YA Literature Symposium: Keeping it REALLY weird

yalit14I feel very lucky to have been able to attend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin this weekend. It was a great weekend full of thought-provoking panels, amazing author interactions, and just a lovely time talking about YA literature!

One of my favorite panels that I got to attend – and sometimes you had to make some hard choices! – was Sunday morning’s “Keeping it REALLY weird (books for the fringe & reluctant readers).” This had a great lineup hosted by Kelly Milner Halls it also included Chris Barton, Andrew Smith, Lisa Yee, Jonathan Auxier, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Ann Thompson. These authors have a reputation for writing about subjects sort of on the fringe compared to other YA books. Their books involve cryptids, unstoppable giant insects, Star Trek geeks, gamers, oddballs who make change, aliens for teachers, and ghost gardeners among other things. But many readers connect strongly to these stories of outsiders and happenings on the edge of what may be normal or accepted. Not only was this a really informative panel but it was also so much fun. Why? Take a look…

photoSee Lisa Yee in the middle? Jonathan Auxier bet her that she wouldn’t come to the panel dressed like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and said if she did, he would  sing all of his answers to the questions to the tune of “Moon River.” So Lisa dressed up and Jonathan had to sing until he brokered a deal with the audience to do yo-yo tricks for a singing reprieve.

That’s the fun stuff, but what did we talk about? The panelists talked about the weird things they did as a child – Lisa Yee used to pretend she had headgear to fit in with her friends; Chris Barton jumped off a second story roof; Jonathan Auxier, after an obsession with Teen Wolf, tried to convince his mother he was a werewolf – and then moved onto to more serious fair.

Asked whether the publishing industry made it harder or easier for so called “weird” books currently Bruce Coville and others noted that publishers often just want to clone hits like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. They often are trying to catch up to trends instead of create them. Andrew Smith noted that it was really the author’s fear of ‘going there’ that kept the strangeness out of books. Continue reading YA Literature Symposium: Keeping it REALLY weird

Genre Guide: Westerns for Teens

By Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Definition

Traditional western novels denote a sense of the “Old West” as defined as a time period of American history from about the 17th century to the early 20th century where new settlers dealt with the harsh landscape, lawlessness, and/or the loner who exacts vengeance in the name of doing what is right. For westerns that are written for teens, however, they don’t always follow all the typical western tropes, but most commonly some of these themes are paired with the main character or characters coming of age through the story.

Authors to Know

There aren’t many authors who are well-known for writing westerns for teens, however here are some of the more well-known western authors:

  • Loius L’Amour
  • Zane Grey
  • Larry McMurtry
  • Cormac McCarthy

Characteristics

The setting of western novels usually deem that they be set in western America.  However, westerns can take place in other geographical settings where the landscape may mimic that of the “Old West.”  So, it can be a landscape where there is a search for a valuable mineral or material, or there are desolate conditions that are hard to survive, or it is a new land that settlers must figure out how to tame.  Whatever the case, a richly detailed landscape is one of the main characteristics of a western novel.  Also, a civilized society does not exist in most western novels, usually because the land has been uninhabited and it has yet to be developed. Traditionally, western novels are set in the time period of the “Old West,” but when it comes to western novels written for teens, they do not need to be set in a historically accurate time.  They can be set in the past, alternate past, present, and even future. Continue reading Genre Guide: Westerns for Teens

Wilde Reads

Happy 160th birthday, Oscar Wilde! In honor of this most fascinating and talented writer, I’ve rounded up some great YA that definitely owes a debt to Wilde’s work – or his life.

darkerReadalike for The Picture of Dorian Gray
It shouldn’t be surprising that Wilde’s novel would resonate with teens – who doesn’t think from time to time about youth and beauty and the fear of growing old? While Wilde’s novel itself is already great for teens, this book may also resonate with them, and it fits into the popular paranormal genre by making what is clearly a supernatural occurrence in the original Wilde work more blatant:

  • Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber
    Natalie is mute, but she is observant and sensitive, which is why she is the one who notices that a new portrait of Lord Denbury has a bit too much life to it. It turns out that the young, handsome man’s soul is actually trapped behind the painting, and Natalie is the only one who can access it and help him escape the magic that binds him there.

 

Continue reading Wilde Reads

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Andrew Smith

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

My mind is still reeling from Grasshopper Jungle (which I read weeks and weeks ago…will its hold on me ever wane I wonder?) so I want to take a moment to talk about some of the disparate thoughts that have connected themselves in my head.

