If there’s one thing I love about December (aside from Christmas, of course) it’s end-of-year book round-ups! As well as lists and other discussions, however, today we’ve decided to do something different – a question and answer session between YA book bloggers and one of Ireland’s foremost YA author-editors!
Claire Hennessy is the new Children’s and YA editor at Penguin Ireland, on a quest to find new and exciting kidlit and YA. As a writer herself and a children’s books reviewer she has many thoughts and opinions on the current YA scene, but wanted to talk to some wise book bloggers about what they think – and what they’d like to see more of.
Arianne is a reader, book blogger and serial guest poster as well as a full-time fangirl. Her passions include the world of young adult and middle grade literature and slipping pop culture references into every conversation. Find her on Twitter @Ariannebooklove.
Fionnuala is a fourteen year old who spends most of her time in fictional universes, only interacting with muggles when absolutely necessary. She has been many things (for example companion to the Doctor) but right now she’s a student with a TBR pile that’s too big and dreams of being a writer. You'll find Fionnuala blogging at Books for Birds or on Twitter @CrazyCrunchies
Emmanuel Okoye is a teenage booktuber and blogger. You can find him at Emdawg’s Book Blog or his YouTube channel, Emdawg Reads, where he regularly reviews books and has over a thousand subscribers, or on Twitter @EmanOkoye.
Rita is the bilingual book blogger behind Weaving Pages. She’s also a reader, sister, daughter, dreamer, believer, Leo, dancer, Shadowhunter, witch, Gryffindor, Divergent, Agent of SHIELD, fangirl, and of course, a unicorn. Find her on Twitter @WeavingPages – but don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Claire: What’s been your favourite YA book read in this past year?
Arianne: Before I start, can I just say that this question should probably be on some UN outlawed-methods-of-torture list? However, I have narrowed it down to two titles: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Both feature incredible writing but more importantly, wonderful characters.
Fionnuala: One book clearly jumps to mind and that is Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas. I’m slightly reluctant to name it as my favourite read in the past year because it hasn’t been the best YA book (there are certainly other books that were perfect and that I could have picked) but it jumped to mind for a reason. Heir of Fire filled me with so much emotion and passion and there were moments when I was physically shaking my fist at the book... To get such a reaction from me is very rare and for that I applaud Maas and that’s precisely why HoF is my favourite read of this past year.
Emmanuel: Wow this is hard! First to come to mind were 'We Were Liars' by E. Lockhart or 'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe' by Benjamin Alire Saenz!
Rita: This is HARD!! I LOVED Cinder by Marissa Meyer this year, but I've also read a few more contemporaries and Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson as well as Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell have been AWESOME!!
Claire: Which brilliant YA book do you feel hasn’t got enough attention?
Arianne: Salvage by Keren David is powerful, engaging and addictive. It ticks all the boxes in so many ways: it’s well-written and diverse as well emotionally stunning. (I also seem to remember describing it as better than chocolate, which has to count for something.)
Fionnuala: Fantastic question, but I feel as though my answer is rather unsatisfactory because I have a terrible memory! I think Earth Girl is such a brilliant YA sci-fi/dystopian novel, which I haven’t really heard anyone, apart from the lovely Charli [of the YA book blog To Another World] who recommended it to me, talk about it. Again not a perfect book, but I do truly think it deserves to be read by so many more people.
Emmanuel: 'All Our Yesterdays' by Cristin Terrill really does deserve more attention!
Rita: This is actually quite a hard question...again! I think maybe more people should read The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. It's such a good series that's perfect for people who like awesome book boyfriends and loads of paranormal action!
Claire: How many of the BIG books/series (anything with a movie adaptation, let’s say) are among your all-time favourites? Are there any you feel are overrated?
Arianne: Harry Potter and The Hunger Games rank among my all-time favourites, but it’s inevitable that hype will let you down once or twice. Lack of originality and unfocused plots can make or break a series for me, as happened with the later Divergent and Mortal Instruments books (even though I enjoyed City of Bones). I found Red Rising by Pierce Brown so problematic I’ve written not one but two reviews on it just to explore where it went wrong for me (one of them was even with the lovely Fionnuala here!). I’m a ruthless DNFer, as I think it’s totally okay to read a book and find it’s not for you, even if it is a “big series”.
