I’ll Never Grow Out of…Middle Grade?

At the beginning of the year, Bee and I posted a video on our channel called ‘Outgrowing YA?‘ in which we talked how the Young Adult genre isn’t something you can ‘grow out’ of, because that suggests the age of the audience of YA has a limit. Instead, you can ‘expand’ or ‘change’ your reading tastes, both words not holding the horrid connotations that reading YA is childish after you reach a certain age.

So, I’ve always thought that, regardless of age, you can read whatever books you like. If you’re 44 and love Percy Jackson, cool! If you’re 8 and love Jane Eyre, amazing! I’ll never try and stop someone reading what they love, not matter which section of a bookstore they’ve picked it up from.

But there is one person I’ve limited. Me.

And I’m a complete hypocrite because of it! For years I told myself I’d ‘grown out’ of Middle Grade, using the same phrase on myself that I tend to avoid! I stopped myself enjoying whatever Jacqueline Wilson has published in the last decade by saying that I’m too old to enjoy it. I read, and love, all of Cathy Cassidy’s books, but have to qualify it by saying that I owe it to my younger self to keep reading them.

To heck with my younger self! Nineteen year old me LOVES Middle Grade!

Why couldn’t I admit that? Why was it like a dirty secret?

If I preach that anyone can read anything, that sentiment needs to extend to me as well. I can read Rooftoppers. I can read The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not too old and the books aren’t too juvenile. In fact, the last twenty books I’ve read have been Middle Grade, and I haven’t had this much fun reading in a long time.

I think, by finally admitting that browsing the children’s section in my local library is my new favourite hobby, I’ve finally fully accepted my reading tastes, and what I enjoy. It no longer has to be something I hide from my Goodreads account, and it didn’t need to be in the first place.

Read what you want to read, regardless of age labels, everyone, because that’s what I’ll be doing from now on!

Waiting For The Right Moment To Read

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Every time a new book gets added to my TBR, I’m desperate to read it AT THAT SECOND. But, chances are, I’ve already got at least one book on the go and don’t want to divide my attention by reading it. Of course, if this is a book by Holly Smale, then I’ll pause whatever I’m doing (even if it’s sleep) and start reading straight away.

That’s an exception.

Most of the time, books on my TBR stay there for at least a month before I read them, because I’m waiting for the right time, and some may argue that there is no right time to read something. For me, there definitely is, and my example is: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. 

I first picked this book up in 2008. I was 11. It was from my school’s library, and it was over 300 pages, which was longer than any book I was reading at that age. I started it immediately (because this was back in the days when I didn’t know that young adult fiction existed, let alone TBR piles).

I read 70 pages. I gave up.

This month, I only just finished it. Eight years later!! And, boy, am I glad I delayed reading it that long. Even when I was 11, I loved reading the ‘Acknowledgements’ pages of books. BUT, I accidentally flipped to the last page of the story instead, and spoiled the fates of Sephy and Callum forever. Over eight years, I’ve never been able to forget the ending, and I thought it was about time I found out how the characters got there.

It was a great book. Really, really great. Would I have understood how complexly it deals with race and terrorism eight years ago?

No.

I feel like, consciously or not, my 11-year-old self did my 18-year-old self a favour. It’s like she knew I won’t completely get it, so put it down because it was the wrong moment to read it. Now I’ve read it with a better understanding of the world and how unjust it is, I was able to better appreciate and love the book more.

So, I guess the moral of the story is, delay reading books for as long as you want. You never know, you might end up thanking yourself for it one day, because books have a tendency to have more impact if you read them when you’re actually ready for them!

2015: Reading Reflection

M  A  D  D  I  E

Total Number of Books Read: 191
Number of Books Re-read: 12
Number of Series Completed: 35
Favourite Reads: Solitaire by Alice Oseman, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and Remix by Non Pratt
Favourite Series: Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Selection by Keira Cass, The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard
An Unexpected Favourite: Sweet Reckoning by Wendy Higgins
Most Disappointing Read: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Smallest Book: Glitches and The Queen’s Army by Marissa Meyer
Largest Book: Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Average Rating for Books: 3.3 stars

B  E  E

Total Number of Books Read: 178
Number of Books Re-read: 1
Number of Series Completed: 32
Favourite Reads: Solitaire by Alice Oseman, Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway, Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Favourite Series: Legend by Marie Lu, Top 8 by Katie Finn, The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
An Unexpected Favourite: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
Most Disappointing Read: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas
Smallest Book: The Sleeper And The Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Largest Book: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas
Average Rating for Books: 2.9 stars

 

Setting: Boarding School Books

One of the main criteria for a book to be part of my favourites list is for it to be set in a boarding school. It’s my favourite setting to read about, probably because it’s so unusual, and on the surface, seems fun. Books set in boarding schools are usually fantasy or contemporary and I really like how the setting is so adaptable to any genre.
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The origin of my love comes from the Secrets at St. Jude’s series, My Sister Jodie and Ottoline Goes To School. Why all these books are purple, I don’t know. New Girl was about four friends navigating their teenage lives, Ottoline seeks to find her hidden talent and Jodie…well, she gets up to some mischief.

