LOYALTY, LOVE AND LAUGHTER: favourite female friendships in YA

Gasp! What is this I see before me?! A discussion post, you say? And it’s time to talk about FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS?! Yay!

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I love YA about positive female friendships. I’m a fan of romance and adventures and time travel and historical fiction and all those great things too, but books that do justice to friendship stand out – and what better way to celebrate than by talking about a few of my favourites?

21472663Kaz and Ruby from Remix by Non Pratt

I adore this book. It’s fast, fizzy and fierce, full of music and boy drama and festival shenanigans. But mostly, it’s full of the fantastic friendship between best mates Kaz and Ruby. They have their ups and downs but they love each other, and what’s more, they’re brilliantly funny. Genuine, positive, messy teen friendship is extraordinary. It’s laughter and affection and mistakes and support and as much silliness as seriousness, and Remix comes closest, perhaps of any YA I’ve read, to showing how heartfelt and laugh-out-loud ridiculous it can be. (It helps that the rest of the book is magnificent, too. Definitely worth reading.)

Christina and Elizabeth from Feeling Sorry For Celia/Emily, Cass and Lydia from The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

I couldn’t pick just one friendship here! These books are so underrated. There are some great friendships in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury/Brookfield novels, particularly in Feeling Sorry for Celia, which shows teenager Elizabeth dealing with the fallout from the actions of her unreliable best friend and unexpectedly finding a healthier, more equal dynamic thanks a school pen pal assignment.

By the time Emily, Cass and Lydia – close friends facing the pressure of exams, personal dramas and the legacy of the mysterious Ashbury-Brookfield Pen Pal Project, in which they like students before them are required to write letters to students at a local school reputed to be a haven for criminals, biker gangs, drop-outs etc – take the helm, the series has totally won you over. Told in epistolary format, whether that’s letters, emails, diaries, notes, exam answers, vandalised school noticeboards or the titular secret assignments, Moriarty gives a fantastically immediate voice to her characters and to the trials and tribulations of teen friendship. The Year of Secret Assignments (also known as Finding Cassie Crazy) is perhaps the quirkiest (and only occasionally the most ludicrous) of a loosely-connected quartet, showcasing a friendship bound by loyalty and written with entirely self-aware humour.

25437747Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne from Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

A love story without a romance, Beautiful Broken Things is a heartwarming, heartbreaking début with female friendship explored on every page,  first with the long-established best friendship of Caddy and Rosie, and then with the added complication of newcomer Suzanne as she arrives in blustery, beachy Brighton. But you probably know that, since this is another one I find myself recommending over and over again. It may be one of the best books not just featuring but about teen girl friendship released this year. I liked the book so much I actually reviewed it twice, which you can check out here and here. The book sees friendship really being put to the test (with time for baking macarons and midnight escapades in between, natch) but while their mistakes and actions have consequences, Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne care about each other. It’s a great example of platonic relationships which can be just as compelling as romantic ones when done well in fiction.

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Nonie, Edie, Jenny and Crow from Threads by Sophia Bennett

Sophia Bennett’s gloriously lively first book won the Times/Chicken House competition – and it did it with a story about teen girls and the friendship which sees them feeling like they can take on the world, whether that’s by using their talents for fashion (Nonie, Crow), by stepping into the sometimes overwhelming world of acting (Jenny) or by fostering ambitions to save the planet (Edie). And against a backdrop of books which appear to echo messages to teen girls that they should put up with toxic friendships or struggle in the social minefield of teenager-hood without anyone they can trust or depend on, the straightforward but sincere friendship in books like Threads is important. This being YA, things don’t always go smoothly for them, but it’s tremendously fun; light as a Victoria sponge and flowing in talkative, jam-packed style.

Evie, Lottie and Amber from The Spinster Club trilogy by Holly Bourne

I know, I know, I wax lyrical about Am I Normal Yet? and its sequels all the time. But they’re just so good! Here, Holly Bourne takes on airbrushed ideas of female friendship and replaces them with something far more real: a deep, garrulous, comical bond between three girls who boost each other up and help each other when they’re dow29740718n. Lottie, Amber and Evie celebrate each other’s successes, no matter how small, and can talk about things like mental health, relationships and feminism with confidence, knowing their girls have got their back.

I’ve read too many books where female friendships are disingenuous or lacking in depth; books where teenagers passed off as friends essentially don’t even like each other. This trilogy shines a stark light on YA novels past with flimsy loyalties and poorly-drawn female characters. This trio’s well-written, good-natured friendship is a reminder to other YA (and to readers) that if a relationship is filled with copious amounts of competition, envy and cattiness – often influenced by a misogynistic culture that can’t seem to wrap its head around the fact that women might actually like and rely on each other in ways which can’t be summed up in conversations entirely centred on their latest conquests – then it is not a friendship. Evie, Lottie and Amber really set the bar high for female friendship in future UKYA. There’s a Spinster Club novella being released later this year, too!

