Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t. Like the fire that killed his parents.

Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it.

More than Gabriel’s pride is at stake -- this could cost him his family, maybe his life. And no one seems to hear him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own.

Gabriel can’t let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that’s right at his heels. But there are some risks he can’t help taking.

The fuse is lit...

I picked "Storm", the first book in the Elemental series, one evening before an exam, and I couldn't set it down until I reached the very last page. Needless to say, I looked like a confused owl in the morning, but I passed my exam, which is the important bit.

However, while the novel was incredibly engaging, there were things about it that made me uncomfortable, and probably the most prominent was the characterization of Gabriel. I thought he was an insufferable ass, way too quick to judge people and slut-shame, and the resolution of his subplot with MC Becca was unsatisfactory. So when I realized that the second book would be all about him, I was apprehensive.

So you better believe me when I say, this book was a fantastic surprise.

First, the characterization in "Spark" is miles better. In addition to expanding on the Merrick brothers' backstory, it also gives Gabriel some immediate and believable challenges - falling out with his twin, actually studying for the first time in years, becoming an outcast after a series of fires starts in their town and his brothers suspect him. For the first time in his life, Gabriel is left on his own, and he actually grows as a character because he realizes he is strong enough to face change.

Layne, his love interest, was pretty awesome as well (but then again, Becca from Storm was also a badass, so that shouldn't surprise me). I admit, when I first read the blurb, I expected something like "Rules of Attraction" with supernatural powers, but Layne convinced me otherwise within a few sentences of her POV chapter. She has some believable issues going on, and she was well balanced out. Her interactions with her father struck a chord with me - it was the kind of flawed parent/child dynamic we can easily recognize from our teenage years.

Also, huge thumbs up for the positive relationship portrayal here! Layne and Gabriel not only have chemistry, they help each other grow as characters. Gabriel especially became a more considerate guy and that was amazing for me, because in the last book, I was completely disgusted with him.

I'm sorry if I keep comparing the books, by the way, I can't help myself.

While the story itself is imperfect, I think it's a testament to Kemmerer's skills as a writer that she juggles the storylines so skillfully it's never distracting. Once again, I was up until the wee hours of the morning (there were no tests this time, thankfully) unable to rest until I knew what happened in the end. I think it's safe to say that the next book in the series will be great.

Storm and Spark are available on
Amazon , both in the US and the UK. There are also a couple of novellas in the same universe that are out as well, I think. Fans of Cynthia Hand will enjoy this.

** Image and synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Facebook? What's that?

Many people reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” for the first time are shocked and disbelieving when they discover that Anastasia Steel, a student in 2011, has neither laptop nor an email address. To a reader trying to evaluate the work on its own, it’s confusing. However, this makes perfect sense if you remember that Bella of Twilight only used her ancient computer to do a Google search on vampires back in 2006.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think that YA writers are being intentionally anti-tech or trying to imbue their works with subliminal messages about The Important Things in Life. But when was the last time a YA hero or heroine had an active blog or vlog, or used the Internet for something other than a quick Google search?

It’s really ironic, considering the role social media plays nowadays in book promotions, that writers neglect it so much in their works.

Clarification: I’m not talking about YA books set in a dytopian/post-apocalyptic/alternate universe/historical/high fantasy/sci-fi settings. Those books have their own world-building and technology has a different role. This post is entirely focused on Contemporary and Paranormal YA set in otherwise regular old Earth.

So how do writers go about depicting technology?

Well, there was once the plot device of the Almightly Google (see: Twilight), where the protagonist finds out what paranormal creature their beloved is (I wonder if anyone created a cross-reference site where you just type in the weird traits and get an answer?) Special mention goes to Alexandra Adornetto’s “Halo”, where Facebook is used to deliver a plot-point.

