Tag Archives: Get Yer YA Out

Get Yer YA Out: Personal Demons

Earlier this summer I was talking to someone in the publishing industry about what would be the next big thing in YA paranormal romance now that vampires, fairies, werewolves, and zombies have been overused. She suggested mermaids and angels. Sure enough, the only ARC I brought home from the ALA conference has an angel in it and I’ve seen some mermaid fiction with horrible titles (Forgive my Fins, seriously?!) in the bookstore. Stories about seemingly ordinary girls who are internally conflicted because two gorgeous boys happen to be in love with them are fairly common in YA fiction. Personal Demons manages to be more amusing than most examples of the genre because the main character Frannie is attracted to an angel and a demon. While reading this book I kept imagining Frannie trying to choose between a devil and angel perched on her shoulder. While Desrochers does fall into a few first-time author traps, there’s a certain sense of humor on display in Personal Demons that makes it fun to read.

The story opens from the point of view of Luc, an immortal demon who has concluded “If there’s a Hell on Earth, it’s high school.” He works in the Acquisitions department of Hell, giving human souls a little push that will send them on the path towards the devil. He notices Frannie in English class and thinks that she may be The One – someone with an extra-special soul who needs to be tagged for Hell. The book switches between narrators as Luc and Frannie discover their growing attraction for each other. Frannie is less of a doormat than some YA heroines, displaying tomboyish hobbies like training in judo and restoring old cars. Frannie is drawn to Luc but ends up being more than a little conflicted due to some personal issues like the death of her brother many years ago and she’s struggling with the expectations of her strict Catholic family. No sooner does Franny start to warm up to Luc but yet another gorgeous boy appears who also happens to be interested in her. His name, of course, is Gabriel. While Luc is a dark and dangerous leather-clad bad boy Gabriel is an angelically gorgeous blond with a surfer vibe.

One of the ways where I thought the book failed a little bit is that by only switching back and forth between Franny and Luc as narrators, the love triangle isn’t very believable. By letting the reader inside Luc and Frannie’s heads but leaving Gabriel to be an angelic cipher there’s never any doubt who Frannie is going to end up with. As Luc and Frannie develop their relationship further, the forces of good and evil take a particular interest in the fate of this teenage girl and Frannie’s unusual abilities alter her destiny. Frannie is certainly more active and strong-willed than some of the typical YA paranormal romance heroines (Bella, I’m looking at you), using her judo skills to punish a boy who was hitting on her and not taking no for an answer. I wish that Desrochers used dialog more than hobbies to establish character. Frannie drawing on her judo training to calm her mind and restoring cars with her granddad seems more like the writer is just doing character development by listing outside traits instead of relying on more subtle methods to define personality.

In the end though I was amused by the demon-human-angel love triangle. Luc’s full name is Lucifier Cain, which had me mentally cracking up when I read it, because could there exist a more stereotypical name for a demon? I think not. Also, Frannie’s friends have the most hilarious reactions to suddenly seeing her inexplicably pursued by two gorgeous boys. While it might not be the strongest paranormal YA romance out there, Personal Demons has a certain breezy charm and is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy reading love stories placed firmly within an epic struggle between good and evil.

Get Yer YA Out: Wicked Lovely

It is probably a little unfair to Melissa Marr that I think of her work often whenever someone mentions Twilight. This is partially because her first book, Wicked Lovely, was published during the post-Twilight teen paranormal romance deluge. I didn’t jump on the Twilight bandwagon early, and I think I read Twilight, Eclipse, and Wicked Lovely in short succession.

But out of the many teen paranormal romances that I’ve sampled, I think her Wicked Lovely series is one of the best. There are also some interesting parallels in the behavior of the male characters, but where Twilight is filled with unintentional howlers, Wicked Lovely is a nice example of a teen urban fantasy that you might want to hand to the Twihard in your life if you wish to gently reprogram them.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

There aren’t many new creatures to write about in paranormal romance. Typically you have vampires (Twilight, Vampire Diaries, too many others to mention), werewolves (Need, Shiver), even zombies (The Forest of Hands and Teeth). Wicked Lovely deals with the very popular urban fantasy device of fairies, except they are portrayed as mostly creepy instead of being regarded as eternally lovely magical beings.

Aislinn has the ability to see fairies. Everywhere she goes, she sees invisible creatures engaged in malicious acts, either torturing each other or playing tricks on the humans who walk through the world absolutely blind. Her grandmother has trained her since childhood not to react to any fairies that cross her path. Unfortunately Aislinn has captured the attention of the worst fairy possible for her, Keenan, who is king of the Summer Fey. Keenan is locked into a centuries-old quest to find his queen among mortal women, leaving behind a trail of ruined lives from girls who were forced to join his brainless harem of Summer Girls or had their lives altered in an entirely different way by becoming the eternally frosty Winter Girl.

Keenan begins to woo Aislinn, and she is terrified. He’s utterly beautiful and possesses the fairy mojo to force anyone to be attracted to him. Where Twilight romanticizes stalking and controlling behavior in the form of Edward the perfect vampire, Aislinn just wants Keenan to leave her alone. He shows up at her hang-outs. He enrolls in her school using a glamor to appear human. All of Aislinn’s friends are mystified as to why she’s so hostile to the new transfer student. Where Twilight’s Bella is mostly passive, Aislinn tries to take control of her situation through research and negotiation. She’s aided by her almost-boyfriend Seth, who is perhaps one of the most awesome punk rock boyfriends ever to appear in the pages of a YA novel. He’s entirely supportive of whatever decision Aislinn makes, goes to the library to research fairy history for her, lives in a converted train, and sports an amazing variety of piercings. It makes sense that Seth would be presented as practically perfect in every way since he’s shown to the reader as Aislinn sees him. Even though it is heavily idealized, seeing a relationship where two people were genuinely supportive of each other while facing a threat was a refreshing change of pace from the usual angst one finds in teen fiction.

