Due to the upcoming release of Stranger, I am doing some interviews in which I will be asked how or if things have changed in terms of LGBT characters in YA novels. I am armed, of course, with the most recent statistics. (Summary: representation has increased from 0.6% of all YA novels to 2%. However, most of those books are put out by LGBTQ-specialty small presses, and the percentage of LGBTQ characters in YA novels from American large presses has actually gone down.)

However, I spent the intervening years mostly focused on grad school, and so am not caught up on recent books. Are there any YA novels that have come out since 2010 with LGBTQ characters that I should check out or at least be aware of? What about self-published books? Any prominent LGBTQ teenage characters in non-book media (comics, movies, etc?)

Any changes in your own personal experience? For example, I have noticed that just in my circle of friends/acquaintances, kids seem to be coming out younger (13-15, as opposed to 18-20) and with less or no negative reactions from others. Obviously, these are kids from liberal families in LA. But I always knew liberals in LA, and I did not encounter any kids coming out at age 13 until about five years ago. Ditto straight teenage boys wearing gay rights buttons.
Anderson is an extremely well-known and acclaimed writer of YA problem novels (also historicals and one charming comedy, Prom). I’ve reviewed several of her books under her author tag. Speak is excellent, but Wintergirls, with its mythic resonances, is my personal favorite.

The pattern of her problem novels is a teenager with an “issue”-type problem (rape, anorexia, etc), their struggles and ambivalent relationship with the problem and their family, a dramatic (sometimes melodramatic) climax which forces them into a final confrontation with the problem and their need to get help, followed by a quick conclusion in which they’re getting help/therapy and are clearly on the road to recovery.

They sound very formulaic, laid out like that, but her characters are vivid and often pleasingly snarky, her prose is excellent, and in the better books, the characters are much more than the sum of their issues. I particularly liked Wintergirls, in which the heroine is haunted by her dead best friend, for its refusal to provide simple answers to the question of whether the ghost was an actual ghost, a memory, a fantasy, a delusion, a metaphor, or several of those.

The Impossible Knife of Memory, unfortunately, did feel formulaic, and did have characters who were exactly the sum of their issues. It also had a climax that stepped over the melodrama line and plunged into laughable.

Teenage Hailey is being raised by her veteran father, who returned from Iraq with a bad case of PTSD and has been a depressed alcoholic ever since. Her mother and grandmother are dead and his army buddies are rarely around, so the main relationship in the book is (or should be) between Hailey and her father. Their actual relationship consists of him being a disaster and her alternately mopping up after him and avoiding the fallout.

It’s not that this is implausible. It’s that there’s not enough actual emotion between them. There should be a bond, however strained, or the angry ghost of a broken bond. But I didn’t get a sense of that. Hailey thinks about her father’s actions and their effect on her a lot. But she doesn’t spend much time thinking about him as a person, or about her feelings about him. There’s surprisingly little actual interaction between them, and what there is isn’t very revealing of anything but “Severe, untreated PTSD wrecks your life and makes you a bad parent.”

I read some criticism of the book on Goodreads that the PTSD is whitewashed. I didn’t get that feeling, given that the Dad’s an alcoholic who can’t keep a job, can’t have a relationship, can’t parent his daughter, trashes the house, does drugs, and attempts suicide. That seems sufficiently serious to me. As far as PTSD goes, he’s on the low-functioning side of the spectrum. My criticism is that we never see him in a scene that isn’t about his PTSD. There’s little sense of what he was like before, or what he’s like beneath the array of harrowing symptoms.

The actual relationship in the book is between Hailey and her quirky new boyfriend. I believed them as a couple— he’s aggressively quirky, she’s quirkily aggressive— but the book felt like it should be more about the father-daughter relationship. The generic teen romance didn’t interact much with the Dad-has-PTSD story, resulting in a book that felt like two different books awkwardly integrated.

And then there was the accidentally hilarious climax, complete with physics-defying injuries. Read more... )

Even in much better books of the kind, include Anderson’s own better books, I find it frustrating that after an entire book full of lovingly depicted trauma, the healing is almost always summarized briefly rather than shown in depth, or at all. Or, to phrase it fannishly, you get 386 pages of hurt and 7 sentences of comfort.

