Sunday, September 15, 2013

YA Book Say What

When did Young Adult books loose their innocence? Not that I'm complaining. I think it's kind of great. I've enjoyed a few YA books immensely, but those books didn't seem like they should be YA books at all. They seemed like regular mainstream fiction with iniquitous subject matter as the headliner. The only thing that really gave these books rights to be a YA fiction were the teenage protagonists.

For those of you unsure, YA or Young Adult fiction, previously termed juvenile fiction is literature specifically designed and marketed for adolescents in the 13-19 year old range. Even though the definition and psychological range of an actual young adult is 20-40.

These books are booming right now and many of them aren't nearly as virtuous as Harry Potter or Twilight.

So, back to what I was discussing before. When did YA book content become so twisted an adult could enjoy it? When did the darker side of rape, death, and dismemberment become active themes in YA books? And not in an after school special way. I'm talking about in a Steven Lastrapes's Inside the Outside kind of way, sans the lesbianism.

Was it when adults realized teenagers were reading adult content anyways? Was it when teenagers that read Stephen King, V.C. Andrews and their moms romance novels grew up and started writing their own books?

In 2008 or 09 Romance Review magazine did a spread on Hunger Games. It was the first time, that I can remember, Romance Review did a spread on a YA book.  My girlfriend and I sat sipping our morning joe, discussing our surprise and general intrigue into this new development. We thought the book looked interesting but we didn't get them until a few more years down the road, after the series was finished and the hype was high.

My girlfriend and I were teenagers in the 90's. Young adult books were nearly non-existent. The books that weren't wholly fantasy were Dawson Creek-ish before there was such a thing as Dawson Creek. Not to mention set in or around Washington State.

Everyone hearted Seattle in 90's, big time.

They were the types of books that a fourteen year old girl could enjoy but a women would find tedious. I loved a series called the BoyFriend/Girlfriend Club. These books were set on an island off the coast of Washington State (of course), and were the grown up version of the Baby Sitters Club. There was drinking, mild drug use, kissing, implied sex, pregnancy scares, heartbreak and enough teenage angst to sink the Titanic.

Everything had a Lifetime channel, after school special message to it.

Now a days those types of teen drama books are everywhere and they are usually carry some paranormal elements. Not only that, their are some books that can actually be enjoyed by adults and I question their title of YA. The Hunger Game series was great. I read that series and my inner fifteen year old was totally jealous. My inner adult kept thinking, This is a YA book? For girls? With all the killing, and gore, and well.... killing?

Why yes, the blood thirsty masses ate it up and cried for more. And they got it.

Months ago a book called Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, came up on my Amazon recommend list. I read a spectrum of weird stuff so I get recommended a spectrum of random books. This one, I couldn't figure out if it was a fiction, a romance or what.

The cover is ambiguous and nothing in the summary was screaming a definite genre besides dystopian Earth. I'm a sucker for a dystopian setting. After reading the blurb I didn't really care what it was. It sounded fascinating and I downloaded it without reading a review or looking up the authors.

"Fifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best. Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I've been accused of a crime I didn't commit and now the hole is my new home. 
Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain. 
Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won't die. I won't let them win. The Hole can't keep me. The Hole can't break me. I am more than my brand. I'm a fighter.My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story."

Many reviewers have compared Branded to Hunger Games and I can see why. It's the most relevant comparison. A teenage female heroine, a dystopian setting, and some fucked up circumstances. I say 'fucked up' because 'messed up' just seems to mild of a phrase for this book.


I was hooked from page one. This is one of those books that is really hard to put down. Lexi is captured and taken to the Hole. The Hole makes the Hunger Game's world seem warm and fuzzy. From the beginning you get the sense people here will rape you, kill you, then eat you, because humans are barely human inside this place and food is scarce.

Wrongfully and rightfully convicted men women and children are stripped down  then herded holocaust style to await getting painfully branded. They are then thrown in the Hole to be forgotten. The Hole itself is miles and miles of desert wasteland.

Lexi is given a guard and put on suicide watch. This is a normal 48 hour procedure. Her guard Cole ends up being assigned her permanent guard. Through out the book I wasn't sure why she had a personal guard, when no one else does. By the end of the book you find out why she specifically is being kept alive, and it is shocking.

Rest assured, she isn't just given a guard in order for her to have a love story. Although, I'm sure it helped.

Lexi isn't a Katniss Everdeen. She's not the badass heroic super girl. She has strength, she is resilient, but she's more of a lucky survivor and has more than one break down. I would like to point out, before the story even starts Lexi has already lived through many worst tortures than what Katniss experiences in all three Hunger Games books. Also, Katniss goes into a near catatonic state by the end of book three for around six months.

Lexi's angst did annoy me at one point, but I cut her some slack. She goes through the kind of stuff that fills up psych wards. Her weak moments seemed like a reasonable response to her traumas.You don't find out the extent of Lexi's trials until near the end of the book, but you do find out.

There is a scene near the end of the book where she breaks down one last time and has to be carried. I was disappointed with the authors. By this time in the story Lexi has earned her badge of honor and deserved to walk on her own two legs, head bravely held high. I thought it unjust to her character and devalued her hard work.

Overall a fantastic read. The first half of the story is gut wrenching. By the midway point I was sure the book was going to end on a cliff hanger. After some unexpected turn of events the book does wrap up, but in such a way it's obvious there will be a book two.

More than 75% of this book felt like a regular fiction with a teen protagonist. Although there were a few moments that felt distinctly YA, my thought upon finishing this book was, that was fucked up.

I was also still unclear to this book being a YA or not and had to visit the author's page to find out. I can't help think this book should be filed under regular fiction. This is the kind of book I would recommend for the over seventeen crowd. My twenty two year old niece would adore it, yet it would probably give my twenty year old niece nightmares.

I wouldn't recommend this book without giving a bit of a content warning, mostly for strong violence. Which begs the question, is it still a YA if it needs a content warning? And why aren't content warnings on YA books that have swearing, strong violence and or sex?

There is a different cover for the book on their page.

I'm glad this isn't the cover that is marketed. It screams YA and I would have hated missing out on this story because I had judged a book by it's cover. 

318 pages

Warning; This is a YA that doesn't quite read like a YA book. Contains strong violence. Reader discretion may apply. 

Thank You Abi and Missy!

You can find more on these ladies @

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