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Magical ones are normally the best. The School For Good and Evil is The Best, because it combines boarding schools and fairy tales, which is downright perfect for me. I always loved any section on the curriculum – it’s so different from anything I’ll ever get to do. I used to hate it in Harry Potter when he had to go and battle evil, because it took him away from studying.(That sounds super geeky, but if I got to study potion making and transfiguration, I wouldn’t leave the library!) A whole set of books from Hermione’s perspective would be absolute heaven! But Fearsome Dreamer’s main plot point isn’t about magic school. It’s about a technological revolution, BUT for fifty sweet, sweet pages, Rue and White are studying their powers together in a sort of boarding school, complete with Yule Ball-esque dance sequence. Seriously, if the setting only came up for a few pages in a book, I’d be pleased.

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So, I fangirl about boarding schools a lot. I think the epitome of this obsession, though, can be rooted to one book series in particular. The Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter. Six books of spy-socialite heaven. It’s become a dream of mine to write something in this setting, because I love it so much, and any research I had to do would be done willingly. What about you? Do you have a particular favourite when it comes to settings?154857-ml-1182951

Leigh Bardugo’s Writing Advice

When we met Leigh Bardugo at her Magic and Mayhem Book Tour for ‘Six Of Crows’, she answered a lot of questions about writing, the inspiration and the motivation behind it. Leigh gave some absolutely amazing pieces of advice. So, today, we thought we’d share what the best selling author of ‘Shadow and Bone‘ had to say about writing:

1. “There’s No Expiration Date On Your Talent”
This was the best thing she said. This is the best thing anyone has said.
Leigh talked a lot about how, when it comes to writing, it’s easy to put deadlines on yourself, and what you should be able to achieve at a certain age. There’s always the comment of ‘She’s doing so well for her age.” But, we should just scribble out the last half of that sentence. You’re always bright, you’re always talented, and there’s no limit to the amount of things you can achieve. Leigh said she didn’t start writing ‘Shadow and Bone’ until she was 35, and look where she is now. You don’t need to have a three-book publishing deal at 18. You can write whenever, without deadlines. 

2. “You Have To Love Them If You’re Going To Write Them”
Pretty easy, but if you don’t absolutely love the characters you’ve created and the world they’re living in, you’re not going to take the time to write them. It normally takes quite a while to write a book, (50K in a month is beautiful, but redrafting can take years!) So, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your characters. Make sure you won’t want to strangle them by the end of your manuscript.

3. “There’s No One Way To Write”
You do you, that’s perfectly fine. Apparently, one of the most popular questions authors get is to do with their writing process, but there’s something different for everybody. Leigh talked about how Laini Taylor loves to have every, tiny detail planned out before she writes, whereas she herself likes to have a looser idea of what’s going on.

4. “Go With The Muse”
When you’re feeling inspired: write. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a bargaining magic scene, if you feel the desire to write a kiss or a battle or a calm conversation over ice-cream, do it because inspiration doesn’t hit you everyday.

5. “Don’t Crush The Inner Critic”
When that little voice inside your head tells you something isn’t quite right, or that your writing is terrible (which I assure you, it isn’t!) listen to the voice. Agree with it. Qualify that this is only a first draft, and nothing is going to be perfect first time round! You can do anything, but you don’t need an enemy inside your head before you’ve even started.

6. “Nobody Writes A Good First Draft”
Normally, when you get stuck in the middle of writing, it’s easy to turn to all the beautiful books on your shelf and compare what’s on your Word document to what glued between those covers. That’s not fair. At all. What we see on the pages of our favourite novels is probably nowhere near what was written in the first draft. Everyone struggles, and everyone has setbacks. Comparing yourself to published works is only going to make you lose the fight before you’ve even picked up a sword.

7. “Write Terrible”
Sometimes, the only way to get a draft finished is to just write, no looking back. Leigh stressed that no one else has to see your first draft, that it’s 100% for you, so don’t be ashamed of what you think is sloppy or rushed or badly written. All that matters if you’re telling yourself the story first, before you try and tell it to other people. But, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see the first draft of ‘Shadow and Bone’?

8. “Finish Your Draft”
Every time I’ve heard this piece of advice, I’ve thought ‘that’s obvious!’, but somehow, I’m yet to do it. It’s not enough to say you want to write, you actually have to do it. Who knew?

