YA and Encouraging the Dreams of Young Women

I recently read to novels that would be considered read-a-likes on a bookstore shelf. (You know the shelf-talkers that tell you if you like X-book, you’ll also enjoy y-book.) Both appeared to have similar goals, even similar protagonists, but both addressed a key characterization point in a ver different manner: the protagonist’s passion.

wdmr-paperback-255x300.pngThe first book I read of the two was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I saw this book on many summer reading lists last year and thought it sounded like a fun storyline. Dimple is a recent high-school grad who has just been accepted to a prestigious summer coding camp. She is shocked when her conservative Indian parents agree to let her attend. What she doesn’t know is that her parents have coordinated with another couple to arrange a marriage between Dimple and their son, Rishi, who is also attending the same camp.

The book is a light romantic comedy and was, on the whole, a fun summer read. But I was a little put off and couldn’t figure out why.

1535332715.pngThat is until I encountered My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. In this YA novel, Winnie, a aspiring film-maker and Bollywood-enthusiast finds her life-plan completely derailed. She was given a prophecy at birth describing her true love, but her high-school boyfriend who matched the description to a T has cheated on her, not to mention her aspirations to run the student film festival are looking a little rocky.

The book is filled with fleshed-out, quirky and lovable characters, and is tinged with a little magical-realism. (Also, full disclosure: I may have stocked my Netflix queue with a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan movies after reading this)

But why did I have such a stronger reaction to My So-Called Bollywood Life over When Dimple Met Rishi? I would have thought that I would have related more to Dimple with her experience in code over Winnie’s expansive Bollywood knowledge. But Sharma did something in My So-Called Bollywood Life that I didn’t experience in Dimple’s world. I got to learn things about film that I didn’t already know. I never even got to experience Dimple coding. Not once.

Both novel’s have themes of appreciating family and culture, exploring one’s future, and pursuing dreams whole-heartedly. But I think the last theme was done more effectively in My So-Called Bollywood Life.

As writers, if we want to encourage young women to pursue fields that are usually dominated by men, by placing a young female protagonist in that field, we ourselves, must show an interest in that field.

For Dimple, I felt the effort of her story was cheapened by a lack of attention put in to understand coding or how that may fulfill the female protagonist.despite the entire book taking place at a coding camp, there is never any coding happening in the book. We never get to experience Dimple in action and how that makes her feel.

On the other hand, we do get to experience Rishi’s passion—drawing— and how that makes him feel. For a book targeted to young women, I certainly felt an inequity here. In some ways, I thought there was more importance placed on pursuing a relationship with a boy than fulfilling a life calling or dream.

Sharma let us experience was it felt like for Winnie to splice film and talk about equipment. Was I able to totally understand as a non-filmmaker? Not entirely, but I did believe that Winnie understood and I got to feel a little bit of what her passion awakened in her.

Menon’s second novel was released this summer has a female filmmaker protagonist. I have not read From Twinkle, with Love, but I hope she was able to take a queue from Sharma and show young women what it is to live into your passion realistically.

What about you? Have you read My So-Called Bollywood Life or When Dimple Met Rishi? What did you think? What books do you think demonstrate the importance of pursuing a passion? What authors have you read that demonstrate a character’s passion well?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Until then, keep on reading!

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Book Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

This fall I made a more conscious effort to read books for just the fun of it. Mostly, this meant a lot of YA novels.

Growing up, I was a sucker for fairytales. Hours upon hours of Disney princess movies led to bringing home fairy tale collections from the school library. Once I had read through all of those, I traipsed all about the yard in my moms old bridesmaids dresses making up my own. Eventually, this evolved into writing my own.

And somewhere in the past few years I had let myself forget that.

And then I read Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

Rogerson’s debut novel is a splendid new fairytale set in a world of old folklore with a fresh twist.

The fair folk are a fairy race who cannot create anything lest they die. As a result of their limitations, they will pay great amounts for beautiful handmade goods. Isobel is the best portrait artist the fair folk know, and it’s not a surprise when a fairy prince, Rook, comes to have her paint his portrait. Isobel paints the human emotion of sorrow into his picture—a crime punishable by death. To be tried for her crimes, Rook takes Isobel captive and she discovers the fair folk’s world isn’t everything her world has come to think it is.

