Saving the World, One YA Book at a Time

After all my cheerleading for the Buy a Book, Save the World campaign, I’m happy to announce that I finally clicked the big yellow PLACE YOUR ORDER button on Amazon, loading up my stocking with a few new reads for the new year. I’m especially excited about the YA picks, despite efforts by The New Yorker and The Atlantic to sway me with their ill-informed, has-been, washed-up, lukewarm, milk-toast, “YA is weak and boring and, like, totally lame!” battle cries.

On to the goods.

The Reading List

RED GLASS by Laura Resau.

I first heard about this book during the 2008 Colorado Book Awards, where RED GLASS won in the Young Adult category. I feel especially connected to and excited about this one because Laura lives in Colorado, where I wrote TWENTY BOY SUMMER and lived for 5 years. And, RED GLASS was released on the same day I officially accepted my book deal. And… just look at that cover!

Here’s a synopsis from Laura’s Web site:

One night Sophie, her mother, and her stepfather are called to a hospital, where Pablo, a five-year-old Mexican boy, is recovering from dehydration. Pablo was carrying the business card of Sophie’s step-father – but he doesn’t recognize the boy. Crossing the border into Arizona with seven other Mexicans and a coyote, or guide, Pablo and his parents faced such harsh conditions that the boy is the only survivor. Pablo comes to live with Sophie, her parents, and Sophie’s aunt Dika, a refugee from the war in Bosnia. Sophie loves Pablo – her Principito, or Little Prince – but after a year, Sophie’s parents are able to contact Pablo’s extended family in Mexico, and Sophie, Dika, and Dika’s new boyfriend and his son must travel with Pablo to his hometown so that he can make a heart-wrenching decision.

Sophie has always been afraid of everything – car wrecks, cancer, becoming an orphan herself. But traveling with Dika, Pablo, Mr. Lorenzo, and Angel – people who have suffered losses beyond Sophie’s imagining – changes her perception of danger. Sophie feels a strong connection to Ángel, but she fears losing him almost as much as she enjoys their time together. When a tragic event forces Sophie to take a dangerous journey, she recognizes that life is beautiful even in the midst of death – and that love is worth the risk of losing.

WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED by Judy Blundell.

This WWII historical YA is the 2008 National Book Award winner and just one look at that cover brings swing jazz to my ears. I can’t wait to read it.

From BookBrowse:

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

As she begins to realize that almost everything she believed to be a truth was really a lie, Evie must get to the heart of the deceptions and choose between her loyalty to her parents and her feelings for the man she loves. Someone will have to be betrayed. The question is . . . who?

THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson.

I’m looking forward to reading this for Page Flipper’s online book club discussion later next month.

Here’s a summary from The Adoration of Jenna Fox site – check out the link for an erie book trailer, excerpts, reviews, and more info about the book.

Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a year-long coma, and she’s still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. Her parents show her home movies of her life, her memories, but she has no recollection. Is she really the same girl she sees on the screen?

Little by little, Jenna begins to remember. But along with the memories come questions—questions no one wants to answer for her. What really happened after the accident?

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman.

Okay. Not to get anyone all excited or anything, but creepy middle grade boy books might just be my new thing. I’ve already heard great things about this book and can’t wait to curl up with it on the couch.

Or in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Delaware Park, pretty much right up the street.

Hmmm. Maybe when the snow melts.

No summary needed – check out the trailer, with extra creep-factor for the music and accent:

 

THE HIGHWAYMAN and THE ANCIENT, both by R. A. Salvatore. A little sword and sorcery fantasy to change up the YA fun. I’m sure the literary elite consider fantasy about as worthy as YA fiction, but I think we could all use a little trip down fantasy lane these days. Down with highbrow hobnobbing! Bring on the barren landscapes, golden ale, leather-clad women warriors, animal traveling companions, magic gems, and the dark elves we love to hate!

So, did you do it? Did you buy your books to save the world? Eight days left!

I Heart the Library!

