January 31, 2013

Toon Thursday: More Writer's Toolkit

Now you no longer have to think about who's populating your stories--just spin the wheel and watch your novel write itself! You're welcome.

January 30, 2013

this/that on a Wednesday afternoon

Overdue and most hearty congratulations to all of our writer friends who were honored, awarded, and praised in the recent ALA Youth Media Awards! You all are, of course, winners with us whether anyone gives you a plaque or not.

If you didn't make the awards, Colleen did, and even with the milkshake thing, she makes it sound fun.

As noted elsewhere, the Awards this year were disappointingly skewed toward the dominant culture except, of course, in those awards specifically for people of color. That's why series like Bordertown, coming from Scholastic this year, are a continually hopeful sign. Malín Alegría (ESTRELLA'S QUINCEAÑERA) writing about growing up bi-cultural is should be relevant and brave and worth reading.

It's the 21st year of the African American Children's Book Fair, held in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. If you've never heard of it, you may now consider yourself schooled. Hope to hear some of you can check it out.

Austen fans have myriad reasons to rejoice these days, but the biggest one yet may be the soon-to-be released Austenland, by Shannon Hale. Shannon's blog holds the latest news, and a little snippet of the film.

The Guardian Books kidlit club is hosting John Green for a podcast. It will be interesting the types of questions he gets asked, and the direction in which the discussion goes, with the recent clickbait piece in The Daily Mail about "sicklit" (and you'll note I provide you no link).

Kate Beaton has many awesome artist friends who she'd rather you didn't rip off for your suggestions Valentine's cards. Just in case you were concurrently thinking of dictators and communists and the language of love.

YA speculative fiction authors discuss which books they think would work well rebranded as YA lit over at SF SIGNAL. All hail to another vote for THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD!

♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦ ♦♦♦
“Two relatively ordinary sentences, overlooked for the very fact that they are meant to be overlooked, for they are words, and not all words do the same kind of work. Some are like warped planks strewn across a swaying drawbridge—they command the reader to halt at the precipice and admire its steepness before taking a deep breath and proceeding with caution. Others push us along with haste like a fierce backwind. But neither is less essential, and what makes them work as a whole is the interplay between the two, the gusts that push us to the edge of the cliff.”
An absolutely fabulous article about making your words do the work their intended, and not overwriting from Brooklyn writer Jack Cheng, called "The Keyframe Bias." Hat tip to Lissa Wiley for this gem on writing - and avoiding overwriting.

January 28, 2013

Picking Favorites, 2012

It's list season out there. Cybils faves that didn't quite make the shortlist, top new releases of 2012, and so on and so forth. Even Tanita posted a Cybils post-mortem here and a few more shout-outs (shouts-out?) here, in honor of award season.

You all win...um...this
clip art of the America's Cup!
I've posted a lot of links to those lists (particularly on the Cybils blog) and now, quite frankly, I'm jealous. So I thought, why not post my own list of favorite MG/YA reads of 2012? Not that I am any sort of authority--I'm not even a Cybils judge this year, and I've honestly had very poor presence in the blog realm recently (though I've been toiling behind the scenes, I swear). But, as Tanita put it in her last post, I think those informal shout-outs are often just as valuable as official list-y, award-y things.

So, without any regard for publication date (because my reading pile has no such limitations), here were my favorite books read in 2012:

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Faves:

Dodger, by Terry Pratchett, was a fun alternate-history-fantasy-ish story that, while unconnected with Discworld, still contains plenty of Pratchett's characteristic humor and sympathetically drawn characters. And plenty of Victorian grime and mayhem to boot. Review here

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta. Damn, but I love these books. The first in the series, Finnikin of the Rock, was definitely a favorite, and the sequel was just as amazing. Adventure, drama, dark fairy-tale themes, a lost prince, a princess who may or may not be insane... I bow down. Review here

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. Again, a series I absolutely love, and again, amazingness from an author who is able to maintain the same high level of writing, of pure fantasy goodness, throughout each book. She is fantastic with the strong, capable female main characters. Review here

A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, which I re-read. Just as good as I remembered it from childhood. Review here

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. I'm not going to go on about it, although I COULD. Tanita and I were reduced to squealing fangirls. That is all. Review here, by Tanita

Honorable mention: I read both of Jonathan Maberry's zombie sequels to Rot & Ruin and they were both good fun. Reviewed here.

Graphic Novel Faves:

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke was just TOO CUTE and funny. It was last year's Cybil award winner for MG graphic novels, and it was definitely deserving. Review here

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks is a finalist this year, I believe, for Cybils Teen GNs. Not every story about fitting in at school also has a ghost in it...and not every webcomic makes a good graphic novel, but this one succeeds on both counts. Review here

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge. This was another Cybils finalist last year, and it charmed me by being the story of a young artist told partially through her own words and images, some of them quite dazzling and touching. Yay for stories about artistic types! Review here

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and Hope Larson. I couldn't have come up with a better person to rework this book in graphic novel format. Review here

Historical Fiction Faves:

This year I was basically obsessed with Bloody Jack books. Too much rollicking adventure and vivid historical/nautical detail for me to resist, I suppose. Plus I love the premise of a girl who can't help but thwart all of society's expectations for nice young girls, because it's just in her nature. Review here for the first two books.

