In Defence Of YA: My Favourite Young Adult Novels

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I have a complicated relationship with YA novels. I go through stages of ‘I am an adult, I shouldn’t be reading about teenagers’ and ‘GOD THIS BOOK ABOUT A THIRTY YEAR OLD WITH A JOB IS SO BORING’. There’s definitely a guilt sort of situation going on, as if I really should be moving on from that stage of my life, contrasted with a sort of I’ll-read-what-I-want mentality. But as much as I wish I could solely read highly regarded adult literature, certain YA novels have lingered in my brain since I first read them. So to maybe help shred some of the stigma associated with “grownups” reading YA lit, here’s five novels from the genre that I actually really loved. Yay.

5) The Grisha Trilogy– Leigh Bardugo:

Technically three books, not one, and I’ve actually raved about this series on the blog before, but I think that’s just even more testament to how great it is. It’s a fantasy series with a young female protagonist that doesn’t feel at all like Twilight or any of the other copycats currently saturating YA fantasy literature. The series focuses on Alina Starkov and her journey to understand her new found place in the world, and even though it features possibly my least favourite YA trope, the dreaded love triangle, it’s done in a genuinely enjoyable and completely natural way. It’s such a refreshing read and I’m really excited for the spinoff series coming soon. I really recommend it!

4) Fangirl– Rainbow Rowell:

If fantasy isn’t your thing, don’t worry, ‘cause there’s a whole other load of great YA I can recommend that takes place in the -real- world. Although, Fangirl sits a bit in the middle. Stay with me, it makes sense, I promise. The book stars Cath, an introvert and loner who is just starting university. All of that part of the story is totally contemporary. It’s about friendship, and romance, and family, and growing up. It’s great. No witches, no ghouls, no monsters. But Cath’s passion lies with a very Harry Potter-esque series called Simon Snow, and the chapters about Cath’s life are interchanged with excerpts from the fanfiction she writes about him. So if you yourself were a fangirl/boy of Harry Potter growing up, Cath’s story is bound to resonate with you. It’s a really cute story that reminded me a lot of myself starting uni. Fangirl is a really great concept and is easily my favourite of Rowell’s (always fantastic) works. Go forth and read.

3) Lola and the Boy Next Door– Stephanie Perkins:

This is the second instalment in a loosely related series, and is definitely my favourite of the bunch! Again, I’ve already discussed this series in length before on here, but I want to sing its praises one more time. Out of all three books, Lola was the least annoying protagonist, and Cricket was the least pretentious love interest. It might seem like I’m scraping the barrel with that compliment, but I really did like this novel. The premise was cute, but still engaging, and wasn’t just the piece of fluff literature I expected when I picked it up. Lola reminded me a lot of my self as a teenager, and at that age I would have loooooved a guy like Cricket.  I read this book as a relaxing method whilst doing my TEFL course last August, so I really recommend it if you need something easy but enjoyable to help you relax. And isn’t that what YAs all about?

2) Vivian Versus the Apocalypse– Katie Coyle:

The premise of this book intrigued me immediately, and I still think it’s one of the most interesting novels I’ve read in years, YA or adult. The plot revolves around a cult-like religion that has taken America by storm, the rapture that happens because of it, and eventually, how Vivian deals with her new found life in an apocalyptic America. But is everything as it seems? That’s the mystery. AND what makes it such a fantastic and addictive story. It’s one of those books you read and think ‘wow, I wish I wrote that’. If I was Katie Coyle, I’d feel super proud of myself for writing such an entertaining and gripping book. I’d also wholeheartedly recommend the sequel, which doesn’t lose any of the charm of the original, and somehow manages to raise the WTF factor even further. Also the cover is beautiful… but you’re not meant to judge your books by that so I won’t mention it. Oh.

1) The Diviners– Libba Bray:

THIS BOOK. Man, I love this book. The Diviners is very special to me. Most notably because it’s the first book I ever purchased on my Nook, but mainly ‘cause it’s just so MAGIC. This story has everything I love in life. A plucky female protagonist, the roaring twenties (oh hai blog title), a serial killer, and the paranormal. It might sound like a total clusterfuck of genres and ideas, but somehow, it works. I have been painstakingly awaiting the sequel since I read the last word of this book, and now, after yeaaaaars, we’re finally close to the publication date (August 25th, aaaaaaah!). Unless it gets pushed back. AGAIN. In which case I will have to end my life because it would be unbearable to live without Evie, Sam, Jericho, and Will (who I can’t help but picture as Giles from Buffy whenever I read it). If you read any of the books I’ve suggested here, make it The Diviners. And then come back and try and tell me that it isn’t completely incredible.

So, that’s my five favourites for you. I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that some YA novels can be completely terrible, cringeworthy, ridiculous, unoriginal… the list goes on. But, and here’s the kicker, so can adult novels. I’ve read awful books from both age ranges. So whilst I’ll continue braving the path of grownup books (so far I can only really stomach fantasy, mystery, and horror), I’ll also continue with my love of YA. And I won’t be ashamed. Even if some of the worst books I’ve read this year have been YA, I won’t give up hope. I’m sure some more shining stars will appear soon enough and I might even get to write a sequel to this post. Here’s hoping.

