Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Old Beginnings 12

Young Adult books.

Would you read on? Or rather, would a 14-year-old read on? All books rated among the very best for teens by the American Library Association, and all published in the past four years. Sources at the bottom.

1. Early March 1659

I am a witch. Or so some would call me. "Spawn of the Devil," "Witch child," they hiss in the street, although I know neither father nor mother. I know only my grandmother, Eliza Nuttall; Mother Nuttall to her neighbors. She brought me up from a baby. If she knew who my parents are, she never told me.

"Daughter of the Erl King and the Elfen Queen, that's who you are."

We live in a small cottage on the very edge of the forest; Grandmother, me, and her cat and my rabbit. Lived. Live there no more.

Men came and dragged her away. Men in black coats and hats as tall as steeples. They skewered the cat on a pike; they smashed the rabbit's skull by hitting him against the wall. They said that these were not God's creatures but familiars, the Devil himself in disguise. They threw the mess of fur and flesh on to the midden and threatened to do the same to me, to her, if she did not confess her sins to them.

2. This morning, my mother didn’t get out of bed.

It meant I didn’t have to go through one of her daily pep talks which usually begin with a song that she puts on at 6.45 every morning. It’s mostly 70s and 80s retro crap, anything from ‘I Will Survive’ to some woman called Kate Bush singing, ‘Don’t Give Up’. When I question her choices she says they’re random, but I know that they are subliminal techniques designed to motivate me into being just like her. But this morning there is no song. There is no advice on how to make friends with the bold and the interesting. No twelve point plan on the best way to make a name for myself in a hostile environment. No motivational messages stuck on my mirror urging me to do something that scares me every day. There’s just silence.

And for the first time all year I go to school and my only agenda is to get to 3.15.

3. Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud.

The sky pulsed with stars. Some people say it makes them lonesome when they stare up at the night sky. I can't imagine why. There's no shortage of company. By now there's not a constellation I can't name. Orion. Lupus. Serpens. Hercules. Draco. My father taught me all their stories. So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter.

4. The assassins dropped into the palace grounds at midnight, four fleet shadows dark against the wall. The fall was high, the ground was hard; they made no more sound on impact than the pattering of rain. Three seconds they crouched there, low and motionless, sniffing at the air. Then away they stole, through the dark gardens, among the tamarisks and date palms, toward the quarters where the boy lay at rest. A cheetah on a chain stirred in its sleep; far away in the desert, jackals cried.

They went on pointed toe-tips, leaving no trace in the long wet grass. Their robes flittered at their backs, fragmenting their shadows into wisps and traces. What could be seen? Nothing but leaves shifting in the breeze. What could be heard? Nothing but the wind sighing among the palm fronds. No sight, no noise. A crocodile djinni, standing sentry at the sacred pool, was undisturbed though they passed within a scale's breadth of his tail. For humans, it wasn't badly done.

5. How can some people's lives look so good when they're so foul underneath? That's the question I ask when I leaf through this photo album Macy gave me for my sixteenth birthday. I got it at my surprise party in October of sophomore year, three weeks to the day before Lani Garver showed up on Hackett.

It's full of pictures of me and Macy and our other friends, and we've got some wild and happy parade of the teeth going on. And it's not like we were faking happiness for pictures. That's what terrifies me most. If anyone had asked, my friends and I would have said in a heartbeat, "We rule the cule," and would have believed ourselves.

Macy scrawled titles by each picture in her pretty handwriting that slants backwards. The one most likely to rip our sides was "Uh-Oh, The Umbrella Ride," because of the disgusting story behind it, but like all "true brew stories," you find a place for it in your heart.

Old Beginnings 12

1. Witch Child....Celia Rees
2. Saving Francesca....Melina Marchetta
3. Airborn....Kenneth Oppel
4. Ptolemy's Gate....Jonathan Stroud
5. What Happened to Lani Garver....Carol Plum-Ucci


Anonymous said...

One and four are great. I would definitely read on and in fact I'd probably buy them - for me, not for the young 'uns. Two was good and interesting but it sounds like it might get depressing and right now I've had my fill of depressing.

none said...

I'm not fourteen. I'm not sure I even remember being fourteen. But I'd read #3 in a heartbeat. Great voice!

writtenwyrdd said...

I'd continue all of these. I don't recognize any of them, either.

Is it my imagination, or are YA books predominately written in first person?

Anonymous said...

I know for sure which ones are 3 and 4--LOVED 3, I was sucked in from the first page and didn't put it up until I was done. #4...adults seem to love it, but it's always shelved with either midgrade or YA. The book seemed to have a more adult mentality than a kid one to me (not that it had "adult" situations, just the concerns of the characters didn't seem to fit the concerns kids that age actually have). Still, from the first page, I'd probably read on in #4 (after all, I did).

I'd read on in #1, at least as far as it didn't get cliche-y.

I think I recognize #2; if so, it's supposed to be good, although present tense narrative usually just makes me tense.

Beth said...

Every single one of these examples was beautifully written. So since I can't pick at the writing, I'll just give my gut reaction based on content.

1. The graphic description of what happened to the animals is a turnoff. Can't abide cruelty to animals and children. And if the author does it right there on the first page, what might happen later in the story? If that makes me a wuss, so be it.

2. Ugh. So depressing. I don't like the POV character. Her attitude stinks. And what happened to her poor mother? I'm afraid to find out. I'll pass.

