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Tweets of the Week: April 17th

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 07:00

Happy National Library Week, Hub Readers! Thank you to everyone who works at, supports, praises and gives their time to libraries! There’s been some fun stuff on Twitter this week; be sure to check out these tweets of the week with news about a new Paper Towns clip(!), the most challenged books of 2014 & Sarah Dessen!  In case you missed it…I’m here to compile it all for you!

Books & Reading





— Traci Glass, currently reading All the Rage by Courtney Summers

The Hub Loves the ’90s

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 07:00

Have you noticed that the 1990s seem to be popping up a lot recently in pop culture? YA lit is no exception to this and we here at the Hub have decided to take a closer look at the ’90s nostalgia that seems to be hitting us from every direction. Along with upcoming posts from Traci Glass and Katie Shanahan Yu, this is the first in a three-part series this month looking at this memorable decade’s persistent appearance and influence.

As someone who was a tween and teen in the 1990s, it does not really surprise me to see so much of this time period seeping into contemporary pop culture now. These years had a huge impact on my long-term interest in music, television, movies, and books. Now, many from my generation are at a point in our lives where we are not only creating the content found on television and in books, but we are also adults with some disposable income that we are willing to spend on these types of media.

Traci and Katie will be looking at examples of books set in or produced in the 1990s, but I have even noticed a good amount of references to this period appearing in contemporary pieces. For example, Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead begins with a letter to Kurt Cobain, a grunge rock icon and tragic symbol of the decade. Soon after, a letter to actor River Phoenix appears; and while the majority of his films were made in the ’80s, his untimely death in 1993 was a memorable part of this time. This book is a contemporary story, but it had an undeniable nostalgia for pop culture of the ’90s. 

One of the most obvious examples of targeting those of us with these nostalgic tendencies is the recent announcement that ultra cool girl Clarissa Darling will appear once again, this time on the pages of a new adult novel. Entertainment Weekly reported back in January that fans of the twenty year old television show Clarissa Explains It All can look forward to checking in on their favorite characters from the show in an upcoming book titled Things I Can’t Explain. While the book will be contemporary with the opportunity to gain interest from a wider audience, the show cannot exist outside of its time since everything about it screams ’90s. And if my friends are any indication, we are eating it up (heads up: pre-orders are available!).

And, finally, I have to mention the revival of the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stine. This series first debuted in 1989 and ran for the next ten years including various spin-offs. Back in 2005, there was a short revival and now the series is back again with a planned six part set of novels. Sure, Goosebumps are still widely read, but I have to believe that using the Fear Street name rather than kicking off a new series of teen horror novels plays into the nostalgia that many of us have. As adults we remember how much fun it was to scare ourselves with these books and we are excited to have that thrill again.

Be sure to check back next week when Katie Shanahan Yu takes a look at YA novels from the ’90s.

– Jessica Lind, currently reading I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Chill Out on National Stress Awareness Day

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 07:00

In honor of National Stress Awareness Day in the U.S., let’s all take a deep breath…and let it out slowly. For many of us, reading is our go-to method of relaxing. Add a blanket and some tea and the trifecta is complete. But for super-sensitive, empathetic readers, reading a story about a character in peril can actually be very stressful. Sometimes it’s good stress: adrenaline, adventure, and new experiences we crave. Other times we are truly worried and fearful, even if we know certain stories need witnesses.

But are there teen reads that don’t cause too much stress — just fun, chill-out books? Every person’s own comfort reads fall into that category, of course, and “beach reads” tend to skew toward chick lit. Here, I offer a few titles I consider to be low-stress without being too personal or chick-lit-esque:


Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer (2001 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults). Hope moves with her aunt to Mulhoney, Wisconsin to take over a small diner, but finds the owner’s not quite ready to go — in fact, he’s about to run for mayor.

Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman (1998 Best Books for Young Adults). Thirteen voices tell the story of a vacant lot transformed by an urban garden.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (2001 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults). A new girl at Mica High challenges everyone’s definition of “normal,” especially that of the guy who falls for her.

A Long Way From Chicago, by Richard Peck (2001 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). Joey and Mary Alice spend rural summers with their “bad influence” of a grandmother. A novel in stories.

Al Capone Does my Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko (2005 Best Books for Young Adults). Moose’s family moves to Alcatraz Island, where his dad has taken a job as a prison guard.

Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan (2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). Jake Semple has been kicked out of so many schools that he finds himself stuck at the homeschool run by the artistic Applewhites.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar (2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). Scott decides to keep a journal for his as-yet-unborn baby sibling about his freshman year of high school.

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett (2004 Best Books for Young Adults). When Tiffany Aching’s little brother is kidnapped by the Queen of Fairyland, she is determined to save him with the help of the Wee Free Men and her trusty weapon — a frying pan.

What would you add to the list? Chime in below!

–Becky O’Neil, currently reading Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George

Jukebooks: As White As Snow by Salla Simukka

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 07:00

Readers first met Finnish Lumikki Andersson in the novel, As Red as Blood, when a bag of blood-soaked money led her on a dangerous mission. Now Lumikki is on vacation in Prague, pleased with her cherished solitude, the gorgeous view before her, and the sound of Shirley Manson’s voice as she sings about dark skies and rain. Then a strange girl appears, the same strange girl that Lumikki has seen at several other tourist locations in Prague. Much to Lumikki’s annoyance, the girl approaches. Everything changes when she speaks, however, telling Lumikki: “I think you’re my sister.”

The Shirley Manson song is “Only Happy When It Rains,” recorded in the mid-nineties by Manson and her band, Garbage. The song came together as the band sat around playing acoustic guitars, building on the lyric, “I’m only happy when it rains.” In a 1995 interview with Addicted to Noise (an early online music magazine,) guitarist Steve Marker explained:

It’s really just us poking fun of ourselves… We’re poking fun at the alternatrock angst, wearing your heart on your sleeve thing and at ourselves for writing such dark songs.

The video emphasizes the conscious mimicry of strange and dark themes so prevalent in alternative rock, combined with Garbage’s sly sense of fun.

Diane Colson, currently reading Still Waters by Ash Parsons.

April Showers… Extreme Weather in YA Lit

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 07:00

You know the saying, “April showers bring may flowers!” As we experience some changing weather this month, let’s take a look at some teen novels that center on extreme weather to drive their plots.



