The Cultural Gutter

taking trash seriously

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

The Kids Are All Right

Chris Szego
Posted August 4, 2011

Despite my whinging last month, I do in fact both read and love a lot of young adult Romance.  I  may not be fond of the ‘Supernatural Boyfriend of the Week’ subgenre (and no, Stephanie Meyer did not invent it; it’s been out there for decades), but that still leaves me with a large field full of great books.  This is a great time for YA books in general, so it makes sense that there’ll be some top notch Romances among them.

What sets the best stories apart is the same in YA as in adult Romances:  an orignal voice, good plotting, thorough characterization.  What makes YA Romances so particularly appealing, besides nostalgia, is their scope.  YA protagonists are by nature deep in the process of figuring things out.  They have family, friends, and a beginning to get a taste of the freedoms and fetters of adult life.  They are stories about people coming into their own, and finding love is often a part of that.  And, of course, they should all pass the Bechdel test.

Here is a small sample of the good stuff.

Ann Brashares

I came at Ann’s tremendous book The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants from the other side, by which I mean I saw the movie first.  Enjoyed it quite a bit, too.  Enough that I sought out the book… which truly astonished me.  The movie was good;  the series is extraordinary.   Each book is not one story, but four, and the main characters grow and change in deeply personal and believable ways.  Far more than the sum of its parts, the ‘Sisterhood’ series is beautifully chronicled record of friendship and love.

Meg Cabot

Meg shot to fame with The Princess Diaries, the charming and comic adventures of Mia, a young American girl who has to deal with her newfound status as heir to a European throne (be warned:  in the books, her grandmother is nothing like Julie Andrews).  While not every book in the set is as strong as the first few, all share the same funny, confessional style, and through the course of the series readers watch Mia grow from an insecure teen into a young woman who is, in her own words, self-actualized.  I also loved Avalon High, Cabot’s modern high-school take on the Arthurian mythos.  Which, considering that I stopped reading all things Arthur decades ago*, is praise indeed.

Kristen Cashore

Cashore’s first novel, Graceling, is a Fantasy (and an excellent one), but amidst the original world-building, there is a central Romance that changes the course of the main character’s life.  Katsa is the King’s niece, and his dark right hand.  But when she meets the nomadic Prince Po, her determination to be more than just a thug and killer coalesces into action.  Cashore’s voice is deceptively simply; the story is tight and action-packed, and the book itself is truly wonderful.  Cashore’s second book, Fire, proves her to be a writer to treasure.

Shannon Hale

When a prophecy reveals that the Prince will marry a girl from her tiny mountain village, Miri and all the other girls of age are removed from their homes in order to learn the deportment, etiquette, and court savvy they might need.  In any other hands, Princess Academy could have been a makeover diaster:  in Hale’s, it’s utterly gorgeous (and was a Newberry Honor title).  Her prose is lush;  her plot is sound; her characters are real people.  And hey, any story about a girl who saves her village through the power of economics is one I want to read.

Sarah Dessen

I’m pulling Dessen out of order here because, well, she wrote The Truth About Forever, which is currently my favourite YA Romance.  I’ve read it at least ten times, and it never loses its power or beauty.  Macy’s father died suddenly, right in front of her.  More than a year later, she is finally beginning to emerge from her grief.  As she beings to reach out to the world again, she meets Wes, a young man who has weathered difficulties of his own, and who knows something about the nature of forever.  I’m not doing justice to Dessen’s tender voice, her amazing characters, or the sheer power of the story.  Also, she writes real families.  They’re not perfect; they’re real.  They try, and fail, and love each other, even when they can’t understand or deal well with one another.  If you have to read one book on this list, this is the one.

Other Recommendations:

Megan Whalen Turner’s fabulous Queen of Attolia (though you have to read The Thief  first);  Eva Ibbotson, for her sweetness and clarity.  Nancy Werlin, though not many of hers are strictly Romances.  Scott Westerfeld, who writes amazing adventures.  Sharon ShinnE. Lockhart; John Greene; Maureen Johnson; Jaclyn Moriarty… the list goes on and on.

