The Hub

Subscribe to The Hub feed
Your Connection to Teen Reads
Updated: 15 hours 45 min ago

The Monday Poll: The Best Declaration of Love in YA Lit

Sun, 02/08/2015 - 23:23

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we kicked off our Valentine’s Day celebrations early by asking what YA romance title you would recommend to a reader who really doesn’t read romance. Topping the results list was Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, with 39% of the vote.  Next was The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, with 21%, and The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, with 20%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, we continue the Valentine’s theme by challenging you to pick the best declaration of love in YA lit. Which one confession would capture your heart? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments! We deliberately kept this poll brief to invite your suggestions!

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

Tweets of the Week – Feb 6th

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 07:00

Well, I was certainly jealous of you all Midwinter this week. I tried to remember that I had the California weather instead. ;-) Here’s what had everyone tweeting this week, Chicago and elsewhere. Outside of Midwinter, other big news was that BEA announced another mostly white lineup to their Con, proving that some people just don’t learn, lots of books had cover reveals, Black History Month started, and Harper Lee announced a prequel/original version of To Kill a Mockingbird, to be released soon.



Movies/TV/Pop Culture


Youth/Digital Life/Librarianship

Just For Giggles

  • @LaurenDeStefano *opens word doc* *collapses into heap of intimidation and inadequacy* *sunrise turns to sunset five times*
  • @alybee930 Kittens have been super clingy since I got back from I think they missed me.


–Hannah Gómez, currently reading St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

Women in Comics: Love and Relationships

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 07:00

Happy Valentine’s Day by Song Zheng. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With Valentine’s Day (and Galentine’s Day) just around the corner, February seems like a good month to write a Women in Comics post about books that are focus on love and relationships. Whether this means romantic love (or the lack thereof) or strong friendships, many women have created comics that focus on real or fictional relationships. Check one out to get in the spirit of the season!Soppy: A Love Story by Philippa Rice – In this volume, Rice tells the story of her relationship with her boyfriend through red, white and black images. Told through short standalone comics that form snapshots of their life together, the book alternates between funny, cute and poignant. The art style is a unique one that fits well with the stories Rice is telling and makes the book approachable to even those who do not frequently read comics.

Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer – This memoir focuses on the author’s first year at college. After a lifetime in a small town in Michigan, Beyer decided to move to Baltimore at age 18 to attend art school. In this book, she chronicles this time through a combination of comics, lists, and journal excerpts. Some of the pages are designed as traditional graphic novels and others incorporate elements of collage and typed text to create a personal look at this year in her life. Over the course of the book, readers watch Beyer grow, expand her horizons, and form relationships with her new roommates and classmates and even meet and fall for her first boyfriend. It is a relatable and engaging look at the transition from high school to college.

Festering Romance by Renee Lott – Janet is a college student who shares her apartment with her best friend Paul. While this might sound ideal, there’s just one small problem: Paul is a ghost. When Janet’s friend Freya forces her to go on a blind date, she’ll have to step outside her comfort zone to build a new relationship. But, more importantly, she’ll have to learn how to juggle her ghostly best friend with a new boyfriend.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan with artwork by Fiona Staples – Though most may think of Saga as a science fiction story or a war story, at its heart it is the love story of soldiers on opposite sides of a war who fall in love and must run away to protect their new family. Combining stunning artwork with a compelling story that may be set in an alien world but is relatable to readers everywhere, this book will not disappoint those who are already fans of Vaughan and Staples’ work and has already brought them many new fans. The series is rated for readers aged 17+.

Alone Forever by Liz Prince – In this volume, Liz Prince collects short comics on a range of topics related to relationships, crushes, social awkwardness, friendships, and sometimes preferring a solitary life or a relationship with your cat. Though the comics all share Prince’s style of writing and art, they vary in tone, incorporating humor and emotional insight by turns.

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy by Fumi Yoshinaga – In this autobiographical manga, author and artist Fumi Yoshinaga takes a self-deprecating look at her life as seen over the course of restaurant outings. Each section of the book shows Yoshinaga and her friends going to various restaurants, which offers a unique window into those she spends time with and her love affair with food. Though the food is a central portion of the story, readers also learn a lot about Yoshinaga’s life and her friendships as she turns an unrelenting eye on herself and her own foibles. All of the restaurants included in the book are real and the book also includes information to help readers plan a trip to any of the restaurants.

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa – This small volume is an ode to the idea of loving someone as a friend rather than romantically. It takes the form of a letter from one character to another confessing a desire for a close friendship that reminds me of the concept of “bosom friends” from Anne of Green Gables. It is a sweet story with unique artwork that will appeal to anyone who understands the desire of the love one feels for one’s closest friends.

Though these books all focus on relationships, they are otherwise very different in terms of art style, genre, and tone, so I hope it offers something for everyone. And, I’m sure I have missed many great relationship comics, so let me know about your favorites in the comments!

– Carli Spina, currently reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Garth Nix

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 07:00

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

I’ve had the privilege of working on these Hub interviews for awhile now, and people who know me will often assume that whatever book I’m currently reading is linked to this series.  They’re often right, of course, though not always, and I won’t lie–it’s fun to confirm that yes, Awesome Author you see me reading really is my next interview.  A lot of the time this leads to excellent book talk and mutual gushing, and sometimes it leads to me energetically detailing all the reasons why they need to read said author, like, yesterday.  And then sometimes I find myself sort of tongue-tied by the opportunity I’ve been given and all I can do is just nod appreciatively along with their exclamations and hope that my slack-jawed bobbing conveys the enormity of my glee and awe.  Usually it’s a combination of all of those reactions, driven partly by where I am in the interview process and partly by whoever I’m talking to about it.

Which is all to say that the last couple months working on this interview with (ahhh!) Garth Nix, I’ve noticed something very interesting and unusual about those interactions: no matter who I shamelessly and giddily gushed with, I got a similar reaction.  Intake of breath, widening of eyes, exclamation of jealousy/excitement/surprise and then some variation of ‘Oh-my-gosh-I-love-him-so-much-I’ve-read-all-his-books-I-can’t-believe-you-get-to-interview-him-that’s-so-awesome-you-have-to-ask him about…”  It was weird, really, not because I didn’t feel the same way, but because literally everyone said this.  My 21 year old nephew and my 12 year old niece both said this.  The mother of my daughter’s best friend said this, as did various other middle aged women (like me!) from book club.  My best friend said this.  My 16 year old friend and book buddy said this.  A random father waiting, like me, to pick up his kid from theater school said this.   People 20 years older and 30 years younger than me said this.  Men, women, little kids, and everyone in between said this.  Everyone said this.

Seriously, I am impressed.

Garth Nix, you clearly have a wide and deeply devoted readership that spans just about every age group and publishing category.  “I don’t usually read fantasy, but since it’s Garth Nix…”  “I don’t usually read kids books, but I loved the Old Kingdom series so much I just had to read The Keys to the Kingdom books.” “I don’t like science fiction but A Confusion of Princes was spectacular.”  You get the idea.  And I’m right there with them, reading and marveling at every book and feeling really, really lucky and grateful at the chance to talk teen years, power, and the importance of being able to convey deep enthusiasm with the remarkable Garth Nix.  Thank you!

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

I think like most teenagers, I appeared differently to different people, or at least wanted to present a different version of myself. My thirteen year-old self was also markedly different from my nineteen year-old self, as you would expect. I guess one thing that stayed the same throughout my teenage years was that even though I was spiritually a complete nerd with my love of reading and role-playing games and doing well at school, I kept this compartmentalized so that I could also remain part of the most socially-acceptable group in school, to which I belonged at least in part thanks to my best friend being the most popular boy (and school captain). I was also a curious mix of a dreamer and a realist, I day-dreamed but never at the expense of ignoring what was going on in real life. In a way this is a very useful trait for an author, to have the dreams but learn how to harness and use them rather than just drifting along with them.

