Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Professional Hats

For many authors, the goal is just to get published. Others aim higher - writers shoot for novels on the New York Times Best Seller List, contracts with big time print houses, and a name that's familiar in their literary genre. Award-winning author, Lauren Oliver, has achieved all that before the age of 29. And to top it off? She recently co-founded a book development company that has gained massive media attention.

As an author, she goes by Lauren Oliver. As an editor, she goes by her real name, Lauren Schechter. The reason for the double name, she told Bloomberg Businessweek, is because "she wants to keep the roles of author and editor/entrepreneur separate."

As an author, Oliver's first two books, Before I Fall (2010) and Delirium (2011), have both been on the NY Times Best Seller List, and Fox 2000 has picked up both novels to be made into film. On the editor side of things, Schechter's new company Paper Lantern Lit is growing. PPL is about "building new voices," she says. The editor describes the company as a "literary incubator" for developing fresh author voices.

Paper Lantern Lit is interested in three principles: "versatility, integrity, and passion." Co-founders Schechter and Lexa Hillyer have made their organization stand out in many ways, the most distinguishing that PPL is a literary developing company, not a publishing house. In short, Oliver and Hilley explain on the PPL website that they "are interested in making books...not in manufacturing books - the paper, the glue, the covers, the pages. [They] leave that to the publishing giants. Instead, [they] develop stories. Paper Lantern Lit collaborates with great up-and-coming writers to help bring those stories to life."

So far, both of Oliver's/Schechter's career paths are blooming individually, but also cross each other. Oliver's latest book, Liesl and Po, just hit the middle grade lit world in September and Pandemonium (the second book in her Delirium trilogy) is due out in February; Schechter's company has sold more than 20 young adult books since its origin in 2010. When it comes down to it, though, the author/editor just cares about good stories, good books, and good authors. "A writer, at base," she said in a recent interview, "must understand people."

Check out the Paper Lantern Lit website here.
Pre-Order a copy of Pandemonium here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cyber Monday! Shop at Independent Bookstores for Gender Bending Material

As holiday gift shopping shifts into full swing, a wide variety of new ideas appear on everyone's wish lists. Fancy electronics. Gift cards. Gender neutral picture books.

Children's books that don't follow the hetero-normative, gender-stereotyped households can't often be found in big chain stores like Barnes & Noble. But independent shops like The Book Beat in Oak Park, IL will frequently provide a wider range of viewpoints and content. For example, Mary Hoffman's 2011 The Great Big Book of Families. The picture book features illustrations of the different ways families might be put together: working mom, working dad, two fathers, adoptive parents, different incomes, different foods, different religions, different ethnicities. In fact, the book starts by showing an example of what households often don't look like: a blonde smiling family with a picket fence.

For 29 years, The Book Beat has sold books that other companies won't, particularly children and teen books with an LGBT theme. The shop says in their store statement that they "hope to continue offering our community a creative bookstore that is a brighter artistic alternative to the cookie-cutter retailers."

At The Book Beat, you can find other refreshing titles like Cheryl Kilodavis' My Princess Boy, Alex Sanchez's Boyfriends with Girlfriends, and Leslea Newman's Donovan's Big Day (about a boy who gets ready to serve as ringbearer at his two moms' upcoming wedding).

Venture farther into Chicago to Unabrigdged Bookstore, which has the following categories on their website: Sale Books, Coffee Table Books, Gay Books, Children's Books. On their home page, they state that "it's safe to say that Unabridged is the only bookstore in the Chicago area where a shopper can buy the latest issue of a gay magazine, a copy of children's classic Goodnight Moon or newest title, and pick up the latest literary fiction & non-fiction sensation, all in one stop."

Julia Music, a queer Chicago mom, recently spoke with Pride Source about shopping for LGBT children's books. Regarding her son's favorite picture book, Liz Garton Scanlon's All the World, Music said that "it's important for children to see their world reflected in the literature they read."

Small Business Saturday seemed to be successful all over the country. Do yourself a favor and extend that tradition into Cyber Monday tomorrow - check out some local establishments' websites.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Dragon Lady Has Left the Building

Beloved young adult author, Anne McCaffrey, passed away on Monday. Many fans, readers, and writers were sad to see "The Dragon Lady" go. She was 85, and one of the most influential female voices in science fiction.

McCaffrey had an amazing following throughout her career. Her first trio of books were intended to be just that, a science fiction trilogy: Dragonflight (1968), Dragonquest (1970), and The White Dragon (1978). But McCaffrey quickly gained attention and a heavy fan base. Her Harper Hall Trilogy appeared almost immediately: Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977), and Dragondrums (1979). The public named McCaffrey "The Dragon Lady" around that time.

Besides the overwhelming success of her Dragonriders of Pern series, McCaffrey also wrote many successful works of fiction, including her 1967 novel, Restoree, which the New York Times called "a satirical work of science fiction for adults [which] lampooned the genre's portrayal of women as helpless chattel." Of the novel, the author said that "she wanted to write a female character who wouldn't be the victim and need a hero to save her, but who would be a hero herself and fight for her own survival." In all her books, the author pushes for female heroines and agency for women.

After all, McCaffrey was the first woman to win the top two prizes for science fiction writing: a Hugo, which she won for her 1968 Weyr Search and a Nebula for her 1969 Dragonriders. Both novellas later became a part of the Pern series.

The author once wrote in her 1977 Dragonsinger (to the female protagonist), "There's something wrong in not appreciating one's own special abilities, my girl. Find your own limitations, yes, but don't limit yourself with false modesty."

Readers and writers will miss McCaffrey, a strong female voice and a unique author. The author passed away at her home in Ireland, where she had lived since the 1970s. A home she called "Dragonhold," because she says it had been paid for by dragons.

To read more about the inspirational author, check out Robin Roberts' biography, Anne McCaffrey: A Life With Dragons.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: Robert Ward's "Shedding Skin"

Robert Ward channeled a bit of future David Sedaris in his 1972 novel, Shedding Skin. In a series of comical but heartbreaking vignettes, Ward tells the story of a young man named Bobby, from adolescence through the first stages of adulthood. From the basement of a Baltimore home to the mountainside cabin of a crazy family named the Stumps to a hippie commune in Haight-Ashbury (in a world that reveals hints of queer identity), the protagonist truly discovers himself in the most ridiculous coming-of-age story I have ever read. As the author says in the book's final chapters, he "just wanted to find a good skin that [he] could wrap up in, be safe in. Now they are trying to sell [him] another new one - the radical skin." Amid drunken peers and 60s counterculture, Bobby forms a unique worldview.

