Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Tru Luv" Teen Romance: Pulling YA Down One Genre at a Time?
The Book Lantern blog's recent post about YA dystopias, combined with the responses I have gotten so far to my YA lit questionnaire for teens (if you're a teen, you should read about that here and participate!), got me thinking about what it is about YA lit that doesn't work for me. It's been a while since I've been impressed by a YA paranormal romance, which I thought was just me being burnt out by the overabundance of YA paranormal romances that have been published ever since Twilight. But THEN, I started--and continued--to be underwhelmed by most of the recent bestselling YA dystopias. Wait a minute, Steph, I said to myself. This can't be just a sign of genre burnout! You LOVE dystopias! So what's going on??

I think this is what's been bugging me about the bestselling titles in these two genres (and in some ways this is going to sound terrible, but it's true): they all have love as their main conflict or theme.

Look, I love love and romance. I love when it appears in literature, and movies, and, uh, well, life. (Maybe. The verdict is still out on the last one.) I love romantic stories and gestures of love. But I think it is safe for me to say that my life does not revolve around love. I do not exist simply in hopes of one day finding the guy I want to marry. I have other dreams too. And I bet that most other people feel this way.

(This is not to say that there aren't people out there who live just to fall in love and get married. They exist too. But I have not yet reconciled myself to the fact that theirs is a lifestyle that I would be willing to promote to others, and therefore, we're going to leave them out of this discussion for now.)

I get super irritated when a YA book portrays teen love as the be-all and end-all of all love ever in life. Do you know the percentage of teen relationships that DON'T last into and through adulthood? I don't, but I'll bet all of the books I own that it's a really, really, really high percentage. I'm not saying that teen relationships never blossom into fully mature and lasting relationships. There are a good number of people who end up with their high school sweethearts and have a wonderful relationship. And yes, when you're in love you can't help but think of the possibility that you might end up with your partner, the likelihood that he/she is The One for you. That's a pretty natural result of being in love. In the moment, a relationship may seem like perfection, something you want to hold on to forever.
I do not want to discount the fact that there are many YA stories out there with realistic romances. But I would like to see more bestselling YA books portray more variety in teen romance. I like a happy ending myself, and if I choose to imagine that the characters live happily ever after in love past the last page of the book, then great. But I DON'T want it to be pushed on me that these characters will be in love 4evah, that their lives cannot go on without the other, denying all possibility that, in fact, their relationship could have a very normal end in the future. That attitude is, quite simply, childish. It represents to me the kind of all-consuming infatuation that ends many relationships instead of preserving them.

"But YA lit is my escapism," some people argue to me. "I don't read YA lit to read about the literary equivalent of my own dull, normal, and unimpressive life." Fair enough, I say. (Although I also want to tell these people that YOU and you alone are the one who can make your life special and fascinating and wonderful. But that's another rant for another day.) I read books for escapism too. But I don't read ALL books for escapism, and I'm fairly sure that most people don't do that either. Oftentimes I read books because I want to get something out of it, whether I realize it or not. I turn to books for life advice, witty comments I can inject into real-life conversations (admit it: I can't be the only one who does this), effective ways to deal with serious issues. I turn to books to research how best to proceed in matters of human interactions as much as I turn to them for a wish-fulfillment portrayal of love.

I still like the paranormal genre. I do. And I still like dystopias. But I don't read dystopias for the romance. I'm much more a fan of the paranormal or dystopian story in which love does not make up the main plot. I'd rather read about the speculative fiction protagonist who slays the dragon, saves the community, overthrows the government, defeats the physical manifestation of evil, or whatever else they can do, AND gets the hot guy/girl somewhere along the process. Or, the protagonist who does all of that with the help of said eventual love interest, but hey! he/she didn't need the love interest's help to accomplish his/her goal, he/she was perfectly capable of doing it on his/her own, but it did make things easier, more enjoyable, more effective, etc.

This is opposed to, say, the bland everygirl protagonist who doesn't realize how little joy there was in her life until she meets Godlike EveryBoy (hey, look, oxymoron!), whose dimples, sparkling eyes, and enigmatic philosophical commentary on life bring scintillate her previously meaningless existence or open her eyes to everything that is wrong about her dull, dull, colorless world. First of all, it's heteronormative. Second of all, it's perpetuating outdated models of femininity that have encouraged females to think of their lives as incomplete and meaningless without the love of a strong man. Gack. Quick, pass me the nearest container so I can throw up, please. We live in the 21st century, people! Why are we still subliminally encouraging females to pull a Bella Swan and sum up the five months following her breakup with literal blank pages in a book until, miraculously, she is "brought back to a semblance of life" by--surprise, surprise--yet another strong, supernatural, protector-role guy? Why are books with these kinds of romantic plots the bestsellers?
Kind of worried about your respiratory system and life philosophy, Bella.
I dislike when a story uses a subgenre to distinguish its tru luv teen romance plot. "It's a dystopian with romance!" the book will proclaim. Um, no. It's a romance set in a poorly conceived future world where the elements that typically trouble relationships--such as disapproving friends, geographic disparity, and finances--and the satisfaction one feels when a lasting romance overcomes all obstacles are tangibly represented by a Big Bad Wrong Social System and love's ability to open your eyes to said Big Bad Wrong Social System as well as all that is wrong with your world, your life, your dreams, you...whatever. These stories read to me as a pretty typical fictional romance, except that literally the entire world as the characters know it is against them. That doesn't make it dystopian for me. I think it's possible to write a dystopian love story, but I don't think anyone has done it yet, recently.

Although I believe really strongly in my stance that bestselling YA lit's on "tru luv" teen romances is limiting, I also recognize that it's a slippery stance to hold on to. Most of the people I've talked to about this issue feel similar to me, that they, too, are tired of the love-centric plots in lots of bestselling YA books. But whether you're a teen or not, when you're in love, of course you're going to resent anyone who tries to convince you that, uh, you're not really in love, it's just a passing phase. Furthermore, one appealing aspect of YA lit is that it takes teenage concerns and thoroughly explores them in a realistic, relatable, and nontrivializing manner. Loving and being loved is a big deal to teenagers. Why wouldn't it be a big deal--in fact, the biggest deal--in literature that is written for teens?