Then we have the book where social media is placed in the middle of the plot, a.k.a. “The Future of Us” by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, “Awkward” by Marni Bates, “dancergirl” by Carol M. Tanzman and “In Too Deep” by Amanda Grange. We also have books composed entirely of tweets, such as Lauren Myracle’s “ttyl” series. Also, let us not forget John Green’s “Paper Towns” where a Wikipedia spoof was created (and made the centre of the quirky behavior of one character), so that it would make sure the climax happened. Could be given to the first column, but I’m giving Mr. Green props for creativity.

Finally, there’s the book where social media is treated as something relatively normal, and its role in the lives of the protagonists is clear. Adorkable by Sarra Manning is, apparently, a good example. We also have Hannah Harrington’s “Speechless”, where heroine Chelsea follows fashion blogs. Hannah Moskowitz had a character obsessively checking his emails (I hear you man!) in “Gone, Gone, Gone”, and that book was set in 2002.

Those seem like a lot of examples, but I have to ask: Why should I even have to look for examples? It’s 2012. People hardly ever use regular mail anymore, and a great part of our daily interactions happens online. Whether we like it or not, the ways we communicate are changing and, more importantly, those interactions shape us as much as we shape them.

So this is where I bring your attention to Megan McCafferty’s “Bumped” and “Thumped”. And yes, those are satire/dystipian books, which I said I would not mention, but I need to go back on my word to make this point.

McCafferty’s world is one where teens are experiencing constant societal pressure to reproduce at a young age. The majority of that pressure comes not from parental figures (I think there are only two scenes in the first book where Melody speaks to her adoptive family), but from pop culture, peer interaction, and social media known as MiNet (a very interesting thing you access through your eyeballs).

The social networks in McCafferty’s works are fascinating, and not just because you operate them by rolling your eyes and blinking a lot. Not only are her characters constantly messaging each other and following celebrities on line, those things are impacting their lives. They’re influenced by the things they see literally 24/7, and, more importantly, that’s treated as a normal part of their day.

The really fascinating thing about “Bumped” in my opinion is not the plot, but the world-building. The reader in 2012 laughs at the juvenile lyrics and shakes their head at the weird social media, until they realize that this is not funny at all, and that this is what a desperate society looks like. Taken to its most logical extreme, social media here is used as a brainwashing tool which nobody can escape.

And while this is not our reality, it’s worth asking yourself – with the hours you spend on Twitter, Facebook, youtube, etc – why is Google is the only thing that this heroine uses while on the Internet? Authors, you’re missing out on a great opportunity – your MC’s tumblr is a characterization goldmine!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Contemporary YA Appreciation Week - "Teeth" by Hannah Moskowitz

A gritty, romantic modern fairy tale from the author of Break and Gone, Gone, Gone.
Be careful what you believe in.
Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.
Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.


