Sunday, April 17, 2016

Back to Reading YA - Sherman Alexie, Tamora Pierce and The Wicked Pigeon Ladies In The Garden

Let’s get back to talking about YA.

I was on some forum the other day when someone asked everyone’s top three YA books, and I responded with:
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle;
     [A science fiction story about a girl who learns how to take a shortcut between planets.]
 House of Stairs by William Sleator; and
     [A science fiction story about kids subjected to a behaviorist experiment.]
 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
     [A science fiction story about kids killing each other for various reasons.]
With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an ancestral selection [not really science fiction unless you include rafts].  Some old fashioned answers, appropriate for an old lady writer such as myself (yes, yes, I realize that I’m supposed to conceal my age/gender when writing YA, but that’s only true for apple polishers who work for corporate publishers; I’m writing for people who appreciate truly unmarketable writing, and we don’t care about demographics for obvious reasons). 

Then I started looking at everyone else’s answers. and as a result, my Kindle has lots of nice, new YA on it now. Also some child star bios – I’ve been reading a lot of those to kind of research how YAs feel when undergoing extraordinary things, as background for book 2 in the series. I’m up to page 30, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

Instead I’m going to drop a cryptic, brief and infuriating reference to The Wicked Pigeon Ladies In The Garden, which is one of the most sublime books ever written. 

And then I’ll move along to what I’ve been reading lately.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I enjoyed this story about an Indian kid who decides he wants to go to the rich white kids’ school and then on to college, despite a staggering array of obstacles including poverty, handicaps related to illness in infancy, parents that drink too much and a community that isn’t too impressed by his decision to turn white on the inside, like an apple. 

Further to my rant about cultural appropriation, this is a good example of a story about clashing cultures that respects both sides and doesn’t demonize or wallow in sanctimony. It’s full of casual offensiveness: I was impressed by a sequence where Junior is greeted with one of the foulest racist jokes I’ve seen in a YA story – then when he tells his wise grandmother, she informs him that the joker was actually testing him with a male power play, and tells him how to respond in a socially appropriate way.

Like the joker character, this is a book that likes to offend you, then reward you if you stick it out to see where the story is headed.  I understand it’s been banned a few times, and I can see why, but I still like it.

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

The Tortall series by Tamora Pierce is on several best-YA lists, so I jumped in with Wild Magic, the tale of a teen girl who is remarkably good at talking to animals. It takes place in a fantasy kingdom full of intrigue, adventure and mages. Yup, it’s Mary Sue as can be, but in all the right ways, encouraging the reader to step into the world and daydream about how they’d interact with it. 

This particular volume is a good place to start if you like animals. Especially ponies.  The plot keeps moving and twisting, sometimes in familiar ways and sometimes in unexpected directions.

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