former the strong, handsome, respected captain of the rugby team who is also gay, and the latter a boy who is much younger and smaller than the other boys he goes to school with. It’s masterfully done.
The boarding school setting really lets all these issues marinate, and gives it a kind of un-modern feel (cell phones, facebook, et cetera, are not allowed on campus). Ryan Dean has been moved to a dorm for troublemakers this year because he stole a teacher’s cell phone to call Annie one weekend, so he’s rooming with Chas Becker, who he fears might kill him, and is separated from the friends he roomed with the year before, Sean and JP. This shift in Ryan Dean’s social circle encourages some changes for him and necessitates others, so the book finds him at a really dynamic moment.
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
To be totally honest, I feel like now I’m just kind of talking out of my ass, looking for something to say that will make you read Winger, but the truth is that I don’t have anything else to say that isn’t just gushy chatter or would spoil something, so I’m going to stop, and just quote you some more amazingness. The fact is: Winger lives up to and surpasses every expectation. Winger is fucking stellar; Andrew Smith has once again created something that has moved me immensely; reading Andrew Smith makes me embarrassed for every single one of us out there who isn’t as honest as his characters are, me included; I look forward to having a conversation about the ending after everyone’s read it; godspeed ye to the bookstore.
Here, Chas makes Ryan Dean play poker with him, Joey, and Kevin, and Ryan Dean has never had beer before:
“As Chas began dealing the cards out, all these things kind of occurred to me at once:
1. The taste. Who ever drinks this piss when they’re thirsty? Are you kidding me? Seriously . . . you’ve got to be kidding.
2. Little bit of vomit in the back of my throat. It gets into my nasal passages. It burns like hell, and now everything also smells exactly like barf. Nice. Real nice.
3. I am really scared. I am convinced something horrible is going to happen to me now. I picture my mom and dad and Annie (she is so smoking hot in black) at my funeral.
4. Mom and Dad? I feel so terrible that I let them down and became a dead virgin alcoholic at fourteen.
5. For some reason, Chas, Joey, and Kevin are all looking at me and laughing as quietly as they can manage.
6. Woo-hoo! Chas dealt me pocket Jacks.”
“I saw [Chas] turn his face over his shoulder and look at me once, and I’ll be honest, it scared me. I considered scrawling a makeshift will on the back of a napkin, but as I took mental inventory of my life’s possessions, I realized no one would want them anyway.
I was as good as dead now.
Images of my funeral again: both Annie and Megan looking so hot in black; Joey shaking his head woefully and thinking how he told me so; JP and Chas high-fiving each other in the back pew; Seanie installing a live-feed webcam in my undersize casket; and Mom and Dad disappointed, as always, that I left this world a loser alcoholic virgin with eighteen stitches over my left eye.”
Gaaaaaawwwwd! Read this book, y’all. Don’t make me step on your testicles and then write a haiku about it.
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (2013). The Tragedy Paper is also a boarding school book that excavates the intricacies of friendships, growing up, and being different. My complete review is HERE.
King of the Screwups by K.L. Going (2009). While the premises are totally different, Winger reminded me of K.L. Going’s tone in King of the Screwups. Ryan Dean and Liam share a kind of hilarious hopelessness when things go wrong. And, like Winger, King of the Screwups is both really funny and totally gutting. Read my full review HERE.
procured from: I received an ARC of Winger from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Winger by Andrew Smith will be available May 14th. Which leaves you just enough time to go read ALL of Andrew Smith’s other books.
Posted by Rebecca on May 8, 2013
SOHO Teen, 2013
by REBECCA, May 6, 2013
“I found out two things today: One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv” (1). 14-year-old Jenna Samuels’ father left years ago, leaving nothing behind but a note and a gift certificate for a Mexican restaurant, she has been stricken by a mysterious illness, and her mother has turned into a zombie—no, not that kind of zombie. The kind that sleeps all day, has no appetite, and can’t even remember what day it is much less go to work in the morning. Her stoner brother, Casey, had to quit football and get two jobs when their mom started going zombie, and because his stoner friend messed up their car, Casey crashes the car when he drives her to the hospital and dies. Kind of. Because now he’s Jenna’s guardian A-word (she can’t bring herself to say angel), and they have to get to the bottom of all of it.
The Sweet Dead Life is the second Soho Teen book I’ve reviewed in a row, and it couldn’t be more different than Strangelets, which I reviewed last week. Soho publishes mainly mysteries, so Soho Teen is putting out YA mysteries, and it’s really nice to see that they’re publishing a variety of types. I’ve been really excited lately at the surge of new YA imprints, so I’ve been excited to see what Soho Teen would do. In short, The Sweet Dead Life was a totally charming and fun read. Is the mystery mysterious and hard to solve? No. But it doesn’t really matter. Jenna’s voice is the real joy of The Sweet Dead Life. Plus, did I mention it’s set in Texas?
Joy Preble‘s writing is really funny and well-structured. Everything is wrapped up in a neat bow, but that’s part of the genre here, I think: it’s equal parts absurdism, mystery, and good old-fashioned coming of age story. The Sweet Dead Life is written as Jenna’s diary entries, so it’s all in her voice, which is really funny and feels very spot-on for an insightful 14 year old. The first few chapters are snappy and fun, and the tone of the whole thing is great. There are moments that drag, mostly because the reader has already figured out the mystery, but overall it’s well-paced and Jenna is super-likable. Best of all, as far as I’m concerned: it’s a book about angels that’s a comedy instead of a romance, a change that the subgenre needed like Mia Wallace needed a shot of adrenaline to the heart in Pulp Fiction. Cheers.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher at BEA. The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble will be available on May 13th.