Structure: 5 out of 5 stars

Ward sets up the perfect book. Chapters are short, powerful, humorous, and action-packed. While, at the beginning, the reader spends a lot of time wondering what is fiction and what is fact (i.e. was carrying the Taco sculpture a life event or a drug-induced fantasy?), the reader quickly pushes aside logic and just enjoys the tumultuous story.

Character: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bobby is the sole narrator, which works out just fine. The reader doesn't become too attached to anyone else. The protagonist is good company, and he meets a crazy crew. Characters are introduced and then left by the side of the road (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally). However, the reader rarely feels the loss of a new friend or lover because Ward so quickly brings in a new point of interest. Throughout the book, the author will reference a past character and the reader will remember with fond nostalgia about an earlier chapter, but then move forward, the same way the protagonist does. In this way, the story still feels whole.

My only wish was to hear more about Bobby's father in the book's conclusion. The author draws such powerful father-to-son parallels in the beginning, but then only touches on those points at the end. The reader walks away satisfied, but would have enjoyed an ending tie.

Voice: 5 out of 5 stars

The protagonist is a sensational storyteller. He is witty, charming, and mostly a nerd. From grade school onward, Bobby encounters influential people who he has determined are geniuses and therefore hold all of life's secrets. When they disappoint him, he moves on. The narrator is never dishonest and often overanalyzes situations in a way that is both endearing and a comfort.

Shedding Skin is simultaneously laugh out loud entertaining and historically intriguing. The reader watches a boy find his own two feet without any stereotypical YA drama. In fact, the novel is anything but predictable. Overall, a delightful read.

The book was published in 1972 by Harper & Row, and won the National Endowment for the Arts award in the same year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Overcoming All Odds: Lauren Myracle

The dust has begun to settle on the National Book Awards scandal. Lauren Myracle was in the running, then pulled, and once Thanhha Lai won in the Young People's Literature category on Wednesday, few people have mentioned Myracle. But her novel, Shine, basked in the National Book Awards news coverage (a.k.a. free publicity), and as an author, Myracle is selling books more than ever before.

Throughout high school, college, and even post-graduation, Myracle met people who insisted she should forget writing. A professor once told her not to bother joining an advanced English course because she wasn't good enough. But Myracle wouldn't take it. "I decided that teacher could tell me I couldn't take her class," Myracle told a Chicago audience at Anderson's Bookshop on Sunday. "But she couldn't tell me not to become a writer."

After graduate school, the Examiner wrote, the author was rejected 118 times before she found an editor who would pay attention to her work. "I wrote [that first novel] five times in a two-year period," Myracle said. Finally, she got a piece of good news: Abrams Books for Young Readers publisher, Susan Van Metre, offered the Shine author a contract. The novel, Kissing Kate, hit bookstores in 2003.

In the last nine years, Myracle has published over twenty works, including ttyl, the first novel ever to be written entirely in instant messages. In 2009, the American Library Association said that the author's books were the most challenged of the year due to their real and often intense scenes of alcohol abuse, sexual encounters, and homosexuality. Even without the added scandal associated with the National Book Awards, Myracle's latest novel, Shine, continues to ruffle feathers in it's own way. Librarians and parents have already protested the book's story line - a teenage girl who tries to discover the who/where/when/why of her gay best friend's murder.

Forget controversy. Forget discouragement. Myracle's two- cents? "Other people tell you you're foolish to want to do [something], but don't give up." With the number of factors working against her, Myracle writes what she wants no matter who says it won't sell, and still manages to give many YA authors a run for their money.

"I live in my own little world," the author says. "But its ok, they know me here."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupational Hazards: Debt, Jobs, and Broomsticks

Something a little different today. Here is a short piece about one of my first jobs in the city:

I really needed a job. I was willing to take pretty much anything.

Chicago winter had hit me hard. I had an old car, a drafty apartment, and an empty bank account. The snow had begun the weekend I moved and hadn’t stopped. From a friend of a friend, I had picked up some temp part-time work for minimum wage, but I needed something else soon or I wasn’t going to make it through my first season in the city.

After my shift one night, a co-worker from a different department approached me to say she had an opening for a bizarre position at her other company. It wasn’t much: child wrangler meets house manager for student performances of "The Wizard of Oz."

The job was simple. Wait next to the theater door for a school bus. Then hop on, make some announcements, and wrestle the kids into a line. Also, the El train will be rolling overhead, making it impossible to shout instructions and causing many of the kids to scream. And it will likely be snowing or raining. Pay is $30 a day, before taxes.

“I’ll take it.”

My first day of work, two buses pulled up late, another got lost, one school brought a student with accessible needs and the elevator stopped working, and a first grader threw up in the lobby. I walked six blocks in the rain to bring the show materials back to the main office and then scrambled back into the storm to bum a train ride home. On the way, someone shouted to “move out of the way because I was so ugly I was stopping traffic.” Needless to say, I couldn’t believe I took this crazy job. I was cold, struggling with debt, and working ridiculous hours helping middle-schoolers learn what “single file line” means. To be honest, I was terrified. What if something happened to one of the kids on my watch? What if I caused a traffic accident with the buses? What if I was simply horrible at this position? For now, though, I didn’t have any other options.

Fast forward to Week #5. Back-to-back shows in the morning. In the span of twenty-five minutes, we needed to get 350 elementary school kids out of the theater, onto the correct buses, clear the street, coordinate the next round of schools, and usher 350 different children to their seats inside. With the help of the office staff, we made it just before the second show was slated to begin. Miracle of miracles. I knelt down to take a breather in the lobby.

The doors inside the theater opened and a preschooler walked out, crying. His chaperone couldn’t calm him down. The two of them circled the space and finally sat on the chairs in the corner. I walked over to say hello.

“He’s scared of the Wicked Witch,” the chaperone explained while the boy stared straight ahead, sniffling and avoiding eye contact.

I sat down next to him and said that I was scared of spiders.

He looked up and blinked. “Big spiders?” he asked, and wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his jacket.

“All spiders. Big. Little. Slimy. Hairy. I’m scared of all kinds of spiders.”

The three of us sat in silence for a moment.

“Want to know a secret?” I whispered. The boy nodded, not quite sure if he trusted me. “Sometimes, I talk to spiders, too. Just to say hi. They never talk back, but I imagine what they would say anyway. Sometimes I think they might ask about what music I am listening to or what movie I like to watch on the weekends. I talk to lots of spiders. It makes them seem less scary. Does that make me weird?” He nodded.