Middle Grade Faves:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. If you loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret as much as I did, you'll want to pick this one up. All I can say with both of these is, I wish I'd written them, wish I'd drawn those moving, beautiful pictures. Review here

Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder. On the serious side, it's a book about coping with divorce, and does an amazing job of portraying that sensitively. On the other hand, it's funny, it's fantastical, and it's just all-around charming. Plus I was honored to take part in the blog tour for the book. Review here

Realistic YA Faves:

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King was a big standout for me this year. A heartbreaking and shocking story, with a relatable main character, that pulls no punches about how tragedy shatters your life and how difficult it can be to find closure. Review here

Writer Friend Shout-Outs:

I read some really good books by writer friends this year, too. Besides Grave Mercy and Bigger than a Bread Box, discussed above, I also enjoyed Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Stone, Jennifer Hubbard's Try Not to Breathe, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, and Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel. Here's me shouting out! Woo hoo!!

So there's my list of the books that really stood out for me over the past year. My thanks to the authors for all the happy hours of reading! Please keep writing. That is all.

January 25, 2013

O, Darling, It's Award Season...

Grateful that the ALA doesn't have a red carpet - short of that unofficial Betsy Bird thing.

EVERY YEAR I have thoughts on who should win various bits of the ALA awards; every year I think people were unfairly excluded from various lists of honors for whatever reason. Every year there's a tiny groundswell of indignation on the part of some author or another for perceived slights; every year there are those of us who shake our heads and reshuffle our TBR piles. Committee work reveals unexpected winners and we never know what to expect.

Inasmuch as there can usually be only one winner, every year I remind myself that if I liked a particular book, and let the author know, in many ways, that's a high honor - those are the things which personally have made me feel amazing. So, don't forget to tell an author you love their work and that you think they're amazing! Keep the post office in business and mail fan letters!

(Are you listening Sherman Alexie, Robin LaFevers and Elizabeth Wein? And Tamora Pierce, whose BATTLE MAGIC is coming out this year, for which I have, lo, long waited? And Leigh Bardugo, whose sequel needs to come soon, and Sarah Rees Brennan and Rachel Hartman from whom I'm also awaiting sequels and wish you GOOD WRITING??)

Oh, yes, dear reader; I can see how this list could go on and on and on and on.

Never mind. Use the force. Keep those love letters to authors - ALA awarded or not - coming. Thanks for spreading joy in the world.


Art by Madéleine Flores, ©2013. Hat tip to The Mary Sue.

January 24, 2013

Is Your Plot Manhandling YOU?

I know, that sounds like the punchline to some sort of bad Yakov Smirnoff joke ("In Soviet Russia, PLOT manhandles YOU!") but I'm pretty sure we've all been there. We think we're actually plot wrangling with the best of 'em, but the control is just an illusion.

I find plot wrangling to be the most difficult during a first draft. Arguably, maybe, I shouldn't even be trying to wrangle the plot while in the midst of just trying to get something resembling a story onto the page. Of course, I'm also not the sort of person who plans it all out ahead of time, plotting each scene in a detailed outline. I tried that before. It neither increased nor decreased the amount of revision I needed to do later. And, since I found it tedious and restrictive, I didn't do it again. Instead, I work with a looser notetaking strategy, which I can tighten as needed if it feels like things are spinning out of control--or, even better, if it feels like everything is coming together and I know exactly what has to happen. Actually, I find that keeping my notes loose in the beginning is more conducive to things coming together later in a more fluid and natural way. But that's just me--everyone's got different methods of working with plot.

We've been talking about it a lot in our writing group. One group member works with the Beat Sheet idea from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, which is a screenwriting tool. It seems like an intriguing way to approach it--from the perspective of a filmmaker, yes, but also in terms of figuring out how each event functions in the overall plot arc.

Another group member has recommended the tome Story by Robert McKee, which also happens to be about screenwriting.

There are books and articles galore about plot, and it seems as though I've read a great many of them, but I nevertheless feel like I'm bumbling about when it comes to plot--as long as I don't crash into something and create a catastrophic mess, I feel like I've succeeded. At the same time, I have to make my characters do the crashing and messing up. Yet I also have to be in charge. A conundrum to fell the mighty, no doubt about it.

What are your favorite plot resources? Please feel free to share.

January 23, 2013

TURNING PAGES: The Holders, by Julianna Scott

Here it is, folks, the first SFF novel review of 2013!

Reader Gut Reaction: Every sibling novel about sibs protecting each other has a special place in my heart. I loved that aspect to the story, and I loved that Becca was such a tough advocate, a la Catherine in Cynthia Lord's RULES, but because of the vast difference in ages, without the embarrassment. The real path a family has to walk to help a child in need is brought to life in this work. That being said, there were a few spots in this novel I felt should have been gone into further; Becca has a real respect issue with her mother which is shunted away as merely being Becca's problem with her father. It's obviously a tough call where to spend time on "emo issues" in a genre novel, but I think a little more would have made Becca's independent attitude and the relationship with both parents more believable. There were other spots where I saw the plot curveball coming well before it crossed the plate, but I remind myself that I'm not entirely the audience for the novel. I believe that overall it's a strong start to what's going to be an interesting series.

Concerning Character: Becca is seventeen, and already mostly an adult - she graduated with a 5.0 at fifteen and holds a waitress job until she feels more ready for college. She is mouthy and stubborn, and her intense hyperfocus is on forcing her mother to have some backbone. See, the problem is her brother Ryland hears voices. The school district has tried to help. Child protective services has tried to help. Ultimately, their "help" comes in the form of wanting to take Ryland away from his family. And every time, her mother has considered it. She only wants what's best for him, of course, but Becca disagrees what the "best" might be. Ryland's a good kid, for all that he's only ten. He deserves to have fun, and not be afraid of the voices he hears. But when two men from St. Brigid's in Ireland -- one really hot, and one really not -- want to "help" Ryland at their school, Becca sees red. Since when do special needs kids get scouted from the states to go to British schools? Since when does anyone but Ryland's family know what will "help" him? And there's one huge reason why these two guys can't possibly have Ryland's best good at heart: St. Brigid's is their father's school - and he's the one who abandoned them to be Headmaster there when Ryland was barely two weeks old, and Becca was seven. Why on earth would her mother think it was a good idea to send Ryland to him?

