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Renay: Hello friends! I’m Renay.
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour: Question Tuesday Edition.
[Music: B-3 by BoxCat Games]
Renay: Some quick housekeeping notes: we got quite a few survey comments asking us to answer more questions. This is very sweet of everyone who asked, but the reason we can’t is because we don’t want to run out of questions. We don’t get very many to begin with that are robust enough to base a whole segment around, so we hoard them. Like question dragons. It’s not surprising that people don’t want to know our every opinion, but that’s why we only answer one each week.
Ana: Maybe we are hoarding bees.
Renay: Do bees hoard?
Renay: They make honey. I’m not sure they hoard it.
Ana: Potato, po-tay-to. Tomato, to-may-to.
Renay: We need a beekeeper to tell us.
Renay: What bees do with honey? Do they hoard it? Does that count as hoarding?
Ana: I think they poop it.
Ana: Don’t they poop it? [laughter]
Okay, anyway, this week we’re going to give some YA book recs and ask each other questions. Hopefully, my question for Ana won’t be graduate level like last time.
[Music: B-3 by BoxCat Games]
Renay: Our first question is from anonymous on tumblr and they asked “If someone wanted to get into SFF YA, where would you have them start?” So Ana, let me be honest, when we first got this question I was super smug, because I thought I had read tons of this, but the reality is… “Not really.” Uh… Oops.
Ana: So give us your picks, then.
Renay: We can rotate. I can go first and then you can go next. My first book is Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer which is a totally scientifically implausible but great slice of life story about the moon getting knocked out of orbit and closer to the earth.
Moon stories seemed kind of a thing in adult SF last year, but this was published a few years ago in 2008 or 2009 and it was the first SF I read about something going funky with the moon. I really loved this book when I first read it, although I have no clue how it holds up now? But I do remember that I liked it a whole lot. I know I wouldn’t recommend the sequels to this, but there are two books after this if you wanna brave them called The Dead and the Gone and The World We Live In, I think.
Ana: Yeah, it is.
Renay: I’m glad you knew. I hated the third book.
Ana: Thea did too.
Renay: But the first one’s great.
Ana: That’s what I hear.
Okay, I dunno where I’m gonna start here with my picks. I’m gonna go with one of the first ones that I have read. It’s a classic, that I don’t think a lot of people have read. How can it be a classic then? Hmm, pondering questions.
Anyway, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. She has middle grade, young adult, and adult science fiction and fantasy. Her books are a source of great comfort. Whenever I read a Diana Wynne Jones, I find myself embraced by warmth. That’s how I describe reading one of her books, it’s always the same thing regardless of what they are.
Howl’s Moving Castle I read years ago. It’s about a young girl who gets turned into an old woman and she goes work for a magician called Howl. And he’s insufferable and very— thinks highly of himself, but he’s very powerful, too. But they strike up like a friendship of sorts. And she needs to find a way of becoming a young woman again, but there’s a thing about why that happened, and that’s the whole point of the novel. And there’s a great thing about her and Howl, but there’s also Calcifer who is the fire in the fireplace and he talks. It’s just an incredible novel and it has a really beautiful movie too, by Studio Ghibli. They are quite different but they’re both very very good. Very very beautiful.
Renay: My next book is The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It’s about a boy and his dog, who live on a colonized planet where the environment killed all the women and changed the men so they all hear a thing called Noise, which are the thoughts of everybody else. Then everything changes when the main character, Todd, finds a girl, and can’t hear her thoughts at all.
This was written a long time ago before the gender conversation grew more nuanced, but I really liked the examination of relationships between men and women specifically, the commentary on power and who has it and when secrets don’t stay secret. This book also looks at a story through the lens of toxic masculinity and it says some really interesting things about how powerful toxic masculinity can seem but how weak it ultimately is. The first book ends on, like, a hella cliffhanger so be warned.
It’s a complete trilogy, the second book is called The Ask and The Answer, and the third book is called Monsters of Men, so you can read it if you like the first one. Which is great, because I read the first book right when it came out, when it was still an ARC, and I suffered. I suffered.
Ana: Patrick Ness is a really author here in the UK, and he’s writing now a TV show which is a spinoff of Doctor Who called Class?
Renay: I heard about that, yeah.
Ana: My next pick is Ash by Malinda Lo. It’s a very short novel and it’s a queer retelling of Cinderella, and it follows the main character with the death of her beloved father and I think what strikes me the most about that book, it’s not only of course the fact that there’s no prince and she falls in love with another girl, is the fact that the first part of it deals with the main character’s sense of loss and her depression with the turn that her life takes after her father dies. And it’s not a usual take on the Cinderella story, but was one that I appreciated quite a lot. If you’re into fairy tales as science fiction and fantasy, so this book is a really good entry into YA.
Renay: My next book is Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. It’s the beginning of a science fiction series of interconnected books told via documents, video transcripts, chat logs and other types of things that you would think of as like office communication.
