The Rise of Irish Young Adult Fiction

To round off Reading Ireland Month, I have the brilliant Rachel from Confessions of a Book Geek to discuss Irish YA fiction. Led by Louise O’Neill, Irish authors are excelling in this genre. Not having read enough to comment, I asked Rachel along to share her expertise in the books to look out for!

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that our wee island has some pretty talented people. From Joyce, Wilde, Yeats, and Heaney, to Doyle, Binchy, Keyes, and Donoghue. As an avid reader, I’m always a little disappointed in myself that I don’t indulge in enough Irish literature, and it’s a promise I keep making that this year, I will.

2017 rolled around, and with it came another Reading Ireland Month, an event I was finally going to participate in. When looking around at the (many) unread books on my shelves, I realised I had a couple of Young Adult books by Irish authors, and decided to do a little more research to see what Irish writers are creating for the younger target market.

YA, or Young Adult literature, has seen an unprecedented boom in recent years – becoming one of the fastest growing and most lucrative genres in publishing. Therefore, I thought it was pretty reasonable to assume that there would be a plethora of YA literature by Irish authors… apparently not.

Not to worry, I did manage to come across a few corkers… and the odd dud. On to the books!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This 2015 debut won the Irish Bookseller’s Book of the Year award, and with good reason. O’Neill’s debut novel is a dystopian, with feminist undertones, that is sure to strike a chord with readers, both young and old(er). Many have compared this to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, which is surely praise indeed. Check out my full review of Only Ever Yours.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

O’Neill’s follow-up was even better than her debut, in my humble opinion. This book is complex, and sometimes dark, but so very, very important. Sexual assault, rape culture, and victim blaming, are all covered in this YA novel that has also been rereleased with a different cover for the adult fiction market. So strong were my feelings about this book, that I was prompted to write #NotAskingForIt. A must read for all ages and genders. Check out my full review of Asking For It.

Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan

I was pleasantly surprised by, and thoroughly enjoyed, this historical novel set in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916. I’m not entirely sure the author intended this work for a YA audience, but the two protagonists are teenagers for much of the novel, and though a great read for us grown ups, it would work equally well for a YA audience. She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. Check out my full review of Through the Barricades, and my Author Spotlight Interview with Denise Deegan.

Rockadoon Shore by Rory Gleeson

I was so excited when I saw this book. It looked modern and fresh, and the blurb was so enticing, but the execution was very disappointing, the plot practically non-existent, and the characters flat. If this is a realistic portrayal of Ireland’s youth, I’m concerned for the future of this country. I’m on the lookout for some really great Irish YA to make me forget that I trudged through what should really have been a DNF. Check out my full review of Rockadoon Shore.

Honourable Mentions

I read these books when I actually was a young adult, which was a few years ago now (cough), but I remember loving them, so thought I’d give them a little extra love.

The Switchers Trilogy by Kate Thompson

The Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

Children of the Famine Series by Marita Conlon-McKenna

Do you have any great recommendations for Irish authors, particularly Irish YA? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to add more to my to-read list!

Many thanks to Rachel for this great YA round-up. Do check out her great blog!

‘Where does everyone go?’ Nothing on Earth by Conor O’Callaghan

Nothing on Earth by Conor O’Callaghan is a heat haze of a novel – shimmering and elusive, impossible to pin down with an allure that is as beautiful as it is disturbing.

It is also a difficult book to review. For a novel in which little is revealed, it is hard to talk about without spoiling the experience for a new reader. It also defies categorization. It is a poetic horror story. A gothic tale set in the blazing sunshine of a summer on an Irish ghost estate. It is a confession, but may also be a defense. It does not give easy answers so will not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it to be a beguiling, poetic and atmospheric book, unlike anything I have read in recent years.

The book opens with an Irish priest, living along. In the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of a summer heat wave, there is a banging at his door, and there he finds a 12 year old girl – thin, sunburned and mute – with words scrawled all over her body in pen. The priest knows how this could look so he calls his cleaner and the police to keep himself right.

If I am honest, I would even say that I already felt guilty. Why? I had done nothing. I had done nothing apart from let the girl in, call the law and wait. I hadn’t laid a finger on her.

The priest knows how blame can stick and how in particular it can stick to a man of his profession and what follows is the story of how the girl came to his door to that day, covered in writing and saying that her  father had gone. Do we, the reader trust him? As the girl’s story unfolds in first and third person narrative, the unreliability of who is telling the story becomes subsumed in the unreliability of reality itself.

A young couple and their daughter move into a vacant show house on what appears to be an abandoned housing estate somewhere in Ireland. Flood, the developer collects their rent while his nephew Marcus stays on site at night in a caravan. The mother, Helen, has a twin sister Martina, who lives with them also and she and the girl’s father Paul work together although their relationship appears stained. The sister’s are from the area. Something happened to their parents that caused them to move away, but now they have returned. The heat wave is freakish, creating an atmosphere of heavy menace, the rising dust and empty houses inhabiting a sense of apocalyptic dread.

All of which is clear enough. Up to this point, the story can be mapped and followed with some certainty. From there, however, its path tapers into long grass. Reason, with all its explanations, takes is this far and no farther.

What follows is a series of disappearances, vanishings and strange misunderstandings. The family hears noises in the night. Words appear written in the dust on their patio windows. First the water runs out, then the electricity.

A group of Polish men move into a nearby house, but when the girl’s father goes to complain about the noise from one of their parties, he finds the house empty. Reality becomes a reflection of something else and it is impossible to pin down what is real and what is not.

There are moments when the empty space of a room takes on the shape of one who must have stood there and who perhaps should still be there. In those moments, that space is like a cavity, an entrance even. It hangs heavy with absence. Its translucence collects, magnifies. Everything the other side of it appears minutely out of proportion with everything else outside its frame. It acquires a quality. There is no other word for it. The quality the empty space acquires is that of a lake’s surface or of some lead-based mirror glass.

Everything appears to be in between something else, including the young girl, whose first language is German and is now unable to fully understand the language she must speak. Nothing is permanent, not even reality which appears to shift and realign as the novel goes on. Things start to disappear and people become confused with one another in a way that is reminiscent of the work of JG Ballard. As the family’s situation becomes all the more bewildering and terrifying, so too does the wasteland in which they exist.

The shops were desolate. Even the minimart, usually stocked with tat for passing traffic, felt empty. Paul bought a net of satsumas and a Sharpie of royal washable blue for the girl, but there was no one to pay….There was footpath for half a mile of road from the edge of town and none for the second half-mile after the supermarket. They stepped into long grass and briars whenever they heard a car coming. Twice they made way, and twice nothing came.

Reading this story becomes not unlike the experience of watching an eclipse of the sun. It is both blinding and dark at the same time and it is impossible to look at directly. O’Callaghan creates the perfect balancing act between mystery and revelation. It would be easy for the reader to become frustrated with such an elliptical narrative, but it is that very bewildering lack of knowledge that drives the story.

Where does everybody go?

Conor O’Callaghan is also a poet and it shows here. The writing may be plain, at times dead-pan, but every word is chosen perfectly to create an atmosphere of both dread and also unbearable sadness. The writing is simple, yet sophisticated and the elusiveness of the narrative becomes its key strength. O’Callaghan has created a traditional gothic horror story in a modern, new Ireland and by doing so, presents our modern day fears in the relentless, blinding sunshine. It is a wonderful feat and an extraordinary book, haunting, ambiguous and unforgettable.

I received a copy of Nothing on Earth by Conor O’Callaghan from the publisher in return for an honest review.