Why not YA?

In recent months our book club has read two young adult novels, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. In our discussions we touched on the fact that these books seem too adult and sophisticated for younger readers. Echo, in part, deals with the spread of Nazism in Germany and the Japanese internment camps in the United States. Out of Darkness is about racial discrimination at its worst. It seemed to our group, especially in regards to the Perez story, that the only prerequisite for a book to be categorized as YA is that it be about teenagers with teenaged characters.

Last week I read the excellent Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. This is a lovely coming-of-age story of a young Chinese immigrant, Kim, who struggles to adapt to her new life in Brooklyn. At the start of the novel, she is a child, but throughout most of the book she is a teenager. I couldn’t help thinking, What a good read this would be for young adults. Yet, the book was classified as adult fiction at my local library. Such a shame. Kim’s experiences with bullying, peer pressure, teenaged cliques, and everyday school challenges would easily appeal to teen readers. As an adult reader, I loved the story and appreciated the intimate look at the struggles of a young immigrant who is attempting to assimilate into American society.

I do realize that young adults who truly love to read will find books in the adult section of the public library that appeal to them. I certainly did when I was a kid. But certain gems like Girl in Translation should be made more readily available, easier to find for all YA readers.

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The Best Place for Books

I don’t buy books . . . well, not usually, anyway. Occasionally I will purchase an e-book edition of a currently “hot” title because I can’t wait to read it, and it’s less expensive to buy the electronic version (though e-books, like most things, have increased in price over the years). Most books I read are borrowed from the library. As someone with a long career in libraries, I support my local library by using it. Unfortunately if I’m eager to read a new popular title, I either have to wait for it to decrease in popularity and become more available, or get on a waiting list. I don’t have the patience to sit on a waiting list; I want to read a book when I want to read it, not when the library tells me it’s my turn. So sometimes, if I don’t go ahead and buy the book–and I usually don’t–I put the title on my own personal to-read list and wait until a later date when it becomes more readily available at the library.

Sometimes I visit my local bookstore to browse and buy bargains, books reduced in price to six dollars or less. I have found some real jewels that way (e.g.The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven and Waking Up in the Land of Glitter by Kathy Cano-Murillo). But my latest visit yielded no precious finds. I was disappointed by the lack of significant bargain books. My husband commented that this could be a sign of an improved economy. In other words, the bookstore might be doing better business and hence doesn’t have to sell as many items at a bargain price. That’s good for the bookstore, I guess, but too bad for me.

Though I enjoy browsing and occasionally buying at the bookstore, there is no better place than the library to find the kind of books I especially like to read: novels by authors of color. The bookstore is sorely lacking in fiction by diverse authors. For those novels, I rely on the library.

A Summary of My 2016 Reads

In 2016 I honored my pledge to read 52 books, one for each week of the year. It’s not a pledge I will repeat for 2017. While I certainly enjoyed most of the reads, I found myself finishing books I would ordinarily have tossed aside because of boring plots or poor writing. I continued to read such books because I didn’t want to lose the time invested toward attaining my goal. Not a good reason to spend hours with a story that isn’t satisfying! In 2017 I’ll choose my reads carefully and set aside any that I don’t want to finish, for whatever reason, because I won’t set a numerical goal.

At the end of the year, Goodreads provided a summary of the books I read: The shortest was Chicana Falsa by Michele Serros, the longest was Night Film by Marisha Pessl, and the highest rated title (on Goodreads) was Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which was also one of my favorites of 2016.

Here are some of my own stats based on my 2016 reads:

–I read 15 books by Latino authors

–11 are written by males

–1 is by an African-American author, 4 by Asian authors

–10 are mysteries

–4 would be considered chick lit

–2 are considered classic fiction

–seven are nonfiction

–two are sci-fi and two are westerns

Nothing about this summary surprises me, but I am disappointed to realize I only read one book by an African-American. That will be the only reading goal I will set for 2017: read more books by African-American authors.

The Year’s Favorites

I reached my goal to read fifty-two books for the fifty-two weeks of the year. Hooray! Here is a list of my five favorites, in no particular order:

Being Mortal by Atal Gawande

This is a hard-hitting, detailed look at death and dying, how it affects the sufferer of illness and frailties of old age. It’s a topic most of us would prefer to avoid, but Gawande underlines the reasons we shouldn’t.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

A grim story of racial tensions in Texas of the 1930s, but one I couldn’t put down.