When I think about Andrew Smith, I think about the guys who hung out in the library at the private Catholic school where I was librarian before my daughter was born: my TA, the members of the anime club, the boys who ate lunch in my office and talked about books and video games with me.  I wish so much that I had been able to give them Winger or The Marbury Lens or 100 Sideways Miles then, at that time, because those books…they would have loved those books.  (Luckily, social media keeps us all in touch and it doesn’t matter that they’re all in college now because they’re awesome and we still talk about books.)  I think about my friend Walter and how I pushed other books aside to read Grasshopper Jungle because he raved about it and because I trust his judgement implicitly, and how his wise comments about books offer more than just literary insight, and how he gave me by far the best parenting advice I ever received.  Thinking about my daughter and Walter’s advice and my hopes for her future brings to mind a man, someone connected to the school, who changed the course of my life, and how much I wish I could sit him down with Grasshopper Jungle and A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and ask him to reevaluate.  That’s another connection; I read those two books back to back and they are inextricably linked in my brain now and I doubt I’ll ever recover (at least I hope not!)

And more than anything, thinking about Andrew Smith and his books–all his books–makes me think about my brother, who grew up with seven sisters, and our fascinating, infuriating, wonderful, complicated conversations about representation and cultural expectations.  My brother is so awesome.  And you know what else is awesome?  That a book about identity and history and connections and giant insects who eat people’s heads can tease out so many essential connections, creating a through-line that feels genuine and illuminating to me.  And that’s just one book.

Thank you so much Andrew, for writing honest books and giving honest answers.  Reading them was (and is) a very good idea.

Always Something There to Remind Me

andrew smithPlease describe your teenage self.

As a teen, I was pretty much a loner. I had a few close friends, I suppose, but being so much younger than my classmates in high school was a social obstacle that was difficult to overcome. I read a lot, but came into reading later in high school. And I wrote all the time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I still don’t know if I can say why. It was just something that I felt like I had to do. Jobs and employment—a means of simply making money—never really mattered to me at all, and I never once thought I would make a job out of writing until I was challenged by a friend into giving it a go.

What were your high school years like?

I attended high school in Southern California. I also played soccer when I was in high school (don’t hold that against me). I will say that I don’t really have any significant or inspiring adult influences in my background, but one time when I wrote a short story for an English teacher, she gave me an F on it because she said there was no way that a kid my age could ever write a story like that, so, therefore it must have been plagiarized. That made an impact on me. Also, I still remember the story. Oh boy! It was terrible!

What were some of your passions during that time?

Well, like I said, I played soccer and tennis when I was in high school. I also did track and field one year for my father, who was a track coach. I hated track. My dad forced me to do it. I had a brother who was quite older than I was, so I grew up listening to bands like the Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. And, as far as reading tastes went, when I had money to spend on books, I would buy the thickest paperbacks I could get my hands on because I wanted to get as many pages for my money as possible. So I actually did read Moby Dick, and books like Jude the Obscure and The Idiot when I was a teen. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Andrew Smith

Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Definition

Steampunk, believe it or not, is a term that has been round since the late 1980s. It is usually defined as a sub-genre of science fiction and features a late 19th century or early 20th century setting, but with steam-powered and clockwork inventions and machines.  Steampunk can also be identified as a sub-genre of speculative fiction and is often described as alternate history.  Most steampunk novels are set in Victorian England or America, but are also known to be set in the Wild West of America.

Authors to Know

Characteristics

Steampunk is often characterized by the setting of the story and inventions that are fantastical and magical. Steampunk uses a lot of visual descriptions, especially when it comes to the machinery and fashion. Oftentimes, a lot of description will go into how a machine works.  Supernatural elements are typically included in a steampunk story. Steampunk plots are adventure-driven stories, where machines play the part of moving the adventure along.  Since there is so much action packed into most steampunk novels, the pacing is usually fast.

The characters of steampunk novels are quirky and include inventors, mad scientists, or the like. Characters in steampunk novels also take on the punk mentality.  Usually the main character or characters is individualistic often goes against the mainstream, and he or she may be fighting for a cause or movement.   Many times the plot of a steampunk novel involves good vs. evil, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined. Continue reading Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

Diverse YA Titles to Look for at ALA Annual

Photo Jun 22, 6 52 28 PMAs a follow-up to Hannah Gómez’s post #DiversityatALA about the current movement to be vocal about the need for more diversity in YA literature (#weneeddiversebooks), and Kelly Dickinson’s post featuring LGBTQ titles, I’m here to list some upcoming YA books that contain non-white, non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered or differently-abled characters that you should be on the lookout for. If you are attending the ALA Annual Conference this weekend in Vegas, ask the publishers about ARCs for many of these. Not all of them will be available as ARCs because some aren’t being published until 2015, but publishers’ reps should still be able give you the scoop on them.

