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I know reading isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. I find that hard to understand, but it’s true that even some of you reading this post have never known the pleasure of spending a whole day just getting lost in a good book.
Despite this, whenever I talk with non-bookish people about anything to do with reading or writing, we quickly find ourselves on common ground. Friends who have never read a book just for fun will start talking about one series, one author and one boy wizard who changed everything.
Not only did Harry Potter engage an entire generation of young readers, the series also sparked the phenomenon of adults reading books that were meant to be for children and young adults.
Harry Potter and friends got another year older in each book. As readers (or movie watchers) we engaged with the story of these young characters who were smart, brave and had everything to fight for.
I hope it’s not too much of a big jump from the wizarding world to the books that I’m going to write about today, all of which are set in the real world.
Adult fiction, especially when set in the real world, often comes from a place where the narrator has resigned themselves to the fucked up way in which their world works. By contrast, Young Adult (YA) fiction focuses on characters who are experiencing their world for the first time. Characters feel new emotions, ask questions, and are not afraid to challenge the way things are.
I’m often no longer interested in reading about gritty adult lives, scarred emotions, deaths, divorces and abandoned dreams. I want to read stories that have a sense of hope.
Emergency Contact – Mary H.K. Choi
Is it OK that I relate so much to Penny, the lead character in Emergency Contact? She’s an aspiring writer, perpetually feels like an outsider, and she wears a lot of black.
Penny is just starting college. Although her roommate Jude is nice they really have nothing in common and it certainly doesn’t help that Jude already has a rich and glamourous best friend in town.
Sam works in the coffee shop round the corner. He’s only a few years older than Penny and Jude, but he’s kind of Jude’s uncle. And his kind of girlfriend is kind of pregnant. Can things possibly get any more awkward?
Sam and Penny’s story is a friendship built over text message. In fact, Penny and Sam were really only ever meant to message each other in an emergency, but sometimes life can be a little bit nicer when you just have someone to chat to. Someone who just gets you, and accepts you, and maybe even also wears a lot of black.
Emergency Contact is packed full of those little moments, tiny observations, thoughts and feelings which we don’t always share but when we do, we realise that someone else was feeling just the same way too.
The Hate U Give and On The Come Up – Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is the story of 16 year old Starr, who witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Starr desperately wants the world to know that Khalil was an unarmed, innocent victim, while antagonists on both sides of the law want her to keep quiet.
Set in the same neighbourhood, On The Come Up introduces us to aspiring rapper Bri, who soon has all eyes on her after stepping into the ring at a local freestyle rap battle. When her music starts going viral for all the wrong reasons, she finds herself in trouble both at school and on the streets.
Angie Thomas gives no sugar coating to the world in which her characters live. Garden Heights is a tough place to grow up. Gangs run the streets, drug addiction is common and many families live below the poverty line.
Yet Thomas doesn’t describe Garden Heights in a way that is intended to shock. Neither does she draw us in with any attempt to glamorise the underworld. We see Garden Heights through the eyes of teenage protagonists who know that life can be harsh, but who also have strong role models showing them that there is another way. Thomas’s characters show us that people are not one dimensional. We meet a loving father, running his own business and choosing the best school for his children. It’s hard to believe that he’s a former gang member who spent his daughter’s early childhood in jail.
In their respective stories, Starr and Bri are not only fighting battles of opinions. Both have moments where they are in physical danger and have to stand up to gang members. Their courage and determination to be the change in their communities make them inspirations to readers of all ages.
Last but not least, Starr and Bri are both Harry Potter fans.
This Beats Perfect, A Secret Beat and The Punk Factor – Rebecca Denton
This Beats Perfect, A Secret Beat and The Punk Factor are all set in the London music industry. While each story has completely different protagonists all three books exist in the same universe, with some familiar characters making appearances as each story unfolds.
This Beats Perfect hooked me in with a female lead, Amelie, who may one day become a star, but will never let herself be starstruck. As she battles with her own nerves about performing on stage, she starts getting to know a member of the world’s current favourite boyband, The Keep.
A Secret Beat follows two music industry interns, Alexia and Greta. Both girls are passionately chasing their dreams but they’ve each got a secret that could end their careers all too soon. When The Keep arrive in town their lives really start to heat up.
It’s fascinating to see how those who grew up around the music industry are so unfazed by everything that goes on backstage and hardly raise an eyebrow when they meet someone famous. Amelie and Alexia both have family connections in the business while Greta is a complete outsider. In fact, Greta is a fangirl and she knows it. But is that the only role she’s destined to play?
From disappointing sex through to domestic abuse, The Punk Factor is significantly grittier than its predecessors, as the series matures along with its audience. Frankie, with her friends Haruna and Aimee, wants to be in a band, but she has a few things to learn first. Like how to play the guitar. Meanwhile, Haruna is having a tough time even getting out of the house. That’s not even where her bad luck ends. Even as an adult reader, I found that some events in Haruna’s story affected me quite deeply.
All three books are packed with music references to geek out to and the use of song titles as chapter names is the icing on the cake. Each story see the characters growing and changing as people, while taking steps forward with their careers. As a reader you can’t help wanting to know where their paths will lead them next.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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