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.

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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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