February 28, 2011

A Review In Memoriam: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

I checked out a copy of this book from the library.

Reader Gut Reaction: I wish I'd read this one sooner, and I wish I'd had a chance to know the author* who created such an absorbing, quirky, funny, sad, very real story. The details about photography were a lot of fun (of course, I'm an art nerd, so of COURSE I liked that) and the quotations from photography books and manuals were a great way to set up each chapter, as they complemented the story in a sort of lateral way.

Concerning Character: It was the characterization that hooked me in this story. I was really impressed with the author's portrayal of Blake as a convincing, well-rounded, and sympathetic teen guy narrator. Blake is a good person, but he's realistically flawed, too. Even for a reasonably insightful guy like him, sometimes it's hard to figure out what to say, what to do. I also loved all the side characters—his girlfriend Shannon, who is perfect for him in so many ways but is herself only human; his friend Marissa, whose friendship starts to get awfully complicated; his sometimes-sympathetic, sometimes-aggravating older brother Garrett. I think I loved his family most of all. They're a happy family, a family who gets along well and loves one another without being too good to be true—in stark contrast to other families shown in the story, and frankly, in stark contrast to the glut of troubled families that saturate the YA literature market.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories about coping with family difficulty like Blythe Woolston's The Freak Observer, which, similarly to Flash Burnout's use of photography how-tos at the beginning of each chapter, includes physics principles and problems as an accompaniment to the story. Also recommended for fans of Barry Lyga's smart, reflective male narrators.

Themes & Things: Blake makes a good teenage Everyman. He's a nice guy, he tries to do the right thing, but like most of us, when things start to get complicated, it's hard to sort out your thoughts and zero in on the right thing to do. And sometimes you mess up. Good intentions vs. imperfect behavior, friendship vs. love, conflicting loyalty, the meaning and responsibility of family—these are all themes that drive the story.

Authorial Asides: Everything in this story is very tightly set up from the very beginning, from Blake's at-times-tense relationship with Shannon, to the stress in Marissa's family life, to Blake's mildly adversarial relationship with his brother. Each of these relationships changes and develops over the course of the story in ways that are natural without being too predictable. It was well crafted from both a plot and character standpoint. I liked it that his brother Garrett had a life (and a subplot) of his own that created a sort of complementary backdrop to what was happening in Blake's life without taking over the book.

*For more on the author or to contribute to the fund her family has set up for her son's college education, see our posts here and here.

You can find Flash Burnout at an independent bookstore near you!

February 26, 2011

Weekend Miscellanea

Just a few random bits of news and links for a weekend morning...

...If you saw our earlier post or any of the other kidlitosphere blog posts about the passing of L.K. Madigan, you might like to know that a trust fund has been set up to help provide for her son Nathan's college education--go here for details on how to help, and a heartfelt post from her husband.

...Another Kidlitosphere regular has had one of her books challenged: author and blogger Cheryl Rainfield's book Scars was challenged by a library patron in Kentucky. Read more about the challenge here, here and here, and read Cheryl's response.

...Ending on a thoughtful note, aspiring YA author Nicola Richardson raises some interesting points about writing race in YA in a guest post over on the YA Highway blog. Nicola says that, for her, "writing about other races and culture is always about the two R's: Respect and Research."

Your personal beliefs and thoughts almost always bleed into your writing and if you have any misconceptions or stereotypes about any race, don't write about them, because it will seen. Instead, think about why you feel or think that way. Work through it. Take a hard look at yourself and ask some very tough questions. If you can't do this, leave diversity alone.

Of course, I think that it can be very difficult to know all of one's misconceptions and stereotypes and whether they've bled into one's writing, even when you're doing your best to be authentic. My opinion is not that one shouldn't necessarily write about another race or culture for fear of writing a stereotype--rather, I think there's a third R, and that's Readers. Have someone read your work, and give you their honest opinion about what isn't hitting the mark. You'll have the potential to learn more that way than if you never try at all, right?

