YA vs The Rest of the World

weird things in YA novelsYeah, what a well-phrased title!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Cape Town, situated at the bottom of that mysterious and misrepresented continent – Africa.

As an avid YA reader, however, there are many things that I find utterly strange in these books – due to the fact that they are mostly based in the USA, and life is a tad different in your neck of the woods.

So let’s get into it, shall we? Here’s a list of the shiz that just doesn’t resonate:

  1. You can drive yourself to school. Your school has a student parking lot where you seem to spend a lot of time hanging out. Your parents let you get into a car with someone who has just got their license.

Over here, you can only get your driver’s license aged 18. So there ain’t no driving yourself anywhere. You rely on the parentals to taxi you around. By the end of my last year of school, there were only like 5 people who were driving themselves to school. Also, no way in hell my mother was letting me travel ANYWHERE with someone who just got their license. And how does everyone have a car?! That shit’s expensive.

  1. You just hop and off public transport, free as a daisy.

This is something of a class thing here, but if you’re middle class, you probably don’t use public transport alone as a teenager because your parents think you’ll be murdered.

  1. You sneak out the house

HA HA.

Try getting past security alarms, motion sensors, multiple door locks, barking dogs, extremely alert parents, the night time neighbourhood watch patrols…and then how would you get around if you and your friends can’t drive? Bad plan, homie.

  1. After school jobs

Sure, many of us get part-time jobs as a teenager, but these are for the weekends and holidays. I don’t know of anyone who had one after school – only ending at 3pm, and having to get home and do homework doesn’t leave much time for money-earning activities. (Unless its babysitting, or something like that.)

  1. Sneaking alcohol

In almost all countries of the world, the drinking age is 18. So we don’t really need fake IDs or have to bribe other people to buy our alcohol – we can all get our own drinks! (or at least, our already-18 friends in our group can do it for us and it’s not such a big deal as its made out to be in books).

  1. You seem to plan your outfits for school

Uniforms over here, yo. Makes life a lot easier, although today I still have a strong aversion to the colour brown.

  1. Parties when the house gets trashed

As far as I know, the raucous parties are cordoned off to one part of the house. And destruction tends to be limited to the breaking of a couple of glasses.

But maybe I just wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

Scratch that, I definitely wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

***

And as for the rest of you? What thing do you find completely out of place in YA novels that just don’t translate to your country?

 

Review: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) – Ilona Andrews

one fell sweepDina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage. 

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!

Rating: 4/5

It was so wonderful to be back in this universe – the world building is utterly creative, and the concept of sentient homes continues to be my favourite, harking back to the days of Hogwarts castle. (Although the inn featured in this series is a lot less murderous.) While the book was released as a free online serial, anticipation is not my thing, so I decided to rather wait until the book was released and then binge read it in one sitting. Which is exactly what I did.

In this instalment, Dina has to weigh up the safety of herself, her inn and her business against saving a species hunted down to almost extinction. Her good heart wins out, of course, and the stage is set for a bloody war in her backyard.

“You’re up early, Your Grace.”

“It’s a lovely day and we’re under siege. People are trying to murder us.” Her eyes shone with excitement. “Isn’t it marvellous?”

Things I loved about this book:

  1. Getting to see more of Dina’s family. Thus far, they’ve always been mentioned in the background, but in One Fell Sweep, we meet Dina’s sister Maud, and Maud’s daughter Helen.
  2. Arland and Sean going from rivals to friends
  3. The humour, as always.
  4. Arland meeting his match. It was a tad instalovey, but *hand wavey motion* I’ll roll with it.
  5. Sean and Dina taking things to the next level
  6. More mysteries.
  7. The sentiment and message beneath the action and banter was touching

“There are killings that are justified. Killing someone who is trying to kill you is self-defense. Killing a being who is suffering and is beyond help is mercy. Killing someone because you don’t like the way they look is murder. There is no room for murder in this inn.”

Horror of horrors, I thought this was a trilogy, but with THAT ending, I’m hoping there’s going to be more in the future…right?

