February 28, 2009

Lost Ones: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia is supposed to be recovering from severe anorexia. She is supposed to be eating, supposed to be returning to normal teenage life. And then she finds out that Cassie, her former best friend—and onetime partner in eating-disordered crime—was found dead in a motel room. And Cassie tried thirty-three times to reach Lia on her phone the night she died.

The guilt in Lia wars with near-constant obsession over calorie counts, thinness, her weight, not eating...and her parents just seem to make it worse. She's living with her father and stepmother now, and though her stepsister occasionally succeeds in breathing through her icy shell, Lia manages to keep almost everything—including her continually decreasing weight—from her family. Her mother, who is a doctor herself, doesn't seem able to reach her on an emotional level. And inside Lia is a constant swirling maelstrom of self-abuse. What she hasn't yet internalized is the idea that people DO care, and that her own self-imposed strictures are not at all healthy or noble, but rather an obsessive form of control over and punishment of herself.

This book was incredibly difficult to read, but it's an important read nonetheless. Lia is not what I would consider a sympathetic narrator—and, in fact, many times I found myself impatient with her selfishness, aggravated by her willful belief of certain illusions about the world. But Laurie Halse Anderson is amazing at not just creating but enabling us to inhabit very different sorts of characters, and I keep finding little bits of Lia sticking with me and resurfacing even weeks after I've read the book. By turns horrifying, angering, and pitiful, this story is above all else frighteningly believable.

Buy Wintergirls from an independent bookstore near you in March 2009!

This review was based on an Advance Uncorrected Copy.

February 27, 2009

Poetry Friday: Courage


Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.

The soul that knows it not, knows no release

From little things.

Knows not the livid loneliness of fear

Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear

The sound of wings.

How can Life grant us boon of living, compensate

For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate

Unless we dare

The soul's dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay

With courage to behold resistless day

And count it fair.

-- Amelia Earhart, 1927

appeared in Survey magazine

July 1, 1928 p. 60

Poetry Friday is at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books, I believe.

February 25, 2009

Things I Probably Shouldn't Laugh About

Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but it does to me -- people forward me things and ask, "Is this true?"

Q: Is Microsoft/Disneyland/Pepsi giving away money if you fill out a form?
A: No. Never. Corporations do not give out money. Erase that from your mind.
Q:Are waiters swapping your credit card for someone else's expired card?
A: Maybe. You should pay attention to that sort of thing, don't you think?
Q:How many hours of daylight do they have in the Shetland Islands?
A: Uh, right. Let me Google that for you.

Now, here is where our story diverges, because I will ***NOT*** be sending on this reply to the myriad and beloved above-age-sixty relatives of mine who tend to be the ones who ask me these sort of things, and who are obviously uncomfortable with the internet, computers, and information they can find themselves in general. But you can. Go to "Let Me Google That For You", type in the question that they've asked, and... well, see what happens.

I shouldn't laugh. But I am laughing. Heartily.

February 24, 2009

TBR = To Be Read or To Be Reviewed

Today I found myself at my local library with my friend Stella, who is president of Friends of the Library, and I had the opportunity to get introduced to our YA and Children's librarians. W00t! I told them all about the Cybils and got enthusiastic permission to bring in Cybils promo stuff as it becomes available, so that was exciting. I also e-mailed them a link to Kidlitosphere Central as it seemed they were not yet in tune with our fabulous community. I felt really good about being able to make personal contact.

Anyway, I also went in looking for books (of course), and I checked out five that I'm really excited about reading:

  • Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by Robin LaFevers
  • House of Dance by Beth Kephart
  • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
  • The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill
  • Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

Three of them are sequels to books I read on the FSF nominating panel for last year's Cybils. However, before I get knee-deep in new reading, I'm going to need to start posting some reviews...maybe starting today, maybe starting tomorrow. Books I gotta review include:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
  • Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
  • I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
  • Thaw by Monica Roe
  • Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

As you can see, my TBReviewed pile includes (nearly) all of the YA Cybils finalists, which I can catch up on posting about now that we're past the "blackout dates" of the judging period. Expect them to gradually appear here over the coming weeks!

February 24, 2005...