I know many people will be looking at the synopsis then at the title and wondering one of two things: One, “But Ceilidh, that doesn’t sound very realistic”, or Two, “I knew fish-boys were real! Weekly World News was right again! Now we need to get Obama’s real birth certificate!” I understand these concerns, and am concerned for some of you in return, and I hope this review can put your mind at ease.
Like many an eager YA reviewer, I have been inordinately excited about the upcoming release of Hannah Moskowitz’s novel “Teeth” ever since I heard the term “magical gay fish-boy”. In a time where originality seems to be an increasingly rare commodity and the same three cover templates fill the shelves of the young adult section of your local bookshop, to hear that such a barmy, intriguing and down-right unique concept has not only been written but bought by Simon & Schuster is a much needed reprieve from paranormal love and the end of the world. However, Moskowitz has never left her trademark contemporary YA field (one where she excels – “Gone Gone Gone” is one of the best books of 2012 and you can read my review below), and such a high concept idea needs a strong clear vision and the talent to pull it off if it is to even come close to approaching its potential. However, I am proud to declare that not only does Moskowitz pass those expectations, she knocks them right out of the park.
While the book is clearly not in the same contemporary territory as the author’s previous books, it retains a strangely gritty realism throughout and never fully yields to the fantastical premise on offer. Yes, this story does feature a character who is half human and half fish (and not at all glamourised or depicted as beautiful, another breath of fresh air), but it’s really centred on Rudy and his struggles to cope with his family’s situation as well as the difficulties one must go through in order to just grow up and be normal. Similarly to “Gone Gone Gone”, we are treated to an effective and emotional character study that strikes another blow against the dissenters of YA who declare the genre to be shallow and void of any real value. It takes a particularly skilful and gutsy author to go for the tough and grotesque and pull it off with such panache.  
Moskowitz’s style is raw, unfussy and packs a punch, convincingly taking on the mantle of a confused teenage boy who often can’t find the right words to describe how he’s feeling. His confusion is tragically contrasted with his knowledge of the inevitable fate that will befall his sick younger brother. Both prone to fits of childishness, with the swears to match, and the decidedly mature awareness of his family’s humanity, Rudy is something of a triumph in terms of character work in YA. The book has its fair share of interesting supporting characters, although none quite match Rudy and the manic, angry and self-deprecating Teeth for memorability. Rudy’s relationship with his family is a particular highlight, capturing the frustrations and fears that accompany being surrounded 24/7 by the possibility of your loved ones dying. Even the miracle of magical fish cannot promise anything long-term, and the shadow of this knowledge looms over Rudy. The phrase that kept cropping up as I was putting together my thoughts for this review was “deceptively simple”, which sounds rather patronising if I’m honest, but Moskowitz has managed to pull off creating layered complexities and subtext without resorting to over-done prose or forced sentimentality. Even when the book veers close to that territory, as it does especially towards the end, Moskowitz is in complete control of these characters.
However, the novel shares a similar problem with “Gone Gone Gone” in that the plotting is less skilfully handled than the wonderful character work. It’s not a novel preoccupied with plot and creating a rollicking adventure for its readers, which I appreciate, but when “Teeth” does change to a race-against-time style story towards its climax, it just doesn’t work as well. The relationship between Rudy and Teeth is so effective and affecting that it feels like a disservice for it to be briefly shelved as the story calls for an exciting final few chapters. Fortunately this does not detract from the raw emotional power of the book, particularly in relation to the central relationship. It shouldn’t work (actually, nothing connected to that high concept blurb should work) and yet it retains a moving, often humorous and starkly unsentimental edge that feels like a blast of cool water to the face to clear away an overload of insta-love and obsessive looks. Rudy’s sexuality is not black and white and Moskowitz, one of the few YA authors practicing what she preaches in terms of diversifying the cast of current YA novels, makes no such demands from her protagonist.
I classify this novel, probably inaccurately, as contemporary because it has far more in common with that genre of fiction than the paranormal shelves packed full of mystical sea creatures. Moskowitz avoids clichés and challenges herself to take the unbeaten track, using her simply explained mythos to explore all too human themes and relationships. I honestly cannot recommend “Teeth” enough. I devoured it in a way that I haven’t done with a YA novel in quite some time. It’s challenging, refreshing, unsentimental, downright weird, heart-breaking and far more relatable than you’d expect. While I do not expect there to be a swarm of copycat magical gay fish-boy novels released in this book’s wake, as amazing as that would be, I hope that this will bring Moskowitz the acclaim she so clearly deserves.
4.5/5. 
"Teeth" will be released on January 1st 2013 by Simon Pulse. I received my e-ARC from Edelweiss.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Interview With Antony John

by Jillian and Katya

Hello everyone! Today on the Lantern, we have the pleasure of talking to YA author Antony John, author of Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player, Thou Shalt Not Road Trip, Elemental and today, we'll be talking to him about his fabulous sophomore novel, Five Flavors of Dumb.

Antony, welcome!

Five Flavors of Dumb is the story of a girl, Piper, who unwillingly becomes the manager of an up-and-coming band. She is determined to make it work, despite the fact that she’s been hearing impaired all her life. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to this idea?