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – N.K. Jemisin

the fifth seasonThis is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Rating: 4.5/5

An incredible, effortlessly original fantasy novel, well-deserving of its Hugo Award. This is the second book of the author’s that I’ve read – The Killing Moon was the first – and again, I was struck by how fresh Jemisin’s work feels. She doesn’t waste time rehashing the tired old fantasy tropes that we see over and over again. She also has absolutely no fucks to give, and it comes through in her work that has so many highly relevant messages to the world we live in today.

Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Them them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at those contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.

First, let’s talk world building. It pairs astronomy with sentient rock people, as the author herself notes in the acknowledgements, which is such a fabulous, intriguing notion. Basically, there are a small group of people born who are able to control the earth’s geological forces, causing or dispelling earthquakes and other seismic activity. Rest of the world is terrified of these people, and the sentient rock people (its a catchy term, okay) are heavily discriminated against. And that’s all you really need to know going in.

There are so many intricacies and subplots going on in the background – you simply have to trust the author to reveal the information to you as relevant. Indeed, you’re thrown into the deep end when the book begins, with three different perspectives of three women in very different situations. But you’re able to piece things together without being spoonfed by the author. She makes you work for it, which is so  much more satisfying.

“I didn’t know.” She slurs the words around the back of her hand. The words don’t make sense but she feels compelled to say them. “I didn’t.”

“You think that matters?” It’s almost cruel, the emotionlessness of his voice and face.

The characters are … interesting. There’s no other way to put it. They are substantial, but the author has perfected showing, not telling, so there’s much we have to infer from their actions and words. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the diversity of characters. Female perspectives dominate, and they are kickass, intelligent, self-sufficient women. Almost everybody in this novel is of some shade of brown. Sexualities are fluid. Trans people exist without fanfare or furore. There are complicated relationships and not-relationships, which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

The moments of humour are few and far between, considering the subject matter of the book, but this makes them all the more valuable. The following exchange in particular had me cackling out loud:

“Don’t follow me.”

“Wasn’t planning to.”

“I mean it… You don’t know what I’m going back to. I could live in a walled compound with fifty other rusters just like me. We might have tooth-files and a ‘juicy stupid people’ recipe book.”

You get the impression that you are just skimming the surface of what is a deeply intricate, deeply layered universe. Kudos to the author, and highly recommended.

Review: Little Beach Street Bakery – Jenny Colgan

little beach street bakeryAmid the ruins of her latest relationship, Polly Waterford moves far away to the sleepy seaside resort of Polbearne, where she lives in a small, lonely flat above an abandoned shop.

To distract her from her troubles, Polly throws herself into her favorite hobby: making bread. But her relaxing weekend diversion quickly develops into a passion. As she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, each loaf becomes better than the last. Soon, Polly is working her magic with nuts and seeds, olives and chorizo, and the local honey-courtesy of a handsome local beekeeper. Drawing on reserves of determination and creativity Polly never knew she had, she bakes and bakes . . . and discovers a bright new life where she least expected it.

Rating: 3/5

Sometimes you just need a feel-good fluff read, mmmkay? I had a good experience with the author’s previous novel, The Little Bookshop of Happily Ever After, and so I thought I’d give one of her other books a go.

And while its now only the second one of Colgan’s that I’ve read, a formula is still immediately apparent – a strong focus on economic uncertainty and tough financial times for the heroine who must rely on her own hands-on abilities, and the appearance of two love interests, the first of whom will meet some kind of tragic end. But these aren’t necessarily bad things – in fact, I think it’s a pretty refreshing change to the contemporary romance books saturated with twenty-somethings dripping in privilege.

And Colgan is brilliant at evoking settings – both the beauty and the inconvenience that comes with them. Living on a quaint island? Sure, it’s great, until you get stuck because the tide’s too high and you can’t get across the causeway. Or the terrifying waves and wind and general run-down state of your new glorified shack aka home sweet home.

Also, this book will make you hungry. You will crave carbs. Freshly baked bread and all sorts of deliciousness.

“Oh my God, did I fall asleep?”
“I hope so. Either that, or it was quite a fast coma.”