Torn Away by Jennifer Brown (2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)

How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt (2009 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2009 Best Books for Young Adults)

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi (2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Empty by Suzanne Weyn


After the Snow by S.D. Crockett (2013 Morris Award Finalist)

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Frozen by Melissa De La Cruz and Michael Johnston

Trapped by Michael Northrop (2012 Readers Choice List, 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)



Drought by Pam Bachorz

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

The Droughtlanders by Carrie Mac



The Ward by Jordana Frankel

Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

X Isle by Steve Augarde

Exodus by Julie Bertagna (2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)


-Colleen Seisser, currently reading Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau

Spring Clean Your To-Read List

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 07:00

Photo by flickr user ana campos

If your “want-to-read” list looks anything like mine, it’s hundreds of titles long, and growing by the dozens with every passing month. I can (usually) admit that my list is aspirational, rather than realistic, as there simply are not enough (free) hours to delve into every book that catches my fancy. But recently I’ve started thinking more deeply about how I’m prioritizing what to read next, and because librarians love organizing stuff, I’ve organized my To-Read list into the following categories:

Recommended to me by other readers – this is a new category for me, and it’s pretty much the reason I started rethinking my To-Read list. I spend a lot of professional time and energy making reading recommendations. I feel lucky to do so, take matching readers and materials seriously, and am deeply honored when a reader returns to tell me I hit one out of the park (baseball season = baseball metaphors!). But I was also starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with the number of times I had to tell a reader – someone who has trusted my judgement and listened to my assessment of many books – that I hadn’t read the book they were now recommending to me, and even more uncomfortable knowing that unless I drastically rearranged my reading list, the odds of me having read that book the next time I spoke with that reader were pretty slim. What are the readers who come to me to ask for a recommendation, if not fellow bookworms?! I felt like I needed to do a better job of honoring their trust in my recommendations by trusting – and prioritizing – theirs. This has already introduced me to serious reading treasure, and vastly deepened my understanding of some of my most avid readers and their tastes.

Book Club Picks – I organize a book club for patrons at my library, and I participate in three others. Two meet monthly, and the other two less frequently, so it’s roughly 35 books a year to keep up with! These are priority reads for the obvious reason that I can’t be a very good book club participant without having read the book, and also because these book clubs are important to me. Scheduling conflicts mean I miss some meetings every year, and sometimes I do attend without finishing the chosen book (with the full understanding that I will be hearing spoilers!), but I fiercely believe in reading as a social activity. Sure, the act of reading is often best enjoyed in solitude, but as soon as I’ve finished something I want to talk to someone about it! Plus, as someone now in her fourth city in ten years, my book clubs have been an important way to meet fellow bookworms.

Reading Challenges and Goals – Whether community challenges, like The Hub’s Reading Challenge, which I’m now participating in for the third year in a row (11 books to go!), or personal goals (like reading through all the Nebula Award winners to broaden my sci-fi exposure, and re-reading from my own high school and college required reading lists, which has continually yielded surprising results), reading challenges broaden the scope of my reading, keep me reading books published a long time ago that might otherwise stay at the bottom of the To-Read List, and activate the goal-oriented (slightly competitive) part of me, keeping me motivated through titles I may not have chosen otherwise.

Professional Reading – I can’t realistically read everything I purchase for my library, but I do make an effort to read a lot of it, so I can speak from personal experience when a reader asks me about something new on our shelves.

Personal Reading – They’re all my personal picks, really, since I choose to participate in all of the aforementioned categories, but these are the ones purely about my interests. If Ann Patchett publishes something new, I drop everything and schedule an afternoon to get lost in it. Ditto Maggie Stiefvater (come on, The Raven King!! September can’t get here fast enough). This is also the category where books I’ve purchased but not yet read go. They’re taunting me from my bookshelf; I must attend to them!

So these are the categories I settled on (for now; I’m excited to see what ideas come in in the comments!), and then I made 5 different lists (on different colored paper, because color-coding makes everything better, right?) and started dividing my to-read list into the appropriate categories. There are duplicates; some books show up in more than one category, which is something I used to keep track of in my head and now appreciate the visual cue that I should really get to that book sooner than later!

I still use Goodreads for a catch-all To-Read list (and I certainly don’t have everything from that gargantuan stockpile on my color-coded sheets!), but what I also have now is a very tactile, colorful, categorized set of lists. I added approximate dates to the recommendations from patrons, so I can see that when a dear colleague loaned me a copy of something she thought I’d love last year, it’s time to move her book to the front of the line. And I’m cycling through the 5 lists regularly, so I’m not getting burnt out on any one kind of reading, or neglecting any one category for too long, but if I’m really in the mood for a certain genre or format, I can always stay with one list for awhile.

So that’s been my Spring Cleaning reading project lately.

Do you have a special way to track how you’re deciding what to read next? A system for making the never-ending onslaught of new materials seem more manageable? I’d love to hear how you’re organizing your To-Read list in the comments!

-Carly Pansulla, currently reading Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Read it in One Rainy Day

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 07:00

Image by OiMax

Now that Spring feels finally here – the giant snow pile out my north of Boston apartment finally melted – I feel the need for a different kind of book. Like many of you, different seasons of the year make me want different kinds of books. In the winter I like to hunker down with a long, multi-book series and summer brings the annual “beach” reads and the time where I sneak some adult fiction into YA-to-read pile. The return of school in the fall makes me gravitate towards the boarding school story but what about spring?

When it starts to get warmer, it’s easy to ditch the book to head outside to enjoy the not so cold evenings. Breaking my winter hibernation born of cold weather, feet upon feet of snow, makes my concentration wander so I tend to turn to books that I can read in a day or two. There’s nothing like starting and finishing a book on rainy spring day to make you feel accomplished but not overwhelmed.

Here’s a list of recent books I’ve read in a day or maybe two or three. Many are graphic novels which I find great for my spring distraction.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2015 Caldecott and Printz honors): This book does an amazing job of presenting a chapter in the lives of two friends. They are growing up but also apart from the friendship that they thought wouldn’t change. The gorgeous and evocative art, done in shades of blue, makes you long for summer but also revel in whatever weather you’re in, letting you melt into the page.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (2015 Great Graphic Novel for Teens): The bright colors of the art and acceleration of the plot makes this a great one day read. You will get sucked in by Katie’s seemingly perfect way to get rid of her mistakes – the magic mushrooms that allow her to fix anything – and tearing through the book as fast as you can as all of her changed mistakes come back to haunt her at the end.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan: While this does have the school drama I like to read during the fall, it also has a perfect balance of humor and real issues. Leila struggles with her sexuality and the charms of the Saskia, a femme fatale you love to hate. There’s so much to like and admire in Leila; she’s someone relatable while being someone you wish you could be friends with. The romance that develops between her and a friend is sweet, satisfying, and real.

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (2015 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award): You might need a rainy day and a half to finish this one, but it will be worth it. Reynolds’ characters react so realistically to everyday that you will appreciate the honesty of the story of three teen boys in Brooklyn going to a party, getting in a fight, and the consequences of those few hours. A winning story with warmth and humor.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira: Featuring a plot that starts with the mystery of what happened the night when Laurel’s sister May died, this book hooks you with Laurel’s letters to dead celebrities and artists. As you learn more and more details of her life and read as she pours out secrets to people who will never hear them, you might find that you’ve been sitting reading all day.

Young Avenger Omnibus by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie: Perfect for a rainy day of laying around and wondering what it would be like if superheroes were on Instagram. Seriously, that happens in this collection. When an alien forces its way in our dimension it’s up to the Young Avengers, some of whom are related to other, more established Avengers, to save the day. Not only is this book fun and features great art, but the characters represent ethnic and LTGBQ diversity.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: This is another book, like This One Summer, that hits that poignant, middle school friendship sweet spot for me. When Astrid falls in love with roller derby and decides to do a summer camp about the sport and her best friend Nicole does dance, Astrid has to learn how to be on her own. Working through friendships and trying new things, this is such a wonderful book for readers.

