The Queen of Blood is the first book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series and one of the winner’s of YALSA’s 2017 Alex Awards. Today I’m thrilled to have Sarah Beth Durst here on the Hub to answer some questions about the book.
Congratulations on The Queen of Blood’s selection as a 2017 Alex Award finalist! Where were you when you heard the news? Who was the first person you told about your win?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Thank you so much!!!
Shortly after I heard the news, I called my mom.
Me: “My book won the Alex Award!”
My mom: “My dog was attacked by three coyotes. I chased them off.”
Me: “We had very different mornings.”
She began her day to the sound of her dog yelping. Looking out the window, she saw three coyotes had pinned him to the ground out beside the well. She ran outside — without any kind of anything to defend herself — and shouted at the coyotes. Scared them off. The dog was fine.
I began my day to the sound of the garbage truck rumbling one street over. Looking out the window, I saw the truck hadn’t reached my street yet. I ran around the house — without any kind of anything to defend myself — trying to empty all the trash cans and toss out anything suspiciously green and fuzzy in the kitchen before the garbage truck reached my street. And as I was scurrying around, I was checking my email on my phone, because multitasking. I saw an email from one of my editors that read, “Congratulations on the Alex!!! Just heard the news!!”
One of the best highlights of this year’s trip to ALA Annual was undoubtedly the Alex Award ceremony on Sunday, June 26th. A small group of dedicated individuals, including current and former committee members, made their way to the South Conference Center to listen to 2016 Chair Angela Craig deliver a brief presentation on the top ten award-winners and the vetted titles and hear the acceptance speech of special guest Ryan Gattis, author of All Involved (2016 Alex Award Winner).
In the wake of the acquittals over Rodney King’s beating at the hands of a few members in the Los Angeles Police Department, much of the Los Angeles metropolitan area experienced riots, lootings, arson, and violence including murders. Just six days of lawlessness resulted in:
eleven thousand fires
just under eleven thousand arrests
over two thousand people injured
more than $1 billion in property damages
approximately sixty deaths.
During these six days, Gattis set his novel and chose various characters taken from real interviews with those who experienced the riots, bringing to life the different realities during this turbulent period. Gang members, a firefighter, a nurse, a dreamer, an artist, a homeless man, and others give unique testimonies to all sides of the 1992 violence and show the complexities of survival, vengeance, desperation, and loss.
During Ryan’s acceptance speech, he described his own history with violence and how it created an author:
“I was seventeen when my nose was torn out of my face. Seventeen, when I had two facial reconstructive surgeries to fix it. I was eighteen when my senses of smell and taste returned. Before, I was on track to apply to the US Air Force Academy, and after, all I wanted to be was a storyteller.
Suffering violence, enduring it and not allowing it to determine everything about me has made me who I am today. And that is a very difficult thing to say, but an important thing.”
Winning an Alex has brought about some powerful results for Gattis, who shortly after the award, was asked to speak at Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School in Lynwood in South Central Los Angeles, an area described: “as inextricable from Compton as Long Beach Boulevard, sharing all of its violence and troubles but none of its notoriety”. They had not known he had won an Alex, but afterwards, were more enthused at the news. Upon his visit, in an area where “South Central Los Angeles is an island unto itself [and] the cities within it are locked off from the LA tax base and school system and must fend for themselves,” Ryan and his publishers (Ecco, HarperCollins, Picador and Macmillan in the UK, and Writers House in New York) were able to donate 150 books to students and over 100 to the library, including 2016 Alex Award titles. He found that the high school students knew very little of the Rodney King riots because “the generation before them had made an unspoken pact not to raise their children as they had been raised”. This discovery was “incredibly moving” and “filled [me] with hope for Lynwood and its future”. He shared with attendees a few photos and described his experience:
“Their students are young and excited and so eager to learn but they don’t read. They don’t read enough. So all I did when I went in there was talk about what reading means to me and how it changed my life. Especially the year of my life where I was basically a hermit trying to recover from my surgeries and…and my injury…”
Soon after this visit, he describes how he was invited to Lynwood Middle School and visited immediately after a second 8th grader was killed due to gang violence, an 8th grader whose “body had been discovered in a parked car at the end of an alley”.
