Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle; and a YA question

I am struggling with a question here, and I'd love to hear others' opinions: what makes a good young adult novel? Is it that YAs can connect with it? Is it that they enjoy it? Is it that it's a good book that everyone can enjoy, but that speaks to YAs in particular? Is it something else? Lately I've been reading a fair bit of what is classified as YA FIC at our library. Graceling I adored and will read again and again. Ice I thought missed me as its ideal audience, because rather than sympathizing with the YA main character, I felt like a worried adult when I was reading about her. And the book I'm reviewing here, Let It Snow, was definitely YA but I thoroughly enjoyed it even though it did some weird things to my adult equilibrium. Hence the question: what makes it YA, and what makes it good?

And now... to the review! *gallops off into the snow*

Let It Snow is actually three short holiday romances: "The Jubilee Express" by Maureen Johnson, "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle" by John Green, and "The Patron Saint of Pigs" by Lauren Myracle. Each are connected by setting and characters, though none of the sets of main characters meet each other more than incidentally until the end of Myracle's story. I love this sort of thing, the little nods to each others' stories throughout. Myracle has the job of tying all these threads together, and I think she does a fabulous job.

If I had to pick a favourite story, I would fuss about it and drag my feet. Then I would probably say Maureen Johnson's was extra-special because I think I clicked with the humour best in that story. And by clicked, I mean laughing out loud, causing fishy to come into the living room (from upstairs, no less) to figure out what the heck was going on. The other two stories did inspire multiple gleeful giggles, though. All three were delightful meditations on broken hearts, new love, old love, friendship, and the meaning of cheerleaders. I mean Christmas. No, wait, I do mean cheerleaders.

Now, as I said above, my adult equilibrium was a bit shaken by this book, and I have come to the conclusion that this means the book was good. After reading Let It Snow, I spent much of the evening and night in a somewhat uncomfortable and occasionally mortifying memory spasm, remembering things that I did in high school and shortly thereafter while still young enough to be considered a young adult myself. I've got some happy memories and I managed to squeeze a few of those in there, but oftentimes I managed to only get the special teenage moments that one looks back at and wonders how one actually survived it all with dignity and heart intact. But what all of this means, to me, that the stories clicked. They connected to some adolescent memory centre and activated it so that not only did I sympathize with the teens in the stories, I empathized with them too. So I wonder what it does for the young adults who read this book?

Overall, a very highly recommended holiday read. It might have been a wee bit uncomfortable remembering those years so vividly for me, but it was totally worth it for the sweet sweet holiday kisses, and the at points absolutely ridiculous, riotous, hilarious ride. I intend to be reading more from all these authors in the new year. Also, though I know this was a popular read last holiday season, I need to thank Nymeth especially because it was her review that first inspired me to pick this one up.

And seriously, comments please: what makes a YA novel YA, and what makes it good?

15 comments:

fishbot said...

To be fair, I mostly just wander around upstairs until something somewhere makes some sort of noise.

/me goes to interact with the water softener

....Petty Witter said...

Not a huge fan of short stories myself but thanks for that review - I live in hope that one day I'll find a set of such stories that I do enjoy. An interesting question you ask. Like all books, surely well written characters make (or break) a YA novel.

kiirstin said...

Petty Witter - I think you're absolutely correct -- the difference isn't so large between what attracts teens versus what attracts children or adults. Good luck finding your short stories!

Phyl said...

I'm going to muse about the YA question, off the top of my head, so it's probable that not a word I say will be really valid. :-)

I'd expect, in a YA novel, that the main characters, the ones who pretty much drive the action, are younger people. And perhaps there would be more action, and less contemplation? Not that contemplation would be absent, but I think younger people would have less patience in waiting for something to "happen."

And it seems to me, in the few that I've read, that there's a lot of emotion too. Not that every YA novel is all-melodrama all the time. But I suspect that when there is an emotional moment, it feels like the most important event in the world at that moment, the way things do feel for younger people. There might be less likelihood of the main characters taking the long view of things, without a lot of work to develop that ability.

Not sure if any of this makes sense?

kiirstin said...

Phyl - I think that makes really good sense, actually. I know there are some adults who read YA who find it too melodramatic. Actually, I sometimes find it too melodramatic -- this was one of my problems with Ice. There was just so much drama and not-thinking-ahead.

I think it's useful as an adult to read YA for that reason, actually -- at least adults who deal with teens on a regular basis -- to remind oneself that what may not seem like a big crazy deal to us is SO BIG to a teen.

I don't mean that in a way that diminishes teens, either. That is the brainspace in adolescence and it's a valid place to come from for teens.

Thanks for your thoughts! It's an aspect I hadn't considered much until you pointed it out.

Eva said...

I don't know enough about YA to answer your question, but my fave YA books seem to trascend their label, you know? I keep wanting to read this collection!

kiirstin said...

Eva - It's a great one, but I'm not sure I'd say it transcends its label. I think part of my whole problem with the YA thing is the labeling, which I'm sure prevents some adults from picking up the so-called "YA" books because they have that label -- and I worry, too, that it prevents teens from reading outside the YA section of the library/bookstore, but perhaps that's paranoid. I certainly never let age-appropriateness define what I read when I was a teen; but our library certainly didn't have a YA section.

Stephanie B said...

Even when I was a YA, I didn't read it. I've read more as an adult (with a child) than I ever read as a kid.

Sometimes I wonder if YA novels are really what appeals to children or what adults think will appeal to them.

kiirstin said...

Stephanie - Thanks for stopping by! I think you raise a very good point -- I think there is a lot of stuff in the YA section that seems like it should appeal to YA from an objective distance, but doesn't seem to actually move off the shelves. I try pretty hard to get the teens I talk with at the library to recommend books to me, because they're in the best position to understand what they want.

Phyl said...

I know that I sometimes pick up certain books because they're YA, because if they're well written there seems to be a good chance I'll like them.

But there it may be the "well-writtenness" that's the key thing, and not the YA designation at all. Which might also explain why some younger readers are attracted to adult books from the beginning.

I know I didn't stick to "younger" books. I was reading Lord of the Rings when I was ten, after all.

kiirstin said...

Phyl - Me too! I kind of cherry-picked from where I thought I would enjoy things -- it wasn't where the book was positioned, it was what the book was about and occasionally who wrote it. I think that "well-written" can apply to any book, from a picture book (Yolen's "Owl Moon" comes to mind) all the way up. I think there can be a perception that YA books are less well-written than adult books, but I don't think it's true at all! I think you're exactly right -- a well-written book is a well-written book, no matter who the intended audience is.

Nymeth said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this! Reading YA does often bring back all sort of mortifying memories, but I have fun with it anyway :P I wish I could answer your question! I guess that with both and YA and children's lit, I don't think of them as that different from other books, though in some ways they are. But I look for the same things in all books regardless of age labels or target audiences. I hope this makes sense!

kiirstin said...

Nymeth - That totally makes sense. I think, or I like to think, that I do that too -- look for great characters, good writing, and an engaging plot or premise, no matter who the publisher/library/bookseller tells me that book is for.

I do think I read children's lit with slightly different expectations than I have of adult lit, and now that I'm thinking about it I believe thus far I have been reading YA with the same expectations I have for adult lit. Don't ask me what those expectations are, though -- I need to do some more thinking about it!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Yah! Sweet holiday kisses :)

kiirstin said...

Indeed, indeed!