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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Marcus Sedgwick

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 07:00

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

One of the things I love most about doing this interview series is getting a little sideways glimpse of the incredible people behind the books I love.  In order to figure out what questions I want to ask I read a lot of background material–blog posts, interviews, speeches, reviews and such–and I try and read a lot of their work, if I haven’t already.  The whole process is very indulgent, and often quite fun in and of itself.  And then I send off the interview and am further rewarded with lovely answers to my questions and often the additional treat of trading a handful of emails or whatnot in the process.  This is not a terrible gig, that’s for sure.

As usual, I’ve just inhaled half a dozen books, along with years of blog posts and interviews and all sort of other bits and pieces found online, and it’s truly been a strange and wonderful couple of weeks.  I’d read a handful of these books before, and sort of knew what I was getting into, but immersing myself in the language, the ideas, the characters and stories turned out to be a bit of a revelatory experience and one I’d highly recommend.  White CrowMidwinterblood. Revolver.  These books are not easy to shake, and I don’t really want to.  But honestly, the sideways glimpse I’ve been given of the man behind the words, patched together from correspondence and interviews and blog posts, is going to stick with me just as long; being familiar with his books didn’t really prepare me for just how generous and gracious and engaging he is, and I certainly wasn’t aware of his amazing ability to bend time, his excellent taste in music, or his passion for comics.

It’s been one year since the first One Thing Leads to Another post appeared on The Hub, and I feel remarkably honored to start year two, interview 13, with 2014 Michael L. Printz Award Winner Marcus Sedgwick.  Thank you so much, Marcus, for your willingness to share the painful details, for showing us what determination can accomplish, and for indulging my ’80s music obsession.

Always Something There to Remind Me

©Kate Christer

Please describe your teenage self.
Oh God, do I have to? Shy, quiet, introspective, shy, gawky, spotty, shy, timid, scared, shy, nervous and did I mention that I was shy..?

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?
I had no idea what I wanted to be when I was a teenager. That worried me I think – I had no idea what life was about, what it could be about, what I wanted, what there even was to think about doing. I found the thought of the adult world very frightening, and still do, in many ways. I had no idea about how things work; things like jobs, money, insurance, mortgages, etc. etc. The adult world seemed so complicated but to be honest, I was just struggling with being a teenager to worry too much about the years to come. 

What were your high school years like? 
High school was pretty traumatic. I went to a type of English school called a Grammar School. These are typically old establishments – mine was founded in 1563 (and that’s by no means the oldest), and very often in the ’80s, when I was there, they were still stuck in the past. Violence came from not just the other boys (it was a single sex school) but from the masters too. And though being beaten up or hit with a hockey stick was bad, it was the psychological torture that was worse. The school seemed to almost condone such matters. We were told it was ‘character building,’ but it certainly didn’t work for a timid, shy (did I mention that already?), weak young boy. Sorry, this is turning into a therapy session! The whole thing was pretty rough with the exception of two teachers who made life tolerable, so my mental energies were pointed in the direction of home, where I was much, much happier. I am lucky to have come from a truly loving family.

What were some of your passions during that time?
As an older teenager, music began to be really important to me. I was a first generation Goth – I think because it felt more real to me than the commercial pap of the mainstream. Plus the music was great. And the look. My first ever gig wasn’t goth though, but The Smiths, and that probably was a major boost to me – it set me on a course of going to loads of concerts. I was also, and still am, very much into classical music – it was Mozart and Wagner back then. Wagner became Mahler as I grew older, and nowadays, it’s Richard Strauss, who I believe has composed the most sublime music of all time, with the possible exception of Chopin.  I did little sport as a teenager, but I read a lot. I was one of those teens who didn’t cause their parents any problems – I sat in my room, listening to music and reading – the most important book of my life then was the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. That certainly changed my life, and I have my Dad to thank for introducing them to me.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
Oh, whoops, it looks like I did that already! See above… Which is not one specific incident, but rather the accumulated painful experiences of High School. It left me as a very worried individual, but there was the seed of something positive about me, and that thing was…

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?
… determination. It’s almost the only quality of myself that I am proud of. I am very determined, so on the very day that I arrived at University, I decided that I couldn’t go on being so shy (did I talk about that? Maybe I haven’t spelled out exactly how painful, how disabling, my shyness was – it stopped me from doing almost anything, from answering the phone to making friends to speaking to girls etc. etc). On that day, as I arrived at University, I decided that I would pretend I wasn’t shy. No one knew me. I could reinvent myself. So I did. And after about three months went by, I realized I was no longer shy. I was normal – which is to say, shy sometimes, confident others, sad then happy then calm then excited. But no longer was I permanently disabled by shyness.

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self?  Would your teen self have listened?
I would like to be able to give myself lots of advice. Like: stop worrying so much; it will be okay. You won’t be spotty forever. You’re not as ugly as you think you are. You will one day not only be able to talk to girls but will actually go out with them too. I would have listened, but I’m not sure I would have believed any of it. And if I had told myself that one day I would be able to give a presentation to several hundred people for an hour or so without feeling nervous, I would have been sure I was lying.

Do you have any regrets about your teen years?  Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone? 
It’s a shame that I was so timid. But it was me, and it was the way things were. I could have had more fun perhaps, but I think it does mean I won’t ever become too arrogant towards other people, because I know what it is to feel scared.

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?
My Dad. He died when I was just 20, and apart from him, you can keep my teenage years. But I do miss not having to worry about money/jobs/cars/houses/insurance/mortgages, and all that other deeply dull stuff that adults have invented for themselves.

Every Day I Write the Book

Your new book, She Is Not Invisible, is about coincidences and you’ve noted that you’ve had some “pretty weird ones happen” to you over the years.  Would you be willing to share some of the weird ones?  How did the idea of “coincidence”– rather than any particular coincidence in itself—come to fascinate you and what drew you to the idea of writing a whole book about it?
The weirdest thing that ever happened to me, by far, is the coincidence that happens to the writer, Jack Peak, in the book. The thing with the book on the train, the German lady etc. etc. This coincidence is so weird that most people don’t believe me when I tell them, and I have told very few people as a result. So I stopped telling people and decided to put it in the book instead, but actually my interest in coincidences goes back years before that – I didn’t want to write about one single coincidence because, for various reasons, coincidences are very hard to write about. On the one hand, they are what bad writers use to make their plots work. On the other, people aren’t interested in minor coincidences, and, as I found, they don’t believe the major ones. So I thought it would be better to tackle the subject sideways, through the eyes of a writer who is himself obsessed by the subject.

Critics have highlighted various themes in your work—love, loss, and sacrifice, among them—but I’m particularly interested in the things you yourself have had to say about the power of “belief.”  You’ve written that Dark Satanic Mills, the graphic novel you wrote with your brother, was heavily influenced by William Blake and that “our message, if we have one, is Blake’s: create your own system of belief, or be enslaved by another man’s.”  In other words, “believe what you want to believe, not what you are told to believe.” Your YA novel White Crow also deals explicitly with the ideas of belief and conscience, especially the consequences of questioning beliefs.  Could you talk about the power and consequences of belief and how you explore those ideas in your work and in your interaction with readers?
We live in interesting times, and they are times of change in terms of what belief means. The impression I get of the UK and the US is that to a greater or lesser extent, much of the nation is becoming less ‘religious’, while certain sections of it are finding more extreme versions of religion to believe in. The US may well be a little different from the UK, so I shouldn’t speak about what I don’t know about, but in the UK although we are still a nominally Christian country, report after report shows that most people are at most agnostic now, and go to church once a year for Christmas, out of habit, if at all.

But this does not mean that people have stopped needing to believe in things, and so I see many people turning to alternative forms of belief and worship. And all of those are fine by me as long as no one tries to force their beliefs on anyone else. That’s when the problems start. If you take a look at a book like White Crow, its antihero, Ferelith, is obsessed with the matter of life after death, and yet she herself is not religious per se. I wanted to portray a young adult, who I see very often; someone who wants to believe in something, and yet is being offered nothing by the modern pop culture around them. We worship celebrities now, sports stars and film stars, and people with no talent but for making people gossip about them. I think there are lots of people, and among them many teenagers, who feel shortchanged by the vapidity of all of that, and would like something that speaks to them. That was what was at the heart of White Crow.