He notes: “Standing in front of a room full of young teenagers who know the cost of violence, who are dealing with its monstrous grief, at that very moment being asked to comfort them, to inspire them, is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And yet…nowhere was it more important to say that reading helps us learn the consequences of behavior without having to suffer them ourselves. I remain in awe of the decision that the Alex committee have, not least because its incredible foresight forced me to see my work more clearly but it also pushed me to refocus my efforts to make certain that I reach an entirely new generation in Lynwood, and I do whatever I can to inspire them to be writers to tell their own stories to the world.”Continue reading ALA Annual 2016: Alex Award Recap with Ryan Gattis
June is history month, and while there’s a ton of great historical fiction for teens out there, it’s also a perfect time to start asking “What if?”
What if the American Revolution never happened?
What if the Axis Powers won World War II?
Alternate history books are a great way to explore these questions, and alternate history for teens is becoming increasingly popular. Here are a few books to get you started.
These stories can blend speculative elements with historical facts, which is perfect for prompting discussion about what is truth and what is fiction in the novels discussed. They can also prompt readers to explore more nonfiction about the time period. Continue reading Booklist: YA Alternate History
Earlier this year, journalist David Kushner published his eloquent memoir, Alligator Candy. At the core of his story is a terrible crime. When Kushner was just four-years-old, he watched his older brother, Jon, ride away on his bicycle, never to return. Jon’s mutilated body was found later. At first, Kushner is a confused small boy missing his brother, fearing that he could have prevented the crime had he not requested candy from the store. Then, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he secretly begins reading accounts from the newspapers on microfilm at the library. There were details that he couldn’t have even imagined as a four-year-old boy.
After publishing several books and articles as an adult, Kushner was ready to write about Jon’s disappearance and murder. As part of his research, he received access to police records. He discovers details that are so horrific that he wonders how his family survived. Kushner also realizes that while Jon’s disappearance and murder devastated his family, the entire community was deeply affected by the violence of the crime.
Liz Suburbia’s debut graphic novel, Sacred Heart, was selected for the Top Ten lists for both the Alex Award and Great Graphic Novels for Teens, presented as part of the ALA’s 2016 Youth Media Awards. A full list of all the authors and titles honored at the 2016 YMAs can be found here.
Sacred Heart follows Ben Schiller, who is trying to navigate high school in Alexandria, a town where all the adults have gone away. As the teens attend school purely to socialize and local punk band the Crotchmen rock the nights away in an abandoned church, Ben juggles her changing relationship with her best friend and her newfound role as a parental figure to her younger sister, Empathy. But no one knows when or if the parents are coming back, and a string of deaths may mean that even more sinister things are coming.
Congratulations on your Alex Award win! What was your reaction to winning?
Thank you! I was surprised and humbled. My mom is an elementary school librarian who follows ALA news closely, so when she texted me about it I felt pretty good.
Was there something in particular that inspired you to write Sacred Heart?
I didn’t really know where I was going with it when I started; at the time I had just started working at a comic shop and was suddenly completely immersed in comics, so I was inspired to make one of my own. I started with the kind of generic “young girl coming of age” template and it grew from there.
Sacred Heart is about a town that is completely devoid of adults. Did you know at the beginning where all the grown-ups had gone, or did that revelation come later in the writing process?
