A Bookish Summer: Best School Reads

School is out for the summer over here, but that doesn’t stop us from reading, or from talking about books! Welcome to the halfway point of the Bookish Summer Blog Hop. At the bottom of this post is a schedule so you can catch up on any posts you missed.

Today we are discussing the very best books we had to read for school.

Tangled in Text Logo

Kelli Quintos www.tangledintext.com

I only remember reading two books for school. The others I sparknoted or BS’ed my way through the book reports. They were The Outsiders by  S. E. Hinton and Animal Farm by George Orwell and although they were both superb, I’m still quite obsessed with Animal Farm. I had no idea a book could be that awesome, when I hated reading at that time. I loved that a book could say one thing and mean another and just have a darker, twisted agenda than ever expected. That was the first book discussion I ever participated in during class and I still remember getting enthusiastic because of all the different ways people interpreted scenes and meanings.

Leslie Conzatti

Leslie Conzatti www.upstreamwriter.blogspot.com

One of the benefits of being homeschooled was that I got to choose what I read, or at least choose how fast I read things or in which order. Basically, we had this “Master Reading List” to go through, and as soon as I finished one I could go right onto the next one. I loved to read, and the bookshelves at my house were always full of classics and obscure books from the early 1900’s, or from the Victorian era. But as far as assigned reading, I would have to go with one of the books I read in college, for a class on The Life And Works of Jane Austen. Yep, I got to read romance novels for one whole quarter! My favorite out of that was Persuasion. Just the simple, straightforward protagonist, Anne, whose only goal was to do right by everybody and not to meddle with other people, and who got blamed for a whole lot… I really connected with her on many different levels, and I just enjoyed that novel immensely. So much, in fact, that I wished to give it more adaptations, as has been done with Pride and Prejudice over and over again. I have a contemporary adaptation, as well as a dark fantasy mashup that I hope to write someday!

Jo Linsdell author Pic Feb 2018

Jo Linsdell www.JoLinsdell.com

By far it has to be The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. This book really touched me, and is, in part, responsible for me becoming a writer. It was so raw, and powerful. I felt like I was there with her. I’ve always been interested in history too so it fascinated me to read about the details of that time. I truly believe that everyone should read this book.

Rachael Beardsley

Rachael Beardsley https://variancefiction.wordpress.com/

My favorite book from high school was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We were supposed to read it during freshman year, but we ran out of time. We’d already paid for our copies though, so they were given to us anyway. Funnily enough, I hated the book the first time I tried to read itI couldn’t get interested in the story at all. But I picked it up again some time in junior or senior year and immediately loved it. The story was suddenly powerful and I couldn’t put the book down. I’m not sure why it failed to click with me the first time, but I’m so glad I tried again!

Two Cities

Brandy Potter www.brandypotterbooks.com

I had a heck of a time with this. I honestly struggled. The Diary of Anne Frank, The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, Lord of the Flies how do you pick just one? I mean all of them influenced my reading so much. And Anne Frank made me question my pride in my German Heritage (luckily I found out that we immigrated before WWI so…) but having to pick one, I went with A Tale of Two Cities. With characters like Madam Defarge, Dr. Mannette, Sydney, and Charles that just grip you. And how amazing like a reverse Prince and the Pauper… I don’t want to spoil it so.. But this book made me realize that romance can exist in a book and not make it mushy and icky. Which is now why I write romance lol.

 

I have a BA in English so I read a lot of books over the years. Einstein’s Dreams was one we read in high school and it really stuck with me. In grade 3 we read The BFG by Roald Dahl. In university it would have been The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.

School doesn’t bring up the best of memories all the time – the work, the boring hours spent in a classroom, bullies, bologna sandwiches, but maybe there’s a silver lining in there somewhere. What were your favourite teacher-assigned books? And don’t forget to visit the rest of the tour.

bookish summer 1

Advertisements

Review: PAWS 3: Umbrae

Umbrae is the third book in the P.A.W.S. series by Debbie Manber Kupfer and this review was supposed to be up on Saturday – I swear I typed it up. Stupid internet. Anyways, better late than never.

