Friday, February 27, 2015

Jasmine's launch party 002

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Jasmine Warga's debut novel MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. It was held at a local Barnes & Noble that Jasmine frequented as a teen herself. Throughout the evening, the crowd kept growing and growing, filling the room with family, friends, and fans. The event coordinator later revealed that this was their largest turnout ever!

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Jasmine (left) speaking with a young fan who approached her before the event.
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Me (left), Jasmine, and fellow Cincinnati author Kate Hattemer.
Other writer-friends in attendance included Emery Lord, Becky Albertalli, and Adam Silvera.
Jasmine's launch party 006 Jasmine's launch party 005
The growing crowd. This is maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of its final size? It was standing room only!

With a book as thoughtful and heartfelt as MHAOBH, it's no surprise that people were lining up to listen to what Jasmine had to say. Here are a few highlights from her brief talk and the Q&A session afterward:

Jasmine's launch party 008• Jasmine didn't specifically decide to write a Young Adult story. She just followed the voice of the protagonist that came into her head, who happened to be 16. There is also an immediacy of emotion when you're a teenager, which Jasmine enjoys and thought would work well for the story she needed to tell.

• Jasmine used humor to make the sad/hard things in her story more accessible to readers. She herself has always been drawn to black comedy. Furthermore: "When I was a teen, I read really really dark stuff -- so this seems light compared to that!"

• One audience member asked, "Did you ever want to write [Aysel] out of being suicidal?" Jasmine considered this for a moment, then responded that because of her affection for Aysel, of course she wanted to rescue and protect her protagonist. But even stronger than that feeling was Jasmine's resolve to portray Aysel authentically, which meant letting her stumble and suffer. Jasmine added, "As a society we really stigmatize depression -- and [we have] this fear that if we talk about depression, we're going to make it contagious." Part of her motivation with MHAOBH was to debunk that myth and foster that important conversation.

• In terms of her working style, Jasmine prefers not to plot because she writes to discover, and she uses the sense of mystery to carry her through the process. She also likes to jot story notes on her phone. When asked if she was working on a second book, she said yes and added, "If anyone is passing this on to my agent or editor, it's going really well!"

• Jasmine's dad really wanted her to be a doctor. "But I think this turned out all right," she joked.

• Even though she followed her own heart instead of her father's, Jasmine did worry that her dream of being an author was "too big." She credits her husband for having faith and encouraging her even when she wavered and considered doing something more stable.

I have many other notes from the night, but I think you get the gist. Jasmine was the perfect combination of funny and insightful -- just like her book.

Interestingly, the most obvious element of diversity -- Aysel's Turkish heritage -- was not a focal point of the conversation. As we discussed in our YA Diversity Book Club chat, that's actually a good thing in this case, because it signals how organic that element was to the character and story. Race doesn't stick out -- and doesn't need to -- here. It just is.

For more on MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, be sure to check out all of our features:

The group's discussion of MHAOBH at Teen Lit Rocks
The Q&A with Jasmine Warga at Gone Pecan
"I Will Follow You into the Dark: Mental Illness in YA" at the Reading Date

PS: Guess who sold out this entire stack of books?

Jasmine's launch party 001

Jasmine's launch party 012

Do you have a post about MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES? Link up here!

Next month we're reading BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein. Please feel free to join us! You can also see the full archive of YADBC posts and our #YADiversityBookClub tweets.

Sunday, February 22, 2015
Once upon a time, I was a student of English Literature. And in my studies (and even before that) I read and analysed good examples of literary theory and device. The purpose was not to limit the texts that I was exposed to, but to see what has been done in the past and then to relate to what is considered good practice in modern literature. It was a foundation of critique.

Some of these texts were universally hated*, even though they were necessary for study. I don't love ANIMAL FARM, for instance, but it is a good example of allegory. Similarly, I don't know many people who re-read HEART OF DARKNESS for fun, you know? But there's some reason we study it. I can't remember. That's how much that book has impacted my cognitive life. It's created a giant BLANK in my memory.

