YA not?

It seems like the YA genre is getting a lot of heat lately. Thanks to John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, the spotlight is on YA novels turned film, but the scrutiny is on the value of these books in the adult literary world and whether we should spend vs. waste our time with them.  So for everyone judging adults reading from the YA section of the bookstore, let me ask, what defines a YA book?

Probably the first answer is a teenaged protagonist. Then, subject matter relating to adolescence.  Occasionally, there is some element of fantasy, though not required. And more often than not, these books arrive in series. Let’s explore: Twilight, Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Hunger Games.  Wildly popularized by their movie buzz, but still marketed as YA.

But if we follow that set of rules, it could also be argued that books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are also YA novels. And I’m sure no one would tell you to feel embarrassed about reading that. I’m firmly in the camp of read whatever you want! If you are a kid who only wants to read comic books, a teen who only wants to read magazines, or an adult who only wants to read blogs; I’m all for reading anything that informs, enriches and enlightens your world. I’m the kid who read every word on my activity placemat at diners, practically memorized the signs in the aisles of the grocery store and tried to pronounce all the vitamins and minerals hiding in my cereal. Why? Because reading is good for and it’s more fun than staring into space while you wait. Thats why I’m the adult who carries reading materials everywhere and measures my purse to my Kindle before buying. My point: never feel ashamed of your reading material! You’re already one-up on the person playing candy quest on their phone!

Instead of my normal review format, here is a list of YA novels I’ve read recently that are totally worth reading as an adult:

1) The Fault in Our Stars, John Green 

fault in our stars Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for kids with cancer. They bond over their shared fates and as they become close, they share their favorite books with each other. Hazel’s book has an unsatisfying ending, and they decide to pursue the author together to ask for further closure of the story.  It’s rather like reading the plot of a Shakespeare play in modern times.

2) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

book thief Set in WWII Germany, the story is narrated by Death who becomes intrigued by Liesel when he sees her steal a book at the site of her brothers grave. Death follows her story as she is taken in by foster parents, learns to read, and steals books from Nazi book burnings and affluent community members. The story is beautifully descriptive and gives unique insight into being a German citizen during the Nazi reign.

3) Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight

Amelia Kate is a single mom, doing her best to raise her daughter well, but she works hard as a lawyer in a competitive firm and isn’t as on top of things as she may think. When she gets a call to inform her that her daughter jumped from the roof of the school, she is in utter disbelief. Then she starts receiving mysterious messages indicating that Amelia’s death wasn’t suicide after all. Kate investigates the remains of daughter’s life to uncover the truth. A bit like an episode of CSI, this story offers insight into high school social media and the privilege of affluence.

4) If I Stay, Where She Went, Gayle Forman

if i staywhere she went If I Stay tells the story of Mia who is alone in the world after a horrible car accident takes her family from her. She is hurt badly and while her body lies in the hospital, her consciousness roams amongst her friends and grandparents gaining a different perspective of the situation. It becomes clear that she has a choice to stay with them or to join her family…  Where She Went tells the story of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend and his life after Mia. At the time of the accident, Adam’s band was gaining ground in Portland and Seattle and since then, they’ve reached super-stardom.  While I enjoyed the first book better for the interesting perspective, I appreciated the closure of the follow-up.

5) The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau

ember Ember is a city created by “the builders” with a specific infrastructure and community plan to save its inhabitants from the dangerous conditions occurring on the surface of the Earth. The city was supplied for 200 years, but 40 after they were due to exit, Ember’s people are running out of supplies. When they are assigned their jobs, Lina and Doon become suspicious of the city’s ability to survive and discover a way to save the people of Ember. This post-apocalyptic fantasy proposes an interesting means of survival and renaissance.


Those are just a few suggestions to get you started, all coming with my recommendation for personal enrichment, book club discussions and side-by-side reading with your favorite 13-17 year-old!


