Where Are the International YA Authors?

In 2016, Lyn Miller-Lachmann of The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative wrote that, “Somewhere around two percent of books published for young readers in the U.S. are translations.”  A quick Google search did not show me any more recent results, but my own experience reading YA suggests that the number of international authors being published in the U.S., in translation or not, has not greatly increased when it comes to children’s literature.  Despite calls for diversity in publishing, U.S. readers of YA are not hearing much from the rest of the world.  But international authors offer both a unique perspective to readers and a refreshing variety in their stories.

International authors, quite simply, can bring the world closer to U.S. readers.  Books published in the U.S. often seem to contain similar perspectives on life, values, history, and more–even despite the multiplicity of voices and perspectives present in the U.S.  Perhaps this is because of how the market works.  Publishers guess as to what will sell and often what will sell seems to be all of a kind.  But bringing international authors, who go through a different publishing process, and who have different life experiences and perspectives, can bring fresh new views to U.S. readers.

Furthermore, publishing more international authors in the U.S. would give readers more variety in the stories they are able to consume.  The U.S. YA market tends to follow trends very heavily; one book becomes a bestseller and a number of other authors use similar elements in their own works.  For years we had a paranormal trend and then a dystopia fad.  Now heist novels and grey characters are in.  Elements such as the love triangle, popularized by The Hunger Games and Twilight, proliferate across YA.  The Chosen One, the betrayal by a lover, and more have become so common that most avid readers of YA could probably predict at least 90% of every YA book they read.  YA fans are basically reading variations of the same story over and over.

But international authors do not follow YA market trends.  They are able to be more creative, sometimes bringing in elements such as older protagonists or more overt religious depictions, sometimes daringly choosing to write a YA novel without a romance.  They are not writing for the U.S. market, so they do not cater to it.  Publishing international authors would immediately open up for readers a world of stories practically inconceivable to U.S. publishers.

There is room for all kinds of perspectives and all kinds of stories in YA.  Publishing more international authors in the U.S. would help bring those perspectives and stories to new readers.  And it would broaden their reading experience in the process.

Look for our upcoming post on excellent international YA authors!  In the meantime, which non-U.S.-based authors do you recommend?

Honor Bound by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Honor Bound Book Photo

Information

Goodreads: Honor Bound
Series: The Honors #2
Source: Library
Published: February 19, 2019

Official Summary

Zara Cole was a thief back on Earth, but she’s been recently upgraded to intergalactic fugitive. On the run after a bloody battle in a covert war that she never expected to be fighting, Zara, her co-pilot Beatriz, and their Leviathan ship Nadim barely escaped the carnage with their lives. Now Zara and her crew of Honors need a safe haven, far from the creatures who want to annihilate them. But with two wounded Leviathan to treat, plus human and non-human refugees to help, they’ll have to settle for the nearest outpost, called the Sliver: a wild, dangerous warren of alien criminals. Zara’s skills from the Zone may be invaluable. However, Zara discovers that the secrets of the Sliver may have the power to turn the tide of the war they left behind—but in the wrong direction. Soon Zara will have to make a choice: stand against the ultimate evil or run from it. But she’s never walked away from a fight.

Honor Bound is the second installment in Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre’s thrilling and fresh space saga.

Star Divider

Review

Honor Bound is an irresistibly gripping follow up to Honor Among Thieves, a rare sequel that might, in fact, be even better than the first book.  Caine and Aguirre bring back an amazing cast of characters, while introducing a few that are likely to become new fan favorites, and send them all on a wild space adventure that takes them to a seedy space outpost and on a suicide mission heist that other teams have tried and failed.  Honor Bound is a great space book, with a thoughtful look at space travel, technology, and alien races, but it will also be a compulsive read for anyone who likes books  like Six of Crows that feature teams putting all their strengths together to do the impossible or that give readers a look into a criminal world.

The short review, then, is that I liked basically everything about this book.  When I reviewed Honor Among Thieves I wrote:

Zara is a character who could have been hit-or-miss for me. She has an issue with authority and tends to make snarky comments that could have just come across as annoying or try-hard, but the authors actually sold me on her tough attitude and hard exterior. Possibly this is because she quickly develops a close relationship with her Leviathon ship and her new crewmate, so readers can see she does have a gritty past and the toughness to go with it, but she’s also not heartless.

This continues to be true, and it’s one of the driving factors of the book.  Zara is tough.  She lived on the streets.  She knows how to deal with criminal elements.  But she also fundamentally a good person, so readers get to cheer for her.  Honor Among Thieves basically puts Zara in her element, as the crew goes to an outpost called the Sliver where there are no rules and no free rides, but Zara knows how to deal with people to get what she wants.  People didn’t think she was a good fit for the Honors Program, but here she turns out to be exactly what is needed.

