Posts Tagged ‘young adult’

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Posted in YA Fiction on June 9th, 2011 by admin – 7 Comments

I have experienced equal quantities of dread and delight whilst anticipating A Monster Calls, a novel which is the joint venture of two highly acclaimed authors of YA fiction.  I’ve been dreading it as it will be my last experience of the wonderful writing of Siobhan Dowd who died in 2007 aged 47.  Siobhan was the author of four brilliant novels, two of which were published posthumously and she had penned some notes for a new book which culiminated in Patrick Ness taking the baton and producing the thing of beauty which is A Monster Calls.

So was it to be a Dowd or a Ness novel, whose influence would be felt the most?  To tell the truth, it’s different from anything either author has produced before.  Yes,  I felt Siobhan’s touch at times but this really feels like a one-off, an original masterpiece.  In just over 200 pages, Patrick Ness weaves the tale of Conor O’Malley, a 13 year old only child who has a battle on his hands.  His single mother is nearing the end of her fight with cancer and Conor has a well meaning grandmother whose good intentions only end up estranging him further.  His father has remarried, now living in the US and is in the clutches of a jealous new wife complete with new baby and he hardly wants the added troubles of his teenage son.  Meanwhile, at school, the only people who really notice Conor are the bullies – everyone else is busily tip-toeing around the elephant in the room/playground.  If that wasn’t enough, a monster comes a-calling, in the shape of a yew tree – yew trees are symbolic of everlasting life and healing but this particular specimen doesn’t seem very friendly.

This is one of the most powerful, compelling books I have ever read.  If you have ever experienced bereavement or even have the slightest human interest in other folks’ emotions, you will adore A Monster Calls.  Its simplicity and lyricism is perfectly balanced by the stark black and white illustrations by Jim Kay.  You must get the “real” hard back edition, not the “pretend” e book version, this is a book which has to be caressed and treasured.  It’s a harrowing read, brutal in its honesty, never veering into mawkishness.  I have a feeling that Siobhan’s novels will have a much deserved renaissance with a whole new influx of readers and I, in turn,  must pick up Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy which has languished on my bookshelves for long enough now…

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Revolution – Jennifer Donnelly

Posted in YA Fiction on March 20th, 2011 by admin – 3 Comments

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (13 Oct 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1408801523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408801529
  • Jennifer Donnelly’s first novel A Gathering Light , (US title A Northern Light), is one of my favourite YA/crossover novels so I was relishing the thought of getting my teeth into “Revolution” –  7 years is a long time to wait! 

    “Revolution” is a busy novel given that it encompasses so many ideas and themes – love, loss, family relationships, music (lots of music) and science including complex DNA testing.   To complicate matters there’s a dual time frame narrative with Andi, our 21st century Brooklyn girl and Alex(andrine) in 1790s Paris.  Andi is a troubled teen, struggling to maintain an interest in anything including her demanding timetable at St Anselm’s, an expensive private school with a cast of students who wouldn’t look out of place in Gossip Girl or Beverley Hills 90210 for those old enough to remember!  She and her parents are still traumatised by the death of Andi’s younger brother Truman.  Andi is removed to Paris by her father in an effort to encourage her to complete an outline for her senior thesis.  The discovery of Alexandrine’s diary, written in the 1790s,  sets in motion a series of events which push present-day Andi to the brink.

    Revolution is well written, it’s very ambitious, the scenes from revolution-torn Paris are extremely vivid and the author has clearly done her research but…for me, it just didn’t come together as a coherent story.  Andi is teenage angst personified and has very few endearing qualities – yes, I know likeable characters aren’t compulsory but somehow she didn’t ring true for me.  I loved Alexandrine and her account of the travails she and her family faced, her friendship with the young dauphin, her encounters with the intimidating Duc d’Orleansand all the sights and sounds of revolutionary Paris are there for the reader to savour.   However, I found the section where Andi and Alexandrine’s worlds collide a step too far on the suspension bridge of disbelief and things went progressively downhill thereafter.

    Revolution will appeal to teenagers with its pop culture references but it didn’t hit the spot for me as an adult reader.  I also suspect that teen readers don’t need plot devices and gimmicks in order to tie up narratives in neat little packages.

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    Century by Sarah Singleton

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on March 4th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

    I have read and enjoyed one other novel by Sarah Singleton, Heretic,  so I looked forward to Century.   It’s a short, very readable novel targeted at young teens but also suitable for adults who enjoy a sprinkling of magic and fantasy in their reading.

