Buy When We Were Good
Special $11.73 (Regular price: $14.95)
Publisher: Sumach Press
Reviewer: Melissa on July 16, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s the beginning of the year 2000, but while the world didn’t end as predicted and the computers figured out how to move from December 31st to January 1st, things aren’t going so well in Katherine’s personal life. Her “best” friend ditched her for another boyfriend, and her beloved grandmother died suddenly on New Year’s Eve, making Katherine feel like she’ll never be able to fill the void of goodness in her life again. While deep in the mire of grief and self-doubt, she finds new love in unexpected places: in Toronto’s underground music scene and maybe for a straight-edge, loud mouth misfit named Marie. In When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, Katherine seeks comfort in loud guitar rifts, poets who can seemingly read her mind, and real conversations as she struggles to understand not only what she and Marie might mean to each other, but also what it truly means to be good.
In When We Were Good, readers can expect a believable and sensitive portrait of Katherine, a high school senior who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, with feelings of self-hatred and the confusing attraction toward someone of the same gender. This debut novel is edgy with realness that teen readers who are struggling with their sexuality, with depression, or with a low sense of self worth will appreciate. This isn’t a book that glosses over the hard, dark bits in the main character’s life or that ties everything up in a pretty bow at the end, but it does offer hope and a suggestion that things might get better for Katherine. Moreover, unlike some reviews that I read on Goodreads, I don’t think that Katherine’s love interest comes on far too strong to her or pushes Katherine into something that makes her uncomfortable. Marie’s relationship with Katherine – whether as a friend or more – is in direct contrast to how Ivan treated her when she felt uncomfortable with the direction of his advances.
Beyond this realistic portrait, Sutherland turns the city of Toronto, a $50 bill with William Lyon MacKenzie King’s face, and the underground punk /alternative music scene into characters in their own right. Many YA books that are set in Toronto, in particular, or Canada, in general, give only one or two brief references to the setting, especially when they’re published with an American company. So perhaps it’s because this novel was released by a small, Canadian publishing house that allowed the author and editor to see eye-to-eye on the importance of explicitly referring to some of Toronto’s iconic structures, like the Bloor Viaduct and the Luminous Veil, literature, like Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin of the Lion, subway and geography, and the music scene that helped Katherine feel less alone. I’ve been living in Toronto for less than a year and am still in the dark about a lot of city’s history and geography, but reading When We Were Good not only illuminated it to some degree for me, but also made me want to learn more – whether through a simple internet search, a quick look on Google maps, or a physical journey in real life – about the city I now call home.
In addition, Katherine’s love of literature is an avenue worth exploring further. While there are several books mentioned in passing that the main character reads, Tracy-Anne Sugar’s Runaway Feeling makes her feel safe and not so alone in the world or freakish, as if the author had read Katherine’s mind. Maybe When We Were Good will do that for some of its readers, too. In addition, In the Skin of a Lion points to some of the novels thematic points, including the various histories that have been written on Toronto, but are now only faintly visible – like real life palimpsests – and the potential extremes of undiagnosed and untreated depression. For example, immigrants put themselves in harms way to construct the Bloor Viaduct, but this truth was forgotten before Ondaatje’s novel came out. Similarly, Sutherland’s story is set in another significant time in the Bloor Viaduct’s history, precisely two years after a suicide barrier, called “The Luminous Veil” was approved by the city. Katherine, however, realizes that if someone wants to die there, the barrier will increase their negative self-talk when they realize they’ve failed to do what they came there for, and thus, could increase the person’s resolve to die. Katherine’s story – like that of Ondaatje’s immigrant and working class characters – gives a voice to those suffering from mental illness and suicide ideation, ensuring that their history and the political significance of the barrier in both 2000 and present won’t be forgotten.
From its depiction of a positive, burgeoning LGBT relationship and the representation of teen depression to its larger historical and literary significance, When We Were Good is a great read that LGBT teens, adult readers of YA, and those interested in reading about mental illness or the city of Toronto shouldn’t miss.
Buy When We Were Good today and get 21% off the regular price!
Buy The 5th Wave
Special $15.95 (Regular price: $18.99)
Reviewer: Melissa on July 9, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
With the 1st wave, the world was shrouded in darkness. During the 2nd, the lucky escape a horrible death, and with the 3rd, the unlucky survive in a desolate world filled only with their dark memories of loss. After the 4th wave, the survivors learn one thing: trust no one. In Rick Yancey’s critically acclaimed The 5th Wave, Cassie runs from Them on a lonely stretch of highway during the dawn of the titular wave of an alien invasion. She runs from beings who look human, but who have made it their mission to kill anyone they see. Cassie believes that staying alone is the only way to ensure her own life until she meets Evan Walker. Charming and mystifying, Evan may be the key to tracking down her brother, Sam – and ultimately, keeping herself alive. But trusting, defying, and getting up one more day might be the hardest things that Cassie has ever done when the world has gone so horribly wrong.
