Tag: YA

Running With Lions by Julian Winters

Running With Lions by Julian WintersI’m gonna be honest with you, full disclosure, I only started to read Running With Lions because I’d been told it was super queer. I’m not a soccer fan, am dubious about most team sports in fact, and wasn’t sure it would be my kinda thing at all. But I read it because I’m always here for the LGBTQ books, and I figured if it was good I could recommend it to others who might like it.

Predictable plot twist: I think this is one of the best LGBTQ YA novels I’ve read this year.

This book is getting a lot of love online, all of it deserved. I think one reason people are so passionate about it is that it speaks to its readers on so many levels. For those who read wanting to see themselves in a book, there is an outstanding range of people represented (sexuality, gender, religion, race, ethnicity – all are dealt with sensitively and effortlessly). For those who read wanting to be taken into a world that isn’t theirs, I guarantee you’ll finish the book wanting to play Soccer (admittedly very briefly, my consideration of team sports lasted a whole hour, but for that hour I was deeply passionate about my new love).

It’s one of those brilliantly written YA novels that is so subtle at drawing you in and getting you inside the minds of characters whose voices are so strong they seem like friends you’ve always known. I did love main character Sebastian and found him rather charming, but I totally fell in love with Emir.

This fantastic novel is the summer soccer camp romance between a bisexual American goalie and his gay British Pakistani former-best-friend-now-enemy YA novel that you’ve been waiting for. This is a funny, uplifting, sexy, romantic, and bloody excellent novel! I can’t wait to read what Julian Winters writes next.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but I’ll be buying my own copy very soon and you should too – you won’t regret it!


Publisher: Duet
Genres: LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Young Adult
Published: 7th June 2018
Available to buy now

Noah Could Never by Simon James Green

Noah Could Never by Simon James GreenLast year Noah Can’t Even made us all fall in love with the chaotic and mostly hapless Noah Grimes (sorry Noah, we love you, but how do you get yourself into these situations?). This year, be prepared to launch yourself back into Noah’s whirlwind of drama and angst, with the brilliant follow-up Noah Could Never.

Now that Noah and best friend Harry are boyfriends, how is this going to change their friendship? What if Harry decides he’s actually not that interested in weedy Noah but would prefer the much sexier French exchange student Pierre? What disasters will befall Noah when his gran’s diamonds are stolen and he finds himself in the middle of an epic drag queen feud?

I adored Noah Can’t Even and had high expectations going into Book 2. I was worried it might not be as funny, I was worried that it might just be more of the same high-jinks chaos. I didn’t need to worry. Yes, it’s just as funny. Yes, it’s the same chaos you’d expect from Noah Grimes. However, there is so much heart to Noah Could Never. Noah’s life isn’t just a series of chaotic mistakes, they’re believable episodes in the life of someone unsure of themselves and trying to find their way.

I loved that characters we saw briefly in Book 1 (e.g. Bambi Sugapops) are fully realised and developed. I loved that Harry, who we know a bit from Book 1, is explored in greater depths as a person, not just in his relation to Noah. I love that there’s more Gran and I identify with her sassiness in so many ways.

Noah Could Never is the perfect follow-up to the first book. It’s full of emotion, drama, humour, and love. Plus, it made me cry lots, in a good way.

Book 3? I would very much love a book written from Harry’s perspective because I adore him so much, but anything featuring more of the adventures of Noah would be very welcome.  Another Book 3 suggestion – Bambi Sugapops, the Novel – you know it makes sense Simon!

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Publisher:  Scholastic
Genres: YA, LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Funny
Published:  7th June 2018
Available to buy now

Books That Made Me: YA Fiction

I’ve never cared much about getting older, and I try not to regret things from the past, but do I wish YA fiction had been available when I was a teenager, hell yeah!

There are many reasons that I read, write, and love YA: it pushes boundaries and explores topics other fiction is scared to go near, it gives a voice to teenagers who are frequently pushed to the side and their opinions dismissed. One of the things I love most about YA is the amount of LGBTQ+ that can be found among the pages, which makes it relevant to me, and speaks to me in a way that a lot of “adult” fiction never did.

I don’t think YA fiction is perfect or has it sorted in terms of representation. There is still a lot of trans characters being written by cis writers, there is a lot of gay and lesbian teenage characters being brought to life by straight writers, and there is still an under-representation of colour, bisexual, intersex, genderqueer, asexual YA characters. What YA does have is a passion for is pushing this forward and for getting better, and that seems something to be optimistic about.

