Monday, October 31, 2011

A Final Word for Steve Jobs

Novelist Mona Simpson wrote a beautiful eulogy for her brother's death. She read the piece at Jobs' funeral, and it was recently released to the media. Simpson said:

"He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn't ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn't have to be."

Read Simpson's full eulogy here.

As an author, Simpson is known for her award-winning novels such as Anywhere But Here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Your NaNoWriMo Prep Kit

Tuesday marks November 1st, which means the beginning of the 12th annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The project began in July 1999 and challenges writers to create a 50,000 word script in 30 days. Last year, over 200,000 participants took up the challenge. You have all of November to write, but you need to prep in the meantime. Here are some resources to help:

1) Read Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. Go ahead and take Baty's helpful tips - he founded the project in the Bay Area in '99.

2) Browse Rochelle Melander's Write-A-Thom: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell ABout It). She's no Chris Baty, but she knows what she's talking about.

3) Listen to Baty talk about his original idea for NaNoWriMo at NPR. He speaks with John Ydstie about his project when it was entering its fourth year.

4) Look up your local community of writers and fellow NaNoWriMo-ers for motivation. Chicagoans, check out your hub here.

5) Read about NaNoWriMo success stories! Like this one.

6) Remember to take care of your brain and creative process! This means napping.

Writers - good luck!

Friday, October 28, 2011

You, Me, Him, Her, and Them: We

In the 1990s, while Janet Jackson was popular and teenagers could be seen reading a ‘zine in an oversized sweatshirt, many young adults rallied with Amy Sonnie to create what didn’t exist yet: a queer youth anthology. Teens from all over the world – Australia, China, Korea, Pakistan, Europe, India, and all across the US from south Georgia to the tip of Alaska – submitted poetry, short stories, art, essays, and songs to create what is now known as Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which was published in 2000. The book was named one of the best adult books for high school students by the School Library Journal in 2001 and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

Margot Kelley Rodriguez, author of the Revolutionary Voice introduction, explains why the piece was essential to the acceptance of the gay community – particularly the queer youth community – during the tale-end of the 20th century, and why it continues to serve as a powerful learning tool now. “These young artists shout out, ‘We have taken matters into our own hands, and we are mad as hell. We are here!’” Rodriguez writes in the book’s foreword. “The mainstream movement calls us the ‘future.’ What the movement doesn’t realize is that we are the present. We are not waiting for tomorrow, because we have something to say right now.

Since the 2000 release, the book has spurred the founding of RESYST (Resources for Youth, Students, and Trainers), a nation-wide radical queer youth organization. On top of that, Revolutionary Voices has created a hefty amount of controversy, and not just in the weeks and months after the anthology hit stores. Last year, the media erupted in debate throughout the small town of Burlington County, New Jersey.

The Burlington Country public library ordered all copies of Revolutionary Voices off of library shelves in August 2010 after Beverly Marinelli, a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, labeled the book “child pornography.”

[Revolutionary Voices] is pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” Marinelli stated in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer [link to the interview]. She insists she’s “not a homophobe,” but said a drawing of Boy Scouts watching two men have sex was “the worst.” If she couldn’t handle the Boy Scout piece, she likely didn’t approve of S. Asher Hanley either.

“I am a 21-year-old queer boi of mixed heritage (human-melting-pot-style) and intersexed physicality,” Hanley, who contributed to the book’s works, wrote. “An avid photographer, painter, musician, and writer, I have spent the past three years trying to pin myself down in art.” Hanley describes the difficulties of growing up with sexism, derogatory comments, and endless abuse – just for trying to survive adolescence. Hanley struggled as an androgynous teen and was brutally mocked because his body was made differently. In his teenage years, however, Hanley had a life-changing thought: “I realized that every conversation I have with people [was] an opportunity to educate.” Perhaps Marinelli would have reacted differently had she met Hanley.

Or maybe artist Mollie Biewald of Shutesbury, MA would have changed Marinelli’s mind. “I am a 15-year-old dyke artist and activist,” Biewald wrote. “I’ve got flaming pink hair and a passion for genderfuck in both directions. I escaped school a month into ninth grade, after two years of daily queer bashing because I didn’t look enough ‘like a girl’ for my rural town of 1000.” Biewald’s cardboard and ink piece, Bent, makes an appearance in Revolutionary Voices.

Young adults of different backgrounds, religions, sexualities, and heritage came together for this beautiful piece of literary history. Teens fill the pages of Revolutionary Voices with coming out sagas and gender role horror stories. Tales of being kicked out of the house, descriptions of tears, heartache, and panic, but also narratives about inspiration, change, and empowerment. The anthology is true to its name.

Perhaps the book’s purpose can be summed up in the words of an anonymous 22-year-old from the US who contributed several poems to Revolutionary Voices.

“I could be anyone, anywhere,” the poet writes. “I could be your sister, your brother, your cousin, mother, father, friend. I could be the kid you called ‘faggot’ in grade school, the girl you pinned against the chain-link fence, hissing ‘dyke’ before leaving her afraid to walk home alone ever again. I could be someone you know, or someone you don’t; someone you never wanted to be. But the things I face as a low-income, queer, punk kid are things we all face at one time or another. We have got to help each other heal…We have got to see what makes us similar and honor the things that make us different.”

