Monday, December 13, 2010

Author adoration, adulation

I keep a little notebook to jot down book titles as I read them and was surprised to see I’ve devoured about sixty books since January.

A phenomenon, which I’m sure everyone’s observed, is how wildly diverse review comments can be. One person gives five stars and another says it’s the worse book ever. The point being that we’re each formed by genetics, environment and experience to have strong biases and desires that may differ radically from someone else’s. And, hey, maybe one day we're receptive and another we're cranky.

So my method of picking some YA books to showcase was seeing which ones stuck to me for one reason or another--it might be visceral impact or a fresh style. I dislike spoilers, so I will mainly mention why the craft of these books appealed to me. I’ve included snippets to give a sense of writing style.

THE MARBURY LENS by Andrew Smith
This is a book I normally would run away from, but it may be the most absorbing, riveting and deeply affecting book I read all year. I’m not a person who loves horror, and this one is horrifying. I almost couldn’t keep reading when I encountered an early scene that hit all my revulsion buttons.
I wouldn’t recommend this to a young or sensitive teen, but for the mature reader, this is an extraordinary tale that leaves you wondering if you’re reading a psychological thriller or a gritty urban fantasy or a mash-up. Smith is so skillful that I don’t care how it’s categorized. The characters and worlds he built have wormed into my consciousness. For better or worse, I doubt they’ll ever leave. How’s that for powerful storytelling?
Snippet: I guess in the old days, in other places, boys like me usually ended up twisting and kicking in the empty air beneath gallows.
Upper YA/Adult crossover for brutal, disturbing situations and language.

LIAR by Justine Larbalestier.
I knew two things before I opened this book. One: there had been controversy over the first cover, which featured a white model, even though the protagonist is black. The publisher created a more representative cover after the uproar. Two: the protagonist is a liar.
I was prepared for an unreliable narrator but not for how ensnared I became in the story, which is suspenseful and surprising. The reader is made a participant, because Micah says on the first page that she’s telling “you” her story and promises not to lie. “This time I truly mean it,” she says. From there on, the reader knows Micah can’t be trusted, no matter what she says, and this makes for a dynamic reading experience in which the reader questions and sorts information.
I’m impressed with the writing craft--how pieces of the story are presented or withheld or turned upside down. Micah is a fascinating character, but you never know if you’ve really figured her out.
Snippet: I tell her I don’t have a broken heart. It’s still beating, the blood still moves around my body; it only aches when I remember to breathe.
Upper YA/Adult crossover for language and situations.

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly.
I bought this because I like the look of the cover and the author’s style. I was beyond pleased with the surprise inside the covers—a contemporary tale of a troubled teenager with a kind of ghostly time travel via an old diary that renders parts of the novel historical fiction set in the French Revolution. I love the way the protagonist’s passion for music and the guitar help her stagger through overwhelming grief, and how her discovery of another girl’s life and unfinished mission gives her own life new purpose. This story is smart and layered.
Snippet: I eat my dinner alone tonight, like I do every night. In our big, empty dining room. It’s not so bad. I can study my music and no one asks me about the calculus test I failed; or reminds me of my curfew; or demands to know the name, address, and intentions of the delinquent du jour crashed out in my bed.
Mature YA/crossover for language and situations.

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi
This book started in a claustrophobic, scary way and escalated. Set in a believable dystopian future, the haves and have-nots both struggle to survive. I liked the way the author organically wove in the effects of environmental disaster by simply showing how people found ways to exist in a world made smaller and more dangerous than ever. Nailer, the protagonist, is tough, vulnerable, hopeful and noble, despite his deplorable start in life.
Snippet: A few men were lounging in the shade, tats and piercings showing unknown affiliations. They watched as the three interlopers moved through their turf. Nailer’s neck prickled. He palmed his knife, wondering if there would be bloodshed.
YA with some brutal scenes.

PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White.
This is a romp--a fresh slant on paranormal stories. The teenage protagonist bags paranormals of all stripes for an international containment agency. What she doesn’t know is much about herself and why she is skilled this way.
Snippet: Just as he reached for my neck, I tased him. I was there to bag and tag, not to kill. Besides, if I had to carry separate weapons for every paranormal I took out, I’d be dragging around a full luggage set. Tasers are a one-size-fits-all paranormal butt-kicking option. Mine’s pink with rhinestones.
YA. Suitable for the younger end of the spectrum, too, the protagonist actually says “bleep” when upset.

The author is so good at finding fresh, spot-on ways of describing things that I think the book should be read for that alone, but the story is meaningful, as well. For instance, when Lennie, the teen protagonist, describes the way she and her Gram and uncle stare at nothing, following the death of her sister, Nelson writes that “it’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.” Lennie can only let out her grief in written words that she scatters, everywhere. Then a sexual awakening tied to her loss really upends her.
Snippet: Gram raises her hands to her face in distress, and I go back to scribbling a poem in the margin of Wuthering Heights. I’m huddled into a corner of the couch. I’ve no use for talking, would just as soon store paper clips in my mouth.
Mature YA for language and situations.

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver

I might not have picked up this book about a clique of popular mean girls, but I’m glad I did. Oliver impressed me with the way she peeled character revelations away layer by layer. Early on, the protagonist dies in a car accident but wakes up again and again the morning of the day it happens. With each new-but-same day, she changes her actions, altering events--at first, hoping to survive and later with more awareness of herself, her family, her friends and their victims. I don’t want to give away what happens but it’s a story that resonates long after the last line.
Snippet: It’s a good feeling knowing you can basically do whatever you want and there won’t be any consequences.
Mature YA for language and situations.


