Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Favourite YA Books…at the moment

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish – I’ve been meaning to take part in it for quite some time now and it would appear today is the day for my first foray into the lovely land of weekly lists.

Picking my all time favourite anything book-wise is pretty difficult, picking my favourite YA books? Well that’s kind of a “Sophie’s Choice” for me. So I’ve decided to go with the books I keep going back to, some are relatively new reads, some not so much. But the top three are without a doubt my all time favourites. So, without further ado…

10. Graceling, Kristin Cashore 

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The first in author Kristin Cashore’s sort of trilogy (more like a companion piece and a sequel) despite being first published in 2008 I first read, or rather heard it last month. (The audiobook – full cast! was my first and was awesome.) After finishing the audiobook I decided to buy a copy of the physical book and read it. Which basically solidified my love for this epic fantasy romance. Heroine Katsa is kind of everything I’d like to be.

9. The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, Gregory Galloway

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Galloway’s Adam Strand is an unusual kid – plagued with the constant need to commit suicide, he is constantly killing himself, only to feel utter disappointment when he comes back to life, some 39 times. Perfectly dry, perfectly macabre The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is unlike anything else in the YA canon.

8. Hey Nostradamus, Douglas Coupland

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Arguably Coupland’s best book, this is the story of a fictional school shooting in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1988. Told from multiple first person narratives it is the perfect blend of themes like religion, sex, grief and adolescence.

7. His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman

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Many know these books as the series about two kids who set out in essence to kill god – but it’s so much more. An in depth and intelligent commentary on life, organized religion, the afterlife and science, the books though controversial are, well, epic.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

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You can mark this as one of the first books to break my heart. Chbosky’s Charlie is painstakingly tragic and poignant as the titular “wallflower”, this coming of age story should be read with tissues in hand. Perks also happens to be one of those rare books to make a seamless transition to film. The movie adaptation starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson is astounding, and totally worth watching.

5. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

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Ponyboy. Darry. Sodapop. Greasers. Socs. Friendship. Family. Rivalry. This book has it all. Even more amazing despite originally being published in 1967 the book still holds up 47 years later.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 

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There are so many life lessons in Mockingbird – but what makes it so good is that it never feels preachy. Each lesson serves a purpose, and really when Atticus Finch is teaching you morals it’s hard not to listen.

3. The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp  

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”


I love this book. The story of loveable ne’er-do-well and teenage lush Sutter Keely pulls you in, takes you for a ride and blows your mind with its unconventional ending.

2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor 

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This series is my current obsession, and though I dearly love Days of Blood and Starlight (the second book in the trilogy) series opener DOSAB is a book I go back to time and time again. With a love story that spans not just lifetimes but worlds, the book unfolds so beautifully and yet so unexpectedly. It’s a real gem. (28 days until Dreams of Gods and Monsters!)

1. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green The Fault in Our Stars

There’s no denying I am definitely a JG fangirl – I have often wondered where he was when I was in high school and in desperate need of characters like Margot Roth Spiegelman, Quentin Jacobson, Lindsay Lee Wells, Alaska Young, Miles Halter and most importantly Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. Of his four books what makes TFIOS my favourite (and makes it top not only this list but the list of my favourite books) is the reality with which it is so deeply entrenched. Despite what some say, this is not an “issues” book, this is a love story. An honest, innocent, beautiful love story, one that doesn’t just draw you in but makes you invest in each character. Best of all you’ll laugh just as hard as you’ll cry.

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Love Quotes

Because capitalizing on love is what February 14th does best! Voila five quotes all about l’amour…

“I have something I need to tell you,” he says. I run my fingers along the tendons in his hands and look back at him. “I might be in love with you.” He smiles a little. “I’m waiting until I’m sure to tell you, though.”
– Veronica Roth, Divergent

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“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

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“I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough..”
– Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (Because who does cheesy love stories better than NS? No one. That’s who.)

