Young Adult Reading List

Having dallied long enough in the wondrous Land of Short Fiction, I am finally giving in to peer pressure and embarking for Novel-landia.  More precisely, Young Adult Novel-landia.  If short stories are the gateway drug of writing, then YA novels are undoubtedly its crack/cocaine.  Not that I am encouraging young people to do drugs.  Or to mix metaphors, for that matter.

As part of my “research” (aka fun things made to sound like work), I’ve been reading a whole bunch of young adult novels.  Here are some of the ones I’ve read recently (in no particular order):

  1. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (the stuff of awesome; one of the few times I actually went out and picked up a sequel immediately after finishing book 1 of a series)
  2. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  6. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  7. Changeling by Delia Sherman
  8. Working my way through the Harry Potter series
  9. A whole bunch of classic Heinlein science fiction YA, including Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and Double Star
  10. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (yes, technically this is a short story collection, but so good I had to include it, plus I wanted the list to make it well into the teens)
  11. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (see the note for Lanagan above, a typical Kelly Link rock-out)
  12. Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
  13. Tithe by Holly Black
  14. The Phanthom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Mmmm, there are probaby some others but those are the ones that come to mind after glancing at my shelf.  Most of these were very good to excellent, and I have a feeling I’ve been managing to read the cream of the crop.

Up on deck are the ubiquitous Book Thief, Alex Sanchez’s gay-themed YA books, Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials series, Julia Alvarez’s YA-oriented stuff, some Garth Nix stuff (any specific recs?), and some stuff by Justine Larbalestier, which I have heard tell is very good.  I’m also thinking about going back and re-reading some of the books I loved when I was a wee Y. myself, like Madeleine L’engle, Narnia, Lloyd Alexander, and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I also feel the need to read more of the trashy stuff to truly immerse myself.  I don’t know, maybe I’ll read a Gossip Girls book or some-such.

Questions?  Disagreements? Recommendations? Anything I simply must read in order to comprehend the essence of the YA genre?

Joan Aiken and Joe Abercrombie

best served cold coverCurrently alternating between reading Joe  Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold and Joan Aiken’s Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Tales

Abercrombie is one of the hot new names when it comes to fat fantasy epics (so I’ve been told), and a quarter of the way through the book he’s living up to the buzz.   Our heroine is Monza Murcatto, a bad-ass mercenary whose employer betrays her and murders her brother.  (He tries to kill her, too, but it doesn’t take.)  That’s just the prologue: the real story is Murcatto seeking vengeance by killing the seven people responsible for her brother’s death.  As you may have noticed, it’s much grittier than most fantasy, and moral ambiguities abound, making it quite a bit more interesting than your standard epic quest.

Actually, the cool part of it is that Abercrombie has taken a lot of those tropes and turned them inside-out like a used pair of underwear.  Murcatto is indeed on a quest, it’s just that it’s a quest for vengeance, not some Enchanted MacGuffin.  And she has to run around the kingdom collecting plot coupons, but they’re not gems or sacred weapons, or pieces of the parchment; the plot coupons are the dead bodies of the seven dudes she’s determined to kill.  She even has a little band of heroes, but instead of the swordsman-dwarf-wizard standard, her merry men are a poisoner, an ex-con, and a poor immigrant.  And though it’s dark, it’s all done with a light touch and a sense of humor.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Serial Garden is a collection of children’s stories from Big Mouth House, the children’s book imprint from Small Beer Press.  Best Served Cold is a bit heavy for my poor old-and-achey-before-its-time  body to be lugging around, so Aiken’s book hasserial garden made for perfect subway reading.  (Actually, most of the stories last exactly one 20-minute subway ride into Manhattan, which is lovely since it’s always nice to have a sense of closure before moving onto the Next Thing.)  Mark and Harriet are the Armitage kids, who encounter strange and magical things every week – usually on Mondays.  A unicorn appears on the front lawn, the board of incantation commandeers their house, their father is transformed into a cuckoo, etc.  The characters waste no time at all being shocked at the impossible, although, occasionally, when strange things happen on Tuesday instead of Monday, it is very disconcerting for everyone, especially Mr. Armitage.  The stories have great telling details and are just plain fun – I only wish I’d discovered them when I was seven years old so I could fully appreciate them.

Clarion Nostalgia Reading and Two Types of Writers

storyteller coverJust finished reading Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, by Kate Wilhelm, half-writing-tips-book and half-autobiography-of-a-writing-workshop.  A lot of the writing advice is familiar, the stuff that was drilled into us at Clarion (e.g., “No deus ex machina!”), which made for a nice refresher as well as a nice trip down nostalgia lane.  Other parts were less familiar, which made for some thought-provoking reading.

One of the most interesting things that was new to me was the idea that there are two types of writers: visualizers and constructionists.  Visualizers often start with a strong visual image, then work backward to figure out the world and characters where the image came from – sort of inductive writing.  Constructionists are more deductive – they need to know where it’s taking place, what the historical background is, the characters’ birthdays and favorite colors, etc., and then all of that leads naturally to images , scenes, dialogue.  Oddly enough, I lean slightly more toward the visualizer camp, even though my stories aren’t very cinematic. Though lately, I’ve been learning to do a bit more of the constructionist approach and have been enjoying it.

Definitely worth a read for any writer, especially Clarion grads or would-be Clarionites.