To start, I’m including a few recent notable books that you probably know about and a few that aren’t as obvious because the reviews might not have mentioned their diverse content, or you can’t tell from their jacket flaps.

Photo Jun 23, 2 15 16 AMFreakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) is a novel about a transgendered boy while a strong pick for a nonfiction book about transgendered teens is Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

I wasn’t aware that  the main character Chevron “Chevie” is descended from the Shawnee Native American tribe in Eoin Colfer’s Warp: Book 1 the Reluctant Assassin until I started reading it. The second book in the series, Hangman’s Revolution is coming out today. Park in Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2014 Printz Honor book) is half-Korean.

In Stick by Andrew Smith the main character “Stick” is differently-abled because he was born without an ear & his older brother is gay. Chasing Shadows by Swati Avashi has a main character of Indian descent and there’s a lot about Hindu mythology in the book.

Photo Jun 19, 11 31 11 AMPadma Venkatraman’s A Time to Dance is about a classical Indian dance prodigy whose life seems to be over after she becomes a below-the knee amputee.

Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot is a fantasy flavored by Native American cultures and Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore features a lesbian character.

Now that you’re up to speed on recently-published diverse titles, here are some upcoming books with diverse content to keep an eye out for at ALA Annual and other conferences:

  • Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks, August  2014) is Photo Jun 22, 11 44 43 AMa ghost story about Okiko, whose spirit has wandered the world for centuries delivering punishment to monsters who hurt children,  but when she meets teenaged Tark, she tries to free him from the demon that invaded him.
  •  Blind by Rachel DeWoskin (Penguin, August 2014) A 15-year-old teen girl loses her eyesight the summer before high school after a firecracker misfires into a crowd.
  •  Positive: a Memoir by Paige Rawl (HarperCollins, August 2014) (NF). Memoir of Paige Rawl, HIV positive since birth, who was bullied in school once she disclosed her HIV-positive status and from that moment forward, every day was like walking through a minefield.  Continue reading Diverse YA Titles to Look for at ALA Annual

Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

Just Fantasy LGBTQ+ spec ficAs this recurring feature on The Hub clearly indicates, I love fantasy fiction.  But even a fan like myself must acknowledge that the genre has limitations, especially in terms of diversity.  Speculative fiction has remained a fairly white, cis-gendered, & straight world for a long time.  The fact that there seem to be more dragons and robots than LGBTQ+ characters in fantasy & sci-fi novels is shameful and disheartening, especially to the genres’ LGBTQ+ fans.  So in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I set out to overview the current status of LGBTQ+ representation in young adult fantasy and science fiction.

High Fantasy

ash_malindalo_500For readers interested in issues of diversity & representation in speculative fiction, Malinda Lo is one of the most exciting authors and insightful bloggers out there.  Her work is also the perfect introduction to high fantasy featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  For readers favoring fairy tale retellings, Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award Finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) is an ideal romantic read. In this delicate Cinderella story, an orphaned young woman seeks escape from pain in the promises of a dark fairy but begins to question her choice when she falls in love with the king’s huntress.  Meanwhile, readers looking for quest narratives featuring complex heroines should pick up Lo’s Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List), which follows the journey of two very different young women as they attempt to restore balance to the world–and understand their intense connection.  Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

What Would They Read?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer continued

buffy_the_vampire_slayer_Last month, I had intention of selecting books for characters of fantastic TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Surprisingly, I got lost in a Buffy tornado and did not get a chance to discuss the reading habits of anyone else from the show.  Let’s see how many characters I get through this month.

Xander Harris – Xander is not much of a reader, as we learn in the show.  However, there are a few references to his love of comics.  It would be easy to give Xander a few superhero comics and he would be satisfied.  That said, I would stay away from any books featuring Daredevil, seeing what happened to Xander in the final season.  I would like to expose Xander to a different kind of book- show him what else is out there.  Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I thought one of the interesting ways to find a book for Xander would be to look at some of his past crushes, hobbies, etc.  The first book that comes to mind is probably one of the most bizarre books concepts that I’ve run across this year, but is still completely a Xander pick.  Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is the story of two boys who inadvertently bring about six-foot tall praying mantises that may eventually destroy the world.  This just seems like a book match made in heaven for Xander.  Remember when he developed a crush on his entomology  teacher who transformed into a giant praying mantis?  What does a guy living on the Hellmouth consider the ultimate horror story?  What fuels his nightmares?  Vampires and demons are nothing for someone like Xander, but give him giant insects and he’ll be squirming.

