Babelicious Book Covers: International YA Covers

Something that never fails to give me those warm, happy tingles is discovering an aesthetically pleasing book cover. Oh, boy. It’s so good. There are a lot of factors that go into creating an awesome cover (I did an entire post on it, in fact) and sometimes publishers really excel while others, they bomb. Hard. I spend a lot of time talking about and comparing US and UK book covers which, being from Australia, makes sense. However, I thought it would be a fun change to have a look at some awesome international covers for popular young adult books. For reference, I’ll be popping the original US Covers towards the left and their international counterparts on the right.

Simon v the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli: Indonesia & Thailand

How cute is the Indonesian cover for Simon?! The colour scheme is fairly similar to the US cover but I love the illustration. You’ve got this great image of Simon literally hiding from the world, surrounded by objects relevant to the story – his laptop and phone for chatting with Blue, Oreos, and an iPod (music being super important to Simon and the overall book). Perfect cover choice!

While it’s not my favourite design, the anime-ish drawing of Simon on the Thai cover is pretty fun, especially with the mysterious, hooded Blue figure in the background. I also like the fact that they kept the idea of the speech bubble title and red background from the US cover.


A Darker Shade of Magic Series – V. E. Schwab: France, Indonesia & Bulgaria

Something I’ve noticed writing this post: France has some amazing book covers. Like, damn. The artwork for the “Shades of Magic” books in particular is gorgeous (the work of the ridiculously talented Charlie Bowater). The characters are almost exactly how I would imagine them to look plus the lighting, backgrounds, and colours are all fantastic.

Although I quite like the Indonesian cover’s font and the incorporation of the map into the ends of Kell’s coat, I’m not as fond of this one as the others. The Bulgarian cover, on the other hand, is awesome. I love the use of the compass in bold, bloody red and Kell at the centre.


The Lunar Chronicles – Marissa Meyer: Norway, Korea & Thailand

I’m not normally a fan of models in strange poses on book covers but I can’t help finding the editing on the Norwegian ones super pretty. They really do capture the great mix of fairytale and sci-fi that The Lunar Chronicles have. Although each image is quite different from the US versions (more about the people than the objects), it’s still easy to identify which fairytale the book is referring to.

I think what draws me to the Korean covers is their use of bold, solid colours which really makes the imagery and titles stand out. The art style is simple but fairly nice to look at as well. The Thai covers are heavy on the sci-fi side – space-y colours, planets in the background, obvious light sources… It’s different but it works.


Warcross – Marie Lu: Germany & Spain

As Warcross is set in futuristic Japan and centers around hacking and e-sports, this leaves a lot of room for bright, eye-catching, sci-fi cover designs. For some reason, the German cover gives me serious Ready Player One vibes. There’s this great dystopian feel to the way it showcases the contrast between the big, bright parts of the city and its darker underbelly (something Emika delves into). The title text is also really cool.

I feel like the Spanish cover perfectly captures the sense of wonder and possibility Emika experiences in being introduced to technologically advanced and exciting Tokyo. You really do get the sense that this is the sort of place where VR capture the flag type competitions could be a big deal. I do wish they’d done more with the text though.


The Selection – Kiera Cass: Vietnam & Persia

The Vietnamese covers for The Selection books are very similar in feel to the US covers except they use illustrations instead of photographed models. And well, I have absolutely no problem with this because the illustrations are pretty and suit the books just as much as the originals.

I’m not sure what it is about the Persian cover, but I like it. It probably doesn’t fit the actual story very well considering The Selection is supposed to be set in a dystopian future. However, I like the romantic, historical feel of it. Also points to both covers for remembering America’s red hair.


The Diviners – Libba Bray: Germany, Spain & Australia

Whoever is handling The Diviners covers around the world, you’re doing a top notch job. I adore the clear 1920s feel of both the German and Spanish covers. The costuming on the German version is lovely and the woman’s head popping up from the border on the Spanish cover is really cute. The title fonts on all three are great, too. I will say though that Australian cover probably captures the darkness and mysticism of the book more than the others.


The Grisha Trilogy – Leigh Bardugo: France

Okay, I really tried not to include another bunch of French covers, but WOULD YOU LOOK AT THESE GRISHA COVERS?? They’re just….*heart eyes*. Gosh I wish I’d continued with my French studies at university. The colouring, borders, font, imagery, it’s all so gorgeous and Alina looks like such a badass.


Caraval – Stephanie Garber: China, Russia & Iran/Persia

It turns out that Caraval has a smorgasbord of cool looking international covers. The Chinese cover is 100% my favourite. The artwork is stunning. I especially like the layout with the girl in the sweeping dress at the front, Caraval itself in all it’s glory, and then the back of Legend’s glorious top hat above the title. It just feels wonderfully mystical and adventurous.

The Russian cover has a few bits and pieces that look somewhat out of place (the woman on the left) but overall, it’s vivid and eye catching. The use of colour suits the story and I really like the idea of the big, voluminous dress flowing across the centre.

