“The Outsiders” than read “The Body”

Full discloser: The Outsiders is my favorite book in the world. My mom gave me her copy when I was stuck in the summer between fifth and sixth grades. It was the first book that, when I finished, I read it entirely over again. It’s the book that made me want to become a 8165656writer.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (who was, famously, fifteen when she wrote the manuscript) is a coming-of-age story. Ponyboy Curtis is the youngest member of a gang of greasers in 1950s Oklahoma. It’s the book that gave us, “Stay gold, Ponyboy,” and, “Things are rough all over.” (It’s also the book that inspired the 1982 movie starring the hottest guys of the 80s, like Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patric Swayze, and Rob Lowe, *swoon*)

Five years after The Outsiders movie was released, Stephen King published “The Body” as one of the four works in his story collection Different Seasons (also in that collection: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”) Probably better known by its film adaptation title, Stand By Me (screenplay also by Stephen King) “The Body” is the story of four friends trying to find their presumed-dead fellow classmate.

Nature’s First Green Is Gold

Both stories feature characters who come from so far on the wrong side of the tracks that the tracks are a dot in the distance (though not literally: the boys in “The Body” follow tracks through a vast New England forest.) Ponyboy can’t envision a way out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, yelling, at one point, “It ain’t fair we get all the rough breaks!”  Even though his brothers encourage him to continue with school, to go to college, to make something of himself, after seeing the deaths of two of his friends, Ponyboy talks about dropping out of school.x8jfvsaz2qzuo

Similarly, Gordie can’t see past his small, cramped town. His friends all have abusive fathers, and his own parents neglect him, particularly in the wake of the death of his brother. He sees a future of shop classes and cars and girls, a future of hanging with his gang.

It’s hard to see past the chain-link fences, the broken homes, the teenaged angst, but, like in every good coming-of-age story, these boys don’t have to do it alone. After all, it takes a gang to raise a child.

“People drag you down,” a twelve-year-old says in “The Body.” But people can bring you up, too.

It’s Hardest Hue to Hold

“The Body” is one of Stephen King’s odder books, not only because of the age of the main character (“The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” features an even younger protagonist) but also because it’s told from the point of view of an older narrator looking back on his life. The children are older thanu11fjv6ufsiin their years, the adventure a wild tale similar to (though smaller than) It. 

There’s an elegance to all the contained short-stories in Different Seasons. Perhaps because, unlike some of King’s works, these are more firmly rooted in the real world. The enemies are not a spider, or aliens, or the actual embodiment of evil–it’s corrupt systems and school shootings and small towns.

And, of course, the clumsy grace that comes with coming-of-age.

 

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“The Book Thief” then read “Ink & Bone”

I use The Book Thief here as a stand-in historical-minded YA But if you loved it or Harry Potter or The Hunger Gamesthen the first book of Rachel Caine’s Great Library series is for you.

Ink & Bone introduces us to Jess, a 16-year-old boy living in London in the year 2031. But this is not the London you know. This London has robot lions guarding its Library that spring to life and eat people at the first sign of trouble. This London has kids running joi7aiww8kmjythrough the streets to deliver first-edition copies of books–kind of like stealing books (looking at your, Liesel) and like in that German war-zone, in Ink & Bone, these kids could be caught and served capital punishment. Because this is what London could be like if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down.

Like The Book Thief, this is a novel for people who really, really appreciate not only books but the idea of books, the essence of books. Ink & Bone is a novel for people who completely understand, with every inch of them, why books are worth dying for.

“I Have Hated Words and I Have Loved Them”

One thing Ink & Bone does really well is it makes you hate the Library. In this version of the world, the Library in your town or city is a satellite branch of the real Library, the one in Alexandria. In your house, you don’t have books. You have what amounts to an e-reader. Every time you want to read, say, Archemedes’s On Sphere-Making, you would have to request it from the library. Not a big deal, except that the only copy of On Sphere-Making was stolen. Not a big deal, except that if you wanted something like Dante’s blasphemous Divine Comedy, or Gutenberg’s plans to make a printing press, the Library could censor your search. And, probably, kill you.the-book-thief-by-markus-zusak1

I think this is such a good book because it plays on your emotions. Libraries are inherently good. Benjamin Franklin’s idea of a free public library where rich or poor or man or woman could come in and read changed literally everything about America. The Book Thief tells us, unnecessarily, that books and the freedom to read them are what make life worth living.

