Although I really enjoy short stories, I don’t usually seek out anthologies of them. Sometimes I find them at libraries and grab them and sometimes IAlthough I really enjoy short stories, I don’t usually seek out anthologies of them. Sometimes I find them at libraries and grab them and sometimes I buy them because of a connection to friends of mine, but they’re not usually the first thing I reach for. This anthology, however, might be the one that makes me look at short story anthologies differently.
Years Best YA Speculative Fiction began with an excellent introduction to the landscape through 2013 and – just to make my wallet groan – also included references to a number of YA speculative novels published through the year. Then it was on to the short stories and I suddenly ‘got’ the idea of a Years Best – these were magnificent.
There’s too many stories to go through individually, but there were a number which have just stuck with me, that I’ve returned to in my head since I’ve read them, just hoping for a little more taste of the world’s they offered. By Bone-Light by Juliet Marillier was probably the most long lasting of all of them – it felt haunting, yet slightly frantic and I really felt that I was there with the protagonist. There would be so many things to examine and savour with a class of students. The Carpet by Nnedi Okorafor gave me chills – I really shouldn’t read stories like that before bed. I Gave You My Love by the Light of the Moon by Sarah Rees Brennan felt so very complete – it was such a strong world in such a short amount of time.
As an Ancient History graduate, I always love the way Tansy Rayner Roberts mixes the familiar stories and legends of the ancient world with different worlds – as she does here in The Minotaur Girls. An Echo in the Shell by Beth Cato, was achingly sad, while opening up so many opportunities for other stories, so many questions about others in that world. Random Play All and the League of Awesome by Shane Halbach is another reminder that I really like stories with superheroes, even if I get overwhelmed by the established superhero worlds. What We Ourselves Are Not by Leah Cypess raised so so many questions for me, that I felt like I was having a philosophical argument with myself while and after reading it.
Persimmon, Teeth and Boys by Steve Berman was happy and sad and another one which raised questions for me. Finally there was We Have Always Lived on Mars by Cecil Castellucci which actually made me gasp aloud at the ending – I had to go back and read it again to make sure I’d read what I thought I’d read.
This is truly a fabulous exploration of YA Speculative Fiction and a wonderful look at the landscape of 2013. We can see ideas being explored and questions being asked, but we also see a background of being a young adult which is terribly familiar. It’s a book which would be fabulous in a school setting – as a book to borrow from the library (I would have adored it as a teenager) or a book to explore in the classroom. It’s also a book which is incredibly accessible to an adult audience – proving that stories about teenagers are as important as stories about older people.
(Disclaimer – I am friends with one of the editors. However, I bought this book myself and all opinions are mine.)
This is such a hard book to talk about because it’s so beautiful and painful and raw that you just want to grab everyone and tell them to read it. NowThis is such a hard book to talk about because it’s so beautiful and painful and raw that you just want to grab everyone and tell them to read it. Now. Clare Atkins has created a book which completely draws you in until you feel like you’re there. You see the same beauty Rosie sees and you feel her disconnection and discomfort and sadness and horror.
There are a lot of threads to hold onto in the book – there’s discussion of communities, the NT Intervention, the Apology to the Stolen Generation, identity, family, the impact of FIFO workers, the importance of land and ceremony, the ignorance (and determination to stay ignorant) of many of the people Rosie comes across. There’s a lot of things which would be interesting to look at further, but which are just left there quietly by the author for the reader to pick up on (such as the role of alcohol for different people in the community and how privilege determines when drinking is ‘okay’) With a YA book with so many complex strands, it could be easy for a reader to be confused, but it just fits together so beautifully.
The flashbacks from 2007 to earlier years (as we explore Rosie and Nona’s earlier years together) are handled beautifully too. You see a different Rosie in them, as short as they are, and it helps to explain how she got to where she is in the ‘present day’
Although I could probably spend a bit of time fleshing out the book, my biggest recommendation is just to read it. I can see it appearing on awards lists later in the year and it will be hugely deserving of any honour it receives.
I first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looI first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looked beautiful, but at the time neither the original or its sequel were easily found in my local bookshops or department stores, so I filed it away in the ‘nice to read it if I ever find it’ part of my mind.