...was the go-live day for WritingYA. We knew exactly ...four people, thought our blog would only be read by our writing group, and most of our sidebar links were to author blogs -- people we admired but with whom we had never conversed.

And four years later, we've discovered a vast network of interested, interesting, creative people -- authors, librarians, booksellers, readers, teachers -- people who like us (we assume) and who are like us in so many ways. Our focus has expanded to include interests we'd never considered, and we've grown smarter and better because of it. Though things have changed, we're glad the kidlitosphere is part of our circle of friends.

Cheers to us! And cheers to you!

February 23, 2009

A Writerly Meme-ish Thing.

I recently read an interview with Welsh author Rhys Hughes on a social network I belong to, and in the third part of his interview he decided to turn a few questions back onto the reading audience, as well as revealing a bit about himself in answering his own questions. I thought it might be appropriate and (hopefully) interesting to post my answers here. Check the link for the full text of the questions; some are rather long and I've only reprinted the relevant bits.

1. What is the most unusual (or memorable) profession that any of your known ancestors ever had?

I don't actually know a lot about my ancestors--there aren't a lot of records on my dad's side, and I only have records on my mom's side for the Czechoslovakian part of the family, and they had a number of less interesting professions like farming and steelworking and such. But my maternal great-grandmother, the one who was probably French Canadian, was a small-time serial scam artist. As kids, my grandmother and her siblings were routinely recruited as the agents of her and her husband's scams--selling stuff door-to-door, mainly, but also putting counterfeit coins into the money stream. They had to move around a lot. Also, I'm told the great-great-grandmother on that side was some kind of chorus girl, but that information is unconfirmed.

2. What unfashionable authors (if any) do you still champion?

This is a tough one...the only one I can think of, and I can't say he's totally unfashionable, is Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient was truly huge for a while, but now nobody seems to have heard of him. I haven't seen the movie but the book is one of my favorites. I think his writing is incredible, intelligent, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

3. What books do you own that you know you'll never read?

I have to admit that most of the books on my shelves that I know I'll never read were lent to me by other people, like Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Or, in cases like Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson, they were given to me well-meaning by someone and are so low on the TBR pile that they are unlikely to be read, ever. Sorry.

4. Do you regularly read e-books or not?

No, I don't. However, I foresee a time that I might read more e-books--if e-book readers get less expensive, and the quality continues to improve, I will likely switch to e-books for some of my reading. I'm actually much more interested in the idea of e-magazines and e-newspapers. Also, will libraries ever lend out e-books? How would that work? Essentially, I feel that this is something I'm not quite ready to do yet, but from a conservationist standpoint, it's probably important. However, there will always, always be certain books that I will want to have on paper--there is a feel, a smell, to books, a tactile experience not present with e-books. And as someone who makes handmade artists' books, I feel very strongly about that, too.

5. The fact that writing is such a sedate occupation means I'm always fascinated by the attempts of certain authors to infuse physical vigour into their prose... What writers, if any, have made you take to the hills or the lakes or the moors, etc?

This is an odd one. I'm not sure how to answer. I guess either I don't think about books in the way that they make me feel about the outside environment, or I tend to read more books about the internal environment...but I have to say that any books set in the UK tend to inspire a longing for a return trip. Also, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance--you have to be rather hard of heart, I think, for that book to not inspire even the tiniest bit of longing to experience the solitude and thoughtfulness of the open road and the open sky (quite apart from the motorcycle bit--I am NOT a fan of riding motorcycles).

6. Has any work of fiction ever taught you a practical skill?

I love this question. It's just that I'm having trouble thinking of something. I have learned tons of information and facts from works of fiction. I know that my answer is yes, though. One thing I set out to learn to do because of fiction was bake bread (the yeast kind)--after reading Robin McKinley's Sunshine, in which the character is a baker, I got inspired.

So--if you decide to participate in the meme, post a link in the comments!

February 17, 2009

Temporary Hibernation

I thought that I might be going into temporary hibernation for reasons of moodiness and creeping angst, but this has morphed into an emergency-revision situation. Due to an unexpectedly speedy turnaround from a query I sent to an agent, I now find myself in the situation of needing to finish my major novel overhaul...BY FRIDAY.