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“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
– Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

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“In my arms is a woman who has given me a Skywatcher’s Cloud Chart, a woman who knows all my secrets, a woman who knows just how messed up my mind is, how many pills I’m on, and yet she allows me to hold her anyway. There’s something honest about all this, and I cannot imagine any other woman lying in the middle of a frozen soccer field with me – in the middle of a snowstorm even – impossibly hoping to see a single cloud break free of a nimbostratus.”
– Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Author: John Green
Publisher: Puffin Books Publishing
Date Published: September 21, 2006
Number of Pages: 256

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” John Green

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”
John Green

Ever since reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars I’ve become, well a little obsessed with him. Unhealthy? Yes. Worth it? I think so.  So for my first John Green follow-up I chose An Abundance of Katherines. I was inspired to read it after having seen it repeatedly listed on several different blogs and lists of best/important YA novels.

Child prodigy/not genius Colin Singleton is great at languages, he has an impeccable memory, the ability to anagram just about anything and a real knack when it comes to being dumped by girls named Katherine a feat he has achieved 19 times. His most recent dumping by Katherine XIX leaves him both heartbroken and destitute. Convinced by his overweight slacker best (and only) friend to head out on the open road, Colin finds himself in Gutshot, Tennessee where he sets out to prove a mathematical theory – one that can accurately predict who will be dumper and dumpee – thus thrusting him into the realm of genius and hopefully helping him win back K19.

The story in and of itself is a great twist on both the road trip to self-discovery theme and the breakup theme in that our protagonist, Colin is automatically made interesting by his child prodigy status, further adding to the interest is the fact that he
1. Has an obsession with the name Katherine (which no one seemed to find particular disturbing which in turn made me find it disturbing)
2. Has been dumped by 19 girls with that name

Instantly you want to know more about Colin and why Katherines keep dumping him. And without spoiling anything let me say Green is one of those authors who delivers on his promise when it comes to answers. You literally get the reason why every Katherine with a K dumped our man Colin. It’s really quite satisfying.

As important as the overall story is to a novel I always find myself focusing the most on the characters.

I have to admit that for about half of the book I couldn’t decide if I liked Colin or not. He’s kind of annoying, which I mean he knows, so the fact that he can acknowledge his own faults makes him respectable if not necessarily likeable. But as the story progressed and more of Colin’s life is revealed it becomes easier and easier to feel a certain kindness towards him. It’s not easy being an outsider. Colin is also made infinitely more enjoyable by the awesomeness of his best friend Hassan.

Hassan and Colin’s friendship was so genuine, enjoyable, and funny. The fact that Colin and Hassan don’t even need to speak to communicate with one another was such a great representation of that kind of friendship, you know the one where you speak in half sentences or without actual words and your friend still knows what you mean?  For example a conversation between my ‘hetero life mate’ (as I like to call her) and I can sound something like this:
Her: Can you grab the thingy, in the thingy with the do-dad by the whatdyacall it?
Me: The spatula? Sure.
Her: Thanks.
Everyone else: That wasn’t even English.

My point being that in general the use of humour throughout this book is so natural and realistic. And at times will actually make you laugh out loud. So extra points for that. 

Lindsey Lee Wells vs. K-19

Another thing that made me decide I did in fact like Colin Singleton was that despite his obsession with Katherines he willingly admitted – at least to himself – off the bat that Lindsey Lee Wells was kind of a big deal. Of course it annoyed me that he continued pining over K-19 (yes, yes I’m heartless I know, but he really was a sitzpinkler which for anyone wondering is a German turn of phrase for a person who sits to pee, but is used derogatorily in reference to someone being a big giant pansy.) LLW vs. K-19 reminded me of Betty and Veronica, in that you become increasingly frustrated with Colin, who is clearly the Archie character here in that he knows that Betty is fun and sweet and cool yet he continues to go after the hot but infinitely evil Veronica. The more you got to know LLW and the more you learn about K-19 and her relationship with Colin the choice becomes a no brainer, because let’s face K-19 was a bit of an…unlikeable lady, if you get my drift.

