Young Adult Fiction

Dazzled Book Review of Ready Player One

RP1I never did get to this in the cinemas, and once someone mentioned to me the book was better, I knew I had to read it first.

I picked it up one afternoon as a break from heavier reads.  It was slow going to begin with, even though I was impressed from the beginning by the vivid world that Cline created.  It’s a geek’s heaven – where 80s trivia and video game mastery score you the ultimate cool points – and a top spot in the race for a pretty cool prize. It’s a world you see that is lived largely online – in a virtual world known as the OASIS.  While the real world suffers (as it likely will), in the OASIS you can be who you want, go where you want and even take care of basic necessities like go to school or hang with friends.

When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves a secret prize – mastery of the whole system – hidden in an “Easter Egg” (a term gamers will be familiar with).  Naturally, an evil huge corporation is after it – and even more naturally in terms of teen fiction, it is only a few heroic teenagers that stand in their way.

After about 70 or so pages, I found this incredibly difficult to put down.  I got so caught up in the action of the storyline and the developing friendships between the characters.  I still haven’t seen the film – but if it is half as good as this, it would have been worth a watch.  Encourage young readers to get their hands on this – and not to be intimidated by its size.  It’s a great read.

 

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Book Review of Everything I Never Told You

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgRecently I read – and loved- Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Burning.  What a wonderful book, full of intriguing characters and situations that keep you interested for the entirety of the narrative.  If you too loved this book, and are looking for a repeat in Everything I Never Told You, you wont find it. It’s a very different book – difficult, challenging and painful to read sometimes.

It starts with a family is crisis. Middle child Lydia has gone missing.  When her body is found in the lake, the police conclude that it is suicide.  Her parents are astonished – isn’t Lydia their smart, pretty girl?  With plenty of friends?  A whole, bright future ahead of her? But her brother is less surprised.. and when he begins to share his memories of Lydia with the reader, we see a family that has been deluding itself for some time.

This is an incredibly sad story – of parents whose expectations became too much for their daughter to bear.  Nit because they didn’t love her – but because they loved her so much they wanted her to have every opportunity that they didn’t.  In this way, they began to play out their own missed opportunities through her.  And her love was so great she did everything she could to be that person they wanted – even hiding her own solitude and growing desperation for freedom. It’s hard to read stories of love gone so wrong, reminding us that even the best of intentions don’t always produce the best of outcomes. But it is a story worth telling – and probably one worth reading.  But outside of the focus on family and family secrets, very different to her other book.

Book Review of Little Fires Everywhere

little-fires-everywhere“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control…”

This statement could be applied to all the female characters in Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. The novel starts with a real fire, and goes back to explain how it all came about. How those very real flames were the result of so much passion – and so much pressure to suppress it.

All this is sparked (see the fire pun there?) is the town of Shaker Heights by the arrival of Mia, a single mother and photographer, and her daughter Pearl. Shaker Heights is one of those picture-perfect towns with strong ideas about what is expected of residents. The type of town you think of when you hear that song ‘Little Boxes’, which is the theme to the brilliantly subversive show ‘Weeds’.

Mia and Pearl live quite differently – with minimal possessions. Their life revolves around Mia’s work – working just enough to survive and be able to practice her craft. This gives them a very different perspective to their neighbours – much to the chagrin of the Richardson family who they rent from.

And yet despite their differences, they lives of these two families become inexplicably entwined with each other’s. Pearl befriends the children – and has quite different relationships with each. These shape and change her character in ways that Mia is not quite ready for. So, when Mrs Richardson offers her a cleaning job, Mia takes it to enter into this part of her daughter’s world – only to find her own connections, especially with the two Richardson girls.

Behind all these lies the secret to Pearl’s conception, a secret which Mrs Richardson take upon herself to unravel. And she’s a journalist. While she works only for the local paper, she has some knowledge of how to uncover what is hidden. And she is very motivated to know more about these people who have somehow ingratiated themselves into her world. It is this undertaking that in some ways, sets the rest of the novel in motion.

There’s also quite an interesting sub-plot about an abandoned baby that is thought-provoking too.

I listened to this on audio and really quite enjoyed it. It’s like kind of young adult fiction that sits right on the cusp of more adult-level concepts. I’ve heard a lot of good reports about Celeste Ng, and I will no doubt read more.

Book Review of The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

la belle sauvage

The long-awaited prequel to Phillip Pullman’s classic YA series, His Dark Materials is finally here. And fans of the original series will not be disappointed with not only a return to the world of the beloved main character Lyra Bellacqua, but a return to Lyra herself.