And there you have it, tiny pearls of wisdom from Leigh Bardugo! Keep writing everyone, and good luck with your drafts!

Read Less Books?

So far this year, I’ve read 159 books. I know: mental. Looking at the Goodreads Challenge 2015 tab is really fun (and scary) because some people have read over 200 books, and haven’t just finished the ‘Sailor Moon’ manga, or picked up ‘Ottoline Goes To School’ to fill out their challenge like me!

After eleven months, with only one more to go before 2016 is upon us, I’ve started to think about how much I read and whether I’m happy with it. Sure, reading over 100 books a year is an extreme achievement (and I’ve given myself, like, twelve gold stars) but did I enjoy all 159 of those books?

No.

Sometimes it feels like I was only reading for the sake of reading. For the thrill of finishing another book. The Goodreads Challenge, clicking ‘Read’ and the little star buttons, updating my status…it’s all made me an achievement junkie. It doesn’t matter if I’m only reading what turn out to be 2 stars books, as long as it contributes to my end of year total, it’s good.

Except, it’s not.

Next year, I want to read less books. I want to be genuinely interested in everything I read, pick it up because I think I’ll enjoy it, not because it’s under 300 pages or could be read in one sitting. A few of the books I’ve taken a chance on this year have been AMAZING, like ‘Fire Colour One’ by Jenny Valentine, but others, like ‘P.S I Still Love You’ that I was reading for the sake of finishing the series, wasn’t.

It might be radical, but by December 2016, I want to be able to look at all the books I read and think ‘Yeah, I wanted to read that.’ Of course, not all books can be diamonds. Finding 100 five star books in a year would be impossible,  BUT I want to have that drive to read.

What do you think about reading literally tonnes of books? Do you genuinely want to read every book on your shelf?

Diversity in YA

There’s been quite a bit of talk in the YA community recently about representation and diversity. More specifically posing the question of “is there enough diversity in YA or do we need more?” This sparked multiple debates, where twitter became an angry void for opinions but from the arguments some interesting discussion points were posed.

On twitter Meg Rosoff claimed that “good literature expands your mind, it doesn’t have the job of being a mirror.” This is true in the sense that fiction is just that, fictional. I often say that readers don’t owe the author anything, once a book has been released into the world it’s out of the author’s control and is now up to a reader’s interpretation (I believe this partly because my English Literature teacher at A Level was so convincing when he expressed this same opinion.) But do authors owe their readers diverse characters or marginalised points of view?

If authors start to become too conscious of the characters that they’re writing perhaps the characterisation would feel too forced or inauthentic. This is probably how the sidekick is normally typecast as a POC/ non-heterosexual character to inject a bit of diversity into a novel, but surely that isn’t enough. If anything these veiled attempts at trying to be inclusive are transparent enough to make readers cringe and complain, even though didn’t they get what they were asking for? Perhaps it’s even worse to continually see POCs and cis-normative characters as secondary / the best friend rather than the actual protagonist.

Diversity shouldn’t be written for the sake of making a novel seem edgy or to sell more copies and this is where I disagree with Meg Rosoff’s comment about literature “not having to be a mirror”, because our current society is one of diversity and, across the UK, schools and colleges celebrate the representation of minor students, proclaiming safe environments for everyone.

We should write diverse characters into our novels not because it’s trendy to do so but because to do so would be a more accurate representation of today’s youth. That’s not to say books that don’t include a spectrum of gender and sexualities are not worth reading, because it all depends on context. I’m going to focus on YA contemporary novels as historical fiction, fantasy and sic-fi aren’t necessarily written in the same 2015 we’re living in today. Contemporaries set in inner cities (eg. London, New York or California) or areas with large populations should have characters of all ethnic backgrounds, with different races, genders and sexualities, but contemporaries set in small villages in the south west of England aren’t likely to have diverse characters because the majority of the population is likely to be heteronormative, cis-gendered and white. Therefore to criticise of book like the latter example for not having diverse characters would be unjust.

It’s also important to note that there are actually incredibly well written and crafted novels that also include diverse characters and maybe instead of complaining that there isn’t more literature like this we should make an effort to find and appreciate the diversity that is already out there. There’s even a Goodreads page for it!

Representation is incredibly important and I believe that any author, no matter what race or sexual orientation should be able to write about whatever characters they choose. Write what you know is valuable advice, but it’s also ridiculous and I’m sure many authors and creative writing professors will tell you how ludicrous the concept is, because what kind of a world do we live in if heterosexual white people can’t empathise with (and therefore write about) POCs and all types of sexual orientation?

At the end of the day it’s the author’s creative right to decide who they write about, although they should now be aware that diversity and representation is what readers want to see. There’s a reason why books like Everything, Everything, Simon vs, the Homosapien’s Agenda and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before are favourites among teens.

#weneeddiversebooks