BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

bgThere’s a slogan in London regarding their mass transit system that has become something of a rallying cry for various causes: Mind the Gap.  In London’s Underground this means make sure you pay attention when you’re disembarking.  It is this slogan that kept running through my mind when reading Laura Ruby’s masterful young adult novel Bone Gap. It wasn’t just the title that made me think of this slogan, it was the idea that at any time, this book could sweep me away.  That is the kind of book Bone Gap is: full of evocative imagery, innovative characters, and big questions.  I was always minding the craft Laura Ruby put into Bone Gap because it is my favorite kind of narrative: the more attention I paid to it, the more the story revealed.

Bone Gap tells several stories at once.  It is the story of a place – Bone Gap – where everyone knows each other but it doesn’t always mean they like each other.  It is also, on the surface, the story of how Finn sees his brother’s girlfriend Roza being kidnapped by a man he can’t quite describe and thus no one can quite believe him.  But, deeper than that, Bone Gap Roza’s story – between the gaps of here and there – of how she is learning to stand up for herself and not let the world define her.  Bone Gap is Finn’s story of growing up and falling into an intense, slow-burn romance with a girl named Petey.  Finn also has a disability – to say more would be to spoil some of the wonderful reveals of the story – and how this informs his character is also a small marvel of storytelling. Bone Gap is also Petey’s story and, just like everyone else in Bone Gap, Petey must figure out who she is outside of who everyone keeps TELLING her she is.

This is one of Bone Gap’s biggest strengths, and one of the things I think will draw teen readers to it the most: this is a story about defining yourself and not letting other people define you.  In a way, this is the ultimate struggle of adolescence and Ruby weaves this theme throughout every story.  Will you let people know you only as the ugly girl, the awkward weirdo?  Will you define yourself as the little brother who gets picked on, does everything wrong, and can’t take action?  Will you be only pretty, a beautiful girl who is only your face?  Or will you – can you – be more than those things?  Bone Gap asks the question I think almost all teens are asking in one form or another: who I am I really?

Bone Gap does that trickiest of all things: it is both literary fiction and has, I think, very high teen appeal.  As to the literary fiction part: Ruby’s writing is a punch in the gut.  It is perfectly crafted and well-calibrated for deliberate effect.  But I want to emphasize both the literary quality and the teen appeal because many reviews of Bone Gap might make it seem like it is the kind of thing only your high achieving non reluctant readers will pick up.  Now, while those readers will certainly love the craft and the writing in Bone Gap, I also think emergent readers will be drawn to the mystery of the story, the intense romance between Petey and Finn, and the undeniably creepy and downright scary horror world Roza is trapped in by a character who is pure evil. These things keep the pages turning even as you’re marveling at the way Ruby brought them all together. I’ve been telling people this is a horror story meets John Green and it just FITS.  Petey and Finn are a great YA couple – pulled together even when everyone says they have nothing in common and then thrown into the mix is the through-the-looking glass horror that traps Roza.  What a combo!

Bone Gap is also all about the male gaze.  It’s about how people think of Finn for being dreamy and different – how their assumptions of what masculinity are trap him in ways he can’t fully comprehend until he decides to disregard other’s opinions.  It’s about how what traps Roza (and even Petey) the most are men’s ideas of what she should look like and think like and be.  The biggest monster in this story is the patriarchy and oh, oh, the moment Roza decides to fight back!

I long for awards chatter to start over Bone Gap. It should, because this is a lyrical, haunting, meticulously crafted book.  That also means there will soon be chatter of “I just didn’t get it.” and “Teens won’t read this.”  While I can’t speak to the former – not every book is for every reader, after all – I think I can speak to the latter.  Teens WILL be drawn to this story and we, as educators and librarians, can promote and advocate for it, for everything original and exciting about it, by speaking about all the mysteries and wonder in this book.

Bone Gap is highly recommended for high school readers and as a first purchase for all libraries.  It is challenging and compelling and isn’t afraid to tackle head on hard issues of bodily autonomy, feminism, and self-perception.  Bone Gap is about seeing yourself as more than a face, more than what people say you are.  It’s empowering and exciting for teen readers and, y’all, there was a moment that literally made me punch my fist in the air with glee.  Bone Gap is also a great introduction to magical realism –as the worlds of plausible and impossible bleed into each other – this is the perfect way to introduce teens to a new genre. Though I am a public librarian, I think this would be an amazing book to do with a class or in a book group.  It is teachable and has lots of material to analyze.

Bone Gap is my choice for the 2016 Printz Award.  It is masterfully constructed and crafted and with off-the charts  literary merit that holds up on a re-read.  (And another re-read, just to be sure.)  My Printz pick last year was Grasshopper Jungle and there is plenty in Bone Gap that reminds me of that book – particularly the way they skirt the edge of real and not real and ask teen readers to really sit with how the world looks at them and what they can do about that.

Bone Gap is out now. You can pick up a copy at your favorite local indie bookstore or online. You can also check out a copy from your local library. If they don’t have one, suggest they purchase it.

You won’t soon forget your visit to Bone Gap and the people you meet there.  Their journeys and growth will stick with you. Like me, I think you’ll find yourself “minding the gap” long after you have turned the last page.

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When We Collided by Emery Lord COVER REVEAL!

Do you love Emery Lord?

If you’ve read her first two books: Open Road Summer and The Start of Me & You then you’ll know the answer is obviously YES.  Her books are the exquisite and painful and lovely contemporary stories that are about romance, friendship, healing, and grief. Her work reminds me of early Sarah Dessen – that all too real ache. If you haven’t read them yet, rush out now and buy them/but them on hold at your library.  Then you can love her too.

When I was asked if I wanted an advance read of her next book, When We Collided I said yes faster than I could type the word.  And I read it on a work trip where it consumed my thoughts and made me constantly impatient to get back to reading it.  I held my breath through some parts, waiting for Lord to slip up or for the narrative to take a wrong turn.  But you know what?  It never did.  Not once.  It’s a page turner and a heart stopper and I think teens are going to swoon and sob over it.  I can’t wait for them to read it.

Now aren’t you ready to read the official summary and SEE THE AMAZING COVER?!

Vivi and Jonah couldn’t be more different. Vivi craves anything joyful or beautiful that life can offer. Jonah has been burdened by responsibility for his family ever since his father died. As summer begins, Jonah resigns himself to another season of getting by. Then Vivi arrives, and Jonah’s life suddenly seems brighter, better, and much more colorful. For Vivi, Jonah is the perfect project, her spontaneity balancing out the weight of his reality.

Their love becomes the answer to everything.

But soon Vivi’s zest for life falters, as her adventurousness becomes true danger-seeking. Jonah tries to keep her safe, but there’s something important Vivi hasn’t told him. When Vivi and Jonah’s pasts collide with the present, will their love be strong enough to last?

In an emotional and evocative story of new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find love that will change them forever.

WhenWeCollided Cover_cata

Just … wow.  I was so hoping the cover wouldn’t be a photo or a girl in a dress…those work, but not for THIS story. I wanted something that captured Vivi’s spirit and creativity and this is IT. I love the color scheme, I love the watercolor-y handwriting of the title – I just love it all.

Don’t you want to add When We Collided to your GoodReads shelf?!

PLUS!!  IF YOU’RE GOING TO ALA Bloomsbury will have ARCs and I will be constantly reminding you to go ask for one.

