Book Suggestion for 16-year-old Manga, GoT-loving Girl
May 20, 2015 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Need a book rec for a sixteen year old girl who reads manga and Game of Thrones, loves Miyazaki movies and Japanese culture. Extra context inside.

Also: she's an underachiever who is constantly compared to her academic superstar sister (that one gets Special Topics in Calamity Physics) and seems like she's getting the super-angsty variation of adolescence -- switching schools a lot, rejected by peers, thinks she may not be straight in a conservative city, that kind of thing.

Any books come to mind that might be a good fit? Doesn't have to be fantasy or manga, just something that might speak to her with that background.
posted by Locative to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I'd run across China Miéville's novels when I was that age.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

She might dig Un Lun Dun, by China MiƩville, more because of the reasons in the second part of your question. I can't really go into detail with spoiling a central theme of the book.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

...but all of his novels are indeed very good!
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 6:57 AM on May 20, 2015

MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness. Caps because it is essential. Not kidding.
posted by mymbleth at 7:01 AM on May 20, 2015

The combination of GoT and manga made me think she might like The Years of Rice and Salt. "The novel explores how subsequent world history might have been different if the Black Death plague had killed 99% of Europe's population, instead of a third. Divided into ten parts, the story spans hundreds of years, from the army of the Muslim conqueror Timur to the 21st century, with Europe being re-populated by Muslim pioneers, the indigenous peoples of the Americas forming a league to resist Chinese and Muslim invaders, and a 67-year-long world war being fought primarily between Muslim states and the Chinese and their allies."
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sounds like some Murakami might be up her alley. I would recommend this one because it's my personal favorite Murakami novel. He tends to also write a lot of protagonists who are angsty adolescents. I wish I had known about him when I was 16.
posted by deathpanels at 7:08 AM on May 20, 2015

And my favorite academically-underachieving scrappy misunderstood badass chick is Lyra from The Golden Compass.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:08 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

She might like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant novels. Also, these are comics rather than manga, but maybe Sandman and Rat Queens.
posted by neushoorn at 7:14 AM on May 20, 2015

Ooo, yes, Sandman is great! It goes to pretty fucked-up places though, like one minor character is a supernatural serial killer who eats young men's eyeballs, so um, be aware. But yeah it's awesome.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:17 AM on May 20, 2015

Tales of the Otori checks the fantasy and Japanese culture boxes. The protagonist is male but there are substantially characterized females.
posted by Octaviuz at 7:18 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Has she read Sailor Moon already?
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:20 AM on May 20, 2015

I love-love-loved Evensong's Heir. It's YA fantasy - not specifically like any of the things you listed, but potentially relevant to the same cluster of interests.
posted by terretu at 7:25 AM on May 20, 2015

Oh man, yes to Sandman and Rat Queens! And if she's interested in graphic novels, I would add Fables to the list, and The Maxx, and Unwritten. As far as Thomas Covenant goes, if you're not already aware of this, there's a rape early on in the first book that can kind of sour the whole series (it did for me, though I did keep reading).

She might also like Tigana, and though it's been a while since I've read it, I remember The Man Who Fell to Earth resonating with my 'misfit' side.

On a non-fantasy note, how about The Hours? It's beautiful and sad in a way that might scratch an itch.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:27 AM on May 20, 2015

Oh! Almost forgot, but The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break has a certain quiet, alienated-but-optimistic feel to it that really works. It's a pretty quick read but it stuck with me.

And how about Bridge of Birds?
posted by DingoMutt at 7:32 AM on May 20, 2015

I really really liked the Bartimaeus Trilogy when I was 16- YA, but witty all the way through, funny and tragic in turns. About a young magician who summons a smart-ass demon and the clever girl who little by little gets involved. The most it meshes with the second half is that the protag is an outsider in the magical world at times, and the book deals with loss of friends (though through death, mostly). Still. Really engaging read to my teen self.
posted by clarinet at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ken Liu's new book The Grace of Kings is Chinese, rather than Japanese, but it has been described as a wuxia Game of Thrones. It's fun!
posted by Lemmy Caution at 7:38 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get that girl some cyberpunk. I was very into William Gibson and Neal Stephenson as well as all things Japan at that age.

Neuromancer is a great place to start. Snow Crash as well.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bartimaeus is a great, great, great recommendation, particularly for the lady protag who shows up in the later books and is the BEST EVER.

Fables gets kinda depressingly right-wing in places (guns are the solution! taking responsibility means not getting an abortion!), which may be bad if your friend is already dealing with a lot of conservative static. It's still fun, though, and deals with the "interesting retelling of fairy tales" that've been popular with a lot of teen girls I know.

Rat Queens has a lot of sex and profanity and drug use, but may be particularly great for this person because it has really nifty portrayals of queer ladies -- one of the the main characters is a lesbian, another one of the four main characters is arguably genderqueer by dwarf standards, and one of the main recurring characters is a super amazing orc trans lady. And off the top of my head, at least three of the four main characters have explicit storylines dealing with familial rejection.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:48 AM on May 20, 2015

Seconding His Dark Materials and The Years of Rice and Salt. It's also never a bad time to introduce someone to Pratchett (such an easy suggestion that it's a bit lazy); in this case you might start with The Wee Free Men.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 7:48 AM on May 20, 2015

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman might be a good fit.
posted by rikschell at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2015

Also, stuff that my super-angsty teen girl self loved: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and anything else by Jeannette Winterson and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and this translation of Anna Akhmatova.