In a recent interview you explained that folk and fairy tales “are almost my favourite kind of story, and so, ever since I became a writer, I have always tried to find ways of working elements of folklore into my books. How? By using iconic images, words with deep resonance, patterns of storytelling and certain motifs which remind us, subconsciously at least, of those dark stories we all heard at a tender age.”  Could you talk a bit more about this?  What tales were you drawn to growing up and have they changed over the years?  Do you have any favorites?  Do you consciously look for ways to work elements into your stories or is it a more subtle process?  And finally, in the same interview you say, “if I can’t get away with writing new fairy tales, at least I can enjoy plundering our literary heritage to populate my books,” which leaves me wondering why you don’t think you can get away with writing a new fairy tale, and whether you might change your mind someday?
Yes, I love fairy tales, and folk tales of all kinds, from all cultures and all times. I think they have deep resonance for us, and I have always worked, both explicitly and more subconsciously, to incorporate their rhythms and tropes into my work. There are rich veins of story to be mined, and adapted and plundered! I loved Russian fairy tales as a kid, and Greek and Norse myth. I have read many more varieties of story now, from Sweden to England to North America, and they all have their own special quality and power.

The only reason I said I can’t get away with writing new ones is because I wouldn’t be able to find a publisher for them – publishers will tell you such things don’t sell, and they may be right, but I’d love to find out some time. The closest some people have come is to adapt old stories and recast them in modern clothes, as I did with Cassandra in The Foreshadowing in fact. And yet, in certain countries, eg Slovenia where I was recently, their most famous modern author wrote dozens of new fairy tales that are loved and revered.

Not only do you write and draw, you also play the drums and are clearly an avid music lover.  You’ve said that music has inspired many parts of your books, including the chapter titles in White Crow, and “much of the Book of Dead Days [which] was inspired by Schubert’s epic song cycle, Winterreise.”  The 2014 Printz Award-winning Midwinterblood includes “lines by Nick Drake and Led Zeppelin…tucked away in the text, but the most significant source for the book is Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which is probably the piece that made me fall in love with classical music, as well as modern music. I first heard it at the age of around 14 and as the saying goes, it blew my tiny mind. More energy than the Sex Pistols, freakier than Hendrix…”  Could you describe your relationship with music over the years and how it colors or inspires your writing?  Do you have a sense of why particular songs or bands or musicians or composers resonate for you? And since it sounds like our late teen musical tastes overlap, I have to ask you about your goth days and those early concerts—any memorable moments you’d be willing to share?
Music is something I love almost more than I love words. It’s a close fight between the two. But rather than let it be a fight, I have tried to let music into my head to colour my imagination and to stir my thoughts. I love (almost) all forms of music. It is my belief that the very best of any genre is worth listening to, and as to what it is that resonates for me – it has to be something that is authentic. So I can’t listen to mass-produced chart pap, although I can listen very happily to great pop music if it has something in its heart that is true. I tend to like slightly more obscure pieces of music than the mainstream as a result, but that’s not deliberate – as I say, if a piece of pop music is great, I will happily listen to it as well as the weirdest thing on my iPhone.

I don’t understand why people delineate between the genres they listen to and the ones they don’t. Maybe it’s fear or ignorance that does that, but actually I think we live in much more enlightened and all-embracing times than when I was young. Because what makes two pieces of music similar is not if they are from the same country or genre or year and so on. It’s not even so much about the key signature or the notes or the melody. It’s about emotion, and feeling. So this is how a piece of music like Winterreise by Schubert (some of the bleakest and most beautiful music ever written) can share something of the feel of a mournful ballad by Nick Cave. And it’s those emotions that music creates that are what we listen to it for, and that’s why it has a direct correlation to writing – we read to experience emotion too. So when I’m writing, I play the music that feels like what I am trying to put down on paper, whether that’s happiness or melancholy.

Yes, I was a first generation Goth, and I loved it – the music was intense and the lyrics were dark, and it actually (for all its pretentiousness ) meant something. I have great memories of gigs by Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sisters of Mercy and so on. The first band I ever saw however, and still one of the best gigs of all time for me, was The Smiths, in their first year of success. It was a mind-changing evening.

Just Can’t Get Enough

This question comes from Laini Taylor:  “Hi Marcus! Reading about your process, I was struck by two things in particular: your notebooks and your maps. I keep notebooks too, and refer to them often for the same reason you do. I like the way you put it, about making connections between things lurking in your unconscious. That’s it exactly! Are your notebooks a catch-all for stray thoughts, or organized by project? Is there a method to it? And can you explain your maps, and at what point in the writing process you make them, and how you use them? This is fascinating to me, since I feel the need to visualize my structure, but have never tried anything like this. Thank you Marcus, and belated congratulations on the Printz Medal!
Thanks Laini, lovely question.  (And thanks for the congratulations – very kind of you!)

Yes, I have some method to the madness in my notebooks, and that is this: I work in them from the front and the back simultaneously – in the front I put ideas/thoughts/notes for the book or project that I am currently working on, and in the back I put ideas for future books. However, these two things are sometimes not clear, and therefore page by page there may be an utter mess of what idea belongs to what project. This is deliberate, however, because I like my ideas to cross pollinate in the notebooks, because sometimes when they do, you come up with things you’d never ever though of. So the notebook fills up as I do my research.

I agree with you entirely that a book has a shape! I love that idea and sometimes it’s not even something you can put into words but it does seem to help make the whole business of writing a book a little bit easier. The maps may have started as small doodles in the notebook, but at some point towards the end of the thinking/research stage, I will start to experiment on large sheets of paper with a map for the book itself. They are in pencil. They change. I may reject two or three until I find the right form. Some are almost purely geographical maps, some are more esoteric. (I blogged about the maps here.)  I have to find the right structure for each book, so each map is different, but when I have (most) of it as I want it, I will finally sit down, chapter one, line one, and begin to write…

Marcus has contributed a question for the next author in the series, E. Lockhart.  Watch for an interview with her coming soon!

 

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in East Kent in the South-east of England. He now divides his time between a small village near Cambridge, England, and a remote house in the French Alps.  Alongside a 16 year career in publishing he established himself as a widely-admired writer of YA fiction; he is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Michael L. Printz Award for 2014, for his novel Midwinterblood.  His books have been shortlisted for over thirty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (five times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (four times). In 2011 Revolver was awarded a Printz Honor.

Marcus was Writer in Residence at Bath Spa University for three years, and teaches creative writing at the Arvon Foundation and Ty Newydd. He is currently working on film and other graphic novels with his brother, Julian, as well as a graphic novel with Thomas Taylor. He has judged numerous books awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Costa Book Awards.  His first title for adults, A Love Like Blood, was published in March 2014 in the UK; US publication will follow in early 2014.  His most recent YA novel, She Is Not Invisible, was published in April 2014.

You can find Marcus at his website and blog, on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

–Julie Bartel, currently reading iZombie Vol. 4 by Chris Roberson & Michael Allred and Saga Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Jukebooks: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 07:00

It would be cool to be an oracle, to know all things and see into the future, wouldn’t it?

Seventeen- year-old Aria Morse is indeed an actual oracle, much to the detriment of her high school social life. If someone asks her a question, the true answer bursts from her mouth, unbidden. And it generally comes out in an esoteric oracle-ese language that even Aria can’t always interpret. To protect herself from hearing random questions at school, Aria relies on her headphones and MP3 player. When her ears are filled with music, the questions cannot evoke Aria’s automatic declarations of truth. If only she could wear the headphones all the time.

Each chapter in Ask Me is the title of a song on Aria’s playlist. One of the chapter is named “Candy Case,” which is a song performed by the alternative band Last Summer. As Pauley explains on her web site, she had first intended the chapter titles to have a line or two of the song’s lyrics. Getting permission to use these lyrics turned out to be tricky. But in the case of Last Summer, Pauley not only received permission, but the band prepared a special video for Ask Me.

-Diane Colson, currently reading Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson

It’s Good to Be Bad: Maleficent

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 07:00

I always thought Maleficent was the scariest and the most fascinating of all the Disney villains. So from the moment I saw the first trailer at Catching Fire back in November, I was thrilled that she was getting her own movie. It turned out to be so much more than I expected.

In recent years, Disney has made a refreshing departure from their standard princess movie to a new generation of tough  heroines like Merida and Elsa, who determine their own destinies, fight their own battles, and want more out of life than to marry a prince. (If you have not read it yet, you should really check out Hannah Gomez’s Hub review of Frozen.) In Enchanted, we even saw Disney poke fun at some of its own tropes before sort of reinforcing them. Maleficent goes a step beyond to do something it has never done before. It takes one of those classic princess movies and turns it on its head, not just by telling the story from the perspective of the villain, but by putting ALL the power in the hands of the women.

