Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘young adult

cover image for Court of FivesCourt of Fives by Kate Elliot

Jes and her three sisters couldn’t be more different, and they fight and squabble as siblings do. Yet when it comes down to it, they’ve got each others backs.  Which is fortunate, as she needs their help to do what she loves best: training for the Fives, a sport that requires quick thinking, agility, stamina, and strength.  But when Jes’ father returns from war, her plans to finally compete – something he would never approve of – are thrown in disarray.  Soon the rest of her life is as well, and Jes will need to use all of the skills that make her a great athlete to keep her family safe.

full disclosure, before I get into WHY THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD READ IT:acknowledgements page from Court of Fives

(yeah, I really just put that there bc: OMG)

I adore Kate Elliot’s books, and Court of Fives is no exception.  I’ve been eager to see how/what she does with YA, and now that I have I’m so very glad she did.  I love the way that Elliot handles Jes as an athlete, and her relationships with her sisters.  And I especially love that she made Jes’ social standing so complex, that it’s not as simple as her family being rich and her father having status, nor simply that Jes and her sisters are biracial in an extremely racist society.

And I really, really, really, would love to go into more detail about WHY this book is so awesome, but it’s not coming out for another half a year, and I may want to pitch a longer/actual review.  SO YOU WILL ALL JUST HAVE TO WAIT.

Sorry! I know you all hate me now. I promise I will rave about this book in much more detail this summer, closer to when it comes out.

cover image for The Agency: A Spy in the HouseThe Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

Twelve year old Mary Quinn was supposed to hang for her crime.  Instead she was given a chance to start a new life as a pupil at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.   Now, five years later, seventeen year old Mary Quinn knows that she should be grateful for everything she has been given – and she is – yet the idea of spending her life as a tutor at the school or as a maid in someone else’s house fills Mary with dread rather than hope.  She’s not afraid of work, but she can’t help wishing that there were other options out there for an young lady with education but no family or fortune.  Then, for the second time in her life, she’s given a once in a lifetime opportunity – this time, to be trained as a spy.  But can Mary keep not only the Agency’s secrets safe, but also the Agency from learning the truth about her own heritage?

This book has so many awesome moments. It also, unfortunately, has a bit too much boyfriend and not enough roller derby for my tastes.*  Still, it’s a lovely book that manages to be delightfully surprising in many ways.  It also does a wonderful job of handling Mary’s secret, which happens to be that [she’s biracial, passing for white. Also, that her mother sometimes earned her way as a sex worker.]   Mary’s status, situation, and relationships make this book a refreshing contrast to the more typical young adult novels set in Victorian London, which tend to be about young ladies of a certain social class, and treat the few non-white characters in them as oddities and visitors rather than Londoners.

*the phrase is from lj user buymeaclue.  I’d link, but the journal is now friendslocked. :p

I’m not a nice person.

I’m not a good person.

I’m not a kind person.

This isn’t to say that I don’t ever try to be any of these three things.  I do, especially the last two.

It’s more to say that, for me, surviving in this cissexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, classist, often fucked up world of ours has involved rejecting the idea that “good” and “bad” are static states of being.  I will never be a “good person” because, to me, “good” is not something that you achieve.  It’s an ongoing process that never ends.

It is, in fact, almost impossible not to be doing bad things as well as good when you are human and therefore flawed.  Especially when you are part of a messed up system, as we all are.

This, to me, is why it’s important to call out bad behavior, or hurtful language, or even ways of framing the world that make it easier to ignore harm that is being done to others.

Not because people deserve to be shamed or judged or called out, but because we are all fish who sometimes forget that the water is there, and part of helping each other do better involves pointing out when we didn’t do as well as we could have.

Since the world is complex (and not just in bad ways), the fact that we have the same goals doesn’t mean that we will always agree.  It may not always be possible to determine who was “right” and who was wrong about the choices people make or the words they use.

But this is where my librarian training kicks in and points out that more speech is better than less.  That it’s better to let people know what it is that you think they could have done better, so that they can decide for themselves if they want to change or not, rather than never giving them that option.  It’s also important to be specific about it, so that no one is left second guessing everything they do and say.

To me, it’s a sign of trust, to tell someone when what they did or said hurt you.  That’s not a thing you tell people when you think they won’t care.  Or worse, will use it to hurt you more.

When I tell people that what they said was sexist, or racist, or otherwise hurtful, I don’t do it because I want to hurt them. I don’t do it because I think they are bad people.  I don’t do it because I think they are irredeemably sexist, while I’m a perfect feminist, a model for everyone to follow.  I’m not specific about what they did wrong simply because I want to nitpick, I promise you that I have better things to do with my time.

