One of the things that surprised me when I started reading more YA fiction was the depth and maturity of some of the writing. I love the fact that authors don’t talk down to their readers, just because they’re kids, and they don’t feel the need to write action-packed, fun-filled adventures with no real substance. There is a lot of action, and a good bit of fun, but authors are also trusting their readers to enjoy the quiet times when their characters and/or narrators take a moment for some introspection. Below are a few series that I feel go above and beyond my normal expectations.
The Leven Thumps series, by Obert Skye, reminds me of an opal. Opals are kind of pretty from a distance, but when they catch the light just right you are rewarded with flashes of brilliance. I started reading Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo with a little trepidation, calling a magic world “Foo” did not bode well for me, but when I got to the line “… what the seed lacks in excitement, it makes up for in miracles,” I was hooked. The story is about Leven (duh), a boy who is destined to save the world. Foo is a mythical realm where dreams live. There is an evil overlord named Sabine who wants to tear down the barriers between our world and Foo so he can take over both. Without the barriers, Foo would cease to exist and humanity would lose its ability to dream, hope or imagine. Without our dreams, we lose our humanity, so this would be a Bad Thing. There are some Harry Potter elements, the kids are treated like crap by their guardians, and a strong Neverending Story vibe, but the quirks and little hints of philosophy make the Leven Thumps series feel fresh and original. It’s recommended for grades 5-8, but it is the kind of book you can read at any age. It’s definitely a series that you can reread, knowing you will find nuances you missed the first time.
The Faerie Wars Chronicles
This series, by Herbie Brennan, consists of three books; Faerie Wars, The Purple Emperor, and Faerie Lord. In a lot of ways, it follows the classic adventure story recipe. A mortal boy, Henry, goes over to the realm of Faerie where he helps his new friend Pyrgus in a fight between the good Faeries of Light and the bad Faeries of Night. However, the series has strange, random elements thrown in that make it stand out to me. Stuff like an evil glue factory, or Henry’s friend and mentor who is a theoretical physicist and former bank robber. The series received some criticism for the “unnecessary” elements (like Henry’s mother coming out as a lesbian and leaving his father) and inconsistent pacing, but for me these are the things that bring in an element of reality to the story. I think that getting frustrated because things are moving a little slowly creates a sense of empathy for the characters, who are also frustrated by the wait. And Henry’s troubles at home make him into a real person, instead of an idealized Hero. All in all, I like these books very much and I love watching the growing romance between Henry and Pyrgus’ sister, Holly Blue, who has the best name ever.
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
The first book in this series, The Alchemyst, is a book that I totally judged by its cover. I saw it in the bookstore and thought “Oooh, that looks cool,” and by golly, it is. The “more than meets the eye” element to these books is the sheer amount of research that has gone into them. Not only does it feature mythical figures from all around the world, but every book introduces real historical figures who have been made immortal by various gods and goddesses. It makes for some interesting pairings. At one point Niccolo Machiavelli and Billy the Kid are working together to capture Nicholas Flamel. Michael Scott also takes very little artistic license with his mythological characters, which wins him eternal brownie points in my book. So far, four books have been released, The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, and The Necromancer. The heart of the story is that Flamel has found “the twins of legend,” two American teenagers named Sophie and Josh, who have enormous magical potential and no training. In theory, they will either save or destroy the world. We have two more books to go before we find out what happens (though I’m betting on “save” rather than “destroy”).