In the years since Revolutionary Voices was released, our culture has endured any number of debates in the LGBT community, some pigheaded and some radical. A series of queer teen suicides, and then the overwhelming response to the It Gets Better campaign. The discontinuation of same-sex marriage in California, and the recent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states, but queer couples in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. can have a legal union. Devastation will continue to arise in the queer community – the Hispanic community, the African-American community, the low-income community, the every-form-of-discrimination community – but so will victories. Revolutionary Voices was a victory, a step forward. There will be many more steps to come in the same direction.

Here’s to change. Here’s to embracing change.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winners of the 2011 Whiting Writers' Awards

The 2011 Whiting Writers' Awards winners were announced Tuesday. The annual awards, which began in 1985, are given to ten up and coming writers in fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry and include a $50,000 prize. The 2011 recipients include 4 fiction writers, 4 poets, 1 nonfiction author, and 1 playwright:

Scott Blackwood, We Agreed to Meet Just Here (fiction)
Teddy Wayne, Kapitoil (fiction)
Daniel Orozco, Orientation (fiction)
Ryan Call, The Weather Stations (fiction)
Don Mee Choi, The Morning News is Exciting (poetry)
Eduardo C. Corral, Slow Lightning (poetry)
Shane McCrae, Mule (poetry)
Kerri Webster, We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone (poetry)
Paul Clemens, Made in Detroit (nonfiction)
Amy Herzog, After the Revolution (play)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book to Film, and Forget the Author

If I said, "Have you read the recent Sapphire book?" or "Did you read Push when it came out in 1996?" - how many people would know what I was referring to? How about if I asked, "Did you see the movie Precious?" Sapphire, a New York performance poet and fiction author, wrote Push about one of her students. It took thirteen years for the script to make it into film, when Push was submitted as a piece for the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. Because another entry that year was also called Push, the name of the Sapphire-inspired script was changed to Precious. After dominating at the Festival, Precious went mainstream and exploded, winning multiple Academy Awards. Names like Mo'Nique (Best Supporting Actress as Precious' mother), Oprah Winfrey (marketing), and Lee Daniels (director) often get attached to the story. Sapphire's often does not.

The author's sequel to Push, called The Kid, was published in July 2011. I read a great review on Lamdba Literary by Julie Enszer, who deeply analyzes the novel's powerful themes like sexuality, harsh poverty, and racism in a firm and authentic way. For the characters of both Push and The Kid, life is more difficult than many readers can imagine. Enszer highlights the ways in which Sapphire has translated this cruel world realistically onto the pages of the book. With much grace, Sapphire offers the reader in-your-face drama of the truest caliber, but neither fluffs the good moments for the protagonist, Abdul, nor draws out the horror. "In some of the most brutal moments of the story," Enszer writes. "[the author] delivers extraordinary humanity while still acknowledging its limits."

Abdul, who is Precious' second son, faces a world of hatred, violence, and detestation. He is beaten, abused, raped, violated, cursed and, amidst it all, tries to explore the question, "Who am I?" To answer, he must find responses to other questions like, "Am I gay?" and "Why is this my life?" and "What do I want?"

Without sugarcoating a damn thing, Sapphire starkly points out that most of those questions cannot be answered. Not by adolescents, not by adults, not by most readers. Because direct questions about overarching life themes do not have direct answers - many novels and films lead us to believe the opposite. As Enszer says, "We live in a world that programs us to desire simple truths but delivers us complexity. We want vibrant, organized rainbows or at least the clarity of black and white; we get gray. Sapphire renders the gray palette not as a spectacle but as a rich, multi-layered monochromatic rainbow."

All of this - the author offers all of this - and so few people know her name.

People know J.K. Rowling's name, people know Stephenie Meyer's name. It's no secret that Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club, even though his name is nowhere on the 1996 film poster. Those authors are lucky.

Not many people know the name "Sapphire;" few haven't heard the name "Precious." In fact, the full name of the 2009 film is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, but the title gets lost in articles, reviews, and conversation. It happens all the time when novels turn into movies and many people opt out of the book and head straight for the theater, just to hear the story. But I noticed that even critics left Push by the wayside.

I got online to find a book review of Sapphire's first novel and really had to dig. I found a lukewarm, badly written piece where the writer summarizes the plot and has a strange "Observation" section, where she babbles about the number of times Push never made it into her cart at bookstores because "of sheer disgust at the opening lines as well as the language." I found another curt review of the book on Amazon. That was about it. When I googled "book review Push Sapphire," almost every result was for "movie review Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire." The NY Times. TIME Magazine. NPR. All great film reviews - but what about the book?

Precious' story is being told, but it isn't Sapphire's version. Granted, the novel broke crazy records in book sales, but what about since then? Why isn't Sapphire's name - her strong, poetic prose, her disturbingly realistic character voices - why aren't those prominent in the media? The Kid has been better. With all the coverage from the film, Sapphire's sequel splashed through media outlets. Google The Kid and you'll find more than enough results.

