Friday, May 2, 2014

My Top YA Series (Tie-in Post from Children of the Wells)

Some of you may not know that I am involved in a web fiction project at I prefer to keep this blog site separate from other personal projects since it's primarily for reviewing other people's works. But Children of the Wells is not just mine alone. We are a group of writers and editors interested in sharing our ideas in a single fantasy world we created. My job is mostly content editing, but so far, four other authors have contributed their own novellas along two main story lines that, when put together, make up a much bigger picture. You should check it out! Meanwhile, I wrote a blog post for that site that ties in perfectly with this one, so here it is, slightly tweaked and re-posted.

I am a reader, specifically a YA fiction lover. Why Young Adult? I like the stories. I don’t care much about being wrapped in the details of a world (high fantasy) or about putting clever words together (modern adult fiction). I realize I’m generalizing, and there are some really good examples of those that are completely enjoyable, too. But primarily, I’m looking for a good, fast-paced story. I don’t want to be able to put it down. The idea has to be fascinating: relevant but also different, familiar but new. It shouldn’t be dumbed-down, but it doesn’t need to be complicated either. Young adult trends capture all of that so well. The relevance is in the ideas and themes. The familiar is in the emotions of youth (we’ve all been there).

As for different and new, young adult books aren’t afraid to push boundaries and take you to places adult literature is too “mature” for. Young adult novels can be any genre, but there’s a simplicity and straightforwardness about them that sweeps you right into the heart of the story. Normal science fiction, for example, can get bogged down in science (that’s not to say there’s not some great stuff out there), but young adult science fiction remembers that the story is as much about the character as the science-y stuff. Perhaps that’s part of it, too: young adult fiction is always about the characters first and foremost. The setting is the icing on the cake.

Maybe that’s why I am a part of Children of the Wells. We aren’t hardcore here about details. That doesn’t mean we don’t try very hard to think through the repercussions of everything that happens in the world we’ve created to give the most realistic outcomes (not to mention, make sure all our authors are consistent in presenting the world), but we always make sure to focus on our characters.

I’m sure there are a lot of other great character stories out there, but I will share with you what I know best. This post is my suggested reading list, if you will. These are my favorite young adult series from the past several years, series I have paid money to read, even though I have access to enough free advance reader’s copies to not need to buy another book for years.

By Scott Westerfeld
This series is comprised of three main books and a fourth book that is a sequel of sorts to the series but features a different heroine. It takes place in a dystopian, futuristic world of enclosed societies, where the modern world we know is an ancient relic. In order to keep balance and control in the new world, teenagers are gifted with a full-body makeover on their sixteenth birthday. Tally wants nothing more than to be beautiful, but of course, beauty comes with a price. This series has both captivating characters and a wonderfully imaginative world that pulls you in with fun tech, original dialog, and thrilling high stakes.

Poison Study
By Maria V. Snyder
When I started this trilogy, I didn’t really know I was reading young adult fiction. I don’t know if it was classified as that back then before YA took off as a genre in its own right, but it has all of the characteristics. Snyder’s world toes the line between young adult and pure fantasy with a lot of attention given to detail, but the world is so lush and inventive and dangerous, and the characters are so compelling, that it’s a fast and exciting read all the way through. In a world full of magic, Yelena finds herself leaving one prison for another. A criminal for justifiable reasons, Yelena is given the option to die or to face the possibility of death every day testing foods for poison. The dramatic and romantic tension are superb. If you like the Poison Study books, Snyder has more from this world in her loosely connected Glass Study series.

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
Well, obviously this one. I loved it from the very first advance reader’s copy I got my hands on. It’s a dystopian world where rebellion is beginning to boil in the fringes and kids are offered up for gladiator sport. Katniss is a rebel who, though she is forced to play, will play the game her way.

by Veronica Roth
I was early to The Hunger Games frenzy, but I finally cracked open this three-book series just before the last book was published. This one genuinely surprised me. I wasn’t intrigued by the idea at first, but when it kept popping up on my radar, I caved and was hooked. Five factions based on five human traits live in relative harmony in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago, where Tris defies tradition and her selfless faction in a selfish move to join a faction where she must leap off moving trains daily to prove her bravery. Perhaps more than with any other heroine in this list, I identify with Tris. As a Christian, I feel that pull to be both more selfless and more brave. Tris, as a character, appeals to me on a fundamental level, but the crazy training she goes through and the rumblings of discontent in the factions make for a great external set-up as well.

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles)
by Marissa Meyer
The fourth book of the Lunar Chronicles is due out next February, and ever since I picked up an advance reader’s copy of that first book, I’ve pre-ordered the sequels and anticipated every February release. These stories are based on fairy tales, but a modern science fiction spin puts the characters into a world where Earth is in danger from the powerful Lunars. Cinder tells the story of Cinderella, as though she were a cyborg. Scarlet tells the story of Red Riding Hood, where she falls in love with a Lunar mutant. Cress tells the story of Rapunzel, a girl trapped in a satellite over Earth, spying and hacking for the Lunars but secretly longing for a human prince to snatch her away. Winter (any guesses?) is next.

Ted Dekker
I don’t even need to list a specific book here. Anything will do. I read just about every book of his that I can get my hands on. I almost can’t keep up. I request his novels for my birthday and for Christmas. I enter all the drawings for giveaways (no luck yet!). He is my favorite author and has been since I randomly picked up Blink in a bookstore about ten years ago. Now, he’s not a young adult author. He writes thrillers and fantasy, primarily, but I am more interested in his ideas, themes, and theology than his genre. (I don’t read anyone else’s thrillers.) But he does also have some young adult books, including the series I’m currently reading that begins with Eyes Wide Open and continues in Water Walker, which I just finished this week. I say that the series begins here, but actually, since all the worlds of nearly all Dekker books seem to connect in one way or another, you might say the series began in Showdown or perhaps even in Black. Dekker is a true believer who’s not afraid to tackle the deepest and darkest questions about human nature and God. He inspires me as no other fiction author does. This latest series deals with teenagers who have no memory of their first thirteen years (there’s a whole different series about those books) who are placed in seemingly impossible situations, like being kidnapped into a cult or mistakenly trapped in a mental institution, where they must discover who they really are deep inside.

So, that’s the cream of the crop for me. I could list other books that have made an impression on me, but these are the series I followed, or am following, to the end. Until the next installment, what’s on my short reading list? I saw the preview for The Maze Runner movie and wondered how I missed that one, so that’s first. (I enjoy this latest trend of book-to-movie adaptations.) Second, though it’s not young adult, I’ve heard there’s enough story in Unbroken to rival most fiction, so I’ve got that true narrative on my list. Must read both of these before the movies come out! Perhaps there’s also a re-reading of Catching Fire in the line-up (though two and a half shelves of advance reader’s copies tells me I don’t need to be reading any old stuff). The thing is, I haven’t read Catching Fire in years, and though I liked the movie and purposely didn’t read the book again so that I would see the movie through fresh eyes, I’m curious about how close to the book it actually is.

Yes, obviously, my reading list and viewing list are closely related at this point. They combine the two leisure activities I prefer. If you’ve mildly enjoyed what you’ve read here in this post, you might also enjoy what we are creating at Children of the Wells. There's time for you to read the first five novellas as we change from serialization to releasing full novellas all at once. We are currently working on our first non-serialized novel, but in the meantime, new short stories related to our world are coming soon!

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