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Review: Mindy McGinnis’ “Not a Drop to Drink” and “In a Handful of Dust”

I always love when I come across a book or series with a female protagonist who is a total badass, and I’ve quickly learned that I need look no further than Mindy McGinnis and her YA books.  She creates these epic protagonists who you wish existed in real life (but only if they were on your side…).  For those of you who follow me on Instagram (@waitingforthesecondstar), you know how obsessed I was with McGinnis’ books during the month of October.  Her terrifying plot lines and tough-as-nails teenage girls were the perfect combination for Halloween reading.

During this time, I read Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, two companion novels that tell the story of Lynn and Lucy, a couple of girls fighting to survive in a world where fresh water is hard to come by, and even harder to protect.  The books were some of my favorite for the year, and so I wanted to put out a more formal review than what I usually post on Goodreads.

Mindy is a local author for me.  I have met Mindy three times, and she is spectacular.  I absolutely love going to see her at signings.  I adore her work because she’s unafraid to challenge gender stereotypes in her texts.  She’s also unashamed to go “there,” wherever “there” might be in a particular book (if you’ve read anything by her, you understand how dark and twisted her books can be!).  But in person, she’s super down-to-earth and fantastic, and I know I’m going to be a lifetime fan.

I’m going to split this review between the two titles, reviewing them separately.  I gave each of these books 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  They are an excellent companion set focused on girlhood and growing up in a world that’s just gone wrong.  And while they’re shelved in the teen books, they’re definitely worthy of a crossover.  Not for the faint of heart, these twisted tales will make your skin crawl and your heart break.

So, shall we?

 

not a drop to drink

Regret was for the people who had nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most important, people looking for a drink.  She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest.  But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers.  The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different from our own.

Not a Drop to Drink follows closely the story of Lynn, a teenage girl who lives with her mom in the middle of nowhere, next to a precious pond of fresh water in a world where faucets don’t work and cholera is a constant threat.  Lynn’s mom has raised her on the idea of “shoot first, ask questions later,” and the closest she’s ever been to other humans has been through the scope on her rifle.  A terrible accident leaves her alone, and she has to reach out to her only neighbor, a man she hasn’t spoken to since her mom helped him get his foot out of a bear trap nearly a decade before.  And a set of city-slicker strangers will challenge the cold-hard shell of Lynn’s heart, forcing her to open up and take a chance at love in a world without hope.  Suddenly, with a very real threat just miles away, Lynn has far more to protect than just a pond.

This is a book that I would describe as “reads slow but has a lot going on.”  Sometimes, you pick up a book and the pages seem to turn really slowly, but you get to the end and you realize everything that happened and suddenly the book feels far more complex than you originally thought. (It’s kind of like feeling like a single day of the week drags by, but then Friday shows up before you expect it and you realize the week as a whole went by really fast.)  That’s how this book was, with everything that happened coming about in a matter-of-fact way.  The plot was chilling, action-focused, and it utilized characters as pawns in its game (so don’t get attached to anyone!).  And one of my favorite parts of McGinnis’ writing is that she takes these shocking moments and states them in such a straightforward way.  It adds to the darkness, the bleakness, and the horror.

Some of the events in this plot are somewhat predictable, but not in a bad way.  For instance, I had a pretty good idea who may show up in the final pages, and I was right.  But, that didn’t take away from the scene wherein Lynn meets this person, and what goes down is totally bone-chilling.  And, on the other hand, some moments were straight-up shocking!  Like, where did that come from?! So those moments helped to balance out the more obvious ones.

(Seriously.  Do NOT get emotionally attached to these characters!)

Honestly, I appreciated the fact that McGinnis was able to *remove* some of her characters from the plot, and she did so in such a way that it wasn’t overly emotional.  This wasn’t a John Green-esque bedside lament, but a “necessary evil” in the face of a dystopian future.  Most people find dystopian novels where no one dies to be unrealistic, and I have to agree, so I am so happy (is that demented of me?) that someone died in this one.  At the same time, I was equally happy that there is a companion book, because our two main characters–Lynn, and Lucy–had become so important to me.

(Okay, so you can get mildly emotionally attached to Lynn and Lucy, if you want to.  Just…you’ve been warned).

