January 28, 2010

Turning Pages - POW! A Superheroine's Debut

"It's one of those unexpected gift moments, like looking up and finding a mirror right in front of you, and instead of food in your teeth or a booger hanging from your nose, it's really you, and you like what you see." - 8th Grade SuperZero, p. 87

I do find it's kind of hard to write a book review if you keep rereading the book.

I've already told the story of The Book-Snatching Auntie, and am still snickering at my poor Auntie G., who was so embarrassed at "borrowing" a book from me, forgetting I hadn't finished it, and giving it away -- but I fully and thoroughly understand now why she started passing it around. Olugbemisola Perkovich's writing is that good.

Eighth Grade was the first year that I got into politics -- in my school, we had a recall of our class president. (THAT didn't go over well with the faculty.) At Clarke Junior School where Reggie McKnight attends, the election hasn't happened yet, but the candidates are getting ready to rumble - or in Vicky Ross's case, getting ready to yap. Endlessly.

Reggie wanted to be different this year. He was ready to step out from the pack, to show his classmates the Night Man graphic novels he's been working on since kindergarten, and let them know how cool he could be. He would have given it a shot, if it weren't for the fact that on the first day of school, right on stage, he lost his breakfast -- and gained a nickname. The whole school, practically, calls him Pukey, thanks to Donovan Greene, the ex-friend who makes Reggie's life miserable. Donovan's the king of the put-down, passing out names like "Acid Face" to the girl who has acne craters on her skin, and even hassling Kindergarten boys about their Dora the Explorer shoes. Donovan's a bully whose nicknames have sticking power, and he's buddied up with Justin Walker, the most popular boy at Clarke, who is also running for class president.

Of course.

Reggie's sick of the way things are at school, but getting involved in Vicky's campaign was the worst mistake he's ever made. On top of that, life isn't exactly copacetic at home, either. Ever since Pop got laid off, he's spending more time looking at what Reggie does -- and constantly telling him he could do better. Reggie's older sister, Monica, is just plain EVIL, and his Mom is always stressed and exhausted and leaving him notes about cleaning his room. When a youth group service project brings Reggie face to face with homelessness at the Olive Branch Shelter, Reggie wonders why things just suck so much. Why isn't here ever any change? Why are there wars and homelessness, and people like Donovan, making everyone worse? Why doesn't God just fix it?

What's the answer? Youth leader, Dave, doesn't tell people how to think - it's up to Reggie to find answers on his own.

With his redoubtable sidekick, Ruthie, spouting social justice wisdom from her New World Order Collective, and his boy, Joe "C" Castiglione stringing together his old-school hip-hop beats, "Jamerican" 8th grader, Reggie takes his first shaky steps on a quest for a world that makes sense. With a lot of humor and insight and in a seriously no-saccharine voice, Perkovich's debut novel strikes gold on a lot of levels, shining out with some home truths about faith, identity and friendship.

I really try hard not to gush about books anymore. After all, I'm a pseudo-professional writer now, right? Authors are my contemporaries. My peeps. I do not have to be in awe anymore.

Yeah, right, whatever. This book blew me away, and I'm excited to share this author's work. But, don't take my word for it -- check out more reviews from YA Books Central, and The Reading Zone.

This book has the Aunt Gertie Snatched Seal of Approval, and you can buy a copy of 8th Grade SuperZero from an independent bookstore near you!

January 26, 2010

Two from Asian American Authors

Absolutely Maybe was my first foray into Lisa Yee's YA fiction, though I've been meaning to check out her work for literally years now. I guess this just falls into that capacious category known as "Everybody Else Has Read This Book or Seen This Movie and I Have Evidently Read and Seen Practically Nothing." Anyway, better late than never--and I was not sorry I'd picked this one up.

My reactions were twofold: 1. It made me want tacos. (A taco truck plays a very prominent role in the story) And, 2. While it was hilariously funny, the characters were still very real--a difficult balance to strike. I didn't always LIKE the characters but they were very true-to-life. Narrator Maybelline "Maybe" Chestnut is the daughter of an ex-beauty-pageant-participant, current-charm-school-diva mother--and Maybe knows she's not what her mother would have hoped for in a daughter. Their relationship is less than ideal, so she goes looking for her birth father, though all she knows about him is that he's a Hollywood hotshot out in California. Still, she's hoping she might learn something about herself--and boy howdy, does she.