Furthermore, teens make it very clear that they don't want to be talked down to, and that controlling their access to "triggering" influences (e.g. book censorship) doesn't do anything, is in fact completely unnecessary, because almost all teen readers know that a book that discusses, say, suicide is not promoting suicide, nor will it increase their likelihood of committing suicide. So, following that logic, reading books that feature tru luv teen romance shouldn't necessarily increase teens' belief in the prevalence of real-life tru luv teen romance...right?
So what's the best way to approach the topic of teen love in literature? I'm not saying that we should all go out, grab the nearest teen, and shout in their face, "AH, YOUNG LOVE. IT'S NOT GOING TO LAST. DON'T GET TOO INVOLVED." Gosh. We've read about enough adults in YA lit who try that to know that this imposed rationale has no effect whatsoever on the teen in love. And I don't think that YA lit should preach to readers that the idea of true love sprouting from teen romances is impossible, because we know that sometimes that happens, and it's wonderful (see: high school sweethearts). I think that, basically, YA lit shouldn't preach at all, and should just portray as believably as possible the many different trajectories that teen romances can take... and all of these different portrayals should receive the same amount of attention and consideration. Instead of our bestselling YA lists being dominated by not so realistic, not so healthy portrayals of teen tru luv, there should be more of a mixture. Stories in which the romance is a swoony sideplot. Stories in which romance doesn't appear at all. Stories in which teens *GASPOMGTHENERVE* break up.

I just want the critical and commercial acknowledgment that there is not just one way to tell a teen love story.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Tags: middle grade, historical fantasy, Regency England, magic


12-year-old Kat Stephenson wishes she could do something to help out her family. Her brother is in debt, her father is weak, her stepmother is borderline evil, her sister Angeline has been casting love spells that go awry, and her oldest sister Elissa might have to marry the sinister Sir Neville to save their family from ruin.

It’s a good thing, then, that Kat has inherited her mother’s magic skills. However, it’s hard to know who to trust, especially when it appears that there are people who might be interested in her family just for their magic…


If KAT, INCORRIGIBLE had been around when I was in middle school, it would’ve been my favorite book of ALL TIME. It has an amazing narrator and charm to the likes of which I haven’t seen since I read Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted for the first time in fifth grade (and which still remains one of my favorite books to this day).

Kat is undeniably the best part about this book. Unlike other historical fiction heroines I’ve encountered in the past, Kat’s modern-day stubbornness and rebelliousness feels perfectly natural. She is at that wonderful age when she can resist societal conventions without appearing petulant or immature, and she defies all our expectations, much to our endless delight. She has moments, for example, when she consciously refuses to act like the silly, spineless heroines in her sister’s favorite gothic novels, the similarity to some 21st-century YA lit too good to go ignored. It takes great skill to write a historical character with modern appeal, but Stephanie Burgis does it like she was born to write this.

The villains in this book may be rather straightforwardly sinister, but it works for its middle-grade audience, and besides, it’s the “gray” characters—the complex supporting ones—that showcase Burgis’ extraordinary talent for creating and developing characters. Kat’s older sisters, Elissa and Angeline, have distinct personalities and are enjoyable in their own way. Throughout KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, Kat struggles to figure out whom she can entrust her secrets to, and we can empathize with her confusion and suspicion as the adults circling her approach with a variety of motives.

KAT, INCORRIGIBLE charmed me into a place of childlike giddiness that I haven’t encountered in too many years. This deceptively easy read is actually rich with character development and possibilities for future books in the series. Without a doubt I would not hesitate to hand this out to every girl I know between the ages of 10 and 14, and I highly recommend you check this delightful book out, and fall under Kat’s benevolent charms. I can’t wait for more of Kat’s adventures!

Similar Authors
Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: It's cute! Although admittedly not what I was expecting as a cover. Still, the more I've looked at it, the more I like it.

Atheneum / April 5, 2011 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $16.99

Received for review from Simon & Schuster. Thank you!

Waiting on Wednesday (102)

Multiples this week because I keep on missing previous weeks and then realizing that, as a matter of fact, I have too many books I'm looking forward to that I can't stick to just one a week. Oh the tragedy.

Legend by Marie Lu

The United States is gone, along with its flooded coasts. North America's two warring nations, the western Republic and the eastern Colonies, have reached a breaking point. In the midst of this broken continent and dark new world are two teenagers who will go down in history....

Born into the slums of Los Angeles, fifteen-year old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. A mysterious boy with no recorded image or fingerprints. A boy who should no longer exist. A boy who watches over his family until one evening, when the plague patrols mark his family's door with an X--the sign of plague infection. A death sentence for any family too poor to afford the antidote. Desperate, Day has no choice; he must steal it.

Born to an elite family in Los Angeles' wealthy Ruby sector, fifteen-year old June is the Republic's most promising prodigy. A superintelligent girl destined for great things in the country's highest military circles. Obedient, passionate, and committed to her country--until the day her brother Metias is murdered while on patrol during a break-in at the plague hospital.

Only one person could be responsible.


And now it's June's mission to hunt him down.

The truth they'll uncover will become legend.

That is just about the most badass synopsis I have read in maybe the past year. There's also a little excerpt from the book in the Penguin Fall 2011 catalog, which makes me think that, yes, maybe this will book will live up to its exceptional synopsis. I'm not sure if that's the final cover yet, but AWESOME also. Simple and iconic and reminiscent of The Hunger Games' covers, just the way I like them.

Legend will be published in hardcover by Putnam Juvenile on November 28, 2011.

Sisterhood Everlasting (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Book 5) by Ann Brashares)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares comes the welcome return of the characters whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation. Now Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget have grown up, starting their lives on their own. And though the jeans they shared are long gone, the sisterhood is everlasting.

Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness.

Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected.

As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends, Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one.

So who else here practically grew up on this series? I definitely did, throughout middle school and into high school. They're a little hit or miss for me, especially as I got older, but I still like the idea of revisiting old beloved characters in their adulthood. This could be very disappointing... or totally, bittersweetly wonderful.

Sisterhood Everlasting will be published in hardcover by Random House on June 14, 2011.

Okay, I'm stopping myself at two. But still...these two! Want!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

Tags: fantasy, fractured fairy tale, magic


Elena’s miserable life as her stepfamily’s slave should’ve qualified her to have a Cinderella-like happy ending. However, things don’t quite work out that way. Instead, Elena becomes a fairy godmother-in-training. Her primary duty involves working with the Tradition, a powerful magic that tries to force people and situations into recognizable story arcs.

Being Fairy Godmother, however, is a lonely life, and Elena is not sure if her desire to love and be loved can handle such loneliness. Can she find a way to make everyone happy and get her own happy ending?


I have heard of Mercedes Lackey, of course—what fantasy reader hasn’t?—but, until this book, had not read anything by her. I picked up THE FAIRY GODMOTHER on a whim in the bookstore, when I was still on a post-Crown Duel high and desiring a similarly pleasurable fantasy read. THE FAIRY GODMOTHER definitely fulfilled that desire of mine. It’s a wonderfully unique concept, crafted by the hands of a master.

