Friday, February 28, 2014

As a little girl, I hands-down, no-questions-asked, 110% believed in magic. I mean, there was evidence all over the place! Witchcraft and special powers and time travel and ghosts... All of that and more could be found in the books I read (like the Chronicles of Narnia), the shows I watched (like X-Men and Captain Planet), even the myths I heard (about talking animals and vengeful spirits). No way would grown-ups make that stuff up, right?


As I grew older, it became harder and harder to keep the faith. But even as I learned more about how the world really works, a part of me couldn't help holding onto the hope of magic. I loved shows like the X-Files or Roswell, because they showed a world where both science and the supernatural could coexist.

And that's part of what I love about so many YA stories, too. They bring magic back into my life. They remind me that there is a window of possibility, where maybe, just maybe, anything can happen...

Here are a few "magical" YA books that I've either read recently or am looking forward to:


House of Ivy & Sorrow Half Bad (Half Life, #1) Split Second (Pivot Point, #2) Perfect Lies (Mind Games, #2)


Steel Midwinterblood Ask Again Later


Life After Theft The Dark Inside

Do you guys know any other magical reads that I should check out?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pictured left: me in high school. Just to set the mood.

Last month, I stumbled upon a couple videos of a LeakyCon panel called I Was a Teenage Writer in which Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo and Barry Lyga shared passages of hilarious writing from their teen years.

I enjoyed watching these so much, and I laughed so hard. So I decided to recreate this panel in a blog post, and gather teenage writing from all the WHYA girls to share with you.


Like most teens, I had a tendency toward the dramatic. My stories often involved death or depression — sometimes both. Back then my blog was full of "poetically vague" yearnings for love, or "hysterical" snippets from AIM chats between me and my friends. I also wrote a lot of Star Trek fanfic.

For kicks, here's a snippet of a story I wrote sometime in high school. I have NO recollection what this was about or where I wanted to go with it, but I hope you laugh at it as hard as I did.

She moved across the lawn without disturbing a single blade of grass. (Er, how exactly did she manage that?) Her dainty feet were encased in plain brown sandals, the kind you slide into, so there were no laces or buckles to fuss with. (I'm sure you were dying to know!) Her dress was a pale pink, frosty and layered, flowing in the breeze. (Sounds like a cake, yum.) Had anyone been around to see her, they certainly would have asked themselves, "What is such a young girl doing out at this time of night?" (And then: "Thank goodness her sandals aren't fussy.") As an afterthought they would add, "Sure is a pretty little thing though..." (Because apparently they are super creepy.)

But there was no one. (NO ONE.)


"Teen me" was dark, and mournfully Romantic (Heathcliff!) balanced only by my hyperactive personality when around a trusted group of friends. I wrote hundreds of despairing poems and, when that wouldn't do, I fancied myself a Frost and wrote about nature. One poem titled "gnats" combined both despair and nature. I've been looking for my old journals (leather bound, from the fine collection at Borders), but alas I have probably destroyed them. I purge my writing from time to time, you see. It's an affliction, and I have yet to be cured. I will recreate the part I remember...(obviously capital letters cramped my style)




As a teenager, I dabbled in poetry that was often sad and short stories that were full of angst, but I was mostly interested in writing novel-length fiction. I started writing my first book at 14, finished it at 16, then wisely put the manuscript in a drawer to simmer for several years. Back then--just as now--I loved writing about relationships and the nuances of family dynamics. I was a hopeless romantic, but I wrote loads of dark stuff too. Oh, and I kept boxes of journals. Basically, I spent my teen years daydreaming and staying up writing into the wee morning hours. Well, that last part hasn't really changed :p

Here's a snippet from a story I wrote sometime in junior high... omigosh, this made me laugh!

A shrill voice screeched through the eerie darkness like a cat's claws against redwood. (Because apparently redwood amplifies sounds better than oak or, say, maple.) I couldn't run, though I was compelled to. I had to stay, (I HAD TO, okay?!) and so I did, standing straight and tall, stiff as a board, while scary, nightmarish thoughts drifted through my head. A leaf crackled somewhere behind me in the dark forest and oh, how I wanted to turn around and yell and kick and scream until whoever or whatever it was went away. But I couldn't, I wouldn't. Suddenly, right behind me, heavy breaths came faster, faster, faster...raspy, heaving, painful breaths. I felt them on my neck, cold from the night air. I turned, ready foranything, but not ready for what I was about to see. Oh, it was a gruesome sight... (Oh, the DRAMA!)

Me (Stephanie)

When I was a teenager I wrote Jane Austen copycats and melodramatic high fantasy with forbidden interracial human-fairy romances where every single character died at the end. Also running away to live in the forest. That happened a lot. I would then ask my English teachers to grade my ridiculous stories for extra credit. Those poor men.

Here is a prologue from one of said forbidden fairy romances:

The night was a ghastly sight to behold. It was dreadfully dark and the rain poured in icy waves to match the black storm in Rebecca’s breaking heart. Her parents had agreed to give her hand in marriage to the dreadful Count of Arhovia, a stranger from a faraway land they’d never even heard of. He was far too old for her, and he had a monocle (the epitome of evil, of course). Her mother and father had never sank to such abhorrent depths of idiocy before. Rebecca suspected sorcery was involved. The count had no sense of beauty, so there could only be one reason for this mysterious man’s interest in her. He must know she was of fairy blood! (Undeniable proof!) There was only one thing to do. She would run away and live in the forest!

