Tag Archives: YA

The Silent Invasion

UnknownI think this is the first James Bradley book I’ve read, which is… a thing. If this is an indication of his calibre, I shall rectify that.

This is a near-future Australia. The entire world has been affected by alien spores that Change animals, plants and people – not everyone, but many of those who come into contact. And the spores  seem to particularly like it hot and humid, so there’s been an exodus of people from the tropical parts of the world. Of course, this hasn’t been particularly well received by the temperate parts of the world. There are walls. And camps. And suspicion of foreigners.

All sounding a bit familiar, isn’t it.

The heart of the book is Callie, an adolescent whose father Changed some years ago and whose young sister is now exhibiting symptoms – because even in temperate Adelaide, you’re not safe from the spores. Rather than allow Gracie to be taken to Quarantine, Callie decides to run away with her to the Zone: the part of Australia that’s been sectioned off by a mighty Wall, to the north of which the Change runs riot. Cue adventure and desperation and bravery and hardship.

What is perhaps most intriguing about this book is the prologue. I mean, I really enjoyed the book, and Callie is a gutsy character, and I liked the depiction of Australia. But the prologue? It makes it clear that this desperate adventure across southern Australia is only the beginning of what will confront Callie across the trilogy. Because in the opening paragraph, she mentions “this alien beach,” and being “under a sky so full of stars that even the night shines”. There is something much weirder going on than just another version of the Triffids, or a slow invasion story. And while I enjoyed the look-after-the-sister story, I am really intrigued by what’s going to happen to Callie to lead her to this alien planet.

Bring on the next book.

Gemina

Unknown.jpegThis is the sequel to the brilliant Illuminae. Intriguingly, though, it could definitely be read as a stand-alone book. There’s an entirely new set of main characters, and while the events do flow on from the initial ones they’re taking place in a completely different part of space. What little background knowledge might be useful is provided as part of the briefing documents.

Note: if you didn’t enjoy Illuminae (and I understand the style isn’t for everyone), don’t come to this one.

Like Illuminae, the novel is composed of ‘found’ documents, here presented as part of trial. Those documents are things like IM-chat transcripts; descriptions of video surveillance, complete with occasional snarky comments from the tech doing the description; logs of emails, and other communications; and a few other bits and pieces. It means that the narrative isn’t entirely linear, and this works really nicely – the story of what has happened, and what the characters are like, comes out slowly and… I guess organically. There’s a few bits where people are described in reports or get talked about, but in general we learn about them through their words and actions.

The setting for the main narrative is a space station, guarding a worm hole that has gates to several different systems. Something terrible happens, and things must be done by unlikely heroes. Exactly the depth of the Terrible Things and how they might be resolved are the focus of the story. There’s crawling through air vents and unlikely alliances, hacking both computer and physical, general death and destruction and mayhem, betrayals and banter. And it all happens over a really short space of time so that it feels quite desperate and breathless; when I had to put it down 50 pages from the end to go out for dinner (I’d read the rest of it that day), I was horrified at leaving everyone hanging.

This is an immensely fun book. I can imagine it working on reluctant readers – or those who think they only like graphic novels – once they got over the thickness of it, that is, since it’s a very graphic piece of work: each page is designed to look like what it’s meant to be, whether that’s a chat transcript or legal documents. Or excerpts from an adolescent girl’s diary. Each ‘chapter’ feels short and punchy because none of the documents are very long. It’s a clever pacing trick.

A very entertaining and enjoyable book. I am excited for the next instalment.

Nowhere Near You

Unknown.jpegThis novel was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out in March (RRP $15.99 paperback/ $11.99 ebook).

The following contains SPOILERS for Because You’ll Never Meet Me – which you should totally just go read if you’re into slightly angsty YA epistolary novels.

At the end of Because Ollie mother has died and he and his doctor are setting out on a road trip to meet other ‘freaks’… while Ollie wears what is basically a hazmat suit, where he is the hazard. Moritz has confronted his anger and the damage he did to Lenz and is trying to figure out how to deal with Owen.

By necessity, Nowhere Near You is quite different from the first book. Ollie is meeting people, so there’s that aspect – new people to talk to, and about, and new experiences – and of course he’s also interacting with electricity, which is a whole thing in and of itself. His sheer joy at experiencing a city and all the things that ordinary humans take for granted is a crazy delight to read. While Moritz is still at home, he’s interacting with new people too as he goes to a new school and meets… some good people, and some very dodgy ones. Again, of necessity, these new experiences change the two boys, and not always for the better. Both of them have incredibly awful experiences that reinforce their tendencies towards self-blame and depression, although again they both work hard to encourage the other. As they change they also have to confront aspects of each other that don’t always fit their view of the friendship, and I deeply appreciated Thomas’ care for her characters and desire for honesty in the way their friendship develops and overcomes those problems.

