Slaying YA

As we know, Buffy’s premiere had its 20th reunion this year (Ah!). Now, admittedly, I wasn’t Buffy’s target audience at its premiere. I did hit that age as it was coming onto DVD, so I got to binge watch it like the Netflix power user I am not. I would hole myself away for entire weekends powering through this show. And I know my experience mirrors the experience of many others. So, let’s explore some YA that can give us some of the same feels as the Scooby Gang. 

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“Welcome to the Hellmouth” – Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

This was compared to Buffy by bloggers, including myself, straight out of the gate. It has a butt-kicking heroine against a supernatural element. It is quippy. While Buffy was created to be the cheerleader that fights back in the dark alley, she was never as popular as Harper outside of back-story. Harper’s like the perfect blend of Buffy and Cordelia. And it is so FUN to see a popular, opinionated girl celebrated instead of vilified. This is like those episodes between the highest of “big bad” angst. It’s Buffy at its most joyous.

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“Witch”- The Walls Around Us by Nova Rae Suma

Amy’s mom will do anything to recapture her glory days. Suma’s dancers are willing to do anything for their dream. We get a peak into this high stakes world, whether it’s cheerleading or dancing. Suma takes something known and twists it in that wonderful way Buffy always accomplished. And, like in Buffy, not everything is how it may seem. Because what’s the fun in that?

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“I, Robot….You, Jane”- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

What about the perils of the early internet as represented by a cat fishing demon? While, sadly, this novel does not have Willow’s early Apple laptop in all it’s glory, it does have that same early internet feel, with a super smart hacker to boot. And then the jinn get involved just to make everything even MORE complicated. Even better? It’s written by G. Willow Wilson (of Ms. Marvel fame)!

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“Reptile Boy”- All the Rage by Courtney Summers

It seemed like such a clever, veiled metaphor when I was 13. Now, I am like “yup, that’s a dick demon.” Still, “Reptile Boy” explored date rape in a very real way. All the Rage gets at the same ideas. How can the golden boy be a rapist? All the Rage doesn’t necessarily have any of the quippiness that defines Buffy and its monsters. The tone of the book fits more with Season Six’s Spike incident. But the social element of the fraternity and the teen-ness of the early seasons just fit “Reptile Boy”.  Regardless, you should read this book.

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“I Only Have Eyes for You”- Avalon High by Meg Cabot

Buffy and Angelus are forced to reenact a tragic love story in an attempt to rewrite the ending. The crew of Avalon High are doing the same thing, except their tragic love story is that of King Arthur and Guinevere. This was my favorite Meg Cabot book as a teen. Yes, it beat out Mia Thermopolis. And who didn’t feel at least a little spiritually connected to Mia Thermopolis? While this may be a more angsty Buffy episode, Cabot channels a lot of the same fast-paced humor in her writing that typifies Buffy.

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“The Zeppo”- The Rest of Us Just Live Here By Patrick Ness

This book made me think of the “The Zeppo” from the blurb alone. It inspired this whole mental exercise. Like “The Zeppo”, The Rest of Us Just Live here follows the “normals” (even if they’re not always totally normal) as the Chosen Ones save the day on the periphery. The zeppos of the world save the day in their way too, or at least save themselves. It is lighthearted and fun while tackling real issues. This captures the fun spirit of Buffy for a generation drowning in Chosen Ones.

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“The Freshman”- We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Buffy clearly feels lost in the Freshman. She feels displaced and uncomfortable in new surroundings. She doesn’t even have a familiar library to research in; you know, having blown apart the school and all. Marin in We Are Okay is going through her own trauma, having lost her support system. LaCour taps a little more into the heartbreak than the absurdity that Buffy channels. But they both explore that lost feeling of entering a completely new phase of life. This is a little book that will punch you in the stomach in the best way, and prepare you to enter a bigger world.

 

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When the Moon Was Ours

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by Anna-Marie McLemore

5/5 stars

“Not your fault, ” Aracely said. “Not because of you. For you.”

