In the Juniper household, a Young Adult novel is never far away and I thought I’d share a few favourites with you lovely Persephoneers. This idea was helped, in part, by a couple of pre-orders that came through recently. One which I had completely and utterly forgotten about until the Amazon package came through the letterbox. Fortunately, Mr. Juniper is very good about my book habit, though he does get a little alarmed when I say, “Darling, maybe we need to think about getting another bookcase.”
The first book is not a recent one, but given Pileofmonkeys’, uh, “enthusiasm” over nominating the heroine for Middlemarch Madness, I thought I’d play it safe by including the aforementioned heroine and avoiding her wrath. So, the heroine in question? Lyra Belacqua of Philip Pullman’s award winning His Dark Materials trilogy. His Dark Materials consists of Northern Lights (Ed. note — The Golden Compass in the U.S.), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. This trilogy has a special place in my heart because I’m part of the Harry Potter Generation, which meant, not only did I grow up with Harry and his friends, I grew up with Lyra, too. His Dark Materials and the Harry Potter books also, in my view, bring beautiful balance to each other. In telling epic stories, Pullman and Rowling gave a generation an incredible heroine and hero, and also gave a generation two spectacular series, which have sparked much debate, from two different religious backgrounds (Pullman identifies as an agnostic atheist, Rowling identifies as Christian). The only sadness I hold over these books is never being able to have the experience of reading them again for the first time. Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series is also well worth checking out for another amazing heroine and cast of characters.
The second book is somewhat more recent than His Dark Materials. Going Bovine was published in 2009 and is the work of Libba Bray. The delightfully amazing Libba Bray. There’s no spoiler in saying this: it’s a kid-develops-horrible-illness book. It is however, not of the Lifetime movie variety. It is of the physics, punk angel, hospital escape, video game, drink and drugs variety. Going Bovine follows Cameron, who has Creutzfeldt-Jakob variant BSE (Mad Cow Disease). Going Bovine has won several awards, including the Michael L. Printz award. It also features cover art of a bull carrying a gnome. It is just awesome. If you still need convincing, I give you the udderly wonderful Libba Bray in a cow suit:
Coming in third is a collaboration that I’ve re-read more times than I can remember. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is by David Levithan and John Green. On their own, these two authors are incredible, together they are stupendously incredible. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two teenagers called Will Grayson (shocking, I know) who live in different suburbs of Chicago and cross paths one night. By means of further introduction to the book, these two videos are of David Levithan and John Green performing slightly modified versions of chapters by each of them (there are no spoilers):
In the number four spot is a lady who is only number four because this isn’t an order-of-greatness list. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series (Noughts & Crosses, An Eye For An Eye, Knife Edge, Checkmate, and Double Cross) is…complicated. To quote Wikipedia:
Blackman’s award-winning Noughts & Crosses series, exploring love, racism, and violence, is set in a fictional dystopia. Explaining her choice of title, in a 2007 interview for the BBC’s Blast website, Blackman said noughts and crosses is “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…” In an interview for The Times, Blackman said that before writing Noughts & Crosses her protagonists’ ethnicites were never central to the plots of her books. She has also said, “I wanted to show black children just getting on with their lives, having adventures, and solving their dilemmas, like the characters in all the books I read as a child.” Blackman eventually decided to address racism directly. She reused some details from her own experience, including an occasion when she needed a plaster and found they were designed to be inconspicuous only on white people’s skin. The Times interviewer Amanda Craig speculated about why the Noughts & Crosses series was not, for a long time, published in the United States: “though there was considerable interest, 9/11 killed off the possibility of publishing any book describing what might drive someone to become a terrorist.” Noughts and Crosses is now available in the US published under the title Black & White (Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2005). (Source.)
