The Books of Summer

The Books of Summer

For the last couple of weeks I've been meaning to write a blog entry about recent YA books I'd highly recommend and I'm not letting another day get by me without talking up Never Enough (by Denise Jaden), This is Not a Test (by Courtney Summers) and Happy Families (by Tanita S. Davis).

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Never Enough by Denise Jaden
Happy Famillies by Tanita Davis

I was lucky to read Denise Jaden's newest offering several months ago and at that time this is the blurb I wrote for it. “A poignant, important book, Never Enough tackles self-esteem and body image issues while always remaining true to its three-dimensional characters. Denise Jaden has created a cliche-free zone filled with hurt, heart, and personal strength. Jaden's tender sympathy for her characters and dedication to honest storytelling shine through every page.”

A couple of weeks ago Denise posted a blog entry about the sex in Never Enough and her trepidation about how others might react to it which is definitely worth a read. Never Enough is above all realistic about the lives of contemporary girls and the issues they face—self-esteem/social pressure to meet physical ideals and expressions of sexuality that they may feel drawn to in some ways but which can also fall very short of meeting their romantic or sexual ideals. Girls deserve books like Never Enough which are brave enough to reflect their world as it is and not how we wish it to be. I don't think there's ever been a time in history where girls have been under as much pressure to meet unrealistic standards of physical beauty. Back in 2010 a British GirlGuiding poll found found 50% of those aged 16 to 21 would consider having surgery to change their looks. In the United States alone 5 - 10 million women and girls suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia. So this is the society that Loann and her older Claire are growing up in.

One of the other things I loved about this book was the complexity of Loann and Claire's relationship. Initially Loann envies and almost idolizes Claire but as Claire's battle with an eating disorder grows ever more serious, feelings of responsbility and worry for Claire make Loann seem more like the older sister. Never Enough comes out tomorrow and if you love realistic contemporary YA books as much as I do you'll want to add this warm, sensitive and very true to life novel to your collection.

To coincide with the release of the book Denise has put together this self-esteem video of authors talking about how they didn't feel good enough as teens:

Interestingly, Courtney Summers latest book This is Not a Test begins like an intriguing family drama so initially seems as if it could inhabit some of the same territory as either Never Enough or Happy Families. Sloane's been left alone with her abusive father by older sister Lily, who was her constant emotional support. Essentially Sloane's a broken girl in a broken family for all of four pages and then...then the entire world breaks.

The drama unfolds at a gallop and Sloane's fight for a survival is sometimes bloody, sometimes more of a psychological game than a physical one and often plain luck—a luck Sloane, in her damaged condition, almost resents. Courtney Summers assembles a diverse group of high school students that survive—at least for a time— the zombie outbreak along with Sloane. Here Summers's incisive talent for detailing completely natural, often painful teen interactions that refuse to bow to any stereotypes is at its height.

The incessant tension—a perfect mixtue of Sloane's psychological torment at being abandoned by her sister and the physical threat presented by zombies, literally at the door—makes this my favourite Courtney Summers book yet. The two elements feed into each other to create a deliciously bruising concoction. There are so many moments where we feel Sloane's loss more acutely than we feel the fear of a world gone mad, only to be throttled back into matters of life and death. Clear Eyes, Full Shelves posted a wonderful review of This is Not a Test today. In it they likened its feel to that of the Australian classic series Tomorrow, When the War Began (a series I adore and spoke about on the Wrtiers Read blog), a very apt comparison as both books revel in character insight and development where lesser stories would've allowed the action to overwhelm the story.

As a side note this book has been optioned by Sony for a possible TV movie and I'd love to see what they do with it!

Last but not least I want to rave about Tanita S. Davis's new YA novel, Happy Families (recent interview with her where she discusses Happy Families up at The Happy Nappy Bookseller). In the Before section of the book twins Ysabel and Justin do indeed seem to be part of a happy family complete with two supportive parents and no pressing issues in sight. It's the unseen things which are the heart of the problem and in this case Ysabel and Justin's father wants to begin living his life as a woman. Does this mean Ysabel and Justin will have no father, they wonder? And how will their church and friends react?

I've never encountered a book that dealt with this subject matter from the point of view of the children it affects before, and I love that Tanita does no sensationalizing in this book. Twins Ysbael and Justin are both down to earth, well-centred kids and their parents are thoughtful responsible people. That doesn't mean everyone deals with the situation effortlessly and there are outbursts, awkward exchanges and adjustments to be made. I really felt for everyone involved because there's no wrong side here, just a complicated issue brought about the false gender binary that society imposes upon people.

I have to add that the tantalizing way Tanita Davis writes about food had me drooling nearly as much here as in her very first book, A La Carte, about aspiring seventeen-year-old chef Lainey. I hope all three of these books find the wide readership they deserve.
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