Friday, May 3, 2013
If someone were to create a list of "Must"s for YA novels, it might look something like this:
1. Must be fast-paced.
2. Must feature a hot guy.
3. Must include romance (preferably with aforementioned hot guy).
4. Must not include stodgy words like "aforementioned."
5. Must take place in a cool city (like New York, Paris, Chicago) OR in a remote and unusual town (like Forks).
6. Must not make allusions to obscure historical facts.
7. Must not make allusions to obscure literary works.
8. Must be written by John Green.
9. Must be turned into a movie starring Shailene Woodley and Alex Pettyfer.
Well, you get the idea.
Anyway. There are a lot of great YA books that follow the rules, but today I want to talk about a great YA book that doesn't follow any of them.
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
Because CNV doesn't follow the rules, readers tend to either love it or hate it. Personally I LOVED it. One thing that helped: I had been warned that it is a "slow burn" kind of story, so I waited until my reservoir of patience was at its very fullest before I started reading. That patience was deeply rewarded.
All I will say about CNV's plot is that it revolves around two young women (a spy and a pilot) who are part of the British military efforts against Nazi Germany in World War II. To tell much more would risk spoilers -- but there isn't some major mystery or twist that I could ruin. It's just that reading CNV is like putting together a puzzle that you lost the box for: You still have all the pieces, and you know the general theme of the puzzle, but the picture won't become fully clear until it's all assembled.
So, back to rule-breaking. CNV is not fast, does not have any hot guys or romance, includes ton of stodgy words and obscure references, isn't written by John Green, and I hope like hell if there's a movie, it won't star Alex Pettyfer. (He would make a very odd Kittyhawk.)
But what CNV does do, it does amazingly.
1. Strong female characters. Not strong like "I bench press 100 lbs" or "I'm queen of the dragons," but strong like fully developed, richly written, truly interesting, and complexly nuanced characters -- who just happen to be female. Verity is now one of my favorite characters OF ALL TIME. And Kittyhawk's pretty great too.
1b. Female friendship. We need more of this, everywhere. In YA, on television, in real life.
2. Layers. Sort of like Sixth Sense (but without ghosts, I promise!) CNV tells a story that looks a certain way from one angle, and then looks very different from another angle. Both stories are true, and both stories are compelling, and when you put them together, it just might blow your mind. Or break your heart. See #3.
3. The bridge scene. Enough said.
Believe it or not, I could keep on extolling the virtues of this book for quite a while, but I'll spare you any further lists.
Tell me, have you read CODE NAME VERITY? Were you in the "love it" or "hate it" camp? What other books have you read that broke the YA rules? For that matter, what other YA rules did I forget?
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