Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book talk: Why I read Young Adult fiction

I don’t often do this, but in today’s post, I’m featuring a post that I’ve previously featured on the blog.

I’m doing this because, as I was browsing through my files, I realised that today I’m feeling the emotions that I describe in the post below - and that the only way to make this better is to remind myself once again why I read YA and why I love book blogging.

Not only that.

The other reason I’ve written this post, is for those who have gone through something similar and for those who often feel judged because of your love for YA fiction.  I’ve edited here and there (edits in bold), but essentially, everything below still very much applies to my current situation.

I hope that, if you’re reading this, you’ll find something you can, in some way or another, relate to.

On to the post:

Why Young Adult fiction has saved (and still saves) my life time after time, after time.

Today I'm going to be talking about a subject that most bloggers have been defending over the last couple of months (and one that we’re still defending to this day): Young Adult fiction.

My post though, or my story if you will, is probably not a unique one, but the feelings experienced are certainly real enough - so I hope you bear with me as I try to find the words to express just what it is that I'm feeling and just how it ties in with my post about YA literature.

I haven’t been blogging much lately. My blogging pattern has, in the past few months, become decidedly irregular - with me posting anywhere between 1 - 5 posts per month, whereas in the past, I easily use to manage at least 15 posts per month.

The reason for this slowdown is quite simple really. I'm suffering from depression.

Now for those of you who are in the same boat, or know someone that is, you'll know that depression is about more than just feeling sad.

It's more than just crying out of the blue for no apparent reason and it's about more than just lying in foetal position whole day, struggling to muster the will to get up. It's a label that is so universal, yet each one experiences it very differently.

My experience?

So far, it's mostly been hell in a black pit for me. It's hell because I feel like I've lost my voice (my blogging voice included), it's agony because when I cry, I can't get the words that need to be said out of my system, and it's pure emotional torture because, on the days that I'm not crying, I'm filled with a seeping black void of numbness that renders me devoid of any feeling (the last one is kind of what I’m feeling today).

And because I feel so voiceless and devoid of joy, I often simply resort to going into automaton mode; going through the daily motions of everyday life and trying to keep it together, while inside, it feels like my soul is being ripped and shredded to parts.

Want to know what's worse? It's not necessarily those very, very bad days that makes everything feel so impossibly out of reach.

It's on the good days, when I have something akin to the feeling of hope,  that I convince myself I'm happy and feeling completely normal. And when I convince myself that nothing's wrong, well, my next crash is always worse than the previous one.

And then... then I'm back to where I started. Trapped in a never-ending cycle of self-loathing, hurt, self-pity and morbidity.

I have all these good intentions, but I just can't seem to follow through. I want to review, but can't bring myself to think beyond what I'm stretching myself to think in this bad space I'm in.

And I want to update, read and visit other blogs, but I don't seem to have all the energy for that lately.

In short, I can't bring myself to do anything beyond sleeping, getting up, going to work and coming home to curl up and read (the one thing that's kept me from completely going over the edge) and sleep.

But, believe it or not, my story is not one that is completely hopeless, because, besides getting professional help (I'm on anti-depressants and seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist), this is where YA fiction comes in.

Now as most of you know, over the past couple of months, there's been a plethora of raging debates surrounding teen fiction.

It seems that according to the "experts" (and as a young, online South African journalist, I use that word very loosely), fiction targeted for the youth is either too dark too depraved, too sexual or is guilty of romanticising domestic violence.

Any dark and negative connotation you can think of, it's probably been used to label and describe Young Adult fiction.

And for me, as a journalist who is an ardent supporter of YA fiction, it saddens me that people are so quick to criticise what they don't really understand.

I know I'm going to me making myself guilty of assumption, but I often get the feeling that the people who criticise this genre, have probably not read all that many teen reads. 

You know why? Because if they had, they wouldn't even begin to question the value that it has brought to so many young teens.

I may not be a teen, but without YA, I would have surely resorted to harming myself. Yes, I was suicidal for a long time, and yes, to many it seems impossible that a teen read has the power to save a life, but in truth, that's what it did for me.