All in all, formulaic but a gently humorous and enjoyable distraction – just what I needed!

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers#2) – Becky Chambers

a closed and common orbitLovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

Rating: 4/5

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has a special place in my heart and a coveted position on my list of all time favourite reads. So the knowledge that there was going to be a companion novel filled me with both excitement and trepidation. How do you top the utter heart and joy of humanity that was so delightfully captured in the first novel?

And the answer is, you don’t. But you provide a novel that is equally as satisfying, as progressive and subversive and humorous and diverse. A novel with wry observations about people and their hang-ups and their quirks and their flaws. A book that this time around, focuses more on a mental journey than a physical one, but which is no less appealing.

In case you can’t tell, I really liked it.

“Why don’t different species sit together?” Segregated train cars didn’t mesh ith what she’d read of the Port’s famed egalitarianism.

“Difference species,” Blue said, “different butts.”

A Closed and Common Orbit focuses on the character formerly known as Lovelace, an AI originally powering a longhaul ship who has now been transplanted illegally into a human body and has to figure out life amongst our particular species. Her chapters alternate with those of Jane, a child who grows up preparing for a journey far from her abusive origins. Jane’s connection to the rest of the story is made obvious fairly early on in the novel (and indeed, in the blurb) which makes it easier for the reader understand the motivations of Pepper – a woman who takes Lovelace in and helps her adjust to her new circumstances.

Jane let out a sob she hadn’t known was there. Oouoh sat up with a start. “Oh – oh, what the fuck,” he said. “Shit, let’s get you to the med ward, come on–”
Jane stared at him. “What? Why? I’m fine.”
“Uh, no, you’re…your eyes are leaking.”
Jane laughed, which was hard to do while crying “No, no, this” – she sniffed hard – “it’s just tears. It’s okay.”
Oouoh was distraught. “What about this is okay?”
“We do this. Humans do this when – when we’re feeling a lot of things.”
“You leak?”

The novel has wide appeal – while the world-building is interesting, it isn’t too bogged down in sci-fi technicalities, which tends to put me off many of the books in this genre. It is first and foremost character driven. For instance, the details of the universe focus on the different cultures, mannerisms and appearances of the various species, rather than on the specifics of time travel or space ship engines.

“At the core, you’ve got to get university certification for parenting, just as you do for, say, being a doctor or an engineer. No offence to you or your species, but going into the business of creating life without any sort of formal prep is…” He laughed. “It’s baffling. But then, I’m biased.”

It’s about found family and the things you do for other people. It’s a rumination on what it is to be human. It is, as the title suggests, about how our commonalities can overcome our differences. Dare I say, it’s a triumphant ode about how we can be good to one another.

“Lovey’s gone, and that’s horribly sad. You’re here, and that’s wonderful. This isn’t a zero sum thing. Both can be true at the same time.”

Review: Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) – Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman

geminaMoving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminaecontinues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Rating: 4/5

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one, and the day it finally arrived, I dropped everything else when I got home from work and delved in. Then resurfaced a few hours later, having completed this thing in one sitting. So that should really tell you all you need to know.

But it would be a terrible review if I left it at that, so I suppose some extra detail is necessary, yes?

-I will admit that the novelty of the format has worn off a bit, as novelty does with the second in a line of shiny new things. However, I still really admire the way they make it work, how it all integrates to tell a story that is fairly easy to follow. The illustrations were a particularly cute touch.

-Illustrations and diagrams are also handy when trying to explain concepts such as wormholes and parallel universes. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I still don’t understand them. I didn’t say the diagrams worked, just that they were handy. 😛

-As I mentioned in my previous review, this sci-fi definitely fits squarely in the YA category. I don’t think it has wide crossover appeal. But that’s not a criticism. It’s a book written for teens and aimed at teens. Just a warning for adults (like me) who might read it, the teenagers and their lingo and txtspk might grate on you a little.

-The story picks up right after the events of Illuminae, and we leap straight back into the action. Indeed, the action sequences are definitely the strength of this novel. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled, pulse-pounding adventure from start to finish. You’ll need to go read something relaxing afterwards.