What I like about the Iranian/Persian cover is that it’s different from covers I usually see. I enjoy the simple red, white and black colour scheme and the use of silhouettes. It looks nothing like the other covers here but still manages to give the same sense of mystery and magic, although with a little danger mixed in.


Do you have a favourite non-US/UK cover for a young adult read? Link me up! I’d love to see it.

Let’s Talk: About Sex, Baby…in YA Fiction (Part 2)

Once upon a time, in the land of 2018, I wrote a post about the incorporation of sex into young adult fiction. Unsurprisingly for anything with the word ‘sex’ in the title, it’s one of the most popular posts on this blog. Except, funny story, it was always intended to be a two-parter. Better late than never, right? While part one dealt with the questions of whether sex should be included/discussed at all in YA books and if so, to what to degree of depth, here I’ll be looking at how I think sexual content should be represented/depicted.

Lacking Pornographic Perfection

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Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Despite what Hollywood seems to want us to believe, sex is not a perfectly choreographed porno. It can be messy, awkward, unsatisfying, painful, scary and, because no one ever seems to want to show it as such, not what people expect it to be. This is especially true your first time with a new partner and more so your first time ever, a common thing for characters in YA lit.

The whole affair was the precise opposite of what I figured it would be: slow and patient and quiet and neither particularly painful nor particularly ecstatic. […] No headboards were broken. No screaming. Honestly, it was probably the longest time we’d ever spent together without talking.

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – John Green

Although adult romances might often feature passionate and perfect sex where everyone orgasms simultaneously and feels perfectly blissful afterwards, this isn’t really a realistic way to depict sex in YA books. Sure, the desire and emotional connection may be there, but the physical side can sometimes be less glamorous and take time. Even more so if there hasn’t been a gradual process of experimentation leading up to the big moment (something YA lit often leaves out for fear of too much sexual content).  

Everything hurts, every single thing including the weight of him and I’m crying because it hurts and he’s telling me he’s sorry over and over again, and I figure that somewhere down the track we’ll work out the right way of doing this but I don’t want to let go, because tonight I’m not looking for anything but being part of him. Because being part of him isn’t just anything. It’s kind of everything.

‘On the Jellicoe Road’ – Melina Marchetta

Consistently depicting sex as the ideal scenario often sets young readers up for unrealised expectations and unnecessary fears. While I’m sure there are some teens who do have amazingly perfect sex, it’s important to show all different types of experiences. Authors shouldn’t be afraid to have characters who are unsure about what they’re doing or miss the mark at first. It’s the human elements that make it memorable and real.

Consent & Protection

When it comes to sex, these are two extremely important topics. And yet, for some reason they’re frequently skimmed over in books because they “ruin the mood”. Sex education is terribly lacking in a lot of places. It isn’t fiction’s job to educate teens but it’s something many turn to for guidance and also a safe space for them to pick up new information. As an author, if you’re going to include sexual content in a book targeted at the most impressionable and curious age group for it, you need to do it right. Furyborn by Clare Le Grand features more explicit sexual content than what’s probably suitable in YA, but it does include a sex scene with clearly established consent and contraception. And did those things kill the mood? Not at all. In fact, I would argue it made the interaction even hotter.

Sexy Francia Raisa GIF by grown-ish

Despite the apparent simplicity of consent (to me, at least), a lot of people still fail to grasp the concept. In my own country Australia, it’s been estimated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 25 men have experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15. For this reason, it’s so important that YA books featuring sexual content touch on consent, even if only in passing. Nowadays there’s an increasing number of great YA novels being published which deal with sexual assault and lack of consent (e.g. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Asking for It by Louise O’Neill, etc.) Having stories which cover issues such as revoked consent, the inability to consent, or sexual coercion are valuable in helping readers of YA lit understand what healthy, respectful and safe sexual relationships look like.

However, while I appreciate increased discussions around absent consent, I do wish more YA books featured affirmative consent or respect of an unwillingness/inability to give consent. A sweet example, albeit just regarding kissing, can be found in Francesca Zappia’s Eliza and her Monsters. Eliza’s love interest Wallace writes her a note asking if he can kiss her. Eliza wants to kiss Wallace but the idea of it right then makes her anxious, so she writes back:

Yes, but not right now.

I know it sounds weird. Sorry, I don’t think it’ll go well if I know it’s coming. I will definitely freak out and punch you in the face or scream bloody murder or something like that.

Surprising me with it would probably work better. I am giving you permission to surprise me with a kiss. This is a formal invitation for surprise kisses.

See? Consent can be sexy and adorable.

Contraception, on the other hand, is something I find authors frequently fail to mention (especially in YA fantasy). Worse, when it is discussed it’s largely because the lack of it has resulted in unwanted pregnancy.

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The most annoying part is that it’s something which can be covered so easily in just two sentences of dialogue or a thought by the POV character. YA contemporaries have a bunch of options to choose from but even in fantasy it’s not difficult to introduce a tea, powder, or the like for that purpose. In Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series characters take a herb called Seabane while in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe women wear healer made pregnancy charms. Aside from reinforcing the idea that protection is an integral component of having sex, the inclusion of contraceptives also has the benefit of advocating the sexual agency and empowerment of female characters, a fantastic thing to impart on readers.

