Waiting on Wednesday: Spring YA

You know what’s happening in my neck of the woods, team? Stinging caterpillars is what. They are a pernicious blight upon the land. They fall from the sky onto your head when you are just trying to catch your bus, and their fuzzy tops sting your fingers if you try to brush them off. The spring is wet and full of terrors.

LOOK HOW GROSS

All that consoles me in this trying time is the evergreen wellspring1 of YA fiction, of which there is a plethora this spring season. Here are three that I’m particularly looking forward to, in celebration of Waiting on Wednesday.

Chasing the Stars, Malorie Blackman

Chasing the Stars

Perhaps you read the Noughts and Crosses series when they came out a million years ago, and perhaps since then you have wondered what Malorie Blackman was up to, since she evidently wasn’t writing any more books. You have been played for a fool, I’m sorry to say. Malorie Blackman has been writing books this whole time, and America has not been goddamn publishing them.

Well may you shake your fist at the heavens. America still isn’t publishing Malorie Blackman, but on April 21st, a new book of hers comes out in the UK that is genderswapped Othello in space. I’ll repeat that for the people in the back: GENDERSWAPPED OTHELLO IN SPACE. You may repair to the Book Depository for your copy.

Places No One Knows, Brenna Yovanoff

Places No One Knows

Admittedly I have been up and down on Brenna Yovanoff, but I feel great about her new book. It’s about an overachieving girl and an underachieving boy and the small bit of magic that brings them together. I have been promising a heaping helping of darkness and emotional honesty, with a splash of fantasy. This one drops in late May, by which time I dearly hope the goddamn caterpillars will all be gone.

THE RAVEN KING THE RAVEN KING THE RAVEN KING

The Raven King

Note: The actual title of the book is The Raven King once. I just said it three times because I’m very, very excited to read it. Will Gansey die? Probably but I don’t believe it’s permanent. Will birds do things birds don’t normally do? Almost certainly.

If you got excited the other day when I said “sociological speculative fiction,” then your luck’s in because I stole that term from Maggie Stiefvater, who used it to describe these very books. Start with The Raven Boys and work your way through the sequels, and then you won’t even have to wait very long to read the fourth one. LUCKY YOU because I have been waiting all this whole year and on April 26th at last my wait will be at an end.

Tell me, friends: What are you looking forward to this season? And also, what, in your opinion, is the worst thing about spring?

  1. YOU’RE a mixed metaphor

Fiendish, Brenna Yovanoff

If you ever feel I’m not giving enough love in this space to Brenna Yovanoff, there just is not a good answer I can give you. I thought The Replacement was quite terrific, and if I hadn’t heard bad things about Fiendish, I’d have read it way sooner. I regret the error.

Fiendish is about a girl called Clementine who lies sleeping inside the cellar of a burned-out house, tangled in leaves, for ten years. When she wakes up, the world has changed. Her mother is dead, her own aunt doesn’t remember her, and her town hates and fears people like her, people who can work magic. And everyone who knows about magic says that a second reckoning is coming.

Confession: I finished the book the night before writing a rough draft of this post, and I already couldn’t remember the protagonist’s name; I had to look it up. And that’s in spite of there being several references to the song “Clementine” in the book. Which is to say that Brenna Yovanoff’s forte is not character, and you will want to look elsewhere for that. Fiendish excels at being hella creepy. Here are some things Fiendish contains:

  • an angry small-town religious mob that wants to burn things down
  • catfish with mouths full of rows and rows of sharp pointy teeth
  • a group of teenagers whose combined power is at substantial risk of destroying the whole world
  • a swampy place that responds to (but is not controlled by) the emotions of the boy who rescued Clementine from her cellar; this is fine if the boy is happy and NOT GREAT if he is cross
  • blurry, poisonous black dogs that I picture as being like dog-form versions of the smoke monster from Lost, except they excrete a black tarry poison as well as biting and scratching the living shit out of you
  • burned-down houses that people still live in

The morning after I stayed up late to finish reading Fiendish all in one go, my mum mentioned that she had seen reviews of Fiendish that decried the lack of agency on the part of the heroine, Clementine. Which: Okay, I can see that, she’s more reactive than proactive. But it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of what was a wonderfully creepy book, and it’s the wonderful creepiness I come to Brenna Yovanoff for anyway.