I wasn’t really a rebellious teen, though I drank too much alcohol too frequently and smoked a lot of dope at various times, though I did so mainly because everyone else did, not for its own sake. Fortunately I didn’t have an addictive nature and so was never more than a casual user and got it out of my system quite early, having basically given up everything but alcohol (and less of it) by the time I was nineteen. I was also lucky not to get into more serious drug use or trouble, because some of my friends did and I could have been drawn into it, or just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At various times I was a somewhat angry teen, though I was never really sure what I was angry about. Bad tempers run in my father’s side of the family, getting progressively better managed with each generation, but I was still working on that in my teenage years. Because I read very widely, I also knew lots of curious facts or thought I did, and so could be a terrible know-it-all which annoyed people, though I got better at not delivering unnecessary information or showing off my knowledge. I was also really quite shy, though people didn’t know I was, because I put on a good front. Even my best friend wouldn’t believe how difficult I found it sometimes in social situations, because I would appear to be fine.

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

From about fourteen, I thought I would become an officer in the Australian Army. I planned to go to our military college and get my degree there and have a career in the army. I have had a deep fascination for military history from a very young age, and a family tradition of military service of various kinds. However, I joined the part-time Army Reserve when I was seventeen and still at school and though I enjoyed this and had five years basically spending all my summers either doing a course or in field training, by the time I left school I had worked out that being in the regular army would not work for me, because I had become aware that it really constrained you to do nothing else, it was very much a total lifestyle decision. I also realized that I was much more an individualist than a team player, which tends not to work so well in the armed services, apart from in a few very specialized areas.

What were your high school years like?

My early high school years I just went along with the flow and didn’t think about it much. I was in Canberra, the federal capital of Australia, which is a very small city even now and back then was little more than a big country town with a strangely bolted-on Federal government infrastructure of a big city. Almost everyone I grew up with from pre-school continued on to the same schools, so high school was full of familiar faces, my older brother went there as did the siblings of many of my friends, so I knew a great deal about it for years before I even went there. Later, in the last two years of school, I really wanted to get it out of the way so I could go and do something else (though I didn’t know what that something else would be at the time, I just wanted out). If I could have compressed the last two years into one I would have done it, but that wasn’t possible.

I loved the library at school and spent a lot of time there, encountering many books that would be important to me later on. One great year we could do fencing for sport, which I threw myself into, learning épée and sabre, coming second in an inter-school competition through ferocity rather than finesse, much to my teacher’s horror, who went on to show me that ferocity only worked at the very lowest levels of the art. I’ve forgotten his name now, that fencing teacher, because he was only there that year, but he was certainly an influence. My English teacher, Mrs. Thompson was also an important figure who encouraged us all to engage in creative writing and in Year 10 put together a book of our stories. Mine, I recall, was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche about Dr. Watson’s experiences in the British Army in Afghanistan. I also had an important history teacher in Year 11 and 12, Mr. John Carter (not of Mars) whose enthusiasm for the subject was inspirational.

I spent a lot of time role-playing on weekends, mostly D&D and its science fiction equivalent Traveller, and aimlessly riding my bike around with my friends for miles and miles and miles, and going fishing in the lake, and reading, always reading. Then from about fifteen or sixteen, Fridays and Saturdays became about going to the parties that would take place wherever there were parents away or parents who didn’t mind having a dozen or twenty teenagers surreptitiously (or openly) drinking and playing music too loud and trying to at least kiss someone. Later again, from when I joined the Army Reserve at seventeen, I spent one or two weekends a month away with my unit, and all December and January, coming home for a week over Christmas. I was in an Assault Pioneer platoon, so we built things and blew things up and also drove assault boats, it could be very physically and/or mentally demanding at times but was also often a lot of fun.

What were some of your passions during that time?

I was passionate about gaming in general, particularly what was then the very new field of role-playing games. I think this was very much an adjunct of my passion for stories, both reading them and making them up. It also tied in with my interest in history, particularly military history. I listened to pretty much the same music everyone else did, which was a lot of 1960s stuff mixed in with what was coming out in the 70s and then early 80s. Sports-wise I really only like the individual sports, particularly fencing and fishing, but also bushwalking and cross-country skiing, and body-surfing.

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

Looking back, I had a very fortunate childhood, without any major traumas. One of the most formative experiences was joining the Army Reserve at seventeen and going off for recruit training, which was physically, mentally and societally challenging and broadened my horizons considerably. Then at eighteen doing the specialist training to be an Assault Pioneer, dealing with demolitions, mines and so forth. I remember very distinctly placing and detonating my first “confidence charge”, a block of TNT. If I’d somehow got it very wrong I would have been killed. It didn’t worry me at the time, because I had been very well-trained and at that age like everyone I thought I was immortal, but in retrospect I was only a teenager blithely using high explosive. By the time I was nineteen I was familiar with all kinds of different explosives and had narrowly avoided being blown up by someone else’s mistake, a sergeant twice my age who’d served in Vietnam.

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

When I was nineteen, so still just a teenager, my first paid short story was accepted by a British magazine called “Warlock” published by Penguin Books. I’d only recently decided I wanted to try to become a writer, and that story “Sam, Cars and the Cuckoo” was one of the first things I sent anywhere. In fact I’d sent it to a different magazine and so was very surprised to get a telegram (in the last year telegrams were still able to be used in Australia, I believe) from Penguin asking to publish it with a very good payment. It came at exactly the right time to encourage me to embark on my plan to become a writer, and even though I couldn’t sell a story anywhere for quite a few years afterwards, this early sale definitely encouraged my future writing career. (Though, as I’ve said, I’ve always been a realist as a well as a day-dreamer, so I also planned a tandem career in publishing, to ensure I would have a day job to keep me alive.)

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self? Would your teen self have listened? 

I think I would tell my teen self to work harder at everything! But I wouldn’t have listened.

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

No. I tend not to look backwards. Far better to look ahead.

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

I don’t miss anything, in part because I know you can’t get it back so there’s no point. This ties in with my general philosophy of looking ahead rather than backwards. You can’t change the past, so it’s best to accept whatever that past is and get on with the present and prepare for the future.


Every Day I Write the Book

“I guess I have always been interested in the use, misuse, and cost of power,” you’ve said, describing your most recent novel Clariel, as being mainly about power and the use of power. And in a recent VOYA interview you list “the Roman Emperor Diocletian (the only supreme ruler of the known world to abdicate and grow cabbages)” as one of five fascinating people you’d invite to dinner, which is another intriguing, if sideways, comment on power and your interest in it. What is it about the concept of power that particularly interests you and why do you think you’re drawn to explore it in your fiction?

I think this comes from my interest in history, but also because it is such a big part of everyone’s lives, whether they realize it or not, and so is tremendous raw material for stories. There are many different kinds of power, and many different ways to pursue power or relinquish it.

In an interview you did back in 2000, you acknowledged that while you “subscribe to the belief that ‘if you want to send a message, use Western Union,’” you also can’t help but infuse [your] moral and ethical views…consciously or not,” into your work. You also talk about the need to confront stereotypes for many reasons, one of which is that “authors that try to undermine stereotypes or twist them around a little, write the most interesting stories.” I’m wondering if your notion of “preaching” has changed over the years, and whether–or how–the “moral and ethical” views that do seep into your work–consciously or unconsciously–have changed?  Do you feel like you’re challenging the same old stereotypes, or have new ones cropped up?  Has the ongoing discussion of diversity in YA fiction influenced your writing or do you feel that you’ve been attempting to tackle that in your own way all along?

I still think that the most important thing is to tell a good story, and overt preaching will always detract from a story and ironically also be less effective in transmitting the desired message anyway. I do probably still infuse my fiction with the same moral and ethical views, because they haven’t changed that much. I try not to be too overt about this, and usually when I’m writing a story I don’t even think about these things. Occasionally I have gone back in the editing process to either make something more overt or to occlude or pull back on something that seems too strident.