Hitting the Emotions Hard

Sexual representation includes a significant emotional and mental dimension. As I mentioned in part one, sex in YA novels shouldn’t be gratuitous and needs to serve plot and character development. Consequently, the emotional representation is arguably more important than the physical. The decision to have sex can be a big deal for teens and there are a wide range of motivations for doing so including fun/experimentation, romantic connection, peer pressure, or distraction from emotional issues. These provide a multitude of avenues for character exploration in YA books. Alongside these are an array of fears, excitements, insecurities, and expectations, e.g. body self-consciousness, worry about sexual performance, doubts about readiness, newfound closeness to a partner, etc. It’s important that YA authors deal with these types of issues in the prelude and aftermath of sexual interactions to provide for more realistic and relatable depictions.

A Bit of Self Love

Masturbation is a normal part of sexual experience. During teen years, when everything is new and different, it’s a great way for young people to learn about their bodies and work out what they enjoy. Having this awareness can be super empowering and allows for more satisfying sexual encounters later in life. Researchers have found that by the age of 14 more than 60% of boys and 43% of girls have engaged in self-love, and it only increases as they get older. So, if we’re talking about representing sex in YA fiction, masturbation is probably something we should be seeing more of. By shying away from it, we’re losing a key component of characters’ sexual journeys and encouraging the idea of it as something taboo or dirty.

Masturbating Sex And The City GIF

Just like with other sex scenes, it’s not difficult to depict masturbation in YA books without heavy graphic detail. A good example of this is by Becky Albertalli in Simon v the Homo Sapiens Agenda in which the MC, Simon, fantasises about his mysterious pen pal, Blue:

I picture it. He kisses me…There’s this electric tingly feeling radiating through my whole body and my brain has gone fuzzy and I actually think I can hear my heartbeat.

I have to be so, so quiet. Nora’s on the other side of the wall.

His tongue is in my mouth. His hands slide up under my shirt, and he trails his fingers across my chest. I’m so close. It’s almost unbearable. God. Blue.

My whole body turns to jelly.          

Again, it’s important that these scenes are contextualised within the broader novel. Is it helping us to understand the depth of one character’s attraction to another? Is a character trying to get a sense of their body before taking things further with a partner (e.g. Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky) or perhaps it’s a coming of age moment? It would be great to see more positive depictions of this in YA stories, especially for girls as their sexual gratification and language surrounding their anatomy is absent far more often than boys.


The representation of sex in YA books is a complex and diverse topic, and I could easily talk about it for far longer than this. There are so many other elements beyond what I’ve mentioned here – communication between characters about sexual experience, how characters of different sexualities play into representation, virgin/slut shaming, just to name a few!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not advocating for all YA books to throw in sexual content. There is always a time and a place for it. But just as we need books under this classification which don’t have any sexual content at all, it’s also important that readers have the option to read books which do. Of those, it’s equally key that authors ensure sex is being represented in a meaningful, relatable and realistic way. Based on some of the issues I’ve talked about, there are still a few things young adult books could change or include to better achieve this.  

What are your thoughts on the representation of sex in young adult books? It’s completely fine if you disagree with me entirely!

Have you read any YA books with good sexual representation?


Just in case you were interested in reading more on this topic, here are a few of the materials which assisted me with this post:

Alternate History, Shapeshifting and an Epic Motorcycle Race: ‘Wolf by Wolf’ by Ryan Graudin

Something I have difficulty coming up with recommendations for is underrated or hidden gem type books. Because, let’s be real, when it comes to my reading choices, I have a strong tendency to stick to novels and authors which are popular, talked about or considered “good”. This is extremely silly because I’m likely to miss out on some amazing books. Books like Wolf by Wolf for instance, which is now officially my “hidden gem” pick.

What If…?

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history story set in 1956 in a world in which the Nazis and Japanese won WWII. Between the two powers, they now control most of the world. To honour their victory, each year the legendary Axis tour is held – an epic, cutthroat, and gruelling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo. Eighteen-year-old Yael is a survivor of the camp at Auschwitz where she was experimented on, leaving her with the ability to shapeshift. Now part of the resistance, Yael is set the almost impossible task of assassinating Adolf Hitler. However, in order to get close enough, she must first disguise herself as former tour winner, Adele Wolf, and win the race. It won’t be easy though, especially with Adele’s brother, Felix, and Luka, who has history with Adele, among the competitors.

On the Road

I’m not usually drawn to travelling/journey type plots, but Wolf by Wolf is a wonderful exception. This is a book with both a fantastic premise and great execution. The bulk of the novel follows Yael through the different legs of the Axis Tour as she deals with the elements, potentially life-threatening sabotage attempts by other racers, and maintaining her cover as Adele. I loved the competitive aspect. It was exciting, fast paced and a lot of fun. Plus, the couple of unexpected moments thrown into the mix made it even more enjoyable. Even better, the book managed to sustain this degree of momentum right til its last moments.

