I am really glad that there is so much amazing YA out there. To me, it feels like authors are creating a new genre entirely. I didn’t feel that anything I read in high school resonated with me. Books like The Outsiders and The Catcher in the Rye are not only outdated, but they don’t relate to today’s teens at all.
I hope books like the ones I read here make it into the hands of teen readers, even if it’s a long way before schools start teaching these books.
Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo is probably the heaviest of her books yet. Her tone is really fun, but there’s always some truth beneath it too. This book is a modern twist on Roman Holiday, and it’s told in alternating perspectives. Lucky is a Korean American K-pop star who lands in Hong Kong for a concert and Jack is a secret tabloid photographer during his gap year. Celebrity gossip and K-pop are my guilty pleasure so I find that interesting. At the same time, it’s toxic and I am really glad that Lucky left it. I always love the nod to LA in Maurene’s books!
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay has the elements that make up my favorite books: complex plot, relatable narrator, and finding out that things are not what they seem. This was one of the most impactful books I read this year, the others being Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. I think being a teenager alone is one of the least pleasant things in life. You don’t really know what the point of your life is. Jay could be all of us; there’s nothing really wrong about his life and he does everything he’s supposed to, but his life feels meaningless. Jun, his cousin who is a victim of the drug war, is the opposite. Jun knew what he believed it and acted on it.
The fact that Jun did drugs doesn’t take away from his fight against the drug war. I loved the way that Jun had such a big impact on people around him: Grace, his sister; Reyna, the woman he loved; Tito Danilo, his uncle; and Jay, his cousin. This was such an incredible book and I learned a lot about the Philippines too.
The Caregiver by Samuel Park is amazing. I’m sad we won’t get more from this author because he died of stomach cancer shortly before this book was published. This was very powerful in the way that Patron Saints was powerful — it’s about a daughter finding out the truth about her mother, who she was incredibly close to. I learned a lot about the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1980s and how horrifying it was.
The student revolutionaries reminded me of the rebels in Chicago Typewriter, one of my favorite K-drama. I really admire them and they put their lives on the line, foregoing their real identities, romantic love, all for their country. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like living in those times, where following rules and staying out of trouble also means.. letting go what you believe in. There is a case for causing good trouble, and even though not all of us can do it, history is made by those who risk their lives.
I would have liked to learn about the student revolutionaries.
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr is one I did not finish. I guess reading about craft is not as appealing to me as reading other people’s work. (However, I do love memoirs!)
A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books, Bronze and Sunflower by Cao, Wenxuan. Hanako tells the story of her family moving to Japan after being interned at Tule Lake and Jerome. Of course, it’s her first time in Japan and not really home. Things in Japan are bleak and Kadohata doesn’t shy away from depicting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. There’s poverty and Hanako’s grandparents tell her that they have no chance of ever owning anything, but they love having her and her parents here. The biggest conflict in the book is probably between Kiyoshi, a boy who was maimed by the bomb, and Hanako. They both have younger siblings to take care of, and living in postwar Japan forces you to be selfish. There really isn’t a happy ending to this story — the best ending is simply having the will to keep living.