Whenever I let too much time pass between visits, I forget how much I love the library. Amazon.com, on the other hand, loves when I forget it. So does Barnes & Noble, Tattered Cover, and now, my new local indie, Talking Leaves Books.

Having just moved into a new neighborhood — er, county — er, state, if you don’t count that 6-month little stop-over in NYC, I had to get a new library card. Downtown Buffalo has a really super cool library so I was all excited about that, but also, I found a branch right down the street! Like, even closer than my favorite Greek diner which we’ve already hit up about 5 times this month! In fact, I have to walk past the library to get to the diner!

Why, it’s utter genius!

So Alex and I took a lovely mid-afternoon walk down Elmwood Avenue, found the library, and signed up for new cards.

And now I have a bunch of new books for my ever-increasing to-be-read pile:

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  • The Year My Sister Got Lucky – by Aimee Friedman
  • The Nature of Jade – by Deb Caletti
  • Lessons from a Dead Girl – by Jo Knowles
  • Little Brother – by Cory Doctorow
  • The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things – by Carolyn Mackler

YA books. Free. Right down the street (on the way to the diner). What more can a girl ask for?

Visit your local library today!

Teen Book Sales Booming, Part 2

Writing Truths in YA: How Much is Too Much?

For the recent boom in YA book sales, Newsweek’s Generation R credits teens’ increasing sophistication, their emotional maturity, and the accompanying new freedom for YA writers to explore almost any subject.

For authors, what does all this reader sophistication and new freedom mean?

Over in debut2009, we’ve discussed it in several forms—detailed vs. implied sex scenes, when does violence become gratuitous, do the bad guys always get punished, what is author responsibility, and more. I don’t think we’ve come up with an official group answer (perhaps in time for debut2029!), but here’s how I summed up my thoughts in the forum:

As authors, should we be responsible? Absolutely. And the best way to be responsible is to be honest and truthful in our writing. That means not censoring ourselves by shying away from controversial topics if the story calls for them. And it also means not adding in a bunch of over-the-top “controversy” for shock value or sales. Just tell the truth.

My primary goal as a writer is to…

*drumroll*

…tell a story.

An honest one, with characters and situations to which readers can relate. I’m not writing to teach a lesson or signal a warning beacon—I am absolutely not the poster child for good choices! And you know what? There aren’t always consequences in life. Not every teen who has sex gets pregnant. Not everyone who drinks and drives causes a wreck. Does that mean that if I include these elements in my books without their associated and predictable consequences that I’m condoning certain behaviors? Nope. It just means that I’m telling a story. Here’s what happened. You, young reader, decide how you feel about it.

Emotional maturity is born of exposure to and experience with new and sometimes controversial situations. I see more controversy on the six o’clock news than I do in the teen section at Barnes & Noble, so I write with this in mind: Teen readers do have the maturity and the sophistication to evaluate situations for themselves—whether in their own lives, on television, or in books—and make their own choices. This isn’t to say that books don’t have any influence on teens (just ask this guy!). But at that age, they already have a foundation for decision-making that a novel won’t crumble. If someone decides to have premarital sex or smoke a cigarette, it’s probably not because of something she read in my book. I have to trust that.

So when Jack Martin, assistant coordinator of YA services at the New York Public Library, tells Newsweek this about old school YA books vs. the current lot…

“Too many books for teens just stated obvious messages, like ‘doing drugs is bad.’ But now the messages are imbedded into the story. This new crop of writers would rather present drugs as a miserable existence and show what it’s like to live through this experience than to preach.”

…and a father of a teen reader says this about books that cross into controversial issues like drugs and alcohol or sex:

These are profound issues that I’ve seen handled tastefully. They’re issues that some might think are too big for a teen. But teens, like adults, live in the real world. And I get the sense that they appreciate fiction that’s honest and might give them a glimpse of what awaits them as adults.”

…I respectfully disagree.

Martin’s making a broad generalization here, implying that today’s writers are simply finding subtler ways to send the same heavy-handed messages.

And Dad? YA lit isn’t trying to give teens a peek at what the future holds. It’s probably just giving you a glimpse at what your teen is already dealing with.