At first I was having trouble writing adults into the story, and it occurred to me that I could just not include them. It took me awhile to come up with a good reason for their absence though. I had a kind of lightbulb moment out of nowhere when I went to see the band Shannon and the Clams, and they sang a song from the perspective of a kid who doesn’t want to be in their parents’ cult anymore. Continue reading 2016 Alex Award Winner: An Interview with Liz Suburbia
I have watched and loved NCIS from the show’s beginning in 2003, and my favorite character has always been Abby Sciuto. She’s smart and funny and not afraid to be herself, even if “herself” isn’t what people expect when meeting a computer and science expert. Someone as accomplished and confident as Abby surely has developed her own taste in reading, but if she were to ask me for book recommendations, this is what I’d offer her:
The Martian by Andy Weir (2015 Alex Award) is a science-packed story about a failed Mars mission. Abby would understand the science behind Mark’s attempts to get himself back to Earth, and she might even have some other suggestions for things he could try in order to survive on the red planet.
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby (2008 Schneider Family Book Award) chronicles the life of Joey, a 13-year old who is missing out on a lot of things because she is deaf and her mother will not let her learn sign language. She meets a man who is teaching a chimp to sign, and through them Joey is able to find her voice. Abby’s mother was deaf, so Abby and Gibbs occasionally communicate using sign language. That, and the science aspect of this story, would appeal to Abby.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson (2012 Stonewall Honor Book) follows Ava as she trades in her anti-establishment goth persona for a “good girl” look involving lots of pink. Ava finds it difficult to maintain her good-girl guise, though, just as Abby felt uncomfortable when [temporarily] forced to follow a strict dress code at work.
3:59 by Gretchen McNeil features a science whiz named Josie who gets trapped in an alternate universe and has to use her knowledge of physics to return to Earth. The complex science discussed in this book, along with the paranormal/mystery aspect, would definitely appeal to Abby.
This Valentine’s Day, because my husband needed to be away, my dog was my date. That evening she and I took a walk, had dinner and lounged on the couch together. I read while she dozed and snored. In other words, we had a perfect evening. This made me think that in this month of love, I’d like to honor our canine friends who devote themselves to us so unconditionally.
Below are several YA novels (and one adult novel well-suited to teens), some in print and some in graphic format, in which canines play a large part. They may be the main character’s best friend or arch enemy, or even the story’s protagonist. I’ve taken the liberty of including a few books with wolves. I’m hoping you’ll agree that the probable common ancestry of wolves and dogs — and also just the fact that these “wolf” novels are pretty great — justifies the inclusion of these works.
This is a fictionalized account of Laika, the Samoyed-husky who in November 1957 became the first sentient being to leave Earth’s orbit, on the Sputnik II satellite. A dog who had survived on the streets of Russia, she was taken by scientists in order to further their space program, her life knowingly sacrificed. This is a powerful and poignant graphic novel which shows how politics can generate intense pressure on scientists to be first in their field. (younger teen graphic novel)
This graphic novel turns the story of The Three Little Pigs on its head. In this version, BB Wolf is a farmer and blues musician in the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s. When the pigs decide that they’re going to take his land, BB Wolf strikes back in revenge. There are parallels here to Jim Crow racial segregation and oppression and also to the life of the real Barnabus Benjamin Wolf, who influenced American Blues music and was executed for murder. (older teen graphic novel) Continue reading For the Love of Dogs (and a Few Wolves): Canines in YA Literature
One of best programs I attended at the recent ALA Annual Conference in Vegas was the very popular session on Monday afternoon presented by Jennie Rothschild and Angela Frederick called Stranger Than Fiction: Reader’s Advisory for Nonfiction.
The books they recommended are notable for their interesting subject areas that can be read for pleasure, not just for assignments; have appealing layout/style or design, and, despite that so many are published for adults, still have great teen appeal. Rothschild noted that since there isn’t a lot of teen nonfiction published compared to children’s and adult, teens are used to reading up or down. Many of the nonfiction titles are notable for their narrative style that reads like fiction and the fact that they complement so many popular fiction books.
