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British Comedy YA Books

Hilarious British YA Fiction | YALSA's The Hub
CC Image via Flickr User Matthew Sylvester

British media is really the best, because it has something to offer almost everyone. Love all things Austen? You probably love Downton Abbey! Obsessed with mysteries

(and Benedict Cumberbatch)? Sherlock! Wacky, galaxy-hopping fantasy adventure? You must be a Doctor Who fan. But my personal favorite Anglo import has to be the British comedy.

I’m not sure what, exactly, about British comedy makes it so particularly appealing, but I’ve loved it ever since PBS started airing classics like Are You Being Served and Vicar of Dibley waaaaay back in the day. The Brit Com seems to have cornered the market on ridiculously embarrassing antics from endearingly witty oddballs, and something it about it speaks to me (as to what that says about me…well, we’ll leave that to speculation). But while Brit Coms on TV don’t seem to have the same resonance with teens as Doctor Who and Sherlock, there is one area where they dominate: YA books.

A perfect example? The snarky, irreverent Georgia Nicolson from Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging (2001 Printz Honor book and first of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison). When you first meet Georgia, she’s just accidentally shaved off one eyebrow (whoops!) and is working on ways to make that look, you know, work. Her fab lingo is just as delightful as her wry observations – I called my school “Stalag 14” all the way through high school – and no matter how you slice it, she remains one of my all-time favorite voices in, er, literature.

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What Would They Read?: My Little Pony (Part Two)

My Little Pony
from deviantart user bluedragonhans

Welcome back! As I mentioned before, the television reboot of the My Little Pony franchise (Friendship Is Magic) has managed to find an older audience than one would expect. I am both a regular viewer and frequent reader of YA lit, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at what teen titles the ponies would read in their free time.

I have continued to select books featuring female protagonists, in keeping with many of the themes found in Friendship Is Magic.

Today, I am finishing up the main group of ponies with custom lists for Applejack, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie.

Applejack
from deviantart user autumn-spice

Applejack

Racing SavannahApplejack is a strong farm pony who can often be found kicking apple trees to collect the fruit or performing other tasks around the orchard. She seems to prefer physical activities over dress-up, and is successful in tasks that would often be considered more traditional for a male. Because of this, I thought she may enjoy reading Miranda Kenneally’s books that feature female characters participating in sports that are often male-dominated. I think she would start with Racing Savannah because of the equestrian connection, but really Catching Jordan or Stealing Parker would be as appropriate.

I also think that she may be interested in Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins. Now, Applejack may not be a debutante, but she certainly is southern (the whole Apple family has southern twangs!). Rebel Belle features a female lead, Harper, who is charged with protecting a male character. This reminds me of how often Applejack ends up having to save the day on her apple farm instead of leaving it to her older brother, who is larger in size and appears to be the physically stronger pony. 

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Genre Guide: Young Adult Humor

comedy masksDisclaimer

It is almost impossible to define or categorize what constitues a “humor book” versus a “book that is funny.” Nonetheless, I think it is important to be able to point to books that have an overarching comic, comedic, or humorous plot. These are the books I will label as part of the “humor” genre, even though humor is a lot more complicated and broad than that.

Definition

According to arbitrary rules of comedy that comedians/comic writers break all the time, a comic plot is one that continues to escalate, or “raise the stakes,” until it is fundamentally resolved in some manner, and ends with the general success of the protagonist, often (but not necessarily) romantically. I’m personally going to say that a young adult humor book is one in which some comedic device, whether it’s a classic trope like the ol’ mistaken identity trick, or something more complex, like a plot that relies a lot on situational irony, takes up most of the plot. The plot can still include romance, fantastical or science fiction elements, tragedy, etc.

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Woman Laughing Alone With Books

April is National Humor Month, and as The Hub’s resident amateur stand-up comedian, I’ve been asked — okay, fine, I’ve taken it upon myself — to cover humorous YA novels. The category itself is fairly broad. After all, don’t most books have a little humor to lighten the mood? When can a book be classified under the “Humor” genre and when is it just a novel that happens to be funny, among other things? Are there differences in how authors approach “boy” humor versus “girl” humor? (If you thought I wouldn’t sneak gender politics into this post you were sadly mistaken.) Are there “classics” in YA humor? How far is too far when it comes to comic novels dealing with the tricky stuff? I can’t answer all these questions, but I can think about my own favorite YA novels that are pretty seriously funny, and tell you why I think so.

Everybody has different notions of what makes a book funny. You might be someone who says, “I’m just more interested in science fiction than in comic novels,” or “You know, I really prefer romance to humor.” That’s why I’ve got ten really great, really diverse books that defy genre to happily recommend to any reader, no matter what your comedy interests are.

Will Grayson Will GraysonFirst of all, I’d be remiss not to mention Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. At this point, everyone on Planet Earth has read, or at least heard of, this book. I’m not even going to summarize it for you because you’ve probably read several summaries already. But Tiny Cooper happens to be one of my favorite characters in YA fiction, and easily one of the funniest, and his musical about his own life is enough to give this book a go for National Humor Month.

One of my unspoken rules of YA is that if an author I love loves another author, I have to read that second author’s work too. It’s the transitive property of YA lit, or something. That’s why I’m happy to report that Meg Cabot’s review of Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway did not let me down. Audrey, Wait! tells the story of a girlfriend who dumps her lead-singer boyfriend, Evan, only to become famous by association after Evan writes a song about it. Audrey, Wait! has a subtle feminist message about how being someone’s “muse” isn’t always a good thing, but more than that, it’s seriously funny and features a likable protagonist.