Before I leave, however, I would like to give some honourable mentions to the cause: The Miss Peregrine’s Series by Ransom Riggs, Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. You guys are great too.

Now, I should probably get back to the 40 book reading challenge I’m embarrassingly behind on. Ehhhhh.

Things I Miss From My Childhood Spanish Summers

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I’ve touched on my many visits to Spain as a kid before. And by ‘touched on’ I mean ‘mentioned it all the time ‘cause I’m still a bit bitter about it’. Mother, Father: I will never understand your obsession with this country, even after living in it for almost a year… especially after living in it for almost a year. But I digress. I have lots of good memories from my time spent in Spain that are very different to the good memories I’ve made myself here. So, to be fair to this country I’ve made my second home, here are some of my favourite Spanish things from my childhood… that I haven’t managed to recreate in Madrid. Aaaah, nostalgia.

  1. All those bars that have white plastic furniture and umbrellas that say Coca Cola and Irn Bru outside: It’s no secret that one of my main loves in Spain is the abundance of outside seating options and terraces, but from all the bars I’ve been in here, I’ve yet to find that familiar white plastic chair and obnoxious parasol combination. You might say this is a good thing, because in the 30+ degree heat of the Spanish summer, you more often than not end up sticking to these chairs. I always hated them as a kid, and remember bracing myself for the inevitable pain when you have to stand up again. But still, I miss them. Cool looking hipsters bars with cushiony seating in Malasaña is all fine and dandy, but I miss my Coca Cola parasols.
  2. People on the street thinking I’m cute and teaching me Spanish: As a kid, every waiter or barman in every restaurant we went to in Spain took a liking to me. And I have a distinct memory of being perched on a bar being taught ‘gracias’ and ‘adios’ from a nice barman. In Madrid, as a less cute twentysomething, this does not happen. It’s more like the opposite. Not one Spanish person has tried to teach me any words and phrases, everything I’ve learnt here has come from other English speakers or my iPhone. In fact, whenever I try to communicate in Spanish with a waiter or bar staff, I’m usually left with looks of utter disdain or cries of ‘QUE?!?!?!?’ Like, yeah, I know I’m not perfect. Actually, I know I’m pretty terrible. But maybe I’d be better if people were like ‘actually, you say it like x’. FOOD FOR THOUGHT. (Side note: yes, I am aware that this is because I spent my summers in cute little coastal towns and Madrid is a giant European capital city, but still).
  3. Wearing those hats with the giant flap that protected your neck: Maybe this is just a kid thing, or a 90s thing, or a British tourist on the coast of Spain thing, but damn, I miss those hats. I am a delicate pale British baby with a pixie cut. I need all the protection from the sun I can get. Factor 50 just isn’t cutting it for me anymore, I want it all. I want the giant tshirts from hotel kids clubs to protect my shoulders, the aforementioned hats with the neck protectors, and the ability to be grouchy and sleepy in the heat and have it be socially acceptable. Whatever was normal behaviour for me as a six year old in Menorca is not okay for twenty two year old me to do in Madrid.
  4. Friendly street vendors and what they were selling: Again, maybe this is a 90s/early 2000s thing, but the street vendor people I experienced as a kid are totally different to the people I have to deal with on a daily basis now. Nowadays my entire body flinches when I hear that godawful whistle sound (if you live in Madrid, you know it) or I get beer cans waved in my face every time I go out at night. But as a kid, it was all flashing dolphin keyrings and Now That’s What I Call Music CDs. On more than one occasion I remember getting some of these for free, which I highly doubt the people of Sol would do. But my favourite memory is after buying a cool statue off an African guy, we invited him to have a drink with us and he had a Sprite and told us all about his life and his job. Admittedly, he did try and marry me to his son (I was about nine), but still. I’ll take it as a compliment.
  5. TOUCAN ICE CREAM: The most important part of my Spanish childhood, and the one that still pains me every hot, sunny summer day whenever I get the uncontrollable urge to rip the head off a toucan, eat its insides, and then keep the carcass as a trophy of my triumph. What? Is that not an accurate description? Toucan ice cream (I don’t know the real name) was an ice cream that I had almost every day of every Spanish childhood holiday. It was a vanilla ice cream, which while nothing special in itself, was suddenly made amazing when placed inside a plastic toucan that you could keep when you were finished. If you were a British child, you probably had the toucan ice cream, and you probably loved it as well. Every other British expat I’ve asked about it also remembers it fondly, and is met with as much devastation as I when I tell them it’s been DISCONTINUED. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

So there you have it. Some parts of my Spanish dwelling childhood that I didn’t completely hate, and wish I could recreate now in my adult life. But mainly, it’s all about toucan ice cream and people being nice to me ‘cause I was cute.