Below are a few of my recommendations of YA books I think everyone should read:

   Simon James Green – Noah Can’t Even
I won’t go on and on and on about how much I love this book (you can read my review here) but my first recommendation is the very British, utterly cringe-inducing, hilarious life of Noah Grimes. I’ve read reviewers describe Noah as gay, I read him as probably bisexual, when my girlfriend read the book she wondered if he was asexual. I think this book is a brilliantly written exploration of a young man who is confused about his sexuality, wondering what it says about him and obsessed with what other people think.
 Meredith Russo – If I Was Your Girl
One of the few novels I’ve read with a trans character written by a trans writer, and it shows. A story of a trans girl growing up in America and trying to navigate the line between honesty, being yourself, and protecting yourself from the prejudice still so prevalent for all trans people.
 David Levithan – Two Boys Kissing
This novel is about more than just two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss, there are four stories interwoven into the novel, all related to boys coming to terms with coming out and the reactions of the people around them. The overall narrator is the voice of an older generation of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is these narrators that really start to pull the emotional punches as they lament the glorious possibilities the lives of young men have now, possibilities that were so cruelly denied to them.
   Nina LaCour & David Levithan – You Know Me Well
I couldn’t write a blog post to coincide with Pride month without including this fantastic novel. Told in alternating view points it follows the story of Kate and Mark who become best friends after one moment of bonding in a gay bar. It shows LGBTQ+ young people comfortable with their sexuality and receiving support from the people around them. We need more novels that explore LGBTQ+ friendships and that explore the importance of having friends.

What I want to read more of is books that feature more genderqueer teens, more bisexual teens, more non-white characters – and if these could be British that would be amazing. Give me your recommendations of the best YA you’ve read recently.

This post is part three of my Books That Made Me series. You can read part one here.

Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green

33961524With his debut novel Simon James Green has written one of the funniest books I have ever read. I wouldn’t recommend reading whilst eating (I nearly choked) or whilst drinking (I nearly spat my tea all over the pages and ruined them) or whilst…sitting (I nearly fell off my chair laughing). I may be being too cautious, but the danger is real!

Noah Grimes is painfully awkward, socially uncomfortable, and has an amazing knack for getting himself (or talking himself) into the most ridiculous situations.

Noah’s life is already difficult enough, trying to stop everyone finding out his mum does a Beyonce tribute act, and trying to get Sophie to like him, but his world is turned upside down when his best friend Harry kisses him at a party. What follows is a turbulent journey through Noah’s path of self-discovery.

Noah is an incredibly likable character and is written with a distinctive voice unlike anything I’ve read recently. Funny, charming, emotional, and an outstanding exploration of a young man trying to understand his sexuality whilst also trying to just be as normal as everyone else. I love this book so much, and I really hope we get to read more of Noah’s adventures in future.

Publisher:  Scholastic
Genres: LGBTQ+, Contemporary, Young Adult
Published:  May 4th 2017
I bought my copy of Noah Can’t Even from Wordery

How to write YA Fiction

This week I attended an event hosted by Oxford Writing Circle featuring Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Melinda Salisbury, and Samantha Shannon. The event was titled “How to write YA fiction” but covered so many aspects of reading, writing, and publishing YA.

Before I start, a short disclaimer: Whilst I did furiously take as many extensive notes as I could nothing below is a direct quote, and I have sometimes shortened a longer point to address the overall idea of what was said for brevity. Any errors are my mistake and unintentional, please let me know if I’ve got anything incorrect.

Some highlights of the evening were Mel introducing herself with reference to her super cute brace-induced lisp; Mel expressing an interest in writing raunchy Mills & Boon Nana stories. There were things other than Mel being adorable though, of course.

I should start by saying a thank you to Blackwell’s Oxford for hosting, and Peter Meinertzhagen for hosting and asking the questions.

The panel started by bragging about all having been on panels with Alwyn Hamilton so I believe this is now the benchmark for success as an author. Have you spoken alongside Alwyn? Yes? Then you’ve made a successful career!

