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YA reads for fans of the hit TV show Yellowjackets

On Sunday, the season finale of Yellowjackets will air on Showtime. I just spent the last week binging season 1 with my 19 year old daughter and could not help but think of so many great YA books that fans of the show may like to read. Here’s my caveat: this show is rated M for Mature, and for good reason, so I am in no way recommending the show to teens. But for the new young adults in the world, like my daughter, who are watching the show, boy do I have some good YA lit recommendations for you.

Yellow jackets is a show about the dynamics of teenage girl ecosystems. It’s a show about survival. And it’s a show about adult women navigating PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and the very real atrocities that they have committed while trying to survive after spending 19 months stranded in a remote forest when their plane crashes. Cannibalism may or may not be involved. The show is compelling and profound and disturbing. Like I said, I can’t in good faith recommend the show to teens, but it’s some fantastic television. A combination of Lost meets This is Us meets Lord of the Flies. There are some very graphic scenes of violence, nudity, and sex, for those who need to know. But wow, is this a powerful exploration of teen girls and adult women.

As a former teen girl, as the mother of two teen girls, and as a now adult woman, I found this to be such an enthralling show. And it was profound for me to have a young adult daughter, 19, who I could watch this show with and talk about it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some scenes that were a little uncomfy to watch together as we’re just figuring out what it means to have an adult child, but what a profound gift to have this show where we could talk about being both a young woman and an older woman and share stories. Yes, we squirmed and gasped, but we also bonded and talked about really important things surrounding the idea of what it means to be female in this world.

Lord of the Flies is about how socialization falls away and how society is a facade. We thought, who is more socialized than women? As girls, you learn early on how to make people like you and what the social hierarchies are,” Lyle explained. “It’s a more interesting way of having things fall away. The mask is even thicker. It’s a more layered amount of preconceived notions of how to behave and act.” – Source: https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/tv-shows/yellowjackets-season-2/

So here are some other fabulous YA titles that touch on various themes found in Yellowjackets, including teen girl group dynamics and survival. The books I recommend below focus on the teen timeline of the show, and I don’t read a lot of adult fiction so I don’t have a lot of adult book recommendations. However, I did recently read The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix and feel that it also would be a good recommendation for Yellowjackets fans, especially as it touches on the psychological aftermath in adulthood of traumatic teen life experiences.

Here are my YA lit recommendations . . .

Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

I love this book and as a teen that read a lot of Stephen King, I often think of this book as a cross between Stephen King and National Treasure with a feminist twist.

Publisher’s Book Description: Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

The setting for this most reminds me of the survive the forest parts of Yellowjackets. And the group dynamics are amazing.

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

You want girls alone in the wilderness trying to survive? This book has that in spades with powerful commentary on the patriarchy and breaking down the stereotypes we have of how awful women are to one another. It goes to really dark places.

Publisher’s Book Description: No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

This may seem like an out there recommendation, but it does have the girl group dynamics and survival, with more science fiction elements thrown in.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

This is like the YA classic Hatchet; it’s a straight up wilderness survival story featuring a female main character. Because I had read this book, I found myself saying why didn’t the girls do x or y several times while watching Yellowjackets.

Publisher’s Book Description: The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Some other recommendations: One Was Lost and Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Playing with Fire by April Henry, and They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

For some YA dealing with the after affects of trauma, try Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso and The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.

I know there are so many great books out there that fans of this show will like. What are your recommendations?

Take 5: Creepy(ish) Teen Reads for the Month of October (and always)

It’s spooky season, one of my favorites. So I’ve been trying to read more spooky, creepy, thrilling, murdery books. Though one could I argue that’s what I normally read. Here’s a look at 5 books I’ve recently read, some old and some new and one not yet published, that are great reads for those looking for a little creep factor in their life.

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Here’s a totally true story. Years ago, The Mr. and I were trying to fly from Ohio to Mississippi to spend Christmas with my mom and we were being chased by a wicked storm. After being rerouted for the 5th time, we met up with two total strangers in the airport and rented a car together and drove from Atlanta to Mississippi. We were in our early twenties and didn’t even have cell phones yet, so this was not a great idea. We did call before leaving the airport and gave my mom everyone’s driver’s license information in case we never made it there alive. So when I saw the premise of this book, I was excited. Just the prospect of being in a car with strangers in a snow storm is terrifying, and here was an entire novel about it. And Natalie D. Richards is one of my go to authors for creepy reads. She does not disappoint here. Everyone’s hiding secrets, no one is really who they appear to be, and the storm itself is an interminable foe. Teens will enjoy this wild ride.

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Publisher’s Book Description:

Stay tonight. Stay forever.

When Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief.

Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past.

The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between life in a place that is so much more than it seems…

Welcome to the Ruby.

Karen’s Thoughts: I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now so when I went searching for something October scary, I knew it was finally time. Who doesn’t love a creepy hotel? I thought this was a really creepy read that slowly builds and then when things are revealed, I was not let down. I was mesmerized by the world of the Ruby and the characters that inhabit it. This is the perfect October read.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description:

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day, and her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down.

But then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

Karen’s Thoughts: Small towns, big secrets. A variation on the word creepy is right there in the title, so it makes the list. This is a pretty twisted psychological thriller with small town secrets, bullies, stalkers, serial kills and siblings trying to survive childhood trauma. There are some twists and turns and red herrings along the way. It is a satisfying read.

Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts: I debated adding this book to this list because it’s actually a pretty heavy book with serious discussions and doesn’t fall very well onto a list of creepy books for the sake of being creepy and fun. BUT if you have teens looking for a good psychological feminist thriller that is dark, this IS the book for that teen. I reviewed it earlier on TLT and said, “This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.”

The Cousins by Karen McManus

Publishers Book Description:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Karen’s Thoughts: When I was a teen, one of my favorite movies was Evil Under the Sun based on the book by Agatha Christie. What can I say, I was a weird teen. The Cousins immediately brought the works of Agatha Christie to mind, more so even then her earlier books One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret did. This book is about family secrets and it’s strength is the character development. Again, it’s not so much a creepy book as it is a really good mystery, which I always love. This book doesn’t come out until the end of 2020, so you’ll have to wait a bit to find out more about these family secrets. But you can read about more family secrets in a small town that actually involves a haunted house in Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, so that’s the perfect October read while you wait to satisfy your Agatha Christie-like cravings with The Cousins later this year.

I’m on the hunt for more creepy reads, so what have you been reading?

A Response: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Literature

The Background
Here’s a secret: Christie, Heather, Robin and I have become really good friends as we have traveled this co-blogging journey together.  We often email each other throughout the day, bouncing ideas off of each other, talking about books, complaining about patrons (and sometimes our children).  So yesterday Christie sent me a link to an article that got us all talking.  Rather than writing out a response to it, we thought we would just share our behind the scenes conversation.

Here a link to the original article: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books

Heather’s Take
Just like in every other aspect of life and culture, there are options that are roundly understood to be exceptional, classic works, shining examples of virtue and grace, and options that serve other purposes.  They’re easy to access.  They’re entertaining.  They reflect contemporary situations.  They are escapist, providing contrasts to everyday life.  Books, even books for young people, are no different.  As a parent, I’m urged to make all of the “right” choices for my children all of the time, and berated by certain factions when I don’t.   (For these folks, there is only ever one right option.) From food to bedtimes to medical care to educational opportunities, someone always knows better, and parents never win.  I’ll take this article with the same grain of salt I use for others in a similar vein.  

I stand by my longstanding assertion that teens read for escape, connection, and information. Sometimes what they get from reading those “horrible” books with bad things is an appreciation for what they DO have. Sometimes they get the reassurance that they are not alone in their nightmares.  Sometimes they are gaining an understanding, in a fictional context, of the horrors that surround them daily in the news. 

She asserts that parents should steer their children toward more edifying work.  Fine.  Parents are welcome to do that.  But what’s even more powerful, potentially life changing, and affirming than reading that virtuous book is deliberately choosing to do so.
Robin’s Take
Exactly. My Mom chose to shelter us from violence, but not from sexual content. That definitely shaped who I am, and that was her prerogative. She didn’t see any need to restrict what other people’s children were exposed to. It’s quite interesting living in the heart of the Bible belt, where most of my friends were sheltered from sexual content but not from violence. 
This is the part of the article that disturbs me the most:
Young Adult book author Sherman Alexie wrote a rebuttal to my article entitled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” In it, he asks how I could honestly believe that a sexually explicit Young Adult novel might traumatize a teenaged mother. “Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?”
Well of course I don’t. But I also don’t believe that the vast majority of 12-to-18-year-olds are living in hell. And as for those who are, does it really serve them to give them more torment and sulphur in the stories they read?”

