Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Wonderful(?) World of Hype

Hype.  Whether we like it or not, all of us know it well since it plays a factor in how we spend our money.  Movies, music, and consumerism itself all thrive on hype.  If not for hype's effect on marketing, how else would we have fads (think Furby, Crazy Bandz, etc.) and ever-changing rates of supply and demand? Raising hype before or when a product releases has become a strategy all its own, and hype is definitely a force in marketing. But is it always a force of good?

Even in the publishing industry, there are the shticks to garner word of mouth long before publication date:  large publishing deals, blurbs from best-selling authors, large ARC (advanced reading copy) distribution, and heavy social networking presence through advertisements, promotions, and giveaways (to name a few things).  All of these things are used to generate buzz -- but, though marketing definitely is necessary, when is it all just too much?

On Wednesday, I reviewed Veronica Roth's much-anticipated and much-hyped Divergent; this book alone is just one example of the hype machine that has been driving the YA book industry for the past few years.  Just looking at the back of the Divergent ARC offers the outline for a National Marketing Campaign, which includes mass promotion via the internet (blogs, Facebook, Inkpop, etc.) and advertisements.  (And, yes, most ARCs have marketing campaigns of some sort listed in detail on the back covers -- but hyped books, I've found, have a lot of marketing driving them towards popularity.  The hype isn't always created by reader response and favorable reviews.) Of course this isn't a new thing, but it's still a bit disquieting that hype has such weight in determining which books are likely to do well and which ones will fade into obscurity.

Do I have issues with hype?  Yes and no. While I know that publishers need to do something to gain back the money they gave out in advances to authors while also gaining back profit, I don't like hype just for hype's sake.  True, hype is a necessary evil in marketing of any kind, but it also proves to be a double-edged sword for authors and their novels.

As a reader, I'll be honest:  hype is becoming something of a scarlet letter when I'm looking at potential books to read.  After all, when you hear about a book for months and months before its publication, that hype embeds some expectations within potential readers.  Obviously, many hyped books are not going to live up to all of the expectations set upon them since it's impossible to please everyone, but it's still disappointing to read a book that received rave reviews from others and find that you just don't love it that much, if at all.  Still, I try to have as much optimism as I can that the hyped given to some books is deserved and/or warranted somehow.

I worry that the emphasis on hype will lead more and more to people seeking to be published less because of stories they want to tell and more because of the gain they could potentially receive from it.  I worry that less books will be published because of their stories and heart and more because of the cash flow they will incite.  I worry that many readers in the future won't know a good thing when they read it because hype will be the main deciding factor for whether they read a book or not.

I open the discussion to you, Book Lantern followers: what are your views on hype?  Does hype affect how you perceive a book before you read it?  Are you tiring of hype in the marketing of books, or have you found many great books due to its influence?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Modern-Day Story Weaver: Interview with Marissa Meyer

It’s a mathematical truth, that while you can only connect to points with one line, you can pass an indefinite amount of lines through a single one. Similarly, there are a thousand ways you could look at an issue, but only one if you stand at a certain point.

My post from a few weeks back on morals and values in YA only looks at things from a certain perspective, so today, we have the pleasure of welcoming up and coming YA author, Marissa Meyer, to talk a little about fairy tales and how they translate into our modern day world. Marissa’s debut novel, CINDER, is due for release in spring 2012, and I for one will definitely be on the line to get my hands on a copy. So without further ado…

Well, first of all, welcome, Marissa! Ok, so *goes into journalist mode* I know this is cheesy, but let's go through the basics. Tell us a little about yourself and about Cinder.

Thanks, Kate, I’m so excited to be on the Book Lantern! CINDER is my debut novel—it’s a futuristic retelling of Cinderella. It follows Cinder, a 16-year-old mechanic who happens to be a cyborg (half girl, half machine), whose life is turned upside-down when she’s hired by the Crown Prince to fix an android that may or may not have Very Important Information. Soon, she’s caught in the middle of a long-standing political feud that’s tipping dangerously close to a full-on war. CINDER is set to release in early 2012 and is the first in a four-book series that will bring together other fairy-tale-based heroines (Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White) as they try to save the world and find their happily ever afters.

Is there any particular reason why you write in this genre?

I’ve always loved YA fiction. I’m drawn to the passion associated with first loves and the strength of loyalties we form in our teen years. Mostly, I love the optimism that surrounds young adult fiction—the idea that even the weakest, lowliest, most unexpected person can become a hero and change the world. I think we sometimes forget that as we get older.

How do you feel fairy tales relate to us in 2011?

As is evidenced by Hollywood’s current obsession with them, fairy tales never really go out of style. The same stories have been told for hundreds of years and yet we continue to find new and exciting ways to tell them. I took a fairy tale literature class a few years ago and we talked a lot about the symbolism behind fairy tales and how it relates to our psyche (Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor for sexual maturation, Little Red Riding Hood as a metaphor for rape and male dominance, etc., pretty deep stuff). All of these cultural and societal issues are just as relevant now as they were when the Grimm Brothers first recorded the tales two hundred years ago. We may change the characters, setting, time, even the outcome of the stories, but at their heart, fairy tales remain literary glimpses into our natural concerns, fears, desires, and dreams.

That—and they still combine magic, gore, and happy endings. Who doesn’t love that?

What are your influences? Tell us about one of your favorite books. What is it about, and what are your experiences with it?

I’ve been influenced by all the great writers who have kept fairy tale retellings going strong over the years and shown that there will always be new ways to twist the archetypes—Gregory Maguire, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine are some of my favorites. Also, George Lucas and Joss Whedon for proving that good science fiction is timeless!

Asking me to choose one favorite book is such a cruel question. I’m going to go way, way back and say Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. It’s a picture book about this boy (Harold) who uses a purple crayon to draw an adventure for himself. Something about this book really triggered my imagination when I was a kid and I fell in love with the idea of being able to create my own stories. I’m sure this book is partially responsible for my overactive imagination.

In which aspects do you think fiction reflects life? How do you feel your personal worldviews affect your writing?

