Why YA Rom-Com Novels About Filmmaking are the Perfect Pandemic Reads

Good YA rom-coms are as much about the characters figuring out (and accepting) who they are as they are about romance. I’m eternally figuring out who I am (especially in uncertain times) which makes YA rom-coms so satisfying now.

As a writer, I enjoy following the artistic journeys of characters who are dealing with issues like rejection or loud inner critics. Following actors, filmmakers, and set designers lets me see the common obstacles all artists share. But the beauty of reading about the artists in a rom-com is that they have a guaranteed happy ending, which is just what I need during a pandemic. 

Many of the books take place in interesting locations I’ve never been to: Ireland, a train trip across the U.S., or a fan convention. I was able to travel vicariously through the pages without leaving my house or putting on a mask.

Turns out there are a handful of delightful YA rom-coms that revolve around filmmaking. Here are five of my favorites: 

Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour

17-year-old Emi is getting over a painful breakup with her older girlfriend while she interns for an indie film as a production designer. While checking out estate sales for the film’s set pieces, she finds a mysterious letter from a famous movie star that reveals he had a secret child, and Emi decides to track them down.

Before I read this novel, I didn’t know what a production designer does. It’s the person who puts together the interior sets for a movie, based on the characters and script. Although I have little interest in interior design, I was totally pulled in by Emi’s dedication and passion for all the details of production design, which made the sweet romance even more appealing. This novel made me look at filming a movie in a whole new light. I love it when a novel does that.

Now a Major Motion Picture, by Cori McCarthy

It sounds like a dream come true to fly to Ireland to watch the filming of M.E.Thorne’s Elementia, a wildly popular fantasy series’ that’s considered the “feminist response to Tolkien.” But 17-year old Iris has no interest being seen as the granddaughter of the famous author she barely knew. There’s no way she can say no to her father’s request that she watch her younger brother on the set. Ever since his thwarted kidnapping by a rabid Elementia fan, Ryder has been obsessed with the series.

Iris is a witty, relatable character grappling with her own inner critic issues while dreaming of being a songwriter. In addition to a satisfying romance, almost every character in the novel has their own internal arc—from the female director who has to prove to the studio she can head a major motion picture, to all the endearing actors on the enchanting Irish set. I wanted to follow these characters forever.

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston

A delightfully nerdy Cinderella retelling that revolves around the movie reboot of the fictional TV show Starfield and the fandom that supports/criticizes the movie. Elle is a hardcore fan who blogs about Starfield under a pen name, while mourning that her dad will never get to see the movie with her. Darien is an up-and-coming actor hoping that the rabid Starfield fandom accepts him as the newest version of the beloved Federation Prince Carmindor.

Geekerella captures the joy of loving a TV show and is chock-full of delightfully geeky updated Cinderella details, like a pumpkin-themed vegan food truck driven by a wanna-be fashion designer with green hair. It was a refreshing change to have both Cinderella and the prince’s viewpoints throughout the story, so the prince is more than a trophy at the end.

The Princess and the Fangirl, by Ashley Poston

This equally charming sequel is a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, featuring two more characters from the same Starfield world. Super fan Imogen Lovelace is determined to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off. Jessica Stone, the actor who played Amara, is glad to be free of the princess so she can focus on roles the press will take seriously. When people at the fan convention mistake Imogen for Jessica, Imogen realizes she may have a way to save her favorite princess after all.

I loved how this sequel allowed us to see another side to Jessica Stone, a character who wasn’t seen in such a good light in Geekerella. This time, we get to see the no-win situations young women often feel when trying to build an acting career. I especially loved the diverse LGBTQ+ representation in Imogen’s family and the greater convention world. Imogen’s unapologetic geeky passion was a joy to read about, too.

Field Notes On Love, by Jennifer E. Smith

Two high school graduates end up on a train trip from New York City to San Francisco at the end of the summer before they go to college. British Hugo is one of the famous Surrey sextuplets and trying to figure out who he is without his siblings. Mae Campbell is on her way from New York to USC for college. She got into the school but not the film program and she’s still stinging from the rejection. She wants to use the trip to make a new film to convince the audition committee she belongs in film school. 

I absolutely loved this novel! First, it’s about train travel! Second, Hugo and Mae are likable, interesting people with relatable identity issues. I wanted to follow them even after their trip ended.

**

I love a good rom-com any day, but during uncertain times YA rom-coms about filmmaking are especially good reads because they focus on the characters figuring out who they are, take place in interesting locations that don’t require a mask, and are guaranteed to have a happy ending.

What are your favorite rom-coms about film making?

Book Review for: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Image- Coldtown

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 

Does the world need another young adult vampire novel? After reading, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I’m happy to say, yes, we do, if Holly Black is going to write it.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up at a sundown party, she realizes the terrible truth; she and her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, are the only ones to survive a vampire attack and they’ve both probably been scratched or bitten. Tana lives in a world where vampirism is caused by a virus and transmitted by scratches or bites. An infected human can get rid of the virus if the patient doesn’t drink human blood for 88 days, which means being locked up away from other humans. There are whole quarantined cities, called Coldtowns, throughout the country where the infected are sent to live.

Tana understands the danger of this disease and still bares the physical scars from it.  When she was six years old her father locked her mother in the basement, in a misguided attempt to treat his wife at home. Tana watched as her mother went from a caring parent to a manipulative user who would do anything to get a drink of blood.

