Spotlight on Young Adult Fiction – Autumn 2015

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By Memory Scarlett and Jenny

Young adult fiction seems unstoppable these days, with its ever-increasing bookshop floor space and arbitrary, balkanized genre divisions. It’s clear that good YA fiction is everywhere, but it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Here to help you out is Shiny New Books’s new Spotlight on YA Fiction, and we’re your humble hosts Jenny and Memory! We’ll be highlighting our favorite new YA novels and previewing new releases we’re excited about. Let’s get right down to business! 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness

Jenny: Can I be predictable and admit this is my most-anticipated fall release? I have been an unabashed fangirl of Patrick Ness since he came on the YA scene a few years ago with the intense and devastating The Knife of Never Letting Go. His newest novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Walker, 27 August) is about the kids in high school who aren’t the Chosen One, who don’t fight for their lives against supernatural forces every day. I anticipate that it will devastate me utterly, in the best possible way.

Memory: I have Chosen One Burnout, so I’m always thrilled with texts that interrogate the very idea of this trope. Even better if they’re young adult texts, since so very many children’s and YA novels down through the decades are deeply focused on destined heroes. It’s great to see someone of Patrick Ness’s calibre giving readers of all ages an alternative to this oft-told story. Plus, as you said, I expect it to be devastating. 

Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray

Memory: Now it’s my turn to be predictable: Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams (Little, Brown Young Readers, 25 August) has been one of my most anticipated books for years, and now it’s here, and I’m completely thrilled with it. It’s the sequel to 2012’s The Diviners, and it gives readers a look at a diverse vision of the 1920s, rife with people of colour, queer folks, disabled folks, and people suffering from PTSD. And oh, yeah, there are ghosts in the subways, and they’re also out to haunt everyone’s dreams — unless a group of magically empowered young people can stop ‘em. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and gloriously historical in a way that doesn’t dismiss any of the decade’s darker aspects.

Jenny: I haven’t read The Diviners yet, but I have watched you squee about it enough to know that I am way behind the times and need to hop on this bandwagon. I love to see strong portrayals of PTSD (and mental health issues generally!) in fiction. What draws me about this sequel, too, is that the heroine’s in the public eye now, so she’ll be having to juggle her public image vs. her private self as well as find out what or who is behind the sleeping sickness that’s plaguing the city. 

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

Jenny: Everything, Everything is a debut novel, so it’s hard to know what to expect from it. But I’ve decided to set my expectations sky-high anyway, because what could possibly go wrong with that? Maddie, the heroine of Everything, Everything (Corgi, 3 September) has terrible allergies that prevent her from ever leaving the house. Her world is limited to her house, her mother, and her care nurse, until a boy called Olly moves in next door. I love a YA romance with an unexpected premise like this, and by all accounts, Yoon takes the story in directions you’d never anticipate.

Memory: I was immediately drawn to this one because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I feel like I’ve stumbled up against a short story or two where the MC was allergic to everything, but a novel? Never! I’m excited to see how Yoon handles her protagonist’s disability, especially since Olly’s arrival is bound to be a huge shake-up both emotionally and physically. Plus the cover is gorgeous, but the longer you look at it the more horrific details leap out. 

Enchanted Air, Margarita Engle

Memory: Enchanted Air (Simon & Schuster, 1 September) is Margarita Engle’s memoir of growing up during the Cold War. The child of Cuban immigrants, she feels torn between the gorgeous island she visits on summer holidays and the colder reality of her everyday life in Los Angeles. When the Bay of Pigs Invasion goes down, she’s forced to view both her homes in a new light. I can’t wait to see how Engle explores the cultural divides she runs up against. It strikes me as an eternally relevant sort of story, given how many young people immigrate to new countries with their parents but still have strong ties to their old homes. The military aspect could also help some contemporary readers’ clarify their ideas about what’s going on in the world today.

Jenny: Talk about beautiful covers! I’d want to include this book in our round-up on the strength of the cover alone. I’m woefully ignorant about the Cuban Missile Crisis and everything that followed, but I want to learn more — especially now that the US and Cuba have resumed diplomatic relations. I think the Engle book will make a gorgeous, thought-provoking on-ramp for me to learn a little bit more about the period in history and how it affected folks in both countries. And I mean. That cover.

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, Catherine Johnson

Jenny: The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo (Corgi, 2 July) opens with a rape scene, and for a lot of books, that would be enough to put me off. But this sounds fascinating enough that I’m still eager to give it a try. This book is based on the true story of a girl who took on the persona of an exotic princess in nineteenth-century London — which sounds insane. I’m so excited to see how Catherine Johnson imagines this girl’s story, both how she decides to start telling it and how it all (I’m guessing) eventually falls apart around her.

Memory: I loooooove stories about con artists, so I’m excited to see how Princess Caraboo spins her web around her marks–and, as you said, how everything falls apart in the end. (Because it must fall apart in the end, right? Or we wouldn’t know the true story upon which it’s based?) It’s also wonderful to see a book about young woman of colour who reaches out and takes what she can from the world, presumably without shame. I love the thought of her playing everyone and reaping huge dividends from it. 

Court of Fives, Kate Elliott

Memory: Court of Fives (Little, Brown Young Readers, 27 August) is veteran SFF writer Kate Elliott’s first book for the YA set. It’s a secondary world fantasy about a girl who wants to become an elite athlete –basically, her world’s version of an American Ninja Warrior — but who’s constrained by her social class. The setup is primed to examine all sorts of issues, like the divide between commoner and elite, the gender roles young women labour under, and the drive to succeed at athletics. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fantasy sports story before, and I’m kind of a sports story junkie. I’m sure Kate Elliott delivers plenty of emotional punches, too, what with the MC’s mother and sisters being in terrible danger.

Jenny: Have we discussed this before, or is it just eerie resonance that I too feel there is a woeful dearth of sports in fantasy fiction? Fantasy worlds should have more sports in them! Court of Fives looks like it’s right in my wheelhouse, with the unlikely friendship and the heroine who has to find a way to save her sisters. I’m a junkie for machinations, too, which it looks like Court of Fives will deliver in spades. By all accounts, Kate Elliott is the valedictorian of worldbuilding, so I’m looking forward to a textured, weird, unexpected setting with this book. Of course, there are plenty of other YA releases we’re dying to get our grubby hands on — but these are a few that we’re anticipating with particular fervor. We’ll be back next issue to howl on about another slew of new and upcoming books!  

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Memory blogs at In the Forest of Stories, and Jenny’s blog is at Reading the End.