    Mercy and her younger sister Charity live in a world of darkness and mystery at their desolate home, Century.  They rise as the sun sets and sleep during the day in an environment which is permanently Winter.  Indeed it’s a bit like that film Groundhog Day at Century as each day is the same as the last with the girls having the same breakfast prepared by Aurelia, the housekeeper and then lessons with Galatea, their governess followed by a walk in the moonlit gardens.  The only other inhabitant of Century is their father Trajan who doesn’t figure much in the lives of his daughters, preferring to stay in the shadows of this already sombre abode.

    At first, I was slightly irked by the vagueness of Mercy’s circumstances, I was jumping to conclusions, thinking they must be vampires and almost tempted to abandon book but I soon realised that the cloudiness of the opening chapters mirrors the dreamlike state in which the characters exist, almost like Sleeping Beauty in her castle, waiting for a handsome prince to come and break the spell.  Could the mysterious Claudius be the prince who can rescue Mercy from the darkness and revive her forgotten memories?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

    There isn’t a great deal of character development as it’s a short book but the plot is extremely well crafted.  The descriptions of Century are eerily atmospheric and other-worldly and in Mercy we have a likeable, resourceful young heroine, determined to take control of her own destiny whatever dangers lie in her path.  I also loved the revelations of why Century is locked in perpetual Winter and how it fits in with the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed the parallels with Frankenstein.  All in all, a very enjoyable read which stirs the imagination and one I’ll be keeping for my daughter to read when she’s older.

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    The Thirteen Secrets by Michelle Harrison

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 8th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

    The Thirteen Secrets is the final instalment in Michelle Harrison’s wonderful trilogy involving the relationship between faeries and humans.  I adored her first two books, The Thirteen Treasures and The Thirteen Curses and I anticipated the latest novel with a mixture of sorrow, excitement and dread – sad because it was the signalling the end of my interaction with well-loved characters, excited to see how these characters would develop and the tiniest hint of dread that I might be disappointed.  Fear ye not as the author does a fabulous  job of bringing events at Elvesden Manor to a close whilst introducing us to some intriguing new characters.

    I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but suffice to say that you are in for a real treat.  Rowan (Red) is living at Elvesden Manor and she is doing her utmost to lead a “normal” life with Tanya, Fabian and co.   Of course “normality” is off the menu when you live in a fairy-infested house, fairies in the grandfather clock, a tea caddy brownie in the kitchen complete with walking stick and a drain dweller in the bathrooom whose belches smell like rotten eggs.  However, Rowan is haunted by nightmares from the past and it would appear that everyone, human and fairy alike, is harbouring some sort of secret, some of which have dreadful consequences.

    This is an even darker tale than the preceding novels, perhaps due to the increasing maturity of the characters who have already experienced the dark and light side of faeries.  We have already seen the malevolence of the Unseelie Court, the random removal of human children replaced by changelings, the vindictive nature of Tanya’s faerie guardian  but things take an even more sinister turn in this volume with the battle between good and evil becoming a fight between life and death.  Some scenes are reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially the battle between Aslan’s followers and those of the White Witch – stirring stuff which doesn’t pander to those of an overly sensitive nature so expect tears amidst the smiles and rejoicing!

    So, the feeling of dread has vanished but there is still some residual sadness that the 13 series is over.  At least I will have the pleasure some day of reading the trilogy aloud to my daughter (who, at 7, is still at the Tinkerbell stage..)   I highly recommend this whole series to children of all ages (9-99) who believe in some sort of magic and who don’t automatically attribute those odd noises in the bathroom to faulty plumbing!

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    My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 3rd, 2011 by admin – 5 Comments

    It’s been a while since the mere title of a book has been enough to whet my literary appetite and to entice me into further investigation.  Such was the case with My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, the debut novel of 28 year old Annabel Pitcher, a former secondary school teacher of English.   So is it a case of “what’s in a name..” or is there plenty of substance to back up this beguiling title..

    Well, I can happily report that what lies beneath is a meaty, insightful, beautifully written account of family life today.  The voice of the narrator, 10 year old Jamie Matthews, is spot on – in him I can see the idiosyncrasies and hopes and dreams of my own 10 yr old son and his friends.  Jamie hasn’t had an easy time lately, ever since his sister Rose died, five years before, his family has gone into meltdown, escalating in his Mum leaving and his alcoholic Dad deciding to up sticks and move the family including Rose’s twin sister, Jasmine, from London to an isolated, rural area in the Lake District.  Jamie is a stoical figure, often wishing life were better but he holds onto the idea that his Mum will come back to them and that his parents will be able to move on after Rose’s death and that life can get back to normal again.  Not that he even remembers Rose that much but he knows not to say this aloud as his Dad tiptoes around the big issues, preserving Rose’s memories in boxes marked “Sacred” and keeping her ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece. 

