Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 17: Tips for Getting the Most Out of YALC and Other Conventions/Events

Come one, come all. Learn from my mistakes. Prepare yourself for YALC. Hear me do an impression of the Family Fortunes incorrect-answer noise.

Let me know what your top tips are in the comments below or tweet @BookishBrits and then I'll retweet them!

A few weeks ago I made a list on Goodreads for the YA books by YALC-attending authors. 

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 16: More Characters That Should Get Their Own Books

Ever since I pressed 'stop' after filming Characters That Should Get Their Own Books, I've been coming up with more for the list! In this video I share some of them. I'd love to find out what secondary characters other people think should get their own books, let me know in the comments - and if you film a video or write a post, leave me the link :)

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Monday, July 07, 2014

What Makes A Book YA? Plus Bookish Brits Vlog 16: Teenage Characters Outside YA

There is a lot of debate about what makes a book YA or teen fiction. I have been deliberately reading 'adult' or 'literary' fiction about teenaged characters in a bid to work it out for myself.

I think a lot of the time the difference is just marketing, but in other cases, the book has been written in a way that doesn't fit the conventions of YA. Below, I will go through each of the books mentioned in the above video and explain whether I think it could have been published as YA or not.

I insist very passionately that YA is an age category, not a genre, but nonetheless, books that are sold as YA tend to follow certain conventions. The main one is that the protagonist(s) must be teenagers. If there are shifts in point of view, at no point will we experience the point of view of an adult. I think another convention is that the story must feel grounded in teenage reality. The teenage experience is not a metaphor for something else or a flashback from an adult's point of view. If you replace 'teenagers' with 'children' and 'teenage' with 'childhood', you'll be describing children's fiction.

People often say that plot is critical to YA. Teenagers like a clear plot that grabs them and keeps them turning the pages. But so does everyone else. Plot is critical to the successful reception of almost every genre of literature, whether it's written for children, teenagers, or adults. One notable exception is literary fiction...

Swallowing Grandma, by Kate Long - Could have been YA

This is written in first person - the narrator is a teenager. It is a coming of age novel set in the time that it was written. This could definitely have been marketed as YA, however, none of the author's other books are YA. Her first novel The Bad Mother's Handbook was a number-one bestseller, so obviously her publishers wanted to market Swallowing Grandma as adult fiction in order to appeal to previous readers.

The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter - Couldn't have been YA

This deals with many of the same themes as a lot of YA books - coming of age, sexuality, relationships - but it's by an author whose entire output is classified as literary fiction. It's full of poetic language and literary allusions and metaphor. It's magical realism so it's set in a world that is a bit dreamlike and fantastic, the plot isn't clear, and the point of view shifts from character to character. In short, it doesn't really have anything in common with most YA except for the age of the protagonist. I'm not saying that YA fiction can't contain poetic language and evoke a dreamlike atmosphere but it's not very common - an example is Ash, by Malinda Lo. I loved Ash but a lot of other readers disliked it, and I think this is because when someone picks up a book that is marketed as YA they expect something that is quite down to earth. Even if it's set in a fantasy world, it will usually feel very grounded. The reader will be able to relate to the situations that the protagonist(s) gets into and the decisions they have to make. The Magic Toyshop is not realistic and only vaguely relatable!

Five Miles From Outer Hope, by Nicola Barker - Couldn't have been YA without major editing

First person, narrator is a teenager, very weird. Not quite as weird as Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory but heading along those lines for a while. Tangent: people I know keep wondering aloud about whether The Wasp Factory could have been marketed as YA - I would say yes, it could have been, it's got a teenage narrator - but much like with Swallowing Grandma it wouldn't have fitted the author's career trajectory. It's the same with Five Miles From Outer Hope - the author is a literary fiction writer. Also, there's a time jump at the end, so we see the narrator as an adult, and the whole thing makes more sense from the point of view of an adult. Without that chapter from the adult's point of view the book isn't as good. It pulls the whole thing together because there isn't really much of a plot. It gets away without a clear plot as is because it is literary fiction.

Bonjour Tristesse, by Fran├žoise Sagan - Could have been YA

Bonjour Tristesse was published in 1954, long before the term "Young Adult" was coined. The narrator is a teenager, but at times she seems to be looking back from an older perspective, although the author was only 18 herself when the book was published. I actually read Bonjour Tristesse because Sarra Manning recommended it years ago. I think that if it was being published for the first time today, it could have been YA, if it weren't for the author's career path.

The New Girl, by Emily Perkins - Couldn't have been YA

This is a book with an ensemble cast and only one of them is a teenager. It is a coming of age story but it is also a story about older people and the choices they have made throughout their lives, so it could not be YA.

