by Rainbow Rowell
2014 • 320 pages • St. Martin’s Press
When it comes to brass tacks, the difference between young adult and adult fiction is an issue of intended audience, not of genre. What gets them designated as young adult (and therefore placed into the hands of actual young adults) is what the literary gatekeepers of our society (publishers, booksellers, librarians, parents) think young adults want to read. Whenever I bring this up, I always point out that Malinda Lo’s graceful Ash, a queer retelling of Cinderella, was originally pitched as an adult novel but was published as a young adult novel. And, last fall, I shelved The Hobbit and Ender’s Game downstairs in young adult fiction and upstairs in speculative fiction at the bookstore. (I mean, we still do, but we don’t have an upstairs anymore.)
However, there’s no denying that there’s enough similarities in style, form, and content in the aggressive tidal wave of young adult fiction of the last two decades to make the argument that there is a genre being generated within that age range. The conflation of those two—the audience and the emerging genre, which has no handy moniker beyond “young adult fiction”—is the reason new adult fiction, despite differing from the emergent genre in that its characters are slightly older. I don’t think the genre is cohesive enough, but Rainbow Rowell’s novels are an argument for it as a cohesive, coherent genre that spans audiences.
The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal
Despite my family’s best efforts and how much shouting I do about my mother tongue, I do not speak French fluently. I was a very cruel and contrary child, and the pitiful rebellions of my youth (“I’m going to learn Gaelic!” is, hilariously, an actual tantrum from my past) deprived me of, according to modern linguistics, my prime secondary language learning years. But, nonetheless, growing up around French (and my mother’s Britishisms) has flavored my command of English.
Hair Story by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps
Everyone has their own hair story. Mine focuses largely on attempting to maintain length without it developing sentience and killing me in the dead of night (that’s barely a joke; I’ve woken up several times in my life with my hair wrapped around my neck), seeing how long I can go without highlights before my natural hair color starts bothering me, and the occasional empty threat of shaving my head. (Hey, there could be a treasure map back there. How else will I know?) But for black women and especially for African-American women, their hair stories are complex, often painful, and always political. Fairly late in Hair Story, Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps quote the screenwriter Lisa Jones: “Everything I know about American history I learned from looking at Black people’s hair. it’s the perfect metaphor for the African experiment here: the toll of slavery and the costs of remaining. It’s all in the hair” (158).
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
Ah, The Prestige. I remember watching Christopher Nolan’s film adaptation of this novel with my mother, who couldn’t take the ending—she likes her villains punished, my mother. I myself enjoyed the thoughtful plot, the fantastic acting, and the costuming. It’s often about the costuming with me. Obviously, it was after watching the film that I discovered it was originally a novel, but for years I thought that the novel was endlessly complicated and that Nolan had pulled out one story thread among many to adapt to film. Imagine my surprise—and delight—to discover that that’s absolutely not the case.
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
Despite being a junior and an English major at Agnes Scott, I had still somehow never taken a class with Amber Dermont until this semester. I’m in her Intro to Creative Writing class, and it’s been very interesting. As I’m an English Literature major rather than an English Creative Writing major (I teasingly refer to myself as “a real English major” to my creative writing friends; God bless their patience), I had no idea that she had a forthcoming book until I saw her name on NetGalley. Ah, I thought, this should be illuminating. And that’s how we end up here, folks.
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Back in April, Tor.com gave away a hundred advanced review copies of Glow to anyone who wanted one; I sent in for it and got a copy, which has languished on my shelf until now. While I know the giveaway was to encourage word of mouth before the release tomorrow, I usually read advanced review copies close to their date of release in order to put a review up the day before—I just don’t like posting advanced reviews really early. In any case, the release date snuck up on me, but I managed to spend my Saturday morning in bed reading it, which was absolutely delightful.
Passion by Jude Morgan
Passion went on my reading list entirely due to Ana’s luminous review in September—an exploration of the female Romantics in a way that recognizes their agency and their unfair situations sounded amazing. But I had a bit of difficulty trying to get my hands on a copy while at school—the library in town didn’t have it and neither did my school library (which sometimes saves the day, but not here.) But my library at home had it, so I picked it up at the end of my winter holidays.
The Midnight Guardian by Sarah Jane Stratford
I usually tend to ignore the little blurbs from other authors on book covers, unless the blurb comes from an author I trust. For instance, I picked up Robin McKinley’s Sunshine based on the Neil Gaiman blurb found on its cover. (And thank God I did, or I would have started with Beauty and written the lovely lady off completely!) When I finally got my hands on a copy of The Midnight Guardian, I noticed that the first blurb was by Eric Van Lustbader, who penned First Daughter and Last Snow, two subpar thrillers with some women issues. Still, Alex Kurtzman, the gentleman who co-wrote the script to the latest Star Trek, also provided a favorable blurb. I could trust him, right?
Then again, he also co-wrote Transformers.