Stereotypes, by their very nature, are long-lasting things, very deeply rooted in culture. So while you get variations on a theme, I think the stereotypes that I have tried to consciously challenge have remained much the same. Possibly one thing that has emerged is a kind of meta-stereotype, where a very old stereotype is challenged in exactly the same way so many times that the “challenger” itself becomes a stereotype and sometimes also then reinforces the original construction it was meant to erode.

The ongoing discussion of diversity in YA and other fiction has influenced my writing, as have other discussions in the public arena. I do try to think about the questions raised in discussions of diversity or inclusiveness, and how I am answering them (or not) in my writing.

You’re known for immersive and fantastic world building, but have often noted the dangers of substituting world building for storytelling, as you mentioned in a recent Reddit AMA. Rather than creating extensive backstory or background material, you describe continuously and consciously collecting small ideas, using everything you “observe and experience, either directly or vicariously.”  Ideas come from “observing people in the street; from incidents in or details of history; from myth and legend; from landscape; from the living natural world; from the sciences; from all the fiction” you’ve ever read.  These ideas, “generated by the act of writing [which includes] daydreaming, note-jotting and open-mouthed musing…” all go into the reservoir of the mind.  My question is, how do you keep track of these ideas?  Do you have notebooks or electronic files full of quotes and observations, story ideas, facts, historical oddities?  Are you able to select and develop ideas that have been there for years or do you feel like you lose details to the vagaries of time and memory?

I make notes, but I find that the best ideas (or little factual seeds that will turn into ideas) stick with me anyway. Sometimes I forget them for a while: a week, a month, a year  . . . but they always come back. I quite often will make a note of something, and it will sink deep into my subconscious, only to emerge much later as a more fully-formed idea. Sometimes rather than make a note as such, I will actually write a few paragraphs of prose that encapsulate the idea in the beginning of a story, and then there will be half a dozen key words that I trust will help me sort out the rest of it when (and if) it comes time to actually complete the story.

You’ve described bookselling as being “at its heart about the transfer of enthusiasm for a book,” explaining that “the more enthusiasm, the farther the book will go, at every stage of its life.” That same enthusiasm is evident when you talk about your time working in a bookstore yourself, and you’ve gone so far as to say that you are “firmly of the opinion that everyone in publishing should spend some time…working in a bookstore.” Given your background and your generous praise of influential and favorite writers over the years, could you talk about how you convey deep enthusiasm to a potential reader?

My only real tip for conveying deep enthusiasm is that it does have to be real. If you genuinely love a book, that love will come through, no matter how you express it. Even if you deliver a tongue-tied, confusing babble, it will be apparent to another book-lover that you adore the book. That being the case, chances are they will give it a try. Actually, I guess I do have another tip. If someone is resisting a book recommendation, ask them to read the first two pages and leave it at that. If the transfer of enthusiasm is going to work, those first two pages will do it. If they don’t, chances are that book isn’t for that reader anyway.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Question from Andrew SmithHi Garth! Well, I’m sure you’ve never been asked what kinds of snacks you eat while writing, to describe your office space, or what your favorite stuffed animal was when you were a kid, but I’m going to skip all those deep examinations of your work and ask you this: If you could magically add one thing to the YA book cannon, what would it be?

I’m not sure that there really exists a YA book canon as such, anyway. Even looking at something like Time magazine’s very recent “100 Best YA Books of All Time”, there are books there that I wouldn’t personally include, and many that are not listed that I think should be. There are also books that were very prominent in the last half of the 20th century that are forgotten now, as will happen to some of the biggest books of the current era in fifty years time.

But I can answer the stuffed animal question, because I still have the platypus I called “Bark” when I was three. Admittedly it has lost its bill, eyes, feet and fur and my mother recovered it in a tartan material which is now also very faded, so it resembles a kind of plaid chicken drumstick. But it is still a platypus for all that.


Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. A full-time writer since 2001, he previously worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve.

Garth’s books include the award-winning young adult fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen; the dystopian novel Shade’s Children; the space opera A Confusion of Princes; and a Regency romance with magic, Newt’s Emerald.

His fantasy novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series; and the Troubletwisters series and Spirit Animals: Blood Ties (co-written with Sean Williams). Garth’s most recent book, Clariel, is a prequel to the Old Kingdom trilogy, released in October 2014.

More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, his books have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian and The Australian, and his work has been translated into 40 languages.

He lives in a Sydney beach suburb with his wife and two children.

You can find Garth at his website or Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.


–Julie Bartel, currently reading Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest and The Sculptor by Scott McCloud


Whatever Happened to Scout? Harper Lee’s Second Novel

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 07:00

It’s the biggest news in publishing since the Gutenberg Bible: Harper Lee is releasing a “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird. 

TKAM was once part of a longer novel entitled Go Set a Watchman, which is about a grown-up Scout living in New York. In it, Scout returns to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father. Upon reading the manuscript, Lee’s editor advised her to focus on the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood experiences, and thus a Pulitzer Prize winner was born. The discovery of Go Set a Watchman and its upcoming publication gives readers the opportunity to find out what happened later to Scout and Atticus.

To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a movie in 1962, establishing actor Gregory Peck as the embodiment of Atticus Finch. The movie came with the warning, “Not Suitable for Children,” despite the fact that three of the characters, Scout, Jem, and Dill were actual children. As New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote: “And for a fair spell it looks as though maybe we are going to be squeezed inside the skin of Scott and Jem as they go racing and tumbling around the neighborhood…. It is when the drama develops along the conventional line of a social crisis in the community—the charging of a Negro with the rape of a white woman—that the children are switched to the roles of lookers-on.”

The charming story of children living in small town Alabama becomes an examination of subjects considered extremely taboo in the mid-twentieth century. There was the intimation of sex between a white woman and a black man, as well as the possibility of incest and child abuse. Maycomb’s inhabitants are exposed as vicious bigots.

Gregory Peck speaks a bit about the book and movie in this trailer:

Despite the fact that many consider To Kill a Mockingbird as the best of their required reading books (Goodreads list), it is among one of the most banned and/or challenged classics, according to the American Library Association. Offensive language, including racial slurs, are repeated throughout the book. The shame of racism, particularly in the courtroom, is a major theme. Toss in rape, lynch mobs, and murder and there is plenty of objectionable material for some parents. Even as recently as 2013, TKAM was banned (or re-banned, as this article explains) in a Louisiana School District.

Nevertheless, millions of readers are dying to know the rest of the story. When Go Set a Watchman (a biblical reference found in Isaiah 21:6) is finally released in June of this year, expect a rush to rival the releases of the Harry Potter books. Mockingbird t-shirts, anyone?

Looking for TKAM read-alikes? Check out teen blogger Bella Cavicci’s article on The Hub!

-Diane Colson, currently reading Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

Jukebooks: I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 07:00

At thirteen, twins Noah and Jude are firm fixtures in each other’s lives. They are rivals, co-conspirators, and unshakable allies all at the same time. Three years later, everything about their lives is fractured. Their once strong bond is almost nonexistent, and their family seems broken beyond repair. The creative drive, however, cannot be denied for long, and soon their paths back to art, reconciliation, and passion will bring them back to each other.

Told in two timelines, one from Noah at thirteen and one from Jude at sixteen, the 2015 Printz Award winner I’ll Give You the Sun is an ambitious, evocative study of the power of art to inspire and heal. There is a glorious tension in each narrator’s story, keeping the reader on edge as they race to discover the fates of the various tangled family and romantic relationships.

Jandy Nelson uses evocative language to express emotions, with Noah’s states of mind especially bursting with idiosyncratic colors and motion. The poetry of so many lines linger long after readers finish the last page.

In thinking through what music or song might touch on both the language and powerful longing so key to the novel, I had the thrilling realization that one of my favorite songs of yearning fit the bill.