Slowing things Down

Graudin balances out the action-packed sections with plenty of slower, character-oriented moments. The book flicks back and forth between the present and flashbacks to Yael’s past. These start with her arrival at Auschwitz at five years old and lead up to her resistance training before the race. Yael’s memories are heartbreakingly centred around the people she’s lost and reveal the evolution of her character in an emotional way. I’ve found that books which utilise this method of storytelling sometimes end up feeling a bit choppy but the transitions here were well done.

In the present, the book also works at developing Yael’s relationships with both Luka and Felix during pit stops and rest breaks. Both these characters were very likeable in different ways. I couldn’t help smiling at Luka’s cocky, flirty, bad boy persona and sympathising with Felix who is desperate to avoid losing another sibling. Each brings out something different in Yael and often forces her to rethink notions about Germans and herself.

A Touch of Romance

Yes, there’s a romantic subplot in this book but to my immense relief, it (a) isn’t cheesy and (b) doesn’t take over the main story. It’s there, but just enough to add to the story and aid in Yael’s character development/journey.

Lone Wolf

As far as leads go, I really liked Yael. She walks the line between strong and vulnerable very well – physically and mentally very capable, but at the same time with deep emotional baggage. Also, major point in her favour, she’s not stupid. As a character, Yael has a complicated relationship with identity in that she no longer remembers what she actually looks like, often has to act out other personas (as she does with Adele), and has been separated from her family, culture and heritage. The events of the novel really force her to think about who she is and how her past & abilities define her.

A Few Extra Points:

  • The book takes a couple of chapters to kick into gear but once it finds its stride, it really gets going
  • Some of the side characters are somewhat like window dressing – they pop up when needed and fade into the background the rest of the time
  • The writing style gets a little bit “artsy” at points but as someone who’s not usually a fan of this, I found it alright for the most part

Wolf by Wolf was a huge surprise for me – the really good kind, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it. If you like historical fiction, competition-based plots and well written heroines, I can’t recommend this book enough.

4.5 stars

A Hero Doesn’t Choose Her Trials: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward was my favourite read of 2019, so to say that I had high expectations for Starsight is verging on understatement. In the end, was it as good as the original? No, but I can safely say it was a very enjoyable ride all the same.

Who, What, Where?

Yeah, I can’t do this section for this particular review because the spoilers would be out of this world. Ha. Get it? Out of this…okay, moving on.

A Different Type of Adventure

Story wise, Starsight was a very different experience to Skyward. I’ll admit, I panicked when I first realised the direction the narrative was taking, but in the end I really needn’t have worried. Where book one was focused on a straightforward path of training and survival with clear heroes, enemies and goals, Starsight is more about subtlety, politics, and subterfuge. Because of this, the pacing is a lot slower at points. Still, despite the lack of ‘I-must-keep-reading’ momentum, I was never bored.  And if you’re someone who really enjoyed the battles in book one, don’t worry. Spensa spends plenty of time in the cockpit.

A Whole New World…or Universe

Over the years, something I’ve found that frequently ruins a good concept is an author attempting to take their stage from small to big. When I saw this was about to happen here, a large part of me wanted to scream: ABORT MISSION. As it turned out, I should have trusted a phenomenal world builder like Sanderson not to let me down. Starsight is the big bang of world building. It introduces new races, technology, planets, histories, culture, politics, everything you could possibly think of, and it does so fantastically. These inclusions are not only interesting but exponentially raise the stakes for the characters and expand the story in an exciting (and MAJOR) way. Even better, they make logical sense. Now that the door has been opened, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

New Faces & Missing Familiar Ones

Starsight introduces us to a bunch of new characters. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but these new faces are very different to those we found in Skyward. They’re also completely distinct from one another in personality, physical appearance, and backstories. You can tell that Sanderson had a lot of fun crafting these characters and throughout the story they provided some great moments of humour, sadness and excitement. I really enjoyed them, both the “good” and the villainous.

Yet, while I liked the new characters, I have to say that I missed Cobb and the Skyward Flight gang in this book. For plot reasons, they don’t get much page time other than a few scenes here and there. Jorgen makes some bread (really) and gets the beginnings of a character arc, which will be expanded later, but for the others, it’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it situation. Although, I am happy to report that our faves, M-Bot and Doomslug, were very much along for the ride (complete with an existential crisis on M-Bot’s part) and gave me the usual snort laughs. And bonus, they even got some development of their own!

Spensa the Spy

Something I really loved about this book was just how much growth Spensa underwent. I loved Spensa and her crazy dramatics in Skyward, but in Starsight she becomes far more self-aware, realises the value of discipline and pre-planning, and re-evaluates her perspectives on war and what it means to be a hero. It was also great to see her tackle challenges in new, subtler ways and have to utilise skills not previously part of her strengths. By pushing Spensa out of her comfort zone, Sanderson has created an even better lead that I can’t wait to see develop further.

Sanderson, You Suck

That ending. I knew it was coming, but I’m still mad. How could you do this to me? And with at least a year to wait for the next book? Like, really? REALLY?


