Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Knockout GamesThis month's book was a doozy. I don't want to give too much away, so I'm just going to share the description and then let you dive right into our book club chat!

* * *

For Kalvin Barnes, the only thing that comes close to the rush of playing the knockout game is watching videos of the knockout game. Kalvin's crew always takes videos of their KOs, but Kalvin wants more something better. He thinks if someone could really see the game for what it was, could appreciate it, could capture the essence of it that would be a video for all time. The world would have to notice. 

That's where Erica comes in. She's new in town. Awkward. Shy. White. But she's got a good camera and a filmmaker's eye. She could learn. Kalvin could open her eyes to the power he sees in the knockout game; he could make her see things his way. But first she'll have to close her eyes to everything else. 

For a while, Kalvin's knockouts are strangers. For a while, Erica can ignore their suffering in the rush of creativity and Kalvin's attention. Then comes the KO that forces her eyes open, that makes her see what's really happening. No one wins the knockout game.

* * *

The Reading Date: So, general impressions of KNOCKOUT GAMES? My thoughts: Tense. Uncomfortable. Riveting.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, very tense and out of my comfort zone to read.
We Heart YA: I liked that I really didn't know where things would end up for Erica and for Kalvin.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, I was never sure of Kalvin for the majority of the book, which of course, is exactly how she felt too.
The Reading Date: Erica was so desperate to belong and Kalvin completely charms her. It would be interesting to read this book from Kalvin's perspective, though the outsider pov was also compelling.
We Heart YA: I think it would have been really difficult to write this story from Kalvin's POV and have it offer readers a satisfying ending... However, I still felt uncertain about using a "white girl outsider" as the narrator. Also, the jacket copy seemed to be more from Kalvin's POV, so Erica's narration came as a surprise to me. I liked her arc, her story. But I just wasn't sure about how her race and outsider-ness factored in...? (Like, I'm not saying it's bad. I'm just not sure it's good either?)
We Heart YA: Also, as much as the book tries to humanize the group of kids who played the knockout games -- and to show what would lead them to do it -- I still really, really struggled to understand and empathize. (But I LOVE that the story pushed me to try!)
The Reading Date: Great points! I think we are meant to be really uncomfortable with the KO games and I agree that it was very hard to empathize. All of the members of the group including Erica seem to come from broken homes and were seeking to take back some control in their lives.
Teen Lit Rocks: I found this story really timely given what happened in Ferguson. It made me think of black kids so disenfranchised that they feel like they're in this band of brothers where the only control and power they have is to see if they're man enough to knock someone out.
We Heart YA: YES. I was definitely thinking about Ferguson too.
The Reading Date: This response in the Q&A is relevant to our discussion:
"4. How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book? In real life, most of the kids engaged in this game were black. I made one of the main characters white because I didn’t want white people to write it off as a ‘black thing’. I wanted to show these kids were human and not so different than you despite what they were doing. I was also very interested in exploring mixed race couples and how that affected the larger groups. It gave plenty of opportunity to talk about race and gender issues and things that are going on now in Ferguson." 
We Heart YA: Yes, I love that he touched on so much in this book. The story was really rich that way. The violence, the desire to belong, mixed race relationships, art as an outlet, the danger of social media, etc...
The Reading Date: This book does incorporate so many topical issues! It was interesting the way they used social media, especially Facebook (something teens don't use much). How could they think the videos they shared were private? I was cringing when Kalvin recorded Erica and his private moment.
Teen Lit Rocks: Well you can share things just with one person on FB so that's not completely out of the question. 
We Heart YA: Yeah. Also, despite the use of the name, I didn't take "Facebook" too literally -- I just thought of it as whatever social media network kids might be into at the time.
Teen Lit Rocks: I liked the brief moment we met Kalvin's mom.
We Heart YA: Yeah... his mom was kind of heartbreaking, though.
The Reading Date: The scenes where we were let inside Kalvin's life were powerful and explained a lot.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, of course, but it humanized him. And he's right when he tells Erica she could never understand because a white girl wouldn't be targeted the way he and his friends are -- even before they started getting into trouble.
The Reading Date: Have the knockout games been an issue in either of your neighborhoods and if not how would you react if they started to pop up?
We Heart YA: Not in my neighborhood specifically, but there were a couple incidents in the Cincinnati area last year that were (at least according to the news) due to the "wave of Knockout Games sweeping the nation" (or whatever). It's definitely scary, the idea that you're not safe anywhere. And that you could be targeted randomly, for no reason. I didn't personally react in any particular way, except to be sad (and a bit skeptical) about the idea of anyone taking pleasure in that kind of senseless violence. I'm sure there was some increased police presence in the areas where the incidents occurred.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think they're a thing here in DC and also in Baltimore.
The Reading Date: Why do you think Erica got involved? Because of her frustration over her broken home? Needing to belong? Wanting to be admired for her video skills? Falling for Kalvin?
We Heart YA: All of the above, lol.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think all of the above! She was lonely and out of place and wanted to feel a connection to anyone since her mom was working such long hours and they basically had split shifts. I'm not saying it's her mom's fault, but I think her mom definitely didn't do her research about the neighborhood where she was moving and how it would affect Erica to be one of very few white kids at the high school. And obviously she was too broke to live anywhere else.
Teen Lit Rocks: And yes, of course it helps when a guy who looks like Dr. Avery from Grey's Anatomy starts showing an interest in you!!
The Reading Date: I like that this book doesn't provide easy answers, though I wish there were some.
We Heart YA: Ditto. (And LOL at the Grey's reference.) I guess I'm an idealist, but I wish even the worst neighborhoods in this country wouldn't have problems like this. I mean, I know you're not going to get a perfect utopia... but I think we can do better, with allocating resources, with supporting and nurturing more teachers to be like Mrs. Lee, etc.
Teen Lit Rocks: Well, there are working poor communities that are safer than others. And depending on where you live, they are usually more diverse although still segregated. But I'm sort of a pessimist when it comes to race relations and neighborhoods that have experienced white flight. Those neighborhoods are basically abandoned and then they're treated so poorly by the police or just generally written off… And then things don't change unless white hipsters or desperate couples with means decide to risk it and buy in those neighborhoods.
The Reading Date: I think the town [in the story] needed more Mrs. Lee's...
We Heart YA: For sure! Although I'm glad the story included black "good guys" too, like Destiny and Tyreese.
The Reading Date: I liked Destiny's friendship with Erica especially.
[Note: The next part is a partial spoiler, though the general idea of a tragic turning point is pretty obvious from the book's blurb.]
The Reading Date: It's sad that a death that hits close to home has to happen before people start to wake up. 
We Heart YA: Yes, it seems like 99% of the time, that's the real catalyst for action. For problems that are seen and known and just ignored for a long time.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think this would be a great book for high schoolers to read during an urban studies or current events or race relations unit. So much to discuss!
We Heart YA: Yes. To be honest, I can't say I enjoyed reading it -- like, "Oh how fun! I would recommend this to all my friends!" -- but I think it was an important and useful story.
Teen Lit Rocks: Right -- it's not a light and breezy read, but it will stay with you I think.
The Reading Date: Absolutely! I want to check out G. Neri's back catalog - I like his voice in the YA landscape.