Michigan born singer songwriter Sufjan Stevens uses the musical equivalent of this novel’s elements in his compositions: image-laden lyrics, a slow build toward a dynamic final verse, and multi-layered choruses and instruments to create a lush, romantic sound. He’s also justifiably famous for his lengthy song titles and deliberate wordplay. “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!” from Stevens’ 2005 album Illinois struck me as a perfect fit for I’ll Give You the Sun, and in particular for the character of Noah.

The song doesn’t line up in all details, but it nails two aspects. First, the lyrics detail the powerfully felt spark of new love and the electric physical brushes that make you tremble before a first kiss even feels possible. The song can be read as featuring platonic or romantic love, and like the best songs reflects the listener as much as the songwriter, but here it fits Noah’s passionate attraction perfectly. The hesitant gestures and the final defiant outpouring of emotion sync with Noah’s tumultuous navigation of his relationship with the object of his affection, Brian.

Second, the narrative and music swirl together to present a timeline that is being remembered, one summer’s moments of longing and regret, and a present reaffirmation of the narrator’s strength of feeling and continued steadfast devotion. I’ve always been impressed by how a few lines in the first verse can so vividly recall summer in precise images, perfectly matched with Stevens’ delicate delivery and quiet pauses. The final undeniable explosion of sound including the repeated chorus of “We were in love…” and joyful horns finish with a strong note of hope and reconciliation.

A sample of the lyrics:

I can tell you, we swaggered and swayed
Deep in the tower, the prairies below
I can tell you, the telling gets old
Terrible sting and terrible storm

I can tell you the day we were born
My friend is gone, he ran away

I can tell you, I love him each day
Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged
I can tell you I love him each day

Listen to the song here:

The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!

Thanks to regular Jukebooks author Diane Colson for letting me join in on this feature for The Hub. While working together on this year’s Printz Committee we discovered a shared love of music and relishing the connections between a well told story and a well wrought song. It’s great to find someone else who composes playlists for favorite novels and characters!

-Robin Brenner

Coming Soon: The 2015 Hub Reading Challenge

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 07:00

Get excited, YA lit enthusiasts! Now that the Youth Media Awards have been announced and the selected list committees are wrapping up their work, we are pleased to officially announce our 2015 Hub Reading Challenge!

When? The 2015 Hub Reading Challenge will begin at 12:01AM EST on Monday, February 9. Once the challenge starts, you’ll have about four months (until 11:59pm on Sunday, June 21) to read as many of the following as you possibly can:

If you participated in our Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge- even if you didn’t finish- you can count that reading toward your progress in The Hub Reading Challenge. Otherwise, only books that you both begin and finish within the challenge period count, so if you’ve read any of these titles before, you’ll have to re-read them to count them.

What? To complete the challenge, read or listen to 25 of the selected titles before the deadline. Everyone who completes the challenge will be invited to submit a reader response (which can be text, audio, video, graphics, or some combination) to his or her favorite (or least favorite!) challenge title, which we’ll publish here on The Hub. Additionally, everyone who completes the challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win our grand prize: a YALSA tote bag full of 2014 and 2015 YA lit titles! (If you’re a librarian or teacher, we’ll also toss in a couple of professional development titles.)

Not challenging enough, you say? For the speed readers out there, we offer this: on top of completing the challenge, you can go on to conquer it by reading all of the eligible titles.

As you read, you’ll also be earning badges that you can post on your blog or website or include in your email signature to show off how well-read you are, and if you conquer the challenge by reading all of the eligible titles, you’ll earn a super-elite badge (as well as our undying respect and awe).

How? Keep track of what you read every week and how many titles you’ve finished. Every Sunday, we’ll create a check-in post; comment on the post with what you’ve read or listened to that week (and what you thought of it!). If you’ve completed the challenge, fill out the form embedded in the post to give us your name and email address so we can contact you after the challenge is over. The challenge will run on the honor system, so be good!

Format matters, because listening can be a very different experience from reading in print, so be sure to experience challenge-eligible titles in the format in which they were honored. For example, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! was named an Odyssey Honor, an award that recognizes outstanding audiobooks, so even if you’ve already enjoyed the print version, you’ll need to listen to the audiobook to count it for this challenge. Tip: Some titles will be faster reads than others, so if you’re not sure if you can read 25 books in four months, start with quicker reads (like Quick Picks and Great Graphic Novels) first!

Who? All readers of young adult literature — teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers, bloggers, parents, teens, anyone! — are welcome to accept our reading challenge. If you’re a librarian or teacher, consider encouraging your patrons or students to give it a try.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments or send us an email. Otherwise, we’ll see you when the challenge kicks off next Monday!

-Allison Tran

2015 Youth Media Award Winners Announced!

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 11:06

This morning marked one of the highlights of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Chicago: the winners and honor books for ALA’s Youth Media Awards were announced! It was an exciting year, with lots of surprises– including the first time a graphic novel for teens has been named a Caldecott Honor book! Too, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement as a whole is feeling a big win this morning, as so many of the titles recognized feature characters of color or people with disabilities.

Here is the list of YA titles recognized this morning (children’s books have been omitted from this list because The Hub focuses on YA lit, but be sure to find the full list of winners on ALA’s website):

Alex Award for adult books with teen appeal

  • All the Light We Cannot See,  written by Anthony Doerr  and published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster
  • Bellweather Rhapsody, written by Kate Racculia and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
  • Bingo’s Run, written by James A. Levin and published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company
  • Confessions, written by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder, and published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  • Everything I Never Told You, written by by Celeste Ng and published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group LLC, a Penguin Random House Company
  • Lock In, written by John Scalzi, a Tor book published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
  • The Martian, written by Andy Weir and published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company
  • The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice, written by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles and published by TED Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead, written by Michael Koryta and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group
  • Wolf in White Van, written by John Darnielle and published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature

  • Author: Sharon M. Draper

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature

  • Winner: I’ll Give You the Sun, written by Jandy Nelson and published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, an imprint of Penguin Random House
  • Honor: And We Stay, written by Jenny Hubbard and published by Delacorte Press, and imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., a Penguin Random House Company
  • Honor: The Carnival at Bray, written by Jessie Ann Foley and published by Elephant Rock Books
  • Honor: Grasshopper Jungle, written by Andrew Smith and published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, a Penguin Random House Company
  • Honor: This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki and published by First Second

Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children:

  • Honor: This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki and published by First Second

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American  author of outstanding books for children and young adults:

  • Honor: Kekla Magoon for How It Went Down, published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award:

  • When I Was the Greatest, written by Jason Reynolds and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, and imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

Odyssey Award for outstanding audiobooks for young adults

  • Honor: Five, Six, Seven, Nate! produced by AUDIOWORKS (Children’s), an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, written by Tim Federle, and narrated by Tim Federle

Schneider Family Book Award for an artistic expression of the disability experience

  • Teen winner: Girls Like Us, written by Gail Giles and published by Candlewick Press

Stonewall Book Award for outstanding LGBTQ titles

  • Honor: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, written and photographed by Susan Kuklin and published by Candlewick Press
  • Honor: I’ll Give You the Sun, written by Jandy Nelson and published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, an imprint of Penguin Random House

William C. Morris Award for outstanding debut novels

  • Winner: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, written by Isabel Quintero, published by Cinco Puntos Press
  • Finalist: The Carnival at Bray, written by Jessie Ann Foley, published by Elephant Rock Books
  • Finalist: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, written by E.K. Johnston, published by Carolrhoda Lab™, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group
  • Finalist: The Scar Boys, written by Len Vlahos, published by Egmont Publishing
  • Finalist: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, written by Leslye Walton, published by Candlewick Press

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

  • Winner: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek written by Maya Van Wagenen, and published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Finalist: Laughing at My Nightmare written by Shane Burcaw, and published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group
  • Finalist: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia written by Candace Fleming, and published by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
  • Finalist: Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won! written by Emily Arnold McCully, and Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
  • Finalist: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights written by Steve Sheinkin, and published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan’ Children’s Publishing Group

The Monday Poll: Romance for Non-Romance Readers

Sun, 02/01/2015 - 23:25

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, to wrap up National Tea Month, we asked which character from YA lit could use a comforting cup of tea. Your top pick was probably the character would would appreciate tea the most: Maddie, from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, with 54% of the vote. Eleanor from Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park came in second with 24%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, we’re celebrating the most romantic month of all (at least, according to the greeting card companies…) – it’s February, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner? Which YA romance would you recommend to a reader who doesn’t usually go for romance? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments!

