Monday, June 29, 2015

Under a Painted SkyMissouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier.

Life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

My absolute favorite thing about UNDER A PAINTED SKY is Annamae. Also known as "Andy," she is spunky and smart, devout but pragmatic. She braves the Oregon Trail due to a burning belief in freedom, and an urgent, unwavering love of her brothers. Despite the horrors she has witnessed and endured, she remains hopeful, even humorous at times. She won my heart on every page.

I love when the protagonist isn't the only awesome character in a story. I love when best friends, siblings, and other side characters shine with charm. It really enriches the reading experience -- and it makes me like the protagonist more too! After all, a person's friends say a lot about them. You are who you associate with.

Other "sidekicks" that I adored:

• Zuzana in the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series by Laini Taylor
• Sturmhond in SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo
• Kurt in ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins
Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1) Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2) Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)
Who are your favorite side characters?

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For more on UNDER A PAINTED SKY, be sure to check out all of our great features:

• Our group discussion at Teen Lit Rocks
• Q&A with Stacey Lee (+ giveaway!) at Gone Pecan
• "Count on Me: Strong Female Friendships in YA" at the Reading Date

Next month we'll be celebrating our book club's 1-year anniversary! Stay tuned for some special posts. We will also be announcing how you can join us and the YADBC each month. For starters, you may want to visit and follow our brand new Tumblr. ;)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bone GapBONE GAP is not really about bees, in case you were wondering.

That cover is striking though, isn't it? As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to read the story within. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I'm glad I did.

In BONE GAP, I found warm honey and whispering corn fields. A magical midnight horse and a goat that says "meh." Two boys who have lost so much that they believe everyone and everything will leave them. A stunningly beautiful young woman with a gift for making things grow. The mysterious shadow of a man who kidnaps her. And the bee-faced girl with long legs, a sharp tongue, and a tender heart.

Perhaps nothing that came out of her mouth was as interesting to him as the mouth itself.

One of the many themes that author Laura Ruby explores in BONE GAP is the objectification of women. Roza is not kidnapped because she is capable and clever and kind. Roza is kidnapped because she is pretty. She is seen as a thing to be had, not a person to know, understand, or appreciate. Her beauty is a double-edged sword, but she is the one facing the pointy end.

A pretty face is just a lucky accident. Pretty can’t feed you. And you’ll never be pretty enough for some people.

Petey (Priscilla) is not lovely -- not in the traditional sense anyway. The way that people dehumanize her is different from the way they objectify Roza -- it's motivated by distate rather than desire -- but it's the other side of the same coin. Petey is still reduced to a body, a face.

(Never by the author, though! That's important.)

He said, “I love you.”
She shook her head. “You can see me, that’s all.”
But wasn’t that love? Seeing what no one else could?

"They" say that love is blind. Laura Ruby suggests that love allows us to see -- more clearly, more brightly, more honestly -- a person's invisible qualities, their hidden beauty and value. So who is correct, "they" or Ruby?

I say both. I say that more than one thing can be true at the same time. Even if those things seem, at first, to be contradictory.

BONE GAP is filled with nuanced thinking of this sort. It's a story for readers who are not afraid of tough, interesting questions (and occasionally tough, interesting answers). Readers who want to go on a magical journey right here in the real world. Readers who are willing to slip between the cracks of what's known in order to explore the things that could be.

* * * 

Dumplin'Another book with similar themes that we are really looking forward to reading is DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy. Look how cute that cover is! Obviously the tone of this book is going to be pretty different from BONE GAP -- and that's a good thing. We need all kinds of stories, all kinds of beauty.

PS: For more YA quotes that we love, check out

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Something happened last week. And it wasn't just that Dave Grohl broke his leg falling off the stage of a concert and then proceeded to rock for another two hours while getting casted. No, not that.

I read another Stephanie Kuehn book.
And, yes, that's an event.

It hasn't been that long since I finished one of her books--CHARM AND STRANGE. A book that I had ordered for the school library and had always meant to read, but other shiny books got in the way. Being a librarian means you have countless books that feel like a natural extension of your own shelves at home and the lure is strong.


I was sitting in the car outside my kids' school, waiting for the afternoon pick-up, reading the last chapters of CHARM AND STRANGE and, bloggers, stuff was going down. Like, my eyes were bugging out and my heart was breaking for the characters. Afterward, I had this incredible urge to bury this book on the school bookshelf because what if I messed somebody up by letting them read this? And then I thought, what if I help somebody by encouraging them to read this?

Fear is strong. But book nerds are brave.

This week I finished reading DELICATE MONSTERS and have to say that the title is perfect. The horror is perfect. The badness is indifferent and familiar and heartbreaking and necessary and wasted, wasted, this book made me feel (and question) so many things that I want to bury it I want to show and tell it I want to whisper I want you to read this so that I'm not alone...I kinda want to cry.

