Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books I Love But Get Nervous About Recommending

When people find out I write YA, I get one of two questions, sometimes both.

1. Are you published? (What's your book called? I want to buy it! Etc.)

2. Oh, my son/daughter isn't much of a reader (OR they love to read!), do you have any recommendations?

Both questions make me a little nervous, if I'm being honest, but the second ones puts my stomach in a knot.

See, I live in Utah. Most of my acquaintances have a more conservative view of the world than I do. I've recommended books (and written books) I thought were clean only to have someone be upset about how inappropriate the book was for insert-whatever-reason-here. There are also books I know NOT to recommend because many would find the content questionable, even though I absolutely loved them and thought the messages were powerful.

Today I'm going to gush over these books, because I'm tired of keeping them to myself. Just know that if you're looking for "cleaner" reading experiences, these might not be for you.

Oh my goodness, this book is amazing. It takes a lot for me not to put down a book (I mean, I could put down The Hunger Games), but I could not stop reading The Secret Year. Nick stayed up late and read it in one sitting.

It's an honest look at loss and how ones copes (and often doesn't cope) with it. It's one of my favorite reads this year.

You all know how much I love this book. I've written about it a few times.

Another awesome, raw look at death and loss and the choices we have to make. Mia and Adam are one of my favorite ever couples, and the writing was just gorgeous.

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Junior's voice, his story and humor, was what made me want to try and write a male MC.

Working for the Multicultural Student Services office at BYU, I found this account of reservation life painfully true to what my friends talked about.

I adored this whole series. The style is distinct and reads quick. The story and characters feel so real and honest. It's gritty without being overkill, at least to me. It's paranormal with a contemporary feel.

Okay, so there are my "I want to recommend but worry people will get offended" books. Do you have any books you love, but keep to yourself?


  1. Great post, Natalie!!! We feel the same way about some of the books that we recommend. We loved BEFORE I FALL and SOME GIRLS ARE are two that we thought were AMAZING, but some people get a little squirmy about the content. It's so subjective!!!

  2. I'd love to hear why you hesitate to recommend these books, not having read them myself :).

  3. I also loved IF I STAY but hesitated to recommend it to friends because of language and sex. But I still recommend these things on my blog. I just add the warning about the PG-13 or R stuff they might find offensive and leave the choice to them.

    You really caught my interest with Sherman Alexie's book. I'm going to look that up right now. I'm from AZ and have always been fascinated with Native American culture/wished I knew more about it. Thank you.

  4. Actually I recommended HUNGER GAMES to a friend and she loved it, but advised me to be careful when recommending it because it features young children suffering harshly and as a mother of young kids she had a hard time reading that. Oops!

    LUCKY and NAME ALL THE ANIMALS are excellent memoirs, but both are extremely... difficult to read, at times. (The former deals with rape, the latter with loss and poor coping methods.)

    On a related note, writers might be wise to advise their critique group/partners of any "red flag" content in their own work. Recently I was reading a story for a friend and had to skip a whole page (about a dog's brutal murder) because I just couldn't handle that. I wasn't offended by the material! I just could *not* read it.

  5. JEM, I'm not going to be specific, just because I don't want to play the censor.

    The main reason I don't recommend is because I know the sensibilities of the people in my area, and that these books might not be appreciated like I appreciate them.

    If I lived somewhere else, that would be a completely different matter and I might recommend them often.

  6. Good books on your list! I hesitate about recommending JUMPING OFF SWINGS, even though I think it's such an honest, realistic look at the consequences of teen pregnancy. But, you know, there's definitely sex in there!

  7. I've never read any of those, but I'll have to look into them.

    Being told not to read them would immediately make me want to, even if the content is 'questionable'. It's the stuff that pushes the boundaries that makea for great reading, and having to question things makes me want to read more.

  8. I heard a lot of good things about If I Stay. And it's been on my TBR list for FOREVER. The Indian Book my friend read a few pages for me... and it's absolutely hilarious! The only factor is that it is inappropriate, but still a great book! It made me LOL, for real!

  9. Some which I've liked but hesitate to recommend: IF I STAY, FEED (M.T. Anderson), WINTERGIRLS (Laurie Halse Anderson) and LOOKING FOR ALASKA (John Green).

    I find this especially hard because I have 11 and 13 year old girls. I read a lot of YA but there are some I don't think they're ready to read until they're older.

  10. I have read a ton of YA recently, but most of it I didn't like well enough to recommend anyway outside of the content (teen sex, violence, etc.).