I do it because this is what I truly believe, and because I have faith in their ability and willingness to do good things.  And most of all because I have faith that they will respect my opinion even if they disagree with it.

So I want to ask everyone out there who is asking all us to “keep YA kind” to remember that, while criticism is hard to take, criticism is not lack of kindness.  It’s often a measure of trust.

Everyone has flaws, everyone messes up.  That includes you, that includes me.  That includes the author you admire, the friend that has always been there for you, the teacher that inspired generations.

That someone is “good people” should never be an excuse for not listening, or used to admonish others for speaking.  Because “good” is something that you make the decision to do every second of every day, not something that you acquire and then use as a shield.

I have so much more to say on so many things that has happened this past week.  And so many links to smart women who you should really listen to more than me.  Hopefully I’ll even manage to make some link lists and get those words out and onto paper – er, pixels.  But I wanted to start with that, because I think it’s the most fundamental.

If you don’t trust that I am trying to do good as well, that my anger is a sign of hurt and not hate, that the opinions I express are genuine and not merely performative, that I am in fact trying to be kind to a great number of people, even when you disagree with me, even when I say things that hurt you or your friends or make you uncomfortable, then this conversation is never going to go anywhere.

Instead, “kindness” will once again become a way to reinforce the status quo, rather than a call to be more compassionate and empathetic.

Instead both “kind” and “good” will be used to avoid examining the problems we most certainly have, a way to once again NOT have the hard and complicated and uncomfortable conversations that are long overdue.

cover image for Killer of EnemiesKiller of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Seventeen year old Lozen’s life has never been exactly easy.  Her family was never among those who could afford genetic modifications or the latest tech implants.  But once upon a time they had their own home, and pets, and her father and uncle were still alive.  Now it’s just Lozen, her younger siblings, and their mother – and all four of them are trapped behind prison walls that exist to keep monsters out and them in.  Lozen knows how to hunt the monsters though – that’s why The Ones in charge have let her and her family live.  It’s also why they hold her family hostage, ensuring her compliance.  Lozen knows that if she can just manage to get them all outside of Haven’s walls and out of sight of the guards, they’ll be able to once again survive and live on the land that her people have called home for centuries.

I really wanted to love this book. She’s a monster hunter, for goodness sake!  (Plus, how many dystopias are out there that feature Native American characters?) And for the first third or so, I did love it.  But the pacing grew increasingly uneven, our introduction of each succeeding villain became too repetitive, and one of the twists just didn’t quite work for me.  Still, it’s a good book, with some very excellent lines and scenes, and think it should be in every library’s young adult collection.

cover image for Etiquette & EspionageEtiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Sophronia does an excellent job of getting herself into trouble and embarrassing her older sisters, but she is perpetually floundering, stumbling, and tripping when it comes to being a proper young lady.  Fortunately (for her mother’s nerves, if nothing else) Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is willing to take Sophronia in.

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School books are set in the same alternate steampunk universe as her Parasol Protectorate series, so of course Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy is not quite what Sophronia expected, and her lessons include much more than how to curtsey properly.  Yet, it’s full purpose, and her reason for being there, remain a mystery to her long after she climbs on board (yes, on board), creating a useful narrative trick for controlling the pace and for keeping readers guessing – and turning the pages.

It’s the kind of story that would likely come across as a bit overdone and over the top if it were written by someone else, but Carriger manages to carry it off with style.

Unfortunately, there is a rather large misstep about a third of the way through the book, when the only character of color is introduced in a way that isn’t at all logical or appropriate.  While this same character is shown in an admirable light for the rest of the book, that doesn’t excuse the author and editor leaving in a description that makes no sense and is based on caricatures.  Which is a shame, because the rest of the book is delightful.  It tweaks it’s nose at gender conformity, flirts a bit with critiques of class and inequality, and isn’t afraid to show complex relationships among female personages.

cover image for The Fly on the WallFly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Gretchen Yee knows that the way to fit in at her alternative arts focused high school is to stand out, but she can’t quite manage to stop getting noticed for the wrong things.  In fact, her problems just keep piling up: Boys baffle her.  All of them, really – but especially Titus.  Her drawing teacher is less than appreciative of the comic book style art she favors.  Then there’s the news that her parents are getting a divorce, and her dad is moving out.

In a moment of frustration, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys locker room, to see what they are like when they aren’t around girls. Maybe then she could at least figure boys out.  Then she gets her wish. Literally.