The reason I send things out when I'm still revising is that it's supposed to be kind of an incentive to get it done more quickly. But even if I get a relatively fast turnaround, that usually means a couple of weeks in most cases. So I assumed I'd have at least that amount of time to get it done.

However, I am NOT complaining. Deadlines are good for me. Evidently without them I tend to fumble around in a rather undisciplined way. And this is a very good deadline. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that I get there, and that the result is positive. But until then, I will be hunkering down in front of my new laptop--which, rather fortuitously, also arrived today, mere hours ahead of the manuscript request.

In the meantime, during the next few days of my absence, please do remember to check out the Cybils blog and the fabulous 2008 winners. I can't wait to read Graveyard Book and Hunger Games in particular, as well as the MG and GN winners. And then I get to work my way through the finalists...ahhh, I love my TBR pile already.

Ta-DAH! Part Deux

Didn't want to steal AF's thunder for her great new site design, so I waited to say anything, but ... ta-dah!

Little Willow, of Rock the Rock Design, and her unpaid accomplice, "Tech Boy," have been working really hard to design and implement all of my random ideas for a website, and it's done! I gave myself the deadline of next week, but the tinkering has finally stopped, and my website is mostly...kinda... for now...done. I'll be mostly blogging writing rambles from there as myself -- like Farida, I'm outing myself and using my own name, as the Poetry Friday people have discovered -- and I'll be reviewing from here and joining Aquafortis with interviews and other kidlitosphere activities as well.

Thanks to everyone who's already been by and said such positive things! I think it's gorgeous, too. Part of me still isn't quite sure what I'm supposed to do there, but my agent's happy, and I guess I'll figure it out.

February 13, 2009


Hasn't Aquafortis been working SUPER HARD?
Isn't this gorgeous?

Check out the tabs -- all of our reviews are here, too. We're chasing down the last few details, but this was our little gift to ourselves, and it's well worth the time and effort, dontcha think?

Thanks to MotherReader for her suggestions and advice.

February 11, 2009


So, uh, like, so I don't think we've mentioned that Tanita had a fabulous interview over at The Brown Bookshelf in honor of 28 Days Later. Go check it out if you haven't already, and give her a humongous shout-out!!

As she mentioned, we're busy working on quite a surprise for our upcoming blogoversary. Hence the relative lack of posting. But we're still here, we promise, and still writing away, even if much of that writing is not blog-related.

The Austen Year(s) Continues

Ah, that Jane.

She is everywhere. She is apparently now a zombie, though I find that more than passing strange. She is a fairly awesome looking Marvel comic. She is a woman of many poems, though occasionally she has to skewer the odd gnome with her quill.

And now? Now the Austen girl is getting magic, too. Mary Robinette Kowal has sold her "Jane Austen with magic" book, Shades of Milk and Honey, to Liz Gorinsky at Tor in a two-book deal.

How much do I want to read this book?

How happy does this make me, that not only are a.) books deals are still being made, in the midst of house closures, but, this one is b.) JANE AUSTEN WITH MAGIC!?

*happy sigh*

Meanwhile, it is the birthday of another Lady Jane to whom we wish the best of every single thing. Many happy and memorable returns of the day!

Aquafortis is doing something. But I cannot yet tell you what. It has something to do with a specific date... and some... stuff. Shh!

February 07, 2009

Painting the School Paisley

Paisley Hanover's used to being popular, but there's no way she can compete with someone like Candy Esposito--as becomes abundantly clear when they're forced to compete for the same spot on the yearbook staff and Paisley spazzes out in front of the class. As a result, she's sent over to Drama class with all the freaks, geeks, and other unpopular peons. Now, Paisley's bummed about her chances with cute, soccer-playing Eric Sobel, and ends up in a class full of people who assume she's just another stuck-up, mean popular girl.

But Paisley tries to make the best of it, and soon, she finds herself getting to know a whole new crew of friends, while her old friends, Jen, Amy and Carreyn, become increasingly obsessed with cheerleading. There's bad-boy hottie Clint Bedard, who she suspects of sending mysterious unsigned secret-admirer notes; there's the uber-mod Cate Maduro; there's tall and skinny "Bean", a childhood friend; and more. With her new group, she embarks on a quest to absolve herself of the label "Spastic Jazz Hands" and win the class presidency in the name of unpopular kids everywhere.