They appealed to my teenage love of angst and pain and heartbreak, but carried the bonus of being by Important Authors and Looking Important and helping me establish a sense of my own identity as an artsy literature person in contrast to my family, which all got science PhD's from rockstar universities.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:57 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here is my manga Angelboy. I made it just to be something my teenage self would love to read :).
posted by cmcmcm at 8:33 AM on May 20, 2015

I apologize for lack of links, but I'm about to leave the house.

The Goblin Emperor--court intrigue, underdog teen hero, subtle Japanese influence.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (there's a Ghibli film based on it).

Fudoki and Fox Woman by Kij Johnson are excellent fantasy novels based in Japan; they're adult novels, but definitely have way less sex/violence than GoT.

Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo--Ash is lesbian, Asian, feminist Cinderella, basically. (YA, but I loved it!).

The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.
posted by wintersweet at 8:53 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Diane Duane's "The Door into..." series.
Probably second hand copies.

Fantasy setting, queer protagonists, and extremely non-sexist environment. Loved them at 15.
posted by Elysum at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2015

My suggestions are Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, a delightful YA fantasy novel (rich enough for all readers) that focuses on a young woman with a secret, and Seanan McGuire's Velveteen stories, which are explained in the link except one detail I'd add is that there are heart-warming LGBTQ-themed sub-plots.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Attack on Titan (either the manga or anime), if she isn't into it already.
posted by picklenickle at 9:22 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not much for fantasy at all, but I loved the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson that a friend pushed on me. The major protagonist/POV character is a young woman, but the book switches to a few other characters from time to time as needed. A second trilogy is planned, and there's already a standalone novel that follows the first trilogy. Very inventive and has some amazing, loyalty-altering twists throughout.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:40 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

All of Guy Gavriel Kay's novels feature strong women who aren't interested in bowing to the roles society forces upon them. His most recent takes place in an ersatz China. Lots of political machinations in all the books, too.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Angsty possibly not straight high schooler? This is the prime time for Francesca Lia Block. Her main setting is a dreamy magical realism version of LA, described in seriously over the top prose; it's a good place to immerse yourself in. Start with Dangerous Angels, a collection of short novels about a drama-filled-but-loving multi-generational chosen family. My favorite of those novels is Witch Baby, in which the title protagonist tries to figure out where she fits in with her family and the world at large. So many teenage tears shed over that story.
posted by ActionPopulated at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of the graphic novels of Canadian author Mariko Tamaki. (They are not fantasy.) Check out Skim, though all 3 of her books are good.
posted by gudrun at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2015

I'm back!

Seconding Duane and Block.

Pantomime, by Laura Lam (should be reissued by Tor UK and then could be bought via Book Depository, or just find it now). Engrossing YA about an intersex person, plus magic, circuses, and teen angst.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: No LGBTQ content that I remember, but entertaining and different fantasy (Spanish-influenced, very refreshing).

The Fire's Stone by Tanya Huff: This is on my to-read list, but I trust Huff to handle characters who are queer, disabled, etc. well, while also telling a fun story.

Also: Tamora Pierce, maybe? It's been too long for me to remember what to rec specifically.

P. S. Another reason I rec The Goblin Emperor, although the main character is a guy: The main character has always heard he's pretty worthless and vastly underestimates his own intelligence, which is more interpersonal and emotional than academic. <3
posted by wintersweet at 12:19 PM on May 20, 2015

The True Game by Sheri S. Tepper. An amazing introduction to a truly wonderful author. Speaking as a 30- ish year old who loves the same things as your daughter and has been reading all those books for almost two decades: this is an author and a series that will become a favorite for sure.
posted by mirabelle at 7:25 PM on May 20, 2015

I came to recommend Francesca Lia Block, too, particularly the Dangerous Angels series. The message in 'Witch Baby' is that your family (biological or intentional) will love you, even if you are the black sheep.

Kudos to you for being so loving and concerned about this girl.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:33 AM on May 21, 2015

Oh gosh, yes to Tamora Pierce. In this case, I think especially the Circle of Magic quartet, which has at least one not straight major character. She might also like the Beka Cooper trilogy, which is a bit grittier in tone due to the main character being what amounts to the fantasy version of a beat cop. Honestly, all of Tamora's books are fun, though, so I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.

And also yes to Guy Gavriel Kay. He has a knack for writing political machinations without losing focus on the people involved. Most of his "bad guys" are fairly sympathetic, which I find much more interesting than the "I'm evil so I do eviler things rarr" villains that a lot of fantasy books fall prey to. Given the manga interest, she might enjoy Under Heaven, with its Tang dynasty China inspiration. However, my personal favorite is The Lions of al'Rassan, which I end up recommending to everyone~ Like Tamora Pierce, though, I don't think you can go wrong with any of his books.
posted by ashirys at 7:53 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tamora Pierce is a little young for a 16 year old.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2015

I came in to suggest the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, but I see it's been recommended already. I'm heartily seconding it!
posted by meggan at 1:11 PM on May 22, 2015

Coming back to add a few older books. You might try Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun and The Silver Metal Lover. Also Samuel R. Delaney's Babel-17.
posted by gudrun at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2015

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