It helps that one of the guys is really attractive. Becca suspends much of her disbelief long enough to negotiate accompanying Ryland to Ireland - and there finds a world she couldn't have dreamed existed - beautiful, historic buildings, really nice people, the strange history and society of a people called Holders... and her father. In spite of that, for the first time, Ryland is wildly, truly happy - and absolutely normal for ten, which means he's too busy and involved to do more than wave to his sister in passing. When everything is going so well, who needs her?

In trying to figure out what to do with her life, Becca stumbles upon the truth that Ryland is important - more important than she could have ever guessed. But, he's only ten. What kid can possibly be responsible for saving the world? And what kind of sister is Becca if she's so busy trusting the hottie who brought them there that she doesn't see the danger until it's too late?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Sibling fiction, Only You Can Save Us (TM) fiction, and Fiction With Great Jewelry - including the Potter books, THE DRAKE CHRONICLES, by Alxyandra Harvey, DULL BOY, by Sara Cross, A Wrinkle in Time, and many more. An original premise that's a twist on a whole bunch of classics.

Cover Chatter: That there is one large jewel. What's hilarious is that there are big, ugly pieces of jewelry throughout the book - a ruby pinky ring, a chain-laden armband - and it's the mark of an author who isn't taking herself too seriously when she has a character call out the ugly jewels. (Nobody ever said The One Ring was gorgeous, they just all wanted to wear it.) The cover depicts a specific thing in the novel, and actually ties in -- so, well done, cover design crew!

Authorial Asides: I was surprised to discover that this is a debut novel; however, the author has been writing forever.

FTC: This is an unsolicited review from a NetGalley ARC, furnished courtesy the author. No money exchanged hands; all opinions are my own.

After March 13, 2013, you can find THE HOLDERS by Julianna Scott at B&N, Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith, or at an independent bookstore near you!

January 21, 2013

Comment Challenge 2013 and Other Sources of Shame

Lee Wind and Mother Reader, those lovely individuals and blogging stalwarts, are once again doing their blog Comment Challenge this year. It's going on RIGHT NOW, in fact. Unlike previous years, this year I didn't even manage to sign up, let alone make the attempt for a few days before flunking out in mild ignominy.

BUT. That doesn't mean I shouldn't be going around and visiting blogs and commenting on them, as is the whole point of the Comment Challenge. While I dearly wish I could respond with a resounding "Challenge Accepted!", my advice to myself this year is more along the lines of "Take five." I need to do better at allowing myself to rest, rather than making everything into a new obligation. Then I can focus on the things I really DO need to do. Like, well, whipping this latest novel into shape before it comes out in June. And other stuff.

Along those lines, I may be posting fewer reviews for a little while. Actually, that's more because I have a TBR pile with a lot of grown-up books in it that I need to attend to. But I'll also be doing some thinking about blogging in general, and what I can offer (more about that on my personal blog)...stay tuned, I guess.

January 18, 2013

Revisionist Racism, New Releases & Errata

Museum of Childhood 25

Children's lit aficionados have talked about this before - bowdlerizing children's books, trying to brush away evidence of an intolerant past. It's something American librarians, teachers, and parents have wrestled with, whether to remove TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO, and TINTIN from their collections, or to put the BARBAR books out of the reach of impressionable children. This time it's not the Americans concerned - it's the Germans, according to a report in the English language version of Der Spiegel, this past Wednesday.

The book in question is THE LITTLE WITCH ("Die kleine Hexe") which was written in 1957 - and which uses the word "Negro" as a descriptive term for two little boys.

"The two little Negro boys didn't come from the circus. No more did the Turks and Indians. The Chinese women, the cannibal, the Eskimo girl, the desert sheikh and the Hottentot chief were not part of the show either. No – it was carnival time in the village. The children had a half-holiday from school because of the carnival, and they were romping about the village square in fancy dress."
- translated by Anthea Bell

While apparently all of these children are German children in costumes - the Brit English translation of the phrase "fancy dress" - ostensibly only the word Negro is objectionable, possibly because there are children in blackface? Since the children are merely children playing, without an adult directing their play, the offensiveness might be hard for the average person to spot. It's a hard call for the German publisher, Thienemann Children's Books, as they insist that they only change word in order to allow new readers to understand the text. Much like the British publishers who eliminated words like "swotting" from the newer editions of the Enid Blyton "Famous Five" books, it's all about repackaging to create a new audience, to the publishers. So, to publishers, Negro is a confusing and long-ago word no one uses anymore. Okay, fine. But, what are they going to put now? To lovers of books, sometimes change = desecration. It'll be interesting to see which way this ends up.

Meanwhile, those who wrung their hands over the Evil Dark That Is Children's Lit should be gratified to visit Cornell's "Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes: A Dark History of Children's Literature" exhibit that runs through March 22. Items from Cornell's rare manuscripts room will be shown in the Samuel L. Hirshland Gallery at Kroch Library. People can then prove to themselves that the darkness in children's lit began rather earlier than they might think, from the scary 19th century "Der Struwwelpeter", all the way down to Harry Potter. Thank you, Cornell, for putting together a program which will satisfy people who just knew children's lit was going to the dogs... and for the rest of us who think original 19th century children's books are fairly awesome.