I can’t overemphasis how weird this book is.  Because yes, it’s a remake of metamorphosis, set in an alternative high school in New York City.  It’s also fun and quite brilliant, tackles bullying, friendship, and of course dealing with crushes, lust, and hormones.

Needless to say, Gretchen spying on the boys is hardly an appropriate thing to do, but she’s a fly o the wall and therefore has remarkable peripheral vision and she’s trapped in the room – not peeking through holes in the wall.  Most importantly, Lockhart handles the situation really well, both in terms of Gretchen’s decisions and how the boys are treated by the narrative.

cover image for Our Only May AmeiliaOur Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

May Amelia is the only girl in her family, and she just so happens to also be the only girl among the pioneers who have settled along the Nasel River in the new state of Washington.  Being the only girl isn’t always easy, especially when her mother keeps trying to turn her into a Proper Young Lady, and her grandmother finds fault in everything she does.  But no matter how many scrapes she gets into, she’s still the only May Ameilia they’ve got.

May Ameilia’s voice is really what makes this book work as well as it does. Her syntax, phrasing, and perspective transports readers to a different time and place.  Inspired by a journal Holm found that was kept by one of her own ancestors, the novel is told in first person and covers a year or so in May Amelia’s life.  Solid and entertaining, Our Only May Amelia isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it manages to be unique and memorable.

I also want to note that there’s not any significant discussion of the impact that pioneer settlement had on the people who were already living in the area when the settlers came, as it’s told from May Amelia’s point of view.  The narrative is respectful of the rare Native American characters in the book, but of course not everyone in the story is.  I didn’t see anything that makes the book inappropriate for youngsters (although I’m also hardly the best judge) but a follow-up discussion with readers would be appropriate if possible, especially considering how rare Native American voices are in most library collections.

cover image for Where Things Come BackWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Nothing newsworthy happens in Lily, Arkansas. Families scrape by – or don’t, and leave their loved ones to grieve.  But reporters begin to descend upon the small town when someone claims to have spotted the Lazarus Woodpecker, previously thought extinct.  For seventeen year old Cullen the return of the Lazarus Woodecker is merely a source of irritation and occasional amusement.  Until his younger brother, Gabriel, disappears and Cullen is left wondering if Gabriel will ever manage to find his way back home as well.

Like a lot of coming of age stories of this type, Where Things Come Back felt like it was trying too hard to be clever and introspective.  Also, the split in narrators was confusing (I suspect it was partly meant to be) and the missionary’s point of view felt forced rather than authentic. I know a lot of people loved it (it did win the Printz award after all) but I was more than happy to send my copy back to the library.

cover image for Nikki and DejaNikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman

“Nikki and Deja are best friends.”  Neighbors and classmates, they spend as much time as they can together.  But when a new girl, Antonia, arrives and starts a club – one that only some people can join – Nikki and Deja’s friendship begins to look like it might not last, after all.

I feel guilty calling this merely a good chapter book, rather than using glowing superlatives to describe it.  The truth is that most chapter books are so awful that this novel is absolutely wonderful and amazingly written by comparison.  The characters have personality, with out feeling cartoonish, and their dilemmas are both realistic and age appropriate.  English does a wonderful job of including the right kind of details, ones that give the story life without being overwhelming to new readers.  The prose fails to be as memorable as the story, and I’d like better for new readers, but this is a chapter book after all – vocabulary limits make that incredibly difficult. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s solid and I highly recommend it.

I am, however, slightly disappointed in the quality of the book design. With apologies to Freeman (whose interior illustrations are perfect) the cover just doesn’t work for me and I can’t see that it would be terribly appealing to kids either.  All of which I wanted to point out not because I dislike it that much but because covers sell books.  So I see passable but not brilliant covers as another weak link in the chain when it comes to promoting “diverse” authors and books, and I wanted to note that here for future conversations.

cover image for Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Moving back home means that Eleanor gets to see her siblings, that she can be there to take care of them.  It also means watching what she does and says around her stepfather, and starting a new high school.  Park doesn’t mean to take pity on the new – and very weird – girl on the bus, the last thing he needs is to commit social suicide.  Yet he does so anyway.  But he isn’t going to talk to her.  Until he notices her glancing over at his comics as he reads them on the bus, and Park starts to make sure that she’s done with the page before he turns it.  Soon, Park is making her mixed tapes and Eleanor is thinking that maybe some people can be trusted after all.

