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I'm an actress, singer, dancer, and writer. I'm also a freelance journalist, a publicist, a bookseller, and a webdesigner. This LiveJournal, for the most part, pertains to books - book reviews, exclusive interviews with authors, press releases, and booklists. My journal has an emphasis on teen fiction, though there are plenty of items for adult fiction and for juvenile fiction (or "kidlit") as well.
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1. Rock the Drop TODAY!


Rock the Drop 2014

Operation Teen Book Drop 2014 is being held TODAY!

readergirlz started this event seven years ago, and it is held annually in April, on Support Teen Literature Day. Feel free to share the banner (above) at your blog and on social media, then print out copies of the bookplate (below). Slap the bookplates in your favorite YA books and leave the books in public spaces for lucky readers to discover.
Want to join in the fun? Here's how you can get involved:

* Follow @readergirlz on Twitter and tweet #rockthedrop
* Print a copy of the bookplate and insert it into a book (or 10!) On April 17th, drop a book in a public spot (park bench, bus seat, restaurant counter?) Lucky finders will see that the book is part of ROCK THE DROP!
(If you think people won't pick up the book, slap a Post-It or note on the front cover that reads, "Take this book - IT'S FREE!" Bonus points for using recycled paper and/or making your own funky design!)
* Post the banner at your blog and social networks. Proclaim that you will ROCK THE DROP!
* Snap a photo of your drop and post it at the readergirlz Facebook page. Then tweet the drop at #rockthedrop with all the other lovers of YA books.

Visit our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter for more news and pictures before, during, and after the event!

Here's the bookplate - save, print, and paste.

Rock the Drop 2014

Thank you to everyone who participates and supports the event! Remember, ANYONE may participate. If you miss the drop on Thursday, no worries - drop a book tomorrow or this weekend, and share and donate books whenever and wherever you can!

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2. Poetry Friday: The Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.

- The Messenger by Mary Oliver

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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3. Poetry Friday: Where is Love Now? by Sam Phillips and Nickel Creek

If I should hold all my dreams
Through the night of the way life sometimes seems
And if I can't see which way to go,
I'll stay lost in silence 'til I know.
- from the song Where is Love Now?

Originally by Sam Phillips, Where is Love Now? is the final track on Nickel Creek's brand-new album, A Dotted Line. My favorite song on the album is Hayloft, followed by Destination - no pun intended.

Click here to listen to Where is Love Now?

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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4. Interview: Kirsten B. Feldman

When I asked author Kirsten B. Feldman to sum up her book No Alligators in Sight in twenty words or less, she replied: "Lettie Endquist yearns to make herself a better life and travels from Provincetown to Key West to get it."

The main characters of No Alligators in Sight were in Kirsten's head for years. The tale actually began as a short story, "Squelch." That short story then became the majority of Chapter 1, and over the course of about two years, "a chapter here and a chapter there grew to become the first draft," Kirsten explained. "The story grew because Lettie had more to say, and so I happily gave her the opportunity."

In turn, I'm giving Kirsten the opportunity to tell us more about her writing process and her personal stories, as well as her fictional ones:

Did anything major change between the first draft and the final draft? Was that due to your own thought process, or were the changes suggested by an editor, your agent, or a beta reader?

I did have some terrific feedback from both an agent and several beta readers, including the suggestion to make it shorter, losing some minor characters, and get to Florida faster. Also, some early readers thought that Joel, her father, was too harsh, which was great for me to know, because I saw and heard him differently than he at first appeared on the page to readers. All of these changes made sense to me, and then other, smaller ones grew organically from there as I revised.

What were you like at Lettie's age?

When I was Lettie's age, I was consumed with the idea of going to high school and the changes that would bring to my life. I viewed high school as the bridge to where I wanted to go in life, which indeed it was, and as Lettie does. I saw the many open doors that high school offered, and I went through nearly all of them, at top speed and full volume. Lettie ultimately does the same.

The road to publication can be bumpy and tough, but you made it!

Why, thank you!

You're welcome! Insert virtual high-five here. (I love high-fives.) What was your favorite part of the publishing process?

My favorite part of the publishing process continues: engaging with readers about the book, Lettie, and life in general. The whole process also made me excited to do it all over again.

What can you tell us about your next book?

As I think you can tell from No Alligators in Sight, my website, and this interview, I adore the adolescent point of view. My yet-to-be-named next novel explores the world of Harry Kavanaugh, a girl named for Harry Potter who has lived her whole life on the grounds of her school, a prep school in Washington, DC, since her mother is the school's most revered teacher with on-campus housing privileges. For the nearly-six-foot Harry, a girl who loves black, alternative music, and large animals more than humans, this existence is stifling and unfulfilling, so she sets out to find what might better rock her world, especially now that Kurt Cobain has passed on. Helping her on her quest are her Great Dane Frances Bean, her older brother with issues of his own, and her oldest friend and neighbor who may want to be more. I hope to have it revised and ready for print this summer.

Best of luck with it! Which storytellers (authors, poets, musicians, artists, actors, anyone!) have influenced your writing?

