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Your Connection to Teen Reads
Updated: 12 hours 53 min ago

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 pic.twitter.com/swkP4j6WC4

— 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.

 

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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:

Books

TV/Movie News

Librarianship

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.

 

What’s Trending in YA?

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 07:00

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few publisher previews recently and have noticed a few recent trends in YA publishing. Since I haven’t been able to attend all the previews it’s not a completely comprehensive list so I welcome any suggestions for those I’ve missed.

Road Trips:

  • Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (5/2015). Teenaged girl still grieving over her father’s death a few years before contrives with her best friend to enter and win a teen game show to win a trip to CA to follow her crush.
  • The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg (5/2015). Two teens embark on a road trip to uncover the root cause of three generations of family estrangement and solve their difficult family issues.
  • Drive Me Crazy by Terra Elan McVoy (4/2015). Two girls who don’t really like each other, now related due to their grandparents’ wedding, try to get along as they accompany their grandparents on their California road trip honeymoon.

Mental Illness:

  • Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (4/2015). Caden, 14, is gradually descending into schizophrenia and lives in two worlds – the real one and the one in his delusions.
  •  One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart (4/2015). Girl who steals things then weaves them into elaborate nests is also losing the ability to speak due to a mental disorder.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (5/2015). Girl with paranoid schizophrenia

Death/Dying:

  • The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (5/2015). Seventeen-year-old Japanese boy dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease) wants to die on his own terms.
  •  Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider (5/2015). Two teens with terminal TB

Kidnapping:

  • Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway (6/2015). Teenaged Emmy’s friend and neighbor Oliver disappeared when they were in 3rd grade and she’s been overprotected by her parents ever since. Oliver returns years later after he finds out he was kidnapped by his father and must try to adjust to life with Emmy and his community again.
  •  Shackled by Tom Leveen (8/2015). Teenager suffering from severe panic attacks ever since her best friend disappeared six-years ago determines to find her after thinks she sees her again.
  • Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (3/2015). Seventeen-year-old Peggy recounts how when she was 8, her mentally ill survivalist father kidnapped her from London and took her to an isolated forest where they survived off the grid after he told her the world had been destroyed.

Ghosts:

  • The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie and Alyssa Sheinmel (3/2015). Teenaged girl fights a ghost for her mother’s life.

Extreme Violence:

  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (4/2015). Romance between a teenaged masked soldier and a teenaged Scholar disguised as a slave in a brutal totalitarian world modelled after Rome with fantasy elements and an Arabian flavor.
  •  Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (2/2015). Girl who lives as lowly Red, destined to serve the Silver elite is captured and finds herself in the castle and discovers she possesses a power she didn’t know she had. She is unwillingly betrothed to the prince, much to the displeasure of the court and other family members and resorts to extreme violence to survive.

Memoirs:

  • Unlikely Warrior: a Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch (2/2015). Memoir of a teenager who helped hide and transport Jews out of Nazi-occupied Austria during WW II. Despite admitting he was part-Jewish, he was drafted into Hitler’s Army and forced to fight on the Russian front for a cause he didn’t believe in.
  • A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt (1/2015). Jason, a high school senior, hasn’t had a normal life like other people or “straights.” From an early age he experienced his father’s arrest, a series of house fires, homelessness, a bout of flesh-eating staph infection and most recently, his father’s HIV diagnosis.
  • Three More Words by Ashley Rhodes (6/2015). This sequel to Three Little Words covers her high school years, college and beyond.
  •  Enchanted Air: A Memoir by Margarita Engle (8/2015). The first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Memoirs or Nonfiction Written by YouTube Stars:

  • A Work in Progress: A Memoir by Connor Franta (4/2015). Connor Franta shares the lessons he has learned on his journey from small-town boy to Internet sensation.
  • In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World by Joey Graceffa (5/2015). Graceffa shares his struggles with bullying and rejection and affirms that it’s okay to be different.
  • I Hate Myselfie: a Collection of Essays by Shane Dawson (3/2015). Collection of essays of YouTube star’s most embarrassing moments
  •  I,Justine by Justine Ezarik (6/2015). Ezarik writes about the six-month period when she live-streamed her life and reflects on the impact of changing technology on her daily life.

(All published by Keywords Press, an imprint of Atria Publishing Group. They advertise that they are a new publishing home for a new kind of storyteller)

Fairytale Retellings:

  • Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell (8/2015). Cinderella with automatons
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (5/2015). One Thousand and One Nights with a twist
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (5/2015). Beauty and the Beast and other fantasy elements are incorporated into this violent and sexy tale of a huntress who kills a wolf in the woods and afterwards a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it.
  • Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (5/2015). Elements of Little Red Riding Hood and Girl With No Hands

Cults & Religious Themes:

  • Eden West by Pete Hautman (4/2015). Explores a 17-year-old’s unraveling allegiance to an insular cult.