No matter how off-the-wall or fantastical a story is, fiction continues to deal with those things that are most important to us: fitting in, finding love and friendship, growing up, discovering purpose in our life, facing our fears, striving to achieve our dreams… These are things that every person can relate to. It’s just that in fiction, we get to experience them in much more intense and exciting ways than most of us will ever get to in real life (which is usually a good thing).

As to my personal worldviews, I actually think my writing is affected more by what I wish the world was like than what I believe it’s actually like: that everything happens for a reason, that good will be rewarded and evil will be punished, that courage and strength will come to us when we most need it.

Do you think Young Adult books are examined more closely for their underlying messages because of the intended audience?

I don’t think any genre is immune to such scrutiny, but there’s definitely a lot of discussion on the messages in YA books and whether or not authors should be concerned with sending the “right” messages, especially as our books grow darker and deal with more mature themes. Personally, I feel like my job as a writer is to entertain, not teach, and I sometimes feel like critics spend so much time examining a book for moral flaws and/or didacticism that they forget to ask whether or not it’s a good story. If a young reader comes away from my book feeling empowered or motivated to make good decisions or like they’ve learned something about themselves—awesome. But I’m much more concerned with whether or not they had fun reading it.

What makes a universal story?

Great question, as the rags-to-riches theme in Cinderella is probably the most universal story there is! Like I mentioned earlier, great fiction often deals with our deepest human fears and desires, and these are things that cross every culture and time period. Love, friendship, belonging, the fear of the unknown, prejudice, justice—these are things that we’ve all experienced in one way or another. A universal story not only embodies these human experiences, it also gives them the resolution that we don’t always get in real life—the prince gets the princess, the evil stepsisters cut off their toes and get their eyes pecked out, all is well with the world.

"You know, it's a truism that writers for children must still be children themselves, deep down, must feel childish feelings, and a child's surprise at the world." - A. S. Byatt. What do you think?

What a great quote! I definitely think there is truth to this. How can you write about magic if you don’t find yourself still trying to use the Force? How can you write about first love if you don’t remember how all-encompassing and passionate first love really is? How can your hero change the world if you’re convinced the world can’t be changed? I don’t think it’s about suspending disbelief—I think it’s about truly believing that crazy, wonderful things are possible in this world, the way we did when we were kids.

Thank you, Marissa, for your time and all your wonderful answers! I’ll be hoping we hear more of you soon!

Marissa Meyer's debut novel, CINDER, is set to release in early 2012. You can read her blog at or follow her on twitter at @marissa_meyer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

In the YA book world, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the dystopian.  With the popularity and acclaim of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy, the young adult publishing world seemed to explode with all kinds of ideas for dystopians about oppression and chaos -- and publishers were all the more willing to oblige them due to the proven success of The Hunger Games.

One of the more hyped offerings, Divergent by Veronica Roth, has been gaining more and more pre-publication buzz each day, especially since the news that Summit Entertainment had optioned the book for film adaptation even months before the book's release date.  Never mind that a mere peek at the Goodreads page for the book shows a bevy of four- and five-star reviews.  Divergent just seemed to need to be read to be believed -- and read I did.

Truthfully, I don't think the quick comparison to The Hunger Games does Divergent any favors except to build hype and expectations among readers. However much it's a great tactic for marketing, I personally don't know if this book should even be referred to as a dystopian since the label hurts more than helps it, giving the idea of one thing to the readers and offering something a little bit different with the story itself.

Let me explain:  I have a set idea as to what, for me personally, a dystopian is. YA dystopians seem to have an identity crisis at times (something Vinaya spoke about here) where they're just so intent about illustrating some kind of suffering or shock factor hook that they lose the true meaning of a dystopia: a world that has descended from order to chaos, one where what once were nightmares and dark musings of past times (i.e. usually our own modern days) are now common pieces of society, even to the point where rights or privileges of the people have been abolished and replaced by 'what is deemed right and fair.' 

Now, back to the case of Divergent:  yes, it certainly has hints of dystopian tenets. . .but strip the layers of the story away and what do you have?  Is it really a true dystopian, the kind that makes us fear for our own world because we see the problems and warnings present in our own time and place?  Or just an action thriller with dystopian elements? Honestly, Divergent is an adrenaline-kick, shock-factor-enthusiast, and action-centric kind of book first and foremost; the dystopian undercurrent is mostly for show, at least in this beginning installment to the trilogy.

For being labeled a dystopian, the world-building behind the story leaves a lot to be desired. Though we are told that the five factions resulted from a 'great peace' following a devastating war, the nature and state of the world as a whole is a big unknown.  Chicago is the focus, front and center, but any reader must wonder, "What about the rest of the United States?  And the world itself?" Roth describes her world sparingly, giving only some modern downtown Chicago landmarks scene time to ground her world; one must wonder if the sparseness of setting is a sign of intentional withholding of information or lack of planning and fleshing of the story's world. (Personally, I hope it is the former.)

But all of those concerns of mine started to fade into the background as I continued to read. Though the flaws are many (the length, unfortunately, being one of them), Roth doesn't fail to draw readers into her story and make them feel compelled to keep reading just to see what happens. The first one hundred and fifty pages were a struggle for me, no lie, but then it got easier to accept the book for what it was instead of wishing for more of what I thought it could be.  The most discernible problem for me was Beatrice, who was a difficult heroine to grow to like since she started out so judgmental and harsh to the point that she was a bit unrelatable.  Then her 'change' seemed to come much too soon, but I was glad for it since she eventually became a bearable (though, at times, still not particularly likable) heroine.

The novel's plot doesn't start to come together under the last one hundred or so pages, but I have to appreciate the character relationships that grow within the story.  However much I was ready to ride them off in the beginning, the characters grew on me (sometimes in spite of myself), and I really started to care about what was happening to them and around them.  When I start off with questionable feelings towards a book, I don't often change my mind. . .but, with Divergent, I eventually found myself swayed.

In the end, what struck (and stuck with) me most about the novel overall is this:  the underlying theme of morals and their importance in the story.  The factions themselves are representations of things valued and praised within the Bible:  selflessness, bravery, honesty, knowledge, and peace. (I am not taking liberties by assuming Roth used the Bible as inspiration for her world; she herself has not hidden the fact that she is a Christian.)  Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the moral aspect of the novel, and it gave the story some of the depth I had been craving all along.  Let it be known that, at its core, this novel is about choices, priorities, and beliefs. This tendency isn't a flaw in the story, however; rather, I think it helps to enhance and differentiate a book that would otherwise have been lost in similarities to its popular predecessor.  