I also love that these books take place in Ohio, because it’s great to be able to imagine fields like the ones around where I grew up, and a city like the one I live in now.  Lots of books I read are set in other areas I’ve at least been to, but it’s definitely a neat experience to read something set where am.

There are several key characters in Not a Drop to Drink that I think really carry McGinnis’ novel to its conclusion.  Of course, there’s Lynn, a cold-hearted girl forced to grow up and do things no young person should have to.  I know some people have issues with her coldbloodedness, but characters like this are staples in McGinnis’ work.  You’re likely to find at least one terrifying woman whose sense of justice leaves everyone on edge.  I say embrace her, because we have far too many male characters in popular culture who would do the same thing, and we accept them with no questions asked.  This is the kind of subversive writing that I love, and Lynn is an excellent protagonist for a world where the girls get to be the badasses.

Stebbs is Lynn’s neighbor, and older man with a bum leg from his run-in with the bear trap.  He serves as the compassionate foil to Lynn and her mom, building the gap between the girl and the newcomers, Eli, Lucy, and Neva (these are the city slickers with no sense of living in the wilderness).  As a male character in a female-dominated text, I think Stebbs is excellent.  And he serves as an adorable grandfather figure throughout the series.

Eli is a sixteen-year-old boy who fled a nearby city with his brother and sister-in-law and their daughter.  Eli’s brother was killed before the trip really got started, and so Eli is trying to take care of his family.  He’s not as capable as his brother would have been, though.  I love Eli’s character, because he is so dependent on Lynn (again, some awesome challenges to gender roles here).

Lucy, Eli’s niece, is the instigator for melting Lynn’s cold heart.  She’s a seven-year-old girl with an earnest desire for life, and she is wonderful.  In this book, she’s largely treated as a child who’s still learning about the world.  It’s in the sequel that we get to see into her view (so more on her later!).

Neva is Lucy’s mother, forced to leave the city because she was pregnant with her second child (a dark world calls for dark laws).  After tragedy strikes her pregnancy, she’s never quite the same, but she manages to be a great mother one more time.  Neva is a definite foil to Lynn’s own mother, and while she is perhaps the most frustrating character to read, she’s again an awesome addition to the struggles that this small band of humans face in the wake of several tragedies.

Several awesome themes come out through this book, that I can’t stress enough for being so awesome.  The first, as you can probably guess by what I’ve said so far, is the heavy emphasis on motherhood and sisterhood.  I was often reminded of the work of Fannie Flagg while reading this, because so much time and energy goes into establishing powerful connections between women.  And men, because of their nature (usually faceless brutes coming to steal water from Lynn and robbing people on the road blind), are often seen as the “other,” for a fresh take on who our heroes should be.  The men we like in this story are kind and compassionate, containing many characteristics that may be somewhat effeminate, and they never upstage the women.  The bonds between women are powerful, and this book chooses to highlight that.

There’s also a heavy emphasis on the idea that family doesn’t end with blood.  Lynn ends up essentially adopting Lucy, and Stebbs becomes a great protector for the little family.  These relationships are key in a world without anyone else, but it also displays the important message that families look all sorts of different ways in the real world, too.  Again, an awesome element of diversity and inclusion.

You also get a really great glimpse at a dark, dark world.  Anymore, readers of YA frequently take comfort in worlds that seem more hopeless than our own.  This book certainly provides that kind of a perspective.  And yet, it’s handled with such taste.  Innocence is still preserved in the integrity and honesty of the characters.  This would be an easy thing for McGinnis to leave out, and yet it’s there, and it’s beautiful.

And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, this book tells a story of a girl who learns how to save herself.  Lynn is the leader in this outfit, and she directs Eli, Stebbs, and others along the way.  When fate threatens to intervene and turn her world upside down, she’s the one that tells it, No.  Whether this was intentional or not, I think it’s greatly important, because this is another book out there for young women to read and remind themselves that they are powerful.

Not a Drop to Drink is an excellent girlhood, dystopian story with a unique premise and challenging conclusion that leaves you begging for more.

