Blue Moon Publishers Authors Share Their Favourite YA Books
This season, Blue Moon Publishers is thrilled to be releasing six new young adult novels to the world. Young adult novels often feature teen protagonists, but appeal to many outside this age demographic, and can tackle important current issues in a sensitive and poignant manner. Many of our upcoming YA books address issues such as bullying, physical disabilities, and mental health, and encourage diversity, acceptance, and empowerment.
We asked some of our upcoming young adult authors: Do you have a favourite YA book now, or is there one that really had an impact on you as a teen reader? In your opinion, what makes a YA book truly special? Check out their responses!
Author of NemeSIS, April 2017
My favourite YA book, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, is a wonderfully oddball and oftentimes hilarious coming of age story set in a small Manitoba Mennonite community. With her mother and sister gone, having fled the religious strictures, the spirited, irreverent sixteen-year-old Nomi is left alone with her gentle but downtrodden father. Narrated from both the present and the recent past, Nomi experiences her own crisis of faith and general teenage angst, increasingly clashing with the Mennonite hierarchy and her uncle ‘The Mouth,’ who is the town moral enforcer. Nomi, tempted to follow her sister and mother’s lead but heartbroken at the thought of abandoning her father, is faced with a difficult dilemma.
For me, the best young adult novels are great coming of age stories, where the protagonist is faced with scary situations and profound, often life altering choices as they delve deeper into the complexities of the world. Being part of that experience — of those often terrifying, sometimes magical, and usually heartbreaking, early forays into adulthood — is the reason why I find reading and writing YA novels so compelling.
Author of Asp of Ascension and Diadem of Death, April 2017
The YA section of the bookstore is growing exponentially compared to other genres, which makes it an exciting time to be writing and reading these kinds of novels. What makes YA stand out compared to adult fiction is that teens are still in that moment of self discovery, as opposed to an adult who has developed skills based on past experience. Where problem solving is concerned, teens are driven mostly by emotion rather than logic, and this makes for some excellent conflict.
I was fifteen when I first read what would become my favourite YA novel. I’d begun to slip away from “Sweet Valley High” and into novels by Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. But it wasn’t until I read Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan that I felt a true connection to a character; that the story had been written just for me. The voice was so authentic I was immediately drawn into Lori’s world and the terrifying story that ensued.
Author of Hit the Ground Running, April 2017
Like a lot of geek-at-heart teens of my generation (and many that came before me), it was the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. This was a big deal for me at the time, because my attention span wasn’t calibrated for that kind of word count, but the flow of the words, Tolkien’s use of language, and the hook of the story kept me buried in the pages for huge chunks of time. Lots of emulators followed him, so the concepts were out there by the time it got to me, but the only real place to find them was in other books. I never did branch out that far from the original source, and it was still a couple of decades before Peter Jackson’s films would establish the visuals that seem so ubiquitous now, so for years it was Tolkien’s words and my brain’s interpretation of them.
Tolkien’s background was in philology, and his skill with words when it came to character and place names and invented spoken and written languages, along with the flow of his prose, was compelling. I tend to run into problems reading books where the author uses character and place names that seem contrived; as I’ve grown older, it’s become even harder. Tolkien created entire cultures, a world with creatures and vastly different races, and ways of speaking and writing that were so comprehensive, they had to be real. JK Rowling has that same gift: an ability to use unique names and terms that have so much depth and meaning that they are immediately accepted.
That authenticity—and that trust the author inspires in the reader—is important in fiction in general, but even more so in YA. And the author has to stay true to it throughout. Adult readers seem to have an acquired cynicism that can protect them from the implications of betraying that trust, even inadvertently, but teen readers generally want to trust their authors, and good YA, the kind that honours that relationship, is the kind that can have a monumental impact on young readers. Betraying that trust, even by accident, can result in a backlash of epic proportions. I feel this is what makes YA special—the depth of the contract between the writer and the reader, with stakes that are exponentially higher. Not all good YA taps into this, but all great YA does.
