Three Great YA Novels

Last year I read 6 YA novels. 10% of my years reading was YA. I discovered some amazing authors…Neil Gaiman and Patrick Ness to name a couple. How had I not read these authors before??? Since discovering Neil Gaiman, I have bought The Ocean at the End of the Lane for loads of friends who have also fallen in love with his writing.

So what kind of YA novels do I enjoy? Nothing that resembles Twilight. I have no urge to read books about teenagers discovering their hormones and sex drives. I like dark books, mostly about real subjects and also the protagonist is important to me. No insipid women, no pathetic girly girls. Virginia Zimmerman, professor of English Literature at Bucknell University says

People might to go to YA literature to sink into a reality different than their own, but I think they sink into that reality to encounter feelings, challenges, and relationships they recognize from their own lives.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about book recommendations. A lady was looking for a YA book without any triggers. She wanted a ‘happy’ YA book to give to her son who was struggling with depression. The podcasters discovered that this was a rare phenomenon…happy YA doesn’t exist. YA books often deal with triggers and the struggles of growing up.

T

The Hazel Wood

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.
To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began .

I think I am too much of a control freak to read fantasy. The lack of ‘rules’ frustrates me. I often feel that authors of Fantasy have free reign to write whatever they like. If the world is made up and the people are magic what is to stop the author writing whatever thoughts are in their head at the time. I found this particularly true of The Hazelwood. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book. The part of the story which was set in New York. I loved the creepy idea that Alice was being watched by people from the Hinterland. For me it all became a bit of a mess when Alice managed to break into the Hinterland. From this point, the book read like a tangle of necklaces that I had to unpick – so many ideas squashed into the pages. I felt frustrated and like I was suffering from sensory overload.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate how clever the book was. The idea that if a character leaves a story, all the other players are stuck

The musician’s tormented playing of the same wild notes. The woman in a heavy headdress, lifting a knife to her mouth, then lowering it, then again. The man who threw his head back and laughed, a gutsy sound, scraping dryly over a throat that must be bloody-raw.

I really enjoyed Albert’s imagery. This is a novel I can imagine being made into a film directed by Tim Burton. Indeed, a lot of the book reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

I also really enjoyed Albert’s fairytales. I think she is onto a winner here and would love her to release a book of Tales from the Hinterland. She is obviously an author of incredible imagination, I just felt she was trying to put all her ideas into the first novel. I have an image of her sitting at her desk getting idea after idea and writing each one into the book in case she forgets them .

The fact that this novel is going to be the first in a trilogy poses some questions for me. Will I read the next one??? I think for me this depends on the content. I really would love to read more about Ella and her childhood and how she left. Why she stole Alice. I think her story has a lot of unanswered questions that really interest me.

The teenage me would have loved this book and I can imagine it will be ridiculously popular. Albert’s use of pop culture is also brilliant….so many Harry Potter references so she is clearly aiming for the Hogwarts fans!!!!

All in all, a solid 3* from me.

What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad?

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could–from the criminal’s point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret–could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

I massively enjoyed this book. This is Lyga’s first in the Jasper Dent trilogy and I will definitely be reading all three. I found the subject matter completely gripping. Much like Good Me Bad Me we are dealing with the child of a psychopath. A killer, and in this case, one of America’s most infamous serial killers, Billy Dent. After his father’s arrest, Jazz requests to live with his grandma. This is so he can stay in his home town, nurse his senile grandmother and be near his best friend Howie and his girlfriend Connie. Jazz tries to continue his life in the way ‘normal’ teenagers do. Going to school, dating, joining drama club, all the while being haunted by his father’s words and the very real fear that he himself could commit crimes akin to his father’s. When a copycat killer starts a murder spree around the town, Jazz uses the knowledge of his father’s crimes to catch the killer.

I really liked Jazz as a character and considering what he had been through, I thought he was remarkably well adjusted….almost unbelievably so!!! He has just the right amount of vulnerability and humour to make him instantly likeable. even though he had the most appalling upbringing, he acknowledged that he wasn’t the only victim of his father. Jazz had a chance of a life which Billy’s other 50 victims were denied. There was no hint of Jazz wanting anyone to feel sorry for him.

I think it is important to acknowledge that obviously this is a book which contains pretty dark subject matter. This isn’t fantasy. This is real life and real people killing each other in very brutal ways. The methods of killing are quite elaborate and I definitely don’t think this book is aimed at younger teenagers.

4*

The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

This was my first 5* read of the year and although it is still early February I would be surprised if I read anything else this year that will move me as much as this novel. This is a book that needs to be read. The social and political messages in this novel, combined with the wonderful writing and characters make this book so important.

I am a mother of two daughters. We live in South West London. Both my husband and I work full time. I don’t consider us rich by any means but we definitely are stereotype white middle class. My children are brought up to know that the police catch the baddies. If they are ever lost, a policeman will help. For Starr, the female protagonist in this novel, she is taught that because of the colour of her skin and the neighbourhood in which she lives, nine times out of ten the police will think she is up to no good. She is taught to shut up to avoid being arrested or even shot. This is the very situation Starr finds herself in when she is being driven home from a party by her friend Kahlil. They get pulled over by a police officer and Kahlil gets fatally shot.

Angie Thomas says the book was inspired by the shooting of Oscar Grant who was a black teenager killed by a police officer.

At the time I was living in my mostly black, poor neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi while attending a mostly white upper-middle class college. There was a 10-minute drive between my house and my school but in 10 minutes I drove out of one world and into another. I went from seeing Church’s Chicken on every corner to seeing Starbucks on every corner. And I heard two conversations about Oscar Grant. At home, he was one of our own — I saw kids like him every day who were trying to get their lives right but who had mistakes in their past. And at school, I heard people talk about how maybe Oscar deserved it or wondering why people were so upset about an ex-con. Oscar was dehumanized because he had a record. I was angry and hurt and frustrated. It felt like people at school were saying that someone from my neighborhood deserved to die.

This book completely opened up my eyes to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Black Panthers and idea of THUG life. So interesting and I really feel I learned a lot. Thomas’s writing is absolutely wonderful. The language is brilliant. I could hear each characters voice so clearly and her writing of Starr’s family dynamic was wonderful. Each character and their relationships with eachother was utterly believable and so well observed.

Starr is a wonderful protagonist. Her struggle to come to terms with what she has witnessed, her grief and then ultimately her anger of the injustice of the system is utterly inspiring. She is a character who demands respect. Juggling her life in her neighbourhood where drive-by shootings are the norm with her life as one of the few pupils of colour at her privileged school. It is also wonderful to see her mature throughout the novel. Through this awful event happening to her, she finds her own voice and the courage to stand up for justice. She is an awe inspiring character and a great role model.

A definite 5* from me.

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