Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

This, for me, is a hard review to write. Which is why I need to write it.

What Thomas has created with this book is talking point, a highlight to the divide in society and the racism that still exists. This is what ‘own voices’ books are all about.

Starr is a brilliant character who accurately portrays the struggle to find your place in the world. She’s an easy character to relate to and to cheer on. I loved her voice, I loved watching her grow, and I loved seeing how she faced up to the challenges in her life.

In case you have somehow missed hearing about this book, THUG is about a girl of colour who is raised in the ‘ghetto’ yet attends school with a predominately white population and tries to hide her ‘blackness’ in order to fit in. This book was written by a woman of colour, about a woman of colour, and there is no whitewashing to the story.

Because of this, the book is confronting to someone who usually reads stories through a white lens.

The quiet thought-provoking narrative really makes you question your own bias. It shows how racism isn’t just the intent behind your words, but also how society has conditioned you to subconsciously think. Thomas did such a great job introducing us to Khalil that when he is shot and killed by a police officer you feel it. It’s horrible.

And then the news reports start. Reports we’ve all seen following the shooting of a person of colour. Maybe they were a drug dealer, or had a concealed weapon. Maybe they were portrayed as being a threat. THUG then goes on to show the other side. The caring person who was doing whatever he could to support his family, who was sorely missed by the people left behind.

This mix of real world events and relatable characters force you to question which reaction you would have had under the circumstances.

As amazing as I found THUG, I did feel the beginning ran a little slow. It felt like a long book (I’m used to quick reads I think) up until the grand jury’s decision, but from there I couldn’t put the book down. The ending was so beautifully written I needed a moment to check out of real life once it was finished.

If you haven’t read THUG yet, I suggest getting it on your TBR pile. It’s no surprise it debuted on the NYT Bestseller List.

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(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary and is on a mad dash to edit the crap out of MS 2

What is the appropriate heat level for YA romance?

We’re loving the monthly themes here at AO&R and we really hope you are too. If you have a suggestion for a topic you’d like us to cover, please suggest away in the comments or on our facebook page. We’re always open to ideas. Anyways, the month of June is all about romance. So hold on tight so as not to get swept away in the swoon-fest!

It’s a widely known fact that many readers of YA are more ‘young at heart’ than actual young adults. Not speaking for myself of course … 😛 Okay, okay, so I’m totally a mum to one, almost two, real young adults. My little bookworms’ emergence into teenhood has brought with it an unexpected element and a new way of looking at YA books. Where I once devoured anything with so much as a sniff of romance, turning pages until I reached that happily ever after, I often now evaluate as I read. Thinking about books in terms of heat levels and other age appropriate issues. I know, I know. It totally ruins the reading experience.

Many people (including some parents) don’t see the sexiness of a book as an issue when it comes to young readers. In fact, they don’t know that there are different heat levels. They believe that if the book is in the YA section of a bookstore or library then it’s suitable. But as a reader / writer of this category I’ve realised that there is a rather large heat difference between publishers, individual libraries, and especially online bookstore categories (think Amazon and iBooks). Not easy for the cautious parent to navigate.

My teen is thirteen, the other twelve, and although they both know all about the birds and the bees, reading about it in a novel setting is a whole other thing. Neither of them are ready for that. One isn’t even ready to read a make out scene. Eww — girls. 😛  You see, when we read an image plays out in our heads, and it often has more impact than watching a scene that is ‘told’ via a screen. This is because we create the visual, using pictures familiar to us and becoming the main character. Essentially living the scene with them. So, these images are lasting and on a developing brain can have a psychological impact.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I guess that is why most traditional publishers recommend YA for 12+ and most have restrictions on levels of sexiness within their books.

I’ll never forget the first sex scene I read. I was sixteen. It was in John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began and barely lasted a few paragraphs. At the time I felt so naughty and grown up, but looking back now those scenes are very tame and very age appropriate. That book was written before YA was a thing, but it still holds the familiar depth of romance we see in many traditionally published books for the young adult market.

