Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Giveaway #6 - Your favorite TV show

While some YA books have made great success on the small screen, television shows like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars are few and far between.

So, here's your chance to be a TV executive and tell them what you want to see. Say what YA book or series you think would make for a good TV mini-series or series. Don't forget to say why. If you have great reasons, you might win a copy of Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani.

Post your response in the comments section below by Thursday, October 7. I'll post the winner on Sunday, October 10.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thinking Outside the Plot

I recently read this essay and it got me thinking that YA novels are too often criticized for their quality. The author is a fan of the genre and writes fondly of being fully absorbed in books for hours on end as a child and teenager. She also writes that in her view, one of the main draws of YA books that they tend to be more plot-driven than language-driven, which allows her to speed through books like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy just to find out what happens next.

The author wrote: “Of course, one of the reasons you can read this fast is that the language doesn’t always delight your synapses or persuade you to kick off your shoes and stay awhile. When I’m reading Collins’ writing, I’m not savoring a sentence like I do when I’m reading Michael Chabon. The plainspoken pulse of The Hunger Games doesn’t beg a reread like the poetry of The God of Small Things, or set you still like a scene of Cormac McCarthy’s. But I’m not reading Mockingjay [the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy] for those reasons. I’m reading to find out whether the Capitol mutations bred deliberately to hunt Katniss are going to tear her to pieces before she manages to kill President Snow.”

I thought the popularity of YA books with adults, particularly for crossover books like the Hunger Games, shows that the complexity of the writing is satisfying to some mature palates. It's true, Collins' writing in the series is spare compared to a Michael Chabon or a Cormac McCarthy. But it's very precise and has a beautiful rhythm. In my view, the language also reflects some of the numbness that Katniss Everdeen feels. Living with the threat of imminent death or starvation in an authoritarian regime doesn't exactly inspire flowing, flowery descriptions.

Why shouldn't someone be reading Mockingjay for the writing? Why shouldn't someone savor the language of Looking for Alaska? Or the philosophy and cultural observations behind The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks? Just like Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy, these authors all offer something that writers and readers can learn from.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Giveaway #5 - Your favorite scene in To Kill a Mockingbird

I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time in sixth grade. It was amazing. I was absorbed from the first page to the last. Its themes have had a huge influence on popular culture and are still very relevant today. More than twenty years after my first reading, I still find it to be a very powerful book.

Daisy Whitney's forthcoming book, The Mockingbirds, takes it name from Harper Lee's book. The Mockingbirds is about a girl named Alex, a student at an elite boarding school who is sexually assaulted by another student. The school has a history of sweeping assaults like these under the rug. So Alex turns to a secret society called the Mockingbirds, which was formed by the students to right wrongs.

The winner of this week's giveaway will receive an advanced reading copy of The Mockingbirds, which is slated for publication in November. To enter, please post your favorite scene from To Kill a Mockingbird and explain why you like it in the comments section below by Friday, Sept. 25. I'll post the winner on Monday, Sept. 27.

Good luck and happy reading!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Little Racer Women

It's never a good thing when a bike race ends and you can't find one of your riders. That was the story back in April, when I was at a race with the collegiate team that I coach with my husband. It was a rainy day and any number of things could have happened to this rider. We were relieved when she finally came across the finish line, covered in dirt and grease. There had been a crash and then she had to stop and fix a problem with her bike. As she wiped off her face with a towel, she said “This is going to end up in your book, right?”

Of course it was.

The team knows all about my book. We’ve talked about it on long training rides and during road trips to races. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl named Sarah who tries to live her life according to what she learns from Little Women. One of the major subplots is Sarah's decision to join her school's mostly-male cycling team.

I’ve found that there is a strong connection between the philosophy of Little Women and Sarah becoming a bike racer. Most of this is because of Jo March, the spirited, resourceful and determined main character of Little Women. She pushes the boundaries of what a young woman of her time is able to do, getting a job when her father lost his fortune and then selling her hair in her family's time of need. As I see it, the spirit of Jo March is one of the things that lays the groundwork for Sarah to be able to join her high school cycling team without ever having raced a bike before.

Cycling is a hard sport for women to break into, even with the best support in the world. Most bike racers are men. This means that there are few mentors or even other women to relate to. With so few women at races, they often don't have their own race and get lumped in with men, some of whom have been racing for years. The difference between a woman starting her first race and a man in his third year of racing is breathtaking. But it’s totally hard core when a young woman can hold her own with a group of guys in a bike race.

There is a part of Sarah that grasps that bike racing is the kind of thing that Jo March might have done. There is another part that just falls in love with the sport. As Sarah begins to train, she applies the lessons that she learns from Little Women. When Sarah gets her team kit, she finds out that cycling clothes aren't cut with boobs and hips in mind. But she figures it out. She finds a sewing machine and learns enough about sewing to tailor it to fit her. I have a feeling that Jo March would have totally have done the same thing.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Loving L'Engle

I recently re-read And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle for the first time in around ten years. The story is about a girl named Philippa Hunter—known as Flip—who goes to boarding school in Switzerland after the unexpected death of her mother. It's a coming of age story but it's also a love story and a story about forgiveness and acceptance. These are all themes that I find very appealing.

And Both Were Young made me think about where I was in my life the first time I read it. I think I was about twelve and I remember loving it from the first page. I re-read it at least several times over the years. Re-reading it brought me back very clearly to a time in my life when I was at the same awkward, gawky stage as Flip.

I was a little nervous to re-read a book I had loved so much as a teenager. What if it didn’t resonate with me as an adult? Would I have to admit that what I loved as a child was merely kid stuff? Fortunately, I loved it just as much as an adult as I did back then. I think that L'Engle still works for adults because she writes honestly and realistically about the emotional development of young women. She describes that awkward time when a young, smart girl feels stuck on the cusp of woman so eloquently that it almost makes me cringe to read it.

I actually met her once at a book signing at Bank Street College Book Store. She signed a copy of A Swiftly Tilting Planet for me and I was able to tell her how much her books meant to me when I was growing up. As I left, I realized that at least half of the line was made up of young women like me who probably told her the same thing. I’ll bet she never got tired of that.