Young Adult Novels: The Good and the Bad

I’m feeling rather lost today. I guess you could say lonely, like my best friend has just up and left the country. What do I do now? Do I try to make new friends? Or just sit here in silence contemplating all the good and bad times we shared, wiping away the tears that still linger on my cheeks. It was all over too quickly, the hours burned up as I pushed on faster and faster, wrapped in a duvet that twisted annoyingly round my bunched up legs. My eyes hurting but refusing to close.

This is how it feels to finish a great Young Adult series.

The first thing I want to do when I finish a gripping book is grab another and start all over again. But there’s always a risk. What if I start a book and it’s no good? All the warm fuzzy feelings drained, leaving only a shiny shell containing nothing but empty words. This is always a problem because even if the book is terrible, there’s something in me that won’t let me stop, I have to read it to the end. Thanks brain!

So here are my thoughts on two series I’ve been reading—one good and one really not so. There may be a few spoilers thrown in so yea… be alert for that.

julliette

The Juliette Chronicles

This series by Tahereh Mafi started out promisingly enough. But with a title like “Shatter Me” I really should have been more on my guard. It begins with a girl locked up in solitary confinement, forgotten by the outside world because of some unforgivable crime she committed. Intriguing enough yes? And it is intriguing for the first few chapters, until you realise that the overwritten prose isn’t going away. In fact the constant metaphors just reduce the whole thing to farce:

“I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage”

“Warner thinks Adam is a cardboard cutout of vanilla regurgitations”

“I am an old creaky staircase when I wake up”

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?????

Next is the “villain” (this is where the spoiler alert thing needs to go off). You can’t have a villain who you’ve painted to be the worst guy ever just turn around in the third book and be like “oh yea, all those horrible things I did and the way I was a huge dick to you. Yea, that was all pretend. Psych! Let’s be in love now.” A supposedly “strong” heroine falling for her abuser? Mafi, you’ve completely lost me. Is everything a lie?? It’s almost as bad as getting to the end and being like: and then she woke up because it was all a dream.

And my third and biggest gripe is the “heroine”. If you’re going to make her mopey and pathetic and uninterested in anything around her, then don’t expect me to care whether she lives or dies. Oh, you suddenly gave her invincible powers and turned her into some kind of facist dictator at the end? Yea that doesn’t make up for all the hundreds of pages of uselessness. In fact, making her untouchable (pun intended) at the end just lowers the stakes even more… now I really don’t care.

Like everyone, I like a bit of emotional turmoil in my books, but really, this series made Wuthering Heights look like My Little Pony. It was a relief to finish that last page and crawl out from under the miasma of emotional oppression.

throne

The Throne of Glass series

To be fair, when I first started reading this series by Sarah J. Maas, I didn’t like it. There seemed to be quite a few contradictions and stumbling sequences in those first few chapters that had me asking why it was such a loved series. I get that a story about a teenage assassin freed from the worst labour camp in the kingdom is a pretty badass premise. Yet I just didn’t see it living up to the hype. But this was one case where my brain not letting me stop reading turned out to be a good thing.

I think my opinion changed just over halfway through. I know this sounds strange but it won me over with the period scene. One of my major gripes with fantasy (note, in almost all cases these are written by men) is that when a girl starts bleeding for the first time it has this huge spiritual/sexual significance. Like she’s crossed into this other realm where her womanhood is elevated to the status of the divine. Blegh. In Throne of Glass, months of recovery means Celaena’s body is back to normal, in this case functioning as it did before. There’s no epiphany or hyper spiritual release, instead she’s holed up in her room fighting off the nausea and pain. I know it’s weird but it made me so happy to finally see a woman’s body be portrayed realistically in fantasy.

As the story progresses over the next two books (the fourth coming out later this year), I feel that Maas is really finding her voice. The writing is becoming tighter and the characters more accessible. Even the interweaving of magic and folk law is becoming less jarring. And although Celaena is the most famous assassin in the kingdom, she doesn’t win easily, she’s flawed, and needs the help of others to survive. That’s what makes us care.

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