Earlier this year I read McLemore’s acclaimed novel from last year, The Weight of Feathers. It was magical realism of the first order, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And then I read When the Moon Was Ours. And it blew it out of the water. This was the best YA magical realism I have read since the Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (which you should 100% read). This was what I wanted Wink, Poppy, Midnight to be.

When the Moon Was Ours follows Miel, a girl who grows roses from her wrist, and Sam, a boy who paints and hangs moons for her to keep her fears away. They have been best friends since Miel came sweeping into their town when she spilled from the water tower. They have recently become more. But Sam is coming to terms with who he wants to be, and how that might not match up to how he was born. And Miel has caught the eye of the Bonner sisters, four sisters who are renowned in town for their power to make men desire them. The Bonner sisters fear their power has waned since their oldest sister became pregnant, and they look to Miel’s roses to right their world.

What I love here is that everyone is struggling with identity and perception, even the Bonner sisters, who do some really awful things. But they are still presented with compassion, as trapped by their circumstances as Miel and Sam in some ways, though this does not excuse all of the awful things that they do. And yet with this, we still feel the danger. The desperation of these characters could lead to, and at times did lead to, real violence. I think this danger and desperation gets at the heart of the teenage years: the fear of not knowing if one is enough, or even who one really is. Amidst all of this, Miel and Sam are both given consideration and respect. I feel for them. I root for them.

The language in this is gorgeous. McLemore does magical realism well. It’s a genre that I admittedly do not know as well as others. This book makes me want to change that. McLemore builds a world where roses grow from a girl’s wrist as a part of her that can bleed when destroyed. The symbolism is at times painful. And at other times transcendent. This is not to say that there weren’t times when I was reading this where I wasn’t confused or even frustrated with the poetic imagery and language. There were. But it all fit together so well, and served the larger purpose of the novel. It worked. So, even if you find yourself frustrated, I found it worth it.

This book was gorgeous. I am bummed it didn’t make it to the short list for the National Book Award, because it definitely deserved to be there. Read it all, including the dedication and author’s note. Every word matters.

Labyrinth Lost

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by Zoraida Córdova

3/5 stars

I’m just a girl and there is also magic in that.

Alex is the most powerful bruja in her family in generations. But that doesn’t mean she likes it. In fact, she’s been actively suppressing her power, and her family doesn’t even know her power has been manifesting itself. So when her Deathday comes, Alex works a spell to wish her magic away. She just didn’t expect said spell to transport her entire family to Los Lagos, a magical in-between land. Soon Alex is on a mission to save her family, and inadvertently come into her own.

I am slightly conflicted over this one friends. I picked this up at BEA with no prior knowledge of the title and was instantly PUMPED for this premise. I was excited for this one for many reasons  1) Witches 2) Diverse witches, brujas. And I loved the idea of a Deathday. It makes me think of Dia de los Muertos, which has always seemed a little magical to me. 3) I got wind of LGBTQ representation on the internets. 4) I really like the author on social media, and she was also a delight in person. Plus she has awesome glasses. 5) Look at that cover. Basically, I love all the things in this recipe.

What I had a harder time with was how the recipe came out. Everything felt so easy and surface level here. I adored the beginning with Alex and her family. The minute we transferred over to Los Lagos it just all felt convenient, and I didn’t feel connected to Alex or the other characters. It became more tell than show, although there were the beginnings there, and so much promise. And while I was ALL FOR the lesbian romance hinted at, it never felt developed. I wasn’t allowed to feel their chemistry. I was supposed to just assume it based on their shared history, a history I didn’t get much of a glimpse at. It just felt rushed in many places.

Based on the writing, I would probably recommend this for younger YA readers. I am a little bummed I did not absolutely love this as I was hoping to. Honestly, this would have been a 2, but I was really behind all Córdova was attempting to do here. And while it wasn’t a complete home run for me, just having such positive representation be a matter of course will mean a lot to a lot of girls, and boys. This is an important story and I want to see more of stories like this. I want more multicultural magic. I also want more from this universe, because I am intrigued by Alex’s sisters and did not get to spend enough time with them.