I don’t think she’s in touch with the average teenager today. She sounds like she’s cut off from the realities of daily existence for so much of our population. I understand how that can happen, but perhaps that makes a case for those of us who are ‘in the trenches’ to be better judges of what is appropriate in Young Adult literature. It is often this same mentality that causes people to believe that those who aren’t making it financially are ‘just lazy.’ And that it will ruin our economy for everyone to have access to adequate healthcare and nutrition.
Does it serve children living in devastating circumstances to offer them stories of people in hard situations that they can relate to and maybe learn coping skills, or see hope that they can survive their current difficulties? I think so. Does it serve them to offer them stories so engaging that they can momentarily escape from their current troubles? Yes, we all need that. Does it serve them to only offer them stories of realities that are so unlike their own that they can’t even begin to relate to the characters? No. We need to meet the readers where they are. We need to feed their diverse interests. We need to empower them to tell their own stories. Limiting their exposure to only things that a part of society finds beautiful and ‘redemptive’ will silence these voices. It is another way of telling them that their experiences don’t matter. That they don’t count. That they are worthless.
There is great beauty in the midst of every tragedy. Friends sacrifice for those they love. Societies come together to protect the weak and disadvantaged. Can you really understand the enormity of what Denmark did for its Jewish citizens in smuggling them to Sweden without first comprehending the horror of the Nazi regime? Can you understand the importance of the idea that you are not defined by the evil that others enact upon you and your body without discussing those evils and the havoc they wreak in lives on a daily basis?
Karen’s Take
I guess it depends on where you live as to whether or not you believe a vast majority of teens are living in hell.  I have spent way too much time with far too many teens that were starving, both for food and love.  Statistics indicate that 1 out of 3 girls will be the victim of some type of sexual violence by the time they reach age 18.  For boys it is 1 out of 5.  I’ve watched grandparents raise teenagers as parents were off somewhere dying in gutters from drug abuse or in jail.  I just feel like there is a segment of the population that is happy and living gleefully sheltered lives and they don’t understand that not all lives are like theirs.  But when we write books that open doors onto these different lives, when we recognize that they exist – only then can we begin to acknowledge them and work to make the world a different place.  It’s easy to put blinders on and believe that teens aren’t living in poverty, because once you recognize that poverty exists and what it is like I think the moral response is to work to change that.  And teens that are living these lives, sometimes of course they want escapist books – don’t we all? – but they also want authentic books, books that don’t talk down to them or sugarcoat things.  The greatest turn off for teens when they open a book is to feel that they are being intellectually demeaned; you must speak truth to teens and be authentic.

But honestly, I don’t think it is fair for someone to say look how bad teen literature is and give only 3 examples.  I can turn right around and give her 3 positive examples of YA lit: Guitar Lessons by Mary Amato is a beautiful story of friendship and being true to yourself, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater is a beautiful fantasy series that has that literary feel to it she discusses, and Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt is a fun, flirty book with positive family and multigenerational interactions.  The thing is, 3 books proves nothing.  It isn’t a representative sampling. There are hundreds of YA books published every year, and they cover such a vast array of lives.  I think YA lit has its shortcomings, we definitely need more diversity for example, but I think it is so rich and bountiful and flourishing.

Further, she uses Scars by Cheryl Rainfield as an example, which really negates her point I think:

“This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.”

Here’s the problem with using this example to make her argument: This is Cheryl’s life.  She was suicidal, she was a cutter, she was raped.  She is very open about it.  She writes about it to validate the experiences of those who have – who ARE – living lives exactly like this.  It’s not about framing or building a culture, it is about reflecting the very real lives of teenagers.  Not all teenagers, but some of them.  Yes, their stories make us uncomfortable – they should make us uncomfortable – but we don’t get to say you don’t get to tell your story because it makes me uncomfortable.  And I don’t think these stories normalize them at all, but by exposing them, by drawing back the curtain, we help teens that need it give voice to what is happening, to seek help, to find hope, to stop the crimes that are being committed against them in the dark by bringing them to light. 

But let’s go back all the way to the title of the article: The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books.  Once again, the title gets to the heart of what the problem is.  What, exactly, is good taste?  Who gets to define that?  It’s interesting to note that in her closing argument she quotes the Bible: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things (Phil 4:8).  The Bible happens to be one of the MOST CHALLENGED books of all time, in part because it is in fact very violent and sometimes sexual.  But also, the very books she is decrying do in fact reflect a light on truth; there are parts of our world that are in truth very ugly.  And just as Jesus spent his time with tax collectors, Pharisees, adulterers, thieves and murderers so he could save them, I believe He calls us to expose the truth in our world so that we, too, can work to change it.  I often find the characters in YA lit to be very inspiring because they are, in fact, surviving the life situations that they are living.  I feel that the “edgy” YA books that I am reading are thoughtful, reflective, uncomfortable, challenging, inspiring,
I think the answer is that there needs to be balance, a balance that I argue does in fact exist in YA literature.  But then again, I find To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that talks about rape and racism, to be one of the most inspiring books ever written. So what do I know?