Part of the issue may be structural. If you follow the forms we’re taught in school, a story is supposed to have a beginning, a long period of rising action, a short climax, and a very short conclusion. If the decision to seek help is the climax, you can’t see the healing, because that’s the conclusion. The only way you can show the process of healing, if you stick with this model, is if the start of healing begins right after the beginning, and the healing is the rising action. I’ve read books like that— The Secret Garden comes to mind— but they’re rare.

If I may make a modest proposal: there is no law of nature stating that all American books and movies must slavishly adhere to a single model of dramatic structure. There are perfectly valid alternate types of structure.

I wish more writers would try some other model out when they’re writing trauma stories, so they could show more of the recovery. It can be very interesting and dramatic, seriously. And it’s way better than the OMGWTF you broke your ribs how climax of this one.

As for this book, as far as books featuring a daughter living with her veteran father with PTSD go, I liked Flora Segunda better.

The Impossible Knife of Memory
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria described below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! Commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally in reprint, as YA (Vanyel was never published as YA), 2) It must contain at least one major LGBTQ character who is clearly identified as such within the book itself. (Dumbledore is not; neither are Tom and Carl), 3) Major is defined as having a POV and/or a storyline of their own and/or lots of page-time. 4) In most cases, it must be published by a mainstream or small-press publisher in the USA.

Books in which the protagonist is LGBTQ are marked with a star.

I made this list because less than one percent of all YA novels published in the USA within the last ten years have any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting ones. Of those few novels, most are mainstream literature, not sf or fantasy.

I have not specified the authors' sexual orientation or gender identity. This list is about characters rather than authors, and I don't know how all the authors identify.

Check out the list! )
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria listed below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! My commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally or in reprint, as YA in the USA, 2) The character of color/non-white character must either be the protagonist, if it’s a book with a solo protagonist, or one of an ensemble, if it’s a book with multiple protagonists.

This is not an exhaustive list! It is still being added to, and will continue to be as new books come out. Please let me know if I missed something. Also see Stacy Whitman's list, which includes more middle-grade books (for younger children) than I did. (I’ve included a few MG books I thought were edging into YA territory – subjective, I know!)

I have not always specified the protagonist's race. In some cases, the book was suggested by someone else and I don't know; in others, the characters are described in ways which would be considered non-white on our world, but come from a world in which our racial categories don't apply. I have generally not specified the race of the authors, because this list focuses on characters. Also, in many cases, I don't know how the authors identify. This list is intended merely as a starting point. If you wish to have more information before reading a book, further research should turn it up.

Click to read the list! )
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria listed below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! My commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally or in reprint, as YA in the USA, 2) The character of color/non-white character must either be the protagonist, if it’s a book with a solo protagonist, or one of an ensemble, if it’s a book with multiple protagonists.

This is not an exhaustive list! It is still being added to, and will continue to be as new books come out. Please let me know if I missed something. Also see Stacy Whitman's list, which includes more middle-grade books (for younger children) than I did. (I’ve included a few MG books I thought were edging into YA territory – subjective, I know!)

I have not always specified the protagonist's race. In some cases, the book was suggested by someone else and I don't know; in others, the characters are described in ways which would be considered non-white on our world, but come from a world in which our racial categories don't apply. I have generally not specified the race of the authors, because this list focuses on characters. Also, in many cases, I don't know how the authors identify. This list is intended merely as a starting point. If you wish to have more information before reading a book, further research should turn it up.

Click to read the list! )
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria listed below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! My commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally or in reprint, as YA in the USA, 2) The character of color/non-white character must either be the protagonist, if it’s a book with a solo protagonist, or one of an ensemble, if it’s a book with multiple protagonists.

This is not an exhaustive list! It is still being added to, and will continue to be as new books come out. Please let me know if I missed something. Also see Stacy Whitman's list, which includes more middle-grade books (for younger children) than I did. (I’ve included a few MG books I thought were edging into YA territory – subjective, I know!)