Museum of Childhood 25

I've meant to mention a couple of new releases which have come on scene this year. One is DOUBLE VICTORY by Cheryl Mullenbach. Full disclosure: I had the chance to read this book when it was just a neatly collated paperback ARC. Even without the gorgeous cover and sharp B&W photography, this was a fun, fun book to read, telling more detailed and individual stories of women who broke both the color barrier and the gender barrier to support the effort in WWII. I know a lot of people are "over" WWII, and wonder why so many stories this year are coming out of that time. Because the U.S. is constantly IN war nowadays, future generations must never, never, ever forget it, lest we make the tragic past again someone's future. These are important books.

Tanya Lee Stone's COURAGE HAS NO COLOR is the story of The Triple Nickel - the 555th Paratroopers - the only all African American paratrooper team during WWII. With pages and pages of photographs and lots of research, this is the kind of nonfiction stuff that I love. These stories are affirming and validating tales of the history of African Americans of "the greatest generation" and a reminder to present generations that they, too, have their part to play. COURAGE HAS NO COLOR is out from Candlewick January 22nd.

Periodically my agent goes to conferences and big ALA dos and returns talking about the forecast in children's lit, but that's usually after he pops over to Italy in February. Both Scholastic Books and YALSA President Jack Martin, have put out an earlier scoop on what's trending so far this year. In no particular order:

  1. Dystopian romances, vampires, and zombies remain, but angels seem to have been a passing fancy, thankfully. Actual science in SF is supposed to be on the rise - we'll see!
  2. Crossovers are trending, hard - it's not just those "new adults" who are driving the market, but adults reading YA now,
  3. Tough girl tales: Katniss ate the HUNGER GAMES for breakfast. As always, editors are looking for the next best thing...
  4. Two surprising trends, War and Bullying for family and nonfiction books this year. The trend toward war embraces cultural heritage - as seen in the aforementioned nonfics out already - as well as historical causes of war, and its details, seen in books like Steve Sheinkin's BOMB. Maybe this is the year we'll declare war on bullying?
  5. And finally manga remains - graphic novels, novels-in-comics, and more wordless books telling big stories.

January 17, 2013

Toon Thursday: More Psychobabble

Now presenting not only your toon for the day, but also a freshly updated Toon Thursday Archive (which I sheepishly realized I had not updated since last March...oopsie). Anyway, here you go:

January 15, 2013

Writer's Rites: All Alone With You

QUOTABLE: "The act of writing is not only about claiming our truths, our selves, but having the courage to not apologize when we do." ~ Robin LaFevers

...and there is indeed a part of writing where it is about struggle. AF and I are both writing and revising at this point, struggling to wrestle the tail ends of narrative into a cohesive (coherent?) conclusion, saying what we want to say, ending up where we need to end. It's tough, and it's the part where it's easy to not trust oneself - not trust oneself to have said enough, and not too much, and to trust oneself to go back and ensure that we've said what we mean to say - that we've dug deeply enough to get all of the bits of us which resonate on this topic. So, we're always glad when our friendly Shrinking Violet Robin drops by Writer Unboxed with new discoveries about her own writing journey. To wit:

The truth is, I feel sad when someone doesn’t connect with a book I’ve written. I want to connect with people through my fiction and feel I’ve failed when I haven’t. On really tough days? That feeling can be closer to shame. And no, I’m not proud of that. I’m rather horrified, actually. All that personal work toward self-empowerment, forgotten in a second. Sometimes I wish I could apologize to the reader; they invested time and energy in my book—time they could have used reading other books. I want to explain to them that I didn’t try to set out and write a boring or shallow book or flat characters or a distant heroine.

But the thing is, chances are that our book isn’t those things—even though some readers respond that way to them. Because the truth is, the writer only writes the first half of the book, it is the reader herself that writes the second part of the book. All that white space we leave in the book is filled in by the reader’s own personality, world view, and expectations, and there is simply no way we can control that. And if we tried to control that by adjusting our stories to gain those readers approval, we could very well destroy the parts that created such a strong, resonant connection with other readers.

It’s not about pleasing ALL readers, but about finding OUR readers, our tribe.

So much more that's important to remember. Get the goods here, and take a moment to breathe - and then dive back in.

January 14, 2013

Monday Review: FLORA'S FURY by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Reader Gut Reaction: I was very excited when I saw this one at the library. It's the third volume in Wilce's Flora Segunda books, and it felt like it had been a little while since I'd last read one. I always enjoy being plunged into the fantastical alternate California that the author has created, Califa, with its sort of Wild-West feel and strange forms of hereditary magic floating around and its fearsome Aztec-like Huitzil warriors south of the border threatening Califa's sovereignty.

The political intrigue continues to thicken as part of the backdrop of this latest installment, but as before, this is Flora's story. Now that she's found out more about who she is, she's got to keep it a secret if she wants to stay safe—but that doesn't stop her from using her magick to try to find Tiny Doom, who….spoilers if you haven't read the first two books…is really Flora's mother. (I had actually forgotten about that, it had been so long since I'd read the first two; it took me a chapter or two to get my bearings.) Flora is convinced that Tiny Doom is alive somewhere, and she does everything humanly (and sometimes inhumanly) possible to try to find her, from using dangerous magick to consorting with were-bears to manning a military outpost in the hot desert, all the while trying to avoid being caught by the Huitzil magician who's hunting her family.

