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
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, March 27, 2013
Spring, you capricious bastard, I’m ready for you to bring all the smells back and give me a perfect month of open windows before true summer ruins my life. Also, I’m ready for you to bring me these 10 books to read outside in you.
All quoted blurbs from Goodreads.
Nevada, Imogen Binnie (Topside Press)
Tessa and I are both really excited about Binnie’s novel and will have a review (and perhaps an interview) soon!
“Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever.”
Born of Illusion, Teri Brown (Balzer & Bray)
Basically, all I want in my entire life is to be a blues singer in a speakeasy in the 1920s.
“Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?”
Moonset (Legacy of Moonset #1), Scott Tracey (Flux)
“After the terrorist witch coven known as Moonset was destroyed fifteen years ago—during a secret war against the witch Congress—five children were left behind, saddled with a legacy of darkness. Sixteen-year-old Justin Daggett, son of a powerful Moonset warlock, has been raised alongside the other orphans by the witch Congress, who fear the children will one day continue the destruction their parents started. A deadly assault by a wraith, claiming to work for Moonset’s most dangerous disciple, Cullen Bridger, forces the five teens to be evacuated to Carrow Mill. But when dark magic wreaks havoc in their new hometown, Justin and his siblings are immediately suspected. Justin sets out to discover if someone is trying to frame the Moonset orphans . . . or if Bridger has finally come out of hiding to reclaim the legacy of Moonset. He learns there are secrets in Carrow Mill connected to Moonset’s origins, and keeping the orphans safe isn’t the only reason the Congress relocated them . . .”
Openly Straight, Bill Konigsberg (Arthur A. Levine Books)
“Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write. And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time. So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret—not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.”
Weather Witch, Shannon Delany (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Ok, so, technically, this is published four days after the end of Spring, but I had to include it because it’s about sisters and set in Philadelphia (where my sister and I live!). And that seems like a good reason to me.
“In a vastly different and darker Philadelphia of 1844, steam power has been repressed, war threatens from deep, dark waters, and one young lady of high social standing is expecting a surprise at her seventeenth birthday party–but certainly not the one she gets! Jordan Astraea, who has lived out all of her life in Philadelphia’s most exclusive neighborhood, is preparing to celebrate her birthday with friends, family and all the extravagance they might muster. The young man who is most often her dashing companion, Rowen Burchette, has told her a surprise awaits her and her best friend, Catrina Hollindale, wouldn’t miss this night for all the world! But storm clouds are gathering and threatening to do far more than dampen her party plans because someone in the Astraea household has committed the greatest of social sins by Harboring a Weather Witch.”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (William Morrow Books)
I’ve been looking forward to Gaiman’s newest for a while now and, after hearing him read from it this weekend, I’m officially psyched. It’s haunting, banal, and lyrical—just the way I like it. Also: THAT COVER.
“It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”
The Lucy Variations, Sara Zarr (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
What can I tell you—I’m a huge sucker for a piano story.
“Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain. That was all before she turned fourteen. Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?”
Winger, Andrew Smith (Simon & Schuster)
As anyone who’s read Crunchings & Munchings regularly sure knows by now, there is not a good goddamned thing that Andrew Smith writes that I don’t love. I am, of course, incredibly excited about this, the combination of Andrew Smith and one of my (and Tessa’s) favorite things: boarding school books. Plus, I’m told there are “hand-drawn infographics and illustrations.”
“Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy. With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.”
Yellowcake (stories), Margo Lanagan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“Yellowcake brings together ten short stories from the extraordinarily talented Margo Lanagan–each of them fiercely original and quietly heartbreaking. The stories range from fantasy and fairy tale to horror and stark reality, and yet what pervades is the sense of humanity. The people of Lanagan’s worlds face trials, temptations, and degradations. They swoon and suffer and even kill for love. In a dangerous world, they seek the solace and strength that comes from family and belonging.”