On a panel about YA writing you may have noticed that not everyone’s books are always categorised as YA. While Samantha’s books are published by the adult arm of Bloomsbury in the UK, in some countries they are classified as YA and often deal with YA themes (more on that in a bit). Kiran’s books are sometimes classified as Middle Grade (MG) or YA, and Mel’s books are strictly YA.

Peter started by asking all three about how they got into writing YA/Children’s, and if it was deliberate.

Kiran didn’t know she wanted to/was writing a children’s book from the start. As part of her masters in creative writing she started off writing poetry, but also had to write some prose and it was in this that she first wrote the story of a young girl. This character stuck with her and she kept on writing. It was whilst doing this that realised perhaps she was writing a children’s book (or a YA/Childrens cross-over). Her agent was the one who suggest a shift toward MG but Kiran just wrote what she wanted to, without a strict adherence to what one market wants.

Samantha isn’t technically a YA author but everyone in YA is happy to steal her and claim her as one of their own. The main character of The Bone Season books, Paige, is 19 and this is an awkward age for YA (a little too old) but also awkward for adult books (a little too young). In YA a story is oftentimes about a protagonist discovering what makes them different, finding their place in the world, and this is why The Bone Season books fit so well into YA.

Mel wrote YA on purpose and it’s her favourite kind of book to read because YA is the category that pushes forward the most. YA is the most exciting, diverse, innovative area of publishing. Adult publishing is so far behind, YA is the one pushing boundaries. YA is about the immediacy of life because that’s what being a teenager is like. I was struck by Mel’s obvious adoration of teenagers, especially teenage girls, and her respect for them.

Kiran said that the age of her protagonist in The Girl of Ink and Stars was changed by the publishers, from 12 to 13, as the publishers thought it was the most appropriate age for what the character goes through. In her new book, The Island at the End of Everything, the main character’s age was changed from 10 to 12, Kiran doesn’t have a problem with this. It is important you trust your publisher, and that you can talk to them and you know you can push against things – but they know what they’re doing so if you trust them, go with them.

Peter then asked how important the age of the protagonist is in YA.

Samantha talked about The Priory of the Orange Tree and how all the characters are different ages, the oldest being a 64 year old. She hopes it still appeals to lots of people as she’s never had problems relating to characters who were younger/older than her. When she started writing The Bone Season she made Paige the same age as her, 19, and thought it would be nice for them to grow up together. However, she’s since overtaken Paige because she underestimated how slow publishing moves.

Mel talked about how marginalised teens are and how important it is for them to see themselves reflected in YA. Mel hates it when adults who review YA books say the teen characters are making bad choices. YA needs to reflect teens and there is so little space for teens (especially girls). So often the things they’re interested in get devalued, it’s important for YA to validate them.

Peter noted that some claim YA is read mostly by the over 25’s, do YA authors have a responsibility to write what teens want to read, rather than adults?

Mel said that people over 25 didn’t have YA which is why they read it now. The Sin Eater’s Daughter is the book she wanted to read as a teen. Mel’s theory is that the first book you write is the book you needed as a teen.

Kiran‘s favourite book when she was 13 was I One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and this style and use of language informs the way she writes now.

Samantha said that adults connect with YA because at any age the issues are relevant. There are always debates on twitter about YA but it’s important not to forget the teen readers in all that.

Peter then asked the panel if they find it easy to get feedback from teens.

Mel said that Twitter is for old people, but she gets a lot of interaction from teens by using Instagram and Snapchat (but not Facebook).

Kiran does a lot of school visits which is great for immediate feedback. It’s hard to know how successful you are with children because they’re not on social media. So much marketing is the author self-promoting and social media is a big part of this.

Samantha gets a lot of feedback from reviews, although these are mostly done by adults. It’s a shame the Guardian books website shut down, because that often had content written by teens. Her books are in the limbo between YA and adult but she feels that she has more freedom with what she can write in an adult book. While some of the more adult content makes it better as a adult book, a lot of the themes are very YA.

Everyone then went on to discuss what the themes of YA are.

Kiran said that for The Island at the End of Everything she was asked to tone down certain aspects (of a sexual nature) which she is happy to do as long as it doesn’t change the heart of the book.

Mel and Samantha talked about how YA and Children’s books are often categorised together which is why sometimes it can be difficult to know what’s appropriate. Sex in YA is fine.

Kiran identified hope as a theme in children’s books, a book must have hope at the end. In YA this isn’t as necessary, hope can be turned down a notch.