Concerning Character: Flora is, as always, an impetuous heroine who is ultimately sympathetic and likeable; she wears her emotions on her sleeve, but she's learning a bit of discretion, too. It's the characters who really make this story shine. The fun and fantastical setting is icing on the cake, of course, but the conceits (and I mean that in a neutral sense, not as a criticism) of the world-building never distract from the heart of the book—the completely believable actions, emotions, reactions of Flora, of her friends and family. In this volume, Flora has begun to truly come into her own and try to make her own way in the world, and as a consequence she accomplishes more—and gets in more trouble—than she ever thought possible.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Fantastical fiction about worlds that are very much like our own, but not quite—like DM Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo books, or maybe even Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland (reviewed here) or The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: Flora, at sixteen, is really just beginning to learn who she is and to define herself, and then there's the whole complication of finding out her mother, Buck Fyrdraaca, isn't her real mother after all—that role's reserved for Tiny Doom, whom you may remember from the first two books. Flora feels betrayed by them both—angry at Buck for lying to her for all those years, and angry at Tiny Doom for not being there. The mother-daughter issues felt familiar and true, and were at the heart of this one, but there's also plenty of potential romance (not to mention adventure and danger) to keep it from being heavy on the family drama. Wilce handles those themes with a light touch, letting them inform and deepen the story without intruding on the adventure part.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find Flora's Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

January 10, 2013

TURNING PAGES: A Song for Bijou, by Josh Farrar

What attracted me to what can only be described as a middle grade romance? Was it the adorable cover, the adorkable main characters, the title, which includes the singular of my favorite French word, or the spicy hints of conflict? It was all of the above, plus a soupçon of culture and compassion, all rolled together in a little American-Haitian story of first love.

Reader Gut Reaction: I'm very hard on love stories; I feel like in YA lit they tend to be too cinematic, too much of what a particular author wishes happened to them, instead of what most often happens. Full of zingy one-liners and intelligent patter, they keep readers on the sideline to watch the performance of love. This novel allows readers to participate a bit more - because there are missteps and obvious Bad Guys, and the winces and cringes as the main narrator, Alex, runs into walls, and the flinches as secondary narrator, Bijou, misunderstands things, are very real...

Concerning Character: Alex Schrader just noticed girls five minutes ago, and he's Mr. Obsession. Last year it was Angela. This year it's ... Bijou. Bijou Doucet... She has an amazing name, she has an amazing face, she has little butterfly beads on the ends of her braids....

Alex is smitten, in the cute, dizzy way that isn't often ascribed to boys in literature. He's just a mess, and she's slightly horrified... and not just because Alex is horribly shy and barely able to look her in the face. Refreshingly, it's not even because he's Caucasian American and she's Haitian, and completely clueless about the country or the culture. It's because He's A Boy. And she, Bijou Doucet, doesn't want a boyfriend.

Why is that boy staring at her? Why is he always red? Bijou, dear readers, is Not Impressed. Yet.

Throughout the novel, the dueling narrators are quite clear on what they do and do not want. There are a few rough spots; the conclusion is a little too fast and tidy for me. At times, I found their voices to be a bit mature for their ages, and I sometimes felt their emotional responses were a little lacking - but I also know that not every kid is Full On Drama 24/7. Despite their noisy - interfering and at times really unkind - schoolmates, these are two quiet people wondering both who they are, and who the other person might be - and they both find they're willing to risk quite a bit to find out.

Recommended for Fans Of...: BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS, Edwidge Danticat, SHUG, by Jenny Han, ABSOLUTELY NORMAL CHAOS, by Sharon Creech, DRUMS, GIRLS, & DANGEROUS PIE, Jordan Sonnenblick, HAITI ON MY MIND, Dana Vincent.

Themes & Things:Because Haiti has been, politically and environmentally, eviscerated over and over again, I knew that disaster was going to be a part of the novel - it would have been disingenous to have a novel set in modern times completely not mention the recent and devestating earthquake. HOWEVER. Do you know how many novels there are NOT about just plain-old-day-to-day Haitians, who live, and fall in love, and go to school? This is a love story - so the bits of Haiti which are included in the book aren't all about abject poverty and loss - and I'm so glad. These are two things which Americans all too often associate with Haiti as if that's the only thing it has going for it. Haiti is a proud country, with a rich culture and history - food, music, kicking slavery's butt - some great stuff happened there, and the author touches on these things with intent.

Another quiet theme in this novel is honesty - which is another good MG topic, because the preteens are when the lies we tell our parents possibly get... bigger. There's a lot of fodder for discussion in this!

Cover Chatter: Slightly big-headed preteens gazing adorkably at each other on a busy city sidewalk is WAY TOO CUTE. This cover makes me want to hug it, and the people nearby. I'd say we can call that a win.

FTC: This was an unsolicited review and the ARC was shared courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury, via NetGalley.

AFTER FEBRUARY 12, 2013, you can find A SONG FOR BIJOU by Josh Farrar at an independent bookstore near you!

Thursday Review: TUNE, BOOK 1: VANISHING POINT by Derek Kirk Kim

Reader Gut Reaction: How could I resist a book about a kid going to art school? In San Francisco? Not gonna happen. This one's got an almost irresistibly fun premise that will appeal to older YA and adult audiences—the kid who's pressured by his parents to do something productive with his life but instead decides to go to art school. Then, horror of horrors, he decides to DROP OUT of art school. That goes about as well as you might expect, but then, finally, a job offer does materialize: it's just…not what anyone expected.

A job offer from interdimensional aliens? From a parallel universe? One of whom is a major grump and could pass for an alien version of Red Forman from That 70s Show? Sure, as long as it's got benefits.