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So there you have it: five of the most fabulous female friendships in young adult fiction. Do any of your favourite characters appear on this list? Are there any books about YA friendship you just can’t help but recommend?

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The A-Z of Books Tag // Harry Potter, Holly Bourne and throwing shade at Lord Byron…?

What is this? A BOOK TAG? On MY blog?! It cannot be!

Alas, it’s true, I finally found a book tag I like. (Totally borrowing this from Claire, by the way, who totally pilfered it from someone else.) Enjoy!

Author You’ve Read the Most Books By
Probably a writer of a long series, like the gorgeously witty Karen McCombie.

Best Sequel Ever
Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban… More recently: How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne is great. Heart-warming and gut-wrenching.

Currently Reading
Unboxed by (writer and surprisingly versatile cosplayer) Non Pratt.

Drink of Choice While Reading
Absinthe. Or, you know, nO DRINK AT ALL BECAUSE WHY WOULD PUT A GLASS OF LIQUID NEAR PRECIOUS PAPER?? WHYYYYY

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E-Reader or Physical Book
My fair and equal temperament says both but my heart says physical books (they’re so much more enjoyable to read).

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School
Charlie Weasley, mostly for the dragons.

10890319Glad You Gave this Book a Chance
Adorkable by Sarra Manning. I was surprised by how much I loved it. And oh, those poetry-inspiring cheekbones.

Hidden Gem Book
Prim Improper by Deidre Sullivan. Delightful, emotional, genuine stuff.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life
“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”

(Also discovering that ‘phantasmagorical’ is a real word.)

Just Finished Reading
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon.

Kind of Books You Won’t Read
I have so little time to read, I’ve decided just to cut out most adult books altogether, to be honest. And dystopia is so over.

Longest Book You’ve Read
Probably Les Misérables? Seriously, Victor, you don’t need to describe EVERYTHING

Major Book Hangover
Eh, I don’t really do book hangovers. I did have to stare around a bit and read the last pages of Sara Barnard‘s Beautiful Broken Things over and over  when I finished it though.

tumblr_inline_o7wz7u7tmw1u4n6fc_500Number of Bookcases You Own
Ha! It’s cute that you think this is a number which can be physically counted.

One Book You’ve Read Multiple Times
ONE? Only one?! I’m a big re-reader, but in the interest of mentioning a book I haven’t talked about yet: I’ve read Lauren James’ The Next Together four times, once just for the epistolary timeline and Kate’s one-liners.

Preferred Place to Read
Somewhere warm, but really, I will read in many situations. It’s part of my charm.

Quote that Inspires You/Gives You all the Feels from a Book You’ve Read
MANY. This line from Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas is beautiful and underrated: “Some things you hear with your ears. Others, you hear with your heart.”

Reading Regret
Reading books because of hype even when I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy them. (Thankfully I’m much better with this now, and have been able to sideline a lot of flashy! blockbuster! American YA the hype machine loves but I have no interest in.)

Series You Started and Need to Finish
The Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon and Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles.

1500903Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan (but not the sequels, they’re a downhill slide into mehness)

Unapologetic Fangirl For
ALL OF THE THINGS. Currently: The Great British Bake-Off. Finding sarcastic subtext in the letters and works of Jane Austen. Forever: Harry Potter. Musicals. Badass ladies in high fantasy fiction. DRAGONS.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All Others
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (it really is one of the best high fantasy YA series on the shelf at the moment). AND I STILL HAVEN’T READ IT YET.

Worst Bookish Habit
It’s more blogish than bookish, but most of my reviews come to about 1500 words in first draft and like, that’s not a review, that’s accidentally launching a career as an essayist

X Marks the Sport: Start on the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Lord George Gordon “for god’s sake just leave everyone ALONE your daughter will turn out more interesting than you anyway” Byron.

Your Latest Purchase
What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne, the final book in her brilliant contemporary trilogy.

Zzzzz-Snatcher Book (last book that kept you up way too late)
Kiersten White’s And I Darken, a genderbent alternate history with a ferocious heroine.

And that’s the A-Z of Books Tag! It’s probably done the rounds already, but in the interest of active participation I’ll tag my good friend Rita, the multi-talented Georgia, and the fabulous Lauren (if only because she has a ridiculous work ethic and I need to know if there is SOME SHRED OF FALLIBILITY in there and if she too procrastinates by doing book tags). 

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The Next Together by Lauren James // wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff

The Next Together by Lauren James has been out for a whole year! To celebrate, I’m reposting my review from the first time around (and just in case you haven’t read the book yet).

(You can read the original post here. Minor edits have been made to this one for typos and sentence structure.)