But you can win a copy right now! Just fill in your info in the form below and, if you like. I’ll select a winner at random in one week and post the result here. Happy reading!
This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Marie, who has won the copy of Joy Preble’s The Sweet Dead Life. Thanks you everyone who entered!
Posted by Rebecca on May 6, 2013
Soho Teen (2013)
by REBECCA, May 1, 2013
Sophie: California terminal cancer patient who doesn’t mind dying, she tells us, as she dies … or does she?
Declan: charismatic petty thief from Galway who rips off the wrong people and gets shot … or does he?
Anat: the fierce military trainee from Tel Aviv is risking it all for love … including her life
Sophie, Declan, and Anat would have died at the same moment. Instead, they (and several others) wake up in an unfamiliar deserted hospital. Where are they? Or when? And why them? In order to escape the hospital, and figure out how to get home, they have to work together. But some of them know more than they’re letting on. And some of them are not what they seem.
From the blurb and the first, say, ten per cent of the book, I thought this was going to be a kind of supernatural tale about human experiments with death, or teens delving into the afterlife. You know, a kind of The Midnight Club meets Flatliners. And I was into it! The Midnight Club is like totally my fave Christopher Pike and stuff. Five terminally ill teens living in Rotterdam House meet (at midnight) to tell stories as a ward against the fear of death; they pledge that the first to die must send a sign to the rest of them . . . from the other side. The theme of trying to touch the afterlife is particularly poignant with teens since they’re, like, the opposite of death, so I had high hopes here, and loved the idea of death as a universal fear bringing together teens from all over the world.
Well, anyway, that’s not really what Strangelets is about. But you should all read The Midnight Club in case you haven’t (since sixth grade).
Still, the first quarter of Strangelets is intriguing. We are introduced to Sophie, Declan, and Anat, each in the moments leading up to their almost-deaths. When they wake in the hospital, they meet Zain, the friendly boy from New Delhi, Yosh, the shy and soft-spoken girl from Kyoto, and Nico, the hale blondie from Switzerland. Together, they have to find a way out, determine where the hell they are, and figure out why the parking lot outside looks like the broken-down cars have sat there long enough to grow moss and amass inches of crud on them. If they want answers, they’ll have to venture outside. But something is out there, and it’s not just the bears (oh my). There is genuine creepiness here (the creepiest of which I won’t spoil) and atmosphere that has some serious promise.
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
The first half-ish of Strangelets is a taut, well-paced mystery with sci-fi tendencies and I really enjoyed it. Gagnon doesn’t give too much away and her characters have distinct, recognizable personalities. It’s nothing particularly revolutionary, but it’s confidently done—more locked-room mystery than dystopia. But oh, holy jesus, the second half reads like someone took a wrecking ball to Jurassic Park, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and a few of the wackier Torchwood episodes, and then Mod Podged it all back together. That isn’t to say that Gagnon won’t attract fans of this mashup; it’s certainly not the dystopian fare many publishers have been rolling out lately.
And here’s the thing: if Strangelets’ only issues had been the grab-bag nature of its genre choices, I wouldn’t have thought much of it except, oh, ok, not really satisfying to me, but sure. It’s that this (unsatisfactory) science-inflected twist on a dystopia doesn’t mean anything. Where the conceit (no spoilers) might have shown true pathos or raised interesting questions about scientific ethics, or even—even!—taken a shot at saying something about how everything is connected, à la The Butterfly Effect, it would have been more interesting than what it did. Which is nothing. I love a good ole sci-fi romp, believe me, but what makes the best sci-fi delightful is how it expands our notions of the possible (or the impossible!), and how it shows us how deeply that which is most familiar to us resonates with that which is most alien, neither of which Strangelets even approaches. And I’m not going to even dignify the “romance” with a comment.
Equally frustrating was that while Strangelets held out a hope of being one of the very few YA novels—and even fewer sci-fi YA novels—to bring us an international cast of characters, it ended up reinscribing some pretty troubling conservative international and racial politics. Thea over at The Book Smugglers says it well: there is a “potentially worrisome, stigmatic portrayal of the characters of color (Anat, Zain, and Yosh) – one of these characters is the first to die, the other a villain, and the other meets a sad, cruel fate. Meanwhile for the white characters (Sophie, Declan, Nico), one holds the key to understanding everything, and two live happily ever after.” This is made worse for me because our happy couple are the least interesting characters. Sophie is totally boring in every way. Even the grace with which she accepts death after being ill for so long, which, ordinarily, I might find refreshing, smacks of an annoying kind of Little Eva-esque woe-is-me-she’s-too-good-for-this-cruel-worldiness. And Declan is a pretty predictable collection of generic charisma and obligatory Irishisms. It’s Anat who I was most interested in, and who seemed to be the meatiest character in terms of the potential for a dynamic ending to her story. Alas, it isn’t to be.
procured from: I received an ARC of this book by the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon is available now.
