Welcome to Recent Reads #3! It's been a super busy couple of months, what with trying to pen a novel, write a one-woman show, and edit a short story compilation. I haven't had as much time to read as I would have liked, but here are the wonderful books I managed to read amidst all the writing! This time around, they are basically all Young Adult books, as I'm trying to immerse myself in that world while I'm writing, but don't let that turn you off; YA books are accessible, easy to read, fun, and often deeply profound. I hope you can all find something here to dive into :)
As usual, each cover picture includes a link to Booktopia.com.au so you can grab yourself a copy of any of these awesome books in a couple of clicks, or you could always pop on down to your local independent bookseller and have a browse; that way, you get to smell all of the other books while you're there haha!
I'd love to hear from you all, so don't hesitate to get in touch for more book recommendations or for any other info! :)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix | JK Rowling
And so continues my re-read of the Harry Potter series! It just so happens that this year is the 20th Anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which is not why I decided to read the books again, but it does add a nice little bit of nostalgia to the experience.
Instead of boring you all with a blow-by-blow recap of the best children's books of all time (yes, I'm calling it) I decided to combine these four books into one brief little section.
I gushed and gushed in Recent Reads #2 about my love for all things Harry Potter, so I won't get all sentimental on you again. One thing I do want to mention is how much I have loved reading the books with a totally different perspective on life. Obviously, I'm not a school student anymore, and I'm much older (well, a bit older), so certain things affect me more than they originally did. I find myself empathising with a lot of the teachers in the book - now that I've been teaching a lot myself - and even though I don't have children of my own yet, I really feel for all of the parents in the story. Like, Mrs Weasley is just bloody amazing, isn't she?? What a woman!
It's also been a great lesson for me, as someone who is trying to learn as much about writing as possible, to examine the way Rowling constructed her books. Given that I know how the story ends, I can clearly pick out all of the seeds that she has planted along the way, and find links between characters' names and their function in the story, and lots of other fun, nerdy stuff like that. It really allows you to see the depth of plotting that Rowling used in advance. And I have to say, it's pretty bloody mind-blowing, especially when you consider that the total word count for the series is 1,084,170 words... Which is, like, INSANE. To put it in perspective: The Lord of the Rings has 455,125 words; The Twilight Series is 591,434 words long; and the Hungers Games Trilogy comes in at 301,583. Needless to say, the sheer scope of Rowling's creation is staggering, let alone her ability to intricately weave plot, world-building and character development together so flawlessly. I could honestly talk about it all day (coffee, anyone?). Instead, if you haven't read the books, go and read them now. Like, now...
A Darker Shade of Magic | VE Schwab
So, this book, and the other two in the trilogy, are surrounded by bucket-loads of hype on Instagram. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Bookstagram (feel free to follow me @tobias_madden) but I think sometimes the hype can ruin a great book. When there are candles and bookmarks and pillows and all matter of memorabilia specifically dedicated to a series, you can't help but think it must be positively life-changing. Now, I'm not saying that this book was ruined for me at all, because it's a really wonderful story, but I think if I hadn't gone into reading it with such astronomically high merchandise-induced expectations, I would have loved it even more.
If you like magic, parallel universes, pirates and Dickensian London, then you'll LOVE this book. I thoroughly enjoyed stepping into Schwab's world and meeting her characters, who are unique and very likeable. The story is set in London, well, four different Londons. Each parallel version of London - Red, Black, White and Grey - has a different understanding of magic and its moral implications (a cool metaphor for power). The travelling between worlds was always very entertaining, and the plot is engaging. I loved the use of elemental magic (I'm a mega Captain Planet fan), and the politics of the world were intricate and believable. The book is kind of like a magical version of Game of Thrones set in parallel worlds, but with FAR fewer ridiculous names to try and remember.
If you're a fantasy fan, definitely pick this one up! I'm yet to read the next book in the series, but I'm excited to see where the story goes!
Boy Meets Boy | David Levithan
Well... this one just absolutely warmed my soul. Levithan has created such a touching story of love and acceptance with this book. It's super short - it'll only take you a couple of days to read (or an afternoon if you're one of those people) - and you'll feel such a sense of joy when you're done!
It's a tale about two high school boys falling in love, but in a world where that is totally normal, where the school quarterback is a drag queen called "Infinite Darlene" and no-one bats an eyelid. The relationships portrayed in the book - both platonic and romantic - are delightful, the dialogue is expertly written, and the story itself is simple but incredibly effective. There's nothing complicated or hard to digest about this book, it's just a really fun, delightful, insightful read.
First published in 2003 (which sounds like yesterday, but was 14 years ago...), it was also pretty groundbreaking. It's not to say that gay characters weren't around back then, but they were a hell of a lot less common in YA fiction, that's for sure. I'm sure a book like this would have quite literally saved lives. You might think that sounds dramatic, but we should never underestimate the power of young readers having a literary character to identify with. Just as Hermione Granger made it okay for girls to be proud of being fiercely intelligent and more than just pretty, books like Boy Meets Boy made it okay for young gay men to be themselves.