Horror:

  • The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy (8/2015). Repressed memories of the day Stella and her friend Jeanie disappeared while they were picking strawberries as children return years later after teenaged Stella, who returned, but Jeanie didn’t, finds a corpse with red hair like Jeanie’s. Stella then discovers other girls have gone missing too.
  • Shutter by Courtney Alameda (2/2015). Micheline, a descent of Van Helsing, hunts the undead, but when a ghost hunt goes wrong, she is infected with an entity that she only has days to exorcise or it will kill her.

Dark, Edgy Themes:

  • Dime by E. R. Frank (5/2015). Thirteen-year-old girl in foster care in Newark, NJ who runs away and struggles to survive until she’s taken in and groomed to become a prostitute but is determined to get out when she tries to help a 11-year-old pregnant prostitute.
  •  Calling Maggie May by Anonymous (6/2015). First-person cautionary tale about prostitution
  •  Dancing with Molly by Lena Horowitz (6/2015). Teen gets hooks on drugs

Classics Inspiring Retellings:

  • Of Dreams and Rust by Sarah Fine (8/2015). Inspired by The Phantom of the Opera
  • The Rook by Sharon Cameron (5/2015). The Scarlet Pimpernel set in a future England and France, when magnetic pole shifts have rendered technology a distant memory.

 

 

These are only books published since January 2015 through August 2015 so look for another trending list soon for those coming out in the Fall.

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

 

Asian Women’s History Through YA Fiction

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 07:00

March is Women’s History Month, celebrated worldwide. In the past two years, I’ve taken a look at history in Britain and history in the US. At the time, I didn’t view this as a series of posts, but I admit that I love learning about history, especially through the eyes of women. So this year, I’m taking a look at history through the eyes of Asian women.

Mulan from Once Upon a Time

Ancient World to 1099: Major Events Include
Paper was invented, Buddhism emerged, advances in math (zero and decimals), oldest book was produced, paper money was invented by the Chinese Government, Chinese use gunpowder in warfare, Nam-Viet ruled for more than 1000 years by the Han Dynasty in China, Silk Road, Alexander the Great reaches India, India and the Roman empire trade, Hinduism emerges, Constantine founds New Rome, Ottoman Empire begins, and Great Wall of China was constructed.

Books Include:
Spirit’s Princess by Esther Friesner: A shamaness predicts great things for Himiko, the daughter of a chieftain, who will one day rule Japan using her strength and her love for her people.

Wild Orchid by Cameron Dokey:  A retelling of the tale of Mulan – the girl who took her father’s place in the army in disguise.

1100-1800: Major Events Include
Genghis Khan was born, end of the Crusades, Marco Polo reaches China, Great Wall of China strengthened, Ivan the Terrible crowned first Czar of Russia, East Indies companies are formed for trading, US begins trading with China, Japan restricts contact with the outside world, Taj Mahal is built, Britain dominates India, Peter the Great creates the Russian Empire, Missionary develops dictionary of Vietnamese script increasing both literacy and Christianity, Catherine the Great rules Russia, French conquer South-East Asia, Magellan reaches the Philliphines, and the Dutch East India trading company goes bankrupt

Books Include:
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli: A Chinese Cinderella tale where Xing-Xing is forced to take care of her stepsister. Her step-mother had her sister’s feet bound in order to make a more advantageous marriage. Xing-Xing worries about her own future as she takes care of the household.

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang: More than anything else, Princess Emmajin wishes to serve in her grandfather’s army. When he hears her desire, he gives her the task of getting to know the foreign visitor and learn more about him and his country. The more Princess Emmajin talks with Marco Polo, the more her ideas about the world change.

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson: (2011 Best Fiction for YA) In precolonial India, two stepsisters struggle to make ends meet after the murder of their father. Tana and Diribani meet a goddess by the water well who showers them both with a gift. When Diribani speaks, diamonds and flowers fall from her mouth, but when Tana speaks, snakes a toads fall out of her mouth in this fairy tale.

1801-1945: Major Events Include

Victoria proclaimed Empress of India, Boxer Rebellion happens in China, US drops 2 atomic bombs on Japan, Czar Nicholas II and his family are assassinated, Communist Revolution in China, Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Crimean War, WWI, Ruso-Japanese War, Lenin takes control in Russia, WWII, Stalin rules, Russia becomes the USSR, Perry enters Japan -demanding that the country trades with the US, Japan rules Korean Peninsula for 35 years, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, French-British treaty grants Thailand independence, Vietnam united under Prince Aguyen Anh, France takes control of Vietnam until France is defeated by Germany – afterwards Japan controls Vietnam, and the Opium Wars

Books Include:
In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap:  Molly’s been unfairly dismissed from her maid’s position. She has nowhere to go, until she hears about a nursing opportunity. Molly’s determined to make Miss Nightingale’s staff, even though she doesn’t have much experience. When the staff goes to help those soldiers in Crimea, she tags along. Although the work is tough and the conditions even harder, Molly knows that she’s making a difference.