For me, I've always seen the voices in YA novels as being incredibly brave. Many of them have given me the opportunity to become the girl I've always wanted to be in my teen years. Strong, brave and courageous.

To be those things, you'd certainly have to go through your share of hell to build up that sort of character right?  And what many of these characters go through, are more than an echo of what's going on outside in the real world.

It's real and it's happening outside in the lives of teens and young adults alike. Which is why I can't understand all the condemnation around it. If the teens are experiencing this and you have people criticising this genre so severely, then how can you even hope to help the teen who so desperately needs saving?

Why do you think they're resorting to these wonderful reads?

These reads that offer them voices.

These reads that (and this applies to me as well) allow them to feel.

And mostly, these reads that offer them hope and understanding in a world dominated by people who constantly criticise them and don't see that beyond many young boys and girls' reckless behaviour, there's a desperate plea for help.

On days when I couldn't even bring myself to speak, it was this genre that grounded me. It was this genre that brought out a tentative smile and it was this genre, that against all odds, brought out the bubble of laughter, that I had thought was long forgotten.

A dear blog friend of mine has said often said that people don't choose books, but that books have a way of finding and choosing you.

In my darkest times, the books that have always found me, is the Young Adult fiction genre.

Before you pass judgement on books that take on tough subjects like drugs, teen pregnancy, suicide, abuse and the big forbidden topic of all, teen sex (criticising the nature of the books won't change the fact that these things are happening), consider for a moment how many young girls and boys have started reading again.

It's not just for the romance, although there's plenty of that deliciousness to be found. It's for the voices that offer hope and a sense of belonging; it's for the voices that don't offer judgement, and it's for the voices that above all else, relate to them and are an echo of their own souls.

There've been many of these reads that have saved my life and in the next few weeks, I'll share a few of them with you. For now, I thought I'd share my story with you in the hopes that someone finds hope in this in some way.

Because that #YAsaves hash tag on Twitter?  It's not just a hash tag.

I can testify to this.

And you know what? After this post, I think I'm finally ready to start getting back into gear with my blogging again. You can expect lots of reviews and bookish ramblings a little more often now. 

And hopefully, as I get back on track again, that void of hopelessness and helplessness will disappear altogether.

For now, I'm going to take it one step at a time and I'm going to keep reading my YA books. As Alan Rickman says:



P.S. I know this post was long, rambly and not perfectly written, but to be quite honest, perfection wasn't what I was aiming for.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book review: The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

Fantasy and magic realism meet myth, religious diversity and an explosion of cultural metropolis in this delightful and beautifully rendered earth-meets-fire tale.

Disclaimer: This review also appears on, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section. 
The Golem and the Djinni (Blue Door)

Book comparisons are rather dangerous.

And yet, as a bibliophile, I often find myself unable to resist the allure of finding a new book that’s been touted as being along the same vein as another read; especially if that book just so happens to be one of my favourites.

In this case, the book that The Golem and the Djinni was (and is) being compared to, is The Night Circus.

Now, if you are a fan of fantasy and magic realism and haven’t read The Night Circus before, I would highly recommend that you do.

It’s one of the most magnificent novels I’ve read to date, and one I can’t wait to see adapted to film (despite my ambivalence towards book-to-movie adaptations in general).

The fantastical imagery brought to life under Erin Morgenstern’s hands, the beautiful and intriguing concept of life on the road and in a travelling circus, and at its heart, the two magicians whose magnificent and magical creations form the heart and soul of their forbidden love story - it’s truly a feast for the senses.

See, with a comparison to a book like that, you can hardly blame me for taking a chance on The Golem and the Djinni, can you?

I’m ridiculously glad that I did though, because Helene Wecker’s debut novel is an absolute gem of a read; one that sucks you in like a sandstorm in the desert.

Bear in mind that though this book is compared to Morgenstern’s Night Circus, The Golem and the Djinni, while similar in genre style, does not try to be its carbon copy.