From the side entrance, the actor playing the Wicked Witch came out and waited for his cue. In the florescent glow of the lobby lights, his green make-up looked pale instead of sickly, and he scratched his nose with the tip of his pointy hat. I grinned and motioned for him to come over.

The actor sat down on the carpet and inspected his broom. The boy’s lip quivered, but he didn’t move from his chair. The Wicked Witch continued to play with the bristles and the boy looked on. Inside the house, the piano tune to “We’re Off To See The Wizard” bled through the double doors. After a moment, the boy reached out to touch the broom, too. Both boys, the actor and the preschooler, rubbed the rough, itchy broom hairs in a rhythmic, almost therapeutic motion.

“Your nose looks like mine.” The boy felt the witch's black cape in the same rhythmic way with his fingertips.

The Wicked Witch stood up. “I’ll wave to you from the stage, OK?” The boy nodded and the actor ducked in to make his entrance. Without another question, the boy stood up and walked back inside, ready for whatever the play had in store.

That week, I got a phone call from the temp agency – they had found me a full-time job at a law firm answering phones. Business attire. Thirty minutes for lunch. Could I start Monday?

I looked outside at the snow and sleet and rambling El train, and respectfully declined the offer. The job at the theater was hardly a paycheck, but I liked the challenge. My duties were always different and sometimes daunting, and that was exactly what I wanted. There was no use being afraid of chaos when I loved the excitement. Soon enough, I’m sure I could fight my way out of debt. In the meantime, I had kids and broomsticks to wrangle.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jumping the YA Bandwagon

Since the recent explosion of many hits in the young adult fiction world, several publishers with mainly adult or children's reading material have stepped into the YA genre. Chicago-based publishing house Albert Whitman and Company (most famous for the Boxcar Children series) has been printing children's lit since 1919. This was the first year the company launched a young adult line, "Albert Whitman Teen," which included only two titles: Michael Ford's The Poisoned House and Anna Perera's Guantanamo Boy. Coming Spring 2012 will be Anna Perera's The Glass Collector and Deborah Blumenthal's The Lifeguard. The company says their list of YA titles are "smart, fearless books that explore unchartered territory in the world around teens and in their inner lives as well."

Angry Robot Books, on the other hand, has been printing adult science fiction and fantasy books since 2009. They just announced that, come September 2012, the company will also launch a YA line called "Strange Chemistry," with the hopes to print one YA book a month from there on out.

Many publishing houses are embracing the young adult genre, and it looks like other companies will soon follow!

Friday, November 18, 2011

So It's Like "The Office"...But With Books?

For some teens, the initials BFF stand for "best friends forever." For many others recently, BFF stands for "Backlit Fiction Forward," a new and innovative publishing company for the young adult audience.

"Backlit is a next-generation digital media publishing company that creates eBooks and interactive apps based on original franchises," says the company's Facebook page. It "incubates teen serials as episodic apps and film and television properties." In other words, Backlit makes the equivalent of sitcom eBooks, and release each episode as it is written. Teens then have the opportunity to stay connected more often - they can follow an eBook series the same way they can a television series. "We are reinventing publishing by shortening the path from writer to reader," says Jack Giarraputo, film producer of "Heavyweights," "The Waterboy," and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry" (among many others), and Backlit's creative adviser and lead investor.

The company's first series were recently released: Borrowing Abby Grace; The Start-Up; and The Dig: Zoe and Zeus.

Backlit recognized the habits of today's young adult audience, and saw the untapped opportunity in turning one more thing into a constant supply-and-demand. "Focused on Millennial readers with episodic attention spans," says Market Watch, "Backlit ebook downloads will be released exclusively digitally every few weeks, yet offer significant narrative depth."

The company has even thought further, past the books themselves as a product. They have become not only a self-marketing tool, but also encouraged a kind of "audience participation" to keep readers hooked. Teens will have the upcoming opportunity to win "character walk-on" roles in ebooks, and the Mentors Program will launch in the next weeks, "whereby the publisher will mentor and crowdsource new YA authors to write new episodes."

Backlit has tapped into the growing trends of ebooks and young adults, and supplied a unique experience for teen readers. Upcoming series include Young Americans, Future Perfect, and The Defiants, to be released early next year.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Bittersweet Victory

The 2011 National Book Award Winners were announced last night. Audiences applauded the well-deserved wins:

Fiction: Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones
Non-fiction: Stephan Grenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Poetry: Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split
Young People's Literature: Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again

Five finalists had been chosen for each category. Each finalist won $1,000 and a medal, and each winner received $10,000.

I still wonder, though. After everything that happened in the young adult category with Lauren Myracle's Shine, did Franny Billingsley even have a chance with Chime? (Get caught up with the backstory here). Had too much dust already been kicked up with the two novels? Did the controversy skew the judges final decisions? While National Book Award higher-ups insist that the mix-up "will never happen again," did Chime getting thrown into an unavoidable debate ruining Billingsley's chances?

Regardless, Lai's award-winning YA novel is worthy of the honor and praise it has received. And hopefully the next time Billingsley and Myracle find themselves on the finalist lists for major awards, they will get a fair judging.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter One: "Call me Ishmael."

Books are either memorable or they're not. You either finish reading them or you can't. You either recommend stories or you don't. But the first line certainly makes a difference.

"124 was spiteful" - opening line to Tony Morrison's Beloved.

"All this happened, more or less" - beginning of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.

And how could you refuse: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." (Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex)

First lines prepare you for the story that almost never unfolds the way you thought it would. You meet the narrator who may or may not be reliable. You read that first line and decide, "Am I committed to this book?"

InfoPlease has compiled a list of the 100 best first lines, ranging from 18th century English prose to 1980s gritty text.

Leave a comment with your favorite first book lines!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Read and Write in the World's Top Ten Literary Cities

In their September 2011 issue, National Geographic posted an article about the top 10 literary cities in the world. You can read about recommended travel sites for writers, and about novels that were penned in and about those cities.

In Stockholm, Sweden (#6 on the list), travelers can visit the many places described in Stieg Larsson's popular book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as well as the statue dedicated to Pippi Longstocking author, Astrid Lindgren. On the way out, you can stop by City Hall to check out the location for the annual Nobel Prize dinners.