I have to give Lisa Yee extra props and thanks because this novel was helpful in terms of one of the manuscripts I've written and set aside for further thought--also about a character who has a less-than-ideal relationship with her mother and sets out with the intention of finding her father. The resemblance ends there, but I learned a lot about how to approach these themes (and how I can improve my first draft upon later revision...).

This month I also read Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger. During the difficult days and months after 9/11, I found myself frequently worrying about the safety and well-being of the Pakistani-American side of my family. The news kept reporting stories about innocent Sikhs or people of apparent Middle Eastern or South Asian descent being harassed and in some cases even harmed. Would something like that happen to my father, my uncle? My stepmother or stepsister? My aunt wears shalwaar kameez most of the time; would some ignorant person call her a terrorist?

In Shine, Coconut Moon, narrator Samar--aka Sam--has grown up steeped in mainstream American culture. Her mother, an atheist who was estranged from her traditional Sikh family, wanted Sam to fit in. But just days after 9/11, a strange turbaned man shows up at their door and reveals that he is Sam's Uncle Sandeep. As Sam gets to know him, she gradually becomes more curious about the family and culture she's never known, and why her mother would have kept her away from them when her uncle is obviously so kindly. But not everyone reacts positively toward Uncle Sandeep--and not everyone bothers to note that there's a difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, an Arab and an Indian...or a terrorist and a regular person.

The meaning and the role of culture and family lie at the core of this heartfelt novel--and the many complexities that underlie the individual sense of self. And kudos to the author for working in Sepia Mutiny, which has a rad new redesign since I last visited.

January 24, 2010

What I Meant When I Said That About Science Fiction

(Greetings to Charlie Jane & any io9 Peeps, who may have wandered thisward from the recent Is the Golden Age of YA Science Fiction Already Over? conversation at io9).

Gail @ Original Content gave me a heads-up about the conversation at io9 where we were both quoted.

To clarify the comments about YA Science Fiction I made here the other day: we saw vampires and zombies on the nomination list on the Cybils F&SF list this year. Of 134 books nominated in the young adult fantasy and science fiction category, we had few of what we can consider to be “real” science fiction – the kind that relies on actual science. (I can’t speak to what the middle grade science fiction and fantasy team faced, since I wasn’t on that committee, but their nomination list is also online right here.)

This year, we read:

  • Patrick Ness’ The Ask and the Answer, which some might argue is fantasy

  • Candor by Pam Bachorz,

  • The Carbon Diaries 2015, by Saci Lloyd,

  • and of course the Suzanne Collins sequel, Catching Fire.

  • The Tomorrow Code, by Brian Falkner

  • Falling Bakward by Henry Melton

  • We enjoyed the excellent short story anthology in Firebirds Soaring,

  • the intriguing cyberpunk Levithan by Scott Westerfeld

  • Fire, by Kristin Cashore, which may or may not count, depending on your point of view, and your definition of "monsters,"

  • The Walls Have Eyes, by Clare B. Dunkle

  • and Zenith by Julie Bertanga

  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner,

  • Academy 7, by Anne Osterlund

(Fellow FSF Cybs peeps, please tap me if I missed any.) Of 134 books, eleven science fiction books just didn’t seem to be a good balance for a category that is Fantasy AND Science Fiction.

Please note, this was not to say that there have been no YA science fiction books written -- I repeat my plea, we want to hear about them at Finding Wonderland, especially those with multicultural characters. My complaint, as Charlie Jane reported, was that they weren’t nominated for the Cybils, and that they’re not being talked up as much in the general blogosphere.

This post is also not to down fantasy. You know we love our fantasy - including fairytale retellings and the occasional superhero. I’m just finding that my interest in vampires and zombies, werewolves, and faeries, even, has thinned down remarkably. Twilight’s massive success and editors seeking a piece of it have supersaturated the market with the undead and the everliving. I'd love to see people just as excited about books which underscore discovery, identity, exploration. Surely they can be as awesome as the undead, the immortals, and other revenants.

The thing is, I still believe we've got to dream the future before we can see it, and science fiction is all about the dream. The younger we start dreaming of a better world, the stronger the hope that we can have it. With science fiction, we can rewrite the future. We need it.