If you’ve got recommendations, I’d love to hear them.  Really.  I’m always looking for my next favourite book.

*I run an SFF bookstore:  I had to stop reading The Matter of Britain for the sake of my sanity.  Not because I don’t like it, but because I do.

~~~

Chris Szego kinda liked the Princess Diaries movie.  The first one, anyway.

Comments

4 Responses to “The Kids Are All Right”

  1. NefariousDro
    August 7th, 2011 @ 11:28 pm

    I always enjoy your suggestions, it’s impressive how much I learn from your reviews. Ever since I first picked up “The Giver” I’ve come to realize that many people sell YA fiction short.

  2. Chris Szego
    August 8th, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

    Selling YA short is such a mistake. We’ve heard people say ‘Oh, but they’re not real books’. Um, pardon?

    One of Harry Potter’s many legacies is a market smashed wide open to all sorts of great stuff. This is more than a Golden Age for YA: it’s a Super-ultra-platinum-blindingly-bling age.

  3. Carol Borden
    August 10th, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    I agree with you that it’s more than an Golden Age for YA. It’s true even among comics. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a toss-up whether the best comics of the last decade were YA or crime comics. And, of course, Jill Thompson combines them beautifully with, The Dead Boy Detectives.

  4. Anne Smith
    August 18th, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    Thanks Chris. My Library reserve list is now several books longer! Some of the best books I have read are YA. The Megan Whelan Turner books are keepers forever.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    The Projection Booth tells you of days of high adventure in an epic seven hour podcast on Conan The Barbarian (1982).

    ~

    Actor, director, writer and artist Leonard Nimoy has died. Nimoy was most famous for playing Spock in Star Trek, but he also appeared in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), In Search Of…, Ancient Mysteries, Columbo, Fringe, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Faerie Tale Theatre, Mission: Impossible, Dragnet and Bonanza.  Nimoy directed Three Men And A Baby (1987), two Star Trek films and an episode of Night Gallery (“Death on a Barge”) among others. The New York Times and The Guardian have obituaries. Here are some tweets from William Shatner’s online memorial for Nimoy. George Takei remembers Nimoy. Zachary Quinto remembers Nimoy. EW also has other remembrances, including one from President Obama. Code Switch’s Steve Haruch discusses Spock’s importance as a biracial character. Nimoy talks about his work at the Archive of American Television. You can see some of Nimoy’s photography here. And a reminder that Nimoy had an Etsy shop.

    ~

    At Graveyard Shift Sisters, Ashlee Blackwell considers Jonathan Demme’s Beloved as a horror film as part of their Black History & Women In Horror Month series. “Beloved takes us on one journey of the Black American experience of slavery through the body of a Black female protagonist.”

    ~

    Watch Nigerian writer and director Nosa Igbinedion’s Oya: The Coming Of The Orishas here.

    ~

    At Bitch Media, Sara Century wonders why Michonne isn’t in charge and considers which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: comics or tv. “As I was thinking about the numerous questionable writing choices made with these could-be-so-great female characters, I got to wondering, which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: the TV show or the comic? In other words, which one is less sexist?

    I wrote up a short list of the main female characters that appear both on the show and in the comic to decipher the differences in how these women are written. These descriptions contain spoilers through season five of the TV show, because it’s impossible to write about The Walking Dead without talking about how people die all the time.”

    ~

    Vixen Varsity shares Olufemi Lee-Johnson’s tribute to Milestone Media and Dwayne McDuffie. “For the first time in my life, I was around comic writers of color telling stories that mirror or surpassed the storylines of America’s favorite heroes. Icon dealt with being the ultimate immigrant and not understanding current black culture. Rocket (Raquel Irvin) was his guide, but also aspired to be more than just a woman in the projects. Static (Virgil Hawkins) was just a normal teenager dealing with fitting into school and then was put into this extraordinary circumstance of being a hero. Hardware (Curtis Metcalf) wanted respect from his mentor, but later learned about the bigger picture when it came to being a hero and the characters from Blood Syndicate…they were just trying to make it day by day and maintain their respect as a gang.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: