Thursday, 18 February 2016

Happy YA Books

Another week, another jaw-droppingly ignorant article about YA in a mainstream newspaper. I knew the #CoverKidsBooks hashtag should actually have been #
CoverKidsBooksWithoutResortingToSadClickbait but felt it was probably too long.

Anyway, for those who've missed it, there's a Daily Mail piece about how 'right-on obsessions' are 'taking the joy out of children's books'. I'm not linking, partly because it's the Daily Mail, and partly because I feel most of my readers have read 80% of the article previously as so much of it is repeating the same stuff that gets thrown about all the time.

A few things do stand out - mainly the way that the author talks about growing up in the 1970s and reading books which gave her a sense of hope, although she only uses examples published much earlier than her own childhood (some from the 1950s, others from previous centuries). Thankfully, I think all the books she refers to are still in print and available to today's teens just as they were to her!

But also, if she'd only asked a bookseller, librarian, or blogger about the lack of joyful books in YA today, I think she'd have found that her fears are greatly exaggerated. For example, as Susie Day pointed out on Twitter, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's Lobsters, about two teens trying to find love and lose their virginity, is a hilarious read and is sure to appeal to those teens, like the writer's son, who find Friends hilarious. While that's aimed at the older end of YA, the two authors have also teamed up for a brilliant book for slightly younger teens, Never Evers, about two school winter sports trips and a girl and a boy who meet up on them and start to fall for each other.

Speaking of teens falling for each other, romance with happy endings are NOT hard to find in recent YA, although I know plenty of teens swoon over Mr Darcy still! Stephanie Perkins has achieved huge success by writing brilliant heroines who teens adore, and fabulous love interests. Anna, Lola and Isla are much-loved characters as are the boys, St Clair, Cricket and Josh. Over on this side of the Atlantic, Holly Smale has become a massive bestseller (and a winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize teen category!) with Geek Girl (and sequels), telling the story of Harriet Manners, a superb lead who overcomes clumsiness and not fitting in at school to get into the world of modelling.

While the piece in the DM clearly didn't think of The Art Of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson, as a happy book, I would completely disagree. It shows teens who are finding their identities, friends supporting each other, and has a wonderfully warm and hopeful ending. Similarly, Becky Albertalli's boy/boy love story Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda features a main character who's being blackmailed about his sexual identity, but shows him receiving huge support from nearly all of the people around him. Other gorgeously happy LGBT novels for teens include Keris Stainton's delightful girl/girl romance Starring Kitty, and Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour (although could someone PLEASE get that one a UK publisher ASAP?!)

Add in books like Tom Easton's Boys Don't Knit, Candy Harper's Faith trilogy (which would, in my ideal world, win ALL THE PRIZES for its brilliant way of showing teen friendships as well as for being hilarious), Katy Jo Cannon's Bake Club series, Natasha Desborough's Weirdos Vs... duology, mother-daughter duo Perdita and Honor Cargill's Waiting For Callback, Katy Birchall's It Girl books, Don Calame's Swim The Fly and sequels, Jenny McLachlan's Ladybirds books, Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me, Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield books and Andy Robb's Geekhood series - all are superbly funny as well as being wonderfully happy.

I do think there's something to be said for the way prizes often seem to reward darker books more than light ones, and the way that some schools have a reading list consisting of mostly these kind of novels, but I think that it's the kind of discussion that needs to be started without ignoring a large amount of the great light books that ARE out there. (And, while I hope it goes without saying, I'm not suggesting that there's an issue with the 'darker' books, many of which I'm a huge fan of - just that the article misses the point in saying that they are the entire of what's available.)

What do you think? Are there any favourites of yours that I've missed? (It's not meant to be a complete list, by any means!) Comment, or check out the #happyYA hashtag on Twitter that I started!

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