In the past couple of months I read a few YA novels, all within a relatively short span of time. I found them to be nice reads but falling short of the intrigue presented by their premise, and ultimately not reaching the full extent of their potential. This made me look back at the YA novels I have read and reviewed so far to re-visit my prior experiences. While there are a few books that fell short for me, there are five stand-outs that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend.
1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
If I had to recommend just one book, it would be this one. It is a smart, character driven debut novel that is absolutely brilliant. It follows a nine-member crew travelling on a tunnelling ship whose job it is to punch holes through space in order to create shortcuts. A must-read.
2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
A strange and heart-breaking story about a girl born with the wings of a bird. It’s wonderfully engrossing with great depth of character as it explores the struggles of Ava and her family. Continue reading “Top 5 YA Novels I Have Read & Reviewed”
“To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore. Without a life vest. Without depending on solid ground.”
In Other Words is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book written in Italian, a language she fell in love with and dedicated years to learning. The book is uniquely done, with the original Italian text appearing on every left page and the English translation on the right. The author shares a very personal part of her life by not only taking us through her journey with Italian but also writing in the language as well. The result is an honest and open piece of writing that not only captures the experience of learning a new language and the challenges that come with that, but also how it relates to identity and culture.
“I believe that what can change our life is always outside of us.”
This is the first book I have read by Jhumpa Lahiri and can in no way compare it to her previous works, but I don’t feel it would be fair to do so in any case, as it is a completely new endeavour. She followed her passion for a language and truly immersed herself, creating a written account of her experiences and feelings about the process.
As I have no working knowledge of Italian I could not truly appreciate the Italian text that was such a personal undertaking for the author. However, the English translation is incredibly well done, and I feel it really captures the essence of the original writing. I related to this book so much and found that it perfectly described the feelings, experiences, and frustrations of adopting a language. If you have adopted new languages yourself or perhaps struggled with identifying with any one language or culture, you should definitely read this book. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in languages as well as to fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, as it does provide a window into her life and approach to writing.
“… in the end to learn a language, to feel connected to it, you have to have a dialogue, however childlike, however imperfect.”
A charming and entertaining debut from author Joanna Cannon, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep tells the story of a neighbourhood full of secrets. During a summer heatwave in 1976, Mrs. Creasy goes missing without a trace, leading little Grace and Tilly to embark on an investigation to solve the mystery. The disappearance brings up long hidden secrets that many people do not want revealed.
‘He said that Mrs Creasy is officially a Missing Person.’
‘Missing from what?’
Thinking made my feet slower. ‘Her life, I suppose.’
‘How can you be missing from your own life?’
I slowed a little more. ‘Missing from the life you belong in.’
Tilly stopped to pull up her socks. ‘I wonder how you know which one that is.’
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is beautifully written, funny, and charming. Grace and Tilly (sweet, little Tilly) are adorable characters and their investigation of Mrs. Creasy’s disappearance is the thread that takes us though the story and introduces us to the different characters present in the neighbourhood. It is part whodunnit, part coming-of-age, and part exploration of the secrets we keep and neighbourhood politics. Every character has a story and a background, which the author does a wonderful job of presenting and integrating into the overall narrative. It is light, heart-warming and an absolute delight.
“Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.”
A YA debut from author Samatha Mabry, A Fierce and Subtle Poison tells the story of seventeen-year-old Lucas who spends his summers in Puerto Rico with his hotel-developer father. Stories of a cursed girl filled with poison have become a part of the island, and having grown-up hearing the various myths and theories, Lucas has always wondered what is fact and what is fiction. When his girlfriend goes missing at the same time that he begins to receive letters from the mysterious Isabel, his quest for the truth takes him down a dangerous path.
The concept and premise of A Fierce and Subtle Poison is very intriguing. It is wonderfully written and the style of writing really fits the mood of the novel. I found it easy to get into the story and once I started reading I was immersed in the mystery and the tales surrounding the cursed girl. There was a point for me about three-quarters of the way through where my attention waivered and my interest and excitement for the story decreased, which I feel may have been as a result of a lack of connection to the characters. There are many different avenues a story like this can take, especially when it comes to YA novels, and I appreciate where the author took the story and how it left off. While I wish I could have connected more to the novel as a whole, I did find it interesting and enjoyable. A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a wonderfully written debut with a compelling premise that I would recommend to fans of magical realism and mysteries.
*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: April 12, 2016.
“Society is the choice between freedom on someone else’s terms and slavery on yours.”
All the Birds in the Sky is a unique book that takes elements of magical realism, fantasy, and science-fiction to create a page-turning story with memorable and endearing main characters. We are introduced to Patricia who is a witch with a deep connection to nature, and Laurence who is a genius when it comes to science and technology. They find friendship in the challenging times of their youth, but end up going their separate ways only to reunite as adults and at a time when the world is descending into chaos.
This book is different. That is, it doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre and it’s not easy to describe. It is a book that you need to dive into and just experience, preferably without a lot of prior knowledge about what the story consists of so I hesitate to say too much. It explores themes of friendship and love with an impending apocalypse that examines the relationship and conflict between science and nature. The story is well crafted and presented, diving into and interconnecting all of these different themes and aspects of the book as a whole. What makes All the Birds in the Sky a stand out for me, is the depth of its main characters. The author takes care and time to develop each character, so that we first get to know them as individuals, which sets the foundation of the story and allows us to fully understand their bond and connection.
At times sad, at times funny and undeniably charming, it is a story to get lost in. A compelling read I recommend to anyone looking for something a little different.
“You know… no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you’re not. But if you’re clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were.”
“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.”
Young Mori has had a very challenging childhood, being raised by a witch mother who experimented with dangerous magic. Mori found comfort among the faeries that lived in her hometown in Wales and she found escape in numerous science-fiction novels. After a battle with deadly consequences, Mori is sent to England to be under the care of her father and where she is to attend boarding school. Told through diary entries, Mori gives us her story in her own words.
Touching and at times heart-breaking, Among Others is a coming-of-age story with a fantasy twist. Mori is an incredibly endearing character and you really get to connect to her experiences through her daily diary entries. The fantasy aspect of this novel is very subtle, with the world being as we know it and the magical aspects existing but not clearly visible to all. When reading the book this could be interpreted as the result of an overactive imagination or delusion, however, what the story demonstrates is that magic is visible to those who are willing to see it. I did find the book started to drag a little about three quarters of the way through and the fantasy part didn’t really click with the rest of the story as it reached its conclusion.
“If you love books enough, books will love you back.”
The true heart of Among Others is Mori’s love of books and fans of science-fiction will appreciate all the works that are mentioned and discussed throughout the novel. And anyone who has ever found solace and comfort in books will fall in love with Mori and her love of libraries and the magic that is interlibrary loans.
You can find the list of books mentioned in Among Others here.
“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”