I’ve been enjoying the P.A.W.S. series. This is a YA urban fantasy series that focuses on shapeshifters of varying types. The main character is a teenage girl named Miri. Miri can shift into a cat with the help of a magical talisman.

In this book Miri learns a lot about her family history while back at the P.A.W.S. Institute of the Midwest there is trouble brewing. Loyalties are tested. Secrets come to light while others are buried deeper.

The author does a wonderful job of continuing to create tension even after Miri has defeated her enemy (back in books 1 and 2). This book introduces many new complications and raises as many questions as it answers.

Another interesting aspect of this series is that many of the main characters are Jewish. I love books that explore cultures outside of the White-Western-Christian experience. Also love that the Canadian exchange student is loud and gets into trouble!

This is a series that has remained strong and interesting through three books and ends with a great hook. If you’re looking for a good YA series this is one I recommend taking a chance on. 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Bloodstone Reckoning

The Bloodstone Reckoning is Mike Wigington’s debut novel – an epic fantasy for teens and adults.

The main character of the novel is Tabitha Millhouse, the daughter of a miller in a small town. The story begins on Tabitha’s 15th birthday. She lives with her father, her mother is dead, and her father will not speak of the past. Today, being her birthday, Tabitha pushes the issue, causing a fight that sends her running from the cabin and into the thick of the plot.

As well as her father there are two youth in town roughly her age, Faylyn, the daughter of the goldsmith, and Macon, the son of the black smith. These are Tabitha’s friends. Tabitha also meets an old wise woman, an Earth Mother, in the woods. This woman, Baba, becomes her friend and teacher.

There are powerful forces at work in this world and an evil lord from a far off country seeks an ancient and evil relic that he hopes will grant him immortality. Thus the stage is set.

Mike has created a detailed and rich world for his story to play out in, one that feels real and vivid. His descriptions are never tedious and add life to the story. The characters, while simple, are still fun. Tabitha is the stubborn tomboy. Macon is the sneaky troublesome boy who is attracted to her in spite of her weirdness. Baba is the wise woman. Tabitha’s father drinks away his heart ache and seeks above all else to protect his daughter. Lord Drake is charming and powerful, a man who simply craves power.

I love a rich fantasy and this certainly falls into that category. There are multiple forms of magic, many secrets, and a sense of urgency to the story.

I would like to congratulate Mike Wigington on a stellar debut and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: P.A.W.S. Argentum

Argentum is the second book in the P.A.W.S. series by Debbie Manber Kupfer. P.A.W.S. is a contemporary paranormal series set mainly in St. Louis with parts of the book taking place in Europe and New York.

The cast of this book his huge but the main character is Miri Katz, a fifteen year old Jewish girl who can change into a cat with the help of an ancient amulet that has been in her family for generations. She is living at a secret facility that is part base part school part research facility in Forest Park with most of the cast.

There is the leader of their location, her son (who is also Miri’s romantic interest), a half dozen werewolves, a kangaroo exchange student, Miri’s roommate (another cat shifter), an ancient bird shifter (who may be friend or foe), and several side characters who are staff or students at the facility. As well there are three or four human characters and two or three “bad guys”. Plus about a dozen side characters in other locations.

The large cast wouldn’t be a problem but the story arc in this book branches and instead of closely following JUST Mirir’s journey you are now involved with a half dozen intersecting arcs, many of which are actually lengthy flashbacks. These chapters are interesting and full of their own tension and plot but there is no real clear distinction, no date at the beginning of a chapter, nothing to tell you if you’re in flashback or not. This wouldn’t be bad if they were short – a few paragraphs – and you were slipping in and out of memory with the characters, but some flashbacks are chapters long. And some of the flashbacks were very recent which made keeping the current timeline straight a little difficult.

The book felt long. There was a lot going on but I think the looking back nature of the book made it feel slower than book 1.

I will say that I liked the Canadian exchange student who was so un-Canadian it was refreshing. This author does not fall back on stereotypes.

I am curious to see where this series is going so the flashbacks haven’t turned me off the story. I think that they could have been shorter, hinted at, and that she might have taken those lengthy flashbacks, made them more showing and less tilling, and released a series of short stories instead. But they were interesting.