Broadly defined as someone or something who shows me a compelling story, it is character that speaks to me more than plot or setting or any literary device. If I can feel deeply for any character, be it in a book, a song, a painting, a movie, or a poem, then that work will resonate and stay with me and thus with my writing. Some of my influences and inspirations include, in no particular order: Margaret Atwood, Sarah Dessen, Michael Dibdin, Julia Roberts, Kate Atkinson, Mary Oliver, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Robert Downey, Jr., Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Matt Damon, Taylor Swift, Mark Rothko, John Dowd, Jim Forsberg, Dakota Fanning, Tom Petty, and, certainly not least, Jane Austen.

That's a pretty cool mix. Last question: What are your top ten favorite books?

So hard to pick, so many great books, but here are the first ten to pop into my head:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
eleanor & park by Rainbow Rowell
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Watership Down by Richard Adams

Say hello to Kirsten at her website!

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5. Poetry Friday: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Today's poem comes from the novel A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Early in the book, the main character, Felicity, creates and recites this poem on the fly for her little sister:

"Frannie Jo lives in a house of stars.
She has a cloud for a pillow
And a comet for a car.
She smiles like a sunrise,
Cries a rainbow when she's hurt.
She'll dance across the sky tonight,
Then shake the stardust for her skirt."


View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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6. Best Books of March 2014

March 2014: 21 books and scripts read

Non-Fiction Picks
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Teen Fiction Picks
Hung Up by Kristen Tracy
Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

The Play's the Thing
Alice by Laura Wade (a modern-day adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

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7. 7 Things You Don't Know About Me

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this month's blog series at readergirlz! I had a lot of fun gathering candid and heartfelt responses from authors. Lorie Ann asked me to post my own list, so here goes nothing:

7 Things You Don't Know About Me

1) I've been writing stories and songs since birth, practically.

2) I am capable of charming squirrels out of trees.

3) There is no television show I have loved more completely from start to finish than Leverage.

4) I love word play.

5) Synchronicity and causality are recurring themes in my life.

6) Chances are, I'm shorter than you.

7) I project. In more ways than one.

So there you have it! I hope March has been lovely for all of you. Don't forget to mark your calendars for Operation Teen Book Drop 2014, which will be happening in just a few weeks on April 17th. Stay tuned to the readergirlz blog, Facebook, and Twitter to learn how you can participate and #rockthedrop!


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8. Interview: Varsha Bajaj

If you liked the film What a Girl Wants, you should check out Varsha Bajaj's brand-new novel Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood. When 13-year-old Abby, raised by her single mother, learns that her father is a famous Bollywood actor, she travels across the world to meet him.

I got to know author Varsha Bajaj while working on her official website. Now this interview can let you all get to know her a little better!

You grew up in India, then moved to America when you were a graduate student. Had you ever visited America before?

I had not visited America before except through books and movies! American Universities were and still are highly respected in India.

What inspired the move?

I wanted to study abroad, see the world. I wanted more from life. I had been to England a few years before I came here and America felt like the next logical move.

Do you enjoy traveling?

I love traveling but I also love coming back home. In fact there is nothing like traveling to make you appreciate home.

Have any of your kids been bitten by the traveling bug?

We have traveled as a family since the kids were young and so yes, both kids want to travel. My son talks of doing a semester at sea, and my daughter talks of studying abroad too.

In your novel, Abby is very close to her mother and maternal grandparents. Were you close to your parents and grandparents when you were growing up? Which adult was your biggest confidant?

I was close to my parents and grandparents. My paternal grandparents lived with us when I was growing up. My grandfather first introduced me to Western literature. He would read Jane Austen aloud. I would say that my aunt was my biggest confidant. She seemed more accessible somehow.

What traits do you and Abby have in common?

Abby is optimistic and spunky. She absorbs new situations with enthusiasm. I like to think I do the same.

What would you like booksellers, teachers, and librarians to know about your book?

My book is heartfelt and addresses issues such as cultural identity and disparities in society without being preachy. I try to never forget what kind of book I would have liked to pick up when I was tween.

You've taught creative writing and spoken at schools. What do you enjoy most about working with young readers and writers?

They have such energy and joy. Sometimes as an adult you lose that magical optimism. Being around young people is a great way to stay young at heart.

What's the biggest challenge you face when writing a picture book?

I love picture books. The biggest challenge is to not overwrite, to leave room for the illustrator. It is not easy to make an emotional connection with your very young reader and the adult reading aloud with few words at your disposal.

How do you find your collaborators, your illustrators?

Once a manuscript is sold, the acquiring editor pairs you with an illustrator. The editor usually asks for your approval. I have been lucky that every time I have been blown away by the illustrator.

What's next for you? What other cool projects do you have on your plate?

I am working on my next middle grade novel. It’s too early to talk about the details. I also have a picture book manuscript that is out on submission. I have my fingers crossed. It’s exciting!

Good luck! What are your top ten favorite books?

Oh my! There are so many books and so little time. Don’t you agree? But some of my favorites are:

Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck
The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
You Read to me, I'll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman

I really could go on and on. I am a book addict and I don’t want to recover!

To learn more about Varsha Bajaj and her books, please visit http://www.varshabajaj.com

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9. Poetry Friday: Hope by Gertude Stein

Hope in gates, hope in spoons, hope in doors, hope in tables, no hope in daintiness and determination. Hope in dates.

- Gertrude Stein, from her piece called Food

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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10. Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

On October 2nd, the kids from homeroom 10B at Bloomberg High School in Manhattan got flu shots.

On October 3rd, they developed telepathy.

