Tuesday, July 23, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

YA Guy's taking a break from online activities for 10 days starting tomorrow. (True confession: it's one of the presents I promised my wife for our 20-year anniversary! Less time online = more time together!) I'll be back in August to regale you with more reviews, interviews, giveaways, guest posts, and commentaries--but not wanting to leave you hanging, I'm posting a review of Paolo Bacigalupi's YA science fiction novel SHIP BREAKER.

Enjoy, and I'll see you in a few days!

YA Guy had heard great things about science-fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut YA novel, Ship Breaker.

Word on the street was that his novel is lyrical, intelligent, thrilling, inventive, and powerful. A must-read. One of the finest literary YAs around.

So I read it. And guess what?

All the hype is true.

Ship Breaker tells the story of Nailer, a teenage boy in a post-global-warming world who works along the Gulf Coast disassembling oil tankers from the fossil-fuel era. It’s dangerous work, where kids like the unlucky Jackson Boy get lost forever in the tankers’ guts and failure to meet the daily quota can result in expulsion from the crew and, like the unfortunate Sloth, a life without work or hope. For Nailer, what makes his life even worse is his father, an abusive drunk and drug addict who holds his son in a grip of fear. The only thing that keeps Nailer going is his dream of salvaging something truly valuable so he can follow in the footsteps of the man known as Lucky Strike, who bought his way off the ship-breaking crews when he discovered a hidden cache of oil. With a score that big, Nailer thinks, he’ll be able to leave his dad and sail away on one of the sleek clipper ships that have replaced the cumbersome tankers in this new era.

And then, one day, Nailer finds the wreck of a clipper ship, with a survivor inside: the daughter of one of the biggest shipping barons in the world. Should Nailer join forces with his dad, who plans to barter her life for gold, or help her in her fight for freedom?

Ship Breaker kept me riveted for a number of reasons. To begin with, its teen protagonist, Nailer, captured my imagination: a boy whom life has given every reason to be brutal, yet who struggles to remain decent and true. Then, too, I was drawn by the book’s examination of power and privilege, its exposure of the extremes of wealth and poverty that mar our own world. In such a world, Nailer and the other ship-breakers rely on nothing more than luck to see them through, as the following beautifully written passage illustrates:

Life was like that. There were Lucky Strikes and there were Sloths; there were Jackson Boys and there were lucky bastards like him. Different sides of the same coin. You tossed your luck in the air and it rattled down on the gambling boards and you either lived or died.

Nailer’s discovery that there’s more to life than luck--that there are things like loyalty and family, whether biological or not--gives Ship Breaker a satisfyingly human quality to complement its fantastically well-rendered future world.

I’ve been warned that the companion volume to Ship Breaker, titled The Drowned Cities, is a tough read, a book that delves in graphic detail into the horrors of war and human cruelty. I don’t doubt this; Bacigalupi doesn’t shy from ugly truths. But I’m looking forward to reading it, if only because it fleshes out one of the most intriguing characters in Ship Breaker: the hybrid warrior Tool, a being created to be an utterly faithful servant who nonetheless develops a will and a desire of his own. The question of Tool’s humanity is hinted at in Ship Breaker; I expect it to be explored more fully in The Drowned Cities.

And I expect that, in the process, the question of our own humanity will be explored as well.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Kai Strand

Today on the blog, YA Guy has Kai Strand, author of KING OF BAD, discussing the obvious (and not-so-obvious) benefits to teenage boys of reading. And at the end of her list, you'll find another goodie: a giveaway of KING OF BAD itself! So settle in, enjoy, and enter to win. Free advice and free books--it doesn't get any better than this!

Hi, my name is Kai Strand. I write fiction for kids and teens. I think we are all aware of the fact that girls will read almost anything. They don't care what gender the main character is. They don't care if a book is chock full of romance, adventure, brainiacs or divas. Girls just read.

Well, I'm here to encourage boys to do the same thing. There are so many reasons why, but here is a sampling of them.

