YA and the ‘Real World’

The Were Chronicles: “Random”, “Wolf”, “Shifter”

At a certain level, the line between YA and adult literature becomes so fine as to be totally irrelevant.

Yes, there are always some readers whose worlds are so cushioned, so protected, so absolutely walled off from reality that they can can find reading about real problems to be distancing and completely alien. But those readers are very few, And even they, growing up, have to deal with SOME issues in their lives no matter how gilded they are.

There are books which are labelled YA that deal with a lot of subjects which might be considered difficult. Subjects like suicide, like discrimination, like loss, like fear, like helplessness.

The books aren’t there to exacerbate or underline a reader’s own issues. As with all literature, they exist primarily to tell a story. At least, the best of them do. They don’t moralize, they don’t frighten or terrorize, they don’t stroke a love of violence

But they do have real power. It lies in the fact that they let readers know that they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones to suffer such things or feel such feelings. That can be empowering for the reader. Sometimes it is safer to sublimate such feelings into the pages of a powerful story, to learn how to deal with one’s own situation through the prism of storytelling, than it is to blunder about trying to solve overwhelming problems.

YA literature isn’t sweetness and light. It can be harrowing. Because young people can sometimes live harrowing lives.

When Weres become human

The Were Chronicles logoWhen I set out to write The Were Chronicles books, the whole thing started as a light-hearted thing. The project began as a short story intended for a Were-creatures anthology which wanted something other than the traditional wolves. So I pulled an odd creation out of the story-cauldron, something I’d never seen anyone play with before – a Random Were, a creature which can literally become the last living warm-blooded thing they see just before the Turn comes upon them. The idea had immense comic possibilities. In fact – as I put it in the first book – due to an “unfortunate farmyard accident”, my main protagonist’s mother is a Were-Chicken.

But while I was clucking to myself about that… the story changed under my touch, became bigger and darker. What was originally a short story became abook – and the book became series. It changed into that most amazing thing, a YA story but also a story about what it means to be human.

My Weres became a persecuted minority in society, and themes of discrimination and bullying reared up and demanded to be addressed. What do you do when your peers are bullying and threatening you and making you miserable, because you are “different”? That’s hard enough as and of itself, but what happens if those attitudes are then taken up by people in authority over you, whom you aren’t in a position to question or to fight?

My Weres touched off a nerve – because they explored, in my fantasy setting what it means *in our own world* for people to be a different color, or a different faith, or a different sexual orientation. I wrote about the power of persecution, and the power of spirit necessary to rise against and above that.

And then the themes multiplied. What does it mean to be considered an abject failure at something – by your own peers, your own class? How far would you be willing to go to prove yourself worthy? What things, what people, what ideas in your life are you willing to fight and die for? What happens if you are the only one of your kind, and you don’t know where you came from, or what is going to happen to you because there is no precedent for what you are?

The story unwound in a powerful and explosive way, the same story seen through the POV of three different characters who play a major part in the tale, a story seen through three separate prisms which thus acquires a certain three-dimensionality which was never before so obvious in any of my stories.

This is a work of fiction, a work of FANTASY no less, but its world… is our world, and it matters. It matters deeply. These are some of my most beloved, most astonishing characters, avatars of so many out there who face pain with courage and with knowledge and with earned wisdom.

The power of story

That is part of the power of story – this identification with a protagonist, who somehow arrives out of nowhere ready to completely understand our own innermost feelings and secrets. For adult readers who have had years of living under their belt, who have been working to acquire that necessary wisdom for a long time, stories like this may be memories – a look back into a time when things were difficult for themselves, and a recollection (with or without pain) of how they dealt with those situations.

For young readers, stories like these are part of that acquisition of wisdom and experience. If there is a good reason for a YA label at all then this is it – stories of people LIKE THE YOUNG READER, characters who are potential friends, but also potential role models in how they react and respond to fictional situations that the reader might find something to identify with. The best such stories are not moralizing or didactic or arrive with a knuckle-rapping “lesson” embedded inside – the best such stories are involving, enveloping, enfolding, they are things in which you can wrap yourself, and come out of wearing them as armour against the realities which might be out there waiting to assault you.

