Honest and lively YA book reviews
Many moons ago, when I was still in high school I made the misguided decision to take this god-awful AH English class in my final year before I skipped out to go travelling. I was an A student in my Higher English class. It was piss easy so I thought what the hell - how much harder can Advanced English be?! It wasn't that the class was difficult that gave me the desire to wield an AK-47 in there and be done with the whole charade, it was the fact that the tutor was so goddam up herself she made my jaw ache every time I set foot in that fucking room. On the first day of class when hopes were still running high, she had us all sit round in a pissing circle like a bunch of five year olds and share with the class what we had been reading over the summer. People were spouting off all kinds of shit like the best sellers (whatever they were that year) and some classics in prep for this bullshit. I had done exactly zero prep. Same as I did for every class. How I ever got a B in higher French I guess I'll never know, as rather than spending the year diligently learning vocabulary and practicing my verbs, accent and writing skills, I spent the year gambling in the library, at Pizza Hut or smoking behind the cabins. Good times.
So anyway, it wound it's way round to being my turn to announce my literary tastes to the world and I did not like the way this was going, not one little bit. I'm a connoisseur of YA fiction. I like the fast paced plot, the delightful impossibility of some of the stories, the snappy, quirky characters and easy going writing style. As far as I'm concerned, most adult fiction (particularly the best sellers) can go fuck itself. It's pretentious, try-hard, look-at-me bullshit. I do not care for it. Short sightedly, I expressed this opinion and was promptly asked what the hell I was doing in an Advanced Higher English class. Keep in mind this class is designed to offer students the option to enter University English at second year. It's some intense shit. A hush descended on the assembled students. Grins broke out. And that was when I knew I was so done with high school.
Dismissing YA is a fools game. There are real diamonds in there. There are incredibly talented authors writing YA and it's hugely popular. Refusing to take YA seriously is like refusing to eat tortilla chips dipped in Nutella - you're missing out. The tutor hmmm-ed and moved on and then proceeded to take nothing I submitted for my portfolio seriously. She needed to get a grip. My friend also took this class. She sat in the back and napped. When she left, the tutor approached her very apologetically, clearly embarrassed that she had misplaced this girls entire portfolio. The girl assured her that while disappointed, it wasn't a big deal failing to admit the she hadn't actually submitted a single piece of work the entire year and therefore there was no portfolio for her to collect unless you wanted to count the two cardboard covers strung together with only empty space and unfortunate failure nestled between. Yeah - that tutor really wasn't on top of things.
The point I'm trying to make, in a roundabout way is that dismiss YA all you like but you will miss incredible books like World After by Susan Ee. This book is fucking gold. Lightening fast paced, addictive and terrifyingly delightful. What an awesome series this is shaping up to be.
We join Penryn as she comes rushing back to life following her tussle with the angel-scorpion monstrosities resulting in a deep paralysis, below the angel's aerie. At her side is her bat-shit crazy mom and her little undead sister with razor blades for teeth. What follows is a whirlwind scramble for survival as Penryn tries desperately to piece her fractured family back together in the face of the looming angel-apocalypse, helped of course by her darling Raffe as he searches for his lost wings.
I just loved this. The writing was incredibly bold and brave - see, this was the level of horrifying and stomach-turning description I was expecting to read in the disappointing Anna Dressed in Blood. This is how you get a reaction from readers:
"One warrior punches his fist into a waiters stomach and pulls out a stingy, bloody mass that can only be his intestines. He drapes them over a screaming woman like fine jewellery."
This makes an impact. There's a lot of gore in this book and I'm so glad that Susan Ee didn't shy away from kicking us in the teeth with her horrifying description of blood, monsters and brutality despite World After being labeled as YA. One thing I will say that YA can fall down on is really letting go of constraints when it comes to raw and honest depictions of things that could be described as less than savoury. So to find a book like this which is honest and in-your-face is amazing.
There was nothing holding the plot back either. Susan Ee clearly just went for it, cutting back all the shit staring-at-the-sky and wandering-along-corridors-in-contemplation scenes that seem to creep their way into every single story like some kind of sinister book virus - because nothing kills a story faster than endless musing over shit nobody gives a fuck about. Without this bullshit weighing it down, World After tore along relentlessly. There was never really a lull in the story, the action was pretty much awesomely constant and everything was relevant. I felt there was a good balance between the fight scenes and the making-eyes-at-Raffe-across-the-campfire scenes, which coming from me is saying something as I tend to find romance somewhat tedious. I actually enjoyed the sexual tension built.
“There’s no way around it, is there?” I ask. “We’re mortal enemies and I should be trying to kill you and everyone like you.”
He leans over, touches the tip of his forehead to mine, and closes his eyes. “Yes.” His gentle breath caresses my lips as he says the word.
I close my eyes too, and try to focus on the warmth of his forehead resting on mine.”
It wasn't excessive and it made sense, so I'm happy.
Penryn is the heroine I've been waiting to read about forever. She's flawed sure, but she's brave and she determined and to be honest her flaws really only serve to paint her as the genuine, full and rich character that she is. I rolled my eyes and rolled my eyes hard when she began communicating with the angel sword left in her care, but the more I read, the more I liked. Having the sword almost as a character in her own right creates a way to offer insights into Raffe's feelings and past experiences. This book is just so loaded with neat little devices like this - it's almost overwhelmingly creative, smart and imaginative. Surprise, after surprise, after surprise. And none more with quite the punch that Paige managed to deliver. Paige transformed from the stereotypical clichéd damsel in distress of Angelfall into a far more complex and emotionally engaging, fleshed out character in World After. Her's and Penryn's struggle to comes to terms with the evil that has been inflicted on this little girl in a world filled with real-live nightmares, was touching and believable - Oh the feels !!!
Peppering all this horror and violence with the humour of DeeDum and the sarcastic quips of Raffe was pure genius. A perfect way to maintain the macabre tone while ensuring the book didn't become too heavy and overwhelmingly bleak. There was just so much stuff crammed in there - amazing, frightening, humorous, entertaining, heart-in-your-throat stuff that I am blown away by the skill with which Susan Ee weaved it all together. I want to be this woman - I want her brain. In a jar. On my desk.
I knock a single star off my rating for Penryn's mother. There wasn't enough of her. She's a brilliant character. Mental and frightening. I wanted more.
“I’m fine, Mom. Thanks for asking.”
“Of course you’re fine.” She keeps walking. “You’re the devil’s bride and these are his creatures.”
“I’m not the devil’s bride.”
“He carried you out of the fire and is letting you visit us from the dead. Who else would have those privileges except his bride?”
Exchanges like this between Penryn and her mother added a further dimension to an already crazy world. I wanted to know more about the mother's opinion of the what the world has become. I wanted to know if this is what she visualised during her terrifying hallucinations during the World Before. I have a sneaking suspicion that this woman has more insight than has been revealed. Or maybe she's just insane.
See, why look down your nose at YA when it can be as ingenious, heart-racing and beautifully crafted as this series? There's nothing here to be sneered at. This is the kind of YA that that goddam AH English class should have been made to read and then been dared to dismiss as "kids stuff." There's nothing here that deserves that judgement. Susan Ee is an incredibly talented and smart writer and I'm super excited to see what direction she will steer the third book in. If it's anything like the first two I can hardly fucking wait!!