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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Jump on the (band)Wagon.

Another day, another published article discussing YA that makes eyes roll and twitter typing fingers fly furiously. The difference this time is that the article is not some so-called YA expert or a journalist whose only experience of YA comes from shelf browsing or assumptions; this article, published on Slate, is written by a YA author, or rather two authors who wrote a YA novel together. It revealed some interesting things, not to mention incredibly stupid.

Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, writer of “The Magnolia League”, (which my fellow Torch bearer Vinaya reviewed here with particular zeal) managed to pull a double whammy by slamming both YA fiction and literary fiction in one swift generalisation:

But readers in Y.A. don’t care about rumination. They don’t want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story. In Y.A. you write two or three drafts of a chapter, not eight. When kids like one book, they want the next one. Now. You need to deliver... In many ways, Y.A. is the lookingglass world to literary fiction, where everyone's jockeying over who got the biggest advance, the ultimate dream is to be anointed by the New Yorker, and you're expected to take two years or more to turn in your next novel that very few people are waiting to buy. The direct relationship with teen readers actually comes as a relief since the literary fiction crowd can get a little full of itself.

To be honest, after this article, where Crouch and Hendrix manage to insult their reader base by patronising them and acting as if they’re stupid, displaying sheer arrogance in relation to any type of criticism and displaying a questionable lack of skill and respect for the work itself, I’ll be surprised if “The Magnolia League” finds any new readers.

But this article is a puzzling piece to me, because it appears to be an author standing up and admitting that she’s on the bandwagon, and that profit trumps quality every time. I’ve commented frequently about my cynicism regarding YA publishing trends and their potentially problematic content, and I’ve displayed disappointment over the lack of author/industry discussion of it within the community (although that has been changing somewhat lately), but I’ve never seen an author be so bold and arrogant as to admit this sort of attitude so publicly.

YA’s had to fight for its place a lot lately, between this, the Wall Street Journal’s hack-job and every other YA controversy that seems to come as regularly as the setting of the sun. Despite its massive popularity, increasing sales and undeniable power in getting young people to read, it’s still seen as lesser, somehow unworthy of true merit, merely a tool for profit. James Frey has exploited this space in the market well. He comes up with a basic, simple but easy to market premise, sells the movie rights then churns out a simple novel with the help of a very low paid graduate who receives none of the credit (at least James Patterson gives a co-author credit to his minions) to flood the market and set the pace for the movie publicity. While “I Am Number Four” didn’t set the box office alight (thank god for that), the book has been on the New York Times children’s bestseller list for 22 weeks. We may jump up in arms over Frey’s blatant lack of respect for his readers, his exploitation of others for monetary gain and his less than skilful output, but it sells.

The market wants this stuff, and there’s only so much of it we can blame on publishing hype and marketing. YA is no longer just a book thing, it’s an entire money making industry that spins out into movies, TV, merchandising, etc. It inspires movies to release YA novelisations, as was the case with “Red Riding Hood”. It commands how millions of dollars are spent. Countless YA books have been optioned for a movie, many of which had the movies rights purchased before the book’s release, banking on these trends (e.g. Divergent, Matched, the upcoming Black is the Colour.) I’m half convinced one of the reasons YA, and romance, get so much flack is because they’re one of the few bits in the industry turning a profit these days. One can’t blame an agent for pointing out a profitable gap in the market to their clients (although maybe they should also tell them to keep mum about their true intentions.)

Awful books have always existed. There will always be awful books in every genre and YA is no expection. There have always been terrible books for kids and teens, many of which were churned out to meet popular demand, such as the Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High books. The difference between the derivative nature of the market then and its current state is that the derivative, trend following books of the 70s and 80s weren’t reportedly selling to publishers for 7 figure sums. I don’t know how well “The Magnolia League” has been selling but there is an intrinsic appeal to what is popular. Why? That would take a much deeper analysis than I am capable of giving.

Crouch and Hendrix displayed a complete lack of tact in their article, as well as ignorance and disrespect towards their readers and the industry they openly want to exploit for financial gain. But let’s not pretend that they’re the only ones doing it. There are many wonderful YA writers dedicated to their craft, and I’d argue that the market’s more diverse than ever, even with the blasé trends and next-big-thing campaigns. We should continue to demand the changes we want, both readers and writers. We may not like Crouch and Hendrix’s piece, but the industry stays the same as long as this stuff keeps selling. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Hopefully, we do too.

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Review: "Ice" by Sarah Beth Durst.


Author: Sarah Beth Durst.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry.

Pages: 308.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie's own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

Cover impressions: I’ve changed a lot as a reviewer since I started blogging about YA almost a year ago. I’ve matured my writing style, I’ve learned more about the publishing business, I’ve started to ask more questions and I’ve even made a few friends. I don’t regret my snarky sparkly beginnings because I had a lot of fun and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes to learn from. Nowadays I think I’m a much stronger reviewer and pick my reading choices based upon a more varied selection of reasons beyond snark material. This is why I am glad I didn’t know about “Ice” until I saw it recently. Had I read this last year, I would have blown a gasket and written a review to rival the abusive angels. Now, all I can hope to do is articulately explain why this book made my skin crawl. For this reason, there will be major spoilers.