In Sarah Mlynowski's latest novel, the aptly-titled Don't Even Think About It, a group of fifteen-year-olds realize that knowledge is power -- and that power isn't all it's cracked up to be. Initially, some of them think it's neat to be able to read other people's thoughts, but then they realize it's a two-way street, and that other people from their homeroom can read their thoughts, too. The kids have to figure out ways to shield their thoughts or else risk exposing not only their own secrets, but also things that they know about their friends and family. Now they know each other's silly, fleeting thoughts and trivial concerns about zits and jeans and crushes as well as more serious matters of cheating (on boyfriends and girlfriends, on quizzes and tests) and they aren't sure what to do about their unexpected condition. During their private lunchtime meetings, self-perception mixes with group reception. When people realize what their friends, family members, and classmates really think about them, they get hurt, and alliances shift. Soon, it's clear that they have to decide whether or not to tell others about their telepathy - whether or not they are prepared for the fallout.

There's a lovely lightness in Sarah Mlynowski's YA books. That's not to say that she doesn't tackle serious subjects, because she does (what one character in particular discovers about his parents will break your heart), but the fact is she allows her characters to be young and act young and be impulsive sometimes and be selfish sometimes and occasionally have narrow fields of vision simply because that's their world right now - that what happens in their home and at their school and with their friends, that's their whole world. Then these characters realize what life is really like for other people, that what you see is not always what you get, and that every single person has ups and downs and worries and hopes. They ultimately realize what Buffy told Jonathan in Earshot, the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that also dealt with the ramifications of telepathy:

"Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening."

Mlynowski has chosen to use the first-person plural "we" throughout the book, never pinning the narrator to be one specific character but instead letting the group at large relate their story. Nicely, each of the main characters has a distinct storyline and personality, from the easily-worried Olivia to the carefree Cooper, from Tess, who has a crush on her best friend, to BJ, who hits on every girl in his path.

YA readers may also pick up on little shoutouts to other authors and books, such as one character's nail polish color being called We Were Liars, a nod to a novel by E. Lockhart.

If you liked Don't Even Think About It, keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, Think Twice, which is scheduled to come out in 2015.

If this is your first taste of Sarah's writing, check out her backlist of titles, which also includes novels for adults and for younger readers.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview with Sarah Mlynowski (2010)
Interview with Sarah Mlynowski (2009)
Interview with E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle
Book Review: How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle
Book Review: The Magic in Manhattan series by Sarah Mlynowski
- and recently posted at readergirlz:
7 Things You Don't Know About Sarah Mlynowski

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11. Poetry Friday: Song by Margaret Widdemer

The Spring will come when the year turns,
As if no Winter had been,
But what shall I do with a locked heart
That lets no new year in?

- the first stanza of Song by Margaret Widdemer

Read the entire poem at Bartleby.com

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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12. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

misty
When I picked up Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland, I was not familiar with Misty's career or her life. I was drawn to the biography because of its subject matter: I've always loved ballet, and though I'm not a classical ballerina, I'm a dancer, too; and I relate very strongly to stories about prodigies and underdogs. Very strongly. I also loved the title, because I often say (or others have said about me) that I'm constantly in motion. Furthermore, as an example of how my life works, I wrote a play about ballerinas which made its debut the same week this book was released. For all these reasons and more, I was compelled to snatch up this book immediately and leap right in.

What a remarkable, encouraging story. Written naturally, modestly, and conversationally, by the end of Life in Motion, readers will feel as if they know Misty personally - especially if they have endured similar hardships. As one of six children in a family that didn't have a lot of disposable income (if any), Misty was fairly content with her life. She loved her siblings, and she attended school faithfully - in fact, she was so afraid of being late, she was always an hour early to school. She loved dancing around her room to the radio, letting the music move her from the tips of her fingers to the tips of her toes.

When she was in middle school, she tried out for the school drill team. Her affinity for movement, her flexibility, and her ability to pick up choreography quickly led her drill team coach to recommend that Misty take ballet classes at the local Boys and Girls Club. Shortly thereafter, she began training at a formal dance studio, and within a few years, this little girl was being touted as a ballet prodigy and being scouted by various studios and companies for their summer programs and year-round schools for young dancers. Though she spent some years training and living with her dedicated ballet teacher, Misty ended up back in the motel with her single mother and siblings in her late teens, struggling to figure out what to do and where to go, trying so hard to do the right thing, wanting to please her mother but also wanting desperately to pursue her dance career. She went on to study at the San Francisco Ballet School, then take summer intensives at the American Ballet Theatre before realizing her dream and becoming an official member of ABT: first in the corps de ballet, then promoted to soloist.

Being an African-American ballerina, Misty had to confront the fact that, at times, she was or wasn't placed in classical roles or companies due to her race. She had to learn to stand up for herself and believe that she could become the acclaimed dancer she so wanted to be, that she would find mentors and choreographers who believed in her and would support her career. Couple this with injuries (and dancers know all too well how injuries hurt not only your body but also your mind and your career) and all of the media attention she received -- that pressure could have been overwhelming. Not only did Misty land on her feet and dance roles that many classical and contemporary dancers dream of, but she continues to reach higher and higher, aiming for her goals, working towards opportunities to perform more of her favorite roles, and connecting with the community, bringing ballet into Boys and Girls Clubs and other forums to give more audiences exposure to this beautiful art form she loves so much.