I have not always specified the protagonist's race. In some cases, the book was suggested by someone else and I don't know; in others, the characters are described in ways which would be considered non-white on our world, but come from a world in which our racial categories don't apply. I have generally not specified the race of the authors, because this list focuses on characters. Also, in many cases, I don't know how the authors identify. This list is intended merely as a starting point. If you wish to have more information before reading a book, further research should turn it up.

Click to read the list! )
The first two books in this series were easy to describe. In a Spain-esque fantasy land, a baby princess, Elisa, has a magical rock materialize in her belly-button. This marks her as chosen by God to fulfill some special but unknown mission. She grows up feeling unworthy, but is plunged into adventure and political machinations and grows up a lot, eventually coming to master her magical powers, learn to be a competent ruler, and come to a greater understanding of the world.

By the end of the second book, a number of intriguing revelations and plot twists alter the premises set up above, making a detailed description of book three highly spoilery. Specific notes go beneath the cut; spoilers will appear in comments.

Overall, I enjoyed this trilogy a lot. The world is vivid and intriguing, despite some jarring errors. (It was the one with the jerboa filets and the vomiting horses. On that note, warning for animal harm (poisoning horses for strategic purposes) and Scorpions of Unusual Size.) Actually, the fact that Carson did any worldbuilding at all unfortunately made the errors and blank spaces stand out more.

It has interesting characters and excellent narrative drive, and uses God or something which the characters believe is God in a non-obnoxious manner – that is, no “Come to Jesus,” no “religious people are morons,” and no “Surprise twist - God is a computer!”

The three books feel very different from each other, even though they end up telling a single complete story. The first book is primarily about character growth via a fish out of water narrative, the second book is about learning to rule and expanding the world, and the third book is a classic quest narrative and also about the costs and moral compromises involved in being a ruler. As a whole, the trilogy touches on all those aspects, but character growth most of all. The Elisa of the first book is a completely different person by the end of the trilogy.

My biggest problem with the final novel is that by the end of the second book, I was primarily interested in the world and how it had come to be. By the end of the third book, a few questions were answered and more were implied, but a whole bunch of the most intriguing questions were never addressed.

As if Carson knew exactly what I was thinking, on literally the last page Elisa rattles off a list of questions which she says are still unknown. I guess I’m glad that Carson noticed that she’d raised a lot of intriguing issues that were never addressed, but I would have liked to have her actually address them. Especially since I was more interested in the worldbuilding than in the political maneuvering which took up the final third of the book.

The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns)

Read more... )
This is the sequel to Malinda Lo’s Adaptation. The entire premise of Inheritance is a spoiler for Adaptation, so all I will say outside of the cut is that I enjoyed the sequel. Below the cut are huge spoilers for both books.

Read more... )

Inheritance
Lo’s Adaptation starts out with a small-scale threatened apocalypse by birds, and turns into an X-Files episode starring a bisexual teenage girl in San Francisco. I liked it a lot, and that’s all I can say without spoilers.

“Natural Selection,” a novella, is set after Adaptation and before its sequel, Inheritance. “Natural Selection” can be read independently of either book, but is hugely spoilery for Adaptation. I liked it a lot, but that’s all I can say about it without spoilers.

Natural Selection. Only $1.99!

Read more... )
In a post-apocalyptic Brazil ruled by a council of Aunties, a teenage Summer King is elected once a year. For one year, he is famous, feted, and given anything he wants, not to mention having a limited amount of actual power. At the end of the year, he is ceremonially executed.

There is an in-story reason for this which readers may or may not find plausible, but I do find it completely believable that a fair number of teenagers would compete to be king for a year: live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. In fact, one of the most notable aspects of the novel was how convincingly teenage the teenagers are: idealistic and self-centered, impulsive and passionate, equally and alternately obsessed with sex and death, fashion trends and the meaning of art, hot celebrities and best friends.

June is a teenage graffiti artist whose best friend, Gil, falls for Enki, the glamorous, newly elected Summer King. Reluctantly, because she doesn’t want to screw up her friendship, she also develops a crush on the beautiful and doomed Enki. It turns out that June and Enki have quite a bit in common, and begin collaborating on dangerous, radical, guerilla art projects!