Thankfully, a month or so ago, I did find both the books at my local Target (of all places) and my son then pulled them out of one of my many ‘to read’ piles and insisted on them. So we cuddled together on the couch and were introduced to the lovely world of Ruby (and her Red Shoes)
There’s really no plot to this book. Instead it’s an extended introduction to Ruby and her world and the philosophy her grandmother is using to bring her up. Ruby is a white hare who lives in a beautiful caravan with her grandmother, who wants her to be an aware hare – to treat the feelings of others with great care. We learn about her garden and her Francophile chickens who prefer croissants and baguettes to breadcrumbs and cheat at passionfruit soccer.
This is an incredibly calming book. The illustrations are soft and pretty with lots of gentle curves and the text is full of comforting words and phrases like ‘warm and cosy’ and ‘places to drift off and snooze’. My particular favourite paragraph talks about the caravan Ruby and her grandmother share and how it’s full of things they love:
“There are generous teacups for hot drinks feathery quilts to snuggle up in jars of colourful buttons and posies of flowers in pots and jugs”
This reminded me of so many friends and the way they fill their homes with warmth and beauty. To share this with a child is like sharing an ideal of a warm and cosy home, while reminding them that things we cherish aren’t necessarily the big and expensive.
As soon as we finished reading it (well, around the time my son was insisting we read it again), I knew I wanted to share this little gem of a book with other people. With the friends who create little nests for their families, for my mother in law who would just fall absolutely in love with the chickens, with my mother who would fall in love with the art throughout and with other children who’d just like to step into such a beautiful world.
This would also be a wonderful book to use in the classroom when talking about settings and feelings of a story. I think there could also be a particularly interesting conversation about books and stories without plots and of course it would be brilliant for a quiet readaloud during a hectic day....more
Finch is fascinated by death and the different ways people kill themselves. Violet is just counting the days until she can escape Indiana and the suffFinch is fascinated by death and the different ways people kill themselves. Violet is just counting the days until she can escape Indiana and the suffocating grief of her sister’s death. When they find each other at the top of the school clock tower, they find a possible saviour (though they don’t really know who saves who), a project partner, a confidant and much more.
You’ve possibly seen the many many good reviews of this book, and when you read it, they’re easy to understand. This was a beautiful celebration of the small but wonderful things which surround us – and one of the saddest, loveliest books I’ve read. Finch and Violet felt incredibly real – although the reader might not share their same problems, their reactions, the way they handled the big events of their life, were incredibly relatable.
I really enjoyed the project of seeking Indiana ‘icons’. So many times we see books set in ‘big’ places – New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Paris – that it feels like there’s no story in the less notable parts of the world. Of course there is, though, since people live everywhere, and this is a good reminder to look for stories beyond the big places.
The only thing which I wondered about was why no one had ever discovered Finch’s secret about his home life – why no doctor or teacher ever raised an alert. It’s just possible, which the right amount of lies and charisma, but reporting laws are pretty strong here, so it felt surprising that no one had said anything.
This will probably be one of the YA books which gets talked about a lot this year. I noticed that they’re already talking movie deals, though, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Sometimes it’s nice to keep books for the readers for a little longer, to give them time to discover them – especially young readers who’ll find them in libraries and bookshops and borrowed from friends, rather than getting the latest review copy. A good book-to-movie adaptation will still be good a few years down the track – there’s no need to rush the whole thing.
Cadence spends her summers visiting her Grandfather’s private island, growing up with her cousins (and her aunt’s partner’s nephew) and watching the cCadence spends her summers visiting her Grandfather’s private island, growing up with her cousins (and her aunt’s partner’s nephew) and watching the complicated relationships between the adults in her life. But this summer there’s something different, something she can’t remember and can’t explain since the accident she had two summers ago.
This is a book that really takes you on a journey with the main character. As a reader, we are aware that we are following Cadence’s story – we’re invited to join her almost immediately. But while we’re there with her, we’re simultaneously being kept at arms length – we’re observers in her world with the writing style putting a deliberate space between the reader and the events we’re reading about. We only get the information a piece at a time, as Cadence remembers, as she clarifies it in her head.
A huge part of Cadence’s world is the stories in it. There’s stories about her wealthy and privileged family, stories from a book of fairy tales her father bought her, the story of her accident. The stories build on top of each other and are echoed inside each other – it has the potential to almost be confusing, but when the reveal comes, when the mystery is finally pieced together, the stories nest together beautifully and it is incredibly easy to follow.