February 24, 2011

Has it really been since 2005?!

Well, gosh! It's been awhile.
There's been a bit of chat here in the years since grad school, on everything from book evaluation vs. self evaluation, our good times at the ALA, our Cybils participation, our author interviews, our thoughts on ethnicity and identity, and our love for ancient, sexist science fiction. And of course, there have been the very funny and to the point Toon Thursdays.

In the intervening years since we started our blog, our writing dreams have started to come to fruition, the time we have to spend blogging has gotten shorter and shorter, and we've been driven slightly mad by the FCC, and the realities of being a blogger in a print-focused world. It hasn't been bad, though. It's been a hoot, and here's to a few more years at the keyboard.

Happy Blogoversary to us!

February 23, 2011

A Sad Day in the Kidlitosphere

In case you hadn't heard already, Oregon author L.K. Madigan has passed away, losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. I posted about it on the Cybils blog just now.

L.K. Madigan was the author of the YA novels Flash Burnout and The Mermaid's Mirror. What a sad loss for our community. Speaking for both Tanita and myself, our heartfelt condolences go out to Lisa's friends and family.

February 22, 2011

FANFARE... SFWA Announces the 2010 Nebula Awards

As announced by the SFWA Awards folk, it's the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

* Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
* White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry)
* Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)
* Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)
* The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)
* I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)
* A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
* Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Ahh, it feels good to have read five out of eight of them so far. What about you?
Sadly, I couldn't get into the first Westerfeld novel, so the second one isn't on my list -- I maybe need to try again? Or, if you've read the second one, is it stand-alone-y enough to read? I just realized I never reviewed the Cybils nominated Pratchett novel here -- since I read it twice this weekend -- again -- perhaps I should do that!

Has anyone read Hereville? I like a novel with a girl and a sword. That sounds promising...

February 21, 2011

Monday Review: Chasing AllieCat by Rebecca Fjelland Davis

I picked up a review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. Chasing AllieCat is now available in paperback.

Reader Gut Reaction:What impressed me most about this book was how much complexity and honesty of emotion the author was able to pack into what is initially a deceptively simple setup for a story—Girl Spends Summer with Small-Town Relatives, Leading to Self-Discovery. It's not a premise that I'm necessarily drawn to, but other elements of the story helped draw me in, like the characters' love of mountain biking—and their discovery of a near-murder. Oh, and that great cover.

Concerning Character: Once I was solidly involved in the story (which didn't take long) I found myself really enjoying the voice of the narrator, Sadie Lester. It's very honest and real, and the quiet simmering energy of her personality fits her role as first an observer and, later, a girl determined to find out what's happened to her friend, Allie. Allie herself is a character who's compelling because of her mysteriousness—Allie doesn't know much about her, not even where she lives, and those details end up being of crucial importance after Allie disappears. Allie also makes a great complement to Sadie, encouraging her to improve her biking and not taking any BS. Of course, there's the love interest, Joe, who first comes across as a just-slightly-bad-boy but is really just a nice boy trying to battle intense grief. And, finally, there are Bad Guys, and boy, are they scary Deliverance types.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories of going away for the summer and finding yourself in the process, like Sarah Dessen's Keeping the Moon and Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos; stories about overcoming your own troubles enough to trust others, like Jennifer Hubbard's The Secret Year or The Miles Between by Mary Pearson; and stories about pushing your limits.

Themes & Things: The idea of self-discovery is strong here—specifically, discovering what you're really made of when you're put to the test. That theme comes out in so many ways, from Allie's mountain biking to Joe overcoming one of his most intense fears to Allie confronting her demons (I don't want to give too much away, so I won't be more specific than that). Another important part of this story is the meaning of friendship, and what it means to stand by someone through thick and thin and trust them enough to reveal your secrets.

Authorial Asides: As a fellow Flux author, I met Rebecca Fjelland Davis at the Kidlitcon last October and at ALA this past January, and I really enjoyed talking with her. (You know those people that you just immediately hit it off with? I love that, and I'm happy to have another "author pal" out there.) You can visit her on her website and blog, and read more about her own impressive exploits as a mountain biker.