-They don’t hesitate to kill off people. And somehow, they still manage to make you feel it, even if you haven’t known them for very long. And there’s no prevaricating around it – death isn’t just used as a threat – it really happens.

-The entire story takes place over two days or so. Which means that upon reflection, the dissolving and development of the relationships seems rather rushed.

-The character of Hanna is hard to like, initially. She comes across as a fairly spoiled socialite. She is revealed to have more depth, of course, but I did prefer the protagonists of the first book to the ones in Gemina. Also, I probably have an unrealistic grudge against her because people always spell my name without an ‘H’ on the end and it annoys me.

Overall, a worthy sequel despite my complaints. I’m already chomping at the bit for the next one, and wondering who the next set of featured characters is going to be.

 

Literary Linking #4

literary-foodfor-thought-2

“This site is dedicated to literature, arts, and culture. Electoral politics are usually beyond our remit. On a morning like this, when America has chosen a bigot and a xenophobe as its next president, my job feels pointless. But I don’t want to add to the chorus of despair, because I do believe there’s a role for art at a time like this, and I don’t say that lightly—words like these don’t come easily to me. I would rather make fun of things, and I’m struggling against an inborn fatalism. (My iPhone just reminded me to water my plants, and I thought, why bother?) The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.”

Writers, Start Writing, and Other News – The Paris Review

The idiom “never judge a book by its cover” warns against evaluating something purely by the way it looks. And yet book covers are designed to give readers an idea of the content, to make them want to pick up a book and read it. Good book covers are designed to be judged.

And humans are quite good at it. It’s relatively straightforward to pick out a cookery book or a biography or a travel guide just by looking at the cover.

And that raises an interesting question: can machines judge books by their covers, too?

Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Brian Kenji Iwana and Seiichi Uchida at Kyushu University in Japan. These guys have trained a deep neural network to study book covers and determine the category of book they come from.

Deep Neural Network Learns to Judge Books by Their Covers – MIT Technology Review

Ironically, some of the most frequently challenged books are the very books that young readers say are especially important and meaningful to them. Unfortunately, their views are rarely heard in the over-heated debates that often accompany book challenges. Instead, the adults – parents, school administrators, and school board members – make decisions about what kids should read without always appreciating how books with “controversial” content help young people learn and mature.

Kids explain how banned and challenged books helped them and even saved their lives – Boing Boing

The lack of critics of color is becoming increasingly frustrating for writers like Porochista Khakpour, a critic and the author of The Last Illusion. “Most book critics are white, and very often white and male,” Khakpour says. “Often those white males are not themselves very well-versed in issues of race, ethnicity, xenophobia, cultural appropriation etc. They are simply trained in reading books by white men, for white men, about white men.”

Literary criticism, like the art it seeks to evaluate, must strive for a wide and varied perspective so that the literature it evaluates is similarly wide and varied. Then there’s the reality that it’s much harder to recognize a problem you’ve never experienced. This level of attentiveness often corresponds to a critic’s identity.

White authors are still writing racist books because white critics won’t call them out

Most of the yellow cabs racing through Tunis are decorated with air fresheners, glittery pendulums, and framed baby pictures. Sometimes you’ll find a complimentary box of tissues. But taxi driver Ahmed Mzoughi, 49, has taken a more cerebral approach to his vehicle’s decor. Scattered on the seats and lining the dashboard are slim volumes of poetry, fat novels, and psychology books. Stuck on a side door is a decal that says, “Attention: This Taxi Contains a Book.”

Tunisians are being encouraged to read by turning taxis into libraries

So that’s a wrap of some bookish articles that interested me in the past few weeks. Quartz in particular tends to produce some good literature about, erm, literature. And while I didn’t have the fortitude to quote from the article, the Bad Sex in Fiction nominees for 2016 are out and here to terrorise us all. (Although I really didn’t find Gayle Forman’s contribution that bad at all.)

As always, let me know what you thought about these. Have a good week ahead, everyone.