23266378Author: Lauren James
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: 3 September 2015
Category: YA
Genre: contemporary, sci-fi, historical, time-travel (…it’s a bit complicated)
Series or standalone?: series (#1 of 2)
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

How many times can you lose the person you love?

Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again, century after century. Each time, their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated.  Spanning the Crimean War, the Siege of Carlisle and the near-future of 2019 and 2039 they find themselves sacrificing their lives to save the world. But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace?  Maybe the next together will be different…

Take a look at any bookshelf this year and you’ll come face to face with a treasure trove of cutting-edge contemporaries and lush high fantasies. Look a little further, however, and you’ll find one of the most original UKYA débuts in years winning fans from all sides in the run up to publication. That début is The Next Together, a dramatic and enthralling tale of romance and intrigue split across three centuries.

We first meet Katherine and Matthew in a laboratory in 2039. And in 1745 before the Siege of Carlisle. And again during the Crimean War in 1854. And, in my favourite storyline, through post-it notes, power-points, e-mails, texts, status updates, diary entries and Tumblr posts from their lives in 2019. In fact, letters, articles, postcards and maps bring a touch of magic to all three of these otherwise straightforward stories, tying them together as they brim over with love, tragedy and hope. Kate and Matt’s romance draws you in and has you racing to discover their destiny; I absolutely adored it.

Their story is a veritable melting pot of themes and storylines, all rounded off with a distinct, economical and shamelessly British writing style. It has everything you could wish for and more: time travel, unusual settings, memorable leads, history, science, humour, LGBTQ+ characters, star-crossed lovers. It even brings us characters in a positive long-term relationship, something I really want to see more of in YA. The Next Together has so much going on, in fact, it almost shouldn’t work – but it does. Somehow, this patchwork quilt of a novel pulls together into a warm, comforting story readers will want to return to time and again. It’s inventive, sweet and down-to-earth.

There’s a sense that feisty, exuberant Kate could easily crash from one embarrassing situation to the next, but she’s witty, brave and bashful, and I couldn’t help but fall for her. This book is full of unexpected humour, and Kate is at the heart of it. She doesn’t hold back and she will grow on you. Matthew is her long-suffering partner in crime, but behind that shy smile and messy hair is a courageous, honourable and above all, deeply good guy. He’s a breath of fresh air against a backdrop of brooding YA heroes; it won’t be long before you fall for him, too. I loved Matt’s laidback brother Tom, too, and of course Kate’s cool, chatty grandmothers Nancy and Flo. I almost wished the book had been longer so as to spend more time with them – with all of the leading characters, really. It works as a standalone, but fans will be thrilled to hear a sequel, The Last Beginning, releases in October 2016.

Hit-and-miss pacing is an issue for an already compact book, as its early pages dawdle and later scenes are rushed. Some plot problems are just too easy for our leads to figure out and there are definite plot holes. I’d hoped for more passion and emotion in the writing (probably because I’d just finished reading Crown of Midnight, which is basically the written equivalent of a hurricane) and it’s missing illustrative description, so while it’s easy to let historical discrepancies slide as creative licence, readers will have to work to conjure up scenery and visuals. The book’s minor characters are hastily sketched at best and it doesn’t escape the age-old problem of tell vs. show, either.

Yet even in this constantly shifting sea of storylines, The Next Together does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes. Even the finale raises more questions than it answers. There’s something refreshingly innocent and old-school about the way this book looks at the world, though it’s modern and engaging. The first half of the book is a slow burn, but it’s full of mystery and by the time Kate and Matt start unravelling the threads of the conspiracy around them, it’s all kicking off: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

Okay, so only some of those things happen here. But I don’t quote The Princess Bride without good reason. If you’re looking for a début that packs a surprising amount of action into its pages, this book is for you. Lauren James writes such heartfelt leads, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the joy, and possibilities, of this storytelling universe.

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This book is like gold dust. Deeply romantic, refreshingly real and wonderfully original, it’s a stellar début from a talented new voice in YA fiction. The Next Together will capture your heart and your imagination. Charming, ambitious and surprising, once you’re hooked, you won’t want to put it down. It’s gut-wrenching, heart-warming, near-perfect and very, very funny. I can’t wait to see what Lauren James has in store for us next.

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UKYACX Blog Tour // An Interview with Sheena Wilkinson

UKYACX Logo with Newcastle Details

I’m delighted to welcome author Sheena Wilkinson to the blog today as part of this year’s UKYACX celebrations. UKYACX (short for UK Young Adult and Children’s literature Extravaganza) is a regional book event designed to bring books and authors to readers. All my questions are in bold, all answers from Sheena in plain text. Occasional [square bracketed] comments and gifs are excitement from me.

sheena-charneySheena Wilkinson has been described as ‘one of our foremost writers for young people’ (The Irish Times, March 2015). Since the publication of the multi-award-winning Taking Flight (Little Island) in 2010, she has published several acclaimed novels for young adults. Grounded won the overall CBI Book of the Year in 2013. Her most recent novel, Name Upon Name, was set in 1916 Belfast. In 2013, she was granted a Major Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, its highest award for artists of national and international importance. She has two new books coming in 2017; one contemporary and one historical.