(I will also give Roth credit in this respect: she could have easily had her factions act forever positively in regards to their specific traits, but instead she does not shy away from casting all the factions in gray lights.  All the characters are ambiguous figures, mostly neither hero nor villain but rather 'flawed human,' and that in itself is refreshing in a YA landscape of 'goodies and baddies.')

Though this novel contains a rocky and lengthy start that takes away a bit from the impact of the novel as a whole, the story does eventually 'get there' where you're invested (even if only to see where everything is going).  It took a while for me to care, but other readers who are more action-oriented than I am may look at this novel with more patience and appreciation.  As it is, I'll be reading the sequels to see how the story continues, but I stand by my words that this novel is much more appealing when it is showing off its games of ambiguity and morality than its plays at brutality and violence.

My conclusion: Divergent is a free-for-all book dependent entirely on a reader's specific tastes and expectations.  There's just no way to go other than reading it for yourself and deciding your own stance on it.  Like it or dislike it, you will definitely be able to admit one thing, at least:  it's a book that's going to lead to a lot of interesting discussions among readers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Writer's Education

By: Phoebe North

I'm a big fan of the Book Lantern blog. So when Vinaya shot me an email and asked me to write a guest post, I jumped at the chance. Then, I sat down to try writing on the suggested topic— the importance of a writing education for writers—and proceeded to chew my nails down to little stubs.

You see, Vinaya knows that I have a Masters of Fine Arts in writing. I graduated in 2009 from the University of Florida's well-regarded MFA program with a concentration in poetry. With the student loans to show for my commitment to a writerly education, and having guided undergraduate students in their own journeys to become educated, adept writers of both poetry and prose in the classroom, Vinaya hoped that I could speak on the topic of the impact and importance of education on writers.

But the truth is, I wouldn't recommend that most young writers—and probably not those who would be reading a blog focused on young adult literature—follow in my footsteps.

It's not that I deny the importance of education, in the broadest sense, for the aspiring novelist. I think that every writer has an obligation—perhaps even a duty—to be both widely read and committed to the constant improvement of one's skill set. I hate when a published work belies broad ignorance of a writer's genre, or is poorly edited, or makes rookie mistakes.

But I think that there are many ways to correct these problems, and many ways for a writer to develop her expertise. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books on the subject of writing (my favorites are Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles & Ends and Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit). There are internet forums like Absolute Write and the Blue Boards where young writers can get editing help and career advice. There are SCWBI critique groups and genre workshops like Clarion where writers can meet like-minded writers.

And there's always the notion of reading widely and voraciously. While book suggestions from an educator can be valuable, I wouldn't say that they're invaluable; within the academia, particularly, I strongly feel that any proposed canon be taken with an enormous grain of salt.

Here's what I didn't know when I started my journey in MFA-land at twenty three: the academic writing world caters to a specific type of writer, with specific interests. Though the particulars vary somewhat according to program, it is fairly unusual to find writing programs which celebrate genre writing; writing for children or teens; or commercial writing, defined in the broadest sense of the term. MFAs are as much about cultivating a certain standard of "good taste" as they are about developing craft skills.

It might seem self-evident to say all of that, that it's really mostly literary writers who are best-served by getting an MFA, and who will likely have the happiest time in an MFA program. But it wasn't self-evident when I was applying to graduate school. I'd done well in my workshops in college, and my professors encouraged me to enter the MFA world as the next step in my writerly development. This advice was given with absolutely the best intentions. In many ways, it was seen as the next natural step for a young, gifted writer: if you want to make an earnest study of writing, you go into an MFA program.

And within the last several years, there's been an explosion of MFA culture. More programs are developed with each passing year, some funded, some not. Often they are either sources of income for a university (if the programs aren't funded, they can be quite expensive) or sources of cheap labor (if they are, MFA students often act as TAs, teaching composition classes for very low wages). And spending several years focusing on writing can seem a very attractive prospect indeed for those fresh out of college and just entering the workforce amidst an economic depression.

I can't deny that there were good things about my time spent in my MFA program. I had a fairly relaxed schedule, wrote quite a bit, and made many good friends there. My professors were caring and dedicated and always well-intentioned. And I had the opportunity to take other classes at the University, including critical coursework in young adult literature and science fiction.

But I can't deny the conflict I felt as I became increasingly dedicated to both YA and genre, as I spent my  summers trying to learn how to write speculative fiction even as I was told that I wouldn't be able to take fiction workshops unless I refrained from embracing these speculative elements in my workshopped writing.

The truth was, I didn't know what kind of writer I was when I applied to MFA programs. I thought that all writers read like I did, very widely, exploring both literary and commercial fiction. I wasn't aware that some literary writers look down on commercial writers (and if you doubt that's true, just look at what Jennifer Egan recently had to say about Megan McCafferty). And I didn't realize that a writer's education within the academia would often incorporate a certain nudging—sometimes gentle, sometimes not—toward high-brow literature, the sort of literature that I don't often enjoy reading, much less writing.

So my advice on education for writers would be this: make a study of writing, most definitely. Read lots and lots of books, edit your writing, and be open to both criticism and improvement. But be wary of anyone who tells you that there's only one true path to becoming a writer. The truth is that there are as many paths as there are successful, published novelists. What worked for one person (even me!) might not necessarily work for you.

Phoebe North is a YA author, blogger and reviewer. And one of our favourite people on the internets! Check out her blog here; and don't forget to pay a visit to the awesome The Interrobangs, where Phoebe is a regular contributor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Four Books to Read Before You Die

As many of you know, I'm probably the most negative writer on this blog. For me to praise a book, it has to impress me on many different levels. And since I know that many people have different tastes in books than I do, I've decided to vary my list a bit. Just a warning, all of these have sex in them, one deals with drug addiction, and they all deal with alcoholism. They aren't issue books, but they are very depressing.

