Still Here!

Hey loyal readers! Thanks for not giving up on me just yet. 🙂 Don’t get too excited or anything — this is just a quick note to say hello and let you know that 1) I’m still alive, 2) I totally miss you guys, and 3) I’ll be updating you all very soon. There’s so much to chat about! Banned books week recap, new book news, short story news, summer vacation essays, the fact that I finally finished all 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights and spent about three days crying because Tim Riggins is so awesome… Yes, it’s a glamorous life! I also have some tips on critique groups and social marketing for my writing friends, all coming in the next week or two. Stick around!

In the mean time, I would love to know… for those of you celebrating Halloween, what’s your costume this year? And what was your favorite costume of all time?

Banned Books Week Events: Indianapolis, IN & Springfield, MO

Banned Books Week starts this weekend and libraries and bookstores across the country are planning lots of fun events. I’m thrilled to tell you that I’ll be visiting readers in two locations next week: Indianapolis, IN and Springfield, MO.

(I know that was rather anticlimactic, considering I gave away the ending right there in the blog post title. I’ll try to make it up to you by making the visits themselves climactic. Deal?)

Indianapolis Details:

I’ll be doing a presentation and book signing at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library on Tuesday, September 27, at noon. The event is free and open to the public

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library
The Emelie Building
340 N. Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Springfield Details:

I’ll be in Springfield at multiple locations from September 30 to October 1, as follows:

Friday, September 30, 7:00 PM
Author talk and book signing
The Library Center
4653 South Campbell
Springfield, Missouri 65810-1723

Saturday, October 1, 12:00 PM
Read-out!
The Library Station
2535 North Kansas Expressway
Springfield, Missouri 65803-1184

Saturday, October 1, 4:00 PM
Read-out!
The Library Center
4653 South Campbell
Springfield, Missouri 65810-1723

Saturday, October 1, 5:00 PM
Banned books discussion panel
The Library Center
4653 South Campbell
Springfield, Missouri 65810-1723

If you live near any of these locations, please come say hi! I would love to meet you. But no throwing tomatoes. I don’t want to dodge any produce. You can, however, throw chocolate.

Thanks to the wonderful, dedicated, book-lovin’ folks at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and the Springfield-Greene County Library District for making these visits happen!

Banned Books Compromise: “I’m not touching him!”

If you have a sibling, you know what I’m talking about.

You’re crammed into the backseat of the car, or maybe stuck side-by-side at the table at Applebee’s, and you exercise your natural right to torment your younger brother. Within seconds, he’s screaming. “Mom! Sarah’s touching me!”

“Stop touching your brother,” Mom says.

“Fine,” you say, raising a threatening eyebrow. Then you wave your hands directly in front of his face, blow in his ear, give him creepy looks, and otherwise annoy him to the greatest extent possible while still following Mom’s directive, proudly proclaiming, “I’m not touching him! I’m not touching him!”

Still with me on the tangent-coaster? Good. Because the whole I’m not touching him thing? That’s how I view the Republic school board’s “compromise” on recently-banned Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five. Last night, the board voted to put the two books back in the school library… in a “secure area” where only parents will be able to check them out.

(Remember those old school video stores—you know, pre-Netflix—where they had all the “adult” stuff in a separate back room behind a curtain? I really hope there’s a curtain at the library. Just saying.)

From the article in today’s Springfield News-Leader:

“It does keep the books there in the library, and if parents want their kids to read the book, by all means come and check it out,” said Superintendent Vern Minor. “…It still puts the decision in parents’ hands.”

With no discussion — and only board president Ken Knierim commenting on the change — the board voted 6-0 to adopt a revised draft of the book standards originally approved earlier this year.

It merely changed the way “challenged” books — the two in question and any others removed in the future — would be accessible in the district.

“…That’s what has come under scrutiny, that if parents want their children to read a book that has not met the district standards, they have to get the book from somewhere else,” Minor said. “It’s not in our library. That’s the issue that seems to have surfaced.”

In other words, we’re still censoring books by limiting access, but since everyone complained about the books being removed from the library, we’ve addressed that by putting them back in the library. You can’t get to them unless you’re a parent, but they’re technically in the library. Problem solved.

While I’m glad that the school board was willing to reconsider the original ban, I don’t believe this compromise is the answer. I’ve stated before that my biggest issue with Mr. Scroggins’ complaint is that he took the decision and discussion away from other parents. So I totally support parents who want to be involved with their kids’ reading and want to make decisions on appropriateness for their own families. The thing is, I’m not sure this should be happening at the library, before the book is even checked out. Do all parents have time or inclination to go to the school and request the books from the secure area (ahh, visions of secret parental cabals whispering together behind that curtain!)? Is the school library staying open beyond school hours to accommodate parents’ work schedules? What about the parents who’ve already made the decision to let their teens read whatever they’d like? Now those parents have to go down to the school just to check out a book? And what about the parents who just aren’t involved, one way or the other? The books are not accessible to those teens. And even if one teen has parents who can’t or won’t make the trek? She might be the one who most needs to read those books. And that’s what kills me.

