Thursday 28 March 2013

YA REVIEW - 'Adorkable', Sarra Manning (Atom, 2012)

Jeane Smith's a blogger, a dreamer, a jumble sale queen, CEO of her own lifestyle brand, and has half a million followers on Twitter. Michael Lee's a star of school, stage, and playing field. A golden boy in a Jack Wills hoodie. They have nothing in common but a pair of cheating exes. So why can't they stop making out? (Synopsis from Goodreads)

When I read a book on my Kindle, I tend to highlight bits that I love as well a bits that I don't love quite so much, like a lot of other readers do, I should imagine. Of course, most of the time I don't refer to them ever again because I one of those new-old Kindles - the ones with no keypad, but no touchscreen either, so the idea of trying to make notes about said highlights is not an inviting one, not unless I want to get cramp in my thumb from repeatedly hitting the arrow button. And without notes, I have to remember exactly why I highlighted them in the place. It's a long and not particularly interesting brain undertaking and one that I won't bore you with for much longer. 

In short, I highlight stuff if I have strong feeling about the stuff.
But this didn't happen with Adorkable. But not because I didn't have strong feelings about it and its stuff. Because it just wouldn't let me stop to highlight the stuff. It had me within its grasp for an entire Sunday. And this NEVER happens to me any more. I normally read in fifteen minute bursts in the morning or evening and have come to accept that this is my reading lot from now on. It might have helped a bit that this particular Sunday was Mother's Day, so I'd decided I wasn't going to do anything at all apart from pick up my phone to order takeaway. On that day, my Kindle remained firmly wedged between my palms, no highlighting, no stopping to think about how much I loved/loathed a certain quote, just pure, relentless, reading pleasure.

I think this book should be used as an example of how to write a great love interest. I've enjoyed Sarra Manning's books in the past but never before have I completely fallen for one of her leading men quite like this mahoosive boy crush. He's not the sort of guy I would have touched with a barge pole when I was a young pup but I suppose that's the point - not a complete arsehole but not 'perfect' by any means either. Which, of course means he is PERFECT. Michael Lee, I adore you. The best thing about reading YA as an adult is when you come across something or someone that makes you desperate to relive it all again SO BADLY. And it wasn't even all that great the first time around.

And Jeane - I should have hated her. I should have thought she was a precocious and arrogant. I mean, I'm not supposed to get on board with a person considerably younger than me who earns a heck of a lot more money. But everything about her just worked. When you've got a character that manages to balance her extremes with a convincing vulnerability then you've won me over. I loved that her looks weren't 'perfect' but that she really didn't give two hoots about it. And I loved the sexy times - two confident teenagers with a bit of experience who didn't think they knew it all and still considered sex to be a big deal. Which is completely is.

I was a bit worried at one point that Jeane's rather unique situation was going to be glamorized - what seventeen year old wouldn't want to live home alone, have a massive internet following and be invited to conferences in New York? But we are also reminded that Jeane was still a teenager and that this lifestyle is bound to have consequences...And I did worry about the state of her teeth somewhat. All that Haribo consumption has to have consequences too.

A big thank you to Jo and Maggie for their utterly persuasive reviews of this book. 

Now just  trying to control the urge to type MICHAEL LEE MICHAEL LEE MICHAEL LEE MICHAEL LEE repeatedly.

And failing miserably.

Saturday 16 March 2013

YA REVIEW - 'Metawars: Fight For the Future', Jeff Norton (Orchard, 2012)

In an unforgiving future, two warring factions - the MILLENIALS and the GUARDIANS - are locked in a brutal battle over control of an online virtual world called the Metasphere. Jonah Delacroix has always known which side he's on - the same side as his dead father. But when he assumed his father's avatar, he learns that things aren't as black and white as he once believed. He's catapulted into a full-throttle race through both worlds - but can he find the truth? (Synopsis from Goodreads)

MetaWars: Fight for the FutureI've always been slightly wary of any book/film that relies of some form of technology as a facet of the plot. Not because I think they won't be any good, far from it, but because of that old time chestnut - if I'm reading something that contains a lot of techy stuff that was up-to-date a few years ago, but is perhaps looking slightly archaic now, this tends to distract me from the writing and the story a bit. Well, the point I'm trying to make is that I don't think this will be the case with this book. The set-up in Metawars involves something that, if it ever does come anywhere near to occurring is a long, long, way off. I hope. Because I really don't want to be living amongst a sea of abandoned double decker buses on Clapham Common. And knowing my luck, I'd have the world's most embarrassing avatar....

Anyway, back to the book. I don't often read too much that is aimed at the younger YA audience, but I imagine this is quite a tricky genre to get just right - how to you challenge your reader but at the same time not write something that is going to go completely over their head? Well, I'm happy to say that Metawars succeeds - this is one of the most fast-paced books I've read in a while. At no point does the story lag in the slightest. Jonah, our main character, is catapulted, quite literally on one occasion, from location to location across the globe. Although I did worry about his jet-lag somewhat. 