Except that’s what the Library is trying to take away in Ink & Bone. That freedom to read whatever the hell you want. I guarantee the Library would censor fanfiction. And Fifty Shades of Grey. 

So…maybe not all bad.

“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”

a1wi46iw0klBut if an all-knowing library doesn’t pique your interest, just wait until you hear about the characters. Why did you care about Liesel and Rudy? Why did you care? Because, deep down, you know that the book being narrated by Death itself cannot have a happy ending. Because, deep down, you know that people die.

It happens in The Book Thief and it happens in Ink & Bone. This is not unnecessary gore. This is war, the holiest of wars, where even children are fair game. It’s some of the best action I’ve ever read, and by the end you understand why you care so much when people die in books. It gives everything higher stakes. It makes it feel like this might be a war worth fighting.

And the even better news is that this is only the first of a series! And the second book comes out in July. And the paperback of Ink & Bone comes out in April.

Harry Potter Fanfiction then read Fangirl

I started writing Harry Potter fanfiction when I was twelve. It was a revelation for me. All of the sudden, I went from wanting to read books for a living to wanting to write them. The internet was a supportive place, and even at twelve people told me to keep writing. So I did.

Nine years later, yes, I do still write fanfiction. It’s a form of stress relief. As of this post, I’ve written about a hundred fanfics on fanfiction.net. Fanfiction breeds these really powerful online fandom communities. There’s particular active fans–the tv shows Supernatural and Sherlock have a rabid base. But almost all of these are young- or new-adults who grew up with Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series had the good fortune of coming out at about the same time everyone was getting a computer in their home.

Rainbow Rowell, author of Fangirl, recognizes that fan love often spawns creativity. Fan art has been made for tons of television shows, movies, and books. Fanfiction has been written for video games, comic strips. And Fangirl draws on this perfectly, utilizing everything from the terminology (fandom, fic, ship, slash) to a fictional series that resembles Harry Potter.

There Won’t Be a Child in Our World

Harry/Draco fanart. I do not recommend searching for this pair in Google images
Harry/Draco fanart. I do not recommend searching for this pair in Google images

 

Fangirl’s front story is about Cather and Wren Avery, twins who are starting their Freshman year of college. Wren is determined to reinvent herself, and that means everything from hanging out with a different crowd to not rooming with her sister to letting their co-written, extremely popular Simon Snow fanfiction “Carry On” fall entirely to Cather.

Cather is not as ready to leave her past behind. She’s determined to finish “Carry On” before the last Simon Snow book comes out at the end of the school year, and spends a lot of time in the world of the books, where the characters are as familiar as friends and the old story is comforting in the face of parental and boy difficulties.

But you can’t hide in fiction forever, which Cather realizes when her favorite teacher accuses her of plagiarism when she hands in a piece of Simon Snow fanfiction as a creative writing assignment. And her roommate constantly having a cute guy over isn’t helping Cather concentrate on ending the story she’s been working on for years.

 

Who Doesn’t Know His Name

Simon and Baz art.
Simon and Baz art.

And then there’s the fanfiction. Fangirl includes large portions of the story Cather is writing, her own ending to the Simon Snow series (Simon goes to a wizarding school, has to save the world from a dark force, has enemies within the school, sound familiar?) Her story revolves around Simon (think Harry Potter) and Baz (think Draco Malfoy) as they go from being mortal enemies to friends to…something more.

While, of course, there’s very little Simon Snow worldbuilding (because it’s fanfiction) the Simon/Baz parts are almost a more interesting love story than Cather and Levi. Because their love is so familiar (Harry and Draco are a popular fanfiction couple. Don’t ask me why, I don’t get it either) and because it’s so easy. They’re the only ones in their world, whereas in Cather’s life she’s confused between the attentions of several different boys, including an ex who sends her strange sporadic messages.