Fortunately…there is more!

in a handful of dust

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full.  She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn.  Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already–a house, a man, children, and a water source–and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now.  Rumors of a “normal” lifestyle in California set Lucy and Lynn on an epic journal west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.

This book is told with a closer eye on Lucy, and it begins in a community that’s been established around Lynn’s pond and Lucy’s dowsing abilities.  When polio strikes that community, and Lucy may be the carrier of the disease, Lynn and Lucy have to leave the town altogether.  So, they set out for California (from Ohio!) and take on all the perils between here and there (ha! Because I’m in Ohio).  Lucy is confident with Lynn at her side, but as their journey wears on, she has to learn how to find strength from inside herself.

The plot of this one seems to move more quickly, perhaps because the girls are actually travelling.  This plot was also far less predictable, as so many of the things and people they encountered as they went along were shocking, terrifying, revolting…aye!  There was also more focus on character, since it was just Lucy and Lynn for a lot of the book, and this read very much like a coming-of-age story for Lucy.  She’s now the age Lynn was when they met each other, and she admires Lynn’s strength, but she knows she doesn’t want to live like Lynn.  For these reasons, this was my favorite of the two books.

And for that reason, the ending of this one nearly ripped my heart out.

(Do. Not. Get. Emotionally. Attached…I think you get the point.)

This one also had me sobbing at different moments from the writing alone.  McGinnis powers up the prose, for sure.  I felt so much of this, physically and emotionally.  I was raw and reeling for over 24 hours after finishing it.  This writing really built into the settings, and you feel like you’re crossing the mountains or the desert with the girls.

Character names are somewhat less important to this plot (or, rather, more important, because naming anyone would give a good bit of the plot away), but I can summarize some of the themes I noticed in character placement and why I enjoyed them.

This book is still very female-driven.  Many of the men are Bad Guys or accessories, and the two girls are the main carriers of the plot.  I like this because it remains consistent with the first book.  However, McGinnis also provides some more devious women in this book, some girls and grown-ups as bad as the men.  (And, there is one spectacularly wonderful man who helps to counteract some of the darkness from the other men!)  This complicates the plot, I think, and adds an edge to what McGinnis has created.  Girls are now reading and thinking about what type of girl they want to be, just like Lucy is thinking herself.

Several themes repeat themselves in this text.  For instance, sisterhood and motherhood are brought right back to the forefront.  Lucy treats Lynn like a mother, and they set themselves apart from almost everyone they encounter.  There’s an inherent distrust of anyone else that stems from the world they live in, but this blatant fear creates a fierce bond to exemplify the pure strength and resilience of women when they work together.

Survival is a more significant element in this book, because life-sustaining substances are harder to come by.  There’s also a fascinating interplay wherein Lynn has become the kind of person she would have shot, no questions asked.  Also, Lucy is wrestling with more than physical ailments, as McGinnis takes a good stab at anxiety and “adulting” fears.  There’s also an underlying theme of what makes an appropriate way to survive, because in this text many people are encountered who do things the wrong way.  And hope is personified in the other side of individuals who show up with good things.

And finally, as I mentioned above, this book is about becoming yourself.  As I said, some readers take pretty serious issue with Lynn.  She’s cold, man; ice cold.  So this story is of a more human character, Lucy, who admires Lynn’s strength and yet wonders what her strength will look like on its own.

In a Handful of Dust is a spectacular sister/mother/daughter story of survival and self-discovery, with just the right amount of darkness and hope to keep the pages turning.

 

Put these two together, and you have a super kickass masterpiece.  These books won’t be right for everyone, and yet I can’t praise them enough.  We need more books like this, where women take on a role that men would normally fill, and then make it their own.  And we need more books that offer hope in unusual forms, heroes in unusual capes, and families in unusual sizes.  I’m so grateful to Mindy for writing books like this, and I look forward to reading more of them.

 

Cheers, and happy reading!

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50 Years of YA, Part 4

Warning: This post may contain a majority number of books I found less than amazing on this list.  So sorry for so much negativity!

#1: The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton

According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

This is a book that has slipped on and off my radar since I was in high school, but I never took the time to sit down and read it.  I know there’s a definite shortage of books in the children’s/YA genres with male protagonists, but when I was younger I didn’t want to read any of them.  So, while I might have enjoyed reading this one, it always fell under a pile of other books with more female leads.