Posted by Rebecca on May 1, 2013
I have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of really excellent novels by first-time authors lately, which has gotten me thinking about debut novels. There is a certain particular pleasure in reading an author’s first novel (even when it’s not the first novel of theirs I read). It is a combination of a few things—things that I feel about listening to an artist’s first album or (to a lesser degree, since film is such a collaborative medium) seeing a director’s first film, but feel most strongly with books.
First, there is the feeling of meeting a new friend—someone who has the potential to stay with you long into the future. (This happens to me in the inverse, too: when I have my first encounter with an author and fall in love, only to look them up and find that they have a whole catalogue of works that I can fall into.) There is that new-person zing of excitement, but also a kind of anticipated pride/curiosity/delight in seeing what awesomeness they might come up with in the future. (Or there’s the delicious threat that they might never write anything else, à la To Kill A Mockingbird, and you will be left with only the perfect gem of a one-hit-wonder.)
Second, there is—sometimes, and I don’t mean to romanticize this, but I do think it’s there—the sense that a first novel is perhaps a particularly personal story to the writer; something that they felt compelled to write. Of course, in less-good debuts, this phenomenon can manifest as crappy faux-fiction featuring an idealized version of the author . . . But in wonderful debuts, I do get the sense that I’m getting some kind of less-mediated access to the author’s ideal book. As if, when they looked at all the things they could write in the whole world, they felt compelled to write this particular book. Welp, there, I went and romanticized it anyway. But sometimes romanticizations are also true.
Finally, debut novels (naturally) come out of nowhere! That means that I read them with no expectations about voice, no assumptions about the relationship between the author and the art, no presumptions about genre or style, and, best of all, no one else’s voice in my head telling me what to think about them. I’m relieved of the anxiety I feel when I pick up the newest book by a favorite author—the voice that says, “I’ve loved everything they’ve ever written; what if this one is a huge disappointment?!” I hate to be disappointed.
So, here are some Young Adult debuts that definitely do not disappoint. Yes, I am drawing an admittedly arbitrary line by what I mean by Young Adult for the purposes of this list. I’ve also decided to keep the list pretty contemporary—like, since the sixties contemporary. I mean, otherwise the damn Brontës would have overrun the list. There are a few choices that would really not be considered YA for most purposes, but which I find it necessary to include. I’ll explain why when I get to them. Naturally, I had to reign it in—in the comments, tell me your favorite YA debut novels!
15 Best Debut Young Adult Novels (in no particular order)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (2012). I called Tell the Wolves I’m Home my favorite book of 2012, and I stand by it. This is an exquisitely-written book that introduces us to unforgettable characters. There’s 14-year-old June, who spends her time tramping through the woods and pretending she’s in medieval times. There’s June’s uncle Finn, a painter dying of AIDS with whom June is in love. And there’s Finn’s partner, Toby, who reaches out to June after Finn’s death. The story is as heartbreaking as the prose is beautiful. My complete review is HERE, and I had the pleasure to interview the lovely Carol Rifka Brunt about her authorial debut, first loves, and her favorite cheeses HERE!
The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt (1992). The Blindfold is one of those that I wouldn’t necessarily say is primarily a YA book, because its main character is a young graduate student, but I still think it belongs on this list because of its concern with coming of age, and finding identity. Iris, our protagonist, is a Midwesterner living in New York. She is hella broke, and takes a series of strange jobs as a result, the strangest of which is to whisper the descriptions of objects into a tape recorder and deliver them to a man who might be a murderer. Along the way, she meets a cast of super interesting characters, makes some bad decisions about who she dates, and begins wandering the streets of New York dressed as Klaus, the male character in a German story she is translating. A truly unique book.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997). I feel like “when did you first read Harry Potter?” might be my generation’s “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” I first read Harry Potter the winter after it was published in the U.S. (1998, I guess?). I was in high school, and my mother had heard about it on NPR. She (adorably) suggested that maybe we should try to read it as a family. So, one night that winter, we read the first few chapters aloud. I was lying on my back on the floor, next to the fireplace. I was constantly sleep-deprived in high school, so I think I was asleep within about ten pages. I denied it, of course, but didn’t get around to actually reading the book until that summer. And the rest, as they say, was history. (In case you’re interested, my parents and sister and I did actually eventually read the first three or four books aloud, which was really awesome. One night when I was home from college in the summer, there was a power outage and each of us wrote our own first chapter of the fifth book, before it came out, and then we read them out loud. It was pretty spectacular, just saying.)
Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1) by Karina Halle (2011). Every single book in Karina Halle’s excellent Experiment in Terror series (the 7th comes out this summer) is amazing. I stumbled onto this series through a series of internet wormholes and I’m so freaking glad that I did. Perry is wandering around an abandoned lighthouse, contemplating how her life hasn’t turned out like she wanted. Before long, she’s being chased by a mysterious spirit and running smack into Dex Foray, who will become her partner in an online ghost-hunting show, “Experiment in Terror.” But which is scarier: that Dex is the most infuriating person she’s had the frustration of being attracted to, or that she seems particularly . . . receptive to the world of hauntings that she finds herself in? This is both a dynamite debut and the start to a series that just gets better and better. My complete review of Darkhouse is HERE.
Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer (2010). Here is another novel that probably wouldn’t be primarily considered YA fiction. Children of the Sun is told through two parallel storylines. James is a writer who becomes obsessed with a former leader of the British neo-nazi party who later came out as gay. As he reconstructs the story of this particular neo-nazi leader, he is led down a secret history of the gay far-Right, which begins to threaten him in the present. In the other storyline we follow 14-year-old Tony, who falls in with skinheads in the 1970s and must, consequently, hide his sexual orientation. In Tony’s story, we meet Nicky Crane, the leader whose story James is uncovering, and the storylines merge. This is a book that never got much press when it was published in the U.S., and I have no idea why because it’s really brilliant. Not only was it a real eye-opener for me, in terms of getting access to an entire subculture and national history, but its treatment of the intersection among masculinity, queerness, politics, and music is incredibly nuanced and insightful.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992). Speaking of secret histories! I’ve written HERE about The Secret History and its bizarre imitator/plagiarizer, The Secret Diaries by Janice Harrell (1994). Donna Tartt’s novel is like the epitome of debuts. She came out of nowhere and didn’t write another novel for ten years. The Secret History is the story of a group of close friends at Hampden College (a fictional Bennington, which Tartt attended, with buddy Bret Easton Ellis). They are a close-knit group of Greek scholars that is infiltrated by newcomer, Richard, a transfer student from California. Richard quickly falls under their thrall and finds himself obsessed with them. But, of course, there are currents running beneath the surface of their friendship, and by the time Richard knows what he’s implicated in he’s too deep to cut them loose. It is one of those rare books that succeeds at being so good that it can give away the big secret at the very beginning: they kill one of their friends. There, I haven’t ruined anything; it’s that freaking good.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2006). Although Bechdel drew/wrote the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” for almost twenty years, Fun Home is her debut graphic novel (well, graphic memoir). It tells the story of Bechdel’s childhood, with her father, who was an English teacher, a decor enthusiast, an aesthete, and, as she learned later, gay. When Bechdel goes to college and realizes she’s a lesbian, she connects with her father via the novels she is reading for her lit classes and finds new common ground. While she is in college, her father dies—he is hit by a truck in what might be a passive suicide. Bechdel’s narrative is gorgeously recursive, circling back to the core issues—family, queerness, aesthetics, literature, gender, and love—in chapter after chapter, chipping away at them from a different angle each time. Fun Home‘s prose is as beautiful as its art.
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block (1989). I just featured Weetzie Bat in “Top 5 Badass Chicks of YA Lit, In Honor of Women’s History Month.” As I said about Weetzie there: Weetzie dreams magical dreams in the ordinary world, and by doing so, she makes that world magical. She is a badass because she isn’t afraid to look at a world rife with limitations, problems, frustrations, and pain, and still see in it possibility, beauty, hope, and love. And that takes an immense amount of faith in people, energy to work toward a better world in her own way, and the vision to try and turn it into what she sees in her glitter-soaked, rose petal-encrusted, vintage silk-draped dreams. Besides, she spits in skinheads’ faces at concerts. Weetzie’s strength is in the way she turns the world into art and her art into the world she imagines. And while it might not be as clear-cut a badassness as some, it is equally important. Thank you, Weetzie, for bringing beauty’s excess to the world and being FIERCE about your conviction that we need it.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000). A difficult book to summarize, House of Leaves tells the story of a photojournalist who moves his family into a house with a curious condition: the inside is bigger than the outside. At first, this seems like a mere curiosity, but when his two children wander off somewhere inside it . . . well, he has to follow, and record what he finds in the depths of the house on Ash Tree lane. In a parallel storyline that shares the page, a tattoo artist becomes obsessed with the story of this journey. But as any good tattoo artist should know, sometimes ink is more than ink, and not every story stays put on the page. One of the most intriguing and existentially terrifying books ever. I read this one my freshman year of college when I was living in a dorm that had an outside door to the bathroom as well as an inner door, forming a brief antechamber of that you had to walk through, which, at night, when I was reading House of Leaves in my room, was pitch black and in which, thus, I became totally convinced I would get lost forever as I ran there for brief pee breaks before I sprinted back and jumped under the covers.
Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates (2003). In Bart Yates’ awesome debut (everything he’s written is wonderful), Noah and his mother, a temperamental poet, have just moved to a small town in New Hampshire from Chicago after the sudden death of Noah’s father. As they fix up the sprawling house they’ve moved into, Noah and his mom find secrets hidden in the walls—mason jars with jewelry and old clothes, poems, and bones. As they try and put the pieces to this mystery together, Noah is also falling in love with the boy next door. But the end of summer brings consequences far more devastating than anyone could have expected, and Noah’s mother seems to drift further and further away, demolishing the house and leaving Noah worried for her safety. My complete review is HERE.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964). I also featured Harriet M. Welsch in “Top 5 Badass Chicks of YA Lit, In Honor of Women’s History Month.” As I said there: Harriet the Spy is a bold adventurer. She sees the world as an endlessly fascinating parade of characters and she wants to observe them all. She is smart and analytical and teaches herself to draw conclusions based on observation and imagination rather than assumption and generalization. She believes in telling the TRUTH! And when telling the truth alienates her friends, Harriet learns two important lessons: that most people can’t handle the truth about themselves, and that, in the long run, her friendships are more important than the truth. And when she realizes this last truth she makes it right by apologizing, addressing the harm she has caused, and takes the risk that she won’t be forgiven. She is a fucking AMAZING role model because she can admit when she’s wrong and has the tenacity to keep writing, incorporating what she’s learned into her art. Goddammit, Harriet the Spy, you are the ultimate badass.
