50 Years of YA, Part 5

This post has been written for, like, two weeks, and I just realized I never published it!   Whoops!  Here you are:

#28: How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff


Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

– Goodreads

Putting this book up against other postmodern stories, this one wasn’t too bad.  I liked the sort of casual approach to a human-made disaster.  This is a motif I’ve seen a few times in recent literature, and I think it creates a different dialogue on a worn-out trope.  You know, we have a lot of books about after the disaster (dystopian), and a lot of books from before (realism/realistic), but I like that people are venturing into during.

I will say, though, that the romantic relationship in this book weirded me out a little bit.  I am all for forward thinking and inclusive portrayals of relationships in YA.  I’m just not so sure that I think incest is one such story that should be told.

To be fair, the taboo relationship is handled with care throughout this text.  It’s also not the focus, as most of the story feels more like a coming-of-age experience and a journey tale.  I’m just not sure that I agree with its presence, period.  Very weird, if you ask me.

In terms of the overall story, it’s an excellent book.  But no OTP here for me.


#32: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson


It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

– Goodreads

I’ll be honest: this was the book during which I finally decided it would be okay to only read the first book in the series, rather than the entire set of books.

I just did not understand this one.  I liked the premise.  I think it’s important to consider the perspective of slaves and “nontraditional” Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But I lost interest in the actual production.  What’s the point of creating a fabricated universe of horror, when actual historical events could capture it well enough?

I’ll also be honest: period language is difficult for me to understand and appreciate.  I associate it with my least favorite college classes, and then it was written by people who actually spoke it and used it.  I’m not a fan of fabricating it for false authenticity.

I’ve also noticed in this list of titles a strong emphasis on literature that may appeal more heavily to a masculine audience, and I think this one applies.  I feel like it’s good that this list sought to be inclusive.  However, now I’m thinking we need several 50 Best Books lists that give 50 titles to each characteristic found in a few of each of the books on this list… Hmmm….


#33: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie


Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

With a forward by Markus Zusak, interviews with Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney, and four-color interior art throughout, this edition is perfect for fans and collectors alike.

– Goodreads

I’m so glad that I finally read this one!  It’s been on my TBR for far too long.  Do I understand why it is mainly read as a required book for school?  Yes.  Do I think everyone should read it at least once, regardless of requirement or otherwise?  Also yes.

This book is a little more didactic than I prefer in my YA, but I’ll forgive Alexie for the simple fact that he is providing an uncommon narrative to an audience that is most likely unfamiliar with it.  The struggle of Native American tribes in the U.S. is largely silenced, as is revealed in this text.  I think it’s wonderful that Alexie sought to provide a first-person account from someone in this people group to a younger audience.

It has earned its awards, even if it’s not the most fantastic fast-paced story I’ve ever encountered.  Kudos to you, Mr. Alexie, and thank you.


#35: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1), Patrick Ness


Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

– Goodreads

Okay, it’s time for two truths:

  1. I have never read A Monster Calls
  2. After reading this book, I am now terrified to read the above title, for fear of hating it.

I need to be honest, y’all–I did NOT enjoy this book at all.  I didn’t even really finish it.  I felt like the premise was really neat, but it took too long to figure out what the actual drive of the plot even was.  Too much mystery with absolutely no reveal.  And then, the one shocking fact was shared, and it was not surprising at all.  It was completely predictable, and also something that I had thought was inherently known from the beginning.

I also fear that Ness has the same problem John Green has: writing the death of lovable characters for the sentimental response of the reader.  This book had at least one, if not two or three, deaths of great characters (I won’t name them, but you may also be able to guess [like I did]) so that the reader has an emotional reaction to them.  I detest this type of story, ever since I was doped by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (still a great book, but let’s be honest, some of those dying scenes are meant to leave you an emotional wreck).  And so all authenticity was lost in the first moments of these deaths.

And finally, our villain.  Or, at least, one of them.  The character that continues to almost die and always returns.  I could definitely do without him.

This one is perhaps like the others that are directed more heavily toward a masculine/boy audience.  And yet, I can’t help but think that young men deserve better.

I may still one day give A Monster Calls a chance, but it won’t be any time soon.  My trust has been broken before it was fully extended.


