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.)


A Chance to Win Flash Burnout & Love for L.K. Madigan

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan won the 2010 Morris Award.  As most of you reading this blog probably already know, the Morris Award is, and always will be, dearly close to my heart, as I just finished my first ever selection committee work on the 2011 Morris Award Committee.  I heard, first-hand, the way the Morris Award, which is given to a debut novel, changes authors lives.  This year’s Morris reception was immensely moving to me, seeing our three authors in attendance (winner Blythe Wolstoon and honorees Lish McBride and Barbara Stuber) and hearing them talk about what writing meant in their lives and knowing that they the Morris Award recognition was going to make their publishing even a little bit easier, well, it was significant to me.

Knowing that Flash Burnout is in that company, that author L.K. Madigan had a similar journey with the Morris Award, that makes it special to me too.  I think Morris books will always be in my favorites because, in a way, they represent all the struggle and hope and work that goes into getting a book published that very first time.

But Flash Burnout is also special to me because it’s a truly great novel.  This book has high teen appeal and is a good read-alike for John Green and Maureen Johnson fans. Flash Burnout is highly recommended for teens aged 15 and up interested in realistic fiction and books about the artistic process.

Here are six things that make Flash Burnout special and worth your time:

1. a boy narrator.  Yes, it’s true.  Here’s a book with a funny, smart, realistic male lead character.  Blake is a great lead character, you feel for him and care about his choices.  He’s goofy and easily embarrassed and he likes girls and thinks a lot about sex and is perfect for all those boy readers out there some people don’t think exist.  Blake has a realistic, believable arc in the book, you’re rooting for him even as he messes up.   Blake is authentically BOY.

2. no werewolves/vampires/ghosts in sight.  For all those times you need a breather from the world of the supernatural, where vampires sparkle and ghosts can’t wait to date you.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love this genre.  I love that teens love this genre.)  Sometimes you just feel like a story that feels so possible… sometimes stories like that can  really connect with your first-hand experience and mean something in your life.  This is an outstanding example of contemporary, realistic YA fiction.

3. art.  Another outstanding element of the story is the use of photography throughout.  Not only does it provide a thoughtful metaphor for the story of Blake figuring out how he “frames” himself in the world, it also incorporates a lot of photography technique and terminology seamlessly into the plot.  Blake is serious about photography as an art and a craft and it’s really good to see that passion and curiosity for creation and art in a YA novel.  This is perfect for teens that are looking for stories about artists and any that might be interested in photography in general.

4. the tone.  This book has a really unique tone that mixes serious stuff (Blake’s friend Marissa’s desperate search for her meth addicted mother) with funny stuff (Blake’s near constant thoughts about sex and girls) very well and very realistically.  It makes for a really compelling read and the way Madigan masterfully balances the tone keeps you reading.

5. the not a triangle-triangle. Another huge thread in the book is how Blake feels torn between his romantic relationship with a girl named Shannon and his close friendship with Marissa.  In lesser books, this would be some kind of very obvious triangle, with Shannon as a controlling bitch or Marissa as clearly not right for him, but Madigan goes past that – into a deeper more realistic place.  Who hasn’t been in an awkward situation like that?  Who hasn’t wondered if they’re with the right person, if a friend could be something more? This makes Blake’s feelings, his indecision and his confusion, so much more significant, so much more believable.  It’s harder but it’s more true and, in my opinion, that’s something all YA novels should strive for, plot-wise.

6. the family ties.  Yes, this is a book about a girl who is searching for her estranged, drug addicted mother.  But wait, don’t despair that you’re reading yet another dysfunctional family YA novel.  This is also the story of Blake’s family – Blake’s funny and loving and kind of weird and very supportive family.  Blake’s parents trust him and support him and talk with him and want to help him but also believe he can make the right choices.  IT’S KIND OF A MIRACLE OF AWESOME, basically.

Sounds pretty great doesn’t it?  I hope you’re bumping it to the top of your to-be-read list.  I hope you’re reserving a copy at your local library right now.  Do you want a copy of your own?  Then today is your lucky day!  All you have to do is comment on this entry for a chance to win a paperback copy of L.K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout! (The lucky winner will be chosen at random.)

So why the sudden love for Flash Burnout, you might be asking?  Sadly, last week L.K. Madigan announced that she was recently diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.  This is a devastating blow to the YA fiction community.  A group of librarian-blogger friends decided we’d all post something about Lisa’s work and offer giveaways of her books on our sites.  Some of us (me included) are also making donations to the American Cancer Society in her name. You can visit these other posts and contests at GreenBeanTeenQueen, GalleySmith, YA Librarian Tales, and Stacked.

We thought this would be a good way to let Lisa know what her work has meant to us as teen librarians and lovers of YA lit.  We also thought it would be a chance to get her books in more hands so more people could share the beauty and power of her words and work.

