Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Books 2017: Four-Star YA Fiction and Mystery

YA Fiction

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Synopsis from Goodreads: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

I've seen this author's books around for years and thought the covers were gorgeous (I mean come on, look at it), so I finally picked one up. This was really quite good, especially given that the set-up seems to strain all credulity. There is something called 'insta-love' in YA literature - pretty much exactly what it sounds like - and insta-love is always pretty much an instant turn-off. This, however, isn't really insta-love; it's more of a serendipitous meeting that turns into an acknowledgement of instant interest and attraction - not love, but the possibility of love, which I'm all for. Anyone who is completely dismissive of any kind of coincidence or intimation of fatefulness probably wouldn't like this. I found it charmingly optimistic with just enough realism to keep it grounded. 

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Synopsis from Goodreads: Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex, especially when she compares herself to her slim, brilliant, picture-perfect family. But that’s before a shocking phone call — and a horrifying allegation — about her rugby-star brother changes everything. With irreverent humor and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine who speaks to every teen who struggles with family expectations, and proves that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

I joined a Facebook Book Bingo Challenge this year for the first time. It was started by a lovely woman that I only ever got to talk with online a little. She died of cancer yesterday, and I am very far from a primary mourner, but I'm sad for her family and for my friends who knew her well and are devastated by her loss. I'm also grateful for the books that I wouldn't have read without her prompts, of which this is one. This is a wonderful book - I gave it to my daughter to read and she thought it was great too. Virginia is a wonderful, fully realized character and some really important topical issues (sexual assault, bodily autonomy, body image issues) are addressed in a way that doesn't feel forced or artificial at all. A really great coming-of-age story - maybe even an Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret for a new generation. 

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. Synopsis from Goodreads:
Nanette O'Hare has played the quintessential privileged star athlete and straight-A student for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bubblegum Reaper--a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic--the rebel within Nanette awakens. 
As the new and outspoken Nanette attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, she learns that rebellion can sometimes come at a high price...and with devastating consequences.

Also very good, again offering a realistic coming-of-age scenario and addressing youth mental illness without melodrama or romanticization. And the out-of-print cult classic author? Yeah, it's gimmicky, but it's a gimmick I'm a sucker for, and it's done really well here. It's rare for someone who's not John Green to hold my attention with YA that doesn't offer zombies or vampires - this did it. 

YA Mystery

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas. Synopsis from Goodreads: The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.
There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.
Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.
Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.
But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.
Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.

Quite good - a little more gritty and realistic than a lot of YA mystery. You really get a sense of how poverty and isolation can shape how a person reacts to trauma and interacts with other people. Tessa wears the same clothes for days on end because she doesn't have any others, and she is literally unable to accept comfort even when she desperately needs it. I felt like this dragged slightly in the middle and could have used a bit of tightening - it was an endless round of searching and not really finding anything, Tessa worrying that Maggie was going to send her away based on Callie's behaviour, and nothing actually happening - but then things start happening again and the ending is very satisfying.

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas. Synopsis from Goodreads: Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.
Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.
Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.
But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.
Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

I read this based on my favourable impression of The Darkest Corners book - also very good. Similar in theme and tone, but different enough to not feel derivative. 

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I'm putting those first three on my reading list.