Since becoming an author I’ve learned that most of the big 5 publishers love romance in their YA books, but their kissing and make out scenes are restricted to far less detail than we’d find in a new adult or an adult book. Sex scenes, likewise are okay, but generally not in a blow by blow account. As a parent, this is a relief. It sure makes vetting appropriate books far easier.

I know not all children are the same and some may not need censoring, but my precious, empathetic souls do. Being advanced readers doesn’t make it easy to choose books, but we’re stumbling through this together.

Stay tuned for part two — a more in depth look at YA in libraries — coming up later this month.

What about you — what heat level to you think is appropriate in YA books?

Stacey Nash writes YA and some sexier books that fall under the NA banner. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only romance), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

 

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My top five YA reads of 2016

We’re almost at the end of 2016. It’s so close I can almost smell the beach and taste the Christmas pavlova. That means it’s time for summer reading (or winter reading, if the northern hemisphere is how you roll). So here are five of my five-star reads* from 2016**.

I’ve linked to my full review for each book if you want to investigate further. Just click on the book name in each heading.

* YA reads. And excluding books by Aussie Owned and Read bloggers. Because if I don’t narrow the category down I’ll never get the list down to five.

** I read them in 2016. They may have come out sooner than that! ***

*** Am I using too many footnotes?

‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ by Louise Gornall

I already blogged about this one during my post on must-read diverse books (and I could have also included the other book from that post, tbh) — but since my tastes usually run to speculative fiction, I thought I’d better include a serious contemporary for those of you that prefer your books to be unflinching, in-your-face and supernatural-free. Under Rose-Tainted Skies tells the story of a teen struggling with agoraphobia and anxiety, and it’s so engaging and heartbreaking and real.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl’ by Melissa Keil

Cinnamon Girl is another contemporary that I loved but, where Rose is heartbreaking, Cinnamon Girl is geeky and funny and sweet. It addresses the common teen panic about the future — that “what do I do now I’ve finished school and all my friends are moving away” theme — through the mechanism of a small town and the end of the world. (It is contemporary, I swear.) Melissa Keil is a wonderful Melbourne writer and I want to be like her when I grow up. I just wish she’d been writing when I was a teen.

‘Gemina’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina is the sequel to NYT bestseller Illuminae, the groundbreaking YA sci-fi by notorious Melbourne crimefighting duo a pair of talented Melbourne* writers. It’s groundbreaking because it is presented in a “found footage” way: instant message and radio transcripts, emails, security camera footage, hand-drawn illustrations. If Illuminae is space zombies meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gemina is a mash-up of space terrorists and space, um, aliens. Like, aliens from the movie Aliens. (This isn’t a spoiler if you’ve read the blurb, btw.) You really need to read both books to get a full appreciation for the story, though. Have at it!

* What is it about Melbourne, you guys?

‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer

Winter is the fourth (or fifth if you count the novella Fairest) in the Lunar Chronicles, one of the cleverest fairytale reimaginings I’ve ever read.This series is the queen of fairy tale retellings. But not the evil queen. (Okay, maybe slightly evil.) It’s set on an alternate Earth and is a little bit sci-fi — by way of example, Cinder, the Cinderella character, is a cyborg with a detachable foot instead of an ill-fitting glass slipper. If you want a series with a fairy tale feel, some kissing and an actual, honest to goodness “they all lived happily ever after” (because it’s a fairy tale retelling and that’s obligatory), I highly recommend this entire series! But, again, start at the beginning.

‘Every Move’ by Ellie Marney

I read both Every Word (#2) and Every Move (#3) this year, after reading the first book in this Sherlock-inspired trilogy last year. All three books in the series are fast-paced, with a murder mystery, some forensic science, some heated kissing and some moments that left me reeling. The characters, James Mycroft and Rachel Watts, are one of my new favourite young adult couples. I love how realistic and awkward they are with one another. The other thing I adored was how Aussie the characters are; Ellie Marney is from Victoria (but not from Melbourne — ha!).

So, there you have it. My top five YA non-AOR reads of 2016. What are yours?

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who has a YA urban fantasy available free, and an adult urban fantasy currently on sale for $0.99. Because if you can’t shamelessly self-promote at Christmas, when can you do it?