3.5 out of 5 stars from me.

Review: Book Club Young Readers’ Event

The Steinbach and Area Book Club held a young readers’ event on Monday June 26th. We had 8 authors present. We looked at 14 books by a total of 14 authors.

AUTHORS:
Celesta Theissen with her daughters, Keziah and Priscilla
Rachel Theissen
Anita Daher
Doreen Millichamp
Casia Schreyer
Gabriele Goldstone
Laura Reeves
Heather Radford
Kim Rempel with her daughter Abby
Kristy Pantin
Susan Rocan

Some of the books I’ve read on my own so I’ll leave a proper review with a rating. Others I haven’t read, and we only looked at excerpts at this event, so I will mark them as such and only give my first impressions.

Wonder Horse by Anita Daher – First impressions – The main character is a high school student who has moved halfway across the country. To help her adjust her parents have bought her a horse. This is a story of fitting in and making choices. The story has a first person narrator named Sarah. Sarah’s voice feels authentic and age appropriate. This is a book I would recommend.

Journey to the Mermaid Kingdom by Celesta, Priscilla, and Keziah Theissen – Review – This is book one in an early chapter book series for K-3. The story follows a mother, her 4 children, and their 2 cats, as they are magically turned into mermaids and go on a quest beneath the sea. The first book chronicles their journey to the mermaid kingdom where they are needed to help set something right. The story has sea-wizards and sea-dragons and talking dolphins. It’s a fun fantasy adventure for kids. My only peeve with this book is the size of the cast. With so many named characters it’s hard to keep them straight and it’s hard for each of them to get enough talking time, especially with how short the story is and the age group it’s aimed to. Still, my daughter and niece enjoyed the book. 4 out of 5 from me; 5 out of 5 from them.

Picking Worms, The Campfire Boys Book 1 by Doreen Millichamp – First Impressions – This series is about a group of 5 boys who meet at a family camp and become friends over the summer. The first book is about learning to pick worms to sell to the fishermen. These books aim to be wholesome family fun similar to Super Fudge or Ramona and Beezus. There are no cellphones here, and no magic either, just campfires and good, old fashioned adventures. The selection Doreen chose to read was about their first evening learning to pick the worms. I found this selection repetitive in its language. Also, it was midway through the book so I didn’t have a good feel for the characters and got easily confused. I also dislike the physical layout of the book (using a whole line space between paragraphs instead of indenting the first line of each paragraph – I know, that’s how I do my blog, but blogs are different from books). My grandmother has the full set and reads them around the campfire to my kids and my niece. They all love the whole series.

Purse People Adventures by Kim and Abby Rempel – First Impressions – This is a story about a girl who is the size of a push pin who lives in Abby’s purse with her little brother. We didn’t read much of this book but we found it reminiscent of The Littles.

Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone – Review – I had the chance to read Red Stone and the sequel Broken Stone last summer. The story is a lightly fictionalized biography of the author’s mother – fictionalized only in that she doesn’t have all the details and had to fill in missing conversations and events based on her historical research. This series (there are 2 more books coming) is aimed at middle grade kids. While historically accurate and very emotional it is age appropriate in language and content. The story is compelling, not the least bit boring. You really feel for Katya, the girl in the story. The story focuses on Katya and her family, German-Russians living in what is not the Ukraine, in the 1930s as the Communists begin seizing the farms. I recommend this series for young history buffs, and for classroom use, or even for anyone who has German-Russian heritage and wants to know more about their own history. 5 out of 5 stars.

Diary of a Kid Witch by K Pantin – First Impressions – A cross between Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Told in journal or diary format by the 10 year old main character it even has some doodle style illustrations. Each “chapter” is headed by the day of the week by no date. We only read the first few entries but I can see it getting confusing as it just keeps repeating Tuesday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday …. over and over again in various orders. The story was cute and the narrative voice very casual. I didn’t like that she spelled ’cause as cuz.

