I have read more YA books than usual recently, and I have been appreciating the way in which they can often be more honest than adult fiction, and that when they deal with the realities of the world – with or without using fantastical elements – it feels more sincere. Obviously I do not think all teen fiction does this, but my recent reads certainly apply and I think there are a lot of really good stories of all genres aimed at teenagers coming out right now. In this post I am going to give a little review of three: Blood to Poison by Mary Watson, Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth, and The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton.
Blood to Poison by Mary Watson
Seventeen-year-old Savannah is cursed. It’s a sinister family heirloom; passed down through the bloodline for hundreds of years, with one woman in every generation destined to die young. The family call them Hella’s girls, named for their ancestor Hella; the enslaved woman with whom it all began.
Hella’s girls are always angry, especially in the months before they die. The anger is bursting from Savannah – at the men who cat-call her in the street, at her mother’s disingenuous fiance, even at her own loving family. Each fit of rage is bringing her closer to the edge and now Savannah has to act to save herself. Or die trying. Because the key to survival lies in the underbelly of Cape Town, where the sinister veilwitches are waiting for just such a girl.
When I heard of this book, I had to get my hands on it immediately. There are so few stories coming from South African authors and set in South Africa that find their way to mainstream publishers, at least in the UK, and to see this story of a mixed-raced young woman trying to navigate her anger at an unfair world, and the way it takes the form of a curse, was so cool.
I especially loved the way the author blended the urban and modern Cape Town with the ancient generational magic, and how as the story progressed more and more magic emerged as Savannah became exposed to it. At times it felt as if the plot could have been a little more substantial but I enjoyed following Savannah’s journey and solving the mystery of her past. I was also happy with the ending because for a time I couldn’t see how it was going to come to a good end, and the author did a good job.
Not my Problem by Ciara Smyth
hen Aideen agrees to help ambitious class swot Maebh Kowalska deal with her crazy workload, she doesn’t expect to end up reluctantly pushing Maebh down the stairs. With this, Aideen becomes the school ‘fixer’: any problem a student has, Aideen will sort it out, from stealing confiscated mobiles to breaking into parties. All she asks for is a favour in return.
But Aideen’s own life is a mess – her mam’s drinking again, her BFF Holly is avoiding her and she’s skipping school. Spending more time with the uptight (but annoyingly cute) Maebh and chatterbox Kavi, Aideen starts to wonder: can every problem be solved?
This has been nominated for multiple awards, and just won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize category for Older Readers, and I think it is thoroughly deserved! I picked this up with little expectations, and was immediately drawn in by Aideen’s wry commentary, making even a typical morning in form sound interesting in the way she narrates it. Aideen was immediately likeable and uncovering her life as the lonely child of an alcoholic single mother gave me a lot of emotions.
The way Ciara Smyth was able to bring in such relevant and true issues such as poverty, alcoholism, parental pressures, and racism while still making me laugh on almost every page is quite the talent. I could honestly read about anything that she narrates through Aideen, because she presents such a unique view on the world. This book has the perfect touch of romance (sapphic pining at its best), some wild schemes, heartfelt moments, and a whole lot of humour and I think anyone who gave it a chance would probably enjoy it.
The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
Working as a wench ― i.e. waitress ― at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.
Company policy allows only guys to be knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But the Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other wenches join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval―if they don’t get fired first.
Another book that incorporates the issue of poverty, and another sweet and snarky heroine. The idea of a medieval-themed restaurant as a setting was incredibly appealing to me, but I wasn’t prepared for just how full of medieval references this book would be. The main character, Kit Sweetly, loves her job (though she’d much rather be a knight) and I could really feel the author’s enthusiasm spilling out of Kit’s knowledge of badass medieval women, and the way she takes the history so seriously while still wanting to make her workplace more equal and contemporary.
There is a wonderful and diverse cast of characters, and even the minor ones felt fleshed out, so I applaud Pacton on that. Kit was the star though, of course; she had to navigate making changes at work, trying to finish up her last year of high school and get into a good college, deal with hunger and the power cutting out when they couldn’t pay the bills, and emotionally let go of the father that abandoned her. Pacton packed a lot into the book, and the fact that it still made me smile and packed in a very cute friends-to-lovers is pretty great. I know she has a new book coming out soon which is more of a fantasy, which is how I came across this author in the first place, and I am very keen to see what she does with a genre I already love!