This novel has gotten a lot of positive press, but the rave reviews I read for it actually put me off reading it. The book was so highly praised for its politics that I got the impression that it was nothing but politics: worthy but dull, as if it should be consumed solely for its nutritional value. I didn’t read it until I was on the plane for Sirens, where Alaya was a Guest of Honor. So I was pleasantly surprised by how completely enthralled I was — and by how fun and even id-tastic it was!

Regarding id-tastic, let’s start with Enki, the object of desire. He is beautiful and doomed. He’s self-destructive, hot, a revolutionary, a dancer, and a king. He has connected himself to the city via illegal nanotech, so if something goes wrong with the city, he feels its pain and dramatically faints. If this is the sort of thing you like – and I am not ashamed to say that is the sort of thing I like – you will like this book.

The future!Brazil setting is vivid, the science fiction details are cool, there’s lots of sense of wonder, the love triangle didn’t make me want to tear my hair out, the plot moves fast, the characters are genuinely diverse, the hero has his nervous system wired into the city, and the heroine is a guerilla graffiti artist.

It’s got dark and serious aspects, but overall, it’s fun to read. This is not an “eat your broccoli” book. It’s a fruit tart with real fruit (so you’ll get your vitamin C) but the crust is made with butter, and there’s whipped cream on top.

The Summer Prince
An unusual YA dark fantasy with tons of narrative drive and a lesbian romance. The narrator wakes up in the woods, amnesiac and covered in blood, with a frantic girl trying to drag her to safety. They barely manage to evade an attack by creepy flying skeletons, and make it back to the dubious shelter of Mad House… by walking through the walls, which the skeletons cannot penetrate.

The narrator, Lottie, is in Twixt, a bizarre world in which “Sleepers” like herself eke out a weird existence, unable to get beyond the forest that borders the city, selling snips of their hair to get a drug which restores their memories.

I guessed the general outlines of the main mysteries – what is Twixt? Who is Lottie? -- but not the specific twists, or the twist-within-a-twist. It’s not exactly a new idea, but many of the details felt fresh, and the book was almost impossible to put down once I’d started it.

Twixt, its inhabitants, and the romance between Lottie and her rescuer Charlie feel a little underdeveloped – vivid but in two dimensions – in a way which is partially but not entirely due to the nature of the characters and the world.

Still, very much worth reading. It reminded me a bit of the anime Haibane Renmei, which also involves a city of amnesiacs, and a central mystery about the nature of the world and the people in it. (I am absolutely not saying that Diemer ripped this off. It’s very different in many ways, and as I mentioned before, this general premise has been done by many people in many variations.)

Twixt
This is a book review; I haven’t seen the TV series, but I gather it’s quite different.

Bunheads is a YA novel about Hannah, a 19-year-old dancer in a huge New York ballet company. She went off to study at the Manhattan Ballet Academy when she was very young, and so ballet has been her entire life.

It begins when she’s getting frustrated with not having a life, partly due to meeting a quirky musician whose name I have already forgotten. Will she quit ballet, get a life, and stay with Quirky McWhatsisface? Or will she continue her obsessive routine and maybe become a star at the cost of misery and probable anorexia, with her shallow rich boyfriend who loves ballet and never makes any demands on her that would interfere with her career?

I could spoiler-cut and tell you, but duh. Is it not totally obvious?

Flack was also a professional ballet dancer, and I wanted to read this book because I was interested in what I assumed would be realistic, vivid detail. It may be realistic, but it’s not very vivid. The characters are one-dimensional. You never get a sense of why Hannah loved ballet in the first place.

It was also frustrating to read a book in which, even though it’s textually justified as due to individual circumstances, the right decision for the heroine is to dump the man who actually supports her career, go with the man who doesn’t, and quit her career. It would have had fewer unintended implications if Hannah had any idea what she wanted to do with her life, so it read more as a career change than a career drop. But she doesn’t. This is part of having no personality. Which, again, is explicit in the text – she has no life but ballet, so she thinks of nothing but ballet – but the way she thinks of ballet is unrevealing of both herself and ballet.

Rumer Godden’s Thursday's Children is a way better take on a ballet-obsessed character. So is Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes (The Shoe Books).