And talking of Jonah, all his thoughts and actions along the way kept me on my toes in terms of his character. I kept changing my mind as to whether I found him annoying or not, but then I had to remember that this is an extremely confused teenage boy we're talking about. One that's just had a life-changing event inflicted upon him within the space of a few hours. I loved the fact that he never found anything clear-cut, and he was used to highlight the rather murky motivations and outcomes of everyone's actions. How the the consequences of some decisions made for the 'greater good' were exactly palatable and even the motivations behind the big bad evil weren't that entirely Bond villian-esque. Jonah reminded me a bit of Ty from When I was Joe and Almost True and I liked them for very similar reasons - you're never allowed to forget that they are teenage boys in very extraordinary situations - they don't always make mature decisions and they are all the more engaging because of this.

Sometimes the story moved so quickly that a little bit of it went over my old head, like there was a massive chunk of back story that I'd missed out on, but it's testament to the book that this didn't really seem to matter to much to the plot. The best thing about Metawars is that it never underestimates the reader - perfect for younger YA audiences then.

Thursday 14 March 2013

I Need to Get Out More #2 - Event: Young Adult Fiction - Coming Out of the Closet

So if you read my post from last week, you'll know that this is this is the first of, hopefully many in my brand new feature which basically involves me telling you about my adventures outside of my flat. And I use the word 'adventures' in the loosest possible way. Said adventures might involve me only going for a short walk in my local surrounds. You have been warned...

Anyway, my first post is slightly overdue. This event took place a few weeks ago and if I don't write something up straight away, it does tend to take me a while to complete the task. But, I hope this will be no less informative and entertaining than if it were written the day after it happened ;)

Now, before I start, a bit of a warning is required. It occurred to me that this is going to contain some pretty massive spoilers to a book that I went to great pains to review previously without giving away anything. So, if you haven't read What's Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long, I really do advise you to stop reading this RIGHT NOW. And then once you have read the book, go and read my review of it (although the lack of spoilers will be wasted on you by this point) and then come back to read this post....right, have you done all of that? Good, now we can begin....
And the other good thing about author events...?

Young Adult Fiction: Coming Out of the Closet was hosted by Booktrust and originally came to fruition in order to try and find out why there are so few LGBT characters in UK young adult fiction and what can be done about this. To find out more background information about the panel, it's probably best to look at their detailed bios on the Free Word Centre website, but participating were authors James Dawson (Hollow Pike) and Hayley Long (What's Up With Jody Barton?), Emily Thomas from Hot Key Books and participant in Stonewall Young Talent Programme, Catherine Hennigan. The event was chaired by children's book consultant, Alexandra Strick.

Why did the authors include LGBT characters in their books?

It wouldn't be completely out of line to assume that the inclusion of a LGBT character in YA book might well be influenced by a desire to promote this issue. However, James Dawson talked about the thinking behind the inclusion of gay characters in Hollow Pike and how he was very conscious about making the sexuality secondary to the plot. He wanted to write a book that was more about friendship than romance. In the case of What's Up with Jody Barton?, Hayley Long described how the character of Jody 'found her' - she was slightly scuppered in her wish to write a YA novel from a male perspective but boredom set in when she started her story about twin sisters falling for the same guy and she decided to be a bit...shall we say, sneaky? Those of you who have this book will know what I mean, and she definitely succeeded in keeping Jody's gender a secret until the big reveal. She told us of how she was motivated as a reader and a writer by this challenge and how she thought it might well be very rewarding for her usual fan base - to think you're going into a certain type of story  and end up some place else.

Do you feel you have a responsibility as a 'gay' writer?

Signed copies!
James Dawson said being labelled as anything was the least of his worries - there were different facets of his book that came with different stigmas. The 'teen' label is often looked down on and some people seemed more concerned with the witchcraft element than the sexuality of some of the characters. At the end of the day, you can't control what a reader will take away from your book. Hayley Long made the point that Jody Barton is essentially a story about a teenager with an unrequited crush, and so this universal theme appeals to all, not just the gay community.

A publisher's perspective...

When addressing the lack of LGBT characters in UKYA, Emily Thomas's first point was that they simply don't have the manuscripts to work with and there are not enough 'proper storytellers' doing this at the moment. First and foremost she is looking for a great story, but when the issue starts to over shadow this, then she steps away - the key is getting the issue and the story woven together effectively. The subject of LGBT YA fiction in the US was raised a couple of times and she made the point that this genre tends to have a more analytical style which doesn't often translate well with UK readers.

A reader's perspective...