Number 9 is Melbourne, Australia. There you will find the 200-year-old State Library of Victoria, and exhibits in three galleries. In the back, visit the La Trobe Reading Room, a massive octagon-shaped space covered in engraved quotes by famous authors and classic thinkers. The weekly Saturday book market can be found in Fed Square, close to a bar called the Drunken Poet, where portraits of well-known authors hang on the walls.

If nothing else, stay the night at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon (#7) to get the "Books by Your Bedside" package. This includes a "personal tour of the lodging place's 2,000-volume library, made up entirely of signed books by author guests."

Read the full list of cities and sites here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Kate Cann's "Consumed"

In many current young adult books, settings include either modern-day reality or fantasy life. Rarely do they include both. Kate Cann's 2011 Consumed tells the story of teenager, Rayne, and her new home at a place called Morton's Keep. When I first began reading, I assumed I was starting a book about witches and spells and evil spirits. Well, I was, but the reader learns halfway into the book that just outside of the main action is regular old London, full of coffee shops and gossip and television. Plenty of normal day-to-day events are happening all over the world.

But in Morton's Keep, ancient pagan spirits are about to be released, after being contained for hundreds of years. No one is sure what or whom is behind it, but one thing is clear. Rayne has some sort of connection with the only one who can stop it: a pagan goddess everyone calls "the green lady." Non-stop action and infinite questions consume the reader until the last word.

Structure: 4 out of 5 stars

From page 1, I was intrigued. When the story begins, Rayne has been caught up in some violent love triangle, which concludes in a dungeon fire. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg for both violence and love triangles, as well as a mess of confusion, betrayal, and unlikely friendships. Cann keeps her chapters short. There is never a lull in the story line, and the reader continues to get caught up in the ancient myths.

Though I discovered after I finished the book that Consumed is a sequel to Possessed (and I assume much of the exposition is contained there), I would have liked to see a bit more back story for the new reader here. Many characters were introduced and events referenced right off the bat, and I found myself rereading some pages in the intro chapters to stay afloat. The story itself trapped me in a nice way, but it would have been a smoother read with a couple of extra detailed paragraphs bringing the new reader up-to-date. Overall, though, a great story.

Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rayne and her partner-in-crime, Ethan, lead most of the book, but a group of other characters round out the novel for a fulfilling read. The housekeeper, Mrs. Driver, seems like a background figure, but then takes hold of the last third of the book. The new house manager, Miss Skelton, continues to surprise and aggravate everyone in Morton's Keep until she takes a brutal shift halfway through the story. St. John Arlington, Possessed's antagonist, is an easy write-off as seemingly harmless, having been put to shame at the end of Book One, but then also reappears. And, of course, Ethan's crew of fire festival boys become necessary to the story and to everyone's survival.

Cann gives the reader an incredible group of characters. No one is ever certain who the enemy is, which keeps the cast of misfits on their toes. In a surprising act of agency, the author also leaves the fate of Morton's Keep in the hands of the teenagers; the adults in the story all step back and let the young adults lead.

In the last chapters, Cann references Miss Skelton's eerie past, as well as her niece, Tara's. If the author churns out one more read to make it a trilogy, I would be eager to hear more about some of the darker figures' pasts, and hear the "how" and "why" of their place in Book Two.

Voice: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rayne dominates as the protagonist. She is confident without being cocky, she is cautious without being a wimp. Ethan relies heavily on her to keep the action moving. While a romantic tone follows the story line like a shadow, Rayne rarely lets any kind of stereotypical teenage girl (the kind often projected by the media) show. She is all business, albeit she doesn't mind the handsome company. While the reader trusts her, we don't quite know what is going on inside her head, particularly when she is consumed by sensations of evil.

That was one of the high points of Rayne's tale, honestly. She could walk into a room and feel something wrong, or approach a person and sense their dark thoughts - she is even drawn to different places in the woods or around the Morton's Keep grounds where help is needed, though she can't explain how. I love the way the reader and Rayne find those answers together. Again, I felt a little unknowing about Rayne for the first past of the book (where is her family, how did she get here, why is she alone - all things that were certainly explained in Possessed), but otherwise enjoyed her as the protagonist.

Cann has given readers a great story that isn't overwrought with romance, spells, or a dominating future government, though pieces of those themes do arise. Consumed is unique its place among other YA novels because it neither rejects nor fully embraces reality or fantasy. I recommend this book to readers interested in dark drama, adventure, paganism, and cultural myth.

Consumed was published in February 2011 by Scholastic.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Really Good Authors! Really Bad Titles

People tell you not to judge a book by its cover. Or, for that matter, to reject a book for its title. For many authors, though, creating a captivating title for a new novel is often one of the hardest steps in the writing process. And they are among good company.

The website Flavorwire is one of many to have recently published articles about some of the best worst first titles for famous novels of the past. For example, publishers weren't sure anyone would touch a book called Trimalchio in West Egg, but Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires didn't really work either. So they bounced around One the Road to West Egg. Then someone suggested Under the Red, White, and Blue, and, somewhere towards the end, The High-Bouncing Lover. Before it went to press, F. Scott Fitzgerald finally agreed that The Great Gatsby was the proper name for his new novel.

In the early 1800s, Jane Austen was pretty set on calling her second book First Impressions, but her publisher insisted Pride and Prejudice was more fitting.

William Golding first submitted his novel, Strangers from Within, to Faber and Faber for consideration. An editor suggested Lord of the Flies sounded more enticing.

Not all titles change because they lack aesthetic flare, however. Sometimes authors switch titles to remain unique. The phrase "catch-22?" The one we all use because of Joseph Heller's book of the same name? It was originally Catch-11, but Heller didn't want anyone confusing his novel with the recent release of the original Ocean's Eleven film. Then Heller tried for Catch-18. But Leon Uris' Mila 18 had also just been released. So Catch-22 it was.

Suddenly all the silly names you thought of for your first piece don't seem so strange, do they?

Read the full list of crazy titles here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sendak, Seuss, and Silverstein: Back in the Game

Who says childhood can't go on forever? New books by beloved authors Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein have recently been published. Of the three, only Sendak is around to see his newest book hit stores. But all three new reads have excited fans and been well received.

As with many authors in the past and present, Sendak, Seuss, and Silverstein have seen their fair share of support and disapproval, during their lives and posthumously. Sendak, for instance, met strong criticism with his 1963 classic Where The Wild Things Are. Adults roared that the picture book was too scary for youngsters, even after it won the annual Caldecott Medal in 1964. "It is always the adults we have to contend with," said Harper & Row editor, Ursula Nordstrom. "Most children under the age of 10 will react creatively to the best work of a truly creative person."