Grandfather Clock by Rachel Theissen – Review – My kids and I read this book when it first came out and except that the concepts around the time travel hurt my grown-up brain it was a brilliant book, especially as it was written when Rachel was 8. The story follows 2 kids and a green alien. Yup, time travel, aliens, kids, clocks, missing parents and grandparents, a great mix. And easy to read. My son read it when he was in grade 1 and except for a few words was able to read it on his own. 5 out of 5 stars.

Withershins by Susan Rocan – First Impressions – Withershins is apparently an urban legend ritual, like Bloody Mary, where you run around a church three times at midnight. I suppose it’s spooky because old churches have graveyards on the property. We read the prologue which set up the main character, a 17 year old girl, and the situation that presents the opportunity to play Withershins. The back of the book explains that the main character will be sent back in time to solve some sort of problem. This book has been high on my ‘to read’ list for some time and I hope to do a longer review soon.

Frontier Life by Heather Radford – First Impressions – to be completely honest, the back of the book turned me off so much that I didn’t read much of this book out loud to the group. The book is about 3 year old twins who will be at least 10 by the end of the first book who travel from Wales to Canada with their family in 1945. Their father is going to Northern Ontario as a missionary. The cover of the book as a picture of Jesus with a little white girl and a little black boy and they’re all in Biblical times clothing. The description makes it sound more like a pioneer book. And then to have it set after the Second World War was jarring. The three year old twins don’t speak like three year olds (I know, my niece is three). The description on the back describes the Native Americans of Northern Ontario as “evil devil worshipers” which put me off right away. The font was quite small, which isn’t standard for an early reader. I won’t be reading this book and I won’t be recommending it to my kids.

Gifted: The Super Seven book 1 by Celesta Thiessen – First Impressions – I have read this book but it was a while ago so I don’t want to leave a full review without reading it again. The series is about seven teens with super powers who learn that they are made right just the way they are and that they all have a purpose. Well written, if a little on the short side. Would recommend to 4th graders and there abouts.

Laura Reeves Guide to Useful Plants – Laura gave a wonderful presentation on rope making, weaving, and dye making, all activities you can do with your kids. I have a longer review of her book coming up very soon.

We also looked at Complex 48 and Rose in the Dark by me.

Review: Untamed by Madeline Dyer

Untamed is a science-fiction adventure novel in the same vein as Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

The main character and first person narrator is named Seven Sarr. She lives with a band of Untamed in the wilderness. The Untamed are fighting against The Enhanced, humans who augment themselves with addictive chemicals and plastic surgery. The augments alter their emotions as well as their ability.

The story combines this science fiction bio-chemistry with a strong spiritual story line. There are Spirits in the wilderness, dangerous and angry. This adds to the difficulties facing the Untamed.

Along with Seven there is a small community of Untamed: her brother Three, their leader, Rahn, and Rahn’s cousins, Corin and Esther, make up the main cast of the book.

The beginning was very strong. I felt immersed in the world right away but the action and tension were very high as well. True to the genre and style you move fast through the story and are faced with lies and conflicting stories from all sides. The narrative is tight and the narrator refreshing, unreliable, and easy to relate to.

The only downside to the book was that I figured out the twists WAY before the characters did. I know it’s a case of things being easier to see from the outside where you have the big picture, but the story has a first person narrator. I only know and see what she knows and sees.

I did really enjoy this book and the writing style and I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Review: PAWS

PAWS is the first book in an urban fantasy paranormal series by Debbie Manber Kupfer.

The main character of PAWS is a teenage girl named Miriam Katz. The cast includes werewovlves, shapeshifters, and magicians who have mastered the art of changing shape.

The story revolves around a rather old, cruel, werewolf and his quest for power. PAWS is an organization of magical beings who can, in some way, change their shape into animals. The bad guy feels that PAWS is one of the biggest threats to his quest for power.

The beginning of the book is rather long and it takes a while for Miri to find out how she fits into the paranormal side of this world. This book also has a lot of training and practicing and backstory.

One interesting thing was that many of the main characters, Miri, Josh, and Mandy, were Jewish. It was actually quite the diverse cast with an Irishwoman and her son, a British magician, and an Australian exchange student who could change into a kangaroo.

