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I was so excited for this book‐ a ton of great authors, writing YA (I love YA) and all of it for an excellent charity? It sounded perfect. But I was a little nervous, too. Shorter stories are… tricky. Some authors do them exceptionally well, but a lot, even authors who can write the most amazing novels, seem to… have a hard time with shorter stuff. Short stuff is difficult. And a lot of the time short stories, even by the best authors, are just… not much fun. So I kind of held my breath when I started reading this.
The first story in the book is Alexis Hall’s TruNorth, and I figured it would be good, because I know he writes short stuff as well as he writes long stuff. And it was. I mean, it was beyond good‐ it was incredible and beautiful and I kind of just wanted to wrap the words around me and live in that story, it was so gorgeous. I was totally in love with this story. It was just amazing… and I figured there was no way all the rest of the stories in the book could stand up to that.
But they did.
I’ve read a lot of anthologies, a lot of truly great ones, and there’s always stories I don’t like, stuff I end up skimming or just don’t enjoy. You’re bound to find something that just isn’t your cup of tea, when there’s so many authors writing. But that never happened here. I loved every single story. I couldn’t believe it. Each time I started a new story, I figured that it must be the one I wouldn’t like, because there had to be at least one. Had to be. But there wasn’t. This was easily the best collection of stories I’ve ever, ever read.
I think there’s a few reasons for that. First, these are amazing authors. I’ve read most of them before, and they’re talented and awesome. Like I said before, though, that doesn’t always translate to writing shorts. But it does here. It’s obvious that so much care was taken, writing these stories, that so much affection and dedication went into them. You can see it, and it makes the stories so fantastic. The characters are all real and alive, and you care about them right away. The situations are realistic and dramatic and fun and honest. The relationships are so believable. The settings are rich. And the writing is lovely.
I also loved how sweet these stories were. Maybe it’s because they’re written for a (mainly) YA audience… but I’m not sure. I’ve read a lot of YA that never comes close to this sweetness. But the love and caring and simple affection the characters showed for each other was just so touching. It was so refreshing to read about people who just… accepted each other and cared about each other in this really honest, tender way. It was never sappy, just sweet and wonderful.
And I loved how the authors seemed to have so much respect for their teen characters. So often in YA, even in the best YA, I feel like the authors are still acting as adults ’should’ act, kind of looking down, even a little, at their characters. Treating them as kids who aren’t fully capable of making choices or doing things for themselves. But that never happens here. These authors seemed to trust their characters, and they treated them as people who were fully capable of determining what they wanted, what the right choices were for them. Yes, there were adults to guide them (or misguide them) in most of the stories, but the authors still give them the freedom to choose for themselves‐ you want to be a musician? Don’t want to be a musician? Want to go to college, or not? Want to date this particular person? Want to have a crazy career choice, or a mundane one? All awesome. Whatever you want. Yeah, you might make mistakes, but that’s what happens. It’s your life‐ you make the choice. And all that respect for these characters was so obvious.
I loved that.
And I loved how different all the characters were and how the stories showed so many different kinds of people‐ gay and lesbian and bi and transgender (and it was definitely awesome to see so much of the LGBTQ spectrum represented,) but also kids who thought differently, who wanted different things, who lived different lives, who were dealing with so many different issues. So many places for readers to relate to characters, but also so much opportunity for readers to invest in situations and ideas they might never have encountered before.
And it was all so realistic. I think one of the authors said she wanted to write something like a fairytale, something that was comforting and presented the idea that everything could, in fact, work out, even when it seems like it can’t. (I totally paraphrased all of that and probably got a lot of it wrong‐ those are my words, but that was, uh, close to the gist of it.) And these stories do that. They did feel fairytale‐like. They offer this idea that life can be good and good things can happen, even if you feel like everything is wrong, like you’ll never fit in, or be accepted, or be loved, or find your path. I think it’s so, so very important to tell kids (and adults) that. But at the same time, it needs to be realistic in order to be effective… and these stories were all realistic. I believed, wholeheartedly, that they could happen.
I wished the teen me had been able to read this‐ not because I think adults will enjoy this less than teenagers (I couldn’t have loved it more, and I’m an adult) but because it will be such a comforting, wonderful thing for teens to have, when they need a boost, or a place to belong, or just something… positive, without being preachy or sappy or false.
Were there some stories I liked better than others? Yes. But I really did like them all. Were there a few places where I thought things could have been written or handled better? Yes. But those places were so minor and so few. Overall, this was just… stunning. Beautiful. Touching. Sweet. Warm. Something that I just want to read over and over again. I loved it.
(I also want to mention, because I feel it’s important- the fact that this is a book for charity didn’t influence how much I honestly enjoyed it, either. I mean, it’s a great charity, and I’d probably say you should just buy the book no matter, but I’d have loved this book just as much even if it wasn’t for charity at all. The fact that it is just makes it even better.)
‘How We Began’ benefits the Trevor project, and you can buy the book at all the usual places- the links for all those places can be found on Pink Kayak Press.
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