Sendak, now 83, just published Bumble-Ardy, about a nine-year-old pig who has never had a birthday party. The opening illustration shows the enthusiastic main character proudly showcasing a newspaper with the top headline: "We Read Banned Books!" Time Magazine calls Bumble-Ardy "yet another mildly subversive children's book by a writer known for pushing - if not the absolute limits, at least poking around their edges." This is Sendak's first written and illustrated book in almost 30 years.

As for Seuss and Silverstein, readers are happy to see the collection of old and dusty words back out in the world. Seuss' new The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories includes seven short stories that were first featured in magazines in 1950 and 1951, and are newly illustrated. Fans can read "Steak for Supper" and "The Strange Shirt Spot," among others.

Silverstein's Every Thing On It features 145 previously unpublished poems. The collection closes with a bittersweet couplet called "When I Am Gone," which resonates differently now that the well-known author has passed:

"When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter - someone new?
Someone better --maybe YOU"

All three authors have contributed in major ways to the scope of children's picture books. They have inspired readers and writers, and will continue to do so as their books live on. As Seuss wrote in I can Read With My Eyes Shut!, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Make It Safer Project

After Dan Savage announced the It Gets Better campaign to provide support for struggling queer youth, the media exploded with video responses. President Obama posted a video about feeling out of place growing up, Sarah Silverman provided a brief and angry clip explaining that bullying stems partly from influential injustices like anti-gay marriage laws and Don't Ask Don't Tell, and Neil Patrick Harris submitted a video encouraging kids that being an individual is way cooler than being average because it makes you unique. A mass of other celebrities, adults, and youth (both queer and not) rallied for It Gets Better. Ninth grader Amelia Roskin-Frazee has taken a slightly different approach.

Roskin-Frazee, an out and proud 14-year-old, began a series of actions in her high school to support queer teens, like founding her school's GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and representing the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network). Her latest idea is the Make It Safer Project.

With the funding from online donations, "the Make It Safer Project provides LGBT books about coming out and life as a queer teen to high school populations across the country," said LGBT entertainment blog Autostraddle. Roskin-Frazee puts together a shipment of ten modern inspirational queer YA novels and texts, and sends the books to high school GSA groups all over the US. She has strict instructions that the texts should only be left in school libraries if the groups are "sure that the library will keep them safe and available for all students."

Books include Nancy Garden's Annie On My Mind, David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, and Chely Wright's Like Me.

The Make It Safer website is a valuable resource for LGBT teens as well, where readers can find stories of struggling peers or submit their own story. You can also see Roskin-Frazee's incredible list of LGBT efforts, including her work with the Give A Damn Campaign, Freedom to Marry, and ThinkB4USpeak. She turns 15-years-old soon.

Roskin-Frazee has accomplished more in the fight for LGBT rights than many politicians, and Dan Savage has transformed the online efforts to support gay teens. With the dual help of It Gets Better and Make It Safer, queer youth now have an abundance of resources that weren't available even two years ago.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Lucy Christopher's "Stolen"

In modern film, television, and literature, a common reason for kidnapping is money. Some greedy thief demands funds from a rich parent or spouse before releasing a hostage. But sixteen-year-old Gemma Toombs has a different problem. When she is stolen from the Bangkok airport and dragged to a ranch in the middle of an Australian desert, her captor has no intention of ever letting her go. Twenty-something Tyler MacFarlane has stalked Toombs for over six years, and now he wants her all to himself. Forever.

Lucy Christopher's novel, Stolen, follows Toombs' excrutiating journey from a coffee shop in Bangkok to MacFarlane's homemade Australian mini-resort. Unlike the 2008 film Taken and other typical violent abduction stories, there is no sex slavery, no rape, no abuse, and no threats in Stolen. In a more terrifying tale of psychology, MacFarlane is simply trying to make Toombs fall in love with him so she will stay with him always.

Structure: 5 out of 5 stars

Christopher had the clever idea to present the novel as a 300-page letter from kidnapee to kidnapper. Toombs doesn't hold back - every moment of uncertainty, every hateful plan, every fleeting (but eerie) loving thought - she spells out exactly what happened in an attempt to deal with her horror. There are no chapters. The book isn't broken into two or three parts. Instead Toombs' letter just flows, with occasional page breaks when she falls asleep or gets overwhelmed. The reader feels Toombs' full gamut of emotions, and watches her story unfold.

Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The majority of the novel revolves around Toombs and MacFarlane. The reader learns about the former's life back in London, and the latter's adventures in the wild. Both characters are dense and complicated, and the reader consumes both life stories. I would have liked to learn more about Toombs' relationship with her parents and best friend, Anna, and about MacFarlane's mother and childhood nanny. All five secondary characters are introduced in a number of ways, but only on a surface level. Overall, the story doesn't lack in character development, but there are certainly questions from the reader by the end of the book.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

While the reader only hears the protagonist's words, plenty of the antagonist's personality, fears, and past show through Toombs' detailed account. Both voices dominate the text in different ways, even if the story is told from just one perspective. At times, I crave to know more about Toombs, more than just her thoughts and the way her body reacts to fear and heat. If the reader could get a glimpse of Toombs' desires, her hopes for the future, her feelings toward her parents, Anna, and a previous love interest, Ben, we would relate to the main character on a more personal level. Overall, though, a strong character narrative.

Christopher has written a chilling story, one that makes you glance over your shoulder and wonder if a stranger is staring at you. I recommend this book for readers interested in thrillers and dramas, and look forward to more works from Christopher.

Stolen was published in 2009 by Scholastic.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

E-Book Covers of the Future!

Electronic books are still a new-ish commodity, and already there are innovations on the horizon. UK children and YA publishing house Walker Books just announced their new plan for upcoming e-books: interactive book covers.

For its February publication of Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan, Walker Books will provide an e-book cover of the novel which responds to the reader's touch. Literary agent, Jonny Geller, tweeted in response: are interactive covers "better than a book trailer?"

Regardless, here is a bit about Hogan's debut novel (which of course fits perfectly with the clock switch from over the weekend), as per the online blog GalleryCat:

"Today, in fact right this second, the clocks are going back an hour. For most of us, this is a fantastic day as it means we get an extra hour to stay wrapped under the duvet, safe in our beds. But for one of the mean characters in Edward Hogan's debut young adult novel, Daylight Saving, this time of year brings nothing but's a thriller ghost story by a new voice in YA fiction that will have you utterly gripped. We can also tell you that this very night, when the clocks go back, is one that fills the characters with dread."

