Monday, 26 September 2016

Outgrowing YA

Upon first arriving in YA, I thought I'd never leave. I told myself for that for now this was my playground. But now I've seen the bigger swings and slides, and want to go on them. And I've come a have a revelation. It's been coming for a while, but it finally hit earlier this year.  

I think I'm outgrowing YA.

Perhaps 'outgrowing' isn't the best of words, perhaps 'moving away from' would be more appropriate.

I first started reading YA in 2013, and having finished the Harry Potter series, there was this whole new section of 'teenage' books. All of which I'd never heard of. It started with The Fault in Our Stars, Cat Clarke, and Divergent, and then it all spiralled out of control from there. I'll always be grateful for YA and the lessons which I've learnt from it, because I've learnt so much. But 3 years on, and maybe 200 books later, I'm done. 

YA is becoming the same. There is a lack of creativity, a lack of innovation, and often a dumbing down of writing. Every dystopia is a copy of the Hunger Games. Every contemporary has to be 'for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.' Every book is somewhat a manifestation or duplicate of another and I'm so so sick of it.

I'm sick of the love triangles which never happen in real life. I'm sick of the instantaneous falling in love, and the 'super hot, really cute boy' or 'the guy with the dark, mysterious past that she can't stay away from.' That one girl who's at the centre of the revolution and the volatile portrayals of mental health. I'm sick of authors and publishers romanticising bad and serious situations with a love story, because that doesn't happen.Too often YA plots are treated like  picnics. Although the persons life can be foul 'don't worry, we all get love and happy endings.'

The tropes are repetitive. The writing is bland, and the plots are weak. Maybe it is just a dip in creativity in fiction right now, but I see this in both US and UK YA. I don't feel like I learn things from YA anymore. And if I do, I rarely do. I feel like what the industry is being fed, or what we're being fed by the publishers, are the same ideas over and over.

General fiction seems so foreign to me. I don't know it like YA. I don't know the in's and out's, the author's to watch, and writing styles. Everything is new, sterile, unfamiliar, but waiting to be touched, highlighted, dog-eared, annotated. Knowing that is exciting and terrifying, because to break into a new genre is to fall and get up again. It's learning what you like and don't like, wasting time and money on the worst of stories that you thought you might love. There are millions and millions of books which I've never heard of, but some could one day be favourites if I only enter that room, and pick up that book. 

I'll always take a peek in a YA section. My intrigue for that category will never fully cease. But I want to look further. I want to read new stories and go on new adventures. I want something different.  

This discussion will never be accurate enough. It'll never truly reflect what I want to say, because even I don't know the entirety of the reasoning behind this decision. As Albert Camus said, 'blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.' Camus is right; my heart is malleable; my heart can bend to welcome the new and shut out the old instead of ending up broken through having this realisation too late. I just know that though I'll keep reading young adult fiction, the time has come to read it less and begin a new reading chapter in my life. 

Holly x

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Mini Reviews - Born Scared and Shift

Born ScaredElliot is terrified of almost everything. 
From the moment he was born, his life has been governed by acute fear. The only thing that keeps his terrors in check are the pills that he takes every day. It's Christmas Eve, there's a snowstorm and Elliot's medication is almost gone. His mum nips out to collect his prescription. She'll only be 10 minutes - but then she doesn't come back, Elliot must face his fears and try to find her. She should only be 400 metres away. It might as well be 400 miles...

Prior to reading the press releases attached to my copy of Born Scared, I'd never really heard much about Kevin Brooks or his works. The Bunker Diary had been mentioned to be a couple of times in passing by friends who feel they will forever be scarred by what they read in those pages, one or two have thumbed through iBoy in Waterstones, but for me, now having read Born Scared, I think it's best that I stay away from other books by this author, as Brooks' latest novel just wasn't for me. 

Turning over the press release, and reading through the details of publication, what caught my eye most significantly was the notion of 'terrors' and 'pills.' To me, this blurb somewhat read as a metaphor for Anxiety. As someone who continues to tackle Anxiety on a frequent basis, I immediately felt a burning desire to read this, wondering if I would find even a very weak connection to my understanding of Anxiety. Elliot's fear wasn't quite what I expected - he's scared of everything. His fear is palpable; so intense and overwhelming, and utterly, utterly real to the reader. This had me hooked, longing to keep reading, but that being said, it was the only thing that kept me reading.

Aside from the description and senses surrounding Elliot's fear, I simply didn't click with this. I didn't care for the story, I didn't care for the outcome, and maybe that is because of my changing tastes. My development as someone who has read  an awful  lot of young adult fiction and isn't so new to the genre but is instead moving out of the genre, nothing felt new or refreshing in this story besides Elliot's terror of the world around him.

There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vaile. The first was that she had no parents – they were dead. And the second was that they were dead because Miranda had killed them. Olive hasn’t always been a loner – she used to be the school queen-bee. But that was before her breakdown. Now she can only watch as new girl Miranda latches on to her ex-best friend Katie, talking like Katie, dressing like Katie and even going out with Katie’s boyfriend. And then Katie dies. Everyone thinks it was a tragic accident. But Olive isn’t so sure. What if Miranda really is a killer . . ?

