YA Romance

THE SPACE BETWEEN by Brenna Yovanoff

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Daphne, daughter of Lucifer and Lilith, has spent her entire life in Pandemonium.  She has no stomach for the kinds of things her demon sisters do, prowling about on Earth, stealing bits of the souls of mortal men.  Instead she admires her older brother, Obie (son of Lilith and Adam), who finds other half-humans on Earth who are floundering and helps to get them back on the right track.  Truman is one such lost child, ending up in Hell after a suicide attempt.  From the moment Daphne sees him—bleeding in half-conscious terror beside the demon that “collected” him—she feels an instant connection that she tries to ignore.  Beelzebub gives Obie permission to take Truman back to Earth for a second chance.  But shortly afterward, Lilith has a vision of Obie being kidnapped.  Fearing that her brother has been taken prisoner by the vengeful archangel Azrael, Daphne disobeys Beelzebub’s orders and travels to Earth on her own, seeking the last person that she knows saw her brother alive: Truman.

If you’re ever in the mood for really dark fantasy, turn to Brenna Yovanoff.  I loved her NYT bestseller The Replacement, and was not disappointed by her second novel.  Her portrayals of Pandemonium and the life of demons on Earth are detailed, believable, and chilling.  Because of all of the references to Roman Catholicism in the text, I do think it is worth noting that Yovanoff’s fantasy is not based directly on Catholic tradition/beliefs.  Some characters she portrays are figures in mainstream Christian tradition (Lucifer, Adam, Eve, Michael) while others (notably Lilith & Azrael) are not believed to be real by most Christian sects, including Roman Catholics.  Instead, Yovanoff taps into the early Gothic literature tradition which pulled some elements from Catholicism (particularly rituals stripped of their religious significance) and some elements from mythology and horror literature to create a dark and ritualistic backdrop for a romance.  Yovanoff does this skillfully (while thankfully rejecting the Gothic tradition of weak and useless female characters!) and creates a story that is exciting, frightening, and heartbreaking.  I literally could not put it down and stayed up all night reading it!  I highly recommend The Space Between to lovers of the Gothic romance!

If you liked The Space Between, you might like The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff or Reckless by Cornelia Funke.

JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman

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Allyson’s parents sent her on the “Teen Tours!” whirlwind trip to Europe as a high school graduation gift.  They insisted that the experience would broaden her horizons and prepare her for her promising future career as a doctor.  But for Allyson, the trip is a bust.  She doesn’t enjoy traveling, and her childhood best friend Melanie, traveling with her, has “reinvented” herself in preparation for college, and Allyson isn’t sure she likes the new “Mel.”  But her prospects change drastically when Allyson meets Willem on the streets of Stratford-on-Avon.  There is something about the unconventional, amateur Shakespearean actor that intrigues her.  And when he invites her to play hooky in Paris for a day, she throws away her old identity as straight-laced Allyson, and begins the adventure of a lifetime.

I read a review recommending this book to people who like Shakespeare and teen fiction, but when I read the tagline on the back of the book, I almost didn’t read it (“She went looking for him and along the way she found herself…”—ugh!).  But I’m glad I did read it, because the tagline hardly does this good book justice.  The book is definitely about “finding yourself.”  Most of the characters are playing with their identities—which is nicely paralleled with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It.  But in the context of starting college and struggling to build new friendships and relationships, I did not find Just One Day obnoxious the way I do most middle-aged-woman-goes-to-Europe-to-find-herself books.  In fact, it reminded me of John Green’s identity-focused YA novels.  The plot was moved forward by action; Allyson didn’t spend too much time ruminating without doing anything else—and she has a great sense of humor.  There were also many relationships in the book (friends, family) in addition to the romance focal point that helped flesh out Allyson’s character.  I would definitely recommend this book to teens and college students (or grown-ups who enjoy teen lit) who like realistic fiction and/or romance.  I’m looking forward to the sequel!

If you liked Just One Day, you might like Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska by John Green and The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler

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Ed is likely sitting at home, heartbroken.  Still, he probably won’t even notice when Min drops the box on his doorstep.  Inside the box are all of the things that she saved from their relationship, all of which tell the story of why they broke up.  But in case he doesn’t see the objects the same way she does, Min is writing Ed a very detailed letter explaining each item and its significance.  As a future film director, Min is poetic and visual in her writing, conjuring scenes from their relationship, beginning with Al’s Bitter Sixteen Party that Ed crashed, continuing through the adventures of planning a birthday party for an elderly movie star, faltering at the challenges of balancing a relationship with friendships and individual interests, and finally ending with the pain, the heartache, and the realization that so many things just shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

This book surprised me.  In fact, it blew me away.  I do not generally enjoy reading books about relationships.  But Why We Broke Up is perhaps the most genuine, realistic depiction of first love and the heartache of a broken relationship that I have ever read.  Min is a beautifully human character: cynical yet naive, confident in her individuality yet insecure, “different” and “arty” yet ultimately the same as any other teenage girl in love.  There is explicit sexual content in this book, but the author portrays both the fun and positive intimacy of the physical relationship as well as the awkwardness, vulnerability, embarrasment, and ultimate emotional devastation of a premature physical commitment.

I will reiterate that this book has mature content and is not for all readers.  But older teens (particularly girls) who have dealt with love and a break up, who enjoy reading books about relationships, or who just want a sobering dose of reality after reading romance novels like Twilight may find Min’s story as captivating as I do.

If you liked Why We Broke Up, you may like Eleanor and Park.  You may also like Thirteen Reasons Whywhich has different subject matter but a similarly creative narrative style.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green

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Hazel does not particularly enjoy support group.  It consists of sitting in a church with a bunch of other teenagers with cancer of various kinds at various stages, all in the process of dying–even those in remission.  All humans are in the process of dying, after all.  But it is at support group that she first meets Augustus Waters, an incredibly attractive guy with an unrelenting wit and an affinity for metaphorical cigarettes.  Their friendship forms quickly around conversations about nuances of language, action movies, video games, and in particular a somewhat philosophical novel by a reclusive author.  Peter Van Houten’s novel has had a profound influence on Hazel and her worldview, but there is one problem.  It ends mid-sentence with the main character’s death.  Not a very satisfying conclusion.  As Hazel tries to balance her feelings for Augustus with her reluctance to begin a relationship that must inevitably soon end with her death, Augustus tries to track down Van Houten to find out how the novel ends.

The Fault in Our Stars is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.  Through an exploration of love, family, hope, disappointment, and loss, John Green captures the infinite beauty, tragedy, and potential of finite human life.  Hazel and Augustus are witty, intelligent, imperfect, and so utterly human that I could not help but fall in love with them.  Although it is heart-wrenching, I would not call this book depressing.  In fact, I would describe it as uplifting, a reminder that the transience of human life does not diminish its beauty or its meaningfulness.  Thank you for this book, John Green.  It is truly a masterpiece.

If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you might like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.