To win a chance to own an early copy of the book, leave a comment about your reaction to the innovative cover on the Under Cover Reads blog.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Online Publishing for Up and Coming Authors

In the new wave of e-books and self-publishing, authors are encouraged to not only hone their written word, but also begin to develop their publicity and marketing skills. Online publishing. Self-publishing. The new phenomenon doesn't seem like a trend - it's likely that it's here to stay. "A professional writer is a very small business of one person," said children's author Hazel Edwards (There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake). "A solo trader in literary ideas. Those who are not buinsesslike are unlikely to survive."

Edwards, like many new children, YA, and adult authors, has skipped print publication altogether for the last few years and instead taken advantage of the new opportunities available online. By self-publishing, Edwards is responsible for maintaining her product and marketing it all on her own. But instead of the traditional 10 percent royalties an author receives through a publisher, Edwards earns closer to 35 percent of all royalties and sales.

"Authors can't earn a full-time wage from publishers' advances and royalties or fees from public speaking or freelance writing engagements," the Sydney Morning Herald recently stated. It is frustrating for non-celebrity authors who aren't household names, and often hard to make much of a profit. Self-publishing just might be the way to go. Take online publishing guru, Amanda Hocking.

After searching in vain for a publisher to take her fantasy YA novels, Hocking decided in March 2010 to just publish the books online as e-books. By May, sales were skyrocketing. B January of this year, she sold more than 450,000 copies of her books. While online publishing wasn't the only way to get her books into readers' hands, it definitely did the trick

"I can't really say that I would have been more successful if I'd gone with a traditional publisher," Hocking told USA Today in a recent interview. "But I know this is really working well for me." The online route isn't necessarily the only way to go forever, however. Even after all the success of the last year and a half, Hocking still recently signed with a print publisher because "her readers couldn't find her on bookstore shelves."

So publishing is a mixed bag right now. Some authors will continue to pursue Scholastic, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster, while others will try their own hand at Amazon publishing in the recent future. One thing is certain: writers certainly have more options and agency than ever before - they just need to taken advantage of the opportunities available.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: Jessica Lee Anderson's "Border Crossing"

Isaiah Luis "Manz" Martinez is not the typical narrator of a YA book. He is not dealing with problems at school, parents who don't understand him, or feeling awkward around girls; Manz is just struggling to make sense of the voices in his head. Uneducated, scraping by with odd jobs, and mourning the loss of a dead father and half-brother, fifteen-year-old Manz tries to support his drunken mother and his best friend, Jed. But Manz just wants the voices to stop. In a modern-day Bell Jar meets Border Patrol, Jessica Lee Anderson's 2009 Border Crossing takes the reader on an adventure through Manz's mind.

Structure: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The book is broken up nicely by chapters, which are more like episodes of a drama. Each one is emotionally charged and typically doesn't end well. Manz begins a new job on a ranch, stalks out on fights with his mother, bereaves his dead brother, helps Jed escape his abusive father, meets a girl but then doesn't know what to do, and tries to withstand the growing voices, noises, shadows, and smells that torture his thoughts.

The novel kept me reading, but sometimes because I was confused. It almost felt that I hadn't quite processed one chapter when the next one began. I would have liked to see less but longer chapters - I feel the story might have been a bit stronger with fewer conflicts and more details. Still a great read.

Characters: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I really felt like I knew the protagonist. The reader is so far into Manz's head that the reader becomes almost paranoid. Run! They are after you! was a frequent thought by the second half of the book, even though I knew no one was after Manz. His best friend, Jed, also leads a spontaneous and chaotic life. I would have liked to know more about him, or his sister, Sally. Manz's mother, Delores, is introduced but not quite fleshed out, and neither is Manz's stepfather, Tom. Anderson creates distinctive and intriguing characters, but then the reader only really gets to know Manz. However, each character clearly had their own story to tell - perhaps this sets Anderson up nicely for sequels.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

Not only does Manz offer a fascinating story, but he also presents a different voice, one not frequently found in Young Adult literature. Again, Manz isn't dealing with the typical teen YA drama. No teachers. No principals. No college applications. No messy break-ups. Manz is simply dealing with himself - his own brain. Anderson writes in a chilling manner. It is not hard to imagine what two minutes in Manz's head might sound like.

As a reader, I could empathize with Manz, but I didn't trust him and couldn't follow him at points. Unlike other unreliable narrators, I wasn't sure when Manz was hallucinating or not. While this is a powerful technique to get inside the narrator's head, it sometimes unsettled me. Every so often, I felt like I was out of the loop. Again, this may have been purposeful on the part of the author to get the reader into the narrator's shoes.

Overall, Anderson writes a brilliant piece. She has tried something different in the world of YA and, for the most part, it works. Apart from the psychoanalytical aspect of Manz's life, the author also introduces topics that have, thus far, gone mainly untouched in YA - things like immigration, poverty, and self-abuse. I recommend this book for any avid young adult reader.

Anderson is also the author of Trudy (Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature) and Calli, which was just published in mid-September.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Reviewing John Green's Debut Novel While Readers Await His Newest Book

"I go to seek the Great Perhaps." Last words by French writer, doctor, and philosopher Francois Rabelais, and the driving force for teenager Miles Halter.

John Green's 2005 debut novel Looking for Alaska follows Miles into bordering school at Culver Creek, where he merely expected to study, sleep, and occasionally seek adventure - "the Great Perhaps." But instead Miles finds his first group of friends, his first opportunity to get in trouble, and his first chance to trust other people.

Structure: 5 out of 5 stars

Green sets up his book perfectly. There are no chapters, but the novel is split into "Before" and "After." Each section of text is labeled something like "eighty-nine days before" in the first half or "one-hundred and three days after" in the second half. The reader spends the first part of the novel trying to guess what the event will be. This is x number of days before what? Is it about a class? A girl? A loved one? A natural disaster? Sex?

Once the event occurs - something that could easily have been the climax and end to any book - Green continues to hold the reader for another 180 pages as the characters unfold the why now that they know the what. As a reader I was intrigued, shocked, and entirely satisfied.

Characters: 4 out of 5 stars

The protagonist, Miles, meets his roommate, the Colonel, and the "hottest girl he's ever seen," Alaska. The trio become quick friends. Green creates three entirely unique personalities, who all hold distinctive qualities - Miles and his obsession with famous last words, Alaska and her poetry, the Colonel and his almanac - but share the same passion and fervor for life.

