Jodi Picoult – Sing You Home
I absolutely devoured this book, because apparently Jodi Picoult books are sort of like my crack cocaine. Sing You Home is a trademark Picoult novel in that it focuses on an Issue, offers up differing perspectives, and makes things messier and tougher with a court case of some kind. This time Picoult is looking at same-sex marriage, rights of the unborn, and the religious right – what makes up a family, and who gets to decide? The story is told through the eyes of Zoe, a music therapist who’s suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth; Max, her husband, surf lover, and recovering alcoholic who leaves Zoe after their infertility crisis gets to be too much; and Vanessa, a school counsellor who first works with Zoe, then becomes her wife. There are viable frozen zygotes left from Zoe and Max’s IVF treatment – when Zoe and Vanessa want to use these to start a family, Max needs to give his consent. Unfortunately, he’s found Jesus in the meantime… It was great to see a novel dealing with same-sex partners, especially as it’s something that tends not to turn up in her work all that often. I’d love to see it continue to be a recurring theme, because although this veers from cliche in many ways, it does – like so many books – ultimately have characters labelling themselves as either gay or straight with no middle ground, which is frustrating. There’s a lot going on here, and I’d love to have seen more of some of the other characters, particularly Lucy and Liddy – Picoult’s books generally have five/six viewpoint characters and dealing with just three felt a little odd. The end felt a little rushed, but I wonder how much of the feeling of needing more comes from not listening to the accompanying CD while reading. (I tried, but I got impatient and just kept reading.) Despite this, though, it is a pageturner – completely compulsive reading particularly for JP fans.
Aidan Chambers – Dance on my Grave
When Chambers is good, he’s very very good. Dance on my Grave is good. Told from the point of view of Hal (sixteen, troubled) and the social worker assigned to him to figure out why he was dancing on a boy’s grave and disturbing the peace. I’m not entirely convinced how plausible it is that proceedings would be brought against someone for this kind of thing, but nevertheless it’s a nice hook for the story, which is about obsession and love and lust and identity and all those other good things. Chambers takes his characters seriously, and they are detailed, nuanced and complicated – faced with genuinely confronting the world in all its horrors. This also wins bonus points for having characters in a same-sex relationship without it being All About Being Gay, which works well. Published in 1982 – a nice reminder that YA has been interesting for several decades, not just recently.
Geraldine Meade – Flick
I’d been waiting for this one for a while. Universe, do you know how much Irish YA fiction needs more LGBT characters? Do you? This – the story of Felicity Costello, known to friends as Flick – goes a long way towards remedying that. Flick is sixteen, into girls but won’t admit it fully to herself, and a brief encounter with her brother’s girlfriend doesn’t help matters. There’s an awful lot going on here – rape, depression, sexual identity – and at times I would have loved Meade to let Flick linger a little longer on these things. (It was cut down quite significantly from the first draft so that may have something to do with it – it’s easy to see how many of the issues dealt with could be over-written, but a little more space would have been nice.) Still, though – it wins many many points for going beyond a simple coming-out story, instead focusing on attraction and complications. Looking forward to the sequel.
Denise Deegan – And By The Way
Let me confess: I was both worried and excited about this one. I adore Denise Deegan’s adult books, and the setting for her new YA series – a South Dublin school for the ‘Kids Of’, offspring of rock stars and diplomats and other wealthy high-profile types – seemed like it might lend itself to a little too much glitz ‘n’ glamour. Briefly put: it doesn’t. The narrator, Alex, is the daughter of a rock star, but the thrills and dangers associated with this are simply another part of her life, handled realistically. Alex is grieving after her mother’s death and her father’s distance from the situation – but when she experiences love for the first time, it’s an opportunity to let herself be happy again – or another opportunity to be hurt. Along the way there are friendship stresses and tensions, work experience, and school concerns – all blended together in a compelling mix of dramatic realism. It’s fast-paced without being frivolous – and Alex’s voice and priorities are absolutely spot-on. Very much enjoyed reading it and am eagerly anticipating the next novel in the series, And For Your Information, out later this year.
Abby McDonald – Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots
Jenna is seventeen, a Green Teen spending her summer in the Canadian wilderness while her parents spend the summer apart (something she’s trying not to think about). Cute boys, a bitchy roommate, a best friend gone to extremes, adventure sports, and environmental issues help make up this fun and thought-provoking read from Abby McDonald – worth reading.
Sophie Kinsella – Can You Keep A Secret?
A very quick, very funny read. That being said, it’s possibly best not to read it on a plane – it begins with the narrator spilling her guts to an absolute stranger on a plane in horrendous turbulence, convinced she’s about to die. When she survives, she discovers he’s the head of the corporation she works for, at a very junior level, and he’s keeping an eye on the London offices for the time being. I love the way SK writes about workplace difficulties and relationship woes – and the way that you never quite know how things are going to turn out. Adored this.