You can find Chasing AllieCat at an independent bookstore near you!

February 17, 2011

A Writing Epiphany, Plus Links

I don't always post thoughts about writing as much as I really should--I often leave those for my personal blog, reasoning that it's mostly semi-coherent stream-of-consciousness meandering anyway, and we're professionals around here.

Today I'm saying nuts to that, because I can't help sharing yesterday's epiphany.

I've often wondered why it is that I seem to follow a particular pattern when plotting and planning my stories: I'll start working on setting and characters, coaxing the seed of an idea into something a little less formless, and then, as I start to write the beginning and take notes about the middle, I'll suddenly have these exciting ideas about the climax and endpoint that I didn't have back when I was in the exclusively notetaking stage. Then, it's a matter of finding my way from Point A to Point, um, D.

I'm back in that exciting, bottom-dropping-out-of-my-stomach stage of first-drafting, working on a brand-new project, and yesterday morning I had a realization about WHY the above strategy, or method, or whatever, ends up being the case for me when I write. Writers, remember all that stuff about the importance of knowing what your character wants, what motivates him/her, what is at stake for him/her? I think what happens for me is this: once I start writing a scene from a character's viewpoint, with their desires and motivations in mind...(here's the part that makes me feel like a jerk)...then I become much clearer on what the character has to lose over the course of the story's events.

If they want X, then part of my job as author, in order to create tension, is to come up with plot events that thwart them in their achievement of X. And, if they really, really LOVE something, then a great climactic moment for the story would be the actual or apparent or even partial loss of whatever that thing is that they love. All you need to do is start with that character's drive, their desires, what would make them happy and comfortable, and then take it away or make it somehow difficult or impossible to achieve. Plot events will arise from that, as long as you've got your characters and setting, your backdrop, in place.

What cruel, cruel puppetmasters we writers are...

Aside from all that writerly stuff, here are a few interesting links that came my way lately. Firstly, an article from the New York Times that's very timely with respect to the release of The Latte Rebellion--it's called "Race Remixed: Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above," and one of the author's assertions is that "Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity." I'm not entirely convinced by everything the author puts forward in this piece, but it's excellent food for thought, and brings an important topic up for discussion.

Speaking of the NYT, via the Expression Online newsletter, I learned that they've named a new children's book editor for their Book Review section: Pamela Paul, a nonfiction author in her own right who has worked in the past for Scholastic. In Publishers Weekly, she says she "hopes to give children’s books more attention on the Times’ Web site," which seems like a very good thing.

Lastly, we're very glad that fellow authors Bruce Coville and Elizabeth Levy made it safely out of Cairo during the tumult of the past weeks!

February 15, 2011

It's Kind of a Funny Story... Until It's Not.

"You never would have guessed what I had been through; where I had been. I didn't look “crazy”-I never had. I looked like any other teenage girl. I went to classes with everyone else. I talked to other kids. I attended school events. I would have the seen your dance team, had I gone to Waunakee High School. And you would never have known. In fact, the next time you perform, I want you to look at the kids in the audience. About 1 in 10 children under the age of eighteen have a mental illness; 1 in 5 have a serious mental illness (SMI) like the ones you mock. ONE IN FIVE.

How many kids are watching you perform? How many are in your school? How about in your district? Your town?"
~ Erika, age 14

I can guarantee you that we don't do politics here in the Wonderland Neverland tree-ship. (Look, it's a pirate-themed treehouse. Just...go with it.) We may watch the news, but it stays out of the blogging, unless it has something to do with young adults and children's literature. This isn't entirely about literature, but it does touch on children, young adults, and a big elephant in the room of our society.