The best “lessons” are not the ones that are forcefully and insistently taught, but those answers which you find within yourself when a story like this helps you ask the right questions. What, then, would you do? In that story, in similar circumstances, what then would you do? How would you overcome?

The story gives you the pieces, the hints, but they don’t add up to anything that is a overweening Answer To Everything. Those pieces are different for every reader. They combine with pieces you bring to the story yourself. And every book connects with every reader in a different way, and the answers are always YOURS, deeply and personally yours, because every reader is unique and there are no two questions out there about people’s identity or their life situation which are exactly alike.

Stories are powerful. And stories aimed at, and read by, young readers are amongst the most powerful stories of all. We may read many books during the course of our lives – but by the time we get to be forty, fifty, sixty years old and half a century has rolled away from underneath us… for all too many of us, it is the books we read when we were sixteen which somehow remain with us, and in which we finds the roots of many things that we grew up to become.

You can find the first book in The Were Chronicles, Random, HERE

Wolf is HERE

Shifter is HERE

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It’s YA; aren’t you embarrassed to be caught with that book?

First of all… repeat after me: “There is no such thing as ‘YA LITERATURE‘.”

There isn’t. Not really. Not specifically. The category was created, whole-cloth, as a marketing niche for those who wanted to capture a particular kind of readership. But let’s unpack that a little bit.

1) Kids tend to read “older”. That is, they like protagonists older than they are. Ten-year-olds will yearningly read about teens. Young teens will read about older teens. Older teens… well, most of them will read adult literature.

In short, any book marked as a YA book is going to be read, at least at first, by young teens.

2) Quite often the people who actually PURCHASE books for young(er) readers are not those readers themselves but parents, grandparents and other adults who are paying the money and making the choices. Yes, they will choose the books that they think their kids are likely to enjoy, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the adults who are choosing.

And those adults might well have a personal stake in what they choose.

3) I have written books with young protagonists that have been marketed as YA.

Girl Reading WordweaversMy heroine in the Worldweavers books starts out aged 14, and is 16 at the conclusion of the final book. In The Were Chronicles my POV characters are 14, 17, 19+. Both series deal with serious, some life changing, situations.

The Worldweavers books have been marketed as for “12 and up”, and The Were Chronicles for possibly slightly older teens – but these are books that have been read by 9-year-olds at one end and by grown ups of a range of ages at the other, and enjoyed by all of them according to reader responses that I am getting.

And here’s the truth of it: these were books WRITTEN for all of those readers. A good story is a good story and can be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100. A reader will find their own level, a place where they are reading things they understand and enjoy. This means that I am perfectly fine with younger readers reaching for a slightly “older” book, and I am also more than happy when a reader who is beyond – often well beyond – the “YA” criterion reaches for the same book.

Those readers are likely getting different things from the same novel, and that is absolutely fine. But just because something is flung out there with a warning label that screams “YA LIT AHEAD! PICK UP AT YOUR OWN PERIL!” is absolutely no reason for ANY reader to avoid it, whether for being “too young” or “too old” for it.

Readers, hearken! My books are for all of you. As one reviewer so perfectly put it, my books are for everyone who is or might once have been a child. Read freely, regret
nothing, and choose to read whatever you wish without knuckling under to the stigma of reading “outside of your age range”, of what has always been no more than a marketing label designed to sell more books.

Read. All the stories are yours.

Another blogger had some interesting thoughts on this. Austin Hackney wrote:

“…an article I recently came across in Slate vilifying adults who read young adult or children’s literature rubbed me up so far the wrong way that I simply had to write this if only to let off some steam. And mix up a few metaphors while I’m at it. I’m not going to link to it. If you want to read it you can find it for yourself…

“No matter what the self-appointed cultural guardians at Slate may think, the facts speak for themselves. All the recent surveys I’ve been able to find suggest that well over 55% of the readership for YA literature is made up of people 18 years old and up. Namely, adults..quite frankly some of the very best writing in English today is categorized by the publishing houses and the booksellers as being for the young adult market.”

Read more at Austin Hackney blog HERE

The page 69 quiz

Reader selecting book photoCan you identify the classic book from a single paragraph? 69 is a big number: in 1969, man walked on the moon. Bryan Adams had a summer. At the age of 69, Marshall McLuhan died, leaving behind his theory of how to choose a book: if you like what’s on page 69, chances are you’ll like the rest too. Can you pick these page 69s?

