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Here we are in the glory of spring. With all the beauty just ah-popping outdoors, what better time to sequester ourselves inside to watch mad videos about children’s literature related affairs?
So first and foremost, you may have seen me make mention of the fact that I had a podcasting-related Children’s Literary Salon last weekend. My Lit Salons are monthly gatherings of children’s literature enthusiasts who come to the main branch of NYPL to watch me finagle different topics out of incredibly interesting people. People often ask me to record these, but at this time there is no place online for such talks to live. Happily, that problem was solved recently when Katie Davis (Brain Burps About Books) , John Sellers (PW KidsCast), and Matthew Winner (Let’s Get Busy) came over and Matthew recorded the whole dang thing. This is, insofar as I know, the very FIRST time a moderated event has covered this particular topic (children’s literature podcasts). With that in mind, enjoy!
“John Newbery ate every single book he ever read”. That was going to be my subtitle for today’s blog post. I may still have to use it at some point because it’s one of the highlights of this James Kennedy / Libba Bray interaction at the recent 90-Second Newbery show here in NYC. For years, I’ve been sitting on my laurels with my Randolph Caldecott music video. Now I’ve been royally trumped and it’s all thanks to the song “What Would John Newbery Do?” I can’t top this.
And now, with the approach of the Children’s Book Week Awards, time to break out the big guns. And these, ladies and gents, are some SERIOUSLY big guns!
Turns out the CBC collected a whole CHUNK of these videos and they’re just out there! Like this one starring two of my favorite author/illustrators, Amy Ignatow and Brian Biggs. You must be SURE to stick around for the ghost of David Wiesner. And it backs up my theory that every person in my generation has one rap song memorized. Mine’s “Shoop”.
Nice use of “Rock Lobster” too.
We’re about three days away from El día del niño, otherwise known as the day of the child. Unfamiliar with Dia? Not anymore. Here’s a quickie recap for those of you who are curious:
Día means “day” in Spanish. In 1996, author Pat Mora learned about the Mexican tradition of celebrating April 30th as El día del niño, the day of the child. Pat thought, “We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Yes! We need kids’ day too, but I want to connect all children with bookjoy, the pleasure of reading.” Pat was enthusiastically assisted to start this community-based, family literacy initiative by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day, also known as Día, is a daily commitment to link all children to books, languages and cultures, day by day, día por día. Many resources and an annual registry are available at the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Every year, across the country, libraries, schools, and community organizations, etc. plan culminating book fiestas creating April Children’s Day, Book Day celebrations that unite communities.
Interested in participating? It’s not too late. Best of all, here’s a video from previous years of what folks have done in their libraries. Viva Dia!
We’ve sort of an embarrassment of riches this year in terms of trans boy picture books (see the 7-Imp recap of this very thing here). Now one of those books, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, has a book trailer that hits on the tone about right. Let’s put it up on the big board!
Thanks to Fred Horler for the link.
This next one is a fictional tie-in to a nonfiction subject. Which is to say, a CCSS dream. I’m not usually on board with rhyming picture books, but this one actually gets away with it!
And for the off-topic video of the day, we all love Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is the video of him slowed down ever so slightly. He loves it. Shows it at his talks sometimes.
The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. Founded as the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1965 by Damon Knight, the organization began with a charter membership of 78 writers; it now has over 1,500 members, among them many of the leading writers of science fiction and fantasy.
The Diviners is a deliciously creepy supernatural thriller set in 1920s New York. Bray does a masterful job creating memorable characters and setting the stage for the second book in the series. An impressive amount of research went into this novel, but Bray never overwhelms the reader with historical detail. Fifty pages in, I was [...]
"I'd make a kick-ass beauty queen."
November was a good reading month for graphic novels. I read Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, and a review is forthcoming, but let me tell you now, it is fantastic!
I also read Tune: Vanishing Point by Derek Kirk Kim. Another review forthcoming, and again, it's fantastic. (But a head's up, it is for older teens and adults.)
In audiobook news, I listened to
Have you ever written a scary story? In honor of the Halloween season, we are interviewing horror writers to learn about the craft of scaring readers. Recently, we spoke with author Barry Lyga.
Lyga (pictured) started off writing novels for an adult audience. When those particular manuscripts did not sell, he began penning stories for a teen audience. He established his publishing career with the release of his hit young adult novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. Check out the highlights from our interview below…
Q: How did you land your first book deal?