The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek (2006). Like Darkhouse, The God Eaters is proof that self-published work can be truly amazing. The God Eaters is a delightful genre mash-up: it has the setting and adventure of an old Western, some cool science fiction elements that merge with magic, a mythic quality that I won’t spoil, but which has to do with the gods of the title, and the grand love story of a romance. Ash and Kieran have been imprisoned because a corrupt, theocratic government wants to study their “talents” (powers)—Ash is an Empath and Kieran can kill people with his mind. They manage to escape, and set off on an epic adventure to outrun the people who would turn Kieran’s talent into power for themselves. Along the way, they hop trains, kick ass, have epic gunslinger-style standoffs, and fall in love. This is some great world-building and two amazing characters, and Hajicek’s writing is spot-on. My complete review is HERE. The God Eaters is nearly always e-shelved under “gay romance,” which has tragically limited its audience. It’s a great romance, yes, but that is only one small element of this awesome adventure.
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976). Okay, so I know we make a lot of fun of Anne Rice, but Interview With the Vampire is a really amazing debut. And, while I know many people would never shelve it in the YA section, I think we all know that, like, everyone who is majorly influenced by it is in their teens. Right? I mean, if you read Interview With the Vampire for the first time after the age of, say, sixteen, you’re not going to like it that much. Because it’s melodramatic and overwrought as all get out. But, if you have the unique pleasure of reading it before your organ of irony gets too swollen by adult tastefulness, you are one of the lucky ones who got to experience the explosion of the awesomest vampire novel ever. Don’t get me wrong: Dracula is amazing, but it’s not so much about vampires, really. Interview With the Vampire taught me about history, it introduced me to the Wonderfulle Worlde of Velvet & Candles, and it really contributed to making us receptive to the emo vibe, if you know what I mean (you know what I mean).
With Or Without You by Brian Farrey (2011). With Or Without You is a sneak-attack book; it kind of comes up from behind you and gets you right between the ribs when you thought it was still a block away. Best friends Evan and Davis just need to make it through the summer after high school before they are getting the hell out of town—away from the kids who beat them up for being gay and away from the families that don’t care about them. But Evan has been secretly dating the really-has-his-shit-together Erik for almost a year, and he can turn to him when things get rough, or to his art. Davis, on the other hand, desperate for community and for love, falls in with a group of kids who are out to take respect from anyone who won’t give it to them. But Davis is in even deeper than Evan had imagined—and he’s not sure if he’ll be able to get him out before something far worse than a beating happens. With Or Without You‘s strength is in Farrey’s restraint: this could have turned melodramatic, but instead it’s a slow burn, beautifully characterized and devastating.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967). The Outsiders was probably the most important book of my childhood. You can check out my thoughts about it in “Finding My Inner Greaser: An Homage to The Outsiders.” Um, talk about a debut that came out of nowhere! S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was a 15-year-old high schooler in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was published her freshman year of college. It was informed by the feuding classes at her high school, the Socs and the Greasers, and inspired by a friend of hers who was jumped on his way home from the movies. The story goes, in fact, that Hinton didn’t even think about publishing the book until the mother of a friend read it and got in touch with a publisher on her behalf. I can’t lie: I totally wrote an Outsiders-derived “novel” in a neon green notebook (with an enormous, square pencil—where the hell did I get that thing?) as an 11-year-old, as I’m sure many of you did. There’s something about it that, I think, makes writing a novel seem important and achievable. Whereas some debuts are so good as to intimidate, The Outsiders seems to demand a response, to beg us put our micro-stories out into the world.
So, that’s me done. Tell me your picks for best debut YA novels in the comments!
Posted by Rebecca on April 29, 2013
by REBECCA, April 24, 2013
Laurence Roach: a very responsible 15-year-old; he takes care of his little brother and takes his mom’s shifts at work when she’s too hung over to go
Jay Roach: Laurence’s little brother; he’s obsessed with Scooby Doo and likes to pretend he’s a dog
Mum: drinks to forget her troubles and then drinks some more, she is overwhelmed and unsatisfied, though she loves her sons
Mina: the white knight who sweeps in and lends a much-needed hand in all things
When your mom goes out to work one day and doesn’t come back, what do you do? You make sure no one finds out and puts you and your little bro in foster care. And you try to win an all-expenses-paid trip on a radio quiz show, of course.
So, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that I’m a real sucker for the “parents have abandoned us so now we have to figure out how to keep it together” plot, and 15 Days Without A Head, the debut novel by Dave Cousins (published in 2012 in the U.K.), is no exception. Laurence and Jay Roach’s mother is an alcoholic who is totally dissatisfied with her crap jobs cleaning offices and working at a chip shop (it’s set in England), and one day when she leaves for work she simply doesn’t come back. Fifteen-year-old Laurence has to take care of Jay, find a way to pay for food, and go to school himself, which is no easy feat. So, when Jay tells him that roaches (with whom they share their name as well as their apartment) can live with their heads cut off, Laurence really identifies with them. He knows he has to find their mother or he and Jay will end up in foster care. And then, at a fair one day, he’s sure he senses her nearby, and thus begins his quest to find her and convince her to come home.
