Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: She loves you, YA, YA, YA!

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  • Jolisa, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Totally agree much of the best writing today is in YA category. I think one reason is most literary fiction is scared of ‘too much emotion.’ It’s all so ironic and self-referential not only do the basics of story get lost, but the basics of emotionally connecting to a story go west as well. Strenuous efforts to avoid the sentimental seem to suck all sentiment out.

    You know, Rob, I think you're onto something there. I'm trying to think of the last time an adult novel made me really feel something.

    Emma Donoghue's Room certainly took me places I hadn't been before, emotionally (even though it was a bit of a conjuring trick, and I'm not sure if it would survive a rereading).

    Maurice Shadbolt's Season of the Jew made me weep. I'm a little scared to reread it, in case it makes me cry again. Or, in case it doesn't.

    Hmm... Thinking, now. Thank you!

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Tui Head, in reply to sally jones,

    @Sally, If you're worried about the violence etc, my inclination would be to say don't worry. There's so much violence on the telly & stuff anyway and to my mind books usually do a better job of making violence horrific as opposed to normalising it or coolifying it the way so much media does these days. Kids will read what they want to read and a lot of kids go through stages of not wanting to read the books adults are telling them they should read, or books that they perceive as being aimed at them in some sort of condescending way. And some people will never enjoy realistic fiction - my best friend reads extraordinarily widely, genre fiction of all flavours and a lot of non-fiction, but realistic novels in general bore her.

    Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker are both awesome suggestions - Barker has also written a lot for adults but I never got into that stuff at all so can't comment on it. You might find Thief of Always difficult to get in shops but they'll order it or it's in libraries, and then if he likes that Barker's Abarat (female protagonist, the beautifully-named Candy Quackenbush, but satisfyingly weird) and its sequel might be good.

    If he doesn't seem to like children's and YA stuff at all, in terms of content I think Gaiman's adult novel American Gods is no worse than most Stephen King and "better" than some, and it has some stuff in common with King. There's also Neverwhere . Pace Lucy S., I gave my brother Sandman comics when he was twelve and he enjoyed them very much but beware the idea that comics are more appropriate for children than novels - not true at all, there's all sorts of R-rated content in there and I would imagine that 15+ would be the more usual age to come to them. If he's been reading the Dark Tower books he might also like the grittier doorstopper fantasy, esp urban fantasy - Jim Butcher, maybe, or Scott Lynch or perhaps even Charles de Lint (but I'd library all of those, esp. the latter since he's insanely pricey to buy here.) And, of course, there's the Lord of the Rings or even Tad Williams.

    I think my overall comment is if you're just worried about keeping him reading there should be lots to keep him going, but if you're worried about *what* he's reading you might be a bit stuck!

    Te Whanganui-ā-Tara • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    I'm trying to think of the last time an adult novel made me really feel something.

    I thought this Guardian interview with the wondrous David Mitchell was sweet - one of the questions was what had made him cry of late, and he said that it was reading Kate de Goldi's book Billy.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    Maurice Shadbolt's Season of the Jew made me weep. I'm a little scared to reread it, in case it makes me cry again. Or, in case it doesn't.

    Yes, me too. The 'seconds' shop next to farmers in Newmarket had the New Zealand Wars Trilogy for $30. There were a few left a couple of weeks ago, if anyone's keen.

    I won a book on Bookiemonster's blog, Gunshot Road, by Adiran Hyland, and apart from being free, thought it was bloody marvellous. There were moments of great pathos, and great humour, and plenty of... well read Bookie's review, she does it for a job.

    Another adult book that had me at 'hello' recently was Breath by Tim Winton. Anyway, it does seem rare, but then I clearly haven't read nearly enough YA yet, so I better buy a box of tissues.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Tui Head,

    Lucy S., I gave my brother Sandman comics when he was twelve and he enjoyed them very much but beware the idea that comics are more appropriate for children than novels - not true at all, there's all sorts of R-rated content in there and I would imagine that 15+ would be the more usual age to come to them.

