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Tag: Teens

The Value of Young-Adult Fiction

Why do more adults read YA fiction than teenagers do? What is it that so attracts the adult reader, if the genre contains the same ratio of good to bad writing as any other?

One obvious and undersung answer is that adults writing for children bring a cleaner perspective to their work. Sex and violence are present in their full human complexity, with fleeting emotional intensity, rather than in a numbing barrage of obscenity. The familiar social structures of young life, from school to summer camp to family life, provide a familiar backdrop for archetypal stories like first love and first loss. They allow adults to enjoy timeless themes with all of adult literary fiction’s seriousness, but little to none of its cynicism or vulgarity. They remove the obligation of maturity, while revealing the importance of life experience. In short, young-adult fiction does not condescend to its readers. It should be no surprise that it sells.

Catherine Addington

Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo

As I noted in my review, I enjoyed the first book in this series enough to keep going. So I listened to this second book, Siege and Storm, in the car as well and enjoyed it as much or more than the second.

Siege and StormHunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

I still found the romantic parts a little over-the-top but the dynamic of Alina’s attraction to power and her struggle to understand her identity in light of her Grisha powers and it effect on her is well done. The interplay between Alina and Mal and Nicolai is also interesting. Nice plot twist at the end to set up the tension for the third book.

But I think I like this second book better because it was more political and less focused on romance and Alina growing up.  Nicolai is an interesting character. Mysterious and yet funny and even earnest at times. Is he a scheming pirate trying to seize power or a patriot trying to use his talents to save his country? Can he be trusted or is he just out for himself?  Alina is trying to decided even as she ties her fate to his in important ways.

Her relationship with Mal is interesting as well. What do you do when your life pulls you away from the people you love most; when the nature of events, and of who you have become, seem to make a relationship impossible.

While the Darkling plays less of a front-and-center role in this book, he is always just off stage whispering.  And this plot device effectively creates tension and furthers Alina’s doubts and turmoil. And I have to say, the plot twist at the end caught me by surprise and sets up a furious finish for the third book in this trilogy.

A few things still grate a little. One is the way Alina seems like such a contemporary character. A number of critics pointed this out in the first book regarding her language and idiom which seems very much modern.  It stuck out less in this book, as Bardugo’s writing as a whole seems smoother and more polished, but it still stands out on occasion.

The second, and perhaps related, is the angst and indecision of Alina.  This deep into the series she still seems incredibly conflicted and unsure of herself.  She seems incapable of just making a decision and moving forward decisively. Granted she faces tough choices and nearly constantly changing circumstances, but she also seems somewhat shallow. Not in an emotional sense but in a character sense.  It is never quite clear who she is and why she does what she does. Outside of the smart aleck remarks and her growing understanding of her Grisha powers she comes off rather underdeveloped for a central character.

But I don’t think this is the sort of book you think to deeply about. Instead you just enjoy the ride (the characters, the setting and world building, the romance and intrigue, etc.). And to break out a really bad pun, I did enjoy the ride. Literally, in my car.

All and all, a pretty entertaining fantasy series for teens.  I can’t imagine there are a lot of folks who enjoy epic fantasy with a female protagonist and haven’t read this series but if for some reason that describes you, go ahead and get started so you are ready for the final book come June.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I came to read, er, listen to Going Bovine by Libba Bray in a rather round about way.  I stumbled upon it while browsing the young adult section at Half Price Books.  It looked interesting so I added to my Amazon Wish List.  Quite a bit later my mother-in-law bought it for me for my birthday so I added it to my TBR pile.  And some months later I noticed the audio version at the local library.  It was only then that I decided to listen to it in the car.  So keep that in mind and for what it is worth.

Cover of "Going Bovine"

Cover of Going Bovine

All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

I will confess I was not expecting the level of profanity or teenage angst I encountered immediately and in heavy doses throughout but once I settled in I enjoyed the story.

It was creative and entertaining for the most part. I did find it dragged a bit in parts but usually picked back up rather quickly with a plot twist or new character. Despite my not liking all the teenage angst, etc. I have to admit it dealt with real issues and captures much of the emotions and interactions of that difficult period of life. As VOYA reviewer Laura Panter points out:

Bray portrays Cameron so realistically that he is every teen struggling with his or her identity. At times, readers will both love and hate Cameron as his adventures are alternately comical, nail biting, and heart wrenching.

And while the main character isn’t all that likable for most of the book, quite a few of the characters were hilarious and very well done. I cracked a smile practically every time Balder (the yard Gnome and Norse god) was involved and Gonzo (Cam’s hypochondriac dwarf sidekick) had his moments as well.

And I have to say the narrator, Erick Davies, did a tremendous job bringing it all to life. I was amazed at how he could provide the voice for so many different and unique characters and give them all a sound and style of their own. I have a feeling this would be a great audio book to take on long trips. But not appropriate for young kids and your tolerance for profanity and vulgarity will be a factor in your enjoyment.

I think your reaction will also depend on how your sense of humor and perspective on the world matches Bray’s. Children’s Literature’s  Claudia Mills offers rather effusive praise:

This is a huge book in every way: an epic, picaresque 480-page journey; a scathingly observed social satire of the ways in which we numb ourselves to avoid the pain and risk of actually engaging with our lives; a stay-up-late-to-finish-it page-turner; and a sprawling, hilarious, and deeply moving meditation on what it is, in the end, that makes life worth living.

School Library Journal is a little less effusive:

It’s a trip worth taking, though meandering and message-driven at times. Some teens may check out before Cameron makes it to his final destination, but many will enjoy asking themselves the questions both deep and shallow that pop up along the way.

SLJ also offered some thoughts on the audio version:

There is so much going on that listeners could easily lose the twisting thread in an instant of inattention. Filled with slang, four letter words, humor, pathos, satire, absurdities, sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and the fight between good and evil, this is not a journey for the faint of heart.

I have to agree with that!  But all in all I found it to be an imaginative and engaging story that deals with some serious issues in entertaining and interesting ways.

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