Thursday, February 7, 2013

YA Reading, Round 11: Romance

This is it guys—THIS IS IT! This is the last YA Reading post, concluding my semester-long review of the YA books I read for my YA materials class in the fall. I have to say, though—while I am enjoying now getting to read what I want, my reading count has dropped drastically since I no longer have to cram in 3-4 books a week!

After all the sci-fi and adventure, I was really happy with the concluding genre of this class—romance! Finally! Light-hearted, cheesy, teenage angsty puppy love!

Sarah Dessen is very well known in the YA community, but Along for the Ride was my first encounter with her (not counting one day when a food truck outside of the Union Square Barnes & Noble was giving out free cupcakes in promotion of her then-newest book). In Along for the Ride, Auden is a quiet, somewhat haughty intellectual teen spending the summer with her dad and his new family in their quaint little beach town. Auden's new stepmom is the exact opposite of the motherly figure Auden is used to. Where Auden's mom is a serious feminist academic, Heidi owns a fashion boutique drowning in pink. Auden has put herself in an environment that is the opposite of everything she's used to, and has usually judged with disdain, but the new environment is healthy; her summer experience is sort of opening her eyes to all she's missed out on as a teenager—crushes, girlfriends, summer jobs, parties, etc. After befriending Eli, a fellow insomniac loner, Auden begins a quest to live like a teenager and open herself up to new experiences.

This is just the kind of book I would have loved as a teenager (ok, yes...and still as a 27-year-old). It's a realistic story, with characters who are just learning from their experiences and trying to figure themselves out. Sort of made me miss the teen years. (Am I the only one that ever misses high school?) I get the feeling that Dessen's books are fairly formulaic (feel free to refute if this is an incorrect assumption), but this can be good for many readers—easy to recommend their next read!

Ni-Ni Simone is an author who seems to have a similar repertoire as Dessen, but I guess she's the more "urban" voice, as publishing defines "urban" (really, it's just a racial/cultural difference). In Upgrade U, Seven has just started freshman year at Stiles University. Her roommate situation is great—her best friend Shae and new friend Khya; and her high school boyfriend Josiah is already a hot man on campus. Seven quickly learns, though, that college is not high school; life changes and people change. Her friendships are tested, and she's starting to wonder if she can trust Josiah when she sees the same girl constantly hanging around him. The introduction of a hot new stranger, Zaire, leaves Seven questioning if what she has is what she wants of if it's time to move on.

Hey, I liked this one too. Same kind of story format as Along for the Ride—simple, character-driven story that teens can really relate to. I think Upgrade U addresses that really awkward and emotional transition from high school to life after high school when you're not really sure who you are or where you should be. The dynamic between Seven and her roommates was the most enjoyable part. Like Dessen's books, if a teen likes this, the author has many more to read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is one everyone has read by now, right? A lot of our class discussion on this book revolved around how you would describe, or pitch, this book to a teen. You don't want to open with, "Well, it's about two kids who have cancer..." because who wants to read a book about cancer? Guaranteed depression. Here's essentially what we came up with: "Hazel and Augustus have a lot of similarities: they feel like outsiders, and they both really want to experience life and love. Their meeting begins a journey of discovery and experience, exactly as both had wished. Oh, and they both have cancer."

I was expecting to read this one with more judgment than I could just because I'm usually that jerk that doesn't want to like what everyone else does. But, I actually really liked this one. It wasn't sappy; it wasn't contrived; it wasn't garnering sympathy by dealing with the big Cancer. Hazel hated cancer sympathy, and that attitude carried throughout the rest of the story. The two teens in the story have had to face more serious questions than most teens, but they're still relatable to anyone—the feeling of isolation and loneliness and the desperate hope that you'll find someone who just gets you. So yes, while it's a book that has cancer in it, it's not about cancer. Clearly the teens approve.

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