Again, whilst not a book that I loved, there was an element to Shift that felt greatly appealing. Bursting with twists and turns, this is a highly unpredictable read. Initially, Shift reads like any other conventional shape-shifting novel that you might find when browsing the shelves of mystery and urban fantasy, but when the reality of Shift unravels into a metaphor for the emotional turmoil Katie encounters as part of an eating disorder, the meaning of this novel grows in profundity. Bailey's twist on her allegories and metaphors for mental health throughout the novel were refreshing. Having a take on mental health that's so distinguished in its own right from mainstream young adult fiction can certainly to appeal to a variety of demographics - readers of YA and not; young and old.

The supernatural elements of Shift are at minimum unsettling. Whilst dangerous and eerie, the elements of paranoia and psychological manipulation run deeper than what can first be interpreted, going further so as to question the meanings of identity, grief, previous history, and friendship. Where the cover exudes a typical thriller-film-poster air, within its pages, Em Bailey successfully overthrows any first thoughts on the novel that may be gathered from its outer shell. However, the subtlety of the book [or lack thereof] is its greatest downfall. This is a factor which will differ from person to person, many parts of Shift are predictable, perhaps too predictable. Glaring hints littered the text, and twists that will have been intended to be shocking hit me as expected. Again, this will differ from reader to reader, some people will see it, some people won't; but as someone who did, the proportions of the hints, which could have been toned down a little, took away from the overall reading experience. 

Thank you as always to Electric Monkey at Egmont for sending Born Scared and Shift to me in exchange for honest reviews. Born Scared was published on September 8th 2016 and Shift's rebranded cover has been available since July 28th 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

REVIEW - One by Sarah Crossan

OneGrace and Tippi don't like being stared and sneered at, but they're used to it. They're conjoined twins - united in blood and bone. What they want is to be looked at in turn, like they truly are two people. They want real friends, and what about love? But a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead for Tippi and Grace. One that could change their lives more than they ever asked for...

For a long time now, I've been in an on-going clash with the YA genre. Every book feels like a duplicate of another world, another idea, another set of conventional characters. But this was completely different. One is the kind of book that gives me faith in YA.

One of the things that astonishes me about One is the fact that through such simplistic, unembellished free verse, every single word was so filled with Grace's concerns, love, and anxiety. This hurt to read. In spite of such a heavy focus on Grace and Tippi, and the to-the-point construction of the free verse, every character felt so incredibly deep and complex; I never expected such delicate handling of alcoholism, financial struggles and eating disorders to come across in so few words. Grace and Tippi's family are utterly dysfunctional within their brief descriptions throughout the book, and yet I still found myself caring for them all. 

The reason that One gets such a high rating is because it made me question things that I'd never really considered before when regarding conjoined twins - like how you deal with Periods? What if one of you falls in love - and how do you as a collective pair deal with that
? How do you deal with the anger you feel for your twin smoking and drinking when whatever they consume will directly affect you as well? I'm sick of YA fiction that is repetitively produced, not giving any real room for its audiences to question new ideas surrounding other perspectives and ethics. On the other hand, One is so unique in its format, subject nature, and underlying themes that the overwhelming room for audiences to uncover new views and beliefs is screaming to be used throughout this story's four hundred pages. That is truly inspiring, and makes me, and I'm sure many other readers, appreciate this book even more, simply for breaking away from the stereotypical moulds of young adult literature.

Crossan's latest book is more than a read - it's an experience. It's an insight into two lives that the majority of us will never live through ourselves. It's a reminder of the privilege that comes with having a body of your own, and it's a shock into the fear, pain, and eternal struggle that may, in some cases like Grace and Tippi and other conjoined twins, never cease to end. It's an experiemental piece that works with glorious success having gained numerous awards since first release last year such as the Carnegie Medal and the YA Book Prize. Each of these accolades are in my eyes well deserved, and, if you're curious about the topic nature, or intrigued by the wide-spread praise, this is certainly worth a read. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them:: Official Trailer Thoughts

Hufflepuff Scarf. HUFFLEPUFF SCARF
Depending on how closely you looked at the objects inside Newt's suitcase, you may  have noticed a yellow and black scarf. Surely, surely this is a connotation to Newt's Hufflepuff sorting whilst at Hogwarts. It's a subtle, yet highly significant symbol of Newt's past that is being brought into Muggle America. However, his choice to continue wearing his scarf is rather interesting given that this trailer revealed Newt's expulsion from Hogwarts. Which leads me on to my second point...

Newt Was Expelled
Given that Newt was expelled from Hogwarts, it seems unusual that he continues to carry a piece of his house's uniform with him across the Atlantic. My biggest question surrounding his expulsion though, is whether or not this is canonical. In the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - a brief biography of Scamander claims that he did graduate from Hogwarts. We can also understand from this Graves' narration that Dumbledore 'was so fond' of him. Could it possibly be that Newt has been expelled, but then following on from the events of this film trilogy, he will return to Hogwarts, and later graduate. Could Dumbledore be key in ensuring this happens?