My background is in music, and I’d always wanted to write a YA novel about a rock band. But there are rather a lot of those, so I knew I needed a new perspective—something to make readers think differently about music and, perhaps, themselves too. Anyway, one evening I was chatting to my wife and she basically said: “Wouldn’t it be cool for you to write about music from the perspective of a deaf person?” In that moment, the character of Piper Vaughan came to me, and the novel really just took off. Seriously, I stayed up till 2AM and planned large chunks of the book right there and then.
You did a great job at it, too: novels with a focus on music are nothing new, but your story has a heart all its own that makes it feel like something fresh and unique. What in your opinion sets Five Flavors of Dumb apart from other music-focused novels?

I can't say that this sets the novel apart, but I will admit that I allowed myself to feel music as viscerally as Piper does in the novel. She's coming to rock music as something new and exciting, and I tried to recreate that experience for myself. It wasn't difficult, either. I knew a fair amount of Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix's music, but I'd never bothered to read much about them, and doing so opened my eyes to their life experiences, and the way that music afforded them a way out of bad situations. To a point, the same is true for Piper: music is a last resort, but also a way to unshackle herself from a bad situation and, ultimately, to find out who she really is. Once I got my head around that, writing the book became not only easier, but also fresh and exciting.

One of the most engaging elements of your novel is how the characters interact with each other. Did you have a favorite relationship to write about?

Definitely . . . well, two, actually. Piper's relationship with her younger brother Finn felt particularly meaningful to me, as it is wrought with the misunderstandings that siblings either unwittingly or knowingly perpetuate, while also reminding us that that bond can be something truly beautiful. The other relationship that felt particularly satisfying was Piper and Kallie. I loved the idea of setting them up as polar opposites in everything from appearance to social groups, and then breaking down the divide until we appreciate the things that unite them. I'm particularly proud of this relationship.

In various media, characters with impairments or disabilities often suffer character arcs that merely revolve around those aspects of their lives. Your heroine Piper, however, is much more a person first and a character with a hearing impairment second. As easy as the execution of her character seemed in the novel, did you ever feel worry that you might somehow be unconsciously offensive with her character?

Uh, yes. I mean, seriously, YES. I spent many sleepless nights mulling over the fact that I might have gotten something wrong. What if deaf teens felt misrepresented? What if just one said, “That’s not how it really is”? I knew I’d feel like I’d let them down. Realistically, no more than a handful of books featuring deaf narrators will be released each year. If mine had failed to give deaf teens a narrator they could root for, and failed to shed light on deafness for hearing teens, then it would have been worse than a flawed novel. It would have been a wasted opportunity. The first is inadvisable; the second, inexcusable. So I did a ton of research, spoke to everyone from deaf teens and adults, to ASL instructors, to audiologists, and admissions officers for Gallaudet University. Research doesn't guarantee that you'll get everything right, but it certainly reduces the likelihood of getting it badly wrong!

Five Flavors of Dumb manages to retain a "feel-good" quality without treading into the territory of cheesiness or sappiness. How did you manage to strike such a balance?

I'm glad you think so. To be honest, I felt sure that as long as music (in all its angsty glory) remained at the heart of the novel, then it would never descend into outright cheese. After all, who ever referred to Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix as cheesy?

Every author's path of writing and becoming published is different. How did your path begin, and what led you to writing YA novels?

I became a full-time stay-at-home dad in 2005 and while I loved it, I also realized I needed a creative outlet. Previously, I'd been a composer, but this time, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I've always loved YA novels, and writing for teens came fairly easily. That being said, my first novel was a stinker. The second, called Busted, was better, and landed me an agent and publisher. 

I'm often asked if I'd consider writing for another audience. The simple answer is no. I'm still very connected to my teen self, and pretty much every idea I come up with is geared toward a YA audience. Not only that, but writing YA is incredibly gratifying. There's an opportunity to explore almost any subject and write in almost any style—which is very liberating for a writer—while at the same time keeping the focus on telling a story (something that seems to be forgotten in adult literature).