Powerful stories need to be told. Precious' story needed to be heard. It blasted through the book's written pages for a smaller audience, and radiated on the big screen for a much larger audience, causing all involved to think. To look deeper. Precious' story was, in fact, told. My hope is that authors like Sapphire start to get more credit for the words that transform audiences. Appreciate the story. But, more than that, appreciate the artist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This Sputnik Sweetheart Is Back

Haruki Murakami's newest book, 1Q84 (which was available in Japan in 2009), was released in the US last night at midnight, and Murakami fans went crazy. Several bookstores throughout the country had around-the-clock parties in honor of the award-winning author's newest novel.

Sellers like Three Lives & Company threw late-night celebrations. Check out photos from their major Launch Party here.

When 1Q84 was originally released, its first printing sold out in the same day. Like all of Murakami's novels, the work has already been translated into multiple languages. The author's last published book, After Dark, has been translated into 15 languages since it's initial Japan publication in 2004, including Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian.

1Q84 had a record breaking first day of sales in the US as well. Read the NPR book review here, where writer Alan Cheuse refers to it as 900 pages of "a gorgeous festival of words."

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Pest, Age 8, Forever: Beverly Cleary Through The Ages

When I was in middle school, we were told to write to someone we admire. My close friend wrote to Will Smith, my neighbor wrote to President Clinton. I wrote to Beverly Cleary. She wrote back with a quick note and included a pen and some encouraging words like, "Keep writing!" There is a distinct memory of one of my parents spilling coffee on the envelope, but I kept it with me throughout most of middle school, and now it's buried deep in a box full of Girl Scout patches and construction paper hats. But she continues to inspire me, as a reader and a writer.

Beverly Cleary, author of the infamous character, Ramona Quimby (along with Beezus, Henry, and the whole gang), turned 95 years old this past April. The Atlantic released a thoughtful interview with the literary legend.

In 1950, Cleary published her first novel, Henry Huggins. Since then, she has written over 40 novels, which have been translated into 20 different languages, and sold over 91 million copies in all. When asked if her books (many of which are now 60 years old) still related to children of today, Cleary confirmed the timelessness of her characters. "Although their circumstances have changed," she said. "I don't think children's inner feelings have changed." Which is why the author feels the Ramona from the 60s can still be the same Ramona in 2011. "I simply [wrote] about a little girl growing up."

The Atlantic goes on to ask Cleary about the changes throughout her writing career and what felt different over the decades of being an author. For starters, Cleary isn't a big fan of new and evolving technology. "I don't go on the Internet," she said. "I don't even know how it works." The resource was something she never felt able to adjust to. Having children as a big-time author was also a challenge. "It wasn't easy. I loved my family and I loved my young career. A neighborhood woman felt that I needed help and offered to come babysit the children. I would write while she looked after them." Cleary was able to spend time with her two children, Marrienne and Malcolm, while also writing about other children, like Howie Kemp and Willa Jean.

Oddly, the Atlantic interview takes a slightly awkward turn towards the middle. The unsettled feeling stems mostly from the reporter's bizarre questions - such as "How should libraries respond to declining resources?" - and less from Cleary's demeanor which, like I would imagine Ramona Quimby's wrangler to be, is firm but charming. Overall, the author just wants to talk about books, characters, and children's lit.

While she confirms that no further novels are in her future - "After all, I'm 95," she said - Cleary encourages young writers to keep at it. As a woman who struggled to afford college tuition during the Great Depression and supported herself her entire life, her determination is an inspiration, and her career's work will live on for generations of young readers and writers. For Cleary, literature will always feel like home. "I don't think anything will ever replace the pleasure of holding a book and turning its pages."

Ayn Rand Collected Stamps and Zadie Smith Appreciates A Good Two-Step

Who knew, right? Check out the full Flavorwire list: Surprising Hobbies of Favorite Authors. Franz Kafka had a secret porn collection? Not particularly surprising. But Sylvia Plath was a closet beekeeper? How delightful! In a 1962 interview, she was asked about her relationship with fellow authors. And she said:

"I much prefer doctors, midwives, lawyers, anything but writers...I must say what I admire most is the person who masters an area of practical experience, and can teach me something. I mean, my local midwife has taught me how to keep bees. Well, she can't understand anything I write. And I find myself liking her, may I say, more than most poets."

It's good to know writers aren't always just obsessed with words. It makes Stephen King's lesser known side career as the guitarist of The Rock Bottom Remainders seem more fitting.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Edward Cullen. Make Way For The Apocalypse.

It is no secret that vampires, wizards, and werewolves control a huge part of the YA world. Last year at Bryan High School in Omaha, NE, students were given the chance to pick five free books to read and keep. Teachers and librarians thought for sure that novels like the Revolutionary War tale, Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson) would be at the top of students' lists. They were mistaken.

"Nyah," said librarian Stacy Lickteig in an Omaha World Herold article. But "give them something with a zombie on the cover, and they'll devour it."

Fallen angels, ghosts, demons, witches, fairies - all welcome. "For girls," librarian Courtney Pentland said, "paranormal is the romance of this generation."

Burke High School teenager Kourtney Norton agrees that the appeal of fantasy fiction lies in the world that doesn't surround her and her friends all the time. "Real-life girl drama - does he like me? Is he looking at me? - is everywhere." Throw a vampire in the mix and it's much more exciting.

