YA Books You Need to R

Online lists about which books need to be read by everyone at least once are plentiful, but they never have the books I think are most needing of attention. For instance, Ender’s Game is on several of them, and for good reason; but Ender’s Shadow, which I confess to loving even more, rarely is.

That said, some of the books on this list are probably on others. Some are not. They aren’t a particularly literary selection. One is a Star Wars novel. One is dystopian. Perhaps a better title for this post would be “YA Books I  Love” but I’m not going to call it that, because that title would require a list too long for this blog post, and because they really are good books I think most fiction lovers can enjoy.

The Beyonders Trilogy by Brandon Mull

  A teenager falls into a magical world. This sounds like the premise for an enjoyable, but familiar story about heroes and adventurers and dragons, but that’s not how Beyonders works. The heroes of Lyrian have all been systematically bribed, corrupted, tortured or killed out of hero-ing. There are no dragons, which is a serious mark against the series in my book, but the creatures that are there are each fascinating in their own way–giants and zombies and wizards and things that we don’t have any stories or names for on Earth.

It’s an exciting story about integrity and the true meaning of courage. And sword fights, because obviously there have to be sword fights if there’s no dragons.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

This is the first of the Discworld books focused on Tiffany Aching. I don’t know if everyone considers it YA, but that’s where it’s shelved at my library and it’s about a girl as opposed to the adult protagonists of most of the other books.

The book is excellent for its dry humor and magic, but it also has this quote:

“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

It’s a very Slytherin way of choosing to protect those in need of protecting. I love it.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I’m fortunate to have never been forced to read this book for class, since the way I had to read and analyze literature in English class tended to make me hate them, though maybe I’d have hated The Crucible anyways.

The Giver is early dystopian fiction, and some of the best work in the genre. In a society where everyone is more or less the same, a boy named Jonas is surprised to stand out when he is chosen to be the new Reciever of Memory.

Some of my favorite themes in the book are the value of having differences between people, and whether and why emotions are important. The movie is really good too.

Ahsoka  by EK Johnston

This is a more recent book, part of the new Star Wars canon. Ahsoka Tano, former apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, survived the Jedi purges and is on the run in the Outer Rim. With an assumed name and her skill with droids, she is able to stay out of the Empire’s way as a mechanic.

Then the Empire comes to the small farming town she’s been staying in, and she is faced with the choice of running again, or helping the people she’s beginning to befriend and being targeted as a Jedi. Can she fight again after losing everything?

Also, it’s very fun to read Star Wars from a non-human’s perspecive.

Anne

I don’t know you,

but I’ve read your diary.

I picked it up

at eleven years old–

four years younger

than you.

 

I don’t know you,

not really.

I know about you,

your likes and dislikes,

your family and friends,

the place you lived,

your words,

but a person is more.

You left this world

long before I came to it

with millions of others

killed by hate,

just like you.

 

I sat in an empty classroom

devouring the words you left.

Abruptly,

the words ran out.

I don’t know you,

but I’ve mourned you.

 

I’m older than you now

filled more diaries

than you ever will.

I’m still as confused

by your loss

as I was then.

The world should be better

should be kinder.

I don’t know you,

but I know this:

You should have lived.

On Meeting Your Heroes

Here’s the thing about heroes: they’re people. They have people’s desires and exhaustions and flaws. They can be good people, often, but people all the same. No one on this planet is Superman, even if I still think of my dad that way sometimes (I blame his love of Smallville).

I try to keep that in mind whenever I have the chance to meet someone I admire, whether for their voice or creativity or uncommonly kind heart. Heroes are people. People are flawed. Both of these things can be true, no those we consider our personal heroes can still be worthy of respect.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet David Archuleta before one of his concerts. He’s one of those people I respect, for his integrity and for the messages he works to share through his music. During the concert, he introduced one of the songs with some commentary on social media.

He pointed out that on the internet, people usually only share the things about their lives that they are happy with-the good selfies, the weekends spent with friends, not the time spent on makeup or the quiet nights in.

I think this filtering of information is also in effect when it comes to our heroes. Parents don’t usually tell their children about their doubts and struggles as they raise them. Creative people share their successes far more readily than they do their weeks of struggling to come up with an idea. Emergency responders don’t tell the people they’re rescuing about the times they didn’t get there soon enough.

This can be good. I, for one, am not even slightly interested in seeing everyone’s dirty laundry.

But it can lead to the impression that heroes aren’t ordinary People Like Us, and that’s just inaccurate. Heroes are ordinary. They have favorite foods and bad habits and toothbrushes, same as me and probably you, dear reader.

Which leads to the conclusion that any of us can be heroes for someone.

The Order of Things

Patterns show up everywhere

Like electrons orbiting protons and neutrons

that form moons

orbiting planets

orbiting stars.

Like plants

producing

mathematically perfect spirals.

Like the rhythm of songs

the variations of sound waves

the walk of birds

(Utahraptors walked like chickens

my yard is full

of feathered dinosaurs).