Any other books you can finish in a rainy day that you’d recommend? Or does Spring make you want to read some other kind of books?

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


The Monday Poll: National Library Week

Sun, 04/12/2015 - 23:55

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we celebrated baseball season with a poll asking you to choose your favorite baseball book in YA lit. Heat by Mike Lupica hit a home run with 30% of the vote, closely followed by Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year, with 23%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, we have another reason to celebrate: it’s National Library Week! Let’s hear about your favorite fictional library. Which one would you visit? Choose from the options below, or suggest another in the comments.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

2015 Hub Reading Challenge Check-In #9

Sun, 04/12/2015 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2015 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 9 counts, so sign up now!

How’s the reading going? I’ve got 11 finished, 2 more in-progress, and one waiting to start that just arrived from the library. I’ll still be tight to finish within the timeframe, but I’m feeling good overall.

Do you have any favorites emerging from those you’ve read? I don’t know if I have an overall favorite. I do know that both The Family Romanov and Half Bad have really stuck with me, and that The Crossover made me ache with both the beauty of the structure and the sadness of the story at the end of it (since it also won the Newbery Medal, I’m not surprised!). I know that I’ve been checking out the Great Graphic Novels, both because they go quickly and because I don’t generally read them on my own, and I haven’t found one that I LOVE yet, so I need to read more of those as I’m selecting books to get 25 in. And I know that I’m particularly enjoying savoring All the Light We Cannot See right now, since it’s a book that was already on my need-to-read list for this year, before I knew it was an Alex Award winner. What stories do you have to share about the books that have stuck with you so far?

Check in with how you’re doing, and find out what other Challenge readers are enjoying by commenting on the weekly check-in posts or participating on social media. You can use the hashtag #hubchallenge to post updates on Twitter or check out the 2015 Goodreads Hub Reading Challenge group.

As you all know, you have until 11:59 PM EST on June 21st to finish at least 25 challenge books (here’s the full list of eligible titles).   If you haven’t already, don’t forget to post the Participant’s Badge on your blog, website, or email signature, and, as always, if you have any questions or problems, let us know in the comments or via email.

If you are a particularly fast reader and have already completed the challenge by reading or listening to 25 titles from the list of eligible books, be sure to fill out the form below so we can send you your Challenge Finisher badge, get in touch to coordinate your reader’s response and, perhaps best of all, to notify you if you win our exciting grand prize drawing! Be sure to use an email you check frequently and do not fill out this form until you have completed the challenge by reading 25 titles.



Tweets of the Week: April 10th

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 07:00

Happy Friday! Some things that happened this week: VIDA, an organization dedicated to supporting women in literature, published their count for 2014 – a great look at gender disparity in publishing. They focus on books for adults, but lately they have expanded to counting women in color and children’s literature, so take a look. We Need Diverse Books announced non-profit status; research was published about immigrant groups in the United States that will give you insight into the populations you might serve; and pre-conference buzz got going for BEA, YALLWEST, and Outlawed, so look for talk from conference attendees on publishing news, YA trends, and censorship this weekend.




Teen Services/Librarianship/Professional Food for Thought

Just for Giggles

–Hannah Gómez, currently reading Blythewood by Carol Goodman

Spock’s Legacy: On Not Belonging

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 07:00

Image courtesy of Sonny Abesamis

I’ve never been much of a fangirl. Or a teenybopper. Or shipped my name with a fictional character. My celebrity crushes have been few and far between and fleeting at best. But there is one notable exception, my lifelong (well, since I was ten) adoration of Spock and the man that brought him to life, Leonard Nimoy. Clearly I am not alone in this, as evidenced by the recent outpouring of love and acclaim in response to Nimoy’s death earlier this year.

For some, it’s Spock’s cool composure and his unerring devotion to logic that’s so compelling. For others, his unspoken depths coupled with his pointy ears that inspire. For myself, though, it is his inherent contradictions, his very Otherness that caused my ten-year-old soul to soar with recognition and my heart to flutter with tweenly adulation. Spock was the first character I’d encountered who, like myself, was mixed race. He embodied similar struggles and desires and his Otherness, like mine, was physically visible in the world–a constant source of commentary, curiosity, and derision. And though Nimoy himself was not mixed race, he clearly understood the tensions of that identity as he so movingly illustrates in his 1968 letter to a biracial teen fan.

Arguably, Spock’s half Vulcan/half human heritage is what makes his character so enduring and endearing to millions of fans. In this regard, Spock can be seen as the predecessor and inspiration for a number of contemporary YA sci-fi/fantasy characters whose otherness is based in their mixed race (or mixed species as the case may be) identity. From the Half-blood Prince to Percy Jackson to Seraphina, YA abounds with sensitive souls alternately emboldened and embittered by their uncommon parentage. Considering the popularity of these books, the appeal of these characters extends far beyond the mixed race readers who can relate to them. So, what is so universally appealing about these “hybrid” characters?

Rick Riordan’s wildly popular Percy Jackson series can give us some insight into the matter. The son of a mortal woman and the Greek god Poseidon, Percy Jackson’s demigod status provides no end of excitement and adventure as he must learn to understand and control the powers he’s been born with. This, of course, is an obvious reason why the series is beloved to so many, it’s quite simply a riveting read. But delve deeper and there’s also an emotionally arresting message at the heart of Percy’s mixed race identity: namely, that your curse can also be your gift. Fans will know that Percy suffers from both ADHD and dyslexia. For most of his young life, these were a curse getting him kicked out of multiple schools and negatively impacting his sense of self. Only after finding out that he’s a demigod does he understand both the origin of his problems, as well as the fact that they serve to make him stronger and more respected in his newfound community. And who doesn’t need to learn that those aspects of your existence that most plague you can also make you stronger? And that you will find others in life who not only share your experience but value you for it?

The Harry Potter series offers some similar lessons while providing a more in-depth exploration of some of the complexities of the mixed race experience. What I loved about J.K. Rowling’s treatment of half-bloods (characters with a pure or half-blood parent and a Muggle or Muggle-born parent) in her novels is the range of experiences she provides, as well as the focus on what is essentially race-based discrimination. On one end of the spectrum, we have the self-hating half-blood, Voldemort, who obsessively calls for blood purity. On the other, the half blood Professor Dumbledore who aims to protect Muggles, half bloods, and purebloods alike.  And somewhere in between, lie Harry Potter and Snape, each coping with the tragedies of their respective childhoods.