Once again the locations are deeply important, as both Ollie and Moritz interact with their places and try to understand their literal and figurative places within society. Other people become more important as they reject their hermit ways; again, parents of various sorts – biological, adoptive, foster – and various levels of emotional connection. It’s the other kids who are most interesting, though. Ollie meets some of the other experimental kids, and although you could probably read their various ‘disabilities’ as metaphorical I liked Thomas’ deadpan way of dealing with them: here’s who they are, what they can/not do, and they are real in this world and deserving of respect. Moritz mostly meets people who are ‘normal’ (caveats etc) and what I realise, on reflection, is that all of these people – experimented on and not – are as equally likely to be messed up, frustrating to know, or a complete joy, as each other. They’re individuals. I liked that a lot.

Also once again, there’s a lot of secrets that rear their less than pleasant heads over the course of Ollie and Moritz’s communication. And once again they both have their anger and both eventually deal with it. I really like how Thomas shows that being angry with someone doesn’t have to mean the end of a friendship. I think that’s about the most powerful aspect of the whole thing. Oh and also that being different doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever.

This was a delightful diptych and I look forward to seeing what else Thomas produces over the next few years.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It was published in 2015 and they have sent it to me now because the sequel has just been published, and they were sending that to me as well. NICE MOVE BLOOMSBURY VERY CLEVER.

I had forgotten just how much I like an epistolary novel. I mean, I adore Freedom and Necessity possibly beyond reason, but that’s a pretty special case. Turns out it works nicely here, too.

Ollie and Moritz start sending letters – yes, actual letters, because Reasons – when Ollie is given Moritz’s address by his doctor. Ollie is a hermit for medical reasons and Moritz has a number of issues of his own such that while he’s not quite a hermit he’s definitely anti-social. Over the letters, the two develop a tight bond that’s mostly based on honesty, although their trust is tested at several points. They both keep secrets for a number of reasons – some good, some dubious. They take it in turns to be utterly depressed, often with good reason, and attempt to encourage one another. With varying degrees of success.

Look, yes, this book presumes that 14 and 16 year old boys are capable of and willing to write letters to strangers. It also presumes that said boys are willing to occasionally be emotionally open. These things can indeed be true. These things are not the least probable aspects of the book.

Ollie and Moritz’s letters are neatly separated by different fonts, which is a technique I have to admit to loving, as well as by tone. There is little fear of mistaking one for the other: Ollie is exuberant (usually) while Moritz is more formal. Their personalities are very different, due to their childhoods and their homes and their experiences. They make a lovely contrast. There are other characters: parents – biological and adoptive, loving and uncaring (those two sets do not always match); love interests; visitors; casual bystanders. The locations form a key part of the stories, as Ollie and Moritz (literally) navigate their worlds. But really it all comes back to the two boys.

This was an excellent novel. It’s YA… and I guess it has other genre elements but explaining those would be spoilers, so… just find out for yourself.

Galactic Suburbia 159

 

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Alex and Tansy pull apart the recent school-set Doctor Who spin off TV show Class, with its YA tropes, teen diversity, squicky alien creatures and fascinating parent-kid dynamics. But mostly we rave about the awesomeness of Quill. Because she is the best.

You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

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The Edge of Everything

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s being published in February 2017; RRP $16.99.

Unknown.jpegI have to say first off that I think the title is naff. It doesn’t tell you anything and it also doesn’t relate to anything in the story. So that’s my whinge.

The promo material for this book suggests 12+. I would say 14+, personally; I can’t think of a 12 year old I would deliberately give this. Some 12 year olds would take it for themselves and cope quite nicely, I suspect, but that’s a different issue.

Zoe’s father died a few months ago; her brother goes out in a snowstorm and she has to rescue him; she meets a stranger with tattoos and apparently some sort of extraordinary power. He has no name; she calls him X. He’s a bounty hunter; things of course do not go well for him or for Zoe and her family.

It’s not the most original-sounding narrative, but there are some remarkable aspects to the book. Slight spoiler: X is from what would be best described as hell, but the Lowlands are quite different from any other incarnation of hell that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s an intriguing vision of the place and of how it might be used. There’s no explanation of the Lowlands and how it operates; instead the focus of the narrative is on relationships, and the work of bounty hunters… it’s all about the vibe of the thing. And overall that worked. Certainly there are a myriad of unanswered questions about the mechanics, but they don’t really matter for the story itself.

