A Trove of YA Books

This winter, the place where I work held a YA reading challenge for staff. I didn’t take notes or write reviews on most of the books I read, but I thought I could include them here, ranked and broadly categorized. A few of these, I have already reviewed or will review in the future.

5/6: seek this book out

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – 5/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth – 5/6 (coming-of-age)
Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick – 5/6 (poetry)
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater – 5/6 (supernatural, action)
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – 5/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare – 5/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)

4/6: worth reading

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (supernatural, action)
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (supernatural, action, couple-focused)
Partials by Dan Wells – 4/6 (dystopian, action, SF) 
Fragments by Dan Wells – 4/6 (dystopian, action, SF)
Ruins by Dan Wells – 4/6 (dystopian, action, SF)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – 4/6 (coming-of-age)
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney – 4/6 (poetry, coming-of-age, graphic fiction)
Panic by Lauren Oliver – 4/6 (coming-of-age, mystery)
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – 4/6 (dystopian, SF)

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural, action)
Trickster edited by Matt Dembicki – 4/6 (graphic fiction)

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – 4/6 (couple-focused, action, SF)
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – 4/6 (couple-focused, action, supernatural, SF)
The Originals by Cat Patrick – 4/6 (mystery, couple-focused)

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver – 4/6 (coming-of-age)
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater – 4/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
Divergent by Veronica Roth – 4/6 (couple-focused, dystopian)
Legend by Marie Lu – 4/6 (dystopian, couple-focused, action)

Prodigy by Marie Lu – 4/6 (dystopian, couple-focused, action)
Champion by Marie Lu – 4/6 (dystopian, couple-focused, action)
A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis – 4/6 (coming-of-age)
Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl – 4/6 (comedy)
Isolation by Dan Wells – 4/6 (dystopian, action, SF)

Killer Instinct by S.E. Green – 4/6 (mystery, horror)
Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin – 4/6 (children’s)
The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari H. Sutherland – 4/6 (children’s, action)
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – 4/6 (supernatural, action, couple-focused)
The Night She Disappeared by April Henry – 4/6 (mystery, couple-focused)
El Deafo by Cece Bell – 4/6 (children’s, graphic fiction)

3/6: more good than bad

The End Games by T. Michael Martin – 3/6 (action, horror)
Dragon on Trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari H. Sutherland – 3/6 (children’s, action)

below this line, I would not recommend the book

47 by Walter Mosley – 3/6 (coming-of-age, supernatural)
Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George- 3/6 (mystery)
Fallen by Lauren Kate – 3/6 (couple-focused, supernatural)
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa – 3/6 (supernatural, action, couple-focused)

2/6: many problems

Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon – 2/6 (action, supernatural)

Artemis Fowl

Powell’s Books

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

publication date: 2001
pages: 280
ISBN-10: 0786817070

Artemis Fowl is not compelling.  I realized just how dull I found it after I noticed I was reading anything else: articles from any free newspaper weekly I could get my hands on, old magazine issues, the entire Twilight series (I’m serious). But I did finally finish it.  And it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read.

The story follows Artemis Fowl, a 12-year-old evil genius, as he navigates between advanced technology and a hidden fairy underworld.  Artemis wants to reinvigorate the once-glorious Fowls by stealing leprechaun gold.  Artemis’s scheme has him bribing fairies in Ho Chi Minh City, kidnapping the fairy protagonist who is a member of the Lower Elements Police-recon unit (or LEPrecon), and battling trolls.

To be honest, the plot of this book is almost irrelevant because the reader is not given any chance to identify with the characters.  If I don’t like the heroine Holly Short or the titular Artemis, I don’t care what happens to them in the story. Colfer insists throughout that Artemis and his butler, Butler, are smart and capable people, but also completely unlikable and nefarious. Well then, why do I care if their plan is thwarted?  And readers are not given enough time with Holly to form much of an opinion of her, making it difficult to root for her.

Another reason it is difficult to engage with the plot is because so much of the plot is focused on obsolete technology. When the book was written in 2001, maybe it was exciting and innovative for a character to take pictures of the pages of a stolen book so “the entire volume was stored on the camera’s chip” but not in 2013, when entire books can be summoned with a few clicks on Google Books.  Additionally, as alluded to above, Colfer is not very adept at naming characters: a manservant’s name is Butler.  A centaur’s name is Foaly. The villainous main character is Fowl.

There are many other problems with the book, including frequent use of my personal pet peeve: the oft-employed and oft-abused foreshadowing.  I think you get the point, though, so I will just add one more misstep: Colfer actually utilizes a dwarf’s fart as a plot device.  Yes, a dwarf’s fart gets more than just a passing mention and in fact gets several paragraphs of discussion.

Artemis Fowl is not all bad.  Colfer set the book in some interesting places, including, as mentioned above, Ho Chi Minh City and Martina Franca, near the city of Brindisi in Italy.  And notwithstanding my lengthy criticism above, most of the book was serviceable, including certain moments of suspense.  However, when there are so many great things to read, serviceable is just not enough.

