Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review and Guest Post: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (T2T)

Last month I wrote a short post in which I raved--in the (hopefully) least annoying but most inspiring manner possible--about Stephanie Kuehnert's sophomore book, Ballads of Suburbia, which basically rendered me speechless. This you will see in my upcoming incoherent, insufficient review. It's a book that must stand for itself, one that is easily in contention for the best book I've read in 2009 so far.

I was blessed with an ARC, but I know I'm getting my butt over to to my local bookstore as soon as I can and buying a finished copy (they're only $13--less if you buy it on Amazon!) to have a place of honor on my perma-bookshelf. If you do buy it, you can enter the Ballads Blitz that Shelly from Write for a Reader is holding, with awesome prizes. But the best part is that you have a copy of this magnificent, haunting, raw, powerful, and life-changing book. Enough of laundry-listing adjectives. Let's go to the T2T section.

Publication date: July 21, 2009 (MTV Books)

Tags: YA, drugs, sex, friendship, suicide, divorce, edgy

Rating: 5 out of 5


Kara goes to USC film school and loves ballads, those songs about one’s life and the events, decisions, and mistakes that make one who he or she is. However, she has never been able to write her own ballad, of her teenage years growing up in the Chicago suburbs amongst sex, drugs, music, and betrayal.

Her friends were all able to write their own ballads in their shared “Stories of Suburbia” notebook, but as Kara relives her teenage years, she realizes that her own ballad is a composition of all of her friends’, and a few others’ besides. Her story consists of a wrecked home life; a younger brother, Liam, whose heart she is always breaking; friends whose loyalties waver; and a boy who’s bad, but not all there is to her crashing-and-burning. And in the end, all the experiences help Kara realize who and what in her life are the most important of all.


BALLADS OF SUBURBIA left me reeling, thinking hard for hours afterwards. I share zero experience with Kara, and yet Stephanie Kuehnert masterfully pulls us into this dangerous, deceptive, yet enticing world of drugs, sex, and warped friendships. Only a talented writer can pull you into a world you know nothing about and make you feel as if you simultaneously understand and yet can never understand that world.

I know that I won’t be able to find the words significant to describe this novel, because what it covers is beyond my words. From family and sibling relationships to the ebb and flow of friendships and loves being made and broken, this book follows Kara through her high school years in the untalked about part of the suburbs. All of the characters seem to jump out of the page and walk around you like they are real, problems and all. Nothing is black-and-white: the characters have different and sometimes troubling attitudes, but it’s their (or, rather, Stephanie’s) ability to convince us of their justification for their beliefs that is truly great.

Overall, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is a remarkable achievement that hits you right where it counts (your heart) and lingers where it matters (the brain). I’m truly looking forward to seeing what Stephanie Kuehnert will do next.

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Want more? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4.5 out of 5 - I love this cover. I think it succeeds at being creepy, twisted, and ironic: it's a common playground toy perverted into a haunting reminder of the dark side of suburbia. The colors are brilliant in their carefully muted way. Again, love it.

Stephanie on Teens and Ballads

I would absolutely be honored if Ballads was used in classrooms. I wrote it because it was the kind of book I wanted/needed to read in high school. A lot of kids are dealing with heavy baggage from a young age. I know I did. And what made it really hard was that I didn't feel comfortable talking about it. I kept a lot of things hidden even from my friends, so when it came to talking to adults... well I barely did that. The one thing that got me talking semi-openly with my mom was that she would watch My So-Called Life with me. I was the same age as the main character, Angela Chase, at the time it was on, so sometimes after the show we'd talk about how I related to whatever Angela was going through. Sadly, that show was cancelled after one season. But part of the reason I open Ballads with a quote from that show is to pay homage to it and because I hope this book will create dialogue between teens and their friends, teachers, parents, etc. liek that show did for me and my mom.

If Ballads were read and discussed in a classroom environment that would be awesome. But even that might be too public a forum for kids to really feel comfortable discussing their feelings. I guess I just really hope that the book will inspire teens and young adults and really people of all ages to talk to the people closest to them. To speak up when something is bothering them rather than just letting it fester. Yes, it may be upsetting. But the world is an upsetting place and it can't be made a better place unless we talk about it and work together.

The things that the characters in my book are going through are all real: divorce, abandonment/neglect issues, loneliness. Some people, probably even people you know, cope with their pain by self-injury and substance abuse. Talking is the first step to healing. And writing is often the first step to talking. When I was a teenager I did 'zines. I spilled my soul into those zines, all the painful, ugly, dark pieces of it. It was like my version of the notebook the characters keep. The more I focused on writing, the less I cut myself or drank too much or did drugs to escape.

I hope that anyone who reads this book will think about, maybe even write down, their own ballad. Then think about if "singing" that ballad-- meaning sharing it with a friend, posting it on your blog, talking about it with a trusted family member-- would help you to heal. I think you'll find that it will and more than that, you story will help lots of other people dealing with similar situations.

This fall, I'm coming together with another author, Jolene Siana, who wrote Go Ask Ogre, which also deals with self-injury and depression, to create a website where people can post the art and writing they've done to get through the dark places in life. I hope to have more info soon. But I guess my biggest hope is for readers to find away to express what they've been through in life. Sing your own ballad loud and clear.

Thank you so much, Stephanie. Have fun celebrating your book's release! 


  1. This was a great read. Thanks both Steph's for this post, and for not being afraid to put yourself out there in order to help other teens. :)

  2. Thanks for the great review! I'm ordering this today!

  3. Great interview and awesome review!!! I loved this book so much and can't wait to share the love. Fantastic read!!!

  4. Awesome review and guest blog.

    I haven't read this yet but I definitely plan on buying it. Stephanie is amazing and deserves all the support she can get!

  5. I am planning on reading SK's first book soon, and I'm sure I'll want to pick this one up shortly after.

  6. Wow! This sounds intense but I know that if you loved it so much, I can't pass it up! I'll definitely take your review to heart and grab this one soon :)

  7. Great post, ladies! Ballads of Suburbia is on my WL :)


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