Within the first few pages of The 5th Wave, I fell in love with Cassie’s voice. When she wrote in her journal, “In case you’re an alien and you’re reading this: BITE ME[,]” I thought, “Yes!” along with things like, who is this girl and how did Yancey create a female character who could hook me into the story so quickly with a simple turn of phrase? So even though the first section, which moves back and forth between Cassie’s lonely present experience on a deserted highway and her experience during the previous waves of the alien invasion, was a little slow, I pushed through, and I’m so glad that I did. This novel is more than just a good science fiction story for young adults, and it’s certainly more than just an action-packed page-turner featuring aliens. Rather, it’s a prime example of how YA fiction of any sub-genre can incorporate great storytelling with writing that’s on par with the best literary fiction. Yancey understands the ways in which 20th century culture imagined alien invasions, flipped these theories on their head, and reached out to incorporate additional pop culture elements, such as books, movies, and comic books, and tropes of poetic writing to give readers a meta fictional, post modern experience of an alien apocalypse. And best of all, you won’t be able to put it down.
Written from the perspective of four individuals, this novel focuses primarily on the dark experiences of Cassie and Private Zombie, a teen who somehow makes it inside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which just so happens to be Cassie’s dad thought they ought to go. Yes, this is only one of the many places, people, and imagery that Yancey employs pop up in the narration of other characters. And they aren’t coincidences because the characters are living through the same apocalypse; Yancey clearly orchestrated these repeated aspects of his narrative either through very careful planning in the outline stage or during the revision process. Moreover, these repetitions demonstrate the interconnections between the characters, show that they aren’t alone in their suffering, and speak to the insidious nature of the alien species that he creates, which is in direct contrast to what Cassie calls “the aliens inside our own heads,” the ones that would lead human beings to set aside their differences to defeat them. For starters, after the fourth wave, it would be a miracle if any human beings were able to trust one another again.
Beyond the characters, voice, and allusions to literature and pop culture, I personally loved how the author creates his dark vision of an alien invading species. It’s clear from the prologue, entitled, “Intrusion: 1995” that the alien plot started way earlier than either Cassie or Private Zombie could’ve imagined. Moreover, while I haven’t spoken to the author or read anything about why he wrote the book the way he did, the events he depicts in the novel clearly draw on historical depictions of human wars and the excuses for why they were started in the first place. He makes readers ask important questions about the nature of war, the justifications for it, and who and how human beings should be responsible for fighting these wars against Others, whether they’re of human or alien origin. The way that Yancey deals with these moral and ethical questions are a big part of the reason that I believe both teen and adult readers of YA will gravitate toward this story in droves.
The 5th Wave is here. The only question is, when will you be reading it?
Buy The 5th Wave today and save 16% off the regular price!
Today, Katie Williams, the author of Absent, is stopping by YABookShelf.com to discuss some of the conventions of ghost stories. If you love ghost stories as much as I do, then you need to not only read this book, but also her discussion on how she used the conventions in the novel. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Thanks to YA Book Shelf for inviting the Absent blog tour to rest its feet here today! My novel Absent is about a group of teenagers consigned to an afterlife in the high school they attended while alive. At my last tour stop, I wrote about the conventions of a ghost story and how I played with those “rules” when writing my novel, a ghost-story-in-reverse. Turns out I had a lot to say on this subject, and so I decided to divide this post into two parts. I’ll recap my previous post here, but you can also read it in its entirety at Bananas for Books.
People have been telling stories about ghosts and hauntings for a long time, which means that a reader now comes to a ghost story with a set of expectations about how that story will work based on the many other ghost stories she’s read before. A writer can play with these expectations to a point, but part of the fun of reading within a convention is recognizing its hallmarks, so you don’t want to abandon every expectation. Last time, I discussed the following ghost-story conventions: a ghost is bound to the location of its death; only some people become ghosts, while others “move on” (I was unforgivably coy here); and at least one character in the story will be able to see the ghost. There are still plenty of conventions to examine, so let’s get started.