It is almost impossible to write about the themes of this movie without being spoilery, but I am going to try. Even if you have a Disney-obsessed seven-year-old in your house  like I do and have seen all the extended sneak peaks on the Disney Channel, you probably have not seen much that deviates from the 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty. And I am going to try to honor that because I really want everyone to go see it and be surprised…and delighted, and terrified, and maybe even moved to tears. 

Here we meet Maleficent as she was long before we first saw her at Aurora’s christening party at the beginning of Sleeping Beauty. Beautiful, powerful, and fierce—the guardian of the fairy realm—she is no tame Disney fairy, but an old-school faerie. So of course, Disney would have to create a vibrant female character like that and then turn around and make her evil. Well, not exactly.

It always confused me that anyone would get so upset over not being invited to a party that she would curse an innocent baby and then spend the next sixteen years obsessing about it. When placed in the context of Maleficent’s backstory, the reasons all become clear, even understandable. After an unthinkable act of betrayal leaves her body maimed, her heart broken, and her soul twisted, Maleficent takes revenge by placing a curse on the child who was the product of that betrayal. Three fairies disguised as peasant women take the infant princess into the forest, hoping to thwart the curse by  raising her as their own in hiding. From there, you know the story—and yet you don’t know it at all.

Like Frozen, Maleficent also plays with the idea of what “true love” is and what it is not. There is little romance to be found here, but there is definitely true love—a healing, transformative, redemptive love more powerful than the strongest magic in the world.

I planned on being a bit more objective and critical, but I just can’t. I loved every single thing about this movie. The visuals are breathtaking, especially the richly imagined fairy world of the Moors. Angelina Jolie is so brilliant in the title role I’m not sure anyone else alive could have played it. The whole time I was watching, I kept thinking, Yes, this. This is the version of this story I want my daughters to grow up with.

If you are looking for more twists on “Sleeping Beauty,” there are plenty of YA literature adaptations out there that each take on the fairy tale from a different perspective.

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross (check out my Teens’ Top Ten interview with the author here) is a deliciously creepy contemporary version featuring characters from other fairy tales.  Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose weaves elements of the fairy tale into the story of a Holocaust survivor. In  A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn, an American teen traveling in Europe inadvertently awakens the sleeping princess and her kingdom–after three hundred years.  Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley is basically the Brothers Grimm version fleshed out into a novel with a fully developed fantasy world and an unexpected protagonist.

Apparently, some controversy has grown up around Maleficent, and a lot of people out there saw the movie differently than I did. What did you think?

—Wendy Daughdrill, currently reading Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Page to Screen: The Fault in our Stars

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 07:00

All right fellow YA lovers and nerdfighters, this past weekend was a big one for us. The much anticipated movie adaptation of 2012 Teens’ Top Ten pick The Fault in our Stars came out on Friday with some theaters even previewing it on Thursday night. This heavily anticipated film has received a lot of media coverage as of late because of the book (and certainly John Green’s) large fandom.

Fans of the book and Green have been very vocal about their anticipation and expectations for this film. John Green made the film seem like a collaborative process to get from page to screen, and the filmmakers were pretty vocal about their love of the source material. The collaborative aspect with Green in and of itself is rare since authors usually get NO say whatsoever once the film rights have been sold to the book, so this was huge and something that made me as a fan pretty hopeful for the adaptation.

John Green really gave me hope for this movie, and I daresay this film might just be one of the truest adaptations of a book that I’ve seen in a long time. Now there were changes made from page to screen and for a full rundown of those you can check out this EW article, but the heart of the book was all there. John Green’s words were there. 

Shailene Woodley is Hazel Grace Lancaster. Tris who?! She was honestly just beautiful in this movie and not in a Hollywood superficial kind of way, but in that no makeup, hair shorn off and tears in her eyes, heartbreakingly real beautiful.  Dare I say even if you went in slightly creeped out that Tris’ brother was now going to be playing her boyfriend, Ansel Elgort made you forget all about dear Caleb. He made Augustus Waters wonderfully adorkable and funny.

My one slight complaint about some of the book to movie changes is that they made the character of Gus a little too perfect. Don’t get me wrong the swoon worthy moments certainly made it worth it, but changes like the removal of his ex-girlfriend also took out a layer of reality that Green had built into the character of Augustus. While you could see how Gus’ ex-girlfriend is not necessary to the film storyline as a whole, it was kind of necessary to his character development. They just took out too many of Augustus’ flaws, which skirted the line for me of making him into too much of the perfect movie boyfriend. He’s not meant to be perfect, neither is Hazel. I liked that about the characters, as I’m sure many fans do. With all of that said, the film always felt like John Green. Even with the changes, it never jumped the emotional shark and for that many fans will be grateful. The love and the humor and the pain are all there. Woodley and Elgort captured it wonderfully. My favorite surprise of the film was Hazel’s mother. Laura Dern packs quite an emotional punch. She nailed that role and broke my heart all at the same time.

It looks like I’m not alone in my love for this adaptation either because 82% of critics and 92% of audiences loved this movie according to Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not even mentioning the cash it’s brought in so far, which as of Friday was already $26.1 million. For a little perspective on how huge that is, TFIOS made more money on its first day then Divergent made in its first weekend. It also totally trounced that Tom Cruise flick. Not bad for the little YA movie that could.

What did others think? Well for some more fan reaction, you can check out this Youtube video put together by 20th Century Fox after initial screenings:

There are also always the unadulterated views of those on Tumblr.

And let’s not forget our friends on Twitter:

That movie theater gave me an infinite amount of crying teenage girls within a number of minutes #tfios

— Kara Knight (@karadiseisland) June 6, 2014

It’s not that often I cry that hard before noon, but damn #TFIOS. Right in the feels…

— Lauren Morrill (@LaurenEMorrill) June 6, 2014

Last night, we saw #tfiosmovie. Did we cry? ARE WE A ROBOT??? http://t.co/Gmkdlp4exx

— SparkNotes Editors (@SparkNotes) June 6, 2014

Regardless of the movie > book or book > movie, I could watch it all over again and get the same feels when I first read it. #tfiosfeels

— Eunice ✊ (@euniceADTR) June 6, 2014

 

Shailene Woodley cries while watching the premiere of “The Fault In Our Stars” http://t.co/uzIDp4tgGI pic.twitter.com/DjIzEh3mr9

— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) June 6, 2014

 

All in all, it looks like most of us that saw TFIOS had a hard time keeping it together during this movie. Tears and sniffles were all around the theater during the last bit of the film. Tissues were definitely required. Because of this, I was entirely grateful at the ending changes in the movie. This is purely because I don’t think that I would’ve been able to hold it together in a manner polite for movie theaters otherwise. They showed just enough of Augustus suffering and Hazel’s loss for me. This is one of those things that needed to be changed when put up on a screen. It would’ve been far too rough emotionally to visually go through everything that happened on the page. It was just enough to be true to the experience of reading and feeling those pages.

What did you think of the movie, readers? Did you love it or hate it? Did you require a box of Kleenex or were you flabbergasted by the mass sniffles in your theater?

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Monday Poll: Most Unusual Source of Magical or Supernatural Powers in YA Lit

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 23:42

photo by flickr user Linus Bohman

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we wanted to know which character’s closet you’d like to raid. The inimitable Lola Nolan from Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door and Evie O’Neill from The Diviners by Libba Bray were at the front of the pack, tied with 24% of the vote each. Have fire extinguishers reader, because Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins followed closely with 16%. Cammie Morgan from The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter was a write-in. Good call! You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!

This week, we’re curious what you think is the most unusual source of magical or supernatural powers in YA lit. There are a lot of unusual powers out there, but characters are usually born with them. In this poll, we’re taking a look at ordinary people stumbling upon powers in the most unexpected of ways. Cast your vote below, or add your suggestions in the comments!

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

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Check In #18

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 07:00

Still not signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 3 counts, so sign up now! You only have two weeks left!

Fourteen days and six books. That is where I find myself in The Hub Reading Challenge. We have just two weeks to go, and I have read nineteen books on the list. Since my library just opened a new Teen Center, and I’m building up a Teen non-fiction collection from scratch, I think I’ll focus my final reading push on the non-fiction titles on the list. Branded by the Pink Triangle, Dogs of War, March, and The President Has Been Shot! all sound like good candidates for my fortnight of reading.

How are you doing? Are you close to finishing? What are the final few titles that are piquing your interest? Let us know in the comments here, or share your thoughts on social media using the #hubchallenge hashtag.

The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge runs until 11:59 PM EST on June 22nd. We’ll have another check-in post next Sunday, so you can share your thoughts about the book(s) you read/listened to this week and share links to any reviews you post online. If you want to share your thoughts immediately, use the social media hashtag #hubchallenge, or join the 2014 Hub Challenge group on Goodreads. We will be compiling posts from various places online into a Storify collection. You can see the social media conversation so far below!