Cassandra Page

Two Must-Read Diverse Books

In honour of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week this month, we’ve dedicated all our July posts to the issue of diversity in fiction. For more information on NAIDOC Week, visit their website here.

I don’t read anywhere near as much diverse fiction as I would like to or think I should. Part of the reason for that is that I am a speculative fiction junkie, and because those stories aren’t focused on people’s individual tales to the same extent as contemporary, literary or romance novels are, they tend to have what Stacey described last week as incidental diversity — the diversity is part of the character, like their hair colour or whether they have sugar in their coffee, but it isn’t a driving force in the plot.

And when there are diverse leads (such as the bisexual Ayala Storm in Emmie Mears’ urban fantasy series of the same name, or the gay Sinjir in Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig — both books you should read, incidentally), their diversity isn’t generally a huge factor in the character’s life or the overall story. That’s not always a bad thing, because it’s important to see diverse characters doing things other than just being (for example) gay, black or disabled. But it did mean that when I started trying to think of books I’ve read this year that have diverse leads and where that diversity is central to their character growth or story, I came up almost dry.

Almost.

So here are two amazing, five-star books for your consideration.

‘Wake of Vultures’ by Lila Bowen

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A historical fantasy about a half Native American, half African American bisexual girl who dresses like a man? This is the book I didn’t know I needed till I had it. Delilah S. Dawson (writing here as Lila Bowen) is one of my favourite authors, and I confess that I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if she hadn’t written it — not for any particular reason, just because I don’t usually read books set in the American Wild West (or a facsimile thereof). Wake of Vultures would never have even crossed my radar.

And that would’ve been a tragedy, because Nettie Lonesome’s story is a cracking read. The action whisks you along, and it doesn’t get bogged down in self-reflection — though there is certainly a bit of that, as poor Nettie has received exactly no education and, as other characters keep telling her, has a lot to learn about people. Consequently, she is baffled by notions like bisexuality or why a woman would actually choose to wear skirts rather than pretending to be a man.

From my (admittedly white, non-American) perspective, Dawson/Bowen handled the issues of race and gender identity with tact. There’s no stereotyping — there are good and bad guys both white and “Injun” (as Nettie refers to them, given she was raised by whites; the phrase is something the author acknowledges is not PC these days but would have been accurate in the 1800s Texas that Durango is based off). Even the monsters have a range of good and bad types.

‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ by Louise Gornall

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This book is an unflinching and in-your-face young adult contemporary — not my usual genre, but I love Louise Gornall’s writing and have been waiting for this one for aaaaaages.

The protagonist is Norah. She has agoraphobia and OCD, suffering debilitating anxiety attacks when she has to leave the house or when things in her environment are out of order. She’s terrified of germs and overthinks things. Like, really overthinks them — and not just the things that most people worry about, but things that might seem tiny in the grand scheme of things but to Norah’s brain are critical. For example, there’s almost an entire page of dialogue where all of Norah’s increasingly anxious thoughts are about how the other person has a piece of hair stuck to their lip.

Norah’s conditions mean pretty much this entire book is set inside her house, and for a lot of that she is alone — but her mind is so busy all the time, and Gornall’s style is so engaging, that I didn’t really notice the lack of variety in the scenery. My favourite thing was Gornall’s cleverly descriptive use of comparisons, and the way she interweaves Norah’s symptoms (such as picking at scabs or chewing her nails) into the action seamlessly.

Recommend me a diverse book!

If you know of a diverse book where the diversity isn’t necessarily the entire story but is still a factor in the plot — especially if that book is speculative fiction — drop a comment. I’ll be scouring them for titles to add to my already teetering TBR pile.

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who has included some incidental diversity in her own books to date, but wants to read and write more widely in future.

Cassandra Page

If you listen…

In honour of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week coming up this month, we’ve dedicated all our posts to the issue of diversity in fiction. For more information on NAIDOC Week, visit their website here.

I like to read diverse books, I think it’s important but it wasn’t until one of my favourite small readers asked me for a book with a hero/heroine ‘like her’ that I really started to understand. Even now, I know I’m only doing my best and can’t completely get it.