It got me thinking about Heroes and Anti-Heroes...certainly the modern trend is to mix the definitions and tweak things to resemble the very society we live in. It's something I respect and have come to expect in my reads. Complex villains that we somewhat sympathise with or villainous protagonists that have a great character arc proving their worth. Heroes that don't inhabit godlike qualities or exhibit their resourcefulness at just the right time. Heroes with more than their fair share of a fatal flaw.

You see, Anti-heroes go further than that decaying label of "unlikeable." Sure, we're not supposed to like Snape, but you're missing out on a great story element if you don't.

Go ahead and dislike Calaena Sardothien (THRONE OF GLASS) or Alice (SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY) or Valkyrie White (BLACK HELICOPTERS) or Bianca (The DUFF) or Cassie (BEAUTIFUL) or Heathcliffe (WUTHERING HEIGHTS) or Locke Lamora or pretty much all of Courtney Summers' characters...groan along with Greg Huffley (WIMPY KID) or Mr. Collins (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) long as you know there's a NIMONA in all of us.

"We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t 'is this a potential friend for me?' but 'is this character alive?'" ~ Claire Messud

Who are your favourite Anti-Heroes?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Recently I had the pleasure of attending two YA author events in the Cincinnati area. (There were actually several more happening nearby, but I am just one person!)

The first event featured Epic Reads authors Maggie Lehrman, Margo Rabb, and Robyn Schneider. They confessed that they were a bit loopy because this was the last stop on their tour -- but I think they were being modest. Here are some highlights (paraphrased) from the panel:

Maggie: Was there a point where you were going to give up on your novel?
Robyn: The whole thing! I wrote 800 pages and I have a 300 page book.
Margo: Everything is salvageable through revision.

Robyn: What's the easiest part of writing?
Maggie: The beginning, when I'm just playing around.
Robyn: The beginning?! At the beginning, I feel like I've just walked into class for the first time on finals day and I'm going to fail. Meanwhile Maggie is feeling just fine, answering every question D, and drawing a flower on her Scantron sheet.

Robyn: What do you like best about writing for teen readers?
Margo: There's such passion in readers at that age. Many of my favorite books were ones that I read at that time in my life. Teen lit is immediate, vibrant, the first of everything.
Maggie: When I was a teenager, I didn't understand anything about it. I was always trying to figure things out. I guess I still am.

Robyn: What sparked your story to life?
Maggie: I sat down to write, and I just had this image of a girl dancing around a fire with a guy. And I realized, "Wait, the girl doesn't remember this. Why not?"
Robyn revealed that the severed head in her first book, THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING, was inspired by the real life story of Fabio riding a roller coaster. A pigeon flew right into him, broke his nose, blood spraying everywhere. Robyn wondered, "What would it be like to be seated behind someone else's tragedy?"
Margo moved to Austin from NYC, and she went to a real rodeo for the first time. Also, a friend told her that travel is the best cure he knows for a broken heart.
Robyn was researching vampires and found out that their myth started in part due to tuberculosis.

Audience Q: What do you want your readers to take away from your books?
Robyn: I just want all your feels.
Maggie: I don't really think about messages... More like questions. What questions do I want readers to take away? In this case: "Is it worth it?"
Margo: Books are a collaborative experience between reader and writer. It's both wonderful and hard to share books with other readers. So whatever a reader takes away from my story is great. But I suppose I was asking the question, "How do you get through life when you know how hard it is?"
Robyn: In all seriousness now, I don't think about messages either. I just write for my 16-year-old self.

Audience Q: After you hand off one project, which you've just invested so much time and emotion into, how do you get excited for the next thing? The next set of characters and their problems?
Robyn: Oh, I love the shiny new thing! It's like carrots and cheesecakes. Every new book starts out as a cheesecake, but eventually it turns into a carrot. I'm just trying to get through the carrot to the next cheesecake!

Audience Q: Which Harry Potter house would you be?
Robyn: Gryffindor when I was younger, but Slytherin now.
Maggie: Ravenclaw.
Margo: I want to say Gryffindor...
Maggie & Robyn: She's a Hufflepuff!

Final fun tidbits:
••• Margo once wrote an essay on RICHARD II even though she couldn't make herself finish reading it. The essay got an A+. That's when she knew she had a chance at being a writer!
••• Maggie once pretended to have read THE CRUCIBLE in order to talk to a boy she had a crush on.
••• Robyn picked her agent based on the advice of a guy who ran a bar with a Tardis in it!
••• Joseph-Beth Crestview Hills has the best cookies of any bookstore they've been to so far.