Ties that Bind, Ties that Break by Lensey Namioka: Ailin refuses to bind her feet. as a result, her intended husband breaks his agreement for their marriage. Her family does not wish to support her; she’s forced to make her own way. Armed with knowledge, an opportunity presents itself which will change her future.

Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap: Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov leads the life of a princess. When she’s twelve, she meets a boy who tells her the truth about life outside the palace walls. Their relationship remains a secret through the years as everything changes for Anastasia and her family.

Lost Crown by Sarah Miller: As Imperial Russia dies, the four Romanov sisters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia share their stories of the last few months.

Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges: Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg hides a deadly secret; she can raise the dead. When she must use her curse to protect a member of the royal family, she finds herself caught in a deadly game.

Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah: (2000 Best Books for YA) After a fight with her stepmother, Ye Xian escapes her abusive home and seeks shelter with the Secret Dragon Society where she learns martial arts and other useful skills. The society uses their skills to keep China free from occupation during the second World War.

1946 – modern day: Major Events Include
India gains independence, India divides, Cultural Revolution in China, Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Tokyo hosts the first Olympics in Asia, Gandhi becomes Prime Minister of India, Russian man is the first astronaut in space, the USSR collapses, Indira Gandhi (no relation) becomes the first Prime Minster in India and one of the first elected women to rule a nation, India’s population exceeds one billion, Pratibha Patil becomes the first female President of India, US uses military bases in Thailand during Vietnam War, Tienanmen Square rebellion, China regains Hong Kong from Britain, Indonesia gains independence, and Philippines gains independence from the US

Books Include:
Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford: Laura stays in Leningrad for her semester abroad during the Cold War. There she meets a boy, Alexei, who shows her his country. Their time together is coming to an end, but how can they leave each other?

Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu: Cece was born in China, but adopted at the age of two. When the opportunity arises for her to travel to China, she jumps at the chance to learn more about her heritage and maybe to find out more about her own family. When she arrives, nothing turns out as she expected.

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth: Jeeta’s sisters are getting married, much to their mother’s delight. Jeeta isn’t interested in arranged marriages or traditional life. She longs for a more modern future with college and finding her own husband. Can she convince her parents to allow her some freedom?

Now and Zen by Linda C. Gerber: Nori wasn’t expecting Japan to be overwhelming. She wanted more country life and less city life. With her features, everyone assumes she’s from Japan, not a naïve Japanese-American tourist. Can she enjoy learning about her heritage while pretending to be someone else?

Chu Ju’s House by Gloria Whelan: Chu Ju overhears her parents talking about sending her baby sister to the orphanage because they already have a daughter. With two girls, they won’t be able to try for a boy. She decides to spare her sister and runs away from home instead.

Sold by Patricia McCormick:(2007 Best Books for YA  and 2010 Popular Paperbacks for YA) and When a monsoon destroys her families crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather tells her she must get a job to support her family. The thirteen year old’s dismayed to learn she’s been sold into prostitution. Can she survive this new twist in her life?

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins: Jazz isn’t thrilled to learn she’ll be spending the summer where her mother grew up in India. At first she’s completely uninterested in learning more about her heritage, but as the summer progresses, India captures her heart.

Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman: Veda loves dancing the classical dance form in India. Her world crumbles when an accident forces her to the sidelines due to a leg amputation. She’s not about to let that stop her though.

Road Home by Ellen Emerson White: Becky’s spent the last year in Vietnam, serving as nurse during the war. Nothing prepared her for the horrors of war.  When she finally returns home, she’s changed and nothing feels the same.

~ Jennifer Rummel currently reading Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

The Monday Poll: Real Women from History in YA Lit

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 23:21

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked you to choose your favorite basketball novel in YA lit. The top pick was this year’s Newbery Award winner, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, with 42% of the vote. Boy21 by Matthew Quick wasn’t far behind with 32%! You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, let’s finish our celebration of Women’s History Month by asking your favorite real woman from history as depicted in a YA novel. 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 #7

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 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!