What we learn from Harry Potter is that while on the surface, one’s identities may appear to be the same, we each experience the world differently and make different choices even if our experiences may be similar. The universal truth here is twofold: one, there is no single story that defines an entire group, and two, we all possess the free will to shape our lives for better or for worse. Furthermore, none of us can choose our parents as much as we might like to, particularly for those born into a world of discrimination. That said, the powerful message at the heart of the series is that although you cannot choose your parents or change your upbringing, you can transcend and transform the hand that’s been dealt to you. And do so in a way that neither sacrifices parts of yourself nor negates someone else but rather honors your whole self.

Rachel Hartman’s recently completely duology, Seraphina and Shadow Scale, is perhaps the most nuanced depiction of both otherness and the mixed race experience described here. Seraphina also reminds me most of Spock in her struggle to reconcile both halves of herself. Born into a society where her half human/half dragon existence is not only taboo but grounds for imprisonment or worse, Seraphina must hide her identity from all. When conflict between the dragons and humans escalate, Seraphina is thrust into an all too familiar scenario for mixed race people, the bridge-builder. It is a role often required of those who blur society’s boundaries and necessitates a certain resilience born out of hardship.

Both novels do a superb job of detailing the hardships of constantly hiding who you are, not the least of which are living under the strain of both fear and loneliness at all times. Hartman also explores the tragedy of discrimination and its emotional effects on those that are its victim. Indeed, more than any of the other YA novels I’ve read, Shadow Scale counters this discrimination by addressing the falseness of forcing a choice between two sides when there really an infinite number of options beyond the binary. In fact, it’s when Seraphina allows for the possibility of one’s identity being fluid, adaptable, and non-binary that she is able to triumph and make peace not only between dragons and humans but within herself.

The lessons from these novels are clear and compelling and offer good reasons why mixed race characters are so appealing to a YA audience. Nonetheless, in thinking of the many other sci-fi/fantasy stories I could have written about, I feel like there is something even more fundamental that connects them all. From Hex Hall to Vampire Academy to Guardians of the Galaxy, the characters constantly struggle with the knowledge that they do not belong in the society they live in. And really, is there any more quintessentially teenage feeling than the one of not belonging?

Regardless of class, race, gender, or sexuality, teenagers grapple with many of the issues discussed above. They wish they had other parents and battle soul-crushing loneliness; they are asked to build bridges between adolescence and adulthood; they long for families that will love and accept them and societies that will see past their exterior to what lies beneath; they are constrained by expectation and closeted by fear; and ultimately, viscerally, they want nothing more than to belong to themselves, to another, to a world that exalts and accepts them. Don’t we all?

~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

2015 Michael L. Printz Program: Questions Needed!

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 07:00
sun Jandy Nelson I'll Give You the Sun stay Jenny Hubbard And We Stayed carnival Jessie_Ann_Foley Carnival at Bray grasshopper Andrew Smith Grasshopper Jungle summer one Mariko Tamaki This One Summer summer two Jillian Tamaki This One Summer


On the evening of Friday, June 26, YALSA will host one of its biggest author programs of the year: The 2015 Michael L. Printz Program and Reception. This is an exciting YA opener for the American Library Association’s Annual Conference, held this year in San Francisco. Award winner Jandy Nelson will be speaking about her book, I’ll Give You the Sun, a poignant story told by twins, Jude and Noah, who take turns narrating across a three year gap. In addition, Printz Honor Award winners will be featured: Jenny Hubbard (And We Stay); Jessie Ann Foley (The Carnival at Bray); Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), and Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (This One Summer.) 

The popular question and answer format will make up the bulk of the program. This is where you come in! Whether or not you will be able to attend the program in San Francisco, you can still submit a question by filling out this form.

Interested in joining us for the Printz Program and Reception? Purchase a ticket here.

-Diane Colson, 2015 Printz Committee Chair, currently reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Jukebooks: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Wed, 04/08/2015 - 07:00

Sometimes Finch just blanks out. He cannot remember the preceding hours, days…or sometimes months. After this last blank-out, he “wakes” to find himself standing on the outer ledge of his school’s bell tower. Had he intended to jump? It’s a very rude awakening. Until something bright and miraculous happens.

Finch is not alone. There is a girl on the other side of the bell tower. Seeing her, Finch lapses into stand-up comic mode to distract the girl as he edges near her. The girl – Violet – is terrified. Finch convinces her to climb back to safety and pretend to then save Finch. After all, Finch is a weirdo, a screw-up, the sort of guy who would hurl himself from the bell tower.

OneRepublic is a successful pop-rock group that has produced three well-received studio albums and played with numerous top level performers. The title of their second studio album was appropriately named Waking Up; the first single, “All the Right Moves,” was released in 2009. In addition to the haunting echo of the title, All the Bright Places, the lyrics to this song could be part of a Finch monologue:

Do you think I’m special, do you think I’m nice
Am I bright enough to shine in your spaces
Between the noise you hear and the sound you like
Are we just sinking in the ocean of faces

The music video does not quite reflect the poignancy of these lyrics, but the dancing is quite lovely.

Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman.

#YAPeeps, a Sweet Twitter Trend

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 07:00

This past weekend you may have been celebrating Easter, Passover, or just time off school or work. Maybe you hid eggs, or found them, or ate way too much candy. But, regardless of religious affiliation or work schedule, I hope you made time to consume those glorious neon glowing sugar coated marshmallow confectionery known as Peeps. Those adorable chicks are a staple of spring time snacking. Maybe you enjoyed a few peeps while relaxing with a good book. If you were paying attention in the YA Lit Twitter Sphere you may have noticed the hashtag #YAPeeps that was trending on April 3rd, but, in case you missed it, I’ve gathered some of my favorite #YAPeeps for you to enjoy.

The earliest tweet came from Epic Reads.  It continued to be one of the most referenced books.

The Fault in Our Peeps by @johngreen#YApeeps

— Epic Reads (@EpicReads) April 3, 2015

Another oft tweeted title was:

The Hunger Peeps #YApeeps

— Darci Cole (@darci_cole) April 3, 2015

As was:

— Ashley (@wanderingpages) April 3, 2015

Some new books were mentioned:

Vanishing Peeps #YApeeps

— Randi //vacation (@hulagirlmb) April 3, 2015

Some old ones too:

— Tiffany Stewart (@StewWrites) April 3, 2015

Some cheating occurred.

Would it be cheating to just mention Peeps by @ScottWesterfeld for #YApeeps?

— Emma (@miss_print) April 3, 2015

Whole series were rechristened.

#YApeeps The Lion, the Witch, and the Peep. Voyage of the Peep Treader. The Silver Peep. The Horse and His Peep. The Last Peep. — Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote) April 3, 2015

The Peep Boys. The Peep Thieves. Yellow Peep, Peep Yellow. #YAPeeps

— Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall) April 3, 2015

Shadow and Peep Peep and Storm Peep and Rising #YApeeps @LBardugo

— CeeTayMobs (@ceetaymobs) April 4, 2015

Several Hub Challenge titles appeared.