However, what has fascinated me more than the texts that people hate to read (and study) are those that are universally loved*. Shakespeare, Milton, Atwood, Morrison, King, Tolkien, Dahl, Martin, Rowling...Rowell.

During the breaks in lectures on William Blake (a favourite*), my fellow students would be murmuring about Bridget Jones or gasp Harry Potter. I was serious, back then. I was building a foundation of critique. I wouldn't be caught dead with romance or a children's book. And yet...

Popularity is captivating. Compelling. We wants it.

I read them in secret.

So whether my professors liked it or not, Popular Fiction went into the mortar. I would argue that it made my foundations stronger. Because while we need books that are good examples, that nourish our thinking minds, we need books that elicit emotion (no matter how base), help us escape, show us paths that aren't always apparent. To entertain. To illuminate with flights of fancy within the safety of a construct.

More and more these days, I feel that literature is in need of some "levellers." Forget award winners, bestsellers and classics and give me a book that: speaks to our times, our experience, a book that entertains, is weird, unprecedented, absolutely obvious, makes me think and see the world differently.

I wish this for writers.

Be brave.

Forget the lists. Forget the awards. Forget popularity. Tell us a story. Your best story. And you will be read.

*up for debate, obvs.
Thursday, February 12, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Margot at Epic Reads created a book tag on YouTube.

This week a couple of us made a video response. Take a look!

Watch the original video:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is your favorite book you've read in one sitting?

Sarah: I can't remember the last book that I read in one go! Jane Eyre.

Kristan: Hmm, I can't remember the last book I read in one sitting either. Honestly I think that's more a testament to how fractured our daily lives/attention can be, versus the quality of what I've been reading.

Anyway, the last book I devoured in 1 or 2 days was BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE by Maggie Stiefvater. She sucked me into her world, and I never wanted to leave!

Ingrid: Omigosh, what I would give for the luxury of time to read a whole book in one sitting! I used to do that a lot as a teenager, but the closest thing lately would be when I re-read (or actually, re-skimmed) THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh a few weeks ago. Love that book!

Stephanie: I have never read a book in one sitting. Not ever. I always think you guys must be crazy, or else superhuman readers, when you say you read something in one sitting, or even in one day. (Hence my reason for wanting to ask this question.)

I think the last book I read in less than 24 hours was Mockingjay.

Can you read a book in one sitting? When was the last time you burned through a book in a day?
Friday, January 30, 2015

The Way We Bared Our SoulsTo start the year, YA Diversity Book Club read THE WAY WE BARED OUR SOULS by Willa Strayhorn. (From Kirkus: “Five New Mexico teens undergo a soul-cleansing ritual, with varied results.”) We had a lively discussion about it, which you can read over at Gone Pecan. We also got to hear more from Strayhorn about how she came up with the idea and wrote the book, which you can read at Teen Lit Rocks. And at the Reading Date, you can get recommendations for some excellent Native American YA lit.

As for me, here, today, I actually wanted to discuss something I’ve been thinking about ever since I read a discussion between friends P.E. and Mari at the Sirenic Codex. A few highlights:

- “I will read what catches my eye and if I should start reading diverse books, then those diverse books better start working for my attention.”

- “Publishers will only promote books if they believe there is a market for them, and I think readers must be active in deliberately seeking out diverse books.”

- “I read to enjoy myself and if a book with no evident diversity offers that for me then that's where my ship sails.”

Both girls make fair points and gave me a lot to think about. Ultimately, my opinion is this: Diversity is real and unavoidable. It is the world we live in. Therefore, everyone — publishers, authors, and readers — has a responsibility to foster the success of diverse books.

But diversity will not automatically make a book successful.

Of course it won’t. Simply adding a character of color, or a queer character, or a handicapped character, or whatever — this will not magically ensure that a plot is interesting, prose is lyrical, or themes are resonant. 