Thirteen! Wait, let me rephrase that: 13! That is the number of books I’ve read and listened to for the 2015 Hub Reading Challenge. I am more than halfway done! And there are still twelve weeks left to complete it. That works out to a book a week – I can totally do it! How about you? How are you doing? I tore through a bunch of graphic novels in recent weeks; Ms. Marvel, Seconds, and Tomboy, and they were terrific. Perhaps grouping books by format or genre or some other randomly selected criteria will help me tackle another bunch. Maybe it’s time to hit the audio books, or perhaps I should focus my efforts on horror, or realistic fiction. Tell me in the comments how you are doing, and also let me know your plan of attack. Perhaps your ideas will inspire me and other Hub readers.  Twelve more weeks? We got this.

As you are reading, don’t forget to use the hashtag #hubchallenge to share your progress on Twitter, or join the discussion over at the 2015 Goodreads Hub Reading Challenge group.

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).  These weekly check-in posts are a great place to track your progress, see how your fellow participants are faring, and get feedback on various titles, so don’t forget to read the comments and chime in!  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.  

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Page to Screen Review: Insurgent

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 07:00

The second entry into the planned four part film series that is adapting our favorite Veronica Roth source material, known as the Divergent trilogy, has finally arrived. Insurgent made its debut last weekend amidst mixed reviews (31% rotten according to critics, 71% liked among fans) but still managed to top the box office with an estimated $54.03 million. Now the question that we are all clamoring for, how did the new director do with our beloved series’ second book? Let’s break it down by the top three questions that I get every time someone asks me about my thoughts of a book-to-movie adaptation.

Was it entertaining?

The film was entertaining, and it was very enjoyable as a fan of the series. The simulation sequences were action packed and intense. They were definitely created to be viewed in 3D, but you’re probably not missing too much if you’re cheap like me. Probably one of the best sequences is the first Dauntless simulation where Tris is fighting to get to her mother who is trapped in a rotating, burning box. This was probably the most visually interesting sequence, the one that managed not to go too over the top, and one of the few simulation scenes that didn’t feel like it was overtly pandering to the 3D technology.

And most importantly when it comes to entertainment, have no fear shippers, the relationship between Tris and Four is still squee-worthy in this installment. There are some weird moments that happen concerning our central couple, one that involves a dream and Four’s mother to be specific, but aside from that the filmmakers really focus on how much these two trust and love each other. It’s pretty stinking adorable.

Did [insert favorite supporting character here] make it into the movie?

Truthfully just as they did in the first installment of the movie franchise, they kind of miss the boat on almost all of the supporting characters. Both movies spend too much time focusing on the adults as opposed to the supporting teen characters. It was troublesome in the first movie because you lose so much of why Tris feels connected to these people and why it was so traumatic for her when she killed Will. The movies gloss over these relationships in favor of exploring the adults’ motivations and the fancy technology associated with a dystopian world. The side effect is that it tends to trivialize the actions of our heroine. We don’t really understand why or how she ticks in the films and it’s not without a lack of trying from the charismatic Shailene Woodley. Films always need to streamline the complicated layers of a book, but Insurgent and its predecessor did a little too much cutting or at least cutting in the wrong places.

Roth created such a vast and diverse world that it’s honestly kind of sad that the films tend to focus on the superficial aspects of that world. Tris deserved to have a strong female friend whose relationship gets complicated the farther they are thrust into this war. It’s honestly kind of frustrating how few positive female relationships are shown in the film given. This is a boys film with a female star. Seriously there is a good chunk of this film with whom the only authentic interactions Tris has are with male peers like her brother and Peter. Kudos to Miles Teller for being the comedic relief in this all too serious movie, but really there are enough movies where the boys get to be boys. It would have been nice to see more of the female friendships and more of the female leaders who aren’t portrayed to be inherently evil.

Did it stay true to the book?

Quite simply, no. It could possibly take a post the length of a book to go through everything that Insurgent the movie changed from Insurgent the book. I mean the whole central conflict of the plot was changed! If that’s not enough change for you, oh the ending was changed too. This was far less about a burgeoning revolution then it was about a “special” girl who could change the world… or in this case go through a number of 3D simulations that opens a very special box. Honestly this part was disappointing to me. I’m all for changing things up to make a solid adaptation, but it didn’t feel like the book I read at all. Veronica Roth appears to be okay with a lot of these changes. You can check out her interview with Vulture and her Tumblr post to see more on her thoughts.

Final Verdict: If you are looking for a straight up adaptation that stays true to the book, then you might want to pass. If you are looking for a fun action flick with a female heroine, then it’s definitely a good choice for a movie day.


-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Sincerely Yours, The Breakfast Club

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 07:00

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…

–David Bowie, “Changes”

 

The 30th anniversary (and theatrical re-release) of The Breakfast Club seemed like the perfect time to indulge in (yet another) re-watch, with my Breakfast Club buddy (and lovely niece) Halle for company.  Written and directed by John Hughes, starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and Paul Gleason, The Breakfast Club is one of the many things we bonded over, in between comic books, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and good thai food, despite the fact that it came out in 1985, a good decade before she was born!

