April 23, 2014

Support Robison Wells, Author of YA nove, VARIANT with ALTERED PERCEPTIONS

People who follow my personal blog may remember that in 2011 I shared some truths about myself when I posted about YA author Robison Wells, author of VARIANT. (That blog post is reposted below.) He had just shared publicly about his mental illnesses, and losing his day job because of his panic disorder causing an inability to sometimes leave a room, and I was feeling the horrible empathy of a fellow sufferer, having been frozen in myself one time too many.

I have thought of him often since then, thought of his courage in "outing" himself, thought of the raw grit it must take to be an artist trying to create while also trying to be, you know, okay with leaving the house (sometimes, it's not okay, and that's really all there is to it. Trust me on that one). I wanted to say something to him - but could think of nothing which didn't sound completely whacked and stalker-y, so when I read ten minutes ago on Shannon Hale's blog that a group of writers have gotten together an anthology to help support his family in their time of needing help, my immediate thought was, "I'm in."

The authors involved in this project are some of my ALL-TIME favorites, and many of them will be familiar to you for speculative fiction for adults and teens: Seanan McGuire, Shannon Hale, Kierstan White, Dan Wells, Brandon Mull, Aprilynne Pike, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lauren Oliver, Sara Zarr, Jessica Day George, and tons more. The Indiegogo Page for this book is right here. Click through and buy an ebook. Buy a hardback. Buy a critique from some of the authors involved. There are all kinds of ways you can help.

This is super-important to me... so, I thought I'd take a moment and share. Thanks.


Finnieston 191

One fine, sunny morning in college, I got lost.

I got lost on the campus of my college, that fine, sunny morning, and as I was one of the vast hordes of Freshers running around that year, maybe it didn't seem that unusual to anyone. That it was months into the school year - nearly May - should have been a telling point, but no one noticed.

I was climbing one of those long flights of stairs and I, mid-step, was lost.

And I couldn't breathe. And my hands were slick, and the sky wheeled in sickening loops around me. And I wanted to get away from it - from beneath it - but it was so huge suddenly, and there was nowhere to escape it. Every surface looked pitiless and hard, every building foreign, and I just knew that awful was three millimeters from happening to me. People walked by, I guess, but I was gripping onto a light post with all of my strength, and trying to stop the world from spinning out of control. And trying to breathe.

It was a profound experience, which is laminated in memory. The flight of stairs from the gym to the building below the library - some technology hub - to the three flights of stairs near the flowering cherry trees was all I could see. Going up those stairs would have put me in line of sight to the asphalt-paved road that led to the parking lot next to the English building, and my dorm. Five hundred feet, and I would have been able to see my way to safety. But, I couldn't move that far. I slid down to the ground gripping the light post, and hyperventilated.

Eventually, I managed to get up. I was going to ask someone if they knew where I was, when suddenly, at the entrance to the library, the landscape snapped into familiarity. I was able to inflate my compressed lungs, and stop panting, straighten up, and walk stiffly - my hair and back soaked from perspiration - to my dorm.

I remember I was so ashamed. So, so mortified. And felt really, really stupid.

Sooo, I never told anyone.

I mean, would you?

Charing Cross 344

It happened again. And again. And it happened at the American Library Association Annual Convention in D.C. in 2010 where I was being honored for MARE'S WAR, and I had to walk out of a room full of authors getting ready to go on and do presentations for thus Speed Dating thing. I was soaked with sweat, and trying to breathe, and thinking, "Everyone knows. Everyone here is A Cool Author who Does Stuff and Knows Stuff, and then there's you. Everyone knows, and you are such a fraud."

Sooo, when I read of Robison Wells, Cybil-nominated author of VARIANT, losing his day-job because of a panic attack, and being just unable to do what was required of him, I teared up immediately over his struggles. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. It's thin and tattered and usually rank with sweat.