15 Days Without A Head does everything right. Cousins manages to take subject matter that could have been maudlin and instead get the tone perfect. Laurence is freaked out, annoyed, and desperate by turns, but everything is presented with a matter-of-factness that never veers into the sentimental, a sense of humor that lightens the whole novel, and a view of the world that’s very fifteen-year-old.
“I wondered what the kids at school would think when I just vanished, then realized that half of them probably wouldn’t even notice. To think that you could leave somewhere, and nobody would even realize you’d gone, because they never noticed you were there in the first place. That’s hard.”
He is convinced that if he can win a holiday from a radio quiz show that it will solve all their problems, but since you need to be eighteen to enter, he pretends to be his dead father and imitates the Scottish accent of one of his teachers:
“I heave open the door of the phone box and take a gulp of air. I’m soaked in sweat, but I can’t help grinning. I did it. Three down, only seven more to go. If I can stay in for ten days I’ll win the holiday. If there’s anything that is going to cheer Mum up enough to stop her drinking, it’s a two week, all-expenses-paid holiday in the sun.”
Laurence has to keep Jay calm, telling him that their mother will be back soon, and as her absence continues, Laurence starts getting desperate. He obviously loves Jay a lot, but Jay is getting harder to handle, and then he gets sick. Laurence obviously needs help, and Mina is just the girl to provide it. She and Laurence meet in school and later at the fair and she is a damn good friend, even if she is a new one. She’s the only one Laurence can confide in, and she offers really practical solutions, eventually playing the Velma to the brothers’ Shaggy and Scooby in the mission to get their mother back. (She also convinces Laurence that he doesn’t make a very convincing woman when he dresses up in his mother’s clothes and wig to try and take out money at the bank—now that’s a real friend!)
This is a really solid read: well-plotted, well-written, good voice, and just the right number of twists and turns (do you think Laurence wins the all-expense-paid trip? read the book and find out . . .). The gritty reality of a 15- and 6-year-old living for weeks in a roach-infested apartment, hungry, dirty, and ill is balanced by the warmth of their relationship and the hijinks that the search for their mother provides. Plus, I love a good siblings-sticking-together book!
Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma (2010). Brother and sister Lochan and Maya are the eldest of five siblings with a mother who drinks a lot and is rarely around. They have to work hard to keep the family together, dodging concerned adults and finding food, all while staying on top of their studies—oh, and falling in love with each other. Wonderful book about a tough subject—check out my complete review HERE.
Stick, by Andrew Smith (2011). Here is a different kind of book about brothers. When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of the really wonderful Stick is HERE.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 15 Days Without A Head by Dave Cousins will be available on May 8th.
Posted by Rebecca on April 24, 2013
Netflix debuted its third original series on Friday: Hemlock Grove, a tale of a small town with big secrets. Now, nearly every news outlet and reviewer has panned Hemlock Grove. However, lest you find yourselves without my opinion on the matter, here it is: I TOTALLY ENJOYED IT!
Hemlock Grove is set in a small Pennsylvania town where girl has just been violently murdered—torn apart by . . . is it an animal? a crazed killer? We don’t know. But, in the crosshairs of the rumor mill surrounding the murder are the newly-arrived Peter and Lynda Rumancek, a Romani mother and son who the suspicious town calls filthy gypsies, and the Godfrey family, most notably to-the-manor-born Roman, who uses his beauty to get what he wants (and, when that doesn’t work, his gaze, which compels obedience), his mother, Olivia, the “most beautiful and hated woman” in Hemlock Grove, and his sister, Shelley, a lurching, seven-foot-tall girl who can’t speak and glows with strong feeling. The first murder, of course, is no isolated incident; they are occurring every full moon, giving rise to rumors that it’s a werewolf committing them—and that Peter is the werewolf.
Is Hemlock Grove the smartest, least misogynist, most disciplined, least derivative, and most sex-positive show that’s ever aired? Em, no. But it has a totally awesome opening credits sequence. And here are five reasons why I think Hemlock Grove is totally worth watching.
1. Genre Feast! If you’ve ever read Crunchings and Munchings or met me (or, really, talked to me for, like, two minutes) then you know I am a fool for genre; especially interesting combinations of genre. Well, Hemlock Grove has . . . all of them, really. Its main genre is a kind of horror-light supernatural mystery. It’s a werewolf story, complete with its own set of werewolf lore, from a Romani perspective, and what is probably my new favorite human-to-wolf transformation method. It’s gross and cool and the effects are done really well. Then, there’s the small-town gothic, one of my favorite genres. Hemlock Grove is a creepy place, complete with secrets, cliques, only one high school (which we all know can tip any show into horror!), and an eerie combination of woodland and broken-down industrial wasteland. In addition, there are definite notes of the fairy tale, the 18th-century novel (hello, Shelley, anyone? p.s., she lives in the attic . . .), and good, old-fashioned camp. There is also a bit of a science fiction twist: Godfrey tower, the town’s only skyscraper, houses secret medical experiments, run by the sociopathic Dr. Pryce (yet another nod to classic horror). This storyline is less developed, presumably to keep our interest for season two . . .
