YA Fiction – Atlanta Burns – Go Get You Some.

TL:DR – check out this link, click through to amazon, and buy “Atlanta Burns” if you dig strong, gritty, Young Adult fiction, with a strong female protagonist, and LOOOOOOTS of crazy shit.

OK, anyone who’s not unfollowed me should know, by now, that I’m a huge fan of @ChuckWendig. Which means when he releases a book, I tend to plug it, and buy it myself, be that on kindle, or dead-tree edition. I want him to make more books. So, I buy what he’s got. He’s definitely “one of the good guys”. Follow him on the twitters, you’ll see what I mean.

So, when I see this:

“I’ve actually been “banned” from the shelves of one prominent children’s store because of publishing with Amazon,”

Well, I think that’s silly. It’s dumb (from all perspectives) to ban an author from your store because you don’t like their publisher. That’s actually turning sales away. But whatever.

Atlanta Burns is actually that damn good. I read it way back, in Kindle-form. This newly released version is significantly reworked, and I’ll be buying it in Trade Paperback, for the huge sum of $11 CDN (which is actually a great price for TP). Again, this is a pretty gritty story, doesn’t pull punches on “issues” just because the genre is YA (which means, maybe a little triggery) but definitely worth your time. Go get it.

Also, the cover is fucking beautiful:

Click the pic just to go to Amazon.ca (Canada) to buy. Or, dot com if you’re elsewhere.

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10 Books.

So, this thing has been going around on the tweetbook, wherein you ante up your ten “defining/influential” books, from your life. Given how much I read (a lot. Everything. The cereal box if there’s nothing else) this has been flipped my way a few times. And I gotta say, I like the idea. There are books that stick with you. They don’t necessarily teach you anything, but they may settle around moments in your life, realizations, or just be books that really got you. THis is actually a kind of thing I talk about: I’ve talked previously about some of the formative Young Adult lit I read, and that has stuck with me. You’ll see some crossover with that list, for sure.

So, this is mine.

1. The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Pretty self-explanatory there. I mean, I’m a fantasy guy, right? But the thing is, my dad read these to me, when I was very young, AND used the “proper” (and they’ll always be the proper) voices: thick, exaggerated Yorkshire accents (that’s my background, btw). And I’ll never forget that. It also fixed my love-affair with epic fantasy, right at the start of my life, and had a big part in turning me into the voracious reader that I am. That experience showed me the way a book can be in your head, not just visually, but audibly.

2. The Adventurous Four/ The Famous Five / The Secret SevenEnid Blighton

British kids adventure stories. Kids solving crimes. Books written for kids with kid-themes but serious adult overtones. The Adventurous Four especially, set during World War II, properly set me on a life of reading thrillers; the Five and Seven set me down the road of crime stories. I had all of them. Actually, let me correct that. I STILL have all of them, secreted away to be passed on at an appropriate time. Also, thoroughly and completely British, as I am. Given the modern criticism of the books, I will definitely have to re-read them before passing them along, but they’re definitely formative for me, and I turned out ok.

3. The Hitchhiker’s GUide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Another Brit! Go figure, right? This is another one I read with my dad: this time, found on a shelf in a rented house in the South of France, on holiday, when I was probably nine or ten years old. And as you can probably guess from the first two books on this list, one of those that cemented a love for not only science-fiction, but dry, caustic, black humour. It’s partly on the back of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers series that I fell for Monty Python, and continue to read things like Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin (check out Phule’s Company, and Robert Rankin (check out The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