Sometimes, I feel so flawed. I think, "Gah! Isn't it enough that I'm introverted and shy? Did I have to be flat-out mental (our Ms. G's word), too? I don't always have an answer for that. I'll be honest: I don't come off as Sunny Suzy after freaking out. It's something I can't control, and I really prefer to, honestly, control everything. But, I do know this: I have seen the world from the point of view of someone broken. When I am at the top of my game, and you are at the bottom of yours, I'll know how it feels. I will understand, and be kind. I will consider the courage of Rob Wells, and when I am wrecked, I will remember, "Yes, but --" and, once the clouds of doom part, go on.

It's a tiny gift, but one I will hold onto, and not let anyone pry from my death-gripping, sweaty hands.

For the thorn, and for the rose. For the grace of courage, and the gift of empathy, I am truly thankful.

Kelvingrove Park 393

TURNING PAGES: CEMETERY GIRL: The Pretenders, by Christopher Golden & Charlaine Harris

Despite the fact that we're big fans of graphics here in the Wonderland treehouse, I generally leave the book-talking of said graphics to Aquafortis. For because: she's an artist. I doodle. I haven't got a clear set of parameters on what makes a graphic novel good - I just like some stuff... and don't like some other stuff. Realizing that's my shtick for all books I read all the time anyway has freed me to talk about this one: CEMETERY GIRL: The Pretenders graphic novel, multiple authors, first in a trilogy.

Concerning Character: Calexa Rose Dunhill has a fancy name, and a complete lack of identity. The first frames of the novel show us that someone a.) tossed her out of a trunk b.) into a cemetery where she c.) rolled downhill and hit her head on a tree, and lay in front of a huge stone with the name "Calexa" on it for awhile. She has borrowed her name, stolen her sustenance, her home, and her clothes. She's a teen - of some age - living in the cemetery, inside a mausoleum. There's a caretaker, mean but ultimately helpful - he tends to be lax on locking up his kitchen - and just up the street is an elderly woman - also conveniently lax about locking her house. Outside the cemetery gates - and sometimes inside are generically Bad Teens - drag racing, partying, and conducting séances - as one does. While the plot has a slight ring of familiarity, its denizens are not quite as jarring as in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but then, Calexa's life within this graveyard lacks that insouciant charm. There are no helpful spirits -- the fact that she sees spirits is a little creepy. Then, she sees something worse - a murder. And, now she and the dearly departed are up close and personal...

Critical Reader Reaction: There was a lot to love about this first book in the Cemetery Girl series. Sometimes graphic novels are PERFECT for what they have - rich, deep color palette, glossy pages, lots of detail -- I loved the names and dates on the gravestones; I admit to a little nerdery of actually enjoying cemeteries, so it was like poking around through the Dunhill while concurrently lying down, which equaled Good Times for my post-digging-in-the-garden muscles, of course.

I do have some complaints about this book, however. While I'll allow that this is the first in a trilogy, the plot has some significant holes. I had immediate questions about motivation from the first time The Bad Guys are encountered. They are Bad Guys of the Bwa-hahaha/Stroking Persian cat/Wearing Evil Goth Black clichéd brand of villain. They want to be big - but, bigger than what? Stand big and strong against what? The ringleader seems to want this ineffable power - but it's clear and becomes more clear than within her circle, she is powerful, and her circle itself is well-connected within school and community. So, what do they want? What's all this about?

Also, the murder raised some issues with me - probably because I'm a ghoul - but, bodies are pretty tough. If you're depicting a skinny little Goth stabbing someone in the heart? Newsflash: people have ribs. More force would have needed to be shown, leading to a MUCH bigger mess, and much, much more dismay, as everyone is included via spray. At the time of the murder, neither the dialogue nor the art conveys anyone's real horror -- there's a moment of surprise, an "Oh, noes, you shouldn't have done that!" second, ...and then everyone ...goes home. People aren't that lock-stepped about what color a red light is, so I had a hard time believing cheerful complicity of a group of teens for a murder, especially when from the first time we encounter them, it's CLEAR that we don't know what they're after, or why - only the ringleader seems to know. The rest of them are two-legged muppets with her hand up their, eh, shirts. *cough* I know about peer pressure, but I just don't believe that teens would just... go along with murder to go along. Maybe I don't read enough horror to get a good feel for this.

