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

 

YA Review – Steal My Sunshine

The reading audience of YA yarns is ticklish to quantify by age and intangible by definition. Yet its common trait is the desire to be shocked, entertained and moved in the briefest possible time. I no longer have the rush of youth but do suffer the impatience of age so I love that YA reads can take me on a tour of emotions and conflicts, show me succinct snap shots of life, and have me safely home in time for dinner. It’s a bit like being a teenager again. So many issues, duelling emotions, and desperate questions that need answering – like yesterday.

Steal my sunshineSteal My Sunshine, Emily Gale’s first Australian release, is a bit of a circular re-visitation of one’s past. It centres around 15 year old Hannah, a girl with mostly pure intentions who is often at bitter odds with her mother Sarah, and older brother, Sam. She dwells on the fringe of true friendship and romance and feels most kindred to Essie, her eccentric, gin-swilling grandmother.

This story drew me in from the start. How could someone’s sunshine be stolen? It is easy to find fault with Hannah’s acerbic, confused mother, her pusillanimous father, her self-absorbed brother, and her seen-it-all-before best friend. But the key to surviving a crisis is not always about attributing blame. Sometimes it just makes more sense to acknowledge your true-self and accept how it fits in with life.

Hannah’s acknowledgment occurs when her world begins to dissolve during an oppressive Melbourne heatwave. Normality is slipping through her fingers faster than sand from St Kilda beach and she’s at a loss as to how to hang onto it. Enter Essie; the one person Hannah feels holds the answers, whose past can help Hannah make sense of her future. But Essie harbours a shameful secret of her own.

Hannah’s wild, enigmatic misfit of a best friend, Chloe, complicates the mix further. She is as intimate as a bestie should be but is not quite the right fit for the more straight-shooting Hannah. It doesn’t help that Hannah has a burning desire for Evan, Chloe’s older brother.

The disintegration of Hannah’s parents’ marriage and subsequent polarisation between Sam, her mother and herself, forces Hannah to spend more and more time with her grandmother until Essie at last, reveals the shocking truth. And this is where it gets interesting.

Essie takes us back sixty years after an ill-fated attraction leads to her expulsion from her family in the UK to Australia and the subsequent ‘cruel, immoral and shameful’ forced adoption of her baby. It is this theme of abandonment, involuntary confinement, and coercion that Gale portrays so poignantly through Essie’s heart-wrenching, personal recounts.

Though astounded, Hannah eventually finds solace and an understanding of where she belongs within her family and in doing so, reconciles with those she has been at odds with.

Touted as a coming of age novel, Steal My Sunshine summons us to acknowledge the abominable practise of forced adoption in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the realisation that not all broken things can be fixed back to perfect. But as Hannah discovers, the pieces can be saved and remodelled into something else just as special.

Emily GaleGale successfully evokes all the discomfiture of living in St Kilda during a heatwave whilst confronting one’s burning personal issues. Her narrative is gripping yet fluid, and although I would have liked to have seen more emotional development between Hanna and Evan (because I’m a hopeless romantic), it would have been superfluous to the story. The ending seemed a little too convenient after the gritty intrigue created mid-novel but these are minor niggles in a book that offered a satisfying YA mix of confronting pasts, contemporary anguish and reclaiming one’s self. A YA read that shines.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House Australia May 2013