4. Watership Down by Richard Adams

This was the first book I was told I wasn’t ALLOWED to read. I was in grade 5 (first year in Canada) and it was in the “young adult” section of the school library. WHich was, honestly, a stupid thing to have, in a school that only went to grade 5. I had to get permission to read it. To this day, it’s a hell of a book, and it really, really shouldn’t be. it’s about RABBITS, for god’s sake. British rabbits, at that. But it’s a phenomenal story, with brilliant characters in it. And an ending that STILL makes the room all dusty. You can write about anything, and make it interesting, if you want to. This was the one that proved it. It’s basically an urban-fantasy story and… yeah. I love this book. I’ve worn out three paperbacks re-reading it over the years, and even my hardcover has a broken spine from the same. And I never manage to damage hardcovers. As for the story, the world-buiding (something that comes up with fantasy writers a lot) is particularly stunning: it’s not something I clued into when I was ten, but today, the complexity and completeness of the world that Adams’ created absolutely boggles me, and is obviously a huge part of why this one has stuck with me: invented mythology, social order, language, everything is there. The depth, based on the volume of writing, is at least equal to Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”.

FYI, the movie has basically NOTHING to do with the book, except that it’s about rabbits. And they have the same names. Well, “nothing” isn’t particularly accurate, but there’s significant changes, so… read the book. It’s far, far better than the movie.

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I just realized, all my authors so far are British. It’s not going to end that way, but… hunh. How about that?

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5. Stephen King. Tough to call out one book: More like “most of the books”.

IT was the first book (at thirteen) that I put down due to content. I got to Stan’s suicide and was just “whoooo, no”. (It took me a couple of tries to get through James Herbert’s “The Dark” but that was later. The Stand: epic post-apocalyptic fiction. All of the Dark Tower: epic high-fantasy. I really just love pretty much everything King has written.

If, however, I have to pick one, it’s… none of the above. The Bachman Books is my pick. Specifically, on the strength of Rage and The Long Walk: The Long Walk is one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read. It’s a study in character development and nothing else at all. If you’ve not read it, get to it.

6. FutureTrack5 – Robert Westall

Basically, everything I said in the YA post I linked to above still applies. I still love this one for it being the first “almost an adult” book. I’m pretty sure that this is the book that jumpstarted me into post-apocalyptic dystopian lit: yes, even before I got into Orwell. I really loved this book in its day: to the point that I’ve not re-read it in the last fifteen years, because I’m scared that it won’t be good anymore. One day, I will: because it may be better now, than it was then, just due to perspective. But either way, I can’t un-read it, once I do reread it. SOooo, still, I wait.

7. Helter Skelter

This is the only non-fiction that really jumped on me early on. It terrified me too: much like watching “Nightmare on Elm St”, I didn’t sleep properly for a few days after reading it. This swas the one that piqued my curiosity for true-crime. I still love these kinds of books… in moderation. And with the lights on. Every bit as terrifying as anything Stephen King ever wrote, maybe more so, being as it happened.

8. Illegal Aliensby Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio.

There is no reason this one should be on the list, except that… I love it. I really do. It’s not especially well written, it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It is, stylistically, trying (and failing) to be Douglas Adams. But in that failure, it becomes something of its own, and there’s a good story in there, too. It’s funny, and strangely, surprisingly compelling. And I’ve replaced the paperback twice, and recently bought the ebook, too. I just keep coming back to it. It’s fun and mindless, and I love it.

9. Shakespeare.

You know, you’re not even getting a link. If you don’t, and haven’t, read and loved Shakespeare, get out of here. Seriously. You’re not really into reading if you don’t have a favorite Shakespeare piece. I BITE MY THUMB AT YOU, SIR.

10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

We’re finishing off with a fifth Brit: I didn’t even read it the first time: my family had these audio cassettes (and “Flash Gordon”) in the car as we drove around Europe when I was a kid. The voice characterization, the madness, the … just everything. This is one of those kids books that is so, totally, completely for adults. Except that it isn’t. I can’t read it without hearing Kenneth Grahame’s voices in my head. It is completely MAD. And I really do love it.

That’s it. That’s my ten. I always say more than I mean to, and lets face it, that’s more than ten (obviously). There’s a lot of mentions, and I could easily add another two or three dozen as “honorably mentions”, especially if I got into my new favorites.