From what book did this passage come?
“Boleyn is still smiling. He is a poised, slender man; it takes the effort of every tuned muscle in his body to keep the smile on his face.”

I personally liked this item because I never could figure out why the book in question worked. But it did. BTW, I won’t tell you how I did on the rest of the quiz.

Take the quiz at The Guardian website HERE


Quote of the Day
Book Reviews poster

Once upon a time, at the bright dawn of my career, I had an international megahit. A few other books went international, but nothing like the Blessed Book, “The Secrets of Jin Shei”. I’ve written LOTS more books since then and some of them – just as worthy – have been lagging in the review department. If you read them, and liked them, mosey on to Amazon and tell the world…


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The geeks and the nerds

My first Comic-con: Day 1

My knowledge of the comic-con phenomenon came from the legends of my tribe, the nerds and the geeks and the science fiction and fantasy people of this world.

The people who can quote you chapter and verse from the canon of half a dozen iconic shows, who have read all the books and know everything there is to know, who are lovingly familiar with all the characters and all the worlds and who do not grudge the time and the money it takes to reproduce those characters in eye watering detail in the halls of the convention center.

I knew this at one remove but I was a comic-con virgin until I accepted a ‘Pro-Pass’ invitation to attend the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle.

I also knew that it was going to be vivid and big and crowded and wall-to-wall-peopled with others who love the things I love. I have to admit that there was a frisson or two because large crowds have always been tough for me to handle, they suck strength and vim from me, and there is usually only so much of a thoroughly crowded place I can take before I start wildly looking for quiet boltholes.

But it is part of geek-cred to do Comic-con, at least one Comic-con, at least once. And here was this one in my back yard – there it was. And there I was going to be.
I drove down to Seattle on Thursday, April 7, Opening Day. They were still not quite a going concern when I got there, with various escalators in the Convention Center being guarded by fierce staffers herding eager con-goers with the wrong kinds of badges — there are several different kinds of badges, and oh boy do they matter — away from the area not yet open.

In the Main Stage area, the drifting populace clumped into a heaving, impatient, queueing mass, a low undertow of chattering squawking occasionally roaring humanity underlying the music played over loudspeakers as they waited for the doors to the main show floor to open at 3 PM – and flowing through those doors like a human river as soon as they were flung wide. I had a bagful of books to deliver to the University Books booth, so I took one of the forbidden escalators to the sixth level as soon as they were opened up and divested myself of those.

Then, exploring the two different levels of Show Floor, I plunged into Huckster Heaven.
Huckster Exploding Kitten photoWhat didn’t they sell at Comic-con? T-shirts, of course, but also Batman bikinis and Superman bathrobes; chocolate mounded into Daleks and the Tardis and Weeping Angels and the Death Star and sonic screwdrivers and eyeballs and brains; every possible kind of stuffed ANYTHING, from Hello Kitty and Kittchthulhu to plush Dust Mites (I kid you not) and sloths and various Manga like critters whom I did not quite recognize and Gothified plushied versions of characters who ALMOST looked familiar but were desperately not quite there; artwork of every description from 2-D posters and prints through figurines, electronic LED flashing things, sculptures that were sometimes quite breathtaking, hand-made leather journals that made me drool over their pure beauty…

Take a breath:
Huckster BRIGHT Booth photo….books, geek-heaven mix-and-match DIY backpacks which you could build out of different bit parts like luggage lego; masks and wigs and cat ears oh my; games (one crowdfunded one which went by the name Exploding Kittens and came in kiddie and R-U-Old-Enough shrink-wrapped versions; mugs; vast piles of comics; things for the making of comics and art (pens, brushes, paints, notebooks, paper); music; craftsman beer; things that had no business being made out of Legos but still impossibly made out of Legos; booths which sold… things…Huckster Cat Ears photo
which were an explosion of color, like a unicorn had wandered past and vomited up a rainbow; endearing ceramic creatures which made you smile just to look at them; fairy things and dragon things and flame-thrower things and wand things and soft things and fascinating things, and ….
I wandered through in a daze, watching one young woman counting out $95 dollars without blinking and handing it over to a booth holder in exchange for a bag stuffed with stuff – and this was THURSDAY, the con was barely open. I wanted so many things. I didn’t buy anything, heroically, at all, at least in those first few hours. But it WAS heroic. There were dollar signs dancing in the crowded aisles between the tables. The air was green with them.