1. Into the Great Wide Open: by Kevin Canty

Smart but scarred, Kenny Kolodny yearns to awake from the nightmare of his smashed-up family: his mother is in an institution and forever away; his father is an abusive alcoholic; his brother lives abroad. Seventeen and alone, he hangs on the periphery of his world, until he makes a passionate connection with the troubled, beautiful, fiercely independent Junie Williamson. Kenny discovers in their highly charged, intensely erotic relationship a reality—and a capacity for caring—he has not known before.

In prose startling for its diamond-hard edges and bravura lyricism, Kevin Canty revives the heady carnival of adolescence, evoking its confusing emotional landscape and its heightened sensuality, too soon lost. Into the Great Wide Open is a haunting, mesmerizing novel by a writer of deep sensitivity and undeniable talent

I've wanted to read this book since 2009. But finding a copy isn't easy, unless you want to purchase it. I am cheap. I don't like buying anything. But I finally realized that this wasn't going to purchase itself. I bought a hardcover from Amazon for $4.01. Not a bad deal and it wasn't worth a cent more.

As the blurb says, this is very lyrical(meaning colorful, slow, and overwrought). That ruined the book for me. And the ending was bad. But I liked the relationship between Kenny and Junie. It felt real.  Their dialogue was real. They're both huge emos, but you get over that. This book is a tale of what happens when real 'undying love' doesn't turn out the way you want. I'd love to direct the movie.

If anything, it felt more like an adult book than YA. But Kevin Canty is an adult writer, so take of that as you will. Three stars. It's possibly one of the best modern coming of age stories. It takes the traditional, oh the poor rich suburban kids story, à la Bret Easton Ellis, and actually makes you care for the characters in a way that Less Than Zero never did.

 A truck driver's daughter who grows up in the front seat of her father's truck, Jo shares her father's love of country music, junk food, and the open highway. Jo's life is a perfect slice of Americana, except that their Â"open road" is in England, and her father—the gentle, melancholy Bobby Pickering—is from Northern Ireland. The only truly American thing about Jo is her mother, whom she has never met. 

Jo is twelve when she and Bobby pick up hitchhiker Cosima Stewart, an American country singer whose band is touring England. They become dedicated fans, and Cosima, touched by the unlikely duo, comes to regard Jo with an indulgent, even sisterly, eye. 

But when Jo is sixteen, Bobby sinks into serious despair and Jo seeks refuge in Cosima and the band. When Bobby disappears, Jo's adoration becomes obsessive as she follows her idol all to the way to California. Here, in the sweltering Mohave Desert and alone for the first time, Jo must face the painful truths of her own life, the mother she has never known, and the father she can't force from her mind. With shades of Zadie Smith and Mark Haddon, Albyn Leah Hall's powerful debut is a page-turning study of what frightens us about one another and ourselves; of how we run away and what we can't, ultimately, escape from.
I hate country music and I hate truck driving, so you can imagine my surprise when I read this book and actually liked it. I picked it up in 2008 when I was living in Daytona Beach. It was so good, I decided to buy it two weeks ago. It was also an Amazon purchase. It cost $3.79 for the hardcover, but I would have spent full price.

This is technically a foreign book, although it was an American debut. There is a lot of Irish, Scottish, and English slang. The girl also gets addicted to cocaine, as well as a lot of other things. But it rings true. You understand why she's the way she is. While her story is told from first person, her mother's story is told in alternating chapters from third person.

You're able to empathize with all of the characters. This is what I want Like Mandarin to be like. This is the standard I hold all books about obsession up to. It also deals with family, it has three dimensional gay characters that are, lo and behold, in relationships, and there's no love triangle. If that's not enough to get you to read it, I don't know what it. But as an added bonus, I'll give the first person to review this book, a paperback copy of Jacob Have I Loved and a chance to read my WIP. Yes, that's a loaded offer. Just read it. I'm a bad salesman. Four stars.

How do you come back from the point of no return?

Seth McCoy was the last person to see his best friend, Isaac, alive, and the first to find him dead. It was just another night, just another party, just another time when Isaac drank too much and passed out on the lawn. Only this time, Isaac didn't wake up.

Convinced that his own actions led to his friend's death, Seth is torn between turning his life around . . . or losing himself completely.

Then he meets Rosetta: so beautiful and so different from everything and everyone he's ever known. But Rosetta has secrets of her own, and Seth soon realizes he isn't the only one who needs saving . . .

There's a lot I don't like about this book, but it's all redeemed by Kendall. She's my favorite character of the year. I read this after reading Courtney Summer's review of it. While it didn't exactly fulfill my expectations, it's a good read. It's modern YA, and it shows, but I like it despite that. Rosetta gets on my nerves though. I read this in ebook format and I'll probably purchase it soon. It's worth having a physical copy of.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: by Stephen Chbosky
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

This was probably my favorite book of 2009. Alright, it came out years before, but I hadn't read it. If you read my Nanowrimo novel from that November, it'll become very obvious. 

Charlie is one of the most interesting weird kids I've ever read about. Shun him all you want, he still loves you. So if you haven't read this, you should plan on doing so very soon. Be warned, it's very angsty teenager.  

Bonus Time

5. The Catcher in the Rye
6. Of Human Bondange
7. Some Girls Are
8. Almost Perfect
9. Becoming Chloe

Read these and you'll have a greater appreciation for YA. These are some of the best 'dark' books I've read within the genre. All have great narrators and all of them are severely depressing. So go read them. Now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Cover Debate

Let me start out by saying this:  I wasn't intending to write about book covers today.  I had it in mind and then nixed it, thinking, "Okay, the Book Lantern followers don't want to read about covers.  They want to read about book content, the publishing industry, authors, etc.!  Covers are really only superficial, so they really wouldn't care about me harping and ranting about covers and the visual role in publishing, would they?" I was so ready to write about hype itself in the publishing industry, but. . .

Then I happened to go to my Twitter account (note: this is rare for me since I am not a Twitterphile in the least) and saw a tweet from Hannah Moskowitz, author of Invincible Summer (which Cory reviewed last month), linking to her blog post about the cover of Invincible Summer.  Reading the post, I got back to thinking about covers and wondered: how often do we let preconceptions about a book cover, any cover, steer whether or not we will read a book and how much (or how little) we think we will like said book before we've even glanced at the inside content?

