Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts

Boy Books on Ink Spells

From Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller:
I understand you can learn a great deal about girldom by reading Pride and Prejudice, and I own a copy, but I have never read it. I tried. It was given to me by a girl with a little note inside that read: What is in this book is the heart of a woman.

I am sure the heart of a woman is pure and lovely, but the first chapter of said heart is hopelessly boring. Nobody dies at all.

I talk about boy books over at Susan Quinn's place. Check it out.

Books I Read: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

After barely surviving the Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself in even worse trouble. The Capitol blames her for uprisings in the Districts, and they want her to fix things on her Victory Tour. She has no love for the Capitol, but the last thing she wants is for anyone to die because of her, least of all her friends and family back home. But when a simple show of respect for a Hunger Games' ally triggers a minor rebellion, she doesn't know what to do. Can she make things right? Could she run away with those she loves? Or could she become the leader the Districts are aching for?

I was worried about this book at first. I thought the Games themselves were what I loved about the first one, and I wondered if any political tension would be as compelling. About the end of chapter 3, though, I was just as hooked. Turns out it's also the Big Brother-esque Capitol that I like -- the realization that the only happy ending would be if the Capitol was overthrown, while chapter after chapter the Capitol proves that will never happen.

So I really liked it. Every time I thought the story was slow or predictable (which was rare, but it happened), something occurred to make me sit up and go, "No way!"

With one caveat: I felt like Katniss was kinda thick-headed towards the end. It's not that she should've seen the end coming (I didn't see most of it coming either), but once it came Katniss just didn't seem to get it, even after it was explained to her. I guess it's her character -- she never figured out about Peeta until the end of the first one either -- but it felt overdone to me in this one. It didn't ruin the book for me, but if she doesn't pick up on things quicker in the third one, I might be upset.

Books I Read: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter 7)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 2007
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence

It's the 7th book in one of the most famous fantasy series of our time. I can't talk about it without spoiling it (not that it matters), but who cares? If you've read the first six, you're going to read it.* And if you haven't, you'll read the other six first and have a pretty good idea of what happens in this installment.

All I can say is this: despite the ponderous camping chapters, the sometimes-awkward writing (that I would never have noticed before trying to be an author myself), and the occasional magical rule-bending for the sake of the plot... at the end I was moved, I was sad, and I didn't want to say goodbye.

Yeah, for all its flaws, the whole series is well worth reading. Happy to talk more in the comments (assuming I'm around; baby coming and all that).

 * Or really, you've already read it. I'm certain I'm the last Harry Potter fan to get to this installment.

Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

Books I Read: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2008
Content Rating: PG-13 for violence*

Growing up in District 12 is hard for Katniss. She has to hunt, illegally, just to feed her family, and every year two children are chosen from their district to fight in the tyrannical Hunger Games. This year, it's Katniss' turn. She must fight for her life against 23 other teenagers put in the same position -- all for the amusement of the citizens of Panem.

No joke, this book reached into my chest, gripped me by the ventricles, and didn't let go. Katniss is an awesome character: tough, often heartless, yet willing to do anything to protect the people she loves. The characters she meets are awesome: the boy who may or may not secretly like her; her surprisingly-sympathetic stylist; her mentor, a previous winner of the Games driven to drunkness, but who makes himself (basically) sober when he sees Katniss has a fighting chance.

The world is awesome: a post-apocalyptic America where the majority does hard labor for the few. And the games... Geez, it's like Survivor had a baby with Lord of the Flies and then gave it steroids. It's that cool. Before I read this, my favorite book was easily Ender's Game. Now... I'm not so sure.

One warning though: it leaves you hanging. I mean, the games end and everything, but the end of the book is not The End, strictly speaking. Fortunately there's a sequel (and more fortunately, I have it on my shelf).

* Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

The Problem With Quidditch

One totally optional, but (in my opinion) totally fun aspect of world building is making up fictional games for your world. Like made-up holidays and festivals, games unique to your world can give it a deeper feel and provide an endless source of subplots, conflicts, and climactic settings.

For a lot of fictional games, the rules don't actually matter. Nobody knows how to play that chess game R2-D2 plays against Chewbacca, but the scene gives the world a deeper feel and gives us a taste of Chewbacca's character (also Han's and C-3P0's). Avatar: the Last Airbender frequently uses a game called Pai Sho to reveal things about one of the characters, but the rules are never explained.