My Lady Jane

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by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

4/5 stars

Poor King Edward, now under the ground.
Hacked his lungs out. They’ve yet to be found.

I have been looking forward to this books since I realized it was a thing. I love Tudor history. And I love irreverent Monty Python, Princess Bride-esque humor. I was really, really looking forward to this one.

Remember that time Jane Grey was crowned queen of England for nine days following Edward’s death before Mary’s army came in and took over? And she was married to Gifford Dudley, the younger brother of Robert (Stan?) Dudley–of Elizabeth I flirtation fame? And how Gifford was a horse from dawn to dusk? Wait, what? And Edward was actually being poisoned by Dudley in order to help transfer the crown to an unknowing Gifford? And the battle in England wasn’t between religions but between those who can turn into animals and those who could not.

Utterly absurd. Utterly delightful. This switched POVs between Edward, Jane, and Gifford (you know, the horse). And it was the most charming I have ever seen a fictional Gifford. Oddly enough. The most distracting change for me was the absence of Robert Dudley, or they changed his name to Stan. I recognize this is a peculiar distraction and I will probably be alone in this.

This is being billed as a kind of YA Princess Bride. It is humorous, though I honestly never laughed out loud. Rather, it was a kind of joyous, light tone that kept the narrative moving. It was also full of Shakespeare references, and a few Monty Python just to mix it up (including my personal favorite Holy Grail quote “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”). I did occasionally feel the jokes about Jane’s loving books more than anything did grow a bit tiresome, because they felt a little forced. Though I thought it was a good reminder how smart Jane Grey was, often Elizabeth is given all the recognition to being the smart one and an absolute exception.

This was absolutely well worth the ride.

The Glittering Court

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by Richelle Mead

3/5 stars

We’re all in charge of our own lives–and we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make.

Adelaide is an aristocratic woman about to enter into an arranged marriage she knows will not satisfy her in order to save her family’s name and fortunes. And then The Glittering Court comes recruiting one of her servants, and Adelaide decides to take her place. The Glittering Court is recruiting girls to be trained in the skills of the upper classes in order to appeal as wives to men in the new world. This offers working class girls opportunities they never dreamed of and one thing they never thought they’d have: choice. It offers Adelaide this same freedom, though she comes from much different circumstances. But her world is complicated by the friends, rivals, and love interests that cross her path.

This went from a mix between Princess Academy and the Selection to a Western, more particularly Gold Rush-y (I am not usually a Western person). Everything felt based in American history. I honestly had no concept of the made-up countries and religions in this book. My head immediately transcribed them into their recognizable historical parallels. I don’t know if this was intended or not, but I would not describe this as a world that feels tangible to me on it’s own right now. Rather, in my head it is colonial America. If that was the intent, spot on.

Adelaide is pretty strong throughout, even when she’s out of her comfort zone. Though she did become slightly less interesting to me over time. I think some of this could have been the narrative losing its forward momentum. The novel is only around 400 pages, but it feels longer sometimes. Partly because a lot happens and a good amount of time is spanned. Still, Adelaide’s story is pretty well contained in this novel. Goodreads lists this as part of a series, and I hope it’s going to take a My Fair Assassins approach and follow different girls. I am very intrigued to follow the two closest friends Adelaide made in The Glittering Court. And seeds have definitely been planted for them to have their own stories.

There is obviously a romance angle in this novel. I say obviously because at least at Barnes & Noble it’s shelved in teen romance, and Richelle Mead is known for her romance plot lines in YA I think. I had no major issues with the romance. I was rooting for it. I liked the flirtations we got especially at the beginning. I did think the “jealous rival” we were introduced to was a little obvious and underdeveloped, but hey, if I lump this in with a romance novel structure it fits.

If The Glittering Court could fell somewhat plodding and predictable to me as a reader today, I also recognize this is the kind of book that I would have eaten up as a high schooler. I probably would have used it to ease my wait between A Great and Terrible Beauty books. I didn’t adore this book; I didn’t hate it. It was some nice escapism, but when I reached the last page I was okay with that.