The most amazing part about this book is the thoroughness with which Mercedes Lackey explores an original fantasy concept. There are some pretty standard tropes in fairy tales: long-suffering good girl gets the prince, magic helps the overlooked but goodhearted and deserving third son, and so on. Lackey takes those common expectations and transforms it into the Tradition, a powerful and often dangerously insistent magical force that tries to carry out its tropes without any regard to people’s different wishes, and that must be appeased through subtle manipulations. It’s enchantingly clever, a new take on the fractured fairy tale, and would give someone like me oodles of delight as we consider how Lackey lays out the plot and rules in this world.

The characters, in contrast, do not shine as strongly. Elena is a fine, strong female protagonist, but she doesn’t particularly stand out beyond being a typical fine, strong female protagonist. The main plot here is the magical one, and so the romantic subplot is exactly that—a subplot, feeling a little forced and out of place at times.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed THE FAIRY GODMOTHER on account of its wonderfully executed original concept. Upon finishing this book, I eagerly went out and found the other books in this series, and will look forward to delving into them when I get the chance!

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: I was totally drawn by its fantastical-ness. The whimsical, feminine colors, the font... okay, and I didn't look too hard at the models, especially that man in the background.

Luna / May 1, 2010 / Mass Market Paperback (reprint) / 487pp. / $7.99

Personal copy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blog Tour Review, Interview, + Giveaway: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian

Today I am part of a blog tour for Maria Padian and her latest book, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best! Don't be put off by the odd-ish title and cover. Read on to find out more!

Tags: YA, contemporary, athletes, friendship, tennis, dance, eating disorders


Henry and Eva are Jersey girls, best friends, and hardcore athletes. Henry is New Jersey’s junior tennis champion, and Eva is on her way to becoming a world-renown ballet dancer. Their friendship has sustained them through disappointments and demanding parents, but when they separate to go off to different summer adventures—Henry to a nationally ranked tennis academy, Eva to the ultra-competitive New York School of Dance—can their friendship last through their different experiences and some shocking changes?


JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST is a deceptively light contemporary story that delves into the darker side of sports without getting preachy. Whether you’re an athlete or not, girl or not, you’ll find something to enjoy in this moving yet fun novel.

Padian’s straightforward narration makes it very easy to relate to these Henry and Eva’s situations. Few of us may be on Henry and Eva’s level in terms of athletics, but it was still eye-opening to read about all the pressure they faced, the difficult choices they had to make. I thought that the girls’ relationships with their parents was a pretty shockingly true portrayal of some overinvolved, living-out-their-dreams-through-their-children parents. The parents were realistically overwhelming: I didn’t consider them exaggerations of the type, and instead could totally see this happening.

I am envious of Henry and Eva’s friendship. These two, equal in pretty much everything, such as skill, looks, and wit, still displayed normal feelings of envy or inferiority at times. It was clear that the girls cared for each other very much, and yet their lives were clearly not wrapped up in the other’s: they both have separate interests and dreams, after all.

Eva’s heartbreaking eating disorder will resonate with anyone who has felt insecure in their bodies, often for all the wrong reasons. The voice in her head that yells at her felt a little extreme to me at times, but I am not one to judge for the voice’s “accuracy;” I just recognize that this is something that definitely happens to people. Henry’s romance at tennis camp also felt slightly contrived at times. Again, however, it may be that that was the point: their relationship was inseparable from their budding fame as star tennis players. And finally, as a Jersey girl myself, I thought it felt a little weird and unrealistic whenever Henry and Eva “acted Joisey”: do people really do that? But hey, maybe they do.

These points didn’t detract from my engagement with the story as a whole, however. JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST is a solid contemporary read, one that I would highly recommend to people looking for a good book involving female athletes.

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: It doesn't really stand out to me much, although I like the allusions to tomato-red and the girls' sports!

Knopf / March 8, 2011 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $16.99

Copy received for review from publisher.

Interview with Maria Padian

1. For a long time there have been few YA books about female athletes out there. Why do you think this might be so, and why do you think it is important to have sports books for girls?

I’ll confess: I have no idea why there aren’t more sports books with female protagonists! Back when I was growing up, and Title Nine was brand new (that’s the law requiring parity among boys and girls sports teams), most girls didn’t have the opportunity to compete athletically. Now, girls have wonderful opportunities available to them, not to mention marvelous role models (Misty May, Venus and Serena Williams, Danica Patrick, Mia Hamm ….) Plus, sports stories are exciting! So I really don’t understand why the literary world has been slow to catch on. Millions of girls play sports!
I think it’s important for boys that we have sports books starring girls. In my experience, girls are fairly open-minded, curious readers. When I visit schools, I often ask, “Raise your hand if you’ll read a story with a boy narrator,” and every hand in the room goes up. Then I ask, “Raise your hand if you’ll read a story with a girl narrator,” and every girl will raise her hand, and maybe two boys. When I ask the boys why, they tell me they’re not interested in “girl” topics: dating, fairies, vampire love triangles, general teen angst.

So for girls, I think it’s important to reinforce the notion that being strong and competitive is not inconsistent with being feminine. For boys, reading a book with a girl athlete as a protagonist might be a great first step toward better understanding girls.

2. How do you go about writing humor in YA?

That’s easy: listen to teenagers. Teenagers are hysterically funny. They are irreverent, edgy, honest, self-deprecating, quick on their feet, swift with comebacks … I could go on and on.

The humor in my novels comes from the banter between the teens, or from the wry observations my narrators make about their worlds. I live with teens, so their voices and their patter is fresh in my head. If I need a quick teen fix, I’ll volunteer to drive their friends somewhere. Now, there’s some fodder for a few novels. Pack a minivan with teens, and listen to them chat. Wow.

3. How do you balance the writing life with family life?

Hmm. Perhaps the members of my family should answer that one! My daughter claims that she knows I’ve had a “good” writing day when she returns from school and the breakfast dishes are still piled up in the sink …

I find it hard to balance writing with any other life at all. That’s because when I write, I need to sink, down deep, into my story and the lives of my characters. It’s very internal, and quite remote from the very busy world I inhabit with my husband and kids and dog, where meals need to be cooked, the shepherd walked, bills paid and laundry folded. Compartmentalizing is hard, especially if I’m “on a roll” on the computer, but someone needs to be driven somewhere … Some days I do a good job of balancing; others, not so good. I’m working on it.

4. What changes did Jersey Tomatoes undergo during revision?

During revision, the biggest changes came from cuts. My agent asked me to trim the first draft by a third. It was painful, and many, many words ended up on the floor. I’ll confess throwing a bit of a hissy fit about all the cuts, but my agent was right. The language became more vigorous and the pacing was better after cutting.