There were a few things that bothered me. First of all, shapeshifters are sort of genetic and their magic relies on a talisman of sorts. The magicians who learn to change shape do not have these talismans. At one point Joey, the kangaroo, had an amulet that he shouldn’t have had because he doesn’t need it. There were a few places where the formatting was wacky as well. I found the pacing was a little off. She spent the whole book building towards this fight scene and it was short and lacked tension.

Other than that the book was very good. It is definitely designed for younger teen readers – say 12 or 13 and up. It was a very easy read with a very simple story. The violence was not graphic, there was no swearing, and the romance was teen sweet with no sex scenes.

I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. It has great potential and I hope the rest of the series will pick up a little.

Book Review – Dragonfly

Dragonfly is a young adult paranormal romance by Alyssa Thiessen. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Dragonfly-Alyssa-Thiessen/dp/0994021003/ (Please note this is not an affiliate link).

Dragonfly is a quick, easy read, but perfect for grades 8 and up. It’s clean, so no sex, no graphic violence, no major swearing. What really sets this book apart are the wings. No dragon, bat, or angel wings here. Not even hawks like the Maximum Overdrive stories by Patterson. No, this time we have dragonfly wings.

I read this book with my book club so the first week we read chapters 1-9. In our first discussion we were listing all the possibilities for how the main character, 18 year old Joshua Miller, had ended up with dragonfly wings. Born that way? Mutant? Science experiment? Alien? What? Halfway through the book and you still have no idea.

The plot of the book is people centered. It’s about Joshua, a boy who has always hidden from the world for as long as he can remember, a boy with no family, no friends, no connections. Until he meets Lexi. His connection with Lexi triggers a whole series of mishaps that lead him to the only piece of his past he remembers. And from there we find out everything that Joshua doesn’t know about himself.

The book follows that winning YA romance structure: bored rich girl, roguish bad boy, becoming friends when they shouldn’t. Lots of him holding back because he’s no good for her and her stubbornly holding on because she’s never met anyone like him. But it was still a fun book to read. Really, Joshua and Eric and Nik aren’t so bad, Lexi was my only complaint with the book.

I gave this book 4 stars and would recommend it to young readers and anyone who likes YA fiction. I’m looking forward to her second book, which is not tied in to Dragonfly in any way, titled Infusion.

Review: Foul is Fair

Foul is Fair is the first book in the Fair Folk Chronicles by Jeffery Cook and Katherine Perkins. I would describe the book as a YA modern fairy tale adventure.

The main characters are two sixteen year old girls, Lani and Megan. At the beginning of the story Megan is coping with some form of mental health or educational delay sort of issue by taking medication. Her friend Lani is very concerned about her and the way the medication is changing her.

Very quickly they are swept up into events that spiral completely out of control and the reader is introduced to the realm of Fairy. There is a lot of information in this book but the uniqueness of the characters and the fast paced action keeps the book from feeling like a data dump. I don’t think I could pick a favourite character, there were so many wonderful ones!

The authors use some familiar fairy characters, like the Huntsman and his hounds, pixies, satyrs, and such, but also introduced some that I wasn’t familiar with. They created a world that is vibrant and interesting and completely captivating. So much happens in this book and I feel like I can’t summarize any of it without giving something away.

I will say that it was refreshing to read about two sixteen year old girls and not have any of the usual drama or self-pity or whiny attitudes.

The story was quick and fun and super fast paced. I enjoyed every minute of it. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and I cannot wait to read book 2.

Read Any Good YA Books Lately?

The internet seems rife with literary debate these days. If we’re not arguing about what our writing and artwork is worth we’re arguing about who is allowed to read which genres. Which is silly if you really think about it. 

Let’s take a break from literature and discuss music for a moment. Here’s a boy, he’s 15 years old, he’s white, he comes from a good home with both parents and a few siblings, hell they even have a dog and a white picket fence. This boy listens to rap music. Can you imagine a society where only black underprivileged teens can listen to rap music? Okay, maybe some people like that idea since they don’t like rap music and don’t want their kids listening to it, but then consider this: if you don’t live in a city center you have to listen to country music only. If you do live in a city center then country music is off limits. You can’t listen to jazz if you’re white. You can’t listen to Latin dance music if you’re white. And all this rock and pop music inspired and flavoured by international sounds? Forbidden! If you’re not from that country you can’t borrow from their musical traditions. Oh, and if you move, you’re musical tastes automatically change.

