If YA Novels Were Dogs…

Last night as I was falling asleep, I was trying to think of how I would describe my feelings toward the stack of YA novels I’ve read recently. For some reason — I think it was because I was hovering between dreamland and wakefulness — I started to think of them in terms of dog breeds. Yes! I thought in my dreamlike state. That dog fits perfectly. Now I’m awake, we shall see…but here are the YA novels that came up, and the dogs they reminded me of:

The Whippet

Characteristics: Fast, lean, and does what it sets out to do.

The Book: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

Why: I love a pretty turn of phrase, and I notice the absence of it in Rebecca’s books — but at the same time, I respect her intentions. Rebecca James’s writing drives toward a predetermined destination. There’s no meandering or navel-gazing with her prose. While individually the characters don’t tend to linger once I’ve closed the book, as a whole they work together to create a suspenseful, tense world filled with questions that must be answered. Every story of hers I’ve read, I’ve devoured in 1-2 days (usually a day) — because I have to know what happens. She’s a master at what she does, and when I’m looking for a quick read with a surprise ending, I don’t look further than her books.

The Bitzer

Characteristics: There’s a little bit of everything in this animal — familiarity, beauty, rough-edges, dark elements that could get ugly — but the overall result is a creature so lovable, you could cry.

The Book: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Why: This book had everything I look for in a story and then some. I loved the writing and sense of nostalgia. I loved the sweet, tentative romance development between Eleanor and Park. There wasn’t a point, other than maybe the last road trip part, which didn’t feel utterly real to me. In some places it was a little too real — Eleanor’s lack of privacy and the risks she faced within her own home, were heart-wrenching and uncomfortable to read. But I was grateful for that. I’m especially grateful to Rainbow Rowell for giving Eleanor and Park a hopeful ending.

The Shar-Pei

Characteristics: Cute, but riddled with health-problems.

The Book: Anna and the French Kiss

Why: This was another quick read for me. The prose was perfectly suited to the story, and the unfolding romance between Anna and Etienne was reminiscent of that push-me/pull-you loop many seventeen-year-olds fall into while discovering first love. Also, it was impossible not to appreciate the setting — Paris! — and the amazing food moments the book enjoyed as a result. BUT…and this is a big but, I had a lot of problems with this book. The main issue I had was with the main character and her inability to foster healthy female friendships. I don’t mind a snarky, flawed character — in fact these are often my favourites — but Anna was the opposite of that in a lot of ways. She played the friendly, “aren’t I a lovely person?” role, but at the same time she took every opportunity to run down all of her female friends, and pretty much everyone except for Etienne. Aside from the support she gave Etienne, the other characters in the book were always servicing her needs, never the other way around. This would have been fine if she’d redeemed herself in the end, but for me she never really did (not sufficiently anyway). The obstacles to the relationship between Anna and Etienne also felt quite contrived at times. Etienne’s unwillingness to break up with his longterm girlfriend seemed at odds with his general character. All in all, a sweet and easy read, but one for the temporary suspension of disbelief and girl-power.

The Doberman

Characteristics: Quick, sleek, and more powerful than they look.

The Book: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Why: I’ll be honest. I saw the movie before reading the book, and was expecting a fun, fluffy read. I did get an enjoyable, quick read — I read this one in a day — but it delivered well beyond my expectations. Although I wasn’t always comfortable or agreed with the way the main character, Bianca, behaved, I did understand why she did what she did, and believed in her too. What I really liked about this book — and this is in direct contrast with Anna and the French Kiss — is that the friendships between Bianca and her friends were dealt with in detail. She didn’t always appreciate them, or consider their feelings, but she realised her mistakes in the end and came to value them (and herself) in a way she hadn’t previously. I really enjoyed the way the book broke with a number of usual tropes: the pretty friends were kind and well-intentioned, the alcoholic dad was more than a two-dimensional character, the alternative love interest was genuinely a good guy (just not the one for Bianca). It took me on an unexpected emotional journey — I love it when a book surprises me like that.

The Labrador

Characteristics: all the lovable things wrapped in the one package.

The Book: Every Breath by Ellie Marney

Why: This book was the total package for me, and I’m so chuffed it was written by a fellow Australian. It’s set in Melbourne and the imagery within the scenes were amazing. I’m very familiar with Melbourne and felt as though I was there — I could visualise it down to the tiniest detail. I think it would also work for people who hadn’t visited Melbourne previously, as the setting is so carefully depicted. Setting aside, I adored the two main characters. Both damaged, I felt their motivations and hurts as though they were my own. It’s a big achievement for a mystery series — did I mention the main characters Mycroft and Watts, operate like a modern day Sherlock and Watson? — as it could have been very pared down, and still appeal to the die-hard Sherlock fans. Instead, the mystery — although compelling and tight enough to drive the story along — is secondary to the awesome character development and cololurful setting. I’ve downloaded the next book, Every Word, to my e-reader and can’t wait to read it!

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Alison Whipp

Lawyer. Writes Middle Grade and YA. Known to cackle raucously at 13 y.o. boy-humour. Partial to baked goods of the sweet variety.
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