Bryan and Robert have been podcasting for nearly a year together! Time to recap what we’ve read and learned!
So What Have We Learned In One Year Of Reviewing YA (Young Adult) Books?
We’ll lead with our top 3 books, then various thoughts and prompts (it’s better if you watch or listen to the show below!):
Bryan’s top books and notes
1. Red Rising – Pierce Brown
2. Steelhart – Brandon Sanderson
3. Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver
Books we can learn a lot from:
1. Shatter Me
– We need a protagonist with consistency, redeeming traits, and some like ability
2. The Prince
– A story needs a purpose, it can’t just skirt around the edges of another tale, there needs to be a conflict and there needs to be something new readers can sink their teeth into
3. Never Let Me Go
– Bring readers closer, don’t push them away. Pace for young readers. Give your main character something to do that doesn’t require a romantic entanglement or another relationship. What’s their deal?
Top 3 things a YA book needs
2. Compelling, snarky main character
3. Transport to another place
(Bonus – Training montage scenes)
Robert’s top books and notes
1. Red Rising – Pierce Brown
2. The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater
3. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
(and all recommended by listeners – you rock!)
Runner ups: 13 Reasons Why; TFIOS; Beautiful Creatures; Poison Princess, Grasshopper Jungle; Legend; Anna Dressed in Blood; Steelheart; Blood Red Road; Before I Fall; Ready Player One
Worst books? (Not necessarily the bottom 3)
• The Prince – Kiera Cass
• The Selection – Kiera Cass
• Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi or Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
What makes a great premise for a YA book?
Eg Coming of age (The Testing, I am Number Four, The Paper Magician, Paper Towns);
Dystopia (Divergent, The Maze Runner, Cinder, Delirium , Legend, Blood Red Road, The Knife of Never Letting Go);
Apocalypse (Monument 14, Poison Princess, Angelfall, Meta, Mockinjay, The 5th Wave);
Personal and intense relationships (TFIOS, Paper Towns, All The Bright Places, Before I Fall, Delirium, 13 Reasons Why, The Scorpio Races);
Illness, desperation & depression (TFIOS, All The Bright Places, Before I Fall, If I Stay, 13 Reasons Why)
Unusual settings (Grasshopper Jungle, Red Rising, Ready Player One, The Night Circus, Steelheart);
Superpowers (Steelheart, Meta, I am Number Four, Shatter Me);
Magical powers (The Paper Magician, City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures, Poison Princess, Daughter of Smoke and Bone);
Fighting prowess (Graceling, Throne of Glass, Divergent, Phoenix Island, Red Rising);
Arena battles (gladiator-style): Hunger Games obviously led the way, Red Rising, An Ember in the Ashes, The Testing;
Smart/clever protagonists (The Screaming Staircase, Heist Society, Red Rising Grasshopper Jungle, Anna Dressed in Blood, Artemis Fowl);
Sci-Fi (Molly Fyde, Red Rising, Matched, The Knife of Never Letting Go);
Plots and twists; suspense and mystery eg The Paper Magician, Red Rising (the best intrigue!);
Great characters. Puck and Sean. Darrow and Mustang. Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. David (Steelheart). Saba.
Conflict – do the characters have things “too easy,” or does almost every plan go wrong (David in Steelheart, the inner selfish conflict of Austin in Grasshopper Jungle, the relationship conflict of Evie and Jack in Poison Princess, the war conflict in Red Rising);
Dialog – misdirection, snarkiness factor, realism of teen world-view;
Setting eg Red Rising, The Scorpio Races, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Night Circus;
Writing style – pace, detail, dialog, ability to transport to “another place” perhaps “where I fit in better”?
POV and tenses. Alternating POVs eg All The Bright Places. Single POV eg The Knife of Never Letting Go. First person present tense, 3rd person past …
YA “suitability” eg language (if Harry Potter used the F-bomb), age (if Harry Potter first book had been a 19-yr old), sexual content (if Harry Potter had sexual relations in the last two books), gore and violence (okay, Harry Potter did this!). Something slightly forbidden or normally out of reach?
The “Theme” – the underdog rises; the plain girl goes to the palace; the rebel spy; the oppression by elite society (Red Queen, An Ember in the Ashes, Hunger Games, Divergent); Having to “choose” (Red Rising, Mockinjay, The Selection, If I Stay, All The Bright Places);
Genre eg Fantasy, Paranormal, Sci-Fi, School, Superpower, Dystopian Government;
Bonus Review: Counting By 7s
Robert’s quick summary:
(From Amazon) Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Counting By 7s is by Holly Goldberg Sloan
So what did we think? (From a reader’s perspective)
1. (Robert) Beautifully written and heartwarming story – if you liked Rain Reign, you’d like this for sure. Willow’s obsession with numbers (especially “7”s of course!) and her precision zooming in on the things about our fellow human beings no one else really likes to do – make great reading.
2. (Robert) She is a great narrator: Goldberg Sloan endows Willow with a detached, completely logical view of the world – but in all of its detailed pieces. She is well-informed and doesn’t make mistakes. You like Willow right from the get go!
3. (Robert) Then there is an inciting incident (no spoiler – it’s in the book description), both her parents are killed in a tragic road accident, and Willow must find her way in a new life that makes sense to her, but confuses the adults around her – especially Dell, her school counsellor, who has a lovely redemption arc.
What did we think from a writer’s perspective?
1. (Robert) ALL the side characters are brilliant, as is the mish-mash of cultures (the lazy counsellor, the Vietnamese family).
2. (Robert) Some of the dialog interchanges, underlined by Willow’s thought processes are hilarious. What could be a tragic and sad story is uplifting and spiritual because of her (sometimes unwitting) influence on all those around her, and her unerring logic.
3. (Robert) The separate POV (of Willow, Dell, Mai) are very different, which is always tough to achieve, and especially Willow HAS to be different, of course.
Robert and Robert’s Famous Takeaways:
1. It’s a short read (like Rain Reign), but there’s a LOT to learn about sparse writing techniques and the interplay between characters.
2. This is a relationship and family dynamics story – no grand dystopian worlds, no post-apocalypse, no angsty-teen bad-boy romance. Just pure story about a young girl making her way in a world that wasn’t built for her.
3. Adult readers would appreciate the book, and the underlying elements of what it means to be human that arise from Willow’s ability to pull those around her into her life and unknowingly healing them. Beautiful.
Prompt of the Week:
Your protagonist suddenly finds herself alone in a strange world, and must befriend the most unlikely companions if she is to survive. What qualities does she unknowingly possess that others are attracted to? How does she stop those who would profit from her abilities from taking advantage of her?