My Most Excellent Year

[Note to Ms. LaFontaine: I didn’t mean to give you a hard time about the title of this assignment, but “My Totally Excellent Year:  would have been like so 1995, we’d have been laughed out of Brookline if anybody found out.

Things will have to change drastically if this book doesn’t end in my top 3 of YA novels of 2013.  Yes, maybe all the characters were a little bit too successful, smart and self-assured for their age. But if you can manage the death of a parent, emigration, adoption and homosexuality without ever turning overly sentimental, preachy, cliché or really awkward, I happily ignore that. I giggled, I got teary, I squealed with joy.

The reader reads along with the three assignments of TC, Augie and Alejandra. TC tries to get his father back into dating, tries to get Alejandra to be his girlfriend, tries a lot of things. Augie lives by the gospel of Judy Garland and Nathalie Wood, and tries to realize what’s going on with his head and body whenever Andy is in some way involved. And Alejandra is an ambassador’s daughter, trying to discover how to break free from her parents’ plans for her without breaking their hearts. Add silly parents, a deaf six year old and a lot of musicals and you get a heart-warming mix.

I recommend this to anyone who needs a pick-me-up.

My Most Excellent Year – A novel of love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park, Steve Kluger, Dial Books 2008

Mortal Engines

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea.

I loved this. I want the TV series, without even having read the following book. This is how awesome (YA) fantasy can be.

Mortal Engines shows the reader a world a couple of hundred years into the future. A lot of the world has been run over by water and the remaining parts are pretty much lifeless. Cities have to hunt down towns and villages for sustainment: wood, iron and so on are fuel for the ovens that make the city move (because not moving is a risk, even if you’re the biggest around), inhabitants are ‘adopted’ and put to work.

Tom is just a lowly assistant, but he hopes to one day become someone, to contribute to the city of London. Just like his hero, Thaddeus Valentine. When Valentine turns out to have some bad sides and Tom is dropped into the wasteland of the earth’s surface, the heroic part of the unlikely hero story starts.

Tom discovers that the city authority has been keeping information from its people, that not all activists are terrorists and sometimes there is just no easy way out. Philip Reeve manages to build a fascinating yet terrifying world, add some Messages without being preachy and top it off with loads of fun.

Mortal Engines – The Hungry City Chronicles, Philip Reeve, HarperCollins 2001

solace of the road

I breezed down the line of cars, so cool you’d never know I was looking for a way to board the boat.

This story shows that you don’t need ten thousand words and great gestures to tell an emotional story. The smallness, the futility of it all makes Holly’s story in solace of the road possibly linger longer than a big show would have.

Holly is in a house for unwanted children. She’s been out for a few times, but there never was a click with the adoptive family. There are few adults she trusts, she misses her mother and the past they share and is stuck in a rut. Things happen and she decides to take her life in her own hands. With a blond wig on she isn’t small, deserted Holly any more, she’s cool, crazy Solace. Who’s going to travel from England back to Ireland, back to her mother.

Siobhan Dowd shows with small details what’s life like if you feel like you’re the only one in the world who cares about you, how someone can rewrite their own history and how devastating it can be to discover something outside that story. And all this without any pity, without any Life Lessons in the spotlight. It just happens. Holly has to come through. And you’re left behind, wondering if she will.

solace of the road, Siobhan Dowd, David Fickling Books 2009

Waar is Bernadette

Wanneer ik pap vraag wat er volgens hem met mam is gebeurd, dan komt hij eerst altijd met de irritante opmerking: ‘Het belangrijkste is dat je weet dat het niet jouw schuld is.’

Dit is een YA boek waarvan 70 procent van het verhaal door de ogen van een volwassen vrouw wordt gezien. Een vreemde vrouw en de Bernadette uit de titel. De andere procenten komen van haar dochter, haar buren en haar man af.

Bernadette is een apart type. Dat geeft ze zelf toe, dat wordt ook duidelijk uit de omschrijvingen van anderen. Eens was ze een wünderkind, tegenwoordig schuilt ze in haar caravan en sart ze de ‘muskieten’ van school, die ze maar kleingeestig en suf vindt. Dochter Bee vindt haar geweldig, al begrijpt ze niet altijd waarom haar moeder maar tegen alles is, niks wilt (of durft?) en van de een op de andere dag (niet lang voor een geplande reis naar Antartica) verdwijnt.