The Omaha WH notes that the trend appears in both genders. "For boys," the article reports, "paranormal is the new adventure series. The Hardy Boys with zombies. Encyclopedia Brown on a dragon."

Even more surprising than the vampire phenomenon, however, is the rise of dystopian fiction with YA audiences. Some critics might even say that dystopian fiction has surpassed the fantasy world for young adult readers. Forget blood sucking creatures - let's see post-Apocalyptic America.

Okay, let's be honest. If someone mentions Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy one more time, her head might explode. But she did start a wave of something that other authors are scrambling to ride. After Katniss Everdeen hit bookstores, Patrick Ness introduced Todd Hewitt (The Knife of Never Letting Go), Philip Reeve brought out Nikola Quercus (Mortal Engines), and Scott Westerfeld published Captain Laurent Zai (The Risen Empire).

While werewolves are thrilling, crazy futuristic societies might be more fitting for teens. In an article yesterday, The Guardian notes that a dystopian society - one with newfound responsibilities, evil enemies, and hundreds of deranged regulations - might actually hit closer to home for teenagers. "Books set in either chaotic or strictly controlled societies mirror a teenager's life," The Guardian wrote. "At school, at home, with their peers and in the wider world."

But why now? Why didn't YA authors jump the dystopian society bandwagon after Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time, or post Lois Lowry's 1993 release of The Giver? What is different about right now? The Guardian has a possible reason.

"Adults write books for teenagers," the article states. "So anxious adults - worried about the planet, the degradation of civil society and the bitter inheritance we're leaving for the young - write dystopian books." Teens have always loved the idea of a crazy, vivid, new future. And now - with global warming, a suffering job market, and Occupy Absolutely Everything in high demand - adults feel it is more pressing to write about a future time in books.

Either way, wizards take up many current books and so do post-Apocalyptic Americas. For all upcoming YA authors out there - spruce up any novel with a touch of werewolf or mention any year after 2417, and you've got a good shot with teen readers.

Nine Views of Moby Dick

The New York Times posted a book (cover) review of nine distinct book jackets for Herman Melville's Moby Dick. From #7 (a dog-eared copy featuring a gang of 1950s gentleman in cardigans) to #2 (a 95 cent watercolor copy with Captain Ahab's facial expression in the waves), the Times celebrates Moby Dick's 160th anniversary this year.

See all nine book covers here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Starbucks, Prom, Pizza, and the U.S. Army

I think I am in the majority when I say I have read my fair share of love stories. Jane Austen makes me swoon, I'm a sucker for As Time Goes By, and after about 16 pages of Fried Green Tomatoes, I'm weeping. But David Levithan's anthology, How They Met and Other Stories, is different.

Starting in high school, Levithan couldn't concentrate in class and began to write short stories in the margins of his notebooks - one love story for every Valentine's Day - and decided to publish the collection (without really changing a thing about the original tales) in 2008. A collection of young adult love stories, and not a single one about any stereotypical situation.

A teenage babysitter gets set up with a Starbucks barista by his six-year-old client.

A couple falls in love on a airplane, only to discover 10 years later they were secretly matched by the check-in attendant.

A lesbian love story goes awry, only to find sollace in a childhood jump-roping tune.

I would say that there is a particular story that stands out, but the truth is that this entire collection is a must-read. Each tale is unexpected, and not every story is about falling in love. There are tears, heartbreak, long distance, graduation, and unspoken questions. There are regrets and lost opportunities, but also stomach butterflies and love letters and whispered secrets. Throughout the book, Levithan captures love and intersects it with coming-of-age in eighteen short stories.

What is particularly refreshing is that the author hasn't classified How They Met into any specific category. While it is YA, there is certainly an appeal to an older audience. The stories are both about falling in love and falling out of love. There are as many queer unions as there are straight couples. There is no particular setting - New York, Georgia, Florida, the middle of nowhere.

As seen in other books - like his co-creation with John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson - Levithan displays an uncanny ability to produce unique and powerful voices for each of his narrators. The reader can open up to any page in How They Met and find a distinct character voice.

The theme is what holds the collection together: how they met. As Levithan writes:

"It doesn't have to be on Valentine's Day. It doesn't have to be by the time you turn eighteen or thirty-five or fifty-nine. It doesn't have to conform to whatever is usual. It doesn't have to be kismet at once, or rhapsody by the third date.

It just has to be."

Levithan explores people, not abstract ideas. Eighteen stories. Eighteen couples. How They Met and Other Stories is absolutely worth the read.

Four of four stars

This Is #WhyIWrite

October 20, 2011 was the National Day on Writing. Authors, students, teachers, bloggers, kids, and parents everywhere celebrated the reasons they are writers. The Twitter hashtag #whyIwrite was created for last Thursday's celebration and readers and writers continue to post ideas like:

"To share. To think. To heal. To amuse. To escape and give escape. And because I simply can't imagine not. That's #whyiwrite" (posted by gregpincus)

"Like Stephen King said, "Who says I have a choice?" #whyiwrite" (posted by napolitanoann)

"#whyiwrite I write because I read. I don't ever want the world to run out of words" (posted by thebookmaven)

The New York Times posted an amazing article on National Day on Writing. Check it out! And why do you write? Post on Twitter #whyiwrite

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fourteen or Forty: Does a Narrator's Age Determine YA or Not?