The Square Root of Summer

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by Harriet Reuter Hapgod

4.5/5 stars

Because I want the chance to cry when it hurts.

Gottie is still reeling from the loss of her grandfather, a man who filled a father-like role in her life. But it’s summer, and there’s no more school, or physics class, to take her mind off things. Even if her mind hasn’t really been on things lately. But when her brother is back for the summer, so is his bandmate Jason, who also happens to be Gottie’s secret ex-boyfriend. And then her childhood best friend Thomas is suddenly back in her life. This would be complicated enough without the fact she can’t even remember exactly what happened the last day she saw Thomas. They went to make a blood pact, and everything after is blank for Gottie. So, Gottie has enough going on without the accidental time travel and wormholes. Turns out there is an application for all that theoretical physics after all.

Friends, I stumbled upon another YA time-travel book of sorts! The YA gods must truly be shining on me at this point. And this one approaches the time-travel angle with science! It should be noted that I cannot actually verify the science, but the little I know about different dimensions and the way time works and alternate realities and whatnot, it holds up as much as it needs to.

What I loved most about this is that all the concept pieces that I adored (see: time travel) were there to further the story. Did I always understand all the wormholes, the time hopping? No. But Gottie was able to make sense of it in a way that allowed her to reclaim her life. She went from a victim of losing time, to actively fighting for it. And that’s pretty awesome. This was a story about a girl rejoining the world, of getting her life back together. This includes with her family, her best friend, boys, and most importantly, herself.

I think the nearest comparison title from this year would be The Love that Split the World, though it still had more time travel, because remember, that book was much more alternate dimensions. Nothing wrong. Just a different thing. And I liked the romance this go-around more. There was a history between Gottie and Thomas that added some weight. And even so, they spent time getting to know who this new person was. And Gottie was allowed to be confused and conflicted. After all, Jason and strung her along pretty spectacularly the last summer. She was allowed to feel the residue of that rejection and disappointment. Also, female friendships for the win! And these were shown as relationships that you have to fight for too, that take as much work as a romance.

This is a perfect YA romance for summer, or any time of year. This book made me swoon. And it made me tear up. It was honest and immediate. Bittersweet, lovely, and smart. Add this one to your summer reading list.

The Crown’s Game

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by Evelyn Skye

4.5/5 stars

Vika has been training her whole life to be the next Imperial Enchanter. She never expected that there would be another enchanter to compete for the title. But there is, and it turns out the fight for the title is a fight for the death. Nikolai wasn’t expecting this fight to the death either, even if he’s used to fighting for his place in the world. He isn’t sure how this will impact his friendship with Pasha, heir to the throne, who knows nothing about Nikolai’s magic. So now Vika and Nikolai must try to outdo each other with fantastical displays of magic, even as life keeps thrusting them into each other’s paths.

This novel provides a lush, magical world combined with compelling characters. Though, take the historical Russian setting with a little grain of salt. It is more atmospheric than historically accurate.

The stakes always felt real and grounded in this novel, and I loved that he magic had rules and costs. There were limits to the character’s powers, their displays of magic weakened them. Even though they were still able to pull off huge displays. Still, we knew these were supposed to be exception showcases of their power. It was also interesting to see how Skye developed different magic–powers and focuses–for both Vika and Nikolai, power directly related to their upbringing.

I loved Nikolai and Pasha, and especially their friendship! I had a real sense of both boys, their background and how it shaped them and their decisions. Vika’s development did pale a bit in comparison next to these two for me. I am also hoping to see more of Pasha’s sister as the series progresses. And the novel seems to set this eventuality up for us.

I would also have liked to see more development in the romances. The quick infatuation is something I am willing to buy into from this historical, restrained world. But it just seemed so much less defined than other aspects of the novel. It was very close to instal-love and I would like to see this all fleshed out more over the course of the series. Still, romance didn’t seem to be the focus of the novel either. And it was more fun to watch Vika and Nikolai struggle with their choices and the repercussions of the “game”

The Crown’s Game was like a wonderful blend of Leigh Bardugo and Night Circus while maintaining a unique and active voice!