Xander longs to  be a hero.  He had his chance during the first season when he became his Halloween costume and became a soldier.  Throughout the show, we see Xander recall his military knowledge and assist in situations.  A second choice for Xander’s to-read pile would be Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy.  In this book, Danny joins the National Guard in order to help protect his state and country.  But when the State Government and the Federal Government decide to turn on each other and a second Civil War threatens America, Danny has to determine what side is the right side.  Continue reading What Would They Read?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer continued

Jukebooks: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew SmithAndrew Smith’s latest book, Grasshopper Jungle, is a mad romp through time, lead by sixteen year-old historian Austin Szerba. Set in Austin’s dying Iowa town, the story includes Austin’s Polish ancestors, a decrepit alley behind an empty mall, a very mad scientist, and six-foot tall praying mantis-like creatures. The action is framed by Austin’s present day dilemma:  He loves both his best friend, Robby, and his other best friend, Shannon.

Smith uses many recurring phrases and themes in his story. One of them is Robby and Austin’s love for the 1972 Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main St.  As Austin writes:

Although it had been made more than forty years before, it seemed like every song on that Rolling Stones album was precisely about Robby and me, or Unstoppable Soldiers, Ealing, Iowa, and McKeon Industries.

Photo by Dominique TarleThe making of Exile on Main St. stretched over a four year period of time. Much of it was recorded in the basement rooms of a French villa known as Nellicote, leased by Keith Richards for a time. Musicians would drop by and play on tracks that were later used on the album, even as members of the Stones stayed away from the erratic, drug-fueled recording sessions. So the final product is complex, with some truly brilliant tracks.

As Robby and Austin cruise the ruined town of Ealing, Iowa, on the lookout for the deadly praying mantises, Robby puts on “Let It Bleed.”

http://youtu.be/NojUri3aX-Y

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

Singles Ads, YA Book Style

_DSC2226 (2)It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air! Then again, when it comes to YA books,  love is always in the air around here.

Inspired by the Blind Date with a Book displays that are popping up in libraries this week, we are sharing some YA book singles ads with you. Read the blurb and try to guess which which book is looking for a reader. Answers will appear after the break.

Feel free to share your own blurbs in the comments!

  • Jessica Lind

1.  “Historical fiction seeks reader for a look at the effect of WWII on a Lithuanian family. This is a date for fans of beautifully written stories of hope during the toughest of times.”

2.  “Contemporary YA novel seeks reader as date for school trip to England. Shakespeare, mobile phones, and love await you.” 

3.  “Modern update on classic story seeks reader to flashback to New York’s rock scene in the eighties. Must be willing to jump between timelines to solve a mystery.”

4.  “Totally rockin’ graphic novel seeks reader to, you know, just, like, hang out. An interest in music and old school video games would be a total plus. May be required to travel through Subspace.”

  • Erin Daly

5.  “Sweet and funny romance seeks reader who loves film and Parisian travel.”

6.  “Modern fantasy seeks reader to explore the magical possibilities of origami, sentient textbooks, and folding reality.”

7.  “Collection of short stories seeks reader with a wide range of esoteric interests ranging from raising the dead to ethnography of magicians to television shows about libraries and boys who inherit phone booths to handbags with entire fairy realms inside.”

8.  “Suspenseful dystopian novel seeks reader to resist the alien invasion while reminiscing about the past and keeping alive the vow to rescue a sibling.”

  • Geri Diorio

9.  “Heartbreakingly realistic boarding school novel seeks reader who can handle rugby, violence, sexual fantasies, and growing pains. Enjoying comics is a plus.”

10.  “Award winning book linking seven stories across time and space seeks speculative fiction loving reader who wants to puzzle out the mysteries of love, family, and sacrifice.”

11.  “Like fairy tales? Like ghost stories? How about mysteries? Acclaimed YA novel combining all these elements seeks reader who is open to the idea of spirits from the past guiding us in the present. Must have courage and ability to resist pastries.”

12.  “Modern retelling of Shakespearian play seeks reader who is open to seeing what the minor characters can do. Love of fencing, thievery, an unrequited love a huge plus.”

  • Jennifer Rummel

13.  “The family next door has always been off limits, but that was before girl met boy. Now they secretly date.”

14.  “Girl has a gift and a curse. Someone wants to use her for a weapon, but she’s about to fight back.”

15.  “Girl gets sucked into dreams – one boy in particular has nightmares that could come true.”

16.  “Girl’s BFF moves away. She’s devestated until an interesting boy crosses her path.”

Continue reading Singles Ads, YA Book Style