A Stranger Look at 4 new Young Adult Fiction novels

Young Adult fiction has always been a genre where shift is a constant. Every few years or so, the topic at hand shifts from one to another; from paranormal romance to the dystopian society that every female protagonist had to combat. These trends domineer the market, saturating the shelves with a new popular theme that seems to dictate whatever appears on them, trumping all original ideas and creativity along the way.

A Glance at Today’s Market – 

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Barnes and Noble’s website put out an interesting list; “The Best Young Adult Books of 2016 So Far“, highlighting 14 new promising new novels. I have strong thought on four books listed there…

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

Overview:

This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters and a fearsome heroine. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES won’t want to miss this visceral, immersive, and mesmerizing novel, the first in a trilogy. NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion. But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Ultimately described as ‘What if Vlad Tepes, the historical inspiration for Dracula, had actually been a fearsome and brilliant teenage girl?’ (Publishers Weekly), the book describes the tale of a woman doomed either to be married to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire or to be executed for her father’s mistakes.  White plays heavily upon the presence of historical figures to highlight a gender-based commentary, geopolitical relations, and a religious conflict through a conversion in this crafted world.

This novel is no different than other typical modern-day young adult books with the usual tropes involved. Among the text, love-triangles and wrongful romances are ever present, even with characters who are described as ‘brutal and ruthless’. It plays into the lack of creativity that more modern novels suffer from; new ideas nowhere to be found. While the concept of rewriting history from a different point of view is no modern concept, it seems exhausted when used in a way where the only big change is the historical figure’s gender; using it as a plot point for romance.  In the end based on description alone, I would not agree with that four-star rating from BN.

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The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Overview: 

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all. But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy. If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. Heidi Heilig blends fantasy, history, and a witty modern sensibility into a magical journey that will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo.

Just by reading the description alone, I feel that the novel has the potential to be wonderful and interesting. It has a ‘time travel with exceptions’ approach to sci-fi, providing a more intriguing and structured aspect in comparison to free-form free-world travel. Heilig provides a sense of exploration that is non-linear, allowing aspects of the world to change in an instant as they had over time, providing myths, legends, and lore along the way.  Upon reading the description, it appears that the romance between the protagonist and a crew member is pushed to the side; something that is not seen too often in more modern Young Adult literature. In the end, I find that this novel is a step in the right direction when looking at the industry as a whole.

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Overview:

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Premiering as Book IV in the Raven Cycle series, The Raven King tells of a magic-lacking girl living among a house of psychics, giving a life warning to that with her first kiss, death will come to who she loves the most. Leading up to this book in the series, the main character has interacted with three Raven Boys, an honest and fearless Ronan, a self-sacrificing Adam, and a hardworking and studious Gasey, ultimately aiding the protagonist on a dangerous quest. Upon interacting with these boys, the main character begins to question whether or not she actually believes in true love, finding that each holding their own charm and characteristics.

The Raven King is yet another example of young adult fiction playing importance into the romantic aspect of a plot more so than a plot itself. With the world built around it, I feel that there is more that the author could do with it all; highlighting different aspects of the character, her abilities, and struggles along the way through this dangerous quest. A setup does not need to be the defining plot trait of the novel, especially a four-part series. It is not something that I would necessarily read but does fit the love-stricken agenda of an average teen girl.

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Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse

The novel approaches itself from six different aspects, holding the viewpoints of six different main characters, describing how the world ended itself. In short, it is described as Cloud Atlas, but for teenagers.

Overview:

Five teens, five futures: Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world. Ten years from now, Brixney must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtors’ colony. Thirty years from now, Epony scrubs her entire online profile from the web and goes “High-Concept.” Sixty years from now, Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual game board. And more than one hundred years from now, Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all. These are stories about a world that is destroying itself, and about the alternate world that might be its savior. Unless it’s just the opposite.

To view the world in six different ways, all characters pinning exactly what caused the destruction of the world or society is a rather interesting topic. It gives light to what exactly those characters are like, glimpsing into their thought process and characteristics in a deeper way than speech and actions could. Although I feel that it could be narrowed down for a more personal and in-depth tone to the story, there is nothing inherently bad with looking at many different situations and trying to broadly link them. Peevyhouse provides an intriguing story line, questioning a commonality to a world’s demise and suggesting a backup once it happens.

Thoughts Overall – 

Despite themes from years past still being present in more modern Young Adult fiction, this is not inherently a bad thing. Plots seem to be stepping away from strict tropes and guidelines and exploring ideas and worlds as best they can. In the end, I have hope for the future. While a large majority of novels on the list are not books I would personally read, they touch basis on a much larger audience. They provide the sense of exploration, strength, questions and in the end, answers. Much like novels of years past, the themes are shifting and narratives follow along with it. In a world where no idea is original, I feel that the strides made are effective enough to induce change to the strict “Young Adult” guidelines.

-Katherine A

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