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Cross-Unders: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers

by flickr user erin_everlasting
by flickr user erin_everlasting

Tween readers — those ages 9 to 12 — come to the teen section for a variety of reasons.

In some cases, tweens are drawn to teen books because of popularity and media exposure. For example, many tweens request titles such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. Some tweens are avid readers of a particular genre and have exhausted the titles available to them in the children’s fiction section.

The tweens at the library where I work are a good example. One girl (I’ll call her Alicia) is 11 going on 12. Alicia loves horror and ghost stories and is a huge fan of Mary Downing Hahn. However, she’s read all of the titles that we have, and now she goes downstairs to the teen section in search of new, more intense scares. She’s currently reading The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff.

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Five Books for the End of the World

I am not a superstitious person. But if I were, and I thought the world was going to come crashing down around us in less than a month as some are predicting, here are the five books I would want in my post-apocalyptic handbag.

(Note: However tempting it is to choose things like The Physicians’ Desk Reference, the spirit of this game is more like “what 5 books would you want to read over and over?”, not “which 5 books will help you survive?” For thoughts on survival and YA lit, check out Sarah Debraksi’s recent post about her life post-Sandy.)

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The Next Big Retelling: Gothic Novels

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

We’re all pretty familiar with retellings of classic stories; Pride and Prejudice took up a great deal of the second half of the 2000s, from Enthusiasm to Prom & Prejudice. Then fairy tales became huge, with authors like Alex Flinn producing awesome tales like Beastly, A Kiss in Time, and Cloaked. And that’s not to mention the resurgence and reprinting of stories by Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine. But the past couple of years have shown us the start of a new Big Thing: the retelling of Gothic novels.

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Quirk Works!

Quick! Pop quiz! The Princess Bride, Holes, The Phantom Tollbooth, and anything by Roald Dahl. What do these books have in common? They’re quirky! Witty, clever, strange, and wonderful. If you look up quirky in the dictionary will you not find The BFG, Willy Wonka, Inigo Montoya, Stanley Yelnats, or The Dodecahedron? I’ve already talked about how I love funny books, but I also love me some quirk. From kids’ picture books (hello Punk Farm!) to graphic novels to adult non-fiction, I appreciate some far-out weird in my stories. I’m looking to escape to different worlds with unusual, interesting people — and bonus if they’re funny and quick witted.

I think that modern YA fiction has become increasingly sophisticated. We’ve got a lot of the heavy and serious, the dark and foreboding, and, of course, the seriously romantic. This is not a bad thing. Perhaps as a result, though, newer YA books have less whimsy than, say, the books mentioned above. For that matter, they seem to be written to appeal to an older audience. Do YA books nowadays skew to more mature topics and sensibilities? I can imagine that writers, editors, and publishers are really trying to capture that older teen, knowing that they will still get that younger reader because many kids tend to read up. Those in the book biz are also doing a good job of capturing the adult reader these days, which might be further evidence of my assertion. So they’ve got tweens, the older teens, AND the adults. Great for business! Despite this, since there are roughly 5,000 YA books published every year, quirky and funny books are definitely in the mix somewhere.

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Where Has All the Humor Gone in YA Books?

Teens watch and love funnymen Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and David Letterman, but there’s a real lack of funny YA books for teens. Yes, I know teens like serious contemporary fiction or whatever is popular in the media/movies right now — and that’s zombies, superheroes and adventure/survival/horror stuff — but I also know they like to laugh, too, and feel good at the end of a book. Many YA books feature sarcastic teens, but there’s a lack of purely lighthearted, laugh-out-loud books for teens. John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults) was the last book that I read that I thought was funny: Tiny Cooper made me laugh. It wasn’t completely lighthearted, but it walked the fine line between being serious and being humorous.

David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie (2006 Best Books for Young Adults) was funny (but also had its serious aspects) — 9th grader Scott offers a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” to his unborn sibling on surviving freshman year of high school as he himself is being picked on by upperclassmen for his lunch money and tortured to death in gym, among other things.

There’s so much more outright humor written for younger kids (Louis Sachar’s books, Dan Gutman’s books, the Captain Underpants books…) but much less for teens.

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Sleeping Bags and Books

I love summer for the flip flops, the roasting of marshmallows, and the great summer books. When I was younger, I went to a few camps–Girl Scout day camp and two basketball camps — but there were no cute boys and no campfire, and I never made lifelong friends. When I was young, I loved the Baby-Sitters Club books, and I read and reread Baby-Sitters’ Summer Vacation because I wanted that experience. In case you’re spending the summer at home this year, you can live vicariously through these fun books.

Sports and Fitness Camp

Huge by Sasha Paley (which was adapted for TV on ABC Family for one season): Wilhelmina can’t believe her parents forced her to go to fat camp. They own a chain of fitness centers and she’s not good for their image. Rebelling, she vows not to lose a single pound during the summer. Her attitude makes her bunkmate angry, especially when the two of the go after the same guy. Will the girls learn to get along?

Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis: Shelby follows her heart, which leads her into trouble. This time trouble equals summer camp, and not the leisurely camp with sports or canoe rides down the river — this is brat camp. It’s where the rich send their children for hard work and therapy and to learn discipline. It’s basically the worst possible way to spend your summer. Just when she thinks she might have everything under control, a boy appears. He’s a handsome British boy with a secret, and he has disaster written all over him.

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