But guess what? That’s no different than non-diverse books. No matter what book you pick up, there are no guarantees that you’re going to love it.

And maybe there shouldn’t be. In the words of Rainbow Rowell:

Non-diverse books have had a long history of possibly entertaining you or possibly not, and now diverse books should get that equal chance too. 

Whether or not you end up loving a diverse book is (somewhat) beside the point. Because that’s what equal chance means. A fair opportunity to succeed or fail. To be loved or loathed. To be cherished or thrown across the room.

Equal chance does not mean being diversity-blind. Think of it this way: Just like your body needs a balanced diet, so too does your mind. Actively seeking out diverse books is no different than making sure you eat something from each category of the food pyramid.

(Do they still call it the food pyramid anymore? Well, you know what I mean.)

I must add one more very important note: The most important criteria for a diverse book, in my opinion, is that the diversity within it be truthful. That means well-researched and accurately and respectfully represented. There will always be some degree of leeway, due to everyone's individual experiences being different, even within a group. But it’s usually pretty easy to tell when someone has appropriated diversity for their own gain. Or when someone has inserted diversity as a token gesture rather than something inherent and enriching to the story. Or even, unfortunately, when someone has simply not done a good enough job of researching and/or representing.

* * *

If you’re interested in reading more about why diverse books are important and what standards they should be held to, Book Riot is doing a great series on Reading Diversely.

And as always, you can find more (traditional) YA Diversity Book Club content here:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Since I haven't had much time to watch movies lately, I am frighteningly out of the loop. But one night over the holidays my sister brought out THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, insisting I would love it.

She was right. I ended up watching it again the very next day, in fact. The film was endearing and heartwarming, much like Mitty himself. Even though there are not many young adults in the film, it felt very much like a coming-of-age story. Except that instead of a confused, self-conscious teen, the protagonist was a quiet, unassuming middle-aged man who spent his free time caring for his aging mother, pining for a pretty co-worker, and daydreaming of adventure.

When Mitty finally embarked on some real adventures of his own, I felt like a supportive parent shouting, "You go, Walter!" Yes, the adventures were far-fetched (i.e., jumping from a helicopter into shark-infested waters off the coast of Greenland), but somehow it all came off as charming and delightful instead of annoying.

MITTY, starring Ben Stiller (who also directed the film), was understated and carefully executed. The cinematography was cleverly artistic and the scenery breathtaking. I still get goosebumps thinking about Mitty skateboarding down that deserted highway in Iceland. With a great soundtrack and supporting cast that includes Shirley MacLain, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott and Sean Penn, the movie is quiet and profound, humorous and quirky and surprisingly sweet, all at once...

The film was based on a four-page short story written by James Thurber in 1939, so I immediately tracked down the original story and gobbled it up. Of course, Stiller took a lot of creative license creating his version of a modern-day Mitty adventure. All I can say is, it totally worked.

Have you seen this movie yet or read the short story? What did you think?
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What are you reading right now?

Kristan: What am I NOT reading right now? Hah!

After years of monogamy, I've somehow found myself constantly three-timing. That is, reading a print book, reading an ebook, and reading an audiobook at the same time. Right now:

Print: MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga (because she's my good friend, and because it's the YA Diversity Book Club pick for February)

Electronic: SIDDHARTHA by Hermann Hesse (for a book club)

Audio: THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES by Carrie Ryan (because I read and enjoyed the first two in the series a while ago)

Stephanie: I am reading (well, listening to) Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, and I'm so excited! It's taken me forever to get around to starting it. I can't wait to see how it ends.

Ingrid: You caught me in between books... I just finished reading DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater and am about to begin the audio version of CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. Yay, books!

Kristan: Oh I love CODE NAME VERITY. To this day, it's the one sure thing that can make me cry. I just have to think about a certain scene, a certain line... *wipes away tears* But it's a slow burner, just FYI.

So where is your bookmark living right now?
Thursday, January 15, 2015
It's impossible to read all of the things.