Chicana Falsa by Michele Serros

I relate to the late Michele Serros and her writings about Mexican-American cultural identity.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

A tale of the immigrant experience at the turn of the 19th century in Nebraska. It is still relevant to today’s society.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros

There is no other writer like Cisneros. This memoir is written with heart, humor, and poetic sensibility.

Happy New Year, and may it bring you many happy reading experiences.

 

Change of Habit

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) is a classic science-fiction novel that has been made into a film more than once. Also, a future adaptation is planned as a scripted series for the SyFy Channel, which I look forward to watching one day. I love sci-fi movies and TV shows but don’t read much in the genre. That might be because often the plot and science seem to predominate over characterization in sci-fi stories, at least in those few that I’ve read, including Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein) and Black Moon (Kenneth Calhoun), just to name a couple. Of course there are exceptions such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, which are both rich in character as well as plot.

Brave New World impressed me because it has an interesting plot plus some solid characters with depth. Though written in the 1930s, it is relevant to today’s reader because of its theme of government vs. individualism. Just a couple of weeks ago I read another sci-fi title, Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler). Again, this is a novel with strong characters and a story relevant to our current day. It tells of a world that has crumbled under the effects of global warming.

Given that my recent sci-fi reads have been satisfying, I might reconsider my opinion of the genre and sample more in the future.

YA?

I enjoy a good YA novel now and then. These books are usually easy reading with fast-paced stories. But I was somewhat surprised with Out of Darkness, a YA novel by Ashley Hope Perez. The writing is sophisticated, the pace–at least initially-is slow, and the story is tragic, dealing with serious issues of racism and child abuse. It seems to me the only feature that qualifies it as a young adult story is the age of the protagonist. She is a teenager, and so is her love interest. Based on this book, I have to assume that young adult readers are more sophisticated than during my teen years. Look at Suzanne Collins’s popular series, The Hunger Games, with its dark, dystopian setting. YA books are often read by adults as well. In the past couple of years I have read Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, It’s Not About the Accent by Barbara Caridad Ferrer, Survive the Night by Danielle Vega, and Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros. Most of these books deal with heavy topics (for example, Japanese internment during WWII, date rape). Out of Darkness is a shockingly stark look at racism during a particular period of US history. Does that mean it’s too harsh for a young adult reader? Not in my opinion. Indeed, it is an eye opener.

Characters

Author Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is one of my favorite fictional characters; but after reading Boar Island, her latest, I’ve come to realize that perhaps Anna is fading into the background in these books. Maybe Barr has explored the character as much as she could, and now a happy Anna is simply not the compelling heroine she once was. Anna has resolved her issues with alcohol and overcome the severe depression she suffered after her young husband’s death. A happy character doesn’t necessarily make such an interesting read.

I love character-driven fiction. I recently got to thinking about fictional characters I’ve met this year that made stories so much better because of their individual quirkiness, temperament, or sense of pathos. Following is a list of such characters, in no particular order.

Lauren Oya Olamina (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler): A young woman who through her strength of character leads a group of survivors in dystopian California to seek a better life.

Mike and Frankie Flannery (Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan): Two orphans who suffer such hardships that Mike can no longer bring himself to hope. Yet Frankie’s sweetness and optimism remain intact.

Juniper Song (the star of Steph Cha’s mysteries): A young private eye who is older than her years. Similar to early Anna Pigeon, she struggles with loss and alcohol.

Ana FaNelli (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll): Ani’s air of sophisticated snobbishness masks a painful past.

Frey and McGray (private detectives in Oscar Muriel’s mystery series): These guys make a funny, entertaining pair, a bromance. Frey comes off as too prissy for the kind of work he does, but paired with the wild and crazy Scot, McGray, the team works.

Shirley (Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell) Though she’s in a novel, Shirley is not fictional. The character is the fascinating real-life writer, Shirley Jackson. Merrell brings her back to life with stark realism.

Antonia (My Antonia by Willa Cather): A woman who epitomizes the immigrant experience, yet she is no stereotype.