Over the past several years, Maureen Johnson has established herself as the queen of young adult fiction. To date, she’s solely authored 13 books, but that does not include her work on The Bane Chronicles with fellow author Cassandra Clare and her contributions to three anthologies. Honestly, the woman’s a machine. But somehow I made it through my entire adolescence without having read her novels, which are funny, warm, and captivating.
I didn’t discover her work until a colleague at my school’s newspaper interviewed her for a profile. Johnson is a fellow University of Delaware alum (Go Hens!), so my friend had a good time talking with her about Johnson’s old haunts on campus and what path she took after she left Newark. In case you’re wondering, the Philly native spent time in London but eventually settled for New York after completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in theatrical dramaturgy at Columbia University. It’s safe to say she’s done okay.
All her books are delightful and entertaining as hell. I’m not really sure how I managed to miss them as a teenager, BUT, even though I’m late to the game (and an old lady), they’re all totally worth your time.
Why should I read her books? I’m, like, 23 now…
Indeed, if you’re an old person like myself, you’ll wonder why the heck you should spend x amount of time reading YA books from one author. Well, let me tell you. I read five of her books back to back and they did not disappoint. Not at all. Not one bit. I’m serious… Johnson is a true renaissance woman when it comes to subject matter, exploring everything from the dynamics of family and friendship in The Key to the Golden Firebird, to homosexuality and first love in The Bermudez Triangle, to the infamous Jack the Ripper murders in her Shades of London series.
Speaking of which, do you absolutely love murder mysteries? Are you weirdly obsessed with Victorian murder stories?
…because if you are, Johnson is the girl for you! After having lived for a month in the area surrounding the Ripper murders, I was drawn to the way she describes the city—the winding side streets, the architecture, the pubs. Everything about it brought me back to that time, and I loved every second. And, I don’t know about you, but I love books that have anything to do with boarding school. The sense of independence and adventure that the characters have draws me in immediately. Of course, since it is in London, I’m double attached to the story.
But, let’s say I’m not so into murder stories…what should I read then?
First off, BOO! (JK!) I’m so glad you asked! Literally, everything else she’s ever written has stunning character development and plot pacing. None of her characters seem two-dimensional or unbelievable in any way, which is, in my opinion, the number one reason why older people find it difficult to relate to YA. Oftentimes, they can’t suspend their sense of reality enough to invest themselves in a character’s whereabouts. That doesn’t happen in Johnson’s books. I was especially impressed with her 2006 novel Devilish, which blends her offbeat sense of humor with an even stranger story. It’s a slight novel, but full of such great stuff: imagine that one Winona Ryder movie, Heathers, combined with a PG version of Jennifer’s Body. It’s one I would highly recommend for the Halloween season!
Okay, so her books seem cool, but where do I start?
Anywhere in her canon! That’s the beautiful thing about Johnson’s work. You can really just pick up anywhere and get a great sense of her writing style. Since she tends to write about everything under the sun, only a few things carry over to each novel—most noticeably, her aforementioned humor. You can always detect Johnson’s voice through her characters’ jokes and asides.
If you’re looking for something light and fun, I would suggest the Suite Scarlett series, the 13 Little Blue Envelopes series or the collection Let it Snow (which she co-authored with John Green and Lauren Myracle). If you’re thinking spooky or suspenseful, then definitely pick up Devilish and the Shades of London series sometime soon. And if you’re just looking for some good, old-fashioned stories on love and friendship, try out Girl at Sea or The Bermudez Triangle.
Whichever you choose, Johnson won’t let you down.