Kristina Elyse Butke
The YA Fantasy Reading Project 2021
Well, a year has come and gone since I started my plan to read as much YA as I possibly could. I began the project as research for writing my own YA fantasy. They say that writers must be readers, and I hadn't actually been reading much in my genre. In fact, I hadn't done much reading at all aside from web manga and manhwa, so my sense of what was happening in the world of YA fantasy was nonexistent.
The last I read YA was in graduate school (2010-2013) and as I found out through this project, so much has changed. The world of YA has become much more diverse, representing different races, genders, and sexualities! I got to read a lot of stuff that just wouldn't have been available back in the day, and literature is all the better for it. I can't wait to see what else will come out of YA.
I'm a little disappointed I only knocked through 38 books. I was thinking I'd get closer to 100, but I overestimated my ability to concentrate and underestimated the power of seasonal depressive cycles and mental illness. So, I started 2021 really strong and petered out towards the end of the year with only hitting one book a month. Nonetheless, I've read more than I have in years, and the most in the genre I ever have.
I did sneak in a couple books that technically aren't fantasy, but I consider ghosts and hauntings to be dark fantasy, especially since a lot of the books used magic or rituals to counteract the power of the ghosts. So, some horror/thriller books made it onto my list of fantasy.
If you're curious, here are the covers to all the books I read during the year.
Now I'm going to do a retrospective of sorts with fun little categories. Read on!
Most Common Point of View and Tense:
This didn't surprise me, but the most common combo of person and tense was first-person present tense. I initially hated this, but it no longer bothers me to read it. Reading all of these books was helpful in overcoming my aversion to it, but I have to admit, it's still not my cup of tea. I like writing in both first and third person, but it's the whole present tense thing that throws me for a loop.
I made a handy dandy chart if you were curious as to how the books are broken down. If the book is labeled "mixed POV and tenses," that means it used both third person and first person or used both present tense and past tense, or did a mashup of all of them. In some of Holly Blacks' The Folk of the AIr books, for example, the prologues are 3rd person while the main action is 1st person.
This is the only chart I felt like making, so drink it up! 😂
I didn't finish a total of 6 books (I will hold off naming and shaming). One I DNF'd almost instantly; the rest were DNF'd after about a quarter or halfway through the book, which is actually quite generous of me given my poor attention span. The reasons why:
The narrative voice was annoying
The writing style was meandering and focused more on language than character and plot
The plot was too slow
Too much worldbuilding and not enough story
Main character was annoying
Things didn't make sense/were inconsistent
Some of these DNFs came to me as a total shock because they came from authors who are beloved or popular, and some whose work I've loved before...so it actually hurt a little to give up on those books, but life is too short to read bad books, or books that I just don't find appealing.
Some New Words I Learned:
Susurrus/susurration-- this means "whispering or rustling" and I never saw this word before, and then suddenly found it in like six different YA books. It sure felt like Holly Black used this word a lot.
Cincture-- this means "a girdle or belt" and I can thank the book Vespertine for introducing this to me.
Most Hated Phrase:
"Scrambled for purchase." This popped up in sooooo many books and I irrationally hate how it sounds. It just sounds clichéd to me, like how people say they are a "voracious reader" or how movie stars on the red carpet say things are "so surreal."
My Favorite YA Couples:
Yadriel and Julian from Aiden Thomas's Cemetery Boys; Grey and Lia Mara, as well as Rhen and Harper, from Brigid Kemmerer's The Cursebreaker series; Isobel and Rook from Margaret Rogerson's An Enchantment of Ravens.
"The whisper caressed her mind like a flabby hand" (location 450, Kindle, Sorcery of Thorns). I burst out laughing when I read this.
A Book that Surprised Me:
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury was a surprise to me because it wasn't anything like I ever expected or imagined, and I mean this as a giant compliment. The book is a combo of science fiction and fantasy, taking place in the future with genetic matching and newer technology, but also dealing with old ancestral blood magic from the past. It's got a sweet romance between a cute but-kinda-jerky trans boy and the awesome lead character Voya, but that romance is constantly in the worst kind of danger where you want to root for it, but you know what has to happen...oh my gosh, it makes for some nail-biting scenes. I really enjoyed this book and it's unlike anything I've read. And the good news--there's going to be a sequel!
My Favorite Book
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. I love that books are alive. I love the aesthetic of all the libraries. I love the magic system and the use of demons in servitude. I love Nathaniel Thorn and Silas. I just had so much fun reading this book and there's so much about it that made me go, "This is the kind of stuff I want to write." Margaret Rogerson is now one of my favorite YA authors, to be certain. She's reached the point where I will buy and read anything she has coming out.
I am going to continue reading YA fantasy, but it might not be a project like this one. I might do a simple end-of-the-year post where I recap all the YA I've read, but I'm going to hold off on posting about it every couple of months like I did on my previous blog--that put me under a lot of pressure to read quickly (and write quickly about the books!).
The most important thing for me to do is to keep on reading no matter what--to know the genre, to know what's popular, and to come up with comps (this is a thing for both pitching to agents but also in book descriptions for purchasing...and I HATE IT), among other things. Please wish me luck as I continue reading, and let me know in the comments which books have caught your fancy this year!