Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why Do I Hafta Pick? Okay, I'll Pick…

…My Fave YA, Not My Nose

by Bill

Those who know me may be shocked to see this blog post. You'll be even more shocked to learn I'll be doing this every other week. (*gasp*)

As a rule, I write a blog post once a year whether I need to or not. So the idea of blogging twice a month or so-ish is a little bit skeery. And yet, when Kelli asked if I would like to share her Thursday spot her among the Criminal Minds, I couldn't say no. Who can refuse the delightful and talented Kelli? No one!

Thank you, Kelli, for thinking of me and inviting me into the fold. I'm thrilled to be among such good friends.

And now, my answer to this week's question is brought to you by The Cheat...

That's right. I'm going to cheat. See, here's the thing, I've already gone on and on about my most favorite young adult book of my actual youth, and even wrote a post about. Patti Abbott was kind enough to include it in her Forgotten Fridays series a while back. So my cheat is to point you to my original blog post about The Mystery of the Witches Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton. If you like, I'll wait here while you go read it.

· · ·

Back? Didn't bother? Either way, cool.

Today, I'd like to talk about two contemporary YA novels because I can't make up my mind about which one I like better. This is not an unheard-of problem. We're in a kind of Golden Age of literature for young people. Even a brief survey reveals that books for middle grade and and young adult readers are now proliferating, and feature a depth and richness not seen in youth literature before. (Sarah Ockler makes this point better than I can as part of this excellent discussion of the absent parent in YA fiction.)

So how can I possibly choose? Easy. I'm going to talk about Courtney Summers. I might have gone with John Green, or Nova Ren Suma, among a host of other amazing authors, but I decided on Courtney because I find myself returning to her books again and again. Besides, she has one of the most awesome Twitter streams out there.

Courtney is a Canadian author with two books to her credit so far. Cracked Up To Be, her debut, won the 2009 Cybils Award for Young Adult Fiction and was a Forest of Reading 2010 White Pine Nominee. She followed Cracked Up To Be with Some Girls Are in 2010, which received starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. The lauds this woman has racked up are more than deserved.

Cracked Up To Be tells the story of Parker Fadley, imperious queen of the popular crowd at her school, who seems to be willfully and aggressively falling to pieces. In Some Girls Are, Regina Afton finds herself on the outs with a dangerous clique, after once being a powerful part of it herself. Both books are deeply personal, at times riotously funny or gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking. (For the criminally-minded among us, both books also feature a crime as a critical plot element, though these are not crime novels or mysteries.)

Courtney displays a profound understanding of the lives of young people. She sugarcoats nothing, recognizing that teens are vital, intelligent, emotional and even sexual beings without exploiting them for the purposes of frowny-faced judgment or reveling in angsty exploitation. Her books shine with authenticity and offer striking insight into a world too many adults have forgotten.

And yet these aren't some kind of polemic or sociological case study. Courtney has a gift for storytelling, dialog, and pacing which rivals anyone writing today. Her characters are complex and human. I've often found myself discussing Parker and Regina as if they were real people. I root for them, cringe with them, laugh and sigh and cry with them. It's not easy to jerk a tear from my sourpuss eyes, but Courtney knows just which heart strings to pull. She also earns more than a few belly laughs when the time is right.

Yesterday, Sophie spoke of the privilege and responsibility which comes with writing for teens and young adults. My sense is Courtney recognizes and embraces both. She is, quite simply, scary good. You can't buy her fabulous books quick enough.


To help celebrate my debut on the Criminal Minds roster, I thought I'd have a little giveaway. I'm holding here in my hands a galley copy of my next book, Day One, due out in June from Tyrus Books. Anyone who comments on this post or on my April 22 entry will be entered into a random drawing to win this ARC. The drawing will take place on April 25. I'll also throw in a few Day One tchotchkes to the winner. So say hello for your chance to win.


Harley May said...

I loved Some Girls Are. Great post and just go ahead and send me your book. Like now. Please?

Bill Cameron said...

How can I resist when you ask so nicely? :)

Elisabeth Black said...

I have got to check out those books. I keep meaning to. Great review.

Kieran Shea said...

My favorite young adult book is A Young People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Does that count? Color me gadflying.

pat said...

Nice post. I haven't read any of her books, but I can think of a few people who might really like them.

Its interesting to reflect on the most influential books I read when I was growing up. I remember getting the pants scared off me with a few "Choose Your Own Adventure" books (hint: I chose poorly). I think my stand-bys were probably escapist fantasy though, LotR, Redwall, etc.

Toss my name in the hat! Can't wait to read the new book!

Shane Gericke said...

So nice to see you as a regular here, Bill. Your YA choices join everyone else's this week as a great reading list. And please tell Kieran that anything Howard Zinn wrote is great and so yes it counts. I loved his adult version of People's History of the U.S.