Needless to say, I’m excited that I finally got to experience Ponyboy and Johnny.  There’s a lot to be said about the fact that Hinton was only 16 when she wrote this; it feels like a book written by a kid for kids (and not in a bad way).  As I was reading it, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people to sit down and read this book when it first came out, and to finally have a voice that seemed to resonate with their own.  Now, I’m a little too old to relate to all of the teenager-ness, but I still love the book’s authenticity.

There’s not necessarily anything extraordinary about this book, in my mind, but I love what it stands for and what it sought to accomplish.

 

#2: The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

So, the whole Earthsea trilogy is actually on the list, but I don’t think my non-fantasy-reading mind can take two more books like this one.  Don’t get me wrong–the book is excellent, and there’s a reason it’s withstood the test of time.  I just don’t read fantasy if I can avoid it, and I’m going to in this situation.

I definitely understand why this book is on the list (of course it is!  It’s an incredible time capsule, teen read, and all-around excellent book!).  The character alone are powerful and inviting.  There’s depth here that I don’t notice in a couple of the other early teen titles on this list.  Also, the wrestling with self which is personified in this book’s quest (hopefully I’m not giving too much away) is something all young people can definitely relate to.  And, while I found the story long and tedious, it really is a nice short fantasy novel that I’m sure serves as a great introduction to the genre, if you like that sort of thing.

In the end, I prefer this fantasy to others I’ve read.  I’m glad it was included for its historical significance and its ongoing impact.

 

#12: Sweet Valley High, Francine Pascal

Will Jessica steal Todd from Elizabeth? Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere — nothing like her snobbish and conniving twin. Jessica gets what she wants — at school, with friends, and especially with boys. This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team — the one boy that Elizabeth really likes. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets … even if it ends up hurting her sister. Meet the Wakefield twins, their guys, and the rest of the gang at Sweet Valley High….

This is another book where the entire series is on the list, but I could barely make it through the first one… Unlike The Wizard of Earthsea, I feel like this one has far less redeeming qualities.  These books play on the good/evil twin motif, which is fine.  Unfortunately, I feel like it pushes it to an uncomfortable extreme and fails to fully resolve anything.

Okay, I just hate Jessica.

More than that, though, I think these books (at least the first one) attempt to portray teenage girlhood in an accurate light, but it over-portrays only certain aspects of that life, and it’s a narrative specific to the rich and white.  I understand that it’s a product of its age, but some of the language surrounding the Wakefields and their disinterest in other families and associating with them made me very uncomfortable.  If this list is honoring books held exclusively within their contexts, I can almost allow it.  However, whereas most of the other books I’ve seen as beneficial in contemporary classrooms, I’m glad to know that this series has lost most, if not all, of its following.

 

#42: They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

“Boys, let us get up a club.” With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.

This is the story of how a secret terrorist group took root in America’s democracy. Filled with chilling and vivid personal accounts unearthed from oral histories, congressional documents, and other primary sources, this is a book to read and remember.

As you can probably tell, this is one of a different sort of book on this list!  It was very educational and eye-opening.  There’s a lot of history to the South and the KKK that I didn’t know, until I read this book.  Bartoletti does a great job of tracing the group’s growth through history, and tying into what would have been contemporary context when the book was published.  It actually sheds a horrifying light on some things today, for those who follow (willingly or unwillingly) American news and politics.  This one’s for the history fans!

 

#47: Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick

Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you’ve never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens.

In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon – the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon, the blood moon – this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.

I’ll be honest: I was lost.

This book was so confusing, and in the end, somewhat disappointing.  I was intrigued through the first two parts, and then I just lost track of the timeline and couldn’t find my footing.

I appreciate the unusual and the unconventional, but I’m starting to think this list has a few too many titles added purely because they’re “different.”  I’m sure this book is great to some people, but I just didn’t get it.

 

Again, sorry for the depressing reviews! I’m hoping my next set of 5 will be happier.  (If it helps, there are more series on this list than Earthsea and Sweet Valley that I’m actually enjoying, so I’m waiting until I’ve read their sequels to review them!)