Although distinctly different from its predecessor in terms of scale, plot and pacing, Starsight is another fantastic read which massively expands the series’ overarching story and universe. While I may have enjoyed Skyward better, Starsight was still a great mix of action, humour, and heart that I’m sure I’ll re-read in years to come.

Now, someone wake me up when book three is out…

4.5 Stars

Bookish Fun: Around the World in 20 Young Adult Books

Recently I published a post outlining some things I really wish were found in YA lit more often. One of the items on my list was more books set in countries other than the USA or England, as these two settings seem to dominate the market. This got me thinking: what YA books out there ARE set in other countries? Well, it took some time to track them down but here are 20 of them. While I haven’t read many of the books listed, I’ve certainly found a lot to add to my TBR. Now, I present to you, a trip around the world courtesy of YA novels. Be prepared for plenty of live abroad situations, many estranged overseas relatives and a LOT of romance.

Note: I apologise in advance for the gaps in this list, particularly where it comes to South America and Africa. I had trouble finding YA books set in these locations. If you know of any that you’d like me to add, send them my way!

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Scotland: Her Royal Highness – Rachel Hawkins

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We’re starting out in the land of kilts, rolling green hills and fabulous castles. I’ve actually visited Scotland and it’s an absolutely beautiful place so, note to self, find more books set there. This YA contemporary follows Millie, an American teen who moves to a prestigious boarding school in the Scottish Highlands after a bad break up. To her surprise, she ends up roommates with Flora, not only a princess in personality, but the princess of Scotland. Prepare yourself for an fluffy, sapphic, enemies to lovers romance with a stop off at friendship along the way in a stunning UK setting.

Spain: The Fountains of Silence – Ruta Sepetys

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After less rain and more sunshine? Perhaps some tapas? Well, Spain is the answer. The Fountains of Silence is set in 1950s Madrid during the dictatorship of General Franco in which tourists were encouraged to visit the country to help improve its financial problems. Eighteen year old photographer Daniel arrives with his family, hoping to learn more about and connect with the place of his mother’s birth. Here, he meets hotel maid Ana who slowly begins to educate him on the buried secrets of the country at great risk to herself and her family. The story follows several characters as they make their way through a dark and painful period of history.

The Netherlands, Austria, Italy, & Czech Republic: Wanderlost – Jen Malone

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Ever wanted to do a multi-country trip through Europe? Then this will be right up your alley. After her sister Elizabeth gets into some trouble, Aubree agrees to help her out by taking over Elizabeth’s summer job leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe. The problem is, Aubree knows very little about European countries and it doesn’t take long before things start to go completely pear shaped. Then, to make matters worse, the tour picks up an unexpected guest: the company director’s son, Sam. Aubree can’t help falling for Sam but how can she possibly be herself when she’s supposed to be pretending to be her sister? And what would happen if he ever found out?

Greece: Love & olives – Jenna Evans

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Greece has been on my holiday dream list for years now. There’s just something about its wonderfully rich history and the beauty of its islands. At some point I’ll get there, but until then perhaps Love & Olives can help pass the time. Now, this is actually an upcoming 2020 release but eh, who cares. The book introduces us to Evie, a Greek myths enthusiast. Upon receiving a postcard from her estranged father, she hops on a plane to Santorini to assist with his National Geographic Documentary about theories of Atlantis. As the shoot goes on, Evie has to deal not only with the emotions associated with seeing her father again for the first time in years but also his charismatic protege, Theo.

Romania: Hunting Prince Dracula – Kerri Maniscalco

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We’re slowly making our way over to the east of Europe, and our next destination is Romania. It’s home to Dracula, stuffed cabbage leaves and preserved medieval towns. Woo! While the first book in this series is set in London, the sequel sees the two leads, Audrey Rose and Thomas, journeying to one of Europe’s best forensic science schools, which also happens to be a castle. Cause when in Romania, right? Then, as you’d expect, corpses start turning up, and not just the ones scheduled for dissection. Rumours soon spread that Vlad the Impaler himself has returned and is out for blood. So it’s up to our plucky duo to solve the mystery.

Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

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Like Greece, Russia is one of those countries that I’ve wanted to visit for some time but it’s also one I’d prefer to do with a friend. Anyone up for a trip with me? Incorporating Russian folklore, TBATN is about a girl named Vasilisa who lives with her family in a small, northern village. Vasilisa is special in that she can see and converse with the creatures/spirits that live on their land. But after her father re-marries and a new priest enters the community, attitudes towards these beings and Vasilisa’s abilities change, leaving her an outcast and old superstitious practices abandoned. Soon things in the village begin to go very wrong such as failing crops and sinister things emerging from the forest. Now it’s up to Vasilisa to use her gifts to save the people she loves most.

Taiwan: The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan

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We’ve jumped continents and it’s time to see what Asia holds for our YA travels. First up we have the story of Leigh. After her mother’s suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan to visit her grandparents for the first time. She is convinced that her mother has been reincarnated as a red bird and is somehow trying to speak to her. This takes her on a journey in which she develops bonds with her grandparents, comes to terms with her mother’s mental illness, and learns more about her mother’s history and Taiwanese culture. In turn, she also gains a greater understanding of herself. It’s a story about grief, mental health, family and identity.