Concerning Character: I couldn't help immediately relating to main character Andy Go. I went to art school, too (and in San Francisco, too!). So it was definitely entertaining reading about the antics and woes of Andy and his illustration-major friends as they navigated the treacherous waters of art school. Young adult readers will relate to that feeling of thinking you know exactly what you want to do, but having insufficient knowledge of how the world really works to put your nebulous plans into action. I cringed with recognition when Andy said "It was dawning on me that I had been way too cocky in not only my illustration skills, but the amount of work available in the field."

And then his parents torment him, asking him why he didn't major in computer science, like so-and-so's successful son. (Also disturbingly familiar to me.) On top of it all, he has a crush on his super-cute friend Yumi, but doesn't have the guts to tell her. Andy is funny, flawed, and familiar—and his friends are entertainingly weird and goofy. And then there are the aliens…but I don't want to give too much away. The manga/manhwa-influenced drawing style and funny, informal narration lends humor to what could be simply a series of painful life situations—and it also suits the sci-fi elements well.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Derek Kirk Kim's other GNs for young adults, like Good As Lily (reviewed here) and The Eternal Smile (with Gene Yang, reviewed here), and other graphic novels that take place on the cusp of adulthood, like Gene Yang's Level Up (reviewed here) which also contains elements of magical realism. Fans of sci-fi humor will also enjoy it—and it's only Book 1!

Themes & Things: That tough, unpredictable period between being a college student—when you think you know everything and have big plans—and being a young adult out in the world making your own way…it can be a rude awakening, and that's the case for Andy as for many of us. It's a huge life transition, and one that isn't always dealt with in either YA or adult fiction. I'm happy to see another contribution to the list of literature that tackles college and post-college life. In addition to that overarching theme, Tune also contains a lot of classic threads like the tension that develops between Andy and his parents, as he resists their directives while still having to live at home; and of course the unrequited (or is it??) love for Yumi. And then there are the aliens: could they be Andy's big moneymaking break? What's the right choice? I won't tell you what Andy decides, but I will mention that the end of the book leaves you hanging, waiting for Book 2. So if you hate cliffhangers…well, you can always go check out the webcomic.

Review Copy Source: Requested copy from publisher.

You can find Tune, Book 1: Vanishing Point by Derek Kirk Kim online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

January 08, 2013

CYBILS F/SF: And Now, The Post-Mortem...

So, yeah. The Cybils, 2012, YA Fantasy/Sci Fi.

205, at final count, in our category. 99.7% books read by one person, 98.6% of the books were read by two people, .03% unread (the discrepancy is because some books were difficult to get - some individual self-pubbed authors and smaller presses just didn't have the wherewithal to send copies or give us digital access), and 199 books were read by me.

Around the end of last month, I be tard, which is why you're getting your post mortem just over a week after all the confetti was thrown. Lord. Have. Mercy. What a year.

The 2013 Cybils wasn't easy for YA F/SF. It wasn't so much the number of books - for the first time in five years, it was easier for me to access them than not; I have three counties library systems from which to choose, and was willing and able to poach my sisters' library cards - but it was the deliberations. Sheila often calls it the Survival of the Book Fittest. Either you read a book and the plot sticks with you, or it ...goes by the wayside as a readalike or just another piece of plot in an endless mountain of story. There were simply Too. Many. Good. Books. Should I shortlist this silly, lightweight novel which immediately caught my eye? Should I downgrade silly when something heavier-hitting came my way? Should I add this one, despite the fact that the hero annoys me a bit, because we need more books guys would enjoy? These are the types of things that go round and round and round in the secondary phase of narrowing down our lists. Sure - the knee-jerk, uncritical pleasure we have in cracking each book is there, and some people have an initial shortlist and have sixteen books on it -- and then they agonize as they pare it down. My style tends toward more critical reading early on, and this year, the paring started on day one, and went on and on and on.

It didn't make deliberations any easier when adding others to the mix. For the first time since I've been on a Cybils panel -- since the very beginning; a year on YA Fiction and five on YA F/SF - the judges met and were unable to come to a consensus in a single three hour session. We had to go away and come back, and after some heated exchanges and outbursts some returned owing to others sincere apologies And some sincerity is still owing, but I will belt up and let that go. Eventually. Deliberations took, all told, nine hours. All flippin' day. (Imagine if I'd still been in Scotland, having to get up at 3 a.m. for deliberations...!)

We came up with a list I mostly like. There is never 100% LOVE from anyone for any list; there are a couple of books on the list which are iffy for me -- and there are a couple of books on the list which are clearly hot-button books for others. For the most part, though, it is a good, sturdy list of worthy books. However! I still wish we'd had room for...

GRAVE MERCY, by Robin LaFevers. Now, y'all know I LOVED this book. LOVED IT. It is not every day when you start the day just thinking you'll read a chapter or two of a book, and then the day gets eaten up with you and your book, and by evening, you pretty much have to sit down and write a thank-you note to the author because she'd helped you pleasurably waste an entire day. (This may not happen to you a lot, but I always try and let myself be happy when it happens to me. Life is short. Truly great books are rare.)

Robin wrote up one of my favorite adult-style tales for young adults, about a Wronged Woman who morphs into a Castaway, and then by the turn of the Wheel and on a whim of the Fates, she becomes A Warrior Woman. So many tropes, so freshly scrubbed up and nicely presented! It was so satisfying - beginning, middle, end, DONE. No dangling bits of this fair assassin's tale, nope. She was all tied up in a pretty bow, and yet, the worldbuilding leaves room for more stories. I cannot wait for the next, and it was really disappointing to be unable to include this book in our finalist list. I was fair gutted. But, what to do, what to do?! There were just so many great books we couldn't include, like...