There’s no need to be coy; Halle is 19, I’m 44.  I wasn’t old enough to see it in the theater (that pesky and widely despised ‘R’ rating!) when it first came out, and I was too much of a Brian to try sneaking into the theater.  Thankfully, the magic of VHS brought The Breakfast Club to my very own living room; I’m guessing I finally saw it during my sophomore or junior year of high school.  Over many years of re-watching, I’ve changed my opinion about some parts, noticed things that are missing (like any diversity whatsoever), and come to appreciate some of the scenes I didn’t before.  It’s not an easy movie–it’s too ambiguous and hits too close to home–and I don’t think it’s perfect.  But it’s funny and honest and real in a way that’s pretty rare, even now, 30 years later.

Halle here– I was a kid when I first saw it so it didn’t mean much.  I thought it was really funny but I didn’t get a lot of it until I was 9 or 10, and even then it didn’t really hit me the same way.  That probably changed when I was 13 or 14 and old enough to more fully appreciate what was going on.  And then I loved it.  It’s one of the only films about teens that isn’t full of clichés, that isn’t totally unrealistic.  All of the stereotypes (athlete, princess, outcast etc.) are obvious, but not over-exaggerated.  This movie has charmed two generations, at least, so we wanted to talk about some of the reasons we think it holds up.

Julie & Halle’s Top Five Things That Make The Breakfast Club Special: Words, words, words

Halle: My favorite aspect of the movie is probably the dialogue. It’s hilarious and clever, but realistic and not over the top.  The movie is basically just talking, but all of the dialogue is interesting and important and it never gets boring, which is amazing.  The dialogue is especially good compared to most teen-centric films, which do not accurately portray what teenagers are really like, what high school is like, and how teens actually speak.  You can basically tell right away what stereotypes each character represents by how they’re dressed and by their body language, but it’s their first few lines of dialogue that really tell you who they are.

Julie: Plus, the quotes! This is one of the most quotable movies ever.  “Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?” “If he gets up, we’ll all get up…it’ll be anarchy!” “Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.” “Could you describe the ruckus?”  Hilarious and highly useful.  But then there’s also “Sometimes I feel invisible.” “If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap.”

 

Parents and other problematic adults

Julie: The movie opens with the arrival of everyone at school, short scenes that sketch out the relationship (or lack thereof) between each kid and their parents, and within minutes we get a pretty good idea of how important that dynamic is for everyone involved.  One of the major themes of The Breakfast Club is the absolutely enormous importance of parental expectation and interaction, and how parents shape the behavior and beliefs of their kids.  “They ignore me,” says Allison, as her faceless parent drives away.  Win. Be the best.  Nothing is more important than that, says Andrew’s father.  Can’t get an F in shop, Brian explains, it’s literally unthinkable.

Halle: Right.  And all of the adults, parents included, are basically “the enemy,” with the possible exception of Carl the janitor because at least he treats them like actual people. Carl might be the janitor, and the kids mock him, but they clearly have more respect for him than they do for Principal Vernon, and he has more power than Vernon as well.  Vernon treats them all like dirt, demanding respect he hasn’t earned, while putting them down at every opportunity.

Julie: Exactly. “That’s the last time you ever make me look bad in front of those kids,” says the guy who just told Bender to stop trying to impress people.  So while the kids may not like each other, they like the adults around them even less, and when they have to take sides, they always side with each other.  I think the scene between Carl and Vernon is particularly telling: Vernon is basically, “kids these days!” and Carl shuts him down.  “These kids haven’t changed, you have! If you were 16 what would you think of you?”  Not only is the movie honest about the impact of adults on the teens, it’s also honest about how important their respect is to Vernon.

Sexual politics, social hierarchies, the pressure of expectations, and other difficult topics

Julie: So many difficult topics!  Once the kids start talking they touch on so many different issues, things that are problematic and sticky, uncomfortable, embarrassing, difficult.  The pressure to have, and consequences of having, sex (especially for girls.)  The pressure to get good grades, join a club, belong, be the best, compete.  The pressure to fit in and have friends and be popular.  The kids have no illusions about the unfairness of expectations (see Allison’s explanation of the sexual double standard) and the benefits of the social hierarchy, for those who qualify.  For example, Andrew fully understands that he’s treated differently because he’s an athlete.  One of the most heartbreaking moments is the very honest discussion about whether they’ll be friends on Monday, and Claire saying they won’t, and moreover that it would be different for Brian and Allison because their friends look up to people like Claire and Andrew.   It’s true, and it sucks.