A: I had written a couple of adult-ish novels that no one seemed to want to publish. It’s not they were bad — plenty of people liked them — they just weren’t sparking anyone’s interest. But a bunch of editors and agents who read them said, “Not yet — show me the next one.” The next one was completely different from those adult books — a YA novel about a bullied, comic book-obsessed dreamer. But I proudly showed it off to every agent and editor I could, and this time the reaction was pretty astounding. Within a few months of finishing the book, I met my agent at a writers’ conference. Within six months, she’d sold The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. It was sort of a whirlwind.
At a party gone boring, restless flappers unknowingly raise a once-buried evil. In Ohio, a careless Evie reveals something she shouldn't and is sent to live with her Uncle Will in New York City until the scandal dies down. In New York, Memphis runs numbers by day and writes poetry by night. He used to be a healer, but lost the ability when it mattered most of all. Theta is a glamourous Ziegfried girl just trying to forget. Mabel's parents are communist organizers but all she wants is to catch the eye of Jericho, Uncle Will's assistant at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, aka the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.
It's 1926 and their stories collide as a gruesome serial murder strikes the city. Uncle Will is called in to aid the investigation as the murders are steeped in the occult. Evie knows her supernatural powers can help, but she'd rather drink and party to forget that she even has them. The investigation leads them to the Great Awakening, WWI, and beyond our world as commets and dreams are portents of things to come...
Sprawling and epic, this is paranormal/horror/historical fiction. It lacks the zany humor of Going Bovine or Beauty Queens but that's ok, because it would be really out of place here! The action and focus frequently shifts between characters and storylines, interspersed with set and mood pieces to paint a picture of the city, the country, and the time period. It's dark and atmospheric. I love how even though it's historical fiction, it's also haunted (literally and metaphorially) by history, especially Sprititualism and the Great Awakening movements, both of which appear in US history classes but can be hard to make sense of in a broad survey class setting. I loved the miltary mesting aspect. We tend to see army conspiracies and top secret projects taking place in WWII, but not WWI.*
Now the immediate storyline wraps up by the end of the book, but it's also very very very much the first in a series. Lots of smaller plots become larger questions that are no where near answered by the end. In the hands of a less skilled author, this entire project would be a hot mess, but Libba Bray makes it brilliant and spooky.
*This makes sens because WWII saw things like the Holocaust, Unit 731, Enigma, and the Manhattan Project. Also, the post-WWII era saw the space age and TV and was such a period of massive change that military secrets in the recent war made more sense, storytelling wise. It was tapping into a different psyche.)
ARC Provided by... the publisher, at ALA.
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Just back from Kauai, readergirlz! I was a bit reluctant to take my Kindle to the beach. How about you?
Now that I'm back home, the top of my to-read stack is Libba Bray's Beauty Queens and a celebration release of M.T. Anderson's Feed. Can't wait to get to both! What's on your stack this last month of summer?
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another round of Jacket Knack's Face Off. This month, we've pitted two well known, award winning authors with mixed portfolios against each other. Both Libbra Bray and M. T. Anderson write historical and contemporary fiction for young adults, and short stories too. And they've both won distinguished literary awards and honors for their works.
Let's inspect their YA covers (first edition, hardcover publication) and see what faces show up.
By Libba Bray:
Published December 9th 2003 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published August 23rd 2005 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published December 26th 2007 by Random House Children's Books
Published September 22nd 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Boy do I have a post foryou! See, my writing compadres, Julie Musil and Leslie Rose, and I have allfinished reading BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray. This book is too amazing to becontained in a single post, so the three of us have come together this week tobring you an uber-awesome BEAUTY QUEENS Blog Extravaganza complete with our ownbeauty contestant profiles and a contest too fun to believe. So make yourselvescomfortable for part one, right here, right now.
And with me to review thebook I have none other than a beauty contestant, Miss Writer’s Block!
Me: So what did you think of the book?
MWB: It was pretty. *Smiles*
Me: *Cringes away from blinding reflection off teeth* How did the story makeyou feel?
MWB: Confused and awed. Imean, I can’t even finish my book, let alone come up with yummy stories thatwork together so well and actually mean something. That’s why I went for theTitle. *fingers ribbon*
Me: Thank you, Miss Writer’sBlock.
My opinion? Oh come on. Youguys know Libba Bray is my favorite author. I may or may not have blackmailedher into taking this picture with me at the SCBWI conference. Either way, thisbook did NOT disappoint. I’d say lots of good stuff about the genius of it, butlet’s leave it at: If you want to be my friend you should read this book.