The second event was organized by the authors themselves -- Gwenda Bond, Megan Shepherd, Megan Miranda, Renee Ahdieh, and Carrie Ryan -- under the fun and intriguing banner of "Dangerous Ladies."

Well, if that's not a great note to end on, I don't know what is. #girlpower

Friday, June 5, 2015

Those of us who are part of the YA blogosphere tend to live in a bubble. Our Twitter streams, Facebook feeds, and blog readers are filled with books books books! Most of the time, that's a wonderful thing. We have made so many friends through YA literature, and it is nourishing to be part of a community that shares interests and places value on the same things that we do.

But it can also be insular at times. An echo chamber of opinions, ideas, and concerns. Every week, it seems, there is some new incident that takes over the discussion. We'll see one message that we don't quite understand, click to follow the trail, and suddenly there are all these angry voices riling us up. Or we'll hear about a new book coming out, how amazing it is and how desperately everyone wants to read it. Even if it doesn't sound like our kind of story, we might find ourselves itching to get our hands on it too.

Being part of a group is great, but sometimes it can overshadow being an individual. The key is to find a healthy balance between the two.

We find that it's good to step away from the blogosphere from time to time. To step outside it, and see what non-like-minded folks are thinking about, talking about, worrying about, and getting excited about. Doing so allows us to see the bigger picture. We can better understand the role and scope of YA literature by putting it into a larger context. This perspective also helps to keep us from getting too worked up (in either a good way or a bad way), and to separate our own thoughts and feelings from the exciting energy of everyone else's.

The YA blogosphere is an awesome place. We wouldn't want to live anywhere else. But we also appreciate that most of our family and friends have no idea who John Green is, have never read fanfic, and have no desire to win a Printz. Even family and friends who love books as much as we do.

Friday, May 29, 2015

So they're making a movie based on the Goosebumps novels by R.L. Stine, coming out this October, and I'm super excited about it. I realize that if you're a teenager right now, there's a good chance you've never heard of Goosebumps. If you're sixteen years old today, then they were all written before you were even born. That's just crazy to me.

Goosebumps were YA before YA was a thing. People seem to think Harry Potter was the first series of Young Adult novels. Nope. YA literature has always been around, just in a different section of the library.

So because I'm feeling nostalgic, and I'm reminiscing about what I read when I was in school, I thought I would recommend some YA books from yester years that are still worth reading today. Enjoy!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaWhen Kristan told me that YA Diversity Book Club had picked SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA for this month, I was excited to have someone to gush with me over the story. You see, Simon inflates my heart. This book made me feel like I was in love. Love in all its awkwardness, agony and impossibility.

So when Kristan asked me if I wanted to post about Simon, I was like...let me think...YES! This is not because I need to add to the hype that surrounds the book. This is certainly something that fatigues our group. i.e. If something's getting loads of attention, it tends to influence our reading, and not normally in a good way.

I wanted to post about Simon because I felt him.

There are things in this book that aren't perfect. *shrugs her shoulders* You'll most likely guess Blue's identity (which is delicious). You'll probably dislike certain characters and then understand them a bit later on (just like real life). You might even forget all the minor characters that pale in comparison to Simon (his name's in the title, yo). And somehow that will all be okay because for the length of a book, you will BE Simon. And you'll nod along to his thoughts because you KNOW him. (Spoiler: I'm not gay). The world around him is quietened when Blue is in it. Things dim and brighten and crash and burn and rise just like a good story. But what everything comes down to is Simon. Clever, beautiful, funny Simon:

"...I'm tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to introduce myself to the universe all over again."
"'It's a Dementor robe over my clothes...'
'What's a Dementor?'
I mean, I can't even. 'Nora, you are no longer my sister.'"
"I have to meet him. I don't think I can keep this up. I don't care if it ruins everything. I'm this close to making out with my laptop screen. Blue Blue Blue Blue Blue Blue Blue."
"As a side note, don't you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you're straight, gay, bi, or whatever...
Love, Jacques"
"Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?
Love, Blue.
P.S. By the way, guess what I'm eating at this very moment."
"The Homosexual Agenda? I don't know. I think it's more like the Homo Sapiens Agenda. That's really the point, right?
Love, Jacques.
P.S. You have me curious. A banana? Hot dog? Cucumber? :-)"

I think (hope) that you'll love him as much as I do.

* * * * *

For more on SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, be sure to check out all of our great features:

Our group discussion at the Teen Lit Rocks
Q&A with Becky Albertalli at Gone Pecan
"Simon Says: The Audiobook Agenda" at the Reading Date

Next month we're reading UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee. Please feel free to join us by reading along! You can also visit the full archive of YADBC posts and #YADiversityBookClub tweets.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


A few highlights:

1. On "The Chosen One" stories
RR: Well, I think we all sort of want to be chosen. Because being chosen means having a purpose. Being chosen gives your life meaning and clarity.

