Thursday, 31 May 2012

Boys will be Boys - Four of the top guys in contemporary YA fiction

Let's face it: a lot of the recent big commercial YA fiction has been written by women. The ones you hear about in the news, I mean. The ones that turn up at the cinema. Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Moira Young. What are the boys doing while all this is going on?

Writing some genius fiction, that's what.

When you step into the world of contemporary realism - gritty, honest books - you find that guys own a HUGE chunk of the limelight. Seeing as I blogged a few weeks ago on my favourite kick-ass girls, I thought it was about time I ventured into the world of boys! (Read into that what you will...)

So just for you, here are some of my favourite books written about guys, by guys.


Melvin Burgess, Phil Earle, Keith Gray and Dave Cousins - Masters of contemporary YA

1 Kill All Enemies, by Melvin Burgess. Melvin Burgess is a God amongst contemporary YA authors. He's a flipping genius - one of those authors most people know of, but haven't always read. (If you haven't read any of his books before, go and find one, even if it means stealing one from the nearest stranger.) Kill All Enemies is his most recent, and I loved it. The story is told by three characters: Rob, Chris and Billie. They're all stuck in various cycles, carrying them further away from the people they'd like to be and the lives they'd like to have. Burgess never goes easy on anybody. He throws stuff at these guys until you are gasping for breath at their fortitude and, well, balls. At the same time, he has a certain knack for pinpointing the humanity in everybody. People just like these characters exist - they're out there, fighting against the rest of the world, and that thought is terrifying - something Burgess isn't afraid to play on.


"Isn't it amazing how just thinking something can change your whole life? That's what a miracle is. Not flashing lights and choirs of angels and people coming back to life. It can happen in a moment and no one would ever know but the person it's happening to."

2 Being Billy, by Phil Earle.  I was given this for review, and it quickly (like, within about 20 pages) became one of my favourite debuts of 2011. Make no mistake, this is an AWESOME book. There's something unbelievably stark about this novel - you can't escape the hell that has become Billy's life. He hates it, and the worse it gets, the harder he fights. And boy, does he know it. You sense right from page one that Billy is just waiting for someone to offer to save him, but you also sense that as soon as they do, Billy will fight them all the way. Considering that Earle doesn't pull back from the tough stuff, he is capable of absolutely pummelling you with emotion. Every time Billy talks to his twin brother and sister, you want to leap right in, scoop the lot of them up and put them somewhere the world can't reach them any more. Surely even the most manly of manly men will be cuddled up with the kleenex by the end?

"My arm was sore. But, to be honest, everything aches after a restraint. Not just your muscles either, your brain, your guts, everything. It's difficult to explain. You feel lopsided, out of kilter, just wrong."
3 Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray. I don't know what it is about Keith Gray. Every time I pick up one of his books, I get sucked in before I know what's happening. Ostrich Boys opens with Blake, Kenny and Sim hiding in a garden with a can of spray paint, desperate to do the right thing by their best friend Ross, who died after being hit by a car. They're angry - his funeral was depressing, not fit for Ross at all. So the three boys make a plan: they'll take Ross to Ross, and so begins the sort of adventure you'd expect when 3 teenage boys embark on a 250 mile journey carrying an urn full of ashes. There are a lot of surprises along the way, though. Blake, for a start, isn't your typical main character. He's seriously overweight and uncomfortable with himself, but he's brilliant, and as much as he puts himself down, you hope he isn't too far from seeing just how brilliant he really is.

"Our best friend Ross was ash in a jar. Ross was dead. Kenny, Sim and I were learning to live with it."



4
15 Days Without a Head, by Dave Cousins. Small confession. I got a review copy of this late last year (it was officially published earlier this year), and soon afterwards went on to meet Dave Cousins at a conference. If you are reading this, Dave, I apologise. I gushed. This book is GENIUS. I love it. I envy it. More than anything, I wish it had been around when I was a teenager. Fifteen Days is the incredibly well-told story of fifteen year-old Laurence and his little brother Jay (who thinks he's a dog), and the day their mum doesn't return home after work. They're left to fend for themselves - or rather, Laurence is left to fend for the both of them. This is a funny, genuine, heart-breaking window into the life of a modern teenager, and you won't want to put it down. Ever. (As a small side-note, the introduction to Laurence and Jay's mum is one of the best character intros I've read - seriously! I recently found myself surrounded by writers for a weekend, and that character intro is all we were talking about. Well, that and cake.)

"By the time I get to school, the playground is empty. I've missed registration and assembly has started, so I have to go to the office and sign the Late Book. I make it back just in time to join the queue lining up for first period - out of breath and sweating like a kebab."

It's summer - go and treat yourself to a new book! (Disclaimer: the sun was still shining when I wrote this. It may now, in fact, be chucking it down. In which case, go treat yourself to a new book.)

17 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jo! I'm honoured to be included alongside three writers who I admire greatly. Keith Grey is one of my all time literary heroes. His first book Creepers was one of the reasons I decided to finally sit down and try to write a novel. I've not read Kill All Enemies yet, but I've been a fan of Melvins for years. As for Phil, well … Being Billy is one of the best books I've read for a long time. One of those stories you finish and find yourself staring at the book in your hands and just saying "wow!" Superb stuff. A great post – thanks for such an eloquent shout out for the boys!

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    1. Thanks, Dave! Seeing Keith Gray's quote on the front of your book must've all but knocked you out!

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    2. I absolutely love 15 Days Without a Head. It's on my 'favourites shelf' But I must read more Keith Grey, he did a SCBWI workshop in Edinburgh a few years ago where he talked about the origins of The Ostrich Boys, and then took us all to the pub for a chat afterwards. He was very funny.

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  2. I love Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray, and now you've given me two more authors to check out. Thanks!

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  3. You won't be disappointed, Ms. Jones! Being Billy and 15 Days are both brilliant novels.

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  4. Oh, good choices! Ostrich Boys is one of my favourite books! In fact, my daughter read a teensy bit of it at her grandmother's memorial service - sounds inappropriate but wasn't.
    Thanks for this, Jo.

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    1. Oh, that's so sad, Addy. I can absolutely imagine it being appropriate and, more to the point, lovely.

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  5. Great post, Jo. I've read Ostrich Boys and 15 Days, which are both brilliant, but not the other two which I have just bought based on your recommendations... Thanks!

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    1. Thanks! And well done you on going for it - you'll have to let me know how you get on!

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  6. Hey, glad to see some guys getting some love! I haven't read any of those books, I have to confess, but I may well as the summer approaches...

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    1. Well now that your ms is out and about, you can put your feet up, kick back and spend the summer reading!

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    2. That would be lovely, but until the publishers come knocking on the door offering me bags of cash, it's back to work for me!

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  7. What great recs, I've definitely got more reading to be doing! how great to see recs about guys.

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    1. Well hope you enjoy them! I love recommending these guys.

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  9. Fabulous. I think Ostrich Boys is a fabulous book. Difficult themes dealt with in a funny way. I just gave it to my son who devoured it in a couple of days. And Keith is a lovely guy - as Maureen says. Already have 15 days ready to take on holiday for him (and me!) - it's been highly recommended. Might just get the others to pack away with us too.

    Thanks, Louise

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