YA, NA and MG Fiction Defined With Recommendations

Most readers will be familiar with the genre of books referred to as YA, but what about NA and MG?

Young Adult (YA)Eleanor & Park
YA fiction generally contains novels written for readers aged in their teens, or more specifically between the ages of 13 and 20. The stories feature teenage protagonists and often explore themes of identity and coming-of-age. Having said that, YA novels can be from any genre, science fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, paranormal etc. Some popular YA novels include the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Middle Grade (MG)
MG novels are generally written for readers aged between 8-12 years, with main characters less than 13 years of age. Themes can include: school, parents, relationship with siblings and friends, being good or misbehaving. Just like every genre, some MG books can have an underlying message (e.g. be kind to animals).

Some examples of popular MG novels include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

New Adult (NA)A Court of Thorns and Roses
NA fiction is a relatively new genre in publishing, and in my opinion grew from the popularity of adult audiences reading and enjoying YA novels (Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars). The genre is situated between YA and adult fiction and protagonists are generally between 18-30 years of age. Themes include leaving home, starting university, choosing a career, sex and sexuality.

Some popular NA novels include: Slammed by Colleen Hoover (called CoHo by her fans), The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald.

On my TBR ListInheritance
I have a number of books on my to-be-read pile from the genres mentioned above, including: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes and 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. What’s on your list?

Whether you enjoy MG, YA or NA fiction, the most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed. Enjoy your reading, keep an open mind and explore new authors. You never know where your next favourite book might come from.

Review: Mockingjay 2 Film

The Hunger GamesI had the ‘I should have re-watched the last film before seeing this film’ feeling about a minute in to Mockingjay 2, the final film instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy. (The last book of which has, confusingly, filmicly been split into two to make the trilogy a kind of quadrilogy.) For I couldn’t remember where the last film had finished and this one, logically, picked up shortly after where the other one left off.

My guess, based on the neck brace and bruising Katniss has in the opening moments and the damage she has to her vocal cords, is related to Peeta’s lunging at her to choke her to death. I vaguely think that’s the cliffhanger the previous film finished on (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Even if I don’t remember exact details, what I can immediately tell is that things are extremely bleak—for everyone.

Katniss, of course, is completely traumatised from her experiences in not one but two hunger games and the horrors that have occurred beyond it. Compounding that is that Peeta, her in-game and post-game rock, seems to have been brainwashed slash lost his mind.

For his part, as Peeta continues to be shackled to a hospital bed for security reasons, he finds out his family hasn’t come to visit him because they didn’t survive the Capitol’s District 12 bombardment.

Meanwhile everyone around them is reeling from the ongoing war against antagonist Snow and tense about what is yet to come. Which is, clearly, going to be war-to-end-all-wars bad.

The culmination of the trilogy’s build-up, Part 2 is desolate in an appropriate sort of way. Perhaps more so given the bleakness surrounding us in the world. The Paris attacks took place just days prior to its release, but there’s also been (and continues to be) the relentless run-up of violence and war in places such as Syria, Beirut, and more. I’ll not deny there were moments in the film, such as when planes overhead and launched bombs that killed children, that I thought this was a little too close to reality right now.

Which is apt given that author Suzanne Collins’ aim is not to sugarcoat or lionise war or people’s actions during war. The Hunger Games’ point is that this is the stuff of horror and even good people are confronted with difficult, no-win decisions. Katniss is the protagonist, but she’s far from perfect or even likeable at times, and she grapples with her choices and her complicity in the violence. Peeta becomes unrecognisable as he loses all that makes him him. And no one around them—on their side or against them—can entirely be trusted.

As a side note, there are a lot of hospital scenes in this film, warranted by the sheer amount of violence being inflicted on the characters. I respect the realism, or the near-realism, of it all. Because no one gets through physically or emotionally unscathed.

I have to confess I thought the final book lost the plot a bit (the first two had been utterly outstanding). Or maybe I lost the plot. I don’t know. What I do know is I didn’t understand the pods and their aftermath as they were explained in the book. And I didn’t understand how it all hung together as Katniss and co. worked their way towards the city.

Seeing this aspect of the books realised on screen was what I was most looking forward to with Mockingjay 2. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was truly terrifying and gut-wrenching. And claustrophobic. As someone more than a little afraid of enclosed spaces, there was an extended sequence that left me so tense for so long I considered leaving the theatre until it had passed.

The film, like the books, made me pause at the stellarly insightful phrases—too numerous here to list or even remember, but that on their own could be grand statements summarising the tale’s messages. For example, Coin at one stage says that there is no sacrifice too great to make. ‘It just goes around and around…I am done being a piece in his game,’ Katniss says of Snow, that regardless of which side they’re on, they’re all Snow’s slaves and he’s the only one who ever wins.