3/6: more good than bad

Fantasy Book Review
Authortrek
The New York Times

Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner

9780226644929Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner by Vivian Gussin Paley

publication date: 1986
pages: 128
ISBN-10: 0226644928
ISBN-13: 978-0226644929

I stumbled upon Boys and Girls while reading a The Atlantic article about Swedish grammar schools that remove all references to gender. The article described Boys and Girls as “a classic book on children’s play.” I’m pleased I found that description intriguing because Boys and Girls was an absolute joy to read.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a teacher, a parent, a feminist, or a psychologist or who simply wonders how innate the differences between men and women are. Even if you don’t fit into those categories, I would still recommend the book, if only to experience Paley’s concise, artless, and passionate writing.

In Boys and Girls, Paley, a kindergarten teacher, documents and reflects on the happenings in her class for one year. It sounds deceptively simple, but the book is multi-layered. Paley spends most of the book recounting the differences between boys and girls. For instance, boys hop and girls skip. Boys run during gym and girls somersault. Once Paley is forced to deliberate on the children’s behavior and her reactions to it, she realizes that she treats boys more negatively than girls. That is the second, more subtle, layer to Boys and Girls. Paley explores her own, and – by implication – society’s preconceptions about boys’ behavior and learning. A third layer to the book is Paley’s struggle to be an inspired teacher. She clearly loves her job and she attempts to correct any misstep of her own—no matter how minor. These layers lead to a book that doesn’t so much as argue a point; it informs the reader and persuades. Paley doesn’t end the book with one over-arching implementable thesis. Instead, she tells the reader what she did and provokes the reader to come to her own conclusions

Boys and Girls is not without fault. Paley’s most regrettable flaw is her decision to use a separate dialect for Franklin, the only black child in her class. She informs us Franklin is black, so I don’t know why she needed an awkward, and probably inaccurate, separate dialect for him. Clearly, Paley admires and appreciates Franklin, so I sense no malice in her treatment of him. However, her use of a “black” dialect is unnecessary, clunky, and coarse.

Also, the book is older, so some of the information could be obsolete. For example, Paley notes that many of the children in her class do not have a TV at home. Also, none of the connective technology that fills ours homes today, such as wi-fi and smart phones, were available when Boys and Girls was written. Even though the book does not, and could not, discuss the consequences of these technologies on children, I still found it relevant.

Overall, Boys and Girls is interesting and charming. It is not necessarily an exciting book, but it is still one I would recommend.

As an aside, the foreword in my edition, written by Philip W. Jackson, was terrible. At one point he actually asks whether there is “at least a grain of truth in stereotypes?” That’s certainly a sentiment Paley would never agree to.

6/6: instant classic

Here is a collection of reader reviews of the book:

Goodreads

King Dork

King Dork by Frank Portman

Powell’s Books

publication date: 2006
pages: 344
ISBN-13: 978-0385734509

I have to admit: my opinion of this book changed after I realized it was written by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T. Experience. Issues I’d had with the book, such as esoteric music and book references and a juvenile perception of young women, dwindled with the realization: oh, the author thinks he is a rockstar. I’m not proud of that fact, but I did forgive the book for some of its transgressions.

Not that the book needed much forgiveness. I found it funny and compelling before I knew about its author.  King Dork follows Tom Henderson through his sophomore year of high school at Hillmont High in California. At heart, the book is a coming-of-age story, although Portman takes great pains to convince his reader otherwise. Tom spends the book expanding his horizons beyond his imaginary bands to, among other things, his dead father’s past, girls’ mouths, live shows, and sexy parties.

There were several comedic gems sprinkled throughout the book and I laughed out loud many times. Most of the book’s wit stemmed from wry observations about being an American teen. For example, Tom and his bandmate, Sam Hellerman, are discussing the meaning of Christian rock music and Sam thinks he might understand it: it’s like “You have a crush on Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t know you exist.” At another point, Tom is complaining about a book he is reading, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, and J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Tom opines that if Holden Caulfield read Doors of Perception “he’d say something like ‘Gee, Wally, that’s swell and junk, but I feel all crumby on account of how it’s so phony and all.’” Nothing like a pretentious literature joke to get this reader chuckling.

In fact, the book spends an inordinate amount of time lambasting The Catcher in the Rye. Portman either really despises that book or is straining to seem hip and irreverent to his young audience. I’m putting my money on the latter. There are other examples in the book of Portman trying to connect, or something, with guys between the ages of 12 and 16. The first page alone mentions naked people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, blood, guitars, girls, a blow job, and rock and roll. Also, as mentioned earlier, the book does not treat young women in a realistic or positive way. These attempts at irreverence are bewildering at best and painful at worst.

Another weakness of King Dork is its constant foreshadowing. This is something I see a lot in YA fiction (The Book Thief, for example). Guess what, YA authors: foreshadowing is not effective. Instead, any plot climax is prostrate because of your constant hints that “Yes, something is going to happen. And yes, it will blow your mind.” Rarely will a foreshadowed plot development live up to an author’s earlier descriptions of it.

If I knew any boys in high school, I don’t know if I would recommend King Dork to them. The book contained too many unrealistic blow jobs. However, I would recommend this book to those of us who survived high school and periodically enjoy some funny YA fiction that doesn’t try to jam a message about uniqueness or being ourselves down our throat.

4/6: worth reading

Here are some other reviews of the book:

Teenreads
Goodreads
What was I reading?