We really admire and appreciate ourselves some Ned Vizzini, and we're really glad that his book we enjoyed has recently gone on to movie fame. When I read his book in 2006, I was uncomfortable with how funny I found it -- because Mental Illness Is Not Funny... but I reread it, and found myself relieved. It is real. It has poignancy and bright/dark moments which are so very normal to how life goes, to the way I feel. It's Kind of a Funny Story is most important to me because it highlights the decision to live, and get help when faced with what a friend and I call Those Intrusive Thoughts that make hanging one's toes off the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 a.m. seem like a really good idea.

Most people have a lot more experience with those kinds of thoughts than one might think.

Mental health issues are the biggest elephant in the room, EVER. They are hugely awkward in our society. When the "American dream" is to, by our own effort, rule our particular little worlds, a loss of control through mental challenges has a massive stigma to the American -- heck, to the WORLD public. No one wants to be associated with the stereotypical "crazy person" who has to miss days of work and school, staying home and struggling. No one wants to be "that guy," the one who has to take medication, who sometimes emotes too much - cries or laughs too easily, who has blackout panic attacks in a crowded hallway, or who falls apart at the drop of a grade.

It is something we all fear. Therefore, it's really easy... to make fun of it.

Which is what happened, inadvertently, a few weeks ago at a Wisconsin high school. The pep rally routine featured cheerleaders with black makeup smeared on their faces, snarled hair, scary expressions, and the words "Psych Ward" on their straitjacket-looking uniforms as they danced through a "fun and catchy" song to get school spirit up and going. "We Get Crazy" is the title of their routine.

All right. The finger-pointing and shouty bits of the dialogue can go on without us. We can agree that the routine was insensitive and surreal without all of the screeching, and we can also probably agree that it was a misjudgment by the head coach, who isn't an Evil Person and didn't intend to humiliate or shame, just create a dance to a "catchy and amusing" hip-hop song.

Conversely, some of us might even agree with the NBC sportswriter who claimed that it's a political thing and wrong to teach kids to back down under pressure, and that the cheerleaders should go on if they feel okay about things, and everyone is oversensitive these days, and should shut up. Yeah, someone can probably agree to parts of all of that.

I was able to pass the news story without public comment until I ran across a letter of response. Erika, who shares her story without adding a last name (for obvious reasons), writes with frustration and passion an open letter to the head coach of Waunakee Wisconsin High School.

I blink when I think about the statistics that Erika quotes. One in ten young adults below eighteen have a mental illness, one in five have a serious one. One in five is a REALLY big number. Does YA fiction reflect this? Or is this invisible to YA authors, too?

Other than Ned Vizzini's book, what was the last book I read wherein someone had a serious mental challenge? Okay, there are some classics: the Sonya Sones book, Stop Pretending; Patricia McCormick's Cut. There was an old book I remember reading called Lisa, Bright & Dark about a girl with severe mood swings. Deb Caletti's Wild Roses comes to mind, as does When She Was Good, by Norma Fox Mazer (boy, that's an old one.) More recently, Dia Calhoun wrote The Phoenix Dance, a fantasy retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses -- cleverly paralleling their dance mania with bipolar disorder. The intensely arresting Tallulah Falls by Christine Fletcher is about a drop-everything kind of friendship, and a very impulsive friend.

There are more novels, there must be -- can you think of them? Have you read anything that struck you as extraordinary? I'm thinking of making a list to post -- fiction which depicts people with wonky brain chemistry leading lives with meaning and humor and balance, in spite of school and work and life's crap. Let me know if you can think of any real standouts which resonated with you.

My point, if I have one, is to let Erika know that I, as a writer, hear her, that this is bouncing around the echo chamber in my head, and that I'm still listening. And, that I know how easy it is to make fun of what we fear, but this isn't funny, and smart people aren't laughing.

That's all.

(Mostly)cross-posted @ fiction, instead of lies

February 14, 2011

A Seasonal Pick: Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors

I picked up an advance review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. Mad Love is now available in hardcover.

