Reviews – YA fiction addiction

YA stackAccording to teen author, Charmaine Clancy there are a few issues that rate more highly than others for teen readers of YA fiction. These include problems dealing with: sexuality, freedom, relationships and friendships, social power, anger, fear, risk taking, social responsibility and bullying, to name a few.

The following YA titles represent modern day takes on common reoccurring teenage dilemmas, ticking at least one or more of these boxes. They are all highly recommended reads for young people plummeting into puberty and new belief systems as they navigate the next course of their lives. All riveting, well-crafted stories that will leave your nerves tingling, your heartbeat racing, and your tears well and truly jerked. Enjoy!

Intruder Intruder by Christine Bongers

I ripped through this one like a dog on steroids at an agility trial. Terrific. Gutsy, three-dimensional characters displaying equal parts humility, vulnerability, and bravado while tossing around some cracker one-liners people this teenage angst-y tale about losing and finding.

Kat Jones is left exposed and violated after an intruder invades her home. Feeling alone and isolated after the earlier death of her mother, she must rely on her despised next-door neighbour, Edwina, and Hercules, Edwina’s ugly canine companion to overcome her current dread and face her former demons. Fortunately mutt love and new bloke on the block, Al all help to rebuild Kat’s fragile lines of defence.

Christine Bongers writes with dramatic heart and unabashed confidence. Her reference to devils-on-horseback was a marvellous slingshot back into the 70s for me too. Great that teens can be entertained and educated in one fell swoop of the pen. A pure pleasure to read. Teenage somethings will suck this up.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House June 2014

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

Eleven year-old Jessie is a boy with seemingly insurmountable problems not least of which is accommodating his square-fit self into the round-fit ideals of his communal-based school and community. Local bully, Hunter complicates the mix further until enterprising, Kate rallies with Jessie to ‘Save the Whales’ and inadvertently, Jessie’s sense of humanity and place.

Delightfully, Hunter proves that even the most malignly misunderstood antagonists can be real modern day heroes when ‘some things are too big for (one) boy to solve’ alone.

The conclusion was a little soft and spongy however, a sense of optimism as sweet as bubble bath fug hung about long after the end. Slightly eccentric, more than a little funny, warm, tender, and witty. The back cover blurb does not do this story justice; it meandered on a bit but I don’t think that will stop upper primary aged boys and girls thoroughly enjoying this sometimes acerbic, mostly uplifting read. I certainly did.

UQP May 2014

Sinner Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth book in the immensely popular Shiver series. I can’t comment on the first three having dived into this instalment without preamble or past research, but found it stood proud and solid on its own and at no point whatsoever did I experience any confusion or wonder what had taken place previously in the lives of main protagonists, Cole St Clair and his love interest, Isabel. Like the storyline itself, they and the characters surrounding them are crafted with stinging conviction.

Cole has a secret that only a select few are privy to. He is the epitome of a genius, self-abusing, addictive personality, overachieving rock star whose Achilles heel is Isabel, a girl with a macadamia tough exterior he is desperate to crack. How Cole sheds his former demons and absolves his misdeeds with the help and hindrance of those he meets under the surreal light of California is page-turning material.

Stiefvater masterfully tells Coles and Isabel’s story in a raw and powerful way that often leaves you chuckling at their darkest hours. Thrilling stuff for older teens.

Scholastic Australia August 2014

State of Grace State of Grace by Hilary Badger

‘A utopian rose in a bed of dystopian thorns’ is a fairly accurate description of Hilary Badger’s (aka H.I. Larry of the bestselling Zac Power series) first venture in YA fiction. From the first sentence, an unsettled, creepy air descends upon the reader beautifully obscured by a veil of lush garden-of-Eden idealism. Since her creation, Wren has lived an idyllic life in a perfect paradise with life-loving companions and a deity like no other to worship, Dot.

However, not all is as ‘dotly’ as it seems (per the local non-negative lingo of the inhabitants of Dot’s Paradise). When cracks begin to appear in Wren’s memories and belief system, she and fellow creation, Blaze must decide whether to confront their horrid pasts or succumb to an unreal future.

A disturbing and illuminating combination of our not too distant future lives that rests lightly on friendship, authoritarianism, blind faith, and facing truths. There are zillions of twists, some no bigger or harder to appreciate than a butterfly but most are comfortably homed in a solidly built world thanks to Badger’s bright imagination. 14 + year olds will enjoy the mystifying experience A State of Grace provides.