My interest in “Ice” was peaked when I saw that it was a retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, a lesser known fairytale, and was intrigued to see how a YA retelling of a potentially highly problematic tale would work in a contemporary context. Unfortunately, “Ice” seems to be stuck in the Stone Age on so many issues, something that’s made all the more bitter by the fact that the book gets off to such a strong start. Cassie, at first, is a strong minded, hard working and intelligent young woman with high ambitions and an inquisitive nature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for her to slide into a state of uncharacteristic stupidity, occasionally relieved with moments of clarity. However, it wouldn’t be fair to blame Cassie’s decisions for all the book’s wrongdoings, especially since she’s so often left without any real options. She’s practically forced into marrying the Polar Bear King in exchange for her mother’s safe return. Later on, she’s treated even worse, even by the man/bear who supposedly loves her.

There are elements of “Beauty and the Beast” in this tale and it does feel as is “Ice” is trying to replicate the Disney film’s romantic feel (many of the things Cassie says about Bear feel inspired by Belle), but Durst completely skips over any romantic development. There’s a jump in time and all of a sudden, a few weeks later, they’re apparently in love. It further weakens a story that desperately needs a strong author’s hand to make it convincing. Bear may be many generations old with equally archaic ideals but this didn’t adequately justify his actions towards Cassie.

There are certain things a romantic hero should never do. Tampering with a woman’s birth control is one of them. Cassie, who has been on the pill, finds herself pregnant because Bear used his magical powers to fix the chemical imbalance in her that was preventing a pregnancy. He didn’t discuss this with her, there is no instance of a conversation taking place between the two that discusses such matters, and he doesn’t even tell her she’s pregnant until she’s 3 months gone. I do not care how gracious or kind Bear was to Cassie earlier on (her words, not mine), you DO NOT DO THAT! True relationships are built on trust and mutual understanding. He never even talks to her about this. What makes it even more blood curdling is that Cassie forgives him. She kicks up a completely justifiable fuss beforehand, but in the end, she’s completely willing to give up all her future ambitions of university, a career and a life with her family, including her mother who she hasn’t seen for most of her life, to be a teenage wife and mother with a talking polar bear.

Sadly, this isn’t the worst part. After Cassie has to go on a quest to retrieve Bear, who has to swear himself to the Troll Princess due to a rather convoluted loophole that I won’t explain here because it’s inconsequential, everyone she meets is obsessed with the safety of her unborn child. Not her, just her unborn child. Every other spirit, creature and guardian that she meets, of varying species and ages, cares not for her but for the fetus she just happens to be in charge of for the next few months. One character, who is thankfully painted as something of a villain, keeps her captive and indirectly harms her in an effort to stop her saving Bear because the life inside her is more important than her own. Cassie is also given the nickname “Little mother” by these creatures. Her entire worth is based on the fact that she has a functioning uterus and that’s a hell of a lot more important than her own mind and decisions. Cassie doesn’t like this attitude, it angers her, and rightly so. But why doesn’t she display this anger towards Bear, who admitted that he wanted a wife to bear his children, a task he decrees to be the most important purpose of the marriage? Cassie isn’t stupid, yet she is completely willing to let the designated love interest make these decisions for her, even if they involve lying, and in the end it’s okay? Bear says he loves Cassie but for me, all I could see was a liar who was willing to sabotage a young woman’s life in order to get what he wanted. Cassie was left to be nothing but a breeding specimen with one use.

To be truthful, this is a well written book that is generally well paced and has an interesting mythology throughout the story. The action scenes are well done and when Cassie was an active heroine, I really appreciated. But I would be lying if I gave this book anything more than 1 star. I can’t get behind a romance built upon a much older man using an 18 year old girl in that way. Tampering with birth control and essentially trapping the wife you forced into marriage doesn’t not make you the romantic ideal, it makes you sick. Just because the original source material is old, that doesn’t mean one is obligated to keep the retelling stuck in the 1950s. Cassie was much more than a “little mother”, so to see her happily accept the fate she was forced into as the ideal life made me so sad. She was worth more than that. We all are.


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Review: "The Day Before" by Lisa Schroeder.

“The Day Before”

Author: Lisa Schroeder

Publisher: Simon Pulse.

Pages: 320.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Amber’s life is spinning out of control. All she wants is to turn up the volume on her iPod until all of the demands of family and friends fade away. So she sneaks off to the beach to spend a day by herself.

Then Amber meets Cade. Their attraction is instant, and Amber can tell he’s also looking for an escape. Together they decide to share a perfect day: no pasts, no fears, no regrets.

The more time that Amber spends with Cade, the more she’s drawn to him. And the more she’s troubled by his darkness. Because Cade’s not just living in the now—he’s living each moment like it’s his last.