Reader Gut Reaction: I have to admit—I wasn't entirely sure I'd like a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche. Fortunately, this wasn't a straight retelling; the author took a "REAL story of Cupid" approach, setting the tale in modern-day Seattle. Not only that, she made the book not so much about Mr. Eros—currently known as Errol—as it was about the narrator, Alice, and her coming into her own. Helping Errol commit the true story of his life to paper provides the vehicle for Alice to sort through her own confusing life, and helps Errol/Cupid become immortal in a different way. Though a few aspects of the story seemed rushed in terms of their resolution toward the end, this was great light reading, and perfect for Valentine's Day.

Concerning Character: This book's cast of characters is surprisingly multilayered—at first glance, they may seem like a collection of humorous types (and, in some cases, archetypes), but everyone is realistically flawed, unique and human. Yep, even Cupid. Alice—cursed with the last name Amorous, thanks to her romance-writer mother—is an engaging narrator, just a regular girl in many ways, struggling to cope with a rather unusual life. Her mother is in a care facility being treated for bipolar disorder, which they're trying to keep a secret from her mother's publisher and the media. Alice really wants what a lot of other girls want: a stable life, free from the extra responsibilities that her mother's situation has forced her to take on; friends; maybe even a boyfriend. Her potential love interest, Tony Lee, is appealingly geek-cute and the kind of nice guy who makes you go "aww..." Cupid is enigmatic and, well, mercurial, to say the least. And Alice's 4-unit apartment building is populated with an interesting cast of side characters and surrogate family members who all contribute to the plot in their own small, fun ways.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Myth and fairy tale retellings like Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Troy by Adele Geras, and the Ellen Datlow-Terri Windling-edited series of anthologized fairy-tale retellings.

Themes & Things: Obviously, LOVE is a major theme here—but we get to introduced to the different kinds of love as the Greeks saw them (Eros vs. friendship vs. agape and all that stuff), in a way that fits well into a modern setting. Alice comes to realize that loving her mother isn't necessarily about protecting her from everything like a delicate hothouse flower, but about connecting and communicating. She learns the difference between Cupid's lightning bolt of desire and her feelings for Tony Lee. I think the most important thing Alice figures out, though, is that love involves trust, and reaching out, and even a little risk.

Authorial Asides: There were a lot of sly nods here to writers, and writerly in-jokes that seemed to jump out at me—these might or might not be intrusive to some, but for the most part, I think teen readers (especially aspiring writers) will enjoy them, as well as the glimpse into the inside world of writing and publishing.

You can find Mad Love at an independent bookstore near you!

February 12, 2011

Desperately Seeking a Door Near Here...

You know how, when you're little, you sit and imagine the kind of house you'll have? And you know how you have those whimsical ideas that include, oh, the chocolate river from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or a tea set like The Red Queen's or a magical tollbooth like Milo's from The Phantom Tollbooth? Granted, not a lot of the things we wanted when we were wee are reasonably gettable -- it really is tricky to get down that hole to steal the Red Queen's tea things, and it's a right royal pain to clean up after that chocolate river, for instance, -- and the chocolate fountains people have at weddings?? are SO not even close -- but that's how it is when reality intersects with imagination, right?

Except, it's not. Well, it doesn't have to be. But most of us settle for Dull, and Accepted, and Typical, and Normal. The things we COULD have from childhood and imagination, we don't often have, because they're Too Much Trouble, and Hard, and not what we think we want anymore.

Unless we're Neil Gaiman.

People: I need Neil Gaiman's lamp post.

It is not fair that his backyard is part of Narnia.

I am getting a lamp post.
Yeah, yeah, fine. I am getting a back yard and a house first. Details, people, details. I am GETTING THE LAMP POST. This is all you need concern yourself with.

That is all.

The lamp post pictured is on the campus of Glasgow University. There are several others in the cloisters, that are equally as awesome and have the advantage of being in the cloisters, but it is not snowing in those shots, and The Lamppost of Narnia is ever in snow, and so this one must do.