I would be a liar if I didn't say I was just as horrendously guilty of judging books by their covers. On my Goodreads account, I am notorious for adding books to read based on their covers even though I may have really only skimmed through the book descriptions themselves.  I even have a 'covers I love' shelf (made up of books I love, ones I haven't read, and even ones where I hate everything except the cover) though we all know covers have really nothing to do with a book's quality but everything to do with marketing.  But, even knowing that, I -- and others -- often go by covers first and foremost as our main judgment pre-reading.

We are a very visual society.  Just as we can likely overlook flaws in a person's character and behavior because of a pretty face and a nice body (or, vice-versa, ignore the people who aren't as attractive for that reason alone), so do we consciously and sometimes unconsciously make decisions based on the visual in other areas of our lives.  Media takes advantage of that for everything from CD covers to movie posters -- and publishing knows it too, using the visual to help guide potential book buyers in their reading choices.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing from a marketing standpoint (because obviously it isn't since that means the marketers are doing their jobs correctly), but it's still an issue from the consumer/reader standpoint if covers are so detrimental to the book finding, buying, and reading experience.  (Note: I'm not saying this is true for the majority of readers, but it is true for some.  Even many major book review blogs which I read and respect have 'Cover Love'-type posts.) People would read a lot of bad books and miss a lot of good ones if covers really have such sway! (And, yes, I realize that cover tastes must be taken into account, but that's another issue entirely. For more on that, Phoebe North actually covered the differing tastes in covers among YA readers in a post over at the Interrobangs blog.)

In Hannah Moskowitz's case, I'm with her all the way:  don't judge a book until after you've read and absorbed it for yourself.  Covers only go so far in giving an idea about the nature of a story, and the author is not responsible for the cover.  If a book cover entices or repulses you, take this into account: that story is still the same story even without the good/bad cover.

So I leave you, dear Book Lantern reader, with this challenge (if cover prejudice applies to you): look past the covers, read the descriptions, and judge only after reading.  Use less of the external vision and more of the internal.  Covers should have no bearing while the stories themselves should have every bearing when it comes to reader opinions.

Who knows?  Maybe we'll find books we never thought we could have loved.

Wings by Aprilynne Pike: A Tractate on Beauty?

by: Katya

I chose to review Wings by Aprilynne Pike a few weeks ago, but after I read it again, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. The book itself is… fine. Not amazing, but certainly entertaining on a mindless, kill-a-few-hours-on-the-plane level. Its premise is original, though in many ways it can’t escape the trappings of the genre. But then I began to think about the thing that makes most people angry – the underlying message on symmetry and goodness – and wondered on the broader topic of beauty.

What’s a more mom thing to say than “Be yourself and everything will be fine”? How about “Beauty is on the inside”?

It’s definitely politically correct, isn’t it? In an era where eating disorders are a tangible affliction (8 million Americans according to DMH), where girls as young as five are made into models, where teens actually undergo plastic surgery; beauty is a hot topic. Common advice in teen magazines, when a girl complains about her body, is that she needs to love herself for who she is – meanwhile, the rest of the magazine is all about showcasing skinny, rich girls who look like they don’t have a care in the world.

Beauty is a dangerous topic when teens are involved. Dare I say, even more dangerous than *gasp* sex?

Well, maybe not more important, but definitely as important. Because we in developed (and developing) countries are all about making sure that teens are happy and well adjusted. We frown and admonish cases of bullying, but only after it’s over. We sympathize with people who contract anorexia and bulimia, and shake our heads at the injustice of life. We do that, just in case our callous behavior doesn’t push someone to strap on a gun and shoot their classmates.

But I digress.

Beauty in YA, as far as women go, is treated in roughly the following manner: The heroine is described as unassuming and plain, but underneath is a heart of gold that the hero always notices. The mean girl is always Barbie-perfect and rich. The hero is always gorgeous, because apparently boys aren’t subjected to the same pressures to look in a certain way that women are (read: The press doesn’t make the same fuss if it’s a guy).

“Wings”, in many ways, is a book about beauty. The main heroine, Laurel, compares herself to models, with her perfect skin and perfect body and perfect hair that doesn’t ever need shampoo. Romantic interest #1 is described being as ripped and tan, even though he’s only fifteen or sixteen. Romantic interest #2 has a face out of a classic painting. And the antagonists are misshapen and ugly.

I wish I were seeing things that aren’t there. I really do. Unfortunately, the message in this book can hardly be called underlying, since it is spelled out for the reader:

“I’ve seen troll babies so badly misshapen that even their ugly mothers wouldn’t keep them. Legs growing out of their heads, necks set sideways into shoulders. It’s a terrible sight. Long, long ago the faeries would try to take them in. But when evolution has given up on you, death is unavoidable. And it’s more than just the physical. The stupider you are—the worse evolution screwed you up—the less symmetrical you are.”


This paragraph is probably the most cited thing from the entire book, and probably what causes the most outrage. And although I see what was meant, I still think that this is a very awkward way of putting it. First of all, because what I think is described here is either a molecular or a genetic disease – it’s something that can happen to humans as well, although not to such a degree. But it’s not an evolutionary glitch and it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who is not symmetrical is stupid. I think that this is just Tamani’s way of trying to get David into a cock contest, but the idea is still there, and it bothers me.

I recently saw an interview with the author, where she says that she would like to be friends with Tamani, but would, in all probability, be friends with David in real life, because he’s the kind of guy who sees people for who they are and appreciates them for what they are on the inside. Which is... kinda ironic, because at no point did his relationship with Laurel convince me that it was based on anything but physical attraction. Laurel constantly describes him in terms of his physical traits, and her own personality is hardly one that I would call pleasant. In the beginning of the book, she freaks out over a pimple on her back, worries about how hideous it may become, and quietly looks down her nose at people who are less perfect than she is.

I’m not saying that a main character should be all good and compassionate and understanding and beautiful. Of course not! The more flawed characters are, the more human they feel. The problem with “Wings” is that Laurel is selfish and bigoted and judgmental, and the text expects us to be fine with that. We, the readers, are supposed to sympathize with this girl, even though she has done nothing to earn our respect or establish herself as a strong heroine.