Cover impressions: I have never read a YA book written in verse before so this was a first for me. I tend to be biased towards prose and drama in my English lit studies as well but I thought it would be interesting to give this one a go to see if the choice of medium would be suitable to tell a story and how affecting it would be.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really connect to this book. The choice of verse to tell Amber’s story wasn’t completely successful in my opinion, although there are a few moments where the poetry is very effective and well done. Many times it felt like fancily rearranged sentences rather than carefully composed poetry. I can understand the choice of medium for capturing emotions rather than events but there were times where it just felt awkward, such as Amber discussing her favourite musician, Pink, and the movie guessing game she forms with Cade. The frequent shifts from verse to letter form to reveal more of Amber’s situation felt clumsy and shoved in at the last moment.

Amber’s situation is one that’s easy to sympathise with and her emotions are understandable, but no literary medium can make me interested in an instant love story with next to no development or even interaction. At one point Amber compares her and Cade’s situation to that of the wonderful movie “Before Sunrise” and it did feel as if “The Day Before” was aiming to be a poetic teenage version of that wonderful film. However, that film’s strength lay in the witty and very moving interactions between Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply to the point where even this romantic cynic was caught up in their fleeting love, something which just isn’t present in “The Day Before.” Amber is immediately taken with him and they barely speak to each other; when they do talk it’s over mundane things that have no real bearings on them as people. As such, their instant perfect connection never felt authentic and I was never emotionally invested in them as a couple.

I think one’s development of this novel will lie in how much one enjoys verse novels, but for me, this novel just didn’t click. “The Day Before” occasionally succeeds in capturing the complex emotions of its conflicted protagonist, but on the whole it felt underdeveloped and rushed, trying to live up to “Before Sunrise” (which I highly recommend). But while “Before Sunrise” made me believe two strangers could make a genuine connection over the course of one day, “The Day Before” did not. I’m definitely interested in reading more verse YA though; I want to see the medium truly rise to its potential.


“The Day Before” will be released in USA on June 28th. I received my ARC from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program.

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Review: "Past Perfect" by Leila Sales.

“Past Perfect”

Author: Leila Sales.

Publisher: Simon Pulse.

Pages: 322

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated… even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.

Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it…

Cover impressions: Sometimes there is nothing that will satisfy a reader such as myself like a good piece of sweet fluff. That is not in any way meant as an insult towards “Past Perfect” and other such books, there’s no such room for genre snobbery in my eyes. While genre fiction such as horror, romance and the romantic comedy, which is how I would classify this book, are the first to be mocked or derided, it’s worth remembering that it’s pretty damn hard to write a convincing and entertaining piece of genre fiction. Writing a romantic comedy that can use familiar tropes of the genre and remain charming and entertaining is a tough task, and I’m pleased to say that, for the most part, Leila Sales pulls it off.

The unconventional setting – a colonial village re-enactment centre - and set-up for the novel creates countless opportunities for entertainment and mayhem. Some of the funniest moments of the book come from the over-the-top and gleefully ridiculous war plans between the colonial re-enactment workers and the civil war re-enactors right across the road. It’s incredibly petty and immature but there’s something undeniably funny about Churchill war speech parodies and battle strategies that revolve around historical anachronisms. This element of the book was definitely my favourite part and I only wish more time had been dedicated to it rather than Chelsea’s love life.

While I appreciated that Sales spent some time deconstructing the rose-tinted image of her ex boyfriend that Chelsea had built up for herself, so much time is spent with Chelsea in moping mode that it became very tiresome. I think one’s mileage may vary for such scenes and will depend on the reader’s emotions towards Chelsea. I did not find her to be a particularly brilliant protagonist. She had her moments – I enjoyed her ice-cream taste testing – and I greatly appreciated her close relationship with her quirky parents and group of friends, but said moping grated on me. She also makes a couple of plot driving decisions that made me lose all sympathy for her. If I was to pick a character in the novel to follow, it would be Tawny, the general of the colonial workers in the war.

There was one element of the romance plotline that really got to me. This small rant is partly inspired by this book but is also something I’ve had on my mind for a while so please take this with a pinch of salt when considering reading this book for yourself. Dan, the primary love interest of the novel, is set up in a forbidden love style element (a “Romeo & Juliet” parallel is actually mentioned by Chelsea, but since the war between both sides spends most of its time in war parody mode, don’t take that comparison too seriously) so of course there needs to be a degree of animosity between the pair, coupled with that trademark jerk charm so common with male love interests. I’ve become rather fed up with books, mainly YA, where the male love interest is characterised by being charming when he’s really a smug know-it-all that borders on insulting. Chelsea’s often not very likeable but generally I find it difficult to believe that every teenage girl is charmed and seduced by this sort of behaviour. The fact that such behaviour is often the only defining characteristic of many male love interests is even more infuriating for me. Luckily, Dan is given more depth than this but it does make the romance between him and Chelsea harder to believe considering her own decisions.

The key to this book lies in its charm. Sales writes a well paced and often very funny book with witty observations, an interesting supporting cast to prop up a less than perfect protagonist, and a whole assortment of pranks, jokes and completely ridiculous war parodies with just a pinch of history. “Past Perfect” won’t be considered groundbreaking by any standards, and the romance angle will be read differently by different readers depending on one’s opinion of such elements, but it’s a quick read with bagfuls of charm you could have a lot of fun reading.


“Past Perfect” will be released in USA on October 4th. I received my arc from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program.

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