February 10, 2011

Toon Thursday: Writer's Trading Cards

Today marks the start of a new Toon Thursday series...it may seem a bit similar to Common Species of the Literary World, but...it's just, um, NOT, okay?! Okay. Here you go:

Can you believe Valentine's Day is almost here? Mr. Aquafortis and I will be celebrating ours rather belatedly, a few days later, with dinner and a concert--but what about the young readers and children's lit enthusiasts in your life? What to do? Well, to us Cybils folk, the answer seems obvious--the Cybil Award winners will be announced on Feburary 14th, so it's a doubly exciting day. And Cybils Literacy Evangelist (and blog bud) Jen Robinson came up with a fabulous idea--instead of giving corporate mass-produced stuff, why not give a book? It lasts longer. :)

You can check out the short lists for ideas--and feel free to click through to Amazon from the Cybils page in order to buy, since each purchase via a Cybils affiliate link kicks a teeny bit of dough back toward purchasing prizes for the winning authors and illustrators. Everybody wins.

February 09, 2011

BBS, Stack Xchange, and Other Things to Pass On

Greetings! In case you haven't been pointed that direction for your reading and commenting pleasure, the Brown Bookshelf is doing their yearly celebration of African American authors new to the YA/children's literature scene. There is some FUN STUFF going on there -- including...

~ Today's post on Artist Arthur, who writes the MYSTYX paranormal fiction series for KimaniTru. The first three books so far feature Latino and African American characters. WOOT!

~ A recent BBS post introduced Knopf author Christopher Grant, author of TEENIE, of which the School Library Journal says “enjoyable reading experience” with “realistic descriptions of teenage life and appealing characters.” While he's not writing about very short protagonists, Mr. Grant is an economist and equities trader by day, and a YA novelist by -- weekends? Afternoons? -- and claims to have almost run some kids down to get to the last Harry Potter book. A man after our own hearts, yes?

~ Finally, you'll love funny girl Crystal Allen, whose debut middle grade novel, HOW LAMAR’S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY (Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins), is rolling in starred reviews. Readers will be rolling up to try their own trash-talking on the bowling lanes. Go and check it all out -- you'll be excited about the future after reading these positive culture-celebrating books.

Speaking of culture celebration, blog bud Trisha recently reviewed Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger for the Kirkus blog. Trisha enjoyed it, but found it slightly predictable, to which Neesha replied that sometimes, "predictable" was really, really good. In a thought-and-heart provoking response at the YaYaYa's, Neesha explains why. Read. Reflect. And then, reflect some more...

While we're not quite to this level of complexity of ebook readers -- we're close!! (I like the button where you can add zombies; click to see it full-size.)YA writers who've asked about retaining ebook rights to their work have more often been told that ebooks aren't catching on with the YA set. Several of the largest publishing houses reported only the smallest interest, and sales at 5% or below in 2010. Here we are, practically five minutes into 2011, and already the New York Times reports a BIG change. How we buy and read is changing every day. How will that change how we write?

Finally, here's a tool in the hand of writers -- a place to ask all of Those Questions. Normally, when I need to know something weird, I just hit up Google and hope they never give the Department of Justice a list of just where some of the weirder questions come from about, say, poisons and how long it takes someone to die, and whether or not certain things in combination could be fatal...For those not willing to risk that DOJ questionnaire, there's The Stack Exchange, where no one will think you're insane, just a writer. Ask about ways to render someone unconscious without seriously injuring them, discuss how long it would take to cross a city if your character could only make left-hand turns. Want to talk about the habits of good writers, find out how to revise something when you're not sure if the end needs changing, or you just feel like you've got to give back to the writing community and you have a lot of knowledge and experience to share? This collaboratively edited question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers may just be for you.

Have YOU read anything interesting this week?

February 08, 2011

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

I purchased a copy of this book.

