I was so close to making level 3 in Sab. H’s YA Historical Fiction Challenge, but I failed. I purchased and downloaded Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted onto my Kindle but I apparently lost my ability to read in cars. Instead I listened to (and got increasingly annoyed by) Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale during my 18 hour road trip. But, that’s another post. As it’s December 31st, for two more hours in my time zone (at time of writing) and only one for Cornflower and Sapphire, I figured a recap of our readings for the YA Historical Fiction Challenge is in order.
Apologies! I think I was the only one to not reach her goal. I’m not, generally speaking, a YA reader, which is why I only signed up for level 1. I did try. I don’t have anything against the group in particular. In fact, some of my favorite books are technically YA books. It’s only, I tend to find the really spectacularly well-written YA books are the exception rather than the rule.
Favorite Book Read:
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
The characters had excellent depth, the story was a true page-turner, and I do have a fondness for the French Revolution. I also enjoyed the element of supernatural in the book, which was neither over-the-top nor the all-too-familiar vampire fair. I also liked the contrast Gardner portrayed between the elite French aristocrats and the humble Gypsies and performers on the Parisian streets. Gardner is also very good at describing a sense of place. Particularly in regards to smell. I may be giving her too much credit, but there was a couple of points in the book that I could almost smell eighteenth-century France.
The Book You Wished You Read But Couldn’t Afford/Was Always Taken in the Library/Wasn’t Aware of Until Now:
The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner. I suggested my library purchase the Blade, and I think they are getting it, but it has not arrived as yet. Le sigh.
I also wanted to read Vixen by Jillian Larkin because I am also fond of the 1920s and flapper girls.
General Observations Concerning the Genre:
While I did generally enjoy the YA books I read, I noticed the same thing I notice pretty much every time I read teen books (Harry Potter and other outliers excluded): the characters tend toward caricatures. Granted, teens in real life seem to do this, so perhaps authors are just writing for their audience. However, I do prefer subtleties in my heroes and heroines.
Favorite Book Read: In The Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap
Why: In The Shadow of the Lamp had to be my favorite book of the YA selection I read last year. It was a pleasant surprise, as I didn’t expect to actually enjoy it as much as I did. Despite the fact that the book was about a girl who becomes a nurse in the Crimean War (war stories and medical conditions not being a favorite topic for me), I loved this book. The characters were well-written, the story was engaging, and I actually learned a lot about an event in history that I am ashamed to say I know little about. Dunlap’s writing is just plain good and I found myself forgetting that I was reading a book geared towards a younger audience. Molly’s journey, both geographically and emotionally is eloquently crafted and the ravages of war on her surroundings and the soul of those she cares for are what lend authenticity and relevance to the book. I cried at points, but knowing that my tastes in literature have changed quite a bit with age, I have to say that the human dramas in this book are what made it so wonderful.
The Book You Wished You Read But Couldn’t Afford/Was Always Taken in the Library/Wasn’t Aware of Until Now: Belle’s Song by K. M. Grant. There was an ongoing saga with this book. Initially, I put it on my preliminary list for this challenge. The book is a fictional account of a girl who joins the pilgrimage detailed in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. My local library network and city library did not have Belle’s Song in either of their collections, at which point I said, “Really! You have the second largest public library collection in the country (according to a 2011 OCLC report) and you don’t have this book?” When I thought of making an ILL request for the book, I them had to think about whether or not my library even does ILLs, if it would cost me a fee, how long it would take, etcetera. Then, the three of us Bluestockings thought we might do a joint review of the book, but alas, it never came to fruition. I still have a burning desire to read this book and might end up shelling out the money on Amazon to finally have the book in my possession because the story intrigues me so.
I was actually quite disappointed with some of the offerings in the YA genre last year. I realize that I did read quite a few books that had older publication dates than 2011, but the trends I found I think are relevant. I unfortunately had a series of books with poor writing. This was not necessarily glaring poorly written paragraphs or chapters, but an overwhelming feeling of mediocrity permeated when I shut the last page of several of my selections. Many of the books I read had shoddy character development and a penchant for focusing on the action of the story rather that the people who were causing that action (with some exceptions of course, including The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen). Some books are plot driven, yes, but what I felt in many of the books was not so much a focus on plot as a the interest and action of the story, but rather as a way of avoiding depicting more than a shallow sketch of the characters.
Favorite Book Read: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my favorite books of all time (and yes, in Australia (its original point of publication) and in the UK The Book Thief is published and marketed as YA). Of the other books I read Moon Over Manifest takes the clear lead.
Why: It reminded me a bit of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird but without the racial tension. I’m sure you’re thinking, what else is there to To Kill a Mockingbird? To answer that, I point you to Scout, our lovely, naive and eminently likable narrator. For me, anyways, Abilene is similar to Scout, and the feelings invoked by Abilene cut you to the heart. I sat on a teeny tiny plane trying, in vain, to stop my tears while reading Moon Over Manifest. Once upon a time, finding me crying over a book (or a movie, or even episode of Pokemon) was not unusual, but once my mom went through Chemo I cried less and now my tears are more of an anomaly. The farthest I get nowadays (for the most part) is a choked up feeling in my throat that makes my voice sound funny (Sapphire is familiar with this. We saw Toy Story 3 together).
General Observations Concerning the Genre: Perhaps I read the wrong pieces of YA historical fiction but the books I read (excluding The Book Thief, Moon Over Manifest and The Drowned Maiden’s Hair) seemed more along the lines of Johanna Lindsey or Joanna Bourne. While there is nothing wrong with fluffy, chicklit versions of historical fiction (see my love of Lauren Willig’s pieces and my previous (YA) love of the Avon True Romance for Teens series. Of these, my favorite was Samantha and the Cowboy), but it makes me very, very sad that this is the majority of available YA Historical Fiction. Where are the Ann Rinaldis? Or the Avis? Or the Gloria Whelans? Even the Dear America books are better than a library full of Jillian Larkin’s and Anna Godbersen’s. I have no problem with either authoress but a YA historical fiction section with only these books would be akin to an adult historical fiction section filled only with romance authors. While romance is not bad, the world needs variety.