Book review: Young adult fiction

Being forced out of my comfort zone and into the world of young adult fiction has been better than I anticipated.  Here are a few books that I've enjoyed this year.

'Juno of Taris' by Fleur Beale (a NZ writer) tells the story of teenager Juno who is on the verge of moving into the adult world of Taris.  Taris is an island community, set up 200 years earlier by an idealistic group of scientists who set out to preserve a perfect group of humanity from the ravages of climate change that are destroying the earth.  Taris does not have contact with the outside world and is self-sufficient.  While it appears at first glance to be a loving, caring society where everyone contributes to the common good, Juno finds it increasingly oppressive and controlling.  Juno starts to ask questions - with big consequences.  (age 13 plus - lots of discussion about genetically engineered reproduction)

'Memoirs of a teenage amnesiac' by Gabrielle Zevin tells the story of 16 year old Naomi who wakes up in an ambulance on her way to hospital after falling down a flight of stairs at school.  As she wakes up she realises that she cannot remember anything past sixth grade - her parents are now divorced, her mother has remarried, she has a baby half-sister and she has a boyfriend, Ace, who she can't work out why she would want to go out with.  (age 15 plus - involves mentions of s*x)

'Uglies' by Scott Westerfield is the first in a series of books set 300 years in the future.  At age 16 everyone is turned into a 'Pretty' through cosmetic surgery.  Tally Youngblood is waiting eagerly for her turn to become a Pretty but just before her birthday meets Shay.  Shay is the same age but she is determined to escape the city to avoid the surgery.  This friendship leads Tally into another world of people who show her the sinister side of the surgery.  I don't think that Westerfield is a brilliant writer, but this is a clever premise, and it had enough action to keep the plot moving along.  (age 13 plus - bit of kissing).

'Punchlines' by Oliver Phommavanh.  Johnny Kamka is in Year 10, in love with his best friend Josie.  But she doesn't see him like that so he's trying to get up the courage to tell her he likes her.  Johnny lives in Sydney with his Laotian family.  And Johnny wants to be a comedian - no longer content with entertaining his friends during school speeches, he tries his luck at a local comedy club.  What I liked about this book was its simplicity.  The author 'gets' the demographic he is writing for - the book is not rocket science, it is not complex, the chapters are short and you can kind of see where it is going.  But it makes an achievable book for someone who isn't a great reader.  (age 12 plus)

'Dash and Lily's book of dares' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a love story between two quirky teenagers set in New York.  This is a book for older teens, mostly because the writing is quite dense (conveying the speed at which an intelligent New Yorker teenager might communicate?  Maybe?) but also because of the themes in it.  Lily leaves a red notebook in the shelves of her favourite bookstore, hoping the right guy will come along, read it and complete her dare.  Dash, (obviously, it's in the title!), finds the book, runs with it and so the story goes on as they exchange dares.  (age 15 plus)


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