Illuminae is about the attack of the colony where Kady lives. She escapes with a bunch of people onto spaceships to run away, but the attackers follow them and she eventually has to pair up with a super-damaged AI and use her computer skills to save herself and the people she cares about.
This is a really, really great series and I love Kaufman’s work. She has another series with Meagan Spooner that’s excellent as well and it starts with These Broken Stars, but I’m going to derail a bit to take the moment and advise people to avoid Kristoff’s standalone work if you’re sensitive to racism because as far as I can tell, all his solo stuff has Serious Problems. Remember Kaufman and Spooner, though, because I think they’re super and they’re definitely going places.
Ana: Absolutely. I agree with that completely. That book would have been on my list, too.
Renay: But I stole it.
Ana: Right, so how many books do you have on your list?
Renay: That’s all I have.
Ana: Okay so I’m going to— I’m gonna pick just one more too.
Renay: Narrow it down Ana, you can do it.
Ana: Oh my god, I don’t know…
Renay: Eenie, meenie, mini, mo…
Ana: Well, you all know how much I love the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I think those are fabulous entries into SFF YA for sure, because they’re clever, they are super well written, they’re just really good adventures and very interesting with amazing characters including female characters, too. But I’m not going to recommend because I’ve already recommended them so many times, but at the same time I just did, so… I’m being clever again.
So instead I’m gonna recommend another series! Starting with The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. This one took me completely by surprise, it came out quite a few years ago and it’s narrated by a guy named Nick, who is kind of like a demon chaser along with his brother, Alan. And they have this really incredible relationship, very close, Alan protects Nick so much. But Nick doesn’t need protection because he’s like, kinda badass. And they find two people that they need to protect; May and her brother Jamie, and they become a sort of family of sorts.
The story continues in The Demon’s Covenant and The Demon’s Surrender, but the first book has a really amazing twist because Nick is an unreliable narrator. I’m not gonna tell what the twist is but it’s really well done, it’s really clever, and it plays a huge role in the ensuing books in the series. These books, they are funny, they are romantic, and they have the best brother-with-brother relationship.
This book came out right when Supernatural was super famous and the relationship between Alan and Nick really reminded me of Sam and Dean’s relationship, kind of like that protective kind of thing. It’s very intense. And these books are really cool and I think they are the— the type of paranormal YA that was so popular a few years ago and they’re not so much anymore? But they’re a very good entry into SFF YA, I think, and Sarah Rees Brennan is a fantabulous writer.
Renay: I’ve read The Demon’s Lexicon and I know what twist you’re talking about and I thought it was super great.
Ana: I think we have a very good list.
Renay: Yes, it could use more people of color.
Ana: Oh my god, so much more.
Renay: But I realized when I was looking through my historical reading, in those early years, I was really struggling to read people of color in YA. Next time someone in the YA community goes “The YA community doesn’t have a problem with race!” be like “Uh, well, the people from Fangirl Happy Hour said it does so you’re wrong.” That’s right, you can do it. Send them to me. I’ll take care of them.
Ana: Yes, definitely. I went through my archives on the blog and I realized how little I have read of YA by people of color. I seem to concentrate on more contemporary YA when I’m reading. It took me by surprise— it took me by suprise my own lack of diversity there. So shame on me and I will do better.
Renay: Yep. Agreed.
[Music: Fall by Chuki Beats]
Ana: Since we just talked about first forays into SFF YA, I wanted to ask you what was your first entry into YA? Doesn’t have to be SFF.
Renay: I’m pretty sure I was reading YA before YA existed.
Ana: Ooh. When did you become aware of YA as a thing then?
Renay: The precursors to YA were… I wanna say, like, Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine and… Sweet Valley books and Babysitter’s Club. And I started reading those books, and I also read like other standalone series by authors who were publishing back then. There wasn’t this sort of organized marketing category called YA, but I was sort of reading in the thing that became it? Until I like, I went to college.
So… I think the first time I was introduced to YA as this thing that had formed it’s own category and was starting to become a culture-changer or world-changer was John Green, because I started the vlogbrothers in February 2007 and John Green wrote YA books, so I thought “Okay, well, I’ll give your books a try.” And I started reading his books, and I loved them, and I think he was my entry into the wider YA category. Through him I found Maureen Johnson, and from Maureen Johnson I found Sarah Dessen, and all these other amazing women writers, that, you know, weren’t writing type of books back when I was reading my Love Stories For Young Adults, which was an actual series.
Renay: Published— I think published by Bantam? And, like, it was a bunch of different authors writing romance. Heterosexual romance, let’s be clear. And I read a bunch of those books, I think there were around forty? Or fifty? Of them?
Renay: And they were coming out, like I started reading them in 1996, so that’s really where I started and I was not aware of how great it was going to get from there. But yeah, that’s definitely where I came back in was John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, I think was actually the first.
Ana: That was first— that was my first John Green too!
Renay: Since that first book and how much I liked it, John Green has not yet lived up to that first book for me in any of his subsequent releases.
