After finishing Leigh Bardugo’sSix of Crows duology, it bumped The Lunar Chronicles right out of the top-spot as my favorite book series (sorry Marissa Meyer, but you’re always in my heart). This high-fantasy heist series is a striking read. I can’t get enough of the characters, the narrative, the world. Despite having read it a few years ago, to this day it’s left me with the biggest book-hangover of my life. Here are the top six reasons why you need to read this duology too.
6. You don’t have to read her first series to understand it
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While technically a sequel series to Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, you definitely don’t have to be well-versed in the world to dive right into these books. I personally didn’t read any of the original series and was still able to fall head-first into everything Six of Crows had to offer. It’s completely different than the first series with all new characters. And while I’m told there are a few minor cameos by characters from the Grisha Trilogy, this duology works brilliantly as a standalone.
5. It doesn’t play into YA fiction tropes
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Spoiler alert: there are no lost princesses in this duology! No love triangles, no “I’m not like other girls” girls, and absolutely no Chosen Ones. Even though this is a fantasy novel (and a high fantasy one at that), it strays greatly from the YA conventions of the fantasy genre. With those elements gone, it makes way for a truly unpredictable narrative. With the absence of these stylistic tropes, this series makes way for different aspects of YA to be explored. Not to mention without the comforting predictability of the high fantasy story structure, you’re constantly on your toes while you’re reading.
4. It delves into real-world issues
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Ketterdam is where the duology is primarily set and it’s a nation that is so dedicated to capitalism that it’s a religion to them. Bardugo uses these books to explore the dangers of a country that values money above all else. As a consequence of this world, we see characters as members of gangs, having to be prostitutes, and being plagued by illness and addiction. Bardugo paints a grimy world—one that requires her teenage-aged protagonists to grow up faster than most and she writes the psyche of each character so incredibly well.
3. The writing is extraordinary
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Bardugo’s one of those authors whose writing just hits you. She balances the serious with the loving and the heartbreaking. And despite how grim the subject matter might seem, the duology still manages to be uplifting, relatable and hilarious. Not to mention quotable as hell. Careful, though. You might end up with a Six of Crows quote as your Twitter bio.
2. The diversity is on point
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Much needed discussions in the YA community about diversity are finally being had. And as a tough critic on the lack of book characters of color and how they’re treated when they are there, I can actually give these series a stamp of approval. Not only are the characters racially diverse, but Bardugo is also inclusive in other ways. There’s a character that is plus sized, characters with both physical and mental disabilities, and LGBT+ representation. And when I say LGBT+ representation, I don’t just mean That One Gay Character in the main friend group and his under-developed boyfriend. I’m talking MULTIPLE queer characters of varying identities that are fleshed out. Not only is this diversity baked into the narrative, but it’s also not tokenized or stereotyped. Bardugo strikes a nice balance between writing her diversity so obscurely that nobody knows they are until she retroactively tells us in interviews (looking at you J.K. Rowling) and making that diversity the sole trait of those characters. She’s able to write diverse characters as people and that’s what we want when we ask for representation.
1. It’s going to be a TV series
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This is your chance to be the “I saw it first” friend. As of January of this year, Netflix has ordered an eight episode series of Shadow & Bone and Six of Crows. While there’s no details on how yet, the show will be combining both of Bardugo’s book series to make the show. Get a jump on the narrative by reading the Six of Crows duology. Not only will you be ahead of the curve for what is sure to be a highly talked about adaptation, but it’ll also be fun watching the world and character you know come to life onscreen.
Yesterday, the National Book Foundation released the longlist Young People’s Literature category of the 2019 National Book Awards!
For nearly 70 years, the National Book Foundation has recognized outstanding literary works every year. They are five categories in the National Book Awards: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. The Young People’s longlist was the first to be released this week, and other are scheduled to appear later on. The shortlist for the finalists in the will be released October 8, and the winners are going to be announced Nov. 20. So you’ve got plenty of time to read some of these incredible books!
The list of ten contenders, announced by The New Yorker, includes the following:
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was released last weekend on Netflix. The film is based off of Jenny Han’s 2014 novel of the same name which saw wide success, spending 40 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list in the Young Adult fiction section and getting published in 30 different languages!
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The plot follows Lara Jean Covey—a sixteen-year-old half-Korean, half-white girl living in Virginia—who keeps love letters to all the boys she has ever loved in a hatbox given to her by her late mother. Chaos ensues when all of the letters are secretly mailed out to her former crushes.
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The film, like the book, stays true to the awkward, hormone-addled experience of teenage love. “I write a letter when I have a crush so intense that I don’t know what else to do,” Lara Jean tells us in the outset of the film.