LLW however was fascinating, she was at once cool and collected, smart and tough and incredibly vulnerable. When she opens up to Colin about her “non-cool years” and her boyfriend’s, the aptly named The Other Colin or TOC, past treatment of her (the Alpo can on Valentine’s day, I think my heart may have shattered in that moment) and how she dedicated herself to becoming his girlfriend to prove I don’t know what, it was sad and strangely empowering in an almost vengeful way (“Now he’s dating that dog” Jesus girl…that’s cold.) LLW was so complete as a character a big part of me would like to read a book about her. Also, I’m beginning to wonder if the triple name for a female character is a John Green-ism (Hazel Grace Lancaster, Lindsey Lee Wells).

As the summer progresses and Colin et al interview the towns folks, discover the big secret LLW’s mums been keeping, take on a feral hog, angry hornets, and TOC (that fight scene was kind of crazy, I mean who the heck is TOC? The Incredible Hulk?) Lindsey and Colin slowly fall for each other, Hassan stops being lazy and starts to experience life and Colin makes a huge discovery. There’s a lot of growth in this book, in ways it’s quite subtle, but it’s definitely there. And its reveal is incredibly rewarding because you don’t realize how invested you’ve become in the characters until the very end.

The ending by the way kind of reminded me of the end of The Perks of Being a Wallflower not in the whole devastating secret is revealed way but more so the fact that Colin begins to accept life as it is.

In a way John Green’s books remind me of those by John Irving (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany) in that in a Young Adult book world filled with doomed supernatural romances, crazy dictators and the children/teenagers who must work to overthrow them etc., Green writes really normal stories. This is not meant as a criticism, in fact, what makes me liken him to John Irving (one of my favourite authors) is that he has this uncanny ability to take completely normal characters, living completely normal lives and somehow make them extraordinary. Granted in the case of AAoK Colin is a child prodigy, but Green uses Colin’s intellect as a crutch, it hinders Colin in everyday life, it alienates him from his peers and ultimately leaves him lonely and needy. All feelings most of us can identify with. Also despite the breakup sorrow Green goes light on the “teenage angst” angle, instead he creates characters that demonstrate maturity and depth through understanding, humour and the connections they make with others.

An Abundance of Katherines is both a complex and simple story, it deals with relationships, friendship and growing up in a way that’s both clever and easy to identify with. The characters are unique without being unattainable, people you could see yourself hanging out with – I highly recommend it.

Next up on the reading list: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – this ones not a YA novel, but it has been likened to Gone Girl, so we’ll see how that goes. As for the continuation of my John Green obsession: Paper Towns. Exciting, I know.

Book Review: The Spectacular Now

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“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now”

Author: Tim Tharp

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Date Published: October 20, 2008

Number of Pages: 294 (Hardcover)

Sutter Keely – he’s cool, he’s fun, he’s the life of the party. He’s also irresponsible, unreliable and a bit of an alcoholic. Nothing really matters to Sutter apart from wining back his ex-girlfriend and his next drink. That is until he wakes up one morning on Aimee Finecky’s lawn. Poor Aimee has none of the awesomeness of Sutter and so he takes it upon himself to introduce her to his spectacular world. Only it seems he gets in a little too deep. For the first time in his life Sutter has the chance to make a difference but can he handle it?

The life of Sutter Keely is indeed spectacular. Sutter, the world’s most high functioning teenage alcoholic is a loveable ne’er-do-well who takes us on the journey that is his life. Philosophical, funny and full of heart Sutter is easy to like even if he’s cheesy (constantly referring to himself as “Sutterman” in fact that he actually refers to himself in the third person makes The Persnickety Rapscallion roll her eyes. See what I did there? Clever right?)