Throughout the memoir, Misty seems both very humble and very honest. She talks about the times that racial epithets stung her, and the custody battle that took place when she was a teenager. She details her training, through the summer programs and the competitions, and the times when she had to make some extremely difficult choices. You feel her triumphs and tragedies, wincing whenever she falls and cheering her on every time she gets back up. The message here is loud and clear: Follow your heart. If you know what you love, if you know what moves you, keep moving.

Brava, Misty.

This September, the picture book Firebird, written by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers, the Caldecott Winner for the book Harlem, will be available in stores. I'm very excited for that book as well, because it will help Misty's story reach the very youngest aspiring dancers and their families, and I look forward to seeing Myers' illustrations, because I know they will be striking.

Related Bildungsroman Booklist: I Am a Dancer

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13. Poetry Friday: Slow Movement by William Carlos Williams

All those treasures that lie in the little bolted box whose tiny space is
Mightier than the room of the stars, being secret and filled with dreams:
All those treasures - I hold them in my hand - are straining continually
Against the sides and the lid and the two ends of the little box in which I guard them;
Crying that there is no sun come among them this great while and that they weary of shining;
Calling me to fold back the lid of the little box and to give them sleep finally.

But the night I am hiding from them, dear friend, is far more desperate than their night!
And so I take pity on them and pretend to have lost the key to the little house of my treasures;
For they would die of weariness were I to open it, and not be merely faint and sleepy
As they are now.

- Slow Movement by William Carlos Williams

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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14. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Like hilarious real-life anecdotes? Like them even more when they are accompanied by illustrations? Pick up Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. Inspired by her popular web comic - which you will probably be familiar with if you follow internet memes - this book collects stories from Allie Brosh's life, ranging from things her inept dog has done (or, rather, is unable to do) to her personal experience with depression.

Wikipedia accurately sums up Brosh's style as a combination of observational and absurdist humor. Brosh's reflections and admissions are like real life, but funnier -- and then you realize this IS her real life, and that makes it even funnier. Or sadder. Or both. Like the time her mother got lost in the woods with her two young daughters and tried to make a game out of it.

Though I love the entire book, if pressed to select my favorite portions, I would have to say The God of Cake and Thoughts and Feelings. In the cake story, a very young Brosh tells us about the time she was determined to eat her grandfather's birthday cake. Nothing could stop her, no matter what her mother said and no matter where her mother put the cake. That section reminded me, in part, of Cookies from Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel.

I read this book while on a movie set. The actress playing my sister was very interested in what I was reading because I kept laughing out loud. I proceeded to read The God of Cake to her - editing out the bad words - and she too dissolved into giggles. "Cake. Cake. CAAAAKE!" I also shared some of the dog stories with her.

In many passages, Brosh speaks quite frankly about her struggles with self-perception, motivation, and more. She considers what she knows she should do vs. she wants to do vs. what she actually does. There's her internal monologue, right there on the page, with crude (not naughty, but simple) drawings created in Paintbrush. Brosh finds both the humor and the agony in simple and complex situations, and I give her a hearty high-five for her willingness to share her pain and her delights with others. If you like Natalie Tran's communitychannel vlog or comedians or sitcoms that find the fun and the shame in everyday situations, then you should check out Allie Brosh's stories.

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15. Pirouette by Robyn Bavati

Pirouette by Robyn Bavati adds a dance twist to the premise of The Parent Trap. Instead of being Hayley Mills or Lindsay Lohan, the main characters in Pirouette are twin Australian ballerinas who decide to switch places.

"It's not dancing, it's stretching," said Simone. "To me, stretching's like breathing."

"Isn't dancing like breathing?" Hannah asked.

"Not anymore."


As in The Parent Trap, the girls never knew they had a twin sister until they happened to end up at the same summer camp. But instead of going to a typical outdoors camp, Simone and Hannah are enrolled at Candance summer school. Hannah has always loved dancing, but her parents see it as just a hobby; Simone's strict mother has high hopes for her dancing girl. Simone is extremely skilled but has become increasingly uncomfortable on stage in recent years, and she knows that she doesn't want to pursue a career as a dancer. Hannah would dance all night and day if she could, and dreams of attending an esteemed dance school - like the one Simone attends.

Though the girls look identical, when they first meet, Simone is the better dancer, no question - but it's Hannah who really wants to be a dancer, and she is ready and willing to work hard and improve. Simone has better technique and more training, but Hannah has the passion, the determination, the fire. Simone is technically a great dancer, but not emotive; Hannah loves dance, and it shows with every step she takes.

The girls realize a twin-swap would allow Hannah to become immersed in dance and permit Simone to pull back from it a bit. When the summer session at Candance is complete, Simone goes back to Hannah's house, with her kind parents and younger brother, and Hannah heads to Simone's home. By being more aloof and/or busying themselves with their studies, they are able to fool their parents to a good degree, but when each girl leaps into the dating world, things get a little tougher.

I liked the fact that the girls switched places for themselves. While The Parent Trap is set up to get their parents together, Hannah and Simone simply want the chance to pursue the careers they want to pursue, rather than going down a path that doesn't suit them. And though each girl ends up with a boyfriend, the focus of the story isn't on romance. Instead, it's about following your heart and trusting yourself. By experiencing the lives they could have had and pretending to be someone else, the girls ultimately learn how to be themselves.