Hong Kong: Somewhere Only We Know – Maurene Goo

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While Hong Kong may not be the best travel destination at present, we always have travel in the form of books. Somewhere Only We Know is a YA contemporary romance. Lucky is a huge K-Pop star currently preparing for her big American debut. When she sneaks out of her hotel room in search of some fast food, she accidentally runs into Jack, a tabloid reporter who has slipped in searching for a story. The two end up deciding to spend a day together adventuring around Hong Kong, free from the stress and rules of their normal lives. Only problem is, neither party is being honest with the other.

Japan: I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn

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Japan! Another country on my to-visit list. Cherry blossoms, great food in quirky locations, gorgeous scenery, ridiculous numbers of vending machines, what’s not to like? I Love You So Mochi is, once again, a YA contemporary romance. Kimi loves fashion and spends her spare time creating outfits for herself and her friends. However, her mum sees this as nothing more than a distraction from her painting portfolio. When Kimi is invited by her grandparents to spend Spring break in Kyoto, she decides to take the chance to get away for a while. In Japan she meets Akira, a med student and part time mochi mascot. Over the course of her trip, Kimi embraces everything Japan has to offer, forges new bonds with her family, falls in love, and evaluates her future.

Pakistan: Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed

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Say hello to southern Asia. This time we’re in Pakistan, the fifth most populated country in the world! Our next book follows the story of Naila, a teen from a highly conservative American-Pakistani family. After falling in love with a boy named Sarif against her family’s wishes, Naila’s parents quickly whisk her off to Pakistan to visit their relatives in the hopes of re-immersing her in their culture. However, Naila is soon shocked to discover that her parents have actually brought her there for an arranged marriage. Cut off from everything she knows and stuck in a situation she sees no way out of, Naila has no choice but to remain strong and hope that Sarif will find her before it’s too late.

Iran: Darius the Great is Not Okay – Adib Khorram

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Iran – home to beautiful architecture and a welcoming population. Darius is about to take his first trip to Iran and it’s exciting but also overwhelming for a chubby, geeky guy with clinical depression, zero social life and a difficult relationship with his father. Upon arrival, Darius feels somewhat out of step with the language and culture. That is, until he meets Sohrab – a boy who just gets Darius and not only shows him what it’s like to have a best friend but to feel Persian for the first time. The trip offers Darius a chance to understand and accept himself, and to form new, close relationships with members of his family. Set among the bustling background of Yazd, this is a story about friendship, self-acceptance, depression, identity and family.

Qatar: Love from A to Z – S. K. Ali

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And…we’re back to romance, this time in Doha – the place to go for huge buildings, swanky hotels, amazing shopping, and well, if you want to feel poor. Our two main characters here are Zayneb and Adam. After confronting her teacher for anti-Muslim remarks, Zayneb is suspended and her parents send her to her aunt’s in Doha. College student Adam is dealing with both the recent loss of his mother and a multiple-sclerosis diagnosis (something he’s avoided telling his father and sister about). When the two meet on the flight to Doha, an unexpectedly wonderful connection forms. This is a book which deals with some heavy topics but if you’re after an un-apologetically muslim, own voices novel, this is one to think about.

Saudi Arabia: A Girl Like That – Tanaz Bhathena

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Time for YA contemporary, but told a little differently and this time set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This is a story that begins with the deaths of our lead and her love interest. Zarin is a bright student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also someone parents call ‘troublemaker’ & whose romances are endlessly gossiped about. You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. And yet, eighteen year old Porus has only ever had eyes for her. But how did Zarin and Porus end up dead, crashed on the side of a highway? When the police arrive, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

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Egypt: In a Perfect World – Trish Doller

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Egypt is another country on my ‘must travel to before I die list’ and although I’m not great with hot weather, I’m determined to see those Pyramids. Once again, we’ve got ourselves a contemporary romance. In a Perfect World centers around Caroline, whose perfect summer plans are completely thrown out the window when her mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo. Instead of soccer camp and a job at the amusement park, Caroline will be spending not only her summer but her final year of high school in Egypt. Despite her cultural shock, Caroline finds herself opening up to new experiences, food and culture and falling for a boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love and privilege.

South Africa: Deadlands – Lily Herne

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Ever been to South Africa? Well, here’s your chance. The catch: zombies. Ten years after a zombie apocalypse, the dead freely roam the suburbs of Cape Town while survivors cluster on farms and in urban shantytowns. They are protected by mysterious, robed figures known as Guardians who are somehow able to control the zombies. Each year the Guardians hold a human lottery in which 5 teens are chosen to leave the enclave for an unknown purpose. Seventeen year old Lele can’t help but resent her current situation – a school run by a fanatical, Guardian devoted cult, the recent death of her grandmother, and a lack of freedom. So when she’s selected during the lottery, Lele sees it as an opportunity to get answers to some of her biggest questions.