For more on KNOCKOUT GAMES, be sure to check out all the YA Diversity Club posts:

••• Q&A with author G. Neri at Teen Lit Rocks. Neri talks about what inspired the story, what he hopes the book might accomplish for young readers, and more.

••• "5 Rounds with Knockout Games" at the Reading Date. Lucy shares the many reasons to add this book to your TBR pile.

Also, next month we'll be discussing LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley. Feel free to read along with us!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Something is going on in the Middle Grade world...something creepy...something monstrous. Okay, this is not our usual age range of books (*ahem* WeHeartYA), but I thought I'd do a bit of spotlighting some MG reads that look just a bit irresistable.

Have you seen the cover for MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly? I just think it's the best, creepiest thing. Love when a cover tells a story even before the story begins! The thing about MG that YA doesn't always have is that currency to live and breath fairytales. Monsters, goblins, faeries...they all make sense to young readers. Okay, adults old and young can access this too (see brilliant article), but it's a different experience. As an adult, you can (usually) put the monsters away. This book releases next February...come on, already!

THE TWISTROSE KEY by Tone Almhjell. Unusual in premise, and compelling if you've ever had a pet and wondered (wished) where they go after they die in this world. I've been meaning to read this one for ages! Parts Narnia and parts Golden Compass, this book is a classic in the making, and popped onto my radar when Laini Taylor recommended it. Every so often I hear its ping. Get this book!

