Spotlight on Young Adult Fiction – Spring 2016

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Selected by Jenny and Memory

In each issue of Shiny New Books, Jenny and Memory highlight the most exciting young adult novels of the season. This spring, they’re perhaps a leetle bit hung up on historical fantasy, publishers being determined to release a plethora of awesome-looking titles in this vein, with a smattering of contemporary and secondary world works thrown in for good measure.

These Vicious Masks, Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Jenny: When Evelyn’s sister Rose disappears under mysterious circumstances (I’m already so in), Evelyn is frantic with worry. Her fears are only compounded when she meets the mysterious Sebastian Braddock, who insists that both Evelyn and Rose have supernatural healing powers.

Confession time, here’s what I got: I roll my eyes at the “X meets Y” formulation in marketing copy, but I also fall for it every time like an Acme cartoon anvil. Some marketing genius in the publishing industry described These Vicious Masks as “Jane Austen meets the X-Men,” and I believe I put that in all caps to Memory when we were compiling this season’s list of exciting YA titles. Thank you, marketing team, I require no further information; I am sold.

Memory: And I responded in all caps, because I’m SO HERE for “X-Men meets [basically anything].” Give me all the young people mastering their superpowers, please. Especially if they’re also trying to help their sibling, in company with a Mysterious Stranger. (Mysterious Strangers are ridiculously common, and yet I love them so much because they’re a surefire recipe for drama.) And of course, I’m a total sucker for historical fantasies of all stripes.

A Criminal Magic, Lee Kelly

Memory: Lee Kelly’s second book offers a new take on Prohibition. Instead of banning alcohol, the US government bans magic–and creates a prime opportunity for criminal syndicates, who rush to supply the public’s every magical need. Joan is a young sorcerer who accepts a job with Washington DC’s nastiest syndicate; Alex is an undercover Fed who gets tangled up with the same people. I’m always up for a good undercover story, what with the genre’s signature mix of emotional fallout and questioned loyalties, and I’m even more up for one set in the 1920s. It’s such a fascinating time: glitzy and decadent, but also rife with classism, racism, and the rise of the eugenics movement. It sounds like Kelly’s well positioned to explore the decade’s darker aspects.

Jenny: Sometimes when we’re writing these things, I have a hard time not just repeating what Memory says in a louder and more excited tone. I’ll walk ten miles uphill both ways for an alternate history, particularly one that incorporates magic. Better yet, A Criminal Magic garnered endorsements from Kate Elliott and V.E. Schwab, both authors whose books made plane travel less terrible for me last year. I anticipate my summer vacation will be enlivened by Lee Kelly’s vision of a criminal underworld in a magical version of Prohibition-era America.

A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood

Jenny: If you want to talk about Jenny catnip (which I assume you always do), let’s get into this collection of stories about fierce and independent women, written by a star-studded line-up of YA authors. That two of my very favorites — Kekla Magoon and Elizabeth Wein — are included in this collection is honestly just the cherry on top. If you’re a YA fan who wants funny, bright lady characters, A Tyranny of Petticoats looks like an amazing place to catch up with some of your favorite authors and discover some new ones, too!

Memory: There are sooooo many stellar authors in this anthology! I’m excited about Marissa Meyer and Marie Lu’s stories, too, and I’m gonna be all over the Carolina pirate tale mentioned in the official summary regardless of who writes it. And as if the TOC weren’t enough, it sounds like these stories are determined to challenge historical perceptions of femininity; one of my very favourite things.

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski and Half Lost by Sally Green

Memory: This is a big year for series conclusions, so Jenny and I figured we’d double up on two March finales we’re super-duper excited about. Sally Green’s witch books won me over so hard when I mainlined Half Bad and Half Wild on audio last year, what with their immersive POV, dark magic, and bisexual love triangle. (I’m normally iffy on love triangles, but I’ll almost always make an exception for the bi ones.) I can’t wait to see how the series ends.

I also listened to the audio of Rutkoski’s debut, TheWinner’s Curse, last summer, and while I held myself somewhat aloof from it because I ain’t here for master/slave romances, Jenny’s enthusiasm has inspired me to tackle The Winner’s Crime a bit sooner than I intended.

Jenny: I got such a kick out of reading The Winner’s Curse and its sequel, both of which prize the heroine’s strategic brilliance over just about anything else. My weakness for books featuring political machinations (including Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, which is kind of a read-alike for these Rutkoski books!) is of long standing, and I can’t wait to see how Rutkoski’s protagonists will ultimately outmaneuver their enemies.

As for Half Bad, I confess that I DNFed the first book a while ago. However, Memory has since sold me on trying again, and once the third book comes out, I can get them all from the library, line them up in a tidy orderly line on my living room rug, and tear through the whole series in a single weekend. That is my favorite way to consume YA trilogies anyway, for maximized enjoyment.

Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin

Jenny: “But Jenny and Memory,” you say, “what about YA fiction that disrupts the gender binary?” Don’t worry, friends, the world of YA fiction has got you covered. Jeff Garvin’s debut novel Symptoms of Being Human tells the story of a teenager called Riley who starts an anonymous video blog to document high school life as a gender-fluid teenager. It won’t surprise you that someone soon figures out Riley’s true identity and threatens exposure (right in the middle of Riley’s father’s campaign for reelection). This novel promises to tackle questions of identity and gender as well as exploring the roles of privacy and technology in the lives of Kids Today™.

Memory: I want scads and scads and scads of stories that challenge the gender binary, and I especially want them to be contemporaries. SF has done some decent work in this area, but it’s important for anyone who’s questioning their gender to see you don’t have to be a futuristic space-person to embrace a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth. The very existence of books like Symptoms of Being Human models a way forward for readers who want to think about their relationship with genders beyond the binary.

Drop us a note in the comments to let us know about the great YA fiction you’ve been reading; and we’ll see you next issue!

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