LOSERS IN SPACE, by John Barnes. I was SO SURE this book would be a shoo-in for the list; I was certain. But my shortlisting it on my personal list was met with a few folk scrambling and complaining that they couldn't find it. Like so many others this time around, this book suffered from lack of easy access and time issues. Many people weren't able to make it past the first few chapters of set-up, and if you don't persevere with this one, it's easy to say, "WHAT? She's SO annoying!" I agree that the book starts carefully, with the character equivalent of stepping gingerly on sidewalks and avoiding cracks, but by a third of the way through, the narrative pelts along, running full out, cracks be darned. The narrative starts the way it does for a reason, I promise you: KEEP READING past the first quiet - and possibly annoyingly voiced - beginnings.

A lot of people had the same reaction to M.T. Anderson's FEED. Why they wondered, do we have to read about disaffected teens? Because, there's something called a CHARACTER ARC in which they BECOME. Please give this book a shot - it's worth your time. If you enjoyed Beth Revis' book last year, or any of the other going-away-to-space/new-civilization books pubbed recently, you'll like this. Persevere!

SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo. For many, this book was a sleeper, and snuck in under the radar. (If you haven't yet read it, you have time; the sequel comes out June 4, so maybe it's Spring Break reading?). It takes the appearance of a quiet Orphan Tale, and morphs comfortably and hopefully into a near traditional Cinderella story. But then... it morphs one more time into a place of ambiguity, with less readily identifiable Good vs. Evil, which makes it an enticing read for me. Without too many spoilers, there's a moment of, "What, seriously!?" in the novel which might come as a hairpin turn for some. I somewhat saw it coming, and thought, "Naaaah," but it turned out that the narrative was indeed leading that direction. The novel explores our very human tendency to drift toward embracing might instead of right, and our very human rationalizing, "Well, would it be so bad, if...?" tendencies. That this is a debut novel only makes me happier - we have a lot of great stuff to anticipate from this author who hopefully has a long, long, long career to go.

EREBOS, by Ursula Poznanski. I'll say up front that I won't be able to give much description of this novel without giving too much away, so I will only say that this novel isn't at all straightforward.

Having attended and taught at a school, I can easily understand the realism of some in-group kids having Something which other people are curious about -- but to which information is limited to an Invitation Only list. That was really realistic for me. Here, everyone is playing this GAME, and human nature makes desire a huge component in giving it a try. Others affect indifference, but we know that their indifference is certainly put on - for the most part. Other people can play but aren't risk-takers, so they come to a point in the game, say, "Meh," and give it up. The novel covers all of these real reactions. And then, it moves forward from there...

In the end, it was all about responsibility - if you're under orders, it's not on you if something goes wrong, right? I mean, you were doing what you were told... I enjoyed the ambiguity of this plot - not knowing who is to blame, or if there IS anyone to blame is a plot device which dangles a fat juicy little snippet of interest the reading hook, and lured me in. Other people don't do well with not knowing all the facts up front - for me, this was a race to figure out if I was right, or if the book would Reveal All before I got all my clues in order. You might enjoy pitting your wits against a game that plays back...!

SHADOWFELL, by Juliet Marillier. I was sure I'd reviewed this novel on this site, but alas, I find no evidence of such. Ah, well. This book is about a place - but it's such a mystical and secret-laden place that nobody actually knows where it is. All Neryn knows is that it had better exist - if not, she's going to die. She's hiding a magical secret in anti-magical Alban, and it's a secret which has lost her family everything, and has driven she and her father onto the road. Or, rather, it's her father's gambling habit which has led them to the road. They have nothing, sure, but then her father gambled away everything else, and then stands her as a stake in a game. Neryn is won by a man whose very face terrifies her, and she's on the run again -- not knowing who she can trust, and fearing to use the little bit of magic that is trying so hard to help her... There's something amazing about each and every one of Juliet Marillier's books. This is the start of a Journey series - with a lot of hiking, even - and if you're not a person who can wait well through a first book which has a lot of set-up for tension-filled relationships and such, wait 'til July when the sequel is released, and then read straight through.

There's a lot to look forward to in 2013 - and if you're looking to be on the YA Cybils F/SF team, my advice is to begin reading NOW and stay on top of the new releases that are buzzed about from The Big Six publishing houses (or is it five now that we have a megalith?), as well as some of the quieter books from indie houses whose greatness tends to be shared by word of mouth instead of flashy book trailers and endless blog tours and interviews. There's a lot of great worthy stuff you might not know about. 205 books might look like small fry next year!

Finally, if I haven't already said it, THANK YOU, and kudos to the people who brought the sleeper and quiet books to greater attention this year. The Cybils is nothing without those who nominate, and we appreciate all of you!

January 07, 2013

Graphic Novels Galore, and More

Just a catchall post of links for this damp, grey Monday, as I catch up on blogging and house cleaning and other small projects (thus successfully procrastinating on real work while also maintaining the illusion of productivity).

  • First, a plethora of graphic novels for the comically-minded--not only did the Cybils release their finalist lists (including GNs for young readers and teens alike), GraphicNovelReporter has released THEIR list of the best graphics of 2012--interesting to compare, and not surprisingly, there are a few titles that overlap: Congrats to Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks!

  • More lists of Best Books of 2012 are popping up throughout the kidlitosphere: check them out at Bildungsroman, Fuse #8, Bookshelves of Doom, Chasing Ray, and a bonus from Leila over at her Kirkus Reviews column.