There were better remarks than those. I just can’t recall them right now because my in-the-dark note-taking was on fleek, which is to say it really wasn’t. I’m sure I pencilled down some wisdom-filled gems, but they’re lost in illegible handwriting or, worse, illegible handwriting written over the top of other illegible handwriting. I really need to learn how to write clearly in the dark. And in a straight line.

Some reviewers have claimed the film starts slow, but I have to admit I didn’t find it that way at all. I’d argue Mockingjay 2 is pensive, not slow, as it tries to avoid drowning the books’ sombre messages in pyrotechnics and 3-D show.

If nothing else, the film, more so than the books, cemented for me that it was right for Katniss to end up with Peeta. (I wasn’t convinced reading the books and thought it was still all up in the air.) And despite the film’s required darkness, it still fit in some trademark black humour, including when we hear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.’

Essentially, I’m giving this rendition of beloved books a thumbs up. I’d like nothing more now than to curl up and re-read the trilogy to compare notes on what was included, what was skipped or altered, and to tackle those scenes with the pods now I have a clear visual representation of what they are and how they played out.

Mockingjay: Part 1 (AKA All The Feelings)

MockingjayI turned up to watch the Mockingjay: Part 1 film today, its official day of release, without any prep. I’d like to say that’s because I deliberately withheld re-reading the book or reading advance film reviews, but the reason is much more pedestrian: I’ve been so otherwise occupied with speedbumps I’ve hit in life that I almost forgot today was the day the film was coming out.

I even turned up to the cinema two minutes after the start time and breathlessly asked the attendant if I could: a) still go in; and b) go to the bathroom first. She assured me yes on both counts: there were some 20 minutes of ads before the film itself began (that’s probably the first and only time I’ll be happy to hear that).

Consequently, I was hazy on the plot points that would be contained within this film, and even hazier as I knew this would be the first of two films. That’s because the final book in the trilogy was deemed too big to fit into one (plus I’m guessing Hollywood saw an opportunity to force us besotted, addicted fans to fork out moar money for moar moofie tix).

In Mockingjay: Part 1, Katniss and Finnick are struggling. The first scene picks up with them having tormented nightmares from which they seem unable to wake even when they’re awake.

Katniss and co. are hunkered down underground in semi safety in District 13. District 12, their home, has been bombed to oblivion, with few survivors. Outside, the rebellion against the Capitol is well under way. Peeta and Annie are still captive in the Capitol, with Peeta trotted out as a kind of golden-child propaganda.

The rebellion needs Katniss to go on camera to create some pro-rebellion mockingjay propaganda, but she’s so traumatised by all she’s experienced and so pre-occupied by the thought of needing to rescue Peeta that she wants nothing to do with it. Both Katniss and Finnick wish they were dead.

This film, like the book, kicks the tale up a notch of seriousness, with propaganda—storytelling, controlling messages, reframing stories in order to invoke emotion, allegiance, and a taking up of arms—central to its adrenalin- and emotion-wringing success.

It’s tense and oppressive. We see and feel it from the expressions on the characters’ faces and the enclosed, concrete bunker-like accommodation they’re cooped up in. The stellar cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, and Donald Sutherland is also up to the challenging of conveying all these senses and issues and emotions (unlike, cough, the cast of such films as Twilight).

As a side note, I felt all the feelings when Philip Seymour Hoffman was on screen. My general lack of preparation meant I was especially less prepared to see him than I would otherwise have been, and he appears early in the film and pops in regularly throughout. He is magnificent, bringing depth and warmth and humour to a character that was for me rather two-dimensional in the books. The film’s final credits include a dedication to him, which he richly deserves.

Likewise, Woody Harrelson reprising Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks reprising Effie Trinkett bring new gravity to their characters. Neither can rely on the over-the-top acting options they had in the previous films, as in Mockingjay the usually sauced Haymitch is sober and the usually flamboyantly attired Trinkett is forced to wear the same androgynous, definitively unfashionable khaki garb as everyone else. Yet through muted performances, both actors managed to convey key information and humanise and endear us to their characters more than ever.

While this film is somber-er than the previous films (not that I’d ever call them ‘light’), there are some well-timed moments of wit. One moment includes a condition Katniss issues for agreeing to being the mockingjay propaganda lackey: her sister ‘gets to keep her cat’ (pets are forbidden in the largely militarised zone). Another includes the muttered ‘We interrupt your regularly scheduled horse manure’ as the rebels temporarily take over the Capitol’s broadcast. Yet another is Haymitch saying he ‘can never fully support the woman [President Coin, the District 13 leader] in light of the prohibition’ she has in place.

