Pee’s YA Bootcamp – Day 1

As the resident YA chick here (shout out to the resident YA Dude, Varian Johnson) I’m left to uphold the banner for all things YA. See, our compatriots here at BBS are legit children’s writers. They write for children. While V and I write for those elusive creatures who are not quite adults but lest you doubt it, are certainly no children.

I’ve often said that if YA were a sub-genre of Adult fiction instead of children’s people would view it differently. I mean, I’m sort of glad it’s not because I LOVE the children’s lit community. So warm. So sincere. *kisses all around*

Don, Kelly, Gbemi and now Gwen and Crystal often defer to Varian and I when talk of what’s happening in the YA community arises. Just like we all defer to Don when we need insight into Illustrators. Having a literary lane is a good thing. Means we cover all bases.

Unfortunately, I’ve slept on my game lately. How can the resident YA chick not be up on what sort of work is out there selling, popular, edgy, controversial etc…? Simply not acceptable.

So I have thrown down the gauntlet and accepted my own challenge to get up to speed on the world of YA via a boot camp. I will read as many of the Cybils YA nominations as possible and post as many mini-reviews as possible.

Mini because boot camps are about intense workouts. It’s about building up your endurance to withstand heavier lifting.

What I’m finding is that 1) we need MORE brown noms for the Cybils. People, didn’t we have this discussion last week? Nominate brown books in ALL categories, please. 2) My stance on what is YA vs MG or Tween novel is even tougher than before. You’ve been warned!

First round…go:

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
I love a good suspense novel. Among the adult fic I read, it’s my go-to genre. So, I was looking forward to reading a story revolved around young characters.

The premise of Blink & Caution sets the reader up well – two “street” kids find themselves in over their heads. What I thought right away is – wow how will they get out of it? Suspense novels are all about the ride you take as you see how the characters emerge (or not) from the mess they stumble upon.

That’s where I walked away unsatisfied. I overlooked the revolving POVs even though Blink’s chapters – told in second person – distracted me. Caution’s chapters, in third, flowed more organically.

I cared about the characters, but can’t help but wonder if Blink would have been more rounded out had his chapters not been in second.

That lack of well-roundedness played a part in why I felt the story was wrapped up too neatly and there were some character trait inconsistencies (Caution vacillated between tough girl and innocent) that stilted my believability.

I’ll admit, as a hard core suspense fan my expectations were pretty high. It kept me turning the pages – and for sure that counts for something, but in the end I walked away less satisfied then I’m used to when I read that genre.

In all fairness, if the next two books were among the MG noms, I would have felt differently altogether. Instead, recall I’m reading what is supposed to be YA and that impacted my outlook.

The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
I know that mature characters such as fourteen-year-old Mike not only exist but may be more the norm than the not-so-worldly characters often portrayed in fiction. Problem is, there’s maturity because of circumstance and there’s maturity because every adult around the protag is so loopy and over the top, that the character is forced to be the most reasonable person in the room. Both exists in Absolute Value, but the latter takes center stage and sets the tone.

Nearly every adult Mike comes into contact with is portrayed as half off their rocker or rocked by some past tragedy, so it tends to come off contrived.

The Absolute Value of Mike is a warming story. Kid goes to live with distant relatives and finds himself needing to help an entire rural town get its act together. Nice, right? Yes. Pee isn’t heartless, after all.

The Absolute Value of Mike came off as one of those books that adults want kids to read. I’d recommend this for an avid 9 or 10 year old reader. But the average YA reader may find it too tame.

Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly

Flirt Club is cute.

I almost ended that review there, then thought – wait, that’s not fair. Used the wrong way, cute comes off as a total back-hand compliment. And I don’t mean it that way.

Flirt Club’s story is told through letters and emails passed between the characters and journal entries. I think the story’s structure will really appeal to eleven year old readers. I’d say ten but these young ladies are dealing in matters of the heart, so for parents who don’t want their ten-year-old discussing the art of flirting…it may not be for them. Eleven-year-olds are either most definitely dealing with that in middle school or know a friend who is.

The note passing and journal entries are ultra girly and I think most tween readers will relate to the characters’ silly, yet edged with growing maturity, outlook on school, friends and flirting. But its structure would likely turn off older readers. If this were an MG book, this mini-review would be all positive no neg.

Because of the book’s style it took about 50 pages before the actual story emerged. Once it did, I found myself wanting to know the outcome. But 50 pages is a long time to wait for the “real” story to begin.

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