Paisley is an appealing and funny and very fallible narrator who reminds me of Amanda Bynes's character on the TV show What I Like About You. She's likeable, she's spazzy, and she has a good heart--but Paisley also has a sense of ambition that gets her into just a wee bit of trouble, and that's where the fun comes in. A funny, light read that brought back memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly of high school.

These comments are based on the Advance Review Copy. This book will be available in March 2009.

Buy Paisley Hanover Acts Out from an independent bookstore near you!

Weekend Winners: Numbers

Books That Would Make A Good, Quick, Weekend Read (if I had them on hand):

"The eyes, they say, are the windows to the soul, but when Jem looks into a person's eyes she sees numbers. These numbers are a date: the date of the person's death.

Numbers, by Rachel Ward.

If all you ever saw were dates in people's eyes -- if you had no parents, but were being passed through the foster system, things would indeed seem a bit bleak. Jem eventually makes a connection -- but how does knowing when someone is going to die change how you live and interact with them?

Read the review in the UK Guardian. This book came out in the U.S. in paperback on January 5th.

February 05, 2009

It's TBD Time!

This year, the Readergirlz and YALSA are joined by Guys Lit Wire for the second annual Operation Teen Book Drop: "In honor of Support Teen Literature Day, April 16th, 2009, readergirlz, GuysLitWire, YALSA, and publishers are working together to donate YA books to hospitalized teens across the country."

Read more about it, and download flyers, bookmarks, and bookplates at the official page on Readergirlz!

February 03, 2009

What You See Is --?

"What you see is what you get." It's a phrase that means that what you're looking at is all that's there -- you can take it for its face value.

Is that ever true of a person?

Soprano Anne Wiggins Brown was born on August 9, 1912, in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the great-granddaughter of a slave. Her ethnic background was a jumble of Cherokee, Creole, Scottish and African, and her first love was music. She and her three sisters sang and were involved in musical theater in their segregated neighborhood.

There wasn't any future in that, however, for an African-American, and so after getting turned down for music schools in the area, Anne went to teacher's college. But she still loved music, and took voice lessons with a woman from Julliard, the famous music school. Anne became the first African American to win Julliard's prestigious Margaret McGill scholarship, and she was in.

Do I need to tell you that she had a chance to audition for Ira Gershwin? And she was given a part in a jazz musical called Porgy, but because of her input the name was later changed to Porgy & Bess -- because she was such an amazing Bess?

Yet, Anne wasn't allowed to perform in some theaters -- and she, in turn, refused to perform in theaters which were segregated. She finally went overseas in 1946, like so many other famous African American artists and musicians. It was just too hard to stay in her own country.

In Sherri L. Smith's Flygirl, Ida Mae didn't ever stop being an African American, but she chose to live as a Caucasian person, in order to be treated as part of her own country. To her mind, what was seen wasn't worth more than the truth, but what people saw was able to give her what she wanted, in part.

What's worth passing for? What's not? Read our conversation with author Sherri L. Smith, and drop us a comment.

Also, if you're not stopping by The Brown Bookshelf this month, you're missing some great authors and illustrators. Today, check out Nicole Tadgell, who recently illustrated the picture book No Mush Today.

February 02, 2009

Guest Blogger Sherri L. Smith: On Passing & Identity

Today we welcome back young adult writer Sherri L. Smith to Finding Wonderland! Sherri is the author of Lucy the Giant, a novel about a tall girl from the immense state of Alaska who tries to lose herself and her past in the wilds -- and finds out what it means to have someone care enough to find you. Lucy's story was Sherri's first novel, and one of our all-time favorite Under Radar Recommendations.

Sherri's other novels include the 2009 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award nominee, Sparrow, and last summer's MG novel, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. This month we celebrate Sherri's newest release, Flygirl, which hit bookstores just last week, and received a starred review from Booklist.