The trio encounters all sorts of allies and enemies, and I would have liked to get to know some of them better. Green only touches on Lara and Takumi and the Weekday Warrior, Kevin, and leaves the reader wondering a bit about those stories, too. Because the author delves so deeply into the three main characters, I recognize there wasn't a lot of time to do more than skim the surface with anyone else. Maybe a future book will quench the reader's curiosity.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

Miles starts his time at Culver Creek as a quiet, nerdy boy who claims he couldn't care less about most things. Even after meeting his companions, getting pranked on his first night on campus, and settling into school, Miles doesn't seem to transform. But suddenly the growth begins. Miles changes his perspective. He lets go of fears he didn't realize he had. He takes risks. He gets hurt. He feels the adrenaline, the marrow of life. My only wish is that the reader could have occasionally heard what was going on in the Colonel's head, or Alaska's. Or maybe Green's book is stronger while the reader just speculates on in the inner workings of their minds.

Overall, I adored this book from cover to cover. The before and the after. While readers wait patiently for Green's newest novel, The Fault In Our Stars - to be released in March or April 2012 - Green fans anticipate another great set of characters and original voice by protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster (the author's first girl narrator).

Watch Green read the first chapter of The Fault In Our Stars here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blog Post Spurs Instant Debate: Writer Tells Parents to Keep Their Kids in the Closet

The Houston Chronicle recently posted an article by Mommy blogger Kathleen McKinley, a self-professed Christian and conservative activist. McKinley had expressed her distain and horror over all the gay teen suicides as of late. Her advice? Tell queer kids not to come out.

"There is NO reason to flaunt sexuality of ANY kind that young," McKinley wrote. "If my 13 yr old had told me he was gay, I would have hugged him...I would tell him that he could always talk to me about his feelings, but for now I would want him to see if he likes playing trumpet in the band. I would encourage him to join the debate team, hang out with friends...ENJOY LIFE. Your sexuality isn't your life."

I wonder how 13 year old Seth Walsh would have responded if his mother said, "Your sexuality isn't your life." Would that have fixed Seth's depression? Would bullies have ignored Seth if he had ignored himself? Would he still have hung himself from a tree in Tehachapi, California?

Or eighth grad Asher Brown - would he have shot himself if he had pretended he wasn't gay? Brown's family, who said he was "bullied to death," told reporters that kids taunted Brown for being gay and some of them "performed mock gay acts on him" during gym class.

Everyone has the right to their own opinion. McKinley's blog post reflects her passion that parents are responsible for queer young adult suicides. I would like to respectfully respond that telling kids to bottle up emotion cannot end well. In the same way, if a teenager approached her parents about pursuing sculpting, facing puberty, fear of spiders, depression, a friend's personal rape story - would it be a smart idea in any of those cases to say, "Just don't think about it. Bring that up again in ten years?"

Moreover, McKinley disregards the influence of bullies. If she were to have said that parents are to blame because they haven't taught their children how to not be a bully, I am confident she would have gained instant support from readers. McKinley has the right idea. Parents might be a source of dramatic change, but their influence would be much more effective teaching kids to accept one another rather than teaching kids to avoid their "adult problems," as McKinley puts it.

In the few hours since her blog post went live, McKinley has been bombarded with negative feedback, as well as a few supporters. The debate continues to unfold on the Houston Chronicle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Boy Meets Boy: Adding Queer Texts To Mandatory School Reading

Everyone is familiar with required reading lists. It starts somewhere in elementary school with books like Out of the Dust and Number the Stars, and expands as time goes on into To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, and Brave New World. Educational institutions try to introduce as many cultures, time periods, and ethnicities to growing adolescents. Young adults are required to read about diversity.

Recent debates revolve around the expansion of that diversity in required reading - do queer characters have a place on school lists? Alasdair Duncan, author of Sushi Central (later published as Dance, Recover, Repeat), recently spoke on a panel called Boy Meets Boy at the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle, Australia, which "centered...on whether it is possible - or even necessary - for novels with queer protagonists to find a meaningful place on school reading lists." The discussion prompted Duncan to think about how he felt about required reading during high school. Read Duncan's reflection here.

Growing up, the author explains that he, like many of his peers, didn't pay much attention to books they were forced to read. He indulged in required texts, answered the appropriate questions, and then forgot about the novels. The books that stuck with him, he said, were "the books [he] sought out all on [his] own...those are the ones that stayed with [him] and shaped [his] love of good writing." Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero was at the top of Duncan's personal reading list.

He discovered Less Than Zero as a young adult and read its pages as if it were the adolescent Bible. "I didn't know at the time that going through a Less Than Zero phase was a rite of passage for smart, weird teenagers everywhere," Duncan said. "I thought it was just me, and that made the prose and the characters seem that much more alive." It was around this time that Duncan wrote the first draft of his now published book, Sushi Central.

So when the National Young Writers Festival panel came to the conclusion that the time and place for LGBT protagonists on required reading lists was "not any time soon," and that the threat of "concerned parents kicking up a stink" was enough to keep queer novels off school lists, Duncan was disappointed but not dejected. After all, he himself didn't care much about the books he was forced to read. As an LGBT author, he feels that the opportunity for teens to find his work, as well as other influential gay novels, is almost better when young adults are not required to read those texts. "If a kid like I once was happens upon my book somewhere and it opens their eyes to something new or makes their world a more interesting place," Duncan said. "Then I think I've done what I set out to do."

Even so, I'm confident that Duncan - and for that matter Alex Sanchez, David Levithan, Martin Wilson, and many others - look forward to a time when required reading lists at school include diversity of not only cultures and genres, but also sexualities and LGBT experiences.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Enduring Middle School with the Occasional Wallflower

Inspired by a fourteen-year-old caller who signed her anonymous message because she "didn't want the kids to judge [her] or anything if they heard [her] on the radio," the most recent episode of This American Life was about surviving middle school. Ira Glass talked about six different facets of the awkward and terrifying time between elementary school and high school. Reporters dove into middle school dances, and spoke with new kids attending new schools. The episode included interviews with educators, parents, students, and their peers.