“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis


Because, Because, Because, Because, Because…

Sometimes I choose books based on recommendations from friends, authors I follow on Twitter and their blogs, or based on the book buzz I hear. I will admit to reading some books solely based on the stir they caused; some for the best ie. The Help, some with indifference like The DaVinci Code, and some to my “chagrin”… like Twilight (see what I did there?). Sometimes it’s the “What you should be reading” book list in magazines, often it’s my book club’s monthly pick, and sometimes I trust the inter-webs or the little elves at Amazon and their Recommended for You algorithms to make suggestions based on my past book purchases.

And sometimes I’m cheap and I buy the book on sale for $2 that day… So that’s how I ended up with this pick. It had also come up recently when I was talking to friend who was reading it to her kids and reflected never having read the story but loving the movie as a kid. She was really enjoying the book and would likely continue with other books in the series.

Much like the examples I gave above, I usually do like to read the book on which a movie is based and I’m firmly in the camp that the book is better (though sometimes there just is no redemption, no matter how many shirtless werewolves appear).  Having loved the movie-musical as a child; watching on a sometimes-endless-loop (sorry, Dad!) and re-enacting scenes and songs with my sister (sorry, anyone subject to our performances!); I felt like this was a lucky find!


Book # 3– The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. Audio book narration by Anne Hathaway.

Rating: 2- Not my fav!

I know I promise no story spoilers but I’ll deviate here; since the majority of the story is already well known to most; to display the differences in the book and the movie.

Synopsis: Dorothy is a little girl from the dusty grey state of Kansas. Orphaned and probably bored, her only friend is her little dog, Toto. Failing to follow warnings from her Aunt Em to get into a storm cellar in time, Dorothy and Toto are swept up into a cyclone inside of their house and carried a great distance away. When the house is set down again, Dorothy finds herself in a strange land with little people all dressed in blue, Munchkins. She is informed by the Good Witch of the North that she has killed the Wicked Witch of the East and as a token, she must take her silver shoes, which are charmed.  She then sends Dorothy down the yellow brick road to Oz, who will send her home Kansas, but not before she kisses her on the forehead for protection.

Down the road of yellow bricks, Dorothy comes upon a scarecrow on a pole who winks at her. She frees him from the pole and invites him along to the Emerald City so that the Wizard can give him the brains he desires so he won’t be a fool with a head full of straw.  As they travel, they find a Woodsman made entirely of tin after the Wicked Witch enchanted his axe causing him to cut off his own arms and legs and replace his parts one-by-one with tin. He is rusted in place and they have to oil him in order to free him. He desires a heart since his own was destroyed (figuratively and literally) by the Witch. So he joins the trek.  Later they are attacked my a lion who tries to bite Toto and cries when Dorothy smacks his nose, admitting that he is a great coward and should ask the Wizard for courage. And the band of merry misfits is formed.

Together they tackle a gorge, a rushing river, pot-holes, Kalidahs (some kind of tiger-like cat… Oh my!) and a field of deadly poppies! They meet the Queen of the Field Mice and save her life before they finally reach the Emerald City and are met by the Gate Keeper. He permits them entry but not without donning their spectacles, which are made of green glass and locked onto their heads!

It takes several days to meet the great Oz, who takes on a different appearance to each of them. He agrees to grant their wishes if they only do him one favor in return… Kill the Wicked Witch of the West! So they leave again for the yellow castle in the west.

The Wicked Witch learns of their coming and first sends 40 wolves to kill them, which the Tin Woodsman chops down. Then 40 crows, who get their necks snapped by the Scarecrow, then a swarm of bees that die stinging only the Scarecrow and Tin Man  while Dorothy and the Lion hide. Finally the Witch sends the winged monkeys to fetch them… they grab Dorothy, Toto and the Lion and bring them to her. They drop the Tin Man in a gorge and shred the Scarecrow.

The Witch’s only goal seems to be to take the silver shoes from Dorothy but she has to trip her to get one of them off. This makes Dorothy mad and she reacts by throwing water onto the Witch and melting her. Dorothy frees the Lion and enlists the Witch’s slaves, the Winkies, to rebuild the Tin Man and Scarecrow.