    Okay, that's weird - I had distinct memories of you getting quite upset over said brother and said reading.

    You know I have extremely liberal views about what's appropriate for children to read (whatever they're capable of understanding, basically) but I find depiction of violence a lot more disturbing that description, and so wouldn't give comics depicting R18-level violence to a twelve-year-old, whereas I might give them a book that technically rated the same. It feels more...real, in picture rather than prose. Maybe that's a personal quirk, I don't know.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Maybe that's a personal quirk, I don't know.

    If it's a personal quirk, it's a rather common one. In part, I suspect it's because we do have a class system for the arts -- LITERATURE is respectable, movies and comic books are not. I'll have to dig up the exact quote, but I read an interview where David Cronenberg was withering about Margaret Atwood saying films should be censored but not fiction, as if images are somehow more potent than words. He said (and I agree) that it is a curious admission of impotence and irrelevance from a high profile novelist, critic and poet.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    If it's a personal quirk, it's a rather common one. In part, I suspect it's because we do have a class system for the arts -- LITERATURE is respectable, movies and comic books are not.

    It's not that, not for me; I could name half a dozen comics that are far more worthy than some "LITERATURE". It's that - for me - pictures are much, much harder to forget, and therefore more disturbing. I can forget words, if I try hard enough, or at least mentally blur them. Pictures are...much harder, and therefore violent content stands out more. So I'll read things that I wouldn't watch if you paid me.

    Whether this is common enough to account for the stricter censorship of visual media, I have no idea.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Pictures are…much harder, and therefore violent content stands out more. So I’ll read things that I wouldn’t watch if you paid me.

    I guess this is the origin of "graphic violence" - if you get a picture of it, it generally has a stronger impact.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • sally jones, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    you know your child, and his reading level and emotional maturity, infinitely better than I do.

    Er...I wouldn't be too sure, though the mere suggestion of the possibility practically made me weep (seriously).

    Sorry to be so slow in responding, it's taken me this long to check out the many reading recommendations given in answer to my modest query. Also my house blew up. Well, not really. But I kind of wish it would, then at least I'd have a proper excuse for not keeping up with you lot (It's also probably my only hope for a new kitchen, not to mention a solution to my cleaning burden, but they're separate matters entirely!).

    Following a thorough online investigation of the various recommended titles and authors for my 12yo to read, I have narrowed the list of hopefuls down to the top 400, GOT (give or take). So a big thank you to all those exhaustively and exhaustingly erudite PA people who made a contribution to the list. Now all I have to do is convince my son that Christmas presents don't necessarily come with power cords, and specifically that a parcel in the shape of a book (or better still, very many books), does count as a proper present.
    Perhaps a preview is in order. The Graveyard Book about a boy named Nobody whose entire family is murdered, looks particularly promising.
    On it ;)

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    ...Perhaps a preview is in order. The Graveyard Book...

    Speaking of previews of the Graveyard Book, Neil Gaimen is reading a chapter on stops of his current book tour, and posting the recordings:
    see his blog for individual chapter recordings.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    "The Graveyard Book" is seriously good, and it doesnt pull some hard punches.

    *SPOILER ALERT*







    (Sorry Miss Lupescu - I liked you as much as Silas)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • bmk,

    It's that - for me - pictures are much, much harder to forget, and therefore more disturbing. I can forget words, if I try hard enough, or at least mentally blur them.

    This is mostly true for me but the one notable exception being American Psycho - that is one novel where the words alone have burned some gruesome scenes indelibly on my brain.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to bmk,

    This is mostly true for me but the one notable exception being American Psycho - that is one novel where the words alone have burned some gruesome scenes indelibly on my brain.

    There's been a few like that for me. Fortunately not too many. It's one of the points where having a very good memory for words and a vivid imagination sucks.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • sally jones, in reply to Islander,

    “The Graveyard Book” is seriously good, and it doesnt pull some hard punches.