  • Have you heard of PaperBackSwap.com? I hadn't, but it's a great way to get books to schools in need as well as ditch some of those titles taking up space in piles, on your floor, in your office or living room or bedroom...you know you've got those piles.

  • For other ways to help students in need, check out Adopt-A-Classroom, which I just read about over on Goodreads, or check out ARCs Float On and the other book donation programs on Reach a Reader (yeah, yeah, I'm totally biased about that one!).

January 03, 2013

Toon Thursday: First Toon of the New Year!

Better late than never, fresh from my pencil, pen, scanner, and Photoshop, and without further ado, here is The First Official New Cartoon of 2013! Enjoy.

January 01, 2013

"On the first page of the end of despair..."

Reykjavik 20
What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other's despair into hope? --
You yourself must change it. --
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? --
You yourself must change it. --
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it means to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?


Dreams Before Waking by Adrienne Rich Excerpt from Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems by Adrienne Rich ©1986

I'm confident my Adrienne won't mind me using the above Adrienne poem snippet from her New Year's blog post. It spoke to me, in the silence through which I've lately been listening.

Part of me is still stunned and caught, stumbling and frozen, ears ringing with the sound of silence as twenty-six souls might make, wrested from this world so terribly too soon. Like so many people, it has become easier to talk about the mechanics of a thing - law, weapon, institution - than the reality of a thing: hopelessness, brutality, incomprehension. Like so many people, I have been jarred loose of my moorings, forced yet again to face another incident soon only to be known by the name of its city or institution - Aurora. Virginia Tech. Columbine. Like so many others, I have found it hard, after repeated promises and consolation from politicians, to think that life is going to change.

My friend Barb, in an attempt to find for herself sanity and balance in a world where she just wanted to retreat to her bed, has declared a personal war on the dark. She has become a ninja-style hatred-assassin, sneaking about and spreading light. Something as simple as buying a certain type of tea at Starbucks - and then another, for the next person who comes along and orders it, or buying herself a split pea soup at a local bakery, and another for the next person who orders it. As simple as paying her own toll on a bridge, and then for the next four cars. She's been fun to observe, but more amazing has been those joining her. She's generating a greater light as tiny sparks are fanned across the world.

Better to light a candle than curse the dark.

Someone mentioned wanting to do twenty-six random acts of kindness in the names of the twenty-six people who died in Connecticut a few weeks ago. And then, they reasoned, "there were actually twenty-eight victims," including the mother of the shooter and the shooter himself. They rounded up, and decided to do thirty-one deeds for the month of January, and in honor of mental health month. I like that idea - but I have names for the other victims which make up the number to thirty-one. Those names are You and Me and Us.

You and Me: we're the people who think twice about smiling across an aisle at the gas station at the man filling his car. You and Me: we're the ones who maybe glance with suspicion at the people in the line at the bank, who are inundated with negative media about our fellow humans, Us, who wonder if the world is indeed a more hostile and crazy place.

You and Me: we're the people who wonder what world we're leaving to our kids. We don't know our neighbors, and wonder if they're crazy, too. We're prepared to shoot first. We're prepared to not be the victim, and so the aggressor. We're prepared to pack up and run, to keep everyone at arm's length, to lock our doors and ride out the apocalypse, hoarding our resources. It's not enough that the economy has tanked and we've wrangled on politically for the last twelve months, spewing anger and nastiness and raising voices in protests which keep getting batted down. We've been ground down before, ...and now this???

Individually - you and me - collectively - us: we've been hurt, in a thousand tiny ways. How many people wanted to go to work, or send their kids off to school the Monday after this happened? How many people wanted to pull the drapes and stay in bed - not just through Christmas, but through all of these dark days?

Here's a fact I know about the world: Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine times out of one hundred, people are okay: definitely quirky, truly strange, undoubtedly weird, and yes, perhaps freakish, awkward, sometimes repellent -- but not abusive, not cruel, not insane, not homicidal. Each time I leave the house, I want to remember that. Each time I interact with strangers, I want them to remember that. Each time my eyes meet those of a stranger's, I want to remember kindness. To that end, I am going to do thirty-one things, ninja-sneaky, to keep faith with peace. Thirty-one things to remind myself that we are people of the light. If we walk in the light, not everyone is out to get us. If we light our lights, we make the night brighter for everyone. Who knows, maybe my small thing will remind thirty-one other people. And maybe they'll keep the cycle going. Maybe that little spark I bring to their day will be enough to light their own tinder, and they'll keep the flame burning.

Asking for another diner's check at a restaurant, and paying theirs, too. Paying a $10 fine at the library, toward the person (identified by the librarian) with the greatest fines. Buying another copy of a book I want, for the next person to come along and receive for free. Giving up a primo parking place, or paying someone else's parking meter. It's not for anyone else to see or know about but the receiver. It's not about the glow for me, but the glow that goes forward.

And so, on this New Year's Eve, when I know that light must diminish to become brighter in the light of morning -- and a new year -- I'm signing on not for "resolutions" just for myself, and the usual losing battle with weight, coffee, smokes, booze or exercise, etc. -- those are daily, personal battles that must be fought, true, but they're not as important. Not as much as the battle to fight for my neighbors - for my community - for the you-me-us that makes up my world. Instead, my intention for the year is to cast out fear, embrace love, and lighten the dark.

Thirty-one days... or, maybe three-hundred and sixty-five?

Stay tuned. Things are getting brighter...starting now.

Happy New Year.

Vallejo 128
Cross-posted from Tanita's blog