Not only do they talk about these things overtly, but the movie provides additional examples of the principles and pressures in action.  Claire and Andrew sitting together while the others sit alone.  Brian punching himself in the arm after finishing the essay, because no one else is going to. Claire deferring to every male except Brian because she’s unwilling or unable to stick up for herself (and Andrew’s need to jump in and defend her at every turn.)

Halle: Even though they open up to each other and talk about having sex and whether they will be friends, and even though they all obviously want to be understood, they’re still so very self-conscious, they care so much about their reputations, about how everyone sees them.  They talk about difficult subjects and are willing to be honest and even admit their mistakes, like Andrew, but they all get so defensive when someone else tries to criticize them, like Brian & Bender fighting over the elephant lamp.  It’s all about wanting to be really seen and understood, but being terrified of it at the same time.

The unanswered question(s)

We both love us some ambiguity.  Life is ambiguous, a lot.  And that’s why we love the ambiguity in The Breakfast Club.  What was the punchline of Bender’s joke?  What exactly was Vernon looking for in the confidential files?  Why did everyone follow Bender to his locker, at the risk of being caught and punished?  And of course, the mother of all unanswered questions: what happened on Monday?

There’s no easy answers in this movie.  The kids bond, but it doesn’t really change anything.  Probably.  You don’t really believe they’re going to be friends on Monday; at best they probably go forward with increased self awareness and maybe a little more empathy.  But are they going to behave radically different Monday morning?  Probably not.  Maybe?  No.  Maybe.

Relationships

Halle: Which brings us to the best thing in the movie, the relationship between the kids.  This isn’t a typical feel-good Hollywood teen movie.  The relationships start out prickly, at best, and even though the kids open up to each other over the course of the movie, they never stop trying to prove themselves to each other, they never drop their defenses entirely.  They are each desperate to be seen as more than the stereotype they fit into.  They talk about things that are totally relevant today: school and clubs, sex and dating, parents and their “unsatisfying” home lives.  Even the relatively insignificant conversations further the development of their relationships: Andrew asking Claire if she’s going to the party, Bender talking about the stuff in Claire’s purse, Claire explaining sushi to Bender, etc.  There’s so much going on between the kids, spoken and unspoken, with every interaction.  Which is why it’s so hard when Claire tells the truth about their relationships.  Even though they all became closer that day, it’s not going to make any difference on Monday.  The others take offense at her honesty, and they aren’t necessarily wrong to be angry, but they all know it’s true.

Julie: Exactly.  They’ve been hurling insults at each other all day, but at the same time they’re finding out they have a lot in common, and they’re bonding together against unfair expectations and dominating adults.  They’re sarcastic and mocking, even mean, but they also understand each other, once they stop to think about it.  They’re all so desperate to be seen, to be understood, and the entire movie is basically an exploration of what it takes for them each to let people in, to be honest, not only about their lives, but about their desire for empathy and respect.  Vernon tells the kids at the very beginning that he wants them to explain who they think they are.  What’s great about The Breakfast Club is that it says, to all of us, it’s alright if you don’t know the answer to that question.  Keep talking, keep listening and maybe we can figure it out together.

“Dear Mr Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

 

Watch the movie at home or at a theater near you this weekend only, then check out some read-and-watch-alikes:

Books (*and movie!)

  • This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
  • *The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • *The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
  • Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
  • *The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger

Movies

  • Mean Girls
  • Easy A
  • Pitch Perfect
  • Clueless
  • 10 Things I Hate About You

TV Shows

  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Glee
  • Veronica Mars

 

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Marcus Sedgwick’s The Ghosts of Heaven (again, because wow!) and Halle Maestas, currently reading Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic’s Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

 

Add Some Serendipity to Your Reading

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 07:00

Serendipity: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online

“I love in rainbow.” Courtesy of Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt (Purple Sherbet Photography)

The summer before I started middle school, my mom went back to work full time.  This meant that I needed looking after during the day. She worked something out with another local mom who had daughters about my age, and I spent many a long afternoon sitting on their couch, marveling over the fact that they didn’t have cable, and in some small way cultivating the reading habit that has always stayed with me. One of my summer playmates happened to be reading a book that I had never heard of at the time, but maybe you have, just this awesome little novel called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

This is my story that captures the magic (pun intended) of finding a great book out of pure luck and random circumstances, but I’m sure all avid readers have one that is just as meaningful.  Technically there is no way to add serendipity to your reading as it is, by nature, accidental, but here are some things you can do to invite those lucky bookish moments into your life.

