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 VerityCODE 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?



Mary @ BookSwarm said...

I haven't read CNV (I know, terrible!) but layers definitely add so much to a story. Those without might be cute reads but they're usually just fluff (not that there's anything wrong with that--I do enjoy fluff!).

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

I am driving everyone CRAZY by practically bribing them to read CNV. Ugh. Just... UGH. Love it. I think this is a perfect example of the tragedy of DNF books, because sometimes a real story simply takes a while to develop (as do characters). The reward is there. (Or emotional upheaval, depending on how you look at it... whatevs.) I still want to hear the audio of this because, well, now that I've read it and know the accents are out there I NEED TO EXPERIENCE THEM! Love this post! Thanks for sharing! (I just *had* to tweet it.)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

This was my favorite read of 2012 and one that I gave to my three best friends to read...of course they loved it-that's why we're best friends! I cannot emphasize enough how amazing the female characters and friendship are-such a big selling point to me!

Sara (of the Page Sage) said...

Hahaha love #8 and #9! I've heard a lot of great things about Code Name Verity, and I like that it breaks all of the rules. The rules of a YA novel can be restricting, and sometimes readers need something new and different. I'll definitely be checking CNV out!

Anonymous said...

This list made me giggle, especially 3, 8 & 9. :D

I adore Code Name Verity with serious ferocity. I know a lot of people find it hard to get into, but the reward is worth it. I read it when I was in the perfect mood, with a lot of patience too. "I waited until my reservoir of patience was at its very fullest before I started reading." I'm going to recommend people do this when they have trouble getting into it, because it is SO worth it. Amazing post! :-)

linda said...

i was really excited to give CNV a shot because of all the amazing things i'd heard about it, but after reading the sample i just had to put it down as NOT FOR ME. it was boring, and i didn't care about the characters, and i had a hard time suspending my disbelief regarding the situation. so, yeah -- decided it wasn't an investment i was interested in making. but i'm glad it paid off for so many people!

Candice @ The Grown-Up YA said...

I seriously hate that so many people have told me they don't like this one! I absolutely LOVED it. Love love loved it! It most definitely is a layered, slow burn book that takes just the right amount of patience. I think what I loved best is that it DIDN'T follow the YA formula. It was refreshing, it was heart wrenching, and quite honestly, one of the better books I've read lately! Great post!

kaye (paper reader) said...

I have to admit that I had to try this one twice before I could finish it. The first 50 pages or so for me were slow-going, but, lord, once the story starts I was there every heartbreaking step of the way. I think I'll pass CNV onto my mum and see what she thinks; she was really interested in reading 17 & GONE, but I lent that to my sister so - hey, too much interest can't be a bad thing, right?

And I think that my WIP fails at lot of those must-haves/nots, but, to be honest, that is why I love it so much. (Though I am kind of biased, y'know.) I write the book that I want to read.

One thing I do while I read is think, "Does this book pass the Bechdel test?" For something that could be so easy to manage, it seems to rarely happen. We can have strong female characters that interact with each other, or just females that interact without the necessity of a male (romantic) presence.

I didn't mean to hop on a soapbox, but apparently I've realised this is an important topic for me. Great post, Kristan!

iLuvReadingTooMuch said...

I totally agree with you on a lot of the rules, cause it seems MANY YA books follow the rules unfortunately, and then you feel a lot of the stories are repeated over and over again! Great post– really need to read CNV :D

Emma said...

I'm personally a big fan of rule breakers. I love books that focus more on friendship and mentorship than romance. I haven't read Verity yet (I knooow what is wrong with me), but this post has definitely made me reconsider the wait.

We Heart YA said...

"I write the book that I want to read."

Yes. The end. :)

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
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