The human world and especially Zoe’s family are beautifully realised. The different expressions of grief are portrayed sensitively and realistically. Jonah, Zoe’s brother, has ADHD; it’s just a fact of life and oh my goodness he’s a cute terror, as little brothers usually are. Mum is vegan and a bit nuts and fierce and has always struggled to hold the family together: I adored her so much. Zoe’s friends Val and Dallas are a delight (Val made a Tumblr of her girlfriend’s feet) and although I thought it was going to veer into dodgy love triangle territory Giles avoids that neatly. Dad… well, he was a struggler, and the way mum slowly revealed a bit more about what he was like to Zoe over the course of the book was heart-breaking and, again, intensely realistic.

Into this human world comes X, quite accidentally, and in some ways – although a third or more of the book is from his perspective – he’s the most opaque of all of them I think. Partly this is because he almost has no personality, thanks to how he has grown up; he really only starts to live after meeting Zoe. I was reminded of those suggestions of how Matt Smith’s Doctor ‘imprinted’ on young Amelia Pond, as I watched X and Zoe together. I was initially a bit squeaked by their budding romance because I thought he was much older than her; turns out he’s maybe 20 to her 16 (which is still a bit squick for me). The intensity of their attitude towards one another, especially his for her, was the main eye-rolly bit for me. It all seemed a bit too intense too fast.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that this is the start of a series. It felt to me like the sort of intense story and relationship that ought to be encapsulated in just one, say 450-page, book. I don’t know how it could have been resolved but I definitely would have preferred that.

Overall this is a well-paced and intense book that I read in the course of one day. I enjoyed most of the relationships and I was genuinely surprised by a couple of the revelations. I’m not sure whether I want the sequel because I’m afraid it will lose the intensity, but that’s a problem I’ll just have to deal with.

The Light that gets Lost

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children’s, at no cost. It’s on sale now; RRP $19.99.

Unknown.jpeg

The promo material that comes with this says it’s for 12+ years. Me, I wouldn’t give this to a 12 year old that you wouldn’t give Lord of the Flies to – and I’m guessing that’s most of them. It’s been a while since I read Lord of the Flies but there are definite overtones of that scenario in Carthew’s book, especially in the second half. I rather feel a kid would need to be a bit robust to read and enjoy this, because it’s certainly not all rainbows and cupcakes. I know dystopia is (was) all the rage but this feels a bit closer to home than that…

The set up sees Trey, as a small child, hiding in a cupboard while his parents are murdered. What a cheery opening, right? And then the story skips forward eight years and Trey is getting himself into a farm camp for juvenile criminals, in theory intended to train the adolescents in useful skills but in reality more like forced labour. Trey has willingly gone there in order to try and find the man responsible for his parents’ deaths. Which is a bit messed up I think.

There are some really interesting ideas here, but for me some of the better ones are the ideas that get mentioned and then lost. It becomes clear int he second half that society outside of the camp isn’t exactly the society of Britain (I think) in 2016… but exactly what’s going on and how it got there is never explored. It’s just mentioned in passing, almost for no reason, and then ploop… disappears. The entire set up of the farm isn’t explored or explained in that much detail, so it just sort of… exists… as a place for things to happen.

The main focus of the story is friendship and revenge. Friendship in this kind of environment is always going to be a bit fraught, what with sadistic overseers and bullies and a system aimed at breaking kids down. The friendship between Trey and a boy in his bunk room, Lamby, is believable enough but I didn’t always buy the friendship between Trey and Kay, a girl with whom he ends up doing farm work. It might have been a bit more believable if there had been other female characters with whom we got to see Kay interacting, or even Trey interacting with them.

The revenge aspect drives the initial part of the plot and again I didn’t entirely buy the eight year old boy turning into an adolescent so driven by revenge that it’s as if there’s a demon under his skin. This idea of a demon gets a few mentions – including on the back cover – but isn’t really explained; Trey occasionally talks to it but it’s not clear what we’re meant to think is going on. Maybe that’s left deliberately ambiguous but it didn’t work for me in this context. There is some resolution to this revenge plot but, again, it didn’t entirely work for me.

This all makes it sound like I hated the book, but I didn’t. I didn’t love it, but neither did I loathe it. Cart hew writes beautifully on a sentence level; the Financial Times apparently described her as using “vivid, imagistic language” and certainly a lot of the language is vivid. Some of the lacunae are obviously deliberate and evocative, which I liked, it just didn’t always sit well with the plot.

Swarm

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen & Unwin, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $19.99.

When I read the first book in this series, Zeroes, I was a bit underwhelmed. I felt like it didn’t fully deliver on its promises – not quite dramatic enough, somehow, or heroic, or problematic. I didn’t hate it… I was just a bit disappointed. So while I was very excited to receive the sequel to review, I experienced some trepidation.