She was about to climb out the window of her tower (because this is the most efficient method of escape), when her maidservant came in bringing a little message tied with an elegant black ribbon. Sweet Rebecca, I would speak with you. Meet me in the garden at midnight. I shall be waiting. ~ Jacob Morris. (Oh, Jacob.) Rebecca clutched the note to her heart, hope fluttering faintly like a butterfly resisting death. (Not dramatic at all, right?)

When I cared a lot about a story, sometimes I would make little "artifacts" from them. So that message from Jacob? It exists. Yeah, I know. I'm weird.

Were you, are you, a teenage writer?
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014
I read an excellent book this week called SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian. This debut was nominated for YALSA's Morris award along with a couple of others that I have read and loved (IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS) or intend on buying (hello, CHARM & STRANGE). For me, the Morris nominations have been my personal reading rec's. In the past, I've read and loved HOLD STILL, GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, UNDER THE MESQUITE, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, FLASH BURNOUT, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, GRACELING and HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER. The list could go on, but I'll stop there. The thing is, I've never been disappointed by a Morris nominee.

So when SEX & VIOLENCE was released in the UK, I snapped it up knowing it was "my kind of book." And now, having finished, I have thoughts.

This book is not going to be for everyone.  The title should tell you something; it's not meant to shock.  What I mean by this disclaimer is that some readers will take personal beliefs and experiences and impose them on this story. They will make judgements. I mean, hey, that's okay, how can you not?  Some teens might read the book and see that it doesn't reflect their lives and put it back down. Perfectly legit. But there are others, like myself, who will see themselves, the people they knew growing up, the thoughts and emotions of a small blip of time during adolescence...and it will feel like a sort of relief.  Somebody got it.

Now, I didn't grow up in all sorts of places or end up in Minnesota. I didn't take a bath in a lake every night because taking a shower brought back a traumatic experience. I certainly didn't get laid like Evan, the main character, manages to do. Or even get invited to parties. But I had other vices. I had other fears. I had loneliness. I had bitterness towards my parents (and also fierce love). I wanted, longed for things.  I read obsessively and explored places I wasn't allowed to go.  I lived in a place with sex and violence all around me.  Somehow, someway, it didn't touch me.  But I saw it.  I felt it.  Denying it exists is one way to escape fear so do what you have to do. 

When discussing this book with Ingrid, Stephanie and Kristan, and the issues it brings up (like so many before it and many to come after), I mentioned that the author was having a take-down online about readers making assumptions about her as a writer and what is depicted in her story.  Because we're also writers, we pay attention to these sort of exchanges.  We've learned this: if someone doesn't get it, whatever.  Don't engage. 

But it's so hard not to say something when the EXACT thing certain readers rail against is the EXACT thing you're trying to show--messed up behaviour leads to messed up lives--and they're focusing on how messed up everything is.  Again, don't engage.  Educate:

There's this expectation when writing for teens that along with it comes this "responsibility" or "opportunity" to deliver a moral message.  And you authors out there can tell a moral story with a message, but don't expect me to take much away from it.  That kind of stuff gets left behind at picture books.  And the BEST picture books are the ones that don't do this either because it's such a cheap form of storytelling.  Kids aren't fooled.

The purpose of fiction is not to be instructive, but to illuminate.  (Seriously, I will never say another genius thing again in my whole life.  This is my moment).

When a book says to you:  this is the world so what are you going to do about it?  You can deny or you can be resilient.  You can add to the dialogue or you can try to shut the conversation down.  But what better place to bring your fears than into the light?  Watch them bend, watch them dissolve.

by Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Friday, February 7, 2014

Note: Though inspired by true events, no friendships were hurt in the making of this post.

One day, your best friend starts talking about this new book that she loves.
After days of lusting after it, you finally manage to get your hands on that book.
Then you start reading...
And you really can't figure out what your best friend sees in this book.
So you have to tell your best friend that you didn't love it, and she's all...
You guys try to talk it out -- what she liked, versus what you didn't like -- but it ends up going a little something like this:
Eventually you agree to disagree. But secretly you're both annoyed.
Fortunately, after a few days you both realize how silly you're being, and everything's magically cool again. Because that's the power of friendship.
Hopefully you'll both agree on the next book.

~ ~ ~

The four of us here at We Heart YA are all amazing friends, and we usually enjoy the same kinds of books. But every now and then, we do disagree. It's always kind of heartbreaking when that happens -- for both sides -- because you strangely feel like you've let your friend down by not liking something that they love.

But. Wouldn't it be boring if we had exactly the same tastes all of the time? Then we would never get the benefit of hearing a different opinion or understanding an opposing perspective. We would never have to reexamine our reactions or question our interpretations. In short: We would never grow.

So that's why the 4 of us are okay with disagreeing sometimes. What about you guys? What do you do when your best friend doesn't like a book (or a movie, song, TV show, etc.) as much as you do? And what do you say when you're the one who was disappointed by a friend's recommendation?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014
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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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