YA

Fantasy Literature for Young Adults (over the age of 12).

Wicked: A challenging revisionist take on the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

After finally seeing the Broadway musical I felt it was well past time to track down Gregory Maguire's Wicked (the inspiration for the musical, which by this stage has probably eclipsed the book in popularity) and read for myself the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Anyone who comes to the book out of a love for the musical is probably in for a nasty shock. Though the musical had its share of darkness and a bittersweet ending, it was generally a very light and comedic production that focused on the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. Maguire's novel on the other hand is filled with violence, sex, murder and grotesquery, delving into the question of what makes a human being evil and whether or not they can escape their preordained fate.

Elphaba is born to missionary parents in lower-east Munchkinland, with unexplained green skin and ... Read More

The Tricksters: A supernatural puzzle-box inside a New Zealand family drama

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.

The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christ... Read More

Bones of Faerie: Imaginative setting, dull plot

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

The story Bones of Faerie takes place years after a great and tragic war between the Fae and the Humans. Those who survived the war on the human side greatly distrust any sort of magic. However, the war changed the human world; trees never shed their leaves, instead they attack unsuspecting victims. Plants have minds of their own, and only the most benign can be eaten. Some children are born with transparent hair; marking them part-faerie. These children are killed for what they may become, and the destructive powers they could possess.

Liza lives in such a town. Any child born with magic is cast out to die or else be taken by the faerie. Strangers are not welcome, and trade is nonexistent. The inhabitants of the town live off of what tame plants they can harvest and are not poisonous. Liza lives with her father, a strict man and firm believer in ‘the rules’:
... Read More

Replica: A novel that can’t decide what it is

Replica by Jenna Black

Jenna Black’s Replica is a young adult science fiction novel which I read in only one day. Readers who follow my blog might know that when I read a book in a day it means I either loved it or hated it. Well, Replica tries hard, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

One of my issues right off the bat is that for a science fiction world, there really isn’t much SciFi in Replica and  Black never gives the reader a timeline to reference. Different aspects of the world suggest different time periods. The story takes place in the Corporate States, a future dystopian version of our own world, and Nathan has a Replica, so we know it’s the future, but many the social structures make me think of the 1800s. Women wear long dresses in public and worry about Victorian era soc... Read More

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: It’s not the X-Men without Wolverine

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

If there is one genre in young adult fiction that has been egregiously overdone at this point, it’s… well, actually, can’t tell a lie, it’s paranormal romance. But a close runner-up is the “Teens with Powers” genre that’s rocketed to prominence in recent years, particularly after a certain book series involving young wizards and their magical school. The formula is generally much the same: there’s a secret society of magic-users who organize themselves in some sort of refuge from a dangerous world where they have an equally magical enemy. The inevitably teenage or tweenage protagonists are at first under pressure to simply conform and leave the problems to the adults, but must soon take matters into their own hands to indulge teenage hormones and face their nemeses in glorious magical combat. This isn’t to say it’s a bad formula (indeed, many auth... Read More

Jala’s Mask: Interesting world-building in this YA fantasy

Jala’s Mask by Mike & Rachel Grinti

I enjoy reading fantasy that stems from a different folkloric basis than the one I grew up in. Middle European, British, Native American and Asian fantasy tropes have been done a lot, so Jala’s Mask, by Mike & Rachel Grinti was a refreshing change.

Jala has grown up in a society similar in some ways to our Polynesian one. Her people can magically shape ships from the material that forms the reefs around their islands. They gather wealth by raiding the mainland. The Five Islands and One are ruled by a king and queen, but except for the One island, where sorcerers are exiled, each island is controlled by a particular family. Jala is part of the Bardo clan. The new king, Azi of the Kayet, is looking for a wife, and Jala’s father is sure she will be chosen. This seems unlikely, because Azi’s Kayet uncle doesn’t trust the Bardo, but Jala’... Read More

Monstrous Affections: Chock full of horror and hormones

Monstrous Affections by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant 

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales, a new anthology by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, was an interesting and surprising read. Interesting because, duh, anything the duo behind Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet puts together has to be great. And surprising because nothing on the cover prepared me for its YA-focus.

And let’s talk about the cover for a second, because it is incredible. Red thistles explode out of line-drawn stems. Blood drips from the maw of a fully-colored toothy black beast as it crouches over a prone, line-drawn man... his prey, we assume. Out of the beast’s back arise feathered wings, again line-drawn. I love the contras... Read More

The Sweet Far Thing: A messy ending

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.