Like the article says, teens enjoy books as an escape from reality, a break from the pressures of their lives, and even as a kind of therapy to bridge the lack of communication and support they might face at home. That said, the most successful YA writers are not those who can find a more creative way to sneak in the lesson. The most successful writers are those who tell an honest story and trust (and encourage) their readers to determine not what the story means, but what it means to them.

For me, the most meaningful thing a reader can say is not “this book is mad cool” or “I was all LOL,” but “wow, that’s totally me,” and “hmm, I never thought of it that way before.” Hearing those words means I’ve connected with someone or helped her see something in a new way, whether it’s a hopeful story or something full of pain and heartache, with or without consequences.

That connection is all I can ask for, and that connection—if I earn it—is how I will know my books have succeeded.

Your turn. What do you as teens, parents, teachers, authors, and readers think? How much is too much? And what defines a successful book?

Teen Book Sales Booming, Part 1

It’s hard to write a book. It’s even harder to get a book deal. And getting that book off the shelves and into teen readers’ hands? Basically impossible, right?

Far from it, according to Jamie Reno. His Newsweek article, Generation R, puts a new spin on an old topic: teens and reading. Apparently, they like it. Enough that the YA side of an otherwise lagging book industry is, as Reno says, booming.

Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren’t reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction… is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children’s Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.

I can absolutely attest to the infusion of talented new authors. In addition to the books already on the shelves in the teen section of your favorite book store, the 2009 lineup is, as Randy would say, “in the zone! The bomb! The hot one to beat tonight, baby!” and right around the corner. The rightfully-tagged “feast of awesome” hanging out in debut2009 has me counting down the days until next year.

I’m thrilled to be part of a group like debut2009 during this YA renaissance. Like Ally Carter said, our greatest competition as writers is not other writers. It’s bad books. Well-written books that engage and excite readers will get them reading more—more books, more genres, and more authors. I love meeting new writers who are passionate about getting books into teens’ hands. And now is a great time to be involved.

Why is YA so Popular?

The article cites several reasons for the current boom, including:

  1. increasing sophistication and emotional maturity of teenagers
  2. new freedom for writers in the genre to explore virtually any subject
  3. bookstores and libraries finally recognizing this niche and separating teen books from children’s books
  4. MySpace, Facebook, blogs, and authors’ and publishers’ Web sites allowing young readers to communicate with each other and with authors
  5. teen books becoming an integral part of today’s pop-culture entertainment menu, tying in to TV, movies, video games, and the Internet

What about adults? I think that’s another factor. With the sophistication of some of today’s teen reads, lots of people outside the intended audience are diving in. Parents and teachers are reading and discussing books with their children or class. Authors are checking out their peers. And adult readers often browse the YA section for something different (guilty!)—a vampire trilogy, a magical world, or an intense YA romance that doesn’t suffer from the over-writing that plagues so many adult books.

Newsweek gives a shout out to my favorite YA author, Sarah Dessen. I discovered Dessen in 2003 after taking a few YA novel writing classes through Lighthouse Writers Workshop and paying more attention to the genre (read: spending a lot of time and money in the teen section at Tattered Cover under the guise of “research”).

Dessen is a great example of how and why teen lit has become so esteemed (even outside of fantasy blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Twilight series’). She’s published 8 books featuring tough issues like abusive relationships, death, divorce, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, body image, and rape. Her books and characters are realistic—no over-dramatizing or talking down about the hard stuff. She tells it like it is and readers relate—and respond—to it. She also has a huge blog following via her LiveJournal site, where she talks about everything from the weather to her dogs to her monthly Tivo lineup.

What do you think? Are you a closet YA reader as an adult? Are you an author in this exciting genre? Do you agree that we’re in the “second golden age for young adult books?”

If you’re interested in YA literature and writing, check out the Newsweek article. It’s long, but worth the read. Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing some of the reasons cited for the boom (while working on revisions for my second book, which I’m even more excited about now!).

On deck tomorrow: Part 2: Writing truths in YA. How Much is Too Much?