Hardie Grant Egmont October 2014

 

Meet N.J. Gemmell, author of The Icicle Illuminarium

Nikki_Gemmell_authorphoto_2013SmThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Nikki Gemmell,  about The Icicle Illuminarium (Random House Australia) and your other books.

It would be fascinating to look inside your brain. Your stories are bursting with interesting, unusual and unexpected ideas, such as the room of a thousand glow worms and the zipping ladders on rails in the Reptilarium. How do you develop your creativity?

Well, I guess my mind never stops whirring. I’m constantly seeking inspiration from everything around me, and jotting it down in a journal that’s always close to hand. I’ve been keeping my notebooks since I was 14. They’re more like scrapbooks, actually; full of clippings, title ideas, character descriptions, quotes, overheard conversations and various nuggety enchantments. It might be a decade or two before an idea in there is actually mined for a book, but I’m constantly dipping into my seventeen (and counting) journals. The aim with all my writing: to enchant, in some way. I have four kids and they’re a good sounding board as to whether I’ve succeeded or not. They’ll tell me quick smart (quite bluntly, actually, the little buggers)if something doesn’t work.   Icicle Illuminarium

Boys and girls, particularly in mid to upper primary school and junior secondary, will  love The Icicle Illuminarium. What bait have you used to get them (and keep them) reading?

I need a story to gallop along. I live in fear of boring the reader. Kids are the most exacting critics and I find kid’s fiction much harder to write than adult’s. The aim, constantly, is to get your reader to turn the page – and children are much quicker with putting a book down if they’re not interested. I remember the books I loved as a kid – Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Silver Brumby series, Little House on the Prairie etc. They’d moved me. Make me cry as well as laugh. I aim to do that with my own books, too. Lure readers by moving them, enchanting them, and keeping them obsessed with the story. I love it when I hear kids have stayed up really late, or finished my book in one or two feverish reading sessions.

There are references to war, which add intrigue as well as depth to the story. When are the books set?

The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium are set immediately after World War II, in December 1945 and January 1946. It was a time when the world was finding its feet again; a changed world, a dazed, broken world, working out how to get itself back into normality again.

Kensington Reptilarium

Your two children’s books are set in the UK, as well as in Australia. What are some differences between these places and what sort of children do they breed?

So many differences! Which is what this series is all about. It basically transplants four loud, sparky, resourceful Aussie bush scamps from the outback into the genteel world of upper crust England – where children are meant to be seen and not heard. Imagine four Ginger Meggs types ending up in a Downton Abbey world. What results is a huge culture clash, but I do have to say that I think that the Aussies have the upper hand in it (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) The differences of climate, convention and attitude are enormous and a lot of fun to write – there are lots of laughs along the way. A few tears as well.

And, are your books selling equally well in both places?

I sell more kids books in Oz and more adult books in the UK – but weirdly, one of my strongest markets is France.

Your writing is superb, combining fast-paced plot with strong characterisation and well-placed insights and descriptions to create literary merit. How carefully do you craft the writing?

Thank you so much! I work really hard at it. I want my sentences to sing, and craft them carefully. This involves draft after draft after draft; and I welcome a rigorous edit. I love beautiful writing and use poetry as a tuning fork. I don’t think kids should be denied beauty in their writing – as long as the prose is clear and simple to understand.

I do love your weekly column in the Weekend Australian  Magazine. How invested in people do you feel yourself to be?

My weekly column feels so different to my fiction, but once again I aim for beauty in my writing, and to move readers. To complete 700 newspaper words about life, the universe, and everything else week after week, means you have to be passionately invested in people and the world around you, in all its minutiae. I live by Edna St Vincent Millay’s lines: “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” I feel that so strongly. There’s so much to be wondrous and grateful about. At this very moment I’m typing under a tree laden with ripe mulberries in the front garden – working under a gloriously nodding, bowing umbrella of green. Tasty, too!  It’ll be in a column on Aussie nostalgia sometime soon, no doubt.

You must be incredibly organised to achieve so much – you’re on the Today program also. Do you have a tip?

Tip: there is no social life. I dream of this one day changing, but am too exhausted by the evenings for anything but a glass of wine and a good lie down. With me, something has to give in that great female triumverate of family/work/social life – and it was the latter in my case. My other tip: when something comes in (like this blog request, for instance) jump onto it immediately and just get it done, or else – sigh – it will never be done (I live in horror of vast piles of to-do stuff cluttering up the place.) You should see the dormant volcano that’s our washing basket of clean clothes in the main bedroom. Just can’t face it – would much prefer to be writing.

Some of our readers will know you for your books for adults. Could you give us a quick run-down on these?Book of Rapture

I seem to write in trilogies. First of all there was the trilogy of coming of age stories about young Aussie women in different landscapes: Shiver (set in Antarctica), Cleave (Central Australian desert) and Lovesong (England’s Cornwall.) Then there was the trilogy exploring female sexuality – The Bride Stripped Bare, With my Body, and I Take You. A one off novel dealing with religion in a post 9/11 world, The Book of Rapture. And a few non fiction books made up of columns and essays: Pleasure, Honestly and Personally. Phew. I feel exhausted just typing all that.

Will we see the characters of The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium again soon?

Yes! I’m working on a third book, bringing my four sparky, scampy Caddy kids home to central Australia – all in search of their missing mum. A few of their English friends will be in tow, too, along with Bucket the dog of course. This family will not let me go!

Thanks for you incredibly generous – and speedy – answers, Nikki.

Bride Stripped Bare

 

 

Interview with Charlotte McConaghy (Part 3)


Sadly, this is the last installment of Charlotte’s interview. If you’ve enjoyed reading what she has to say, why not pop over to her website to check out what she’s up to, before she gets too popular to answer your questions or hear about how much you’re enjoying her novels. If you have a niece (or nephew), daughter, sister, roommate who is craving something now that Twilight is done, I highly recommend Miss McConaghy’s writing. It might just fill the hole left by Edward and Bella. I know it’s a big hole to fill, but still…

Miss McConaghy, do you find that your young age is an advantage or a disadvantage to your ‘author’ status?

I think the thing about writing for a particular audience is… to not write for a particular audience. I don’t set out to write for teens – I just write what I love, and hope that there are people who enjoy it – of course because I’m so young my books naturally fall into the category of young adult readers. I think that a lot of literature for kids really underestimates its target audience because everyone’s so focused on writing for teens, instead of just writing an awesome story for whoever likes it. And yes, I definitely have trouble getting taken seriously in the writing world because I’m almost a teenager myself, but I don’t really mind so much. ‘Status’ isn’t something you can really hope for anyway if your passion is for writing – it’s kind of a hermit’s job – unless you’re JK of course.

Who knows what the future holds! Any authors or books in particular that influenced your writing?

I really love Isobelle Carmody, Melina Marchetta, Guy Gavriel Kay, and have recently just fallen in love with Maggie Stiefvater because of her book Shiver.

What’s the absolute best thing about being published yourself?

Seeing my books in the bookshop, or hearing from people who’ve read either of them and really enjoyed them. That just makes my day.

Best advice for budding writers?

I know its super cliched but don’t ever give up! Finish something! Even if you get to the end and don’t like it, its a really good exercise in discipline to actually finish something you’ve started. Once you’ve got a draft done, make sure its as good as it can be, and then start sending it out. Rejections are an inevitability, but you also never know who might read your stuff and love it. Don’t get disheartened. And the big rule: don’t write something just because it happens to be popular at the time. Write about what you love, and what you’re passionate about. If you stick to that rule, its the most rewarding job in the world. I plan to be doing it for the rest of my life.

So since you’re sticking with writing – what’s in the works for you in the near future?

At the moment I’m working on finishing Book 3, then I’ll get straight into Book 4. Beyond that I’ve also got a few other stand-alone novels which I’d like to publish and release – the more the better! I love working on several things at once so I can jump between them depending on my mood. And of course, the more books I release, the closer I’ll come to being able to live off them. I’m sick of my clothes shop job!

And finally, if you had wings for a day, what would you do with them?

I’d use them to seduce a really cute boy. Wings are irresistible. 😉

Haha, good to know there’s still a bit of the everyday teen in the famous author. Thanks to Charlotte – ’twas a pleasure, and a special thanks to Black Dog Books as well.