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Beliz & Guatemala: Wanderlove – Kirsten Hubbard

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We’ve hit the bottom of North America and this time it’s two destinations in one. Wanderlove is a travel story centered around 18-year old Bria who accidentally signs up for a trip to the wrong Central America. On tour she runs into diving instructor Rowan and his humanitarian twin sister, Starling, and decides to ditch her group in favour of a trip more off the beaten path. As they travel through islands and villages, Bria soon realises that her and Rowan are in search of the same thing: escaping their past. However, with time, Bria learns that in order for her to move forward, first she’ll have to deal with her baggage.

Canada: The Gathering – Kelly Armstrong

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Skipping over the USA, we’re heading up to Canada and this time to a paranormal/fantasy read set on Vancouver Island. Maya knows very little about her past, specifically her parents. Her only clue is a paw-print shaped birthmark on her hip. She’s never had much reason to think about it, until now. All of sudden strange things have started happening – unexplained deaths, cougars just showing up and following her around, and her friend, Daniel, getting weird ‘feelings’ about people and situations. Then there’s the hot, new guy, Rafe and his damaged sister, Annie. Seems like there’s more to town than there seems.

The Bahamas: Learning to Breathe – Janice Lynn Mather

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Sun, sand, and…teenage pregnancy. Indira Ferguson has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules – study hard, be respectful, and never let a boy take advantage of her. But it hasn’t always been easy, especially while living in her mother’s shadow. When Indy is sent to live with relatives in Nassau, trouble follows her. Now she must hide an unwanted pregnancy from her aunt, who would rather throw Indy out onto the street than see the truth. Completely broke with only a hand-me-down pregnancy book as a resource, Indy desperately looks for a safe space to call home. After stumbling upon a yoga retreat, she wonders if perhaps she’s found it. But Indy is about to discover that home is much bigger than just four walls – it’s about the people she chooses to share it with.

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Australia: On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

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Welcome to my happy home in the land down under. As far as Aussie YA goes, I pretty much had to include a Melina Marchetta book. OtJR is about a girl named Taylor who was abandoned by her mother when she was young and now lives in a boarding house for troubled and neglected kids. Here, Taylor acts as a leader for the residents in their territory wars with the local townies and cadets. Her closest friend is a woman named Hannah who lives on the edge of the school grounds. However, when Hannah mysteriously disappears and Taylor sets out to find her, she comes across a journal about five friends who used to live in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. This leads her on an emotional journey to uncover what happened to her mother and why she left all those years ago.

New Zealand: Antipodes – Michele Bacon

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Heading just across the channel to NZ, it’s time for some extreme sports, fabulous scenery and lots of sheep. When Erin arrives in Christchurch for her work-study abroad program, her life and reputation are a bit of a mess. She’s lost her boyfriend, been kicked off the swim team, and severely damaged her future college prospects. This trip seems like the perfect opportunity to get things back on track but Erin’s less than impressed when she’s introduced to her host family, their cold & cramped living conditions, and her itchy school uniform. Yet, the more Erin opens herself up to her new surroundings and the people around her, the more she starts to rethink her priorities and realise the kind of person she wants to be.


That concludes our journey! I hope you’ve had a wonderful trip – saw some new sights, experienced some wonderful things. Okay…maybe just found a few new books to add to the ever growing TBR pile. What are some of your favourite reads set in other countries? What countries would you most love to travel to?

Let’s Talk: About Sex, Baby…in YA Fiction (Part 1)

This is a discussion post that I’ve been wanting to write for some time now but my issue has always been the question of how best to approach it. I’ll be up front, on this one I’m in the camp of include sex in YA. Although, the bigger question is how should it be included? In the end, I’ve decided to break it down into three questions: 1) should sex be included/discussed at all, 2) to what degree should sex be included, and 3) how should sex be represented in YA books? As it turns out, I have a lot to say on this topic so I’ll be publishing this post in two parts.

The Audience of YA

Before we get stuck in, I’d just like to touch on the audience and readership of young adult books. From a publishing standpoint, the YA category is aimed at ages 12-18. When you look at the changes and experiences that happen over the course of these six years, it seems like an enormous and diverse group. Then there’s the fact that these days YA is also extremely popular with adults, myself included. So how do we possibly cater to all these people in one category? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Should Sex be Included/Discussed in YA?

Sex as Taboo

Despite what some people try to claim, sex is not some evil, virtue ruining, disgusting thing. It’s a very normal human experience which can be romantic as well as something fun and empowering. A large chunk of the population is going to have sex at some point in their lives. It’s a simple fact. By failing to include it even slightly in YA fiction I feel as though this gives the impression that sex is something to be hidden or embarrassed about.

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The last thing we want is teens feeling like they shouldn’t or can’t voice sex related questions/issues, or, worse, that they’re the only one going through these experiences. The great thing about books is that they allow us to feel less alone by seeing our own characteristics, flaws, and experiences in characters. Without representation that benefit is lost, which is why it’s so important that teens read about fictional young adults tackling familiar issues (of which sex is a big one).

