My second post in my Review Amnesty series is all about YA. What is a review amnesty you might wonder? Well, it is a phrase I coined for the books that stacked up in a review back log when I had my blogging hiatus last year. They became a stumbling block to getting back into the swing of things, so I decided to give myself an out and call a review amnesty, meaning I’d only review the books with the most basic of reviews, so I could share my thoughts without having to reread the books, some of which I’d read over six months ago. So, two down, one to come!
William Ritter – Beastly Bones
In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural.
First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.
When William Ritter’s debut Jackaby first came out I loved it. The setting, the characters, the feel of the story, it was all utterly charming. So I was really exited to dive back into Abigail’s world and see what new madcap adventures she and Jackaby would have when I got Beastly Bones in the mail. I wasn’t disappointed at all. Without having to do all the set up from the previous book, Ritter jumps into the new adventure with both feet and it is a grand adventure too. I loved that the case is built up out of several smaller, seemingly innocuous and unconnected cases that turn out to be none of those things. Abigail gets to show off her paleontological knowledge and to artfully sidestep the men who want to shunt her aside, based on the fact that a girl wouldn’t know these things. I loved how she handled both Owen Horner and Lewis Lamb with casual aplomb. My favourite new character was Nellie Fuller, who was a great partner-in-crime-solving for Abigail. Ritter also reveals more about Jenny’s past, showing more sides to this friendly house ghost than just her lovely, friendly demeanour. There were only tantalising hints at her full story though, which might play a larger role in the next book. At least I hope so, because I really want to know what happened to Jenny. Beastly Bones is a great sophomore outing for William Ritter.
Emerald Fennell – Monsters
A blackly comic tale about two children you would never want to meet.
Set in the Cornish town of Fowey, all is not as idyllic as the beautiful seaside town might seem. The body of a young woman is discovered in the nets of a fishing boat. It is established that the woman was murdered. Most are shocked and horrified. But there is somebody who is not – a twelve-year-old girl. She is delighted; she loves murders. Soon she is questioning the inhabitants of the town in her own personal investigation. But it is a bit boring on her own. Then Miles Giffard, a similarly odd twelve-year-old boy, arrives in Fowey with his mother, and they start investigating together. Oh, and also playing games that re-enact the murders. Just for fun, you understand…
Emerald Fennell’s Monsters is somewhat disturbing. It is a book about two twelve-year-olds that is definitely not for kids. The story is told through the eyes of a nameless first person narrator, a girl of twelve. While we learn all about those around her, her gran, her aunt and uncle, the people living in the hotel, and most importantly Miles, we never learn her name. All we know is that she lost her parents in an accident when she was little. The narrator at first seems just a little odd and quirky, but the further along the narrative gets, the more disturbing she becomes, especially once Miles enters the picture. This is a story of two juvenile psychopaths finding each other and driving each other further and further along the road to criminal behaviour. It was an interesting read, and a quick one, but one that left me ultimately unsettled and a little unsatisfied.
Erin Bow – The Scorpion Rules
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.
What I really loved about The Scorpion Rules is that it takes an ages old diplomatic ploy, the exchanging of political hostages to ensure peaceful behaviour and to promote intercultural understanding, and plays it out to its extreme in a dystopian future. Bow really takes into account all aspects of such hostage practices and what the ultimate consequences of non-compliance might be. Whether this is the obvious result of the children being killed when their parents break their treaties, or the somewhat less obvious effect of making them afraid of forming strong attachments to each other, because one day they might be the death of each other. Greta is a wonderful protagonist and I loved her development throughout the narrative. The tech in the book is also fascinating, with as the ultimate draw the robotic brothers who embody the AIs that act as caretakers for the hostage children. Their history and the history of the world and TALIS was fantastic and I can’t wait to discover what will happen next.
Marieke Nijkamp – This Is Where It Ends
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won’t open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
I’m going to be short and sweet about This Is Where It Ends, since I plan on rereading it soon, since I now have a finished copy: Nijkamp’s debut is harrowing and heart-breaking and very well constructed. It kept me reading breathlessly and had me bawling my eyes out for most of the last part of the book. I’ll be reviewing it in more detail in the coming months, but this is definitely one of the YA books to look out for this year.
Juno Dawson – All of the Above
When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who’s the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing. And that’s when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band – and it’s instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there’s Polly … love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.
Last year I saw Juno Dawson (who formerly wrote as James Dawson) on a panel at Nine Worlds and I had an instant author crush. So when the chance came to snap up a review copy of her then-newest book All of the Above I jumped on it. I devoured the book and then it fell victim to the great review blackhole of 2015. But let me tell you why I loved All of the Above. There’s two aspects to my love for this book. Firstly, there is the story. Who hasn’t ever been the new kid at school? And who doesn’t understand how hard it is to fit into a new group of people? It is easy to identify with Toria on that level, which also makes it easier to connect to her feelings and confusion about figuring out who she wants to be and who she wants to be with. Secondly, there is Dawson’s voice. Dawson manages to truly get what a teenage girl sounds like without the teen language feeling forced; instead she presents the reader with a fresh and convincing narrative about a teen girl’s exploration of her (sexual) identity.