Bill Cameron said...

Beth, you'll love 'em. Of this I have no doubt.

Kieran, you can gadfly as much as you like. I'm a fan of Zinn myself.

Good to see you, Pat. I think our reading must have been very similar, though I'm a little old for the Choose Your Own Adventure books. But I read lots of fantasy and sci-fi. LotR is a top-ten all time for me. As for Courtney, you might give her a chance yourself. You don't have to be in high school to appreciate what she's doing with these books. Great stuff!

Bill Cameron said...

Thanks, Shane. It's a real privilege to join the team!

Jen Forbus said...

Yay! Well, I guess it's not really a welcome as Bill's been hangin' out here at the Criminal Minds kinda informal like for awhile. Glad to see someone roped him into contributing formally! Nice work, Kel!

I don't read a lot of YA, but I had a project when I was teaching where my kids had to go to the library...yes, the actual library...and have the YA librarian recommend a book to them based on their interests. So, they could say, "I like sports" or "I like romance books" or whatever like that. They couldn't say a specific author or title. Then they had to do an oral "brown-bag" book report on their book for their final exam. It was always the students' favorite project of the semester, and I'm sure it was because they were reading something that really interested them. It's nice to know that Canon is expanding!

CJ Lyons said...

Welcome to 7CM, Bill!!!

I haven't read Courtney Summers yet, thanks so much for telling us about her--off to put her on my wishlist now!

Jennie Bentley said...

Welcome to Criminal Minds, Bill! I haven't read Courtney's books. Sounds like I should. Thanks for the tip!

Bobby Mangahas said...

Thanks for mentioning those. Now I have some idea of what to get for my niece's birthday. And welcome aboard CM Bill!

Sophie Littlefield said...

just put courtney summers on the tbr. thanks bill! i'm so, so glad you've joined up. it just got a little snugglier around here.

Susan Adrian said...

I want to win DAY ONE!! And I cannot express (any better than you did) how much I am awed by and adore Courtney's books.

Well done, truth-speaker.

Bill Cameron said...

Thanks, Team, for the kind welcome! And thanks for visiting, Susan. I remain jealous of you to this day that you got to read an ARC of Some Girls Are while I waited, forlornly, for release day. :)

Trisha Leigh said...

I devoured both of Courtney's books as well, and have recommended them and loaned them get the idea. Great review.

I am here to fight Harley May and anyone else who stands between me and your book.

*throws gauntlet*

Bill Cameron said...

I am pleased to have laid the groundwork for a girl fight.

Joanne Levy said...

Great post. These books are on my TBR pile, and that Courtney is Canadian makes me feel even guiltier for not getting to them sooner. BUT your praise has just moved them to the top of the pile. I love YA, and not just because I write it, but because it is often so much more raw and honest than regular adult fiction. I agree that we really are in a Golden Age of books for kids - there's a LOT of awesome stuff out there and more is coming.

Thanks, Bill.

Susan Adrian said...

Bill: I revel in your jealousy. I will now have to work even harder to make sure I get to read an ARC of Eddie. (or, Courtney's highly awaited Book 3)

*evil grin*

Terry Stonecrop said...

I'm not a YA fan but your recommendations sound good. I am, however a big Zinn fan. Hopefully that counts.

Kelli Stanley said...

Aw, Bill, you've been part of the family from the very beginning. :)

I'm just so glad you said yes!! :)

And great review ... I'm definitely adding Courtney to my TBR list. Of course, DAY ONE is already at the top ... the release day's marked on my calendar!!!!


Jeannie Holmes said...

Welcome to our little corner of insanity, Bill!

Great post, by the way. I haven't heard of Courtney's books but I also don't read a lot of YA fiction. However, after reading your post, I think I'll have to check them out.

*sigh* My TBR pile to growing again. I hope y'all are happy.

Eric Beetner said...

My 3-year-old daughter is the biggest book freak I know and I am SO looking forward to sharing "big girl" books with her. I have already bought her some from my youth for her to read years from now. The Phantom Tollbooth was my favorite.
I'm sure there will be a new world of books she will fall in love with. She is totally that girl who is going to stay up late under the covers with a flashlight to read and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Bill Cameron said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

Terry and Jeannie, even if you don't normally read YA, I think you'll find Courtney's books great reads. Like a lot of the best YA these days, they transcend age. As Joanne notes, it can be very raw and honest, adjectives which I think apply to Cracked Up To Be and Some Girls Are.

Of course YA is a big world, and books thus described come in all flavors. YA can mean so many things it helps to do a little research to know what you're picking up. Courtney's characters, like actual real life teens, drink and swear and (gasp) have sex, something some people would consider verboten in a book for "children."

That said, Eric, your choices for your little one are far more appropriate. The Phantom Tollbooth is wonderful! She can read Courtney when she's a little older. ;)