Passing. People of one ancestry or ethnic group being able to pass for another. Where does the phrase even come from? Once upon a time in the days of slavery, African American slaves who traveled away from their owners were required show passes to anyone who asked for them, to assure that they were on legitimate business. People who were not questioned, who were light enough, due to the blending of their genetics with those of the master's family, were said to be able to "pass." And from a long ago and ugly place we come up with a word that is alive and well today.

When Sherri told us the topic of her book, we gave a little twitch. Passing -- is a loaded word, and not really a topic that gets talked about much in "polite society." And certainly not in a novel for young adults!

Obviously, "passing" was a great big deal in the Jim Crow days, because African Americans were legally not allowed to do a whole bunch of things. People anxiously protected the status quo because most of the time, society prefers to tell us who we are, instead of letting us decide for themselves, so that there's some kind of stability. The full force of the law came down on those who tried to rock the boat and choose for themselves. It could have cost Ida Mae her life to pass for white -- but let me not give away any spoilers! Instead, let's let Sherri talk!

When Tadmack and Aquafortis invited me back to Finding Wonderland, we exchanged more than a few emails geeking out over the shared backdrop of our latest novels—my Flygirl and Tadmack’s forthcoming Mare’s War are both set during World War II with African American heroines. We commiserated over the amount of research required, and what it was like to imagine the experience of a black woman in a Jim Crow world, never mind a segregated military. What we discovered is that we could go on for hours talking about race and identity. What it means to be a woman in a man’s world, what it means to be a black person in a white landscape. And it got me thinking about what our characters had to give up in order to be who they become during the course of our novels.

In Flygirl, Ida Mae Jones is a young black woman, the daughter of farmers, who learns to fly on her daddy’s crop duster. When the war comes, her brother enlists, and she finds herself, in a time of rationed gasoline, faced with the chance to fly again by volunteering for the Womens Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). This was a non-military program that trained women to fly Army planes in the United States—everything from towing targets for artillery training, to ferrying and testing new planes to be shipped overseas—all in order to “free a man to fight,” as the propaganda posters said. The catch is a big one, though—no blacks allowed. Ida Mae, thanks to her father’s side of the family, is light-skinned enough to pass for white. Her mother warns her against such a path—it could cost her her safety if she is found out, and her family if she wishes to stay on the “white” side of life. But Ida is young. She can only think of the immediate future, of a need to do something to help end the war. And so she leaves her mother, her grandfather, and her little brother behind. She changes the way she talks, the things she says, and she becomes, in all outward appearances, a new woman. A white woman.

T: This is such a great hook to the story – readers are interested already on many levels. Can she do it? Is it right to do it? Will she get caught? Perhaps for an African American reader, there’s an even greater drama. This is The Betrayal. This is the thing so many people are taught is The Great Evil. In stories passed down, in books, in old, old movies, this is what is known: you don’t “act White” you don’t “talk White;” you’ve got to “represent,” even if you have no clear idea what any of that is supposed to mean. The court of public opinion is in session, and if you’re not careful, you may find yourself held in contempt. But to choose to accept that part of her ethnicity that is not African American, and to choose to embrace that part... Wow. That is unimaginably heavy, indeed, at least for that time period.

Nowadays, we’re okay with letting, say, the sitting president of the country choose to identify with a specific part of his ethnic identity.


AF: This IS a great hook into a story with a provocative theme—one that has the potential of making readers of any ethnicity think more deeply about our history and about what a struggle it can be to have to make a deliberate choice about how we portray ourselves to the world.

In thinking about it further, I strongly feel we need stories like this, stories that help us not to forget the more painful parts of our racial history, or, to paraphrase what George Santayana said, we might risk repeating it in some less flagrant but still insidious way—especially at a time that, some opine, is somehow "post-racial." The idea, maybe, is to go forward aware of our histories, regardless of whether we choose to "represent" or not, whether we identify with one history or another.

It’s easy to leave where you come from. Just jump a car, hop on a bus or an airplane with a one way ticket and never go back. It might be hard. You might miss it, but once you’re gone, you’re gone. How, on the other hand, do you leave behind who you come from? The fact that you have your mother’s smile, and her way of shaking a finger when you’re angry. The way you walk like your dad, shoulders squared against the world, but a roll in your step like you’re always on vacation. How do you change or deny the fact that you and your grandmother both love to dance? How do you forget that knock-knock jokes always make you and your little brother laugh? I don’t think you can leave those parts of yourself behind. To do so is an act of great violence. It’s suicide. Self-immolation. Or, more precisely, it is surgery. Sharp, exacting, and without anesthesia.

T: It’s erasing yourself.

AF: Yet don't we all want to exist on our own terms, independent of that "who," that "where," at the same time that we're part of them? How much of that self-separation is a mask, an illusion?

I suppose at first that the rewards this surgical removal of self gains you act as a painkiller of sorts. The euphoria you feel breezing past the “members only” signs. The knowledge that you sit at the big table now, that you are looking out of the windows of the same big houses you used to stare into so longingly. You have become the face on the movie screen. That might ease or mask your pain.

But it must wear off. Everything does. Can it console you in the middle of the night when all you want is your mother’s cool hand on your fevered brow, when you are sick and feel hopeless and alone? You have money now, position, power. You can hire a chef to make the same soup your mother would have made you. You can even pay someone to sing the same songs to you. But would the recipe, would the lyrics give you away? You have traded a child’s solace for your new position. And you can never trade it back. Not evenly. Not equally. You might lose your new role one day, but the old one is definitely gone forever.

T: Well, to a certain extent, every one of us who leaves home to grow up walks away from a place, a role, a set of clothes that has grown too small and too confining. We lose our place because we become too big for it – we allow ourselves to grow. But if we’ve chosen to grow in the direction of the dominant culture, that's so different, because we have chosen. But does that always mean that there would be no place for us within the minority? I guess historically, the answer would be... yes.

AF: And what if even the less visible, but no less fundamental, choices of identity—your aspirations, your goals, the ideas you hold most dear—also separate you from where you came from? What if the assumptions and judgments of your family, of the culture you chose to leave, build an invisible wall just as much as the choices you've made?

On the flipside, how do you forgive someone who has traded your love for brighter lights? You might. If it’s your child, you might forgive them anything. If it’s your friend, you might take pity when they come home. But how do you forgive yourself, if you are the one who has crossed the line? I cannot imagine. And imagination is my trade.

T: The question few people ask is whether or not there needs to be forgiveness -- or, whether or not there was any wrong done except in the legal sense, during the Jim Crow era. The sense of moral outrage that people had over this was, in part perhaps because there was a Line, a broad line between the races that strictly divided ‘have’ from ‘have not’ and ‘can’ from ‘cannot.’ Would people truly have issue with someone “acting White” or “choosing White” if there were not still social and monetary consequences for doing so? Does the privilege of the majority actually exist without the subjugation of the minority -- I mean, isn't deciding one group of people is better basically a game you play, based on who you decide not to like? It's very much like a playground game, with no real right/wrong, rhyme/reason, and when the whistle blows, the reality of the game dissolves. Which brings up the question of if there is a kind of moral obligation for a person who can go either way to embrace the minority culture, or else be considered a bad person?

AF: Another question: If you embrace one of your cultures, does it automatically entail a denial of the other(s)? I believe we have a tendency to assume that's still so, because in previous eras—e.g., in the Jim Crow era—it did mean that in a very real way. But now, the idea of the "dominant culture" is a little more complicated than simply "white culture." Maybe that means there's some room for variation, and room to keep what once had to be denied.

My mother passed away a little over a year ago, and my father passed just this last November. More than ever, I am constantly reminded of the pieces of them that make the whole of me. Why I read what I read, why I speak in the cadence I do. Who gave me that favorite sweater—what did they know about me that would make it my favorite? Why I feel about the world the way I do. Some of it is unique to me, I suppose, but so much of it is given to me by my parents, and their parents and so on. Our personalities are our inheritance. So, then, how do you walk away from who you come from when they are encoded in your DNA? If Ida Mae marries a white man, will she still worry that their first child’s skin will be dark like her mother’s, or her brothers’? Will the baby’s heritage show itself in the genes? Or just in a familiar smile, a way of laughing that twists Ida’s heart because it sounds like the brother she left behind?