Now to my fun facts pagebased off the novel:
24 Comments on Beauty Queens Extravaganza and Contest!, last added: 10/20/2011
I'm in the throes of editing hell...actually, I'll rephrase that--I'm in editing HEAVEN! Just a whole lot of it at once, is all. But the books are SO GOOD, and this is the meaty part of my job that I love the most. Speaking of, I've been meaning to update my "How I Edit" post from almost exactly five years ago, as technology has changed my process somewhat. Perhaps that will be for next week.
What I was working on this past weekend specifically was finishing up an editorial letter for the first book in Libba Bray's new four-book series, The Diviners. It's a YA historical paranormal with hints of horror (okay, more than just hints) set in New York City in the 1920s. Flappers, Ziegfeld's Follies, speakeasies, political protests, secret government experiments, cults, ghosts, supernatural powers, and oh yes, a serial killer. It's magnificent, and coming out next Fall.
This past weekend I've also been working on Chris Colfer's middle grade novel The Land of Stories, coming out next August. It's a fantastical adventure to a fairytale land, and it's a page-turner, with unexpected twists and turns, a lot of heart, and best of all it's funny. I was reading it on the subway and found myself chuckling out loud at the dialogue. I'm excited for the world to see that this kid can write as well as he can sing. And boy, do I love his voice (I can listen to his version of Blackbird all day).
So, while I keep editing, I wanted to share with you two trailers that were released recently. The first is for Peter Brown's hilarious new picture book You Will Be My Friend!, starring Lucille Beatrice Bear, who some of you might remember from his last book, Children Make Terrible Pets. You Will Be My Friend launched earlier this month, and on Saturday I attended his book launch party at Powerhouse Studio in DUMBO. And as Lucy would say, OH! MY! GOSH! This is the cutest trailer EVER!
This second trailer is for Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bonewhich officially pubs tomorrow! Happy early book birthday! There's been an incredible amount of excitement and buzz for this book, and the love, especially from bloggers, has been tremendous (and well-deserved, although I may be biased...).
You know we love steampunk at readergirlz. We had a blast with Scott Westerfeld, right? Well, how about a collection of steampunk short stories by some more of our favorite, favorite YA authors? You'll recognize many from our rgz Circle of Stars, past guests and contributors. Grab your goggles, because this collection by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant delivers!
So, what will you find in Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories? How about mystery, murders, and machines? Worlds of gears and steam in amazing new locations from the minds of 14 writers: M. T. Anderson, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Shawn Cheng, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Dylan Horrocks, Kathleen Jennings, Elizabeth Knox, Kelly Link, Garth Nix, Christopher Rowe, Delia Sherman, and Ysabeau S. Wilce.
How fun to find new authors I hadn't discovered before among old friends, all writing speculative fiction which often left me with chills. This quote from Cory's short story "Clockwork Fagin" really captures the collective atmosphere of Steampunk!:
"For machines may be balky and they may destroy us with their terrible appetite for oil, blood, and flesh, but they behave according to fixed rules and can be understood by anyone with the cunning to look upon them and winkle out their secrets. Children are ever so much more complicated."
Perfect, right? With three starred reviews already, look for this release October 11th!
I am a note taker. The fact that I took absolutely no notes during Libba Bray’s recent speech at SCBWI’s 40th Anniversary Conference in LA has nothing to do with a lack of content and everything to do with the fact that I was laughing hysterically. When I started reading her most recent young adult release, Beauty Queens, I knew I could expect more laughs. How could you not when the author started with the premise, “A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island.” What Ms. Bray has ended up with (in addition to marvelous humor and witty satire) is a smart and biting commentary on feminism, beauty, motherhood, and commercialization in our modern world.
Now before you groan and go get a cheese sandwich let me say that what is masterful about this book is how none of this is shoved down your throat. There are wonderful, imaginative, quirky characters here. Through tight and realistic dialogue and a fresh structure, Ms. Bray takes readers behind the stereotypes, behind the masks of her main characters allowing us to glimpse their heart and soul, their fears and vulnerabilities.
There is no “message” here, but there is theme. Theme comes after the book is written. Theme is the questions that the text forces each reader to ask but leaves each reader to answer. “Can girls (and boys) be themselves in our current culture?” “Has corporate greed corrupted the media?” “What is beauty?” “Has the beauty industry run amok?” “What are we doing to empower girls and boys in our current commercial culture?” “How do our parents shape us? Can we be us- apart from them?” “How does our sexual schizophrenia (American puritanical/commercialized) effect our sexuality and health?” “What is the responsibility of our elected officials in all of this?”