I devoured this book in one night, it was that good.  Rowell has crafted a lovely story, full of stolen moments and the kinds of secrets that need to be told.  It’s refreshing to see miscommunication in a romantic relationship that actually makes sense, and to see it being worked out rather than resolved by the plot.  It should be noted that there have been complaints about Park, whose mother is from Vietnam, and how he and his family are described and portrayed.  Rowell does an excellent job handling the Eleanor’s home life, however, and how she is affected by both poverty and abuse.

cover image for We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Candence spends every summer with her family on a private island off the coast of Masachusetts. And every summer she and her cousins run wild, unhampered by schoolwork or schedules or even neighbors.  Every summer except the last one, which Cady spent in Europe with her father, hating ever minute of it, desperate for emails and texts from her cousins, which never came. When Cady arrives at the island this summer, she and her cousins pick up where they left off, as if nothing had ever happened. Only Cady knows that something did happen, something their last summer together that caused the headaches she’s had ever since.  The problem is that Cady has no idea what it was; she’s been having trouble remembering things since that night as well.

I absolutely hated reading this book.

It’s not a terrible book, but my frustrations with it only increased with each page, making it not at all enjoyable to read.  Much of the suspense rests on the reveal of the twist at the end, which I’d figured out early on.  I think the book is supposed to work even if you know truth (much like Code Name Verity actually does) – that knowing the truth changes the experience rather than detracting from it .  But for me, it didn’t succeed in doing this.  Add to that the fact that it’s a book about privilege* which makes a really big mistake in terms of privilege, and I’m afraid to admit that the warmest response I can muster to this book is “meh.”

Which makes me sad because I usually love Lockhart’s books.

cover image for The Fox InheritanceThe Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

[The basic plot for this book is a spoiler for the entire first novel, so I’m putting it behind the cut.]

Read the rest of this entry »

cover image for The Juvie ThreeThe Juvie Three by Gordon Korman

Gecko, Arjay and Terence have all been given a second chance.  Pulled from juvenile detention, an adult prison, and a reform school in the middle of farm country, the three boys have been selected to instead live with the idealistic Douglas Healey in New York City as part of a special probationary program.  While Gecko and Arjay are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure they aren’t sent back, Terence is only concerned with making money (illegally, if needed) no matter the consequences.  When Terence tries to sneak out one night, Arjay and Gecko go to stop him, and Healey comes in during the chaos and is knocked unconscious, and sent to the hospital as a John Doe, in the process.   Prompting all three boys to make a pact and work together to keep their school and social worker from finding out that anything has gone wrong.

Yeah, that look on your face right now? Is probably the same one I had while reading this book. The Juvie Three is a good example of the narrative supporting bad decisions, versus bad decisions simply being something that people do.  It’s not that the boys make a mistake that ends up hurting someone, but rather that the boys never even discuss how their continuing actions may harm Healey.  The book acknowledges the mistakes they make, but it never acknowledges the reasons why they were bad decisions.  This lack of nuance, ironically, actually makes the boys decisions harder to understand, as it makes the whole story feel shallow and lacking in internal logic.

(This is also where I feel like Young Adult books do have a responsibility to bring up issues that younger readers may not think of themselves: leaving Healey as a John Doe not only leaves Healey without support, it deprives the medical professionals of the information they need to treat him properly. Healey isn’t merely a broken lamp that can be hidden in the closet; the boys continuing silence places him in danger every moment they stay silent. I was extremely disappointed that none of the adults brought this up once the truth came out.)

Korman’s jocular and irreverent style, which I loved in Son of the Mob, does not work well here it all. It is possible to write funny books about serious and dark subjects, but that isn’t what Korman has done in The Juvie Three. Instead, he has taken a serious subject and watered it down, and the book inevitably suffers for it.

cover image for Once A WitchOnce a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Tamsin Greene is determined to find her own path in life, one far from the family that seems to pity her.  It’s not easy living in the shadow of a perfect older sister.  It’s even harder when you’re also the odd one out in a very close knit extended family, the only one who can’t do magic.  But when a stranger walks into her grandmother’s bookstore one night while Tamsin is working, she finds herself inexplicably pretending to be her perfect sister.  And promising to help the stranger with the kind of task only someone with Talent could manage.

I really enjoyed this book – up until about the last third of it, when it felt like all of the revelations were just a bit too recycled.  Especially for a young adult fantasy novel published post-Twilight.  The writing was not spectacular, but it was engaging enough.  I’ll likely give the sequel a try, but my expectations won’t be very high.  Perhaps it will surprise me?