Posted tagged ‘YA’

Review: Catching Fire

February 22, 2010

Catching Fire was pretty much the biggest YA release of 2009, being the second part of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Game trilogy.  I found the first book in the series to be extremely promising, albeit a bit flawed.  Collins created a fantastic dystopian world, and peopled it with some wonderful characters, but she wasn’t great at story structure.

And unfortunately that description pretty much works for the sequel as well.  Well, maybe that’s not totally fair, the story is generally very well told, being a great followup to the Hunger Games that serves to escalate the story and never falls into the trap of feeling like the middle of a trilogy.  Collins also manages to retrace much of the material from the original book, but in such a way that it still comes off feeling novel.

But then there’s the ending, which is a bit problematic.  The final chapter or two just descends into chaos.  It sets up some fantastic material for the last part of the trilogy at least, but to get there Collins resorts to some deus ex machinas, a pretty contrived plot development, and the disappearance of 1 character from the story.

With a bit more work this novel would have been great, but instead I’m left feeling like it doesn’t quite work.  Still I’ll be impatiently waiting for Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, later this year.

Review: the Hunger Games

December 21, 2009

I picked up the Hunger Games after nearly everyone I knew with an interestest in YA fiction spent the better part of the last year telling me I had to read it.  I can see why it earned the adoration.

At first glance the book isn’t anything that original, treading ground seen previously in such books as Battle Royale and Tunnel In the Sky.  A group of children are carted off to a wilderness arena and are forced to fight to the death.  Why that’s become its own genre is probably something that would make for a halfway decent master’s thesis.

So, what makes the Hunger Games different?  Primarily its that Suzanne Collins isn’t actually  interested in telling an survival story.  Instead this is a dystopian story, and a damned good one.  The games in this world are used as a means of both entertaining the ruling class and ensuring their dominance over those beneath their station.

The dystopian elements were by far the most engrossing aspects of the story, but very often they also led Collins to make some slight missteps in the story.  The action elements occasionally feel somewhat unfullfilling, with quite a few major pieces of the plot occuring offstage and a few Chekhov’s Guns left unused. 

But still the book left me craving the sequel, which seems like it ought to focus more on the politics of the world Collins has created, and that interests me a great deal more than the Hunger Games detailed here.

Loving What You Do

August 21, 2009

In keeping with my theme this week of rhetorical diatribes, how important is a librarian to have a well rounded knowledge of the culture around them.  That’s a long winded way of asking must a ya librarian read Twilight?

I don’t think anyone would argue that a librarian must be able to relate to their patrons, but just how much does that require?  A colleague mentioned to me recently that they were looking forward to being able to read an adult novel over a vacation.  Let’s think about this comment for a moment.  A librarian is never going to be part of the target audience for any childrens or YA book in our collections, and while many adults can enjoy those books anyway (I’m certainly one of them), you can’t expect that from everyone.

So, how much exposure is necessary?  And is it bad if watching/reading/playing like a child or a teen becomes work?  Particularly as that’s work that must be done off the clock.  Or, is it possible to get by on the How to Talk about books you haven’t read approach?

Comics Redux

June 18, 2009

Our comics collection seems to be the issue that never dies (granted some of that is my fault).  Up until now we’ve kept them solely in our YA department, and until recently in the damn 741.5 call # that I hate so much.  Well we just ordered this summer’s high school reading lists and found Watchmen and the first volume of the Sandman on it (which is very cool, and actually also Jonathan Lethem’s underated Omega the Unknown was also on the list, but that one doesn’t pose any difficulties).

These books got us thinking about age appropriateness.  Our YA collection is intended for ages 12-18, which is quite a range.  No one has any problem giving these books to someone in high school.  But the 24 hours story from the Sandman might be a bit much for a 12 year old (although that’s when I first read it).

So after a lot of discussion we decided to move these to the adult collection, but not just because of the potential obscenity issue.  Up until now our adult comic collection consisted of 2 books, Persepolis and Jimmy Corrigan.  Now we’re starting to look at building a real collection for so called “mature” comics readers.  We looked through our YA collection and pulled out a few other books that could potentially be deemed inappropriate to someone with the right mindset.  But we also grabbed a few whose subject matter simply might be of more interest to an adult audience (A Contract with God, In the Shadow of No Towers, the Golem’s Mighty Swing).

Many of these decisions were slightly arbitrary, but they also serve a purpose.  We now have just enough books to fill up a whole shelf in one of our more prominent locations.  This gives us enough to promote them as being a new collection, one that we now intend to build upon.  It’s a round about way to get to that point, but at least we made it there.

Review: The Kingdom On the Waves

December 29, 2008

I’m back from my holiday break, which means I’ve had lots of time to finish off an audio book while stuck in traffic.  And man was this one a doozy.  M.T. Anderson already managed to break my heart once with his novel Feed, and now he’s done it again with the concluding half to his epic, the Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation.

When we last left the classicially educated slave Octavian, he was wading through the Boston Harbor, along with his tutor/mentor Dr. Trefusis after having escaped from his home.  This volume finds him heading south to join Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopians in the battle against the Revolutionaries in exchange for his freedom.  The resultant gutwrenching philosophical treatise on the nature of war and the value of man is the finest piece of writing I’ve encountered all year.