The biggest development that came about as I wrote was in the book’s structure as a two-narrator novel. Originally, this was Henry’s story, but as Eva became a character in her own right, I realized there was a lot more going on. By telling the story using two distinct, narrative voices in alternating chapters, voice itself became a theme. I realized I wanted to explore that inner voice we all have, because even more than events and outside circumstances, inner voice is determinative. In Henry’s case, her positive inner voice leads her to overcome challenges, while in Eva’s case, a negative inner voice leads to some pretty destructive behaviors.


Thank you for answering my questions, Maria! Continue to follow the blog tour at the following blog stops:

March 29th—Book Butterfly

March 30th—Random Acts of Reading

March 31st—The Reading Zone

April 1st—Cleverly Inked


Giveaway Opportunity

Thanks to the generosity of Random House, I have TWO (2) copies of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best for two lucky people! To enter, fill out this form here. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only, and ends Monday, April 11. Good luck!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In My Mailbox (60)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's post to see what others got in books this week!

A much more manageable week in terms of books got--but you should see the size of my "immediate TBR" pile...

For review:

The Fitzosbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper
(Knopf / April 5, 2011)

Michelle Cooper combines the drama of pre-War Europe with the romance of debutante balls and gives us another compelling historical page turner. Sophia FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Germans attacked, and now find themselves in the lap of luxury. Sophie's journal fills us in on the social whirl of London's 1937 season, but even a princess in lovely new gowns finds it hard to fit in. Is there no other debutante who reads?! And while the balls and house parties go on, newspaper headlines scream of war in Spain and threats from Germany. No one wants a second world war. Especially not the Montmaravians—with all Europe under attack, who will care about the fate of their tiny island kingdom? Will the FitzOsbornes ever be able to go home again? Could Montmaray be lost forever?

This is the sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray, which I have wanted to read. Has anyone read this series? What do you think of it?

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan
(Delacorte / March 22, 2011)

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.

But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

Seven Kinds of Ordinary Catastrophes by Amber Kizer
(Delacorte / April 5, 2011)

Okay, so here's the deal: there are books about volcanoes erupting and meteorites hitting Earth and plane crashes where the survivors have to eat people—those are extraordinary crises.

That's not what this book is about. I'm more the ordinary catastrophe type. This second semester of my sophomore year, there are basically 7 KINDS OF ORDINARY CATASTROPHES: high school, boys, heartbreak, family, job, friends, and the future.

Well, I guess everyone's life is full of ordinary catastrophes. These are mine. Hi, I'm Gert Garibaldi. Welcome to my crazy life.

It looks like this is the second in a series as well, the sequel to One Butt Cheek at a Time.

The Lovely Shoes by Susan Shreve
(Arthur A. Levine / June 1, 2011)

Can the right pair of shoes make anyone feel beautiful?

Franny is constantly embarrassed by two things in her life. One is her right foot, which curls in from a birth defect, so she has to wear ugly, heavy orthopedic shoes. And the other is her mother Margaret: beautiful, extravagant, flamboyant--mortifying, in their small Ohio town.

Franny's first school dance is a disaster, so Margaret announces her latest crazy plan: They will travel to Italy to meet Salvatore Ferragamo, who will sculpt a pair of slippers especially for Franny. The idea is outrageous. The trip is expensive. And the experience changes Franny's life forever.


The Native Star by M. K. Hobson
(Spectra / Aug. 31, 2010)

The year is 1876. In the small Sierra Nevada settlement of Lost Pine, the town witch, Emily Edwards, is being run out of business by an influx of mail-order patent magics. Attempting to solve her problem with a love spell, Emily only makes things worse. But before she can undo the damage, an enchanted artifact falls into her possession—and suddenly Emily must flee for her life, pursued by evil warlocks who want the object for themselves.

Dreadnought Stanton, a warlock from New York City whose personality is as pompous and abrasive as his name, has been exiled to Lost Pine for mysterious reasons. Now he finds himself involuntarily allied with Emily in a race against time—and across the United States by horse, train, and biomechanical flying machine—in quest of the great Professor Mirabilis, who alone can unlock the secret of the coveted artifact. But along the way, Emily and Stanton will be forced to contend with the most powerful and unpredictable magic of all—the magic of the human heart.

This sounds SO GOOD, and it's gotten great reviews as well. When reviewers mention the double whammy of great worldbuilding and witty banter, you can bet I'll be all over it! I can't wait to get into this.

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
(Simon Pulse / Jan. 4, 2011)

Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.

It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities….

Bought a copy for my perma-collection. :) My review is here.


Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Line of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
(HarperCollins / Jan. 25, 2011)

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

This book came up in discussion in my Education seminar a few weeks ago, and I was intrigued. I wonder how the author will approach this interesting--and heated--subject.

So, what exciting books did you get this week that you think I should take a look at?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

Tags: YA, fantasy, retelling


Don Giovanni, a filthy rich orphan living in 12th-century Italy, has his life turned upside down when a giant wave destroys everything he owns. Friendless and penniless, Don Giovanni wonders the countryside until he meets with the Devil, who offers him a wager he just can’t pass up: the Devil will provide Don Giovanni with a purse that magically produces any amount of money he desires, and in return, Don Giovanni must not clean himself for three years, three months, and three days, otherwise his soul is forfeited.


Fantasy master Donna Jo Napoli has written another awe-inspiring tale that will appeal to appreciators of the beautiful, unusual, and hopeful.

THE WAGER gets off to a rather slow start, but it rewards the patient. It has the feel of a classic fairy tale, which means that characterization is sometimes lacking, favoring instead lush descriptive passages and a sprawling feel to the story. Once Don Giovanni accepts the Devil’s wager, however, the book becomes very hard to put down, as you can’t help wondering just how bad things can get for him.

Don Giovanni starts off as an extremely unlikable fellow. He is self-centered and believes that money can solve anything. So the extent of his character development, and how much we end up liking him, feels like magic in itself. He ends up enduring his trials with as much dignity as a person with open sores and bugs living on his dirty skin can, and I liked him all the more for it.

In the midst of all the fast-paced, nonstop-action speculative YA fiction out there, THE WAGER unassumingly takes its place as a solid work of retold fantasy. Check this out if you’re craving an old-fashioned, trial-of-endurance fairy tale retelling.

Similar Authors
Erin Bow (Plain Kate)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - It's bold, daring, and challenges you to look at it; I love red and black.

Henry Holt & Co. / April 27, 2010 / Hardcover / 272pp. / $16.99

Personal copy, read for Cybils.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Tags: YA, Australian lit, surfing, rape


19-year-old Carly spends her days surfing on Australia’s northern beaches and her nights working as a cook. For her, surfing is everything—everything else must revolve around it. This lifestyle is the only way she can temporarily forget the horrible thing that happened to her almost two years ago, the thing that still gives her nightmares occasionally and makes it difficult for her to trust anyone.