What is the difference between books for young adults, and books with young adult characters? I recently read an article about Palahniuk's Damned where the author insisted that we all need to "keep adult books separate. Damned may be a great book for adults, but it'll just be another battle for librarians and teachers if it's suddenly thought to be young adult."

I don't agree. Anytime a narrator is a teenager, I think the book can be considered for young adults in some way. Maybe not for all young adults, sure. But I feel it is too close-minded to say a book with a teenage protagonist has no home at all in the YA category. There are layers. The number of young adult novels vary as widely as the audience. Some readers are mature, some are looking for pure entertainment, some are intrigued by death and sex while others prefer high school romance. Damned is for a mature audience interested in darker issues, the same way some teens would be bored with Sweet Valley High. I agree with the author in one regard: putting the YA brand on a controversial book is surely a fear for librarians. Parents get concerned about the content in their children's books. But to cut out those books - Middlesex, The Bluest Eye, even Fight Club - altogether from the genre is doing young adult readers and writers a disservice.

To read the article I mentioned, click here.

Teens Then vs. Teens Now: Growing Up With Young Adult Fiction

Think about the roles of teenagers in YA literature now, and then think about the various roles given to them in books half a century ago. As a genre, Young Adult Fiction hadn't even fully bloomed yet - in fact, it's growth is still on the rise today. But when Beverly Cleary wrote about 14-year-old Henry Huggins in 1950, Henry wasn't saving a wizarding community from the most evil Lord imaginable. He wasn't defeating vampires or dragons - he wasn't even stepping up for a personal belief. Henry was hanging out with his dog, Ribsy.

This is not to say teenagers didn't hold incredible agency in other books in the past. Tom Sawyer certainly showed great bravery. And who is to say that Scout Finch didn't change the life and times of Maycomb, Alabama? But young adults are given more and more responsibility in modern fiction.

The Atlantic recently wrote an article about the growing role of teens in YA literature. While admitting that many of today's popular young adult books fall into a fantasy category, "[the books] ask realistic questions about what happens when children take on adult roles." Teen characters are now faced with decisions that affect not only their own lives, but the lives of loved ones, community members, and even complete strangers. From Katniss Everdeen's choice to protect her younger sister in The Hunger Games, to the freshman Frederick who decides that gay bullying isn't right in So Hard To Say, teenagers learn in modern fiction that they have incredible power.

It's not that YA fiction insists that teens will never meet defeat or failure - authors want to be realistic. But, as The Atlantic states, young adult books "emphasize that even when they fail or compromise, teenagers come to independent and important moral insights when they're forced to take responsibility and make decisions without adult support." Today's youth are given encouragement, not guarantees. But all the same, whether it's a simple action or a difficult statement, teens have the inspiration from YA characters to embrace their talent, desires, and influence.

Read the full Atlantic article here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Damn It All To Hell, Judy Blume

Yep, it's true. Chuck Palahniuk is back and, in a way, back to basics. Unlike his post-Fight Club flops like Snuff, Palahniuk's new Damned takes the sarcasm of a middle-aged critic and throws in - what else - references to Judy Blume.

Damned's snarky thirteen-year-old protagonist, Madison, has spent her life basically in hell with a film star mommy and big time producer daddy, and therefore can't wait to get to the real place, the big 'ol pit of fire underneath with her fave celebrity - Satan. Palahniuk burns the reader with as many references to pop culture as possible, but the plot actually works. In general, the story flows well with Madison's sardonic voice and point of view. She sees Hell as living up to its potential, and has a few things to say regarding its unholier-than-thou reputation. "The Exorcist," for example, and the food spewing antics of a one creepy young lady. "It's weird to think that as recently as the 1970s, religious leaders were throwing holy water on adolescent girls with eating disorders," Madison ponders.

Palahniuk isn't completely off the hook, however. He still loses interest a bit towards the end and runs out of new jokes. He tries to throw in the same humor, which doesn't even get an eye-roll from the reader. But overall, Damned is definitely worth the read.

New York Times writer, Janet Maslin, offers the perfect review. Read it here.

Another View of "Shine" and the National Book Foundation

The scandal with Lauren Myracle's Shine and Franny Billingsley's Chime continues to make readers livid. To get caught up with the original news story, read details here. The National Book Foundation created a mess, yes. But Lambda Literary, an LGBT literature website, recently posted an article with a good point: while Myracle and Billingsley have been fighting off the press, we can't forget about the other four finalists on the Young Adult National Book Awards list.

My Name is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin
Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

All incredible reads by talented writers. The 2011 National Book Awards will surely be an event to go down in literary history. Everyone involved feels unsettled in some way or another.

And Myracle, of course, has been put in a tricky position. On the one hand, she was forced to keep her head high and withdraw from the running, even though her book is great and the finalist announcement was not her mistake. Her hopes soared at first, and then her pride needed to fall to the wayside. Her published words were first celebrated and then awkwardly set aside. On the other hand, however, what better marketing tool than having your recent novel all over the news? YA readers and Myracle supporters have hit the bookstores for a copy of Shine and urged others to do the same.