If the book had been marketed as an adult novel you can bet it would have made all the bestseller’s lists and possibly Oprah’s book club.  But instead Anderson is considered a YA author, despite the fact that the quality of the prose within this book would put 99% of the writers out there to shame.  Anderson is not only the most skilled YA writer today, he might be the most best writer period.

Review: Nation

November 4, 2008

Nation is Terry Pratchett’s first non-Discworld book in ages, it’s also clearly one of the books he has been most passionate about.

Essentially this is a desert island story.  A tidal wave decimates an island tribe and one European boat, leaving a handful of survivors build a civilization from scratch.  This gives Pratchett plenty of material to use for exploring many of his pet themes.  Although he does it here with slightly less humor than usual, and not a single footnote.  Nation feels like it was written outside of Pratchett’s comfort zone, but I think that comes off as a strength considering that one of the larger elements of the story is a journey of self discovery.  Thus the entire book comes off feeling like a truly personal story.  

It seems like Pratchett routinely does his best work when writing for a YA audience, and I think this is my favorite of those novels.

Review: The Graveyard Book

October 9, 2008

The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s welcome return to the realm of YA fiction.  The last time he tread these waters (not counting Interworld, which he plotted) he came up with Coraline a book that to paraphrase the author, children would love but which would give their parents nightmares.  It was pretty good too, winning a Hugo, a Nebula, a Bram Stoker award, and picking up a nomination for the Carnegie Medal.  Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer, being the most natural storyteller working today next to perhaps Jane Yolen.

So my expectations were pretty high for this book, and it doesn’t quite match them, but it does come pretty damn close.  The story has the annoyingly high concept of the Jungle Book in a cemetery.  I think the premise bothers me more than anything else really, it’s just one too many gothic fables and I think the fad is begining to pass at last.  

But besides that the book is written masterfully.  The story is structured as a series of shorts, that can be read equally well as individual pieces or as a whole.  Gaiman also shows an incredible level of respect for his target audience.  I think this story is aimed at the tween crowd, but there is plenty here that will appeal to adults as well.  Given the material, there are some horror elements in the story, with quite a few frightening scenes and some violence early on.  But I think it still manages to stay age appropriate at all times.

This book is definitly a must for Halloween this year.  And if your kids like it then maybe they’ll be ready to try Kippling next.

Morality Clauses

August 22, 2008

This has been reported in quite a few places (I heard it from BoingBoing).  Random House has just announced a policy of including morality clauses in the contracts of its YA authors.  On one hand I applaud them for considering authors to be good role models, but mostly I’m just horrified.

I’m reminded of the protests that sprung up around Orson Scott Card awhile ago when YALSA awarded him a life time achievement award for his contributions to YA literature.  He is entirely deserving of the award based on his work, Ender’s Game is one of the few enduring classics modern SF has produced.  But Card also holds some horrible opinions of homosexuals, which he has voiced repeatedly.  The question was whether the author’s works could stand on their own, or whether to taint of the writer’s own beliefs tainted them.  Quite a few people were strongly opposed to Card, but in the end cooler heads won out, And I’m glad that they did.

The same should hold true for Random House.  Not everyone is a saint, and some of those who aren’t have produced the greatest works of art (i.e. Roald Dahl).


July 29, 2008

Well that didn’t take long.  We have just received a challenge on two of the graphic novels I selected for our YA collection.  One due to profanity (one instance of the f-word) and one due to sexual content (an implied sexual act with some nudity).  What’s funny is the patron didn’t seem to have a problem with the fairly graphic violence, these being horror books.

I got taped to voice a opinion on the content of these books in the hope that our children’s librarian wouldn’t have to read them herself (not a horror fan), but she has chosen to do so anyway.  Is it wrong to be looking forward to co-writing a response?

Review: Runways: Dead End Kids

July 21, 2008

Modern comics have had great difficulty in coming up with new characters that have been able to survive in the current marketplace.  Out of all the titles on the stands only a handfull feature characters that were created after the silver age, and most of those first appeared in the mid 70’s.  Thus it’s always a real mark of quality when something newer does manage to have some real staying power, and of those the best book by far is Marvel’s the Runaways.

The Runaways (created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona) focus on a group of teens who discover that their parents are secretly the crime lords of L.A.  Throughout the course of Vaughan’s issues the Runaways gain superpowers, overthrow their parents, get introduced to some of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, and lose a few members in battle.  By the time the two original creators left they had written the best YA epic mainstream comics has seen since Jeff Smith first began working on Bone.

This left some huge shoes to fill, the end results of which were a little disappointing.  For this book the usually brilliant Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fame) and the inconsistant Michael Ryan (in top form here fortunately) come on board for a single arc.  The good is that Whedon has a great feel for the characters and is clearly coming on board having been a fan of the material first.  The bad is that the time-travel story is a bit uninspired, creating what is by far the weakest story yet for the series.  Although the setting does give Ryan plenty to work with, and his designs for the New York City of 1907 and its heroes are lovely.