I stopped at a booth (wo)manned by a Facebook friend of mine, who was talking to another woman, and patiently looked at art until they both looked over. And then the other woman, the customer, frowned and said,

But I know you. From Norwescon, right?”

Not this year,” I said.

No, but from Norwescon. You write books. About, I don’t know what was it, magical spam…?”

Spellspam, yes,” I said, supplying the name of one of my Worldweavers Young Adults..

I have your books,” she announced triumphantly. “I LIKE your books.

I meandered on smiling.

I ended up, a little footsore, at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant right next door to the Convention Center, and had dinner over a brisk conversation with two women about women and comics (oh STRAIGHT out of Big Bang Theory! They even discussed Thor, just like the BBT girls!) and after a very nice dinner dragged myself two blocks down and five across back to my hotel.

Tomorrow: Day 2


If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write.” — Stephen King

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Must Reads for Men !

Flavorwire asked a number of “Feminist Writers” to recommend books “Every man should read.”

My opinion wasn’t solicited. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not considered the card-carrying feminist that my husband says I am. But I’m in favor of the exercise, which came about because a men’s publication made a list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” that had only one female writer on it.

Do I believe that girls are just as entitled to adventures as boys? Hell, yeah. We don’t want to stay at home and stare longingly at the blue and distant mountains and yearn. Is that feminism? Is writing stories about that carrying a card? If it is, then I have one. I’m one of those girls who set out for the mountains – how could it be otherwise?

Personally, if I had been asked, I’d have recommended the same book that Sonia Saraiya, Salon’s TV critic did — ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ by Ursula K. LeGuin.

It so effortlessly dismantles gender norms that it’s kind of shocking the world is still standing,” Sonia says.

Right on, I say.

Instead of getting mad about that men’s magazine list, Elisabeth Donnelly writes, “We here at Flavorwire wanted to counter that vibe by asking our favorite feminist writers what they think “every man should read.” The results were funny, smart, and a true reflection of the complex lives that we all lead. Expand your mind, and find your next favorite book, below.

For example:

Ashley C. Ford, who writes essays, interviews, and profiles recommends ‘An Untamed State’ by Roxane Gay:
An Untamed State

There is a line in this book, “It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”

Gay writes brilliantly to this point, revealing how even the good guys are accustomed to getting their way by any means necessary, and how often women are the “means”. Read this to understand what you may never know otherwise: women can be marked by men’s desires, but we can not be defined by it.



Read the article

Read whatever the hell you want!

Should adults be reading books supposedly aimed at children and teenagers? Elizabeth Minkel asks in The New Stateman. According to the literary establishment, she says, this is a question fraught with difficulty. “But is it really as hard as all that?” she asks.

Of course it isn’t. Why are we still even talking about it?

Young adult is a marketing term, no more. I write both “Young Adult” and adult books and I think you would be hard-presssed to tell me how they are different. I don’t write down to young adults, don’t use simpler language, or present a simpler world.
Worldwavers ReaderMy Young Adults are for ‘Readers’, period.

Elizabeth Minkel discusses all this in a very thoughtful article which concludes:

So here’s a directive, to anyone who feels like the type of book – or any individual book – is being unfairly attacked: please stop making a case for what you like by putting down what other people like. Stop imagining that the conversation you hear is the only conversation being had. And if you feel like your beloved book is under attack, hit the attacker back with as much positivity as you can manage.

I’ll stand by Harry Potter not because it can be read by a child, but because it can be read by children and adults alike, how it’s a bazillion pages full of little spaces or big ideas to explore, how I fell in love first with the characters on the page, then with the sprawling conversation they inspired. I won’t put you down if you don’t enjoy them – I’ll just invite you to join in.

Read the article

10 Science Fiction Authors Whose Books Just Kept Getting Stranger

A lot of authors tend to become more conventional over time. At io9, Charlie Jane Anders gives us 10 science fiction and fantasy authors whose books only got weirder.