You’ll be so glad to meet Vivi and Jonah and share their journey. And you won’t soon forget it.

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The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick – an interview & a giveaway!

ghosts of heaven

I honestly can’t think of anyone in YA who does what Marcus Sedgwick does.  Perhaps this is why I am so entranced by everything he’s ever written.  Sedgwick won the Printz Award last year (that is the highest honor in young adult literature) for Midwinterblood, which remains one of the most atmospheric and overwhelming YA books I’ve ever read.  Since then he also wrote an amazing book about a blind girl who is not defined by her disability but by her will (She is Not Invisible) and created this week’s new release – The Ghosts of Heaven.

ThenGhosts of Heaven is one of my favorite books of 2015.  I know, it’s early.  But I also know that this book is special. I could give you a summary of The Ghosts of Heaven, I suppose.  It’s four stories told in four different styles that can be read in any order or not even necessarily together at all. (But once you read one, you’ll want to read them all, I promise.)  The one thing they have in common is Sedgwick’s unbelievable sense of pacing – this man can wind a story like no one else around. The second story, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is about a witch hunt and much more and the sense of impending malice and tension in it was so perfectly created that I honestly had to put it down a few times to take a breather from it. The last section, The Song of Destiny is a mystery set on a spaceship sent out to colonize a planet and it was so beautifully crafted it made me cry with joy. Now THAT is some writing.

These Ghost of Heaven is also united by the image of a spiral, which is found through-out all the stories and weaves them together in the smallest and yet also most significant ways. It’s haunting and subtle and just a little brilliant to wind a story around a spiral.  And the use of the spiral is a great narrative device that makes it easy to step into any of the four stories and follow the thread of them.  The spiral is a little creepy, yeah, but also totally beguiling – which is the perfect combination in a book for teens.

Teens – yes, there’s that question you’re dying to ask.  Sure, Sedgwick’s books are smart and LITERARY~~ but, I mean do teens like them?  Yeah, they sure would.  Look, I’m not telling you every reader is going to be on board with Sedgwick’s books – but there’s NO book that “every” reader is on board with, no matter what you’ve heard.  But I don’t even think his writing is just for the NON reluctant reader (one of my favorite concepts) I think there’s something haunting, creepy, compelling, and ENTICING about Marcus Sedgwick’s books.  They whisper of things just out of sight, things in shadows, things you feel dance across your skin in the quiet.  C’mon now – that’s perfect for teens. And for that teen that just keeps BEGGING for something new, something else, something different, something more (you know the one) … Marcus Sedgwick is perfect.

With that, this is highly recommended as a first purchase for libraries. It will appeal to a wide section of teen readers, from those looking for a challenging read to those looking for a quick short story, especially if you give it the kind of booktalk that highlights the mystery and original atmosphere through-out time.

When I had the chance to participate in the book tour for this title, I jumped up faster than Katniss at the Reaping. ESPECIALLY when I was told that I’d have a chance to ask Marcus Sedgwick some questions about the book.  One of the best things about Ghosts of Heaven is that it’s simply meant to be talked about – there’s so much to be discussed!

Not only that, the awesome publishers are giving away a copy – perfect for adding to your library!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this entry by January 19. (US residents only)

The whole tour is pretty cool: there are reviews, more giveaways, and more interviews so you should check out the whole schedule to find out more about the book. You can also read a summary and the first forty pages.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE QUESTIONS I ASKED MARCUS SEDGWICK THAT HE ANSWERED IN THE BEST WAYS POSSIBLE THAT MADE ME JUST WANT TO RE-READ THE WHOLE BOOK OVER AGAIN BECAUSE THEY WERE JUST THAT FASCINATING?! Read on!

BLOGTOUR

 

Like Midwinterblood, The Ghosts of Heaven is a book of intertwined stories that COULD be read alone but work together to create a fuller picture. What draws you to writing this kind of narrative?

If it’s a truism to say that all writing is trying to work out what it is to be human, then there are perhaps broadly two ways of doing that – by working from the individual to speak of the universal, or by working from the universal to speak about the individual, because both are part of being human. With these two books I was attempting to look at things on a larger scale than the individual, to talk about large and eternal subjects, and yet, the paradox of that is, as I just said, that the way to do that was by using the individual. By using stories about several individuals across different times, I was hoping to convey a large feeling, an eternal atmosphere.

Can you talk about the specifics of how you wrote this narrative? Did you write it “in order” or create the order after the individual pieces were written?

I planned the four stories (and planning for me is half way towards the finished writing anyway) in bits and pieces, flitting backwards and forwards between the four ideas in my head as I felt like it, or as I found a particularly interesting thing in what I call research, or as something randomly pushed me in one direction or another. Once I had finalized things (as far as I was going to finalize things, at least) in my head, I wrote the stories in the order in which they appear in the book – a physical book being limited in this way of course, and though this order is important, there is another one that I feel is of equal importance, but I’m keeping what that is to myself. I would like each reader to feel for themselves how the story might alter if the four parts were taken in a different order.

I am fascinated by the different narrative forms in the book – including verse to diary entries. Was this a deliberate choice to make each section have an even more unique voice?

Yes, partly, but it also stemmed from a very conscious choice about the section called Whispers in the Dark. Having decided that I wanted to set a story in a Neolithic period, in which we are witness to the very earliest origin of writing, I felt I had a problem. I cringe when I think of certain books and films that try to be authentic with stories set in prehistory. I’m thinking of films like One Million Years BC and so on, where cave men ‘ugg’ and ‘agg’ at each other and all have names with at least one K in them. The view of this stage of our history seems to require that we spoke in harsh and guttural tones. For all we know, we spoke in a mellifluous and beautifully lyrical language. But I would have had no more reason to create a language or accompanying atmosphere in that fashion either. The solution I felt was to write that part in free verse, to distance us somewhat from the world, and give it a remote and foreign feel. It meant I could basically avoid dialogue and direct narrative thought, which I felt would have been inauthentic, no matter what I did. So having one part in verse, I thought I should give each quarter a distinct narrative approach.

What are some literary inspirations for this work? Tonally, the third part, The Easiest Room in Hell, reminded me of Lovecraft and the second section, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Hawthorne. (Maybe I’m totally off-base, but I loved the way each section seemed to allude to other classic works of literature.)

You’re spot on! Lovecraft was a big influence on the feel of Easiest Room – I’d been making some road-trips through New England, and it brought back memories of reading Lovecraft as a teenager. As an Englishman, I love seeing all the English place names transposed to New England – we have such a shared history and I feel fond of it. Lovecraft of course then did his own thing on top of that, and my character Charles Dexter is a direct reference (for those who know) to Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. That meant I got to write some poetry in the style that Lovecraft might have done, which was great fun. Witch in the Water has a feel of Hawthorne, I see what you mean, but that wasn’t conscious, though may have come through. I was trying to recreate the tone of classic accounts of witch trials – although I set my story in England, Diane Starkey’s fantastic book, The Devil in Massachusetts, captures what is scariest about all witch trials – the combination of claustrophobia and violence that propels their inevitability. I was also driven for this section by an obscure 60s thriller called Ritual, by David Pinner, from which the classic British horror film The Wicker Man was derived (and no, I’m not talking about the Nicholas Cage version!)

