If you’ve ever read YA, you’re probably at least passingly familiar with Leigh Bardugo, author of the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows series (collectively called the Grishaverse). Ninth House, her newest book, is Bardugo’s first foray into the “adult” category—and boy, she was not playing around with that categorization. Readers might need a stronger stomach than they’re used to with her previous work, and should be aware that there are elements that some readers might find triggering (there was a whole online discussion about this before the book even came out). While Ninth House might be a little too “adult” for some of her younger readers, Bardugo is no stranger to dark subject matter. If any Six of Crows fans remember Kaz’s backstory (or any of their backstories, but Kaz’s was the worst), they’ll know what I mean. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Six of Crows was that the characters being teens made no sense at all. So really, one could argue that she’s been writing adult this whole time, just disguising it under the YA banner.
With Ninth House, Bardugo relishes her opportunity to dig into the gritty, ugly real world with some magical touches. The story concerns the eight “ancient” secret societies of Yale—Lethe, our home base, is the extra secret, eponymous ninth. Lethe is tasked with overseeing the magic of the others, ensuring nothing goes astray. But of course, go astray things must. What’s interesting about Bardugo’s take on magic is that it patently does not make up for the ugliness of reality—it’s not an escape, it’s just another realm in which ugly things happen. In fact, Bardugo very purposefully crafted anti-heroine Alex—and the use of magic in general—as a “what if”. What if magic was real, and gifted only to a select group of already privileged people in New Haven? What if a trauma survivor was gifted this magic as well? The magic of Yale is used to explore very real topics, so that in the midst of all the ghosts and fantastical party drugs there are very real issues of assault, power plays, and murder. “You cannot write a story about magic, which is essentially going to operate as a commodity,” Barudgo said in a Time interview, “without exploring the kind of damage that we could do to each other if this were actually in play.”
Can you feel it? There’s a crispness in the air, beckoning you to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot apple cider, or maybe a PSL. Hot Girl Summer is officially behind us, and now it’s time for Cozy Girl (or Boy, or Person) Autumn. Hygge nights, the sweet scent of rotting leaves, Halloween candy at every turn…..if anyone tries to tell you fall isn’t the best season, they’re lying. In between reading spooky stories, planning my Halloween costume, and buying far too many decorative gourds, I picked up a copy of Pumpkinheads by the prolific Rainbow Rowell (her latest book, Wayward Son, came out just few weeks ago), and if you for some reason still need some autumn inspo to really get into the season, this young adult graphic novel should hit the spot.
Set in the span of a single night, Pumpkinheads is a short and sweet story about two high school seniors Deja and Josiah, who reunite every fall at the local pumpkin patch where they’ve worked for the past four years. This pumpkin patch, enthusiastically named DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree, claims to be “the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world”—a bold claim and, if the artwork is anything to judge by, an accurate one. This night (Halloween) is Deja and Josiah’s last night at the pumpkin patch ever; they’ll be off to college next year. So, determined to live their final day to the fullest, Deja decides it’s time for Josiah to do what he’s been putting off for four years: confess his massive crush to the mysterious “Fudge Girl” girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe across the way. This sudden urge sparks a series of misadventures as, unable to find Fudge Girl, Deja drags the shy Josiah all through the pumpkin patch, past the smores pit and candy apple stand, through the corn maze and the hay ride.
Ireland’s writer-to-overall population ratio has always been impressive. The little isle known for shamrocks and Guinness has been home to some of the most influential writers of the past couple of centuries. In poetry, there was William Butler Yeats. In drama, Samuel Beckett confused generations of English students with Waiting for Godot. Edna O’Brien brought women’s emotional and sexual politics to the fore. Bram Stoker introduced the world to Dracula! And of course there’s one of my all time favourites: the inimitable, infinitely quotable Oscar Wilde.
Twenty-first century Irish writers have some big shoes to fill, and so far they’ve been easily meeting the challenge. One of the most buzzworthy books this season is Normal People by Sally Rooney, which has catapulted the 28-year-old writer into the general literary consciousness. Less intensely millennial than her previous work Conversations with Friends (but only by a little), Normal People is the type of book you burn through in one sitting—a book The Guardian called “a future classic”. Rooney’s writing is difficult to explain; there’s nothing flashy or unearned in her prose, and yet with a few simple, well-constructed sentences she can take down everything from author readings (please see: “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.”) to capitalism. Maybe this quality is what makes The Atlantic compare her (in a weirdly spot-on way) to Jane Austen; she is simultaneously participating in and sending up the conventions she is clearly skeptical of. In Austen’s case, it was the role of women, love, and class under the rigid rules of Regency society. In Rooney’s case, it’s the existence of art, love, and class under capitalism. So even though reading Rooney is very much like listening to your cool 20-something artsy friend talk about her life, her work feels like a natural progression of radical writers before her.