January 22, 2010

STOP: Don't do it. [Egregious Clichés]

Writers, writers, writers.
Please. If you're a budding writer, a hopeful author, or even just a person who occasionally writes lists, PLEASE do not stoop to using clichés. Please. Do. Not.

I just had to put down a book because of this sentence:

The tailor smiled and his stitches flew, faster than she could think.

Look: no one, but no one sews faster than a person can think. And if they can sew faster than she can think, then boy has she got a problem.

Writers, you have been warned. Don't Do It.

This has been a public service announcement of the Most Egregious Language Blunders. Thank-you.

January 21, 2010

Another Yay; Stirring the Pot

We've got renewed reason to celebrate around here, as you've no doubt already heard. Unless you've been living under a very media-isolated rock, you'll have heard the announcement about the ALA awards--and my very own co-blogger, Tanita, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book award for Mare's War. That book is kicking butt and taking names this year, and I think I can safely say that we are all incredibly proud and excited. The ALA announced all of its other awards and honors on Monday, too; for the original release, click here, and for a roundup of other Cybils authors who were honored, check the Cybils site. There are a number of other truly wonderful and deserving titles on the Cybils finalist list, too, which is now available in printer-friendly format.

On that note, my work here as shill is done. :)

However, I also really wanted to share a quote I ran across this morning while reading a book review article (about the works of J.G. Ballard, with whom I'm not incredibly familiar) in the Jan/Feb Atlantic. The author of the article openly notes that he has never liked "so-called science fiction." Here's the quote:

The natural universe is far too complex and frightening and impressive on its own to require the puerile add-ons of space aliens and super-weapons: the interplanetary genre made even C.S. Lewis write more falsely than he normally did.

I was dumbstruck, essentially, by the article author's excessively pedantic and dismissive description of the entire science fiction genre. I know he's far from alone in that opinion, and certainly there are loads of pulpy science-fiction novels to lend weight to his assertion, but I can't help but feel that he's missing something essential here. Not just the many works that can't be distilled to mere "space aliens and super-weapons," but the element of imagination, of dreaming about the possibilities of the present and the future. It's as if there's no point in dwelling on anything other than grim reality and its equally dismal and/or incomprehensible implications for our future. But if that were true, we'd have no great creative works, no pioneering science. The creators of the Mars Rover certainly were not satisfied to remain earthbound.

Anyway, just sayin'. Rant over now. (And if you're interested, the article is here.)

January 19, 2010

Under Cover(s)

First, let me state: I have no idea if this is a good book or not. I just want to read it, to find out.

The author is Caucasian, and South African, which made me do an auto-flinch and not want to post about this, but I got over that. Judging a book by the author = worse than judging it by its cover.

And yet, what a cover. The artwork is by John Picacio, a World Fantasy Award-winning and Hugo Award-nominated illustrator of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

From Mr. Picacio's blog:
Relevant note here -- it's not often that authors have input during the process of making a cover. There are lots of reasons for this, and that could be a whole blog post by itself. The point is it doesn't happen often. In this case, Lauren was very involved, and she and Marc Gascoigne (publishing director) were fun collaborators. It was my first time working with Angry Robot, and a pleasure. They're building a terrific line of books. I'm really excited about ZOO CITY, and am already looking forward to its release in May.

This is out in JUNE in the U.S., and May in the UK. It's ...transitional cyberpunk. It's not YA, but it looks intriguing.

And look at that cover.

Just a little relief from Cover Fail(s) You Might Have Observed.

Via SF Signal.

January 16, 2010

Random Saturday Thoughts

I wanted to share a few choice quotes from Katherine Paterson's interview with Signor Sutton in the latest Notes from the Horn Book...

Teachers have almost stopped reading aloud to their classes because of the pressure of testing and tight curricula, but it is the books we read and talk about together that bring us closer together.


Since my first novel was rescued from a slush pile, it makes me sad that most publishing houses can no longer read unsolicited manuscripts, nor are many willing to take chances on novels that are not deemed immediately "marketable."