J.G. BallardJ.G. Ballard was a key part of the New Wave of experimental, literary science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s — but he kept pushing the envelope throughout his career. His late novels, starting with Cocaine Nights, examine the relationship between violence and consumerism, and conclude that the former is an inevitable consequence of the latter.

Read the article


16 brilliant paintings that will shake your faith in humanity
Red carpetSee all the paintings

10 great women street artists
street artLady Aiko is a Tokyo-born, New York-based artist who incorporates elements of Pop Art, abstraction, graffiti and traditional Japanese imagery into her playful depictions.

See them all

22 Literary Halloween Costumes For Duos
June-AnaisAnaïs & June, Henry and June
June: Long blonde hair, sexy dress — Anaïs: Shortdark hair, sexy dress, stack of notebooks, Mae West eyebrows

Halloween literary costumes

Quote of the Day

If you enjoy reading something, read it.” ~ S. E. Hinton in The New Yorker on the YA debate

Alma Alexander
My books

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Is she a Werewolf? or a Wereboy?

Were logoI wanted them real. I wanted the reader to start glancing nervously at the person sitting next to them on the bus or the subway and starting to wonder whether that strange fox-faced sharp-featured woman or the pig-nosed broad-featured guy dozing in the corner actually turned into the things you think they might be turning into, when the moon was right. 


It’s been a few years, now, my doing doing this. There’s a trail of interviews scattered on the internet, leading like bread crumbs towards the stories I have put out there.

These interviews have ranged from adequate to sharply insightful and relevant. I don’t rank them, and Il do every interview to the best of my ability, striving to walk the tightrope between being entertaining and informative. But often when an interview consists of pre-chewed questions or asks about stuff I’ve answered many times before it begins to be difficult to keep being fun and original. .

So it’s always a joy to be offered questions that are original, one-of-a-kind, and obviously indicative of the simple fact that the interviewer had actually read the book – and had GOT it!

One of the best such interviews I’ve ever done is up now, at Angela’s Library, where we talk about “Random,” the 1st book in The Were Chronicles, as well as the rest of life, the universe, and everything.  It was a delight to do it.

A brief excerpt:

Q: For most people, the word “Were” will trigger images of werewolves howling at the moon and biting innocent victims. In your novel, though, the Were world extends far beyond wolves and full moons. What was your process for developing the Were-kind in Random?

A: This particular world became very complex very quickly. My version of Werewolves – the Lycans – are definitely not the howling-at-the-moon types. They are scientists and they are driven by that pure scientific fury that can sometimes take over a human soul and demolish it if it stands in its way.

My chagrin here is that I love wolves. If I have a totem animal, it is the wolf. And yet somehow these complex, twisted, driven, fiercely intelligent and loyal creatures that spun out from under my pen just would not be ‘good’, and they quickly evolved into one of the villains of the piece. In Random, they are nebulous, their presence one of that black storm cloud that you might see on the horizon and begin to batten down the hatches in anticipation of hail.

In Wolf, the second book, they take much more of a center stage, and they are absolutely fascinating. Their dynamics, the life of the pack, their loyalties and their mindset, proved to be an utterly enthralling thing to delve into, and while second books in trilogies are too often weak bridges from a great opening in Book 1 to a satisfying conclusion in Book 3, this particular Book 2 is bucking the trend beautifully. It is a strong and beautiful story and it is carried by one of my favorite characters. Jazz’s brother Mal – the wolf of the title – well – I think I fell in love with him, a little bit. I think it will be difficult for my readers not to do the same. He is just such a beautifully strong, vulnerable, wounded, wise, intelligent wolf.

As for the rest of the Were – I actually set out to develop a genetic basis for the “being Were” thing, and that gets worked on in Wolf.

I wanted to breathe  life into the tired old trope you mention, that of the word “Were” calling up the howling murderous mindless beast in the reader’s mind. I wanted Weres to be real. I want the reader to start glancing nervously at the person sitting next to them on the bus or the subway and start to wonder whether that strange fox-faced sharp-featured woman or the pig-nosed broad-featured guy dozing in the corner actually turns into the things you think they might be turning into, when the moon is right.