And this is where, ultimately, the book lost its appeal for me. I can’t say it made me angry. No, I just can’t bring myself to feel anything for it, because I no longer cared about the characters or what would happen to them. I couldn’t relate, because beauty is not what I center my world around.

I could say that “Wings” is a culmination of an ongoing trend in paranormal YA where the heroine is presented as perfect in spite of her many flaws, but you know what, it’s not the author’s fault that this trend exists. Oh, no. Writers don’t choose which books get popular, the readers do. And this is ultimately what everyone wants to read, what everyone wants to hear:

“Be yourself. As long as you are skinny and beautiful, nothing else matters.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Visit from the Chick Squad

By: Ceilidh and Katya

I was rooting for Jennifer Egan this year when the Pulitzer Prize nominees were announced. I desperately wanted someone, anyone, other than Jonathan Franzen to win and a victory for Egan would mean another victory for women in literature. There’s still this archaic and misinformed assumption that women don’t write big, literary masterpieces because women only write for women (people who make this statement tend to conveniently forget people like Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, Jane Smiley, etc, but I digress.)  It seems to have become a reoccurring theme that men are the ones who write the philosophical, strange and thoughtful books, while women focus on lighter, more easy-on-the-mind books (no doubt an extension of the boys-do-things-and-girls-are-for-decoration fallacy which Kat Banyard outlines in ‘The Equality Illusion’).

So, naturally, Egan’s victory is a huge event. But then, during her interview with the Wall Street Journal, she was asked the following question:

WSJ: Over the past year, there’s been a debate about female and male writers and how they come off in the press. Franzen made clear that “Freedom” was going to be important, while others say that Allegra Goodman was too quiet about “The Cookbook Collector.” Do you think female writers have to start proclaiming, “OK, my book is going to be the book of the century”?

Egan: Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models? I’m not saying you should say you’ve never done anything good, but I don’t go around saying I’ve written the book of the century. My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.*

The plagiarism scandal she’s referring to is about Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard student who, at 19, published a book called “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life”. Later, it was discovered that she had plagiarized whole passages from several well-known authors, such as Sophie Kinsella, Megan McCafferty, Meg Cabot, Salman Rushdie and Tanuja Desai Hidier.**

Well, here’s your tempest in a teacup brewing.

First of all, it was incredibly unprofessional and just downright rude of Egan to drag Megan McCafferty and the other plagiarised authors, into this for no reason. I don’t know if she’s read the Jessica Darling series – going by her general attitude I’m surprised she allows herself to read anything that’s not a Pulitzer Prize winner, to be honest – but it’s, for lack of a better work, incredibly snobby of her to just derisively refer to McCafferty’s work when the question had nothing to do with anything she really mentioned. It’s also worth noting that Egan doesn’t criticise the plagiarism itself, rather the fact that Viswanathan stole from work she considered lesser. See, aspiring writers: steal all your ideas from Franzen and John Updike, that’s a-okay!

Now, Egan’s point is not fundamentally offensive. The way I see it, her point is that women shouldn’t bow to the patriarchal assumption that they’re only qualified to write superficial prose and that they should feel free to aim for the heights. However, by going on to ‘illustrate’ her point by making references to YA and “chick-lit”, she shoots herself in the foot. She ends up implying that books by authors such as Megan McCafferty or Sophie Kinsella are somehow sub-par – by calling them ‘derivative’ and ‘banal’, Egan basically slams the whole genre in which they write.

In her attempt to ‘empower’ women writers, Egan ends up disenfranchising an entire spectrum of female authors. Of course, her rash statements could be chalked up on the excitement of the moment – after all, they interviewed her 20 minutes after she learned the news. I’m sure she didn’t realize the full implications of the statement. And this is further backed up by the fact that Megan McCafferty later announced on Twitter that she had received an apology from Egan. However, the question still remains, why don’t women writers get the recognition they deserve? And, more importantly – why is chick lit considered subpar?

Egan’s statements are really indicative of this general bias towards books for women, referred to by that dreaded moniker “chick-lit.” The term is frequently used derisively as if such books are lesser and not worthy of any other sort of reaction. There’s no real male equivalent to this either, further emphasising the so-called status quo, where men write for everyone and women are left to write about women’s issues. This also leads onto something that I’m sure has bugged many a book nerd: genre snobbery.

Now, Vinaya has already said her piece on genre snobbery, and it is truly sad that people actually need encouragement to think outside the box and try to see a book for its singular merits, instead of bumping it in the same cart with the rest of the genre. Genre fiction is still looked down upon to this day and so many books that are so obviously genre fiction are shelved in the more acceptable general fiction sections as if there’s something to be ashamed of.

Check out one of my all time favourite books, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s one of the best dystopian sci-fi novels ever written but how often do you see it in the science-fiction section of the bookshop? I’ve never seen it myself. What about the award winning “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuro Ishiguro? It’s clearly science fiction but no one ever refers to it as such. Kate Atkinson’s wonderful Jackson Brodie novels are apparently too literary to be shelved in the accurately marked crime section. Check out the nominees and winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and see how many of them are science fiction, or crime, or horror, or romance, or fantasy. Hell, how many of them aren’t about middle class straight white men, the dreaded default mode?

Here’s the honest truth – it’s freaking hard to write a great romance novel. It’s just as hard, if not harder, to write a horror book that genuinely scares the reader, or create an entirely new world for a sci-fi/fantasy story, or decipher a complex, gripping crime story. It’s also a serious challenge to write great young adult stories that really speak to teenagers. All of these things are worthy of our praise and our criticism. You do a disservice to a story if you dismiss it based on some preconceived notion you have of whether or not something is worthy. Jennifer Egan’s casual dismissal of chick-lit does a serious disservice to female writers everywhere, even if she is trying to dress it up as some sort of empowering message.

Here’s the thing – I love Megan McCafferty’s books. I love the Jessica Darling series. I devoured Perfect Fifths with the covers and can’t wait for Bumped. I love those books, not necessarily for the plot, which is, at times, silly, but because the characters are real. They leap from the pages. They’re fleshed out and flawed and absolutely beautiful. I discover myself through reading, and Megan’s books always made me feel like I found something to relate to.