Some thoughts to ponder from the new Children's Literature Ambassador. May her term help usher in new opportunities to read to children at school and at home. And may she serve as inspiration and encouragement to new writers, helping them not to give up on their work despite the difficulties of getting a traditional publisher in this day and age. Ultimately, nearly all of us start out in someone's slush pile, whether it's a publisher still taking unsolicited submissions or an agent...(much as I am seduced by the outlandish pipe dream of some fabulous agent e-mailing me to say how much s/he was so impressed by my latest blog post and that I am obviously a preternaturally talented scribe who MUST be published immediately, repeatedly, and often...)

The Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers Workshop ALWAYS looks fabulous to me, and this year the excellent instructors include Eric Kimmel, April Henry, our local NorCal agent extraordinaire Jennifer Laughran, and more. If only I had all the money in the world for workshops and conferences...I mean, there's this, and Book Blogger Con, and this fall's KidlitCon (which I've got my eye on), not to mention the North Central CA SCBWI in April that I'm already going to, and the LA SCBWI in August...SIGH.

January 15, 2010

Slouching Toward Blogging Again

Glasgow 3

Winter = Dark + Cold

Because our boiler is out, and it is in the low thirties and high twenties and I have very little creativity in my head when I have to type wearing gloves, this is going to be a short post!

I am happy to be back in my own little Glasgow home, frozen as it is; six weeks spending time with friends and family is both too short and too long. Too short, as I have tons of people who tried to make time to see me -- and I just didn't have the ability to schedule any more people. Too long, in that optimally, a guest should stay three days in someone's home, not six weeks. We tried to stay out of our host/hostesses' hair as much as possible, but even in a big house, it's not easy. Add to that the solitude needs of a true introvert, and you know that I just need a few days OFF before I'm back to my usual self. Perhaps a few WEEKS.

One nice thing about the trip to California - besides the lovely green grass and trees and blue sky and visible moon and temperatures above freezing -- was hanging with A.F. -- twice -- and The Artist, R., who looks relaxed and artistic as everyone on sabbatical is supposed to look. I enjoyed getting to know my nephews, age 2 and 8 months, I enjoyed messing around in museums with my 13 and 18 year old sibs and my niece who is 20 (!), and I read happily to my heart's content. I got two copies of 8th Grade SuperZero -- two, because I was reading it, my aunt picked it up and read it, and then loaned it to a nephew in Southern California. Sooo, I went out and bought a second copy, and told her to stay out of my books.

Actually I can't say I minded her loaning it out too much. It just reiterates for me what an awesome debut book this is, and I'll be reviewing it here, soon.

So - more reviews, more books, more comments. Soon. As soon as a.) the heat is back on (and the toilet seat thawed) and b.) my brain is back on.

Meanwhile, you can vicariously enjoy the fruits of A.F.'s Christmas gift to me.

Pleasant Hill 105
Trust me, they were tasty, headless, armless, legless and all.

January 13, 2010

Line by Line

I caught wind of a new blog around the Kidlitosphere this week--it's The Daily KidLit Quote, and it's an idea I really like. Just a day-by-day collection of blog readers' favorite quotes from books, with a few thoughts on each one. Simple. Sweet. And I couldn't help but get sucked in because of the post about the opening line of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." I can't help remembering that one, and remembering how much I detested Eustace...

Speaking of great lines from kidlit, this week I also discovered that fellow writing group member Yat-Yee has a regular weekly happening called Grab-A-Line Monday, in which she shares a line or two that has stuck with her from recent reading and invites readers to do the same. The latest installment is here, and it's definitely inspiring and thought-provoking to ponder what makes these passages stick in our minds. As a writer, I can only hope to one day produce a memorable line or two...

January 09, 2010

It's That Time of Year...

...that is, time for the Comment Challenge, which is hosted this year by MotherReader and Lee Wind. It's a great opportunity to visit and re-visit blogs around the kidlitosphere and book blogging world, and show support for the community. I've been far too much of a wimp in past years, but I'm giving it a shot this year, and so far, so good--but we're only two days in. I still have time to fall off the wagon.

Of course, there are some of us (ahem) who are already awesome blog-commenting maniacs, but if you're like me, sometimes you need a little encouragement from time to time...and this is that time. If you haven't already, go sign up and check out the amazing list of participants.