Let me know what you think - how would you define Young Adult literature? Which adult or literary novels do you think could be published as YA, today? If you're a writer who writes what might be considered Young Adult fiction, how do you feel about it?

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Going to university means almost nothing but anxiety for Cath. She was comfortable with the way things were at home with her dad and twin sister Wren. Her only comfort is that Wren is going to the same university, but Wren doesn't want to be her roommate - she wants to make new friends and go to all the parties she can.

Cath isn't interested in parties, or making new friends. She is devoted to the fanfic she's been working on for two years, Carry On, Simon, featuring the stars of the Simon Snow books. The last book in the series is going to come out soon, and Cath is determined to finish her version first. But can she manage that and complete her assignments for her creative writing class? Is her dad going to be alright at home by himself? Is Wren going to too many parties? Does Cath's roommate Reagan hate her? And what is up with Reagan's boyfriend Levi?

Usually I reserve judgement on a book until I'm at least halfway through but I decided that I loved this whilst only a few chapters in. I love books set at universities and I love books with a strong focus on relationships and social interaction. There so much going on in Fangirl. There are plots and subplots and the cast of characters is fantastic.

I'll start with Cath, who is the main character and the fangirl of the title. I could relate really strongly to Cath - it was like I used to be her! Cath is very anxious about having to interact with anybody new, but this doesn't make her shy and sweet, it makes her grumpy and reclusive, which I think is far more realistic. She is mostly happy working by herself on her fanfic and studying, and I could definitely relate to that. I have gone through periods in the past when all I wanted to do was be left alone to read and write.

Cath's anxiety puts her in some quite difficult situations. As you'll hear if you watch the video above, I used to avoid the dining area at university but I coped by going home or eating in the loos or the library. Cath doesn't have the luxury of a shared kitchen so she can't eat proper meals at all! Fangirl has to be one of the most fun books that I've ever read that deals with mental health issues.

The other characters are brilliant too. I forgot to mention him in the video but I adored Cath's dad, as difficult as he makes her life sometimes. I'm not going to list anyone else or I'll end up spoiling half the book.

I also loved all the snippets from the Simon Snow books and Cath's fanfic pieces. I was shocked to hear that some people don't like them! I really want to read the Simon Snow books now, it's such a shame they're not real!

There were a few chapters which were a bit light on plot and character development, but I didn't really mind.

I would recommend Fangirl to everyone, pretty much! Fangirl was the Bookish Brits Book Club choice for May 2014, and in the video I recommended Adorkable by Sarra Manning to and I would do the same the other way around - they deal with similar issues but the protagonists are very different.

Find out what the Bookish Brits thought of Fangirl by watching the video below:

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Bookish Brits Vlog 13: Book of Feels Nomination for If I Stay

I am extremely behind on blogging about my Bookish Brits videos! I will be posting about them all in the next couple of weeks, but if you want to make sure you don't miss anything, go to YouTube and subscribe to Bookish Brits.

This video is actually about an event we ran in April - the Bookish Brits Book of Feels poll. To find out more about it, just press play, and I think you can still vote!

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Book Review: She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick

Last time Laureth Peak spoke to her father, he was researching his book in Amsterdam. But he hasn't called or texted her in several days. And then she gets an email from a stranger, saying that he's found her father's notebook in New York. Laureth is alarmed - he's not supposed to be in New York. She's even more concerned by the fact that her mother doesn't seem to care about the notebook turning up in the wrong place. So she decides to go to New York and find her father - or discover what has happened to him.

The only problem is, she can't go alone. Laureth is blind, so she has to take someone with her, to help her navigate the new city and the only person she can trust is her seven year old brother, Benjamin...

(Note on Laureth's blindness - at my book club, we discussed whether we thought that the blindness was supposed to be a surprise. It is written like it is, but if you're reading this review you've probably read a synopsis which mentions it somewhere - I saw the one on Goodreads before reading the book!)

She Is Not Invisible is a book that grabbed me right from the start. I loved the characters. It was amazing to read a book told from the point of view of a blind character, something I've never done before. I loved Laureth's relationship with her little brother Benjamin. I loved Stan, and the stories behind their names. I loved Mr Walker. I was really intrigued by Laureth's parents and their relationship.

I didn't love the plot so much, or more precisely, the ending. Most of the book feels like set up time. We are told about various coincidences and given philosophical background information but it all just kind of fizzles out and I was left wondering what exactly the point was meant to be. Maybe the point is that there is no pointt, or maybe the point is supposed to be the feelings we feel when the book ends. I don't know, but in either case, it wasn't quite enough for me.

I really enjoyed meeting Laureth and the other characters, and I would still recommend this book. It's really interesting and clever and even funny in places. But I didn't feel like it all got the ending that it deserved.


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