Cheers.

 

 

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50 Years of YA, Part 2

Second verse, same as the first…let’s get to it!

 

#22: The Facts Speak for Themselves, Brock Cole

I had never heard of this book before taking on the challenge of reading these 50 YA titles, but after reading its description I knew it would be one of the first I picked up. This book begins with Linda, our protagonist, giving a statement about a murder suicide that she has witnessed.  This book is her personal account of what brought her to that scene.

The premise of this story is far more intense than its actual exposition, but that doesn’t stop the plot from being absolutely chilling.  Linda’s young life is so traumatic; she goes through so much at such a young age, and in the end she sounds so numb to whatever awaits her in the future.  Incredibly dark and gritty, this book demands to be included on this list, if simply because I’m sure parents and conservative groups have been challenging and banning it since its publication.  I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but you really grow attached to Linda’s voice as she tells this story.  So many times, I wanted to reach through the pages and give her a much-needed hug.  This is a very honest look at where American culture can lead when the American Dream fails.

My one big critique on this book has to do with Mom.  I am so sick of weak maternal figures in YA literature who are incapable of caring for themselves or their children.  I totally get that this is Real Life for far too many people, but I think this version of the teen story has been told.  I would like to see more self-empowered mommies in these books from now on.

 

#30: Looking for Alaska, John Green

Okay guys; I have a pretty big confession to make:

I am NOT a John Green fan.

That being said, I understand why, if we are including Green on this list, this was the book that was chosen.  I have to admit that this one left a pretty deep impression on me, and not just because it was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to, and I was still getting used to how having a voice actor read to you can really bring a story to life.  Several books have been written on this topic, but few so directly address the questions without answers that accompany a traumatic death.  I recently finished All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and I can see how her approach to teen suicide is slightly different than Green’s, and that each has an important message to send to those who may be wondering or struggling or recovering.

Not my favorite inclusion on this list, but I can at least appreciate what the list creators were going for by adding it.

 

#31: American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang

This was one of the first graphic novels I ever read, and it is still one of my favorites!  I have heard Yang speak twice now, and his passion for his work is what makes me love his comics so much.  The fact that this one gets personal and works at describing some of the ongoing prejudice present in adolescent culture makes it that much cooler.

I think what makes this book unique is the portrayal of the many different hats children of immigrants must wear, and how complicated fitting in can be.  The content isn’t exactly new, but it’s a fresh set of eyes, and in a unique format from what most coming-of-age books are.

Plus, who doesn’t love a book with a Monkey King in it?!

In all seriousness, this is a great starter graphic novel for those getting used to the form (it reads left to right, so if manga freaks you out for its different layout, this is a good baby step!).  It’s also good for all ages to get a peek into what growing up Chinese American might be like.

 

#45: Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

Confession Time #2:

I hated Eleanor & Park totally and completely, and after reading it I had written off Rainbow Rowell.

So, when I came across this title on my list of 50 YA Books, I was not excited to read it.  But I saw that a copy was available immediately through my library app, Overdrive, and I thought, “Oh well, might as well get it over with.”

Now? I am so glad I gave this book a chance.

Around the middle of the first chapter of this book, I realized how closely Cath’s experience during her first days at college resembled mine.  Immediately, the narration of her anxiety began to speak to me, reaching out and bringing comfort to a time in my life that has been long over, but had left some discomfort yet unsolved.  In the end, I discovered that this particular Rowell novel tells an important story of what anxiety, depression, and grief can look like–for different people and in different ways.  Reading this, I felt understood without feeling like the happy ending was sugar coating my own struggles.  At some points, I knew Cath would be okay because I had been there; in others, it seemed that her experience was telling me the same thing.

I always read others’ Goodreads reviews when I’m most of the way through, or finished with, a book, and I saw a lot of backlash against this title for its treatment of fandom.  I have to say I agree with them–I actually really hated the Simon Snow parts.  I had trouble following them, and really didn’t care what happened to whom.  [The inclusion of a wizard in this plot also pretty much cemented my belief that Rowell cannot come up with an original story if she tried…Romeo & Juliet, Harry Potter…].  I don’t know much about fandoms because I have never dived all the way into one, but I respect these readers’ opinions on how it was portrayed.