Here are some of the highlights:
Subject read-alikes forBomb: The Race to Build â€“And Steal â€“The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (YALSA 2013 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, 2013 Sibert Award Winner, 2013 Newbery Honor Winner; National-book-award-finalist for Young People’s Literature):
The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan (YA)
Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, graphic novel (adults and older teens)
The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein (adult)
The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Keiran (adult)
The President Has Been Shot by James L. Swanson (YA)
Lincoln’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly & Jon Zimmerman (YA adaption from adult book)
Ghosts in the Fog by Samantha Sieple (Middle Grade)
Following the fabulous YALSA Coffee Klatch that Lalitha Nataraj wrote about, several of my tablemates and I needed to get the 2014 Alex Awards presentation. The trek, like the layout of the Vegas strip, seemed walkable and relatively close by on paper, but ended up being at the very end of the convention center. Thankfully, all the caffeine that we had just consumed while meeting fabulous YA authors allowed us to powerwalk and arrive on time for the session.
Danielle Dreger-Babbitt, chair of the 2014 Alex Awards committee, got things started by reminding the audience of how the Alex Awards were first given out in 1998, became an official ALA award in 2002, and honor the work of Margaret A. Edwards, who was called â€œAlexâ€ by her friends. Book jackets of the ten winning titles were shown along with short descriptions.
Typically, three to four winning authors attend the award presentation at ALA Annual. This year, only one author was able to make it â€“ John Searles, who won for his book Help for the Haunted. As John began his presentation, he joked that when he heard there were nine other winning authors he killed them all and buried them in the backyard (a nice tip of the hat to 2014 winner The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell).
What followed was a truly delightful, heartfelt presentation that included home movies (cinematic proof that from an early age John wanted to be an author as the super 8 pans his childhood living room and we see him writing away in a mini steno pad); a picture from high school (with John writing, of course); a scan of a truly scathing rejection note for an early manuscript submission, and photos of John’s hometown library (where he has been immortalized on a quilt featuring local authors). Continue reading ALA Annual 2014: The Alex Awards Presentation
Where I live, the temperatures and humidity are climbing these days, leaving me feeling a bit bedraggled and wilted. Weather like this prompts a strong nostalgia in me for one of my favorite TV shows, Lost, both because I feel as humidity-drenched as they all look on the island, and because the heat saps my energy, so I need a book with a hook strong enough to generate its own page-turning momentum, the way Lost expertly hooked me with truly bizarre discoveries, goosebump-causing unexplained phenomena, and never-quite-enough tidbits of the characters’ lives before the crash.
While I can never go back to the jaw-dropping, melodramatic delights of viewing Lost for the very first time, I can, and do, regularly seek out reading materials that will deliver that same tantalizing mix of survival, conspiracy, flashback storytelling with globetrotting locales, a diverse and varied cast of secret-keeping characters, and developments so strange I actually say, â€œWhat?!â€ out loud. The books in the following list all offered one or many of those factors.
MIND MGMT Vol. 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt – Perhaps an obvious pick, given that Lost producer Damon Lindelof loved this so much he wrote the foreword, and that Kindt has given Lost a very direct nod by numbering the â€œlostâ€ flight in his story 815. It’s supposed to appeal to Lost fans. But just because a thing is supposed to appeal doesn’t always mean it hits its mark. Imagine my delight then, to be promised by Lindelof that I was in for just the kind of wild ride Lost used to deliver so reliably, and then to have the book in my hand actually take me on just such a ride. This is one of those plots that keeps unfolding to reveal new layers, introducing new characters, and feeding you information from the past and the present without ever explaining anything fully (so just resign yourself to a degree of uncertainty about everything). MIND MGMT Vol. 1was one of 2014’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and the graphic format here really served the fragmented storytelling; what was going on in the frames could be saying one thing, and then the frame itself could say something else entirely, and the reader could follow the action through many places and time periods very quickly with a few key visual cues. The best part, for me, of discovering this bizarre (and, fair warning, violent) world; it’s an ongoing series. Continue reading Did You Love Lost? Try These Books!