If you 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, 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/listening to 25 titles.

A Free Online Driver Education Program for Your Library

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 18:27

A leader in online education for learner drivers, Driving-Tests.org is offering their valuable driver education program free of charge to a limited number of qualifying libraries. The application deadline is 12:00 PM EST on August 15, 2014.

Learn more and apply here: http://driving-tests.org/library/

Tweets of the Week: June 6th

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 07:00

As usual, Twitter has been busy this week with YA related news, events, giveaways and more. Here are some of the highlights, in case you missed anything…

Contests and Giveaways

New Releases

News and Events

- Whitney Etchison, currently reading   Sekret by Lindsay Smith

SuperMOOC Mania! Part Three – Social Inequality in Comics

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 07:00

You guys!  I’m so excited to be with you again on our journey of comics, social issues and SuperMOOCs.  I have now reached the halfway point of the SuperMOOC I’ve been participating in since March – Social Issues through Comic Books, so a few more months of me focusing on issues and then it’s back to focusing on…well, mainly Batman, but other stuff, too, I promise!

For this 3rd module, our SuperMOOC community has been reading comics that deal with Social Inequality, and what an eye-opening and fascinating subject to tackle through comic books.  From nonfiction to dystopian to superhero, all the ranges of graphic reads were well represented, and they all looked at social inequality in a different and responsible way.  I was happy to see that, yet again, I had only read one of the books that we are studying; all the rest of the required texts were comics that were new to me, but have now moved up to the top of my “must recommend” list.

Keep these in mind for readers who are interested in or grappling with social inequality or for those just looking for a great comic.  At this point, I’m really stretching it with the “let’s start with Batman” speech, but let me try it again.  Hmmm.  Well, our first book is written by Gail Simone, who is the current writer on Batgirl…and it’s set in the world of Metropolis and Gotham City, so there you go.

The Movement, Volume 1:  Class Warfare by Gail Simone & Freddie Williams II:  If you haven’t read any of Gail Simone’s comics (and start with Secret Six, btw, if you do), you are seriously missing out as Gail is just straight up a great writer.  With her new comic book series for DC, The Movement, Gail brings us to Coral City, which, as I mentioned, is part of the same universe in which Metropolis & Gotham City exist.  In Coral City, there are the rich and the poor, those that try to help and those that try to hurt and, oh yeah – superheroes.  To say that the poor have it rough is an understatement.  Not only do the police (well, some of them, not all) run afoul of the laws they are supposed to be upholding, but there’s a killer out there who is targeting the destitute.  However, there’s a movement rising…and they call themselves, ahem, The Movement.  No longer will this group stand aside and let people be hurt, taken advantage of or killed.  They’re using the one thing they’ve got more of…and that’s their minds (slight nod to Jarvis Cocker & Pulp for the misappropriation of that line).  They’re also using their technology to catch people in the act and keep them honest.  But, can these strong-willed superheroes work together to stop the madness or will the serial killer without a face (well, not really, but no one’s actually seen it) continue to haunt the streets and the downtrodden?  Trust me, reading Gail’s work is a joy; never didactic and always thought provoking.

March, Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell:  This is such a great nonfiction title to recommend to readers, both teen and adult alike.  In March, an engaging, haunting and handsomely illustrated graphic novel memoir written by Congressman John Lewis, he tells his story of being a boy growing up in the segregated south to his time working in the civil rights movement.  This first book in his planned trilogy lets readers move with him from his time as a young man on an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to his life as a young adult staging sit-ins at Woolworth lunch counters.  Beautiful black and white line drawings perfectly accompany this story of tragedy and heartbreak, but also determination and fortitude.  Just a perfect example of what exemplary nonfiction comics can be.  (a 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection)

 

X-Men:  God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson:  Okay, so I’ve never, ever read an X-Men comic before.  And, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve seen any of the movies, either.  Unfortunately for me (and also quite a childish trait, I must admit), I am an unflappable DC comics gal, but after reading this seminal and well-regarded story about hurting mutants only because of “what” they are, I have to admit, that I’ve been missing out not reading more X-Men stories.  So, I learned something!  Okay, so back to the story – there’s this minister, Reverend Stryker, who only sees the X-Men as abominations of God – no in-between, no caring about them as individuals.  He just really wants to eradicate them from the planet, all in the praise of God, and he’s determined to see his plan out until the bitter end.  But, unbeknownst to him, Magneto (he’s always fighting Professor X and the X-Men because he thinks that mutants should take over the Earth, that they are the next step in the evolutionary process, but he put that thought aside in this book…well, for the most part…anyways…) has joined the X-Men to search for the missing Professor X as well as expose Reverend Stryker as the very antithesis of a Godly man.  They must work fast, though, before the Reverend puts his ultimate plan into motion.  A great read for fans of the movies, and trust me – after someone reads this book, they’re going to look long and hard at themselves and our society.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking comics I’ve ever read, if not the most.  Really good, trust me.

Once again, I’ve come to the end of my list of recommended reads perfect for those interested in the topic of social inequality as well as those looking for good, not your regular run of the mill comic books.  A side note:  when I’m thinking more deeply about what I’ve read for the month, I always remember the quote I included in my first post on my SuperMOOC readings from Denny O’Neill – if we expose young people to the idea and nuances of a problem to young people through comics, they will be the one to change the society in the future.  I especially thought about it this week as I read books that were both painful and empowering at the same time.  And, don’t you just love it when you read something “fun” and it challenges you at the same time?  I sure do…and on that note, I’ll end for this month.

Be sure to join me in July when I cover comics that deal with immigration!  One of them is Superman, which I’ll really just have to force myself to read, but I’ll do it for you, dear readers (FYI – I don’t like Superman in the least.  I don’t know why I don’t like him, I just don’t).  Oh!  I really like that tag line I used last month, so I’ll use it again… See you then – Same Bat Time (approximately), Same Bat Channel (or website)!

- Traci Glass, currently reading No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Is This the Real Life? Road Trips

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 07:00

It has felt like summer in California for a while, but the end of school is usually when summer really begins. When I was younger and just needed to kill time between school years my friends and I would take road trips. Here are some realistic YA fiction titles (I know I probably missed a few) that are all about road trips!

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
After the death of her father, Amy sets out on a road trip with Roger. It’s supposed to be a carefully planned trip from California to Connecticut, but plans change and Amy ends up having to face her fears and deal with her grief.

How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
After accidentally setting her ex-boyfriend’s car on fire, Rosie is slapped with a temporary restraining order and embarks on a road trip from New Jersey to Arizona.

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder
Hannah and Zoe leave New Jersey and head west and seeking for all the things they think their lives lack.

#16ThingsIThoughtWereTrue by Janet Gurtler
After a health scare, Morgan’s mom makes a confession that sends her on a road trip with two unlikely companions.

Paper Towns by John Green (2009 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten)
One month before graduation, Quentin is basking in his boring life. He’s happy with it until Margo takes him on a one night adventure and then disappears. Q and his friends follow clues to see if they can find her.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (2006 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten)
Ginny receives a package from her aunt that is filled with rules, $1000, and 13 little blue envelopes that will take her from New Jersey to a cross country European scavenger hunt.

-Faythe Arredondo

Teens Take on BEA

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 07:00

Last Saturday, members of my library’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG) joined me at Book Con, the public side of Book Expo America (BEA) in New York. It was… quite an experience.

BEA is the USA’s premiere book publishing conference. It is where publishers and authors, book sellers and librarians connect. Last spring, some of the teens in TAG joined me as we wandered about the exhibit aisles of the 2013 BEA, talking to publishers, meeting authors, and sometimes getting free books.  It was a tremendously exciting outing for the teens. We met R.L. Stine, Scott Westerfeld, Raina Telgemeier, and Brandon Mull. The teens were also excited to meet authors they loved when they were small, such as Jan Brett and Patricia Polacco. The publishers marketing representatives were wonderful to the teens. They offered them Advanced Reading Copies of hot new titles, and asked the teens questions about what they enjoyed reading and what they looked for in books and book covers. The teens felt that their opinions were being heard and taken seriously; they loved getting sneak peeks at books that their friends wouldn’t being seeing until the fall; and they were beyond excited to meet authors in the flesh – they treated R.L. Stine like a rock star.

