World upside-down: What I Love in current YA Fiction

Ok, so I admit it. I am addicted to young adult (YA) fiction. Specifically the dystopian, post-apocalyptic, fantasy world kind. I also readily admit that there is a lot of *ahem* not so good YA fiction out there: lazily written spin-offs, cliché dialogue, poorly developed characters, and plot-lines that completely defy suspension of belief. But the ones that are good are very very good, and more seem to come out every month.

I realized that for me, the difference between good YA fiction and great YA fiction is a well-developed and prominant character arc. That is, the main characters in the novel start out with a certain viewpoint, or belief system, and then by the end of the story, their viewpoint is completely different. Beliefs are changed, taboos are broken and minds are opened.

from this website, based on Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The more believable and complex the transformation, the more I love it. I am fascinated as I watch how a person’s entire world is turned on it’s end and they are changed–usually by facing some kind of extreme situation where they are completely out of their comfort zone, usually with the help of an ally, who is usually *ahem again* their love interest.

That’s why dystopian novels are so easily addicting: Books like Divergent and The Uglies create a “fake-topian” world, only to have it break apart at the seams.

Lately though I have been pulled towards a genre that seems to be getting popular again: that involving angels, fallen or otherwise. I thought I would share with you two of my recent favorites, and end with some additional YA fiction recommendations. Just a quick note: both these books are the first of a series, so the full character arc remains to be seen. Even so, they both contain some stunning revelations and major changes in belief.

My first recommendation is the Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Seventeen year old Karou is almost as much a mystery to herself as she is to others. With azure blue hair, tattoos she never remembers getting, and an adopted family of magical, demon-like creatures, she travels the streets of Prague living dual roles as both an art student and errand-girl, traveling through magical portals on mysterious missions for her guardian Brimestone. We are soon pulled into Karou’s secret life, and learn the terrible price that some people pay for magic. But who is she really? Karou has no idea.

On one of Karou’s many errands, she encounters an angel, Akiva, and their two worlds violently collide. Secrets are revealed as we discover the ancient history that binds Karou and Akiva together, while threatening to break them both apart. And in the end, Karou must question everything as she learns the truth about herself.

Any review really can’t do this book justice. Laini Taylor is a master storyteller and world builder. Just when you think the storyline can’t go any deeper, another plot twist unfolds. The writing is mature and thoughtful, and the characters are well developed. There is nothing predictable here: prepare to have your beliefs challenged right along with the main characters as you get pulled into their world.

This book is for mature teens: there is some sexual content, though not explicit.

If you like this book by Laini Taylor, you will also love her book of three short stories: Lips Touch: Three Times.

Also, look for the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone: Days of Blood and Starlight, coming this November 6th

My second recommendation is Angelfall (Penryn and the End of Days) by Susan Ee.

image from

The book begins in the midst of a war-torn America–a war initiated by the angels of the apocalypse, who are avenging the murder of one of their own. Penryn, a tough-as-nails seventeen year old girl, is caring for her wheelchair-bound little sister mentally ill mother (think: paranoid schizophrenia) as they flee both angels and blood-thirsty gangs who take advantage of the chaos to rape and pillage everything in sight. As they run for safety, they accidentally witness three angels fighting each other. After the dust settles, Penryn’s sister has been kidnapped by one of the angels, her mother has run away, and she is left to deal with a dying angel whose wings have been sliced off. Despite her hatred and disgust, she makes a quick decision to try to save the wingless creature (Raffe), in the hopes that he might be able to help her find her sister. Together Penryn and Raffe form a tenuous partnership, as they make a journey across a treacherous and lawless landscape to find her sister, and restore Raffe’s wings. Along the way, stereotypes are challenged and taboos are broken, as they discover the war may not be what they thought it was.

Susan Ee launches us into this story, leaving us to figure out much of the backstory along the way. She doesn’t spell it all out right away, which I really like. Again, the writing is good, and she takes time to develop the characters. It doesn’t have as many layers to the story as the Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but the story pulls us in and we are left with the understanding that the first book is just skimming the surface of an even deeper storyline. The addition of Penryn’s mentally ill mother adds another complexity to the plot, as we are not sure if she is actually helping or hindering her daughter.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. This is a war waged by angels, and there are some pretty gruesome scenes, especially at the end. Definitely for mature teens.

There is a sequel coming out probably next year– name and date have not yet been revealed.

Some other recommendations (that contain similar world-upending character arcs)

Variant, by Robinson Wells (book 2 coming out Oct. 2nd!)

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Trilogy), by Patrick Ness

Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi

The Scourge, by A.G. Henley (one of those rare stand-alone-books in YA fiction nowadays)

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices series), by Cassandra Clare

What about you? Do you have any recommendations that might fit this category?

–Madelene Pario


2 responses to “World upside-down: What I Love in current YA Fiction

  1. Awesome! I love the character arc circle you found; it reminds me of the Hero’s Journey cycle. I also like your use of “fake-topia.” Didn’t I come up with that? Anyway, I thought I’d add by own list to the mix:

    Railsea by China Miéville
    The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness (I second Madelene in this recommend)
    Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (The first book of the trilogy is dystopic)
    Shipbreaker by Paulo Bacigalupi
    The Drowned Cities by Paulo Bacigalupi
    This Star Shall Abide by Sylvia Louise Engdahl
    and for a classic The Giver by Lois Lowry

  2. Pingback: 10 Freudian disguises I definitely don’t ever use. Not me! « Connect Shore·

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