I also still think the Leviathan/human relationship is one of the most unique parts of the book, but it does get a little weirder in book two for me.  I noted in my review of the first book that other people were calling it a “friendship” and that term didn’t feel right to me; it’s too intimate and physical.  Basically there are almost sexual undertones, and that comes out more strongly in Honor Bound, as Zara seems on the verge of contemplating a threesome with her Leviathan and their other crew member.  It’s not phrased that way, probably because this is YA, but the suggestion is definitely there, and I’m not 100% certain how I feel about it. I guess readers are supposed to say something to themselves like “It’s space and a new alien race; anything is possible and correct” and move on.

Unless, however, this is a metaphor for something that I haven’t quite figured out.  The book definitely uses alien races to send messages to readers about using correct gender pronouns and respecting different cultures that are obviously supposed to then be applied to humans, so it’s possible the book is sending some sort of sex-positive message about polyamory using aliens and intimate-bonding-that-is-not-sex as the means to deliver that message.  I haven’t really seen other people talk about this, but it’s there.

Plotwise, the book is utterly engaging.  A lot of books get called “unputdownable,” but this is one where I truly just wanted to know what would happen next because it was always high-stakes and always interesting.  There are a lot of space books and a lot of them have criminal outposts (it’s almost a cliche), but the way Caine and Aguirre use the elements feel really unique here, and though the general arc of the plot is predictable (for example: will they complete the heist?), individual elements are not, and that’s what makes the book so strong.

This is likely to be on my list of best books I read in 2019 at the end of the year, and I hope more people will pick it up.

5 stars Briana

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander (ARC Review)

Library of Ever

Information

Goodreads: The Library of Ever
Series: None (yet?)
Source: Publisher giveaway
Publication Date: April 30, 2019

Official Summary

The Library of Ever is an instant classic for middle grade readers and booklovers everywhere—an adventure across time and space, as a young girl becomes a warrior for the forces of knowledge.

With her parents off traveling the globe, Lenora is bored, bored, bored—until she discovers a secret doorway into the ultimate library. Mazelike and reality-bending, the library contains all the universe’s wisdom. Every book ever written, and every fact ever known, can be found within its walls. And Lenora becomes its newly appointed Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian.

She rockets to the stars, travels to a future filled with robots, and faces down a dark nothingness that wants to destroy all knowledge. To save the library, Lenora will have to test her limits and uncover secrets hidden among its shelves.

An Imprint Book

Star Divider

Review

A vast library that contains all the knowledge of the world and that is under attack by people who want to destroy “dangerous” knowledge is a cool idea, but it’s also a very popular idea.  There are a large number of published books based on this premise, and I can’t even imagine how many more agents and editors are pitched each month.  Readers love libraries, and they like to write about libraries.  So I think the pressing question when reviewing The Library of Ever is: Why this story about the ultimate library?  What makes this take on the plot special and unique.  Frankly, I don’t know.  I don’t think it is particularly unique, so while the book is fine and will likely do well with its target audience of lower middle grade readers, I personally found it lackluster.

The book is a wild careening of strange and interesting events that occur to the protagonist Lenora the moment she finds herself in the magical Library of Ever.  The book is exactly the type of fantasy Krysta and I have both complained about as “lacking logic and realism,” as a variety of exciting things appear to happen simply because they are exciting and sound cool.  For example, the fact that Lenora is hired to work in the library in the first place, without any job application or proof of qualifications, then sent to work without training, then repeatedly promoted based on her completion of tasks in what are often, frankly, inefficient manners.  But, hey, it’s fun to read?  The author and publisher are probably right in guessing that the lack of logic isn’t going to bother the target audience, who are likely to think “Wow, robots! Ooh, giant ants!  Cool, spaceships!” and accept the story as it is .  But this isn’t a good that’s going to work as well with older readers, particularly adults.

This is true, too, of my other complaints–that the pacing is too fast and no event is well-developed and that the message about the importance of knowledge is incredibly heavy-handed.  If you’re a young reader or a reluctant reader, fast pacing and a crazy plot might not seem “under-developed” to you; it’s just going to keep you hooked. Also, the “knowledge as a light” thing might be legitimately new to you.  It’s not overdone or too in-your-face; it’s actually going to come across as profound and thought-provoking.