Bunheads

Girl in Motion looks like it might be good, or at least better – has anyone read it?
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Aug. 20th, 2013 01:48 pm)
Sherwood Smith has a new book out, Lhind the Thief. I haven't read it yet, but she says it contains "disguises, flying, swashbuckling on land and sea, tree-houses, secrets, telepathy, magical powers and spells, food, good-looking villains as well as heroes, and even some romance." You can buy it for $4.50 at Amazon (Lhind the Thief) or at Book View Cafe, where the authors get 95% of the money (Lhind the Thief). That is my hand on the cover, attempting to launch a new career as a hand model.

Melinda Lo's delicious YA science fiction thriller Adaptation - think X-Files with a teenage bisexual heroine-- is a Kindle daily deal at $2.99. Do not click on the links for her upcoming sequel or on her upcoming promotional novella unless you want to get spoiled for everything! However, if you click on my author tag for her, you will be linked to a review with the spoiler-cut intact. Adaptation.

Read anything good lately?
This is a very difficult book to review. It's a sequel to Anderson's Ultraviolet, which had some nice twists. Though the cover copy suggests that Quicksilver can be read on its own, it spoils every plot twist in Ultraviolet, starting from the very first page. (I also think it would be pretty difficult to follow without having read Ultraviolet first. In fact, I found some plot points difficult to follow because it had been so long since I had read Ultraviolet.)

They're both good books. But if you have any interest in reading either, start with Ultraviolet and don't even read the premise of Quicksilver - literally everything about it is a spoiler for Ultraviolet.

I am going to do two levels of spoiler cuts. The first level will be spoilery for Ultraviolet, the second for Quicksilver.

giant Ultraviolet spoilers )

giant Quicksilver spoilers )

Ultraviolet


Quicksilver
Clever YA sf in the old-school vein of "work through all the implications of a premise."

Teenage Ephraim finds a "magic coin" which can alter reality, and uses it improve his life: make his mom not an alcoholic, make his crush like him, etc. However, each change creates snowballing changes, often of a monkey's paw nature.

Without getting into moderate spoilers for the nature of the premise (revealed about a third of the way in) about all I can say is that yes, it does deal with the moral implications of "make someone like you," but other implications aren't dealt with as well. As a whole, the novel is solid and gripping but not quite inspired; the second half moves away from extrapolation and into action, and the extrapolation was more interesting.

Read more... )

Fair Coin
Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.


Solid, inventive, well-characterized YA science fiction. By “science fiction,” I mean “cool powers and alien invasion,” not “paper-thin dystopia in which the government’s main concern appears to be micro-managing the love triangles of teenagers.”

Madeleine, an aspiring artist, visits Sydney to paint her cousin Tyler’s portrait. Tyler is a famous cross-dressing actor, and probably my favorite character in the book despite his comparatively small part.

Her plans are stymied by an alien invasion. Starry towers rise up from the cities, and dust falls from the sky. Some people are given powers, others strange vulnerabilities, and still yet others are possessed by aliens. Stars shine from Madeleine’s skin, and she gets together with other teenagers to learn to use their powers and try to save the world.

The opening sequence, in which Madeleine tries to escape from a wrecked subway station, gets the book off to a great start. I stalled out for a while in a slow sequence in which the teenagers are interminably holed up in a hotel, but the story picks up enormously after that.

Host has a lot of respect for teenagers, and I liked the unabashedly heroic tone of the story. Rather than taking the apocalypse as an excuse for an orgy of rape and cannibalism, Host’s characters band together, form a community, explore their new relationships, take the time to make plans that make sense, and risk their lives for a cause they believe in. It’s engaging, uplifting, and, by the end, surprisingly moving.

This isn’t a flawless novel. Some events are confusing or poorly set-up, some of the dialogue is clunky, and I read the explanation of the alien invasion three times and I still don’t understand it. Too many characters are introduced in too-quick succession, and I didn’t realize that “Emily” and “Millie” were the same person with a nickname until I got to the cast of characters at the end. The sequence at the end with Gavin was really confusing, too. The book could have used one more rewrite.

However, so could at least half of the professionally edited YA novels I’ve read recently, many of which have glaring continuity errors, nonsensical motivations, ridiculous worldbuilding, unlikable characters, and, often, proofreading errors and poor formatting. In some cases, they are nothing but a string of action sequences strung together by plot holes.