The best parts of Fangirl are the parts that are familiar. A girl struggling to fit into college her Freshman year. Someone who holes up in her room to write fiction for an anonymous internet audience–and feeling like bailing on the story would be doing your audience an injustice. Boy trouble that is not melodramatic but slow-building and believable.

You should read this if you’ve ever read or loved Harry Potter fanfiction, of course, but also if you’re a fanfiction writer for any category, or big into fandoms on Tumblr, or if you’ve ever gotten to college and realized that you may not be cool enough for this new life.

(Also, I got my copy of Fangirl signed by Rainbow Rowell, the author, and she was funny and pleasant and all around a kind person. Which I think is important information.)

 

Hunger Games then read Fire

Yes, okay, I know I already made a suggestion for Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, but I figure a lot of people read the book and want something to read after, so here’s another (completely different) suggestion. No, Fire by Kristin Cashore is not dystopian. It’s one of those kings-and-castles books set in a vague medieval-ish time on a different world. But Fire is very much like the world we live in, except they have monsters.

Fire, of the novel Fire
Fire, of the novel Fire

Let’s back up, though. What exactly are the reasons The Hunger Games is so appealing? It should be appalling. The idea of children being forced to kill one and other should not generate interest or support. Yet we like it because we like Katniss, we like Peeta, we want them to win.

I have a pet theory that books are about characters and books that are not about characters are much, much, much harder to get into. Just like tv shows. If you don’t have a favorite character you care enough about to tune in every week, you’re going to drop the show. But if there’s even one person you like…well, that’s what makes even Glee get picked up for a fifth season.

So this recommendation, unlike Stephen King’s The Long Walk, isn’t about the setting or the plot. There’s no dystopia in fire, no strange competition to be taken part in. But if you boil everything down, the characters that made you want to keep reading The Hunger Games are all present and accounted for.

Archer vs. Archer

Why are we so fascinated by bows-and-arrows? From Robin Hood to Legolas to Hawkeye in Avengers, everyone seems to need their own archer in order to be a legitamate team. The Hunger Games had Katniss. Fire  actually has a character named Archer, he’s that good with a bow. And our protagonist, Fire, isn’t too shabby either, though she prefers to save her plucking for the violin.

Katniss's bow skills
Katniss’s bow skills

But that’s what you get in Fire. Fire is not Katniss. She’s no one’s idea of a badass. She’s a monster, which here means someone born incredibly beautiful and incredibly deadly. She can read minds, influence thoughts, and she hates it. Her father, also a monster, was the badass in the family, and he drove the kingdom to ruin.

Even though Fire isn’t angsty Katniss, she has her own…well…fire. Archer, her childhood friend and sometimes-lover, is getting more and more jealous by the day, and asks for Fire’s hand in marriage weekly. But she doesn’t chose her friend, who she does love, and the life she knows int he secluded mountains. Even though Fire is afraid of becoming her father, she shows her own badass-ness when she agrees to go to the heart of the kingdom to help the royal family stay the royal family.

So the main similarity here is the strong female protagonist. And where Katniss is so frickin strong that you kind of want her to shut up about it all ready, Fire has a quiet inner strength that makes her impossible not to like. And I hate female characters, as a rule.

But Wait! There’s More!

Your favorite character in The Hunger Games (that reason you tuned in every week) might have been Katniss, but Peeta and Gale and Fire-Novel-199x300Prim and Finnick were all great too. Personally, I loved Haymitch. Fire has those great side characters, too. There’s Archer, the jealous but good-hearted childhood friend. There’s Brigan, the dark, intelligent, loyal prince. There’s Nash, the king who can’t stop himself from falling in love with Fire over and over again. There’s the royal twins and Fire’s two father’s and a kingdom of intrigue. Basically, if you’re here for the great relationships, you won’t be disappointed.