    Islander: Yes, I'm beginning to form this opinion. Thank you David Hood for the blog link to Gaimen's reading of the first chapter, the chapter that begins with the killing of the young family. It's not easy getting that kind of thing right for a YA audience, but he does, or seems to. Mostly. I wish the young girl wasn't murdered. There seems to be a readiness to kill off the girl in many of these modern tales. I recently read Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (2004). http://mostlyfiction.com/contemp/shriver.htm
    A pretty sharp review of a brilliant book, but...the sister/daughter/child is once again killed off, and largely so that the brother/son/YA gets to kill and to live. He commits the mass murder of his class mates just days before his 16th birthday in order to escape the death penalty (for those who haven't read it). But the girl in this book gets to live for a short while. Not so in Graveyard. Shriver's text is consciously feminist. But it doesn't quite convince on that level, IMO. But definitely a thrilling - if also chilling - read.
    Looks like two books on and around death are going to go into my kids' stockings this Christmas. Hmmm... Thank you Jolisa for your review of Guardians of the Dead, pretty sure my 15yo daughter will enjoy that. And thank you to those who recommended Graveyard and all the other titles. Much appreciated :)

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking, in reply to Jolisa,

    Totally agree much of the best writing today is in YA category. I think one reason is most literary fiction is scared of ‘too much emotion.’ It’s all so ironic and self-referential not only do the basics of story get lost, but the basics of emotionally connecting to a story go west as well.

    Thought of this thread at 3am when I picked up Graham Swift's Making An Elephant and read this in the introduction:

    After well over three decades of being a writer of fiction, I still believe that fiction-storytelling-is a magical thing. Why else do we still talk about being under a story's 'spell'? However we may analyse or try to explain it, the power of a good story is a primitive, irreducible mystery that answers to some need deep in human nature.

    I think it's salutary for even the most modern writer to recognize this-that you are, as it were, dealing with something beyond you, with a force you can never outguess. Once you make a complete and exclusive equation between what you consciously put in and the effect that will emerge (and, time and time again, it's very hard to avoid doing this), you will have lost something. Your writing may be competent, but it will be diminished.

    For writer and reader, fiction should always have that flicker of the magical,

    ...and forgive me while I interrupt Swift here, but I love that phrase 'flicker of the magical'... right, back to Swift...

    .. but it also does something that's completely the opposite. Repeatedly, fiction tries to embrace, to capture, to confront-often grimly and unflinchingly-the real. This is one of its supreme functions too: to bring us down to earth. No better vehicle for this descending journey has been found than the novel.

    Indeed, from Don Quixote to Madame Bovary and onwards, fiction has been centrally concerned with the demolition of magic and dreams; with the way in which our airy notions come up against the hard facts or downright banality of experience.

    This is entirely healthy: fiction as a corrective to our evasions of an uncompromisingly concrete world. But the remarkable thing about fiction is that it can perform the two apparently contradictory tasks at the same time. It can be both magical and realistic. When we read Don Quixote or Madame Bovary we don't feel coerced into bathos, we feel a thrill.

    Back in the 1980s, when my first novels were published, a literary term had for some while been enjoying a vogue: 'magical realism'. I admit that when I wrote Waterland I even thought I was being a bit of a magical realist myself. The term has now long passed its sell-by date, and was fairly bogus in the first place.

    It seemed to encapsulate perfectly that twofold and paradoxical nature of fiction; but if that were so, it was really saying nothing new or revelatory and, in practice, it reeked of a rather programmatic specialism.

    It owed a lot to some then-popular Latin American writing in which surreal or supernatural events might be 'realistically' injected into the naturalistic tissue of a novel, or real events might acquire a magical flavour.

    Writers had been doing this sort of thing for centuries, but 'magical realism' implied that by the mixing in of such fantastical stuff, some much-needed magic could be put back into fiction. As if it had ever gone.