You never seem to write the same book twice! Even this book, which shares traits with Midwinterblood is different in pacing, setting, tone, and even theme. Are you consciously trying to innovate in your writing? Do you just get bored easily? 🙂 Where does the constant innovation come from?

Yes, yes, and I don’t know. Perhaps I should elaborate on that a little bit. Yes, I am consciously trying to innovate, and yes, I do get bored easily. That’s a direct way of saying that I’ve been writing for a reasonably long time now and I nearly stopped two or three times because I didn’t know where to go next. I don’t want to write the same book every time, but that makes things hard because there must be a finite number of times that I can do that. But that’s what I really want to do, and it’s important because to keep on doing things this way means I have to continually find something new to be excited about, and some new way of working. But I’m not complaining, I love a challenge when I’m writing and this makes sure that I keep setting myself new challenges. Where does the innovation come from? I’m not really sure, I think the only thing is that I try to be influenced by as wide a range of books, films and ideas in general in order to keep things fresh. So I don’t know what’s coming next. If I can’t set myself a new challenge, there may be no new books at all, but if there are, I can promise they will offer something new, or something new to me, at least.

Here’s me after reading Marcus Sedgwick’s answers and feeling like I understood the book so much more/wanted to read it again/got the literary moods and references right:

Actually, those are just my faces in general when it comes to Marcus Sedgwick’s books. (I could talk for a thousand years about Midwinterblood – perfect choice, my Printz friends.  What a stunner.) If you haven’t read a Sedgwick book, The Ghosts of Heaven is the perfect place to start.  Buy a copy, check it out from your library or recommend they buy a copy or …. leave a comment to enter to win one!

In any case: read it as soon as possible so we can discuss it and you can share it with your teen patrons!

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Far From You by Tess Sharpe – a review & giveaways!

far fromA few weeks ago there was a longform article in the New York Times about scientific studies being done with the goal of proving that bisexuality exists.  I suppose it was interesting enough, reading about the motivations of the researchers, hearing about the history behind studies like this.  And yet.  And yet at the same time … it also felt brutally dehumanizing.

How demeaning – how beyond demeaning – to have your identity up for “scientific debate” like this.  Studies like this?  Real, academic studies and articles about them in a paper as significant as the NY Times?  They are the embodiment of WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

When you see portraits of yourself – your life, your feelings, your struggles – when you see those in the world around you, in popular culture, in mass media: that matters.  It tells you that you are not alone, that you have a right to exist, that people before you have felt this very same thing.

Those of us who work with books for children and teens – we can NEVER forget this.  We can never get tired of sounding like a broken record, of buying and promoting and discussing these books and demanding more. Never, ever, ever.  Because they bring the truth to light.

The truth in Tess Sharp’s masterful debut Far From You is a slippery thing and that is part of what makes this story so very compelling.  What’s true is that Sophie, our main character, used to be an addict.  She got hooked on pain pills after a bad accident and has only recently been clean.  What’s true is that Sophie’s life-long best friend Mina was gunned down right in front of her in shattering, traumatic event.  What’s true is that everyone, even Sophie’s own mother, believes Mina was killed during a drug deal gone bad when she went with Sophie to score. What’s true is that Sophie has just returned home after Mina’s murder and after another stint in rehab.

But everything else, well, that’s not as clear.  Sophie knows the truth is that she was clean and she and Mina were following up on a lead in a story Mina was writing for the paper, which means that Mina was the target not the collateral. But Sophie doesn’t know who attacked them and doesn’t know the lead Mina was chasing And Sophie also knows that, no matter the cost, she is going to get to the bottom of what happened to Mina, no matter what anyone else believes.

One of the things I love the very best about this book (and I love so much about it) is that while there are multiple threads happening at once, it never feels overstuffed or distracted.  Instead, everything comes together to tell the singular story of Sophie finding her own path in the world.  Of course, this is a classic YA narrative and that’s part of what makes Far From You so satisfying – it is familiar and yet very fresh.

Far From You is a mystery: what happened to Mina and why?  How is all connected to the story Mina was digging into?  Sophie knows the scariest thing of all: whoever committed the crime is from their town and knows their stories because they planted drugs on her to throw the investigation off. Far From You is a story of recovery and addiction.  Sophie became addicted to painkillers after she was in a terrible accident that left her in agonizing pain and left her disabled.  How she copes with this and how it changes the person she was is fundamental to the larger elements of the story and her character development.

And I truly believe that beyond all that – Far From You is a love story. It’s a love story about the deep love between friends, between someone you have known for a long time and who has held your hand through the worst of your life.  Definitely.  And it’s also a love story between two teenage girls who have been friends for a long time but are on the cusp of finding themselves drawn to each other in a whole new way.  Yes, Far From You is a bisexual teen romance – one that is tender, tragic, a little swoony in parts, and, yes, very, very real.

I had to literally set the book down to blink back my tears at the moment Sharpe makes it clear that Sophie is bisexual. She doesn’t just like girls and she doesn’t just like boys.  She doesn’t like “only Mina” but then totally boys!  She is drawn to, romantically and physically, both sexes.  This realization is not dismissed, not disbelieved, not over-explained.  It just is.  It’s just part of who Sophie is.  And while it’s an important part of who Sophie is, it’s not the only defining one.  Just as important is the fact she’s a recovering addict, a girl who wrestles with chronic pain, a person mourning loss and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery.  I know it seems like so little but that moment, the moment when it all clears in Sophie’s head that she likes boy and she likes girls – she just doesn’t like this one particular boy … it just took my heart with all it meant. Being bisexual doesn’t mean you’re attracted to everyone.  Being bisexual doesn’t meant you’re attracted to just anyone.  It just means you’re attracted to members of both sexes.  In Far From You it is that simple and that simplicity is beyond. powerful. 

I think teen readers will LOVE Far From You.  The timelines shift between the “now” of Sophie’s life and investigation and the “then” of everything that brought her and Mina to their fateful final night, which creates natural cliff-hangers that keep you turning the pages.  And Sophie is a great lead character: her faults make her feel real and her determination to chart her own course makes her both sympathetic and someone you root for. It’s also the just right mix of sad and mysterious and romantic, with no one element overshadowing the others, giving it wide appeal across readers.

But more than that – I think teen readers NEED Far From You.  It’s a book we’ve been asking for. It’s a book that brings the truth to light, that gives faces and hearts and loves and losses and real damn life to bisexual girls and lesbians.  These are portrayals teens need.  This is a book that matters.

Far From You is out today!  You can pick up a copy at your favorite local indie bookstore or online. You can also check out a copy from your local library.  If they don’t have one, suggest they purchase it. Far From You is highly recommended as a first purchase for public libraries and high school libraries.  It’s a book that should be widely shared and widely known. And that’s why I’m giving two away.

How To Win A Copy of Far From You

I know not all library budgets might have the cash in them they deserve.  So since I want YOUR library to have this book on the shelves, I’m giving one away JUST FOR LIBRARIES.  To enter THIS drawing you must be working in a library and you must make sure your copy ends up on your library’s shelves for circulation.  Far From You should be in as many teen hands as possible and the goal of this drawing is to make sure it ends up in your library.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!  I’m giving away another copy … that’s signed by Tess Sharpe!  Tess has awesomely agreed to sign a copy for my other winner.  You can keep this one, share it with a lucky teen, give it away as a drawing prize, whatever you’d like.  THIS drawing is open to everyone.