Parents, what do you think? Should teens need you to check out their books from a public school library? If not, how do you get involved in your child’s reading (if you do), and what do you do if you feel something might be inappropriate for him?

Teens, what are your thoughts on this?

I’d love to hear your opinions. Because while I don’t pretend to have the answers on this, for me, the issue still stands: Limiting reading options for all teens on a broad institutional level is not the way to go.

Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life, by Sara ZarrSara Zarr’s latest novel, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, hits the shelves next month, and I can’t wait, because I read it last week and I’m so excited to talk about it with other readers!

Description from Goodreads

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

My Thoughts

In a word? Real.

Through the perspectives of two teen girls, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE explores two extremely intense, emotional, and dramatic experiences — the sudden death of a parent and an unplanned teen pregnancy (and all the complications, pain, loss, fear, love, and hope that can arise from each) — in a compelling and page-turning way that never resorts to melodrama or forced emotion. On ever page, through every confrontation and thought, through the internal and external changes both girls endure and bring about, I believed these girls. I knew them. They were just so real.

Angsty, lost, deeply wounded by the sudden death of her father and the huge hole his absence has left in her life, Jill MacSweeney is dangerously close to shutting down, shutting herself away from the world. Yet something inside her still flickers, something still open to new love and friendships, no matter how hard she rails against it in her day-to-day life. Naive and immature on the surface, Mandy Kalinowski is understandably desperate for love, connection, and the basic human acknowledgement that she’s a person, that she matters. Like Jill, Mandy has been torn apart by the loss and longing that comes from a broken family. Their lives intersect when Jill’s mother, still reeling from the death of her husband and desperate to put her family back together, decides to adopt Mandy’s unborn baby. She invites Mandy to stay with them in Colorado during the final weeks of her pregnancy so that they can handle the transition without lawyers or agencies. And while not all readers will have experienced the death of a parent and planned adoption of a new sibling like Jill has, or a teen pregnancy and difficult home life like Mandy has, Zarr still brings the story to all of us in personal and memorable ways. Who hasn’t struggled to find their place in the world? Who hasn’t felt the desire to run away, to start again? Who hasn’t doubted their closest relationships, struggled to find “home,” or felt like an outsider in their own families?

The story is told in first person alternating points of view, which is a huge and admirable challenge for authors because the characters’ voices and perspectives must be unique, equally compelling, equally important, and wholly necessary. And each alternating scene must cover new ground while at the same time conveying each characters’ thoughts, feelings, and reactions to shared moments and events through their own unique perspectives. Zarr crafts the point of view switches beautifully. I was immediately drawn to each girl for very different reasons, and found myself at times connecting with one more than the other, then my feelings would change, then change again, until ultimately I was so wrapped up in the outcome of their shared story that I simply couldn’t put the book down until I knew how things would turn out for both of them.

Zarr has a talent for telling the story. By that, I mean, her books are never weighed down with extraneous detail, melodrama, or flowery, unnecessary language. Like her previous works, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE showcases this minimalist style beautifully, but it also weaves in layers emotion and detail so delicately — almost imperceptibly — that by the last page, the characters will so thoroughly invade your heart that you’ll feel like you’d been through it yourselves, right along with Jill and Mandy. It’s a rare gift for an author to be able to disappear completely from the narrative, and Zarr does it seamlessly. I forgot about her as I got lost in the pages, in the lives of these girls. Zarr makes the storytelling seem effortless — something I admire and appreciate as both an author and a reader.

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Zarr’s books, but HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is officially my favorite. It comes out next month (October 18) from Little, Brown, but you can add it to your Goodreads list or pre-order it on IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble now.

Something New!

You guys, I’ve been waiting forever to share this exciting news! But now that I’m ready to tell you, I’m not actually going to. That’s so mean! Okay, okay, but first let me give you a few hints from the Library of Congress:

Related Subjects:

Divorce — Fiction.
Ice skating — Fiction.
Diners (Restaurants) — Fiction.
Cupcakes — Fiction.
New York (State) — Fiction.

Any guesses? No, don’t guess. I’m still not going to tell you. I’m going to let my friend Christina do it! Head on over to Christina’s blog (and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter and Goodreads while you’re there)!