    One of my favorite books ever is "Broken For You" by Stephanie Kallos. When everyone in my book club said the content was too objectionable, I realized I probably wouldn't be recommending it. How sad. If you haven't read it, you should!

    I also loved "The Thirteenth Tale" but have a difficult time recommending it.

  11. Most of mine are non-YA books, by authors like Lisa See and Michelle Moran. I love their stories (Lisa's are set in China and Michelle's are in ancient Egypt) but there can be some pretty harsh and slightly risque scenes. Lisa See's books, like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (my absolute favorite book ever) and Peony in Love have scenes of footbinding and they are incredibly hard to read, especially knowing that the girls are often no more than six years old. Michelle's books, like The Heretic Queen (another of my absolute faves) can have some slightly risque love scenes, but nothing near some romance novels.

    I know many family members, specifically my in-laws, tend to be a bit more conservative with reading and they wouldn't like the books very much.

  12. I don't have any qualms about recommending books to folk; I just wanted to say that I was happy to see Sherman Alexie on your list! He's a brilliant writer and poet, and more people should read him!

  13. Great recommendations! I love Sherman Alexie in particular; his books are awesome. I think it'd be great to take a writing workshop with him; I can only imagine the kinds of things he'd teach people.

  14. I have never read a book I was nervous recommending/telling people about. If I know the person well, I will warn them if there is something in it that I think might would stop them from reading, but it doesn't make me nervous to recommend it.

    I don't qualify books to strangers ("Well, you might like this, but let me say upfront there are sex, drugs, and rock and roll in it..."). If they ask for a rec, I give it to them. It's their responsibility to check it out further and see if it is a good fit. But, I also live in a large metropolitan area which, while not super-liberal (in sensibility, not politics), it isn't super-conservative, either.

    I personally am sensitive to violence/rape/death, but those things are part of life. I see no reason not to talk about them. For instance, I haven't read LOVELY BONES because I'm just not sure if I can read about Susie's rape without having horrible nightmares. So... I haven't read it. Someone recommended it to me, I read up on it, realized I would be scared by that scene, and didn't read it. No biggie. No offense.

    I definitely understand why you feel the need to kind of put an asterisk on certain books, and definitely respect your decision (never hurts to be courteous, right? And basically, you are going above and beyond to be courteous and warn people about something you think would bother them), but I just can't do it for PG-13 material. I'm assuming that if someone visits my blog, they are old enough to peruse the internet on their own and can handle PG-13 recommended material.

    Hardcore sex/violence/language, maybe. But I'm not worried about being politically correct, and if people don't like that, they certainly have the right not to listen to me.

  15. I am loving all these opinions. Keep them coming! I just want to clarify that *I* personally don't think these books are bad in anyway.

    And it's more that I love them so much I don't want to share them with people who might not appreciate it because of one particular thing taken out of context, if that makes sense. I want to protect stuff I love, I suppose.

  16. I totally struggle with this too! It's so hard to give honest recommendations to people because I worry they'll be offended and hate a book I loved (I really enjoyed If I Stay and The Absolutely True Diary...).

    Oy, I once recommended The Secret Life of Bees to my church book group. It was a book I loved that I felt was really well written and pretty darn clean for contemporary lit. But apparently it wasn't to some people's standards. It was a really ugly, bad experience and I decided then that I wouldn't recommend books at church anymore. :)

  17. Ah, yes, Natalie, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about:) Heh. You can talk "risque books that aren't really risque" with me anytime you want.

    Bless this cute little bubble we live in, right? Hehe.

  18. SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS. The rawness of those books can sometimes be overwhelming to some. Though I definitely think everyone should absolutely positively without a doubt read them.

  19. Night angel trilogy, it has some pretty intense violence. But the author later explains that he got a lot of the content ideas from his wife who is a social worker who deals with gang-related incidents. He said he had to tone *down* real life to make the book.

    I guess it kind of made me think, if I don't think about it, does it not happen? Plus, I already read the first book so I kept reading.

  20. For me, it'd be the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King. I love it intensely; many, however, would find the incredibly huge age gap between Holmes and Russell to be uncomfortable. Personally, I don't mind. Others might. And so I'm hesitant when recommending it.

  21. Thank you, Natalie! I must check some of these out. I've heard of a few but I haven't read them.

  22. I adore YA because I love a coming of age story...and I love to reminisce about my own teen years and those feelings of newness!! Thanks for sharing these! I'll be adding some of them to my TBR pile!