Fans of The Parent Trap will love the fact that the girls outright mention the movie when they plan to swap places, and that they too need to cut one girl's hair and pierce her ears in order to make her perfectly match the other.

Dancers will appreciate the love Hannah has for dance and understand how both Hannah and Simone feel about the difficulty (and the rewards) of the career. As I always say when there's a book revolving around dance, singing, or any visual/audio/art-related storyline, I wish this book had a visual element, because I want to see the actual dances! I want to attend the classes and rehearsals and performances. I want to see the characters in their element, assess their skills, and watch them shine.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Booklist: I Am a Dancer
Interview: Robyn Bavati
Booklist: From a Land Down Under

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16. Poetry Friday: Dear March by Emily Dickinson

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat-
You must have walked-
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the bird's;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,-I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me-
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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17. Hung Up by Kristen Tracy

Hung Up by Kristen Tracy Usually, when I get a call from a stranger who asks for someone else and I say, "Sorry, you have the wrong number," the person on the other end of the line just hangs up on me, showing off their excellent social skills and phone manners. I'd rather have the experience shared in Kristen Tracy's new novel, where a wrong number leads to a really cool friendship.

Lucy calls what she thinks is a trophy place and leaves a brief message. She doesn't get a response. A few days later, she calls and leaves another message. No response. Another call. No response. Naturally, she becomes increasingly frustrated. Finally, two weeks later, someone picks up when she calls - only it's not the engraver. It's James, a guy Lucy's age who got a recycled number from a phone company. He apologizes for the confusion and wishes her luck tracking down her order.

A week later, James calls Lucy and leaves her a message. Over the course of the next two months, the two teenagers become friends, communicating solely over the phone, without meeting face-to-face. They become friends, sharing funny things that happened to them during the day as well as more personal anecdotes. Sometimes, you just need to hear the voice of someone that cares about you - and sometimes, you just need to be heard.

Instead of using your typical narrative form, this story is told in a series of voicemails and phone conversations, making for a quick read. With only two characters speaking, you really see (and hear) the world through their words, because all you have to go on is what they say. The book ends at the perfect moment. I'd compare that moment to a similar moment in another book I read recently, but that would give too much away. I will say that the dialogue is great, very snappy and fun. I enjoy Kristen Tracy's books because they are always full of dramedy, and I love dramedies1 because that's what life is, a mix of comedy and drama - and that's what Hung Up is. And it's great. So you should read it, and we should talk about it, okay? Give me a call later when you're done.

1 Ask me about the TV show Leverage sometime. I really love that show.

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18. Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy is a young photographer. So is her father. When she learns that her dad will be judging a national photo scavenger hunt in which kids submit pictures inspired by a specific list of words and phrases, Lucy decides to enter. They've just moved to an old house in a new town. After her father leaves town for a work trip, and while her mom, a computer programmer, works from home, Lucy spends the summer exploring New Hampshire and snapping pictures of the land, the animals (including her dog Ansel), and her neighbors. Next door is Nate, his older sister, Emily, his parents, his aunt, his cousins, and his grandma. They introduce Lucy to the loons that live on the lake. Grandma Lilah can't go out on the lake anymore, so she makes sure the kids report on all things loon-related whenever there's a sighting. The kids do their best to protect the birds from a distance, respecting their space and protecting their land.

When you share an interest with someone else in your family, you might find it comforting - or competitive. Lucy wants to be a photographer in her own right and make her dad proud. By entering the contest under another name, she hopes her portfolio will impress her father, that he will appreciate it not because they are related, but because she has a good eye and good instincts. Lucy loves taking photos, but she's not sure if she's any good. Like many of us, she's her own worst critic. She tries her hardest to take interesting, unique pictures that fit the contest's requirements, but often, the candid moments she captures are better than the shots she carefully planned out. When she brings Nate and Grandma Lilah into the picture, things change, for better and for worse, and she's not sure what to do.

Half a Chance, Cynthia Lord's third novel for kids, encourages readers to see things from other people's perspectives, to appreciate and protect the environment (especially/specifically local birds), and to find the courage to reach out and speak up. It will likely also inspire kids to grab a camera and take a bunch of pictures of the world around them. If you loved this book but don't consider yourself a photographer or an environmentalist, consider volunteering at a local elderly home or senior center.

To see some of the words on the scavenger hunt, visit Cynthia Lord's website. If you take any pictures inspired by Half a Chance, please share your pictures in the comments below!

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Cynthia Lord
Book Review: Rules by Cynthia Lord

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19. Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

All it takes is a few kids deciding another kid is creepy or lame or weird, and the whole school agrees. How many times do any of us say, "Hey, I like so-and-so," once the hex of unpopularity has been set? And if so-and-so gets teased or ignored or...gets her head shoved in a toilet...how many of us say, "Hey, not cool"?

In her latest novel, Season of the Witch, Mariah Fredericks puts a mirror up to the face of both the bullies and the bullied. When the new school year starts, Toni (short for Antonia) has to deal with strained relationships both at home and at school. After a marital shake-up, her father and mother are both pretending everything is fine, even though Toni knows better. Meanwhile, over the summer, Toni briefly dated a classmate named Oliver, who had broken up with his girlfriend Chloe. Now he's back with Chloe, who, assisted by her buddies Zeena and Isabelle, is out to make Toni's life a living nightmare. Even though Toni is not pursuing Oliver anymore, the other girls have been communicating their hate for her through threatening phone calls and text messages. She knows it will only get worse when she has to see them in person every day at school - and it does.