Also, and this one is a big one? I don't know why the person with THE KEY TO THE WHOLE THING has to make such a big DEAL out of finally getting around to telling anyone the truth. Calexa has the equivalent of ONE LINE here, one line... and she... decides to do some macrame or something before delivering it. I recognize we're supposed to think that the main character is afraid, but seeing her wrestle with this would have been better than telling us... well, anything. If her fear caused her to briefly lose her conscience and her humanity we need to see that. Viscerally. Graphically, as it were.

Because Calexa's story is being told from the single point of narrative that is her disjointed, rambling thoughts, there's very little sense of discovery. YES, she has some sort of traumatic amnesia, so we don't get a sense of her -- but though we spend a lot of time with her, we have less of a sense of her memories, which begin to return during the novel... but which explain nada. And, so the reader is left to ponder frivolous things, like where the heck is she going to the bathroom? Does she steal a hairbrush and a toothbrush? Tampons?! Because the artwork has to do 3/4 of the work in a graphic, there needed to be much, MUCH more detail to help us really see Calexa. In terms of the writers, I found myself wondering why Calexa never went to a library. Did they not have libraries in her neck of the woods? There were so many ways in which she could have helped herself - free, inconspicuous ways which runaways use all the time - but she seemed clueless not just about being who she was, but about how to order her world.

And, yet: she knew that she knew Latin...?

While the artwork was, in some panels, just gorgeous, it's really inconsistent -- especially -- regrettably -- with the murder victim. She appears both Latino and African American - and while she could indeed be rich in culture and be both, at times her appearance really fluctuated. She also looked enough like the Bad Guys as to confuse things. Cemetery Girl is mostly identifiable by her clothing; at times her expressions seem like she's being drawn by more than one person.

While this is a somewhat uneven, ragged start for the trilogy, I think rabid fans of Golden and Harris and newbie spec fic graphic novel fans will be able to take the problems in stride with a grain of salt, and give it a shot. In all likelihood, the next episode will have found its feet a little better. If you've a tendency to want ALLLL the story before you read, wait -- this was a fairly short read, and you'll be cranky waiting for the next installment, as so many are!


I borrowed a library copy of this book. You can find THE PRETENDERS: #1 in the CEMETERY GIRL TRILOGY by Christopher Golden & Charlaine Harris online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 22, 2014

TURNING PAGES: A CREATURE OF MOONLIGHT, by Rebecca Hahn

This is an unusual YA novel. I'm quite a bit in favor of the cover -- the deeply colored night sky, the swirls of the font -- it's just striking, isn't it? I'll bet the author just happy-danced when she saw it. It says "fantasy" without adding, "for girls" or "for boys." It's fantasy for anyone who loves the night, and creatures of moonlight.

This is a novel for thinkers; the plot begins at a stately walk which, honestly, may seem to some readers more than a tiny bit too slow. There is hard work without details, sweat, or the actual experience of broken fingernails, glossed over with an air of unreality -- which is how work often appears in YA novels. For all of this traditional fantasy nvel surrealism, however, there is in the haunting and beautiful prose, the lasting charm of the real.

This novel contains a sprinkling of moonlight and romance... but just a sprinkling. There are courtiers and gossips... but none of them matter. There are dances and dramas, fine foods, fine clothes and flowers... but only one is what our heroine wants. There are kings and queens; princesses, and men, a Goliath and a David with their wills clashing. (There is a punch in this novel that was so viscerally satisfying that I got prickles over my whole body Honestly? There need to be more girls punching in YA lit. I may need to work on remedying that.)

And, there are trees, in the wood... more trees than ever before. There are trees, and, within the dark of the woods, there is knowledge. And really, that's all a girl needs...