    The real magic (if that expression is legitimate) of fiction goes much deeper than a few sprinklings of hocus-pocus, but we know when it's there and we feel its tingle in the spine. There can even be something magical about the perfectly judged and timed revelation on the page of an unanswerable truth we already inwardly acknowledge.

    In good fiction, without any trickery, truth and magic aren't incompatible at all.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    It's not that, not for me

    Aaaargh! I've got to get a lot better at the segue from the specific case to the general statement. Sorry, Lucy -- any man-splaination was wholly unintentional; book threads tend to bring out my inner didactic.

    Sorry to be so slow in responding, it's taken me this long to check out the many reading recommendations given in answer to my modest query.

    No apologies necessary. I find PAS such a rich source of brain food, I often need to sit back and digest too. :)

    Mostly. I wish the young girl wasn't murdered.

    Of course you do - so do I. But in Gaiman's defence, I don't think he presents it in a torture porny or sexist/misogynistic kind of way. There's a reason why Gaiman's passionate fan base (perhaps atypically for comic writers) has a large XX component -- he doesn't do "tits and spandex" wank fantasies or the disposable slut whose sole function is to get cut up in an alley, preferably just after having sex. Like Joss Whedon and Los Bros Hernandez, he likes the non-penis bearing half of the human race. Takes them seriously. Cares about writing complex, flawed but still magnificent women.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And just to make Sally's life more difficult here's a glowing review of Charles De Lint's new book that "brings originality back to the coming-of-age story". ( LINK CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS )

    I've been a crazed de Lint fanatic since I first stumbled on a copy of Someplace To Be Flying years ago, and went on a major de Lint jag, mainlining as many of his books as I could in the period of a couple weeks. I don't think I've ever read anything by him that didn't blow me away.

    So I was excited to see a review copy of The Painted Boy, his new young-adult fantasy novel. When I realized it was about a fusion of Asian and Latin-American folklore, with a Chinese dragon living among Mexican people in the barrio, I was slightly more nervous, because such things can seriously wrong in the hands of a white author. I'm not even talking about the complex issues of cultural appropriation that arise in such circumstances — I'm just talking about the cheesiness that often comes up. As someone who majored in Asian Studies and lived in Asia for several years, I've had cause to roll my eyes more than once at Western authors trying to draw on Asian mythology, and the drek that can result.

    Luckily, I needn't have been worried. De Lint certainly takes some liberties with both of the traditions he's playing with, but he never forgets to tell a great story, and never tries to exploit either Asian or Latin-American customs for a cheap effect, or to add more exoticism to his tale. In many ways, this is an American story, in which different gods and magical sources coexisting against a backdrop of our postmodern-ish society.

    (As someone said up thread, I'm a huge fan of De Lint but his books are damn hard to find except in lovely but expensive editions -- though Tor is still the gold standard for genre publishing that owns inside and out, IMNAAHO. Off to the library website again -- bloody free reserves are worse than P...)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • sally jones, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    But in Gaiman’s defence, I don’t think he presents it in a torture porny or sexist/misogynistic kind of way.

    Craig: Good. But probably not quite as much of this stuff in YA fiction anyway, ?
    Clearly I need to read more of the genre to comment intelligently. But in other genres and fiction media much of the sexism is 'soft'. Not so much overt anti-women violence, as male characters speaking and saying more, doing more - and living longer. Glad to hear Gaimen doesn't buy into it.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    Haven't read Gaiman yet, and while increasingly feeling compelled to, at the same time all the indications are that it has some challenges, particularly for the precocious child dipping into YA.

    Shriver's Kevin sounds brilliant, and disturbing, in a not too dissimilar way to Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, which is about the fallout for a teacher and her husband after the Columbine Massacre. THIFB is a long and winding road, with much exhausting narrative, but it was incredibly powerful, IMhO. It would certainly bear a second reading, but not entirely sure I could.