Toni's best friend, Ella, is usually a shining light who sticks by her side, no matter what. As Toni says in the first-person narration, Ella "bounces chaotically through life." (Even her hair is bouncy.) She goes on: "[Ella]'s like a hyper puppy: cute, but you worry someone will kick her." I really liked Ella, for her positive energy, her good spirit, and more. She's a chatterbox and a sweetheart, usually smiling, sometimes snacking. Over the summer, Ella's parents sent her away to The New York Health Center (aka fat camp), where she lost six pounds but retained her happy spirit. While she was gone, her eight-year-old autistic cousin, Eamonn, had a seizure and drowned in the tub while his older sister, Cassie, was home.

Though Cassie is the same age as Ella, she's never really interacted with Toni. She tends to keep her distance from the other kids at school. Now she slowly begins to bond with Toni - when Ella's not around. Cassie, who now wants to be called Cassandra, encourages Toni to stand up to her bullies. Knowing Toni feels powerless, Cassandra shows her a way to become empowered. Though initially hesitant, Toni agrees to Cassandra's plans after a physical altercation with the cruel crew leaves her scarred and scared. But when their actions have monumental consequences, the sweet taste of revenge sours, and Toni is more scared than she's ever been.

The title of this book is Season of the Witch, so you may expect this book to be The Craft. (Decent movie, am I right?) One of the coolest things about this book is the fact that it will appeal to people who like witchy storylines as well as those who don't. The setting is one hundred percent modern day and surprisingly realistic -- I say "surprisingly" not because I ever had doubt in Fredericks' writing ability - I think she's great, but more on that later -- but because of the Library of Congress summary: "A girl who is bullied experiments with witchcraft in order to get revenge on her attackers." And while that is true, that simple sentence coupled with the title might bring to mind, well, scenes from The Craft. However, in this book, no one flies. No one changes her hair color with a shake of the head. There are no glamours. There is blood, yes. But without any special effects and superpowers, Fredericks has masterfully created a story charged with pain and choices and consequences. When Cassie brings spells into play, you could argue either way, that they "worked" or that it was simply the natural order of things. Instead of being about magic, this book is about power: who has it, who doesn't, and what happens when or if is reclaimed or released.

The characters are memorable. Toni, Cassie, Ella, Chloe, Isabelle, Oliver - each of them has a distinct personality and way of being, the way they react to things and the way others react to them. And while we may not know every little thing about Toni's parents, the unrest at home and the fact that the parents' summer strife slightly parallels Toni-Oliver-Chloe gives the story an added depth. (One summer flashback scene in particular shows a very raw Toni, and as she shouted at another character, her anger jumped off of the page.) The way Toni is treated by her classmates, from the girls who want to hear the gossip to the boys who taunt her with nasty innuendo - even if they don't lay a hand on her, and even if some of them never would, their words still hurt and shame her deeply.

I've never been good at holding my breath.

Like some of my favorite Deb Caletti protagonists, Toni did things which were only for herself - little rituals and routines she didn't share with anyone else, things that gave her comfort. I love moments like that, which give you insight into a character's true self.

My favorite Cassandra moment is something I won't quote here, so that you, gentle reader, remain unspoiled until you, too, have read this book. I will simply say that though it may not be the most "important" line she speaks, it is one of the most honest, and it resonated with me.

I hope that people who read this novel and see something of themselves in Toni, or Cassandra, or Ella, or Chloe, any of these girls who are a mix of spice and sorrow - I hope you find a way to reclaim your power without hurting anyone else, least of all yourself. I hope you find the strength to heal, and to help others.

I want to make this book into a film. I'm a screenwriter and a director as well as an actress, and on all three of those levels, I see true potential in this story. It would be awesome to bring it to life.

Also, I would like to ask Mariah Fredericks if she is a fan of Rosalind Russell, because I picked up two somewhat subtle references to her films/her roles, which I appreciated.

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20. Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover


In her latest novel, Lorie Ann Grover explores what it takes for a young woman to survive in a war-torn world where she has been forced to live as a male her entire life. In this society, when a couple's firstborn is a son, everyone rejoices; but when the firstborn is a daughter, she is left to die in the wild - that is, unless the parents choose to raise her as a male. If that is the case, they must enforce all of the gender-based rites upon her (him) as the child grows up. Though, thankfully, the child does not endure surgery at birth or thereafter, s/he is expected to suppress all feminine traits and to dress, act, and live as a male. The child must follow all gender-based rules and initiations, including serving their country for a year, and s/he will never be allowed to marry or have children.

Tiadone, the protagonist of FIRSTBORN, has accepted her fate without question. Or, at least, always keeping those questions and concerns to herself. She lost her mother in childbirth and was raised by her father, a man she truly loves and admires. When she is the age to undergo initiation and soldier on, she is happy that her best friend, Ratho, is by her side. But when their friendship - and Tiadone's heart - is tested, things are thrown into a whirlwind.

