Trying Not to Compare Protagonists // Red Queen Review

A few days ago I wrote about a ton of clichés in Young Adult books, and today I’m going to continue talking about them, but in a different aspect.

I asked my best friend what sprang to mind when she thought of young adult novels and one of the things she mentioned were “dystopian novels”. Thousands of new young adult novels are being described as “a cross between” or “a hybrid” of The Hunger Games and Divergent, and the book I finished a few days ago, Red Queen (By Victoria Aveyard), is no exception to this description. It’s not entirely fair how all YA novels are now lumped under this one description, as it made me start to worry that all originality in this subgenre had dried out. How could a genre that’s fairly new suddenly run out of ideas? Although many Young Adult novels are based on a fantasy world where a teenager is coming of age and going on a journey of self-discovery, sometimes there are exceptions.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say Red Queen is an exception to this rule, but I would say it was better than I expected it to be. The blurb on the back intrigued me, with the whole historical aspect of it blending into my comfort zone of magic, factions and feisty protagonists who are of course, “not particularly good looking” but simultaneously attracting multiple love interests.

What made this book great was the fact that although there were some things that were blatantly familiar, like the dividing of the nation and the girl who becomes a symbol of hope (please tell me you’re all also thinking of Katniss Everdeen here), there was also the excitement of the fact that she was defending her cause from the start, and there’s definitely more politics involved than most novels of this style. I’ve also discovered since reading this that there’s a sequel novel, which I’m itching to buy, and I’m very excited to see where this goes. Once again, I thought I could predict everything, and although I was right sometimes (I knew Mare and Cal would have something going on from the start, and that Elara was up to something), the twist concerning Maven most definitely shocked me, I was surprised and impressed at the sudden change in character! I couldn’t help but compare her to Katniss throughout the book, as although she seems to be more open, Mare makes it clear initially that she isn’t interested in either princely brother. Luckily Cal’s betrothed is portrayed as a complete bitch which of course makes it okay for us to hope she gets killed off so Cal can happily infatuate himself with Mare. On the other hand, by the end of the book one love interest is almost eliminated and out of the question, so I’m hoping this subplot of two lovers isn’t dragged on throughout this series, because I’m so over that. Choosing between two romantic interests can sometimes override the main plot of the novel itself, which is annoying, because I pick up the book for the situation, not for the toying between two guys. What’s interesting is that there’s never a series where there’s a guy thinking about two girls as a main theme, as that would be seen as way too problematic. It’s so easy to think of female ones from the top of my head, but I’ve been sat here for a good five minutes thinking of ones involving a guy. It’s just too risky. Maybe more girls read books… I digress.

To conclude: I very much enjoyed this book, I’m already planning on lending it to my friend so she can enjoy it too, I’m very excited to read the next book and I think it’s a very good take on this genre that has become so overused. This Young Adult novel is one worth reading, especially if you’re around my age and are finding more reasons to avoid the clichés than to embrace them, because this book will redeem your faith in this genre.

 

Clichés and Surprises // Undone Review

There will probably be spoilers. You’ve been warned.

I read a Young Adult book for the first time in a while a few days ago. (I also finished it. Then I started another one. Then I finished that too. I’ve had three naps today.)

It was also a recommendation, which is something I haven’t done in a while too. In fairness, the friend that recommended this book had been raving about it since I met her eight months ago, so it took me long enough.

If you hadn’t realised from the title, this book is Undone, by Cat Clarke. I actually really enjoyed it, even though it did scream “young adult”. Despite the fact I am also a young adult. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading more “adult” books lately. Who knows.

These days, when thinking of YA novels, I instantly think of clichés: a young protagonist full of angst who usually has a couple of love interests to choose from, more angst, a strange trait that makes them interesting, and did I mention angst????

Undone had plenty of angst. I was feeling the second hand angst; it was that powerful. Clarke doesn’t take any prisoners and doesn’t waste any time before delivering the fatal blow that impacts the rest of the book: the death of the love interest and best friend. I like how it’s a book of consequences, and not so much a book of action.