Hi Sheena! We’ll start with one of my favourite questions: why do you write and love YA?

I love YA because you can deal with really big issues from the point of view of characters who are dealing with them for the first time. It’s all very intense! I love how the genre [cue muffled “YA IS A CATEGORY!” yelling from somewhere in the distance] makes you focus on character and story, which are for me the most important elements of a novel as well as, of course, good writing.

9320989Your books tackle a whole range of subjects, from teen life to class tensions, from horses to history, and often, pursuing what you love. What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you approach research?

I’ve certainly written about all kinds of things – my forthcoming novel is all about music, which is a huge part of my life. In my twenties and thirties I ran a folk club with some friends. I don’t just write what I know, but I do always write what I’m passionate about. For example, my historical novels (Name Upon Name and a new one due at the end of next year) are both set around the time of WWI, which has always fascinated me.

I’m part plotter, part pantser. I do a lot of research and planning, lots of notes on character and story, but the story changes as I write – it’s like there’s always something which you can’t plan for or ‘make up’ until you start writing and hear the characters speak.

I love research and do whatever I have to. It starts with books, usually, and, depending on the subject, may range through museums, talking to people, visiting places, watching films, or even learning a new skill. When I wrote my first three books, I had a pony, Scarlet, so all the horsecare stuff was based on experience (people said you could really smell the dung!). For my next book, I set myself the challenge of learning guitar, as the narrator is a guitarist. I’ve always loved singing and performing, but this was a new challenge for me. Two years on, I’m a lousy guitarist, but I’m getting better every day, and it’s definitely added something to the book.

This year’s UKYA Extravaganza sounds so exciting. How did you get involved? What are you most looking forward to about the event?

I feel very lucky, because I did last year’s Nottingham event, and therefore shouldn’t have been eligible to do another UKYA Extravaganza so soon, but they needed a last-minute substitute and I was in the fortunate position of being able to make a quick decision to go to Newcastle! I used to live in Durham so I’m combining it with visiting friends. It’s the day after I deliver my new book, so I’m looking forward to celebrating with lots of writers and readers.

UKYACX is all about bringing books and authors to readers in a friendly, accessible setting. How important is an approach like this for you as an author? How can the book world get better at outreach and bringing great books to readers who need them?

This is massively important to me. As a Northern Irish writer it can be easy to feel marginalized by the Irish and UK book scenes, and I work very hard to be part of both. A lot of events are very London-centric, so I love UKYAX’s mission to get out into different regions. [Let me just interrupt here to say “YAAAAAAAAAAAAS!” to this.]

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I also love the fact that it’s not about seeing the same people all the time, which can’t be said for all book events. The book world could do a lot, I think, to be more diverse and more daring. They say they want more diverse books but many publishers seem nervous about producing anything which isn’t a safe commercial bet. That’s why initiatives such as Leila Rasheed’s Megaphone, which mentors aspiring BAME writers, are so important.

In a past life (before all the award wins and book events) you worked as an English teacher. What has writing YA taught you?

What a great question! I was going to say that it’s taught me to be brave and honest – but I always have, I hope, been both of those things! Giving up a safe full-time job to write full time, with most of my income coming from school visits, workshops and residencies, has taught me the importance of following a dream but also of being realistic, an attitude which I think can be seen in my books.

Just for fun: your top three books of 2016 (we’d never ask for just one!) so far?

So many of my friends write great YA that it’s torture to be asked this question, NOT FUN, and you know, if you ask me tomorrow I might come up with three totally different answers. Two YA books I’ve really enjoyed this year are Broken Sky by L. A. Weatherly and Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, both talented writers and lovely people. The most stunning book I’ve read this year – though it was published last year – is Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins, which I know I will go back to again and again in awe and delight. Brilliant storytelling, memorable characters and intelligent, humane writing. I couldn’t put it down and felt completely bereft when I’d finished. I used to feel that about books very often, but it happens less now, so when it does happen it’s very special.

And finally, what can readers expect from you next?

Not sure how much I’m allowed to say, as these titles aren’t announced yet, but there’ll be two books in 2017 – the first, as I’ve mentioned, is about music, love and reinvention; and the other is historical, set in 1918, about feminism and the aftermath of war. One in April, one in October. Phew!

I’m also 90,000 words into an adult historical novel, set in 1919, so it’s been a busy year even though I haven’t had a book out in 2016, and next year is looking even busier – but that’s the way I like it!

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You can find out more about UKYACX (which takes place on September 17th) here. In the meantime, be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour for more author interviews, guest posts and giveaways.

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