Our group selfie at Book Con 2014

This year, BEA opened up their convention to the public on Saturday, called it Book Con, and rather underestimated how popular it would be. They sold 10,000 tickets to Book Con. Since the public would be at the convention at the same time as the businesses (publishers and authors and booksellers), the people attending Book Con were confined to one small part of the convention center. This made for chaotic but cheerful crowds. My teens and I were able to visit Hachette’s booth and get advanced reading copies of Printz Award winning author Paolo Bacigalupi’s new book, The Doubt Factory.

They met Timmy Failure author Stephan Pastis. They stood in line for a photo op with Grumpy Cat, and tried to meet actor Cary Elwes (who just wrote a book about his time making The Princess Bride movie) but the line was so long, they threw in the towel.

Several of my teens heard Veronica Roth in conversation with Alex London. They found the Divergent author to be “really interesting” and “so young!” When they couldn’t get autographing tickets for Cassandra Clare, they consoled themselves by watching her on a panel with Holly Black and Maggie Stiefvater. Several of my teens were wearing T-shirts bearing the words “Okay? Okay.” from The Fault in Our Stars, and they found themselves to be among hundred of teens wearing the same shirt. They found themselves near Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, but not actually at his panel (he walked past them).

The teens sent me text messages throughout the day showing that they were keeping their senses of humor and having fun:

It’s a blast! So many cool books!

They have people guarding the BEA show floor like sentries.

We are getting swallowed up by the crowd!

But despite the astonishing crowds, the TAG folks had a good time. They loved seeing “behind the scenes” of the publishing business, talking to the marketing people, getting lots of swag (like key chains, flashlights, and Grumpy Cat masks), and soaking up the excitement that was just buzzing throughout the convention center. Where else can you go to find 10,000 people all super excited about reading? It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, and the TAG and I are already planning on how to better conquer it next year

~Geri Diorio, currently reading The Quick by Lauren Owen

Jukebooks: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Wed, 06/04/2014 - 07:00

Lesh is named after the bass guitarist for The Grateful Dead. He wears black. He scowls. And yet, when he meets Svetlana, she of the flowing skirts and pale blonde hair, Lesh is mesmerized. She’s so fresh, so full of vitality. Without thinking it through very deeply, Lesh creates an elf princess character for an online MMO game who looks like Lana and is named “Svvetlana.”

Turns out, Lesh loves playing as a statuesque elf princess way more than playing a man-character such as an orc. Is that…weird?

Lesh and Svetlana are as opposite as winter and summer personality-wise, and it comes out in their musical tastes as well. She: Bjork. He: Heavy metal band called What Dwells Within.

What Dwells Within has a new name – A Sound In Sight. Click below to get a sample of their sound.

-Diane Colson, currently reading Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

The Rise and Fall of YA Lit Trends: Timing is Everything

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 07:00

In 2008, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight hit the big time with the release of movie version. Millions flocked to the theaters, then to bookstores and libraries to finish Stephenie Meyers’ saga. Suddenly, everywhere we looked, there were vampires: scary, sexy, sparkly, fangs… you could take your pick. More books hit the shelves (or were discovered) like PC Cast’s House of Night series, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Not to mention the many TV shows cropping up everywhere, such as HBO’s True Blood and CW’s Vampire Diaries. It was vampire frenzy. Then the inevitable backlash hit—hard. Folks had clearly hit a saturation point with vampires (particularly Twilight.) It became cool to loudly proclaim ones’ hatred of Twilight—and all things vampire. Twilight spoofs were being produced, such as Nightlight: a Parody by the Harvard Lampoon and the Vampires Suck movie.

Fast forward to 2013 when Holly Black (author of both children’s and young adult gold like The Spiderwick Chronicles and the overlooked but spectacular Curse Workers trilogy) offers The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. This book has everything a lover of gothic reads could want: creepy cool cover art, a terrifying opening scene, scary and dangerously hot romance, flawed narrator, realistic intriguing side characters, and a vividly described falling apart Las Vegas-like town under constant camera surveillance (showing another frightening side of reality TV like that depicted in the Hunger Games trilogy.) In fact, in this librarian’s humble opinion, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown has nary a flaw to be found—except that it’s about vampires. As Karyn Silverman of the Someday My Printz Will Come blog writes, “…I think the anti-vampire bias runs so deep in most librarians these days that Coldtown risks a cold shoulder as a result.” I fear Silverman might be correct in her assessment, as I haven’t heard much buzz from other readers about Coldtown—unless of course, I’m the one who brought it up (which I do, often and loudly). On a bright note, Coldtown’s appearance on YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list offers hope for this overlooked gem. 

Rewind to 1997 (and 1999) when Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff show Angel first aired respectively. It would be false to say that these two shows weren’t and aren’t popular—they are and were. Both Buffy and Angel had and maintain a loyal following from those who watched it. Viewers were true and loyal cheerleaders for the show—but were not pervasive. In 1997, I watched Buffy and was distinctly in the minority amongst my peers, who assumed it was lame and would not give the show a chance. “Vampires- really?” (insert eye roll). I bet those naysayers flocked to Twilight nearly a decade later. In fact, Buffy was nearly canceled in the fifth season when it was switched from the CW network to UPN. TV Guide listed the top 25 Cult Shows of All Time with Buffy hitting the list at # 3. This to me sums up the popularity of most things vampire before and after Twilight—destined for a small but loyal “cult” fandom. It should be mentioned that other shows on that list fall into a similar category—loved by the few, unrecognized by the masses (Veronica Mars, Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and Strangers with Candy).

On the heels of the vampire craze came the angels. Not, not Angel (as in Buffy’s true love)—but actual winged heavenly angels. In 2009, Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush (a 2010 Teen’s Top Ten winner) and Lauren Kate’s Fallen (a 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults pick) hit the stands running. Readers gobbled them up and waited impatiently for the sequels. Angels, clearly had won out over pixies, trolls, and fairies (and faeries) and were the next vampires. 2010 brought us Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo and 2011 Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (both series openers).

Books that involved angels were gaining popularity including Cassandra Clare (who got her start in fan fiction) with her first “Mortal Instruments” title City of Bones (published in 2007, voted into the Teens’ Top Ten in 2008). Menfolk began sporting shirts adorned with wings—actual wings. And yet again, I maintain that the best of the bunch came late to the game in 2012: Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (a 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults selection) and the less noticed Susan Ee’s Angelfall.

The recently released Divergent movie is another example of the flaw of timing. Katie Shanahan Yu writes of this phenomenon in her recent page-to-screen movie review here on The Hub. Divergent was a stand-up movie, yet is not getting the love it deserves from film critics. Dystopia overload is most likely the culprit. The masses flock to a trend and quickly tire. It seems that the higher the fan following, the harder the fall from grace.

Shouldn’t we judge each work on its individual merit? Are there other examples of this phenomenon? Are you tired of vampires, angels, and dystopia to the point where you wouldn’t give a new book a chance?

-Tara Kehoe, currently reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley

The Monday Poll: Which Character’s Closet do you Want to Raid? (Part 2)

Sun, 06/01/2014 - 23:45

photo used with permission from Rubbermaid

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we inquired about your favorite redeemed character in YA lit. It looks like Severus Snape from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series won your hearts with 66% of the vote. (On a related note, can any of you hear the name Severus Snape anymore without singing this little ditty? It’s not just me, right?) Snape was followed by Froi from Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, with 25% of the vote. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!

This week, we’re going to revisit a topic we explored way back in 2011, and is due for an update: which YA lit character’s closet would you want to raid? Vote in the poll below, or add your suggestions in the comments!

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

 

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #17

Sun, 06/01/2014 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 3 counts, so sign up now!

As we enter our final weeks of YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge, I am excited to see all the progress everyone is making on their reading. Many are finishing up their pile of books, but even if you haven’t reached your goal yet, there is still time to finish 25 books from the list before midnight on June 22nd.

As you move through the list, be sure to keep us posted. What book have you just finished? Which books have you liked? Are there any that you have discovered that you never would have read without the competition? Did you find new authors or even new genres to love? Let us know in the comments, post your thoughts on Goodreads or share it with us on other social media using the #hubchallenge hashtag!

The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge runs until 11:59 PM EST on June 22nd, so even if you are just starting, you still have plenty of time to read 25 books! Be sure to keep track of what you are reading/listening to as you go along. We’ll be posting these check-in posts each Sunday so you can share your thoughts about the book(s) you read/listened to that week and share links to any reviews you post online. If you just can’t wait for our weekly posts, share your thoughts via social media using the #hubchallenge hashtag, or join the 2014 Hub Challenge group on Goodreads. We will be compiling posts from various places online into a Storify collection. You can see the social media conversation so far below!