At the end of the day, someone will still win the 2011 National Book Award and that will be that. But regardless of who gets awarded what honor, the truth is that all six books have made an impact on the young adult community. Readers are grateful for the six finalists and their words, and the gratitude ranges from person to person. Perhaps the National Book Award scandal, and really the YA genre in general, can be summed up in an anonymous Twitter post shortly after the news spread through the media:

"As a gay boy living in NC," the blogger said. "Thank you for Shine, which I wouldn't have known about w/o the screw-up. You may have saved my life."

Read the Lamba Literary article here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading Young Adult Books On Something That's Not A Kindle?

You can't read everything, then, it turns out. Amazon recently released it's Kindle Fire tablet which, among other features, boasts a color-touch screen, super fast web-browsing, and access to 18 million movies, television shows, and books. Among those are hundreds of graphic novels which, as of late, are now only available with Kindles.

Amazon secured the exclusive digital rights to hundreds of DC Comics, including Batman, Superman, and the Green Lantern. Other e-readers like Nooks and Cybooks will not be able to access the different series. In protest, Barnes & Noble (which sells the Nook) has pulled all the paper copies of the DC Comics. The store said "it would not carry any book if it were denied the right to sell the digital version." Books-a-Million, another large bookseller, took the same action.

The NY Times covered the story. The latest information on the battle confirms that at least the DC Comics graphic novels will be available on the Kindle app through iPads and other sources.

What Would Jane Austen Do?

Readers everywhere get to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's first published novel, Sense and Sensibility this year, and relish in the recent continuation of her characters in modern literature. Author Abigail Reynolds has been extending Austen's ideas since 2001, when she began publishing books about Pride and Prejudice characters in a series known as the Pemberley Variations. Novels like What Would Mr. Darcy Do and Mr. Darcy's Obsession have gotten avid Austen readers excited for new tales. Reynolds' recent October release, Mr. Darcy's Undoing, received high reviews from both Austen critics and readers alike.

Reynolds talks about her latest book, her affection for Jane Austen, and her reasons behind the book series here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcoming A Well-Written Book Into An Overlooked Society

Many youth turn to literature as a way to find a place within a community, particularly when feeling like a freak. Feeling different. Young adult books have long satisfied part of that longing for teens - the desire to belong somewhere. In the pages of a YA novel, a teenager might find that teacher who insists on ridiculous papers, the best friend who turns out to be a traitor, or parents who just don't seem to be as cool as everyone else's parents. The recent rise of LGBT teen books has been a way that gay youth can (finally) find solace in characters they can relate to. Author Malin Alegria's debut novel, Estrella's Quinceanera, provides the same support to another strongly unrepresented sphere of YA lit - the Latino community.

NPR's recent review of Alegria's book summarizes the plot of the coming-of-age story, introducing the 15-year-old Estrella and her crazy road to her celebratory quinceanera. The article goes on to explain how Alegria's novel has changed the YA look for Latino teens.

As an author, Alegria is seen as somewhat of a literary superhero - she had every opportunity to chock her story full of stereotypes (something her publisher suggested), but instead created a stark, humorous, and staunchly realistic piece. This is something that the young Latino community needs. "Many of [the Latino] district's students are reading below their grade level," the NPR article stated. "And most are bilingual. They're hungry for stories like Alegria's - stories that reflect their language proficiencies."

Alegria has been invited to schools and libraries all over the country to speak to Latino communities about her novel. Scholastic recently commissioned Alegria to write a four book series called Border Town, the first of which will be released in May 2012. "It's going to be pretty similar to Sweet Valley High," she said, "but with brown kids."

Read more about Malin Alegria here.

The Chime vs. Shine Saga Continues

In case you might have missed the drama from last week, here is a short recap. On Wednesday, the National Book Awards announced the top five finalists for Young Adult fiction, including Lauren Myracle's powerful new book, Shine, about a hate crime against a gay teen. All five finalists were congratulated.

About an hour later, the National Book Awards announced they had made a mistake - it wasn't Myracle's Shine that made the top five; Franny Billingsley's Chime was intended in Shine's spot. The National Book Foundation apologized for the mishap and said that they would use all six books for finalists this year.

However, word hit the news that the National Book Foundation later called Myracle and asked her to pull her title from the running, "to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges' work." Myracle obliged, and then also requested that $5,000 be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which supports LGBT youth. The Foundation agreed and strongly emphasized that the mistake with the two finalists "won't happen again."

Read the full story at the New York Times website.

Monday, October 17, 2011

...Come Marching In

The word is out - young adult books don't just serve a young adult audience anymore. Likely, it isn't a surprise for many avid YA readers to hear that "forty-seven percent of 18-24 year-old woman report most of their book purchases are YA" and that "the percentage of YA fans ages 25-44 has almost doubled in the past four years," according to the New York Times, surveys by the Codex Group, and a recent article on She Reads, which can be found in full here.

Somewhere along the way, people began to realize that the "YA" brand didn't directly translate to "lame" or "boring" or "you could do so much better than that." Young Adult books hold great power in their ability to guide as both role models and forms of informative and delightful literature. The young adult audience is expanding. Sure, some folks will continue to scoff at J.K. Rowling, Alex Sanchez, and Jessica Lee Anderson. But how many of those same people secretly pull out a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when no one is watching? It is refreshing to see that the YA genre, little by little, is being taken seriously in the public eye.