Like my family

calling me by my brother’s name

even when he’s in a different state

and I’m in a skirt.

Like the structure of stories

told again and again

in different skins.

Like the rhythm of rainfall.

 

There’s a comfort to that.

Everything has a design,

a pattern,

though it may not be obvious

to human eyes.

Gratitude

Things I am grateful for:

1. Freedom of speech. It would be difficult to make awesome things without it. The rest of the Bill of Rights goes here too.

2. Dumbo octopuses

3. Mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Some fairy tales are more than six thousand years old, and still told today!

4. Brains. It would be hard to live without them.

5. Water. I grew up in a desert. Rivers still blow my mind.

6. That while I may occasionally find lizards on my bed, I will never find a satanic leaf-tailed gecko there unexpectedly. Meeting one while knowing I was going to meet one might be fun, though.

7. Duct tape. I once won brownies in a duct-tape craft contest. Later I made my prom dress from duct tape. Duct tape is good.

8. Vision. My eyes mostly see fuzzy shapes and colors without glasses or contacts, so I am very grateful to live in a time when those are available.

9. Shoes. Especially high tops. And low tops. And combat boots.

10. This photo Juno took of Jupiter’s south pole.

11. Star Wars.

12. Cool apps like Amaziograph, which I used to draw today’s picture.

Things I am not grateful for:

1. Violence.

2. Wasps.

3. People who think yelling at you will make you agree with them.

4. Yelling in general.

5. The fact that Captain America got turned into a Nazi in the comics. Seriously?!

6. Those little prickly seed pods that stick to EVERYTHING.

7. My attention span going AWOL when I’m trying to learn something cool.

8. Lots of other things. I’m trying to shorten this list and lengthen the previous one, though.

The Scorpion in the Sky

This is an old story. A brash hunter. An infuriated deity. And a monster.
What the crime was and which deity was infuriated, depends on who’s telling the story.

The hunter, Orion, stays the same, though. As does the monster–Scorpius.

Supposedly, their final battle was so destructive that the gods feared putting them both in the Underworld, where they might keep fighting. Instead, they were placed in the sky, as constellations, on opposite sides of the heavenly sphere. You will never see Orion and Scorpio in the sky at the same time. That was deliberate, so they cannot fight anymore.
Watching Scorpius’s heart flicker as he rises in the evenings, I wonder about him. Was he created just to kill Orion? Did he start out as one of the many monsters wandering about Greek myths? How did Artemis (or Apollo, or Gaea) get him to cooperate? Did he have some specific grudge against Orion to begin with?

This is an old story. It’s been told and retold thousands of times, the details altered or faded or lost to living memory. If Scorpius was ever anything other than the weapon that killed Orion, we have no way of knowing. He got the short end of the narrative–no characterization, no motivations, just a capacity for violence and a target. Like the Winter Soldier, sans tragic backstory.

Writing protip: figure out what drives your villains. You don’t have to reference it specifically, you don’t have to make it a sympathetic drive, but figuring out why a bad guy acts as they do is the first step towards believable characterization.

Scorpius doesn’t have that, right now. But, myths don’t have a copyright. We can fill in the details ourselves, if we think to.

Say the deity was Artemis, and that Orion’s crime was more than boasting. Say she turned to an old friend for aid-perhaps she had slain a greater monster than Scorpius, saving his life. He would have gladly hunted Orion, to right a wrong and repay a debt.

Or say it was Apollo, envious of Orion’s rising star (pun completely intended) and his friendship with Artemis, who turned up in his lair and took Scorpius’s mate or hatchlings hostage. He would have fought fiercely then, if it was in hopes of saving a loved one.

Or Gaea, Earth Mother, seeking to protect her creatures from the mighty hunter, went to Scorpius for help. As one of her creatures, he gave it.

Or say Scorpius was a monster, and did what monsters do, and it was only because someone whispered a suggestion to him, or claimed Orion had insulted him, that he became so focused on the hunter.

All or none of these backgrounds may be applied to the myths, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

This is an old story. We can’t know what its original tellers intended for it, or for Scorpius, to mean. We can only know what it means for us, now.

A Thought and a Song

It’s been my habit, from a very early age, to focus most of my attentions on music that was slightly melancholy.  Not sure why. Maybe I like minor keys. Maybe all the happy songs were about sappy romances, which I’ve never been interested in. Maybe I’m just morbid. The songs don’t make me sad when I listen to them, really. I just like them.

Sometimes, though, the world is a touch more awful than usual, and I just want to listen to something upbeat and happy. I made a music playlist for just such an occasion, and thought I’d share it here.

The most recent addition to the playlist is “Invincible” by David Archuleta, which came out last week.

Invincible is, despite its title, about not being invincible. It’s about going through hard times without allowing yourself to become hard.

We live in what future historians will likely call an “interesting time”. There are so many changes going on, so much conflict.  But there are a lot of good things too, and remembering that, as the song suggests, is its own type of strength.