And All the Stars isn’t Code Name Verity. But it’s imaginative, well-thought-out, and heartfelt. I will definitely read more of Host’s books.

Giant spoilers lurk below.

Read more... )

And All the Stars. Only $4.99!

Host self-publishes because of the glacial pace of traditional publishing, which got one of her novels stuck in review for TEN YEARS.

But there may be other reasons as well, which have nothing to do with the quality of her writing. Again, I'm not saying that she's one of the absolute best YA writers out there. But based on this, she's certainly one of the better ones. And when I say "better ones," I mean "compared to all the YA novels I've been reading that come out from major publishers," not "compared to the slush pile."

Speaking only of American publishing, which is the only publishing I know anything about, I can see why this novel would be a hard sell. It is not set in America, it involves aliens, and the tone and style are different from most YA sf I've read recently. (And there are gay characters, though in the supporting cast.) For a first-time author, those could be insurmountable obstacles.

M. C. A. Hogarth has a thought-provoking article on those issues. Maybe the audience for books about middle-aged female Hispanic space Marines is small. Maybe the audience for psychic Australian teenagers fighting aliens is small. But I'm glad that e-publishing makes it possible now for those books to find their audience.
A refreshingly different YA fantasy: no love triangle - no on-page romance! - and a determinedly non-epic plot.

Teenage street kid and thief Digger is about to deliver some stolen letters when she nearly gets caught by the Green Men, who function as both law enforcement and the anti-magic Inquisition. She manages to get away, but her boyfriend is captured. (He never appears except in flashback, and is presumed dead.)

She runs for her life, and falls in with some helpful teenage aristocrats who either believe her story (fleeing a nunnery) or just feel sorry for her. Next thing she knows, she's impersonating a lady's maid for a sweet aristocrat girl. This leads to her and a bunch of plotting aristocrats getting snowed in by an avalanche. Intrigue follows, all on a very small scale as they're all trapped on a single estate. There was so much sneaking in and out of the same rooms that I started picturing this as a play, with one door closing stage left as, with perfect timing, another opens stage right.

I had mixed feelings about this novel, but Digger's voice is great. She's suspicious, scornful of the "nobs," a compulsive thief, accustomed to living on the edge and bewildered by people being nice to her. Surely they have some ulterior motive!

The plot, which needed to be as clever as the protagonist, is awfully rickety. People consistently help Digger out and tell her extremely important state secrets for no good reason. In a book whose protagonist's main characteristic is self-sufficiency, this was unnecessary and implausible. Digger earns a living by ferreting out secrets; she should have had to ferret out everything, not have several crucial ones just handed to her.

This is doubly implausible given that she's (supposedly) an ordinary girl of gentle birth, fallen on hard times and working as a lady's maid. The maid should not have aristocratic adults confiding secrets in her which they could be executed for, on the basis that she seems intelligent!

Read more... )

Likable characters, good protagonist, and definitely different from the mainstream, but the plot had big problems.

StarCrossed
A sleepy California town is enclosed in a mysterious barrier at the same instant that, pop! Everyone over the age of 14 vanishes. And some kids get psychic powers. (Actually, some got their powers several months before the pop - no word yet on why.) And animals mutate.

Flying rattlesnakes! Talking coyotes! Kids running around with tentacle arms and telekinesis!

This would be utterly and completely up my alley... except for the non-existent characterization.

The characters are either good kids trying to do right, with maybe one or two other traits, like "leadership abilities" or "bulimic," or complete psychopaths, with maybe one or two other traits like "intelligent" or "seductive." Speaking of which, I don't love the stock character of the sociopathic manipulative seductress in general, but it is about 500% more skeevy when she's fourteen.

Cool mutant animals. Cool mutant powers. But, alas, I didn't care about any of it.

I also disliked the disjunct between the flat emotional tone (probably due to the paper-thin characterization) and the amount of horrific stuff happening to children, and by that I mean kids way younger than 14.

Spoiler for child harm.

Read more... )

Also could have benefited from characters I cared about. And less retro gender roles. Girls run the daycare and infirmary, boys run law enforcement and government.

