Tuesday, 15 April 2014

2013 YA Romance highlights

*Note: This first appeared in the Australian Romance Readers Association members newsletter - Issue 55.

In a publishing industry that is going through tremendous change, there are two areas that continue to thrive; romance and young adult (YA). It just so happens that I love both tremendously and have this opportunity to bring to your attention the 2013 YA titles that show what can be done when you bring these two worlds together.

YA is fiction that explores that period of adolescence in which everything changes and a whole heap of ‘firsts’ take place. Romance does underpin a majority of YA so I have chosen titles that explore first love, disappointment and occasionally sex, with aplomb.

Rainbow Rowell has made an enormous impact in the youth literature sphere this past year and with good reason. Eleanor and Park (Hachette) explores the journey that takes place when two misfits meet on the school bus, connect over music and comics, and fall in love. Eleanor is a big, brassy, nonconformist; she’s also the new kid at school with a horrible home life. Park, unlike Eleanor, manages to blend in despite being half-Korean. His family, while safer, is just as much of a mess. It’s about connection, family and finding a light in another person. Beautiful writing featuring duel perspective loveliness.


Rowell’s Fangirl (Pan Macmillan) slides into ‘new adult’ territory as it traces popular fan fiction writer Cath as she starts college and lives separately from her twin sister for the first time. Rowell ably depicts the self-isolation that can take place when one has an active online life and the need to live in both realities. Cath is a hard nut to crack but her romance is one based in friendship, understanding and is a delightfully slow-burn. 

American author Jennifer E Smith has a reputation as a dependable romance writer, however in This is What Happy Looks Like (Hachette) she has raised the bar. Graham is a teenage film star who accidentally starts emailing everyday teen, Ellie. They start corresponding, exchanging truths beneath the veil of anonymity until Graham decides it is time for them to forge a real relationship. Ellie may be shocked by the identity of her pen pal.

Debut author Amy Spalding introduced me to the world of musical theatre with The Reece Malcolm List. After the death of her father, Devan finds herself living with her estranged mother, the Reece Malcom. In some respects this is more about a girl learning to love her mother, but there are some delightful males in the mix with Reece’s partner Brad and the talented Sai. A humorous, effervescent YA novel that owns its personality and heart. Spalding’s sophomoric title, Ink is Thicker Than Water, is also available from the US.

Sadly there are a limited number of Australian titles to recommend as romance is typically not a focus in the releases. However, Lili Wilkinson’s The Zigzag Effect does manage to mesh romance and a crime investigation while providing a glance inside the world of magicians. The characters are chock-full of sass and quirk, as typifies Wilkinson’s work, which beautifully offsets the thought she has placed into the structure of the mystery. Tremendously fun.

Available in US from September 2014
Wildlife (Pan Macmillan) by Fiona Wood is an incredible Australian YA novel that depicts the perspective of Sib and Lou as they struggle to adjust to their new reality. Sib’s become a star of a promotional billboard campaign and suddenly attracted the interest of Ben Capaldi (all the best high school crushes must be referred to by whole name) and Lou’s still grieving after the death of her boyfriend. There are deep romantic elements that are firmly based in the yearning and friendship territory of love, however it also bravely explores gender and sex. Wood has written beautifully realised teen girls with lashings of talent and a healthy dash of feminism.

The 2012 Ampersand Project winner, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), explores how a film geek’s life can be completely upturned by someone who refuses to be stereotyped. Author Melissa Keil sets Camilla up as a means for Sam to change and grow but in actuality he helps her to shine and they aid each other. It depicts the delicate balance in relationships, the give and take that takes time to learn and appreciate. Sweet and quirky.

Snapshot recommendations:

  • Wild Cards (Simone Elkeles) – A hot young adult novel with real emotional depth. Most impressive, is the subversion of typical gender roles - Ashtyn is a footballer and Derek’s great at the domestic arts. 
  • The Moon and More (Sarah Dessen) – she’s the queen of YA romance for a reason. This book is the perfect beach read 
  • Two Boys Kissing (David Levithan) – The unique perspective detailed in this narrative is brave and it has nothing to do with the fact that two boys kiss. Exceptional writing. 
  • How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True (Sarah Strohmeyer) – worth a mention if only because of the descriptor ‘The Devil Wears Prada set in Disney World.’ 
  • The Infinite Memory of Us (Lauren Myracle) – a deceptively easy story of first love and ‘boy meets girl’, but Myracle’s book is fantastic for portraying an idealized notion of love and erotic firsts. It’s commendable for being Judy Blume-esque, in that there are no dramatic repercussions (teen pregnancy or disease) to these two kids falling in love. 
  • The Distance Between Us (Kasie West) – starts off with a scene in a creepy doll store and is on an upswing from there. Poor Girl working in creepy doll store meets Rich Boy and they connection. An elevated and personal exploration of love across class divide. 
  • One and Only (Viv Daniels) – combines authentic college experience with a nuanced love interest and a super soapie story element that works due to some clever subversion of clich├ęs.
What were your favourite YA romances of 2013?

1 comment:

Angiegirl said...

Definitely Fangirl and Eleanor & Park. Just ridiculously strong feelings for those two books.