White Lines, Jennifer Banash (Putnam Juvenile)
“A gritty, atmospheric coming of age tale set in 1980s New York City. Seventeen-year-old Cat is living every teenager’s dream: she has her own apartment on the Lower East Side and at night she’s club kid royalty, guarding the velvet rope at some of the hottest clubs in the city. The night with its crazy, frenetic, high-inducing energy—the pulsing beat of the music, the radiant, joyful people and those seductive white lines that can ease all pain—is when Cat truly lives. But her daytime, when real life occurs, is more nightmare than dream. Having spent years suffering her mother’s emotional and physical abuse, and abandoned by her father, Cat is terrified and alone—unable to connect to anyone or anything. But when someone comes along who makes her want to truly live, she’ll need to summon the courage to confront her demons and take control of a life already spinning dangerously out of control.”
What Spring releases are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!
Posted by Rebecca on March 27, 2013
by REBECCA & JENNA (she’s my sister!)
In honor of March being Women’s History Month, my sister and I bring you our own version of history—a list of the characters from our own personal history who define badassness. While there are, of course, a huge number of possible contenders, we decided to narrow the playing field in two ways. First, to characters whose badassness comes from inside of them, unaided by any magical powers (disqualifying such incontrovertible badasses as Hermione Granger). And, second, to characters whose badassness manifests in their strength of character and not in their strength of arms; that is, to characters who are non-violent (disqualifying the badassest badass Katniss Everdeen).
Furthermore, these are characters whose badassness actively inspired Jenna and me as kids. There are few more important effects of young adult literature than showing our young readers that they have the capacity to be excellent, strong, badass women! So, without further ado, here are our picks for the top five badass chicks of YA lit without special powers and who are non-violent:
1. Harriet M. Welsch, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964).
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.
2. Jo March, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868).
Another writer, no surprise. When people expected her to dream of being a wife and a mother, Jo just wants to be a writer and create her own worlds. She is fiercely loyal to her sisters (even though they’re mostly unbearable) and dreams of writing a world where they can, as it were, shuffle off their mortal coils—or at least their corsets and societal expectations—and be villains, pirates, lovers, and heroes. She befriends the little lost boy next door, sells her hair to pay for her mother’s train ticket, and moves by herself to New York City to follow her dream of being a writer. She masters the pulp fiction market, transcending stereotypes about women not being able to write anything but sentimental fiction. But then, she takes the ultimate risk: she writes a novel that is raw and personal to her, and one that ran the risk of being seen as sentimental fiction. And she KILLED it. Thank you, Jo, for writing the ultimate book about sisters. And being a badass.
3. Weetzie Bat, Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block (1989).
Weetzie is a different kind of badass. She doesn’t stand up to social injustice or right wrongs. Rather, 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.
4. Meg Murray, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962).
Meg Murray is my favorite nerd. She is awkward and funny-looking, unable to control her temper, and easily frustrated. At least at the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time. But as she is called upon to go on an adventure (or, really, a rescue mission), Meg eventually saves her brother, her father, and her friend. She is a total badass because she turns all of her weaknesses into strengths. Her stubbornness is what allows her to resist the forces of homogenization that cripple her more moderate partners. Her anger allows her rescue her father by cutting through what holds him. Her awkwardness makes her accustomed to feeling like an outsider, so she is able to go against the conformity and politeness that the others find so distasteful. Meg Murray weaponizes her weaknesses and turns them into the tools that let her survive and flourish. Is there anything more badass? ROCK ON, Meg Murray.
5. Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960).
To Kill A Mockingbird is our mom’s favorite movie, and most people, whether in the movie or the book, look at Atticus as the savior. And Atticus is great; he is. But Atticus is a grown man, with power, influence, intelligence, and the respect of his community. Not that that makes doing the right thing easy; but it helps. But Scout is a kid. And she has is an innate sense of right and wrong and the stubbornness to resist falling victim to the unjust beliefs of her town. She doesn’t change her values to fit in even when kids tease her and Jem because their father is defending Tom Robinson, and she has deep, deep empathy for people who are different than her, like Boo Radley and Dill (based on Truman Capote!). She is a generous reader of the human condition, unless you’re screwing with her family, and then heaven help you. It’s clear that Scout will grow up to be someone extraordinary.