As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a worse fate — she is to be the governess for a... Read More

Mockingjay: A disappointing ending

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I am of the HARRY POTTER generation, so of course THE HUNGER GAMES hit me like it hit the rest of my demographic: square in the imagination. Although I adored the first two installments in this trilogy, Mockingjay left me feeling betrayed, let down, and ultimately dejected.

It seemed to me that this last installment in the trilogy was poor on every front. I felt that not only did the characters cease to be dynamic entities, the setting lost its unique qualities and the plot left everything to be desired. I think all of my problems with Mockingjay stem from the style being completely different. It felt choppier, less robust and much less well-thought-out than the prior novels.

What bothered me the most was the loss of the great characters. Though some of the supporting people stay dynamic and life-like... Read More

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: I was expecting her to be a little bit colder

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel of the same name as a short story in Holly Black’s The Poison Eaters, and anthology of delightfully dark YA stories, all with particular flavours and drawing on different myths from around the world. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown finds the reader in a post-vampiricism-infected United States. The cities in which the largest outbreaks occurred were swiftly enclosed (earning the name ‘Coldtowns’), trapping vampires, humans, and infected alike in a backwards world where day is night and predators look like the people you once loved.

The way one turns into a vampire in Holly Black’s world is unique. It’s a disease that has particular stages from bitten to full vampire, and there’s a way to beat it. Of course sweating out the infection isn’t easy, as it takes 88 d... Read More

Rebel Angels: Better than first book

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

Rebel Angels is the second volume in Libba Bray’s trilogy about Gemma Doyle, a teenage girl who attends a finishing school in Victorian England. The magic she inherited from her mother, a member of the secretive Order, allows her to enter the Realms, a beautiful fantasy world where she is able to control her surroundings. In the first volume, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Gemma arrives at school after her mother’s death and deals with all the usual things you’d expect to find in a YA novel about a boarding school. At first she is shunned by Felicity and Pippa, the two most beautiful and popular girls in the school, from whom she must bravely and nobly defend her roommate Ann, the overweight unpopular scholarship student. (These characters are present in just about every YA boarding school novel I’ve ever read.) When Felicity and Pippa find out that Gemma can ta... Read More

The Doubt Factory: A socially-conscious YA thriller

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s most recent stand-alone novel is a modern day young adult thriller. It’s about a rich girl named Alix who attends an elite highschool (uh oh, it’s already starting off wrong for me) who meets a mysterious sexy bad boy (oh gosh) who leads a diverse gang of socially conscious teenage vandals (ugh) who hope to change the world by taking down a public relations company that works for industries like Big Pharma. They hope to do this by stalking Alix and showing her how bad her father, one of the owners of the company, is.

At first Alix, after she finally figures out what the mystery stalker is all about, isn’t willing to believe that her father, a man who takes such good care of his family, could be so cold-hearted toward the rest of the world. Ah, but Alix has the hots for the sexy bad boy stalker (it wouldn’t be a YA novel otherwise), so she begins to investigate his ... Read More

The Accidental Highwayman: Fast-paced and funny

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Ben Tripp's YA book, The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides, is the first in a series, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

It tells the story of Kit Bristol, an orphan and circus performer who has become a valet to a mysterious gentleman. He quickly learns that his employer is none other than Whistling Jack, a notorious highwayman with a bounty on his head. After Whistling Jack is mortally wounded, Kit is mistaken for him and flees for his life. He finds that he has been charged with completing a task that Whistling Jack left undone: to rescue Princess Morgana from the clutches of her father, the King of Faerie, who has planned to marry Morgana off to Prince George of England. After he rescues her, the two of them set off on a madcap journey around... Read More

A Monster Calls: A deeply moving tale about the reality of death

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Conor O’Malley is a thirteen-year-old boy living in modern England. Conor is haunted on a nightly basis by a terrible nightmare in which he wakes up bathed in sweat, shaking with fear. A night comes where he has a different nightmare, and a yew tree in his yard comes alive, calling his name. Conor is actually relieved that the terrifying nightmare has been replaced, but he’s also annoyed that this not-so-scary monster is just that —not scary. The monster wants to tell Conor three stories, with a fourth that Conor tells, which the monster dubs “the truth”.

Conor’s mother is dying of cancer, and his world is turned upside down with change. As a result, he gets unwanted attention at school, whether it comes in the form of comfort from teachers or from bullying by kids who are too young to know better.