I had the pleasure of recently reading an e-ARC of EREN by Simon P. Clark, which has just released in the UK and soon to be in the US. Dudes. This book would have claimed my waking hours as a child. It's real, it's abstract, it's creepy, it makes me think, it makes me cringe, it reminds me of all the things I thought and felt about adults and my peers when I was young. "A story must be told to the end." There is a meta-element to it that is interesting from a storyteller's perspective, there is a mythology that made me all goose-pimply, and there is a monster unlike any I've seen in fiction before. Another reason to avoid attics in old houses, in case you needed one! To some, this book might read quite straight forward. But if you let the story in, let Eren in, I think you'll be delighted and horrified by the inevitable conclusion.
Thursday, September 18, 2014

Last week, thanks to an invitation from Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Stephanie and I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy Hall, the first author to be discovered and signed to the Swoon Reads imprint. Swoon is an exciting new project from MacMillan -- a contest that might be best described as YA-meets-American-Idol.

Here's Sandy, charming us with details of the romance between college students Lea and Gabe -- and also sharing her experience on this journey of writing and publication.

Fun factoids from the evening:
• Sandy had been working in libraries since she was 16 years old.
• She loves and values having "a finger on the pulse" as a YA librarian now.
• She had written in the past -- and "failed NaNo for several years in a row."
• She also failed freshman writing in college -- which means "there is always hope for anyone!"
• Mostly she wrote fanfic. (For Glee!)
A Little Something Different• Last fall she saw the call from Swoon Reads for manuscripts, consulted with one of the teens she knows ("What kind of YA romance do you want to read?"), and then sat down and started writing A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
• Sandy loves the Swoon community, which is full of supportive and enthusiastic readers and writers.
• Because of her fanfic background, the "crowdsourcing" aspect of Swoon Reads felt familiar to Sandy.
• When MacMillan wanted to call Sandy about her deal, her mom warned, "If they ask you for money, it's a scam!"
• Working with MacMillan was a dream come true, and they helped her edit the story to be even stronger.
• They reduced the number of POVs, and also made Lea a freshman instead of a junior. This basically required rewriting half the story.
• ALSD is definitely a YA story, even though it's set at "Fake Rutgers."
• Now Sandy is working on something new, and it is for MacMillan again, but it probably will not feature multiple POVs.
• She likes to write early in the day, and probably averages 1,000 to 1,500 words. (But on a good day, she can write double that!)
• Chuck Wendig's blog Terrible Minds = her Bible. She particularly relies on (what Chuck calls) a “vomit draft,” in combination with her own system of index cards (which you can see pictures of in ALSD).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

About four years ago I was starting to revise my first manuscript, which had topped out at a whopping 189,000 words! I knew I needed to pare it way, way down so the words that were left could really shine. I was struggling with that whole concept of "less is more" when I read Gayle Forman's novel, IF I STAY. And then I understood.

IF I STAY was such an emotional read, and Forman achieved it by choosing just the right amount of material--and just the right material--to make her readers feel deeply for the characters. With straightforward but poignant prose, Forman made the lives of Mia and Adam feel authentic and brutal and intense... for me, the book was both inspirational and educational.

The other night I saw the movie version of IF I STAY and it was so moving that I cried through the whole thing. The adaptation, pacing and casting were great and the storyline stayed true to the book. Even though there is a lot of tragedy and heartache involved, it's ultimately a hopeful story about following your dreams and falling in love.

If you have a chance, go see it! And then come tell us what you think.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Okay, I already blogged about this on my own site yesterday, but there was too much goodness to be contained in one post! I just had to share a few more of these wonderful quotes from beloved YA authors, which I found in the YALSA interview series "One Thing Leads to Another."

A.S. King:
My first six novels were written in a vacuum—on a farm in Ireland, living off the land, not caring all that much about this life I lead now—publishers, agents, critics, awards. It sounds a bit naïve perhaps, but I found and needed writing as an escape from real life. I was struggling and I didn’t know what to do with it. So one day I sat down at a typewriter and the release was most important. Not therapy, but a need to express myself without anyone butting in and telling me how I felt or how I should feel or how my feelings were wrong, etc. Those novels (along with others) live in a drawer as a reminder of that time, and as physical proof that I am writing for myself and not for others, which is how I want to keep it.

David Levithan:
I wrote Love is the Higher Law, which takes place in New York on 9/11 and in the immediate space after, and even though I was writing it within a decade of the events, it was already historical fiction. I think writing about gay lives now is like that. Not that things get banished easily to history, but that the here and now moves too fast to be photographed easily. We novelists must try to pin down the blur, and show what’s happening right now both for the right now, and for whatever comes next.