WBEZ producer Alex Blumberg is a former Chicago middle school teacher and spoke about what he saw from his students. "I don't know if they learned anything," Blumberg said. "They are so consumed with learning all these other lessons about where they fit in, in the social order, and how their bodies are now working and...who they're attracted to, and who they're going to be, that facts and figures and geography, and all the other stuff that you teach in school, it just doesn't even penetrate." So what about the other influences for pre-teens at this time? If not textbooks, than what about the effects of peers? Of parents? Of the media? What about books? How do fictional characters affect an adolescent, especially during these crucial growth years?

Linda Perlstein, author of Not Much, Just Chillin', The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers, talked about the developmental changes during middle school. "This is the time of biggest growth for a human being [age 11 for girls and age 12 for boys], aside from infancy," Perlstein said. "Your brain, your gray matter - during the middle school years, what happens in your early stages of puberty is this fast overproduction of brain cells and connections...and the ones that last are the ones you exercise more" on a day-to-day basis. In other words, those cells are the ones that withstand and shape your brain as it turns into "the adult you." Perlstein explained that activities, talents, habits, and ideas that are formed during these peak years are "embossed into your existence."

Look at the massive changes which take place for pre-teens. Consider the amount of chaos middle schoolers face every moment, and then think about where those young adults turn for answers and support. Friends. Internet. Television. Literature.

How have Judy Blume's Katherine Danziger from Forever and Robert Cormier's Jerry Renault from The Chocolate War affected the growth and development of budding teens? J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye has sold more than 65 million copies. How many middle schoolers have looked to Holden Caulfield for advice? How many kids have refused to listen to their parents, teachers, and counselors, but have found solace in Caulfield's determination, confusion, and frustration? How often do kids read about Caulfield's adventures and nod their heads in understanding when the character explains, "I don't even know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like it."

At twelve years old, I was nerdy, quiet, and passionate about the school newspaper and musical theater. I found my first copy of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower that year, the same copy I still have to this day. I remember reading late into the night and feeling as if I was the only person who understood what Chbosky meant. "Sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book," the protagonist Charlie said. Some days, I did think I was Charlie. Days when I was confused or sad or feeling out of place in my conservative Catholic grade school, I would find support in his struggles. "I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what's wrong with me," he wrote. "Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense."

Middle school was a whirlwind of emotion. I felt like we were all constantly on our toes - my peers and I - trying to be one step ahead of rumors, ahead of whispered comments, ahead of gossip and judgement and drama. I was not alone in finding encouragement in books. Even now - especially now - as I work with youth, I see the same trend. Kids are comforted by the people who "get it." More often than not, those people are individuals with whom teens have no physical contact - movie stars, singers, fictional characters on TV, film, and the pages of a book. But the lack of physicality certainly doesn't detract from the intimacy young adults feel. Those are the people who understand. Those are the people who confirm what life is like. "Sam and Patrick looked at me," Charlie wrote in Wallflower. "And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that's all you can ever ask from a friend."

Middle school kids will continue to grow, change, develop, and fear what is coming next. I am happy to see that young adult authors have provided reliable resources to help. Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Irving - among many others - offer characters who "get it."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Matched By Force, Crossed By Choice

Ally Condie's Matched was published in November 2010 to great success. While her debut novel (the first in a trilogy) reads mostly like any another dystopian novel, I think Condie makes a powerful political statement.

Matched takes place in a strict government society in (where else) post-Apocalyptic America. Everything has been devised by scientific formula. The government sends you your food, your career, and your partner. No one eats the same thing because no one needs the exact same number of vitamins. The career that makes most effecient sense based on your body's strengths and weaknesses is given to you. And no one has a say in life mates - at age seventeen, all teens are "matched." That is to say, they are all placed with the respective man or woman (no room for queer folks in this book, which is aggravating) with whom the most healthy offspring can result.

The main character, Cassia, is faced with an interesting scenario. She is accidentally matched with two boys - her best friend, Xander, and a mysterious stranger, Ky. While the first is a great guy, the second becomes a new friend. Both understand and love Cassia. She must discover the right thing to do, whether it is legal or not.

As a whole, I am fiercely opposed to most of this book. This is a man/woman society only. There are no allusions to queer citizens, and no seeming issues with this rule. The author presents a roomful of giggling girls who get dressed up in fancy gowns and cannot wait to see the handsome man they are to wed. Jane Austen and I are nursing our aching eyes.

On top of that, Condie presents the reader with the most stereotypical situation known to teenage pop culture. Nice girl with a nice boyfriend meets an attractive, enigmatic stranger and must decide what to do: stick with the man she knows or pursue the man she wants to know. This relationship - not the abusive, manipulative government - consumes Cassia's thoughts. This love triangle is the driving force for change. Condie has surrendered her script to a patriarchal society, and that is a shame.

Gender roles temporarily aside, I am satisfied with what Condie has done with the source of passion. In this world of no questions, the author has given the protagonist a choice. Maybe the first choice of her entire life. And the choice is not between good and evil - it's between good and good. Between two potential life partners. Once Cassia is faced with this initial choice, more moral questions are thrown in her tracks. She must choose. Not knowing the outcome, not knowing whose life could potentially be at risk, Cassia is given the responsibility and agency to choose.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Condie spoke about the importance of a woman's - or simply a young adult's - choice. "It's one thing to say, 'I choose love, I choose freedom,'" Condie said. "But we need to see her doing something about that." Choice is not only about verbal affirmation, but about action. Condie's characters start to take action; even Cassia's complacent mother begins to take initiative. Once Cassia decides that a life of independence is what she wants, she begins to take small steps toward that goal with the help of those around her. The desire for change drives and unites that team of folks.

Matched ends with Cassia's multitude of decisions and the repercussions of each. The reader is left with Cassia secretly on the prowl for the elements of her new life - mainly, Ky, which is how Crossed (Condie's sequel) opens. While Matched was only in Cassia's voice, the second novel is written from the perspective of both Cassia and Ky, who are seeking in each other in a new and foreign land. Listen to Condie talk about the two books here.

The Compulsive Reader promises that Crossed is a "much more philosophical and thoughtful book" than its predecessor. I hope that means the women in Condie's second novel drop the damsel in distress theme, which they have begun to do so towards the end of the first. The cover art already speaks volumes about change - while Matched displays Cassia trapped in a bubble, Crossed depicts the protagonist bursting through that bubble, demanding freedom.

I recognize that not every author can tackle every social issue - so maybe this wasn't the trilogy to engage in a political conversation regarding sexuality, although I feel Condie could have easily hinted towards such in small ways. That aside, it looks like Crossed contains a much more independent, questioning, and strong central character than Matched did.

Crossed hit stores today. Buy a copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.