All you have to do is comment on this post (with a working way to contact you) and mention which drawing you are entering.  I’ll choose two random winners on Tuesday, April 14, so make sure you’ve entered by then..  Sorry, no international entries.

I am so glad I had the experience of Far From You.  It was an amazing read that was also a humanizing moment of recognition.  Far From You is the truth and, more than that, it’s the way into the light.


Also worth your reading time: this awesome interview with Tess on Diversity in YA

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Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin – review & a SIGNED GIVEAWAY!

“Give me some genuine emotion. Challenge yourself to be honest instead of merely clever.”

Wise-Young-FoolI read Wise Young Fool for the first time months and months ago.  I have read many and many books since now and then.  And yet.  And yet Wise Young Fool has stuck with me through all that. And yet Wise Young Fool is a book I can’t get away from when I start thinking about not just my “favorites” of 2013 but the books I read in 2013 that I admired, deeply, on a craft level and was, to no small degree, awed by.  Wise Young Fool is a work of art – no really – that is about the power of art, it’s a book that is profoundly sarcastic and mean but also deeply moving.  All these months and months later I am still thinking about how all the pieces of it fit together. THAT is the kind of book Wise Young Fool is.

In a simple summary: Wise Young Fool is the story of how Ritchie Sudden ended up serving 90 days in a juvenile detention facility and, more specifically, the 90 entries in the “diary” he is forced to keep inside said facility, detailing how it is he ended up there.  So, it’s a frame story: the frame of the juvenile detention facility journal revealing the larger story of Ritchie’s life leading up to it.  It is also a frame story about how the completed journal has, ostensibly, ended up at Little, Brown and is now being published.  I know, that feels gimmicky, but Wise Young Fool is really about performances, both the deliberate observed on a stage kind and the deeper, sadder kind we sometimes do to keep people at a distance, and so this second frame story – the idea that Ritchie’s journal, not Sean Beaudoin’s novel, is now being published by Little, Brown – is actually essential to the story Beaudoin is telling about art and performance.  I do not at all think that Beaudoin believes he is “tricking” his teen readers into believing this is “all true” – that’s lazy.  I think, instead, he is asking something bigger of them; he is asking them to observe a story about performance as performance and to believe in the legends we tell.  And he is asking them to step outside the story and consider it as story.  This is ambitious and clever and it really works because it makes you, the reader, believe in Ritchie Sudden as a whisper and a possibility; a kid you might know and a song you might be humming.

Wise Young Fool, then, is a frame story inside a frame story – the journal from the juvenile detention facility framing the story of the year that got Ritchie there and then the larger frame of the manuscript making it to Little, Brown.  I love this kind of daring, I love this kind of craft. Beaudoin’s intricacy and care with the narrative is one of the things I admire most about the book.  But, oh, there are many others.

For instance: I love that this book is all about relationships … but not in the way you think.  This is a book about an extraordinarily close friendship between two slightly off-kilter guys, Ritchie and his bandmate and best friend El Hella. (Elliot to you) I love a friendship in YA done right: not perfect, but about how a real friend is there through all the mess of your life.  This is a book about the relationship Ritchie has with Looper, the woman who is his mother’s new girlfriend. (Looper showed up when Ritchie’s dad left.) Looper doesn’t cut Ritchie any shit and, better still, she talks to him not like an adult but like an adult talks to a teenager that they respect and care for.  It’s a really fully realized relationship and a great example of an adult who is present and there in a teen’s life – can never get enough of that in YA, after all.

And of all the great relationships in this book, best of all, this is also a book about the relationships between Ritchie and two girls: Ravenna and Lacey. Ravenna is the girl Ritchie has always loved from afar and Lacey is the girl that likes him more than he likes her.  And in a lesser book these girls would be lesser characters.  Yet in Wise Young Fool, Ritchie learns how wrong he was about both Ravenna and Lacey and, more than that, they are completely realized characters with their own agency and with their own selfish wants.  Ravenna isn’t just the luscious, sex-bomb dreamgirl Ritchie has lusted over.   Lacey isn’t just the complacent nice girl who pines for Ritchie.  They have their own wants and they make their own mistakes – they connect with Ritchie and even change him in some ways but they do not revolve around him. He is not their whole story and, by that same token, they are not his whole story either.  Ravenna and Lacey are fully realized characters who make the narrator richer and more complicated and they just happen to be girls that he is involved with, drawn to, and compelled to know. Ain’t that a kick in the head?!

Wise Young Fool is exceptionally clever and exceedingly funny.  Ritchie has a smart mouth that never quits and Beaudoin has a particular gift for the kind of high school boy shenanigans that make you wince and grin at the same time.  There are genuine laugh out loud moments laced through a book that is also about serious pain and loss. Ritchie’s loss and pain are great and not so easily escaped.  When Ritchie finds himself in the juvenile detention facility, he thinks that all he needs to do is keep his head down but the brilliance of Wise Young Fool is that it’s really a book about finally taking action in your life and finally confronting the grief and pain you’ve just been trying to keep your head down about.  Ritchie’s journal, his time in the juvenile detention facility; that’s all part of his song and all part of the way Ritchie learns it’s time for him to become active in his life again, to start healing and start coping and, yeah, start living.

There is darkness, grief, and loss in Wise Young Fool but also such damn resilience. It’s a book about how we survive and how we tell our stories through art and creation. And maybe more than anything, Wise Young Fool is a book about finding the right sounds for YOUR life and YOUR family and friends and YOUR story.

Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite books of 2013.  All these months and months later and I am still thinking about it.  And I feel sure that if you give it a try, you will be too. It’s highly recommended as a first purchase for public libraries and as the exactly perfect book to suggest for your teens that love music, art, sad stories, funny stories, and something so real and true it aches. It’s on sale now and if you can’t buy a copy, go check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have copy, suggest they purchase it.

BUT ALSO!  Because he is the best (and possibly because one night I fangirl’ed over him so hard I scared him a little?)

the awesome and amazing Sean Beaudoin has agreed to give away A SIGNED COPY of Wise Young Fool to one lucky reader.

All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment and I’ll select a random winner. (Recent winners include Lauren of The Raucous Librarian, who won the Meg Medina books and  Karen from Yorkville, IL, who won the Anne Ursu book.  You could be next!)

Wise Young Fool and Ritchie Sudden – the way he gets lost in his pain but pulled back into the world through the strength of the people who believe in him and the power of the music he hears and strums out – they are the song.  I know, if you hear it, you’ll sing along.

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Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY!

“What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.” – Meg Medina

Yesterday, I wrote a short review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and talked about a situation involving Meg  being uninvited from a middle school speaking engagement in Virginia because of the word ASS in the book’s title.  I wanted to know more about the situation, so I reached out to Meg.

I was so happy when Meg Medina agreed to answer a few questions about not only her work and her motivation, but her recent experience with being in the spotlight.

And then she sent back her incredible, thoughtful answers and I was beyond happy!

Below, you’ll find out a little bit more about Meg and her work, particularly the motivation for writing the wonderful Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  There’s also more information about the situation in Virginia and some really insightful commentary.

Meg Medina

Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. Her books are Milagros: Girl from Away; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tia Isa Wants a Car; and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is the 2012 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?  – Meg Medina

Tell us a little bit about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  What was the genesis of the book?

