Attention YA fans and fiends, strap on your hipster reading monocles, fire up your fancy e-reading devices and carefully pour your beverage of choice because today I have a collection of wonderful indie YA titles from emerging authors to which your attention needs to be drawn. And for lovers of variety, I have a dystopian, a coming-of-age/first romance and a creepy paranormal fantasy, so hopefully there’s something here for even the fussiest of YA readers.
I received all these titles from the respective talented authors in return for review, so thanks ladies!
First up, we have the coming-of-age story – Edna in the Desert by Maddy Lederman.
This book introduces us to thirteen-year-old Edna as she is being forcibly removed by her parents to the aforementioned desert, to live with her grandparents for the summer. This exile follows a spate of less-than-becoming behaviour from young Edna, and when she discovers her parents dastardly plot (as they drive away in a cloud of dust!), Edna believes that life as she knows it may just be over. During a brief and eventful attempt to wander off into the desert to die, Edna is rescued by local good guy Johnny, sparking a crush that has Edna waiting by the gate, so to speak, for Johnny to turn up with the groceries one day each week. But how is a girl supposed to get a boy to notice her when she’s stuck in the desert with a surly grandma and a zoned out, war veteran grandpa who does nothing but sit on the porch all day staring into the distance? Is Edna, the queen of the sassy comeback, up to the challenge?
You know how sometimes you read a blurb or someone tells you something about a book and you think you know exactly how the plot is going to unfold and what the tone of the book will be? Well, I was utterly, utterly wrong in the case of Edna. After reading the book I am still surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how the characters have left an impact on me. I actually got so caught up in it that I finished it in one sitting.
I initially thought that the book was going to be focused mostly on the whole “technology-reliant city slicker young person is forced to spend time without modern conveniences and in the process learns important life lessons and connects with their grandparents’ generation” sort of plotline. While that does factor into the story in significant ways, this book was so much more than a predictable tale of growing up and noticing the world around you.
Edna in the Desert is a relationship-driven narrative and the strength of the story (and I think the reason it stuck with me after reading) is that the characters are completely authentic and believable. Lederman has perfectly captured the genuine fears and hopes of a young girl who finds herself outside her comfort zone, but determined to become the person that those close to her believe she can be. Johnny is also a well-rounded character, with an obvious system of values, which is a nice change from more two-dimensional portrayals of the hot guy who rescues the girl and sweeps her off her feet. Edna and Johnny’s friendship follows a natural progression with all the false starts and challenges that any new relationship may encounter. The relationship between Edna and her grandparents also emerges organically throughout the story, and the reader is treated to Edna’s experience of gradually coming to understand how the decline of her grandparents’ relationship due to illness has irrevocably changed who her grandmother is. Grief, loss and growth are key themes of this novel and it was a wonderful surprise that I enjoyed it so much. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy the coming-of-age genre with a little bit of romance thrown in.
We recommend Edna in the Desert for:
* YA readers at the lower end of the age bracket looking for a gentle introduction to the romance genre
* veteran readers of YA contemporary who don’t mind a youngish protagonist
* readers who like a funny, gentle coming-of-age tale of any description
Now for the dystopian utopia…Among the Joyful by Erin Eastham.
In Among the Joyful, we are introduced to Alaire, a happy, successful high school senior who is a productive, joy-sharing bringer of happiness in the Golden State – a country that has outlawed the appearance of negative emotions in its citizens. In Alaire’s town, everyone must have a smile on their face at all times when out in public, lest their sad/angry/otherwise-unjoyful facial expression contaminate others and spread sadness/anger/unjoyfulness throughout the population. Up until very recently, Alaire hasn’t found maintaining a perpetual smile to be an onerous task, as the joy within her matched the joy projected through her expression. When Alaire has a short conversation with an Inder – a sufferer of Interpersonal Negativity Disorder and social outcast – during Service Day however, her effortless smile begins to slip. And when, soon after, she finds and reads a forbidden book in her aunt’s house, Alaire begins to experience an inner turmoil that she has never known. Brought before the Council, placed on probation, and facing possible classification as an Inder, Alaire must make absolutely certain her smile is fixed, even when no one is looking. But with new emotions emerging from her forbidden reading, new knowledge about life outside the Golden State, and a mysterious new man posing as an Inder asking Alaire to make a decision that might place the Golden State in jeopardy, is there any way that Alaire can put on a happy face?