Right. Does that sound realistic?

Food? Shall we discuss food? How many people here like Chinese cuisine? I love it. My family is descended from various parts of Europe so there’s no Asian in me anywhere. No Italian either so pizza is out the window. No tacos. Hell, no perogies! I love perogies! But I’m from the wrong part of Europe to be eating that.

If we let age, gender, nationality, geography, or hair colour determine what we listen to, or what we eat, or yes, what we read, we’re limiting our experiences, and the experiences of others.

Let’s get back to literature. I am 28 years old. I am female. I am white, of mixed European decent. I have lived in Canada all my life. Am I only allowed to read books about white, female, not yet middle-aged, Canadians? Where do we draw the line, and why?

Why draw the line at 17? Because you’re legally an adult at 18? Does that mean the line in the USA is actually at 21? Is it because you’re graduating from high school and need to leave young life behind you as you step into the read world? And what about the 18-30 year olds? What are we, anyways? We’re adults, sure, but we’re not middle-aged, we’re not old, we’re not seniors? The term New-Adult has been coined to cover that gap. YA fiction is about 14-17 year olds, while NA fiction is about 17-30 year olds. But the line is blurry, and it depends on many things, not just age. 

It depends on a person’s comfortable reading level, it depends on their maturity, and (before you think I’m insulting the maturity of 30-44 year olds who read YA fiction) it depends on why we read.

Let’s go back to the original article, which can be found here should you wish to read it: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/06/against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.2.html

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.  

Hey, I like a happy ending as much as the next person. Yes, I want some satisfaction from reading a book. And just because it has a nice, satisfactory ending doesn’t mean I stop thinking about it. Books with neat, happy endings are fun to read, they’re easy to read, they’re the sort of books you read in order to relax and escape for a little while. And they don’t have to be happy all the way through. We want struggle and pain and trials so we can see a character we care about triumph over something. And maybe that triumph includes loss, but it includes growth and conclusion as well.

The joy of these books is that they do make us think and feel, but in such a gentle, subtle way that we don’t even notice it. We get to experience growth and loss and difficult situations and by the end we’ve enjoyed so much more than a good story, and we didn’t have to work too hard at it.

I’ve read Dickens, and several other big name, long dead, authors during my university career and yes, they were wonderfully crafted books. I’ve never had the urge to go back and read them. But genre fiction? YA fiction? NA fiction? I read those over and over again. Stephen King, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, George RR Martin, Spider Robinson, Laurel K Hamilton, to name a few. I read storytellers who tell an engaging and compelling story and I find that some of the classics are too slow, too LITERARY, full of heavy devices that slow the reading down. I will never try to diminish the importance of Dickens and Chaucer and Shakespeare (actually I adore Shakespeare) and the Greek classics. They are important, they should be read and studied. But they aren’t the be all and end all of what’s out there.

Lauren Davis wrote a lovely rant in response to the original article, and you can find it here: http://io9.com/really-are-we-still-genre-shaming-people-for-the-books-1587118225?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

In her words: Certain books seem to be particularly vulnerable to finger-wagging from the so-called literary elite: science fiction, fantasy, romance novels, “chick-lit,” and now young adult fiction. Fiction that has been traditionally aimed at women and young people is particularly vulnerable to the criticisms of not being serious enough, not being mature enough. We don’t typically see the same criticisms of, say, spy thrillers, even though some books in that category tick off the boxes on Graham’s no-no list: Namely, that they tell complete stories with nice, neat endings, and may idealize situations rather than teach us big truths about life.

Now, I myself have fallen into the “genre bashing” game when it comes to romance, and that’s because I found romance novels lacking in a strong story, they were too cliched. Turns out I was reading the wrong romance novels is all. Now I’ve even written a few romance novellas. (See my Books page here on my blog for a list of those novellas – end shameless promotion). I felt the same way about romantic comedies. And you know what, I don’t really have a problem with people who like them, they’re just not for me. So I have stopped bashing and simply voice my opinion as what it is, a single opinion that defines me, but cannot define others. 