Ana: I really liked his other books too, but kinda like… There’s been so many things around him.
Renay: He’s a very controversial figure, yeah. I try to ignore a lot of that.
Ana: It’s complicated.
Renay: It’s complicated for me, because… I don’t know how to discuss it objectively.
Renay: Because I’ve watched him make videos for a decade.
Renay: I can’t even enter into a discussion because I have this really complicated parasocial relationship with him as an author and a person. So An Abundance of Katherines is where I sort found my way in and then I sort of branched out from there via Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen.
Ana: I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen novel.
Renay: Congratulations on managing to miss that iceberg.
Ana: I love Maureen Johnson’s novel but I missed the Sarah Dessen train. Thanks for answering my question.
[Music: Blessed by Chuki Beats]
Renay: My question for you is “What is the most bizarre, but not necessarily offensive, encounter that you have had in your life?”
Ana: I have a great story. So, the first time I came to England I was travelling around by myself, and I went to Stonehenge. And from Stonehenge I found out that there was a different bigger, older, and less visited site that was made of— there was also a stone henge, but it was so large that a whole village grew inside the stone circle. And it’s not like Stonehenge that you have to pay to get in and you can’t go near the rocks. This place is called Avebury, you can go, you can touch the stones, and it’s apparently it’s by all means it was amazing. So— and it was near Stonehenge, so I took a bus, I went there, and I visited, it was really cool, and the thing is… That was during the summer and during the summer, those mysterious crop circles appear near Avebury in the fields. So, if you walk a little bit outside the town and you go up a small hill you can— if you look around the farms, you can see if there are any. So I did that, and I saw from afar that there was a crop circle! Do you know what crop circles are?
Ana: Those things that people think that they are made by aliens.
Ana: So, I decided to go and walk to one of those and I did, and it was— I was all by myself, there was no one else there, and I walked around, and— you go inside a crop circle and, you have the parts that are kinda like flattened and you walk on them. But around you, you have the grass and it’s quite high! And I couldn’t see what was going on, so I kept walking and I followed the pattern to the center. When I got to the center, there was this woman. Sitting, right in the middle of it, and she was sitting in the buddha-like position, and she was kinda like meditating?
At this point I was kinda like very hippie, I still believed in like reincarnation and things like that and I was like “Oh my god this is amazing.” So I went and I sat right in front of her, also in the buddha position. And I just sat there, and I kept staring at her, and when she opened her eyes she was like “Hi, hello, how are you?” and I said “I’m fine, how are you?” And then she says “Would you like to have some of this? It will make you see things,” And she handed over a really small flask with a liquid inside. And I said “Yes, of course I’ll drink it!” and drank the thing. [laughter]
Ana: [laughter] And I have absolutely no idea to this day what was inside the thing, but I started hallucinating aliens and things flying over my head. But it was also like such an amazing experience, because I started talking about life, the universe, and everything with this woman whose name I don’t even know!. Never thought to ask! And then I just stood up and walked out. And I called my mother in Brazil from a payphone just outside Avebury to tell her about my experience with the alien lady. Because I was convinced she was an alien.
Renay: I cannot bel— Ana you don’t—
Ana: I KNOW!
Renay: —take strange liquids!
Ana: I KNOW, Renay! I have no idea what I was thinking! I know how badly this could have gone. As it is, ten years later— not ten, no, more than that, it was in 2001, no, 2003, fourteen years later? I’m still here and it’s now a really great story that I’m sharing with all of you.
Renay: That is amazing. I am so glad that I asked this question.
Ana: Yeah, that was the most surreal most of my life, definitely.
Renay: I really think we need to have a public service announcement that reminds people: do not take mystery liquid from strange women inside of crop circles. You don’t know what might happen.
Ana: I mean, I still don’t know what— was I abducted by aliens at that point? I might have— but I don’t have any memory of it.
Renay: What an amazing story.
[Music Happy Summer Love by Chuki Beats]
Renay: That’s it for this week. Ana, thanks for answering questions with me. Again!
Ana: No problem, thanks again for a great question for me!
Renay: You’re welcome. I will try to come up with an equally great one for next time. You can follow us on twitter, we’re at fangirlpodcast and we want to hear from you. Our email is fangirlhappyhour at gmail.com, and you can subscribe to Fangirl Happy Hour via iTunes or wherever quality podcasts are acquired. If you’re already subscribed, tell a friend how rad we are so they can subscribe, too.
Ana: Our music this week is by Boxcat Games and Chuki Beats. Our show’s art is by Ira, and you can find links to their works in our show notes plus the topics that we talked about. If you’d like to send us some questions to answer for a future Question Tuesday, and we would really love more questions from you, we have a form on our website at fangirlhappyhour.com, so submit away there, or go on twitter or anywhere else you see our logo or ourselves looking cool. Like always.
Renay: As always space bees, thanks for listening and don’t forget to be awesome.
Ana: See you next episode.