My counter to that, however, is that I don’t think that fact that Cath’s identifying with a fandom is what’s important here.  Instead, I think Rowell just picked something out to be the example of a crutch or obstacle brought to college, or the cusp of adulthood, from someone’s childhood.  Those of us who have started “adulting” have realized that certain aspects of who we were ten years ago don’t fit into the mold of who we are becoming.  We have to make the difficult decision to dump this thing that is a huge part of us, or to modify it to fit us as we change.  Cath’s struggles with her writing and her fanfiction display this–her molding of her old self into the new.

In the end, I misjudged Ms. Rowell, and I’m grateful that I gave her another chance.

 

#50: Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Perez

Yes, this book is the “last” on the list (because it was published most recently), but it is not the last one I will be reading!

The whole time I was reading (read: listening to) this one, I had a hard time remembering that it is YA.  Think of everything that gets a book on the banned list, and you’ll most likely find it in this story.  Dark, traumatic, and with a brokenhearted ending, this book brought me to tears and filled me with anger.  I think the most important lesson this fictional story has to offer is that This Could Be Real.

It’s rare to find a YA title so hopeless, and yet I think young people who read this will feel empowered because the author chose to show them the Truth, in her eyes.  This is not an easy read, for sure.  But it’s a story that should be celebrated for what it captures.

 

That’s all I have for you today!  I’m working on another book from this list right now, and I’ll put another list on here when I’ve caught up a bit.  Until then, happy reading everyone!

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50 Years of YA, Part 1

Hey, guys!  I haven’t posted in a while.  I’ve been working on a post about my reading of Beartown by Fredrik Backman (it’s brilliant, I must say.  Everyone should read it).  However, I’m not quite ready to post about it yet.  My review has been giving me a bit of writer’s block, so I’m holding off on it for now.

Some of  you may know that 2017 is considered the 50th anniversary of the YA novel (based off of the publication date of The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton).  To celebrate the year, Booklist has compiled a list they call “Booklist’s 50 Best YA Books of All Time.”  It starts with Hinton and ends with our more contemporary literature.  While they openly admit to this not being a full-proof list, they have a number of interesting titles on it.

I love YA, like many readers, and I thought it would be fun to see how many of these books I have read and could read over the summer.  I don’t think I’m going to read all of them, but I’m going to make an effort to get through as many as I can.   As I go through this YA journey, I figured it would be the perfect sort of review to share with you.

I had read several books on the list before it was published, and I have since found lots at my local library, so I have a small list to share with you today.  More are on hold or sitting on my TBR shelf, so this will certainly be a post that will have a “Part 2” and maybe a “Part 3.”  It’s also going to be much more informal than other posts I’ve made, but I’m good with that if you are, too!

So, without further ado, here’s what I have So Far:

 

#3: The Pigman, Paul Zindel

John and Lorraine have created a game out of prank calling people, which is how they first encounter Mr. Pignati, or The Pigman, whose grief over the loss of his wife leaves him desperate for companionship.  Their adventures with and without him will have you laughing and then regretting alongside them.

This book reminded me a lot of The Catcher in the Rye, which makes sense, considering they were published around the same time.  The story is told as though John and Lorraine are typing up their account of the events, and their voices (particularly Lorraine’s) greatly resemble Holden’s.  Moreover, they’re apparent disregard for consequences easily reminds the reader of a certain high school student wandering the streets of New York and contemplating ducks…

I liked this book, but there wasn’t necessarily anything spectacular about it for me.  I think because I was part of a generation whose authors were unafraid to touch on the tough subjects surrounding growing up, I find this particular book’s approach to grief and suffering to be commonplace.  Booklist says that, when it was released, it was one of the first books of its kind to address “teen life in all its darkness and complexity.”  For a first introduction to its themes and ideas, I would say it was probably shocking.  Zindel also does a great job of not writing down to his audience; even though the teens are telling this story, they don’t offer some cookie-cutter “moral” to the story in the end, which is always a “plus” in the world of YA.

Overall, I liked it a lot more than The Catcher in the Rye, and I can see why it was included on the list.