While you certainly have to suspend your disbelief, as most magic realism novels compel you to (this is what I love most about these kind of novels), The Golem and the Djinni has a more languid, subtle and earthy tone to it than the overt and fantastical imagery featured in The Night Circus.

With its rich blend of Syrian mythology and incorporation of ancient and dark Kabbalistic magic; juxtaposed with a bustling and emerging 1890s concrete jungle New York, The Golem and the Djinni has both an energetic, cosmopolitan vibe and an Arabian Nights feel to it.

The contrast is incredibly interesting, and combined with two strongly developed mythic creatures from two different time spans, is one that works phenomenally well.

Our story begins on the shores of Poland when a young man, who desires a wife, approaches a Rabbi who dabbles in the ancient art of dark and mystical Kabbalistic magic and requests that he models and constructs a wife for him.

What results in this endeavour is a being of clay brought to life – Chava, the golem.

Unfortunately for him, he doesn't get the chance to acquaint himself with his new wife as he succumbs to illness while aboard the ship.

With no husband and master to care for, Chava is left unmoored, with no anchor to guide her and faces an unknown future in a world that is completely foreign to her.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Manhattan, a tinsmith, upon fixing a copper flask, discovers that djinni’s are real and that this one, whom we quickly come to know as Ahmed, although freed from the flask, is trapped in his human form.

Inevitably the two beings, one borne of clay and the other borne of fire, cross paths one night, and against all odds, a tentative friendship begins.

However, natures are hard to hide, and one evening's festivities soon leads to an inevitable separation.

Trying to move on, but unable to forget, both force themselves to go about their daily tasks, hoping against hope to find a way to forget in the humdrum of everyday life.

Only when a dark force at hand threatens their very livelihood, are Chava and Ahmed thrown together once again and are forced to make a decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

The Golem and the Djinni is one of my favourite reads of 2013.

It's lush in its intensity, magnetic in its descriptions of Jewish and Syrian myth and makes for an utterly compelling read that burns with a slow force; building up to a crescendo that makes this book impossible to put down.

If you're a fan of fast-paced reads which feature action sequences that begin from the get-go, you'll probably find yourself a little frustrated with this read.

I won't lie; the book does take a while to build-up to certain events - mainly the moment when Ahmed and Chava meet for the first time - but I believe that Wecker's purpose here was to provide us with a back-story, peppered with interesting mythological snippets that eventually coalesce to form that "Oh now I understand" moment.

The way Ahmed's origins and history are unravelled in particular, is one of my favourite aspects of my book.

Helene's description of Bedouin culture, combined with djinni lore will have you begging for more info about life in the desert, and have you wishing that you had your own palace in the heart of a harsh and often unyielding environment.

Never thought I'd say that, but that's definitely a testimony as to just how much I enjoyed this read.

Ahmed and Chava are two incredibly fascinating characters. The two couldn't be more different; Ahmed insolent, arrogant and far too impulsive and attractive for his own good, while Chava is demure, cautious and serious in comparison.

The reason for her seriousness we soon discover is that as a golem, she has to constantly fight the urge against the desires, wishes and wants of other people.

Created originally for this purpose (which would have been included in her wifely duties), you can't help but empathise with her when she forces herself to fight against her very nature.

It's this that makes her the perfect balance to Ahmed's impetuousness. She reigns him in and teaches him to think beyond the now, while he in turn, teaches her to give in to a bit of impulse every now and then.

Their budding romantic relationship if one can go as far as to call it that, is incredibly subtle and one that takes a backseat to the events that occur at the forefront.

The two are connected in more ways than one and the dark magic that hovers around them, is one that adds an immensely spellbinding aspect to their lives.

The supporting characters in this novel also add a colourful and culturally diverse flavour to the novel, while the antagonist and his deviousness (I wish I could add more, but that would only spoil things for you) will have you mentally shouting at the characters to get as far away from him as possible.

If you're a fan of Aladdin (I'm singing Arabian Nights in my head as I'm typing this), earthy desert settings and not-often-enough explored mythology, then The Golem and the Djinni is a book that you need to add to your to-read list.

It's simply mesmerising.