However, Carly’s life keeps on crashing against others’, despite her best efforts to remain alone. She befriends a variety of interesting characters, such as her Dutch neighbor, a fun-loving, separated older woman named Hannah, and Danny, a younger fellow surfer with synaesthesia. And when Carly gets to know Ryan, a local surfer, she finds it hard to hold onto her former feelings of determined detachment. But will allowing someone to get close to her only end up hurting her again? Must she live with the permanent psychological effects of her past, or can she find a way to not let her past dictate her future?


I’ve heard of and wanted to read RAW BLUE, an Australian debut novel, for two years before I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy, thanks to the amazing generosity of a blogger friend who is a staunch RAW BLUE evangelist. The verdict? Oh boy, was it worth the years of quiet and patient waiting. I wish more people know about this powerful, heartbreaking, and full novel.

RAW BLUE is not an easy read. Carly is an emotionally damaged young woman who pushes people away as much as possible. Eagar does not shy from using the language of a hardcore Australian surfer. And the plot is quiet, with over half the book passing by the time I realized that what I had read was not merely exposition, but the meat of the story. Despite what it sounds, however, it is far from being a slow and frustrating book.

A rape survivor, Carly tries to drown her memories away with the routine of cooking and surfing. It was heartwarming to read about Carly’s slow and painful healing, because it’s such an internal process that we can all relate to it at some level. RAW BLUE is, above all, subtle. It does not use any drastic events or scenarios to move the plot along. It is really just Carly going about her daily routine, not realizing that she is changing even as she is. And that’s arguably the best kind of realistic fiction, because it’s most like the almost unnoticeable process of growth that we undergo in real life.

When Eagar’s talent for stunning prose meets a protagonist whom we love despite her best attempts to dissuade us, the result is a beautiful and lingering story that reinfuses life into us. I finished RAW BLUE with an optimistic sense of the immensity of the world, of all the little things that we don’t stop to think about that can impact our lives forever.

Similar Authors
Melina Marchetta (Jellicoe Road)
Cath Crowley (A Little Wanting Song)
Elisa Carbone (Jump)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: It's a pretty typical contemporary YA fiction cover, but something about it really draws me. The starkness of the blue and white probably has something to do with it. I like this even more after reading the book. It's like the cover evokes the book-proven idea that Carly's story does not fit into the typical contemporary fiction narrative.

Penguin Books Australia / Jan. 29, 2009 / Paperback / 274pp.

Received as part of blog tour organized by Linds of Bibliophile Brouhaha. Thank you SO much!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Need Teen Help for My Thesis!

Hey all, so you may have heard that I'm currently writing a thesis that has to do with--what else?--young adult literature. (Yay!) Essentially I am trying to answer the question, "What makes a good YA text?" Knowing that different people have different opinions of what makes a good YA book, I am gathering data and readings regarding four different populations that interact with YA lit, one of them being teens themselves.

The thing is, there's not much out there in academia that has successfully captured the teen opinion on YA lit, so I was wondering if you would help me out! I know there's a bunch of teen bloggers out there, and I'm sure that all of you know teens who read YA lit. I have an open-ended questionnaire that I'd like for teens to answer. It's a pretty extensive questionnaire: it might take you 30-45 minutes to complete. I'm looking for teens between the ages of 11-19. You can live anywhere in the world. If you are interested in helping me out with my thesis by answering some questions about YA lit, or if you know teens who would be interested in participating in this questionnaire, please fill out this form here. I will then send you a link to the questionnaire within the next few days.

All data, of course, will be confidential and used only for my thesis; if I refer to your answers specifically within my thesis, I will use pseudonyms.

Thank you so much! Long live YA lit (which scholars back in the 90s didn't think was going to survive, let alone flourish the way it has. Huzzah!)!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cover Lust (25)

Beautiful new babies to pine after, based on their covers alone! (But I bet their contents are just as lovely.)

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Sept. 27, 2011)

So Daisy Whitney and I were gushing over Twitter the other day about how simply genius this cover is. Rather than layering on the imagistic complexity that I have no doubt this dystopian story will give us, the cover sticks to a rather somber color scheme, and then it's all about texture texture texture. The more I gaze at this, the more details I see that I missed before. It's the kind of cover that gets better and better with each look, and, like most other aspects in life, that's the best sort of thing.

Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong
(HarperCollins / Sept. 20, 2011)

I was such a sucker for perspective drawings back when I took art classes. I could totally picture this being a creepy photo taken from an old book about supernatural encounters, complete with grainy feel. The swirl of smoke around the girl, the subtle rays of light glancing down from the title, and the title font complete the attraction for me.

Displacement by Thalia Chaltas
(Viking Juvenile / June 9, 2011)

This is a mishmash of bright color and eerie pose that at first glance probably seems like it shouldn't work. But it does, in a rather disturbing kind of way... at least, that's how it makes me feel. I mean, you're trying to force warmth and comatose together. But it really captivates me. It kind of has a creepy smoothness similar to Scott Westerfeld's UK Uglies series covers.

(Then again, I could be totally misinterpreting how this cover wants readers to feel.)

Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer
(Philomel / July 26, 2011)

So I cover-lusted over Wolfsbane's original cover several months ago, and was rather surprised when they decided to change the cover, as well as the whole look of the series. There's been lots of outrage over the change, but I'm not complaining: I like this new cover quite a bit. It's simple, yet bold and powerful and alluring at the same time. The model's pose suggests a combination of sex and strength, which is what I feel like this entire series is about. And, of course, I'm rather partial to that rich, deep, luxurious shade of emerald green.... *strokes lovingly and sleeps with it by my head*

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
(Little, Brown / May 3, 2011)

Does anyone know if this was done by the same cover artist who designed Francisco X. Stork's covers? You know, the everlastingly fabulous Marcelo in the Real World? It sure has that feel. Totally not what I was expecting from reading the book's synopsis, but I like it! The silhouette design draws me in.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
(St. Martin's Griffin / Sept. 27, 2011)

This cover reminds me quite a bit of the covers for Lisa McMann's Wake series. I like, however, that it's so simple, with the details and our focus centered on that glowing porthole that's the O in the title.

So there you have it. Six very different covers, all of which I like. I think they're also a shift from the types of covers I usually lust over. Perhaps my cover preferences are changing...?

Blog Tour Review + Interview: Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

I'm pleased to be part of a blog tour for Cara Chow's book, Bitter Melon, which was published by EgmontUSA earlier this year!