Despite the dark themes woven throughout the book, it still managed to provide me with the clichés I’ve grown to expect and sometimes exasperate myself over. The protagonist is often bitter, resenting the popular crowd thanks to the typical high school hierarchy. They’ll have a best friend who is their everything, although in this case Jem’s everything becomes her nothing. The popular people are seen as idiots, and the most popular is also the most attractive. There’s a comedic sidekick, a bully, and a girl with more makeup than sense. The only way the protagonist can win is through her sense of cunning and by infiltrating the group.

I’ve also noticed that YA novels are a lot more liberated these days. Sex is almost meaningless, and sexuality is explored to the point where it seems to be slipped on like a new shirt. I love how people are drawing more awareness to it, but I hate how it’s being thrown around to give a character a new dimension. It’s not a novelty, and it’s not a trait either.

What I loved most about Undone though was the fact that it surprised me. I’ve read many books, especially over the past 3 years, and although I can still be intrigued by a plot twist, I’ve become very good at predicting endings, especially pairings.

I thought I was until I read this book. Although it was a concept toyed with throughout the book, I was not expecting Jem to actually commit suicide somehow- it was a shock tactic that I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I was rooting for her, although her actions and her opinions gave me every reason not to. It may be because I’m slowly edging out of the target audience, but some of her justifications and her reasoning made me cringe, thinking of younger me. I was expecting the typical life turnaround where she’d see what life had to offer and move on, but I guess it goes to show that this is not always the case. It’s not something people can do easily. People may be gone, but they are most definitely not forgotten. Some people still struggle to find a reason to live.

What are your thoughts?

Time: Baffling us since Childhood

Recently, I’ve been studying and analysing a lot of Children’s Literature, and themes that occurs quite frequently are not issues that children can relate to, but adults. Look at me that way all you want, but if you’ve ever re-read books on a nostalgic binge you’ll know what I’m talking about.

A book we studied in my literature class was Momo, by Michael Ende. It’s rare that I will enjoy a book that I’ve studied to death but this is one of the few exceptions. Here the importance of time and how we ‘spend’ it is tackled head on, and when I first read it I picked up on it straight away, as a (questionable) adult. Now we have experienced more of life, we are much more perceptive and often will try too hard to predict why things happen, rather than just embracing the moment.

One thing I did notice though was that time as a theme appeared in so many books I loved as a child. The first one that sprang to mind was Molly Moon’s Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure. Here she’s kidnapped and taken through time to the past, where her latest villain is attempting to kill her past self so she’ll never learn hypnotism. Another example is of course, that iconic part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry and Hermione have to save Buckbeak and Sirius Black via Time Travel. What do these all have in common? Changing the past.

We as humans seem to be obsessed with the unknown and things we can’t control. Time is a concept we can never truly comprehend, and many people have tried to gain an understanding of it through the medium of literature. In Momo, time is personified; in Molly Moon, time is power; and in Harry Potter time is a way to gain justice and rectify mistakes.

We also fantasise over the amount of time we have. Hermione Granger uses a Time Turner in order to attend more classes, and works herself to exhaustion as a result. The Grey Men in Momo encourage the citizens of Momo’s town to save time, therefore people socialise less and Momo ends up being ostracised from society. Molly Moon ends up encountering several other versions of herself, and she is left with the responsibility of returning them to their rightful place before her childhood is forever changed.

What’s so interesting about all this though, is that children just accept it. They just read and enjoy the story, and I don’t know if it’s because I still study, but we constantly over-think things in general, and as a result we can find a way to relate to everything. As I mentioned in a previous post, we constantly seek characters and themes to relate to, and time is something we all can. I haven’t read the Molly Moon series since I was a child, but the whole time element is still poignant to me.

Time is more precious to us, yet we still struggle to get a firm grip on it. Luckily, there’s always time to start a new book.

PS: I’m sorry it’s been a while. Apparently I have a degree to study for. I can’t just read books all day. What a cruel world we live in.