All the Bright Places | Jennifer Niven
...and this one SLAYED me. Word of advice: don't read this book on the tram to work unless you want half of Melbourne to see you ugly crying.
After I'd read the book, I found out that Niven wrote this story based on her own life experiences. Which makes so much sense, because the settings are so detailed and specific, the characters so idiosyncratic and nuanced, that I often found myself wondering, "How did she come up with this stuff?" The level of detail Niven uses - especially in character development - really allows you to connect with the story on a personal level, which is perhaps why it is so affecting.
The book is written from two perspectives, Finch and Violet, and both characters are a delight to read. I really don't want to say too much, other than if you like contemporary YA fiction, you MUST read this book. I'm usually more of a fantasy guy, but this is up there on my list of favourites now, for sure.
I was super lucky to see Jennifer speak at the #YAMatters conference in Melbourne in July, and she was just so inspiring. She is the picture of grace and is so intelligent and joyous. If she's ever back in town, make sure you find her at an event!
There is a film version of All the Bright Places in development, starring Dakota Fanning, but I urge you all to read the book first. I'm sure the movie will be wonderful, but the book is just superb! And my copy is now signed by Jennifer... she wrote, "Tobias, you make me lovely," in pink texta on the title page. So, obviously, I died and went to straight fan-boy heaven. READ THIS BOOK!
Hero | Perry Moore
I read this on the back of All the Bright Places, so, to be honest, the bar had been set pretty f*cking high. Hero comes with a lot of critical acclaim, having won the LAMBDA Award for LGBT YA fiction in 2007. Again, just like the Bookstagram hype, this gave me pretty high expectations for Hero. And in the end, I liked the book, but I didn't love it.
What I did love was the premise: a young gay man learns that he's a superhero and now has to hide two identities from the world. What I wasn't sold on was the actual story and the writing itself.
I love a superhero film just as much as any nerd (while we're on the subject how amazing was Wonder Woman?!) and that element of the book really entertained me. I loved getting to know the characters abilities, their strengths and weaknesses, and their origins, but I didn't really care about any of them.
It's definitely a fun, easy read, especially if you're a sci-fi or queer YA fan, and I'm definitely glad I read it, but I wouldn't be rushing out to read a sequel if there was one...
Begin, End, Begin | #LoveOzYA edited by Danielle Binks
This Aussie YA short story collection was so wonderful to read! For one thing, I'm not that familiar with Australian YA writers (which is ridiculous, and, yes, I feel terrible) so this was a great introduction to many of them! There are ten stories altogether, ranging from contemporary to sci-fi to magic realism - this anthology has something for everyone! It was just a great reminder of the wealth of talent we have in this country, and it was so nice to read some stories about a diverse Australia.
Gone are the days when all Aussie stories have to be about sheep-shearers (not that there's anything wrong with shearing sheep, it's just that millions of Australians have never, and will never, shear a sheep). This anthology gives us new, interesting and challenging perspectives on life for Aussie teens, now and in the future.
Again, for someone aspiring to write YA fiction, reading this compilation was a wonderful learning experience!
My favourite stories included Amie Kaufman's queer sci-fi story set on Mars, One Small Step, and Lili Wilkinson's tale of friendship, love and witches, Oona Underground. However, my number one honour goes to Will Kostakis, for I Can See the Ending, which not only made me laugh and cry, but laugh and cry at the same time, which is not an easy thing to do with only a few thousand words.
Pick up a copy today and find yourself a new favourite Aussie author!
The Hate U Give | Angie Thomas
I just finished this one, so the feels are still raw. THUG really left me thinking, which I imagine is the exact effect Thomas was going for when she wrote it. It's a story about a sixteen-year-old girl who witnesses her friend being shot by the police for no reason. It is a touching, heartbreaking and thought-provoking story about race, identity and injustice.
This book is so incredibly relevant, not just in the USA where it's set, but everywhere in the world, especially (in my opinion) in Australia. It's no secret that Australians, in general, don't quite know how to deal with race and racism (or any other kinds of social/religious prejudices), and we often think, "I'm not racist at all", when it's likely that we are in some way without even realising. This book does an incredible job of putting you in a someone else's shoes and giving you an insight into what their life feels like on a day-to-day basis.
I urge anyone (especially teen readers) to pick this book up asap, as I think it's an incredibly important story. If anyone knows of any Aussie books like this, please let me know! And if there aren't any, someone please write one!
Angie is appearing at the Melbourne Writer's Festival this Aug/Sept, and I'm lucky enough to be attending her YA & Activism lecture. I. Cannot. Wait.
That's it for this edition of Recent Reads! Please let me know if you decide to give any of these awesome books a go; I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Stay tuned for some exciting updates on all of the millions of projects I seem to keep getting myself into!
Happy reading! :)