Melina Marchetta:
Trust your instincts. Most times my instincts are right and I still doubt them, but not as much as my teen self did. And learn to accept praise. I was hopeless as a teenager, and later I coped very poorly with all the attention I received for my first novel. A friend’s mum took me aside and explained that by not accepting the compliment, I was taking away pleasure from the person giving it. Now, I find it as easy as saying a thank you.

Shannon Hale:
I don’t remember being very good at anything as a teen. I was okay smart but didn’t get great grades. I loved theater but didn’t get cast in significant roles. I loved writing but didn’t produce anything noteworthy. I feel like those years for me were a battleground. I learned a lot and got bruised and challenged and discovered my passions, but they were not a time for me to shine. At the time it sucked, but objectively I’d rather not peak in high school.

For more from this great series, both past posts and new ones, please visit YALSA's website.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
You might have heard recently that the legendary mystery of Who was Jack the Ripper? has been claimed to be solved. With the amount of speculation over decades and decades, you would think more people would be buzzing about hard DNA evidence. Except, just maybe, we are smarter than that.

Having recently read Maureen Johnson's THE NAME OF THE STAR, I find the evidence and identity of Jack the Ripper to be quite interesting. I'm not a fan of mysteries (I don't like being in the dark, figuratively speaking) and I'm not a fan of violence (or dead bodies); however, this novel was a fun (and safe) little fantasy. I mean, it starts out about Jack, but ends up with a completely different paranormal twist that I wasn't expecting.

I love that about story.

And maybe the truth at the heart of the Ripper mythology isn't so much about the killer or the victims. It's about the unknown...the paranoia...the thrilling moment at the heart of What If?

Maybe it's the human desire to understand. To find an end. And, when that fails, to make stuff up.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

This week's question comes from YA Highway:


Kristan: Amelia Bedelia. Those books cracked me up as a kid. And I still smile just thinking about them today.


Amelia Bedelia Round Ireland with a Fridge

Stephanie: The problem with reading mostly fantasy, is that so much of it takes itself so seriously. So not a lot of funny. Maybe Harry Potter?

Kristan: Definitely Harry Potter! Good one. And I love books/authors that aren't really trying to be funny, but allow humor to come through naturally (either through dialogue, or through astute observations about the world).

Kristan: Along those lines, the funniest book I've read lately is probably LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell. She's so good at letting life's absurdities shine through, even when they're not the point of her story.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1) Landline

Ingrid: THE PRINCESS BRIDE, hands down. The movie is funny too, but as usual, there is so much more in the book.

Ingrid: Oh, and there was also a lot of subtle, delightful humor in LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel.

The Princess Bride Like Water for Chocolate

You: Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Highway, on your own blog, or on Twitter (and be sure to use the hashtag #roadtripwednesday!).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quick happy note: The winner of our August commenter giveaway is Mary @ The Book Swarm. Congratulations! We'll email you to figure out which book you'd like and where to send it.

Now if only someone wanted to send these books to us...

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My PrettyPOISONED APPLES (Poems for You, My Pretty) = fairytales + feminism + social commentary + poetry. UM, SIGN US UP! What a clever way to talk about the problems that girls face in today's society. Christine Heppermann explains her personal motivations for writing this collection in her eloquent, powerful Author's Note.

I'll Give You the SunAlso: ERMAGAWD NEW JANDY NELSON! Enough said.

100 Sideways MilesWe have an Andrew Smith fangirl over here (cough Sarah cough) so 100 SIDEWAYS MILES has been on our radar forever. Isn't it a magical feeling when a book that you've been anticipating for so long is finally on the bookshelf at your favorite store?

Lies We Tell OurselvesLIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley is October's YA Diversity Book Club mix, but we're including it now because it releases at the end of September. The story mixes history, race, and sexuality in a way that promises to be beautiful, compelling, and possibly heartbreaking.

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American VoicesLast but not least, this unusual book caught our eye on NetGalley. DREAMING IN INDIAN is a nonfiction anthology featuring contemporary Native American voices. Using both prose and visual art, the book hopes to challenge stereotypes and unveil a more genuine Native experience.

Of course there are so many other books we're looking forward to, but we can't spotlight them all.

What about you guys? What books are you looking forward to this month? (If you need a list, here's one on GoodReads.)

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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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