Mel spoke passionately about fan fiction – it’s changed the rules. Teens seek out what they want to read – they want sex scenes. Mel is glad that the era of preachy YA books that are toned down has gone – it’s not what teens want. We owe teens some damn good fiction after this week!

Peter talked about a recent Daily Mail article (to sighs from the room) which said that YA books are too gloomy, and asked what the panel’s thoughts were on that.

After Kiran pointed out how dark Watership Down is, Samantha talked about how much light there is in YA, as well as the dark, but YA writers are pushing boundaries. Books are dark because they reflect the world, and the outlook for many is bleak at the moment. Sam quoted Neil Gaiman when he said that fantasy exists to show us that dragons exist and that they can be defeated.

Kiran said that being a teen has always been hard but YA is writing a way out of the darkness. There is kindness in YA, good doesn’t always prevail but it teaches teens to stay true to yourself and find your people in the darkness.

Mel said that hope is continuous, YA is full of it, just not packed in a friendly way that lies, it gives bites of hope instead.

Peter then started a discussion of the craft of writing and what makes YA different to adult fiction.

Samantha said that YA is slightly more plot driven than some literary fiction. When she was editing The Song Rising her usual editor was on maternity leave so she worked with a someone different who was a YA editor. It was a very different experience, with more cutting, the book was slimmed down so that it was more focused. She found it an exhausting process to write a fast-paced book and would be happy not to do it again.

Mel noted that life as a teen is more plot driven, adult life is more meandering, and that this is reflected in the differences between the types of books. Things happen quickly to teens, they live life at a faster pace, they’re asked to be adults so quickly. As an adult you get more room but teens are asked to make decisions quickly. There is an immediacy to being a teen that seeps into writing. There are more emotional milestones to tick off, as well as life milestones (exams, school, etc). Teens are asked to define themselves quickly.

Kiran pointed out how the first draft of The Girl of Ink and Stars was over 100,000 words long, but the final published version around 50k. There was lots of landscape description which was the first thing to go, it was originally in the third person now in first person. Kiran said it’s important not to get too hung up on differences between YA and adult or on writing to type, just write what you want to.

Peter then asked what could adult fiction writers learn from YA to which Mel immediately responded with “humility”.  She went on to say that some adult fiction talks down to you and there is a lot of peer pressure to be living a certain life that is presented in adult fiction (general and literary – not in genre). Kiran agreed and noted that in adult literary fiction there can be a tendency to lie to yourself about what you enjoy so that it says something about you. Some literary authors aren’t earning the attention they get, adult authors are sometimes told they’re great and we’re supposed to believe that without them having to work for it.

Mel then talked about how YA books are rarely seen as “important” or game-changing, but recent exceptions to this are The Hate U Give and Asking For It. Despite the great attention and praise these books have received, they would probably be getting a lot more attention if they weren’t YA. There was a general agreement from the whole panel with Samantha when she said that YA fantasy is doing so many important things that are being ignored, even within YA. The contemporary issue books are the ones given the most attention and praise.

Peter asked if it can sometimes be damaging for a book to be labelled YA? Does it change who reads it and how seriously it’s taken?

The whole panel agreed that YA is taken less seriously. Mel said it becomes seen as frivolous precisely because teen girls like it. But is there a better way of marketing it? Mel doesn’t think so. She said that publishers are passionate about YA and getting it out there, they think it matters.

Kiran agreed, YA is not institutionally supported, children’s authors are not taken seriously, “commercial” is a dirty word. YA and Children’s books are the ones that are making the money but they are not getting the credit they deserve.

Samantha said that how we talk about YA needs to change. In interviews or at events she is never asked questions that adult/literary authors get asked such as “tell us about your character, what are their motivations”. Instead, YA is talked about in simplistic ways – if YA was talked about and reviewed as adult then things would change.

The event finished with Peter asking everyone on the panel what one piece of advice they would give about writing.

Kiran: Write the book you need to write, leave the marketing to someone else. Don’t worry, good writing will out. Focus on the writing and leave everything else to someone else.

Samantha: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Marketing of books is category driven but leave that for someone else to worry about. Keep breaking boundaries. If what you’re writing is a mix of genres that’s fine – it’s okay to write weird!