To always be afraid that some of your “self” might be showing—what kind of a life is that? It’s a life so many people have lived, by choice or by necessity. I know at least two people who discovered only after their mothers’ funerals, that their mothers had been secretly Jewish. I know a boy whose oldest sister is in fact his mother. A charade that the entire family played for years. I only learned the truth when the boy was whining one day and called his sister “Mommy.” The middle sister, my friend, pulled me aside later to explain. And it was never mentioned again. And then there was the former acquaintance who believed himself to be securely in the closet, unable to remember the drunken cocktail hour during which he outed himself (in very unfortunate language) to his bosses. (It did not matter to them that he was gay, but the manner in which he told them… and the entire bar, left something to be desired.)

T: That is such a tough way to be outed -- when you stumble and do it to yourself. A woman I knew had a child with a man of Mediterranean ancestry, and did not let that secret go until her son had children of his own, and her grandchildren had a genetic disorder common to people of Mediterranean ancestry… there really is no way to walk away from who you are, when it is encoded into your DNA. And even if the secret is mostly kept, when it is discovered, that same explosion occurs sometimes, as those who thought they had a right to know the secret of your true self feel ultimately betrayed.

What does it cost to be “sister” to your son or your nephew? What does it take to deny that you ever gave birth? What does it mean to hide your faith, your heritage because the people you move among, work with, the people you marry might despise you if they knew the truth? Clearly, for at least one of the above people, the pressure was too much, and the secret burst forth like steam erupting from an overheated engine. Imagine, then, the pain of holding the truth in for the rest of your life.

AF: It's quite interesting living where I do, in a rather large town that still, in many ways, retains many small-town characteristics. There are still milieus where I keep quiet about the Pakistani heritage I get from my father—especially over the past eight years—and about the fact that, yes, he is a Muslim. And I feel like, on a day-to-day basis, I AM passing—for somebody Latina, maybe, or Mediterranean, or just somebody with a really dark tan. Being mixed does mean that sometimes, even if you don't mean to, you're hiding something about yourself simply because it's not immediately apparent.

Now, some of you are thinking, “I could never do such a thing.” Those of us who believe we are too righteous, too proud, too much our selves to pass as anything other — what are we lying about? How are we passing?

Some days, I’ll walk down Rodeo Drive and put my nose in the air, walk into a shop like I own the place because, for all the shopkeepers know, I’m a millionaire. Sometimes I pretend I’m waiting for someone because I don’t want to look like I’m alone at the bus stop as the sun goes down. And once, in college, I allowed a friend to tell people I was in a recovering alcoholic because I didn’t want to drink at a party and everyone was so insistent that I should. It wasn’t my idea, but I didn’t deny it once it was said. Small transgressions? Maybe. Not with the weight of cost that racial, sexual or religious passing implies, perhaps, but it gives a taste. The frisson in the spine, the tiny terror of being found out. The fear of being discovered a fraud by either side of the line you’ve crossed. (The rehab rumor earned me whispers and sympathetic nods—and a sense of guilt. I did not drink in college—it would be like falling off the wagon and suddenly I found I had an example to set.)

Now imagine that that terror never leaves. That it grows, that it wraps itself around the base of your brain and calls it home to stay. It can’t unmake who you come from, only force you to suppress it time and time again. And then, I wonder, do you eventually suffocate? Or does only the part of you, the secret, the offending detail, die?

T: A difficult and poignant question, which reminds me of another question asked by the poet Langston Hughes. "What happens to a dream deferred?"

Keeping who we truly are a secret must cripple in so many, many other ways. Passing for reasons of race, gender, class, or ethnicity is historically depicted tragically in literature and film -- and nowadays, it's played in an exaggerated way for laughs, but few people explore it seriously, and even fewer in YA literature. Sherri, I really appreciate that you kind of climbed out there on a limb and wrote about this -- from a historical perspective, which allows us to both consider our distance from the past, and to think about our identity within the context of our own times.

AF: Yes--and we're honored that you chose to stop by and share your thoughts with us. Thanks!!

A discussion guide for Flygirl is available on Sherri's website.

Continue on the Flygirl: Mostly Virtual Blog Tour!

Read Sherri's funny interview at The Five Randoms,
Find out what she's looking forward to this month at Bildungsroman,
Next Monday, stop by The YA YA YAs for a thoughtful Q&A, and then wind up the tour with Shelf Elf on the 13th.

