Monday, October 1, 2012

YA Reading Update

As I finished edits for my first young adult novel (woohoo!) and started the process of writing query letters and researching agents, I read a lot of YA novels to help me work on all of that. I decided to do mini-reviews of a lot of these so I don’t get horribly behind in my reviewing. Here we go!
Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This book is all over the book blogosphere for a good reason – it’s awesome. I avoided it for a while because it deals with cancer, but it’s worth it. Hazel and Augustus are two of the best characters I’ve read about in a while – they stick with you almost like old acquaintances instead of fictional characters.
I was surprised by the parts about Amsterdam and liked reading about the city. Ryan and I are tentatively planning our 10-year anniversary trip (which won’t happen for nearly two more years but I love travel planning!) and are leaning toward a trip to Brussels with a side trip to Amsterdam. It was nice finding a bit about the city in an unexpected place and made me want to go there even more, especially since it talks about one of the things I most want to do there.
Forever… by Judy Blume
Reading all these YA books made me want to read the book that started it all. I’m not sure that YA as a category really even existed when Blume wrote this and to me at least, she started the movement to write books specifically for teens. I’m sure someone who has studied that more will correct me, but it seems to me that she’s the mother of YA lit.
Forever… holds up well. I first read it in somewhere in the early 90s, when I was in late elementary school. At that time, we were more focused on the sex scene than anything else. I read it again a few years later, and loved it. Blume perfectly captures teenagers while crafting a readable story without all the vampires and controlling governments and craziness that’s in a lot of YA today. It focuses on a girl and her boyfriend and an average teenage relationship. It’s wonderful.
One thing that bugged me though on this reading – why does Katherine have to ask her mom’s permission to wash her hair??? She also mentions having oily hair, so she needs to wash it at least every other day – implying that most people wash it less than that? This was written in the 70s, not way back before indoor plumbing, so this really confused me. I need to ask my mom if she knows what’s up with that.
Matched by Ally Condie
I avoided this series for a while because I’m burned out on dystopian/paranormal stuff but I finally gave in. I think the characters come alive in this series and it held my interest so much that I read it in nearly one sitting and immediately checked out the next book. It has a lot of normal relationship and teenage issues in addition to the issues coming from the society, so I think that helped get me past my initial hesitation.
Tyrell by Coe Booth
If you want more realistic YA, here you go. Tyrell is about a 15-year-old homeless kid in the Bronx. His dad’s in jail, his mom is worthless, and he’s struggling to provide for the family when he should be in school. While the book is fictional, it feels very real and the author worked with homeless kids in the Bronx and grew up there, and it felt like a story she’s seen many times.
My heart broke for Tyrell. He tries so hard, but he’s just a kid. How is he supposed to support himself, his mom, and his little brother without turning to a life of crime like many of the people he knows? The people with money are the drug dealers, while he’s living in a nasty motel room that’s serving as a homeless shelter. I wanted to reach through the pages and help him, and give his mom a good lecture, not that it would do any good. I just don’t understand how she could not even try to do anything, and how she tried to keep her younger son in special needs classes so she could get extra money from the government. That made my blood boil.
I noticed Booth realized a sequel to Tyrell’s story, called Bronxwood, that came out last year. I need to check it out!
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
I’ve read several of Dessen’s novels and have enjoyed them all. In this one, I noticed how she incorporates a lot of family life and issues into her stories, so it’s not just about a girl and her relationship struggles. That was one of the weak points in my novel, so this inspired me to go back and work on the family scenes and develop those characters more. Dessen writes parents as people with their own lives and the parents in my book at that time weren’t written that way. I think my novel is much stronger as a result and just hope some agent out there feels the same way!
Do you have any recommendations for realistic YA novels?


  1. Hm, IIRC YA books started to get started in the 40s, so I don't know that you can call Judy Blume the mother of YA lit. Certainly she was one of the first very realistic authors who addressed topics that YA authors had pretty much skimmed over or ignored before, though.

    Yes, in the 70s people didn't wash their hair every day. In the 50s and 60s it was quite common to get your hair washed and set once a week at the beauty parlor, and then it would have to last all week. (I actually knew an older lady in 2000 who was still doing this, with a fancy blonde bouffant hairdo I don't think she had changed since 1965.) Hair got more natural in the late 60s and the 70s, but until hairdos came along that required daily washing, blowdrying, and styling (hello my 80s!) no one thought it necessary to wash it more than once or twice a week.

    1. As I said, I was sure someone would correct me! :) I'm not sure what IIRC is. I tried searching for it, but couldn't find anything about that. I couldn't think of another author who was writing realistically specifically for teens before then, although I'm sure there were. Maybe she's the mother of contemporary YA. :)

      On the hair washing, I knew that about women in the 40s and 50s, but it seemed odd to me to see that in a book that came out in 75. It was really the part about a 17-year-old having to ask permission to wash her hair that confused me. I talked to my mom and grandma about it and they both agreed it was odd for the 70s, but my grandma said the same thing you did - it was common in the 40s and 50s. Maybe the family in the book was just old school.

  2. IIRC = If I Recall Correctly :)

    1. Oh jeez. I have been doing things like this all day! Where is my brain??? I kept reading that as an acronym for a publishing imprint of some sort. I'm going to go watch TV now and stop doing anything requiring brainpower. :)