Monday, January 31, 2011

Author Struck

When I was in sixth grade, I wrote a letter to Jason Bateman's fan club. A few months later I received a signed black and white photo and a short letter from Jason, thanking me for being a fan. I was over the moon. I even taped the picture in my locker at school. That was the only time I've ever engaged in fan worship - until last year.

There have been a number of YA books that I've read over the past year and really loved. There were times where I've been so blown away by a book that I've even gone to the author's website and sent them an email telling them how it affected me. I always hesitate to hit send, wondering if I'm wasting their time or pointing out something that I like about their book that they are already aware of. I also email authors if I'm writing about their book in my blog.

It may be hard to email an author about their book but it's even more nerve-wracking to talk to them in person. I live in New York and regularly go to a number of events sponsored by the New York Public Library, where YA authors read and discuss their work. There's no time to re-word what you're going to say when you're standing in front of an author. I think one of my dorkiest (but most sincere) moments was when I blurted out to Carolyn Mackler, "I really, really love your word choice!" As I blushed, she replied, "That's so nice to hear! I spend a lot of time on word choice and it's very important to me."

So yes, I'm a little author struck. And I'm definitely humbled when I get to talk with a good writer who has managed to complete the trifecta: writing a book, navigating the difficult world of finding an agent and then getting published. All of the authors I've met have all been extremely nice, encouraging and gracious. It gives me hope that a financial journalist who loves to write YA fiction in her spare time (that's me) will someday get her own book published!

Have you ever emailed an author? And what happened? Let me know in the comment section below!

Monday, January 24, 2011

American Bloomsbury Gush

I just finished reading Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, a book on the life, love and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. I loved it.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve read about this group of authors and philosophers. As an American Literature major who wrote her senior thesis on Alcott, I had read several biographies and histories of the individual authors and their era over the years. While Cheever’s book re-states the well-known facts of the authors’ lives and works, she does it with a liveliness that almost made me forget that I was on well-known territory.

Reading the book is almost like gossiping with Cheever about some of my favorite writers. Who knew how much passion and intrigue lurked beneath the surface of beautiful, quiet Concord? Who knew how much despair there was? And who knew that their lives could be as mundane as yours or mine?

The book also reminded me that these authors’ lives were much more than the well-known facts. When you spend years reading Little Women or Emerson’s essays, you see the black and white photograph of Alcott or Emerson on the back of the book. That’s your image of them: static, black and white and somber (no one smiled for pictures back then). You forget that they actually lived. And you forget that they did all of this together.

It’s too bad reality TV wasn’t around then. Could you imagine Survivor: Concord? I’d watch it more religiously than Glee.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Strong Female Voices

Last week, I wrote about my favorite male characters from young adult books that were published in 2010. This week, I’m writing about their female counterparts. Generally speaking, the characters I liked best had powerful, intelligent voices and were a step removed from traditional female characters, either by the actions that they took or their thinking.

Dani from Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman.

Dani is a great combination of a classic young adult heroine and a more modern one. She is older and wiser than her years as a result of her family’s need to leave its home in Argentina as a result of the country’s economic crisis. She struggles with the emotional issues related to this and to her father’s depression but helps to keep her family together through strength and persistence. One of the hardest parts of this book was reading about Dani’s own struggle with depression. Her depression felt very real and heavy and, as it lifted, more of her true spirit came out.

Bianca from The DUFF by Kody Keplinger.

Bianca’s voice is her strength. It is sassy and true. Although Bianca spends much of the book hiding from the problems that are rooted in her distorted self-image, she makes a choice that is courageous when she decides to let herself fall in love again. One of the things I loved about Bianca is that she is a part of a new generation of YA heroines. More female characters have greater control and direction in their relationships and don’t wait around for the boy to call the shots. When Bianca starts to combine this power with a greater sense of happiness with herself, she develops a new level of dignity. This is a great story for young woman who feel like they're not entitled to be happy, for any reason.

Scarlett March from Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Scarlett March is the older of two sisters who fight an underground world of werewolves. She’s scarred from her battles, brutal, unapologetic and seems insane at times but when you see her in the context of her life, it all makes sense. Scarlett is tough, like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy, but as fragile inside as any sixteen-year-old girl. It’s odd in some ways to have a female narrator who thinks like a seasoned warrior but, like Bianca in the DUFF, Scarlett is part of the new generation of YA heroines. I can’t wait until the sequel comes out.

Who is your favorite heroine of 2010?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Leading Men of 2010

The Academy Awards names the best male actor of each year. I decided to follow that tradition and name my favorite male young adult characters of 2010. My picks come from just the books I've read, not all of the books that came out last year.

1. Both Will Graysons from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. There are times when neither Will Grayson is very likeable and times when they are both very sympathetic characters. Levithan's Will Grayson is depressed and as a reader, I wanted to stand up and cheer him on to find his way out of it and then help him to stay happy. While Green's character is frustrating because he can't act on the very things that will make him happy, Green makes him likable enough for you to want him to get the girl of his dreams and make up with his best friend, Tiny Cooper.

2. Finnick from Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Finnick was a huge surprise to me. When he first appeared in Catching Fire, the second book in the series, I thought he was a handsome, ruthless playboy. But he's actually a very brave, faithful and honest soul with a tragic story. I only wish Finnick's story had a different ending.

3. Xander from Matched by Ally Condie. Cassia Reyes, the heroine, is matched to Xander, her best friend, by their totalitarian society with the expectation that they will get married someday. Xander loves Cassia and doesn't want to lose her but he is also able to respect that she may not love him in the same way. He can also respect his rival for Cassia, Ky Markham, and behave toward him in an honorable way.

Who are your leading men and why? Let me know in the comments section below and you can win a copy of If We Kiss by Rachel Vail. Remember to leave me a way to contact you!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Sequel

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a series girl. While there are a several stand-alone books that I’m looking forward to in 2011, a lot of favorite authors are publishing or will publish sequels this year. Here are the three series books and one other that I am the most excited about!

1) Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart – I really enjoyed the first three books in this series because Ruby, the main character, is complex, flawed and adorable. In the first book in the series, Ruby does something that alienates her friends and pays for it later. Lockhart is a very funny and clever writer who creates an inconsistent path for Ruby that feels remarkably real and makes you root for her.

2) Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay. Caddy’s World is the sixth and possibly last book in the Casson family series. My favorite aspect of these books are their mastery of absurdist humor. The parents are artists and they are hilariously impractical. McKay also gives the reader a great view of their world by using excellent visual descriptions, making you see what the characters see. I’m really intrigued by one character, Saffron. I hope there’s more about her in this book!

3) Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. I had always hoped that there would be a fifth book in the Traveling Pants series, even though the pants were lost in the fourth book. The series, in many ways a character study of its protagonists Tibby, Lena, Carmen and Bee, is one of my favorites. I hope Brashares answers some of the questions I’ve been wondering about, like what will happen with Lena and Kostas and how Bee is handling adult life!

4) Cut and Run by Sarah Dessen – This book isn’t exactly part of a series but Dessen writes about a group of characters in the same small town so there are some glimpses of past heroines. All of Dessen’s books are elegantly constructed. Their plot and timing are beautiful. At first they seem like a very familiar theme: lonely girl meets boy, finds happiness forever. But once you dig into the story you realize that the angle that Dessen takes is unique and exciting.

What books are you looking forward to this year? Let me know in the comments section below and you can win a copy of The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman. Remember to leave your contact information!