#40: The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey


These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

– Goodreads

This was another series that I won’t be finishing, but I can honestly say it’s only because it’s outside my genre.

I started this book expecting something out of Supernatural, the TV show about the brothers who fight evil beings.  The actual result was very different.  This story is much slower paced, but has some fun and interesting twists along the way.  I also think the layout of the book (letters) contributes well to the eerie tone.

I found the pace of the book to be a little boring, especially as I was expecting Sam-and-Dean speed action.  The slower evaluation and experience of the doctor and his assistant isn’t a total negative; it’s just not something I enjoy and so it’s not something I will be finishing.

But this is one of the few titles that I’m like, not for me, but others will probably enjoy it!  So, if you don’t mind a bit of monstrous gore, go for it!  I think you may really like it!


44: The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater


“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

– Goodreads

This is the first series on this list that I have finished, cover-to-cover-to-cover-to-cover!  Ha!  And I did so for a couple reasons: (1) the characters are engaging, (2) the mythology is not Greek/Roman, and (3) Will Patton read the audiobooks!

This is an excellent mysterious story about several different people who, through fate, find their lives inevitably intertwined.  I have a few plot issues with the story, but overall, I really did enjoy what came out of it.  The individuals are well-sculpted with strengths and flaws like real people.  And while the story begins with a focus on two specific characters, all of the “supporting roles” get excellent opportunities to “shine.”

You can tell that Stiefvater built this story in a Rowling-like way: with the end in mind as she sculpted each installment.  It’s also in true Stiefvater fashion, in that even the end of all four books leaves you wishing you had more from her.

I’m not a fan of romance, so I was extremely skeptical by the premise of this book (Blue’s fortune, and Gansey’s fate).  However, the romantic side of the story did not overpower the mythology, friendship, and mystery.  Sure, it got mushy at different points, but it wasn’t suffocating.

I had characters I liked and ones I didn’t, and overall, I have positive feelings about this series.  I can see why people are reading it, and I agree with its inclusion on our list.  You should try it, too.


#48: A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery, Albert Marrin


John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and “the father of American terrorism.” Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for something modern Americans unanimously agree was a just cause. And yet he was a religious fanatic and a staunch believer in “righteous violence,” an unapologetic committer of domestic terrorism. Marrin brings 19th-century issues into the modern arena with ease and grace in a book that is sure to spark discussion.

– Goodreads

This is one that I just skimmed, but I felt I had to include it here for consideration anyway.

I was raised on stories of Bonhoeffer, so Brown’s approach to righteousness was not unfamiliar to me.  It’s interesting to see some of the connections drawn between the men.

I think it’s also good to include books like this that shed light on different parts of history, particularly if those stories weren’t likely to end up in traditional history books.

Not much more to say than that; a history buff page-turner, for sure!


#49: I Crawl Through It, A.S. King


Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving date rape, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults–and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to face it head-on.

– Goodreads

I really hate to end this post on a negative note, but this is the last book in chronological order to report on today, so here it is:

This book, I did not understand.  I get that it’s supposed to be this postmodern piece in teen literature, but I don’t think it does the best job.  In fact, I think the effort to create this oasis-type space (accessible by invisible helicopter, obviously) detracts from the actual, real-life struggles of the four main teen characters in this story.

We should expose teens to all sorts of different genres of literature, absolutely.  But I don’t think that should come at the expense of extending clear and honest understanding on topics that real teens face in real life.  And so, while this book addresses some of those ideas with the lives of its characters, the idea of a helicopter as escape is not what I would call a healthy response.

I don’t think YA should prescribe solutions to teen problems (particularly when obvious ones aren’t present in real-life), but I also think leaving vague, figurative experiences as answers can cause as much damage as the overly didactic.  There is certainly a balance to be found, and I think other books on this list do a better job.

Some people love this book and this author.  Good for you.  I’m going to continue to pass.


Here’s to hoping for a positive conclusion on the next YA post!

Also, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming projects:

  • An “Unpopular Opinions” book tag post! 😀 [The first confession will send you “Rowling”!]
  • A Review of Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink and In A Handful of Dust

Cheers, and happy reading!


All block quotes are copied from Goodreads.com

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