Liza said...

Thanks for the reviews. Sixty books. Good for you! I think I'll count next year too.

Sangu Mandanna said...

Oooh thanks for the reviews! I've read and liked a few of these, and the others have totally intrigued me.

I really have to start listing and counting the books I've read too - I've completely lost track!

Tere Kirkland said...

Holy cow I can't believe you read so many books!

I just finished Ship Breaker and really loved it. Marbury Lens has got to be next on the list!

Robyn Campbell said...

You are ahead of me by ten books. How'd that happen? I'z got some catching up to do. *she hurriedly flips pages of book she started yesterday* Trying to stay engrossed in the story. But alas, it's just not happening for me.

Loved BEFORE I FALL too, Pat. It surprised me that I did love it, because it's not the typical kind of book that I read. I've read some of these, but LIAR is one I MUST buy this week. A little Christmas present for moi. :)

Lydia Kang said...

Too many good books to read! I'm really curious about the Marbury Lens now...may have to pick that one up soon to see if I like it!

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Such great picks for 2010, but I can't believe I haven't read Revolution yet!! I must, I must. It's on my list. I'm determined to read it before 2011. Excellent mini reviews!

Unknown said...

I've heard great things about Liar and Revolution. Thought the last three were great, and especially loved Before I Fall. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Liza: It really surprised me to find I'd read that many. But since many are YA, they are faster to read than most literary fiction. If I didn't keep a list, I'd never remember them all.

@Sangu: Exactly. No way I'd remember without the list, and it was interesting to see my reaction after time lapsed. Some faded, others didn't.

@Tere: I swear Marbury Lens is killer. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

@Robyn: Sometimes I amaze myself with how I gobble up books. *chomp chomp* I might not have read Before I Fall, either, since I gravitate to fantasy/dystopian, but, wow, it was good.

@Lydia: It is sooo good, but I'm sure some people will be unable to read it due to some of the subject matter. But, if you can, it's powerful.

@Carol: Thanks! I tried to find the heart of why I liked each one. I think you'll love Revolution. :)

@Stina: Happy reading! I'd probably read them again some day. But there are so many books!

walk2write said...

Blogging about what you've read and your impressions helps a lot with remembering. I don't normally reach for the YA books when I'm visiting the library or bookstore, but I like your recommendations here. It must be an awesome responsibility to write YA stuff. I'm not sure I could ever do it, thinking about that proverbial millstone hanging over my head:)

storyqueen said...

I really, really want to read The Marbury Lens...but I am a bit scared......


Talli Roland said...

I've only read 'Before I Fall' and I was blown away by it. Such a fantastic book.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@walktowrite: Hi and welcome. I think it is a responsibility to balance the meaningful with the entertaining. And there is a vast difference in young teens or older ones as to maturity and readiness for some material.

@Shelley: You should be. Seriously, I really had a hard time with one particular aspect of this story but it is integral, not gratuitous, and is why the story resonates so strongly.

@Talli: It really is so much deeper than a reader might think at first. Such layers.

Suzanne Casamento said...

Wow. I feel like a bad reader. I haven't opened a book in over a month! Your reviews are great. Now I know what to shop for. Thanks!

Paul C said...

As a retired high school English teacher, I marvel at the explosion of good young adult fiction. Your positive reviews reinforce this impression.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Suzanne: Sorry you haven't had time to read. I seem to need it like food. I hope you like some of these recs!

@PaulC: It's astounding, isn't it? I tried to pick ones that had deeper layers and made an impact for this post. Thanks.

Tabitha Bird said...

Awesome. I have devoured almost 50. That was my goal for the year. So I am nearly there.

Sarah Laurence said...

60 books in a year – impressive! I like how your grouped your favorites in one post. Great mini-reviews. Marbury Lens and Ship Breaker sound too brutal for me. Liar I would like to read due to the cover issue and the unreliable narrator. Thanks for reminding me of it. I’m maxed out on paranormal and books with hearts on the cover. My daughter and I enjoyed before I fall although I disliked the characters.

Revolution I picked up and skimmed before putting down after a few chaptes. It was too silly having teens getting wasted BEFORE school. Teens love sleep more than anything. The MC rubbed me the wrong way although the writing was good. It seemed too long to keep going with those problems.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Tabitha: Reading a good book is my drug of choice, I think. ;) I wish you many more happy hours of reading.

@Sarah: Yeah, the Marbury Lens is brutal, no way around it, so I understand when people don't want to go there.
I, too, disliked the characters in Before I Fall, but was fascinated in what I came to know about them.
Hmmm, that's interesting about how Revolution hit you. I assumed some of these kids were pretty much cut free to do as they pleased, so I bought into the hedonism. Her best friend, in comparison, had a very buttoned-down lifestyle.

Lola Sharp said...

I've read all of these, and agree 100%. All of these make my top 10 list of the year for YA. My top 3 YA of the year are definitely: Jandy's The Sky IS Everywhere, Jennifer's Revolution (man, the research she must have done makes me feel like the slackeriest slacker), and Before I Fall.
Proof that there is quality writing (craft) in YA. Not as much as I'd like, but these are all stellar examples or lovely prose.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

@Lola: Yay! I'm glad we agree. I love finding books that are so well-written.