Image: 123rf.com/macrovector 43210288
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.
Image 123rf.com Image Ref: 45687470
OK, just before we start, that's not me in the picture above. I don't spend my life sitting serenely in windows, reading books and watching butterflies. I read either at the dinner table, where my book is at constant risk of tomato sauce splatter, or else in bed with a book on the pillow next to me, half a centimetre from my face because I'm ridiculously shortsighted.
In this post, I'm sharing some of the books I've enjoyed reading over the last year or so. All are fiction, set in the real world, with female lead characters.
If you're keen to read any of these books, the Amazon links are right underneath the book images. Clever, huh?
Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral - Helen Fitzgerald
I first picked up Viral soon after a trip to the very same holiday destination where major events in the story take place, making the setting all too horridly vivid in my mind. With a plot that moves at breakneck speed, laced with humour as dark and dirty as a Magaluf nightclub, Viral had me hooked and I went straight on to find more books by the same author.
Whether it be to confront a crisis or to escape one, Helen Fitzgerald’s characters love to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. It’s telling then to find out that the author grew up in Australia, lives in Scotland and also spends a lot of time in Italy. The world feels like a much smaller place once you’ve been to the other side of it, and I think the idea of characters running around the world on a whim would really only spring into the mind of someone who has at some time packed up their life and moved to another country.
In Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral, not only are the lead characters frequently on the move but their stories are multifaceted, going beyond traditional crime fiction narratives to layer in past experiences and family influences which become integral to present day events.
Bloody Women delves into what should be the unremarkable relationship history of Catriona, who is about to get married and shouldn’t really be thinking about her ex-boyfriends too much. Except the ex-boyfriends all start turning up dead. Catriona is arrested for murder, but that’s only one of her problems.
The Devil’s Staircase paints possibly the bleakest imaginable picture of backpacker life in London, but for 18 year old Bronny it’s more than enough. Bronny’s just running away from the fate she believes is waiting for her back home, preferring instead to shape her own destiny.
Su Oliphant-Brotheridge in Viral is a much less enthusiastic participant in her own overseas misadventures, when what should have been just another night partying in Magaluf ends with Su desperately trying to run away from herself while life as she knows it comes crashing down around her ears.
All three books are packed with characters who are larger than life, yet absolutely believable and full of surprises.
Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones was a child of material privilege, although it was her parent’s distant relationship with their child that led her to wander down Sunset Strip in her early teens and get herself into the groupie scene. Daisy partied because she had nothing much else to do, became a personality with her photo in the social pages, and eventually became a rock star with records at the top of the charts.
Daisy Jones & The Six dives into what it was really like to be a rock star in the seventies. Instead of looking up at the stage, we’re sitting in the green room and the studio, watching the band from inside their own world. Every band has its front person, its star, but this band had two, Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne.
Despite getting equal airtime as a lead singer, even Billy becomes a supporting cast member in a story that is, ultimately, all about Daisy. Predictably, Daisy fails to find lasting happiness in a life that can sometimes seem like it was devoted to hedonism, with a music career thrown in along the way for good measure.
Daisy Jones & The Six is written as a series of interviews with the band, their friends, families and associates, in a style so authentic that it led readers (myself included) to Google the question “Is Daisy Jones a real person?”. The book even includes complete lyrics for the band’s album ‘Aurora’. Millions of people loved the Daisy Jones they saw on stage and in magazines. Did anyone love her in real life?
How To Be Famous - Caitlin Moran
How To Be Famous is the sequel to the hugely successful How To Build A Girl, in which teenage writer Johanna Morrigan reinvented herself as music journalist Dolly Wilde and set off to London, where the streets may not be paved with gold but are most certainly lined with adventures.
In this second instalment, Dolly meets feisty singer Suzanne Banks and together they set out to take down a man who has sleazed his way around London one too many times. In the meantime, Suzanne’s band The Branks rip the music scene a new one with their debut album while Johanna endearingly attempts to write her way into the heart of her unrequited love.
How To Be Famous is a Britpop nostalgia trip, and one clear advantage of the mid-nineties setting is that the narrative need not be hampered by modern technology. Johanna’s career in print media isn’t under threat from online competitors, blog is a curse word yet to be uttered (and I’m fully aware of the irony as I write this in my blog post) and she can’t use her crush’s Instagram feed to track his every move around the globe.
Johanna marches into every exploit with her eyes wide open, yet still grows as a person through her friendship with Suzanne and her encounters with the two leading men of the story, one an archetypal abuser of power and the other a true gentleman disguised in wastrel clothing. I admire Johanna for the decisions she makes, especially her determination to maintain her independence and sense of equality in a relationship where she could easily let these hard won boundaries slide.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
All text content © Nicola Ranger 2013-2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
All reader comments are moderated before publication.