She really has won an incredible number of awards for the Noughts & Crosses series, as well as for the many, many other books she has written. In short, she’s amazing and since I suspect there are no videos on the Internet of Malorie Blackman in a cow suit, I give you a picture of the lovely lady herself:
Coming in fifth is John Green. Again. But on his own this time. I’ve mentioned this book a few times in other articles and now I get the chance to talk about it with good reason. The Fault in Our Stars was published in January this year and has already had an impact on the world. Namely, an impact called Hazel and Augustus. I am already getting teary. TFIOS is another kid-develops-horrible-illness book, but like Going Bovine, is not of the Lifetime movie variety. It is of the heartbreakingly honest and Venn diagram variety. Some of you (Persephoneer Nerdfighters?) may already be familiar with this video from John and his brother’s Vlogbrothers project, for those who aren’t, this question and answer session on TFIOS is worth watching:
Good grief, you need more convincing? Here’s John reading the first two chapters:
Onwards to number six. This was the pre-order that I forgot about until thud, there it was on the doormat. Shine by Lauren Myracle is not only a wonderful book, it is written by a lady of incredible grace. To address the latter, Shine was nominated by accident for a National Book Foundation award, she was asked to withdraw her book and remained composed throughout. Libba Bray, however, did not. Her blog on the incident is well worth reading. In addition to the grace Myracle showed over the award incident, a portion of the proceeds from Shine go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and she also had the National Book Foundation make a donation. Even without knowing much about Shine, Myracle’s actions along with, I’ll admit it, beautiful cover art, meant I pre-ordered this without a second thought. The beautiful paperback came through the door and, oh my, I will be forever glad I bought it. The story is not an easy one, but Myracle handles it amazingly. She also has one of the coolest author sites I’ve ever come across.
Right, where are we. Number seven, I think? Strictly speaking, I don’t know whether or not this comes under YA, but it features a young protagonist and well, here it is, a graphic novel, no less. An award winner, too. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura. To quote Wikipedia again, I Kill Giants is about: “a girl struggling with an impending family disaster by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters.” It is a strange little story, there’s even a social worker in there, too but it is just so beautiful in both the writing and the artwork. Take a chance on Barbara, it’s worth it. On the graphic novel side, I’d also suggest Blankets by Craig Thompson. A beautiful autobiographical story of childhood and adolescence. It’s another award winner, and it’ll be with me forever.
Well number seven was two-for-one, and number eight is a gazillion-for-one. Jacqueline Wilson, like Malorie Blackman has a list of works that in itself is exhausting to read. Wilson’s work is not usually considered YA but instead for younger readers. However, there is the odd book which counts as YA (Girls Under Pressure, comes to mind) and as much as anything, I just love this lady. I read her books while I was growing up, and even now, go back to them. They’re finished in a fraction of the time it took me as a kid but there’s something wonderful about them nonetheless. Wilson is known for not shying away from topics of a “difficult” nature and you name it, she’s probably covered it. So it’s hardly surprising that she’s not only a Dame but she was also Children’s Laureate for a time. Her work is often instantly recognisable because of the artwork Nick Sharratt has done for her, time and again.
And finally, at number nine is another of my heroes: Terry Pratchett. Like Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson, Terry Pratchett has written umpteen million books. He’s probably best known for his Discworld series. The Discworld being, well, the world. Which sits atop four elephants (Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon, and Jerakeen) which stand upon a turtle A.K.A. the Great A’Tuin. As well as elephants and turtles, Pratchett has also given the world the likes of Tiffany Aching (most recently in I Shall Wear Midnight), Susan Sto Helit (most recently in Thief of Time) and Lady Sybil (most recently in Snuff). All of these ladies are incredible characters and Pratchett does them justice on every page. Pratchett has also written books outside of the Discworld, such as Good Omens with Neil Gaiman and Nation, which was adapted for the stage. Along with being an awesome author, Terry Pratchett is also a personal hero of mine not just because he’s a Humanist but because he continues to write, despite suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He is also a frequent contributor on the debates around euthanasia. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is actually Sir Terry Pratchett and that the motto on his coat of arms is “Don’t fear the reaper.” There are also few authors who can rock a hat, in quite the way he can.
So much for number nine! You’re getting a number ten, too, though rather by accident. I checked my email to have Amazon tell me, ever so kindly, that a pre-order I’d placed in June would be delivered a little earlier than expected and it arrived today. The book in question? Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. Pandemonium is the second book of the Delirium trilogy (the first book in the trilogy is, strangely, Delirium) and I have just torn through it. (Lena, you’re amazing!) I’m glad, to say the very least, that despite my doubts after Delirium, I took the plunge and made the pre-order. I’m slightly less glad that I have to wait until this time next year to read the final book, Requiem. Oliver is possibly best known for Before I Fall. Before I Fall takes on the Groundhog Day idea, and yes, the protagonist may become ever so slightly involved in a fatal car crash rather soon into the story, but Oliver creates a beautiful tale. By giving her protagonist a chance to relive the same day several times, she’s giving her a chance to see things differently and follow through different choices. For myself, anyway, I found Before I Fall to be one of those books that’s stuck in my mind long after I finished reading it — thought provoking, to say the least.
So there you are Persephoneers, a snapshot of the YA out there today. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check Amazon in case there are any other pre-orders I’ve forgotten.