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Leading actress, Lana Condor portrays Lara Jean Covey as a smart yet shy teenager with a witty sense of humor. Her identity as a Korean/American is meaningful to her character and an important feature to a film genre that normally lacks Asian representation.
It’s a film that manages to be both a great adaptation and a step forward in representation.
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The sequel book, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, published on May 26th 2015, has already finished filming and planned to be released in the beginning of 2020 on Netflix. A third installment, based on the Always and Forever, Lara Jean, published on May 2, 2017, is currently in production, so fans of the series have a lot to look forward to!
For those unaware, middle-grade fiction is fiction aimed at readers between the ages of eight and twelve whereas YA, or Young Adult, is fiction aimed to readers who are thirteen to eighteen. See? Simple enough.
Not so. There’s a lot more that goes into books than the ages of their readers, so we have to get specific here. Lucky for us, Master Class defines both middle-grade and YA fiction using these useful bullet points, so those will be our foundation:
The characteristics that middle-grade fiction tends to share are:
They contain no profanity or graphic violence.
Romance is limited to crushes and first kisses.
Protagonists are roughly between the ages of 10 and 13.
Middle-grade novels are typically between 30,000 and 50,000 words long and voiced in the third person.
Characters typically react to what happens to them within their immediate world with a focus on friends and family.
The protagonist (and narrator) generally do not delve too much into self-reflection but instead focus on real-life situations.
The characteristics that young adult fiction tends to share are:
Profanity and graphic violence are permissible, reflecting the maturity of the reading group.
Romance is allowed, but not eroticism.
Protagonists are typically between 15 and 18 years old, reflecting the age of the reading group.
Young adult novels are generally 50,000 and 75,000 words, though fantasy does tend to exceed that length.
Young adult fiction is typically focused on how the main character fits in the ‘grown-up‘ world beyond their family and friends, reflecting on events and analyzing their meaning. to better understand themselves, their journey, and the world they are coming into
Because of the amount of self-reflection and internality, YA novels are often told in the first person from the protagonist’s point of view.
Keep in mind that the points above aren’t hard and fast rules. Something can be YA and not hit all the points, something can be middle-grade are not hit all the points too. The long and short of it is they have to hit most of them.
Let’s face it, kids can take that type of profanity. Maybe you won’t find that in a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss, but I could see you finding that ‘language’ in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
The violence isn’t bloody and the only person who dies, Professor Quirrell, is off-screen in the book (not in the film, and I love it for it). There is no romance in the book. Harry’s much more concerned with safety and family.
At 76,944 words, the book is a little long for middle-grade, but, again, the rules listed above are not hard and fast ones.
Plus, since the eleven year old Harry Potter most certainly reacts to what happens to them within their immediate world with a focus on friends and family and doesn’t stop to ask, “Was knocking out that troll really the best thing I could do?”, than I’d say the first Harry Potter book is most certainly middle-grade.
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Same goes for Chamber of Secrets. It’s a straight up mystery novel and Harry wants to find out who’s petrifying these poor children. Oh no! It was the bad guy all along, who’s still around thanks to his evil diary and the help of a giant snake! Heck, even though Ginny is obsessed with Harry, sending him a singing valentine. Harry just finds the whole thing embarrassing!
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While Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban still has Harry’s concerns mostly focused outwards and features no romance, but things are getting dicey. That man who’s a prisoner? He didn’t actually do it, and at the conclusion of the novel he hasn’t been proven innocent to the general public. Overall, the book is much more serious than the previous. The characters, such as Lupin and Sirus, are more ambiguous than the previous.
With Harry being fourteen, in the middle of what a typical middle-grade and YA protagonist is, we see Harry in his transitional phase as the series progresses to being a YA novel. Technically the book still might be middle-grade, but with a 107,253 word count I’m comfortable calling it YA because things are right on the cusp.
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Things aren’t on the cusp in Goblet of Fire. Although there’s no profanity, there are some high intense situations involve a dragon and another involving mermaids and while there is no gore, an innocent boy by the name of Cedric Digory dies for absolute no reason. Romance is now front and center.
Harry finds himself smitten with Cho Chang from Ravenclaw and is jealous of Cedric Diggory who asked her to the Yule Ball before he had worked up the nerve while his best buddy Ron becomes oh so jealous that Victor Krum attends the ball with Hermione.
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Harry is fifteen, young for a YA protagonist but still a YA protagonist. Harry’s not really on a mission to find out who put his name in the Goblet of Fire, he’s more concerned with social expectations. He’s looking into himself, most certainly, even if the book isn’t first person.