  • Teenage boys who read are more approachable.
  • They are better able to carry on conversations because they’ve read so much dialogue.
  • Being able to discuss plot points and character motivation on a first date often leads to a second date.
  • They experience things they may not get to do in their own school like saving the world, kissing, Yetis and foreign countries.
  • Their vocabulary is advanced so they are naturally more articulate and able to schmooze speak coherently to teachers and other adults.
  • They know the thrill of jumping out of a plane, or speeding down a highway, or piloting a spaceship, without the consequences of broken bones or life in prison.
  • They learn what to take on an extreme mountaineering adventure in order to avoid death.
  • If they are paying real close attention they learn what girls like and don’t like--and they take notes.
  • There is a certain sort of internal quiet to a teenage boy who incorporates reading into his leisure activities opposed to one who only blows up aliens on his Xbox.
  • Teen boys look sexy lounging in a chair clutching a book or ereader in their hand and ignoring the world around them.

I’m not saying that teenage boys who don’t read aren’t smart or sexy. I’m just saying that teen boys who read get there faster.

Anything you’d like to add to the list? Let’s hear from you.

About the book:

Jeff Mean would rather set fires than follow rules or observe curfew. He wears his bad boy image like a favorite old hoodie; that is until he learns he has superpowers and is recruited by Super Villain Academy--where you learn to be good at being bad. In a school where one kid can evaporate all the water from your body and the girl you hang around with can perform psychic sex in your head, bad takes on a whole new meaning. Jeff wonders if he’s bad enough for SVA.

He may never find out. Classmates vilify him when he develops good manners. Then he’s kidnapped by those closest to him and left to wonder who is good and who is bad. His rescue is the climactic episode that balances good and evil in the super world. The catalyst--the girl he’s crushing on. A girlfriend and balancing the Supers is good, right? Or is it…bad?

Buy it: Publisher, Amazon, Barnes and Noble Add it to Goodreads

About the author:

Kai Strand writes fiction for kids and teens. Her debut novel, The Weaver, was a finalist in the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards in the children’s fiction category. As a mother of four young adults her characters are well researched and new stories are inspired daily. Kai is a compulsive walker, addicted to pizza and a Mozart fangirl. Visit her website for more information about her work and to find all her virtual haunts; www.kaistrand.com.

To celebrate her newly released book, Kai is offering one ecopy (Kindle or pdf) of King of Bad to a lucky winner. Open internationally as long as you have an email address to receive the book. Enter as often as you can and spread the word.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... BUMPED by Megan McCafferty

YA Guy had great expectations for Megan McCafferty’s Bumped.

It came highly recommended, as a sort of YA partner to The Handmaid’s Tale. Its premise--a future world in which a virus has caused adult sterility in the industrialized West, necessitating teen pregnancy to sustain the population--sounded intriguing. And its first few pages crackled with wordplay, energy, and vicious wit.

Yet I’m forced to admit that, in the end, my reaction to the book was decidedly mixed.

There was much I loved. The narrators--twin sisters separated at birth, one raised to be a paid breeder, the other reared in a strict religious community--were engaging, and their voices easily distinguishable. The wordplay could be incredibly clever: girls who produce babies for infertile couples are known as “Surrogettes” (a devastating play on “suffragettes”), the talent agency that recruits such girls is titled “UGenXX,” the stud-for-hire who couples with one of the twins goes by the stage name “Jondoe.” On almost every page, there’s a neologism to attest to the warped reality of McCafferty’s fictional world.

But that ended up being one of my principal reservations about the book as a whole. After a hundred pages or so, the verbal pyrotechnics became so aggressive and omnipresent, they opened up a rift between word and world. Jondoe performs “pro boner” work for those unable to afford his services. A girl posing as a Surrogette is a “doppelbanger.” Teens look stuff up on the “quikiwiki,” and carp about peers who are “starcissistic.” I began to wonder if any society could be so steeped in puns and sexual innuendo, and as I began to wonder that, a key element of any successful dystopia--its relationship to our own world--began to dissipate. I wasn’t sure if I was reading satire or slapstick, and for me, that was a real problem.

The issues this book addresses--everything from the sexualization of young girls to human trafficking to religious fundamentalism--are deadly serious. Satire (in the manner of Swift’s “Modest Proposal”) subjects serious issues to mocking humor in the interest of provoking dialogue, discussion, and debate. Slapstick does no such thing: it reduces all subjects to the same level of absurdity for no better reason than to provoke a laugh. I don’t believe that’s what McCafferty was trying to do. But the more I read, the more the book seemed like a screwball comedy rather than a “frighteningly believable” take on our own sick society (as one of the book-jacket reviewers put it).