KT: And it makes pain so much more bearable, in some ways, whereas a teenager struggling with depression may find it hard to figure out whether their pain and their life has meaning.

2. On beauty
I went almost 40 years without seeing anyone presented as beautiful unless they met a really narrow standard. I never saw fat women presented as beautiful. I think Tumblr, specifically, has actually healed my brain. It’s exposed me to so many types of beauty. And I realized that I have widened my own standards to include myself.
Saturday, May 16, 2015

It has been said that the setting of a book is almost like another character. That is certainly true for many of my favorite novels, in which the setting evokes vivid images as well as intimate familiarity. It's like I am living the story along with the characters; I can see, hear and feel everything around me--the trickle of a stream, the soggy heat of a summer day, or the first burst of light as the sun rises. Reading a book by authors skilled at creating rich, organic environments is a treat for the senses and one of my favorite luxuries.

Below are five books that blew me away with their solid use of setting:

1. The Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling)

Well. You knew it had to be on the list. I mean, Hogwarts and Diagon Alley? Platform Nine and Three Quarters and the Room of Requirement? Obviously, JK Rowling is a master at this. While setting is typically a large part of fantasy novels, the Harry Potter books went above and beyond in this category.

"The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver...Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars."
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone   

2. Stolen (Lucy Christopher)
I blogged about this book last July and thinking about it still leaves me with goosebumps. The story takes place in the vast desert of  the Australian Outback--a place full of venomous snakes and frantic windstorms, wild camels and open skies. This was her debut novel, yet Christopher nailed the stark beauty of the setting like a pro.

"You said you knew the perfect place to run to. A place that was empty of people, and buildings, and far, far away. A place covered in blood-red earth and sleeping life. A place longing to come alive again. It's a place for disappearing, you'd said, a place for getting lost...and for getting found."
-Stolen: A Letter to my Captor

3. The Raven Boys Series (Maggie Stiefvater)
Small, rural Henrietta, Virginia is no longer just a speck on the map. Now, thanks to Stiefvater, it is alive with caves and farms and forests and magic. It is filled with pretentious prep school boys and psychic families and quirky, lovable characters. But always, it is the pulse of Henrietta that binds them all together.

"It didn't escape Blue that his slightly accented voice was as nice as his looks. It was all Henrietta sunset: hot front-porch swings and cold ice-tea glasses, cicadas louder than your thoughts." 
-The Raven Boys

4. Like Mandarin (Kirsten Hubbard)
Rural Washokey, Wyoming shrugs to life in this coming-of-age novel about the allure of 'bad girl' Mandarin and her affect on 14-year-old Grace. Describing the wind-whipped landscape of Wyoming, there is much to appreciate in Hubbard's lyrical, atmospheric writing.

"I'd wandered through the Washokey Badlands Basin so many times I'd memorized the feeling. The forlorn boom of the wind. A sky big enough to scare an atheist into prayer. No wonder cowboys sang about being lonesome." 
-Like Mandarin 

5. The Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer)   
The setting of Meyer's popular novels--rain-soaked Forks, Washington--has become so famous that it is now a real-life Twilight tourist destination. That speaks volumes about how Meyer brought this region to fame in her best-selling vampire love story.

"We drove south out of town. The dirt road wove in and out of the forest--sometimes there was nothing but trees, and then there would suddenly be a breathtaking glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, reaching to the horizon, dark gray under the clouds."  
-New Moon

Whether done through personification or a smattering of sensory details, creating an alluring setting in any novel is a skill to be treasured. What are some of your favorite settings in books?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Link: at Huff Post Books

A few highlights:

1. On the word "pretty"
Even though when I was a teenager I understood that it was great to be smart and talented and funny and brave, I was the most anxious about being pretty. I felt its importance really early on, and I took it on as a kind of goal. In some ways the word pretty is a little like the word love -- it only has the meaning we assign to it. There isn't a definitive pretty, but we act as if there is. I still feel the echoes of my concern with prettiness, it still feels like a large and important word to me, but in writing this book I hoped to dismantle it a bit -- for myself and for readers. I'd like to strip it of its importance, so that we can focus on all the other great things we can be. But for now, if I'm entirely honest, it's still a word that haunts me. 

2. On writing for teens vs. writing for adults
For now, I like writing from a teen perspective since I have some distance from that time in my life and the distance frees me up to write honestly and emotionally. But aside from that personal preference, I think the strategies and craft and emotional energy it takes to write a book remains the same. I am writing about teenagers, but mostly I'm writing about people. Teens are all reading adult novels in school, so there's no reason to write differently for them. The benefit of YA is that it is more squarely about things they might be experiencing and is taking their interior lives seriously. But in terms of craft or intent, I don't think there's a difference.
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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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