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Order of the Phoenix has Harry dealing with the fact the Ministry of Magic doesn’t believe that He-Who-Has-No-Nose is back. As a result, he starts getting rebellious. His angst-ridden interior very much has a YA voice. I don’t know about you, but this book gives me real Hunger Games vibes with Harry’s whole “I’m going to rebel” shtick even after a professor who loves the color pink and cats tortures him.
On the romantic side, Harry goes on his first date and has his first kiss. Both of which are with Cho, but those don’t go well. She’s still grieving her loss. Speaking of internal conflict, Harry’s dealing with the call to action to fight He-Who-Must-Not-Look-Human.
I’d call it YA.
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Plus, that’s not even mention how Sirius bites the bullet in the end because of his murderous cousin.
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Come Half-Blood Prince we have Ron dating Lavender Brown to make Hermione, and Harry getting on board with dating Ginny. Also typical of YA book, Henry has to look inwards: Does he want to put his friends and girlfriend in danger?
No, and that’s why his relationship with Ginny ends. It’s a very personal reason to end a relationship, and thus is why I’d call this book YA.
Plus, given that Snape becomes the most sympathetic before doing the most heinous thing in front of Harry, different things are getting ambiguous and thus adding to Harry’s internal conflict.
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In Deathly Hallows we get the conclusion to the series and the conclusion to all of these character arcs. Along the way, we see jealousy when Ron is influenced by the locket and thinks harry might just end up with Hermione, which means there’s a ton of internal conflict for both Ron and Harry. What should Harry do? Send his friend away, or try to resolve the situation? This only add to the fact that this is Ginny’s brother, and Harry misses Ginny like nobody else except a man head-over-heels.
With the conflict right at their doorstep, Harry, while he cares about them, focuses less on his friends and more on how to defeat He-Who’s-Name-Sounds-Like-Moldy-Wart.
Plus, Harry realizes how those around you can surprise you. Remember Snape, the sympathetic guy turned villain? Well, he’s the hero of this story who only killed Dumbledore because it was all apart of the plan. Also, things get a little gray when it turns out Snape was in love with Harry’s mom far before Harry’s Dad, James, came along.
Despite the fairy tale epilogue, this book I’d still call YA given it has Harry realizing how he can stand as his own person and do what he feels is right.
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All in all, I’ll say whatever everyone else has said: The series grew up with its readers
But I don’t want to end it there. With the debate ongoing about whether or not how much or how little The Chronicles of Narnia is YA or how much or how little The Giver series is YA, the debate of what the Harry Potter series hasn’t ended just because one of the best articles you’ve ever read has been published.
Thus, I have to ask: does it even matter? On Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary, Voxwrote that “[Harry Potter] was a global sensation that everyone had to read, even adults…in a post- Harry Potter world, it is taken for granted that YA is universal”.
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At ThrillerFest 2019, F Paul Wilson was asked why he decided to write middle-grade fiction. His response was simply: after he went into Microsoft Word to check and see how many active and passives sentences he had. While on there, Microsoft also told him his reader level. “Didn’t have to change my style,” he noted, but it was helpful knowing the reading level when it came to marketing the book.
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However, the best summation of middle-grade and YA came from R. L. Stine, who noted that, “The main difference between middle-grade and YA is ten dollars.”
Children’s books are powerful tools that help instill a sense of empathy in young readers. They are testing grounds for new ideas and exercises in ethics. Reading, at any age, teaches us that the experiences of other people are not only valid, but influential to our own lives. It’s for this reason that representation in children’s books matters.
According to reporting from Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education, in a study of 2,500 titles, less than 1 percent of books for children and teens had Black authors or illustrators in 1985. Although that number has improved more than 30 years later, only 10 percent of children’s books featured black characters in 2018, while 27 percent of them featured animals or other characters who aren’t human.
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America’s school’s are heavily segregated, and to under-represent a specific group of people is to feed into an already divided educational system. Black children need to see themselves expressed in children’s lit, and white children need to see their peers in equal measures. As racial tensions increase in America, it will be imperative for young readers to empathize with people who have different backgrounds and skin color.
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Mary Taris, the CEO for Strive Publishing and an advocate for black YA, told the Atlanta Black Star: “All in all, I’d say it’s not enough for a book to just be aboutAfrican American characters. They also have to have an authentic portrayal of African American characters in order for them to truly be a mirror for Black children and teens.”
There is an increasing demand for black representation in children’s literature, and people like Mary Taris are leading the fight.