Just an infant, Lyra is still driving the narrative of La Belle Sauvage.  Hidden away with nuns, Lyra is already being pursued by a number of groups, and especially the real villain of this novel, Gerald Bonneville, a man so evil he torments and savages his own daemon (remember the charming quirk of this world is that each person expresses a part of their soul as a small animal).

The main character of this series though is Malcolm, a young boy who stumbles onto adventure whilst working in his parents’s pub.  Malcolm hears both about the existence of the hidden baby Lyra, and those pursuing her and takes an interest in her prospects.  This also leads him to connect with a group opposing the Magisterium – a rapidly growing group of religious zealots which we know take over the political landscape from His Dark Materials.  The closest relationship he forms is with Dr Hannah Relf, who reads Alethiometers.

Malcolm’s tender heart is captured by the baby, and when a flood occurs, he decides to take her to Oxford to seek sanctuary.  He is joined by Alice, a plucky girl he meets in the kitchens.

The two spend the second part of the novel hiding the baby from a variety of magical and non-magical foes.  This meanders a little, and feels a little like padding out the real story.  But all is clever and engaging.

A delightful return to a beloved magical world – it’s undoubtedly going to be popular with fans.  Pullman has given them more of what they want.

Book Review of Turtles All the Way Down

turtles.jpgDespite seeming hell-bent on ticking all the major boxes of YA Fiction, John Green still produces moving and heartfelt stories.

In each novel he tackles a topical issue facing young people – in the magnificent The Fault in Our Stars it was cancer.  In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, it was sexuality.  In Turtles All The Way Down, it is mental health and anxiety that he targets.

Aza is far from your typical teenager – obsessing about C Diff and germs that make it almost impossible for her to do normal things like eat lunch in the cafeteria, let alone kiss a boy.  But when Russell Pickett,  the millionaire father of an old camp friend goes missing, the quest for the reward will take her far from her comfort zone.

Together with her generally understanding best friend Daisy, Aza will begin to put the pieces together about Pickett’s disappearance.  However, putting together the pieces of her own story will be more difficult as her anxiety and compulsive behaviour become increasingly difficult to manage.

This started slow but i ended up binging the last hundred pages or so way too late into the night.  And that’s the sign of a pretty good read.  Fans won’t be disappointed.

Book Review of Release

Unknown-1Patrick Ness can write.  There is a real sensitivity to his stories both in their content and in the way they are written.

That beauty is evident in Release, his latest novel.  However, there is probably more here than needs to be.  There are two parallel storylines – one of Adam Thorne, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and his romantic feelings for two men.  This is complicated by his religious upbringing; his father is a local pastor focussed on ensuring the family sets some kind of example in the local community.  They have been ignoring the signs of Adam’s sexuality for years.  Fortunately, Adam is surrounded by other friends whose love and support allow him to navigate some of these waters.

The other storyline involves a local girl who dies in tragic circumstances – a girl with a substance abuse problem and a violent boyfriend.  Her body is dumped in the lake where it joins with an ancient spirit to seek out the details of her death.  I’m not really sure of the purpose of this – it’s barely comprehensible and the Adam Thorne storyline is strong enough to stand alone without this.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has read this, to hear their take on the second storyline.

Book Review of Carve the Mark

carve the markVeronica Roth’s Divergent series was so incredibly popular, that publishing a new storyline, especially one markedly different, must elicit some angst – for the author and readers alike.  And while I haven’t read that many positive reviews of her latest offering Carve the Mark, I ended up really enjoying it.

Much less dystopian than Divergent,
is pure science fiction.  It concerns itself with two peoples who live on the same planet – the Shotet and the Thuvhe – but cannot live in harmony. The Thuvhe live quietly and peacefully while the Shotet pillage and scavenge, and violent existence best represented by their tradition of carving a mark on their own arms each time they take a life.

Naturally, a young man and a young woman from each culture are thrown together and fall in love.  But its a little more complicated than that.  This is a galaxy with two particularly interesting features. Firstly, oracles make the fates of important people public – and this causes political manipulation to attempt to challenge or protect fate.  The second, is the energy source known as the ‘current’ which flows around them all, and gifts each inhabitant with a particular ‘currentgift’. Cyra, our Juliet character, can make others feel pain, but the cost is that she lives in constant pain herself.  Akos, kidnapped from Thuvhe by Cyra’s brother as he was fated to serve them, is gifted with the ability to block the currentgifts of others – and thus relieve Cyra’s constant pain.  Eventually they come to mean something more to each other than forced companions and Cyra is forced to confront her brother – a violent dictator – and take a stand for the rights of others.

There’s more to the story than this, including the brother of Akos who becomes a willing oracle to the Shotet and an underground rebellion.  Overall, I thought this was a well-realised fictional world with interesting moral quandaries and the beginning of a tasty story.  Definitely worth a look.