    This is a corker of a children’s/YA novel as it examines grief and how it can tear families apart, it shows how hard it is to remain loyal to your family, in this case, your Dad when he is so focussed on his own grief and blind to the needs of his remaining living family.  Jamie has never really had friends other than Luke Branston who was is friend for four days…  However, things look hopeful when he makes friends with Sunya, who becomes a superhero counterpart, Girl M to his Spiderman.  They’re both outsiders, alienated by their fellow class-mates and one would hope that their friendship could be a refuge from the maelstrom that is Jamie’s family life.

    This novel will make you laugh and cry – Jamie is one of the most credible child narrators I have ever encountered and you feel drawn right into his world, warts and all.  It’s suitable for age 10+ but I think it will attract a large readership across all ages, if only to make you see life through a child’s eyes again.  Sometimes whenever a book gets so much early publicity, I tend to avoid it, fearing disappointment, but, for this novel, the buzz is justified.  I would say “hasten thee to the nearest bookshop” but it isn’t published until 1st March – believe me the wait will be well worth it!

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    Review – No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on September 9th, 2010 by admin – 9 Comments

    Lou Bertignac, 13 with an IQ of 160, doesn’t quite fit in with her peers.  She’s been transferred to a class of 15 year olds but has most in common with Lucas,17, who has repeated two years.  Her family has never recovered from a past tragedy which has left each family member bereft and leading an aimless existence.  Then Lou meets No, an 18 year old homeless girl – on the surface they appear to be polar opposites but somehow they click.

    When I was with No, you could have drawn a circle round us, a circle that didn’t exclude me, which enclosed us and for a few minutes protected us from the world.

    This is a short, accessible novel with a very engaging, quirky narrator.  Lou is a fascinating character, rich in academic intelligence but poor in social skills.  She’s an extremely loyal friend and yes, perhaps she’s very naive about the ways of the real world but you can’t help cheering her on in her mission to rescue No.

    I think No and Me falls more in Young Adult rather than Adult literature but its simplicity is part of its charm.  Despite its exploration of dark themes such as grief, loss and the plight of the homeless, you are left feeling uplifted by Lou’s sheer determination.  If you enjoy YA literature with unconventional young narrators you will relish No and Me.

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    Review – Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on May 13th, 2010 by admin – 5 Comments

    This is my first taste of Sonya Hartnett’s writing and her 11th novel (published in 2000) – no mean feat for a then 32 year old.  Thursday’s Child is set in rural Australia during the Great Depression although the environment is somewhat generic with little to identify it as antipodean apart from a few sundry references to plant life and some place names.   However, this is, first and foremost, a novel about people rather than place.

    The story is narrated by Harper Flute with the Thursday’s Child of the title being her younger brother “Tin James Augustus Barnabas Flute, he was, born on a Thursday and so fated to his wanderings, but we called him Tin for short”.  Her other siblings are Caffy, her youngest brother and her older brother and sister, Devon and Audrey.  Not only are the name choices quirky but so is the fact that Tin becomes a feral child living in a series of subterranean tunnels and that his parents barely bat an eyelid!  As Tin merrily excavates his way underground, literally, his parents, meanwhile, stick their heads in metaphorical sand as they blithely go about life, barely eking out a living on their soldier settlement.  The father, ex soldier,Court, knows nothing about farming and doesn’t seem interested in learning so he hunts rabbits most of the time whilst his family and home degenerate around him.  The mother doesn’t contribute much either and it seems that Audrey and Harper are the mother figures here with Harper taking the most interest in Tin and his exploits.

    This is a novel for Young Adults so I suppose the author can be forgiven for having a certain lack of depth to her characters but I feel it had so much potential as a novel for all ages.  Lots of philosophical questions are raised like how small and fragile human beings are when pitted against nature and how, if we’re not careful, lethargy can swallow us up just like the earth consumed Tin and others.  It’s a coming of age story, with moments of brilliance in its deeply lyrical narrative.  The overall tone is sadness as the family disintegrates under the weight of grinding poverty.  You feel that Harper has grown as a result of all this turmoil but at what cost?

    There is an ethereal, mystical quality to Sonya Hartnett’s writing which has really impressed me.  Part of me wishes the setting could have been more distinct but I guess the indeterminate background serves to highlight the Everyman element of this tale as poverty is universal and doesn’t recognise geographical borders!  I will most definitely be on the look out for more from this author.

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