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

YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Final Check-In

Sun, 02/01/2015 - 07:00

This is it, readers– we’re closing in on the final hours of the 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge. ALA’s Youth Media Awards will be announced tomorrow morning, and our reading challenge wraps up officially at 7:45 am CST on Monday, February 2.

We hope you’ve had fun participating in this year’s challenge. How many books did you end up reading? Did any titles surprise you? Do you have any predictions for the titles that will take away the gold medals?

Remember, if you finished the Morris/Nonfiction Challenge, you have a head start on with the 2015 Hub Reading Challenge that will start the week after the Youth Media Awards. Thanks for participating, and be sure to fill out the finisher form at the end of this post if you’re all done!

-Allison Tran, currently reading Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan


Tweets of the Week: January 30th

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 07:00

In case you missed it, here’s what had people twittering this week. Hope all of you on the East Coast stayed warm – and hope my fellow West Coasters only rubbed in our good weather a little bit. ;-) Those of you at Midwinter, have a great time and keep the rest of us posted!


Movies/TV/Pop Culture


Librarianship/Youth Services/Education/Digital Life

Just For Giggles

–Hannah Gómez, currently reading Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Maya Van Wagenen

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

2015 Nonfiction Award finalist Maya Van Wagenen is being honored for her memoir Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, in which she documents her unique experiences as a contemporary middle schooler seeking the secrets of social success from a 1950s popularity handbook written by former model Betty Cornell. We are so grateful to this busy young author for taking the time to chat with us about her book! 

It’s so amazing that you were able to connect with THE Betty Cornell to tell her how much her book meant to you. Have you had any memorable experiences with readers who felt a deep connection with your book? Meeting and writing to readers has been one of the highlights of this process. I get  messages from people in France, the UK, and Russia, as well as all over the United States. Something I remember distinctly happened when I was doing a signing at YALLFest, a young adult book festival in Charleston. A girl approached me with her copy of Popular. It had colored Post-it notes sticking up from half the pages, comments scrawled in the margins, and quotes highlighted and underlined. It was incredible. I’m also pen pals with a fourth grade reader who dressed up as me for Book Character Day at school. The pictures were adorable and I was beyond touched.

Okay, pardon me while I wipe the tears from my eyes… that is so sweet! So, there’s a movie deal for Popular. Please tell us about that! What stage is it in? Is DreamWorks consulting you? While I can’t discuss the details of the contract, I can say it’s all incredibly exciting! Right now they’re working on the screenplay. I would love to be as involved in the process as they would allow, and I look forward to seeing the script, hopefully in the near future.How do you balance being an author with being a regular high school student? In addition to promoting Popular, I understand you’re working on a novel. How do you manage to do it all? I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing time. My school allows me three hours a day to write instead of electives and I don’t participate in a lot of extracurricular activities so I can work longer hours. I try to do as much as I can, but it’s impossible to do everything. There have been instances where it was really difficult to sacrifice the normal high school experience. I know, though, that I’m immensely lucky to have these incredible opportunities. I’m learning skills that will help me for the rest of my life. I have grown so much and met so many fantastic people. I wouldn’t trade my busy schedule for the world! A couple of years have passed since the events you documented in Popular– you survived middle school, and you’re in high school now. Hooray! You got a lot of good advice from Betty Cornell, but what advice would you give to 13-year-old Maya if you could? I would tell her to believe in the experiment, because publication would be possible, so take more pictures! I would tell her not to doubt herself so much, not to worry that she would give up. I would tell her to spend the most time with interesting and inspiring people who fuel her creativity. I would tell her that two and three years from now, she will see New York and London and sign copies of her book, she will meet authors who will accept her as part of their flock, that she will find her own style and that she will be okay. I might be shedding more tears over here… thank you, Maya! I really look forward to your next book.  -Allison Tran, currently wearing pearls and listening to Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Leslye Walton

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Today’s interview is with finalist Leslye Walton, author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I was so excited to ask Leslye some questions about magic realism…and baked goods, thanks to one of my students!

If you haven’t read the book already, here is the publisher blurb:

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

Congratulations on your Morris nomination! I absolutely loved your book. It was just beautiful! I (and my colleagues and students) were struck by the multigenerational story and how adult the voice seemed. It felt more mature and reflective than your average YA protagonist narrating from a more immediate and younger perspective. Did you always think you were writing YA? Or did you just write and see which publishers were interested?

Originally, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender wasn’t intended for the YA market. I felt the writing was too lyrical, too chalked full of metaphors for the typical teenaged reader. But after a long, tough road of going-nowhere, my agent, the luminous Bernadette Baker-Baughman, reminded me of all the beautiful, highly literary YA novels out there. After I stopped resisting, I think we sold the novel in a week. Ava Lavender certainly covers some dark and tragic themes—as do so many other great YA novels out there—but it’s also very much a young adult book, and looking back, I wish I had recognized that a bit earlier than I had.

Did you have a favorite generation of the Lavender family or a part you most enjoyed writing?

I’m not sure I had a favorite per say, but I knew it was important to find a way to ground these peculiar characters of mine, which was why I tried to give them some historical context and a setting that was true to life. I honestly just stumbled upon the SS France while researching the port of Le Havre in the early 1900s. I wanted to place these strange creatures in history for Ava to later discover. I liked the thought of her hunched over those lovely unwieldy microfilm readers, searching for her ancestors in the blurred backgrounds of archived photographs. I liked the thought that people as strange as Beauregard, Emilienne, even Pierette the canary could be obscure characters in someone else’s story.

Magic realism is a genre I love, but it tends to be more common in books from Latin American, West African, or American Southern writers. You and Sarah McCarry (All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings) seem to be starting up a new tradition coming from the Pacific Northwest. How do you think your form of magical realism is different from these other traditions, or do you think it’s still a part of the same overall genre?

Whitney Otto’s novel, How to Make an American Quilt, was the first book that really truly moved me. I was always a voracious reader, but I hadn’t experienced masterful storytelling—or the power of beautiful phrasing—until I picked up this book. I was also a huge fan of Alice Hoffman and devoured her novels as a teenager, and then later on, began exploring the works of Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Joanne Harris and Gabriel García Márquez.

I have to say that when it comes to the genre magical realism, I am certainly no expert. When I started writing The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I had no idea what I was writing. I knew it wasn’t historical fiction. I knew it wasn’t fantasy. It was something else. Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time was like listening to someone speak a language I thought only I understood.

What are you working on next?

I like to keep pretty quiet about my upcoming projects, but I will tell you that I’m very excited about it.

One of my juniors loved your book and has a question for you as well: There were so many great descriptions of food in your book. If your book were a baked good, which one would it be?

Hmm. Great question. I think it would be something sweet and it would definitely dissolve in your mouth. Maybe a macaron? A lavender macaron.

Thanks, Leslye!

–Hannah Gómez, currently reading Screenplay by Syd Field

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Len Vlahos

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Today we bring you an interview with Len Vlahos, a 2015 Morris Award finalist for The Scar Boys.

I listened to the audio book edition of Scar Boys, narrated Lincoln Hoppe.  Had you listened to him on another audiobook?  What made you choose him to be the voice of Harbinger “Harry” Jones?