If you 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, 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/listening to 25 titles

Tweets of the Week: May 30

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 07:00

Here are the tweets from this week. Don’t forget to checkout the #bea14 tweets for more bookish news.

Books:

Movies/TV:

Librarianship/Blogs:

Just for Fun:

~ Jennifer Rummel, Currently Reading Brunette Ambition by Lea Michele

Adoption in YA Lit

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 07:00

I’ve been thinking about the books I’ve read over the years about adoption.

I was adopted (domestic, transracial, closed, as an infant – just because you  may have questions, and just because there are so many ways to be adopted and I want to explain that I can in no way speak competently about all types of experiences). I read books about adoption growing up when I could find them, but that was not often, especially as I grew out of picture books and early readers.

I was always surprised there were not more books that dealt with adoption, since people like to think that it’s something that is fraught with drama (people like to exaggerate what they don’t understand), and nothing works better in a book than drama. Another reason there should be books about adoption is because adoption customs and laws have changed SO MUCH in the two and a half decades since I was adopted. More domestic adoptions are open now than were in the 1970s, 1980s, or even the 1990s. Laws about who can search for whom and when change every five minutes and vary from state to state. Record keeping changes. Cultural taboos change.

And that’s to say nothing about people whose lives are touched by adoption, whether it is as adoptees, adoptive parents, siblings, or birthparents. Some adoptees have zero interest in seeking out their birthparents. Others want a relationship with their birthparents. Still others are more interested in a “Hi, now we both know the other exists” type of interaction. Some children are adopted as babies, others when they are older. Others stay in the foster care system a long time. From the 1960s to the 1970s, giving up a baby for adoption was probably something you did quietly or because you were forced to. Now it is more likely that a birthparent might meet with prospective parents and involve them in the baby’s life before it is born. Even as I try to think of different types of situations, it hits me that there are probably a lot more books than I think there are. Here are some books, old and new, that might be interesting to look at in duos.

Searching
Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook
In this one, published earlier this year, high school senior Avery decides to seek out her birthmother when her childhood friend no longer can seek out hers. Dealing with grief and guilt about lost friendships, new romantic interests, and lying to her parents, Avery tries to get around legal obstacles (she is still 17) and goes on some TV movie-esque adventures to try and track down the young woman who gave her up as an infant.

Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry
A similar story but from a much earlier time (1978), this book is also about a 17-year-old who, like Avery, seemingly has it all. Natalie shocks her parents when she says she wants to search for her birthmother, but they ultimately give her a car, money, and time to go on her own journey, leaving her to decide whether she’ll be able to handle the results.

Both of these books are great for the way they allow a mature, well adjusted teen to decide for herself whether or not she’s ready (or even interested) in searching for her birthmother, without significant impediments or particular encouragement from the families that have raised them. They might both be limited by their white, upper middle class perspective, which makes the resources they have easier to come by, but they’re interesting in how similar they are, even when laws and technology have changed so much in the 30+ years they span.

Wait…I’m Adopted?
Heaven by Angela Johnson (2003 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
Marley doesn’t learn she’s adopted until she is 14 years old, and she must reevaluate what family means to her when it turns out that her parents are her aunt and uncle.

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay
Similarly, in this Saffy learns she is actually a cousin, not a sibling, when she puts together that her siblings’ names all appear on the color wheel and hers does not.

Both of these books straddle the middle grade/YA line and deal with having a big blow dealt to you at an already sensitive time – early adolescence. The main contrast here is that Johnson tends for the lyrical and literary, while McKay has a bit more quirk and humor. These books would be very important to have for a reader going through a life changing discovery and dealing with betrayal.

Cultural Clashes
When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright
Lahni is the only black girl at her school, and even though her white parents are loving and sensitive as they can be to her needs, she feels out of place. Then she discovers gospel music and finds something of herself in it.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (2007 Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults)
Simone’s parents are the ones who make her forge a relationship with Rivka, her biological mother, who is dying from cancer. Simone is an atheist, and Rivka was raised a Chassidic Jew.

The takeaway here, I think, is how adoptees need parents who are willing to support their adoptive children both when they are their children and when they need to find out who and what they are that their adoptive parents are not. Transracial and transcultural adoptions are wonderful and necessary, but they are also complicated, as it’s the responsibility of the parents and the right of the child to be fully a part of their new family and yet fully able and welcome to learn about and identify with their birthfamily’s ethnic or racial background.

International Adoption
Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez
Milly is prompted to think about her birthparents when a new boy at school suggests that she looks like she comes from his same village in Central America.

Throwaway Daughter by Ting-xing Ye
When Grace hears about the Tiananmen massacre, it hits home, and she begins to learn about her Chinese heritage. She wants to go to China to seek out her birthmother, but she knows she will have trouble finding her, since she was one of the many baby girls abandoned to an orphanage.

Novels such as these bring up the questions of whether one can be more American than whatever nationality they would have had from birth; whether parents do enough to teach their children about the countries they come from; and what it means to have been born one thing but raised another.

More To Read
Meg Kearney’s novels in verse, The Secret of Me and The Girl in the Mirror, are sensitive reads about a character is perfectly comfortable being adopted but less comfortable speaking about it with others.

Something Real by Heather Demetrios is about a girl who has 11 adopted siblings, all of whom appeared on a reality show with her as a bit of a spectacle.

Remember that rash of very public adoptions by celebrities? Exclusively Chloe by J.A. Yang is told from the perspective of one of a girl whose parents are superstars. Trophy Kid, or How I Was Adopted by the Rich and Famous by Steve Atinsky seems similar.

Separated at birth your thing? Robyn Bavati’s Pirouette deals with twins who meet, Parent Trap-style, when they end up at the same dance camp.

For more intercultural issues, try Janet Taylor Lisle’s The Crying Rocks.

What books about adoption have you read? And why do you think it is that these books are about girls? In all my searching, I found it very difficult to find anything about boys who had been adopted, but I did find more books than I expected that I had not yet read. Here’s to more books on your TBR list!

–Hannah Gómez, currently reading Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

For Fans of The Fault In Our Stars: What to Read Next

Fri, 05/30/2014 - 07:00

Next week, the highly anticipated movie based on John Green’s 2012 Teens’  Top Ten winning title The Fault In Our Stars will be released. The first post I ever wrote for The Hub offered a list of books that fans of The Fault in Our Stars would enjoy and with the movie coming out so soon, now seems like a good time to add to this list.

Since my last post, I have discovered even more books that will appeal to fans of TFiOS, so whether you are looking for a book to occupy you until you see the movie or a list of books to fill your summer, hopefully you will find what you are looking for here.

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy: Alternating between points of view and points in time, this story slowly reveals glimpses of Alice’s battle against cancer, but at its heart it is really the story of the relationship between Alice and her best friend Harvey, who she enlists to help her complete her bucket list. This is a book about what happens when you don’t die, and how difficult it can be to decide to grow as a person.

The F-It List by Julie Halpern: Another book about a bucket list, in this case, Alex is left to complete her best friend Becca’s bucket list when Becca is too sick to do most of the activities herself. After months of not talking due to Becca’s inexcusable actions on the day of Alex’s father’s funeral, the list helps to bring the two back together and allows Alex to work through her grief after her father’s death. Halpern creates characters who are real in both their strength and their flaws. 

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick: Rather than focusing on the battle against cancer, Sonnenblick opts to look at the aftermath of the disease. Jeffrey had cancer as a young boy, but now that he is in remission, he still has to deal with what happens next, which for him means contending with permanent nerve damage and the after effects of his medication which leave him struggling in school and often losing focus. The book also tackles the impact that his cancer has had on his family members and is a great picture of what happens after “getting better.” (2012 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic: Knowing that he will die soon, Austin Parker has decided that he wants to leave his mark on the world. While some of the things he hopes to do are simply experiences he has not yet had, his greater goal is to reach out to those in his life that he sees struggling in an attempt to help them to find a way to improve their own lives. Over the course of one action-packed weekend, Austin attempts to experience everything and save everyone he knows, taking the reader along for the ride.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon: Set on the hospice floor of a hospital, this is not necessarily a book focused on making cancer an uplifting topic. Instead, Seamon tells the story of real teens who happen to be living the rest of their lives in hospice. She offers an unflinching view of their experience and, at the same time, creates a very believable and funny protagonist. (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: This book is much different from any other book on the list. It includes elements of the paranormal, fables, and illustrations by Jim Kay, all of which contribute to a dark and creepy environment. But at its heart, this story is the very real story of a teen struggling to deal with the fact that his mother has cancer. According to the cover of the book, the concept was “inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd,” an author who herself died of cancer, and it proves to be a powerful approach to a difficult topic, one that enhances the emotion of the story rather than detracting from it. (2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)

This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl: Fans of TFiOS may recall that it was dedicated to Esther Earl, a teen who died of thyroid cancer in 2010. This book tells her story through her writing, her artwork, pictures of her throughout her life, and passages written by her family and friends. It captures the experience of one girl who had cancer and offers a very personal view of a disease that many readers may not have encountered.