I have a teenage daughter. I hate that she’s growing up in a society where, as McCafferty aptly writes, girls “are valued far more for what’s between their legs than what’s between their ears.” I’m glad books like Bumped offer girls like my daughter (and boys like her younger brother) a chance to see the real world through the distorting lens of fiction.

But to me at least, the distortion in Bumped became so extreme I could no longer tell what I was looking at. I'd be interested to hear if other readers--particularly female readers--had a similar reaction, or if perhaps my inability to get into this particular book was a "guy thing."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Jimena Novaro!

Today on the blog, YA Guy's taking a break from reviewing.  But that's okay, because the talented Jimena Novaro has stepped in with a review of The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins! If you don't know these books, you should--they're every bit as good as The Hunger Games, though aimed primarily at a younger audience. And if you don't know Jimena, you definitely should--she's a great writer, Twitter pal, and  (as you'll see in a moment) lover of good books!

So take it away, Jimena....

Thank you for hosting me, Josh! I’m so excited to be here!

I first picked up Gregor the Overlander, the first book in The Underland Chronicles, at the age of ten. I’d put it at the bottom of my to-read pile, but by the time I got around to it, it only took a few paragraphs before it had me hooked. Suzanne Collins uses simple prose, humor, and a skillful buildup to introduce us to the main character, eleven-year-old Gregor, a New York City kid stuck taking care of his two-year-old sister Boots and ailing grandmother over the summer while his mom works full-time. His father’s disappearance two years prior to the start of the book has forced him to take on a lot more responsibilities than most kids his age.

And then, of course, Boots falls through a grate in the basement laundry room. And Gregor follows her down.

But at the end of the fall, instead of Alice-in-Wonderland-style dreamscapes, Gregor and Boots find the Underland, a world of giant creatures (bloodthirsty, six-foot rats; bats big enough to ride on; etc.) and sword-wielding humans, miles beneath New York City.

At surface level, The Underland Chronicles gives you one heck of an adventure--battles against huge rats and carnivorous plants, journeys through jungles and across treacherous seas and through volcanic caverns--all of it injected with a healthy sense of humor and plenty of fun and excitement. Collins rocks those action scenes and cliffhangers.

But though aimed at the lower end of YA, bordering with Middle Grade fiction, the series never babies its readers. It deconstructs the pretty lies it constructs in the beginning and drives everything to a breaking point. It tackles difficult themes: war, the grey areas of morality, the depths of human nature.

What really makes it work, however, are its characters. I fell in love with Gregor, Ripred, Ares, Luxa, Boots, Lizzie, Vikus and the rest. Throughout the series, Gregor grapples with the way war and violence transforms his life and the darkness in his own heart. Luxa starts out as a haughty, rebellious young queen; it’s a joy to see her mature and evolve. Ripred is the most awesome badass you will ever meet, always ready with a snarky retort, and his mentor/pupil relationship with Gregor really shines. And he’s a giant rat. These characters still prowl my thoughts and dreams years after closing the last book, and they’re the main reason I keep coming back to this world.

This series was a huge part of my childhood and teen years, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

You can find me on Twitter as @JimenaNovaro; on Facebook as JimenaNovaroWriter; or on my website, www.jimenanovaro.com.

Josh, thank you again for having me over!

Friday, July 5, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Cait Greer!

Today, YA Guy's got the fabulous Cait Greer, author of EYRE HOUSE, talking about male POV in YA/NA. And to sweeten the pot even more, Cait is offering a copy (print and ebook) of her new novel! Better enter while the contest's on--it lasts only until this coming Monday!

Two giveaways running on YA Guy at once--it certainly doesn't get any better than that!

There’s a strange stigma that surrounds the Male POV when it comes to YA/NA. A lot has to do with the audience, or what is perceived as the primary target audience for YA and NA. The general perception seems to be that YA and NA  are only written by girls, for girls. Never mind that there are a number of successful male YA/NA authors, and even more guys who read the categories.

So while most of us likely disagree with both of those statements, the fact is it doesn’t matter. Those are the perceptions of the industry.