Author of Fall In One Day, May 2017
As a kid, a teen, and an adult, I read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth so many times that it felt like I’d been on the journey to the Castle in the Air myself. At the heart of Juster’s novel is a young boy’s adventure quest through a strange world. I remember pouring over the map drawn on the end papers, and tracing Milo and Toc’s path through the Lands Beyond. For a young voracious reader, and maybe someday author, thedelightful wordplay, idiom twisting, and puns galore made The Phantom Tollbooth my fall-time favourite YA book. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t even get as a kid (What’s a dodecahedron? Why is Officer Shrift short?). But scenes like the characters actually eating their words, or jumping to the Island of Conclusions, or the mind-numbing task of moving a pile of sand with tweezers, are forever in my memory. Most of all, I loved the giant watchdog, Toc, who had a clock embedded in his left side, and absolutely hated the idea of killing time.
This book meant a lot to me growing up… and still does. I read it to my kids, and then I started giving away copies to parents, especially the ones whose kids were not big readers. So many times, the parents were amazed at how much their non-readers loved it. Juster’s novel lifts up the wonder of language, education, and the vital importance of thinking (because how else will you get out of the doldrums?).
Author of Amish Guys Don’t Call, June 2017
In recent years I’ve really enjoyed the YA titles Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry, as well as many other books by author friends that are too many to list (besides, I’m afraid I’d forget one and I’d feel horrible).
Whatever genre a book is categorized as, I’ve come to realize I’m often attracted to two things: some element in the narrative or character with which I identify strongly, and some element with which I have no experience and can learn from.
In Tell the Wolves I’m Home, I felt the voice of the protagonist could’ve been my own at that age; I felt “out of step with the world” as she does. While I never had a gay uncle who died of AIDS, I certainly have many close gay friends. There is so much about that book that I felt deeply when reading, laughing and crying as I lived in that space through the pages. Even now, thinking of the events in that novel, it’s almost as if I experienced them myself. It’s a precious hope of mine that I can bring that sense to my own readers with Amish Guys Don’t Call.
I moved around quite a bit growing up and had a strong passion for the arts, so I identified with those facets of Second Fiddle. However, I never lived abroad (but always wanted to) or witnessed an attempted murder (don’t know if I’d want to but I love reading about it!) I read that whole book in one sitting; I couldn’t put it down.
As a young adult, I wasn’t really aware of genre distinctions—bookstores didn’t delineate as much as they do now—so didn’t really limit myself to “YA.” I remember especially loving Tom Robbins because he taught me things and made me laugh, Stephen King because he scared me and knew how to keep the pacing tight, and Carrie Fisher (yep, Princess Leia was an awesome author) because she told more truth than anyone I’d ever known.
Author of Immortal Writers and Immortal Creators (September 2017)
Something that always bothered me when I was a teenager was when adults would say, “Just wait until you get into the real world” whenever I was having a hard time. What was happening then was real to me… and in fact, as an adult looking back, my adolescence was much harder than anything I’ve faced in my adult life, or in the “real world.”
YA literature doesn’t belittle the experiences of teenagers, but instead encourages them and shows them how to work through those problems. In the case of YA fantasy, problems frequently faced by young adults are put into corporeal form that the protagonist can fight–and, more importantly, that they can conquer.
Worthwhile YA stories should teach teenagers three important things:
1) They’re important
2) They’re not alone
3) They can survive and endure
I’ve always been an avid reader, so picking just one YA book or series that has impacted me significantly is difficult. However, one series does stand out as helping me through a terrible time in my life.
The “Dark is Rising” series by Susan Cooper is a brilliant story about a young boy, the last of the Old Ones, who has to fight off the powers of darkness. Throughout the series, his life and his battles are incredibly difficult, and there are times he thinks he can’t go on, but he does. Even when he fails at something, even when it seems like things can’t improve, he keeps going. And sometimes, things get worse in his story, just like they do in life. This series does not shy away from the important fact that bad things happen, and that is something I needed this series to confirm to me. Bad things weren’t just happening to me; they happen everywhere, including to this boy. While the darkness was amassing its forces in my own life, I was fortunate enough to watch Will Stanton endure, fight, and ultimately defeat the darkness in the story. I think that, in some ways, reading this story saved my life.
What is your favourite young adult novel, and why?