“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
Category Archives: YA fiction
“But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
I’ve read John Green’s latest and most promoted book, The Fault In Our Stars, and loved it, albeit with some minor reservations. I think this is better. Miles is the new kid at prestigious Alabama boarding school Culver Creek. Far from condemning him to being the social recluse he was at his old school, his roommate Chip (aka Colonel Catastrophe) takes him under his wing and introduces him to schooltime pranks, smoking, and the enigmatic Alaska Young. Alaska is hypnotic, unpredictable, trouble and generous…
I preferred this to TFIOS, even though TFIOS has been Green’s breakthrough book. Tragedy hangs over TFIOS inescapably; the whole plot is steeped in it. Alaska is much more everyday, full of the para-tragedy of the threat of expulsion, of being caught smoking or staring out the window or throwing up on your girlfriend. After the shock of the tragedy around which the book pivots, the characters’ reactions are credible without being predictable. Miles, The Colonel, Takumi, Alaska and Lara are a band of thieves, but a happy and warm-hearted group. They subvert authority while retaining fervent respect when they feel it is intellectually due.
Green obviously has a gift for creating memorable teenage characters. Like Hazel and Augustus in TFIOS, I won’t be forgetting Miles Halter or Alaska Young any time soon. Their memories for last words and poety respectively (and The Colonel’s for capital cities), Alaska’s impulsive and spontaneous nature, her love of fast driving, fast food and fast friends; Miles’ timidity and strength under pressure. Importantly, they are quite different from his characters in other books – it’s hard enough to create a few characters like this band in Alaska. To resist the temptation to reuse them is commendable.
One of my objections to TFIOS was that 17-year-old boys don’t talk like Augustus does (or at least, none that I’ve ever met talk like he does). In Alaska, Miles often thinks lyrically, but speaks in a more typical manner. In LFA there is much less writing for the cute quote, the school study guide; the writing is both more straightforward and richer than in TFIOS.
“I was caught in a love triangle with one dead side.”
TFIOS was very good. This is better. Read it.
Additional information:Copy borrowed from Mini-Me Publisher: HarperCollins, 263 pages (paperback) Order LOOKING FOR ALASKAfrom Amazon* * this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
“Relationships are not democracies.”
This novel addresses the severely under-discussed topic of teen HIV infection due to unsafe practices. Lucy Moore contracts HIV on a drunken night out, and struggles with telling those closest to her. High school is tough enough with the new girl at school trying to steal your boyfriend, trying to win the part of Juliet, and figuring out what’s going on with your birth mother, without having to confess to your crush that you have HIV.
The characters are well written and the dynamic between the teenagers is good and strong and credible – as a YA novel, this does well. Tight knit community with fault lines? Check. Protagonist with dark past? Check. Bad behaviour creating conflict? Check. Even without the deep medical/behavioural topic, this makes a really solid teen novel. The perfect guy is of course not perfect, evil arch-queen softens a bit eventually, and nice guy doesn’t come last.
The HIV thing – I was actually really surprised by this. Verdi writes sensitively and delicately about this; Lucy really does screw up pretty badly, and then she suffers, and her parents suffer, and her friends suffer, and she joins a support group where the members face prejudice every day. Interestingly, she makes friends with someone who contracted HIV at birth from her mother, and has thus had a life of living with it, but at no fault. Verdi really does examine living with HIV from every angle (that one can within the remit of a YA novel).
On the other hand, the novel felt polemical – “look at how a stupid drunken mistake screws up a life” and “be nice to HIV-positive people”. Valid messages, no doubt, but a little exhaustively repeated here. Perhaps a YA novel, by definition of type, is less subtle than some of what I’m used to. Nevertheless, a tough story, well told, through a complex narrator with credible and sympathetic friends. Worth the read.Additional information: Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review. Publisher: Sourcebooks
Order My Life After Nowfrom Amazon* * this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
“Hazel Grace, could I, with my meager intellectual capacities, make up a letter from Peter Van Houten featuring phrases like ‘our triumphantly digitized contemporaneity’?”