Meg Medina: YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of 16-year-old Piddy Sanchez who finds herself the target of a school bully at her new high school. Bullying is the main event in the novel but we cross lots of terrain, like cultural identity, relationships between mothers and daughters, sexual relationships, relationships between students and teachers. I based the novel on a shard of truth from my experience with a school bully in junior high school. The impact of that experience was long lasting and awful. I lost my trust of others. My grades dropped, as I cut class and skipped school. And for a time, I experimented with risky people. It took years for me to feel better and get back on track.

At the National Coalition Against Censorship blog, they mentioned that you had been told that your book seemed to “address the inner city“.  I think many people can see this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.  What was your reaction to this element of the administration’s response?

MM: It was actually a quote to a reporter who covered the story. Neither the superintendent nor the principal spoke to me at all. http://www.richmondmagazine.com/blogs.php?blogID=3fa19738ea6e1cb340bfc8ee7b35d280

But, in any case, it was a stunner coming from a school superintendent.

Even if she were trying to point out that the novel was set in Queens, New York, it would be a silly reason to dismiss a book. The idea that a reader has nothing to learn from characters that are in different circumstances is ridiculous.

As for the alarming overtones: Kids aren’t bullies because they’re Latino or because they live in a city. Kids who dress in Northface jackets and drive nice cars — or who live in Cumberland County — can be just as awful.

Have there been any updates on the situation in Virginia?  What has happened since the story has become more widely known?  How has it impacted you?

MM: Well, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with much-appreciated support. This included a post from Judy Blume who has been fighting censorship for decades now.

I’ve received invitations to places as far away as Alaska – and I’ll be part of an anti-bullying community event in Washington, DC next month where I will definitely say the title of my book. Also, I’m proud to say that Richmond City Library, Main Branch, is starting a teen book club this coming spring. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is one of their first titles on the list.

The biggest impact, though, has been on my willingness to speak up. As a rule, I’m not a person who seeks out conflict. However, I’m now past just shaking my head and quietly “working around” people who feel justified in censoring books for young people – mine or anyone else’s. Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?

One of the things I love about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is how effectively you get across that bullying can start over seemingly nothing (Piddy doesn’t even know Yaqui) and then escalate into something that takes over the victim’s whole life.  Can you talk about the process of making the bullying feel so accurate intense? 

MM: Definitely, you can be bullied for the most ridiculous reason. In fact, bullying has very little to do with the victim. It’s mostly about power and about what the bully is trying to work out. The sad part, though, is that kids who get bullied often believe that there is something wrong with them, something that marks them as a loser. That’s where the hopelessness and shame begin.

When I drew Piddy as a character, I drew a normal kid with brains and average looks and people who loved her. She could be anybody. There’s nothing about Piddy that’s “wrong.”

Yaqui was tricky; you could write an entire novel about a girl like that, couldn’t you? But I wanted to tell Piddy’s story, not Yaqui’s. So, as I fleshed out Yaqui, I worked on revealing her only through Piddy’s experience and perceptions. Yaqui started out as a sentence, something that didn’t worry Piddy very much at all. But as each chapter unfolded and as Piddy’s self-confidence eroded, the idea of Yaqui seeped into every part of Piddy’s being until it was all consuming. That overpowering dread felt the most realistic to me.

What lessons about bullying do YOU want young readers, be they bullied, bullies, or bystanders, to take from this YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS? What about the messages for adults who work with or are involved with teenagers?

MM: Researchers will tell you that the reasons for bullying are varied and complicated, and they may be right. But at the core, I think kids savage each other mostly because they want to ease their own insecurities, rage and despair – and because no one has stopped them from doing so.

I don’t know that I have lessons in mind, and I certainly don’t offer easy solutions. What I do have is a story that might help a reader feel less lonely and one that might open honest dialogue in a classroom, a library or at a kitchen table.

I wish adults would stop wringing their hands about the wrong things – like whether it’s okay to say, “ass” in front of 14 year olds. Conversations like that miss the point and cement adults’ reputation as being out of touch. What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.

I love your GIRLS OF SUMMER project as well as how all of your work apologetically concentrates strong female characters!  Why do you think this is so important in books for children and young adults? 

MM: Thanks. I love that project, too. Gigi Amateau and I pick 18 books for strong girls every year and then we spend the summer chatting with the authors of those books on our blog.  We include picture book all the way to YA to reflect the long and challenging journey of growing up a strong girl.

There are other fantastic lists (the Amelia Bloomer Prize, for one), but Girls of Summer reflects our personal favorites, the books we recommended to our own daughters and the newer titles we mention to the wonderful girls we meet every day. We’re picky about finding books about unconventional girls who choose their own path, girls who reflect on themselves and who learn to take charge of their fate.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

MM: I have a picture book due out in 2015 called LORO MANGO (Candlewick Press).  And I’m just lifting off on a Young Adult manuscript for Candlewick Press. It’s also set in Queens, but this time we travel to 1977.  Oh, and heads up. I’m pretty sure someone will say “ass” in that one, too.

Thanks so much to Meg!  Not only did she agree to this interview, but Meg is giving away a signed paperback copy of her last YA novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Winda lovely, ethereal story about (you guessed it!) a strong girl finding her place in the world to one lucky reader.  And since I want to keep my pledge to stand up for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by getting it in as many hands as possible, I’m giving away a copy of that!  

Want to be entered to win these awesome books?  Leave a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a random winner! And since the point of  these blogs is to share this story and Meg’s experience as widely as possible?  You can earn an extra entry by sharing this on Twitter or Facebook.  Just link to your share in your comment and you’ll be entered twice

Let’s honor the battles of Banned Books Week by STILL talking about this; by saying it was wrong and, as Meg points out, symptomatic of a larger problem teens face.  Let’s have faith.  And let’s fight for it.

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Banned Books Week: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

It all starts with a buzz that high school student Piddy shrugs off – “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” She doesn’t even know Yaqui so why would she want to fight with Piddy?  It’s probably a case of mistaken identity or no big deal.  And, anyway, what’s the worst this total stranger could do?

This is the start of Meg Medina’s powerful Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, one of my favorite YA books of 2013.  I’ve been in love with this book since it was first released back in March.  It’s received four starred reviews. I’ve booktalked it to my teens, featured it in my displays, and promoted it on our library’s teen Facebook page because I think it’s truly special.  Why?  Before anything else, what a delight to see a diverse cast of characters dealing with a universal story – this is always such a treat in YA.

Next is the way Medina structures the escalation of bullying.  Rarely, if ever, have I read a book that so accurately portrays the intensity and the slow build and burn of high school bullying.  I want to pull my hair out when I read stories about teenagers who are bullied and see school administration responding with “Well, but does it happen on campus?”  As if the insidiousness of bullying doesn’t follow teens; sink into every moment of their life, as if saying that gets administrators off the hook for not helping teens. Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass is flat-out brilliant at showing how bullying isn’t the kind of thing teenagers can just walk away from, even when they try.  Medina knows that bullying is a campaign of harassment that builds and builds – that’s what happens to Piddy.  She thinks things with Yaqui are silly or, at least, can be ignored.  But they can’t – Yaqui isn’t going away, if anything she is escalating her behavior against Piddy.