Reader Gut Reaction: There's an immediacy to this story, and a clarity of detail, that made it easy for me as a reader to relate to the characters, even though we're immediately plunged into a setting that won't be a familiar one for most people—modern-day Burma. Because we start with Chiko, and Chiko's a fellow reader and book lover, there's something we can immediately cling to amid the unfamiliar welter of sights, sounds and smells. He's our anchor, and his strength of character helps sustain the reader, too, as we follow him through his forcible conscription and into an army training camp with dozens of other young men.

Concerning Character: Chiko is such a sympathetic character with relatable needs and desires, and I was easily drawn into his day-to-day relationships with his mother and their family friends. This made it easy to identify with him, despite the fact that life as a teenager in Burma is so different from teenage life in America. And, later, when we switch to Tu Reh's point of view, I felt quickly brought up to speed on life as an oppressed ethnic minority desperately trying not to fall into the cracks. Both young men are willful and determined, but where Chiko is quiet, Tu Reh is angry; where Chiko is book-smart, Tu Reh is cunning and desperate. The author skillfully brings the two together in a way that heightens both their differences and their similarities; she puts them in a situation that tests their mettle and calls upon them to make difficult decisions about what kind of people they want to be.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories of real-life wartime in other countries, like Nancy Bo Flood's Warriors in the Crossfire. Books about the lives of young soldiers, like Walter Dean Myers' Sunrise Over Fallujah, Flygirl by Sherri Smith, or Mare's War by our own Tanita Davis.

Themes & Things: This is, in great big capital letters, a Coming Of Age Book—both characters are forced into a situation that ends their childhoods early, that brings into stark relief the question of what kind of adults they want to become. Tu Reh makes a difficult choice between revenge and mercy, between seeing the enemy as "them" or as individuals. Meanwhile, Chiko learns that his inner strength and innate kindness and open-heartedness are just as effective tools in his survival as the outer strength he develops in the army training camp.

Authorial Asides: I was so impressed by the seeming ease with which the author brings us into the lives of these young men, and paints a picture of what it means to survive in today's Burma—not something that many readers will be familiar with. And I was riveted by both young men's personal journeys, as well as by their tense and suspenseful circumstances. Great work, Mitali!

You can find Bamboo People at an independent bookstore near you!

February 07, 2011

Things Which Sadden

Requiescat in pace, Brian Redwall, whom this afternoon the BBC is reporting died, at age 71, of a heart attack.

I was never able to get into talking animals in any series -- I was pretty much not even a fan of the Orwell talking animals -- but I know TONS of people love, love, LOVE the Redwall books, so for those of you in that bunch, have a cookie, we love you.

Things Which Cheer Me Ridiculously

Long before I reached these green and soggy isles, I was a big Aardman fan. We watched all manner of Wallace & Gromit movies, loved the bizarre Creature Comforts series and various bootlegged shorts from the UK. One of the more fun things about moving here was happily watching Shaun the Sheep after a day of work. (Oh, cartoon hour is a fine thing.)

Well, I am happy to tell you that one day (probably in 2013-14*) you, too, may watch Shaun from the comfort of your own movie theater. Yes. Aardman announced that there is going to be a big-screen film.

Color me ridiculously happy.

*Even computer animation takes forever -- but stop motion clay animation takes EONS. However, Aardman Animations is simply the best, so it's worth the wait.

February 03, 2011

Kids Lit Is Moving

Erm, no, I'm not talking about the entire world of kids lit moving, perhaps winging its way to some new utopian planet where everyone reads children's and YA books instead of declaring war on one another. (Although, honestly, I can't find too many problems with that scenario.) I'm just warning you that Tasha Saecker's long-running blog Kids Lit will soon become Waking Brain Cells and moving to a new URL. In fact, posts are already going up, so don't miss out!

And, well...aside from that brief interlude, I'm afraid I'm pretty quiet today. If it's morning, I'm probably working on the computer. If it's afternoon as you read this, I'm visiting teens at Gregori High School to talk about my book and about writing. If it's evening, I've probably crashed from exhaustion on the couch. It is one of those weeks. THOSE weeks. You know. But, if you're looking for entertainment, you could check out the latest post by new Guys Lit Wire contributor Chris Barton on "Dear 'Dear Teen Me,'" featuring links to some pretty awesome entries to the Dear Teen Me website. Warning: your reading list may grow.

