Sunday, August 15, 2010

YA books I have loved, and loved well.

The Book Smuggler's, bless their cotton socks, have been hosting a YA extraveganza this week. Reading all the excellent reviews and discussions about all things YA made me think, all nostalgic like, back to the time when I was myself a young adult. Back when reading was more than something I loved, it was something that literally got me through the day. Back when books kept me up at night, not because I was reading them but because I couldn't stop thinking about them. I love books different now, not less necessarily but perhaps with less intensity. Which makes me a little sad, but on the other hand at least I get more sleep now...

Here is a very small selection of some of the YA texts that most impacted my time as a YA, may I never again feel so angst ridden awkward as I did then.

Looking for Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetta: This book is everything a YA book should be. Josie is a third generation Italian-Australian girl who feels like she doesn't fit in anywhere. And you can't really blame the girl for thinking that. She's the poor scholaship kid in an upper class private school, the girls there pick on her because she's a "wog" (and poor!) and the Italian community picks on her because (the horror!) she's a bastard. Now in my mature years (snort) I can appreciate the way Marchetta explores the issues and prejudices that face immigrants. Josie is torn between how she sees herself as an Australian and how she sees herself as an Italian, and these broad cultural conflict are mirrored on a more personal level when the father she never met reenters her life and she must decide if she is an Alibrandi or an Andretti (that would be Dad's last name).

But you know, back then I didn't care about that heavy stuff. I cared about Josie. She was funny, an awesome self-depreciating brand of funny that to this day makes me laugh out loud. And she has a temper! There's this one scene where a rich snobby girl calls Josie a wog and Josie breaks her nose with a science text book which is just kick ass, and still hands done one of my favourite moments in any book ever. (Plus the rich snobby girl is not just a rich snob girl stereotype, she's as real a person as Josie is, just like every character in this book).

Plus, there are boys. Who will Josie end up with? Working class Jacob who acts like he cares about nothing but actually cares a lot about everyhing? Or maybe it will be upper class John who is ridiculously likeable? You know how in a lot of books where's there's one girl and two boys is actually pretty obvious who she'll end up with? Not so here, at all. And Jacob and John aren't just there to be love interests either, there's a very real sense of their lives existing outside of Josie.

But just be careful, because this book will also break your heart. And I'm not even kidding about that, it will take your heart and rip it up and scatter the bits. Looking for Alaska has nothing on Looking for Alibrandi, and you'll love it even more.

Guitar Highway Rose, by Lois Lowry: At it's heart this is a book about two crazy kids learning that their parents used to be crazy kid's once, and it's about their parent's learning that, oh shit, are kid's aren't little kid's anymore. But it's not nearly as boring as that might make it sound. We have Rose, who's parents are starting to edge towards divorce, and we have Asher who's parent's have just split up. Asher is the new kid in school, he's a free spirit who poo poos the dress code and is wretchedly homesick. Rosie just wants to escape, damn it, anyway she can. So it's no great shock that the two end up running away together and having the sweetest romance you have ever seen. (Sweet as in she falls asleep on his shoulder and he doesn't dare move lest he wake her, not sweet as in 'sweet wheels bro.')

My favourite thing about this book has always been the nontraditional way in which is was written. It's made up of lists and stream of consciousness chunks and school reports and journal entries, (all with clever headings) but at no point is it anything other than assessable. It's hard to explain, but very effective. I feel like we learn more about Asher by reading a list a of his pocket's contents then we would in five pages of traditional narrative.

Another way in which this book is unique in the treatment of the adults. They are every bit as real and complex as the teenagers, and when I read this book for the first time that kinda blew my mind a little bit.

Tomorrow, When the War Began (and it's sequels), by John Marsden: Holy shit, you guys. Holy shit. Basically a group of friends go camping and come home to find that Australia gets invaded by never named foreigners. Naturally they go all guerrilla warfare on the invaders.

Elle is hands down without a doubt my favourite literary heroine, from any genre. She's flawed up the wazoo, stubborn and bossy and jealous. But she's also resourceful and strong and loyal and my god is she brave. (When people suggest that male writers can not write females I throw one of the Tomorrow books at their head).

And the other characters are just as flawed and amazing in their own ways. My favourite was always Lee. He's this beautiful, complex guy who might have lived his whole life in his own intense quite way but the war brings out a darkness inside of him, and he does things the others can not bring themselves to. And even though they know these things have to be done, and they're relived that Lee has done them, they pull away from him a little. It's painful and real and so damn human. (There's an amazing scene where they're hiding out in a house and Elle finds Lee, who pre-war was a musician, sitting at a piano with his hands hovering over the keys. He can't play it because of the noise, and I doubt many authors could have captured the bittersweet pain of the moment as well as Marsden).

Marsden definitely doesn't pull back from anything. There's blood and snot and tears and sex and death and more shades of grey than a George R. R. Martin book. Really I can't recommend the series enough.

So, until next time the nostalgia strikes or the Smuggler's have their next YA week, we return to our regularly scheduled reviews!


  1. I'm browsing through the YAAM posts and Tomorrow When the War Began seems to be a popular choice! I've heard great things about the book/series but haven't read them yet. I should definitely do something about that!

  2. oooh! three of my all time fave books :) I love all Melina Marchetta and the tomorrow series are my favourite series ever - re-read them just the year (cant wait for the movie!).

    Also, how beautiful is Guitar Highway Rose!!?? So whimsical and lovely and i remember wanting to be her when I was a teen. Loved that book hard and this year I finally bought my own copy :)