This escalation, and this understanding of bullying behavior, gives Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass not just a claustrophobic sense of reality but also makes it a page-turner.  As Piddy looks for a way out, Medina uses this as a way to let us into Piddy’s whole world; her interactions with her mother, her burgeoning relationship with a boy, and the way this bullying blows apart her well-ordered life. You’re rooting for Piddy but you, like her, are also not sure what the “right” solution is.  Again, what a beautiful lifeline in literature Medina has created here: she doesn’t lie to the young readers of this book, she doesn’t make it seem as simple as “Piddy should just tell!” That would only be the beginning of a whole new set of problems – Piddy knows that and so will teens.  Understanding this, unraveling this pain, is more than that and this book doesn’t shy away from that truth.  It’s what makes it work and it’s what makes it unique.

This is a very good book, a special book, and, yes, in some spots a very hard book to read.  But it’s also the kind of book I think can matter in teen’s lives – help them actually see the shockwaves of bullying, help them know they aren’t the only person who has felt their whole life spin out over something they can’t control, maybe even help them feel not just a little empathy but a little less alone in a dark time.

Yaqui_frontcoverfull (1)

This is also a book that, you may notice, has the word ASS in the title.  Which, ostensibly, is what got Meg Medina uninvited from speaking at a middle school in Virginia.  I say ostensibly because, while I am sure the word ASS was part of it?  I also know that it was something deeper – it was the way books like Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass make adults uncomfortable – the way it makes them confront the dark realities of life as an adolescent.  Those are scary things for adults to have to face and those are the kind of things that pull books off shelves and out of children’s hands.

It’s words like ass and it’s worlds where girls you don’t even know can determine to make your life a living nightmare while adults in your world stand powerless that make books disappear from public and school library shelves. A challenge here, an uninvited author there, a concerned parent with a letter to a principal, a board – these things not just erode the intellectual freedom of children and teens but take something life-saving, life-changing from them – books, stories, words, a hand in the dark.

THIS is why we, librarians, educators, teachers, writers, fight challenges and raise awareness about them.  It’s why we want to get people talking about them and being outraged about them and fighting them.  That’s why we have BANNED BOOKS WEEK.

We do not, make no mistake, celebrate Banned Books Week.  Throw that out the window.  We celebrate a commitment to defending intellectual freedom, we celebrate the fight, we celebrate everyone who does not go quietly.  We do this because we want you, the general public, we want you to know this is happening all over this country and it MATTERS.

I wanted to boost the signal on what happened to Meg Medina and what it reveals to us about how easily books are pulled away from the very readers who might need them the most.  I wanted this year’s Banned Books Week to be a time for all of us, from those of us active in this field to the friends you have on Facebook who shared that video of the cat librarian in Russia, to let people know that challenges like this are happening all across this country and we do not agree and we will not be silent.

This Banned Books Week: Stand up for Yaqui Delgado.  

How?

Take this pledge with me:

We will talk about challenges, about climates that discourage intellectual freedom.  We will share it.  We will be outraged about it, we will encourage others to be outraged about it.  We will tell the story of how books matter, about what they can do for teens. Moreover: we will tell teens about these books. We will BUY THE BOOKS.  We will ask the libraries in our communities, the public libraries and the school libraries, to BUY THE BOOKS for our communities. We will not let all the readers who see their story in Piddy’s story be silenced and made invisible.  We will insist their voices count.

To further boost the signal, I also reached out to Meg to see if she would do an interview with me about what happened and what she’s learned from it.  She graciously agreed and then gave me some amazing, insightful answers.  Tomorrow, to continue this campaign to stand up for Yaqui, I will not only post the interview, but everyone who comments will have a chance to win a hardcover copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass AND a signed copy of Meg’s novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

Let’s boost the signal.  Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s kick some ass.

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The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

the 5th waveThey’re coming for us.  All of us.

“You’re going to keep reading that book even though it gave you a nightmare last night?” My boyfriend teased as I rolled over and reached out for The Fifth Wave.

I’d just finished briefing him on the intense, very scary nightmare I’d had thanks to The Fifth Wave, the book I’d reluctantly put down the night before as sleep swept me away.

I pulled out my bookmark and dove right back into the book.  “No,” I answered, smiling slyly at him.  “I am going to keep reading this book because it gave me a nightmare last night.

THAT’S how good Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave is – it gives you nightmares but you just don’t wanna stop.

Longtime readers of the blog will know that I am one of Yancey’s biggest fans – I did a series of posts about his fantastic Monstrumologist series, including an interview with him. I love the way he mixes both literary and genre elements in his work – if there was ever a YA writer who proves you can have your cake (write challenging, interesting literary fiction) and eat it too (that also manages to incorporate elements of genre fiction like horror and sci-fi) it’s Yancey.

Imagine my delight when Yancey’s The Fifth Wave was not just announced but given a full-out media, promotional blitz in the face of the book being optioned as a movie.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Promotional blitzes usually make ME break out in hives too.  But this book?  This book deserves all the buzz.  Is it because it’s well-written and gripping and an exciting foray into a rarer genre (not just end of the world – ALIENS!) of YA?  Sure, that’s part of it.  But it’s also that The Fifth Wave has something that no amount of publicity blitzes can buy – this is one of “those” books – the kind you just want to talk about, the kind you want to share.

So, the plot is straight-forward enough: aliens attack and, quickly and efficiently start wiping humanity off the map.  There’s plagues and disasters and no attempt at communication.  It’s an honestly upsetting and scary set-up precisely because there’s no in-depth discussion of how it all happens.  It just happens and you, as a reader, feel as powerless as the rest of the world.  We begin in the woods with a single human survivor, a teenage girl named Cassie who fears she might be the last person in the whole world and, to some degree, is afraid of how much she wishes she was.  Cassie is afraid of humanity, you see, because she doesn’t know who she can trust and because everyone she loves and known has been ripped violently away from her.  For Cassie, human connection is almost as scary as whatever the aliens are up to.

Everything about this works as an opening: you feel Cassie’s ultimate desperation, which really motivates you to keep turning the pages and see how she makes it.  And Yancey excels at the details that bring Cassie’s harsh existence to life – when she talks about going into down to get bottled water because she can’t drink from the stream as it might be contaminated from human bodies somewhere upstream – that’s one of those moments that squeezes your stomach with dread and anticipation and the desire to keep burning through pages.  The book is full of details and moments like this.

Cassie is a wonderful character.  She feels like a real teenage girl who has survived unimaginable things and is now going to keep living and keep surviving no matter what because she just has a very, well, human will to survive.  I think teen readers will love this about her – she pushes past all emotional devastation and just keeps surviving.  This is compelling in a realistic, relatable way.  No matter what, Cassie just keeps on going – a lovely, subtle metaphor for what adolescence can sometimes feel like.  As she sets out to find the single family member she thinks might still be alive, Cassie crosses paths with Evan Walker.  They forge a tenuous bond that, like Cassie, the reader isn’t sure can be trusted.

Cassie and Evan’s story is just one part of The Fifth Wave.  The other major action takes place in a government facility where children and teens are being trained up to be the next generation of remorseless killing machines, sent to wipe out, well, the aliens of course.  Yancey creates a whole other world inside the narrative here and it’s just as brutal and unforgiving as the woods where Cassie finds herself.  And, naturally, inside this supposedly safe and alien-free government zone there is more going on than it first appears.  Here, again, is Yancey’s gift for creating tension that makes it impossible to put a book down.  Something is off here, so off … but what and how and why?  You just have to keep reading to find out the next brutal twist.

