January YA Round-Up

Here’s what happened in January: I had to wear this neck brace that made it impossible to ever sit comfortably. In part because of this, I was very, very cranky in the month of January.1 Every time I thought about going out and doing something, I’d be like “ugh I’m too cranky for that so instead I will stay home and read and that will cheer me up.” But because it was impossible to sit comfortably, staying home and reading did not cheer me up. But because I am very stupid, I did not figure this out until I had already been through this cycle many, many times.

What I’m saying is that I read a lot of books in January. Some were YA.2 Here’s a round-up of those.

Beasts Made of Night, Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night

An excellent cover for an excellent book! Beasts Made of Night takes us to the city of Kos, where mages can call forth the spirits of sins from the sinners. Aki like Taj come forward to eat the sin-beasts that result, though eating sins marks their skin with tattoos and eventually drives them mad. I loved this fictional Nigerian city and the scrappy street kids that occupied it, and Onyebuchi drops plenty of hints about the magic the wider world contains. I’ll very much look forward to the sequel.

Burn Baby Burn, Meg Medina

Burn Baby Burn

I’ve been meaning to read a book by Meg Medina for untold ages, and at last I have done so! Burn Baby Burn takes place in Brooklyn in 1977, when the city is terrorized by the Son of Sam and our protagonist, Nora, is terrorized by the increasing violence and unpredictability of her older brother. Medina evokes the heat and danger of this time in New York, and I was glad to see a depiction of a type of family violence that rarely comes up in fiction.

Everless, Sara Holland

Everless

I loved the premise of Everless but thought it lost something in the execution. In Jules Ember’s world, time is literally money: Days and months and years are extracted from the poor and, by and large, given to the rich. When she goes to work at the Everless estate, Jules expects to gain some time to put away and maybe to solve the secrets her father has always kept from her. Holland maybe has a few too many balls in the air in her debut novel, such that the plot twist towards the end feels more confusing than shocking.

Wild Beauty, Anna-Marie McLemore

Wild Beauty

And Anna-Marie McLemore continues to make me revisit my dislike of magic realism. Wild Beauty is the story of the Nomeolvides women, five in each generation, who tend the grounds at La Pradera and whose love is a curse. When the Nomeolvides girls admit to each other that they have all fallen in love with the wealthy Bay Briar, they make sacrifices to La Pradera to keep it from taking her from them. The next day, a boy called Fel appears in their garden, with no memory of who he is or how he got there.

McLemore’s writing is as lush and dreamy as it was in When the Moon Was Ours, and she continues to write queer romance stories (and straight ones) that make my heart sing with their respectfulness and loveliness. She’s quickly become a must-read author for me.

Here We Are Now, Jasmine Warga

Here We Are Now

This was recommended by one of the authors in my December YA Agenda column, and I was delighted to check it out and discover this new author. Tal has long suspected that famous musician Julian Oliver is her father (the father her mother won’t talk about), but that doesn’t mean she’s prepared for him to show up at her door. She goes with him to see her grandfather in hospital before he dies, and in the process she and Julian learn about each other and themselves.

As always with secret-baby stories, Here We Are Now doesn’t quite manage to get me to buy Tal’s mother’s reasons for concealing her existence from Julian. She still just seemed like an immoral jerk. Apart from that, though, Warga gets at a lot of real truths about emotions, family, friendship, and the human experience. It was also terrific to see a protagonist who’s culturally Muslim but (mostly) doesn’t practice.

Turtles All the Way Down, John Green

Turtles All the Way Down

Actually I finished this in February, but close enough. In the five years since John Green has published a book, I had a lot of time to get annoyed with the narrative of John Green, Savior of Young Adult Fiction, but no new John Green books to read. Turns out, he’s a pretty good writer. I sort of forgot! Turtles All the Way Down features a treasure of a best friend character, plenty of snappy dialogue, a heartbreaking depiction of OCD, and an actually genuinely good and effective therapist. Good stuff!

So that’s my January in YA! Did you read any good YA this past month? Anything I shouldn’t miss?

  1. Narrator: She was still extremely cranky in the month of February.
  2. There is also this thing where if I start a YA book on a given day, I have to finish it on that day because most YA books are long enough for one day’s worth of bus rides too and from work, but not long enough for two. So when I get home and my YA book is two-thirds finished, I have to either read the whole rest of it real quick or bring two books on the bus the following day, which is inefficient.

Justice for Kenny: A Links Round-Up

Okay, I don’t actually have a link about Kenny, my favorite contestant on this season of The Bachelorette, but I will tell you that there is some racist shit going down on this season, and it is not fun to watch, it’s upsetting. ABC is a tire fire. What else is new.

