Friday, March 20, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Back in the early days of our blog, we posted about the importance of the first lines of a book. They serve a pretty major purpose, after all: to intrigue, draw you into the world, and (hopefully) hook you with their brilliance and lyricism.

But what about those famous -- or just really awesome -- last words? The ones that stay with you for hours, or even weeks following the end of the story. The ones that give you the flutters in your belly. Like Henry David Thoreau's from Walden: "The sun is but a morning star." Or the way Dickens ended A Tale of Two Cities: "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

In the spirit of honoring all authors and all the wonderful last lines out there, I've put together a fun little quiz. I'll provide the last line and you provide the name of the book/author. (Hint: Most of these are YA books, but not all!)

List as many answers as you know (without googling them) in the comments section and you'll be entered to win your choice of one of the following two books: 

HOUSE OF IVY AND SORROW by Natalie Whipple 
 
THE WAY WE BARED OUR SOULS by Willa Strayhorn 





As Jeff Probst would say, "Worth playing for?" Okay, let's get to it...

1. "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

2. "All was well." 

3. "I squared my shoulders and walked forward to meet my fate, with my destiny solidly at my side."

4. "I wasn't sure what I could give, not just yet. But I knew when I told her about the comet, years from now, I would know. And I would lean close to her ear, saying the words no one else could hear, explaining it all. The language of solace, and comets, and the girls we all become, in the end."

5. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

6. "Because love, it never dies, it never goes away, it never fades, so long as you hang onto it. Love can make you immortal." 

7. A last note from your narrator: "I am haunted by humans"

That's it ~ have fun!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In February, I returned to my mom's home country of Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. It was a great trip, and I'll be blogging more about the food, the sights, and my family over on my own website. But here, I just want to talk about the flights. Why the flights?

Because YA.

Getting to Taiwan required 3 separate flights, altogether totaling (with layovers) about 36 hours of travel. And it was the same coming back. That's... a lot of time. Fortunately, transoceanic planes are now usually equipped with personal entertainment centers. So while my neck, back, and butt still had to suffer through the long ride on those uncomfortable seats, at least my mind was pleasantly occupied.

The Fault in Our Stars

Confession: This movie was just so-so for me.

(Please don't hurt me! I loved the book!)

Don't get me wrong: I still cried. A lot. And I think there were great aspects. Shailene was excellent as Hazel, as was Laura Dern as her mother. It was beautifully filmed. It captured the spirit of the story.

But I think certain things -- like Hazel's internal monologues, and Augustus's external ones -- worked better in print than on screen.

Still, I'm glad I finally saw it. Even more than that, I'm glad the movie will bring so many new readers to the book.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

I LOVED How to Train Your Dragon, so of course I was going to love seeing more of Hiccup and Toothless. And I did!

My only disappointment was that this sequel seemed to cover much of the same territory as the first movie. Hiccup trying to accept himself. The village (and especially his father) doubting him and trying to wrangle him into a more familiar role.

Nevertheless, it was a fun frolic through Nordic-inspired waters. With dragons! So many dragons! All sizes, all colors, all kinds of powers! I want one.

Maleficent

This was an unexpected delight. 

(Well, sort of unexpected. Stephanie had seen it already and said it was really good.)

First of all, who doesn't love a good origin story? Second, who doesn't love a good twist? Maleficent is both. It's the story of how a woman became a villain -- and it makes you question whether or not she really is one.

I also adored the fact that this was not a love story. Not a romantic love story, anyway. Neither Maleficent nor Princess Aurora end up with a prince. But they still get their Happily Ever Afters.

Angelina Jolie is excellent, and I also loved Sam Riley as Diaval, Maleficent's shapeshifting henchman. 

Boxtrolls

This was a beautifully animated, quirky, but slightly uneven story about a boy and the endearingly strange underground creatures that raised him.

Let me get the bad out of the way first: the pacing was off at times -- i.e., boring -- and the villain was goofy beyond belief. (In fairness, Sarah has seen this too, and she loved the villain's obsession with, and grotesque allergy to, cheese.)

But the good was great. I adored the main characters, especially the protagonist Eggs and his surrogate father Fish. Visually the movie is just stunning. And the themes of identity, family, and standing up for oneself were all very poignant.

Believe it or not, this isn't even half of what I watched on all those flights. But it's the YA-relevant stuff. Have you seen any of these movies? What did you think?

Book Covers

One of my favorite things to do in foreign countries is go to a local bookstore and browse the shelves. Granted, I can't read most of what I see, but it's still fun. To see the cover designs and trends. To see what's popular.

Here's what I saw in Taipei. What series and titles can you spot?



1st photo: The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The Devil Wears Prada. The Book Thief.
2nd photo: The Hunger Games. Allegiant. Gone Girl. The Fault in Our Stars.
3rd photo: Eleanor & Park. Bonus: My sparkly gold flats.

Sailor Moon

Last but not least, I saw one of my childhood idols. How could I resist taking a photo with her?


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!

Jasmine's launch party 003
Jasmine (left) speaking with a young fan who approached her before the event.
Jasmine's launch party 004
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?
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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.


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on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Transparent
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
Bitterblue
The Fault in Our Stars
Pretties


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