While Cadence’s life is built around stories, we don’t necessarily get full back stories or intricate portraits of the other characters. Instead we get fragments, drawings and notes on them – pretty, but slightly odd pictures, like the photo Cadence finds of her Grandmother in an evening dress holding a piglet. While some reviewers disliked not having completely drawn characters, I felt it really added to the overall tone of the book.
As I was reading the book, I was really aware that it was a story about the ‘woes of privilege’ – Cadence and her family are upper class, wealthy and white and many of the things that they worry and complain about are things which would never appear in the worries of most people. However, there are layers to this, with nods towards the racism of Cadence’s grandfather (and the rest of the family) and sexism which has put Cadence’s mother and aunts in the position they’re in. With the reveal, it could have been easy to turn the story into a simplistic one of ‘tragedy affects the rich too’, but I felt there was enough acknowledgement of the privilege of the characters to go too far down that path.
I really enjoyed this book. I feel Young Adult novels often cover the thriller genre in a way which is interesting but also accessible to those who don’t read YA that often. This is definitely one of the standouts in a strong genre.
This is a really visually involved Graphic Novel. The artwork doesn’t immediately seem to be complex – the lines are usually clean and uninvolved. HowThis is a really visually involved Graphic Novel. The artwork doesn’t immediately seem to be complex – the lines are usually clean and uninvolved. However, there’s a lot to take in when you look more closely, and you would probably find more over subsequent readings. Particularly interesting are the shadows which repeatedly show up in Will’s life – I would guess that different readers would have different approaches to the art work.
I read some complaints that the book was too mature for younger readers. I would agree that it is aimed at a teenager audience, but I feel complaints that it’s ‘too old’ demonstrates a misunderstanding of graphic novels. A lot of people feel that they’re only for children or poor readers and fail to see or look for the strong graphic novels aimed at YA and Adult audiences.
Other reviews I read claimed that it would not be interesting enough for YA readers. It’s definitely not a ‘something happening every panel’ graphic novel, instead the story winds its way through the book like the river Will and her friends visit. I think there are plenty of ‘quiet’ YA novels which gain a loyal following from YA readers and I see no reason that quiet YA graphic novels can’t do the same.
I think there could be some really interesting conversations to be had about the inclusion of the carnival and the blackout – especially treating them as metaphors. Will begins the graphic novel using light powered by electricity to keep the darkness at bay. By the end of the novel, she’s required to think of alternative methods to create light. At the same time, she’s using her controlled life to keep the darkness of her past away and is required to use different approaches by the end. The carnival, with its variety of displays, yet strict adherence to social ‘rules’ is another interesting aspect of the story.
I think this book would be really interesting to study in coordination with Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree, which also uses interesting imagery to explore personal darkness.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet but effective graphic novel. I haven’t read as many graphic novels recently as I did when I was teaching and this was a wonderful reintroduction to the format.
You know those books where you read a bit and you think that it’s ok. Then you read a bit more and you think it’s pretty good. Then you read more andYou know those books where you read a bit and you think that it’s ok. Then you read a bit more and you think it’s pretty good. Then you read more and suddenly you can’t get it out of your mind? Well, that was Holier Than Thou. It’s a ‘slice of life’ novel about Holly, a woman in her early 20s, with a great boyfriend, great living conditions and a job which she does well, even when it’s difficult. Despite how good thing are, she finds herself drawn back to her past, in memories of her father’s death and the people who surrounded her at the time.
I really liked Holly, even though at first I wasn’t sure I did. She’s like one of those people you’re not sure about when you first meet them, but before you know it they’re one of your closest friends. She’s feeling a real disconnect with old friends, most of whom are doing big things in the corporate world, while Holly struggles with the demands of being a social worker. It’s also very clear that she hasn’t dealt fully with the death of her father, and that at some point she’s going to let everything fall down around her.
The story really unfolds for you, slowly letting you into more and more of Holly’s life and deepest emotions. You find yourself really in her corner, cheering her on when good things happen and begging her to make the ‘right’ choices. The writing is lush and descriptive, enveloping you in Holly’s world – both past and present. I really, really enjoyed this one, and I look forward to finding Laura Buzo’s first book, Good Oil to read as well.