Spotlight on Young Adult Fiction – early 2016

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By Memory and Jenny

From music to murder, from a hospital ward to Haworth Parsonage, Jenny and Memory highlight the most exciting young adult novels of the season in the Shiny New Books Spotlight on YA Fiction. This quarter’s picks are half fantasy, half contemporary, and whether you’re keen on stark realism or complicated magic, you’ll find something to interest you in this season’s crop of book selections.

For the Record, Charlotte Huang

Memory: I’m such a sucker for books about musicians, and I can’t possibly say no to a life-on-the-road story. For the Record (Random House USA, 10 November) combines both, as Chelsea, a high school student aiming for rock star status, spends the summer touring with her new band. She’s gotta find her rhythm as a musician and convince her bandmates she’s worth keeping around once the tour ends, which sounds like a recipe for drama and self-discovery. Two of my favourite things. And hey, if Chelsea happens to have a romance with a fellow musician along the way, who am I to complain?

Jenny: While I can take or leave musician’s stories (they remind me of how perpetually uncool I am), I would promise away my firstborn for more road trip stories. They offer endless opportunities for weirdness: both the type that delights you when you’re flitting through the lives of countless people in countless places, and the type that maddens you when you’re spending all your time, without a break, with the exact same group of people for months on end. As a sedentary soul myself, I love to read about people going on the road to realize their dreams.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow, Lena Coakley

Jenny: Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Bronte (it is because of that; that is definitely why), but I’m really feeling this forthcoming fantasy adventure novel. In Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow (Amulet Books, 5 January), the four young Bronte children discover that they have the power to transport themselves into the rich fantasy worlds they have dreamed up for themselves in quiet Haworth parsonage. I live my life perpetually starved for portal fantasies, so I’d have been excited for this one even if it didn’t star the weirdo literary lights of the Victorian era. As it is, I can’t wait to try it!

Memory: Yes, yes, all of this, yes! I’ve got this weird thing about historical people who’re fictionalized in modern texts, too. I love imagining what they’d think of the results, and I’m sure that pleasure will only be magnified given that these particular historical personages were so focused on creative acts. Plus, they’re siblings and I love stories about siblings. The more I think about it, the more I want to get my hands on this book.

Truthwitch, Susan Dennard

Memory: My Twitter timeline can’t stop talking about Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch (Pan MacMillan, January), and their enthusiasm is too much for me to resist. Safiya and Iseult are BFFs in a world filled with different types of magic, and with people bent on exploiting anyone who can wield rarer magics like the one Safi possesses. Early reports compared Dennard’s debut to Robin Hobb, who I love, but I’m also sensing something of a Kristin Cashore vibe from the blurb and the reactions I’ve witnessed. I can’t wait to dive in and watch this magically-tinged friendship in action.

Jenny: I have been given to understand that Safiya and Iseult have to go on the run from the dark forces pursuing Safi. If road trip stories are like candy, enforced road trips embarked upon by (as my man Steinbeck puts it) people in flight from the terror behind are like getting a full-size Snickers bar in your bag at Halloween. I hadn’t heard of Truthwitch before you brought it to my attention, Memory, but if it makes people feel the way Kristin Cashore makes people feel, I’ll be excited to lose myself in it this month.

The Memory of Light, Francisco X. Stork

Jenny: Have we talked before about my fondness for aftermath? I absolutely love to read about — not the thing itself — but the way people recover from the thing. The Memory of Light (Arthur A. Levine, 26 January) is about the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide attempt, as she meets the other inmates on her mental health ward and tries to figure out a way to keep living in this world. Francisco X. Stork’s past books have been models of empathy and nuance, which makes me feel I can trust him to write respectfully about suicide and mental illness.

Memory: Stork is a new-to-me author, but I trust your recs and I, too, love things centred on the aftermath rather than the event itself. I don’t think I’ve ever read a post-suicide-attempt narrative from the survivor’s perspective, either. Everything that gets press seems to be about the person’s loved ones, rather than the person themself. The promo copy says Stork drew heavily on his own experiences with depression, so I expect this will be both a difficult book to read and an important one to reflect on.

Happy reading! We’ll be back next issue with more young adult fiction for the spring. In the meantime, if there’s a YA book you’re excited about, toss a note in the comments and we can all squee together!

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