Roxane Gay’s series “World of Wakanda” was canceled — as usual, because Marvel calculates sales in the stupidest way possible and doesn’t give its new series and new authors the support they need and enough time to find their audience. Swapna Krishna discusses this nonsense.

I still haven’t watched Handmaid’s Tale and I don’t plan to because I can’t face it, but I can’t stop linking to Angelica Jade Bastien’s work so HERE: Have her close-read of the racial politics (and erasure of people of color) of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Joss Whedon’s proposed Wonder Woman script got released online and it is, uh, not great, Bob. Here is a Twitter thread for your enjoyment. Here is another one. What the ffffff.1

I don’t know if y’all know about my intense love of good celebrity profiles, but here’s a Vogue profile of Zendaya that made me DAMMIT sort of want to see new Spiderman.

This is a story about a raccoon.

Sonia Soraiya watched that Alex Jones interview so you don’t have to.

Tor.com’s free ebook for the month of June is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which was on the list of SF recs I got from Renay! Get your copy today if you sign up for their newsletter!

Guess who has a new book out in October! It’s John Green! I am sure the book will be good, but I also don’t want to read all the Hot Takes about fanfiction by people who think John Green invented it.

Have a great weekend, friends. I’ll see you back here on Monday.

  1. Do I feel sorry for Joss Whedon for having his unedited work posted publicly and viciously picked over? Like, kind of? But also, he’s a crazy successful film person who talks constantly about being a feminist but whose feminism appears not to have evolved since the 90s even though lots of things have been written and said and done since then. So my answer is that I’d feel sorrier for him getting dragged over his portrayal of ladies if he’d portray ladies better.

Paper Towns, John Green

The beginning: In Paper Towns (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), a band kid called Quentin gets summoned in the night to join in an eleven-part revenge crusade by his neighbor, the gorgeous and popular Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose boyfriend (it turns out) has cheated on her with her best friend. The following day, Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears. But she has left clues behind as to her whereabouts, and Q becomes determined to track her down.

Is there a term for that phenomenon where someone points out a flaw or irritation in a piece of media you had previously enjoyed, and thereafter you can’t watch it without thinking of that flaw or irritation, and it kind of spoils it for you? You’re too annoyed with it now, or you can’t take it seriously, or you’re annoyed with it and can’t take it seriously? There should be a word for that because it is a very real phenomenon. Cf. the first five pages of Anansi Boys.

Well, sadly, that is what’s happening to me with Paper Towns. Whiskey Jenny (who is a big fan of John Green, and whose copy of Paper Towns I stealth-borrowed when she was out of town) mentioned a recent discussion she had about John Green in which her interlocutor argued that Alaska of Looking for Alaska was too much of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I do not remember Looking for Alaska all that well, but once the idea of John Green and Manic Pixie Dream Girls was introduced into my mind, it contaminated my reading of Paper Towns. I am several chapters in now, and I feel that Margo Roth Spiegelman lacks interiority.

Note from the future in case you are curious: I was very wrong about all of this.

The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight blank spaces to see them): Good news. She’s not dead, not that anybody thought she was. Q gets to kiss her at the end but she can never truly be his even though she likes him now. I flipped back a few pages to see if she at least gets to talk about what is happening inside her head, and the answer is that yes, she does. So okay, John Green is mightily beloved of bloggers, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt while I finish this book.

The whole: I was so unfair to John Green with the first part of this post, and I admit that now. I admit that the beginning of Paper Towns, while it did irritate me because of Margo’s apparent lack of interiority, also irritated me because Q’s parents are both therapists and it seemed like they were only therapists to amuse John Green by employing psychobabble in regular conversations. I admit this freely and openly.

It turns out that my criticizing Paper Towns for failing to give Margo any interiority was a bit like Publishers Weekly criticizing The Woman Upstairs for failing to make Nora a Nice Girl. Paper Towns is, in fact, about exactly the tendency of human people to disregard the interiority of other people because that is messy and complicated and it is easier to interact with idea-versions of people in your head. (This is the same theme I, but nobody else in the world, thought (500) Days of Summer was exploring.)

The five main characters of this book — Margo, Q, Margo’s friend Lacey, and Q’s friends Radar and Ben — all spend some time in the course of this book realizing that their ideas of each other are not equal to the actual persons of each other. All of them (well, not Radar so much, I guess) end up having something to say about the conflict that exists between the person that exists in their imagination and the person that stands before them. They have to realize, in other words, that each person in the world is the hero or heroine of his or her own story.

And that is a pretty great message for a YA book (or any book) to have.