Concerning Character: Marni isn't exactly a farm girl, but she's close enough. She's been in rough, patched homespun, scrabbling to tack up vines and uproot bushes, hoeing and weeding and clipping and fertilizing for as long as she can remember. She and her white-haired Gramps live in a simple cottage in the midst of the most beautiful flowers in their corner of the world. Marni has the knack for making them grow, for cultivating the tallest hollyhocks, the most vibrant and scented roses, the prettiest daisies, and the showiest buttercups. Winding around the porch railings are enormous, purple morning glories, and winding through the garden are the intransigent, blue dragon flowers... which Marni doesn't even try to get rid of anymore. Dragons are allegedly in her heritage, after all. Supposedly, her father is a dragon, though Marni has never seen him, and she's sixteen. All she knows is that is an orphan -- that her mother is dead, and that her mother's brother - the King - her uncle is the man who killed him... and would like to kill her, too. Unwanted, by anyone but her grandfather, Marni is used to being the odd girl out, the misfit in the village -- the girl who can read, and can almost speak as nicely as her grandfather. Marni never wondered what would happen, if the courtiers who still came around to talk to her grandfather someday stopped to talk to her. Marni had no ideas above her station at all. She had her little place in the world -- next to her Gramps, in the simple cottage where they live. And, without giving too much detail, so as to provide spoilers, one day Marni's little place in the world is gone -- and what follows next is a heroine's journey out of her small corner into the world, into the great, wide expanses of possibility -- and back again.

Critical Reader Reaction: I promise not to drag the story forward under bright lights and interrogate it for metaphor, but I do find it intriguing that the Woods is a character in this novel -- almost as much as the Woods as a synonym for the evil unknown is a character in any 17-early 19th century novel. The ordered, settled village fears the disordered, wild wood, and yet, the denizens of the wood see it as a veritable Eden, a garden of all pleasures and beauty. The irony of this novel is that each aspect is explored so thoroughly, and it turns out that the wood? Is none of the above. So like most of the things we cultivate assumptions about in life... This book has a very classic feel to it, and much context and subcontext to dissect and discuss. This would be a fun one to use for an English lit class - a delightful, delicious helping of story, and something more.


I received this ARC courtesy of the publisher. After May 6th, you can find A CREATURE OF MOONLIGHT by Rebecca Hahn online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 21, 2014

A Few Random Notes

Some links to book news I found interesting over the past week:
  • Traveling Pants author Ann Brashares has written a...time travel dystopian novel? It's called The Here and Now, and you can read about it...now. On NPR.

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez isn't the only notable author we lost this month. Perhaps lesser known, if no less important for other reasons, we lost Doris Pilkington Garimara, who wrote the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The NY Times wrote up a nice tribute and discussed the importance of her writing in the context of aboriginal writing in Australia, as well as the shocking discrimination that mixed-race aboriginal children faced for decades.

  • When we think about Pakistan these days, the first words that come to mind are not necessarily CREATIVITY or PLURALISM or LITERATURE. And that's sad. Luckily, there are determined souls in Pakistan trying to change that--and over 45,000 people turned out as a result, enjoying the intellectual and artistic atmosphere of the Lahore Literary Festival. This quote from historian Ayesha Jalal really struck me:
"If you look at Latin America, you'll see that art has flourished in the most coercive, authoritarian regimes," Jalal says. "And Pakistan is no different. I think collective failure is matched often by personal, individual success, spectacular success. Those are not unusual. ... And in Pakistan I think we've had a collective failure on many scores and there have been individuals who have done work of great brilliance, in the world of art, in the world of literature and music."
I find that incredibly heartening. As someone with Pakistani/Indian heritage on my father's side, I want to feel like the great artistic legacy that has existed in that region in the past is still encouraged, because that's part of my own artistic heritage.
  • Last but not least, the latest issue of UC Santa Barbara's Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies is available for free online.

April 18, 2014

...yes, it's from 2009. BUT STILL.

Love, love, love, love, LOVE THIS MAN.

Hat tip to Jules.

April 14, 2014

Monday Review: POISON by Bridget Zinn

The first and only time I had the privilege of meeting author Bridget Zinn was during Kidlitcon in Portland a handful of years back. About my age, she was sweet and funny and quiet and one of so many kindred spirits I met that weekend, my first ever Kidlitcon. A fellow writer, a fellow blogger, her untimely death from cancer really hit me—and I'd hardly had a chance to get to know her.