This small reader has significant hearing loss. She’s not completely deaf and she doesn’t think it should be a ‘plot’ so much but she wants to read about girls like her. Having adventures, friend issues, falling in love, fighting dragons – and maybe wearing their hearing aids or getting into trouble cos the battery is flat and they have to pretend to have some idea of what’s going on around them.hearing aid

She gave me advice when I had a character go deaf in my sci-fi series (LIFER, TEMPER) and is helping me with my first hard of hearing contemporary heroine. I feel getting the details right is important but am aware they won’t be right for all readers who might have hearing loss. I believe the character is more than her hearing and hope to show that. It’s a challenge for me as a hearing person, but one I think is worthwhile.

Have you read any books with a character with hearing loss?

🙂

Beck

beck nicholas_ bec sampson

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

Losing my (diverse) virginity

In honour of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week coming up this month, we’ve dedicated all our posts to the issue of diversity in fiction. For more information on NAIDOC Week, visit their website here.

I remember losing my (diverse) virginity, the first book I ever read that opened my eyes to diversity in reading. I was a teenager, possibly thirteen or fourteen, whenI got my  hands on My Place by Sally Morgan. This was biography sees our Aboriginal heroine, Sally, finally finding her place in the world. It’s a mystery about finding your identity, and working out where you truly belong in the world.

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Next, I went on to read Looking For Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetti. Again, this book dealt with someone who had a different heritage to my own. Josie is an Aussie teenager with Italian heritage, and finds it hard to fit in within her school society. This book became one of my absolute favourites as a young teenager, and took pride of place upon my shelf with My Place.

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Now, when people ask me about some of my favourite diverse books, these two instantly come to mind–but it’s a little surprising. What I remember loving most about these books doesn’t have a whole lot to do with colour or race or religion. What I LOVED about these books were the amazing heroines. Sally, a real woman who was so strong in her life’s journey. Josie, a fictional character who fought for what she believed in. Yes, both stories came with the added bonus of diversity, allowing me as a reader to have a glimpse into a life unfamiliar to my own, but at the core they were good, solid books with good, solid characters.

I think it’s absolutely important to  have diversity in what we read and what we write. Diversity is such a part of life–we see it every day, and I love that despite being a teenager and having my options for diverse books seeming limited, now, as an adult, diverse books are easier to find. However, what I love most about that is that reading a really good diverse book doesn’t feel like you’re reading a “diverse book”–just immersing yourself in another amazing story.

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Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor of both fact and fiction. You can learn more about her at her website or over on her Facebook page.

5 of the Best Mums In YA

It’s nearly Mother’s Day here in Australia and this month we’re thinking Mums on the blog.

It’s a fairly common theme in YA/NA/Children’s literature to have the awful/absent mum. After all it gives the protagonist licence to roam and often a fair bit of motivation. BUT there are some good’uns out there. I’ve done both, FAKE had a great mum, WHAT I SAW she was… less great. And in my sci-fi she’s largely absent.

Today, I want to give kudos to some of those wonderful mums out there in story land.

  1. MOLLY WEASLEY – Harry Potter series, JK Rowling – this woman, she makes my heart hurt with her awesomeness. She gives Harry his first warmth and her no-nonsence loving style totally works for me. She’s so real. And then when her family is messed with… SHE KICKS SOME BUTT!! And I love her even more.
  2. FRANNIE LANCASTER – The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – she doesn’t fight for centre stage in the book but she’s so wonderful and supportive in a really believeable mix. She worries but still backs off when she needs to.
  3. MARMEE MARCH – Little Women, LM Alcott – I remember reading this story and thinking she always had the right advice.
  4. NATALIE PRIOR –Divergent Series, Veronica Roth – It took me some time to warm up to her as a mother star but (no spoilers) she shows later through the books her strength and love.
  5. MAURA – The Raven Cycle Series, Maggie Stiefvater – I am about the read The Raven King and can’t wait. All the relationships in this series are well done and the mother-daughter bond is one of the best. I adore their closeness and complication.

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Who’s your fave mum in YA/NA/Children’s literature? Tell me who I’ve forgotten!