They return to the Wizard who is so shocked at their success that he takes several days to process their requests. He stuffs the Scarecrows head with bran mixed with pins and needles (Wizard: bran-new brains, Lion: to keep you sharp… Wah, Wah, Wah), places a stuffed silk heart inside the chest of the Tin Man, and gives the Lion an elixir to drink, explaining that it is only courage once it is inside him (liquid courage?).  He explains to Dorothy how he became the humbug wizard that he is, fooling the people of Oz and forcing them to wear the spectacles that made everything look more green that it is. In order to grant her request,  they create a hot-air balloon that will carry them over the dessert that surrounds Oz, and back to Kansas, where he will join the circus.  But Dorothy must search for Toto and cant get into the balloon’s basket before it lifts off, stranding her in Oz.

A soldier suggests that she should seek council from Glinda, the Witch of the South. So off they go again. This time it’s through the forest of fighting trees, China County, Hammer-Head Hill and Mr. Joker. They Cowardly Lion, finally brave, defeats the giant spider who has been terrorizing the forest and wins the favour of the animals there. They are met with warm reception in Quadling Country, and by Glinda who informs Dorothy that she has had the power to return home all along. The charm of the sliver shoes will take her anywhere she wants to go. So she says her goodbyes, knocks her heels together 3 times and wishes to return to Kansas. When she opens her eyes, she is back home, happily reunited with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.

The Scarecrow returns to the Emerald City to rule in place of the Wizard, the Tin Man to the yellow castle to rule over the Winkies in the west and the Lion to the forest to take his place as king of beasts.

My Impressions: The prologue of the story boasts a “wonder-tale!” A fairy-tale for the modern age (1900) where no moral lesson is required, purely imagination and entertainment. I suppose you should take that into account when reading. The characters bounce around Oz as they are sent from east to north and west to south. There is a lot of repetition of certain things, like how Dorothy ate regular meals and always washed her face. Or how the Tin Woodsman was always sure to keep himself well oiled, until he wasn’t and he rusted.  The Scarecrow was sure to remind you how brainless he was before solving the problem at hand and the Lion was sure to call himself a coward before defending the troop against the next scary thing they encountered.  I understand that I am reading a children’s book and repetition is a necessary tool for that audience, but I was bored by it.

Also some sections of the story involved long, drawn descriptions of events that have little to do with plot and only slightly to do with character development, while other sections seem too brief where major plot events take place.  For example, The Wizard makes only a very short appearance in the book. While the concept of the Wizard is a major theme, the revealing of the Wizard and his presence in Oz and interaction with the major characters is quite brief. (Since I’m listening instead of reading, I’ll estimate 40 minutes of the 4 hour audio book). The Wicked Witch even less, for the major antagonist of story. The only plot point that actually gets the story anywhere is all the walking they do, or short-cutting when they choose to travel by winged monkey. I get that ultimately the point is to get Dorothy home, but then don’t title the book after the Wizard. This is where the movie did a much better job of highlighting the title character (and getting to the damned point!). I wouldn’t jump to categorize this as a fairy tale, but rather I’d lump it in with Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and call it fantasy/nonsense.

As for the voice performance… Hmm, how to say this? Anne Hathaway gave distinct voices to the major players and gentle narration to the story. But then she became that annoying theater kid when she started doing voices for the minor characters. Oz definitely should have had a mid-western lilt to his voice, but his palace guard sounded like a Texas robot. The Gate Keeper had an inconsistent spitty lisp, making it hard to understand the dialogue at all. Then there was a French accent, a Barbara Walters-esqe affectation and the Lion was sometimes from Brooklyn and sometimes channelling Stalone. Seriously, the voices were so over the top, it was distracting. She also interprets the story with a lot of sarcasm and dry wit where it was meant to be sincere. It comes off sounding like everyone else is in on this little joke being played on Dorothy.  After a while, it’s nails on a chalk board for me.

Why you should read it: Well, if you are curious about the original tale, go for! It won’t take long. And if you have kids, they may appreciate it more that I was able to. But if you plan to listen, find a different version. I’m glad I only spent $2 on this one! Otherwise, this is one case where the movie is better, so save yourself the boredom and irritation I experienced and just let Judy Garland carry you Somewhere Over the Rainbow!

Book #3 in the bag.

“It’s a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart