In the past few weeks I’ve read two acclaimed YA books both published in 2015 and both by high profile YA Authors. The similarities between the two stories are striking with themes of identity, change, loyalty and Coming of Age. I thought I’d compare the two and see why I thought one was very good and the other was not.
All of The Above by James Dawson is set in an English seaside town in the final year of school for a group of friends, seen through the eyes of a new girl. The characters are well written and recognisable; dealing with various issues as they study for their final exams; sexuality, eating disorder, self-harm, mixed heritage and parental alcoholism alongside a disconnect from what seems like a rigid hegemony. All treated with a light touch and no easy answers. This makes it reassuringly unpredictable without seeming contrived. I think any but the most self-assured teenager with find a friend in this book. The ending is generous without being trite. It’s a lovely book.
Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, set in a fantasy American lakeside town, has exactly the same ingredients but with Alzheimer’s and media intrusion thrown in. Where it differs is in a parallel fantasy story, told in the form of a synopsis at the beginning of each chapter about a different group of students (the indie kids) who are trying to save the world, and are being killed. There is an overlap between the worlds which involves an exploding school and sinister police but the parallel story is difficult to follow and breaks up the rhythm of the primary story. Added to that, Jared the gay character, is a Cat God. Now, it has been pointed out that Ness might have been satirising the YA genre. Certainly his Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls were too good to not see this book as a bit of a hotch-potch of tropes. But I couldn’t identify the tone of the parallel story or the humour so it didn’t work for me. Ness, however, is up for all the prizes. Read them yourself and let me know what you think.
I also enjoyed the Goodreads reviews such as:
— “This may be one of the most pointless books I have ever read”.
+ “It’s a hilarious combination of contemporary profoundness and overly cliché paranormal romance”.
— “This book was most possibly the worst book I’ve read this year or ever. I don’t know what you, James thought by writing this book”.
+ “A very enchanting, honest and engaging novel of what it’s mainly like to be a teenager growing up in England”.