So, there you have it, fellow celebrators of the history of women—or, as we like to call it, HISTORY. Our top five badass ladies of YA lit. They all had a profound effect on me and on Jenna. And, interestingly, Weetzie Bat is the most contemporary read in the bunch, and that’s from 25 years ago, and of the five, three of these are from the 1960s, and the fifth from a hundred years before that. That’s some history.
What badass ladies of YA lit influenced you growing up? Tell us in the comments!
Posted by Rebecca on March 12, 2013
If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)
In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday. Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch? If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.
My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction. And it is not YA-specific.
BOOKS I DID READ:
The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard
This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.
Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin
I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city. My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin! Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”
Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.
The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill
A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues :’( , but ended up reading it, .
It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell
If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).
Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.
He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).
Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy. Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:
28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”
17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”
19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”
“THURSDAY 15 JUNE . Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”
BOOKS I STILL WANT TO READ:
Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”
and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.
Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale
A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! ! Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.
The Body Politic by Paul Johnston
According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong? This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.
As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”
The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner
The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:
“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”
There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare. This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:
One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson
“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.” – Goodreads
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
This could be a (great) time travel romance…
“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” - Author Description
The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice
There is no way I could improve on this hook:
“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”
Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple
SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis. When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.
Count me in.
Posted by tessabarber on March 1, 2013
by REBECCA, February 18, 2013
I’ve called a few times for a new sub-genre: oceanic gothic! I think of oceanic gothic as a sub-genre that takes on all the darker or more overwhelming aspects of deep water. Sure the ocean can be a sun-soaked paradise of surfing and Mai Tais. But, more interestingly to me, the ocean is a prime example of the sublime—something that makes us aware of our tininess, our insignificance, our contingency in the face of its vastness. Something so overwhelmingly, incalculably wide, deep, and teeming that we feel our very sense of identity blown open in the face of it.
And that overwhelming sense of the sublime is one of the mainstays of gothic literature: the twisting halls of the crumbling gothic castle that you feel like you could get lost in forever, the inhuman strength of monster against which you can never win, the vast unknowability of the spirit world, the endless immortality of the creature that has seen and experienced more than you ever can, and more. But while many a classic gothic novel has been set in a crumbling castle or a wind-swept moor, and many a gothic update has been set in a crumbling boarding school or wind-swept Forks, Washington, historically, the ocean hasn’t seen much gothic action, if you will, and I think that’s a real missed opportunity. After all, there’s something doubly intriguing about a gothic setting can also be so bright and shiny (surfing, Mai Tais). Then, when the sun sets, or even when you’re the only one on the beach or in the water, it can turn so suddenly sinister.
So, here is a provisional list of some YA oceanic gothics—I’m sure there are more that we could add to the list, so be sure to tell me in the comments!
Teeth is an oceanic gothic winner—bonus points for having a cover that is the perfect combination of oceanic (fish scales) and gothic (a heart made out of fishhooks)! It is the story of an isolated island where people go as a last resort because its fish are rumored to be magically restorative to people who are dying. Our protag, Rudy, moves there with his parents and little brother who has cystic fibrosis. Once there, dark secrets of the island and its magic fish (and a fishboy) are revealed. The descriptions are gorgeous:
“At night the ocean is so loud and so close that I lie awake, sure it’s going to beat against the house’s supports until we all crumble onto the rocks and break into pieces. Our house is creaky, gray, weather stained. It’s probably held a dozen desperate families who found their cure and left before we’d even heard about this island. We are a groan away from a watery death, and we’ll all drown without even waking up, because we’re so used to sleeping through unrelenting noise.”
The Dead-Tossed Waves is the sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth (review HERE). Gabry lives between a forest and the ocean, both of which are teeming with the dead. I mean, there’s really nothing more oceanically gothic than an ocean swarming with zombies, right?
“And there’s no one waiting for me, no one who knows me. No one to share my life and experiences with. It’s me and the ocean, the tides and the lighthouse and wave after wave folding time to the shore.”