Now go buy a copy of The Book Thief, please.

Great new reads this week:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
(read the full review on the Chicago Sun Times website)

2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) just posted the 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nomination list on the American Library Association website. The full list, which includes one of my favorite books of the past year - Chris Beam's transgender novel, I Am J - also has some intriguing titles, like Greg Taylor's The Girl Who Became A Beatle, and Gary Ghislain's eyebrow-raising How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend.

The nominations list, unlike others with YALSA, is simply that: a list of exceptional YA books. Throughout the year, YALSA awards several honors to young adult authors. The Morris Award, for example, annually honors a debut novel by a YA author. The most longstanding YALSA Award is the Edwards Award, which began in 1988 and is given every year to a young adult author for his or her longstanding effort in the genre. The most recent honor, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, only began last year.

Read further about YALSA on their webpage.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

New York Times writer, Chelsey Philpot, recently reviewed a new fantasy series opener by YA author, Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (which hit stores at the end of September). Like many young adult books today, Daughter of Smoke and Bone contains mystic creatures like chimera (demons) and seraph (angels), which live and fight within the confines of a faraway made-up land. Unlike many of today's novels, however, the main character, seventeen-year-old Karou, lives among these creatures and calls them family.

Philpot writes that the novel covers an interesting variety of categories; "Taylor has taken elements of mythology, religion, and her own imagination and pasted them into a believably fantastical collage." Throughout the book, Karou must decide who is on her side in this ongoing war, and what she's fighting for in the first place. Love and family mesh and then butt heads, leaving questions, decisions, and hard feelings along Karou's path.

With plenty of loose ends on the last page, Taylor leaves room for many books to come in the series. Read the full book review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone on the NY Times website.

Why YA Books? Give Me One Good Reason

YA novelist, Malindo Lo, recently wrote an article called "Why I Write Young Adult Fiction," which made me think about the same statement. In her thoughtful and powerfully true piece, Lo explains that young adult fiction as a genre could not be more free for a writer (and, in that regard, for a reader). Adult fiction, she notes, typically has to fit into one category - sci-fi, romance, mystery. It is difficult to write an adult piece of literature that crosses from one genre into the other without losing readers. A fantasy mystery romance for adults doesn't really work; a fantasy mystery romance for young adults sells millions of copies (i.e. Harry Potter). And as a writer for YA fiction, Lo says, you don't have to worry as much about creating a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing piece all the time (although there are certainly those kinds of novels in the young adult world). Mostly, though, you can write a story just for the story. "I tend to prefer an arresting tale over a pretty sentence," she says. "If I want a pretty sentence, I will read poetry."

Aside from a YA novel's structure, Lo also speaks on the topics in the young adult genre, and the ongoing debate in the media about YA fiction being too dark for today's teens. What is allowed? What isn't allowed? The question is less about what teens can handle reading, and more what parents deem as appropriate. "At its most basic level," Lo writes, "[YA is] a marketing category, and libraries and schools are hesitant to buy books that are likely to upset parents. Parents, not teens. I'm pretty sure teens want to read about sex and death." And its not just parents who are critical of "adult" content in young adult reading - many critics raise the same eyebrows. While YA writers sympathize and want teens to have their adolescence while they still can, the truth is that society is different. It is moving at a much more rapid rate than it was even 20-25 years ago, when many of these parents and critics were attending middle/high school. Or, maybe much is the same but folks just didn't write about it yet. Either way, YA fiction aims to offer teens the real world, instead of dumbed down version of society.

Apart from stories and content, though, the appeal in young adult books for me is the characters. Whether the protagonist, antagonist, or the ensemble of voices telling the tale, I can always count on YA characters to make drastic personal transitions. Plenty of adult literature features immense decision-making, too - whether or not to get married, or choosing the right career. But young adult fiction is about answering the question, "Who am I?" Fundamentally as a person and an individual, characters in YA books choose what and whom they will be in the world, how they fit into society, and what change they want to bring using their talents and personality. For me, there is nothing more powerful than a coming-of-age story.

So, yes, YA fiction gets flack for being less important than adult fiction, and its not a genre for everyone. But the freedom to explore multiple topics, the power behind the switch from childhood to adulthood, the emphasis on the story and not so much on the thesaurus? That is why I write young adult fiction.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

50th Anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth!

Stepping Back To Take A New Look

Alex Sanchez's 2004 novel, So Hard To Say, has been on store shelves for only seven years, but I wanted to pull the script from the decade's archives for just a moment. In so many ways, Sanchez's book already feels dated. His emphasis on the prehistoric use of Instant Messanger among his middle school characters, the complete lack of cell phone use/texting/sexting present throughout the 200+ pages, and the subtle hints towards fashion among teens in the early turn of the current century make the reader feel old.

However, the pure innocence of coming to terms with sexuality? That still rings true in the most powerful way. The two main characters, Xio (female) and Frederick, form a close relationship at a new school that quickly turns romantic for Xio and terrifying for Frederick. Because while Xio fantasizes about kissing Frederick before bed, the latter tries to push daydreams of the cute and muscular soccer player, Victor, from his mind. Xio's thirteen-year-old desire for male physical intimacy rears up inside of her, almost scaring the beautiful Latina teenager but mostly sending thrills up her fingertips. Across town, Frederick struggles to maintain his relationship with Xio while secretly wondering, "Why don't I like kissing Xio?" and "What would it be like to kiss a boy?" and, the most difficult, "Am I gay?"