I’ll Give You the Peeps #YAPeeps @EpicReads

— Ashley McDonnell (@AshMcD00) April 3, 2015

Glory O’Brien’s Peeps of the Future #YApeeps

— Sarah Hutton (@sarahheartsbks) April 4, 2015

The young peeps by @Marie_Lu #YApeeps

— Rona Kennedy (@R_Kennedy40) April 3, 2015

Peepular @MayaVanWagenen #YApeeps

— Barbara Moon (@moonb2) April 3, 2015

Some tweets even had pictures.

My Peeps & Other Black Holes by @JasmineWarga. #YAPeeps

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks) April 3, 2015

And a sweet time was had by all. Add your favorites in the comments! Happy spring!

-Emily Childress-Campbell, currently listening to Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

The Monday Poll: Baseball in YA Lit

Sun, 04/05/2015 - 23:21

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we closed out Women’s History Month by asking about your favorite real female figure from history depicted in YA lit. Your top pick was Anastasia Romanov as depicted in Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap, with 26% of the vote, followed by Cleopatra Selene in Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Schecter, with 21%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

Now for this week’s poll– a few weeks ago, I revealed my lack of sports knowledge to you but plunged ahead with a basketball-themed poll anyway– well, I understand that today is the first day of major league baseball season, so I’m at it again! A sports poll! Baseball fans out there, please tell us your favorite YA baseball book… I could use recommendations! Choose from the options below, or suggest another book in the comments.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

2015 Hub Reading Challenge Check-In #8

Sun, 04/05/2015 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2015 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 9 counts, so sign up now!

Spring has finally sprung where I am and it hasn’t snowed for a whole week! It might not be quite warm enough to start reading outside in the sun here, but hopefully for at least some of you, that weather has already arrived. Either way, spring is a great time to read great books and I am sure everyone who is participating in the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge has already found a few new classics to reread and recommend to friends! Which ones have been your favorites so far? Have you recommended them to friends who loved them just as much? Were there any that weren’t your speed, but were perfect for someone you know?

If you haven’t found any new favorites yet, which ones are you looking forward to the most? I can’t wait to read My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf and Trillium by Jeff Lemire. Where have you been looking for recommendations? Have you gotten any good tips from other Hub Challenge participants on Twitter using the #hubchallenge hashtag or have you joined the 2015 Goodreads Hub Reading Challenge group? Have you been hearing about any of the books from your friends? I keep hearing great things about The Martian by Andy Weir from everyone, so I’ll definitely be checking that one out before the Challenge ends. I’m glad I have until June 21st to catch up with all of my reading! I hope all of you are enjoying the Challenge and using it as an opportunity to find some great new books both for yourself and to share with the other booklovers in your life!

Don’t forget any books you read for the Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge count for this challenge as well, but if you’ve read any of the other books prior to February 9, you’ll have to re-read them if you want to count them towards your total.

You have until 11:59 PM EST on June 21st to finish at least 25 books. Please don’t forget to read the comments to our weekly check-in posts and keep track of your progress by commenting on them yourself! If you review books online, please include links to your reviews. Also, don’t forget to post the Participant’s Badge on your blog, website, or email signature, and, as always, if you have any questions or problems, let us know in the comments or via email.

If you are a particularly fast reader and have already completed the challenge by reading or listening to 25 titles from the list of eligible books, be sure to fill out the form below so we can send you your Challenge Finisher badge, get in touch to coordinate your reader’s response and, perhaps best of all, to notify you if you win our exciting grand prize drawing! Be sure to use an email you check frequently and do not fill out this form until you have completed the challenge by reading 25 titles.



Tweets of the Week: April 3rd

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 07:00

Here is your roundup of the tweets of the week! Blowing up the Twitter scene this week was #VeryRealisticYA, a hashtag dedicated to what YA novels would like if they were real life. Here’s what people were tweeting about, when they weren’t giggling over the hilariously awkward #VeryRealisticYA:


TV/Movie News


Just for Fun

Women in Comics: Memoirs

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 07:00

I always love reading memoirs. They are such a great way to experience new perspectives on the world and to learn about an author in an intensely personal way. But as much as I enjoy text-only memoirs, I love graphic novel memoirs even more because the artwork brings a whole new dimension to the work. With these books, all of which are written and illustrated by the same individual, readers are brought into the author’s life in a way that text alone cannot achieve. Whether you already have a love for memoirs or not, these books are sure to keep you engaged and make you think about the world a bit differently.

Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (2014 Alex Award winner, Great Graphic Novels 2014) – I’ve mentioned Lucy Knisley’s works before in this series of posts, but Relish is such a great example of a graphic novel memoir, that I couldn’t resist including it here. In this memoir, Knisley focuses on her love of food, integrating illustrated recipes with stories of growing up with a mom who is a chef and a dad who is a foodie into a unique coming-of-age story. This was the first book I ever read by Knisley and I think it is a great entry point for her works, particularly if you love good food.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached (Great Graphic Novel 2013) – This memoir about Abirached’s childhood in Lebanon during the country’s civil war brings the conflict to life but also shows the universal nature of community, friendship, and family. The bold black and white artwork complements the stories taken from Abirached’s memory of the time. This book, and her second entitled I Remember Beirut, are great introductions to this time period and powerful examples of graphic novel memoirs.

Darkroom: A Memoir In Black and White by Lila Quintero Weaver – Recounting Weaver’s childhood in Marion, Alabama in the 1960’s during segregation, this book offers a personal vantage point into the civil rights movement. Weaver experienced this era from the perspective of a Latina immigrant who was trying to find her place in a new society, which is a compelling vantage point for this time and location. This is a fascinating look at this period and a great memoir.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Great Graphic Novels 2011) – After an unlikely and unfortunate accident leaves her without her front teeth, Telgemeier suddenly had to endure a long string of dental procedures and treatments to attempt to address this problem. Using that as a jumping off point, she tells the story of her adolescence in Smile, including the ups and downs of friendship and relationships. Though the book is focused on her middle school life, it is relatable for readers of all ages. If (when?) you love this book, you will also want to check out its companion, Sisters.

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel with art by Mark Siegel (Great Graphic Novels 2007) – This memoir tells the story of Siegel’s life from her childhood dreaming of being a dancer to her career as a professional ballerina and her debut with the renowned New York City Ballet. The watercolor artwork by Siegel’s husband complements the story perfectly. This memoir is a perfect option for aspiring dancers and other ballet fans.

Still interested in more graphic novel memoirs? Check out Emily Childress-Campbell’s post on the genre, which includes several examples by women.

