Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Book Report: YA for Adults

My "getting my act together" routine is starting slowly. I did get up earlier this morning, but it's taking me longer to get my brain in gear. I suppose that counts as baby steps, or as a t-shirt one of my friends has says, "I'm up and dressed. What more do you want?"

I'm a bit behind on everything so far this year, including reading. A lot of that was due to the fact that I was judging contest books, and I didn't really like the books I was reading, so I was more likely to read them slowly. Instead of staying up too late because I wanted to just read a few more pages, I'd read a few pages and decide that it was late and I needed to get to sleep.

But I have started to make a comeback, with books I like that I can actually recommend, so here goes the first Book Report in ages. This time, I'm focusing on young adult books that are suitable for grown-ups. I do read a lot of YA, and not just because people keep telling me I should try to write it. I've noticed, though, that the YA books I like most are those where I can easily forget the category and just read as a book that just happens to have a younger main character. I can't do that with all YA books. Some of them just feel like "younger" books, and they aren't rich or meaty enough for me to really enjoy. I suppose that makes sense because in real life there are teenagers who may as well be like aliens from another planet, and there are teenagers I can get along well with who I can totally forget are young enough to be my children. I'm less likely to enjoy a YA book whose main character is a "typical" teen -- self-centered, drama-queen behavior, with a focus on high school life, as though that's the end of the world. I usually want something more in the story than whether or not the main character will have friends or a boyfriend. That usually means some fantasy element because that throws the story into a different level and forces the characters to have bigger goals, and then that means a little more emotional complexity, more meat to the story and less stereotypical teen behavior (just as in real life, the kids I probably wouldn't get along with are the ones whose main concern is having a date to the prom).

However, there doesn't always have to be a fantasy element, as we see in the first book in the report, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. This book is set starting in late 1941, just before the US gets into WWII. Ruby lives in Chicago near the meat-packing plants, and she's had to drop out of high school to work in a plant, packing pigs' feet in brine (ick) to support her family because her mother is too sick to work (her father is long dead). But what she really loves to do is dance, so when she hears about an opportunity to work as a dance instructor at a dance hall and earn far more money than she could at the plant, she goes for it. But it turns out that she's really a "taxi dancer," with whom men can dance for ten cents a dance (she gets to keep five cents, plus any tips). It's not quite as glamorous as it seems, and there are dangers, but it's still better than packing meat, and she hopes she can eventually get her family out of the tenement where they have to share a bathroom and heat up water for washing. This is a gritty, involving book that delves into a lot of issues related to that era without feeling like an "issue" book. I'm fascinated by the era and like doing that kind of dancing to that kind of music (though these days we'd need men for hire to dance with because there never seem to be enough men). I'd say it's probably best for older teens, and even then I'd recommend parental guidance -- it would be a great mom/daughter "book club" book where you both read it and then talk about it.

The next book was The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong. The librarian recommended it, and I have to say THANKS A LOT because it has a kind of "to be continued" ending and now I have to wait for the sequel (I wonder if it's too early to get on the waiting list). I really like how this book unfolds in layers, and each layer gives the plot a twist. A teenage girl has a bit of a breakdown in school when she sees a scarred janitor who isn't really there, and that lands her in a group home with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Except, it turns out that she is seeing real things because she can see and communicate with ghosts. The problem is, she can't get out of the home until she seems to be improving, and it's hard for her to improve when she isn't really sick and when the home is full of ghosts. And then the ghosts tell her something alarming about the home ... This one is a little scarier than I'd normally pick up, but I ended up liking the edge-of-the-seat suspense, and I really liked the way the relationships among the characters unfolded and developed. The kids are believable as teens, but still characters adults can relate to. According to Amazon, it will be out in paperback at the end of this month, and the sequel is set for the end of April, so I don't have to wait too terribly long (and now to see if I can get on the library waiting list yet).

On a semi-related note, the final Nebula ballot is out, and I've only read one book on it. Meanwhile, as a member of last year's WorldCon, I can nominate for this year's Hugo, and I'm drawing a blank on what to nominate. I feel like I'm really out of touch with what's current in fantasy -- especially since I'm a fantasy author. Does anyone know of any good fantasy (or science fiction) focused book blogs? I have some I trust for other genres, and I keep a list on a notepad by my computer of anything new that sounds interesting. I certainly can't trust my local newspaper to cover new genre fiction, and it would be nice to stay moderately on top of what's going on in my field. I'd like to be able to have a list to nominate for next year's Nebula Award.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are two blogs I check nearly everyday.

Both very good for both fantasy as well as SF.

Mrs. Mike is my favorite YA book but it is an old book.