Her posthumously released YA fantasy, Poison, gave me another chance to know her, even if it was just a glimpse. It was such a bittersweet moment to see it on the YA new releases shelf at my library. It was a long time in coming, yet at the same time, too late, and reading it made me want to cry because we've already lost her voice. But it also reminded me: those of us who want to write should write, must write, before we no longer have the option to do so.

Reading Poison made me so sad that we won't be reading more from Bridget, that the world of readers won't have any other opportunities to know her through her writing. Like her, the book was funny and sweet and imaginative. Fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Jasper Fforde's Last Dragonslayer books, or Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson should give this one a read. At the beginning, all we know is that Kyra is on the run—she's gone from being one of the kingdom's most lauded potions masters to being on the lam, and all because she tried to kill the princess. Oh, and the princess? Used to be Kyra's best friend. All Kyra's got now is her secret forest hideout, her wits, and her as-yet-unsuccessful vendetta against the princess. And if she doesn't succeed, the entire kingdom is at stake.

This book is a study in how to gradually reveal a backstory full of twists without annoying the reader. There are SO many books out there that feel like the author is manipulating the reader into a feeling of suspense, or a moment of revelation, using a gratuitous info-drop. Zinn did a really good job, on the whole (with just a few exceptions), of timing when to insert critical information about what happened in the past without making me feel like the character (or the author) was hiding something from the reader. We start off not knowing anything about Kyra except her immediate situation; but as she continues to forge stubbornly ahead on her quest, as she gets to know the infuriatingly handsome adventurer Fred and even begins to grow fond of the piglet she's been saddled with (a piglet who, incidentally, is the only one who can help lead her to the princess)—as we get to know her as a character, we are also introduced to how she landed in this mess in the first place. And, of course, much as Kyra tries to ignore her past to fulfill her goals in the present, her success depends on embracing who she is AND where she comes from.

The characters were so real, and so funny—that was my favorite part of the book, though I of course enjoyed the quirky fantasy aspect. The banter between Kyra and Fred, between Kyra and the princess; the growth Kyra shows in her dealings with others; the sometimes-hilarious hot water she lands in—all were satisfying and enjoyable and made me laugh out loud. Ultimately, the very real danger and creepiness of the bad guys, and the sincere, determined efforts of the good guys, made the happy ending well earned.


You can find Poison by Bridget Zinn online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 11, 2014

TURNING PAGES: PROPHECY, by Ellen Oh

So, I sat down to prep for reviewing a book that I have coming from the library when I realized I'd never reviewed its predecessor... um, wait. How did that happen? As I recall, this book's release date was at a super busy time for both of us here, so it slipped through the cracks. We'll fix that right now!

Concerning Character: This is fantasy -- grand, high fantasy with the historical feel of ancient Korea. At first, in my head I was calling it "historical fantasy" but as we don't call Arthurian tales "historical fantasy," as if anyone believes that Arthur, Merlin et al were part of, say, real English history. *cough* Yes, arguably there may have been people named those names in reality, but the stories are... fantasy, right? So is this novel: high fantasy, set, instead of in an English countryside, in a Korean countryside. The weapons and armor say medieval Korea, and the novel is set during the Gojoseon era which as utterly fictional as the Arthurian era, but sounds as realistic.

We're introduced to our main character as she moves through the city. From the first few scenes there are fantastic and detailed explanationsof food, armor, clothing, people, and housing. We are also introduced to Gojoseon era myths and monsters -- and Kira, as one of its monster-slayers.

For all of Kira's life, there have been plots and counterplots to destroy the royal family, of which she is a member. When she was only a tiny child, Kira saved the crown prince Taejo, her cousin, from a monster. She's been impressive her whole life - impressively strong, impressively fast and fast-healing, and ...impressively weird. She's yellow-eyed, and a known slayer of demons. She can see them -- smell them -- find them like none other seen before, and she has a Tiger Spirit. Kira's different -- too different to easily and successfully fit into the royal family of Hansong or any of the Seven Kingdoms. A toughened soldier, Kira tends to be impatient with the Queen's attempts to drag her into pink, and she is horrified by an upcoming arranged marriage. It's almost a relief when its discovered that there's a traitor in the palace, and the Yamato's invade. It's almost a relief -- but not really. Taejo's bodyguard, Kira has no choice but to concentrate all of her wits on keeping him out of the hands of the enemy, leaving her mother behind and unprotected -- and the other ladies of the palace to certain death.