I can’t tell you where they split the book/films in two, but I can tell you I’d forgotten all about the moment so was suitably surprised when it happened. Now I commence the long wait until Part 2 comes out and wraps up the trilogy altogether. I imagine I’ll feel all the feelings when that occurs, albeit for entirely different, please-don’t-let-it-end reasons…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching FireWaiting for the second instalment of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, to come out was reminiscent of waiting for Christmas as a kid—I was so invested the wait was excruciating and interminable.

The agony was alleviated slightly by the social media-led arrival of Sesame Street’s The Hungry Games: Catching Fur, a genius-ly entertaining and educating spoof of the masterful ilk only Sesame Street could manage.

The spoof featured (and nailed) the three things I vaguely remembered from the book (it’s been a while since I read the trilogy, and even then I binged on them rather than taking time to fully absorb their content): fog, monkeys, and ‘tick tock’.

Catching Fire was probably my favourite of the three Suzanne Collins books. The Hunger Games hooked me in and laid out the foundations, but it is in Catching Fire that you really get to see the nuance and fraught complexity come in to play. Especially when it comes to the other tributes who, with the exception of Rue, are little known to and little understood by us.

In the Catching Fire, we see the long-term effects of ‘winning’ The Hunger Games as well as the selflessness and bravery of people working together for a greater cause. Catching Fire is dark, but it’s also grippingly hopeful.

Things are frosty in the beginning of the film—literally and figuratively. District 12 is cloaked in winter (I couldn’t help but think ‘winter is coming’) and Katniss, Gale, Peeta, and Haymitch are struggling with the aftermath of the games.

‘Lethal lovers’ Katniss and Peeta are learning the games don’t end when you get home, that you never win, you simply survive. They will be forced to play-act an epic love affair for eternity, something that sits awkwardly with them and that grates Gale, the original love interest who rounds out the triangle.

Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta are together but so incredibly alone, trapped in their own heads (and nightly bad dreams). It is in this film that you truly appreciate why Haymitch self-medicates with alcohol.

I might be too wholly invested in this story, but I cried buckets throughout, kicking off at seeing an image of Rue broadcast behind her family. I continued when the first person, an older man, gives the three-fingered mockingjay salute and is punished brutally. The forced attendance by both Katniss and Peeta and the districts’ people during the victory tour were tense; ‘The odds are never in our favour’ graffiti was eerie. All of it was near-reality real.

The film does manage to wedge in some brief moments of comedy to take the edge off the darker mood. ‘Don’t invite him over, he’ll drink all your liquor’ Haymitch warns Katniss about one of the other tributes; ‘I never said she was smart’ he quips to a peacekeeper when she intervenes in a flogging.

I was intrigued, though, that some people laughed in the cinema during the reaping scene when it’s clear Katniss’ name will be the only one pulled out of the female pool. I found it not funny but bleak. But that’s a small and personal note not central to this review.

As with the first film, the costumes and characters are OTT without being OTT—we see a softer side to Effie and the on-stage interplay and stands against the Capital are goosebump-inducing. Katniss’ dresses are, as always, spectacular, and the vest she wears in the first few scenes is likely to spawn a fashion trend.

MockingjayThe ‘peacekeepers’ outfits are suitably imposing and austere. And the arena outfits are functional and full-body swimsuit-like, but suit the script. It reminds me that this series doesn’t go for the sexy options wherever possible, and I respect it for that.

That said, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Sam Claflin, who plays Finnick, is exceptionally cute. He’s a brilliant actor, more measured than the arrogant character in the book, which makes it easier for us to relate to and believe in the character. Excellent (eye-candy) casting right there.

I will say that the final shot that closes the film wasn’t strong and bordered on corny, but it does suitably set up the third book, the film adaptation for which we’re now going to have to wait another apparent eternity.

Although the filmmakers have stayed true to the books in the first two films, my hope is that they’ll deviate from the book for film three. Mockingjay lost the plot a bit, likely because Collins had never expected to need to stretch the story out to a trilogy.

Either way, I’ll pass the time re-reading the books and re-watching the two films. And also getting onto the next Richelle Mead book, Fiery Heart, which was just released and arrived at my house today.

Review – Wool and Shift

9780099580485Wool

“Is seeing always believing?”

There are so many things to love about this book. It shares nothing in common with The Hungers Games, The Passage or The Matrix ( the first film not the dodgy sequels) but if you liked those stories you will go absolutely nuts for this book like I did.

