Apr. 9th, 2013

sharplittleteeth: (Default)
I have a YA novel in submission to a publisher, and I'm currently writing another one. And I've volunteered to be on some YA panels at Continuum.

So it's probably about time I got up to speed on actually reading YA.

I've read bits here and there - some Margot Lanagan, some Leanne Hall, a fair chunk of Scott Westerfeld. But I don't pretend to have a solid grasp of the field.

So I'm initiating Project READ ALL THE YA

Or as it should more accurately be titled: An Introduction to YA. YA is a vast field, and there's no way I can read everything. My goal is to get a grounding in the history of the genre, and what people are doing in it now. Then I can start slowly working my way through something like this of 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.

(Why yes - I am just linking to that article so I can find it again in the future.)

I've drawn up a list of ten book that I think I should read. They're a mix of classic and contemporary. They also lean more towards fantasy YA, since that's the area I'm interested in.

Reading lists can turn a pleasure into a chore. So I don't plan to read them in a set order. I'll read whatever one appeals to me next, and I'll probably break it up with other genres as well.

But here's my lists:

 CLASSIC:
  • Isobelle Carmody - Obernewtyn
  • Judy Blume - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
  • Robert Cormier - The Chocolate War
  • Ruth Park - Playing Beatie Bow
  • S. E. Hinton - The Outsiders

CONTEMPORARY:
  • Alison Croggon - Black Spring
  • John Green - The Fault in Our Stars
  • Patrick Ness - The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Stephen Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Vikki Wakefield - All I Ever Wanted

Anything you think I've missed?


sharplittleteeth: (Default)
I was wrong. I admit it. I should have had more faith.

Un Lun Dun is a young adult novel from China Miéville. It's the story of two young girls: blonde and popular Zanna, and her friend Deeba. After some strange encounters with respectful foxes and portentous graffiti and a bus conductor who calls Zanna Schwazzy, the two girls find a doorway that leads to a dreamlike version of London called Un Lun Dun.

This dream city is full of bizarre and marvellous creatures: feral piles of rubbish, ghost children, tailors with needles instead of hair. But Un Lun Dun is in danger. It is being threaten by an intelligent cloud of pollution called the Smog. A book of prophecy foretells that a chosen one, the Schwazzy, will come to save them. The denizens of Un Lun Dun turn to Zanna for help...

And that's the point where I posted something vitriolic to Twitter.

I hate stories about chosen ones. From Luke Skywalker to Neo to Buffy to Harry Potter, the whole "you-are-secretly-special-and-only-you-can-save-us" trope isn't merely lazy and boring, it's actively offensive. In the real world, chosen ones are more likely to be Gina Rinehart or George W. Bush than saviours. In the real world, saving the world is hard work.

So I ranted about this on Twitter.

And then a couple of chapters later Miéville twisted everything and made me look a right dolt.

Because of course Miéville subverts the chosen one trope. He's a socialist. He wrote a critique of Tolkien. He's hardly going trot out some lazy plot device that depends on genetic determinism.

Trope happily smashed, the book sets off on a rollercoaster adventure through Miéville's fecund imagination. Seriously. This book packs in so many ideas per page I'm amazed it hasn't undergone nuclear fission. It brims with surreal landscapes and weird monsters. And wordplay - dear God does Miéville love his wordplay.

The book is also illustrated by Miéville. This review in the Guardian praises the crispness of his line work, but politely suggests he's better at drawing inanimate objects than people. His drawings have a rough, slightly amateur quality to them that reminds me of the old 2nd edition D&D Monster Manual illustrations.

It's impossible not to compare this book with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Both feature heroic quests across fantasy versions of London. Both feature locations that play on place names (Night's Bridge, Webminster Abbey). Gaiman's London Below feels more coherent than Un Lun Dun, perhaps because it began life as a TV series and budgets limited how far Gaiman's imagination could roam. In a novel, Miéville is free to do as he wants. If he wants to include flying double-decker buses or rubbish bins that are secretly ninjas or an explorer with a bird-cage for a head, he can.

So Un Lun Dun feels less coherent then, as an exercise in world-building. It's a small criticism. Perhaps it's even deliberate: just as modern London is built from many different cultures, so Un Lun Dun is a melting pot of ideas.

It's a fun ride, not least because of the glee Miéville takes in subverting the genre.


FOOTNOTE: ARTICLES READ WHILE WRITING THIS REVIEW:
Guardian Interview by a 12 year old fan
Could They Beat Up China Miéville?
Macintosh Accent Codes



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