There are three girls with powers that could be used in a fight. Two are not introduced till near the end, and the third dies on the same page she's introduced. The main boys' powers are very strong telekinesis, super-strength, laser beams, teleportation, monster-type physical alterations accompanied by super-strength, and altering reality. The main girls' powers are healing, sensing how powerful other mutants are, and sensing how awesome the hero is.

I am not kidding about the last one. Astrid, the love interest, has the power to sense how awesome people are. She's not sure what this literally corresponds to, except that it doesn't seem to just be about who has the most bad-ass power. (The latter is a power another girl has.) But she assures the hero that her mutant power has detected that he is objectively the most important person she has ever met.

A really fun premise and some intriguing mysteries, but not enough to make me continue the series.

Gone
I have often had this book recommended to me as a small classic of YA sf in the subcategories of post-apocalyptic, psychic kids, and Australian. It was written in 1987, when there wasn't quite such a glut of psychic kid and post-apocalyptic YA as accumulated later on. But it was still unimpressive.

As is explained in prologue of infodump, after a nuclear war, mutations and science were banned. Mutants can be executed or exiled if caught.

Teenage Elspeth is a telepathic mutant who can read minds, force people to do her bidding, and communicate with animals. She also has other extremely powerful abilities which are revealed later, when it's convenient for her to be able to unlock doors and kill people with her brain. Despite these abilities, her family has been executed and she is in a precarious position, under threat of death if her talents are discovered. Her brother, a teenage total jerk, has a somewhat higher status for reasons I forget and is not very helpful to her.

She ends up exiled to a prison/lab/boarding house for teenage mutants. There she is forced to slave in the kitchens, while sinister experiments are going on off-page. This section occupies about two-thirds of the book, and it felt like absolutely nothing was going on.

I was mostly bored by the book. Elspeth has very little personality. In fact, the only character with personality is a stray cat. Though a summary of events would make it seem like exciting things are happening, they are often narrated rather than shown, and are so underdeveloped that the sense is that nothing is happening. Dullsville.

Obernewtyn: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 1
In an alternate future America, everyone is born with two souls in a single body. They are given two names, like the novel’s protagonists, Eva and Addie. But by about age five, one of the personalities fades away—effectively, it dies. The rare “hybrid” children, who grow older with both personalities intact, are considered a menace to society and are whisked away, never to be seen again. The “multiple personalities are banned and the government controls hybrids” premise is not given a detailed explanation, but the reason for the ban is at least given a justification with slightly more substance than the usual “because.”

Eva and Addie seemed on track to become hybrids when they were children. But, realizing that this would doom them, they instead pretended that Eva had faded and died. In fact, the novel is narrated by Eva, who is very much alive. However, she has lost the ability to move their shared body, and exists only as a secret presence, able to communicate with Addie, but with no one else.

This intriguing YA dystopia is both promising and disappointing. It is far better-written than average, has a genuinely clever premise, and avoids a number of stupid tropes which seem almost obligatory in YA dystopias. The unusual choice of narrator— Eva, who lives within Addie’s body— is quite compelling, and their shared existence and peculiar dilemma is handled with a touching emotional realism.

The first third or so of this novel, which simply explores Eva and Addie’s situation, is excellent. However, after that, they spend most of the rest of the novel locked up in a government facility with other hybrid kids. The story becomes much more conventional, moving from an intimate exploration of identity under strange circumstances to a typical “teenagers learn that their dystopia is a dystopia.” Zhang is excellent at little emotional moments, but not so good at action sequences; the book moves away from emotional moments and toward action sequences, to its detriment.

Her choice of plot doesn’t serve her premise as well as it could; it probably needed to be smaller and more character-focused, or else broader and more about social implications. The second two-thirds of the book rest in an in-between place, no longer intimate but without showing much more of the wider world. Also, considering that the entire premise is about two souls in one body, it would have been good if any of the hybrids beside Addie and Eva actually had two souls with noticeably different personalities.

That being said, Zhang is a talented writer, and the premise really is great. I would check out the second book to see if it focuses more on being a double soul, and less on "dystopian governments are bad."

What's Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book One
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