From the blurb: Despite the tumour-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
From my first post (about 150 pages into this book):
First impressions: these kids are witty, and I love their conversation, but so far, so another teenage cancer-ridden love story. See similar misery novels: My Sister’s Keeper, Elsewhere, Before I Die.
I like the humour, the conversations are funny, but then I had An Issue With This Book: Augustus. He talks like no 17-year-old I’ve ever met. He talks like no man I’ve ever met. I know some quite humorous young women who can get about that many words per minute in amusing streams of consciousness out, but no men. I’m not trying to generalise here, find me an erudite loquacious teenage boy, never mind teenage cancer-surviving boy, and I will eat my metaphorical hat. And when I cannot believe the conversational talent of one of the main couple, things are Not Going To Go Well. Or so I thought – I’ve another 70 pages and sort of accepted it but it still bugged me. But now they’re in Amsterdam and drinking the stars and falling in love but it’s cute and complex and not totally sugar-laden because Hazel thinks of herself like a grenade and… stuff. Themes. Things that English teachers like to discuss.
Now that I’ve finished the book…
Major Emotional Upheaval point was kind of obvious, but still neatly done and Green doesn’t shy away from the ugly tragedy of cancer; two of the three main kids go through some pretty awful, harrowing suffering. I ended up not crying after all (after putting the book down for a week because I didn’t want to take it on a commute and end up bawling in public), but I think those less stony-hearted than myself would weep.
The characters are solidly built and funny, clever kids facing their own mortality far too early. The parents and extended families struck me as a little light, but part of that will be because they were simply not the focus of the story.
Generally excellent writing, many witticisms and clever lines:
“It’s hard as hell to hold on to your dignity when the risen sun is too bright in your losing eyes, and that’s what I was thinking about as we hunted for bad guys through the ruins of a city that didn’t exist.”
“I was wondering what ontologically meant. Regardless, I like it. Augustus and I were together in the Improbable Creatures Club: us and duck-billed platypuses.”
Definitely a good read – sweet, romantic, emotionally upheaving, generally restoring faith in humanity and families and friends while ultimately sad… I foresee this appearing on required reading lists for schools in about 3 years’ time – there are stacks of themes to discuss here.Additional information: Copy borrowed, sort of, from The Book Accumulator at Mini-Me’s behest. Publisher: Penguin, 313 pages (paperback) Order The Fault in Our Starsfrom Amazon* * this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
““Can I help you with something?”
Clary turned instant traitor against her gender. “Those girls on the other side of the car are staring at you.”
Jace assumed an air of mellow gratification. “Of course they are,” he said, “I am stunningly attractive.””
In this first of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary Fray is happily going about her suburban New York life with her mother (squabbling) and her best friend Simon (not realising he loves her) when some demons turn up at her local nightclub. She receives a panicked call from her mother and goes into hiding with the local Shadowhunters, a group charged with killing evil daemons; but why did Clary have no idea about all of these magical groups if she is clearly a part of their world? But how can she see them if she’s not part of their world? Confusement.
Actually, as I write that synopsis I realised that Simon goes from not being able to see Shadowhunters and daemons at the start of the book, to being able to flirt/argue with them within thirty pages. So not sure what’s happened there.
I didn’t reject this quite as quickly as I gave up on Clockwork Angel, but I abandoned it for the same reasons: overdone romance and too foreign a fantastical world.
Within the first 169 pages (for thus far I did read), Clary has been totally oblivious to Simon’s enormous crush on her, found Jace both repellant and attractive, got jealous of Simon’s attentions to Isabella and defended him in a secret-crush-rather-than-old-friend way to Jace. We see the love square. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. WE GET IT. STOP HITTING ME WITH YOUR LOVE SQUARE OUCH OUCH OUCH!!!
Similarly, we’re in New York, in a club. But these kids are 16, please explain how they’re in a dodgy nightclub? Then there’s frantic running back to the apartment… But Clary stops at the red light? Really?
Oh and Clary thinks that Switzerland is between Germany and France. And no one, not even Shadowhunters FROM EUROPE, corrects her. Excuse me while I sob quietly in a corner.
I did keep reading it in little spurts after I’d given up on it but I thought I was just resuscitating a dead beast, so I gave up.