I didn’t like the book personally, and I don’t recommend it to older readers (even ones like me who generally enjoy middle grade), but I think it will work well for readers who are more into lower middle grade and chapter books.  The premise still seems cliche to me, but perhaps the “super cool library” thing is actually missing from the lower middle grade market, and the publisher wanted to fill that gap with a take on it.  I don’t think this is an “instant children’s classic,” as they claim, but, sure, kids will think it’s entertaining, and I guess I’ll figure out just how successful it is based on whether the publisher decides to make it a series.

3 Stars Briana

7 Ways to Revive Old Blog Content and Drive Traffic to It

How to Revive Old Blog Posts and Get New Traffic

If you’ve been blogging a while, you probably have content you posted months or years ago that you think it is awesome and valuable to readers but that hasn’t gotten much traffic since you initially posted it.  That’s always disappointing, so here are some ways you can try to bring visitors back to your old blog posts!

1. Share on Social Media

The fastest way to remind people of old posts is to promote them on social media: add links to the posts on Facebook and Twitter.  Keep in mind, however, that the engagement with such links might be low, so be strategic about picking posts that have engaging headlines or interesting graphics that might get readers to click the link and go to your blog.

smaller star divider

2. Share on Pinterest

Sharing old posts on Pinterest has been one of the most effective strategies for me personally.  Making a new Pinterest-friendly graphic and promoting the post on Pinterest can open your blog up to new visitors, particularly if you pick posts on topics that are things people tend to search.  (For instance, discussion posts and book reviews often work less well on Pinterest than lists and “how to” posts.)  You can read more about my advice on Pinterest here.

smaller star divider

3. Link Back to Old Posts

If you write a post that’s related to an older post or reference an idea from an older post, be sure to link back to it!

smaller star divider

4. Do a Post Round-Up

You can also write posts that are just round-ups of posts on similar topics.  For instance, you can do a post of featuring your “best blogging advice” or “every post I wrote on Harry Potter last year.”

For instance, we did a round-up of blogging advice to help readers start the new year.

smaller star divider

5. Write a New Post on a Similar Topic

If you had a great idea that you still have more to say about, write a new post AND link back to the old one!

For instance, we’ve written about:

smaller star divider

6. Update Old Content

Finally, if  you’re trying to drive traffic to old blog content, make sure it’s worthwhile for your readers.  Check the blog post and see if you can make any updates.  This could mean expanding the content of the post itself to make it more useful or more in-depth, or it could mean reformatting the post to make it more readable, adding images, updating the title to be more engaging, or improving the SEO.

smaller star divider

7. Make Sure You Have Archives

Listing all your reviews or all your discussion posts or all your blogging advice in one place helps readers access it and find some of your new content on their own.

Where are the YA Books for Younger Teens?

Previously on the blog, I have discussed how I see YA books maturing; almost every YA book being published today I would recommend for readers 16+, even though the YA section is ostensibly for readers 13-18.  Both the content of the stories and the fact that the protagonists are typically older teens (often acting like they are in their 20s and not teens at all) suggest that the bulk of YA is meant for older readers.  On April 15, 2019, Teen Librarian Toolbox responded to the growing maturity of YA books by asking, “Where Do Younger Teen Readers Fit In?” My answer to that is simple: younger teens are best served today, not by YA books, but by upper middle-grade books.

Quite frankly, I think we need to acknowledge the current state of the YA market and admit that the majority of YA being published today may not be developmentally appropriate for the average young teen.  In the past, it may have been simpler to direct a thirteen-year-old or fourteen-year-old reader to the YA section, where they could find books like Lois Lowry’s The Giver or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time--books with younger characters doing things younger teens could relate to, and not containing content that might be a little too mature for that age group. However, these books types of books are increasingly being labeled and shelved as middle-grade because they do not seem to fit in with books like Six of Crows, Furyborn, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Children of Blood and Bone.  Without an emphasis on sex, violence, and drugs, they really seem too tame to be labeled YA in the current market.

But the fact that younger teens are perhaps currently best served by being guided to upper middle-grade books does not mean that we should ignore the lack of YA for younger teens.  Many teens are extremely aware of marketing labels and will not be convinced that upper middle-grade books are for them.  In their eyes,  moving onto YA books is a milestone showing their growing maturity.  Some are even convinced that YA books are written more complexly (not true in my experience) and that reading YA makes them smarter and “on grade level” (read more about my dislike of leveling readers here).  These attitudes, combined with a reluctance, even on the part of adults, to admit that middle-grade books can be quality reads means that younger teens will, in many cases, opt to head towards the young adult section, even if it the market is not currently serving them there.