Rather than risk harming others, Tana decides to take herself, Aiden, and the good-looking mysterious vampire boy chained to the bed, to Coldtown. No one leaves Coldtown but Tana’s pretty sure the vampire she’s going to turn in to to the Coldtown authorities is her key to getting out.

Holly Black takes the vampire mythology and manages to tell it from a fresh gritty angle with the quarantined Coldtowns— part MTV reality show, part cold war Berlin, and part prison. In addition to levelheaded Tana, Black populates the book with colorful characters, like Winter and Midnight, twin bloggers hitchhiking their way to Coldtown to chase their dream of becoming vampires, and Gavriel, the beautiful centuries-old vampire with a secret mission.

Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”. The town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army though. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through five narrators: Ross, three teen girls, Mia, Jennie, and Felicité and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Favorite YA Reads for 2013-2014 (2013-2014 Catch Up Post 1)

I read a total of 49 young adult novels over 2013-2014,  27 in 2013, and 22 in 2014. Here are my 13 favorites:

Favorite YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels I Read in 2013 -2014

Image- ScarletScarlett and Cress, by Marissa Meyer (published Feb 2013 & Feb 2014) – These are the second and third novels in, The Lunar Chronicles series, that start with the first novel—Cinder—a tale of cyborg-Cinderella. (Cyborgs in this universe are humans with bionic implants). Scarlett is a futuristic cyborg-version of the Little Red Riding Hood story and Cress’s story is a futuristic-space age Rapunzel tale. Each character is added to Cinder’s team to help her in her quest to save Prince Kai against Queen Levana and the Lunar Nation. This fun, Image- Cressswashbuckling sci-fi series that reads like a YA Saturday morning cartoon with several teen girl heroes. It’s my favorite current series. I can’t wait until the new volume—Fairest—is out at the end of next month. The audiobook narrator is excellent, too.

 

 

Image- Daughter of Smoke and BoneThe Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series, by Laini Taylor (2011, 2012, 2014) – I listened to this 3-book YA fantasy series on Audible. It takes place partly in Prague and partly in a parallel universe of angels and demons. (Technically the demons are half-human/half animal chimera). The world building is especially well done and the language is beautiful. It tells the story of Karou—a blue-haired teen Art school student – who doesn’t know who her parents are or how she came to live with Brimstone, her chimera father figure. When Karou investigates why Brimstone sends her all over the world to gather teeth, she finds out some shocking revelations about her father figure and herself.

Image- Fair CoinFair Coin and Quantum Coin, by E.C. Meyers (2012 for both) – An enjoyable two-book series about a teen named ­­­Ephraim who tries to improve his dysfunctional life with a magical coin and ends up changing more than he wanted. This is another series with strong world building and a cool concept, this time from a teen boy’s point-of-view.

 

Favorite YA Realistic Fiction Read in 2013 -2014

Image- The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars (January 2012) – I think by now everyone’s read John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer—or they’ve seen the excellent movie version. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through. The regular audiobook version is excellent. There’s also a version where John Green reads the book that I haven’t heard.

Image- Eleanor & ParkEleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell (February 2013)- Rainbow Rowell has quickly become one of my new favorite authors. Eleanor and Park are two misfit teens living in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska and are first thrown together on the school bus when Eleanor has no place to sit and Park leaves the tiniest bit of room on his seat so she isn’t forced to stand. Eleanor and Park are quiet, sensitive characters and their slow-brewing romance is enjoyable and heart wrenching.  Another book with an excellent audio version.

Wildlife Awards CVR SI.inddWildlife, by Fiona Wood (September 2014)- This funny Australian novel is told from the point of view of two different teen girls—Sibylla and Lou—during the course of their school’s special semester in outdoor education. Wildlife portrays friendships with difficult people, sex and romance, and dealing with loss in an accurate, nuanced way. I also enjoyed reading about the Australian wilderness, noticing all the little details that make it different from the US.

Technically Wildlife is the second novel in a loose series. The first novel is not available in the US but I was able to understand the story without noticing it was a second in the series. I also listened to this on audible and loved the Australian accents of the two narrators.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me (October 2014)- I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance.

 

Image- FangirlFan Girl, by Rainbow Rowell (September 2013)- When Cath’s twin sister, Wren, decides the two of them should start college in separate dorms, with separate lives, Cath is suddenly on her own for her freshman year.  Cath is not confident that she can build a life for herself outside her twin sister and her fan fiction writing. This is Rowell’s second novel and it’s clear that she’s  good at writing about awkward, introverted characters who are kind of intense, but each unique in their own way.   I especially enjoyed a whole novel that centered around finding one’s identity through writing and fan fiction and liked the unique Nebraska setting— a state I know very little about.

Image- Isla and the Happily Ever AfterIsla and The Happily Ever After (August 2014) –This is the third and last book in the loose series by Stephanie Perkins that starts off with Anna and the French Kiss. Like the other two books before, Perkins is able to write likable characters with very specific interests and have them ooze with longing. Setting is also a big part of her stories and this time the focus in on three places: Paris, Barcelona, and New York. The main couple consists of minor characters from Anna and the French Kiss—Isla and Josh. Anna is probably the best of the series, but Perkins is so good at writing charming teen romance that even her lesser stories are worth the time reading.

* I put the date the book was published in parentheses.