Fionnuala: Does the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz count as big? It’s been a favourite series of mine since I was young and it still is now. I’ve read all the books in the series so many times and my love for it never fades. It’s one of those series that you can just fall into again and squish up to the characters like old friends. The first book in the series, Stormbreaker, does have a movie adaptation starring Alex Pettyfer (cough, childhood crush) and it was okay-ish.
I’ll probably be attacked by loads of fangirls (and boys) for saying this, but I definitely think that The Mortal Instruments series has started becoming a little overrated in my opinion… from the, erm, developments with the film(s) and now a TV show and fan accounts, everything is just becoming a bit too dramatic for me.
Emmanuel: The Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy, The Percy Jackson series and The Lorien Legacies series. And nope, none of them are overrated for me!
Rita: I pretty watch pretty ALL the movie adaptations! The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Mortal Instruments, The Fault in Our Stars... I love the books behind the adaptations and they’re all favourites. But while I loved all of the adaptations on the list, The Mortal Instruments I have to admit was a bit disappointing. It could have been truer to the book, and, yeah…but in terms of being overrated, no, none of those I've watched are - the books generally deserve the hype, and the movies are brilliant apart from any issues I mentioned. :D
Claire: What would you like to see more of in YA?
Arianne: What a beautiful, beautiful question! (You may want to make a fresh cup of tea before reading this, because we could be here for a while.)
I’d like to see different kinds of relationships – especially positive, supportive, long-term relationships in place of insta-love and destiny tropes. Different kinds of families – big and small families, divorce/separation/steps/adoption – LGBTQ+ characters and diversity, too. Teenage characters who are complex, but also hard-working, proactive and optimistic, because it’s traits like these that are so often overlooked in YA. I’d like to see writers call out toxic attitudes and actions, with more emphasis on mutual respect and consent, and female friendships that aren’t based on jealousy/spite/stealing each other’s boyfriends!
I’d also like to see sizzling slow-burn romances, danger, unexpected plot twists and time travel (preferably with a gender-flipped Doctor Who feel). More epic fantasy with.vibrant, multi-cultural settings, kick-ass heroines and anti-heroes. Minor characters who light up the page. Myths we’ve never heard of and magic that truly excites.
Above all, I want stories that haven’t been done before. A book could be nothing or everything I’ve mentioned here, and I may still enjoy it, as long as the writing is good and the plot is intriguing. I love that feeling of reading a book’s description and thinking, “I never even knew I needed this, and now it’s all I’ll ever want!”
Also dragons. ALL THE DRAGONS.
Fionnuala: YA authors can be quite wary of being too dark but personally I’ve really enjoyed the darker YA that I’ve come across. I mean we as young people don’t escape dark things like murder and abuse etc - if anything I think we’re quite well aware of it – so yep I’d definitely like to see more dark YA. To clarify I don’t mean something with loads of chopping off of heads and blood and guts (I mean I love that as much as the next person…) but something that can really make me think, and explore more basic aspects of what is essentially us.
Emmanuel: Male protagonists! Oh and cool alien-y books, haha!
Rita: I would love to see a wider range and bigger focus on characters' nationality in YA! My nationality (Portuguese but living in the UK) is a big part of who I am, and I don't think I've ever read a YA book which touches upon the subject of being from one place and living in another memorably. It’s a situation a lot of people are in, and yet I don't think I've ever felt completely represented in a YA book because many do not go deeper into what nationality is and what your country can mean to you. Where is home? What's it like being away from your family? Is being bilingual hard? How do people react? What makes you feel different? Would you go back to your country, or do you feel better where you are? These are all questions I could answer for you right now, but for each person you ask it will be different, and I still haven't read a YA book which shows these points of view.
And that concludes Part 1 of our Q&A – stayed turned for Part 2 next week! What did you think of our discussion? Let us know on Twitter and in comments below.