Saturday, July 3, 2010

Three young adult (YA) novels for review

A few weeks ago, as I sat down to work on my agent query letter, I decided I needed to do some market research reading before I could go any further. Rather, I came to the dreadful realization as I tried to write my letter that I couldn't actually name any resent YA fiction that was similar to my own work as advised to do on the potential agent's Website. In order to correct this problem I: 1) went to the EPL (Edmonton Public Library) Website to see if I could locate anything useful there; and 2) I jumped on Facebook and asked for suggestions (since I've just finished an MLIS I was pretty sure that some of my classmates would have some kind of idea of what's currently out there). I came up with three titles to try (after all, I didn't want to spend weeks and weeks reading when I wanted to move forward with my querying) and I thought I might give a brief review of them here.

Inside Out by Maria V. Synder.

Okay, so this one I actually knew about myself, but this exercise gave me the excuse to go buy it. I've got all of Maria's (yes, I refer to Maria by her first name, although we barely know each other) on my shelf, so I knew I had to try her new YA title. As I began to read the atmosphere of Inside Out reminded me of the movie The Island. A group of people are stuck in a monotonous existence, and there's a magical place called "Outside" where everyone wants to get to. It's not quite as simple as that, of course. Trella, is the story's lead character. She is a loner (as most heroes are, mine included) and wishes she wasn't wasting her life away in the lower levels as a scrub. She has one friend in the entire Inside, named Cog, who at the beginning of this story bags her to speak to the newest profit spouting nonsense about the existence of "Outside." She agrees just to get Cog off her back and that's where things start to spin out of control.

I won't give away more plot details in case anyone's interesting in checking it out for themselves. I highly enjoyed this book. I think I plowed through it over two nights. I was immediately interested in getting to know more about Trella and the unpleasant and confined world she was stuck in. I was a little surprised by the amount of violence that took place during the story, although most of it happened "off stage." It's definitely a read for older teens who can handle the thought of someone being tortured. Trella is smart, self-reliant, and confident, three things I like to see in figures for young girls, although she is fairly similar to Maria's other heroines Yelena and Opal. I also liked the different dynamics between the classes in this story, and the pre-conceived notions each character had to overcome. The couple of twists in the ending (one relationship-wise and one setting) were well hid (although Andrew guessed the one well before I did). I always feel like Maria has full command over her world and knows exactly how things work in it, which is something I rarely manage to achieve myself. One of my biggest complains is that sometimes the antagonists are conveniently willing to wait set periods of time before they act and therefore let Trella and her helpers accomplish what the need to, to defeat them. There's a second plot-related issue that Andrew brought up (being a mechanical engineer he also mentioned some technical issues, but I highly doubt that the main readership of this novel will notice), but it would be a spoiler to discuss here, so I won't. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book.

How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff.

This book was suggested to me by a couple of different friends on Facebook, and later I received several "likes" when I posted I had begun to read it. Clearly this is a popular book. The unique voice in which this book is written is apparent immediately. The narrator is a fifteen year old girl named Daisy, and the use of run-on sentences (for entire paragraphs), and Random Capitalization, for me, completely captured the essence of a teenage girl telling her story. The stream of consciousness prose may annoy some readers. I outright told Andrew I didn't think he would like How I live Now, primarily for this reason. That, and there's virtually no dialogue as characters only speak through Daisy's narrative as she recounts the story (Andrew likes to make fun of some of Robin McKinley's novels because there's approximately one line of dialogue for every ten pages).

Okay, so what is this story about? It wasn't too sure what to expect when I started this book. I purchased it based solely on the fact that it had been recommended and endorsed by friends. I'm not sure I even really read the back "blurb" once it arrived from my local bookstore, I just dove right in. I'd say the backdrop of this story is war, but the real purpose is to highlight love and survival. As the novel opens, Daisy has just arrived in London from New York City, having requested to stay with her mother's family after her father remarries (her own mother having died giving birth to her). The atmosphere is tense with the prospect of an enemy attack at any moment. Reasons for the pending hostilities are never explained, and I don't think it's at that all necessary, as I said, the war is not the point. The point is Daisy meeting unconditional love from an aunt and cousins she's never met before her arrival in England. And then it's about what children (or people in general, really) will do to endure the experience of war. Again, I won't go any further and give away important plot points. I would recommend this book to almost anyone. I say almost, party because the voice is so unique it might throw some readers off. Also, mature issues are dealt with in the book including eating disorders, sex and violence. I think readers Daisy's age could handle this book, possibly a year or two younger as well, but it might require some thoughtful discussion with an adult figure.

The Line, by Teri Hall.

I located this book out of the EPL catalogue after searching for Inside Out then seeing what the catalogue recommended. Reading this book immediately after How I Live Now perhaps was not the best of ideas. The vast difference in prose styles was a mental shocker, going from a somewhat bubbly, chatty narrator to the slightly dryer voice of The Line. I expect I would have persevered to read this book even if it wasn't for market research, but getting through the first chapter or two was slow. Actually, reading The Line made me feel good in ways I'm not sure the author intend. Maria's book caused me disappear, because I felt that my manuscript was not sophisticated, or intricate enough. Teri Hall, however, is a first time author, and I could definitely pick out a number of first-timer mistakes/problems that reassured me that perhaps one day I might managed to get published too.

So, the bad first: I think I would have preferred a single point-of-view (PoV), and preferably the heroine, Rachel's, rather than the three, or four (I forget exactly how many) that were used. Although I didn't find the differing PoVs too distracting, I think young adult readers would prefer to stay with Rachel's interpretation of events and not jump into various adult character's voices. I also felt that the amount of exposition in the story was a little on the high side. I got the idea that Hall had I very clear vision of the world she'd created, but I also felt like too much time was spent on giving me a history lesson about it. Additionally, some readers may find these sections a bit on the preachy side (I think the author has a definite mission with this story), but it didn't bother me too much. Overall, however, I did enjoy this read. I was interested in the post-apocalyptic world, and how Rachel and her mother came to live on the Property. The title comes from the existence of a "line" (I'm not exactly sure whether it's electronic, electric, or other) that separates the United States from it's adversaries (being Canadian, I spent much of the book wondering if those enemies were my fellow countrymen, but there's no such indication). The plot of the story gets rolling when Rachel is tempted to try to cross the line, even though she knows it's considered risky/illegal. Eventually find she has to cross in order to help someone in distress on the other side. Again, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy speculative fiction, they just may need to be more forgiving and patient than for those books listed above.

Now I must get back to editing my own YA, dystopian speculative fiction.



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