With so many great and very different books available, I hope every TFiOS fan will be able to find something to read on this post or my initial one. Let me know how you feel about these books or any others I may have missed in the comments. And, be sure to watch The Hub for a post on the movie once it is out!

-Carli Spina, currently reading The Nightmare Dilemma by Mindee Arnett

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Laini Taylor

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 07:00

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

It might be possible to resist Laini Taylor’s words and worlds, but I kind of doubt it.  I didn’t even try.  A friend sent me Blackbringer (book one of the Dreamdark series) and I fell headlong in love from the first sentence–”The wolf tasted the babe’s face with the tip of his tongue and pronounced her sweet, and the fox licked the back of her head to see if it was so,” for the record.  When Lips Touch was nominated for the National Book Award I was thrilled, but not surprised (it was a YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults as well.)  And then came Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Karou and Akiva and Brimstone and Zuzana and finally the not-very-well-kept-secret of Laini Taylor exploded and it was wonderful, because there is no resisting Laini Taylor’s words and worlds.  The detail, the scope, the sheer width and breath and depth of them just sucks you in like a beautiful, deadly, whirlpool.  Here there be marionettes and teeth and pomegranates and spiders and bat wings and blackened handprints and death and hope and courage and, of course, love, and how can anyone be expected to resist that?  My advice is not to try.  Just dive into the maelstrom and enjoy the ride.

Thank you so much, Laini, for taking the time to talk; for sticking with me through travel, technical difficulties, and kid time; and for the really excellent description of teen hair fail (been there.)

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.
I was ordinary and undistinguished, probably wearing ill-fitting jeans and exhibiting a lack of hair-styling mastery. If I wasn’t reading, I was daydreaming. I had a very good vocabulary and no sense of when not to use obscure words in conversation, so I got a lot of blank looks, and I’m sure I sounded pretentious. I memorized poetry, loved foreign films, and dreamed of escaping to Europe to pursue some grand, artistic life. I was a decent student and a decent athlete, and I had good parents and a small number of good friends. My high school life wasn’t terrible, but it would make a really boring book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?
I always wanted to be a writer. This has been a constant since very early childhood, with a few other—half-hearted—interests cropping up along the way, generally due to the influence of some book I was reading at the time. Like, thanks to Gerald Durrell, I wanted to travel the world collecting wild animals for zoos. None of these detours were ever serious. I’ve only ever really wanted to be a writer. In high school, specifically, I wanted to be a writer who vanished inexplicably and was believed dead. Yes, really. I would not be dead, of course. I would be living fabulously, secretly, in Tahiti. People would discuss the mystery of my disappearance in cafes the world over. This fantasy was mostly not serious. Mostly. I’ve always had ludicrous, over-the-top daydreams! Plus, I was under the influence of John Fowles novels at that time.

What were your high school years like?
When I was fourteen, my family moved from Brussels, Belgium to Orange County, California. It was 1987ish. This was not a happy move. I’d been living overseas for six years (my dad was in the Navy), first in a small, southern Italian beach town and then a major European capital. I’m sure I thought I was very worldly, but California was not impressed. I was lacking certain critical skills. For example, I didn’t know how to use a curling iron! In Orange County in 1987, you had to use a curling iron. For my first attempt, I curled in the wrong direction and scorched a kink into my hair. It was awesome. But I learned how to do it, sort of, to this effect: I would start out the school day with giant tidal-wave bangs (success!), but by second period the hair spray would start to give out (failure!) and my hair would slowly lose its structural integrity and collapse into a sad, half-resting state. Thinking back, I’m sure that not all of high school was about hair, but it kind of feels that way. I challenge you to look at my year book and notice anything else! “That hair! Oh my god, that hair!”

What were some of your passions during that time?  
Thinking back, I don’t feel like I was really passionate about anything in high school, and I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I’d had some esoteric obsession, or particular area of expertise, but I was kind of a bland generalist. I was on the soccer, diving and track teams, belonged to the Model United Nations club along with my best friends, and had long-running crushes on unattainable boys. Outside of school, there wasn’t much to do. There were no cafes or any other places to hang out. My mom had a convertible VW so I could borrow that and drive my friends to the beach. We would go all the way to Laguna Beach to make jewelry at this one bead store. We rented movies, especially French ones (Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources were faves) and tear-jerker period pieces. Junior and senior year I worked at uninspiring mall jobs to save money for my escape back to Europe. I suppose if I had any passion then, that was it: laying plans for my escape!

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
Probably, more than anything, moving around shaped me. As a Navy family, we were always moving, and I took it in stride (which is not to say that it was without drama), but looking back now, I think how difficult it really is to live a life of uprooting. By far the most challenging time for my brother and myself was the move back to the States when we were in high school. For the first time, we were moving into a civilian community. Before, we’d always been integrating into military communities where everyone else was as fluid as we were. We were all equally open to making new friends; it was our normal. It was not the normal in Fountain Valley, California! (Plus there was the hair issue! Oh NO!)

This is a great subject for a YA novel—being the new kid in town—because it’s just such a fraught proposition, and so much can go wrong. I navigated it all right, I guess, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the root reason that I write YA is as some kind of a deeply buried wish to do these years over, and do them better.

(This is certainly a very thought-provoking interview. Maybe it’s weird that as a YA author I never think about my own teen years, but I guess I don’t, because this feels like new territory for me.)

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?
As soon as I graduated from high school, I was on a plane back to Europe. My parents had said long ago that I could, and I’m sure they imagined that some of my friends would be going too, but it turned out that none of their parents would let them, so it was just me. I was seventeen and had no life skills, but I got a Eurail pass, a big backpack, and a copy of Let’s Go: Europe, and I backpacked around all summer on my own and then stayed on another couple of months in Paris, living in an attic (which sounds more artistic and atmospheric than it was), babysitting French kids, and daydreaming a lot about being a writer. It was my Big Adventure (though it really was a fairly small adventure), and I can’t imagine myself without having done it.

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self?  Would your teen self have listened?
I found myself giving this advice to a young friend recently, knowing I wouldn’t have listened to it myself at her age: Forget about boys until your mid-20s! Sorry, boys, but you’re not worth the trouble until maybe then. (Most of you, anyway. There are probably exceptions!) Teen self, my advice is just to focus on you, your dreams, your friends, your interests, skills, grades (yes, grades!). When it comes to boys, in the words of Karou: “Be that cat.” (This is from Daughter; she’s thinking how she’s sick of being the kind of cat that’s always twining around ankles saying “look at me, pet me, love me”; she wants to be the kind of cat that’s perched out of reach on a high wall, untouchable, needing no one. Not that Karou abided by this advice either, but wow, maybe she should have!)

Do you have any regrets about your teen years?  Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?
I wish I would have written more, painted and drawn more. I wish I would have started a weird zine or something, been more creative—and more individual. In my story-writing efforts at that time, my characters were these quirky girls who drove old ratty French cars like Citroens that they’d written poetry all over, and they belonged to secret societies that read Dante and stuff like that. I daydreamed hard about being quirky, but I really wasn’t. I was awkward and kind of socially paralyzed. I was too self-conscious to dance at parties, and at football games I was even afraid to woo-hoo, as though I might do it wrong! In elementary and middle school, I’d felt very bold and powerful, very much myself, but I lost that in my teens. I wish I could have held onto it somehow.

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?
My friends, and the good old days when my parents took care of me and life was so easy, before adult concerns—though of course I didn’t appreciate it then!

Every Day I Write the Book

I found it so interesting that you’ve talked about two of your characters—Kizzy (from “Goblin Fruit” in Lips Touch) and Karou—as being similar to your teenage self in some ways, two sides of the coin, as it were.  Kissy, you’ve said, “was my teenage self in a much more direct way…emotionally she was all the big dreams that I had for my life.”  Karou, on the other hand, “was much more the answer to…who I wanted to be.”  Both characters have connected with readers like crazy.  One reviewer noted your intense and “sympathetic understanding of [your] audience,” asking “who as a teenager didn’t feel like a chimera, a mix of seemingly disparate parts forming an uncertain self?”  How do you create your teenage characters, and how do you get the emotional tone so right?  Was writing for and about teens a conscious decision or simply a result of the stories you wanted to tell?
Writing about teens wasn’t a conscious decision. After college, I stopped writing for a long time, for various reasons including not having dealt with my creative hang-ups, and not have discovered my voice as a writer. Time passed and I rediscovered my love of fantasy (thank you Harry Potter!), and when I started writing again, it was middle grade and YA fantasy.