Tags: YA, POC, Asian Americans, mother-daughter relationships, speech


For all her life, Frances Ching has lived by her mother’s demands: she, the obedient daughter, will study hard, get straight As, go to med school, and become a doctor so that she will be able to support her mother, who has sacrificed everything for many decades for her only child’s success. However, when Frances gets accidentally enrolled in her school’s speech class, she discovers a heretofore-unknown passion for words, and an inspirational teacher who helps her see the power of words.

Unfortunately, speech is most definitely not a Mother-approved subject, and the more Frances plays with words, the more she realizes how her mother uses words to keep them tied tightly together. Will Frances give up her new dreams to remain obedient to her well-intentioned mother, or will she pursue what she wants at the risk of breaking her mother’s heart?


You know, I’m always pretty hesitant to read these books. Stories of difficult and overbearing Asian mother-daughter relationships a la The Joy Luck Club always seem to blend together for me after a while. Happily, while the premise of BITTER MELON is not unique, it presents Frances and her mother’s story in a way that worms inside your heart and draws out your emotions.

Ms. Taylor, Frances’ speech teacher, tells her that words contain great power, and so it is with this book. We may not be able to understand Frances entirely, who seems to miss that certain sort of “openness” that I like most about YA protagonists, but we are very much absorbed into her painful struggle to define where her mother ends and she begins. Frances suffers verbal, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, and while hopefully most readers will not have experienced the same level of horror, we can all relate to the tensions that arise when our desires don’t match our parents’ expectations.

The plot escalates at an enthralling rate, and becomes practically impossible to put down at some points. No, there is nothing of the action- or adventure-novel type, but as Frances’ cover-ups of her speech activities continue to pile up, and her relationship with her mother becomes worse and worse, I was on the edge of my seat, nervous for her.

BITTER MELON is an incredible tale of an oppressed teenage girl’s blossoming, and has an ending that befits all of Frances’ struggles and hard-won triumphs. It is a book I would recommend to a wide range of readers, for its emotional, all-too-real portrayal of the dark side of mother-daughter relationships, and the power that one can find within oneself, with the right words and support.

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: It's a bit generic--like, why are there waves in the background, besides for the fact that Frances lives in San Francisco?--but I'm very glad there's a beautiful Asian girl on the cover. The model has a perfect blend of fragility yet inner confidence that reminds me of Frances.

EgmontUSA / Dec. 28, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

Review copy sent by publisher.

Author Interview with Cara Chow

1. What was the most surprising or unexpected thing that happened while you were writing BITTER MELON?

The most unexpected development was the creation of Derek Collins, Frances’s forbidden love interest. Until I met my agent, Derek was a minor character who showed up in only one scene, in which Frances competes in her first competition. During one critique, Max, a fellow classmate in my writing class, said “Derek is such a hunk! You should make him into Frances’s boyfriend!” At the time, I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “This is a serious drama, not some frivolous romance!” I thought. “Max just totally doesn’t get it!”

A few years later, I queried my future agent, Stephen. After reading my manuscript, he wrote me a very nice letter telling me all the things he liked about it. Then he went on to explain that it was missing a larger hook and asked if I would be open to sending him a revision. After reading his letter, I called him and asked, “What does ‘larger hook’ mean?” To illustrate, he gave me an example. “You could add a romance,” he said. Despite my initial resistance, I sensed that, not only did Stephen know the market, but he also understood my story and would not suggest something that would diminish it. Begrudgingly, I had to admit that Max was right. I went to work creating a new character, making the budding romance another point of contention between Frances and her mother. Ironically, while I was revising, my own mother, who had read the same draft Stephen had read, told me, “I was thinking, you know that blond boy, the one in Frances’s first competition? I want to see more of him and I think you should bring him back.” A couple years later, when deciding what to read for my book launch, I chose a section that included Derek because I had learned by then that people love the suspense of a good romance.

Ironically, in one of the many reviews of my book, the reviewer complimented the book overall but complained that the Frances-Derek romance was unnecessary. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

2. Gracie raises Frances as a single mother. Was there a reason you decided not to include the presence of a father figure in BITTER MELON

In the first draft of the book, Frances had a mom, an aloof, deadbeat, biological father, and a loving step-dad. Later, I axed the deadbeat biological father and made the loving step-dad into Frances’s only dad. This father figure was very important in the story. By the second or third draft, it became clear that my story lacked focus. It had too many plots: the mother-daughter plot, the father-daughter plot, and the overachievement plot. To tame my story, I would have to choose one. At one point, I was considering making it a father-daughter story, putting the mother in the background. In the end, I decided to make it a mother-daughter story, with the overachievement issue being a symptom of the mother-daughter dynamic. To intensify the power struggle between Frances and Gracie, I decided to axe the dad. This nearly killed me because Frances’s dad was so lovable and I had received so much positive feedback on this character. But doing so strengthened the story. Without a dad to support the family, Gracie is much more dependent on Frances, which increases Frances’s obligation to her mother, as well as her guilt.

3. What kind of research went into the writing of BITTER MELON

I tracked down my high school speech coach, Mrs. Willson, and asked her questions about the scheduling and structure of speech competitions. This was important for the plotting of the scenes in which Frances competes. I also consulted my mother on all things Chinese of which I was unsure. She helped choose Frances’s Chinese name and last name. She also knew the name of the local Chinese newspaper in San Francisco.

4. What was the most important thing you learned from your mother? 

The most important lesson I learned from my mother is the value of forgiveness and redemption. My mom and I had a very difficult relationship in my teens, and I was angry about those years well into my twenties. That anger affected my life in so many ways. Not only did it preclude a healthy adult relationship with my mom, but it also affected my mental and physical health, my relationships with other people, and my objectivity in my writing.

I was unable to forgive my mom because I misunderstood what forgiveness really meant. I thought that forgiveness was something I would give to her after she apologized. In reality, forgiveness is about letting go of the past and being in the present. It’s about understanding cause-and-effect while letting go of the need to blame. I had viewed it as a moralistic issue when in fact it was a pragmatic one.

My mother taught this lesson through her example. A few years ago, my mom and I travelled to Hong Kong and China for a family reunion. In Hong Kong, Mom gave me a tour of her past. When she showed me the apartment where she grew up, I saw firsthand how poor she was. That was when I started to understand the hardships that shaped how she coped with life. What struck me, as she led me from site to site, was how free she was of bitterness and trauma. She talked about the past matter-of-factly, cheerfully in fact. She was better at moving on than I was. I’ve also noticed over the years how adept she is at correcting her own mistakes. All parents make mistakes, and she had some regrets about how she raised me. Instead of wasting time feeling guilty and wishing that she could turn back the clock, she instead focused her energy on being a better mother and grandmother in the present.

5. In your author bio on your website, you mention that you were a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. Can you tell us what means? 