The loss and the violence of war aren't sugar-coated. The deaths are brutal and the losses pile up, as Kira and Taejo and their small band are go on the run to the safety of a hidden temple. Though they at last reach their objective, as they wait for things to calm in the capitol, they make stupid mistakes and get emotional. Kira can't stop thinking about the safety of his parents, Taejo is dying to know the fate of his mother, and all the temple monks keeps talking about this ...prophesy of Dragon Masado that no one can make sense of. Someone is supposed to be a dragon, and unite the Seven Kingdoms and save everyone. Is it Taejo? Is it Kira's older brother or their mother's older brother, who calls himself the Dragon King? When Kira and Taejo find themselves on a quest to find the things Dragon Masado needs to manifest himself, questions begin to finally be answered -- but the demons are already there.

Critical Reader Reaction: There has been a lot of criticism surrounding this novel, because apparently the ARC copy said something about "It's Graceling meets Eon." Mmm, no, it's not, really, but you certainly can't blame Ellen Oh for that; she writes the novels, not the jacket copy, and furthermore, sometimes PR people scramble when trying to describe something. From me, I'll just say I haven't quite read a book like this one before, and leave it at that.

While I felt the romantic drift was a tiny bit disingenuous - even a tough warrior would know what those fluttery feelings meant around a certain individuals - and I'm not entirely sure I buy that, in the midst of trauma and loss and drama she's feeling the urge for anyone, I enjoyed the pacing and the background of Ellen Oh's debut novel. While this is a really super quick review -- there is a LOT of setting and backstory in place that I didn't touch on, I felt she took the time to set the stage carefully because this is the first book in a trilogy. The history and action made me comfortable handing it to Tech Boy and saying, "Hey, you might like this one," but also with the knowledge that he gets testy if I don't have all three books in hand. He might not be starting it just yet. Still, both of us are fans of historical fiction and tend to gloss over things like fight scenes and that kind of drama, but it doesn't take much to have a lot of love for dragons, Tiger Spirits, and the like. I hope that in the following books, other characters will display special skills or spirits as well, not only so that Kira isn't so alone, but from the sound of the mess about to break out, the girl's going to need a little help, supernatural or otherwise.

I'm glad I got around to actually talking about this book before I get my hands on the sequel - do stay tuned for that review.


My copy came from the library. You can find your copy of PROPHESY by Ellen Oh at an online or independent bookstore near you!

April 08, 2014

TURNING PAGES: BIG FAT DISASTER, by Beth Fehlbaum

"The truth is not always pretty. It can be disturbing, enraging, and enlightening. I found my way out of Hell by choosing Truth, and, regardless of anyone’s opinion, I am committed to telling Truth AND extending Hope, through my stories." - Beth Fehlbaum, "When Story Touches a Nerve," Nerdy Book Club Blog, Author Posts, April 6, 2014

Kirkus, in its starred review of BIG FAT DISASTER, says "The fast pace, lively...dialogue, and timely topic make it a quick and enjoyable read." Honestly, I'm not sure what book Kirkus was reading. Don't get me wrong - the pace is fast, the dialogue is lively, and the topic is deeply timely, but this book is not what you can call enjoyable - it is cathartic, it is authentic, it is painful and incredibly real, raw, and honest. There is even a glimmer of hope, in the end. But I don't think "enjoyable" will be the word for me.

Taken individually, the incidents which take place in the novel are together enough to send a person crashing to their knees. Put together, they are overwhelming, leaving this story of a life unfinished, as unfinished as any life would be in the midst of healing -- which is going to take a long, long time, longer than any novel would ever go on.

This is not a novel about a fat girl who suddenly found the religion of dieting, the god of svelte, and was saved, hallelujah. Nope. This is a bit more... realistic. As I read along I mused, "This book reminds me so much of STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES," and wouldn't you know it, in the author essay on Nerdy Book Club, Beth Fehbaum mentions Chris Crutcher, and that very same book. Prepare yourself for that level of honesty.