Would I have found that place if the only books available for me were literary classics? Hell to the no! Have you seen these books? Have you any idea how hard they are to read? Try making a 13 year old read Anna Karenina through – you know you’re gonna fail, not because Tolstoi is a bad writer, but simply because it won’t hold their interest long enough. School teaches classics in a way to make children absolutely detest them – had I not been introduced to Pippi Longstocking, Harry Potter and Max, I don’t think I would have been the same person I am today.

I feel like I must evoke that scene in “Mona Lisa Smile” where Julia Roberts gets razzed for comparing Picasso’s work to the Sistine Chapel – yes, there isn’t much basis for comparison between those things. But in the long run, people still consider them to have pretty much an equal amount of merit. And I feel that it is the same in literature – things we consider banal, even silly might a few decades from now be studied in sociology classes in order to see how our generation worked.

Because we need that. We need the Jessicas and the shopaholics just as much as we need Zarathustra. We need them to inspire us and make us laugh when everything else is just so damn serious. And we needn’t snub women who do give us these laughs.

Not every book aims to be a Pulitzer winner. Some people do aim to write a book that’ll make people laugh as they read it on the beach, and that is in no way a lesser aim for a writer, regardless of sex. Maybe one day the Pulitzer committee will award a female science-fiction romance writer and all preconceptions about gender and genre will disappear. Until then, if you’re going to baselessly mock romances and declare chick-lit to be unworthy of your massive intellect and attention, I’m going to refer to every prize winning, worthy novel about a poor, middle class straight white man as dick-lit.

*Full interview can be found here
**Wikipedia article here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Disappearing Parent Syndrome

by: Lucy

Disappearing Parent Syndrome, or DPS, is a term I coined while reading Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It is meant to describe a reoccurring theme in YA fiction where the parents vanish from the story. There are many YA novels where this is handled well -- either as a plot point so necessary it makes or breaks the story as in the case of Harry Potter or so plausibly and skillfully done that the loss of the parental presence does not detract from the story in the slightest. However, there are a great many novels where this is an unnecessary or unrealistic plot device used to justify a teenager living like a young twenty-something minus the annoying stuff like paying bills.

It seems like many authors were once of the opinion that orphans made great beginnings for novels, especially in the fantasy genre. Maybe the pile of dead parents began to look kind of high to some authors because other solutions were thought up. In The Mortal Instruments Trilogy the main character's mother is in a coma for all but the start and finish of the novels. In the Twilight Series the main character's mother remarries and she goes to live with her father, who is a man of few words unless it's about fishing or basketball. In both of these instances when the involved parent exited the story the adventure and supernatural romance began.

Sometimes help, such as nannies or housekeepers, fulfill the parent role, but in a day job sort of way so the teenagers are allowed to run rampant and have their adventures off the clock. The main character in Hush, Hush has a deceased father, a mother who works long weekends away from home, and a housekeeper. The housekeeper is meant to ease the mother's fear about leaving her daughter alone, although she is subsequently dismissed off scene before the second book in the trilogy. The Caster Chronicles give the readers a deceased mother, an depressed absentee father, and a feisty housekeeper/nanny who, to be fair, does actually have an emotional investment in the main character. The staff members for substitute parents offers the illusion of a caretaker with relatively few of the pesky nuances involved in sneaking out of the house. The housekeeper is gone for the night by the time the teenager in question even wants to sneak out.

There are boarding schools that remove parents from the bulk of the book (Anna and The French Kiss, Looking For Alaska, Rampant) and more traditional orphan stories (Harry Potter, Strange Angels, Evermore, Sisters Red), but in the end its always going to be a lot easier to name fiction where the teenager is on his or her own than it will be to name a book that deals with family. Fantasy adventure might not feel so daring if there's an adult to turn to for help and a coming of age story might not seem so ground breaking if the character has a safety net. Most teenagers, however, have that safety net. Instead of accepting parents as a part of the genre they're working in, many authors seem to think of parents as an obstacle to get around. Sometimes when I'm reading a YA book I can't help but imagine the time spent devising a way to make a parent exit stage in the first act and reappear fleetingly in the last one.

I once read that Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games in both first person and third for the first fifty pages to see which way the story was better told. I don't know if this is true or not, but I'd love to see more YA authors challenge themselves to stop figuring out how to dispose of the parents immediately and try, for the first draft anyway, to see how the parents would fit in to the story. Most of us manage to come of age even with a parent checking to see that we did our homework or telling us that we aren't going to date a vampire while we're living under their roof. (Okay, not a vampire, but the guy my parents tried to nix when I was seventeen had a Superman tattoo and no plans for college.)

When my younger brother was four or five he began to connect the time my mother left for work with the start of Power Rangers, a show he lived for. He ended up shoving my mother out the front door because he thought this would make his television show start faster. Needless to say, until my mother figured this out she was a bit hurt. I'm not saying teenagers will get the impression that their lives only really begin when their parents are gone, but I definitely believe that what is convenient for the authors isn't necessarily close to the lives of their target audience. If I went through the YA section of my bookshelves and stacked the various DPS novels against the ones that involved parents I'd be forced to come to two conclusions:

1. I buy way too many hardcovers.

2. The bar graph is stacked against living, present, and responsible adults.

There are novels where parents play a role and actually contribute to the plot rather than take away from it. One of the things I loved about Kody Keplinger's The DUFF was the complicated relationship between the parents and the teenager even though the plot the story is titled for had little to do with either parent. Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement is a supernatural story where the parents are in on the secret and actively help cover it up without being an overwhelming presence or stopping any of the main character's adventures. In the Curse Worker Holly Black runs this backwards by having the main character's mother absent from the start and returning at the end of the first novel to play a role in the second. The way the main character's mother messes with his life is one of the best plot points I've recently read in a series. Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy centers around semi-orphaned siblings, but the elder brother takes up a parenting role better than most YA fantasy parents. These books, published in the last few years, prove it is possible to have an adventure or to come of age without killing, maiming, or otherwise discarding every family member in the first chapter. It's a trend I hope will pick up in the genre.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Self-Publishing: Getting Bigger Each Day

It was only a matter of time.  First came the internet boom with easy and fast access available to people around the world. Then the influx of e-books eclipsed their paper cousins sitting on bookstore and library shelves.  In only a few short years, e-book sales have surged ahead while bookstores have been left behind, forced to push sales of e-readers and garner more web presence and online availability.  With the e-book revolution has also come another option for aspiring writers:  self-publishing.

