One of the hazards of teaching high school is that the most readily accessible books to you are teen (also known as Young Adult) fiction but it’s also a great pleasure! I do like to sit down with an epic saga of a novel but a good YA novel is like the enjoyable entree to your meatier main. Here are my current favorites – ones that I hope you will love too!
Divergent by Veronica Roth
My latest discover, thanks to a work colleague. The action takes place in a closed society where all members of society are raised in factions that value different characteristics – Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest) and Dauntless (the brave). At the age of 16, each person takes an aptitude test to see which society they are more suited to and have the choice to change to a more suitable faction or stay in the faction of their birth. Beatrice Prior takes the test and shows aptitude for three different factions and is told that she must hide that she is Divergent. What does she choose?
What follows is a high-action story that shows the darker sides of the values that each faction holds dear. It toys with our ideas of fear and courage, reality and perceived reality. Two things I love about this series so far:
- While intimate relationships certainly play a part in this novel (familial, friendship and romantic connections influence the characters significantly along the way), it’s not the “50-Shades-Of-Grey-Lite” that some Young Adult books devolve into… *cough* *Twilight* *cough*
- The main character is strong but genuine, passionate and flawed. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly attached to a character since Ellie in John Marsden’s “Tomorrow” series – the teenage me used to picture myself as the lead role!
I love that the story keeps evolving – new discoveries, new secrets and characters that surprise you. I was gobsmacked that such craft came from a writer that is only 23, with two books now already under her belt. I’m really excited for the next book in the series that Veronica Roth is currently calling (tongue firmly in cheek) Detergent
Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant
In 2014, they’ve discovered the cure for cancer & they’ve discovered the cure for the common cold. The inconvenient side effects of these vaccines? They’ve mutated and now the dead are walking the earth. Unfortunate! In the “Rising” that followed, millions died and humankind adapted for survival using zombie movies for inspiration. Mainstream media fell and the transmission of news and information is solely in the hand of the bloggers. Over 20 years later, a US presidential election is taking place and brother/sister blogging team, Georgia and Shaun Mason, are on the campaign trail. Along the way they find that the real villians in the piece aren’t the zombies.
I’m not going to lie, I loved how Ms Grant incorporated the use of social media into her tale of the modern-day zombie post-apocolyptic world. Being a blogger, I could definitely agree with the way that the online community schisms off in the aftermath of the fall of mainstream media. I also loved how she alternated excerpts from their blogs between chapters to differentiate between their public and their private writing, acknowledging the self-imposed line that people create for themselves when deciding what of themselves to share.
I also really liked the scientific back-story of how zombies originated – the use of an HIV-type virus and the idea of passive infection lying dormant really made a lot of sense. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it’s true! It also does make you wonder what is going on in those medical labs around the world and whether this story is all that far-fetched.
Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie
The Matched Trilogy features another strong female protagonist (much easier to find YA series with strong females rather than strong males for some reason) with a clear focus on the dystopia theme becoming ever present in teen fiction. Cassia lives in a society where everything is decided for you – from the clothes you wear to the job you do, the food you eat to the one you will marry. Everything is decided in accordance for the greater good and you are matched with your life partner according to your favorable statistics. Cassia comes of age and goes to her matching ceremony and the image of her best friend is shown as her match. She’s so happy – until another face also flashes on the screen.
I love how this series examines what the essence of a stable, long-term relationship really is – is it the friendship, the compassion and the shared background that Cassia shares with best friend Xander or is it the excitement, the gut connection, the passion she feels when she looks at Ky? And in a society in which nothing is left to chance, how do you deal when you ultimately have to make a decision?
The other part I love is the “book within a book” feature – I love it when other literary works feature in the book I’m reading, like the way that Dickens’ “Great Expectations” permeates through Lloyd Jones’ “Mr Pip”. Matched has a recurrent theme of the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gently” and the way that Ally Condie ties it in is very artful. I think she sums it up best: “This poem came to mind almost immediately when I started writing the book. It’s probably the most universal poem I’ve ever encountered. The first line alone resonates immediately with almost everyone”.
So there you go – 7 (and almost 9) new books that you should be reading right now! I may not be Oprah, but I do know books and I hope that you’ll enjoy them! Do you have any Young Adult Fiction that you would recommend?