Also, The Dead-Tossed Waves is a legitimately good sequel—not too similar to the first, but not too far removed either. It’s really a great setting.
Two by Kirsty Eagar:
I haven’t read either of these books by Australian YA author Kirsty Eagar, but it seems very clear to me that she could be the very maven of oceanic gothic. From Goodreads:
“He looked to the sky, praying for rain, a downpour, some sign from the heavens that he should refuse the abomination contained in that flask. But all he saw was the bloated white face of the moon smiling down on him . . . And the sky around it was cold and clear and black. They made their circle of blood. And only the moon witnessed the slaughter that followed.
For Jamie Mackie, summer holidays in the coastal town of Rocky Head mean surfing, making money, and good times at the local music festival. But this year, vampires are on the festival’s line-up . . . fulfilling a pact made on the wreck of the Batavia, four hundred years ago. If their plans succeed, nobody in Rocky Head will survive to see out the new year.”
This one, in particular, appeals to me. From Goodreads: “Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that’s not rational, not right, and you’re becoming somebody you don’t recognise, and certainly don’t respect, but you don’t even care. And this person you like is unattainable. Except for one thing . . . He lives downstairs.
Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane. But since Kane’s been back, he’s changed. There’s a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.” Gaaaahhh! Yes, please.
The Scorpio Races is one of my favorite novels of the last few years (check out my review HERE for my feelings about the book as well as the story of how it caused me to cry audibly on an airplane). It’s also a different kind of oceanic gothic—it’s less on the creepy or sublime side of things and more a dark, intrinsically somber view of island life.
As have mentioned elsewhere, The Scorpio Races is a book that features the sea in all its many permutations: sublime, cradling, dangerous, alien, cleansing. Every November, on the shores of Thisby Island, men race the wild horses that rise up from the toiling waters—only one man may win, but many may die, bloodied and broken by their mounts, or dragged under the water with them, unable to resist their otherworldly call. Yeeeeeeessss!
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Monstrous Beauty is on my to-read list for sure, and it seems pretty clear that it can be filed under oceanic gothic, right? From Goodreads: “Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.
Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.”
Need more proof? There are underwater doll graveyards!
Well, friends, what oceanic gothic YA novels am I missing? Tell me in the comments!
Posted by Rebecca on February 18, 2013
by REBECCA, February 13, 2013
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and everyone knows that nothing says romance like confining your wife to the attic and then dressing up like a fortune teller to spy on your governess. In the spirit of romance, then, here are some Young Adult retellings of Jane Eyre (all plot descriptions from Goodreads).
Jane, April Lindner
Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there’s a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane’s much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?
Jane Slayre, Sherri Browning Erwin
“READER, I BURIED HIM.” A timeless tale of love, devotion . . . and the undead. Jane Slayre, our plucky demon-slaying heroine, a courageous orphan who spurns the detestable vampyre kin who raised her, sets out on the advice of her ghostly uncle to hone her skills as the fearless slayer she’s meant to be. When she takes a job as a governess at a country estate, she falls head-over-heels for her new master, Mr. Rochester, only to discover he’s hiding a violent werewolf in the attic—in the form of his first wife. Can a menagerie of bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, savage creatures-of-the-night keep a swashbuckling nineteenth-century lady from the gentleman she intends to marry? Vampyres, zombies, and werewolves transform Charlotte Brontë’s unforgettable masterpiece into an eerie paranormal adventure that will delight and terrify.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey
When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.
Ironskin, Tina Connolly
Jane Eliot wears an iron mask. It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin. When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation”—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help. Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio . . . and come out as beautiful as the fey. Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.
Dark Companion, Marta Acosta
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true. They are. The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much? As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there . . .
A Breath of Eyre, Eve Marie Mont
In this stunning, imaginative novel, Eve Marie Mont transports her modern-day heroine into the life of Jane Eyre to create a mesmerizing story of love, longing, and finding your place in the world . . . Emma Townsend has always believed in stories—the ones she reads voraciously, and the ones she creates. Perhaps it’s because she feels like an outsider at her exclusive prep school, or because her stepmother doesn’t come close to filling the void left by her mother’s death. And her only romantic prospect—apart from a crush on her English teacher—is Gray Newman, a long-time friend who just adds to Emma’s confusion. But escape soon arrives in an old leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre . . .
Reading of Jane’s isolation sparks a deep sense of kinship. Then fate takes things a leap further when a lightning storm catapults Emma right into Jane’s body and her nineteenth-century world. As governess at Thornfield, Emma has a sense of belonging she’s never known—and an attraction to the brooding Mr. Rochester. Now, moving between her two realities and uncovering secrets in both, Emma must decide whether her destiny lies in the pages of Jane’s story, or in the unwritten chapters of her own.
Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn
Jenna Starborn was created out of frozen embryonic tissue, a child unloved and unwanted. Yet she has grown up with a singularly sharp mind—and a heart that warms to those she sees as less fortunate than herself. This novel takes us into Jenna Starborn’s life, to a planet called Fieldstar, and to a property called Thorrastone—whose enigmatic lord will test the strength of that tender and compassionate heart.
Did I miss any? Tell me in the comments!
Posted by Rebecca on February 13, 2013
by REBECCA, January 28, 2013
I’ve been in a bit of a book slump lately—starting books and never finishing them, not feeling super excited about the books I’ve been been getting from inter-library loan . . . just a little mid-winter lag, I hope. Still, for some perverse reason, being in a reading slump just makes me doubly excited to daydream about the next books I’m going to read. I dunno why; just one of those things.
So, here are five of the books I’m most excited about reading . . . as soon as I de-slump. All plot descriptions are from Goodreads.
1. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (forthcoming April, 2013)
“A vibrant, food-themed memoir from beloved indie cartoonist Lucy Knisley. Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.”
2. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (2012)
This book sounds crazy-magical! I want to read it out loud with my sister!:
“In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare — wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear — at a price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed.”
3. Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (forthcoming June, 2013)
Contemporary YA that promises a compelling story about sexuality and identity.
“Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write. And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time. So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.”
4. Frost by Marianna Baer (2011)
I have three things to say to you: frost, boarding school, and bizarre!:
“Leena Thomas’s senior year at boarding school starts with a cruel shock: Frost House, the cozy Victorian dorm where she and her best friends live, has been assigned an unexpected roommate—eccentric Celeste Lazar. As classes get under way, strange happenings begin to bedevil Frost House: frames falling off walls, doors locking themselves, furniture toppling over. Celeste blames the housemates, convinced they want to scare her into leaving. And although Leena strives to be the peacekeeper, soon the eerie happenings in the dorm, an intense romance between Leena and Celeste’s brother, David, and the reawakening of childhood fears all push Leena to take increasingly desperate measures to feel safe. But does the threat lie with her new roommate, within Leena’s own mind . . . or in Frost House itself?”
5. Suicide Watch by Kelley York (2012)
You may remember that last month we did a cover reveal for the lovely Kelley York’s new novel, Suicide Watch! I loved Kelley’s first novel, Hushed (review HERE), and am super excited to read Suicide Watch. Check it out:
“18-year-old Vincent Hazelwood has spent his entire life being shuffled from one foster home to the next. His grades sucked. Making friends? Out of the question thanks to his nervous breakdowns and unpredictable moods. Still, Vince thought when Maggie Atkins took him in, he might’ve finally found a place to get his life—and his issues—in order. But then Maggie keels over from a heart attack. Vince is homeless, alone, and the inheritance money isn’t going to last long. A year ago, Vince watched a girl leap to her death off a bridge, and now he’s starting to think she had the right idea. Vince stumbles across a website forum geared toward people considering suicide. There, he meets others with the same debate regarding the pros and cons of death: Casper, battling cancer, would rather off herself than slowly waste away. And there’s quiet, withdrawn Adam, who suspects if he died, his mom wouldn’t even notice. As they gravitate toward each other, Vince searches for a reason to live while coping without Maggie’s guidance, coming to terms with Casper’s imminent death, and falling in love with a boy who doesn’t plan on sticking around.”