What is the best response you have gotten from a reader?

I'll probably never have as much fan mail as I've had for Five Flavors of Dumb, and I've kept a whole lot of it. Some of the most touching messages have been from deaf teens who understand firsthand that desire to hide or keep a low profile, and who appreciate Piper's determination to overcome others' preconceptions about who she is. Even though authors are more accessible today than ever before, I never anticipated how many people would write to me (I respond to every one, by the way), and I'm enormously grateful to those who have assured me Piper struck a chord with them. 

What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received or come across?

I vividly remember an acknowledgment in a Jonathan Safran Foer novel in which he thanked someone for always reminding him to "feel more." I think that's tremendously good advice. As long as we truly empathize with our characters, we're unlikely to simplify or marginalize their feelings. Interesting, three-dimensional characters are at the heart of good YA, and readers won't connect with a character that doesn't ring true. 

What are three contemporary YA books that you believe everyone should read?

Oh, this is so hard. I could list a hundred books . . . maybe more! But here goes:

How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff. This completely blew me away when I read it. I believe that the best dystopian novels are like circus-mirror reflections of our own world. Written in the shadow of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this book really shook me up with its depiction of a seemingly random war that may ultimately prove to be apocalyptic.

How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. That thing I mentioned earlier about "feel more"? Well, Sara Zarr is as good as it gets in this category. Here she writes from the perspective of two contrasting girls, maintaining two distinct voices while allowing both characters to grow and develop. Something else I really admire: the changes are subtle shifts, not sudden U-turns. Everything feels simultaneously understated yet also vital.

Feed, by M. T. Anderson. I admit it—I think this book is genius. I’ve heard many readers complain about the tiresome use of vernacular, but then, that’s the point. Anderson is holding up a mirror to the world, in all its thoughtlessness and repetitiveness.

Okay, last question: Your latest novel, Thou Shalt Not Road Trip, came out in April, and your next, Elemental, will be released this fall. Can you share with us what else lurks ahead in your writing future?
Elemental is a trilogy, so that has me pretty busy for the next couple years. Thankfully, I really like the first book in the series (I think it's some of my best writing) so it's an exciting venture for me. That being said, my undiagnosed ADHD demands that I continually look forward to future projects, and all I can say for now is that there will be more contemporary YAs in the future, as well as more fantasy novels. Hopefully lots of both!

Antony, thank you so much for talking to us today.


Everyone, you can contact Antony though Facebook, at: www.facebook.com/pages/Antony-John/124596187591570, or you can visit his website at www.antonyjohn.net

Five Flavors of Dumb is available on Amazon, both in the US and the UK.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Contemporary YA Appreciation Week - "Gone Gone Gone" by Hannah Moskowitz


In the wake of the post-9/11 sniper shootings, fragile love finds a stronghold in this intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer.
It's a year after 9/11. Sniper shootings throughout the D.C. area have everyone on edge and trying to make sense of these random acts of violence. Meanwhile, Craig and Lio are just trying to make sense of their lives. 
Craig’s crushing on quiet, distant Lio, and preoccupied with what it meant when Lio kissed him...and if he’ll do it again...and if kissing Lio will help him finally get over his ex-boyfriend, Cody. 
Lio feels most alive when he's with Craig. He forgets about his broken family, his dead brother, and the messed up world. But being with Craig means being vulnerable...and Lio will have to decide whether love is worth the risk.


Hannah Moskowitz has been on my TBR radar since her first book so the opportunity to read an ARC of her third book a year before its official release, thanks to Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab system, was too good to pass up. 