I never even thought about it. I was deeply in love with these books that connect with young readers (and not-so-young) in such a profound way. I’ve since thought a lot about why I’m drawn to write younger characters, and I don’t have a good answer. In so many ways, I still don’t feel like “a grownup,” and in spite of my age, I don’t relate to grownup life all that much. I really don’t know what to make of that!

In a 2013 interview you highlight fantasy’s “ability to universalize themes in a way that lets us look at Big Ideas like war and honor and sacrifice and love…as human themes that are deeply meaningful in our lives, free from the allegiances and prejudices we bring to stories that happen in our real world.”  Both of your series (Dreamdark and Daughter of Smoke and Bone) tackle a number of Big Ideas—war, the power of hope, destiny, the idea of heroes, the search for identity—and I’m wondering if you could talk a little about theme in your own work?  Do you ever set out to tackle a Big Idea in advance or do specific themes present themselves through the story or characters?  What themes tend to resonate most with you, either in your own work or in others?  Is there a particular theme that you’d actively like to explore in the future? 
I don’t really think about themes at the beginning. I’m just telling a story, just following characters. Somewhere in the back rooms of my brain, though, there are strange, wizened alchemists mixing themes together, and drawing lines with string between one thing and another. Making meaning. That stuff happens in the dark, and it’s the best, how it creeps up and surprises you. Meaning! Yay! Thank you, weird shadow-people from the brain alleys!

At some point I begin to see it, and I become more deliberate with it, sculpting the narrative to strengthen ideas as well as plot. There are a set of themes and motifs I find myself returning to over and over again, unconsciously. Self-sacrifice and redemption, impossible choices, the inhumanity of war, family bonds that go beyond blood. It is also very important to note that chocolate has appeared in every one of my books!

I’m trying to figure out how to ask a question about world-building, and how it intersects with your fascinating post on the “Dance of the Known and the Unknown.” Your ability to craft a “well-structured and creative setting…astonishing in both its detail, and the canny way it is woven into the narrative” has been noted by numerous critics, who praise “world-building descriptions…[that] stop your heart,” and the “masterful blending [of] an intricate fantasy world into our own.”  I’m wondering if you could give us a sense of how world-building works for you?  It seems like your “Dance of the Known and the Unknown” started as an explanation of plotting, but the lyrical description is so characteristic of your world-building that I wonder if the idea intersects there as well?    
Yes, definitely! Interesting observation :-).

I try not to do the world-building up front, but prefer to discover it as I go, so that it becomes an organic outgrowth of the storytelling, rather than a set of pre-ordained constraints for the storytelling to navigate. With my Dreamdark books, I did a lot more planning and note-making about the world before I began writing. I have notebooks filled with ideas and inspiration. That was really fun, and I treasure those notebooks, but I can also see that that degree of preparation was motivated by fear of diving into the unknown.

With the Daughter books, and even “Hatchling,” from Lips Touch, I approached it in a really different way, creating situations and characters and then seeing where they took me. Writing that way very much is the dance between the Known and the Unknown!

You host a website that collects past writing essays (from 2007ish) and your regular blog often features musings on the writing process, as well as your answers to questions from aspiring writers.  You’ve talked about the genesis and writing of your Dreamdark books, Lips Touch, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and have been extremely generous with your insight, advice, and honest depiction of life as a writer; clearly you think a lot about the process of writing.  Have you experienced anything truly surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?  Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years?  Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly valuable or pertinent?  And finally, what do you struggle with the most these days and what do you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?
Great question! I’ve been thinking about this a lot since finishing the trilogy, since it only hit me after the fact how much my process has changed over the course of writing these books. I’ve got a half-written blog post on the subject, and haven’t really put it all into words yet, and probably won’t be able to here, but I’ll try!

Basically, when I got serious about finishing novels (around 2005), I thought I had to plan them out and be in control of them at all times. I had a lot of fear of moving forward into the unknown. I believed that I was a “plotter.” Early in the writing of this series, I did try to plot and plan it out, but it really resisted my efforts. I found I could only see a little way ahead. I had vague ideas for the overall story arc, but no clear and orderly plan, and certainly no outline. This was terrifying but also really freeing.

What I’ve discovered about myself over these five years goes back to that question about the “dance between the Known and the Unknown.” By far most of my story arises from the writing of scenes, from being inside the scene with the characters and letting things happen. It’s a really different headspace than the plotting/outlining headspace, and it feels much more vital and organic, as though the characters are real and alive and I’m not fully in control. It’s magical, the things that happen that I didn’t plan. I love it! The storytelling process ends up feeling to me like swimming from buoy to buoy, with each “buoy” being a story beat I have to reach. Once I do, I can cling to it for a while and catch my breath, take stock, let it sink in. (And also revise and prettify it.) Then when I’m ready, I strike out swimming for the next buoy.

Basically, I’ve learned to have faith in the process. It’s really exciting!

Just Can’t Get Enough

This question comes from Shannon Hale:  “Laini, I don’t just want to read your books, I want to eat them. Your words are delicious. Your scenes are vivid. I feel and smell and experience your stories. I’d love to know a little more about your process. Do you collect words? What’s your process for crafting sentences? How much do your sentences change from first to final draft? And will you secretly revise all my books for me please?”
Oh, Shannon, I feel the same way about your books! *Hug!* Thank you!! I do collect words. In fact, I don’t know that Daughter of Smoke & Bone would exist—at least in anything like the form it does now—if I hadn’t “collected” the word wishbone on the inside cover of a writing notebook shortly before starting it. It was a part of a short list of words I scribbled down for no reason other than that I liked them (along with solstice, disguise, eclipse, and alchemy), and when I found myself, out of nowhere, writing a scene with this blue-haired girl and her monster father, Brimstone ended up wearing a wishbone on a cord around his neck. I have no doubt that this was due to that word being on that list, and it became the key to the story. I heard Susan Cooper speak at a conference once, and she said, “Job number one, for a writer, is to keep a notebook. Job number two: refer to it often.’ This is something I do with great pleasure.

As for writing sentences, oh how I love sentences. For a long time, that’s what “writing” meant to me: crafting sentences. I could happily spend a day on a single sentence, trying out every possibility, polishing it until it was perfect. I actually passed years doing that. It’s a horrible way to try to write a novel! So now I try to find a balance between the love of prose craft and the imperative of storytelling. My happy place is still very much in polishing the prose, so I love to revise.

I don’t have true first drafts because I revise as I go. I can’t move forward unless I love the writing, so I spend a lot of time doing that along the way. It’s incredibly inefficient but my brain needs it. So my “first draft” has already been edited a bajillion times by the time anyone else sees it.

And I’ll revise your books if you revise mine! :-)

Laini has contributed a question for the next author in the series, Marcus Sedgwick.  Watch for an interview with him coming soon!

 

Laini Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Days of Blood & Starlight, Daughter of Smoke & Bone (a 2012 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults), the Dreamdark books Blackbringer and Silksinger, and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times (also a 2009 YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults).  She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter, Clementine. 

You can find Laini by visiting her website and blog, the Official Daughter of Smoke & Bone tumblr, or by following her on Twitter.

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Midwinterblood by Marcus Segwick and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Calling All Teens! YALSA announces Teen Blogging Contest for Teen Read Week™

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 07:00

The Hub is thrilled to be a part of YALSA’s Teen Read Week Teen Blogging contest!

Teens aged 12 -18 can sign up now through August 1, 2014 to participate in the contest for a chance to guest blog for YALSA’s young adult literature blog, The Hub. Selected teens will blog about a wide range of topics related to YA literature while also further developing their writing and blogging skills.

Blog posts written by the teen bloggers will be featured during the week of October 12 -18 in celebration of Teen Read Week.   Selected participants will be notified in August.  Visit the Teen Read Week website for all the details and guidelines about the contest. Teen Read Week will be celebrated Oct. 12 -18 this year with the theme “Turn Your Dreams into Reality @ your library.” Join the online discussion with the hashtag #TRW14.

If you’re a teen, we want to hear from you. And if you work with teens, spread the word about this exciting opportunity! We love featuring teen voices on The Hub, and can’t wait for Teen Read Week this year.

-Allison Tran, Hub Manager

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