Mel: Finish your book! You can’t be a writer if you don’t finish. Don’t start planning your career without a finished draft. First drafts are shit, they’re rubbish, they make no sense. Once your first draft is finished you can work on it. Don’t compare your first draft to a published work, there is no comparison. Publishing is what happens when a bunch of experts come in and tell you how to make it possible, they make it good.

Thanks for reading this excessively long post. I know many people were unable to make it so I wanted to cover as much as possible of what was said without interjecting my own thoughts.

This was a fantastic event and it was inspiring to hear three authors I admire so much talking so passionately about the respect we owe to teenagers. Thanks to Oxford Writing Circle for organising and to Kiran, Melinda, and Samantha for such a great evening.

 

 

 

 

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

25014114History Is All You Left me is a story that talks about first love, grief, and mental health, in a story so beautifully written it had me crying from the first page until the last.

Written in chapters that alternate between the past and the present, the reader can fall in love with the relationship between Griffin and Theo as they themselves fall into each other, while in the very next chapter we’re brought crashing back down to earth with the devastating grief of the present day.

The portrayal of the grieving process and the different ways in which people deal with death was the most moving part of the story for me. I could identify with Griffin every step of his journey, and felt his devastation, anger, confusion, and hope that love was still alive in some way.

One of the first things that stood out for me was the realistic portrayal of OCD and how it affects every part of someone’s life. It is rare to read about OCD in fiction, nevermind in such a carefully and sensitively handled way.

Another thing I loved was the realistic presentation of sex. To not present it as an unusual thing that two young boys would want to have sex (not only with each other, but with other partners as well) was fantastic to read. The relationships and sex lives of the characters were so well crafted that the characters jumped off the page and became very real and very complicated people as a result.

 

Superior by Jessica Lack

My book of the week has to be Superior by Jessica Lack. Based on the blurb alone I wanted to devour it immediately: A superhero’s intern falls in love with a supervillain’s apprentice in this star-crossed LGBT YA story. I mean, how can you not want to read that?

Superior is a novella with heart and humour. It’s goofy and gay and brilliantly conveys a detailed world where superheroes run hotlines and people call them to help rescue their cats.

I’m recommending this because Jessica Lack is superb, not only at realistic world building, but at developing characters with life and depth in only a few pages.

Get your copy now 

You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other — and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating view points, You Know Me Well, follows the story of Kate and Mark who become best friends after one moment of bonding in a gay bar. I was skeptical at first that they could become such good friends so quickly, but I remembered the intensity of feeling when I was the same age as the characters, and it made more sense. Here are two people desperately searching for an identity and trying to find their place in the world, which is why they get so quickly attached to someone else who sees able to help them on this journey.

While the characters attempt to navigate the tricky world of relationships, it is their friendships that sit centre stage. This novel explores a number of themes that are rarely touched upon in YA fiction. As well as exploring friendship it, more importantly, shows LGBTQ+ young people comfortable with their sexuality and receiving support from the people around them. We need more novels that explore LGBTQ+ friendships and that explore the importance of having friends (more important than relationships)

This book left me with such a good feeling almost entirely because of the background setting of Pride. I felt so uplifted by the portrayal of celebratory times and optimism. While I preferred Mark’s story, and found it difficult at times to connect with Kate, both parts of the book are written wonderfully and are so engaging I read this in one sitting.

Buy the Book

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

It’s very rare, unheard of in fact, for me to read a book in one sitting but (and I’m aware it’s cliched, sorry) I actually didn’t want to put this book down. Simon is such an interesting and engaging person, I loved being inside his head and feeling everything he did.

The story starts with the first anguish that someone has discovered his secret about his sexuality and the emails he sends to an anonymous student at their school, and takes us on a quick journey through his developing feelings for ‘Blue’ and his relationships with his friends.

I’d been told that this was ‘just a coming out story’ and the person who told me that sold it short by a long shot. This story is so much more, and Simon’s almost forced coming out is a sideline to the deeper look into friendships, how we know ourselves (can we ever), how well we know the people around us, the surprises and secrets that everyone hides.

I loved how deeply we got into Simon’s head, into his private life, and how he displayed his mortification when he realises the assumptions and prejudices he’s been exhibiting.

This is such a brilliantly written and emotional story. I smiled so much, I laughed, I almost cried, and now I’m done I want to read it all over again.

Buy the Book!