But sometimes you want more than that. A critical event might turn on the outcome of a bet, like in Pirates 2 or Phantom Menace. You might have climactic events that center on the playing field, like Harry Potter's Quidditch. Or your entire plot might center on a game, like Ender's Battle Room. In these cases, the reader needs to understand and care about what's going on. They need to know the rules, which means there need to BE rules.

The easiest way to make a fictional game is to take a real-world game and change it slightly. Take chess and give the pieces fantasy names. Take soccer* and give it two goals instead of one, or play with three teams at once on a circular field. But whatever you do -- whether you vary a real game or invent one of your own -- it needs to be a game that, for the most part, would make sense in the real world.

Here's where Quidditch fails. The made-up game starts okay: basically basketball with broomsticks, three goals per team instead of one, extra balls that hurt/distract the players, and a snitch to determine the end of the game. None of these variations break the game, and they all make it more interesting. If we had flying broomsticks and semi-sentient balls, this is a game we could play in the real world.

The problem is the point value of the snitch. Every goal in Quidditch is worth 10 points, but whoever grabs the snitch simultaneously ends the game and earns 150 points -- 15 goals. The overall effect is that regular goals don't matter. Ever. Unless the score reaches 15-0,** the rest of the game has exactly the same tension as if both teams just sat around and waited for the snitch to show up (which, really, why don't they?).

The only reason we don't notice is because the protagonist is the one who gets the snitch. Can you imagine if Harry was the one making meaningless goals, while some minor character caught the snitch and won the game? We also don't notice because usually something else is going on during the match -- like someone's trying to kill Harry or something -- so we don't actually have to pay attention to the match. But to me, all the wizards who go crazy over every goal seem silly and short-sighted.

So by all means, include made-up games in your world. But give them some thought. They don't have to win Game of the Year or anything, but they should at least make real-world sense.

Though I guess if you really are writing the next Harry Potter, it doesn't matter.

UPDATE: As I mention in the comments, I do like Harry Potter. A lot. It has it's flaws, but there's a reason I own all seven.

* A term I use, not because it's correct, but because it's the least ambiguous. They call it football in Thailand too.

** Which is ridiculous. When was the last time you saw a soccer team up 15-0? Or an American football game at 105 to nothing? Unless you were watching Big Leagues Beat Up on Tiny Tots Day, these scores just don't happen. Not at a professional level anyway

Books I Read: Silver Phoenix

(Note: It may appear that I'm reading books fast, because I posted a book just last week. The truth is I meant to start talking about books a while ago, but haven't gotten around to it until now. I usually only read a book a month, if I'm lucky.)

Title: Silver Phoenix
Author: Cindy Pon
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 2009
Content Rating: R for a scene of almost-rape, a scene of almost-sex, and many scenes of violent action.*

On the day of her (unwanted) betrothal, Ai Ling discovers a strange and frightening ability to hear the thoughts of others. When her father disappears on a trip to see the Emperor, she goes to rescue him and finds that her ability is more powerful than she thought. She has been chosen by the immortals to destroy an ancient evil that has ruled the Kingdom of Xia from the shadows for generations.

I'm sort of a sucker for Asian, or even pseudo-Asian, folklore. This book is like a YA version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set in ancient China, Ai Ling faces demons, makes mixed-race friends (to which I also have a soft spot, I guess), and talks to the immortals themselves. That was the most interesting part to me: the portrayal of the gods and immortals of ancient China. We just don't get enough of that in the West, and it was weird to read sometimes, but also very cool. Like watching Spirited Away.

At the same time there was something that didn't grab me as tightly as I wanted it to. (MINOR SPOILER): It may have been the idea that Ai Ling was living out someone else's destiny -- actually that of a previous incarnation. I was really curious about the character of Silver Phoenix (Ai Ling's past life) and why she did what she did, setting things up for Ai Ling. (END SPOILER)

Although it may have just been my Western mindset messing things up. Whatever it was, I'm definitely interested in a reading a sequel and staying in this world a while longer.

* I base content ratings on what a movie might be rated if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Please remember that ratings are subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.