As a PEN EV Fellow in 2001, I was assigned a mentor who critiqued my work and gave me professional advice. The program also funded my enrollment in a creative writing class through UCLA Extension. I got to participate in special workshops held exclusively for EV Fellows. I was invited to readings at the LA Central Library. I also participated in two public readings. In addition to all those privileges, I got a $1000 stipend. This program lasted from January through August. I’m sure the program has evolved quite a bit since then, but the basics are the same. It was an excellent program for me, one I would recommend to emerging writers. It is a good alternative to the MFA program because what it offers is very practical and it doesn’t cost money. It is also structured in such a way that you don’t have to quit your job to participate. You do have to apply for it though. You have to be eligible, and it is very competitive to get in.

6. What are some of your favorite things about San Francisco? 

The thing I love most about San Francisco is that my family is there. I wish I could spend more time there so I can spend more time with my relatives. I also love the Cantonese food there. San Francisco has a very large Cantonese population in the US, and the restaurants and bakeries reflect that. I also love all the hiking places along the beach, especially when the weather is warm and sunny (nice weather is rare there, but it happens).

7. Would you consider yourself a morning or night person? 

Neither. Waking up in the morning is painful for me. My head feels like a boulder on my pillow and my body feels like it’s stuck to the mattress like a fruit roll up. Late nights aren’t much better. Is there such a thing as a middle-of-the-day person?

8. Who are some of your favorite authors? 

I have many favorite authors, but these come to mind first. In the fiction category: Robert Cormier. In the non-fiction category: Jared Diamond.

Now here’s a favorite author I haven’t mentioned yet in other blogs: Terry Wolverton. She writes poetry, essays, memoirs, and fiction. She’s an LA literary icon. She is also my writing teacher. She is also an amazing yoga teacher.

9. Do you have any other writing projects in the works? Can you give us a teeny tiny peek into what they might be about? 

At this point, I wish my muse would give me a sneak peek into what my next book will be about. Right now, your guess is as good as mine!


Thanks for visiting my blog today, Cara! Readers, I hope you considering checking out Bitter Melon. It is truly an emotional and relatable story.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Author Interview with Lauren DeStefano!

It's officially the publication date for one of the most stunning 2011 debut books I've read so far: Lauren DeStefano's WITHER! I read Wither months ago, loved it, posted my review last week, and now am thrilled to talk it up to every YA reader. To celebrate this day, Simon & Schuster has compiled an awesome interview with the lovely Lauren herself. Read on to learn more about Lauren, Wither, and what we can expect next!

1. Your novel combines genetic engineering, polygamy, and super-low life expectancies to create an awesome storyline. How did the idea come to you?

I may never know exactly where it came from. This story is the culmination of many strange factors. I was bedridden with the flu, for starters, and I was getting frustrated with an adult writing project I had going. My agent suggested that I try something out of my comfort zone, something that I would normally never write, and she also linked me to a site that was taking short story submissions. I began Wither with the intention of making it a short story, and I had no idea where it would take me. Page one began with a girl in a dark place; she didn’t know where she was going, and she was scared. That girl turned out to be my protagonist, Rhine, and at the time she knew about as much of her story as I did.

2. Describe Wither in three words.

A broken fairytale.

3. If you could pair Rhine, Linden and Gabriel with any character from any book, who would your pick for each be?

I probably wouldn’t do that. It’s hard to imagine the characters in this world entering another world. But for Rhine, I would say that being paired up is the last thing she’d want. She’s a strong-willed girl who values freedom above all else; love is not something she’s ever thought to look for.

4. Can you tell us why you chose the title Wither, and how it correlates with Rhine’s story?

A: It was a title that the publisher and I generated from a long list, after the story had been through copyediting. It can be interpreted any number of ways, but for me it describes what’s happening not only to my characters, but to everything around them. Flowers, trees, crumbling buildings—it’s a world where everything is slowly dying.

5. How long did it take you to write Wither?

The first draft took about a month, which isn’t typical for me. I have some unpublished stories that have taken years to complete.

6. What can we expect from future books in this series?

For some big questions to be answered, and for some bigger questions to arise.

7. I know that Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton were huge inspirations for Wither, but is there anything else? A song, another book, a place?

Just to dispel this up front: No pop singers or celebutantes inspired this story. But while I was going through some old books from my childhood last week, I found a copy of The Girl Who Owned a City by O. T. Nelson, which was about a mysterious virus that killed everyone over the age of 12. I was probably nine or ten when I read it, and I’m sure that planted a very early seed. I’m also fascinated by stories on the news about eradicating cancer genes or genetically modified foods, and loved the movie Gattaca. Somewhere in my brain is a spinning wheel that processes all of my life’s experiences and makes them into story ideas.

8. Is there any certain person who instilled the passion for reading and writing in you? A family member or a teacher maybe?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and when I was young I didn’t give much thought to why I loved it, nor did I share it with anyone. I saw it as a private thing, like keeping a diary, except all the entries were fictitious. In fifth grade I was assigned to write a short story for school, and I remember my teacher pulling me aside and asking if I had ever considered writing books when I grew up. Before that moment, publication had never occurred to me, but as I got older I began to take the idea more seriously.

9. Were you inspired by other dystopian stories, such as The Handmaid's Tale? What other dystopian would you recommend we read?

A: I have seen a lot of comparisons between my story and The Handmaid’s Tale, which frankly surprises me. I am a huge admirer of Margaret Atwood and would absolutely recommend her dystopian, but I think her story and mine focus on different topics and paint different worlds. As far as recommending dystopians, it would really depend on what the reader is looking for. The beauty of dystopian fiction is that it breaks the boundaries we’re used to; it makes us uncomfortable, and it makes us see our own world in a new light, and so I would only recommend, whatever dystopian each reader chooses, that it’s met with an open mind.

10. What are some of your favorite books that have had the biggest influence on your writing?

A: I’m not sure that other books are any more or less influential as anything else that might inspire me, such as a conversation or a crime documentary—I never really know what will trigger something. I once wrote an entire scene because of a shape I saw in a puddle.

This interview is provided by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing and can be reprinted for publication either in full or excerpted as individual questions and answers, as long as they are reprinted in their entirety.


If you haven't gotten a chance to read Wither yet, I highly recommend you get thyself to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. Be prepared for a beautiful and momentous reading experience that will be hard to forget.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a prompt for a different themed list. This week's list is: Bookish Pet Peeves.

I've been meaning to do Top Ten Tuesday for a while now but always forget about it until it's too late for my list-obsessed self to put enough thought into it. This week's theme, however, is something I've long thought about. So without further ado, in no particular order...

1. Covers that retain fingerprints

I like my books immaculate. So I can't help but cringe when the dust cover jacket material is of the glossy kind that inevitably gets fingerprints all over it. Ahhh!

