As you may have noticed, this blog has been on hiatus! That’s because I was traveling around Southeast Asia for two months. While I didn’t find the time to update The Backlog, I did find time to read: seven young adult novels, to be precise. I’m currently working on my own YA novel, and since I don’t read as much YA as I used to, I wanted to catch up. And I’m glad I did. Most of the books I chose to read were wonderful–with a few exceptions.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’ debut novel is about a young girl named Starr who watches as her unarmed friend is shot by police. Her life and the lives of her friends and family are thrown into disarray as she decides to testify against the officer and seek justice for Khalil. My favorite part about this book is how thoroughly the characters are developed, no matter how small their role. (This is something I struggle with in my own writing.) In a genre where characters’ parents are often dead or otherwise absent, it was refreshing to read about a supportive, tightly-knit family–which isn’t to say that they don’t have realistic family problems, of course. When we see #BlackLivesMatter primarily as a hashtag, it’s sometimes easy to forget the real lives that were taken in order for the hashtag and the movement to be sadly necessary. Though Thomas’ story is fictional, it’s full of important and often uncomfortable truths.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Obviously, The Outsiders is a much older YA phenomenon. But I’d never read it, and I figured the 50th anniversary was as good a time as any. Though I couldn’t help but smile at the 1960’s slang–those Greasers and Socs sure were gonna have a rumble–Ponyboy’s tragic story did make me feel all kinds of feelings. So many feelings. All Ponyboy’s observations seemed so honest–probably has something to do with the fact that the author was only sixteen when she wrote it. On a related note: I feel unaccomplished.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
I knew this one was going to be devastating the moment I read the description: two young women fall in love in Iran. But while it was as devastating as I expected it to be, the plot didn’t go in the direction I expected. It was devastating, but not necessarily tragic. Sahar and Nasrin both get endings that are somewhat happy–though obviously imperfect and unfair. And the book also provided insight into Iranian culture, something that Americans rarely get to see. One thing that really surprised me is that while homosexuality is outlawed in the country, being transgender is not–though that doesn’t mean transgender people are always easily accepted in society. The prose style in this book wasn’t my favorite, but the story itself is well worth a read.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS NOVEL. It is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. It tells the tale of two twins, Noah and Jude–but Noah’s chapters take place when they’re thirteen, and Jude’s chapters take place when they’re sixteen. Both siblings have their own distinct voices, and the language is stunning, especially in Noah’s chapters. I felt like I was on drugs or something, like my brain was on fire. And what’s especially amazing is that Nelson managed to craft such gorgeous prose while still making it totally believable that it was coming from the mouths of teenagers. The prose makes up for the fact that the ending is tied in way too neat of a little bow. That ending was the novel’s only flaw–but then, good endings are so hard to find. Ultimately I don’t care. I want to re-read this book every year for the rest of my life.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
I suspect this book suffered in my esteem because I read it immediately after I read I’ll Give You the Sun–I’m pretty sure anything would have been a letdown. It was still a wonderful book, but the language was much more straightforward, and the plot wasn’t always as compelling. It focuses on the (mildly interconnected) stories of several gay teenagers–one too many stories, in my opinion. I felt like some of those stories were underdeveloped. The novel’s major strength comes in its narration–it’s told by a Greek Chorus of gay men who died in the AIDS epidemic. This gives all the stories in the book much more gravity.
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters
I had mixed feelings about this novel. The author’s descriptions are lovely, and the characters seem like realistic high schoolers to me. The trouble may be that the novel is too realistic–in that nothing really happens. It follows Triinu Hoffman throughout her four years in high school, as she comes to terms with her identity as a lesbian and deals with issues of friendship and family on top of that. She faces threats, but every time the drama escalates, it deescalates just as quickly. There’s only one major confrontation, and it doesn’t alter any outcomes. It’s nice to read queer YA stories, but I know from experience (see above) that there are more compelling queer YA stories out there.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
This is the only novel I read on my trip that I actively disliked–which is a shame, since it has such a great title. It tells the story of Gabe, a trans teenager who, with the help of his elderly neighbor John–a legendary disc jockey–starts hosting his own local radio show on Friday nights. On the air he can really be Gabe, whereas most of the people in his small town refuse to acknowledge his true identity. Sounds like a good plot, right? Its potential is ruined in so many ways. First: Gabe is a total misogynist. In order to prove that Gabe’s brain is truly a boy’s, Cronn-Mills basically makes him objectify every girl in sight–including his best friend. I get that teenage boys are horny, but can’t we give them some credit? Second: Gabe and John are supposed to be music aficionados, yet the songs they choose to play are basic and unsurprising. The author probably didn’t want to alienate her audience–but the characters can’t be music aficionados if the songs they listen to aren’t even remotely obscure! It doesn’t make sense. There are dozens of other problems, but I’ll stop there. Can’t recommend this one, unfortunately.