Teenagers are frequently accused of being shallow and simple creatures. The problems of the typical adolescent are usually categorised into the clichéd worries over school, family and sex, and are all too often used as oversimplified forms of characterisation in YA. In a genre oversaturated with shallow minded love stories and derivative high school stories, it’s so refreshing to see a book with such intricate character studies of its two main protagonists. This book really is one of the strongest character studies I’ve ever seen in YA. Lio and Craig (and I honestly can’t decide which one I love more) are so intricately put together, so detailed in their personalities, right down to the smallest, seemingly insignificant details that fit together like puzzle pieces. 

Alternating between Craig and Lio’s points of view, Moskowitz manages to handle several very heavy topics – family death, cancer, sexuality, world tragedy – deftly, without slipping into soap opera mode. Everything feels real and brimming with emotion yet never overwrought. As this is a character study – there’s no real plot to speak of – this is where Moskowitz really shines. I dare any reader not to become attached to Craig and Lio. The emotions ever present in the story are raw, often unflinchingly so, and Moskowitz never shies away from the grey areas of the story and thankfully manages to avoid becoming preachy and clichéd. Chris and Lio do solace with each other but it’s not some magical healing love that solves everything for them – it’s just as messed up, awkward, confusing and beautiful as them. I truly appreciated not just the gay love story but the fact that it was interracial – Craig is black and Lio is Jewish – and such markers of identity were merely incidental, not some misguided form of tokenism. Their quirks feel so natural, as does their entire story. To watch their bittersweet and often bumpy relationship unfold is an emotional experience. 

The other part of this book where Moskowitz’s skills flourished was in the book’s atmosphere. It’s a time of fear – the D.C. sniper shootings in post 9/11 America – and the entire story is steeped in this inescapable mood of terror. Craig and Lio’s narrations both capture the dread of living not just in a city but in a world where fear has become so normal that it’s part of everyday life. It’s something one as a reader definitely gets caught up in, along with the entire spectrum of emotions the story is steeped in. 

I thoroughly enjoyed “Gone, Gone, Gone” but there were times where it felt as if the story dragged. It’s a short book but I think it would have worked perfectly as a novella. As it is, it’s still immensely readable but could benefit from more editing. There’s still a year to go so I’m pretty sure there will be more work done to it. I was also a little disappointed by the lack of story time dedicated to the female characters of the story. I really wanted to know more about Adelle, Lio’s therapist, as well as his sisters. Moskowitz has such deft skill for characterisation so it was disappointing to not see some of that dedicated to the women of the story. 

This is a book about what makes you the person you are, and how the smallest, or biggest, of things can change not just you but everything around you. Reading Craig’s and Lio’s stories was truly a fascinating and often highly emotional experience and one I highly recommend you pick up upon its release. There aren’t many books like “Gone, Gone, Gone” in the YA market these days and I definitely think there should be more love for such intricate and complex character studies in a genre, and with an age group, so often misrepresented as shallow and simple. That’s definitely not the case and “Gone, Gone, Gone” is the perfect example of that. I would go out on a limb and say that on the strength of this and her upcoming book "Teeth" (which I have also read an ARC of and will review/fail excitedly over in due course), Moskowitz has established herself as one of the strongest and most underrated voices in modern YA.

4/5.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview with Hannah Harrington

Alright, folks, today, we've managed to land an interview from one of the newest, and, in my humble opinion, best debut YA authors. She's the author of Saving June and the up-and-coming Speechless. Put your hands together for Hannah Harrington!


This isn’t really a question, but, congratulations on winning a gold medal at the Moonbeam awards for “Saving June”! May it be the first of many!
Thank you so much! I was very honored. I've never won anything for writing before, and when they announced it I had had no idea I was even in the running, so it was a lovely surprise!

In your own words, can you tell us what “Speechless” is about?

Speechless is the story of Chelsea Knot, a big time gossip queen who winds up deciding to take an oath of silence after she spills a secret that has very serious consequences.