And, really, why shouldn’t younger teens find books written for them in what used to be called the “teen” section?  Why shouldn’t they have the pleasure of feeling they have passed a milestone and now have shelves upon shelves of new books opened up to them?  The desire to grow up and to move on is natural and should be encouraged and celebrated.  Younger teens should find a place that is especially for them.  This becomes even more important when we consider that upper middle-grade, while often complex, exciting, and developmentally appropriate, still tends to feature twelve or thirteen-year-olds (maybe).  Protagonists who are their first or second years of high school are missing both from upper middle-grade and from YA.  This leaves younger teens straddling a gap between age groups, finding themselves represented nowhere.

Until the YA market changes, I believe that parents, educators, and librarians should use caution before directing younger teens to the YA section without any guidance.  While the YA label is widely understood to be shorthand for “appropriate for teens,” current trends mean that the vast majority of YA books are developmentally appropriate for older, and not necessarily younger, teens.  Upper middle-grade books, however, are written just as complexly as YA (if not more so in some cases) and tend to offer more developmentally appropriate stories.  However, the YA market needs to change, opening back up a space for young teens.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden

Information

GoodreadsThe Secret Garden
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published:1911

Summary

When Mary Lennox is orphaned, she is sent from India to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, in England. The Craven estate, however, seems lonely for a child, until Mary discovers the key to a garden that has been locked for ten years and begins to make friend with a local boy who knows all about animals, gardening, and the magic of the nearby moors.  Soon, “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary” begins to grow happy and healthy–and learns there are more secrets in her new home beyond the garden.

Star Divider

Review

Spoilery if you are not familiar with the story.

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books as a child and one of the first full novels I read on my own, in second grade.  Though protagonist Mary is, as some unforgiving children in the novel call her, often contrary, I fell in love with the beautiful English setting on the moor and with the idea of a secret garden that one could call one’s own.  Since there is a new movie adaptation of The Secret Garden set to be released 2020 (with primary billing given to Colin First as Archibald Craven, as if the man is in more than two scenes of the book), I decided to reread it to see if it there were just as much Magic was I remembered. Spoiler: there is.

Often when I fall in love with books, it’s because of the characters, but I actually think the setting of The Secret Garden might be its biggest strength.  That isn’t to say I don’t like the characters; the book, of course, is focused on two major transformations: that of protagonist Mary Lennox as she changes from an ill-tempered, imperious child used to having her to way to a kinder one full of life and laughter and that of her cousin Colin Craven, as he learns to stop thinking of himself as sickly and doomed to die and embrace his own health (and kinder attitude).  This premise could, of course, come across as moralizing; The Secret Garden was certainly written in an era where using books to teach children’s lessons was very in vogue. (Ok, let’s not kid ourselves; many people still think children’s and teen lit is about teaching Correct Ideas.)  However, the character arcs are so well-written that it’s hard to actually think of them as preachy, in spite of asides about how children should play, fresh air is good for you, one must believe in oneself and think positive thoughts, etc.  Mary and Colin simply read like real characters, real children who learn not to be spoiled.

I have more reservations about Dickon.  I believe I liked him as a character when I was a child because he is incredibly kind, responsible, etc. really older and wiser than his 12 years AND he makes friends with animals.  Mary and Colin are enchanted with him, and I was, too.  A boy who can talk to birds and tame a fox?!  Now, he seems a little over-the-top to me, a trifle unrealistic in his role of animal-whisperer, but he’s still an interesting addition to the story.

But the beauty of the book is that they learn not to be spoiled through the beauty of nature, primarily in their secret garden.  The idea of a secret garden is, itself, incredibly alluring, and I think many of us would love to have a walled-off, secret place full of trees and flowers and blooming roses run wild that we could retreat to where no one would bother us.  However, what really strikes me about The Secret Garden (and, in fact, a decent amount of older literature, such as works by L. M. Montgomery) is the sheer love and knowledge of nature that the author herself seems to have.  When I read books written today, descriptions of nature are often cursory asides; they seem to be there because the author thinks a book needs some description for world building and all that, but secretly they think readers don’t care for it and they should hurry on to more important matters because they don’t really care about the flowers or trees they are describing either.  The Secret Garden, however, revels in descriptions of nature–of the garden and flowers, of course, but also of animals and of the English moor.  I believe Frances Hodgson Burntett liked nature and was knowledgeable about it, and that’s what allows her to convey her passion and its beauty to readers.  Even if you don’t have a secret garden of your own, you can imagine yourself in Mary’s.