One of the goals of the Morris Committee is to help debut authors receive more recognition.  I’m not sure I would have ever read Flash Burnout if it hadn’t been for the Morris.  I am so glad I did.   I hope you give Flash Burnout (or her second book The Mermaid’s Mirror, a delicious fantasy) a read so that you can share in the power of her work.  For L.K. Madigan, I think (I hope) that this is the best way to spread some the blessings and gifts of her life – through getting her writing out far and wide.

Our thoughts are with you, Lisa, and we’re so grateful for your gifts.


So You Want To Be On A Selection Committee. . .

What with one thing and another, I just sat down and re-read all of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books.  These were books I loved as a child.  Several of the copies I re-read were, in fact, my own childhood copies.  In the front of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 I had written, in neat cursive, “I Love Ramona Books!” I think I must have been, oh, eight or nine? So, that was about twenty five years ago.  And you know what I realized re-reading them?  I still love Ramona books!

How did she get it so damn right? I thought as I read them again.  How the smallest things can define your world, (the time you threw up in front of your whole class) how it seems your parents take your sister so much more seriously than you, how it sucks when your parents don’t have enough money for treats, how you want your teachers to actually like you – it’s all there and it’s all so good.

And it hasn’t aged at all!  Can you believe that?  Ramona the Pest was written forty two years ago, but there’s nothing in that explicitly marks it as taking place in 1968.  Children still want to play in mud in shiny new boots they didn’t just inherit from their neighbors.  Children still feel puzzled by substitute teachers.

There’s still so much funny material in, so many true moments of longing and joy, so much that is relatable.

And, I couldn’t help it, I thought about the Newbery too.

Out of all those books, how did the Newbery Committee(s) know that the two that are the best, literary-merit-wise, are Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8?

I thought about the Newbery because I was thinking of what it means to be on an awards committee.  As most of you know, this year I have served on the 2010 William C. Morris Award committee.  It’s my first time ever on a selection committee and what a twelve months it has been!

I thought that my years and years and years of reading, my years and years of reading YA literature, my years of reading YA lit as a professional, I thought all of that would prepare me for being on a selection committee.  And, I guess, maybe to some degree it did, but serving on a selection committee is entirely different.

First, these books take priority.  Over every other book.  I read five debut novels for every non-debut, maybe more.  If I wasn’t reading a debut, I felt guilty.  The Ramona re-read was an indulgence I allowed myself only after 80% of the committee work was done, it was my first re-read of the year, which is just crazy talk for me.  But this year all my focus, more than I even realized, was on first YA novels.

Second, it wasn’t just me.  The Morris Committee is nine people and have you ever had nine people instantly agree on one thing?  Being able to bounce ideas off each other, discussing the books at length and in depth, their meanings, their style, their literary merit, their teen appeal – that was as much fun, as awesome, as I’d hoped, even more!  It was inspiring, it made me see things in books I’d never imagined, it made me want to read deeper, be a better reader.

In fact, that was part of what really motivated me to create this blog.  I loved the deep discussions, the chance to ruminate and rant and think big thoughts about what books meant and what they were trying to accomplish.  I wanted a place I could continue that.

Third, it wasn’t just me.  Wait, I already said that one, right?  But this is what I mean this time … why do these awards matter?  I thought about that a lot this past year and I thought about it while reading Ramona.  What do these awards really matter?  The universal, unanswerable question, right?  But I think I feel close to the answer.  I think …

Selection committees exist so that, together, a group of professionals can do their best, after a year full of reading and discussion (and re-reading and more discussion) to come up with one book that is representative of the best in the entire field.  That IS the best.  It would be pretty boring (and useless) if it was just ONE person saying, “This wins the Newbery because I like dog books!”  or “This could never win the Printz because I don’t ‘get’ graphic novels!”

It’s not just me – it’s a whole committee and that means something.

Last week, YALSA announced the 2010 Morris shortlist.  The selecting is not quite over yet!  It won’t be over until the Youth Media Awards announcement in San Diego on January 10. But now, from all those novels, we’re down to just the five.  Check out the shortlist: not only is there something for everyone, but there’s lots of something that is special and great and dazzling, if I do say so myself.

With the announcement of the short list, I was prepared for some puzzlement and for some “but I’ve never heard of that!” and “but I didn’t like that!” and “but what about?” from the library world.  During some moments over this past year, I can assure you that everyone on EVERY selection committee has had thoughts just like that.  But here’s what makes committees so great, here’s what makes them matter: someone else had an answer.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, no person or committee ever can.  I know how much fun it is to play the “what about…” game.  One of my favorite Roger Ebert-isms is that the reasons lists of “the greatest films” exist is so that we can debate them, argue about them, and defend movies we would include – that they exist to make us think about why love movies in the first place.  For me, that has been the greatest reward of serving on a selection committee.  I hope that some of our choices this year will grab you and mean something to you – will make you think about why you love YA literature in the first place.

I hope that, in twenty-some odd years, some adult might revisit one or more of the books on this shortlist and be amazed at how much it got right about being a teenager, might think about what it meant in their life when they were sixteen, might be filled with admiration and even solace.

I hope, somewhere, someone is writing in one of these books in cursive.