The agency Sanchez gives his two main characters - Xio the power to forgive and forget issues from her past, and Frederick the power to say aloud his deepest fear - makes the reader beam with joy. Rarely do YA readers find such power in fictional characters. Certainly no Twilight readers feel compelled to exercise their freewill and personal talent.

It's interesting how a single book can feel so out of place and yet so current, similar to reading something like 1984 and realizing, "So much has changed," but also acknowledging, "Almost nothing is different." Sanchez has written a timeless novel for young adults.

In lieu of current struggles LGBT authors face with getting scripts published, as in the Brown and Smith case, it is refreshing to see some YA authors have made it. Their novels are available for teens - both queer and straight - to see what embracing individuality might look like.

J.K. Rowling Borrowed Some Traits from J.D. Salinger?

An interesting article about the profound similarities between Catcher in the Rye's protagonist, Jimmy Jimmereeno, and the infamous Harry Potter. Read the full story here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

NY Times Book Review: "The Apothecary"

The New York Times reviewed Maile Meloy's (author of award-winning short story Aqua Boulevard and collection of short stories Half in Love) first young adult book, The Apothecary. Contrary to Meloy's typical hyperrealism, The Apothecary features teenage spies and plots and a strange romance, among government secrets. Find the full review at the NY Times website.

"The Wolf Mark" Takes the Reader For An Eerie Ride

Native writer and storyteller, Joseph Bruchac (author of The Boy Called Slow and Buffalo Song) has a new novel with the same fantastical elements as his past works, as well as a similar adventure featuring a Native American boy and his heritage. However, Bruchac's latest, The Wolf Mark, takes a new twist. The main character, Luke, might be the bad guy. Throughout the tale, Luke learns about family, love, and, more importantly, himself and his past.

Chicago YA Fiction writer, Pamela Kramer, writes a review of the novel at the Examiner website.

The Wolf Mark hit stores mid-September of this year.

YA Fiction for Adults and Children

The Tesco Books Blog wrote a short piece about the growing audience for Young Adult books, and the widespread appeal to more and more adults as the YA genre grows and matures. Novels such as Marcus Zusak's currently popular The Book Thief have hit the shelves of both teens and their parents. Find the article and list of great "crossover" books at the Books Blog

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Wish I Was In Ireland Tomorrow... I could attend this

Levithan's Newest Read May Be A Bust

According to reviews, David Levithan (beloved LGBT author of Boy Meets Boy, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist) didn't exactly knock it out of the park with his latest novel, Every You, Every Me, released in September 2011. Paired with capturing photographs by Jonathan Farmer, Levithan's book tells of a struggling teen named Evan who fears someone is stalking him. Evan begins to receive a series of pictures, several of which feature himself, by an unknown mailer. Throughout the story, Evan tries to unravel the mystery of the photographs and discovers some secrets he didn't want to know.

Readers call Levithan's new book boring and complicated. While it starts strong, several reviews feel it falls apart after the first few pages. Perhaps readers wouldn't be as harsh if not for Levithan's fantastic streak of great novels. Read the BookSmugglers review.

Readers Got It Right With "The Rights Stuff"

Australian children's books have begun to outsell adult literature, according to a survey by trade magazine Bookseller+Publisher. Australian authors such as Sonya Hartnett (2008 Astrid Lindgren winner) and Carole Wilkinson are among the writers on the 2011 International Youth Library White Ravens list, and kid's books continue to dominate the lit market through Australia. "[The country]," writer Andrew Wilkins notes, "is actually a highly multicultural and urbanised society and its children's publishing reflects this." In a refreshing change from the vampire and post-apocalyptic world of American YA books, Wilkins says that "an Australian young adult novel is as likely to portray the life of a young Australian Muslim girl as it is a historical or fantasy tale."

Read the full article at the Publishing Perspectives website.

"Divergent" Author Talks Shop

Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series about a futuristic, dystopian Chicago where teenagers must choose their fate by the age of sixteen, explains her process from the first draft of her book to the day it was published. She notes that seeing the final product of the script was like "looking at a skeleton with a body built around it." See the full story here .

Divergent hit stores this past May.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Comprehensive List of All Queer-Themed Teen Books Since 1969

Compiled by Christine A. Jenkins

Brown and Smith Fight For LGBT Novel

Co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith were recently offered a book deal from a publisher on one condition: take out your queer character, or make him straight. Brown refused with the explanation that, "Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes and that's not right."

Brown and Smith encourage editors to read scripts with an open mind, writers with LGBT scripts to tell their stories, and readers to spread the word. Read the full story here

Let's Do This!

After trying my hand at many blogs in the past - anything from Chicago adventures to short story entries - I thought it was high time to dive into the genre I love most: young adult fiction. This blog will feature daily updates on upcoming book releases, reviews of current literature, author information and announcements, and articles related to YA books. So let's see what happens. Welcome!