'Shaw. America's Future.'
Who is Shaw? This is clearly part of an electoral campaign, but that doesn't mean that it's in the Muggle world. Maybe Shaw is trying to make his way up in magical politics, and into MACUSA? Perhaps he's trying to take over President Seraphina Picquery's role as the American equivalent to the Minister for Magic.

1920's Magical America - FEMINISM
Porpentina is wearing trousers throughout the clips we see. Trousers only became more popular and acceptable for women to wear in the mid 20th Century - so essentially, Tina is ahead of her time. Furthermore, so is Seraphina Picquery in her role as President of MACUSA. Even now, there hasn't been a female President of the United States yet; nor has there been a female Minister for Magic - but according to Pottermore, Seraphina isn't the first in this role. There was also Emily Rappaport, the creator of Rappaport's law, a tool for segregation of Wizards and Muggles. As far as feminism stands, having women ahead of their times and in great positions of power in this trilogy is fantastic. 

 It's hard to believe how close we are to the release of the film now just over two months away, so it seemed fitting to share more thoughts on the book and film as we get closer to the release date. In light of this, keep an eye out for another trailer analysis post coming up in the near future, and I'd be really interested to hear what your thoughts are so far in the lead up to watching this film. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Reading List - A Level Year 1 Wrap Up

Every year, prior to Autumn term's commencement, a reading list arrives in my inbox. As an English Literature student at A Level and a aspiring one at degree-level, this is a thrilling moment. It's the moment in which the texts which you're going to decipher, fracture, deconstruct and analyse with curious heart are finally revealed to you after months of anticipation. Suddenly I'm in a blur of finding editions of the texts with extra analysis, textbooks, and the best Sparknotes possible. Now, having completed my first year of A Levels, and going to my second in a matter of days, this feels like the appropriate time to recap and note my thoughts on the texts I studied in Year 12. 

Stories of Ourselves - Selected Stories, as endorsed by Cambridge International Examinations
I'll probably be forever a little angry that we didn't study a novel at AS Level, but the compilation of stories was mediocre enough that I could be satisfied for the mean time. Of course, there were some horrific stories, but there were also some fantastic pieces that will resonate with me for a very long time. Examples of this are in Journey by Shirley Geok Lin Lim and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman [both of which I'd highly recommend you go and read.] This anthology also got me to read a Charles Dickens, which took me by surprise in how much I enjoyed it, and a John Wyndham too. Don't actively go reading this unless you've been set it for your course, but these books remind me of how fantastic anthologies are in giving the reader tasters of an author's wider pallate. 3/5
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
Upon full immersion in Shakespeare's world stage play, I really enjoyed its contents. Antony and Cleopatra are both such deep, and astonishingly flawed characters, and by the end, I had a lot of respect for some (Octavia and Enobarbus) and not so much for others. Antony and Cleopatra is script that I can pour my heart out over - especially when it comes to theme and character analysis. 

I'd only recommend this if you have the time and patience to sit down and study every aspect. It's not as simple to understand as Twelfth Night or Romeo and Juliet, the complexity will just make you feel lost unless you're taking the time to fully grasp what's happening. There are so many battles, it becomes irritating, but other than that, this was a fascinating take on West vs East, duty vs desire, and how far people will go in the name of love. 4/5
Selected Poems by Wilfred Owen
I'm not the biggest poetry lover. I feel like I have to connect to the poet and just get what they are saying [Ariel by Sylvia Plath lacked this connection, hence why I hated it so much]. Owen is one of those poets. 

Owen's subject was the Pity of War, and I think his poetry serves to do this theme justice perfectly. His poetry pinpoints the catastrophic impact of war in horrific detail - as seen in Dulce Et Decorum Est. Meanwhile pieces like Shadwell Stair and Strange Meeting are just haunting, reminding readers a century on of the reality of life in a revolutionary, both in urban environments and on the battlefield. I feel like I took something away from each of these, and for that I'm grateful. Reading this collection reminded me of when I went to Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium and Northern France a couple of years ago, and the experience of seeing the places in which these battles were fought. Having that experience only made me appreciate these poems more and inspired a wanderlust and curiosity to revisit the country in which World War One was partially fought. 3/5

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Overall a pretty good play, filled with great morals about sticking by your values and principles even when it would be easier to give in. Tudor England just isn't of great interest to me though - nor is the divide between Catholicism, the Church of England, and Henry VIII's decision to bend the laws when he couldn't get around them. As an Atheist, perhaps I found this harder to relate to than someone who does abide by a religion; unlike More, I don't have my morals rooted in higher powers, so maybe don't quite empathise as much as a religious person may do so. 1/5

As someone who is applying to study English Literature at University, this is a series that I hope to continue over the next few years, with my reading list for Year 13 going live here at Lost in a Library in the coming weeks. Whilst I write with a vilified voice regarding these four books, they gave me new outlooks, new ideas, new beliefs. As a bonus, these are the books that I achieved an A at AS Level with, something which makes me very grateful to Bolt, Owen, and Shakespeare for their works and what they have aided me in reaching.