  23. I love the book Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr - It's so powerful and emotionally raw, but the F-word and sexual content make it difficult for me to recommend. I actually wish the book didn't have the profanity - I like it in spite of the language.
    I tried to read the Diary of a Part-time Indian because you said you liked it, but I ended up stopping because of content. Don't feel bad though - I could see why you liked it - it just didn't hold my interest enough to make me want to wade through the content.

  24. I adore Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (The Golden Compass, etc.), but I'm often hesitant to recommend it, because usually I get the response: "Isn't that the atheist book?"

    Which, no, it's really not. There are some obvious anti-church sentiments, which is Pullman's distaste for organized religion coming out, but there is love and afterlife. It saddens me, because I know that more conservative religious types (or even un-conservative religious types) might find his portrayal of the fictional "Church" in his world offensive, but it's such a powerful series with a strong heroine.

  25. Most recently I loved Will Grayson Will Grayson and normally whatever I read something I tell my student. My students are in 8th grade. I told them it's not for everyone and if they wanted to read it they needed to wait until it came out in paperback.

    I'm normally up front about the disclaimers.

    My students are the same way when they are recommending books to each other.

  26. I was hesitant about recommending Rachel Caine's "morganville Vampires" to my best friend, since the worst she'd read was Twilight when it came to language and sexual content. But it was my favorite series, and I knew she'd like some of the characters. Turns out her mother bought the series to read herself, so she got to reading it afterwards and now we're both obsessed. Happy ending!

  27. Ah, excellent taste. I LOVED The Secret Year. I read it in about two hours--such a great book.

    I've been curious about Part Time Indian. I'll have to check it out.

    As for recommending books, I've never worried about the content offending anyone but then I'm not sure anyone in my life is really conservative--or at least no one I'd recommend a book too.

  28. I've read the Sherman Alexie book and enjoyed it, so I'm going to trust your other recommendations (here's a roll of Tums, don't worry). ;)

  29. oh - I know what you mean about recommendations. I'm a christian and feel particularly judged by some of my books on my shelf :) The thing is, many of my friends watch movies with the equivalent content that is in my books, but somehow, it's okay in a movie, but not appropriate in a book...

    Also, about not think there if "bad" stuff in the book. I was shocked to her a mum complaining about content in Jaclyn Moriarty's work! It is so funny and whimsical and I swaer, I never even notice any swear words of sexual references! LOL.

    And I love you recommendations. I really should read the Sherman Alexia one. I dont think I've ever read a bad review of it.

  30. I read The Secret Year a while ago, and you're right, it was pretty great, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone in my family. Some of the content just wasn't something they would necessarily get into.

    And oooh! Ooh! Do you know anything about Hansel Valley, Utah? If you do, may I pleeeeaaase pick your brain some time? My current WIP is based there and I've googled tons of pictures, but I would love to get an idea of what it's like from someone who actually knows. :D :D :D

  31. "To read" on! Thanks!

  32. It's not YA, but one of my favorite series is the Song of Ice and Fire saga by George R. R. Martin. It's amazing in every way, but it's also like Rated X, for everything.

  33. There are some books that I recommend with disclaimers. I know I appreciate it when others are sensitive to my taste in books too, so it never hurts to try and reciprocate.

    That said, there are many wonderful books out there that I've loved, but have content that I would rather not read, and to be honest, it often means the difference between buying or borrowing because I'd much rather spend money on the books that I wouldn't mind my kids picking up off the shelf and reading.

  34. I know how you feel. I lived in Utah for a few years getting my bachelor's degree and even adults are iffy about certain books. For many people I'd recommend American Gods but some of the people there really wouldn't like it. Something about gods/goddesses found everywhere and the whole main character with the cat goddess might upset people. lol

    It's good to see the books you loved, even if others don't agree.

  35. Thank you for INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER. I was never that girl so it was a bit of a stretch for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It taught me a thing or 12 about writing.

    My always recommend is Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I'm sure someone will find it offensive. It mentions sex and rape and the whole premise is suicide.

    I really want to read THE SECRET YEAR and PART-TIME INDIAN. I'm going on a book spree next week, so I'm making my list :)

  36. Graceling. (had a friend bash this recommendation for "irresponsible themes" and now I never mention it.)

    East of Eden (seriously, people, yes there is a brothel it is part of the story geez it isn't glorified like it is designed to make you want to WORK in a brothel)

    The English Patient (gave a copy of it to my bf one time, thinking it was lyrical and sad and he responded with "That is the dirtiest book I've ever read and that's saying something." Um, lovely.)

  37. I was curious to see if we had similar taste in books, so I requested all of these from my library.

    Just in case you're wondering, I thought they were all entertaining to one degree or another, but none of them make it to my Favorites List.