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

Colin Singleton, who is growing out of being a child prodigy and becoming just a normal smart kid, has been dumped by no fewer than nineteen girls called Katherine, the first one when he was eight years old, and the last only very recently, the day that he graduated from high school.  He and his friend Hassan decide to go on a road trip across the country, and Colin decides he is going to create a mathematical formula to determine the path and outcome of any romantic relationship.

Pleasingly geeky premise, isn’t it?  And if there are elements of the story that are predictable (like, you know Colin’s going to learn useful life lessons and take steps along the road to recovering from this most recent Katherine dumping), and if certain plot points (like the premise) strain one’s credulity a smidge, I was by and large okay with it.  John Green, YA rock star, has other gifts as a writer that cover for him when realism and credibility fail him.  (Ooh, that sounded so mean!  There are lots of things that are credible and realistic, and the premise is of course tongue-in-cheek.)

Chief amongst these other gifts being: Characters.  The characters in An Abundance of Katherines are complex and surprising and very much themselves.  I was sorry for Colin, but the book manages, without getting real obvious about it, to convey his own part in the Katherine break-up debacles.  The reader sees where Colin is coming from and appreciates his maturing over the course of the book, even if he is not spotting the changes in himself every time.  Accomplishing this with a first-person narrator can be tricky, but it’s managed well here.

The supporting characters are arguably even better.  They aren’t just filling shoes; they aren’t the center of Colin’s story, but they aren’t just satellites for him either.  They are plainly the stars of stories in which Colin is a supporting actor, and some major parts of those stories are happening around the edges of Colin’s search for happiness and enlightenment.  And there is a road trip!  Well, part of a road trip.  I wouldn’t have minded more road trip, though.  I love a good road trip.

Other reviews: My laptop is six years old, and I am having internet issues, so I will simply refer you to the ever-useful Book Blogs Search Engine for other reviews.  If you have written a review of An Abundance of Katherines, and it doesn’t show up in this search, contact Nicki and ask her to add you to her Master List (once she has finished with her dissertation) (dissertations should always have priority).

Life Stuff: The first week of my shiny new internship was smashing.  I edited notes and indexes and learned the difference between word-by-word and letter-by-letter alphabetization.  This was good in a way, but it also made me worry about the index I made one time when I was in college and working for the English Department.  I did not really know how to make indexes, and I fear I caused difficulties for the people who had to edit it.

Dear manuscript editorial department of Cambridge University Press,

I am sorry about that index.  I did not know any better.

Kisses, Jenny.

A serious issue: What is the best way to spell Catherine/Kathryn/Katharine, etc.?  And do you have a favorite nickname for the name Katherine?

Looking for Alaska, John Green

“When I was born, my mom wanted to name me Harmony Springs Young, and my dad wanted to name me Mary Frances young.”  As she talked, she bobbed her head back and forth to the MTV music, even though the song was the kind of manufactured pop ballad she professed to hate.

“So instead of naming me Harmony or Mary, they agreed to let me decide.  So when I was little, they called me Mary.  I mean, they called me sweetie or whatever, but like on school forms and stuff, they wrote Mary Young.  And then on my seventh birthday, my present was that I got to pick my name.  Cool, huh?  So I spent the whole day looking at my dad’s globe for a really cool name.  And so my first choice was Chad, like the country in Africa.  But then my dad said that was a boy’s name, so I picked Alaska.”

I wish my parents had let me pick my name.  But they went ahead and picked the only name firstborn male Halters have had for a century.  “But why Alaska?” I asked her.

She smiled with the right side of her mouth.  “Well, later, I found out what it means.  It’s from an Aleut word, Alyeska.  It means ‘that which the sea breaks against’, and I love that.  But at the time, I just saw Alaska up there.  And it was big, just like I wanted to be.  And it was damn far away from Vine Station, Alabama, just like I wanted to be.”

Recommended by: SassyMonkey Reads

Looking for Alaska is about a lonely guy who goes to a boarding school so that he will make friends, which he duly does, and one of them is a mad girl named Alaska (mad in both senses of the word; I am in love with the English language), with whom he duly falls in love, and then she is dysfunctional and many things happen, and actually I think it was quite good, and I believe I shall check out that other book by John Green that everyone says is good.

And that’s about all I have to say about that.

Nope, a subsequent anecdote that made me laugh so much I find it worth editing this post to tell it to you, Internet.  My sister was in a YA fiction class at university, and the teacher was super touchy-feely and encouraged everyone to share, and sometimes there was oversharing.  And when they were talking about Looking for Alaska, this one girl said, “OMG, that scene where they’re having that really awkward scene where she’s trying to give him a blow job?  I mean, girls, we’ve all been there!  Hahaha, I must sound like such a slut.  But seriously we’ve all been there.”  Ah, oversharing.