A Top Book of 2016 YA Pick: You Were Here…

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Bruce's PickI know, I know! It’s only February and already I’ve thrown out three Top Book of 2016 picks.  You should probably count yourself lucky that there is so much excellent reading material being brought to your attention by your friendly neighbourhood shelf-dwellers.

Today’s offering is a YA contemporary novel with an unusual format and some of the best, most authentic characterisation of teenagers on the brink of starting their adult lives that I have seen for a while.  We received a copy of You Were Here by Cori McCarthy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Grief turned Jaycee into a daredevil, but can she dare to deal with her past?

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

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So here are some of the features of the book that I thoroughly appreciated:

  • Abandoned sanatoriums, shopping centres, train tunnels and fun parks
  • Alternating points of view between the main five characters – Jaycee, Natalie, Zach, Mik and Bishop
  • GRAPHIC NOVEL formatting within the novel itself – woo!
  • The aforementioned excellent characterisation of young people dealing with grief, identity, growth and changing friendships
I was surprised at how engaged I became with this story to be honest with you.  I requested it for the themes of grief and identity that are touched on in the blurb, but I was heartily impressed with the way that the author deftly handles five main characters in alternating perspectives, each with different – though intersecting – flaws and secrets.  While each of the characters could be defined as typical characters one might find in a YA contemporary – the wild child, the man-child, the brooding artistic type, the overachiever and the strong, silent type – the depth with which the author explores each of their stories is beyond the ordinary for books pitched at this age group.  Similarly, while some of the themes in the book have been done to death in contemporary YA, McCarthy’s treatment of the characters’ growth seems extremely authentic, so I never had the feeling that I was reading characters that could easily be swapped into any old YA story.
I loved the inclusion of urban exploring – seeking out and visiting abandoned public buildings or spaces – and the way in which it neatly tied in with the reader’s slowly unfolding picture of who Jake might have been, as a brother and friend.  The graphic novel elements,used to tell Mik’s part of the story, were a wonderful, novel inclusion, but I really wanted to see more of them throughout.  Similarly, the single-page artworks attributed to Bishop seemed far too thin on the ground (or the wall, as the case may be), although I understand that, apart from showcasing Bishop’s state of mind at various points in the story, it would have been difficult to include more.
If you’re looking for a deeply absorbing, authentic examination of a group of friends trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, before launching themselves into the big, wide world, then I recommend this book to you.  If you’re looking for a riveting and sometimes disturbing examination of grief and the impact of a young person’s death on a community and family, I recommend this book to you.
And if you’re just looking for a bloody good contemporary YA read with action, adventure, romance, break-ups, pain, friendship, humiliation, growth, graffiti, secrets, graphic novel interludes and a whole swathe of abandoned buildings to explore, then you should just go out and acquire You Were Here by Cori McCarthy.  Then let me know what you think.
Until next time,
Bruce

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Of Things Gone Astray…

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Today’s read-it-if features a very unusual book.  With multiple points of view and interconnected yet mildly bewildering stories, Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson is part anthology, part unified narrative and thoroughly engaging, once you get past the first few loss-beleaguered chapters.

Delia can’t seem to find her way to places that were once as familiar as the back of her hand. Jake collects and catalogues lost and discarded items that he finds in the street. Mrs Featherby is missing the front wall of her house.  Robert turned up to work one day to find the building had disappeared. And Cassie is turning into a tree in the middle of Heathrow Terminal Two Arrivals.  As these wildly different characters, and others, try to come to terms with their various obscure conditions, their stories become entangled in different ways.  What once was lost may never be found for this motley group…or it may just be that they have gone temporarily astray.

 

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Read it if:

*your standard response to being thrust unexpectedly into public view is to carry on as if nobody can see what you’re doing

* you are one of those people who, upon realising that you cannot for the life of you find what it is you’re looking for, makes little tutting noises before going on to complain loudly about how modern supermarkets should just leave things where they are instead of changing everything about to try and get us to buy things we didn’t come in for

* you’ve ever patted yourself on the back for helping a stranger who’s asked for directions, only to realise a few moments later that there were at least three other ways to get to the destination that are quicker, safer and less complex than the way you told them to go

After reading the blurb of this book, I was initially under the impression that it was a collection of short stories.  As it turns out – rather obviously in fact, given that the words “a novel” appear on the front cover – Of Things Gone Astray is actually a single novel, but it’s told from the alternating points of view of half a dozen characters.  In the first few chapters we are introduced to these characters in turn, and discover to some extent what it is that they have lost – for in this novel, everyone has lost something.  Or someone. Or they’re waiting for something or someone.  I found it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who was who as the point of view shifts every few pages with each new chapter. Is Martin the bloke with the missing piano keys or the bloke with the missing job, I would ask myself as I came across his chapter heading.  Is Cassie the tree girl or the disoriented girl? Once the story gets going and the characters start bumping into each other, as it were, it was a lot easier to keep everything sorted in my mind, and by the end I had each character down pat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and the multiple points of view in this book, as I feel I am slipping into a bit of a book slump of late, and I appreciated the choppy, quick dips into each characters’ tale that allowed me to pick the book up and put it down repeatedly without feeling like the plot wasn’t moving forward. The narrative has a certain sense of poignancy about it, dealing as it does with ways in which people cope with loss, but there was also a sense of hope and even ambiguity that pervaded the book.  I felt at the end that some people might be a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any kind of moral or take-away message about dealing with grief  or moving on from loss, but I felt very content with the fact that the stories just ended, some with loose ends tied up and some without.

I don’t think this book will be for everybody, but if you don’t mind something a bit different from the usual linear, one-narrator type novel then Of Things Gone Astray might be the perfect out-of-the-box find for you.  Don’t forget to go into it with bookmark at the ready though – you wouldn’t want to lose your place.

Until next time,

Bruce

. * I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss. *