[Books] BlightBorn by Chuck Wendig

IF you don’t already know @chuckwendig, you should follow him on the twitters, and check out his blog at TerribleMinds.

Today, however, if you do know his stuff, and have read Under the Empyrean Sky (Book one of the Heartland Trilogy), then you should just go order both that, and the released-today-ish BlightBorn (Book 2).

Just to make it even easier, here’s the links to Amazon.ca (Because Canadian, alright??!!)

Under the Empyrean Sky
BlightBorn

All of this awesome reminds me I should probably talk some about my summer reading list.

Stay tuned for that, I guess?

Books, of the “Young Adult” kind.

Young Adult, is, I’m assuming, a tough write.

You’ve gotta cross that barrier. the one where it’s still technically for kids, you can’t go too far with language, violence, sex, the works. But at the same time, if you dumb it down too much, you’re not writing Young Adult, you’re writing children’s lit. Now, I like Children’s Lit, but CL and YA (as I’ll refer to them from here on out, because I’m lazy, fuck) are not the same thing.

Why am I talking about this?

Blame Chuck Wendig. Again. That damn blog of his always gets me thinking.

When I was a Young Adult (and I consider that basically fourteen to eighteen: which is the other problem with “YA” and keeping it in that groove. There’s a HELL of a lot going on with you between fourteen and eighteen, and it’s almost definitely not the same as what’s going on with everyone else, or at the same speed, so.. fuck? how do you WRITE appropriately for such a potentially broad audience? I digress) I consumed EVERYTHING. I still do, but at the time, my small-ish-town library had a pretty strict policy on who could sign out what, and I was not of the who that could sign out adult-classified books.

Which sucked.

Especially as the YA section was MAYBE a dozen shelves (two stacks, side-by-side, six shelves each), and not everything appealed to me, and I read quickly.

So, I ended up re-reading a lot, until my folks put a tag on my Library card saying I was allowed to sign out anything I wanted. By then, however, I was working part-time, and a good portion of my paychecks went to books and comics, where I had no restrictions based on age).

Again, I digress.

I re-read a ton. And that’s kind of when you find your favorites.

I don’t know why FutureTrack 5 became one of mine.


(That’s actually the cover I remember, not the re-release: and I don’t want the paperback. I desperately want to find a copy of the Library edition/original hardcover).

I don’t know if it would have the same appeal to me today, at thirty-nine, either: Whether it would stand up. I’m certain I’ve blogged about FutureTrack 5 before, too, I just can’t remember where. I think I was probably nineteen the last time I read it. Maybe younger. And I remember a desperately bloody, dystopian story. And yeah, there were literary boobs in it. And I read THOSE scenes carefully. HEY, I was sixteen, what do you expect?

It’s the first book my mind flashes to, and the bar I hold all other YA lit to when I read it.

And I do still read YA. There’s some fantastic story-telling in the YA world that gets passed over (some, like, say, Hunger Games hits a societal chord. Some CL books become YA. Harry Potter, I’m looking at you.)

So, now we get to the grist of it. I have RECOMMENDATIONS. YA is tough, for sure. That balancing act of not getting too brutal or too ‘adult’ (for lack of a better word at this moment) versus keeping the interest of a more-varied-than-normal group of near-adults.

1] Harry Potter I think this one is obvious. Ridiculously so. The characters grew with the readers, which is nearly perfect. But, you can still go back and re-read, because you know what’s coming. There’s all the adolescent awkwardness and confusion, but no isssues with language or actual sexual content, but people die. And they don’t come back. It’s a YA win, and there’s a reason the serious sold a bajillion books, and was credited with getting kids to read again.

2] As also mentioned before: Hunger Games. No language, no overt sexuality, but still, all the ‘stuff’ that goes along with being that age. Death is a real thing, not just for the games themselves, but because that’s what happens around yoU: the developing adult fears of the surroundings show really well. And no punches are pulled in terms of “reality”: the Good Guys don’t always win.