There’s also the fact that he is, as previously stated, a high functioning alcoholic. And no one seems particularly perturbed by this fact. While I read I kept asking myself, “Is it really possible that his mother just doesn’t notice that her son is in a perpetual state of drunkenness? Or is she really just a crap mother?” Neither of which questions are ever answered, or even broached. Which I suppose explains Sutter’s disdain for commitment, in his experience people really don’t seem to care so why should he? But he does care. Which is what leads him to do stupid things, like try to “save” Aimee.

Aimee Finecky – now there’s an interesting character. The complete opposite of our man Sutter, she’s quiet, shy, neat and nerdy (at least in Sutter’s estimation, I mean sure there’s nothing remotely sexy about a giant purple coat, mostly because all it brings to mind is images of Grimace but nonetheless – you know, different strokes and all that.) She’s also a doormat, pushed around by her family and her best friend – who possibly comes equipped with one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read, “Krystal Krittenbrink is what you’d call amorphous – a blob.” Amazing. Aimee’s also full of hopes and dreams and yet for all her sweetness and intelligence she gets so wrapped up in Sutter and his way of life (particularly the drinking) that you start to wonder if she’s going to throw away all that hard work in order to keep Sutter around.

Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is at times sweet and at other times painful. Sutter, so desperate to bring Aimee out of her shell and and for her to recognize her self-worth doesn’t realize the negatives his influence is having on her. And Aimee so eager to please and amazed that the super cool Sutter Keely would even be interested in her is unwilling to acknowledge Sutter’s flaws. It killed me every time she apologized to him for his stupidity.

There’s also the fact that throughout most of their friendship/relationship Sutter’s still jonesing to get back with his ex-girlfriend who dumped him, yet he continues to allow things with Aimee to progress towards a relationship. Sutter truly is an ass. (A likeable ass, but an ass nonetheless.)

There are some really great minor characters in this story, specifically Sutter’s best friend Ricky – who embodies the idea of growing up and maturing, and Sutter’s ex Cassidy who recognizes that though he’s chock full of good times, Sutter’s incapable of providing the stability and reliability anyone would want in a relationship.

The contempt Sutter feels towards his mother, the fact that he blames her for his father’s disappearance from his life, that he lies to his friends about where his father works offer brief glimpses into the part of Sutter he hides away. When he finally see’s his father after so many years and realizes that his mother wasn’t lying, that his father was a cheat and a good-for-nothing it’s kind of the smack in the face he’s needed all this time. It was a glimpse into his future if he keeps on the same path. It also makes him realize he’s not what Aimee needs (thank god for that.)

The book is littered with references to God (Sutter’s mantra: “I am God’s own drunk”) which I guess goes along with our main characters messiah complex which ironically also happens to be his fatal flaw. Sutter’s desire to always be kind, to make people feel good is what leads him to leading on Aimee and taking things too far, even in breaking up with her he beats around the bush and skates over the issue to avoid causing her pain not realizing that what he’s doing will ultimately cause her more pain then if he just told her the truth.

He’s a complex guy, Sutter.

Let’s talk about the ending, because when it happened I definitely started mumbling under my breath about getting a faulty book. Then when my stupidity subsided and I realized that was in fact the end I found myself cursing loudly and repeatedly shouting, “WTF?” So basically the end was awesome. I love when stories end in seemingly obscure ways, mostly because in my mind it means the story hasn’t ended. I’m not suggesting that Tharp plans on writing a sequel – I just mean that Sutter’s story continues, on what looks like the exact same path he was heading down when the story first began. Which is incredibly sad because Sutter Keely, despite his obvious flaws, is really quite special, which in turn is what makes The Spectacular Now special. Really it’s just a story about a series of events; there are no crazy circumstances, no evil dictatorships to overthrow, or existentially uptight wimpy vampires to fall in love with. Everything that happens is totally plausible. It’s just made so spectacular because of an awesome character, and great writing.