I appreciated the way Marr developed Keenan’s character. While the reader can have sympathy for his motivations, he’s presented as a hamstrung monarch who is utterly befuddled when someone defies him. He’s convinced that Aislinn is his destined queen but he is so used to human women throwing themselves at his feet if he deigns to smile at them, he’s utterly at a loss when Aislinn rejects his advances. Wicked Lovely has an ending which is a nice twist on the “girl becomes fairy princess” conclusion that you might expect from reading a story about a girl pursued by a fairy King.

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

The second book in the Wicked Lovely series is structured in a way that I wish was more common in YA series. It isn’t a straight sequel. Instead of continuing the adventures of Aislinn, Keenan, and Seth, Ink Exchange focuses on Aislinn’s friend Leslie. There must be something in the water at Bishop O’Connell High School, because it certainly seems to produce teenage girls that fairies are inexplicably attracted to. Leslie comes from a broken and abusive home, but she’s hiding her family life from her friends and any authority figure. She’s fixated on the idea of getting a tattoo as a tangible reminder of the way she wants to change her life. Unfortunately the tattoo shop she selects is connected to the fairy Dark Court, and the tattoo of her dreams will cause her to be bound to the king of the fairy Dark Court.

One of the things I like about the Wicked Lovely series is that it explores dark themes, and there’s actually tension built up for the reader as they wonder about Leslie’s ultimate fate. She spirals down, trapped in the addictive power of the dark fairies and has to fight her way back in order to find herself again. Leslie is aided by one of Keenan’s advisers, a defector from the Dark Court named Niall. Aislinn appears briefly in a few scenes, but this book is entirely Leslie’s story. As a character, she’s initially more broken than Aislinn, and the Dark Court is far more malicious towards fairies and humans than the Summer Court introduced in the previous book.

One of the things that annoyed me about the Twilight series was that for a bunch of books about vampires it was unfortunately toothless. Action scenes happened offstage. There’s never any real narrative tension or reason to worry about what will ultimately happen to the characters. The Wicked Lovely books do a much better job of maintaining a consistent thematic atmosphere. The fairies don’t measure their actions against human morality and sometimes mortals are broken or used up. These books aren’t great literature, but they do serve their purpose as well-written teen paranormal romance. In a world filled with substandard Twilight knock-offs, that isn’t something to take for granted.

Get Yer YA Out: Heist Society

I read young adult books for a number of reasons. The best YA books match adult books in quality of writing and engaging stories. I’m very busy, and most of the time I’m trying to read a book while doing a ton of other stuff. YA books are often a little bit shorter and easier to read, so I can have a satisfying reading experience without investing a ton of time in a book. With the insane popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight it isn’t unusual for adults to read YA books anymore. In Get Yer YA Out I’ll explore young adult books with adult appeal.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

What if the gang from Ocean’s Eleven was all grown up and had children of their own? And what if their teenage kids grew up being trained since childhood with all the skills they needed to pick pockets, run a con, and steal priceless art?

Kat has decided to try being a normal kid for a change. She’s left a life of jet-setting thievery behind and taken refuge in the stuffy Colgan boarding school. The novel opens with Kat facing disciplinary action for the MIT-like prank of placing the headmaster’s car on top of the school’s fountain. There’s only one problem – Kat didn’t do it. Faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Kat is kicked out of school. As she heads out of the school gates a limo pulls up beside her. She climbs in and greets her not-boyfriend W.W. Hale the Fifth.

Hale reveals that he got Kat kicked out of school because her father is suspected of stealing priceless paintings from an Italian mobster. Despite the fact that her father has an alibi of sorts (he was stealing something else in Paris at the time), Arturo Taccone tells Kat that if she doesn’t get his paintings back her friends and family will suffer. Kat decides she will steal the paintings to save her dad even if she doesn’t know who the real thief is. What follows is a globe-trotting adventure as Kat puts together a teenage crew that includes Hale, her sexually overdeveloped bitchy cousin Gabrielle, the tag-team Bagshaw brothers, and technical whiz Simon.

Even though plenty of stories about international art heists have been written before, Carter makes hers charming by winking at her predecessors. Kat doesn’t know Hale’s first name and is constantly trying to figure it out. Kat attempts to tail her father in Paris, and he ends up using her to create a diversion for the Interpol agents who are also following him. Kat’s gang has a shared past which is referred to with the type of shorthand that people develop after telling their stories to each other over and over again. Statements like “I thought the monkey was well-trained” and “We didn’t know she was a nun” evoked past adventures that inspire curiosity in the reader.

Kat is a clever and resourceful heroine, with enough teenage insecurity to inspire sympathy. While she takes the leadership role in performing the heist of a lifetime, she’s still trying to figure out how she feels about being pulled back into her family of thieves and needs to sort out her feelings for Hale.

Carter hints at a larger back story for the characters. What really happened to Kat’s missing mother? How did Hale decide to join Kat? Why does the legendary master thief Uncle Eddie hate Kat’s father so much?

Having all these unexplored plot points makes me look forward to a sequel. Heist Society is just fun to read even if it isn’t particularly deep. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Heist Society has been optioned as a movie. Shauna Cross, who wrote Whip It, is adapting the book. In some ways the book does resemble a proto-screenplay, with plenty of action and humor that I hope will translate well to the movie screen. It makes me wish that a world existed where teenagers with multiple passports really could invade a museum after traveling from New York to Vegas to Paris to Vienna to London in the space of a week.