In Your Library

Being a librarian, I’m rather biased in favor of libraries, but truly they are one of the best low maintenance ways to find new and interesting books.  After all, you don’t have to pay for them.  Library professionals are typically quite good at creating book displays, and are always looking to vary up their displays by theme.  Browsing the displays is a great way to discover a book you may not have otherwise heard of. Library book sales are also great, usually very cheap, routes of discovery.  If you’ve got a few hours, wander a library book sale and see what catches your eye, but be careful, you may take home a few tons of books.  And, of course, get to know your librarian! I can’t tell you how many times I have been reading a book and thought, “I know that (insert name here) would love this!” If a librarian gets to know what you like, they might end up serving as your own personal book scout and give you random, surprising recommendations. 

On the Internet

In terms of discovering books, everybody think of Goodreads, and don’t get me wrong, I love Goodreads, but let’s think outside the box a bit. If you are on Twitter or Instagram, hashtags can be a great way to browse new to you books.  #CurrentlyReading and #Bookstagram are two of the most popular, but it’s just the beginning. The great thing about bookish hashtags is they often lead you not only to great books but to people with similar tastes. When you find someone who often tweets about your kinds of books, you can follow them and who knows which of their tweets might scroll across your feed at just the right moment with just the right book. Finally, if you are like me, Netflix knows you are a reader.  Every time I go looking for a new TV show, Netflix shows me a whole list of “Movies Based on Books,” which usually makes me want to seek out the book before I watch the movie.

photo by flickr user Patrick Gage Kelley

In Your Everyday Life

Notice your friends’ and family members bookshelves, and browse them. Ask if they are open to lending. Even if you have browsed their books a dozen times you never know what title will speak to you in any particular moment. Don’t be afraid to “crossover” or “crossunder”- this means reading books that you may think are too old or too young for you.  Your younger sister might be in elementary school but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have good reading taste.  Your grandfather might not have bought a new book since you were born, but when he talks about his favorite, listen.

When all else fails trust your gut.  So you have ten fantasy books checked out for the library that you “need to finish” but you just saw The Imitation Game and you are dying to read some historical fiction? So go find some! Let yourself be led serendipitously towards your next great read!

-Emily Childress-Campbell, Currently reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

 

 

 

Jukebooks: Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 07:00

They might have been friends in a past life, but in this life, Juliette and Abram don’t speak to each other. How can they? Juliette’s mother was having an affair with Abram’s father, culminating in a car crash that killed the cheating pair. The gulf of grief and awkward recognition between Juliette and Abram seemed far too wide to bridge. Yet one night at midnight, they run into each other by chance at the CVS. Both are picking up drug prescriptions that testify to their ragged emotions during the year since the car accident. Turns out, they kind of like each other. They kind of understand each other. At last, they come to realize that finding each other is the bright side of a terrible tragedy.

The reference to “Mr. Brightside” immediately draw the mind to the first song written by The Killers, a catchy wail of a song released in 2004. The lyrics seem to be a disorganized mash of jealousy and longing as the singer envisions his lover with another man, sung with the kind of passion that invites full volume at 2am. Indeed, lead singer Brandon Flowers has admitted that the song was based on a time when he caught a girlfriend cheating on him.

Here’s a taste:

Jealousy
Turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis
But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr. Brightside

It’s a pop song with a punch. Pain comes in many forms, but look for Mr. Brightside.

Ten years after, the song’s release, The Killers play for an audience in Amsterdam as part of MTV’s World Stage series. It’s hard to sit still during this enthusiastic performance, much like a giant sing-along.

Diane Colson, currently reading an advance reader’s copy of Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes.

Genre Guide: YA Contemporary Romance

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 07:00

Definition
Contemporary romance YA novels are realistic fiction that take place during (more-or-less) the time frame in which the book is being published that include a love story as a main focus of the plot. There are not any hard and fast rules regarding how close to publication year a story must be set in order to be contemporary, but it is a small window. As a result, it may be difficult for some of us to swallow, but a book published this year that takes place in 1999 would not fall into this category, but rather into the realm of historical fiction.

Characteristics
Contemporary romances usually include the full cycle of a romance, beginning with the meeting of the future couple. Occasionally characters will already know each other and rather than having an adorable or awkward meeting there will a trigger event that begins the change in feelings from platonic to romantic. Then, the relationship will be tested or stressed by some series of events. These events can range from simple misunderstandings that are blown out of proportion to serious matters or life and death. Eventually, the conflict is resolved and the characters are able to fully acknowledge their love, though this does not always result in a happily ever after.
When you hear the words “contemporary romance,” you may immediately picture pink covers with doodled hearts. Sure, some of these stories are adorably fluffy and I can often spot a YA contemporary romance from across the room based on its cover. Some, though, appear to focus more on the contemporary life aspect and may be more sarcastic, dry-witted, and/or out-right weird. The romance is definitely there, but it may not be the first thing that a reader thinks about. Still, others may have a heavy dose of trauma or life-threatening situations as part of the plot.

