Tag Archives: YA Fiction

London’s Burning


I’ve been taking a break from genre fiction after a bit of a dystopian overdose, so when I picked this one up I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about going back there. Happily, Burn Mark can hold its  own in these increasingly crowded ranks. The premise is intriguing, set in a alternative version of modern London where ‘the burning times’  of 17th century England are vividly remembered and the descendants of those long-ago witches and witchfinders are still locked in an antagonistic, but symbiotic,  relationship.

The story revolves round a pair of 15-year-olds, Glory, the down-at-heel descendant of a long line of famous witches and Lucas who has been groomed to succeed his father, a powerful and influential Witchfinder. When they both get the Fae that marks them out as witches it is an expected and much-wanted occurrence for Glory, but a source of horror, confusion and shame for Lucas. Thrown together as unexpected allies in the fight against corruption in high places, they discover they have more in common than they could have guessed.

Burn Mark is slow to get started, but by the time I was half way through I was thoroughly gripped. I liked the way Powell has used the historical background to give depth to her alternative reality. The large cast of secondary characters are well-drawn and convincing and the central pair of Glory and Lucas have enough hinterland to make them feel like proper teenagers. Straddling the genre boundary between dystopia and thriller with a bit of history thrown into the mix, and with a point of view that switches equally between the male and female protagonists, Burn Mark should appeal to a fairly wide cross-section of readers in the 12-15 age group. Health warning though: the novel opens with a rather gruesome depiction of a witch-burning, so take care about recommending it to very sensitive children.

Burn Mark – Laura Powell, Bloomsbury, £6.99


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Everyday genius

“Even if you were green and had a beard and a male appendage between your legs. Even if your eyebrows were orange and you had a mole covering your entire cheek and a nose that poked me in the eye every time I kissed you. Even if you weighed seven hundred pounds and had hair the size of a Doberman under your arms. Even then, I would love you.”

When you fall in love, who are you really falling in love with? People like to believe they fall in love with what’s on the inside of a person, but how would it be if all the externals were different every time you met? For most of us, that’s just an interesting topic to muse about, but it’s of more than academic interest  for A. Why? Because every morning for 16 years,  A has woken up encased in a different body and forced to inhabit the life of another stranger for just one day. Then one day, A wakes up in the body of a boy named Justin and falls in love, for the very first time, with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Suddenly, all the rules A has created to keep safe, are thrown out the window. Nothing matters but finding Rhiannon again… every day.

Handled by the wrong writer this storyline has huge potential for slapstick comedy, but you can put all thoughts of Freaky Friday out of your head because in the hands of Levithan Every Day is a nuanced and thoughtful exploration of what makes a person who they are. A experiences life in the bodies of 16-year-olds of every shape, size, race and gender and the sharply-detailed vignettes of their lives are one of the best things about the book.

There are a couple of potential pitfalls with Leviathan’s insistent harping on the love is blind theme: A’s pursuit of Rhiannon can come across as overly stalkerish at times, while the emphasis on genderless nature of true love comes close to crossing the line into full-on preachiness. But the quality of the writing manages to circumvent these hazards and the story resolution, which I was a bit worried about as the last page started to loom, was adroitly handled.

I first came across David Levithan’s writing through Will Grayson, Will Grayson, his brilliantly funny collaboration with John Green. Both writers are part of a zeitgeist in the US that are bringing LGBT-friendly teen fiction to a wider audience in a way that is just not happening in the UK at the moment (more of this in another post soon), so while it’s a shame that Levithan is not yet as well known in the UK as Green is, hopefully that will change when Electric Monkey brings Every Day out here in paperback later this year. Meanwhile, if you want to splurge a tenner on a hardback I can’t think of a better book to choose.

Every Day, David Levithan, Alfred A Knopf, £11.49

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Deep breaths

With Breathe, Sarah Crossan has taken the now-familiar dystopian format and injected a more explicitly eco twist. Set in the not too distant future, on what is still recognisably Earth, it explores what happens when ecological catastrophe means that the air we breathe because the most precious and sought after of all commodities.

Right now, with so many dystopian titles out there now, it is getting more difficult for an author to stand out from the pack. Crossan achieves that not so much be her characterisation and plotting, we’ll  come back to those in a minute, but through the way in which she manages to entwine some very relevant questions around  current global environmental policies and the way in which 21st century big business  operates  into the plot in a teen-friendly way.  The consequences of global warming are vividly depicted and should lead to some interesting conversations about eco-awareness.

Breathe features the now-familiar tropes of YA dystopian fiction: the love triangle (two girls and a boy this time), the oppressive government with a hidden agenda, a rebel band of outcasts who know too much, and the feisty, beautiful-but-doesn’t-know-it teenage girl, here named Alina. However, rather than adopting the standard dystfic tactic of writing the novel from Alina’s point of view, Crossan uses first person narrative, shifting round the different members of the protagonistic triad, to good effect to give more rounded portraits of the supporting characters.

Breathe got off to a bit of a slow start for me, and I found that familiarity with conventions of the genre made it a little too predictable, but it is an enjoyable read and the cliffhanger ending left me with high hopes that the sequel  will prove even better. I would have no hesitation in recommending it to an 11-14 year-old who has already read The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Carbon Diaries and is looking for a well-written eco-thriller or dystopian title.

Breathe, Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury, £6.99

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