And did I mention the writing? I don’t usually notice prose, especially in a YA-fantasy book. But every time I real Fire I’m impressed by the quality of writing, which is sad without being melodramatic and beautiful without detracting from the plot.

Here’s the last thing I have to say about this book: I’ve bought it for my two best friends for their birthdays, because if I give it to them they’ll usually read it, and I want the whole world to read this book so we can all talk about it together.

The Series of Unfortunate Events then read The Bartimaeus Sequence

In elementary school, I had three favorite series of books: Harry Potter, of course, which my mom starting reading out loud to us kids when I was six; The Lord of the Rings, which my sister and I read together when I was in fourth grade; and The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The Series of Unfortunate Events was made into a movie in 2004
The Series of Unfortunate Events was made into a movie in 2004

Okay, I know that Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events is supposed to be a children’s series. And it is. It has a great habit of defining words in interesting ways, like “Smirked, a word which here means ‘smiled in an unfriendly, phony way'” which makes it extremely readable for younger kids. But I also read through the series my Senior year of high school, and they were still incredibly interesting. That time, I found myself laughing at the many allusions made throughout the series, not the least of which is the fact that every book is dedicated to a woman named Beatrice (like Dante’s Beatrice) in ways like “To Beatrice: We are like two ships passing in the night. Particularly you.”

There’s a man called Ishmael who has feet encased in clay. There’s a Nevermore tree surrounded by ravens. There’s a poem from Alice in Wonderland as one of the clues. The point is, even if you’re an older reader there’s no reason for you to dismiss this work of children’s literature.

And, if you remember liking these books, you probably remember the interesting narration. The author himself, Lemony Snicket, was a character in the series, and there were frequent passages which referred to the author’s many troubles in his own life. In my opinion, Unfortunate Events has one of the best, most unique narrative voices in literature.

The next most unique belongs to the little-known Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud which is narrated in part by a demon called Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’s Bad Beginning

Bartimaeus-Trilogy-bartimaeus-trilogy-24259440-400-597The first (and best) book of the trilogy is The Amulet of Samarkand, and set up the scene: a slightly different London, where Magicians run the show. Nathaniel, our child protagonist, is an apprentice to a cruel Magician and decides to seek revenge on him by summoning Bartimaeus, a 5,000 djinni. This is a world where Magicians are part talent but mostly skill and schoolwork, and Nathaniel believes himself to be the brightest of his age.

This is a book for middle-aged readers–fifth, sixth, seventh grades–but there’s so much packed in that it’s an enjoyable fantasy even if you’re older. It creates an interesting, believable world and then put in secrets and rebellion and murder. But the whole book is grounded by the old, sarcastic Bartimaeus, who narrates half the book, and Nathanial, who does the other half.

The best part of this book–this series, if you want to read more about the world–is how the relationship between master and djinni changes. Bartimaeus is no Genie summoned by Aladdin, laughing and happy. In his long lifetime, he had one good master, the Egyptian mathematician and scientist Ptolemy. Since that post, he’s vowed never to get close to any of his masters again.

It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a David-versus-Goliath impossible scenario where you can’t help but room for the underdogs. There’s magic and demons and different planes of existence. It’s a foray into high fantasy for young readers.

Tying It All Together

What can fantasy have to do with Unfortunate Events, which defies genre? It all goes back to the narrative style of the book. Lemony Snicket, and the other Snicket siblings, pop up throughout the Events series, and the sarcasm and wit lent to both narration and dialogue makes all the books accessible to old and young readers alike.

What Bartimaeus offers is that little narrative gimick of the footnote, used so effectively here,  mostly for humor, that you’ll find yourself reading it again and again, laughing out loud every time. The story itself has a dark mystery at the center, but the character of Bartimaeus is snarky and irreverent, defying all the rules of his species. One of the footnotes early on is: ” 3 One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.” He refuses to play nice or even fair, but the 5,000 year old creature grows just as much as teenager Nathaniel by the end of the book.