Turning Pages: High Water Mark

That cwazy wabbit...

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Gung Hay Fat Choi, bunny people. Peace and serenity and joy to you, this year of the Rabbit. Gong Xi Fa Cai - may prosperity be with you as well.
(And thus we have reached the end of my Asian language knowledge, unless you want me to sing to you in Korean. You don't, right?)

I was all jazzed to present a book to you today, but I'm not quite done with it!! (Oops.) Nonetheless, I'm proud to talk up what I've read of Sherri S Tepper's The Waters Rising. While this novel isn't marketed to the YA audience, it has major crossover potential to readers of epic fantasy who are used to very convoluted storylines, and lovers of fantasy and fairytale -- who nevertheless wouldn't mind a post-apocalyptic kink in the works. Think a touch of Cashore's Graceling + the Kathleen Duey Resurrection of Magic duo + a soupçon of Susan Pfeffer's post-apocalyptic works. Weird, huh? And yet, that's what I love about the writing of Sherri Tepper. She takes those kinds of risks on story arcs and does "weird" with aplomb, turning it into something thought-provoking that sticks with the reader for a long time after.

So, as in many post-apocalyptic books -- make that all of them -- the contemporary modern way of life has ended. The Big Kill is an historical fact, and people look back and shudder at the die-off of people and species and the mass murders that occurred during that time. No one saw the murderers, and people are still isolated and afraid. In Norland, where people gather and live in peace, there is still terror -- of the rising sea, of the strangeness of the land, and curses abound -- real curses, where people get hurt, or die. Abasio is a wanderer with knowledge which he shares as he travels, taking the place of newspapers. A jack-of-all-trades type masquerading as a yokel, he meets a small Tiangawanese girl along the road who tells him of a task that she must do. She is the soul-carrier of the Woman Upstairs -- a princess who is dying from a curse. Abasio is the one who must help Xulai do one last task for the princess-- and Xulai is sure Abasio has been sent to help her.

(It was especially lovely for me to meet Abasio again - he appeared in another Tepper novel I read -- and ended the book grieving for a dear friend who died. It feels good to have him around, able to have other people like him, and it redeems the conclusion of A Plague of Angels for me. Ah, books. The only place in the world where we can have do-overs and make people happy again.)

A simple meeting between a young man and a little girl becomes the first step in an epic struggle. Xulai does her task, which allows her mistress to die in peace -- but a soul carrier's job is only begun once she carries the soul of another. Inimical forces (don't you just love those?) interfere with her return to Tiangawan. An evil woman - the Duchess of Altamont - with cursing powers from lost machines of the Before Time has killed and will kill again, in order to wipe out the Tiangawan and their nation. Around every corner it seems there is someone else in this woman's pocket, and there is danger aplenty. Part coming of age epic, part scary alternative world plotline, this story has plenty of heart, with characters readers will truly enjoy.

Reading back over the story description, it kind of sounds like the plot to a video game, but it really is a good book, and I'm more than halfway through it. Tepper's writing usually includes a sort of "abused Earth" theme in which The Environment Strikes Back. In this case, there's been deserts blasted into the ground by nuclear pollution, and now, the water is rising. And water stops for no one.

Because of that environmental bent, Tepper's work can be preachy -- just about everyone writing about pollution, population control and global warming can skew that direction without really trying, because a lot of people are unable to hear anything on those topics -- but she asks, as John Scalzi terms it "inconvenient questions" with her fiction, and allows the reader to really think about larger questions in terms of her work. The storyline is rich and well-crafted, and the reader dives in -- getting caught in the fantasy and science fiction-y elements, thinking deeply, and enjoying the ride.

You can find THE WATERS RISING and all the other fantabulous Tepper books, at an independent bookstore near you!