These stories may also include some other common themes in YA including sports, music, and LGBTQ characters. 

Appeal
The appeal of contemporary romance for teen readers is that it is an avenue to explore romantic relationships that are happening in a realistic setting, potentially mirroring the attractions that they may have in their own life. Because they are rooted in the here-and-now, opposed to historical fiction, these stories allow readers to see their own world and imagine the scenarios playing out on the pages. There is an inherent excitement to the idea of falling in love for the first time. It doesn’t matter whether the reader is female or male, single or committed, LGBTQ or straight: love stories provide readers with the opportunity to swoon, plain and simple.

Authors to Know

Web Resources
RWA: RITA Awards
From 1983-2013 the Romance Writers of America included a category for Best Young Adult Romance in their annual awards list
The Hub: Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Some Recent YA Contemporary Romances

– Jessica Lind, currently reading The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

For the Love of Cats: Felines in YA Fiction

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 07:00

Last month I wrote about canines in YA literature. This month I want to give equal time to the felines. Firstly because I had the joy of growing up in a household of cats. Secondly, there are dastardly cat gangs out there which watch our every move, and I don’t want to get on their bad side. Or so goes the familiar negative image of cats in some popular lore. However, anyone who has actually shared their life with cats knows that this is not at all the reality. Each cat, like each dog, has its own characteristics, whether affectionate or independent, forgiving or wary. With that in mind, in the following list I’ve tried to include fiction titles which I feel are well-suited to teens and which include feline characters in a variety of roles and with a variety of personalities.

Blacksad (Blacksad series) by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido

The Spanish Canales and Guarnido originally created their Eisner Award-winning detective noir graphic novel series for French readers, but the setting is early 1950s U.S. This first volume collects the first three issues, which include a murder mystery and stories concerning the effects of white supremacy on individuals and the Red Scare. Private Investigator John Blacksad is an unforgettable feline. Lucia Cedeira Serantes, in her summer 2005 Young Adult Library Services article “¿Es un Pájaro? ¿Es un Avión?.…Spanish Comics for American Libraries” mentions two of the issues in this volume as being among the best in graphic novels and comics from Spain. (Adult Graphic Novel)

Book of Night with Moon (Feline Wizards trilogy) by Diane Duane

This is the first novel in a series which combines science fantasy, adventure, horror and even humor. There is a secret civilization of cats in Manhattan complete with its own language, a glossary of which is included in the novel. When the world is threatened with invasion by monsters from the “Downside”, four cats – Rhiow, Saash, Urruah and Arhu — seek out the wizard responsible for the dire situation. The cats make interesting observations about the differences between human and feline culture. (Adult Fiction)

What Curiosity Kills (Turning series) by Helen Ellis

At the start of this new series, sixteen-year-old Mary from Alabama has been adopted into a New York family. Life is filled with the usual teenage ups and downs, until a bigger issue surfaces when she starts purring and craving rodents. She learns that she is a feline shape-shifter, and becomes part of a citywide war between domestic and stray cats. A mix of urban fantasy, realism and romance. (Older Teen Fiction)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Left to her own devices by her preoccupied parents, young Coraline opens a door in her house, only to discover that it leads into an alternate world. In this world, it becomes increasingly clear that Coraline’s “other mother”, with her black button eyes and creepy ways, wants to imprison Coraline forever. A talking cat with no name acts as Caroline’s mentor, helping her make her way out of this frightening situation. (Intermediate Fiction and Graphic Novel)

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2004 Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School Level)

Thirteen-year-old Mia has synesthesia, a rare condition in which various sounds, letters, numbers and words cause her to see colors. When school becomes increasingly frustrating, she begins to distance herself from it and gravitate toward the world of her fellow synesthetes. It is the illness and death of her dear cat Mango that wakes Mia up and helps her begin to start repairing some relationships that she had let go. (Younger Teen Fiction)

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett (2002 Best Books for Young Adults, one of the nine titles for which Pratchett won the 2011 Margaret A. Edwards Award)

Maurice is a smooth-talking cat who convinces a group of rats and a young human musician to pull off pied-piper scams with him. All is going quite well until the group comes upon the village of Bad Blintz, in which evil rats are putting diabolical plans into motion. It’s up to Maurice and his gang to save the day. Fantasy, lots of humor and a few scary moments. (Younger Teen Fiction)

Additional Suggestions:

Unfamiliar Magic by R. C. Alexander (Younger Teen Fiction)

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (Adult Fiction)

Varjak Paw (Varjak Paw series) by S. F. Said (Intermediate Fiction)

Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams (Adult Fiction)

 

Please add your own favorite feline YA fiction to this list!

– Anna Dalin, currently listening to Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

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