2. Binge! Netflix has gotten a mixed response to their experiment of releasing all the episodes of their original programs at once—folks seemed to love what it did for House of Cards and hate what it did for Hemlock Grove. Well, I say, bless you, Netflix, for finally acting on the behalf of people like me who would rather wait a year to be able to watch a whole season of a show at once, rather than wait around week-to-week and watch one episode at a time. Now, the critiques of this strategy are that without the necessity to compel an audience to come back each week, Hemlock Grove writers and producers were not nearly as disciplined with their cliffhangers and structure as they would otherwise need to be. But I really liked the feeling of chugging through all at once, not just because I am a binger, but because many episodes picked up exactly where the last left off, giving it a novelistic or filmic feeling. Also, it allowed them to avoid one of my all-time pet peeves of serial tv: when the “previously on” recap totally gives away what’s going to happen in the episode based on what clips from previous episodes they show. WHY, for the love of god, has no one solved this problem, yet, I ask you!? But Hemlock Grove doesn’t need to do this, so I was never taken out of the story. It uses flashbacks where necessary, which aren’t the most graceful thing ever, in terms of filmmaking, but totally serve their purpose. And, at thirteen episodes, it was the perfect length for a weekend binge (#don’tjudgeme).
3. Depressed Industrial Town! Hemlock Grove‘s setting is a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be home to a booming steel industry, a downturn in which threw the town into a depression, only saved by Roman’s late father, who turned to the biotech industry, but in the process laid off many people in town. This made the Godfrey family many enemies and resulted in huge, abandoned factories and broken-down machinery for bored teenagers to smoke in, have sex near, and search for bodies in. It also created a stark disparity of wealth between the Godfreys and nearly every other family in town, especially the Rumanceks. Roman wears tailored overcoats, does a lot of drugs, drives a fancy sports car, and has perfectly coiffed hair while Peter is scruffy, with long fingernails, vaguely dirty hair, persistent two-day stubble, and grimy jeans. Class, then, is always subtext in Hemlock Grove, and while the show does a shitty job with gender, it’s more savvy in terms of economy. Plus, abandoned industrial shit is awesome-looking.
4. Wacky Casting! One thing that amused me about Hemlock Grove was the fact that its casting directors clearly didn’t give a good goddamn about realism in terms of casting, so the show is kind of accent soup. But it really worked out well (except for Famke Janssen who plays Olivia Godfrey, doing a British accent like she was barely even trying). Peter, played by Landon Liboirin, is charming and not smarmy and doesn’t overdo things, for the most part. I do not know what is in the water over in Sweden, but Roman is played by Bill Skarsgård, another in the seemingly endless line of extremely beautiful children sired by Stellan Skarsgård. Like, seriously, I’m starting to think that every time I clap my hands a Skarsgård cheekbone sharpens. Anyhoo, Roman is totally delightful as the mercurial heir apparent: he’s fucked up for sure, and you can see exactly how he got that way. He also does my favorite thing a character can do, which is that he sometimes makes really terrible decisions and sometimes makes really good ones. Because, you know, that’s what people do. Also delightful is first-timer Nicole Boivin as Shelley, who is expressive when not speaking, but also really touching and funny in her voice-overs as she writes Jane-Austen-inspired emails to her uncle (Dougray Scott!). But the you’re-awesome-why-weren’t-you-in-every-scene award goes to the always-amazing Lili Taylor, who plays Peter’s mother. Ah well; maybe next season.
5. A Real, Season-Long Plot! Hemlock Grove is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, who also wrote some of the episodes. As such, the whole season was already plotted out for the creators/writers. This is such a good thing, I think, because with so many elements at play (genres, mystery, murder, relationships), Hemlock Grove is a mixture that could quickly have gotten out of hand and turned crazy. And if there’s one thing I will argue to anyone about the show it’s that it does not go off the rails, plot-wise. There are definitely things that aren’t tied up completely or explained fully—possibly because we’ll get more about them in the next season, if they make one—but for the most part, this is a well-plotted show. It’s not particularly tight, which has been a critique of the show but which I found thoroughly enjoyable: this is a show that sits back and stretches its legs, sure the next thing will happen pretty soon, not a show that chases every speck of dust. It’s not particularly invested in action, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. There is; it comes from having a mysterious plot instead of trying to building a cliffhanger before every commercial break. So, for me, the fact that the show was confident in where its material was going allowed for it to take the long way, something that gave the show texture and mood, even if it didn’t make every second count. I was never bored and I felt like I got the time to get to know the characters.
So, there you have it: five reasons I really enjoyed Hemlock Grove! There are, of course, negatives as well, and it will likely come as no surprise that they’re nearly all to do with misogyny. The show—and I don’t know if this is the book or creator Eli Roth—just can not stop punishing women for having sexual desire, so that’s a total bummer. There is a plot point (no spoilers) that goes totally unacknowledged, but which makes me feel wretched for still liking Roman. Olivia Godfrey/Famke Janssen is a “strong and beautiful woman,” which apparently now is synonymous with a cold borderline sociopath with incestuous tendencies where her son is concerned. I’m so deathly sick of this character (and Famke Janssen seems to play her in 4/5 of her movies). I haven’t read the novel that Hemlock Grove is based on in order to know how much of that is the show’s interpretation of the character. Either way, I want to go on record as providing future novelists/tv and film creators with the following cheat sheet:
It is possibly for women to be strong without being evil; it is possible for women to be evil without being sociopaths; it is possible for women to be strong and evil in ways that are not fixated on their children!