I was so excited when I learned the Random House had acquired the rights to do the audiobook of The Scar Boys, but I was also mystified. I knew nothing about how the process worked. The producer, Kelly Gildea, sent me clips of four possible narrators. The production team had their eye on one in particular, but he sounded too old to me. I knew as soon as I heard Lincoln’s voice that he was Harry. Plus, he’d read King Dork by Frank Portman and absolutely nailed that.  (I should also note that I got to play guitar for the audiobook, which was a great experience.)

What music are you listening to right now?

Right this very second? The tapping of keys on my ancient Macbook. But in general, lately I’ve been playing Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic Vol 1. (In fact, your question made me stop what I was doing, pull out the Bose Speakers, launch Spotify, and put on some Jackson Browne.)

Were there any songs you wanted to use as chapter titles that didn’t make it to the final novel?

Actually, the original manuscript did not use song titles as chapter heads; it used snippets of lyrics. So, for example, the chapter that currently starts with “Bad Brain (written by Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, and Marky Ramone, and performed by the Ramones)” originally started with “Gives me the shots, gives me the pills, got me takin’ this junk, against my will…”—New York Dolls Only, it turns out that pesky US copyright law doesn’t allow you to use a snippet of a poem or lyric in a work of commercial fiction without first getting permission. I tried to clear permission, but no one wrote me back. This part of Fair Use law — the copyright law governing use of others’ intellectual property — is actually a bit of a gray area, but it made my publisher nervous, so I changed all the chapter heads to song titles (which can;t be protected with copyright). I spent two weeks searching for appropriate titles that we recorded before 1987. It was a challenge but fun.

If money and copyright were not issues, would you have included all the songs from the titles with the audiobook or as part of a cd soundtrack or downloaded playlist?

Egmont made a Spotify playlist of the chapter heads: Scar Boys 

And yes, I would love it if they were in the audio book. However, those songs were chosen for the textual content. To get a better sense of what I really listen to, check out the playlist I made for my book tour.

I admit I judged this book.  I had an expectation that was far exceeded.  I loved the pervasive misery, the subplots of sadness like ;  reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Mrs. Mac dying so unexpectedly of cancer, Mr. K’s patient commits suicide, Richie’s accident, and even Harry’s dad loosing his job. Do you see yourself as an optimist, pessimist or realist?  What do you see for your future?

Oh man, what a question. :-) Okay, if we were playing truth or dare and you asked this question, I would have to tell you that outwardly I’m all pessimist, and inside I’m all optimist. I’m a consummate dreamer, My future? I see hard work, happy kids, and fresh air.

Be warned, by the way, Scar Girl — the sequel scheduled to publish in late August — is a lot darker than The Scar Boys. 

I spent way too much time thinking about the lost dog the family finds near a lighthouse while on vacation. I wanted a lot of things for Harry but I felt especially determined that he keep the dog. The impact of this scene changed when I reread it.  Instead of focusing on the dog, I was fixated on Harry’s dad and their terrible encounter. His dad’s quote “pain and stress can hijack a man’s soul and twist it out of shape” made me see how strong Harry was.  I didn’t think Harry’s soul was mangled from his accident. I felt an intense understanding of both characters at this exact scene. Did you write this scene in particular to help us understand forgiveness? 

Great question! There were a lot of things going on in this scene. First, when my family drove across country when I was six years old (I have an older brother and sister, and all five of us were crammed in a Plymouth sedan for three weeks), we found an abandoned dog at a rest stop in Texas. My dad really did throw his back out trying to coax the dog into our car so we could bring him to a shelter.

Second, I was paying homage to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. There’s a pivotal scene early in that book where the dad accidentally makes fun of his daughter’s stutter. It’s a powerful scene that has always stayed with me, and I was thinking of that when Harry’s father let’s his most horrible of insults slip.

Finally, I was thinking about ways of showing how Harry’s armor became hardened and how it shaped him as a person. That said, Harry doesn’t really come to understand the concept of forgiveness until he figures out how to forgive himself, which is kind of what happens with his story arc. (Whoops! Spoiler!)

Do you have a favorite music video that inspired your work? Or do you have a favorite video that was inspired by your work that we could share on The Hub?

I can’t say that any one music video inspired The Scar Boys, but I will share some video clips of students that were brave enough to play guitar and/or sing at my book events. It made the entire experience so wonderfully special. 

Now that Scar Boys has two awesome covers, do you love them both equally or do you have a favorite?  How involved are you in designing the covers?

Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design

Publishers have the decision making power over book covers, and I have been really fortunate that Egmont has included me at every step of the process. And really, there have been four covers.  There were two proposed covers for the advanced reader’s copy, which was changed for the hardcover. I kind of love them all equally. Designers are amazing people. It’s a talent I just don’t have. Finally, we just revealed the cover for Scar Girl

Pretty cool, huh?

Yes, Len, yes you are.

-Laura C. Perenic is currently reading Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

Oscars Best Picture Nominees: Readalikes

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

Credit Flickr user Rachel Jackson

We are in the midst of Hollywood’s award show season with what seems to be an endless variety of shows every weekend. Each show bringing new red carpet styles, Youtube-able acceptance speeches and a new list of what films to watch. In the spirit of this flurry of film festivities and movie lists, we thought a readalikes post would be the best way for us at the Hub to partake in all of this fun. So in preparation for the quintessential award show, the Oscars, we’ve come up with a list of a YA readalikes for some of this year’s most talked about films – The Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees.

Special thanks goes to Hannah Gomez, Jennifer Rummel, Erin Daly, Tara Kehoe, Sharon Rawlins, Jessica Lind and Wendy Daughdrill for helping to create these booklists.  

American Sniper  


The Imitation Game  



  • Battling Boy by Paul Pope
  • Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M Campbell
  • Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz
  • Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
  • Hero by Perry Moore (Best Books for Young Adults 2008)


  • March: Book One by John Lewis
  • Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper
  • Lies we tell ourselves by Robin Talley                             


The Grand Budapest Hotel 

The Theory of Everything

  • You can check out our post from Gretchen Kolderup about recent YA biographies from last spring.

Any books that you would like to add to our Oscar readalikes list? Let us know in the comments below!

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Dead of Winter by Kresley Cole

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with finalist Steve Sheinkin

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Steve Sheinkin has written screenplays, made films, edited and written textbooks, and now he writes full time, creating some of the most fascinating  and fun to read nonfiction books for people of any age. These books include The Notorious Benedict Arnold : A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (winner of the 2012 YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction award) and BOMB: The Race to Build -and Steal- The World’s Most Dangeous Weapon (winner of the 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction award, as well as a National Book Award finalist, a Newbery honor book, and a Robert A. Siebert medalist) His book The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights is a finalist this year for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Congratulations on being a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist! What was your reaction on hearing the news? Will you be attending ALA Midwinter in Chicago? Going to the YALSA Award program and presentation?

Thanks so much! Of course, it was very exciting to get the news that The Port Chicago 50 was a finalist. I always become pretty obsessed with the stories I’m researching, but this one feels especially personal, because of the friends I’ve made along the way, and because I’m so glad to be helping to keep this story alive. I won’t be at ALA in Chicago, but will be following developments closely.

How did you first hear about men who were the Port Chicago 50? Was it through Robert Allen’s book or some other way? (I read on your blog about Mr. Allen; thank you for introducing me to his work.) 

I first heard of the story while researching a previous book, Bomb. My brother–in-law, Eric, told me about this wacky conspiracy theory – in short, that the first atomic test was not in New Mexico in 1945, as recorded in official history, but actually in a place called Port Chicago, California, a year earlier. It sounded crazy, so of course I was interested. I started researching, and quickly found out that the true story behind the disastrous explosion and subsequent civil rights showdown at Port Chicago was far better than any Internet theory. My research quickly led to Robert Allen’s work, and his willingness to share the interviews he did with participants back in the 1970s gave me priceless material to work with.