The best part about both of these series is that they are series, and if you find yourself enjoying one you will enjoy the rest. Both are an acquired taste, with much tongue-in-cheek humor, but if you find yourself liking them you will have a set of books you will be re-reading for the rest for your life.

My Sister’s Keeper then read The Fault in Our Stars

(by the way, all these recommendations can work vice-versa. If you like The Fault in Our Stars you’ll probably like My Sister’s Keeper. I just have to write it in one direction or I’ll be terribly confused.)

My Sister's Keeper was made into a movie in 2009
My Sister’s Keeper was made into a movie in 2009

I started reading Jodi Picoult the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I think because my mom was reading 19 Minutes and that sounded interesting. But there was a backlog of orders for 19 Minutes at my library, so I settled for another book by the same author, one that I’d heard people talking about.

Before you dive into the world of Jodi Picoult, be prepared for melodrama up the wazoo. In my opinion, her best books involve court cases and minors. (only her first novel, Songs of a Humpback Whale, didn’t revolve around a court case, and only one novel Mercy, didn’t center around a child.) In the case of My Sister’s Keeper, the minor, a thirteen-year-old Anna, is the one who begins the court case, wanting to become an emancipated minor so she won’t have to give her kidney to her older sister Kate, who is dying of leukemia.

Staying on the same theme, The Fault in Our Stars by YA author John Green also revolves around a teenager with cancer, and like the best of Picoult’s books, includes a surprisingly heartbreaking twist at the end.

Faulting the Stars

John Green, known by his readers and YouTube fans alike for an extensive series of online videos he shares with his brother Hank (here’s a link to one where he reads the first chapter of TFIOS) actually has a quote from Jodi Picoult on the cover of The Fault in Our Stars. I did not know about that until I set about writing this. Since the book came out in January of this year, I was in London and The_Fault_in_Our_Starsordered it on my iPad, mostly cause I”m lazy. I’m now very glad I did, since having it with me constantly means I’ve read it through three times.

There were a couple of things that came along with the release of the book. One is that John Green promised that he’d sign every pre-ordered copy of The Fault in Our Stars, which meant he signed 150,000 books in a variety of colored Sharpies. My sister’s roommate has found a copy with his signature in every color he signed with, which means that a large portion of their small bookshelf is taken up by bright blue books.

Apparently, there were also 1500 copies of the book release three weeks early. Imagine getting the seventh Harry Potter book that early. People would eat you alive. But apparently John Green has very mild-mannered fans (mostly teenage and young adult girls) who swore not to read the book until it’s official release date, or at least not to leak spoilers online. Good on you, girls. I know I could never do that with a book int he hand.

Why Stars After Sister?

The title comes, as noted in the book itself, from Julius Caesar, when Cassius says ‘”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” And it’s not just quotes from old plays that makes the prose of this book beautiful. “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities,” is a quote that made it to my huge old Word document of quotes, which is about a hundred pages long.

The Fault in Our Stars could just be another girl dying gamely of cancer, but unlike the flat, delicate Anna in My Sister’s Keeper, Hazel Grace, upon meeting Augustus, another gamely dying teenager, shows a startling interest in living. Or at least in living long enough to go to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author.

Where My Sister’s Keeper is almost overly emotional, ambitiously telling the stories of everyone in the family affected by cancer, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t try so hard in trying to make you cry. And then does anyway. Even if you think you’re too old for Young Adult books, I’d make an exception for this one. Somehow, the laugh-out-loud funny, ridiculously intelligent dialogue that John Green does so well in Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska comes through in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re pointing and laughing at a girl dying of cancer. It’s more like laughing along with Hawkeye on M*A*S*H. These are characters who know they’ve been dealt a bad hand but try to get the most out of it anyway.

Both of these novels will have you grabbing for the tissues or, if you’re like me, just sitting in a chair pretending you’re not about to cry. It’s hard not to be affected by how brief these lives are. Both beautiful novels, coming from authors with other good things to read, jumping from the cancer in My Sister’s Keeper to the cancer in The Fault in Our Stars might leave you emotionally drained, but you will ultimately come out with a love for the new author as well as the new book.