Luckily, Tiadone also has Mirko, a beautiful bird that grows with her. In this novel, all of the children are given an egg at birth which hatches shortly before their initiation and serves as a hybrid protector-confidant-partner until the human has completed their required time serving in the military and it is time for them to separate. With this relationship and connection, the rapion is similar to the dæmons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, but without the shapeshifting or the speech. Instead, the winged ones communicate through gestures and movements, and they become extremely attuned to their person. While the other birds are silent, Mirko has the gift of song, which only sets Tiadone further apart from the others. Mirko is easily my favorite supporting character in the novel. Without ever uttering a word of English, he is able to communicate everything he needs to through a flick of his tail or a nod of his head, and it is clear that he understands every single word Tiadone says. He has a sassy streak that makes her laugh and he always encourages her to follow her heart and be brave.

Lorie Ann Grover has created a remarkable story. Tiadone's people, the R'tan, are governed by the Madronians, forced to follow their rules and share their beliefs, and this oppression parallels Tia's own. On her journey, which is just as emotional and internal as it is literal and physical, she pushes herself to the limit and embraces who she really is, inside and out, on her own terms. Tiadone often has to make incredibly hard decisions and sacrifices, leading to an ending I never would have predicted and which I absolutely celebrated. Those who enjoyed Grover's verse novels will find lovely surprises nestled within this prose novel, including, hopefully, the strength to spread their own wings and fly.

After reading the novel, I created this playlist, which I shared with the author:

FIRSTBORN PLAYLIST
Indelible by Brooke Fraser
Back to the Middle by India.Arie
I Always Liked That by Maria Mena
Little Bird by Jonatha Brooke
When Songbirds Sing by The Rocking Horse Winner
This Too Shall Pass by Maria Mena
Lay Down Your Weapons by Duncan Sheik
I Believe by Brooke Annibale
Scarlet by Brooke Fraser
Fearless by Maya Azucena

Lorie Ann then added some tracks and posted the playlist on Grooveshark:



If you can't see the music player embedded above, click here to listen.

If you like this book, I highly recommend the Cold Case episode The Long Blue Line, which focuses on the life (and death) of a female military cadet. Then you'll have to watch the episode Into the Blue, which is the second part of the story. And then you'll recognize Lilly Rush, the character pictured in the icon beside this post. She's one of my favorite female leads from a modern TV show - but that's another story. Now go read Firstborn, and learn Tiadone's story.

Related Posts: Celebrating the release of Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

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21. The Good Lie by Robin Brande

How far would you go to protect your family?
What would you say or do to keep your loved ones safe?
Would you lie in order to get the truth out?
What if you aren't sure what the truth really is?

When she headed off to her prom, Lizzie thought the worst part of her day would be watching her crush dance with her best friend. Then she came home and discovered her parents' marriage had fallen apart.

And that was only the first domino to fall.

After her mother leaves the family in favor of a new life with a new boyfriend, Lizzie has to step in to keep her remaining family members - her father and little brother - on their feet and moving through their regular routine. But when she suspects something horrible is happening at home, when she accuses her father of doing the unthinkable, Lizzie ends up needing more than just the advice of her best friend - she needs legal counsel.

Throughout the book, Lizzie leans on her best friend Posie for support. Posie is a delightful character with fire in her belly, a mature, loyal, and spirited young woman fueled by a passion for justice. She is strong and exudes confidence without ever being cocky or condescending. She has more influence over Lizzie than she realizes.

We were girls, more in love with the fantasy of life than real life itself. If the fantasies would all dark from now on, who would want to know?

Brande is unafraid to have her protagonist say or do things that may paint her in less than a saintly light. For example, Lizzie says some disrespectful things to her mother, but it's often the ugly truth, reminding her that she left her family for some guy (who, to make matters worse, was her real estate husband's client) and that she spends time with him than with her own kids. Needless to say, Lizzie's relationship with her mother becomes strained, but she is very grateful when her mom takes in Mikey.

There's a feeling of loss that comes over you when you walk up to a place that isn't yours, and your mother stands in the doorway and nothing inside looks like home, and you realize you're not a part of her life anymore, and the childhood you had with her can never be resurrected.

Mikey, Lizzie's younger brother, is the innocent party in all of this. When Lizzie suspects her father is abusing him, she does what she thinks she has to do to keep him safe. Here is where the title of the book comes into play: Is it all right for Lizzie to lie if it means keeping Mikey out of harm's way? If her intentions are good, can she bend the truth to fit their needs? What if there's more truth to it than even she believes? And what happens when people believe her, but she doesn't quite believe herself?

In THE GOOD LIE, author Robin Brande dives into many serious subject matters, and she dives in deep. Abuse, religion, truth, the reliability of memory - there's a lot to chew on here, and it's handled both frankly and realistically. Nothing ever feels preachy, and instead of things being black and white, there's a lot of grey area. Lizzie's life is layered, and as she struggles to figure out the right thing to do about her father and her family, she also has to deal with school, events from her past she'd rather forget, and her attraction to and interactions with Jason the ladykiller (not literally). From the very first chapter, readers can tell that Lizzie is telling her story at a distance, sharing what happened after the fact. As the story progresses, little hints at what's to come increase the tension, until everything explodes. It's messy, and it's complicated, and Lizzie has to face it head-on. Not only does she deal with the aftermath, but the closing pages also hint at what's to come, giving her direction and hope for the future.

Due to the subject matter, this book is recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like books by Courtney Summers (Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are), you will definitely like The Good Lie by Robin Brande, and vice-versa.