How do you write history for young people? As opposed to writing for adults, I mean; do you have to make concessions?

No, I definitely don’t think in terms of concessions. I find stories that I hope will appeal to a wide range of readers, including me as a teenager, and then I try to tell the stories in a direct, fast-paced, and engaging way. The only thing to keep in mind is that many subjects in history will be new to many young readers, so some background is usually needed. Balancing that need for context with the need to keep the narrative speeding forward is definitely the hardest part of the job.

It’s fun to read your “Walking and Talking” comics on your blog. Have you always drawn? Do you think you will ever create a graphic novel historical nonfiction book?

Thanks, I love doing those comics. Yes, I’ve always drawn comics – I remember one time in high school when my biology teacher saw a comic I’d done about him. It was sort of making fun of a boring lecture, but his main reaction was, “Hey, I have more hair than that!” I’d love to tell some historical tales in the graphic novel format – I love what folks like Nathan Hale and George O’Connor are doing. I could see someday teaming up with an artist to create some kind of series… who knows?

What is next for you? Can you tell us what project you are working on now that has you most excited?

My new book, which will be out in September, is Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. The subject, obviously, is the Vietnam War, and at the center of the action is this brilliant young Pentagon insider, Daniel Ellsberg, who starts off as a hard-core Cold Warrior. He sees the war from the inside, spends time in Vietnam, gradually turns against the war, and decides to risk everything to try to end it. He’s the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers – the top secret documents that exposed years of government lies about the Vietnam – to the New York Times. He’s still around, and is often interviewed about the more recent bombshell leaker story, that of Edward Snowden. Anyway, the book’s going to be kind of similar to Bomb, in terms of being a big, fast, complex, morally ambiguous thriller, with lots going on at once. At least, that’s what I’m going for! And after that, a complete change of pace – a great underdog sports story from the early 1900s.

Thanks to Mr. Sheinkin for taking the time to answer The Hub’s questions.

~Geri Diorio, currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Jukebooks: The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 13:02

When Laura decided to study Russian in ninth grade, she pictured travelling to the land of Ivan the Terrible: Passionate, dangerous, alive. But when she actually travels to Russia to spend a semester, Laura finds it bleak and unfriendly. Except for the boy, Alyosha. This boy shows her the Russia beneath the surface, where real teens party with their friends. Certain musical groups, or particular songs are viewed as anti-government and forbidden. Oddly, singer/songwriter Neil Young is okay. It’s because he sings a song that criticizes the American South, they explain. That song is “Southern Man,”released in 1970. Here’s a sampling of lyrics.


Lily Belle,
your hair is golden brown
I’ve seen your black man
comin’ round
Swear by God
I’m gonna cut him down!
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Listen to a clip of “Southern Man” here.

Four years later, a band named Lynyrd Skynyrd, originally formed in Jacksonville, Florida, had a response for Young. In  “Sweet Home Alabama,” lead singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zant writes, “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her/Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

Listen to “Sweet Home Alabama” here.

There was no animosity between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In a recent Rolling Stones article, journalist Andy Green quotes Van Zant: “We didn’t even think about it. The words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell and said, ‘Ain’t that funny.’ We love Neil Young. We love his music.” As for Young,  “I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.” (Ballinger, Lee. (2002 ©1999). Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History).

In 1977, three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, including Ronnie Van Zant, were killed in a plane crash. Below is the audio from a Neil Young concert, performed shortly after the accident. Young sings his own song, “Alabama,” and then moves into “Sweet Home Alabama” near the end.

Diane Colson, reading an advance reader’s copy of Lauren Oliver’s Vanishing Girls.

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Emily Arnold McCully

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Emily Arnold McCully is a 2015 finalist for the Nonfiction Award for her biography of Ida M. Tarbell, one of the first investigative journalists.

How did you feel when you learned you were a finalist for Award for Excellence in Nonfiction?

I was stunned and thrilled when I got the news. Never had I dreamed that my book would be nominated. I am honored and very grateful!

What’s your favorite part of the writing process– research, outlining, first draft, revisions?

My favorite part of the process is research – hands down! I feel I’m doing research all the time, whether I am writing a book or not. Reading history is one of my greatest pleasures. Making discoveries and drawing connections that lead to a narrative is bliss!

What was the hardest part in writing this book?

The hardest part of writing IDA M TARBELL was finding the photographs and getting the permissions. Well, that’s only partly true; it was hard to do, but came after the book was finished. The hardest part of actually writing it was forcing myself to leave out information not directly related to the arc of her life, but fascinating to me.

What inspired you to write a new biography (the first in 30 years) of this pioneer woman and how did you begin your research?

I have wanted to write about Tarbell for years. My parents talked about her when I was a child. She was a true heroine, a woman who made it in a man’s world by by doing better work than anyone else. Tarbell and her colleagues wanted to restore the promise of democracy by exposing lawless behavior wherever they found it. They made America better, fairer place!

What piece of advice to do you think Tarbell would give girls in today’s world?

I’m afraid that Tarbell was something of a scolder of women. She disapproved of vanity and complained that women paid too much attention to their clothing and hair. I shudder to imagine what she would make of the freedoms that girls enjoy today. But I suspect she would be very happy that so many fields that were closed to women in her lifetime are open to them today!

Maybe the most serious advice she would give to girls is to pay attention to privacy. I think that government spying on its citizens and those citizens willingly giving up their personal information so that commercial entities can profit from it would both appall her. She knew that without privacy, we can’t have true freedom, true independence, or true creativity!

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist E. K. Johnston

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:00

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

E. K. Johnston is a 2015 Morris Award finalist for: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

Owen is training to be a dragon slayer, a crucial job in a world where dragons bring death and destruction. With help from their friends and family, Owen and his bard Siobhan seek the source of a growing dragon threat.

Congratulations on being a finalist for the 2015 Morris Award! The idea behind the book – that species of dragons exist in our world because they are carbon eaters – is a different and unique take on the dragon trope in fantasy fiction. Yet it makes so much sense given our over-reliance on fossil fuels. What do you personally believe about the use and overuse of fossil fuels, and what practices do you follow, if any, in your own daily life to address this issue?

One common criticism of The Story of Owen is that human beings never developed alternative fuel sources despite the threat of dragon fire as a consequence for carbon emissions. I feel that we are dealing with something similar in the real world, though, without the dragons of course, in that we have been slow to develop the technology to efficiently use wind and solar power. Hopefully it won’t take something catastrophic to give us that final push. For my own part, I try to keep my carbon footprint as manageable as I can.

Are you a fan of alternate history books? If so, what other books would you recommend for teens?

I am a huge fan of alternate history! I couldn’t read any while I was writing my own, and that was terrible, because I missed them. I love Tessa Gratton’s UNITED STATES OF ASGARD and Holly Black’s CURSEWORKER trilogy. I am really like Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, which shows that an alternate history can be quite small, and still super readable and relatable.

I know you’re a forensic archeologist but what is that exactly? Does your profession come into play in your writing?

Forensic [insert profession here] just means that you do your job, but with the idea of serving the law. So you can have forensic accountants and forensic dentists…and forensic archaeologists. I learned how to take archaeological principles and apply them to crime scenes (for evidence recovery and the like). It shows up in my books in strange places, but I was trained to research and account for detail, and I think that’s very helpful for writing.

Do you have a background in music or do you enjoy writing poetry? The ballads throughout the book reminded me of the ones that we studied in school that I loved, like Lord Randall, from the narrative verse anthology edited by Louis Untermeyer.

I play the alto saxophone and the clarinet, and I have always loved to sing. I’m not much of a poet, but I do like playing around with words. Siobhan, being a classically trained pianist, has a tendency to compose classical-sounding songs, though she is starting to become more flexible. Her lyrics, however, are always trying to tie in with Beowulf. She follows the cadence and structure of that saga as much as she possibly can. Her favourite poet is Seamus Heaney.