Do you ever have reading slumps? What do you do to get out of them? Any magical books I should add to my to-read list once the slump de-slumpeth? Tell all in the comments.
Posted by Rebecca on January 28, 2013
by REBECCA, November 26, 2012
As I write this, it’s the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s the time for
cursing my father for making me drink so much this weekend thinking about what holiday gifts we want! In the spirit of turning our backs on giving thanks and preparing to say “thank you!” for the gifts to come, here is a list of the books I’m hoping some lovely Chanukah fairy might send winging my way. Sure, I know some of these won’t be out in time for Chanukah, but a girl can dream, no?
So, wipe that turkey off your face, recycle all those empties, and join me in lusting after some delicious stories! (Plot descriptions from Goodreads.)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
I love me some Neil Gaiman, and I can’t wait for this one. Primal horror, family drama, and unknown ancient powers? I’m in.
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”
The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick
Chanukah has come early via NetGalley on this intriguing tale. I really enjoyed Bick’s Draw the Dark, so I can’t wait for this one.
People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.
Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?”
How To Lead A Life Of Crime, by Kirsten Miller
This looks awesome; plus the cover looks kind of like the opening sequence of Stick It. Dudes, it’s not called gym-nice-tics!
A meth dealer. A prostitute. A serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.
Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”
Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff
Number one, this cover rocks my world. Number two, I loved the subtle creepiness of The Replacement, and can’t wait to read Yovanoff’s latest.
The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls. For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz
I’m a Hannah Moskowitz fan, but more importantly, this is a gay mermaid story. Can’t wait!
Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.
Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.”
Winger, by Andrew Smith
Anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows I love Andrew Smith—check out reviews of Stick and The Marbury Lens HERE and HERE. He has three books coming out in the next year and a half or so (yay!) but I’m particularly intrigued by Winger because it sounds like it shares some thematic interests with one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin.
Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn’t get. He’s convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch—out to destroy his life; believes the girl he’s in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend—the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s life—likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.”
Moonset, by Scott Tracey
Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister, and their three orphan-witch friends have gotten themselves kicked out of high school. Again. Now they’ve ended up in Carrow Mills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organization known as Moonset—began their evil experiments with the dark arts one generation ago.
When the siblings are accused of unleashing black magic on the town, Justin fights to prove their innocence. But tracking down the true culprit leads him to a terrifying discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.”
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Kelly over at Stacked has really sold me on this eighties period piece! Great cover, too.
“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.”
So, what about you, my desirous friends? What tasty morsels are on your Chanukah lists?
Posted by Rebecca on November 26, 2012
It was just around this time last year that Rebecca and I were seriously working on our as-yet-untitled blog, and it’s the perfect time to say that I’m thankful that it became real. So thank you, Rebecca, for having the idea and being the best blog-mate & book discussor, and for moving to my home state so we could hang out more. (I know, it was because of your sister, but leave me my delusions). Thanks also for making my to-read list so much longer. Seriously, I feel comforted knowing that if I hit a reading slump I have Rebecca-recommended books to rely on.
And thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has read, visited &/or commented on our posts at Crunchings & Munchings. It’s exciting to be a part of the discussion.
I am also thankful for the many books I got to read this year, some of which I reviewed, and some of which I just enjoyed. And some of which I decided to not say anything about so as not to be rude. They were all fun in one way or another. But I’m going to call out a few types in particular.
Are you looking for gift ideas for your loved ones? Consider ALL OF THESE as possibilities:
It’s possible that my definition of speculative is broader than other people’s. But I feel like a book that delivers a subtle promise of a world not quite aligned with ours, but in all other respects exactly like it still counts, and that’s why Burn for Burn worked for me, and why I’m not comfortable calling it paranormal just yet. And why I lurrrved The Scorpio Races with its island out of Anne of Green Gables–but with carnivorous horses. I am so glad that R. did it justice in her review. Alif the Unseen illuminated a world of Middle Eastern violence and a second world just overlapping it, to great effect.