There are a couple of other things I'd been meaning to post. Firstly, I got a really touching e-mail from Hardy Girls Healthy Women listing girls' top wishes for 2010. #1 on the list, from Devan, reads: "My wish for 2010 is for everyone to realize the importance of girls in their communities, that their ideas can change the world for the better." Check out other resolutions for cultural change from their Girls' Advisory Board on the HGHW blog.

Also, a bit belatedly perhaps, we are SO STOKED to hear that the new Ambassador for Young People's Literature is Katherine Paterson--yet another much-loved and much-admired luminary who is excellent for the job. By the way--embarrassing admission here--I'm probably one of the only people in the universe, or at least of my reading generation, who has not read Bridge to Terabithia (I know, I know! Just don't judge me too harshly). But I've certainly read other books by Paterson and I look forward to seeing her put her own spin on the job so unforgettably trail-blazed by Jon Scieszka.

The Cybils judging period is well underway, and since I'm a Graphic Novels judge, I'll be avoiding reviewing any GN finalists under consideration, but expect a mother of a review post (or three) once the winners are announced! Just over a month to go...

January 08, 2010

Join Our Celebratory Mad Tea Party!

Okay, see all those spots around the table set with teacups? We saved those seats for all of you! See, we're celebrating something just a teensy weensy bit exciting and that is the fact that Ms. Tanita has been nominated for a NAACP Image Award for her 2009 novel Mare's War. So please join me in my Mad Hat and Tanita in her bunny ears and a rather disgruntled-looking Alice (with apologies to John Tenniel) and raise your cup with us! Oh, and do go check out this link to the awards--click on "Literature" and scroll all the way down to the teen/youth category. It made me all fidgety with excitement. Tanita, you go, girl!!

January 07, 2010

Anticipating in 2010

Those serving on the Cybils committee this year discussed that there was a SERIOUS dearth of actual science fiction in the finalists this year. We had quite a few decent fantasies, but real science fiction is getting harder to find. Let's talk spaceships, labs, planets, robotics, geneticists and cyborgs. If anyone hears of anything that's actual science fiction coming out this year, talk it up! I think YA really needs science fiction.

While you're thinking of that, though, here's one fantasy that sounds intriguing for the MG/young YA set: A Most Improper Magick: The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson by Stephanie Burgis, who is a big reader of Georgette Heyer, and Jane Austen. Regency fantasy! Here's the goods from the author's website:

Kat's mother was a scandalous witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and her stepmama is determined to sell Kat's oldest sister into a positively Gothic marriage to pay it off - so what can Kat do but take matters directly into her own hands? If only her older sisters hadn’t thwarted her plan to run away to London dressed as a boy and earn a fortune!

When Kat makes a midnight foray into her mother’s cabinet of secrets, though, she finds out something she never expected. Her mother wasn’t just a witch, she was a Guardian, a member of a secret Order with staggering magical powers - and Kat is her heir.

Of course, there’s no chance of Kat choosing to join the Order that forbade her parents’ marriage...but Mama’s magical mirror doesn’t seem to understand that. It keeps following her wherever she goes, even when the family travels to Grantham Abbey to meet the sinister Sir Neville, her oldest sister’s chosen fiancé.

And what with Sir Neville showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s untapped powers, her mother’s old tutor insisting that she take up her mother’s position as a Guardian, and her sister Angeline refusing to listen to her about anything, as usual...well, it’s a good thing Kat kept her boy’s clothing, because she may well have to use it--especially if the rumors of a highwayman are true...

Wanna read the first chapter? Here it is. Hope that holds you 'til April. If not, an author interview @ Willing to See Less should help. A Most Improper Magick debuts this April.

January 04, 2010

Celebrate the Old, Ring in the New...

Today marks the completion of the first two-year term of the very first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and the good ladies at A Year of Reading have put together a tribute to the outgoing ambassador, Jon Scieszka and all that he's done in promoting the love of reading in young readers and (ahem) those of us a few years beyond our youth.

Tomorrow, a new ambassador will be announced, but today, we say:


For a few recent articles by Mr. Scieszka, check out this L.A. Times holiday roundup of children's books and his recent hilarious and touching Huffington Post article about his term as the inaugural ambassador, in which he gives advice on how to connect kids with reading. We owe you more than kudos, sir! And whoever's next up for the job has some big shoes to fill...metaphorically, we mean, since we have no idea what Mr. Scieszka's shoe size is...

January 01, 2010