– Carli Spina, currently reading Hawkeye: L.A. Woman by Matt Fraction with art by Javier Pulido and Annie Wu

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Laura Ruby

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 07:00

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I’d been a fan of Laura Ruby for quite some time, having read, I think, all of her books–both YA and middle grade–as they were released.  I also followed her online and quickly realized I wasn’t just a fan of Laura Ruby’s work, but of Laura Ruby herself because she’s smart and passionate and funny and angry, often all at the same time.  She’s also thoughtful and honest and energizing, whether she’s talking about sexism or YA publishing or what it means to be an adult, whether she’s writing a novel, a blog post, or 140 characters.  If you’re not well acquainted, this would be an excellent time to fix that, especially because…

…then came Bone Gap, which literally couldn’t be a more perfect book for me if it had come gift wrapped on a silver platter.  I’ve written about my love of mythic fiction and magic realism (especially North American magic realism) elsewhere, and Bone Gap is sort of both of those, but also more, with Roza and Finn and “beauty” and gaps and Petey and hope…with love and landscape and the true magic of dancing honeybees…   I can’t tell you how much I love this book, but it’s a lot. So much.  So much love.   Thank you so much, Laura, for taking the time to talk with me, and for your honesty and generosity.  Thank you for telling the truth.  Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

I was alternately furious and sad, opinionated and confused, arrogant and awkward, articulate and incomprehensible, focused and aimless, ferocious and nearly witless with terror. I was desperate for attention and at the same time I didn’t want anyone to look at me, ever, for fear I might explode with anxiety.  I loved my friends with an intensity that was almost painful, and yet I was basically a self-absorbed jerkface. I tried on personalities like outfits. Really awful, 80s-era outfits, the images of which I wish I could scrub from my brain.

As a younger teenager, one of my favorite books was Edith Konecky’s Allegra Maud Goldman.  In it, Konecky writes, “I have a terrible memory. I never forget a thing.”

Yeah.  It’s like that.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I’d been writing fiction and poetry all my life, but I didn’t know that a regular person could become a writer.  Writers were near-magical creatures that lived in cabins on snow-capped mountaintops or maybe in chic garrets in Paris.  Writers didn’t worry about things like mortgages and health insurance and toilet paper.  My parents worried about things like mortgages and health insurance and toilet paper; they would have laughed me out of the house if I’d told them I wanted to become a novelist.  (Now that I’m thinking about it, they did chuckle a bit when I first told them I was writing a novel.  Writing a novel!  What are you, French or something?)

Since becoming a writer wasn’t an option, I thought I would study psychology and perhaps become a therapist.  Because the world needs more insanely awkward therapists.

But really, I just wanted to be an adult because I thought that once you turned eighteen other people finally stopped telling you what to do.

Laura Ruby at 17. The author rocks her purple eyeshadow and the matching sweater her mother made her wear.

What were your high school years like? 

I daydreamed my way through high school.  I didn’t get bad grades, but I didn’t pay much attention either, and I made no effort to do better, because putting in an effort was humiliating.  I had no idea how to study and I thought asking questions — out loud! In front of everyone! — was also humiliating.  Everything was humiliating.  (Humiliation? Humiliating!)  If I had been born ten or twenty years later, I’m sure I would have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or ADHD or both, but because I grew up in the 80s and the adults were too busy getting divorced to pay attention, I drifted along in a haze, my head filled with boys and with monsters.

A few amazing teachers did take notice of me, however. Mr. B., my sophomore English teacher and the owner of the world’s most spectacular comb-over, adored my rage-y, unfathomable poems and picked me to be the journalism editor for the yearbook.  He also nominated me for a special creative writing class with another teacher, whom I’ll call Ms. M.  Unlike Mr. B., Ms. M. didn’t care much for my rage-y, unfathomable poems.  Actually, she hated them.  She preferred rhymes about things like rainbows and bunny rabbits and love, true love. She told the roomful of mortified 15-year-olds that each time she got her period she felt more like a woman.

When one of my stories was selected for inclusion in the school literary magazine, Ms. M. challenged me on every aspect of it—What IS this? Was my mother ever really in an insane asylum? Did I think this was charming?

This was not, she informed me, charming.

Weirdly, her challenge made me that much more determined to write what I wanted to write, what I had to write, no matter how dark or strange or uncharming.

What were some of your passions during that time?

I wrote hundreds of angsty poems, as well as stories for the school yearbook. I acted in the school plays, something I adored (despite the fact that the audience has to look at you the whole time you’re on stage, and that made me so tense I couldn’t eat for weeks). I was terrible at most sports but an excellent swimmer, and became a lifeguard when I was old enough.  (Mostly, I liked having the whistle.  The whistle was cool.)

I was also mad for books and read constantly. When I was freshman, I got my first job as a page in the public library.  I couldn’t shelve books to save my life—I would learn in college that I flip numbers not unlike the way some people flip letters (sorry librarians!)—but I loved helping people find the right books.  I still do.

Favorite writers when I was a younger teen: Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel, Norma Fox Mazer, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger.  Later, I got into horror and read Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon.  In school, I particularly liked Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein, The Scarlet Letter, Waiting for Godot and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

I was also obsessed with horror films. Halloween, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Ghost Story, anything bloody, anything scary. I will watch Jaws every single time it’s on TV I love it so much, silly rubber shark and all.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?

My parents divorced when I was six years old but I saw my father fairly regularly till I was eight, when he married a woman who didn’t much care for being a stepmother. The visits tapered off, then stopped altogether. My mother didn’t discuss it with me at the time, but she begged him to see me and my sister, and spent years in court fighting for child support.

My mother soon remarried as well. I didn’t see my father again until I was a sophomore in high school, and planned to change my last name to my stepdad’s.  My father was notified. He suddenly demanded his visitation rights and showed up in the principal’s office yelling for my school records. In court, my father claimed I had been poisoned against him. I wrote an affidavit arguing otherwise, and my father’s lawyer said I was too young to have written it. I was dragged to a court-appointed psychological evaluation.

I should have been humiliated by it all—by the drama at my school, by the forced psych evaluation, by the refusal of all these idiot adults to believe I’d written what I’d written, to believe me. Except I wasn’t humiliated, I was furious. And not furious in a self-conscious or inchoate way, not furious just for the sake of it.  I was purely, righteously angry.  I thought, here I am telling the truth and I’m being punished for it.

But after this happened, it was much harder to be angry at stupid little things, much harder to be humiliated by the need to ask a question.  Some of the debilitating self-consciousness began to fall away.

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?

When I finally escaped high school and got to college, I took a women’s studies class. The teacher was the first woman I’d ever met who loudly and proudly proclaimed herself a feminist. I adored her, but she was so intense I was a little afraid of her at the same time.  She was strong and confident and no frills; I felt silly and frivolous with my goofy pink hair and layers of scarves and ridiculous eyeliner.  For my first paper, I took a risk and wrote about how my mother used to call me “the smart one” and my sister “the pretty one,” with “pretty” being the much bigger compliment.  I wrote about how limiting and hurtful these labels were, how the culture puts so big a premium on the way a girl looks rather than on how she thinks or what she does.  I was walking out of class one day and the teacher ran after me.  She held the paper up so I could see the A+ and said, “You will write a book one day.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Did you heed that advice?  Would your teen self have listened?

Once, I was whining to my dear friend Anne Ursu about feeling incapable of writing a particular story, feeling like I wasn’t talented enough to do it.  And she told me that it was good I felt that way, that you should always be working at the very limits of your abilities.  What’s the point, she said, of writing a book you already know how to write?