2. Female characters with boys' names

I'm not sure why this bothers me so. I think it's a carryover from those teen TV dramas in which all the girls have the same-sounding names of Joey, Benjy, Kris, Riley, Charlie... so on. I mean, I get that fiction allows us the opportunity to use names and nicknames that occur less in real life, but... I don't know. A girl doesn't need to reject traditional conceptions of femininity to be able to be a protagonist, you know? Having a boyish nickname seems to symbolize in literature the character's freedom from these gender conventions, when I'd rather think that what makes a female character a strong protagonist is more her characteristics and less her name.

[ETA] And yes, Frankie mentioned a good one that the same kind of devaluing of femininity is in place when female authors are told to use only their initials, so as not to turn off male readers. In what state of mind is it right to teach people that females are inferior to males???

3. Soap opera-esque names

This is similar to #2. Names--especially boy names--like Hayden, Kailee, Blaise, Blaine, Fielding...aka names that are more commonly found on soap operas than in real life. It's almost like the use of these names in fiction puts yet another layer between fiction and our lives. Kind of like how soap operas are so melodramatic that you know things just don't happen like that in real life. I feel like the soap opera-esque names do the same thing at a small, but more pervasive, level.

4. Paranormal romance YA taking up too much space in bookstores

Alright, peoples. Twilight is so over. I would like to see other titles having space on the shelves.

5. YA books being marked as [BIG YA TITLE] meets [OTHER BIG YA TITLE]

The following titles should not be allowed to be used in marketing descriptions anymore: Twilight. The Hunger Games. These big-name titles are so charged that you're essentially setting people up for certain expectations. And we all have very finicky relationships with hype. Why couldn't a book's synopsis just stand for itself?

6. Tru luv at first sight

Need I say more? Okay, maybe I'll say a little more. I don't believe in love at first sight, so when characters lock eyes across the room and immediately feel a connection with one another I'm inclined to be irritated because that doesn't fit with my conception of reality. However, I'll acknowledge that others have perhaps experienced love at first sight, and society certainly promotes that idea often enough as an extremely desirable part of idealistic romance.

7. When cover designs change halfway through a series, or when the book format/size changes mid-series

This goes back to #1 and my desire to keep everything orderly and immaculate. I just balk every time publishers change the look of a series between one book and another, or when a series that originally came out only in paperback starts selling extremely well, causing the publisher to publish future books in the series as hardcover first. What can I say? I like my series to be uniform!

8. The stereotypical popular mean girl

This character is often so flat and formulaic, it's frustrating. Look, even the popular mean girls in high school are still real people. What happened to make them feel like they have to behave that way? That's what I would like to see more of in YA. And gosh, people, can't we be a bit more creative with our insults and bullying, please? I understand that people use words like "skank" and "ho" when trying to put other girls down, but I also feel like those types of words have been filling in for more creative--and thus more harmful--insults in literature. It's like, we see one character call another character a skank, and we're supposed to feel bad for the character being called a skank, because skank is a negative word. But, for me, the menace behind the word is lost because the words are used so frequently that they don't really mean what they used to mean. Does that make sense? I think I'm beginning to think too much into this...

9. Boarding school settings

Every once in a while the boarding school setting works for me. But all too often it feels like just a convenient way to take the MC away from the restricting family structure and basically stick them into the dramatic adolescent high school setting 24/7.

10. Love interests with dark, luscious hair and brilliantly green/blue eyes

I think this might be a carryover from the Harry Potter years. There is no one else, I think, who can be black-hair-green-eyed in my mind. Not to mention that this is a genetic combination that I've seen very rarely in person, and they seem to occur in YA at a higher rate than they do in real life. Again, this is small and most likely inconsequential, won't make or break a story for me... but I've noticed.

[ETA] A lot of people are commenting on #10. I do not mean to say that this genetic combination is not possible, nor am I saying that I dislike it! (In fact, I think I like it a bit too much. Comes from reading all that YA, I think.) I'm just saying that there are other genetic combinations out there, and that I wish the dark-hair-light-eyes combination would not be associated with dreaminess at the exclusion of everything else. And for those of you who have dark hair and light eyes... believe me, I am so so so envious of you. Buuuttt I think therein lies the problem: if someone like me, who has dark hair and dark eyes, is conditioned by all my reading to believe that only people with dark hair and light eyes can be desirable, well, that's really sad in my opinion. Characters with all kinds of genetic combinations should be celebrated! *sings* The world is a raaaaaainbooooowwww...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

Tags: YA, contemporary, music, summer


Allie is one of the last of a dying breed of true vinyl and music appreciators. She works blissfully at Bob and Bob Records, a haven for music enthusiasts in Berkeley, California. Allie would be happy just to live as she is, surrounded by vinyl, forever, but she wonders if there are more people like her out there, such as that cute guy who has spent so much time in the store lately.

Allie starts to reach out to vinyl lovers everywhere by starting a blog, but she begins to learn that she can reach out just within her own neighborhood as well…


I have trouble finding the words to describe my experience of reading THE VINYL PRINCESS. It is an understated novel that makes its impact not with an incredible premise or fast-paced action, but with the quirky nuances that often pass by unnoticed in our everyday lives, and I love it so much for doing that.

Allie is—and at the same time isn’t—your average teenage girl. She holds herself above the usual petty melodramas of her peers, which makes her refreshing to read about, as well as gives her a potential crossover appeal. She has a sort of wry narration and a deep confidence in her music knowledge and taste, which at times made me a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but imagine that the bookish equivalent of Allie would probably disdain me for reading *sniff* a young adult novel. Ah well. Too bad I still can’t help but be interested in people like her, who seem to be so sure of themselves and their passions.

The jacket synopsis doesn’t give credit to what goes on in this book. In fact, Allie’s blog is only a small thing of interest that happens to her in the course of the summer. THE VINYL PRINCESS deals elegantly with family tensions, best friend troubles, economic woes, and the adorable uncertainty of unexpected, budding romance. Even in moments when the plot seems to stumble in terms of believability, nothing really feels disbelievingly dramatic, and Allie and the supporting characters never lost my sympathies.

THE VINYL PRINCESS is a strong contemporary YA novel that will appeal to readers who like voice-driven fiction, featuring a main protagonist who seems older than her years. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that this wasn’t published as an adult novel, for in many ways its contemplation of society and humanity will be more appreciated by an older audience. It has definitely put Yvonne Prinz on my list of YA authors to watch out for, and I look forward to what she does with other characters in different situations in the future.

Similar Authors
Nina de Gramont (Every Little Thing in the World)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - Ummm. I think it may be a tad melodramatic for this book?

HarperTeen / Dec. 22, 2009 / Hardcover / 313pp. / $16.99

Personal copy.


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