A Monster Calls Read More

Seed Seeker: Interesting world, weak characters

Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent

Seed Seeker is the third book in Pamela Sargent’s Young Adult EARTHSEED trilogy (following Earthseed and Farseed), but you don’t necessarily need to read the previous two books to get up to speed — Sargent does a great job at catching the reader up without any info dumps. Seed Seeker fairly stands alone. Most of the characters are new, though Nuy, from Farseed, does make an appearance.

Seed Seeker is a rather dark novel wrapped in an exploration/adventure tale and is also filled with enough angst and hope to satisfy any series fan. The dynamics between the civilizations are interesting and complex. Advanced technology has been developed, but much of the world lives a medieval lifestyle and relies on manual labor, ... Read More

Egg and Spoon: Feels more like fabulist literary fiction than YA

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire's Egg and Spoon is being marketed as a YA novel, and I hope that designation doesn't drive any readers away. This book blends the humor and hunger of real life with the wonder and otherworldliness of fables, resulting in a story that broke my heart so subtly, it was like a crack developing in an egg.

Egg and Spoon follows two young protagonists in Tsarist Russia. Elena Rudina, a peasant girl from the village of Miersk, meets a young noblewoman, Ekaterina (or Cat, for short), whose train has stopped in Miersk for repairs. The two girls become unlikely friends until one day, in a bizarre series of events, Elena and Cat accidentally switch places. Elena is whisked away on the train, dressed in fine clothing, fed more food than she's seen in her impoverished life, and taught manners and etiquette in anticipation of an expected meetin... Read More

Mortal Fire: A haunting and evocative supernatural mystery

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

This was my first time reading an Elizabeth Knox novel, but I know for certain that it won't be my last. Quite famous in her (and my) country of New Zealand, Knox is best known for her adult novel The Vintner's Luck and her YA duology Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. Mortal Fire is set in the same world as the Dreamhunter books, one that's so similar to our own that only a few name changes and the presence of hidden magic differentiates it.

The story is set in 1950s Southland, a large island republic in the South Pacific, and our protagonist is Canny Mochrie, a sixteen year old math genius, forced to accompany her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan on a research project to the town of Massenfer. Sholto has been instructed by his father (a writer and professor) to collect testimo... Read More

Farseed: A lot of filler

Farseed by Pamela Sargent

The interesting thing about Pamela Sargent’s EARTHSEED series is that it doesn’t really seem to matter overly much what order you read the books in. There is a sizeable gap between each book, and Farseed, just like Seed Seeker, does a good job at recapping what has happened in the previous book so people new to the series might not find themselves unfamiliar with what is happening.

That being said, the blurb on the cover says that this series might be the next HUNGER GAMES, and I’m sure that will attract plenty of readers. They’ll see that and think, “hmm… HUNGER GAMES on another planet. That’s just cool.” And probably pick it up. There are a few similarities. First, this is a young adult series, with some pretty adult themes, like THE HUNGER GAMES. Secondly, Sargent doe... Read More

Illusive: This brisk YA thriller follows all the rules

Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Emily Lloyd-Jone’s debut novel, Illusive, is a briskly-paced futuristic adventure for middle school readers. Jones created an interesting adventure, but stayed safely within the conventions and tropes of YA, drawing heavily from familiar works, resulting in a book that is fun, but predictable and in places a bit derivative.

Ciere (pronounced See-ARE) is a seventeen-year-old thief, part of a high-end theft ring. Ciere and her compatriots have special, almost magical abilities, awakened as a result of a vaccine they were given to combat a pandemic that broke out in 2017. In a small number of the population, the vaccine created super-abilities: eidetic memory, extreme strength, an “ability” to escape, the ability to create illusions (Ciere’s gift), telepathy, and rarest of all, mind control. People with these gifts are called “immunes” and are hunted by the governmen... Read More

Marina: A gorgeous story for teens and adults

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

"Marina once told me that we only remember what never really happened. It would take me a lifetime to understand what those words meant. But I suppose I'd better start at the beginning, which in this case is the end."

Oscar Drai is an apathetic student at a boarding school in Barcelona in 1980. While he isn’t too excited about his studies, he is enamored with the old quarter of Barcelona where his school resides, and he escapes to explore the city every chance that he gets. When we first meet Oscar, he has just been picked up by the police because he’s been missing from school for a week. They find him confused and walking dazedly around the city. He is quickly processed at the police station and sent back to school. Then he tells us the story of the strange and tragic events that have just happened to him.

It all started when Oscar heard beautiful music coming from what he ... Read More

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