But I think this advice applies to almost everything.  It’s just a more elegant and specific way of saying, “Try. Just try.”  That’s what I would tell my teen self: “For the love of kitties, just put in a little bit of effort, will you?”  And my teen self would have hidden under the bed.

Do you have any regrets about your teen years? Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?  

I regret purple eye shadow and big New Jersey hair. Western blouses and prairie skirts. White pumps and hammer pants. Knee-length, corduroy knickers.

I really really regret the knickers.

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?

My cat, Oliver.  He looked like he was put together with the parts of a bunch of other cats and maybe also a raccoon, and he was the fiercest, friendliest and most awesome cat that ever lived.  I wish I had a picture of him to show you but my mom hoarded them all for a shrine in her house. We worship it every Thanksgiving.

Every Day I Write the Book

“I find anger so energizing, so motivating…Anger is what prompts me to write,” you explained recently, while also questioning critics who seem to demand seemly, subtle, “nice” prose from female writers, “as if misogyny isn’t something to be hyper about.  As if rage isn’t an integral part of the production of art.  As if the expression of rage can’t be artistic…As if a work of art can’t be overtly political.”  Anger seems to inspire you both as a writer and as a commentator on topics like equality and diversity, feminism, and the state of YA literature, and I’m wondering, what makes you angry?  How do you harness that anger constructively?  

Oh, boy. I’m angry a LOT.  I think I’ve been angry since I was five or six years old and first started to realize that girls are treated very differently in the world than boys are (and that I was always supposed to be “nice” and “quiet” and keep my wide-ranging opinions to myself).  That said, it has always been and will probably always be a challenge for me to harness that anger constructively, to take a minute to think about what I’m reacting to, what exactly about any particular situation is setting me off, before I explode in a cloud of flustered babbling and/or careless snark.  I struggle to find a balance between telling the truth of my experience as a woman and just trying to get along in the world without having a rage embolism every forty seconds and without making too many enemies. A hard line to walk.  Impossible, really.

Anger management has become an even greater challenge as I realize how much I have participated in the structural sexism I rail against, how many times I’ve failed because I’ve internalized so many damaging notions about girls and boys, women and men.  Not too long ago, I was having lunch at a blues club in downtown Chicago.  A bunch of very young men got a table nearby, and it was clear from the reactions of some other people that these men were in a band that my friends and I didn’t recognize because we’re oldsters.  I went to the ladies room, and there were some teenage girls at the sink, fixing their lipstick and chattering/vibrating/shrieking/jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of seeing this band.  My first reaction?  Sneering irritation. Who were these silly girls? Why were they freaking out over a bunch of dudes they didn’t know? Why were they making idiots of themselves? Why wouldn’t they get out of my way and let me wash my old lady hands?  It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was judging these young women simply because they were passionate about something, simply because they were expressing that passion.  This is a culture that gives young women no real outlets for their intense emotions, no safe place to put their desires.  Teen girls are not supposed to want anything, they are supposed to be wanted—acting like agents instead of like objects is Not Allowed. Desire in young women is somehow embarrassing, unseemly, unladylike, ridiculous. And though I have written about and talked about the insanity of these sexist notions over and over, here I was, having the same condescending, sexist reaction to these young women that other people had to me when I was young. I was appalled by myself.

Of course, that is not the first time I’ve been appalled by myself.  And it won’t be the last.  The concept of intersectionality isn’t new to me, and yet the culture that I grew up in is not only sexist, it’s racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.  It all makes me really angry.  But we like to believe that all expressions/notions of racism or sexism or other –isms are blatant and obvious and super-easy to excise from one’s own consciousness, especially if you’re aware, especially if you’re a “good” person. And yet it’s not so easy (as the above example at the blues club demonstrates).

You’ve drawn on various myths and fairy tales in much of your work, with references to Cinderella, Snow White, and Persephone, alongside indirect allusions, reminiscent language, and traditional tropes and motifs, and you’ve talked about the power and role of fairy tales in multiple posts and interviews. What draws you to fairy tales, as both reader and writer, and do you have favorite traditional tales, modern retellings, or work inspired by fairy tales to recommend?

Just the other day, there was discussion on Twitter about the new live-action Cinderella, and whether or not this particular fairy tale was sexist, whether it was wrong to sell the idea that only a prince/man can rescue a girl from a desperate situation.  I haven’t seen the movie so can’t comment on that interpretation of the tale, but I can say that the story of Cinderella has always resonated with me not because of the prince or even the happily-ever-after, but because of the relationship between Cinderella and her stepmother.  The parental failure, the resentment on the part of the stepmother and stepsisters, the terrible injustice of Cinderella’s situation, the fact that Cinderella endures abuse without losing all hope—a fact pointed out by another YA writer, Melissa Grey—still hits me in a painful, visceral way, not least because I’m a stepmother myself.

And then there are the ideas about beauty. In my family of origin, the best thing, the most important thing a girl could be was beautiful. Both Cinderella and Snow White are stories about female beauty, about beauty as a commodity, the most valuable commodity a woman could possess.  I like what Helen Oyeyemi said about her amazing novel Boy, Snow, Bird, a novel that takes its inspiration from Snow White: “Boy, Snow, Bird is very much a wicked stepmother story. Every wicked stepmother story is to do with the way women disappoint each other, and encourage each other, across generations. A lot of terrible things can come out of that disappointment.”

Of course most of us don’t experience the kind of baroque and violent abuse that the characters in fairy tale suffer, but all of us have been on the receiving end of parental/caretaker rage, resentment and disappointment in some small way during our childhoods, all of us have been failed. These failures leave scars. In a discussion about fairy tales moderated by Kate Bernheimer, the scholar Maria Tatar quoted Roger Scruton: “consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.” Fairy tales, Tatar said, “give us the old cliché about the triumph of hope over adversity, in terms marked by excess in its most grotesque forms.  You can survive, even if your stepmother tries to kill you, and you can outwit all those other monsters in the woods. But you need brains and courage to navigate your way through the trouble, and sometimes playing the innocent is precisely what will enable you to get home again.”

As for retellings that I’ve enjoyed, I just read and adored Malinda Lo’s Ash, which I think is truly empowering Cinderella tale with a lesbian twist.  Robin McKinley’s Deerskin is a raw and terrible and beautiful retelling of the fairy tale of the same name.  Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days are favorites of mine (I still believe The Goose Girl should have won All Of The Things). American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a masterful weaving of three different stories, one of them based on the Monkey King. I think Swati Avasthi’s Chasing Shadows is a fascinating YA prose/graphic novel hybrid that uses Hindu story of Savitri, a fierce, pious woman who is able to convince Yama, the God of Death, to bring her dead husband back to life. And Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (written for adults) is about Toronto a decade or so after an economic collapse, and uses Caribbean lore as inspiration.

There are some recurring themes in your work–family relationships, the importance of memory, friendship, the effect of technology–but the one I want to ask you about is perception. You’ve described Bone Gap as “a novel about love, certainly…but it’s also about perception, and how easy it is to mistake the evidence of our own senses for the whole truth of another person.” You’ve explored the concept of perception from many angles including the effect of rumor and reputation, the slippery notion of “truth,” and the idea that people are so much more than what you see.  Could you talk a little about why that theme resonates with you so strongly and how it informs your approach to writing?