Chelsea is quite a gutsy heroine – she doesn’t come off as such at the beginning, but I really came to respect her when she stuck to her vow of silence, even when others tried to bully her into submission. How did you go about writing her?
I knew she was not going to start off as the most sympathetic. The original title was actually The Redemption of Chelsea Knot, since that really is the story-- this girl starting off at a really bad place and working her way up into realizing a lot of things about herself and other people. I wanted to write a very different character than Harper in Saving June; Chelsea is more immature at first, very image-conscious, focused on herself, and lacking some real perspective, though all of that changes over the course of the story. The thing she does share in common with Harper is that underneath it all, they are both strong-willed, it just takes Chelsea longer to really figure that out about herself. I enjoy writing characters who find their strength in hard situations. When I was writing Chelsea, I really tried to focus on her transformation and journey and make it believable. She isn't fully evolved and perfect by the end, but she is much more enlightened than from where she starts.

There has been some talk about how writers should avoid dark subjects in YA. In “Speechless”, a boy becomes victim to a hate crime after he is outed by Chelsea. Did you worry about going in this particular direction with the novel?
I actually wrote this book a few years ago, before the whole It Gets Better campaign and the gay bullying-related suicides were all over the news. That was a total coincidence, so it wasn't something I wrote thinking I wanted to tackle that subject matter on purpose due to that. It did worry me a little considering the attention those issues have gotten lately, and I did go back over the story just to double-check and make sure I was treating it with the proper emotional weight.

Even though both of my books have had some mature issues in them, I try to keep it balanced with some lightness. I don't believe in shying away from pretty much any subject matter, though. These are real world issues and things teenagers are dealing with in their actual lives, so it only makes sense to write about them. I only hope that when I do, I'm writing about them as honestly as I can.

What would you say is the best thing about being published? And the worst?
Oh, wow! This is tough. For the best, there really is something magical about holding a real book with your name on it in your hands. That was a very big deal for me. You put a lot of work into a story and go through so many drafts, and then you get to see it in its final form and it's the ultimate payoff. But one of the other things I love most is just being lucky enough to have a readership, people who take the time to read something I wrote and sometimes even contact me to let me know-- it is very surreal and humbling. I never take that for granted!

As for the worst... I don't even want to say anything because I feel like that'd come across as ungrateful! I guess I would say that there is a certain pressure that comes with it. Not even from outside sources, but pressure you put on yourself. In some ways having a second book coming out has made me more nervous than having my debut, because some people have expectations and the last thing you want is for people to be disappointed.

Both your novels use music and sound as a leitmotif, and “Saving June” even comes with its own playlists. But if there were three albums you would take with you on a desert island, what would they be?
Only three albums?! I can't just bring my iPod? Okay, okay, let me try to narrow it down... I think I'd go with I Guess I Was Hoping For Something More from Tarkio, Channel Orange from Frank Ocean, and Begin to Hope from Regina Spektor. But that's just for today. Ask me tomorrow and my answer would be completely different!

If one of your novels were made into a movie, what would your dream cast be?
For Saving June, Kat Dennings for Harper and Johnny Pacar for Jake. Amanda Seyfried would be a great Laney, except I think she is too old to be playing high school now! For Speechless, I think I'd pick Emma Roberts for Chelsea and Darren Criss for Sam.

If you were to go on a road trip, where would you head off to?
I am actually road tripping to Toronto with a friend next month, and I am very excited about it, as I have never been to Canada!

“Speechless” comes out on August 28th. Unless it’s super top secret, can you tell us a little bit about what happens next?
I am working on a third book, and I don't mean to be coy but I want to wait until I'm further into it before I try to explain what it's about. I am the worst at describing the plots of my own books, honestly!
Hannah, thank you so much for talking to us!

For more information about her books and general updates, you can go to her official author's website at http://www.hannahharrington.com/.