Hunger Games then read The Long Walk

We’ll start this off with a book that’s very popular right now. So you’ve just finished Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, that not-so-

Katniss Everdeen about to enter the arena in The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen about to enter the arena in The Hunger Games

fun trilogy about a warped, dystopian America where kids compete in the annual “Games” where they fight to the death.

There’s a lot to love about these books. Katniss Everdeen is a fairly bad-ass female protagonist, her love interests of Peeta and Gale are just different enough for rabid fangirls to go back to the tried-but-true ‘Team’ system (I’m Team Peeta all the way.) The tension is present throughout, making The Hunger Games easy to read, though not always easy to stomach.

If something about this world makes it hard to let go after just three books, then venture a little down the bookshelf to the Stephen King section (it’s massive, I know. Eventually I will suggest you read most of these books.) Under a tiny sub-section known as the Bachman Books is The Long Walk.

About the Bachman Books

First, a background. Stephen King, with that whole shelf of books, was such a prolific author that in the late 1970s he wanted to

Picture of "Richard Bachman" -- actually Richard Manuel, the insurance agent of King's editor
Picture of “Richard Bachman” — actually Richard Manuel, the insurance agent of King’s editor

produce more than one book a year, something that publishing companies advise against because it oversaturates bookshelves with one particular author. So instead of releasing two books a year under Stephen King, he came up with the idea of a pseudonym: Richard Bachman, a darker, crueler person who wasn’t limited to the things Stephen King had already branded himself as — namely, the king of horror.

So the same year The Shining was released under the name of Stephen King, an unknown author called Richard Bachman released a dark semi-horror book called Rage. 

Eventually, the connection between the two “different” authors was discovered by Steve Brown bookstore clerk from Washington, D.C. who noticed the similarities in King and Bachman’s writings. A thorough look at publishing documents in the Library of Congress included a page that listed King as the author of one of the Bachman books. Brown contacted King’s publishers with his findings. Two weeks later, an article in the Washington Post announced Bachman’s “death” — the diagnosis was “cancer of the pseudonym.” This was in 1985, when King was working on Misery, which he’d intended to release as a Bachman book.

After Bachman’s “death,” King wrote The Dark Half, a novel about the relationship between an author and the pseudonym that consumes him. Later, The Regulators  was released under Bachman’s name in conjunction with King’s Desperation, with the claim that the manuscript had “been found among Bachman’s things.” The character of Richard Bachman also appears in the Dark Tower series.

Why Participate in The Walk after playing the Games?

The Long Walk, like The Hunger Games, is about a competition that only those under the age of eighteen can participate in. There are some notable distances — only boys can sign up, and participating in the Walk is completely voluntary. The lure of the prize at the end — anything you want, anything at all — is enough to get a hundred boys to join every year.

ImageThis Walk takes place in Maine (if you’re a King fan, you’re nodding and going ‘of course it does’) and goes on for as long as it needs to. There’s friendships formed, and villains named, but mostly we just learn more about Ray Garraty, our main character. Like The Hunger Games, this is a coming-of-age story, as Garraty recalls what made him participate in the Walk and tries to think of how he can go on with his life after it’s all over.

But the thing to remember is that, unlike The Hunger Games, this was not billed as a Young Adult novel, even if our main character technically is one. The things that happen during the Walk are brutal and cruel and, as Garraty slowly figures out, completely senseless.

The Long Walk is a Hunger Games without the twist of fantasy to make everything seem all right. While the America it takes place in is dystopian, it is not so far gone as Panem and nearly unrecognizable. In fact, most everything seems the same, except instead of the Super Bowl or March Madness being the sporting event of the year, adults all bet on the outcome of the Walk, on which of these 100 boys will win. It’s gritty. It’s real. If you thought children participating in the annual Hunger Games was bad, the circumstances behind the Walk will completely throw you.

But this short book — just under 400 pages paperback — is worth a read. If you’re fascinated by the actual Games in  The Hunger Games, you will enjoy everything about The Long Walk.