Catherine Hennigan talked about her own experiences as a gay teen, looking for books that she could identify with and what she expects from fiction that contains LGBT issues and characters today. She said she remembered a lot of books focusing on negative issues in the past, such as bullying and mental health whereas as all she was looking for was 'advice' - how to ask other girls out, how to make relationships work - the sort of things that gay teenagers now find on the internet. These days, books with LGBT characters are more for enjoyment, rather information.

One very interesting question that was raised was how should the LGBT elements of a book be marketed? Hayley Long said that leaving LGBT references off the back cover of a book is sometimes as important as mentioning them - some gay teenagers might not want to read anything marketed as 'gay' and not mentioning the LGBT characters or story could help the book reach a wider audience. Catherine Hennigan said she specifically didn't want to see books targeted at gay teenagers, because that would be 'preaching to the converted' - it's more important that everyone reads these books.

One matter of consensus was that this whole process needs to start at and earlier age, by having more picture books and early readers featuring same sex couples.


So what do you think? I found the comment about US YA fiction an interesting one - do you agree with Emily Thomas? When I think of LGBT characters in YA, one of the first books that spring to mind is Will Grayson Will Grayson. I agree that the style is very analytical, but I'm not sure this necessarily means it wouldn't appeal to UK teenagers. And the marketing of these titles - one audience member made a very interesting point that the pink cover of Jody Barton might put off the teenage boys - exactly the sort of audience these books should be reaching out to. Do you think it's more important for YA with LGBT characters and elements to appeal to just the gay community or everybody?

What are your favourite books with LGBT characters and why have they left an impression? Or have you encountered any that you think got it wrong? Thoughts and feelings please...

Monday 4 March 2013

YA REVIEW - 'What's Up With Jody Barton?', Hayley Long (Macmillan, 2012)

Me and my sister are twins. She's Jolene and I'm Jody. We've both got brown hair, we're both left-handed and we both have these weirdly long little toes which make us look like long-toed mutants. But apart from that, I'd say we're fairly different. Well, actually, we're a lot different . . . It's hard enough being one half of the world's least identical twins, without both of you falling for the same guy... Jolene's turned flirting into a fine art, but Jody? Not so much. And as if a twinny love triangle wasn't messy enough . . . there's something nobody knows about Jody Barton. Something BIG. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

It's feels very strange to be writing a review of this book, because, honestly the best advice I can give you before you read this book is not to read anything about this book before you start this book. Seriously, stop reading this review. NOW.

What's Up With Jody Barton?...Only kidding. You know I would never partake in any of the spoiling of the clever story without huge amounts of prior warning. But that doesn't take away from the fact that this is going to be a tricky one. Hmmm...

Let's just start with the things I loved about this one then, shall we? Well, for starters, Jody. Such a loveable character in desperate need of a hug. I can't imagine any teenager who wouldn't identify with Jody on some level or another. Even though their particular dilemma could appear very specific on the surface, we all been there - falling in love with completely the wrong person and developing a slight obsession with River Phoenix....haven't we?

And this is properly funny stuff, with Jody making a very amusing and informative narrator as well as there being some cracking and vivid supporting characters. One particular gag, courtesy of Jody and Jolene's mum, was a right corker that made me guffaw into my brew. But I won't spoil it for you here, adding to the list of yet another thing I won't mention about this book. In fact, I loved all the supporting characters and it's not too often that a contemporary YA gets the whole dialogue thing spot on, even old lady speak...

"If they took Tony Blair and Barack Obama and the ayatollah and that tiny little Frenchman with the big heels and that hunky Russian prime minister, Vladimir Rasputin and put them altogether in my front room with a great big pot of tea and a jar of ginger hard-bakes, you'd have every one of the world's problems sorted out by the end of the day. You mark my words!"

Have any truer words even been said? No, they haven't. Tea Rocks. End of discussion.

Right, there's no getting around it. You may or may not have guessed that there is a bit of a twisty twist lurking amongst the pages. Ok, a lot of a twisty twist. And I'm not usually a fan of twisty-twists because most of the time they're not that twisty. But this one of proper...corkscrew perm twisty. Yes, THAT twisty. It's ace.

But now I shall distract you from the twistyness with one of the many brilliant facts that are littered throughout this book. It's no secret that I love contemporary YA, especially contemporary YA set in my lovely home city of London. And this is a proper London book, complete with references to buses that pass through my neighbourhood. So lets leave it to Jody to give us a fact about London...

"I read on the internet that 7,172,091 people live in London. That's more than seven million people. They all wander down Willesden High Road at some point."

It's true you know. I'm one of that seven million and I have wandered down Willesden High Road. We were going to a gerbil breeder's flat to collect our new gerbils. True story.

Move along now. No twist to see here....

(Just remember to read the book though because it's rather brilliant)