Self-publishing is not new, but it has become more innovative in the 21st century.  In the early part of the 2000's, self-publishing still seemed more about ego than anything else, given that self-publishing was dictated by price constraints and printing companies.  However, internet sites like Lulu and Smashwords eventually cropped up to help writers more easily put their words to print in the hopes that their stories would be exposed to more people beyond family and friends.  E-readers like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader have also led to self-published titles being more readily available through e-book format and able to be purchased by more consumers for prices ranging anywhere from 99 cents to $4.99.  

Self-publishing must be becoming a new small phenomenon all its own if even major bookstores are getting on the bandwagon. Something must be going right with the formula (especially since many of the e-books in the Amazon Kindle Top 100 Bestselling, updated hourly, are often self-published works). Sales may never rival those of books backed by large publishing houses, but they're still sales that many online booksellers would love to have.

It's also easy for me to see why self-publishing is a plausible route for many writers.  After all, literary agents get hundreds of queries each week -- and, even then, agent representation does not guarantee a publishing deal.  Even after a contract is signed, novels take time -- anywhere from a year to upwards of three years -- to be published.  As a writer myself (and quite the pessimist, might I add), I sometimes muse about what I'll do if I query and query agent after agent only to have no bites to my line.  (Granted, I am far from the querying stage -- but I procrastinate by thinking about the doomsday scenario that may await me in the future.) I'm not an idiot.  I've taken into consideration that self-publishing may be the only route by which I can get published before I die.  I'm sure all writers have considered it at some point even if they push it away as soon as the thought comes into their heads.  Self-publishing is an option, if nothing else.

Of course, self-publishing can sometimes lead to greater things with a bit of luck and hard work. Eragon by Christopher Paolini started its life as a self-published novel that caught an editor's eye by chance; this year, the series's fourth book, Inheritance, will reach store shelves.  Self-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking published nine novels and sold over a million copies, many of which were e-books; just last month it was announced that Hocking had scored a four-book deal with St. Martin's Press after a bidding war among many of the major publishing houses.

Like or dislike their books, you have to give self-published authors credit:  they finish their novels and get them out into the world in whatever ways they can.  They deserve respect for that much, at least, whether or not their works ever reach critical acclaim.

They're writing and telling their stories, not letting rejections from agents or fears of criticism get in their ways -- and shouldn't that be how all of us writers should be at our deepest cores?  It's definitely something to think about during those dark times of writerhood.

(All of the links I provided are just a small fragment of the resources available out there for those looking into self-publishing. For more information on self-publishing and all it encompasses, the blog Kindle Writers is definitely worth a look because the posts offer the pros and cons of self-publishing, the state of the self-publishing market itself, and even advice towards those looking into self-publishing. The internet is full of information; you just have to dig a little and find what applies to you, your craft, and your goals.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

I, Recommend

Okay, we talk a lot about books on The Book Lantern, but they're mostly passing references to illustrate our points, yes? So my fellow Torch Bearers and I decided to run a weekly feature henceforth where we actually come right out and share our favourite books with you guys. On the recommendation section this week, here are my favourite reads of the moment!

(All titles are hyper linked to reviews or book descriptions)

ARC Recommendations (Available on Net Galley):

Disney Hyperion is sweeping the stakes this summer, on my book list, at least!

1. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab - Vividly atmospheric and heart-wrenchingly lyrical, The Near Witch is my pick of the season. If you don't score an ARC of this book, mark the release date on your calendar, and go grab it! Trust me, you don't want to miss this one!

2. Queen of The Dead (sequel to The Ghost and The Goth) by Stacey Kade - This book is fun, without being fluffy. Like the first book, this sequel too evokes a variety of emotions... laughter, sympathy, frustration and fun! If you're looking for a light read that doesn't leave you feeling like you've OD-ed on cotton candy, this is your perfect fit!

3. Mercy by Rebecca Lim -  Rebecca Lim once again confirms our collective faith in Australian authors by coming up with a dark, innovative tale of a body snatcher who wakes up in a new body every few weeks. A little more challenging than the books mentioned above, Mercy is a good pick for anyone tired of formulaic YA paranormals.

Released this month:

1. Where She Went (sequel to If I Stay) by Gayle Forman - If you've been living on Mars, you may not have heard of these books yet. Otherwise, I'm here to tell you, stop dithering and go buy this book, NOW! Whether you loved If I Stay, like Jillian, or merely liked it, like me, I guarantee you, you will fall in love with Where She Went.  Moving and strangely cathartic, this is a book that will stay with you for a long, long time!

2. Bumped by Megan McCafferty - This book has received very mixed reactions amongst my Goodreads friends, but for me, it was made of WIN! Smart and satirical, this is a breath of fresh air in contrast to the woe-is-me tone of most dystopians. I've been a fan of McCafferty since the Jessica Darling books, and I'm glad to see the magic hasn't vanished!

3. What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez - Okay, this book actually came out at the end of last month, but I'm putting it here because I feel strongly that more people ought to read it. This is a very real book, one that doesn't sidestep or airbrush the very real issues faced by teenage girls with limited life choices and big dreams.

 On my Must-Read shelf

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman - This is pretty much my dream book. Gender-bending, Oriental-inspired fantasy that is bound to leave you gasping for breath. A really stellar book (from an Australian author!!!) that hasn't received anywhere near the attention it deserves!

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta - A beautiful composite of love, humor and sorrow, Saving Francesca is one of my favourite YA books. I bow to the genius of Melina Marchetta! And though I haven't read the sequel, The Piper's Son yet, I've heard it's even better!

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand - I like talking this book up for several reasons, but the biggest one is the romance aspect of this story. No insta-love, no soulmate-angst, this is the perfect example of what real romance ought to be. Definitely on my favourite YA paranormals list this year.

On my Can't Wait shelf

Eona: The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman -  The sequel to Eon; this book comes out tomorrow! *squee*

Blood Red Road by Moira Young - This book doesn't come out till June and the wait is killing me!!! Put it on your TBR and don't move it below #1!

Go forth and spread the word, my friends! Happy reading!