I’m curious to see how this story has been translated to film (despite the fact that it once again stars Shailene Woodley – apparently the only young female actress suitable for any YA novel film adaptations. Which by the by I totally don’t agree with and I’m a little filled with rage that she’s been cast in The Fault in Our Stars, but that’s a rant for another time kids.)

The Spectacular Now is one of those books that seem like a rarity in YA novels at the moment – it’s a simple story, about a regular kid who’s regular life is made extraordinary because of who he is and how he lives. It’s a breath of fresh air and a really great read.

Oh and for anyone interested, here’s a link to one of the trailer’s for the movie: The Spectacular Now

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Date published: January 10, 2012

Number of pages: 313

What’s it about?

Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill cancer patient is coerced by her mother into attending a support group for youth where she meets and eventually falls in love with cancer survivor Augustus Waters.

I actually had to read this book twice before I could sit down and write about it. Not because it’s bad (because it most definitely isn’t bad, unless we’re using the Ebonics form of ‘bad’ which then suggests something is in fact good in which case this book is incredibly bad.) I fell in love with this story and both Hazel and Augustus so deeply that I didn’t think I could actually put into words how I was feeling. It’s a difficult book to define, part philosophical journey, part tragic romance yet filled with unbelievable hilarity The Fault in Our Stars is a book you can read over and over again – and never get bored of.

Part of what is so striking about The Fault in our Stars is how well Green portrays teenage angst – and how he does so with unbelievable humour and warmth. Augustus’ obsession with having a meaningful life – being a hero, combined with his astonishing sense of ennui (the existentially fraught free throws) kind of sums up being a teenager. And yet because both characters have had to face their own mortality – their maturity, the level of intelligence and wit these characters display allows them to acknowledge their suffering without allowing it to control them.

But let’s just talk about Augustus Waters for a minute. First of all Augustus Waters – why is that one of the greatest literary names ever? Furthermore, he’s kind of totally swoon-worthy. Self-assured, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and funny, Gus is a nice change of pace from all the bad-boys-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-they-have-to-hide-because-they-need-to-be-tough that seem to currently permeate YA novels (Jace Wayland, Will Herondale, Patch in the Hush Hush series, Four – not that they’re not swoon-worthy in their own right.) It’s just that Gus is normal yet extraordinary.  Everything he does is just a little amazing because of how he does it; he displays a sense of selflessness that’s not generally expected of 17-year-old boys. This quality isn’t something that only comes out with Hazel; his entire relationship with Isaac demonstrates Gus’ kindness and understanding (not to mention his slightly perverse sense of humour.) The ‘night of the broken trophy’s’ as Hazel calls it and the egging of Isaac’s ex-girlfriends house (done while at the height of Gus’ illness) are just some of the examples that come to mind.

There’s also the fact that despite the serious disappointment that Van Houten proves to be, Gus continues to write to him, asking for help with his eulogy for Hazel and demanding he answer her questions – further demonstrating the extraordinary thoughtfulness and love Gus possesses.

What really grabs you with this story is how bittersweet it is – you always know it will end sadly, the entire book kind of prepares you for it.  But Green takes you on this journey, he leads you through the process of dealing with mortality and the inevitable and he does it in a way that is neither condescending nor pathetic. You watch these characters as they live their lives with the burden of cancer and marvel at the humanness, the fight, the hope and despair – that Green creates, all done with so much flair and humour – real humour – not forced, it’s all so natural. The conversations between Hazel and Augustus are believable – you could imagine having those same conversations with your own friends. The progression of their relationship and the feelings of fear and frustration Hazel feels, Gus’ persistence in pursuing her and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with his death – make this story seem so much bigger than your average YA novel but quite frankly, that’s what makes this book so charming and real. It’s the underlying sadness coupled with the distinct voices Green saddles his characters with that makes The Fault in Our Stars such a standout story.