Review: The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff

Happy All Saints’ Day! More to the point, happy anniversary, Saints! I will always love you no matter what. I am writing this post in mid-October, but I am predicting that I ended up doing nothing for Halloween. I am not a big fan of Halloween ever since I stopped trick-or-treating. I’m not good at designing costumes. Now Halloween is just one more obstacle between me and Christmas.

Ah changelings. I was griping the other day about the difficulty of creating a fairy world that has enough specificity to satisfy me, and although The Replacement doesn’t completely nail this, it does a pretty good job. More on that in a bit.

Mackie Doyle is a changeling. He is one of a very few children in the town of Gentry who survived to this age — usually when a faerie child (but they don’t call it that) is left in place of a human one, it dies very young. The people of Gentry do not talk much about this, but it defines Mackie’s life. He can’t be near iron, or even blood, without becoming sick; he can’t walk on consecrated ground, though his father is pastor of the town’s church. All his time is spent trying to blend in, a strategy that goes awry when his classmate Tate — herself a relentless truth-teller — loses her baby sister to the faeries (again, they don’t call it that) and demands that Mackie find a way to help her get her sister back.

What I loved about this book was how hard Mackie tries to fit in. This isn’t your usual high school kid feels out of place story. To Mackie it is literally life and death — he knows that the people of Gentry, for all their struggles to ignore what’s right in front of them, will turn on him in a second if he draws attention to how different he is from them. His aversion to blood and sacred ground must be disguised at all costs, as his parents are constantly reminding him. He is so focused on keeping cover that he barely has time for regular human friendships. Only with his oldest friend, Roswell, and his loving sister, Emma, can he begin to be himself. I would have read an entire book just about Mackie trying to navigate this difficult, hostile world without attracting notice to his differentness.

The supernatural plotline wasn’t bad, though. When Mackie eventually encounters the realm that produced him, he finds it strange and unsettling and alien, nothing he recognizes and nothing that feels familiar. I liked how concrete Brenna Yovanoff made this realm. When Mackie first meets the Morrigan — the more benevolent of the two women who rule various parts of the faerie realm (again! not what they call it in the book!) — she is wearing a gauzy party dress and has a mouthful of “small, jagged teeth. Not a nice, respectable thirty-two, but closer to fifty or sixty.” That is a nice little detail, and there are more like this, just small specific things that make the creatures seem unknowable but tangible.

The humans in the book, which is mostly everyone in the first third apart from Mackie, are very strong characters. Mackie’s sister Emma, the one person in the world he absolutely trusts and loves, comes off very sistery. Her concern for Mackie is strong and real and not overblown; it’s the kind of concern a healthy sibling has for a sickly sibling. I got a bit teary toward the end over this. I am a well-known sucker for sibling affection. And generally I liked it that the peripheral characters had lives of their own. Mackie’s father is devoted to his job; his mother has a sad backstory; Emma works on school projects and has friends of her own. Especially good were Mackie’s friends Danny and Drew, twins with a penchant for fixing up old broken things. They ended up being kind of important to the plot in the end, in a way that felt organic even though they hadn’t been a major part of the book up until that point.

The story of a changeling’s life after being switched for a human baby is something I’ve only seen once before — Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, the details of which I remember only pretty hazily — and it makes for a fascinating and unusual plot. I’d definitely recommend The Replacement. Thanks to the lovely Jodie for the recommendation!

I have an insatiable appetite for changeling/fairy realm stories this fall. Why aren’t there more? Less rhetorically, what do y’all think makes for a really good secondary character? It can’t just be their having lives of their own. What are the traits that make secondary characters pop?