Sexual Education

Spend a couple of minutes on the internet and you’ll find pretty quickly that there’s a huge problem with regards to sex education. There are a lot of countries, even ones as developed as the US, that do not properly teach their teens about sex and reproduction.

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This makes me ridiculously mad because it’s so, SO important that teens learn early on the importance of having sex at the right time for them, ensuring both parties are consenting, and taking steps to protect against unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Just saying “abstinence” won’t cut it, kids. No, it isn’t fiction’s job to be the only educator on these things but by failing to include topics like this in YA fiction, you’re not only depriving teens of a great source of information during a time when they’re desperately searching for it, but also failing to take advantage of the opportunity to illustrate/discuss positive and negative sexual behaviour.

To Quote Lily Allen, ‘Everyone’s At It’

Let’s be realistic. If you honestly believe that all teens are waiting until age 18 to engage in sexual behaviour or discussion, gather round because I have a bridge to sell you. Sure, studies show that the average age young people lose their virginity in most countries is 17+ but unless I’m remembering school wrong, you can bet that the ones who aren’t having sex are likely already (a) doing some form of hot and heavy activity OR (b) talking about it with their friends, even at really young ages. The truth of the matter is, a lot of teens are far more mature than adults like to give them credit for and by cutting sex and sexual discussion out of the fiction they read, you’re failing to include a very large part of the teen experience and conversation. It’s difficult for readers to relate to the books they’re reading if they’re so sanitised they resemble an early 2000s Disney sitcom more than real life.

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I should preface the next part of this discussion by mentioning that in this post I am not advocating for throwing sex in for the sake of just having sex in YA novels. I am saying that, where it suits the narrative, setting and characters, sex should not be shied away from and be included organically. If the story the author is telling has nothing to do with sexual themes, then don’t add them in for the sake of it. 

To What Degree?

Putting sexual discussion aside for the moment to focus purely on actual sexual scenes, from what I can tell there seems to be three ways to approach this:

  • Fade to black
  • Sex with an internal character focus
  • Heavily descriptive sex

Fade to Black

It’s safe to say we’ve all come across this approach. I have no problem with the good, old fade to black provided the author does two things (a) treats the build up to the fade out properly and (b) addresses the impact of what we missed.

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I recently found a great example of this in Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me. There’s one scene a fair way through which continues long enough to establish consent, protection, and intimacy before fading out and then picking up again to deal with the emotional fallout and narrative purpose of that interaction. Fade outs can be a great way of instigating sexual discussions and dealing with associated issues without being too graphic for younger readers who aren’t at the maturity level for fully descriptive content.

Sex with Internal Character Focus

This is an approach I’m also very on board with. When sex scenes are written like this, as a reader, I very clearly understand what the author is trying to achieve because there’s nowhere to hide. It may be a crucial plot point, a character defining moment, or even an evolution of two characters’ relationship e.g. Rose and Dimitri in Richelle Mead’s Shadow Kiss. While we do get some details on the physical side, they tend to be limited as the focus is on what the character/s are feeling and thinking. For example, in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun we get to experience Jude’s first time from her perspective. It’s not a comfortable experience in the slightest and she regrets the encounter almost as soon as it begins but feels as though she can’t bring herself to stop it. It’s a very well written scene – emotionally mature but more focused on Jude’s mental state than the physicality of what’s happening. More importantly, it successfully discusses important sexual themes such as consent whilst giving us character development.

Heavily Descriptive Sex

Now this is where it gets complicated. To demonstrate, both Looking for Alaska by John Green and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas feature sexually explicit scenes at some point during their narratives. Each is marketed as YA, but are they in any way similar? That’d be a no.

Generally, when it comes to this approach, I’d say it’s not something I consider appropriate in YA books and should be left to adult or new adult fiction. In fact, I’m a little shocked when I come across scenes like this in something marketed as YA as they just seem extremely out of place. However, I think my main problem here stems from the fact that so many of these scenes are written unrealistically as being all fantasy (something I’ll discuss in part two).

While I’m sure a lot of the people who read YA nowadays are more than able to handle explicit scenes, and may even enjoy it, there does have to be limits in place for this category of fiction, otherwise why separate it from adult fiction at all? This is to ensure that those who aren’t comfortable with such explicit content, or their parents, don’t have to constantly worry about whether such a scene may potentially come up at any given moment.

With regards to sexual discussion, I feel I’m on the same page.  Do I need a conversation between two characters involving a play by play of one character’s sexual exploits?

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Ah, nope.

However, characters discussing things such as their worries about their first time or whether they’re ready to take things further with their partner, that’s 100% a-okay.

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Just a reminder, everything in this post is my personal opinion and I am very much aware that a lot of other people feel very differently with regards to this topic. And that is completely fine!

Let me know your thoughts, do you believe sex should be depicted and/or discussed in YA novels? And if so, how detailed do you think it should be?

For more discussion on how sex should be represented in YA novels and the representation issues commonly found in today’s novels, be sure to check out part 2.