That’s not a very articulate title I know, but I couldn’t really think what else to call it. I’ve been reading quite a lot of US fiction recently, not really sure why, it’s just that’s what’s found its way onto my desk. Also, that seems to be what the older children are asking for – perhaps because they are made to read old English literature at school, when they come home they want contemporary American fiction? Who knows. Also, there’s a great new bookshop that’s opened just by me (www.ink84bookshop.co.uk) so I’ve naturally been hanging out in there quite a lot and they have a great YA section, full of American fiction. My younger daughter had a book token so we went in there and she’s in that tricky middle bit between Ballet Shoes and Black Swan – I never know whether to get her YA books or Middle Grade. Actually she seems pretty happy with either, so when I found Mosquitoland I reckoned it was a perfect transition book.
It’s written by David Arnold, and as the blurb says, it’s about a young girl’s journey across America and the interesting people she meets along the way. So kind of Odyssey-like. Can’t go far wrong with that. Plus it’s one of those books that seem very voguish in the US right now which deal with children who are mathematically gifted/Austic and a bit damaged? I’m thinking of Counting by Sevens, An abundance of Katherines, Ender’s game, Curious Incident of the dog in the nightime, Mysterious Benedict Society and so on. And it was Odyssey-like, and she was damaged, and there was a good twist, and it was a really good read, but just not for my daughter… If you’re over 13, then get it and read it, if not, maybe not. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just got quite adult themes, and not for the first time I should have read it before she did. Now I have and that’s why I’m able to recommend it. And actually, the other books mentioned above are great as well. Counting by Sevens was perfect for my daughter, she hoovered it up. I’d bracket that one with Wonder, also fantastic, and aimed firmly at Middle Grade readers.
But, back to Teen stuff. It’s rare-ish that my son finds books of his own volition. He tends to read most when he’s on holiday, I guess when he’s at his most relaxed. During term-time he’s a bit more caught up in school stuff so has less time/inclination to curl up, open a book and ignore us all. Anyway, he said to me in passing the other day, ‘can you get me the sequel to Winger? I read it and it’s really good.’ Where? How? Is it really that long since I’ve been into his bedroom? Anyway, it was his birthday coming up so I went back to the bookshop and asked them if they had the sequel to some book called Winger? ‘Oh yeah, you mean Stand Off, the Andrew Smith book, it’s really good. I’ll order it for you. You should totally read Grasshopper Jungle as well.’
And I did. I gave Stand Off to my son, who was really chuffed, and I also gave him Grasshopper Jungle only I then took it back to read, on the basis that he had school to go to and I didn’t. And now I’m going to have to buy Winger, because Grasshopper Jungle was so good that I want to read more. It’s like a raunchier John Green. And it deals with confused sexuality, so it’s super on trend, and it’s funny, and memorable, and, best of all, it reads as though it’s been written by a teenager. But well.
So, I’ve only read one, but it’s the brother of the more famous Winger and Stand Off, so I feel pretty safe recommending them. I’m going to get Winger now, read it, and then no doubt get irritated with my son because he won’t let me read the sequel.
But just rewinding for a moment. Before this whole Rugby thing, I gave my son another sporting book to read. Not technically a YA book, but deals with a Baseball player on a scholarship at a US college. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.
I loved it, Caroline loved it, and my son loved it. It’s one of those car-crash books that make you feel physically ill for the protagonist. It’s really painful. I know nothing about baseball, I know nothing about the US college draft process, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s not what it’s about. It is of course, but like all great coming of age/character fiction, it’s instantly recognisable and empathisable with. Like when you watch ER or The West Wing, and you don’t really know much about the world/jargon, but boy do you get the jeopardy. This is a great read, and baseball is nothing more than the canvas Chad uses as his world.
The perks of being a wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
This is hardly super-contemporary, I think it came out last century, but it is really good, and it feels like classic American YA fiction. It’s got sexuality issues, it’s set in a high school, there’s a load of pop culture refs and the narrator is beyond his years clever and a bit weird. The ‘wallflower’ aspect is because he hangs out with people older than him, and doesn’t really quite belong, although of course he does and so on. That sounds flip, this is really good, and if you haven’t read it/seen the film (Emma Watson post Hermione, pre-UN ambassador duties) then you should do both. I’d say read the book first, but then I always do.