After that, Sherri's off to Hedgebrook, for two weeks with no phone, no worries, and someone else to make the coffee. Sounds like a well-earned writing retreat to us! Congratulations!

February 01, 2009

Katsa, Full of Grace -- and Choices

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Katsa is used to being alone. Her mismatched eyes announce that she is a Graceling, singularly Graced like many in seven kingdoms, but particularly Graced because Katsa can kill anyone, and anything. She is a killer, and killed her first man when she was eight. She is her uncle, Lord King Randa's, enforcer, his royal thug.

And she hates it.

But Katsa knows how to be no one else. She has a useless Grace, a power she never asked for, and which can only be used by the word of her King, and by the wildness of her own temper.

Other people are intelligent and can get along in the world. But Katsa is a animal-girl, wild and raging, full of unintelligible emotions and not good enough to be with others. Randa reminds her of this often. She has no knowledge, and should thus have no opinions, and do nothing but what she's told. Katsa follows these rules successfully -- but Randa is a bully, and using his enforcer as an instrument of torture is his favorite way of keeping his kingdom in line. Until the horror begins to seep in too deep, and what Randa asks is too much. Then Katsa casts about to find another way to live, a way that enables her to do her job, but to undo some of the harm in the kingdoms. A way for her to be a person, and to live among people.

Katsa begins to make a sort of peace with herself and with the world, until she meets another Graceling, a Liend prince. And then, everything begins to slide out of balance.


But Katsa is a fighter. If she cannot kill this prince, she can at least figure out a way to keep her life the way she needs it to be.

One way or another.

Kristin Cashore has written the perfect kind of book that will make a reader refuse meals and bed in order to just keep reading. I appreciate the way Cashore is true to the character to the very last, and when readers turn the final page of this book, they, like me, will heave a huge sigh, and hope plaintively for more. It's truly a thing of beauty, and I don't say that often or lightly.

Buy Graceling, and pretty much anything else this woman writes, from an independent bookstore near you!

Among the Hidden in the Pages of History

Much of 19th century American literature was about pretense -- about passing oneself off as someone else for whatever reason. Writers like Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Faulkner and Kate Chopin are some of the more well-known writers who used this ploy.

Many Americans in the 19th and early 20th century used the size of the country and the new anonymity of the industrialized cities to change their status, and their community standing. Women passed as men. Men passed as women. Immigrants passed as natives. Jewish people passed as Protestants. Young people passed as older people. And minority men and women passed as members of the majority race.

It happened more often, perhaps, than anyone thinks.

Consider the story of Alice Jones Rhinelander, a nanny who fell in love with Leonard "Kip" Rhinelander, whose family was friends with the Vanderbilts, and had their names in the social registry of New York's wealthiest families. As told in the book Love on Trial, Alice, whose English mother and biracial father had immigrated from England, and whose father was a taxi driver, attracted the notice of this boy, who noticed her back. They dated quietly for three years, and then married in 1924. The newspapers had a field day with the idea of one of the upper crust marrying a commoner -- and they probed and pressed to see just how common she was. And questions were raised.

A year later, Leonard would take Alice to court and accuse her of trying to pass as a Caucasian woman in order to marry into New York society.

While it was never against the laws of New York for couples to marry interracially, since New York was the home of the wealthy, there were stringent rules designed to protect the elite from the social climbers. And though Leonard lost his bid to prove himself unknowingly taken in -- after she had to partially undress in front of judges and lawyers -- Alice Jones Rhinelander had to remove his fancy name from hers, in return for a substantial amount of money. Eventually Leonard got his divorce, and his longed-for retirement from the lights and the scandal.

Of course, Alice had the last "laugh," if there was anything to smile about in this story. She outlived them all, and put the Rhinelander name back on her tombstone where she felt it belonged.

The one-drop rule was created to keep people separated. Many assumed that those with even one drop of African American blood were unsuited to do a lot of things -- like fly airplanes or help with the war effort.

One girl named Ida Mae Jones thought otherwise.

Don't miss our interview with Sherri L. Smith, author of Flygirl, tomorrow!