SO, have you watched Hemlock Grove? What did you think? Are you going to watch it? Why or why not?
Posted by Rebecca on April 22, 2013
Bold Strokes Books, 2012
by REBECCA, April 17, 2013
Andrew (A1): popular at school (and with the cheerleaders), he just wants to play soccer and hang out with his twin . . . or, at least, he used to
Andrea (A2): more ambitious than her brother, she has their college careers all planned out for them and does not take kindly to changes in plans
Ryder: recently arrived from Texas, Ryder is a laid-back and generous friend, and totally crushing on Andrew
Andrew and Andrea are twins who have always done everything together. When Andrew becomes close friends with new kid Ryder, Andrea can’t understand why he seems to be changing. He hasn’t dated a cheerleader in (gasp!) a month, he’s learning to ride horses, and now he’s talking about not wanting to play college soccer. Andrew, though, feels satisfied for the first time in his life. Which path will he choose—the one his twin has laid out for him, or the one he and Ryder are building together?
With only one letter separating them, the two Andys have it made: both popular at school, both talented soccer players, and part of a close, happy family, they’ve never had to think very hard about who they are or what they’re going to do. Andrea is busy planning for their future and Andrew is absently dating his way through the cheerleading squad when Ryder, nephew of local horse farmers, moves to their small, New York town. Ryder and Andrew are immediately drawn together. Ryder is the opposite of Andrew’s other friends: he’s laid-back and thoughtful, he doesn’t expect or judge anything or anyone. When Ryder tells Andrew that he’s gay, Andrew suddenly reevaluates his own assumptions about himself, realizing that perhaps the reason he only dates each cheerleader for two weeks isn’t because, as he’d always thought, they’re too clingy. As Andrew and Ryder start exploring a romantic relationship, people begin to suspect that Ryder might be gay and make trouble for Andrew by association.
Jennifer Lavoie’s Andy Squared sounds like your typical high school coming out story, but it really isn’t. Ryder is totally comfortable with his sexuality, although it’s not the first thing he advertises about about himself, and once Andrew realizes that he might be gay—or, at least, that he is attracted to Ryder—it isn’t a particularly big deal to him either (although he knows it likely will be to his friends and family). Rather, when he’s with Ryder, he finally feels like he’s connecting with someone on an intimate level, in contrast with the way he’s been “dating” cheerleaders but avoiding spending time with them.
Mostly, Andy Squared is a pretty chill story of how someone who has always gone with the flow learns that to really find out who he is he has to stop automatically doing what is expected of him. And it’s in these expectations that the angst of the novel comes out, because Andrew has always kind of deferred to Andrea about what they’ll do, so when he actually looks at the path he’s on, he realizes that perhaps he doesn’t want to just default to Andrea’s assumptions about their lives anymore. As someone who’s really close to her sister, I really responded to Andrew feeling torn between being true to himself and disappointing his sister. Although: Andrea, girl, you’re an insensitive asshole and you are not being a good sister; stop it right now.
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
Andy Squared isn’t a flashy book; it isn’t really voice-driven or experimental. It’s just really solid storytelling that has a believable and compelling plot, two charming main characters, and a pleasantly particular setting (horsies!!!). The setting was a high point for me, too, because you really get the feeling that Andy2 are total products of their environment, which makes their disagreements about college even more understandable. I don’t mean to sound like Andy Squared was boring or unremarkable—it isn’t at all. It just knew what it was and what it wasn’t and it didn’t try to do too much. I, for one, am a fan of that kind of nice, solid, realist story; it had the charm of, like, a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or something.
In the last five or six years there has been such a heartening increase in both the number and diversity of queer characters that we’ve seen in YA fiction. Ryder and Andrew are cool additions to this list, then, because their sexual orientations don’t really play a large part in their lives. This is something we’ve seen in other YA books, but mainly in urban areas or in opposite-day settings where queerness is majoritarian; it’s not as common in a book set in a rural town.
All in all, Andy Squared isn’t a knock-your-socks-off gay romance, if that’s what you’re looking for, but I definitely recommend it for anyone in the mood for an easy read that includes horses, snow, wholesome families, and first loves.
Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan (2011). Judy and Kyle are twins who are always at odds. When Garrett moves into their already crowded home, they can’t figure out anything about him: is he a vampire? is he gay? He’s certainly mysterious and, of course, Judy and Kyle fight for his attention—Kyle because he’s actually interested and Judy because she wants to win.
Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith (2008). I paired Gemini Bites and Ghost Medicine as readalikes because I found Andy Squared to be, in music-reviewspeak, a kind of Gemini Bites meets Ghost Medicine, the former for the twins, the gayness, and the punchiness, and the latter for the really slow, beautiful evocation of a rural landscape (and the horsies!—sorry, I have had, like, three conversations with people about horsegirls this week, so I’ve been thinking about HORSIES. Note, google image searching “horsegirls” does not pull up the kind of pics I was expecting, although it does pull up the kind of pics I should have been expecting). As usual, Andrew Smith’s prose is gorgeous and his characters tell a painful brand of truth.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie is available now.
Posted by Rebecca on April 17, 2013