Finally, if you've ever suffered from an eating disorder, weight issues, or seriously considered suicide, prepare yourself...this book is by someone who has been there. She knows. Take seriously the helpline information at the end. Don't forget that this book takes you back to the dark places - but Colby's getting out, and the rest of us can, too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Concerning Character: Colby is not fond of cameras, eyes on her, and judgement - and her father is running for Senate. Unfortunately, Colby's getting a lot of flak about how much of a detriment to his run. His image doesn't call for an insecure fat girl in the background - his family values platform shows he values family that looks ...good. Unfortunately, things are about to look a lot less good. Colby's just found out something about her father -- something that can't be taken back. It's bad enough that her stupid sister Rachel picked a fight with her when she was trying to get out of singing with the Young Conservatives choir for her father's latest election appearance, Rachel made her spill coffee on her father's desk. It's much worse that in trying to clean up, she accidentally found a picture of him...with his tongue down some woman's throat - some woman not her mother.

It's not the first fracture to hit their picture perfect life, but it's the first one that Colby doesn't feel like she's caused by looking - and weighing - like her father. She's nothing like her mother, and also nothing like her two sisters, who are pretty much mini-Miss Texas clones, which is what her pageant-winning mother was, sometime back in the eighties. Colby's not really ...pageant material. She's a binge-eating, nervous wreck, and now that her father has betrayed her mother, she's a binge-eating, nervous wreck whose mother hates to even look at her. If you thought her life was bad before, it gets worse. The FBI seizes the family's assets, after determining that her father stole from his campaign fund. Now, they have to move into the single-wide trailer behind the house of her Aunt Leah - the family black sheep. A new school, a new place to be humiliated by her father's very public fall from grace -- and a new place for her mother to pressure her about her appearance. Bullied, hounded, and hated, it's no wonder Colby feels like her whole life is a big, fat disaster.

Reading Critically: First, I have to give kudos to the design team for allowing a pair of plump arms to be shown on the cover of a YA novel. This is fairly groundbreaking stuff, and honestly, I don't know that I've ever seen evidence that rounded, full-figured, plus-sized, zaftig, rubenesque or otherwise heavy people exist in YA lit. So, well done, book designers.

This is a novel about a lot of things - adultery, political graft, date rape, bullying, and eating disorders. Because Colby is a classic example of an unreliable narrator -- she believes that "everybody" hates her, and that "all" the kids think this or that. This narrow viewpoint distorts her picture of herself, and her place in the world. While some of what she believes is true, much of it is not. SOme readers may have trouble identifying that Colby is unreliable, and feel overwhelmed or disturbed by her version of truth. I encourage those readers to read on.

Is there a such thing as "too much" truth in a YA novel? It's been "suggested" to me as a writer not to write about certain things in my life because "no one would believe you," and seriously, I get that: some of the over-the-top, Craytown Bus stuff that I've experienced and observed - who would believe that kind of stuff and those kind of people existed - exist, still, even - in real life? But, just because "nobody normal" would believe it... should writers keep silent?

I don't think so. For myself, personally, I don't write some stories because they are filled with, and overlap with stories not my own to tell. I am not yet to a place where I can separate mine from others, and frankly, I think I'm still too emotional about some of the stories to be balanced and impartial, as a good storyteller must be. Other authors make other choices, of course, but I don't believe that there's anything like "too much truth." Nobody "normal" would believe what was being said and done to bullying victims like Hannah Smith, Megan Meier, or Morgan Musson, and, frankly, no one "normal" would be involved, but the bullying happened to them, and they died from it. Writers write from the place where they are, and as Beth Fehlbaum proves, writers choosing to write their own truths should not be silenced. "Find your voice," a character in the novel urges. It's hard to do, but it's vital. Find your voice, find your ears, bear witness, and live your compassion. < /rant >



I received a copy of this book courtesy Merit Press, via NetGalley. You can find BIG FAT DISASTER by Beth Fehlbaum online, or at an independent bookstore near you!