Touchy Feely Ghosts
Can a ghost touch things? Here is a convention where the writer is yanked between two tenets of good storytelling: believability and plot. Believability says that if ghosts exist in our world, then they obviously can’t touch things; otherwise, our cars would be driven away and all our furniture rearranged. But if the ghosts in my story can’t touch anything, then they can’t do anything, and that’s a problem. To tell a character-driven story, my characters have to act based on their desires and fears; this is what creates the story’s plot. So what’s a writer to do?
Many stories steer a middle course, allowing the ghost to touch things only in certain circumstances, like the poltergeist who can rearrange your furniture only when riled up or how Ghost‘s Patrick Swayze could tip over the soda can only when he focused really hard.
In Absent, I decided that the special circumstance where my ghost could touch the physical world would be on the spot of its death. My main character, Paige, can stand on the edge of the school roof, where she cracked her skull, and get wet from the rain there, but as soon as she steps away from this spot, she’s dry again; she’s no longer part of the physical world. This made emotional sense to me because the whole idea of a ghost is that it’s someone stuck at the place of her death. How do you get over your own death? That’s the ghost’s question.
Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law
The other trick writers use to give their ghosts impact on the physical world is by having them possess the living. In fact, possession has become such a common facet of the ghost story that I’d argue it’s now a convention itself, but perhaps I say that because I used a lot of possession in Absent. Paige learns that she can possess (she calls it “inhabit”) the living. She has motivation to do this—kids are saying that she jumped, not fell, from the roof, and she wants to quash this rumor. Absent is also about our perception of others’ identities and their perception of ours, and possession explores this idea, too. By possessing her classmates, Paige gets to play around with identity and perception, concepts she was struggling with even before her death.
As a writer, you want to be careful not to make your characters too powerful because giving them obstacles and limitations creates conflict and tension. If your character is omnipotent, then she’ll go ahead and do what she wants, and the story is over. What’s more, limitations and setbacks are true to life; one of the reasons we read stories is to learn how to deal with difficulty. So I knew that Paige couldn’t possess anyone whenever she wanted; I had to limit her power. I decided that Paige could only possess someone when that person was thinking about her. The logic here is that by thinking about her, the person is inviting her in. The emotion here is that Paige is very much concerned with how she’ll be remembered, and this rule literalizes that concern. On a very practical level, Paige needs people to remember her in order for her to meet her goal of controlling how they will remember her, but this same concern is what keeps her from growing up and moving on.
I had a lot of fun (and, sure, headaches) playing with the rules of a ghost story. My goals were to work within the convention while offering something unique and to make my characters’ ghost world resonate with real-world emotions and experiences. You can read Absent to see how I did. I’d also love to see you on my Facebook page or at the next blog stop, where I’ll be interviewed by Kat Loves Books. (Don’t we all, Kat. Don’t we all.)
YA Gothic Lit
In Absent, the characters may have been permanently marked absent from class, but their memories live on their fellow classmates’ minds and in the readers’ hearts. Pick it up today and get swept up in Williams’ clever interpretation of what happens after we die.
Free YA Giveaways
Between Thursday, June 27 at 11:59 pm to Tuesday, July 2 at 12:00 am, US and Canadian residents have the opportunity to win a signed copy of Katie Williams’ second novel, Absent.
Paranormal Teen Fiction
Over the course of the novel, Weather Witch, Delany explores the themes of slavery, torture, and examines what forces are necessary to ensure that these systems are held in place to keep society running according to the status quo. At the same, she examines what might keep someone fighting to prove their innocence or to maintain their freedom and that of others, demonstrating that this novel is far more complicated and cerebral than one might initially assume a paranormal romance might be.
Dystopian YA Fiction
Whether you’ve read the rest of the series already or haven’t even started Matched, pick up Reached because trust me – you’ll want to read this book. Probably in quick succession after Matched and Crossed.
Dystopian YA Fiction
Whether you liked Matched or you weren’t completely satisfied with it, pick up Crossed because as Cassia breaks out of the status quo bubble that she’s always lived in, you’re going to be left reeling.
Dystopian YA Fiction
Ally Condie, however, clearly has a grasp of what the classic Dystopian genre is about and with Matched, she’s transformed it into a book that is sure to appeal to teens and maybe get them anxious to read books that are classics in the genre, like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. And of course, after reading Matched, Dystopian YA readers of all ages won’t be able to stop themselves from consuming the entire series in one go.
Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books For Young Adults
Buy Rush Special Price: $14.15 (Regular price: $17.99) Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books Format: Hardcover Reviewer: Melissa on June 13, 2013 Rating: 4 out of 5 stars When Miki Jones is pulled out of the life she’s always known, pulled through space and time into some kind of game, the life that she’s carefully controlled spins [...]