“You’ve felt it, right? That we could be anywhere, living a lie?”

Originally self published as a short story that grew into five eBooks it is now available as one eBook together and will be published in December in paperback. I read an advanced print copy that had each part as a separate volume and I wish they were publishing the print book this way because having five distinct parts I think is essential to the overall reading experience of this extremely impressive novel.

“Something had happened. A great and powerful thing had fallen out of alignment.”

Part One is only 48 pages but it is more than enough to blow your mind. We meet Holston who is a Sheriff and is waiting in a holding cell to die. Holston lives in a gigantic underground silo which is over 130 stories deep. The outside world is full of toxic air and wastelands. The silo is organized and supplied so that people do not need to go outside. They have food and water and the population is kept in check. A couple cannot have a child until someone else dies and a lottery is held. There is a Mayor, a Sheriff and the laws of The Pact. If a law is broken the punishment is ‘The Cleaning’. ‘The Cleaning’ involves going outside in a specially designed suit and cleaning a gigantic lens which allows the inhabitants to view the outside world. It also involves certain death. Holston is waiting in a holding cell to do ‘The Cleaning’. A task he has volunteered for.

“A project to pull the wool back from everyone’s eyes. A favour to the next fool who slipped up or dared to hope aloud”

Holston is the catalyst. His actions set everything in motion. A new Sheriff must be found. As the next four parts unfold we learn more about life in the silo and how each level is divided up in order for everybody to survive. You also begin to piece together a bigger picture and a more complex world that will astonish you and leave you gasping for air as you read. What at first seems to be a great lie is in fact something else all together and discovering the truth is more dangerous that anyone can possibly imagine.

“This is how the uprising begins”

This is a story bursting with imagination and ideas. Thought-provoking seems an understatement. Howey does what all great speculative fiction should, he creates a world seemingly removed from our own, in an apocalyptic future, and slowly peels the differences away. There is a lot of hype around this book. This is one of those rare occasions where not only does the book live up to the hype, it exceeds it.

“It is not beyond us to kill to keep secrets.”

Buy the book here…

9781780891224Shift

Like Wool, which was originally published as five eBooks, Shift was originally published as three eBooks and is now available in one volume. Shift is the follow-up to Wool but it is actually the prequel. Set in Silo 1 it tells the story of how the silos came into being and why. The book is split into three shifts, each spaced decades apart, as we follow the work of Silo 1 monitoring the other silos as well as managing their own silo population.

Shift is as mind-blowing as Wool, maybe more so. I am totally amazed that the world Howey has created, which is so confined within a Silo, can have so many stories and is bursting with so many ideas. Howey slowly marries up the stories of Wool and Shift perfectly and leaves you itching to read the conclusion, Dust. The wool is well and truly lifted from our eyes but what this means for the survivors in the Silos is far from clear and I cannot wait to find out.

Buy the book here…

TEENS PUT TO THE TEST – THE HUNGER GAMES LATEST RELEASE

Mockingjay, the 3rd book in Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games series was released recently to the delight of thousands of fans, and this final saga in the trilogy doesn’t disappoint.

Just like books one and two it’s full of action and suspense and feisty heroine, Katniss Everdeen is at her charismatic best.

In Mockingjay, the Capitol is angry and wants revenge. Katniss’ arch enemy President Snow blames her for the unrest and will stop at nothing to bring her down. And President Snow wants to make sure that Katniss suffers as much as possible before he destroys her.

Once again, I found myself hooked by Katniss’ story, wondering how she could possibly win against such impossible odds, and every step of the way I felt her physical and emotional pain.

For all her bravery and magnetism, she is also full of self-doubt and impulsiveness and it’s these flaws that make her real for the reader.

To add to the tension is the conflict between the rivals for her affection. Will she choose the angry and driven Gale or the damaged but heroic Peeta?

All three Hunger Games books have a well-constructed plot and a diverse cast of characters, and the events unfold at a cracking pace that keeps you turning the pages. They also offer something for the reader who wants to delve a little deeper to the themes and issues that lie just below the surface. It’s hardly surprising that these multi-layered books been translated into 30 languages and are being so widely talked about.

The books appeal to both YA and adult readers and the secret to their success seems to be in the way the teen heroes and heroines are put to the test and forced to confront their beliefs and fears.

For me, the Hunger Games books have the same features that make John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series so successful. Both series have plenty of action and great characters facing the moral dilemmas of war and who has the right to live or die.

What can be more compelling than teenagers forced to take risks to save the world in which they live and along the way, find their own identity and discover what really matters?

Mockingjay is written by Suzanne Collins and published by Scholastic.