Friday, February 22, 2008

Escaping into some great YA books

This is the time of year when I catch up on my YA reading. Since I don't sell kids books, they aren't always at the top of my priority reading list, but I help out at a couple of teachers' shows this month and want to be able to recommend and talk about as many books as I can. And good YA books always remind me of long, lazy childhood summers; nice memories to reflect on during these snowy winter days. Here are some fabulous YA novels that I've recently devoured:

Meg Rosoff is currently my favourite YA author and she is definitely one of those cross-over writers whose books could also comfortably sit in the adult fiction sections. I absolutely adored How I Live Now and her latest, What I Was, falls very much into the same rich, imaginative vein. She makes me nostalgic for all the Famous Five adventures that I read as a child, except that her writing is far more sophisticated than Blyton's. But she taps into that same sense of incredulous wonder and envy that I had back then (and still carry) for fictional kids that exude a nonchalant, mature self-sufficiency. The narrator is a 16 year old boy living miserably in a boarding school on the coast of England. One day he encounters Finn, a young teen living entirely alone in a hut by the shore and the two strike up an odd, somewhat reserved friendship. Adventures follow, mostly revolving around the ferocious and very cold sea. The two paddle out to pull in fishing nets, struggle against the incoming tides, and search for the ruins of a submerged town. Then Finn falls sick and the narrator's attempts to get help end up changing both their lives in completely unexpected ways. Rosoff is terrific at evoking the landscape and the weather of this part of England and subtly introduces a theme of ecological consciousness into the story that makes it topical without being preachy. Highly recommended for readers of both sexes, YA or adult.

Siobhan Dowd, who sadly died last year, has written two completely different kinds of novels. A Swift Pure Cry is a moving tale about Shell, a naive, motherless teenager trying to raise her siblings in rural Ireland. Then she becomes pregnant and has to hide it from her father and the town. The resulting scandal has implications not only for her own life but that of a young priest who has tried to help her. The relationship between the siblings is wonderfully written and this novel has one of the most exuberant endings I've read in a long time. Beautifully written and award winning. The paperback will be out in September.
Completely different in style and tone is The London Eye Mystery. Ted is a young autistic boy who is obsessed with anything to do with the weather. When his visiting cousin Salim expresses a wish to go up on the London Eye, Ted and his older sister Kat watch him from the ground, their eyes peeled on his pod. Only Salim never gets off. The two siblings then have to figure out how he could have disappeared and why. Ted is an original, charming creation and half the fun of this novel is getting inside his head as he uses his knowledge about weather systems to logically make sense of the world. Great fun.
Dowd still has a few new books to come that she finished before her death. The Bog Child will be available in Canada in September, but it's now out in the U.K. and you can read an early review from avid blogger, dovegreyreader here.

When I was young I always wanted a sister and my parents being extremely unobliging, I was forced to bond with fictional ones in the pages of Little Women or the "Little House" books, or Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family stories. So these next two selections were a pure delight to read.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall, is set in contemporary America, but has the feel of an old-fashioned, British summer tale. Four motherless sisters and their father rent a cottage for their three week vacation that is on the grounds of Arundel, a fancy mansion in the Berkshires. They become friends of the lonely boy who lives next door and end up having a series of madcap adventures. I love how Birdsall has portrayed the unique personalities of each of the sisters; the awkwardness of Rosalind the eldest, interested in a boy for the first time; Skye, the vulnerable tomboy; Jane the wistful, romantic writer with shades of Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, and Batty, the precocious four year old, who is simply adorable. These sisters have a matter-of-fact way of dealing with their predicaments that is completely refreshing. Just normal kids having good old, summer fun with nary a television set or computer in sight. The absentminded father is also very funny. I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, due out in April.

And finally there's the terrific Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. Blume , just out in paperback. Cornelia is a lonely girl living in Greenwich Village whose mother is a famous concert pianist and often away on tour. She makes friends with her new eccentric neighbour Virginia, who shares her love of dictionaries and long, unusual words. Every room in Virginia's apartment is richly decorated with souvenirs from her world-wide travels with her sisters and Cornelia is enchanted by Virginia's stories, which give her the courage to break out of her shy shell and confront her distant mother. This is truly armchair (or Moroccan daybed) travel fiction for the YA reader, which will hopefully inspire them with travel and adventure dreams of their own. And you'll probably have to pull out a dictionary yourself from time to time. For fans of Chris Riddell's Ottoline series.

1 comment:

Shonna said...

Funny, I've been reading more YA lately too. I enjoyed Meg Rosoff's other book Just In Case, which I loved by find very hard to describe adequately.