Both "Saving June" and "Speechless" are available on Amazon.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kicking off Contemporary YA Appreciation Week: Siobhan Dowd

Hello, fellow book lovers!
We know that we've been really quiet these last few weeks (months, even?), but we're still alive and kicking, and hopefully, we'll revive this blog, starting with this week. We're going to take the focus away from our usual Paranormal Fantasy fare, and reconnect with the, shall we say, simpler stories. Contemporary YA is certainly not a genre to be ignored, and I can't think of a better author to kick things off with than Siobhan Dowd.
I found Siobhan Dowd's works last summer, and those that I have read have been heartbreakingly beautiful, so much so that I consider her one of the few contemporary YA authors you have got to read if you consider yourself a fan. She only published four books, sadly. Her early death deprived readers of one of the best talents I have ever seen, and I think it's high time more people knew about her. So, I will give you my two reviews of her books, "A Swift Pure Cry" and "Solace of the Road". Also, "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness was based on one of her ideas -it's a truly gorgeous picture book, which I believe will make you reconsider your thoughts on the so-called "cancer books".
So, without further ado, my reviews (cross-posted from GR).
A Swift Pure Cry:
How can I describe "A Swift Pure Cry"? Certainly not in terms that are often applied to books.
Ephemere.
Fragile.
Elegant.
Claustrophobic.
Beautiful.
This is the story of Shell, short for Michelle, a 16-year old girl who, in 1984, deals with the aftermath of her mother's death and the consequences of her father's drinking/religious awakening. She finds comfort in the friendship of a young pastor, Father Rose, not realizing that their interactions spike a scandal which rocks the community.
Reading the synopsis, I thought of lifetime movies and melodrama and angst (which shows just how much I know). It sets a backdrop for the reader - a devastated, poor family in an even more devastated, poor time, a dead mother, a drunk father, an eldest daughter who has to step up to the role of a caregiver and housekeeper much too soon.
What I didn't expect was how personal the narrative felt. Shell's life is confined to the routine, from which she rarely finds reprieve. It's claustrophobic, stiffling, and very, very scary, seeing her fear, frustration, desperation, and feeling them for yourself. It's also full of vibrancy and color and hope, and that's why it's so wonderful when the ending reflects the positive, and not the negative.
Solace of the Road:
Holly, the protagonist of "Solace of the Road", goes on a journey. She's been in foster care for years, ever since her Mum had to disappear off to Ireland, but has always dreamt of joining her one day. After her friends from the home start moving on, and tensions begin to arise in her new foster family, she decides that it's high time she goes through with her plans. She dons a wig, leaves a flippant note and takes off.
As Solace, a slim-slam glamour girl, Holly is able to do a lot of things she has never dared to do - bluff, lie, drink, shoplift. She travels along the A40, from London through Oxford to the shores and even gets on a ferry to Ireland. But the further she goes, the more problems she encounters, and the cracks begin to emerge in Solace's perfect image.
"Solace of the Road" isn't a hard book to get into. Unlike most YA books nowadays, it doesn't need bombastic opening sequences and crazy conspiracies to hook the readers. While on the surface this is a journey story, the intention is only internal - for the most part, it's Holly and Solace, marching on together, exploring the innermost depths of their heart.
Holly is not an easy person to love. She does not want to be loved. Her only desire is to be together with her Mum again, and go back to the kind of sweet reality she had as a little girl. The grown-up reader would easily see the problem with that and shake their head with sadness at her tragedy... Except there is nothing tragic about Holly. In spite of the hardships, in spite of the pain, in spite of the fact that her very world is burned to a cinder by the end of her journey, she has a kind of an internal power that drives her forward and makes her shine. She doesn't slow down and she doesn't look back, just moves forward, fighting and fighting even when there seems to be nothing left to fight for.
Holly is glorious. I have no other way of describing her.
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Siobhan Dowd's books are available on Amazon, both in the US and the UK (I think). A percentage of the proceeds goes to the Siobhan Dowd Trust, whose purpose is to make books available to those who have no access to them.
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What do we have next? Stay tuned, because tomorrow we'll have the pleasure of welcoming a debut author, whom I consider one of the rising new superstars of contemporary YA.