I think my fascination with perception and “truth” is connected to my fascination with certain fairy tales: for most of my childhood, I felt deeply misunderstood, unseen, rejected, broken in a way that wasn’t visible from the outside.  More than that, the way I saw the world wasn’t the way other people seemed to see it (particularly as it concerned how women/girls were treated). My memories of events were contradicted all the time, even as people relied on me for my memory when it was convenient for them. My truth wasn’t their truth.  It wasn’t even mine.  

A friend once told me about a talk she attended. She quoted the speaker as saying that every writer writes because at some significant point in their lives, they were not heard. I write, I think, because I was often neither seen nor heard.  And when I was, well…I wished I hadn’t been.

Your current novel, Bone Gap, has been described as a fairy tale, a modern fable, and “one part magical realism and two parts fantasy.” I wanted to ask you about the genesis of Bone Gap, not necessarily the central story or characters (which you’ve talked about elsewhere) but rather the language and mood–evocative, mythic, dreamlike. Bone Gap represents a rare foray into American magic realism, it seems to me, and I wonder if that was a conscious choice, if it changed at all during the editing process, and whether you had any stylistic or literary touchstones you used as inspiration?

Some years ago, I did a lot of school visits throughout rural Illinois, which meant I spent hours and hours driving through the cornfields. Traveling—by plane or car—gives me a strange feeling of being neither here nor there, a woman out of place and time, and this feeling was heightened when I drove through these fields, with nothing but corn all around me.  Even in your car, you feel buried in the cornstalks, hidden in them, hidden by them. I could have sworn I saw the cornstalks walking.

I’ve always felt that nature itself is magical and wanted to get that on the page. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve read about animals and insects—ants, butterflies, dung beetles, mantids, bees—and find their behavior magical. A honeybee dances a certain type of waggle dance when she finds a flower patch and wants to guide her sisters to it.  The direction and duration of the dance corresponds to the location of the flowers and their distance from the hive.  And sure, scientists study this behavior and talk about the geometry of the dance in relation to the location of the blossoms, the types of chemicals secreted by the bees and the electrical charges accumulated during flying, etc. etc., and that’s really cool, but the scientific explanations don’t change the fact that honeybees dance and this is magical.  Flowers that grow petals shaped to attract bees are magical. Cats are magical. Dogs are. Horses. Goats! Goats seem to have a sense of humor—how is that not magical?  All of this I wanted to be part of my book. In the earliest drafts, there was no real magic aside from the somewhat cheeky behavior of the animals (and there was a scientific explanation for everything).  But as I revised, the magic kept intruding and expanding, lurking everywhere, especially when I realized that I was writing about love. And love is magical, too. As practical a person as I am—and I am!—that’s my worldview, that there’s magic lurking everywhere and if you look hard enough, you’ll find it. That plants and animals and trees and cornfields are magical, that love is magical. (And not in a “love can save us” way, but more in the way that love can make us stronger, it can help us save ourselves, even when it’s a flawed love, even when it’s not a happily-ever-after love).

With this book I wasn’t necessarily trying to write a fantasy, a work of magical realism, or a fairy tale per se, though I’m comfortable with Bone Gap being called any or all of those things.  When I started writing I was just trying to capture the magic of this particular place, this certain landscape, that feeling of being neither here nor there that I had when I was driving through those fields.  My friend Franny Billingsley said that a novel doesn’t really work until it can’t be set anywhere else. Once I knew where this story took place, the magic and the mood was simply a part of it.  And the language I used to describe this place was the only language that seemed to make sense.

In terms of stylistic and literary touchstones, I turned to my favorite short fiction and poetry (and a few novels, too).  Anne Sexton’s fairy-tale poems in Transformations.  The surreal stories of Aimee Bender.  The not-always-linear short fiction of Lorrie Moore.  Hannah Tinti’s collection Animal Crackers.  I adore the sly creepiness and dread in the work of Dan Chaon.  Kelly Link’s monsters. The poetic vignettes in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.  The sheer power of the language in Nicole Krauss’s gorgeous The History of Love.  And I reread the myth of Persephone and the story of Cupid and Psyche, among other myths.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Question from Gail Carriger: If I were to observe the writer beast in its native environment, what surprising thing might I see?  What does the environment look like?

The shrine.

The environment for this writer beast is a big drafty house with a ton of windows, approximately four thousand books and not nearly enough cats (because one could never have enough cats). Perhaps that’s not surprising, though. What might be surprising is the little shrine over my desk with all sorts of talismans and toys: a creepy Kewpie doll, a punked-out Barbie, Catwoman figurines, the orange monster from Bugs Bunny, little slips of paper with my favorite words, a miniature Tarot deck, a few bugs, etc., most of them gifts from family and friends. When I don’t know what to write, when I’m feeling lost and confused, I look at this shrine and usually find some bit of inspiration to get me writing again.


Laura has contributed a question for the next author in the series, Susan Juby.  Watch for an interview with her coming soon!

Laura Ruby writes fiction for adults, teens and children. She is the author of the newly-released YA novel Bone Gap, as well as the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery Lily’s Ghoststhe ALA Quick Pick for teens Good Girls (2006), a collection of interconnected short stories about blended families for adults, I’m Not Julia Roberts (2007), and the forthcoming middle-grade trilogy York. She is on the faculty of Hamline University’s Masters in Writing for Children Program. She makes her home in the Chicago area.

You can find Laura at her website or blog, follow her on Twitter or Tumblr, or visit her on Facebook


–Julie Bartel, currently reading The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison and Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow

Jukebooks: I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 07:00

JJ is the classic black sheep in her family. While Mom, Dad, and big brother are all proud lawyers, JJ longs to make it in the music business. It’s 1963, so this is a very different endeavor that it would be today. But it’s one that the author, Cynthia Weil, has more than enough authority to write about. With her songwriting partner and husband, Barry Mann, Weil has composed songs for artists as diverse as Dolly Parton, The DriftersThe Ronettes, and The Animals. Thus JJ’s experiences in I’m Glad I Did form a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the music business, as it existed fifty years ago.

One of the many songs Weil and Mann wrote, along with Phil Spector, is the wildly successful “You’ve Lost That Lovin’Feeling,” made famous by The Righteous Brother’s recording in 1964. The duo that comprised the group, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, are not brothers. As the story goes, the group’s name came about after a performance, when a Marine in the audience called out, “That was righteous, brothers!”

Their sound is beautiful and distinctive. It’s Medley who sings that rich baritone, so perfectly harmonized with Hatfield’s soaring tenor. They sing with such emotion that their bluesy sound has been dubbed “blue-eyed soul.” Their version of “Unchained Melody” exploded in popularity after it was featured in the 1990 movie, GhostBut it is “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” that was ranked as the number one most-played song on the radio in the 20th century.

Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of Alive by Chandler Baker.