I really couldn’t stop reading The Fifth Wave – even as it was giving me nightmares.  It was so detailed and rich that reading it was a pleasure.  Not only can I not wait for the next one, but I totally understand why people can’t stop talking about it, even without a giant publicity push, it feels familiar and yet totally new.  There are twists but they make sense within the story and they motivate you to keep looking at the narrative from new angles.  It’s a story that’s genuinely scary; an end-of-the-world book where I actually felt like the world was ending for the first time in a long time and it filled me with a delicious sense of dread and sorrow.  It has characters to care about and invest in and trust.

This book IS going to be the next big thing.  The Fifth Wave is available today!  If you’re a public library, I recommend you order multiple copies because it’s going to circulate and circulate well. If you’re a reader?  I’d be prepared for sleepless nights you won’t soon regret.

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[a note about Middle Grade Mondays: this project really is starting this week!  Only I’ve decided that instead of Mondays, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays so I can link up with my amazing friend Sarah, aka GreenBeanTeenQueen, weekly middle-grade posts/reviews called Tween Tuesdays.  Yes, I loathe the word tween too, but no need to use it with your patrons, just use all our reviews/recommendations!  And if there’s anyone else interested in joining us, please feel free  to blog/tweet/comment/link along.]

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When We Wake by Karen Healey

when we wake karen healey“You are not the future I wanted. I can’t believe the same stupid shit is still happening. I wanted you to be better!  Be better!”

I wait for it, you know.  I wait for that minute, that second, when I will become tired of dystopias.  And sometimes it comes to me in a flash.  Sometimes I am in the middle of a book or am scanning the summaries of that month’s new releases and I am stuck in the middle of the same old thing for the thousandth time – it’s the end of the world and it’s all so obvious yet the science has no explanation and look there’s some middling, predictable love triangle and one of the guys SEEMS like the “bad” boy but PROBABLY he’s not and OH SURPRISE everyone’s corrupt and somehow this totalitarian government with complete control over everything has just been easily overthrown by a 15 year old, sure! I just can’t read another word.  I am bored and, worse, I am worn out of the entire genre beyond belief. “NO MORE DYSTOPIAS!” I say to myself.  “I’ll read summaries and reviews and skim so I can be up-to-date for booktalking to teens, but no more!” (because, and this part is SO important for me to always keep in mind, my teens still clamor for dystopias.  They are easy sells, they fly off the shelves, they are constantly requested.  I’ve got to buy them and I’ve got to know them. My HIGH-FALUTIN’ ~FEELS do not enter into the reader’s advisory part of my job.) And I mean it!

But then … then there’s one I have to give a shot.  Someone I trust promises me this one is worth it.  It’s a summary I can’t resist.  So, I give just this one a shot and … I am reminded all over again why I love this genre – these dystopias, the post-apocalyptic worlds where teenagers are fighting for survival and figuring out their identities all at the same time. I picked up When We Wake by Karen Healey for a simple reason: she’s one of my Morris authors.  Karen’s debut Guardian of the Dead was one of the five finalists for the 2011 Morris, the year I was a member of the committee.  So, her books are always meaningful to me and, of course, always instant-reads. But still!  Even loving Karen Healey, I was not prepared for the wonderfulness of When We Wake.

When We Wake begins in 2027 on the last day of Tegan Oglietti’s life.  It begins again when Tegan awakes 100 years in the future, the first person to be successfully revived from cryogenic freezing.  Now Tegan must find out who she is 100 years later, the entirety of her world swept away from her in the blink of an eye, and she must also figure out what kind of world she’s now living in and what her part in it all is.

What I Love About This Book

Where to begin with all I love about When We Wake?  How about here: what a loving, wonderful portrayal of teen activists.  What a glorious thing to find in a YA book, a YA fantasy book at that: teenagers who aren’t just in a story to fall in love, who don’t just topple governments with a single flashy action, but who are there, on the streets, doing the every day work of protesting and organizing for change.  That is true both in 2027 and 2127, the teens we meet are interested in the world, in politics, in issues like immigration reform and justice.  These are teenagers I know and have known, smart and passionate and curious.  And this is a real strength of the book – a future world, yes, but with grounding in the here and now, with sympathetic and realistic characters.

I love that when Tegan awakes she finds herself, yes, in a totally foreign world.  It is, after all, 100 years in the future.  And yet.  And yet it’s still a recognizable world.  That’s another thing that wears me out about round after round of dystopias – it’s 150 years in the future but we’ve lost all previous human language and all live in a complete totalitarian  regime in a landscape almost ruined by plagues and natural disasters but, really, everything’s mostly recovered, well the grass is longer.  Uhhh … well that time table seems slightly off to me. The world Tegan finds in 2127 is different, of course, it has different technology and slang and great strides have been made in a lot of social issues. Yet in many ways, the world is still recognizable to Tegan.  People still play guitar and love music, there are still cliques at high schools, there’s still a voracious media and online world to sink into and be wary of.  Because this is a world where things seem real and familiar it’s a world where it’s much easier to feel the stakes, the real costs and risks of Tegan’s choices.  Again, this is a frankly brilliant take on the futuristic novel and the dystopia.

In fact, note my use of the word dystopia.  There’s plenty right in the world of 2127 – and Tegan, from a time when the world seemed to be tearing apart, can’t help but see all that.  What’s amazing and rich and nuanced about Healey’s work is that, within all of this, within Tegan knowing all of this – there’s still things wrong, very wrong,  in the world Tegan finds herself in.  A lot of what makes the novel IMPOSSIBLE to put down (I ripped through it) is how Healey ratchets up the stakes and the suspense to reveal just how deep this wrongness goes.  Usually in a typical dystopia the bad is so bad and the good is so good that very rarely do readers have a chance to look around at the world the author has built for them and, without having to side with a genocidal lunatic, think  “But, really, is it all bad?” But that’s a real choice Tegan faces, a real puzzle she must untangle.  How bad is the bad and what exactly will I, Tegan Ogiletti, do about it?  What a question!  And, thanks to Healey’s amazing prose, what an answer we are given!

When We Wake is available to purchase now. If you can’t purchase one, go check out a copy from your local library and if they don’t have one, request they add it to their collection!  It is highly recommended for readers aged 13-18 and as a first purchase for public libraries, especially if you have a crowd who eats up end of the world books but also hungers for something new.

I return to the title – this isn’t just a story of When I Wake.  The WE is there for a reason.  This is a story of awakening, coming of age, and, most moving to me, of choosing to pick up the fight when something is unjust.  We are called awake and into this world with great passion and clarity thanks to Healey’s writing.  In a crowded field of books I thought I was all burned out on, When We Wake is special indeed.  It helped reignite my passion for dystopias and, best of all, it gave me something to think about.

(Here’s a Tor review of When We Wake that I absolutely loved and a fantastic Twitterview with Healey by Kim at Stacked.)

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An Open Letter to US Publishers: PLEASE Publish Kirsty Eagar

It started back in November.