Unknown.jpegAnd then I picked it up. And then I couldn’t put it down. And I read the entire thing in an afternoon… and, ahem, evening; it’s been a while since I read past my bedtime in order to finish a book.

Folks, the sequel is better than the first. Shocking, I know. Continue reading →

Goldenhand

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen and Unwin, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $24.99.

Unknown.jpegThis BOOK! I’m so happy to have read this book! I’m so happy this book exists! (Spoilers for the other Old Kingdom books. Just go read them.)

I’ve been a fan of the Old Kingdom books for a long time. Not as long as they’ve existed – Sabriel came out about 20 years ago and I didn’t read it then – but long enough ago that when the prequel, Clariel, came out in 2014 I was a bit over the moon. So with Goldenhand being a direct sequel to Abhorsen, I’ve been pining for this book for a good while.

This is most definitely a sequel. I’m not sure how it would stand by itself – there’s not a lot of explanation of the whole necromancy by bells thing, nor of the Charter, and there’s a moment where Lirael is required to use her mirror and I was like wait, what? because it’s been a while since I read the other books. But really that’s all right because just READ ALL THE OTHERS ANYWAY.

Lirael is pining the loss of the Disreputable Dog, and trying to fit in with her newly discovered much older half-sister Sabriel and her family, and learning to be the Abhorsen. Something I loved about Lirael was how she always struggled to fit in as a Clayr, and I like that Nix hasn’t just made her magically (heh) well-adjusted. Meanwhile, of course, things aren’t entirely hunky dory in the rest of the kingdom: a nomad appears unexpectedly at the Greenwash Bridge, and even more unexpectedly proceeds to be attacked by other nomads and their awesomely freaky magical constructs. Cue mad flight down the river…

The book follows two tracks: Lirael, taking charge of Abhorsen business while Sabriel has a holiday (heh so cute), which means investigating a message about Nicholas Sayre and there being a magical creature on the wrong side of the Wall… and Ferin, the nomad messenger, whose endurance makes all the other characters look a bit weak and who just occasionally has a wicked sense of humour.

I love Ferin.

Nix’s writing is incredibly easy to read: it’s fast-paced, and it has lovely descriptions that allow you to imagine the place but not get bogged down in detail. I love the idea of the Charter and the additional development that the magic system gets here. In the interview with Nix that’s included in the book, he seems a bit bemused by how many people mention the gender balance in his books. But here’s the thing: when you’re reading about some guards being awesome in fighting and realise that any number of them are women, and that’s just so not a thing for this world, it still blows my mind. Multiple women in multiple sorts of roles: it can be done.

This is a wonderful addition to the Old Kingdom world and I’m so happy that it exists.

Stealing Snow

Unknown.jpegI received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost as an uncorrected proof. It comes out in October; RRP $16.99.

I abandoned this book, after reading just over half. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really wasn’t working for me and there are SO many books I want to read that I just don’t have time for books that don’t work.

Firstly, the press release says it’s for children 12+. I’m not sure I’d be happy with a 12 year old reading this: the protagonist has spent eleven years in a mental institute – since she was six – and there are some bits that I think may be a little scary for less mature readers. Anyway, that’s not a reason for me abandoning it.

The protagonist is part of the reason. I did not at any point feel any empathy towards Snow. There’s a bit too much repetition about her immediate woes (not being able to see the boy she really likes, who’s also in the institution), and a serious lack of development about either her history (she walked into a mirror and that was enough to get her committed?) or her personality more generally.

This is symptomatic of the book as a whole, actually: there is so little development of anything. Characters and places and events all occur in a vague world, sometimes with connections spelled out and sometimes not. Things happen far too fast – strange dreams! strange boy appearing! lover boy disappears!! a Tree!!! – and I was left completely bewildered, and not in a shivery-anticipation kinda way; in a ‘what the heck just happened?’ kinda way. It’s a portal fantasy, eventually, but whereas Foz Meadows deals nicely with the sort of confusion this would produce, Danielle Paige has Snow being confused for about ten seconds and then basically comfortable, with no explanation for how this is possible (i.e. treating it as a fantasy or whatever).

Also, the writing does not help the reading process. It’s not actively bad, but I was aware of reading – rather than being sucked into a world and ignoring the process, which really awesome writing enables.

I’m sad that this didn’t work out. I think the Snow Queen story has a lot of potential for reworking. In fact the day I received this my mother was visiting, and she had just started Michael Cunningham’s retelling of the story (very different from this), and I’d seen Frozen only about a week before. So there definitely is potential. And this version had potential… it just wasn’t achieved.