 

#6:  I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan

[Do you guys remember that first book you read that freaked you the heck out?  For a lot of people, it was probably that “Scary Stories” series.  For me, it was Duncan’s masterpiece.  Goosebumps for days!]

Something happened last summer involving four teens.  They thought no one knew about it.  That is, until a stranger contacted one of them, saying he knew what had happened.  What follows is a dangerous series of events that ends in a “surprising” twist that “no one” can see coming!

I’ll be honest, though–I re-read this after I saw it on the list, and I now realize that 10-year-old me had a very simplistic idea of what “scary” is.

I can certainly understand its inclusion on this list.  This was also one of my first introductions to the processing of “guilt” as a teen (or, in my case, tween), and Duncan certainly hopes to achieve an intimate understanding of what someone might go through when faced like a situation like this.  All lame-movie-making aside, the inspiration behind the threat in this book is both personified and very real fear.

It was great to return to one of my childhood favorites.  Lois Duncan’s books are all sufficiently creepy and spooky, and it’s pretty cool to see one of them featured on this list!

 

#9: Gentlehands, M. E. Kerr

This book comes with a really interesting concept–a young guy develops a relationship with his grandfather, only to find out that the same man is a wanted Nazi officer.  Unfortunately, in this particular telling, I think the actual heart of this story was overshadowed by a rather lame love story.

Buddy comes from the rough side of the tracks, and Skye is the daughter of a wealthy family who visits for summer vacation.  Their connection feels rather inauthentic, and the added drama of the hatred and distrust from Buddy’s parents toward those with “money” detracted from the overall purpose of the story (in my opinion).  Also, I always find it so difficult, and therefore weird, to tell a summer fling story from the perspective of the guy.

I liked the idea of this book a lot, and it makes me wonder if accounts like it are out there.  But I don’t think I would recommend it as anything more than a romance.

 

#11: Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden

I think Booklist’s write-up of this one says it best:

“Garden’s novel, centered on Annie and Liza’s romance, revealed gradually through Liza’s memories, has all the iconic markers of teen romance, but it was truly groundbreaking: this teenage lesbian love story was the first of it’s kind to have a happy ending.”

I really enjoyed reading through this romance.  The story moves from friendship, to general acceptance of their identities, to discoveries considering how the world perceives them (incorrectly, I might add) and who they can turn to for help.  I like the parallel that appears between them and a couple of the other characters in the story.  And, for once, the flashback really seems to balance out the storytelling elements.  This one is definitely worth the read!

 

#14: Howl’s Moving Castle, Diane Wynne Jones

That’s right, folks–the very famous Miyazaki film was first and foremost a YA novel.  The same lovable Sophie appears to help the Wizard Howl in his escapades, just as the film portrays.

I’ll be honest–I found this book incredibly boring.  I don’t think it carried the plot well, and there were several parts of the book that I simply skimmed (without losing any part of the plot).  It is, perhaps, a perfect introduction to other fantasy novels (i.e. Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan), which I also struggle to get through.  Thus, for those who more greatly enjoy this genre, it may be a brilliant execution.  I, for one, will stick with watching the film.

 

#18: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Chris Crutcher

This book was actually a required reading title I read way back in high school, almost a decade ago.  Chris Crutcher, the author, actually came to our school to talk about his books (we could pick from a list of them, and I chose this one).  The actual plot of this story has faded for me, but I didn’t feel the need to re-read it, like IKWYDLS.

The one thing I know for sure is that Crutcher attempts to address the Tough Stuff in everything he writes.  This book alone deals with abuse, body image issues, high school drama, and so much more.  The characters are very relatable.  You feel for their experiences and recognize similarities in your own life, even if they don’t reach this extreme.

I think it’s great the Crutcher’s books are being used in the classroom (as many of these are, or might be).  One of the hardest lessons most people learn in high school is that there are no easy answers to most of Life, and authors who are unafraid to point that out in their work should be included in the curriculum.

At the same time, this was a school read, so I don’t know how fun it would be to read on your own time!  Jus’ sayin’.

 

Whew.  I need a break!

More to come in the future.  In the meantime, happy reading everyone!  If you’re looking for something fun to read over the summer, I suggest YA.

 

 

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