Shadoweyes was a speculative graphic novel that hit it out of the park as far as future iterations of the world and young adult struggles were concerned, nodding to its inspirations but keeping it real and fresh as far as what society would really be like (violent, diverse, but still with shows about sparkly ponies to become obsessed with). On the middle-grade end of the spectrum, the secret society fighting a diabolical mind control plot in The Mysterious Benedict Society was exactly what I needed to read and charmed the dickens out of me.
And let’s not forget Chronicle and Looper, two very worthwhile speculative movies from very recent times, that go with the human story first instead of being all spectacle. And the most fun I had writing a post this year was about an old favorite: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s not a subtle movie, but I did speculate as to why anyone would try to remake it and why it could never be as good..
I’ve always loved switching off between speculative worlds and immersive portraits of real lives that could never be mine, and this year didn’t disappoint. The Fault in Our Stars knocked it out of the park. Past Perfect helped me through a hard time in my life. A book we’re reviewing next week, Starting From Here, was a lovely surprise that I read in a day. Oh, and The Freak Observer made me sad and hopeful in all the best ways.
Also, I read three books of realistic fiction that deserve their own category:
It’s Kind of A Funny Story, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson all had moments where I actually loled. Not that other books that I read didn’t have humor in them (Past Perfect was also very funny), but these in particular had globs and globs of humor. Maybe not globs. Icing layers?
(Can I also add that it kind of perturbs me that I find these 3 books so funny, since they all have boy protagonists? Is this some kind of unconscious gender bias on my part?)
In my job I don’t always give myself time to go back to books that I remember and love, but Crunchings & Munchings gives me a legitimate excuse to do just that. So I had a wonderful time re-exploring Girl, the Dark is Rising sequence, and Remember Me, as well as rounding up my favorite scary stories and boarding school books.
I mentioned Burn for Burn and the Mysterious Benedict Society above, and they totally count, but I also read other parts of series or finished up series this year that were intriguing and satisfying in turn – ones that I couldn’t find a way to blog about.
Dustlands by Moira Young I read Rebel Heart last week. It’s the sequel to Blood Red Road, a story set in the far future in some unnamed desert where a tough, closed-off girl has to fight her way to her kidnapped brother. In Rebel Heart we learn more about the world, and the girl, Saba, learns more about how she can betray herself and be herself. It’s like if Monsters of Men and the Hunger Games had a baby and you could tell that the baby got the best traits of both of them but was its own wonderful thing.
Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore I’m a total Graceling realm fangirl and Bitterblue came out this year. It was probably one of the most satisfying fantasy novels I’ve read this year, or in the past couple of years. The lady knows what she’s doing. I love them so much I can’t really talk about them.
Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau I finally finished this series! I’m constantly recommending it to people, because it’s all-ages and covers a lot of ground as far as worldbuilding and subject matter go. It starts underground with a kind of ramshackle utopia gone stale, then goes aboveground and has its characters become the outsiders learning to survive in a homesteading situation, then goes into the past with a little story about what happens right before the world irrevocably changes, in an oblique and tense way, and then goes back to the future for the last book, which is the most hopeful and the least believable. I’m glad I read all of them.
The Diviners by Libba Bray – I wasn’t sold on the romance in this book, and it seemed more coincidental than fated that all the characters who mattered happened to run into each other and become friends/acquaintances/lovers over the course of the book, but it reminded me of The Alienist by Caleb Carr and captured a certain feeling, of a new cultural movement that is sparkly and exciting but also comes with feeling a little lost, that I loved. And there are creepy moments galore.
I don’t mention many of the graphic novels I’ve been reading and loving on here much, because most of the time they are aimed squarely at the adult market, and I don’t disagree with that designation. But I’ve read so many fun, weird-ass graphic novels this year. Filled with crust punk courier mice, psychadelic wordless lands, a president who accidentally becomes a penis, an opus about quietly philosophical birds (and the people who feed them donut crumbs), AND MORE. And I’m so happy that they exist. So if you ever want any recommendations, send me an email.
And finally, I am thankful for my Turkey on this Thanksgiving.
Posted by tessabarber on November 23, 2012