You will never really know for sure, again, after reading these books, whether someone right there beside you might be something wild and strange during the nights of the full moon… or whether YOU might be.

Read the whole interview and its provocative questions and enter the giveaway of a signed copy of Random. Be the first on your block…

Read the interview

Quote of the day
QUOTE 'Random', The Were Chronicles~~~~~
Alma Alexander
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A short story? Hell no!

Meet Alma AlexanderRandom, The Were ChroniclesI’ll be at “The Author visits” all week, the first stop on a blog tour for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles, my new YA series. There will be a book giveaway, an excerpt from Random, a review, a guest blog post from me, hints about What’s Next.

In my guest blog yesterday, I discussed how The Were Chronicles came about. An excerpt:

The Were Chronicles were born as a short story about a Random Were, a were-creature that followed all the rules of the classic trope, except one. They weren’t nailed into an animal form. In fact, whatever the last warm-blooded creature was that they laid eyes on at the point of their turn… it was THAT creature which they turned into. Anything. A monkey. A rat. A parrot. A seal. Things could get out of control very quickly.

I started out with a comical premise…Right until the moment I realized two things.

One was that I was hitting five thousand words and I hadn’t properly said HELLO yet. This world was bigger, much bigger, than I had anticipated.

The other thing was that I was no longer laughing. This would be a story with a few comic touches here and there… but it was darker than I had thought. And richer. And deeper. And it wanted to tackle painful ideas.

So it wanted to be a novel. I shrugged and reformulated in my head…But it was worse than I thought. It did not want to be one novel. It wanted to be three. And each of the three would be riding the same main story arc but from a different (a VERY different) point of view, re-informing the story anew every time. It was a deeply complex set-up, far more ambitious than anything I had ever attempted before.

Today, there is an excerpt from Random the first book which is coming out this month.

Read my guest post and the excerpt here

Quote of the day
QUOTE Reviews~~~~~
Alma Alexander
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Literally unique. Really?

Claire Fallon talks about words so overused that they’ve become meaningless  and offers 12 examples. Do you agree? Disagree? Have an addition?


The Most Influential People In 3500 years

Carl LinnaeusJesus













Most of what you have learned will be strongly influenced by your language and your cultural background.

But what if you use Wikipedia to look more objectively?

Young-Ho Eom and friends ranked historical figures by importance in each one of 24 different language editions of Wikipedia and then compared them to see which figures span different cultures, allowing them to calculate the most influential.

This list throws up some surprises. Depending on the ranking algorithm these guys use, the most influential figure in human history is either Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who developed the modern naming scheme for plants and animals, followed by Jesus; or Adolf Hitler followed by Michael Jackson.

Most influential

Hail cyborgs!

borg_locutusCaptain Jean-Luc Picard as Locutus – (Photo: Tomer Gabel)

The line between robots and humans is blurring, Sharon Gaudin writes at Computerworld.

One day with robotic prosthetics that work seamlessly with a human’s muscles, with tiny robots that swim in our blood streams and fix medical problems and nano-scale robots implanted in our brains, we will become robotic humans.

As scary and sci-fi as that may sound, researchers say robotics will cure diseases, make amputees feel whole again and greatly extend our lives.


At io9, Ryan Plummer and Charlie Jane Anders examine:

12 Classic Lines of Dialogue That You Probably Didn’t Know Were Improv

For example:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
Sean ConneryJulian Glover recalls when Sean Connery came up with the line “She talks in her sleep” … they had to stop filming. Everybody just fell on the floor and Steven said, “Well, that’s in.”


19 Truly Brilliant Young Adult Books You Can Enjoy At Any Age

You don’t have to be a teen to love YA, Jenna Guillaume writes at BuzzFeed, and picks some standout, including a Jane Austen.
Jane AustenAusten was writing YA long before YA was ever a thing. At 17, Catherine has left her family for the first time to go on a trip with her neighbours to Bath, which is basically PARTY CENTRAL of Regency England. She makes new friends, both good and bad, embarrasses herself, endears herself and obsesses over a book so much it begins to affect her real life. Look past the empire waist dresses and marriage proposals and Northanger Abbey is still just as relevant today.

Young Adults for everyone

Alma Alexander
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Comments welcome. What do you think?