When I first started sending out Eyre House, I ran into two things. First, because I wrote in first person, and Evan’s name isn’t mentioned until almost halfway through the first chapter, everyone assumed he was actually a she. This wasn’t because the voice didn’t sound male. I even had someone ask if Eyre House was a f/f romance, because the main character sounded so butch. (Which means, I may have to write a girl like Evan sometime… hm…) But it didn’t matter how I tweaked it. No one thought Male POV. Even when the query specifically said it was.

Honestly, while I found it annoying, it didn’t affect me much. I loved the story I was telling, and knew it needed to be from Evan’s POV. So I kept going.

Until I was told by a literary agent, in a comment on a public contest entry, that while she loved the premise and the voice, Male POV was just too hard to sell.

This from an industry professional. On a public forum. Telling me that it basically didn’t matter how good the story was, Male POV wasn’t a viable sell.

As a side note, this isn’t a slam on that lit agent. Agents MUST pay attention to what will sell, and she was simply telling me what the reality of the industry is.

The truth is, the need for more diversity in both YA and NA is just as much about strong male leads as it is about race and alternative relationships. We need more Male POV, and the only way to change the industry perceptions is to write more of what we want to see.

Caitlin is the author of EYRE HOUSE, a New Adult Male-POV retelling of JANE EYRE. She writes YA and NA, from contemporary to sci-fi/fantasy. You can find her on twitter as @Cait_Greer. EYRE HOUSE comes out on July 9.

When eighteen-year-old orphan Evan Richardson signed up to work at Eyre House, on the sleepy tourist getaway of Edisto Island, SC, he never expected to find himself dodging ghosts. But Eyre House seems to have more than its fair share of things that go bump in the night, and most of them seem to surround his employer’s daughter.

Back from her freshman year of college, Ginny Eyre is dangerous from word one. She’s a bad girl with ghosts of her own, and trouble seems to follow her everywhere she goes. But living or dead, trouble isn’t just stalking Ginny. When her ex-boyfriend is found murdered in the pool, Evan knows he’s got two choices – figure out what’s going on, or become the next ghost to haunt Ginny Eyre.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancey

YA Guy loves alien-invasion narratives.

I even thought of writing a book about them. Maybe I will one of these days.

The best of these narratives hinge on an elegant paradox: the aliens are both foreign and familiar, different and the same.

They are them, and they are us.

One of the granddaddies of the genre, H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, played on that paradox. The aliens are ruthless monsters, the very antithesis of the British Empire (they are them). The aliens are ruthless monsters, the very image of the British Empire (they are us).

Flash-forward to the fifties, the heyday of alien-invasion narratives in the U.S. From Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Thing to The Blob, the alien invaders were both soulless Communists (they are them) and soulless conformity (they are us).

One way to spot a bad alien-invasion narrative is if it ignores or denies this paradox. If the aliens are pure monsters and those fighting them pure heroes, you’re better off closing the book or turning off the TV.

You know what I mean. Anything directed by Roland Emmerich.

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave has the paradox down cold. As one of the characters, an alien whose soul has been implanted within a human body, puts it: “I am Other and I am you.”

I enjoyed Yancey’s book. The writing is top-notch, the young adult characters believable, the world-building superior; he really thought out how humanity would respond if an overwhelming force were to obliterate 97% of our species in a few short months. One of the book’s multiple narrators even makes fun of alien-invasion movies where human beings, with our stone-age technology, miraculously fight off a race of conquerors who have mastered intergalactic space travel.

You know, anything directed by Roland Emmerich.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book--and this is more a critique of the genre than of Yancey's novel alone--was the aliens’ motivation. It seems these days, the only reason aliens come to our planet is to kill us all off so they can have the whole earth to themselves. That’s the stuff of great drama, I suppose, but it does make me wonder. If aliens are not only them but us, might not their motivations be more complex than that? Might they not have an interest in studying us, interacting with us, living among us, learning from us? Might not their motivations (like ours) be multiple and conflicted?

Not trying to be touchy-feely here, folks. Not suggesting the aliens come down to earth and sing Kumbaya. Just looking for them to be a bit less sociopathic--creatures that can kill, sure, but also creatures that can feel the pangs of conscience.

YA Guy’s waiting….