    There is some discussion out there that Lamb's female characters are under done. Whether this is an indictment on myself, can't say I noticed in this book.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to recordari,

    Haven't read Gaiman yet, and while increasingly feeling compelled to, at the same time all the indications are that it has some challenges, particularly for the precocious child dipping into YA.

    It does - but I think they're healthy challenges, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Coraline and The Graveyard Book are, in parts, really frightening -- the threats are real, actions have consequences, and really really bad shit can fall on the heads of good people out of a clear blue sky. Because the universe can he a hard, cold and entirely arbitrary place.

    One theory is that we shouldn't cotton wool children because what they read is a safe place to start emotionally reconciling yourself to some hard truths -- the world can be hard and cruel, you will feel as if nobody understands you or cares, grown-ups will let you down. But, and here's the big but, there is a way through the woods.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    as male characters speaking and saying more, doing more

    A thought that crossed my mind was Odo Hirsch's Hazel Green books, which feature a strong, well written female lead, I would say equivalent to the Tiffany Aching Pratchett books. Because our daughter read them some years back I tend to think more as children's rather than YA.

    I’m a huge fan of De Lint

    Well, we called our daughter Meran, which De Lint fans should recognize, but I think unsupervised access to the De Lint cannon will be about right at age 15 for her. That said I've thrown the odd short story her way to give a go (she is 12 at the moment).

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    One theory is that we shouldn't cotton wool children because what they read is a safe place to start emotionally reconciling yourself to some hard truths -- the world can be hard and cruel, you will feel as if nobody understands you or cares, grown-ups will let you down.

    For one surrounded by 'Pollyannas', it is never a pleasant thing when the big bad wolf breaks down the door and eats your grandmother for breakfast. Still, if we were, as children, to comprehend the full extent of the shit that adults do, we might struggle to make it out of adolescence. It's a fine balance, that's fo'sure.

    It would be good sometimes if popular YA, or children's fiction, for that matter, could transcend the perennial triumph of good over evil and explore some other facets of human existence, like identity, confidence, autonomy, freedom, compassion, empathy, grief, humanism, philosophy, entitlement... Is that too much to ask?

    Ok, and naivety too maybe.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to recordari,

    It would be good sometimes if popular YA, or children's fiction, for that matter, could transcend the perennial triumph of good over evil and explore some other facets of human existence, like identity, confidence, autonomy, freedom, compassion, empathy, grief, humanism, philosophy, entitlement... Is that too much to ask?

    Sir, I'd like to introduce you to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. One of those books that still breaks my heart -- and puts it back together sadder and a little wiser -- every damn time.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • sally jones, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    One theory is that we shouldn’t cotton wool children because what they read is a safe place to start emotionally reconciling yourself to some hard truths – the world can be hard and cruel, you will feel as if nobody understands you or cares, grown-ups will let you down. But, and here’s the big but, there is a way through the woods.

    This. Thanks Craig for the philosophical insights. I tend to agree. I remember the small battle I had getting a children's book depicting a divorced couple and their young son into Playcentre. Some parents didn't want it read to their child. Much safer, books about animals and happily ever afters.

    But speaking of letting your kids down, it's all too easy to do. My youngest hates the fact that I smoke (part-time). Fair enough, I hate it most of the time too. I don't smoke in front of him, and strictly outside, but he smells it on my clothing and comes over all quiet and broody.
    But this is not confessional hour. I'm working towards a NY's quit-smoking, way through the woods, resolution. Apologies to all those die-hard anti-smokers meanwhile..

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    One theory is that we shouldn't cotton wool children because what they read is a safe place to start emotionally reconciling yourself to some hard truths -- the world can be hard and cruel, you will feel as if nobody understands you or cares, grown-ups will let you down. But, and here's the big but, there is a way through the woods.

    How did Pratchett put it? Children need to hear stories about monsters because it teaches them that monsters can be defeated.

    Of course, this involves admitting and facing the fact that for all too many children, it isn't the monsters that are the fantasy - it's the happy-ever-after. And as a society, we're bloody poor at that.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

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