Before we go any further, let me say that if you’re looking for a dystopian but you’ve had your fill of young people used in perverse murder tournaments, then this is the book for you! Among the Joyful is what I’m going to call a psychological dystopian, because while the city is imposing certain behaviours on its citizens, the story really focuses around Alaire and her discovery that not everybody in the Golden State actually feels the joy that they show outwardly in public. I’ve mentioned in other reviews that books with long monologuing, or a prolonged focus on one character’s actions, generally poke my “tedium” button and are swiftly abandoned, but while Alaire carries the story for probably 80% of the narration, I didn’t find it irritating or that Eastham was forcing the story forward.
This could be because the world building here was extremely solid. The implications of living in the Golden State are drip-fed to the reader throughout the story, both from the plot and in quotes from certain pieces of Golden State literature at the beginning of each chapter. This was a very neat way to get some extra detail into the world-building that otherwise would have to have been accomplished through explanations that would have stalled the action.
What I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the premise was original. Eastham has done a great job of taking a simple idea – “what if people weren’t allowed to frown or cry in public?” – and has executed it well. The book is also the first in a series, but again, the author has done a great job of keeping the focus on Alaire as she discovers that her world is not what she thought it was, so it feels very much like a standalone. The other plotline about life outside the Golden State, and how Alaire might have a role in improving it, is revealed at the end of the book and opens up the possibilites for new directions in the plot for the next book.
Oh and there’s also a bit of romance and some interesting appearances from current and past popular novels that pepper the storyline, just FYI.
We recommend Among the Joyful for:
* those with a love of dystopia, but a hankering for a new take on the genre
* those who, like me, are sick of dystopia because of plotlines that have been done to death
* readers who prefer a book focusing on inner turmoil rather than external action
And finally, the creepy paranormal fantasy…Moonless by Crystal Collier.
In Moonless we encounter Alexia, a young woman with…how shall we put this…an unfortunate face. After being dragged along to a gathering at a neighbour’s estate, Alexia has a vision of the host, dead from an obviously violent altercation. Later in the evening, Alexia comes across a ghostly-yet-real girl hidden away in a bolt-hole and is led to the entrance hall of the estate, whereupon she discovers that her vision has become reality and a beautiful blue-eyed man is standing over the corpse of her host. On returning home, Alexia is amazed to discover that she has suddenly become beautiful, but confused by the fact that no one wants to mention her bizarre change in appearance. On visiting her aunt, Alexia has another vision that ends up coming true and she is certain that the blue-eyed man has something to do with her newfound ability to predict violent death, as well as her sudden beauty. Things are changing in Alexia’s world and she knows that soon she must make a decision about whether she will accept these changes, and whether she’s prepared for who she might become.
Moonless is a strange blend of historical fiction, paranormal romance and horror that will certainly appeal to readers of any of those genres. Collier has adopted a writing style that is a tad affected, but suits the historical setting and adds to the atmosphere of dread-induced mystery that follows Alexia around for the first third of the book. In fact, the story is heavy with mystery right from the beginning as the reader and Alexia try to work out what is going on with Alexia’s strange visions, and most obviously, her transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan that seemingly goes un-commented upon by anyone in her circle of acquaintance. These mysteries are slowly revealed though, in a piecemeal fashion that is designed to keep readers turning the pages.
There’s a mysterious, tall, dark and handsome love interest here that will catch the eye of lovers of paranormal romance and this blue-eyed phantom takes up a lot of Alexia’s mental energy as she wonders, fantasises and wonders some more about who he is and how he is involved in the sudden changes that are taking place around her. On the horror side of things, there are some very frightening wraith like creatures that chase Alexia down, there’s the creepy-as-all-get-out Bellezza (the aforementioned ghostly-but-real girl)and a nice bit of capture-and-torture to round things out.
Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of paranormal romance, because it’s really not my thing, and there is a strong vein of it in Moonless. That being said, I think fans of paranormal romance will Lap. This. Up. It has everything a reader of this genre could want and then some, and the pervading twin atmospheres of spine-tingliness and allure will keep people engaged until the end of Alexia’s…transforming…adventures.
We recommend Moonless for:
* fans of paranormal romance who don’t mind a bit of …unpleasantness…in the courting process
* readers who enjoy a historical setting in their fiction
* readers who like a plot to unfold slowly, with the intrigue drawn out
So there you are. Let it never be said that I don’t offer you variety. And reviewing these three titles has really opened my eyes to the value of giving authors using Indie publishers or smaller publishing houses a go. There’s a wealth of talent out there for those who are prepared to look (or in my case, those who are prepared to glance at emails offering review copies) and you never know, you might just find your new favourite author tucked away behind the bestsellers shelf, just waiting for your appreciative murmers and word-of-mouth/social media recommendations.
Until next time then,