I’ve got an eclectic collection of reviews for you today: one that’s probably considered a modern classic, one YA novel in verse, a YA contemporary about a Mormon fundamentalist group, and a nonfiction writing book. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on March 14, 2006
Genres: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Narrator: Jenna Lamia, Laura Flanagan
My content rating: YA/MG (Themes of death, holocaust)
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.
I debated writing an “official” review of this book, since I mostly already said everything I had to say in a random Sunday Post, but I decided to go ahead and add it here.
This book is magnificently and masterfully written. The unique POV (death) makes it stand out from the crowd, and it gives the whole story an otherworldly perspective. We see human triumphs and failures through neutral eyes, and that somehow brings them into clearer focus. The language is beautiful as well.
The only thing that held me back from giving this book one of my highest ratings is the fact that it took me a very long time to connect to the characters and really care about them. For a book about Nazi Germany, there wasn’t a lot happening at the beginning of the book, and I found myself putting the book down often, even though I wanted to want to keep reading. I fully appreciated the writing, but I didn’t feel it as much as I was hoping to.
All that changed in the last quarter or so of the book. I think I would have had to be made of steel to get through that ending without feeling for these characters, and I realized that Zusak had been carefully and surreptitiously making me fall in love with them without me realizing it. By the end, I was one hundred million percent invested. And in tears. I just wish I’d felt that way a bit earlier. Still, a breathtaking read that I highly recommend to everyone. You won’t find this sort of writing just anywhere.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Series: Crank #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on October 1st, 2004
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Verse
Narrator: Laura Flanagan
Length: 4 hrs and 31 mins
My content rating: YA (Themes of drug use, sex, rape)
Kristina Georgia Snow is the perfect daughter: gifted high-school junior, quiet, never any trouble. But on a trip to visit her absentee father, she meets a boy who introduces her to crank. At first she finds it freeing, but soon Kristina's personality disappears inside the drug. What began as a wild, ecstatic ride turns into a struggle through hell for her mind, her soul, and her life.
I ended up listening to most of Crank instead of reading it, and I actually don’t recommend that, at least not for a first reading. Spoken word poetry can be beautiful, but I think this book definitely lacked something when you couldn’t see the way it was laid out on the page. After I’d listened to the full book, I went back and reread passages in the paperback I had out from the library — and I think the experience was much better. (Plus, the audiobook had a few parts where things were very obviously spliced together and the transitions were jarring.)
BUT, having said all of that, I ended up loving this book, and I think it was a fantastic representation of the meth crisis and how it’s infiltrating our society—including teens. The verse format works really well for the topic because the experience of drug use is so visceral. Verse helped capture the frenzied highs and the painful lows beautifully.
Sometimes the content of this book can be hard to handle, but it’s very real — I found myself cringing at times, but in the end, I was drawn into the narrative. I could understand Kristina’s hunger and how “the monster” overtook her common sense time and time again. I hated her decisions and what they cost her, but that was sort of the point.
If you’re interested in YA fiction in verse, this one is often held up as a prime example of the form. If you can handle the heavy themes, I highly recommend you check it out!
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Published by Macmillan Audio on May 8, 2009
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Jenna Lamia
Length: 5 hrs and 33 mins
My content rating: YA (Themes of abuse, violence)
Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated polygamous community without questioning her father's multiple wives and her twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. Or at least without questioning them much--if you don't count her secret visits to the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her occasional meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of marrying a man who is chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle, and her parents are powerless against him, Kyra must confront the increasingly violent lengths to which the Prophet and his followers are prepared to go to enforce his will over the entire community.
This book was mentioned several times in Writing Irresistible KidLit, so I thought I’d check to see if my library had the audiobook. I can definitely see why it was used as an example for continuously rising stakes. Right from the start, Kyra is put in the horrible position of being told she has to marry her sixty-year-old uncle. This seems hard to top, but the situation just gets worse and worse and worse as the book progresses. This is a gripping tale, where you’re never quite sure how everything will end. Will Kyra escape the fate of marrying her uncle? And if she does, will those around her pay the price? How high will that price be?
I was invested in Kyra’s story the whole way through and horrified at the things she went through. If you’re looking for a page-turner, check this book out!
Writing Irresistible KidLit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole
Published by Writers Digest Books on December 4, 2012
Source: Library, Purchased
Writing for young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) audiences isn't just "kid's stuff" anymore--it's kidlit! The YA and MG book markets are healthier and more robust than ever, and that means the competition is fiercer, too. In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, literary agent Mary Kole shares her expertise on writing novels for young adult and middle grade readers and teaches you how to:
Recognize the differences between middle grade and young adult audiences and how it impacts your writing. Tailor your manuscript's tone, length, and content to your readership. Avoid common mistakes and cliches that are prevalent in YA and MG fiction, in respect to characters, story ideas, plot structure and more. Develop themes and ideas in your novel that will strike emotional chords.Mary Kole's candid commentary and insightful observations, as well as a collection of book excerpts and personal insights from bestselling authors and editors who specialize in the children's book market, are invaluable tools for your kidlit career.
If you want the skills, techniques, and know-how you need to craft memorable stories for teens and tweens, Writing Irresistible Kidlit can give them to you.
This book was incredibly helpful for me. I especially loved the section that talked about your hook—I’ve heard a lot about how to create a hook for your queries, but this was the first time I’ve read something that defined it in a way that was truly helpful for me.
The book focuses both on kidlit writing and querying (since Mary Kole was an agent at the time she wrote the book and had been for many years, she has a helpful perspective on that side of things). As far as the writing advice went, there was nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, but I thought that Kole did a fantastic job of explaining everything in ways that made sense and she gave lots of great examples.
Kole has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. Since I had this book out from the library, I didn’t take the time to do the exercises on paper, but I did do some of them in my head. I thought that this book was helpful enough that I decided to buy my own copy, and I plan to go through the exercises once it gets here!