However, in spite of the emphasis on spring, change, and positive thinking, there are some underlying dark elements of the story that I don’t know that I thought fully through on my first reading as a child.  Colin’s father and Mary’s uncle, Archibald Craven, is, of course, essentially absent from the book, a father figure who means kindness towards the children but is too wrapped up in his own grief to actually interact with them.  One could write him off as a typical tragic hero figure, undone by the death of his wife, but, well, it’s just sad if you actually think about it.  I also think the death of Mary’s parents is sad.  They, of course, were also absent parents, but the whole plot of the book rests on the fact they died; their deaths is what allows Mary and Colin to actually thrive.  That’s pretty dark, too.  (There is also, of course, some exoticism in the descriptions of India, as are typical of the timer period the book was written.)

Overall, however, the book truly is magic.  The dark elements do not overwhelm the book; indeed, one could probably make some argument about the circle of life or death leading to new life, etc. that make the dark parts natural, necessary in order to make the magic of springtime, flowers, and new beginners all the sweeter.  I highly recommend reading the book, whether or not you plan to see the movie this year.

4 stars Briana

Do We Need a New Adult Section?

Years ago, New Adult (NA) was proposed as a new age range for marketing books.  It would be marketed towards those adults who wanted to move on from reading about teenagers.  Instead, they wanted to read about characters in their 20s who were attending college, graduating college and getting started on a first job, and dating.  The label, however, quickly gained a reputation for being YA but with explicit sex.  That is, so much of NA was erotica, that people assumed all NA was erotica.  Because NA did not offer a variety of genres, people apparently stopped buying it and it never took off as a marketing label.  Sometimes people still use the term to describe a book, but it is not an official label used by publishers or bookstores and, outside of the book blogosphere, it can be difficult to find anyone who knows what NA is.  Now, however, users on Twitter seem interested in resurrecting NA as an age category.  I am not convinced we need it.

The age labels publishers use now generally indicate two things: that a book will likely be of interest to a certain age group and also that it is developmentally appropriate.  So middle grade books talk about death, drugs, romance, and other “mature” topics, but in a different way than YA books do.  Readers in their 20s, however, have no real need for books that are developmentally appropriate.  They are adults and generally will be ready for any content that a reader in their 30s, 40s, or 80s could read.  So the only reason for a NA category is that a book will likely be of interest to a reader in their 20s.

The driving argument behind creating a NA section in bookstores is because readers in their 20s can “relate” to the  characters.  But this is not how readers really read.  Readers in their 20s do not only need to read about characters in their 20s.  Readers in their 40s do not need to read only about characters in their 40s.  And readers in their 70s do not need to read only about characters in their 70s.  Why would we increasingly divide adult books up into different decades so people can only read about characters “just like them?”

The difficulty here is, of course, that people in their 20s are not all the same, even though the current conversations about NA often suggest that they are.  There is, for instance, an emphasis on college and graduating college in discussions of NA, even though not everyone attends college and not everyone who attends will graduate.  There is also an emphasis on “new” experiences such as one’s first job or on dating and maybe finding “the one.”  Few people ever seem to suggest NA about characters who have been working since their teens, characters who are single parents, characters who are married, or characters who are not experiencing various types of “firsts.”  The, probably unintended, implication is that there is one “correct” way to move into adulthood–other experiences are not welcome, or at least not worth reading about.

The current conversation around NA seems like it is geared towards fulfilling a very specific need for a very specific type of reader–the single, college-attending (or recently graduated and job-seeking) reader.  Even readers in their late 20s, who are beyond college and who have been in the work force for some time, are not included in the current suggestions for “relatable” 20-something-year-old characters.  I am not convinced there needs to be a separate label or section for this very specific type of book.  Rather, it seems to me that readers are asking for more books about characters in their 20s or in college and that this need could be fulfilled simply by writing and publishing such books under the current adult label.  Setting aside specific shelves for readers to find these books is not necessary, either, as booksellers and libraries could simply periodically display “reads for recent graduates” or “recommended reads for new college students.”  The type of NA being called for simply is not expansive enough for it to warrant its own section for all 20-somethings who want to read primarily about other 20-somethings.

I understand that readers who enjoy YA are often unenchanted with many of the adult books available.  “Books about divorcees” is how I have heard some people describe adult books.   They do not relate to disillusioned characters and want books about young adults who are hopeful about the future, not mired in despair about a broken love life and terrible job.  But I still think this simply means writers of adult fiction need to expand the types of stories they are telling.  Adulthood does not have to equal disillusionment and sad books are not “deeper” or “more artistic” than joyful books.  Maybe it is time more literature reflected a broader definition of adulthood; we do not need a devoted new adult label to do this.