If you are teaching Lord of the Flies this year, I highly recommend that you included Beauty Queens, as a comp lit piece. The discussion opportunities would be endless. And while you’re at it, add in Golden Kite Winner Tanya Lee Stone’s The Good, The Bad and The Barbie. By the way, I was so engrossed in Beauty Queens that again I failed to take notes. However I did underline a favorite quote on page 177:
“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”
Ah, yes, Libba. An island-- or a room of one’s own.
All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.
On a slightly unrelated note, the above paragraph, would make a great query letter, wouldn't it? It sets up the plot, the inciting incident, and the main characters, and it even gives you a good idea of the voice in which the story is told.
What the summary above doesn't set us up for is that the story tips its hat to Cervantes' Don Quixote de La Mancha, but twists that around to very overtly give us a microcosm of some issues facing kids today. In the Cervantes story, the antihero, Don Quixote, read too many novels and overdosed on chivalry, honor, glory, and knights errant much the way kids (and many adults) today overdose on video games or movies. Convinced the real world sucks because it doesn't live up to his expectations, Don Quixote sets off to win some glory of his own in honor of the fair peasant maiden Dulcinea. Accompanied and constantly berated by his skewed perception of the world and his trusty "squire" Pancho, Don Quixote creates nothing but disaster for everyone he tries to help at first. All the while that he battles through his adventures, we see Don Quixote's madness. Even he seems dimly aware of it in brief glimpses of sanity, until eventually, he comes to see the world more realistically at the end and, declaring himself sane, makes us wonder if he ever was crazy or only faking. Cervantes pulls off a masterpiece of slight-of-hand, leaving the reader constantly questioning.
Libba Bray achieves a similar bit of trickery. We're never quite sure whether her stoner antihero, Cameron, is lying in a hospital bed slowly having his brain eaten away by mad cow disease, or if he is in fact running around saving the world. The closer he comes to death, the more he becomes engaged in life, in his family, and in the love he starts to feel for Dulcie, the angel who guides him, watches him, and ultimately needs saving herself. But as with Don Quixote's Dulcinea, we're never completely sure if Dulcie or anything Cameron sees is real. There are glimpses of events in the hospital that break through into the quest action (hero's journey) throughout the book, but then there are several places, the phone calls to the parents, for example, where reality and quest intersect in ways that can't be explained. In the same way that Cervantes u
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Fun Summer Pick #2: As I said last week, I thought I'd give a run down of my favorite reads from this summer. What makes this week's pick a perfect beach read is that the majority of the book takes place on a beach--not the kind of beach I'd want to inhabit, but a beach nonetheless. I give you my second summer pick: BEAUTY QUEENS by the uber-talented Libba Bray.
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program--or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan--or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Kristi's take: This was my first book by Libba Bray, although her others are all on my TBR list. I'll admit that I picked this book up and put it down again several times before deciding to go with it. The premise seemed so over-the-top and wacky that I wasn't sure it was for me. I'm SO glad I gave this book a shot. The characters, plot, and setting are completely over the top, but that's sort of the point of satire. I laughed out loud throughout the entire book, and especially loved her footnotes and contestant profiles inserted in the chapters. Issues such as consumerism, commercialism, feminism, terrorism and some other "isms" I probably missed are addressed, but with a witty and hilarious vibe. If you like your sarcasm sharp and your humor intelligent, this book is for you. I loved it and will be moving her other books to the top of my list.
First things first! The winner of the DAMNED ARC is Margo! I'll be emailing you with details... Now, I've had several people ask me to give my thoughts about the conference. I know there is already so much out there about the phenomenal speakers and content. 40 years! Just look at that dessert above from the Golden Kite luncheon. It was truly an amazing time. The sheer number of icons had me absolutely dazzled and in awe. So I'm going to share a few of these people with you and what they mean to me.
Judy Blume. How can I even begin to describe what it was like to be so close to THE Judy Blume? The woman was so gracious, so kind, so intelligent, and so very REAL. The first novel I think I ever read was Are You There God? It's me, Margaret. I remember that special feeling of being entirely wrapped up in Margaret's world. I loved it. I loved it so much that I never stopped reading and seeking new worlds with new characters. Hearing about Judy's process and journey was inspiring beyond belief.
Norton Juster. The first fantasy book I ever read was The Phantom Tollbooth. It was also the first book I ever read more than once. I had the opportunity to tell Norton Juster that, to which he looked me dead in the face and replied, "Fantasy? That's my life." How can I not love him? How can I not love a book that's remained AMAZING after 50 years, and that my own son loves just as much as I did? I think I might have to go read it again...
Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak. She gave voice to difficult subject matter that may make some uncomfortable, but saves lives on a daily basis. At the conference, she taught me to embrace my creative need for self-expression, and to nurture the "seed" in my soul.