At the 2012 YALSA YA Lit Symposium (another fine year at the Sympoisum, let me add!  I’ve been to all three. I’ve loved, learned, and networked at all three more than any other professional event I’ve ever attended.  Oh, and I’ve presented at every one too! I am double plus excited it’s happening every year now.  Rock on, YALSA.) the very first program I attended was Globalize Me! Young Adult Literature from Outside the U.S.  presented by Catherine M. Andronik and Adele Walsh.  The first time I heard the title, I thought it was going to be about all global literature for teen (which I am totally interested in, by the way.  Do teens in Japan also read paranormal books?  Does YA lit exist in other countries the way it does here?  And long-time readers know of my deep affection for Canadian YA/middle grade.) but reading the description I saw a specific mention of Australia as the focus which was ALSO interesting to me, since there seems to be so many amazing YA books coming out of Australia.

LITTLE DID I KNOW THE AMAZINGNESS THIS PROGRAM WOULD BRING INTO MY LIFE.

Catherine Andronik spoke first.  She had a break-down of Australian (and foreign) winners of the Printz Medal/Honor.  Frankly, until I’d seen it all laid out in her post, I hadn’t really thought about the percentages that way.  (It also reminded me about the wonder that is One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke.  Well done, 2008 Printz committee!)  It was an interesting stat to think about and to really marvel that the Printz allows for international submissions – I’ve discovered some wonderful writers that way.  Andronik is an academic doing research about this and I hope it gets published, I’d love to read it. After Adronik was Adele Walsh.  Adele is the program coordinator for The Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria. Adele had come all the way from Australia to talk to us about the Australian publishing industry and, specifically, some of the authors being published in Australia who aren’t widely read or even published in America and the UK.  How could I have known the amount of money Adele was going to cost me in Australian shipping costs?  HOW COULD I HAVE KNOWN!

Adele talked primarily about four authors: Gabrielle Williams, Vikki Wakefield, Leanne Hall, and Kirsty Eagar.  Gabrielle has one book published in the US (Beatle Meets Destiny, 2009) and Vikki has one forthcoming. (Friday Brown, Simon & Schuster, 2013).  Leanne Hall and Kirsty Eagar don’t currently have US publishing deals. Adele talked about the books that hadn’t been published in the US.  Each one sounded fascinating to me. She booktalked:

  • Vikki Wakefield’s All I Ever Wanted – an  intense contemporary about a girl living with a drug dealing mother and trying not to become her.
  • Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness – magical realism infused with urban fantasy and something unnameable, a truly disquieting and original book that takes big risks with form.
  • Gabrielle William’s The Reluctant Hallelujah  – about a girl who discovers family secrets she never imagined and falls in love while defending on a wild and dangerous cross-country road trip taken to protect an important religious icon that just happens to be… no, I just can’t say any more.
  • Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue – the story of a young woman recovering from intense trauma through her love of surfing.

Adele talked about other titles and authors too, as well as the literary awards these authors had received.  By the time Adele was done with her presentation I had a list a mile long of books I planned to order from Australia.  (Thanks, Fishpond!)  The plan was to start with the four she had booktalked … until I discovered Kirsty Eagar had a paranormal book called SALTWATER VAMPIRES.  My friends, I am only human.  No human can resist SALTWATER VAMPIRES.  So, I ordered that one instead and before I’d even left the symposium, four books were on their way to me from Australia.  Meanwhile, Adele insisted I also had to read Raw Blue, so I found it used on Amazon and it to my pile.

Now, I really liked all of the books Adele recommended.  Honestly and truly.  US Publishers, you need to hop on them right away.  This is Shyness – I don’t even know WHAT that book was.  I’ve never read ANYTHING like it.  But it was awesome.   All I Ever Wanted?  You wouldn’t be able to booktalk it fast enough for your reluctant readers and fans of Ellen Hopkins.   The Reluctant Hallelujah – is the soul-twin of Going Bovine and is perfect for your teens who love literary fiction with a little twist.  I liked these books to the point where I’d buy them for my library and recommend them to my teens.  But when it comes to Kirsty Eagar … I love Kirsty Eagar. saltwater

Saltwater Vampires is unlike any vampire book, any paranormal book period, I’ve ever read.  Saltwater Vampires makes the brilliant and dark choice to use the wreck of the Batavia (a horrific true-life tragedy wherein survivors of a mutinied shipwreck descended into utter savagery and madness) as the centerpiece for its dark happenings.  ONE reason this really works is because it imbues its villains with some genuine, deep-seeded menace.

Saltwater Vampires, through a sea of vampire books (teehee), managed to remind me why there is something elemental about horror, particularly YA horror.  There is some bad shit out there, YA horror says, and the adults in this world might help or they might be behind it and this bad shit?  It’s got fucking claws and it’s coming after you – and it can look just like the person you’ve been best friends with your whole life.  It can look just like you. 

Saltwater Vampires is a dark, violent, twisty horror novel full of surprises and boy, is it FUN.  Yes, there are some more complicated, literary elements of it (the historical elements, lots of evocative descriptions of surfing, an Eagar hallmark) but make no mistake, it’s a page-turner that’s handily packed with blood, sex, raves, violence, and VAMPIRE SLAYING.  Believe me, American teens would read that even if it uses slang and is set on the Western coast of Australia.

The second I was done tearing through Saltwater Vampires I started Raw Blue.  Yet again, I had no idea what I was in for, because this book blew. me. away. Raw Blue  Raw Blue is the story of Carly, who has dropped out of university, left her hometown and is “wasting her potential” by surfing all day and working at a restaurant.  Readers know there’s something truly traumatic in Carly’s background and Eagar, in an unbelievably delicate and well-crafted way, lets readers into the full story of this trauma much in the way Carly might recall it; slowly and with no small measure of agony.  This is not an easy book to read.  But, God, it’s a rewarding one, an unforgettable one.  This is a book that will stay for me for always, that makes me so glad I do what I do.

Look, Raw Blue needs to be published in America if for no other reason than I can shove it in the face of all those NEW ADULT people. Raw Blue, featuring a character who is out of high school, working a full-time job, healing after an intense trauma and, eventually, establishing a real relationship, is… STILL A YA NOVEL.  It does not need another label, a NEW ADULT label, because it is a YA book – a YA book for mature and older teen readers, yes.  A YA book with adult appeal, yes. But this book is a YA book in every way, the themes are YA themes: negotiating a relationship with your parents, taking shaky steps into a new kind of romantic relationship, and learning to define your identity on your own terms.  Through and through, this is a YA book, a helluva YA book, an original and daring YA book,  about a 20 year old and that’s that.

Kirsty Eagar has one other book, Night Beach.  I have it all loaded up on my Kindle and ready to read and I’m sure it’s going to be just as stunning, ethereal, and original as her other two books.  Yes, that’s the good news, Kristy Eagar’s three books are now all available for Kindle.

This is a good start, America!   BUT US PUBLISHERS, YOU CAN DO SO MUCH MORE.  Publish Kirsty Eagar’s books.  Take a chance on them with US audiences.  You want to find the next big thing in YA?  Try looking a little farther afield.  These books are something different, I won’t lie.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have teen appeal, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readable and awesome.  They are different and that is glorious.  Something different (something different that is also something GOOD) is how you avoid a glut in the market and declining reader interest. US PUBLISHERS, IT IS TIME: PUBLISH KIRSTY EAGAR’S BOOKS!  Just pick one up and give it a read and I KNOW you’ll see in her work what I saw and, like I did, you’ll want to share her work with a wide American audience of readers.

As for me, Night Beach is my next to be read then it’s off to plot for a way to visit Australia and load up on books in person. . .

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