Niemand begrijpt wat er is gebeurd. Bee’s vader heeft genoeg van zijn vrouw’s vreemde gedrag, de buren en schoolouders hebben een field day, maar Bee bijt zich vast in de zaak. Met correspondentie tussen alles en iedereen construeert ze langzaam het verleden en heden van haar moeder en – vindt haar ook.

Bijzonder, charmant en hartverwarmend – Waar is Bernadette is een aanrader voor meer dan alleen tieners.

 

Waar is Bernadette, Maria Semple, Luitingh-Sijthoff 2012

Paper Towns

The way I see it, every person gets a miracle.

Another YA novel that doesn’t need fantasy elements to stay upright or trigger any emotions (usually frustration). Basically a YA novel from before the time that Young Adult was synonymous to covers with mopey witch teens and love-triangles involving vampires and/or mermaids.

Paper Towns is about plain teenagers who suffer from unrequited love, feel lost and directionless and try hard because they feel like they have to, instead of because they want to. Protagonist Quentin is an inbetweener – not a loser, nor a winner. Some friends, but not a lot. Not exactly sure what he wants in life and rather floats than battles currents. Margo Roth Spiegelman is everything that he isn’t, adventurous and popular. She’s also his neighbour,  possibly love of his life and after one shared night full of adventure, she disappears.

At first Quentin tries to continue with his life, she’ll come back and he’s just a neighbour to her anyway. But then he starts finding hints and something takes him. He has to find Margo. What follows is an endearing trip through known and unknown surroundings. Quentin discovers that everyone has a different version and he becomes less sure if he wants to find Margo’s version of Margo.

Especially that – the who are we when we’re alone, who are we surrounded by others –  lifted this book from road trip to coming of age, getting to see the familiar from strange angles and handling disappointment. The people in these books are real humans, and that’s refreshing and frustrating at the same time.

Paper Towns, John Green, Penguin Group 2008

Hero

I never thought I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me.

Another amazing YA. Without a love triangle, a special snowflake or vampires. Hilarious, lovely and nearly perfect (in its genre/kind/and so on. No such thing as The One Perfect Book in my world).

Thom Creed is the son of Hal Creed, used-to-be superhero but now, after a horrible disaster, a social pariah. Thom is kind of ordinary, until several things happen at the same time. He owns up to himself that he has superpowers, a thing his father hates, so he has to keep them a secret. The Superhero League wants him to try out for their club. During a basketball match an opponent outs him as gay, which makes society turn against him. He needs to save the world and his invisible mother (literally) pops up after years of being absent. It’s a lot to handle.

But Moore manages it very well. After you close the book after 500+ pages, there are only two or three plot lines that you have to roll up by yourself, everything else is neatly tied up. Before that there’s love, loss, redemption, teenager problems and playful parodying of everything superhero.

I want a sequel, I want a film, I want people to read it and enjoy it as I did.

Hero, Perry Moore, Hyperion 2007

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Toen ik klein was zei mijn vader altijd tegen me: ‘Will, je kunt in je neus pulken, je kunt in je neus pulken waar je vriend bij is, maar je kunt niet in je vriend zijn neus pulken.’

Wat was dit leuk zeg. De term YA is flink ingeburgerd, maar lijkt vaak in het verlengde te liggen van fantasy. Terwijl er toch genoeg Young Adult literatuur (en lectuur, maar waar ligt die grens?) is zonder vampiers, zombies en elven er bij te betrekken. Zoals Will Grayson, Will Grayson. En die doet het nog gelijk goed ook, een boek voor tieners zijn.

De ene Will Grayson lijdt onder zijn luidruchtige, homoseksuele vriend Tiny, zijn onvermogen om compleet onzichtbaar te zijn en zijn wel/niet verliefdheid op Jane. De andere Will Grayson is depressief, heeft een zielige moeder en leeft eigenlijk alleen voor zijn chat gesprekken met Isaac.
Ze ontmoeten elkaar. Dingen blijken heel anders dan verwacht. Ze leren en er volgt een feel good einde waar Hollywood een puntje aan kan zuigen, alleen omdat het compleet ongeloofwaardig geloofwaardig is. En er ruimte is voor een sequel.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson tilt niet een klein puntje van de sluier over tienerleven op, het trekt de sluier er compleet af. Het is zielig en frustrerend en absurd en verslavend. YA proberen? Ga op zoek naar de Graysons.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green & David Levithan, Lemniscaat 2010