3] Futuretrack 5 Obviously. It’s another dystopia, much more bleak than Hunger Games, but there’s hope: I do have to read it again, but I remember a brightness, a sense of future starting to appear at one point in the book. At the same time, there is overt sexuality, and violence, and death. I’d recommend it, but only for the mature/older YA reader.

4] Scott Sigler’s GFL series. The “GFL” is “Galactic Football League”. The series follows the career of Quentin Barnes, and his coming-of-age as he gets off a backwater world, with a rigid structure, and has to evaluate, and re-evaluate, the world around him in his own terms of his own learned bigotries, and his own so-called truths. Light on language, mid-level on violence, and epic in terms of football and alien action.

5] The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings. No need to say much here. I firmly believe that, by age fifteen, pretty much everyone should have read these. If you haven’t. GET OUT. I don’t care if you liked them, you should have read ’em. Because the kids in your life almost definitely will. Go read them now, no matter how old you are. Go on. We’ll wait.

6] The Narnia Books by C.S.Lewis, because NARNIA. I know, I’ve said it already, and I’ll probably say it again. If you’ve NOT read these… just go read ’em. I don’t care how old you are, these are FUN.

7] Pretty much anything by Monica Hughes, but for me, I always loved Crisis on Conshelf Ten, but Hunter in the Dark was great, as were a multitude of others.

8] Absolute classic: Tom Swift. I’m still trying to remember which of these I read: there’s more than a hundred of them. I read ’em around… 1985? I guess? And they were fun stories. Very typically “adventure stories for boys”, and I’m pretty sure they were Third series.

9] Watership Down: Ostensibly, it’s about rabbits. It’s pretty heavy, emotionally though, and it’s definitely a ‘cusp’ read: I read it at thirteen, but parents might not want to have their kids into it until later on. I know my grade school made my parents give me a note saying that I was allowed to read it, even though it was in the school library. This is, to this day, still one of my favorite books. It builds a mythos, and maintains it brilliantly the whole way through. And the last ten pages KILL ME every time.

10] Geoffrey Trease, but again, mostly Bows Against The Barons: YA historical fiction, set in medieval and rennaissance time frames. I read this one on my own, and I can’t remember why.. but the Shakespeare-set story, Cue for Treason was assigned in my grade nine class. A long, long time agao.

11] Lord of the Flies Again, HEAVY SHIT here. But definitely some of the good stuff as far as YA goes. If you don’t know what I’m talking about? Go read it.

12] Holy CRAP, I almost forgot about Gordon Korman and the McDonald Hall books! I love these for so, so many reasons. they’re irreverent, and funny, and well-paced, and honestly, they’re National Lampoon adventures for fourteen-year-olds. They’re brilliant.

There’s tons more, honestly. Some of it’s YA on the twelve-to-fifteen end of things, some of it’s … well, honestly, it’s heavy enough in its topics to not only cover the fifteen-to-eighteen level, but will keep adults entertained over and over. As you can tell, even as a kid I was heavy on the Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

More? Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, anything by Enid Blyton, but personally, I always favoured The Adventurous Four. It didn’t stop me buying every single Famous Five and Secret Seven though.

If there’s a more modern sci-fi fan at that age? The Robotech books to keep ’em going. The Robotech/Macross story still holds up really well. I’d take Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet” or “Eyes of the Dragon” over “Twillight” or “Sookie Stackhouse” any day of the week, then or now. Your mileage may vary, because, and I don’t know if it’s weird or not, my dad had me reading Tolkien and Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy specifically) before I was ten, and introduced me to Piers Anthony’s Xanth books by the time I was eleven. I was always a reader, I may have mentioned that, and I devoured everything I could find.

Seriously, I could keep going. There’s great worth in “young adult” fiction, for both the young adults they’re intended for, and for the so-called adults they become.

I’ll shut up now.

Go read some YA, already!