We all know this (to our slight devastation) and perhaps as a result, we choose books that have made the award lists or had starred reviews or are climbing the best seller charts...we don't want to miss something truly great or entertaining. The readers that I admire (and this is most young people that I work with every day) are the ones who choose by cover or by reading the jacket copy. I love discovering their interests as they browse and decide after reading the first few pages.

It's the merit of the words that draw them in.

Similarly (and perhaps for the majority of us), we choose reading materials because of word of mouth. I'm not talking about the juggernaut that is a "blog tour" where everyone is saying basically the same thing over a host of sites. I'm talking about being so moved by a book that you HAVE to tell someone. This is where all of us Book Bloggers started. We had THINGS to say in response to story. It wasn't prescribed for us. We didn't have obligations or commitments. We read our own picks and then talked about it with each other.

I have nothing against marketing from book publishers. They've got a job to do and are just as successful as anyone else at creating buzz for a book (I mean, who knows what's going to be big?!)But I have this crazy, inherent belief that if a book is doing it's story job then someone is going to want to discuss it. Maybe not everyone. Maybe not all at once. There's loads of us still catching up on titles from five years ago.


But if you are going to be discerning with that beast of a tbr pile, you can not go wrong with these...

CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

"Love doesn't always look nice."

I know, I know, what took me so long? It won the Morris last year (I've read nearly all of the nominees and winners since YALSA began shorlisting for this award) and was released in 2013, but I've only just managed to catch up with this one. If you have read JELLICOE ROAD and got past the first 100 pages...If you have read CHIME or WE WERE LIARS and decided to believe the narrator even if you didn't think you should...Then you are prepared for this book.
My advice: Go with the flow. Appreciate the flow, but realise you have no idea where the flow is going. And, by all means, guess along the way, but commit to those guesses like you would a George R. R. Martin character--knowing that they won't make it to the end. This book has carved out a space in my brain, has proceeded to crawl in...and I'm inclined to let it stay.

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell

"Never ignore an impossible."

It's been a while since I read a Middle Grade book. And I'll admit this one is a cheat for a site declaring We Heart YA. Well call me Cheater McCheaterson because this book needs to be on your radar, bumping up your pile, in your hands and, might I suggest next to your pillow (a spot previously occupied by GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and other beloved books I have trouble leaving on the shelf). I've read this book twice already in the space of a week and I'm taking a slower pace this time so that I can enjoy every crumb. It is, in a word, exquisite. It has charm, wit, adventure, perspective, wildness in an urban setting...and never have I wished to eat sausages roasted over a fire, by rooftop and weathervane, paired with homemade tomato soup, until this book. Magic.

So tell me: have you read these? Are you willing to gush with me? If not, what is stopping you?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What are your reading and writing goals for this year?


Reading — Just finding time to read more books would be enough for me.

Writing — Finish (latest) rewrite of my current WIP. Query. While querying, work on the next project. Also, I'd like to write a few short stories this year.


I don't know! Not a goal-oriented person, but I would like to finish my current project and draft some new words in a new surrounding. In the meantime, I'm going to read to my heart's content.


Reading goal — 3 books per month. I aimed for 40 last year and fell a few short, so I thought 36 might be a good compromise, in terms of recognizing my constraints but also pushing myself a bit.

Writing goal — PUT IN THE WORK. That's it. I know I can't control the outcomes of my writing, I can only put in the effort, enjoy the effort, and value the effort as its own success. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

(And yeah, more short stories, like Ingrid said, haha.)


My reading goals are to finish at least two audio books a month, because audio books are what's feasible with my crazy schedule. And to read one physical book per month.

My write goal, for now, is to sit down and write at least one day a week. Hopefully that number will get bigger as the year goes on.


And one more reading goal for me is to revisit some of the classics that I read loooong ago or never read in the first place. I'm starting with Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME.

What are your goals this year?

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about us

Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.




on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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