I also recommend Robin Brande's other books, including but not limited to Doggirl and Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature.

I have included THE GOOD LIE on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.

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22. Poetry Friday: Choose by Carl Sandburg

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
               Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.

- Choose by Carl Sandburg

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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23. Best Books of February 2014

February 2014: 33 books and scripts read

Best Bets for Teens
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati
The Good Lie by Robin Brande
Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover
Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

Best Bets for Kids and Tweens
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

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24. Happy anniversary, readergirlz!

Happy anniversary, readergirlz!

In honor of our seven-year anniversary, we're catching up with rgz divas and featured authors over at the readergirlz blog. Some folks are posting lists of 7 Things You Don't Know About Me, revealing both silly and serious personal traits and anecdotes. Kicking off our anniversary series (or shall we say, anniver-series?) of posts is none other than our own Melissa Walker.

Others are contributing to our Quote Call: See It, Say It. As rgz diva Lorie Ann Grover explained, "Authors, draw from your own works and others; readers share the best bits from the books you heart; and librarians, teachers, and booksellers, jump on in." Click here to answer the Quote Call.

Check out the guest blogs and novel ideas all month long at the readergirlz blog.

readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

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25. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Maggie Mayfield is excited by life a lot of the time: she's eager to learn, she loves going to school, and she's got big plans for the future, including becoming the President of the United States. She tolerates - even loves - her two older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, who are in high school. She's very close to her parents, especially her dad, who shares his love of music and upbeat nature with her every chance they get. But Maggie's dad has multiple sclerosis, which has made him unable to walk or work the way he used to.

As the father's condition and abilities change, each family member's responsibilities change and shift: the mother gets a new job working at a hotel, the eldest daughter quietly assumes some of her mom's household duties, and so on. And though Maggie is extremely bright, since she's only eleven and is the youngest member of her household, her family tries to shield her from some things, purposely glossing over details that are revealed later, when it is obvious and necessary for her to know more.

Set in 1988 & 1989, Megan Jean Sovern's debut novel The Meaning of Maggie realistically handles the father's condition and its effects on the family without being either too depressing or too idealistic. The book's style and tone are just right for its target audience of tweens: sweet but not saccharine. It will also appeal to adults who were kids in the 80s; they are sure to delight over the pop culture references. Also delightful is the parents' relationship: their love is strong, their marriage is strong, and they are absolutely dedicated to one another. They are likewise dedicated to raising three strong, independent young women.

Inspired by the author's own life, The Meaning of Maggie has been made with love and is carefully crafted, with its bookend opening and closing pages and everything in-between. The family's ups and downs feel real, with sibling spats and silly car conversations that sound authentic and lively. Narrated by Maggie, many passages travel at the speed of thought, such as:

...I fought sleep with thoughts of everything Mom did without exploding. I mean, spontaneous combustion is a real thing because it's in the dictionary. How did she do so much And then I had a thought: Maybe she was powered by all of her freckles.  Mom was covered in freckles from head to toe. Maybe each one gave her energy to do every single thing she had to do. Maybe each one was a dish done, a towel folded, a dinner made. Maybe the ones clustered by her heart were for Layla, Dad, and me, and maybe even Tiffany. Maybe every cluster was like a constellation that powered her through one big deal to the next. - page 49

I like Maggie a lot. She's very smart, but she doesn't rub her intelligence in anyone's face. She simply has a thirst for knowledge, and she drinks up everything that she can, at school, at home, in back issues of National Geographic, at the science fair. She appreciates old photographs and paintings and music. She likes hearing people's personal histories and future plans. I especially liked the scenes that took place at the library and the museum, where she was so amazed and impressed by her surroundings:

I opened the library door and the smell of knowledge and dust hit me in the face. I loved everything about the library. I loved the rows and rows of books. I loved the cranky old ladies who read about knitting while knitting. I loved the book alarm that caught book thieves. I loved that while technology progressed, I could still depend on books because no one ever lied in books. - page 137

The following exchange comes from page 105, during her trip to the museum:

I searched the photos for electricity and swore I saw a spark here and there. "I'm going to make history one day too, you know."

Mom smiled. "You already are."

Though Maggie is intellectually ahead of her peers, her emotional age matches her real age, which is clear in her effervescent narrative:

...Tiffany [was] furious because she had to do her chores and mine for a few weeks, but whatever. I was trying to change the world. The only thing she ever changed was boyfriends. - page 135

The only question that remains, for me, is how the book got its title. I like it - it's alliterative, it's easy to remember, and I have always liked the name Maggie - but I don't know that it captures the story, which is ultimately not about the meaning of Maggie's name or her life or her place in the world, but rather about this specific year in her life and what happened to her family during that time.

A writer myself, I am attuned to title and character names and meanings. My latest piece had two working titles. When I was done, I couldn't decide between them, so I combined them, and I liked the result. (Thank goodness!) But that's another story for another time.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern will be available in May. A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society.

If you like The Meaning of Maggie, you will also like The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers, which also has a female middle school protagonist who uses clever footnotes. One of my favorite footnotes in Maggie's story appears on page 102:

The amount of time and effort my sisters put into their looks is really astounding. I bet if you added it all up, they've both spent 80 to 80% of their lives shellacking on Bonne Bell Lip Smackers.

I have included The Meaning of Maggie on my booklist Tough Issues for Teens.

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