Sometimes YA Books should be read by teenagers and not adults

Life Inside My Mind is a young adult book, with essays written by 31 authors who either have a mental illness of some sort or are related and have had to deal with someone else’s mental illness in a very close way (eg taking care of a family member with Alzheimers, adopting a grandchild with PTSD). The stories are, in some cases, incredibly personal, narrating a specific occasion where their illness has changed their life.

I found the book to be generally fine. You can tell that most of these authors have practiced their stories with their therapists and even the most personal have a distance to them, a reassurance that everything is going to be ok.

My teenaged daughter, however, ate this book up, reading it in maybe less than 24 hours. That suggests that my ambivalence may be because I am not the intended audience for Life Inside My Mind. So: if you need to buy a book for a teenager, this could be a good one. For an adult, maybe not so much.

Sarah Dessen and found family

Sarah Dessen books are often about the family we find for ourselves outside of our immediate family. The Rest of the Story is no different – Emma Saylor, known as Emma in town, ends up spending the summer with her disgraced mother’s family one summer. There, they know her as Saylor, and she hasn’t been there since she was four years old.

Emma, of course, grows as a person and also, of course, finds a boy. But the romance storyline isn’t as strong as it’s been in her previous books. This one really is more about Saylor’s development into a person whose life is defined by more than just her mother’s screw-ups. Ironic, then, that visiting her mother’s family is what finally allows her to develop beyond being defined by “try as hard as you can to not turn into your mother.”

The Rest of the Story isn’t as strong as some of Dessen’s previous books but it was still enjoyable and I’m glad I read it.

Charm and snacks

I have been looking forward to Somewhere Only We Know since I first learned about it last fall. Why? Because Maurene Goo writes delightful teen romances that I quite enjoy. But also because this is an updated take on Roman Holiday, one of my favorite movies.

In Roman Holiday, a princess whose life is too structured, escapes the palace after taking a sleeping pill, only to be found mostly asleep on the street by a journalist. He thinks he’s stumbled onto the story of the year, only as they spend the day together they start to fall in love. He decides that he can’t publish the story, and she returns to her life at the palace. They go their separate ways.

Somewhere Only We Know is basically the same story, but in Hong Kong instead of Rome, and with the top female K-Pop star instead of a royal princess. And instead of a journalist, it’s a paparazzo who would much rather be studying photography, but he hasn’t figured that out yet.

Both Roman Holiday and Somewhere Only We Know are full of charm and delight and love for their locations. Somewhere Only We Know is definitely also in love with food. You are likely going to be hungry whilst eating it. Have snacks handy.

If you like a teen romance with a travel flavor? This is your book.

Read The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star is easily one of my top books of the year. Like the other Nicola Yoon I recently read, it’s a YA romance. This is her second book and the writing style is slightly less linear and definitely choppier – the two main characters, along with others, share the storytelling responsibilities – and it works well.

Natasha is the child of illegal immigrants from Bermuda, and is probably going to be deported at the end of the day, unless a miracle occurs. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on his way to a college interview at Yale (second best university, after Harvard, according to his parents). They meet and their story is almost entirely contained in that day, with the exception of the epilogue.

It strongly reminds me of Before Sunrise, never a bad thing. Their romance is electric, delightful, and potentially doomed.

I am definitely recommending this book to almost everyone.

A series about magicians

I actually picked up The Paper Magician in this series because I had an idea for my current writing project of… a magician whose medium is paper.* And I was curious about how she implemented it, what the paper could do, how the magician would work. When it turned out to be a decent adventure story, I borrowed the second and third ones from the library.

Alas, the second one (The Glass Magician) was not enough to keep me going to the third (The Master Magician). That said, if you’re looking for a quick read about magicians and intrigue in Victorian London, you could certainly do worse.

If you can’t tell if I’ve just recommended these books or not, don’t worry. Neither can I.

*I was originally inspired by this Economist article about the mathematics of origami, which is absolutely up my alley.

A delight of a YA romance novel

Everything Everything is a very sweet YA romance that I quite liked. There’s a girl, Maddie, who is allergic to everything and can’t leave the house. Ever. She is shockingly well adjusted and ok with this – she knows it keeps her safe and alive. But then a Boy moves in next door and everything changes. They communicate via text and email and then he comes over and she decides she needs more.

It’s a delightful, specific story about two people falling in love for the first time, and if you like romance novels, it’s a good one.

Monsters and humans and how you define one or the other

This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet is a middle grade duology, known as Monsters of Verity. My daughter and I affectionately refer to them as the August Needs a Hug books.

This is a universe where monsters are created when people commit horrific acts. August is one of those monsters, created from a school shooting. Kate is human, the daughter of a mobster who keeps people safe from the monsters by controlling them much like he controlled (controls? it’s not quite clear how in the past it is) his crime empire. Kate is on her way to becoming a different, very human kind of monster, while August just wants to be human.

These books are a very sweet story about two people who become friends and grow up under what can only be called very trying circumstances. Recommended if you’re at all into YA or that particular branch of science fiction.

Revisiting my childhood, in a way

The Wizard of Oz is a cultural touchstone – the movie, not the book. There’s a young girl, a quest, a triumph of good over evil. Who on earth, you might think, would ever read a version of that story turned into a dystopia where Dorothy and Glinda have both become evil and are ruling the land for their own particular gain?

The answer to that is me, the person who owns all 14 of the original Oz books by L Frank Baum (yes, there was a series, and The Wizard of Oz is the weakest of them all if you ask me) from her childhood, spines cracked and often re-read. I am here for your alternative universe Oz.

In these books, there’s a new girl from Kansas, Amy Gumm (a direct reference on the fact that Judy Garland’s original surname was Gumm) who gets brought to Oz by another tornado. Dorothy, as previously mentioned, is both evil and in charge. Amy is rescued, introduced to the current evils in Oz, and then is taken under the wing of The Wicked, a magical resistance movement. Adventures ensue, teenagers fall in love, friends and enemies are both made.

I enjoyed the series and would recommend it to other people like me, who enjoyed the original Oz books way more than the movie.

#actuallyOCD

Someone I love was recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, aka OCD. This is a specific kind of anxiety disorder, less about being neat and tidy, and more about not-so-fun things like sometimes disturbing thoughts randomly popping into your head and being convinced something bad is going to happen if you don’t do x. Whatever x happens to be, and it’s specific to the person.

John Green has OCD. (This is a lovely podcast where he talks about it.) Turtles All the Way Down is about a teenaged girl with OCD. So I read this book not from an enjoyment standpoint, but from a help-me-learn-what-it-feels-like-to-have-this standpoint.

For me it did a good job, especially showing Aza’s deterioration because of her refusal to regularly take her medication. (Seriously: TAKE YOUR MEDS, KID. Love, a mom) It’s all handled with a deft and loving touch and explains so, so much.

Turtles All the Way Down helped me, the story was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what living with OCD is actually like.

You should care about things

The Way You Make Me Feel is a fairly typical young adult book. Clara is a screw-up of a teenager who wins prom queen as a joke (that she is in on). When she wins, she engineers a Carrie-esque prank; disaster ensues, she has to work on her father’s food truck for the summer with her self-declared mortal enemy, Rose. Rose turns out to not be so bad, she meets a boy, happy endings ensue.

But here’s what I like about it: it makes a fairly coherent case for why earnest caring about things is better than cool-kid detachment. Yes trying can lead to failure, but failing breeds grit and resilience. And when you succeed, that can be pretty awesome. Caring about things makes you happier than not caring about things.

So, yes, your typical young adult book with a good message. It was a good, light summer read.