Fall 2019 continues to bring some big hits and some huge misses for me. Hitting shelves this week are a book I loved, a book I gave a rare single star, and one of my most anticipated releases of the year.
Books I’ve Read
The Grace Year lives up to its comps (The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies with a dash of The Hunger Games) perfectly. It’s the best of old-school YA dystopia. Kim Liggett serves up suspense and gore alongside sharp ideas on the paradoxes of female power.
I have a couple reservations about the book. There are some quibbles about the pacing and character work, but more importantly, the lack of diversity, especially of gender identity and race, is troubling. My full review indicates why I was struck by the absence of any mention of non-cis, non-white people existing.
On the other hand, I very much do not recommend Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry. That book is my second one-star of the year (fourth ever on the blog).
I think the book shows promise from the author but isn’t terribly well written, but this is my main issue: If a book is going to dwell on queer pain in graphic detail, it needs to have a point, and I just don’t see one here. In my full review I try to tease out the purpose of this book, but I just don’t think the author achieves anything by spending most of the book describing the verbal abuse and physical torture of LGBT characters.
In YA, scenes that portray abuse of teens (especially of marginalized teens) in graphic detail need to be handled with extreme care. I‘m not saying they shouldn’t be done; some of the most powerful recent YA contemporaries rely on key scenes that immerse the reader in moments of fear, pain, and horror. But it must be done well. Those scenes need to be contextualized in a thoughtful, mature narrative, not splattered across the pages like paint and left there. There must be a clear purpose for including them, and there has to be a chance for catharsis. Teen readers should experience those scenes with the understanding that when they’re through, there will be a release of tension and a new understanding. This doesn’t mean a sunshiney happily-ever-after; it means a chance for growth. (I actually believe this is true for all books, but it’s especially important for YA.)
The shortcomings of Orpheus Girl are perfectly understandable from a debut, especially one that’s still a teenager and is trying to make the jump from a different form (poetry). But that doesn’t make the book any less horrifying.
If a 19-year-old friend dropped this manuscript on my desk, I’d be so excited for them. It would show me raw talent, bravery, and a keen eye for metaphor. I’d tell them, honestly, that I thought they had tremendous talent and should keep writing, because their next book is going to be something special. But I would never tell them to try to get that manuscript published as-is. It just isn’t ready.
Books On My TBR
My most anticipated release of this month (one of my most anticipated of the year!) is Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel. I can. Not. Wait.