Rogerson’s artistic background is a major asset to the telling of this novel, not only in the realism she brings to Isobel’s abilities, but also in the beautiful world within the book. It takes something special for the book to have a strong aesthetic, but Rogerson sets scenes with great strength. The images are not over-described, and yet so vivid.

The story keeps a quick pace and the tension rises nicely. Her characters are strong and believable and her world is one I would love to return to. I would have not guessed this was her first novel.

Reading her book reminded me of a love of fairy tales I haven’t returned to in too long a time. I’m now revisiting old favorites and why I was inspired by them in the first place.

You can get your own copy of An Enchantment of Ravens here.

Book Review: Warcross

It has been my goal this fall to get more in touch with Young Adult literature since that is the sphere in which I would ultimately like to write.

I recently subscribed to Uppercast Box (which is AWESOME, by they way) and the first book to come my way was Warcross by Maria Lu.

Warcross takes place in a very near future where we have discarded social media and video games for the brilliant and revolutionary replacement of virtual reality—namely, the game Warcross. It’s in this sphere that we meet Emika Chin—a talented hacker and gamer who has been dealt a bad hand and a criminal record. The annual Warcross games (think the Olympics mixed with the Quidditch World Cup) are coming up and Emika plans to watch, despite the eviction notices showing up on her door and her meager income from bounty hunting not taking care of her debts. She performs a hack during the opening games that launches her into the limelight and catching the attention of her hero and Warcross creator Hideo Tanaka.

Sound like fun?

Here’s why I enjoyed it:

  • Diverse cast: the characters of the book span numerous cultures and ethnicities—something that you didn’t see very often ten years ago. I loved learning about Japanese cultures and relating with characters that didn’t look like me. I was also touched thinking of the young women who did connect with these characters because they looked like them. I love that!
  • Smart, savvy female protagonist: Emika is resourceful, flawed, vulnerable, and strong. I loved how Lu pulled back the layers of her main character in a way that was intriguing and relatable. Our culture demands strong female leads, but we are often given women who do not feel or are just fighting machines. Emika can handle her own battles, but isn’t afraid to lean into a potential romance, or feel loss. She was so different from me, but I connected with her immediately.
  • Dilemma not one of love, but morality: I won’t spoil the big conflict of the novel, but I will say that I really respected that it did not center around the romance of the story, but instead the integrity of the characters. This was fresh and very discussable.

I would recommend Warcross to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games or Divergent series—a tough female lead who actually has a heart and discernible skills. I also would recommend this to gamers who love to read. I have it on good authority that Lu threw in all kinds of great gaming easter eggs that were completely lost on me just because that’s not part of my world.

I cannot wait to see where the sequel leads and which path Emika chooses to take.

Book Review: The Day The Angels Fell

I love YA literature even as an adult. Authors have freedom within the genre to do so much more than with books marketed for adults in most cases.

I don’t know if this is because the audience is more willing to suspend disbelief or more open to new ideas, but there’s more for a writer to play with that still has a greater chance of being published. That said, Christian fiction has been in a YA drought for a while.

I was worried that works like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and L’Engle’s beautiful works were past us. Instead, there are romance primers for girls and next-to-nothing for boys and that’s been the case for many years now.

So imagine my relief and excitement when I heard about Shawn Smucker’s debut novel The Day The Angels Fell.

Smucker’s magical realism novel explores themes of death, good vs. evil, friendship and family. He tells the story of Sam, a twelve year old boy whose mother has just passed in a freak accident in his place. Immediately he decides that he must go on a quest to find the mysterious Tree of Life he’s heard from mysterious characters in town and his best friend, Abra, is along for the ride with him.

Smucker’s writing is clean and his voice is strong. I loved the images he colors his scenes with and his characters are complex and relatable. I was right along with him the whole way.

I often find that contemporary childrens and young adult literature in CBA gets quite preachy or at least harps on the “moral” far too much, but this is not an issue with Smucker’s novel. His themes are clear, but have such a depth. He trusts his audience and I think that will be appreciated by young readers and adults. He—and his characters, for that matter—don’t talk down to the reader. He’s pacing alongside the whole while with some truly profound insights tucked naturally within the story. I was often sent racing from the couch for a pen to underline some absolute gems. (See the meme below!)

I would recommend The Day the Angels Fell to fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and L’Engle’s a Wrinkle in Time.  At turns dark and others heartwarming, Smucker’s world is original, heart-wrenching, and profound.

Pick up your copy here!