I know you’re Canadian and the story is very much set in Canada, yet I was struck by the fact that so many of the place names are also found in the US (or the UK). How has being Canadian shaped you as a writer? What would you like American teens to know about Canada? Are there Canadian authors that teens here should be reading? 

It only makes sense that Canadians and Americans steal place names from the UK. Being Canadian has given me an appreciation not only for my own heritage (which is predominantly Scottish and Welsh), but also the incorporation of the other cultures who have made Canada their home. I would love for American teens to know anything about Canada, even if it’s just a list of hockey players who have beat out Team USA for an Olympic gold medal. My favourite Canadian authors are RJ Anderson, Erin Bow, and Farley Mowat.

As a fan of YA books and authors I’m always fascinated by how everyone seems to know one another. I admit I look at the acknowledgements to see which authors are mentioned and if I like them, I’m more likely to read the book, especially if it’s a debut, as yours is. 

On your website you quote Sarah Rees Brennan’s explanation of the breakdown of a trilogy as “meet up, make out, take over the world” and Tessa Gratton. As a first time author do you seek out other authors you admire for advice? What’s the best advice you’ve gotten so far? Who would you like to get advice from, but are afraid to ask?

Ah, Twitter. The great equalizer. I do seek out advice from others quite frequently, including the members of my debut group as well as established authors. The best advice I’ve got so far was how to structure my career plan, and then how to share that with my agent. I’m not sure there’s anyone I’m afraid to ask advice of at the moment, which probably speaks more to the capabilities of my existing support group than my own bravery.

I tried not to read too much of your blog ahead of this interview because I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas about you but I did peek and saw that you describe yourself as a grammarian by nature. Can you expand upon that? Are you one of those people who are always correcting others’ language? Do you read things and constantly say they should have used this or that word instead? How has that influenced your writing?

I used to play all sorts of grammar “games” with my mother when I was little, so I’m probably one of ten people on earth who think grammar is fun. I’m also a big believer in knowing the rules before you break them. I don’t correct people unless they ask me to, though I have been known to unfollow people on Twitter if they use “your” for “you’re” too often. It has influenced my writing it two ways: first, learning to break the rules (I used “slayed” exclusively in OWEN, for example), and second, I made friends with Tessa Gratton via a tweet about how she had used the word “nauseated” (which is correct), instead of “nauseous” in BLOOD MAGIC.

What author – living or dead – would you like to hang out with – and why?

I would love to meet Tamora Pierce. She is such a great example of a writer who has played the long game, and I am almost positive I wouldn’t be so nervous that I’d swallow my tongue if I tried to talk to her.


 – Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero


2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Candace Fleming

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 07:00

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

2015 Nonfiction Award finalist Candace Fleming is the author of over twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults, including The Great and Only Barnum (a 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence Finalist) and Our Eleanor (a 2006 YALSA Best Book for Young Adults). Her book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia is a finalist for the 2015 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Ms. Fleming graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her writing process and what inspired her to write about the tragic history of the Romanovs.

What’s a typical day in your life as a writer? Most days, I wander down to my office – still in my pajamas and with coffee cup in hand – to spend the early morning hours writing.  What I mean is, I play around with language, make discoveries, cheer, hit dead ends, curse, spit and pull my hair out. I use wide-lined, loose-leaf paper and a blue Bic pen.  The smell of the cheap ink sends a signal to my brain that says, “We’re writing now.”  And because these tools aren’t precious, I feel free to play around, make mistakes, crunch up pages and try again.  Some of my best work comes from these early morning sessions.  When this creative spurt sputters to its end (usually within an hour or two) I get dressed, go to the gym, and then head home for breakfast and more office time.  This is when I tackle revisions, or do research.   I also catch up on all the business of writing –answering emails, writing blog posts, booking school visits etc.  I never work alone.  Daily witnesses to my efforts (and frustrations) are my cats, Oliver and Oreo, who curl up on a pillow beside the warm radiator and stare at me with bemused expressions… when they’re not napping.  Under my desk lies my dog, Oxford.  He lends moral support by occasionally licking one of my bare feet.  I’d like to tell you my tarantula, Betty, also aids in my writing process.  She doesn’t.  She just hunches down in her cage like a hairy lump.  By four o’clock my day is done, unless I’m crunching a deadline, or completely absorbed in my work.  I call to all the animals (except the spider) and close my office door.  Ah, the glamorous life of a children’s writer, huh?

The Family Romanov is a highly engaging, extremely well-researched book. What motivated you to write about the Romanovs, and in the course of your investigation, what were some of the things you were most surprised to discover?

I first read Robert Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra the summer I turned thirteen, after pulling it off my mother’s bookshelf.
“You’re not going to like that,” she warned.  “It’s pretty dense history.”
She was right.  It was dense, but I loved it!  Imperial Russia and its demise,
captivated and intrigued me. And that sense of curiosity stuck with me over the years.  I devoured dozens of books on the topic.  I watched documentaries and went to museum exhibits. I came to adore Pasternak and Gorky. But I’d never considered writing about the Romanovs until about five year ago.  That’s when students in middle schools – mostly girls — suddenly and surprisingly started asking if I knew anything about Anastasia Romanov.  I would visit a school and during the question-and-answer period of my presentation a hand would wave wildly in the air.  No matter that I’d come to talk about people from American history.   Time and again I found myself speaking about Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter.  Why? I wondered. Why the sudden interest in Anastasia? I soon learned the answer. Many of those middle schoolers had seen the animated movie Anastasia.  They understood it was based on a nugget of truth.  But what was that truth?  They longed to know.  And they hoped I could tell them. Sadly, in the little time we had together, I really couldn’t… not enough anyway. And so I began to conceive of a book for them.  The Family Romanov is my answer to their questions.
Probably the most surprising and important discovery I made during my research for The Family Romanov came while visiting the Alexander Palace.  In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate.  I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes.  Not so.  The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway.  Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side.  It gave me pause.  The family was so physically close to the Russian people.  They were just on the other side of the gate.  The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them.  They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony.  They could smell their cooking. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe.  It gave me pause.  Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects?  I mean, they were right there.  The question led me down entirely new paths of thought.   And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”

Can you share what you enjoy most about writing nonfiction for young adults? Also, what are some of the most challenging aspects of writing for a YA audience?

I most enjoy the freedom of it.  YA is so liberating.  Teens are seekers of truth, and writing for them allows me to tell the whole story.  I don’t have to skirt around certain subjects – mass rebellion, mysticism, assassination.  I can write about the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows.  I can take on big subjects.

This is also the most challenging aspect of writing for YA audience.  I realize my readers have limited experience.  How much do they need to know to understand the story I want to tell?  What’s the best, most engaging way to tell that story?  And how can I help them make connections and parallels to turn-of-the-twentieth century Russia, a place that might as well be another planet to today’s readers?   Interestingly, these challenges are yet another reason I enjoy writing for young adults. I am, as the familiar saying goes, jumping off a cliff and building wings on the way down.  It’s both exhilarating and scary.

Do you have a special ritual or tradition to celebrate whenever a new book of yours is released?

A ritual or tradition?  Not really.  By the time the book comes out, I’m usually engrossed in my next project.   I do celebrate, though, when I send the final manuscript to my editor.  That calls for prosecco and chocolate cake – two of my favorite things.

Can you tell us what you are working on next?

I’m putting the final touches on a new biography about William “Buffalo Bill” Cody so most of my days have been spent in imaginary gallops across the Great Plains.  I’m also finishing up my first piece of science nonfiction about giant squid.  It’s a picture book, being illustrated by my partner, Eric Rohmann.  I’m also looking forward to creating a humorous series for middle graders, and beginning the research for my next YA nonfiction project, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

Thank you, Candace!

–Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading The Dinner by Herman Koch