So many books these days are breaking down walls between genres. The wall between science fiction and fantasy was probably the first to go. Romance can be thrown into any genre now. As can mystery and thriller. Now books with a touch of horror are labeled “dark” – Dark Fantasy, Dark Romance etc. And YA isn’t even a genre, it’s a targeted audience based on the age of the protagonist. 

We were all 17. We can all relate to being a teenager, even if we didn’t all have cellphones and social media in high school. We can’t all relate to being a high priced successful lawyer. We can’t all relate to being a spy. We can’t all relate to being a wizard. But somehow being a teenager (even if the character is a teenage spy, or a teenage wizard) transcends whatever else is going on in the book. The teenage character encapsulates those feelings of awkwardness, of fear and insecurity, of change and growth both physical and emotional, of newness and discovery, of failure, of boundaries and wanting to push past them. Even Ruth Graham admits to these feelings in her original article.

I want teenagers and ambitious pre-teens to have as many wonderful books to read as possible, including books about their own lives. But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. 

That’s right, as a teenager she wanted to reach past the boundaries of YA literature and read those unreachable adult books. So why didn’t she? I was reading Stephen King at 12. I was reading Tolkien at 12. I was reading Poe at 12. I was also reading Roald Dahl at 12. And occasionally I picked up my sister’s Bailey School Kids books. My parents didn’t see the boundaries the way the literary world did. If I was mature enough to handle the language and the themes then I could read the book. It didn’t matter the age of the protagonist, or the gender of the protagonist, or when it was written or where it was written. 

We make the boundaries. We can break them down. We can let people enjoy the reading process, and study literature, and read a multitude of books.

Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

Why does she assume we’re ONLY reading YA lit? Why do we have to be put into neat little slots? Why can’t I read fantasy this week and “serious” lit next week and science fiction the week after? Why do I have to pick only one favourite? Okay, she says “substituting” so she is making a distinction here. She is pointing the finger at those over 18ers who ONLY read YA fiction. Yeah, they’re missing something. But so is she. There is so much out there that’s new and fresh and deep and thought provoking in every genre, targeted at every age group. 

I read a children’s picture book about a mom dealing with cancer!

Bridge to Terebithia has a child dying! The best friend of the main character dies! 

Writing is supposed to tell a great story and in the process discuss some aspect of life – whether it’s coming-of-age, or dealing with difficulties, or sacrifice, or pain, or loss, or great joy, or true love. Some deal with multiple aspects, some don’t. Some deal with those aspects in settings we find familiar, some don’t. 

To take away from a book’s value because of the target audience is to tell a teenager that their problems and issues, their interests and likes, are not valued. They are not valued because their stories are not valued. 

To take away from a book’s value for any reason is dangerous. Obviously some books are better written than others, and time will separate the classics from the one-hit-wonders, it will separate the good from the bad, and it will do it naturally without genre shaming, without age-shaming. If you don’t like a book, explain why. 

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? 

That’s right, it’s written for a younger audience, and maybe Ruth Graham didn’t enjoy it, but that doesn’t make it a bad book. I didn’t enjoy Twilight, my sister loved it. We’re only two years apart. And I love paranormal creatures, and I still read YA books. It had nothing to do with genre or target audience or my age at the time (because I loved Shiver, Linger, and Forever which are also YA books with werewolves). There is so much within a genre and especially within the range of genres written for YA readers, that it seems impossible to write a review of it, as Ruth Graham has tried to do. If she had written a review of The Fault in our Stars and stated “That’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds” I don’t think it would have caused any controversy. I often say, “it’s a good book, I guess, but it’s not a genre I enjoy” OR “it was too easy a read” or whatever complaint I have. Many books I’ve read, or started reading, haven’t been for me. But very few of them have been down right BAD. 

I think it’s time to tear down the boundaries. Yes, marketing agencies are still going to target us by gender and age group, but we need to read what appeals to us, regardless of how it’s labelled, and we need to reach outside our comfort zone every now and then to see what else is out there. 

Give it a chance. You might like it. You might be surprised by what’s out there.