Posts Tagged ‘Veronica Roth’

faultJohn Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin) continues to blaze in the literary sky, appearing on many best of the year lists. All credit to Time magazine for lauding the smart, funny and moving story of teens with cancer as its No. 1 fiction book of the year, even though other publications put it in the YA — young adult — category.

First published in January, the fourth solo novel from Green — who grew up in Orlando — was a pre-pub bestseller and garnered praise from the get-go with numerous starred reviews. It’s been optioned for a movie, is a Goodreads winner, and Barnes and Noble will issue a special hardcover collector’s edition next month. As far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t happen to a better book. I first read it last fall in a manuscript galley after signing a promise not to review it before publication. I laughed at the beginning, and then I cried later on, even as I smiled. Same thing when I recently reread it. Yes, it’s that good, and characters Hazel and Augustus that memorable.

It’s also a good time to be a YA author, with both realistic novels and fantasy titles finding large crossover audiences. Sure, the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy further enhanced YA’s popularity, but Harry Potter deserves the real credit. Not only did the series let grown-ups admit to reading kids’ books without apology, it also created a generation of readers thirsty for good books.

fairylandTime magazine’s No.5 fiction book for 2012 is also ostensibly a kids’ book, but anyone who loves layered storytelling and lush language will be enchanted by Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, paperback ARC). It’s a follow-up to last year’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which first introduced the Nebraska girl named September.

In the new book, nearly a year has passed since September has returned home, keeping her extraordinary trip to Fairyland a secret. But soon after she turns 13, a sweet, green-smelling wind ruffles the pages of her book, and September falls into Fairyland Below, where her lost shadow reigns as Halloween — the Hollow Queen — and old friends and new adventures await.

“The revolving door spun shut behind them and vanished. Satiny, perfect blackness greeted them, blacker than the Panther of Rough Storms in the midst of the most livid thundercloud, blacker than the ink-sodden page in Avogadra’s book. September’s eyes ached with trying to see through the crowblack air. Iago, being a cat, had a somewhat better time of it. He stepped forward carefully, his paws landing quietly as footsteps in snow.

“Someone lit a candle.”

Open Book: I read a lot of YA fiction, especially fantasy. I can recommend Aly Condie’s Reached (Penguin, purchased hardcover), the conclusion to the Matched trilogy; Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight (Little, Brown, purchased e-book), the second in a trilogy; Veronica Roth’s Insurgent (HarperCollins, purchased e-book), the second in the Divergent series; and Kerstin Gier’s Sapphire Blue (Henry Holt, paperback ARC), the second in the Ruby Red trilogy.

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Would you jump off a moving train? Climb a crumbling Ferris wheel? Zipline from a skyscraper into the pitch of night?

Me neither. But maybe that’s why I got such a rush reading Veronica Roth’s first YA novel, Divergent. Narrator Beatrice never thought of herself as a physically brave person. After all, in futuristic, dystopian Chicago, she has grown up in the faction Abnegation, devoted to the virtue of selflessness. Four other factions rule the city equally: Candor ( the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent) and Dauntless (the brave).

But every year on an appointed day, all 16-year-olds select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. Most know ahead of time what they’ll choose because they’ve recently taken secret appitude/simulation tests. Beatrice’s results were logged as “inconclusive,” which may be why she finds herself joining Dauntless. First, though, she must survive the rigorous training, hazing and initiation rites. If she fails, she can’t return to Abnegation or transfer factions. No, she will become one of the “factionless,” living in the slums. It’s also entirely possible she could die trying to be Dauntless. Others do.

If Divergent sounds a bit like Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular The Hunger Games trilogy, well, it is. But so is a lot of other dystopian fiction going back over the years. It’s the familiar coming-of-age, hero’s-journey action-adventure tale. I read such novels when I was a teen and I’m still reading them, especially good ones like Divergent.

Roth’s world-building is amazing. The Dauntless leap on and off the still-running El as it thunders through the ruins of the city. The Ferris wheel that trembles at the touch is at abandoned Navy Pier. Fortunately, Tris, as she has renamed herself isn’t afraid of heights, unlike one of her enigmatic instructors known as Four. He seems almost nice to Tris, unlike the sadistic Eric.

Dauntless is not for the faint of heart or spirit. Tris struggles to survive in this truly brave new world, wondering who she can trust among her new “friends,” missing her family, and guarding a secret that could imperil the world as ske knows it. She confronts fears — real and simulated — she never knew she had. And she also begins to question a society built on and divided by its rigid rules and factions.

“He told me once to be brave, and though I have stood still while knives spun toward my face and jumped off a roof, I never thought I would need bravery in the small moments of my life. I do.”

Divergent left me breathless. How soon a sequel?

The sequel to Ally Condie’s recent dystopian novel, Matched, is called Crossed. It will be out in November. In Matched, the Society tells everyone what to do — what to eat, what to read, what pills to swallow, what job to take. Teenagers meet their future perfect mates at a special ceremony where faces appear upon a screen.

Cassia expects to see Xander, and she does, but for a brief instant, she sees the face of another boy, Ky. The Society says it’s just a glitch, but the Society never make mistakes. Or does it? Maybe it also matches people with the wrong careers…

Award-winning fantasy writer Robin McKinley’s last book, Pegasus, also ends on a cliffhanger, which means there better be a sequel. Gorgeously written and imagined, her world is inhabited by two species — humans and the winged creatures knows as the pegasi. Princess Sylvii is bonded to a rare black pegasus, Ebon, on her 12th birthday. While generally the two species can only communicate with the help of magicians, Slyvie and Ebon only need one another. The magicians see these two as a threat to their power and . . .

Ever since the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece last week decrying the darkness and violence in YA fiction, the blogosphere has been all atwitter. As more than one person has noted, this is not a new complaint (S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders was published some 40 years ago), nor is it relevant. Many of us read adult books by Stephen King and James Bond as teens after cutting our teeth on gruesome Grimm. Vampires have been around for a really long time.

The WSJ writer suggested that teens read Betty Smith’s classic adult novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think everyone should read this book, one of my all-time favorites that I first read the summer I was 10, and reread every summer thereafter. Brooklyn in the early 20th century was as foreign to me as Narnia, but I sure identified with 10-year-old Francie Nolan, who loved books. As Smith wrote, “The world was hers for the reading.” Other worlds, too. Amen.

Open Book: I bought the e-book version of Veronica Roth’s Divergence (HarperCollins Childrens Books). I received a galley of Ally Conde’s Matched (Penguin Young Readers) as part of of a web promotion. I bought the hardcover of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus (Penguin Group). I’ve just started reading an ARC of Moira Young’s post-apocalyptic YA novel Blood Red Road (Simon & Schuster Teen), which is suitably titled. And at last count, I have three copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I’ll loan out the trade paperback, but I want it back. Don’t make me come after you.

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