3. Lovely writing, though there's no conflict to speak of. I'd read on to see if it got more interesting, but if it went on too long in that vein, I'd give up.

4. YES. Far and away my favorite of the bunch. I love the exotic setting. The writing sings. Must hasten over to EE's Openings and find out the title of this book so I can read it.

5. Good voice, but the subject matter doesn't really interest me.

Stacia said...

I'd read all of them except possibly 4--that would depend on the blurb.

1 was especially great. I'm putting that on my wishlist.

Alexandra said...

Considering my reading taste hasn't changed much in four years (I'm eighteen now), in terms of what I pick up out the young adult section I wouldn't pick up any of these.

David said...


Anonymous said...

I love #3. Yes, there isn't any action, but I will tolerate a book that starts with a beautiful picture and gets to the action in a couple of paragraphs.

I recognize #4! As I have read the first two books, I would read on based on them, not on this beginning.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is the standard of writing comparatively much better in these YA beginnings than it has been in most of the Adult ones so far? Anyway, I'd read on with ALL of those. They're just so *interesting* all of them. I need to visit the YA section of my local bookstore.

Beth said...

zeezee said... is the standard of writing comparatively much better in these YA beginnings than it has been in most of the Adult ones so far?

I certainly thought so. Wonder why that's the case.

Anonymous said...

Think teenagers would like #1 for the horror 'cos they're a bloodthirsty bunch but I prefer #3.

Picked up a book by the author of #4 but left it 'cos it was too heavy to carry along with all the shopping. Pathetic excuse, I know. Will give it another go now I've read this beginning. Thanx EE.

Anonymous said...

zeezee, I thought so, too. Strikes me as sad, really.

As for #1, I can get past the image of kitty and bunny being gruesomely killed, because I love how strong the MC seems. She lived it, obviously watched and did not look away, and she can write about it without seeming to flinch.

#s 3 and 4 were excellent--the imagery pulled me right in.

Even #2 was good. Of course she has an attitude. Of course she resents her mom and hates her mom's music--she's a teenager. I'd give this a bit more time to draw me in. It's a promising start.

#5, although the writing was decent, made me cringe in expectation of yet another "poor little miss popular really has a sad, sad life" story. Just can't relate to anyone who would say "we rule the cule." Whatever it means.

Anonymous said...

1. Yes
2. No
3. Yes
4. Yes
5. No

I think 1, 3, and 4 scream adventure and I think that is what youngsters are looking for. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Oh, now we're in my genre. I liked all of them, but I'd certainly read #s 1&3...I think I've started four before and didn't get through it, but I haven't checked the titles yet. Five sounds okay...two doesn't interest me at all, to be honest. I'm not a big fan of 'today's teen voice'. And no, I'm no longer a teen (about 20 years out, in fact).

Kathleen said...

I really like all of these - a first for the "old beginnings." Number 5 is probably my least favorite, but I can see a 14 year old enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

Everything but #5. That one is well-written, but I never wanted to read about the popular kids, especially when I was 14. The blurb might have changed my mind, if it looked interesting enough. At 14, either the sailing one or the assassins one would have been my first pick. Probably the same now, actually.

Indeed, these seem more consistently well-written than the earlier beginnings. Are standards higher for YA publication?

Anonymous said...

1. Read it. I like this beginning. I liked the book.

2, 3, 4, 5.--All of these are great openings.

Which helps explain why YA is a tough genre to break into! So glad there's such good reading. (YA is my favorite genre-for reading and for writing--and I'm way past 14. My dd is almost 14 now!)

Anonymous said...

#1 suggests a topic I've read about a few too many times, but it flows well and catches my interest; if I'd decided to read a book about this, I'd continue.

#2 is disturbing. I'd keep reading, but there's a significant chance I'll hate the book, I think.

#3 moves along nicely, though it doesn't grab me yet. I'd keep reading, but this bit wouldn't be the tipping point that made me buy it.

I have no objectivity about #4, since I recognize it and thought it was probably the best thing I've read this year. On writing strength, in large part: the voice of the first-person narrator is amazing.

#5 gets an immediate "good but not for me" reaction which could only be mitigated by a back-cover blurb or review to tell me that it's not about what it seems to be about. I can't complain about the writing, though.

These do seem very well told as a group; neither clunky nor straining for effect, except possibly #2.

Anonymous said...

I thought these were great and would read all of them. I agree with Zeezee - thought these were better written than most of the "adult" openings.


Anonymous said...

I recognize 3-5. Love 3 and 4. The other two sound familiar, but probably it's just because I've read books like them.

McKoala said...

1. Yes, but I don't love it. The writing is so fragmented. On the other hand I do want to find out what happens.

2. Yes and I have read this - I recommend it.

3. Yes, slowish start, but nice writing.

4. Yes, I love the details and the description.

5. No, this is the only one that I don't like. To me the tone is forced and unnatural.

I've just read through the comments and wanted to say that I've been reading a lot of YA over the past couple of years. When it's good it's astounding. On the other hand, when it's bad... There are some very, very good YA writers out there whose work is satisfying even for those who have left those years behind – but not the feelings or the memories.

Anonymous said...

Was drawn into 1 and wanted to read further. Didn't find anything special about 2,3 or 4. Absolutely loathed 5.

Anonymous said...

This is already a book! the book Witch child is great