Donna Jo Napoli. Her speech was possibly my favorite. And that's really saying something as I gave more standing ovations than I have in my life. It was titled: How Writing About Terrible Things Makes Your Reader a Better Person. And she spoke to not just those who need to see others who've gone through similar things, but to the sheltered who benefit from exposure to truths beyond their own.
Libba Bray. I saved my favorite for last of course. My hero. Her speech was just as amazing as I hoped and so was she. Funny, intelligent, friendly, and talented. Libba - I would have voted you Prom Queen in high school. I'm just sayin'. She let us know that even the super stars go through rough times, and are plagued by self-doubt.
Okay, have I gushed enough? You asked and now you have received, my friends. My own personal highlights of the conference this year. I could have kept going too! I mean Richard Peck, Gary Paulsen...
The delightfully funny and terribly wise Libba Bray (BEAUTY QUEENS, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, Printz Award winner GOING BOVINE, and more) sets the scene...
You spend several hours writing, you hold off on the M&Ms, your poetic ovaries shutter with creative life. Then next day you open up that same manuscript...and the characters have all the depth of a Colorforms sticky. Your plot twist is pedestrian. You despair. You think there's just one way out of this: fake your own death.
I'm here to be bring you good news, (just like Jesus), Libba says: your novel probably does suck. It's OK--embrace the suck. Gettting it wrong is a necessary part of getting it right.
Libba talks about spending all day every day writing a novel that was ALL WRONG. She turned it in six months late and then got a 12 page, single spaced editorial letter calling out the wrong. She revised for months. And months. 12 or 13 hours a day. She gained 20 lbs. The novel had also put on weight--ballooning to 900 pages. And it still was not right, she says. But she soldiered on. And after more painful revision and bouts of self-doubth, she eventually got it right.
Here are some of Libba's suggestions on getting through getting it wrong:
Gather your tools for survival. Your book is in there, buried under the book you hate. Find the tricks that help you dig it out (play lists, writing groups, Pop-tarts...)
Ignore external voices. That thing you are writing it awesome--it's the only thing that matters. What's hot doesn't matter.
Lower your standards. Your writing will never be perfect. If you strive for perfection, you're setting yourself up for failure. Don't stive for perfect; strive for better.
Be open to changing format. Maybe you need to change your point of view. Or write in verse. Or change tense. Find what works for your story.
INTERIOR HYATT CENTURY CITY CALIFORNIA BALL ROOM - AFTERNOON
(A room full of 1,300 people sitting on slightly comfortable chairs. We zoom in on CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #1 who has just paid $8.50 for a sandwich wrap of unknown origin and only had a few minutes to eat it. Next to him, CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #2 didn't even GET a sandwich and she is noticing the ballroom chandeliers look like crystals from Superman's man cave. She wonderis if you could microwave these super crystals, if the crystals would then turn into complete Thanksgiving dinners or maybe just a milkshake and a turkey burger.)
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #2:
Libba Bray is speaking next, do you think she's brought snacks for us?
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #1:
No, and please stop nibbling my arm. Have you read BEAUTY QUEENS yet? I got the hardcover, and I also got the audio book. Did you know Libba reads the audio version and does, like, ten different voices?
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #2:
Talking about the audio version of Libba Bray's BEAUTY QUEENS is the ONLY THING that can snap me out of this hunger madness. It has to be one of the best audio books I've heard in a long, long time. It's not only well-produced, it's a fantastic, thought-provoking and hilarious story, I want to give a copy to every teen girl I know.
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #1:
Me, too! It should totally win a Grammy.
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #2:
You have graham crackers?
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #1:
No. I'm saying if the award for best spoken-word album could be won by popular vote, we should totally start an online campaign for #BeautyQueensAudiobookShouldWinAGrammy
CONFERENCE ATTENDEE #2:
Shhhhhh! Libba's starting! I think I see a package of Swedish Fish in her pocket!!!
Last Friday I was privileged to be included in a luncheon hosted by Scholastic Books and the New England Booksellers Association for YA writing sensations and all around awesome-women Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater. The ladies were in town to visit the Wellesley Booksmith and to promote This is Teen, Scholastic's integrated teen community initiative, which works to unite teen
I wasn't expecting to like this one. I wasn't a huge fan of A Great and Terrible Beauty, which is the other Bray I've read. Some people I know loved Going Bovine, and some didn't. Most of the criticisms were things where I thought "ok, that's also stuff that bugs me in a book." So, I figured this one wasn't for me. And then it won the Printz, so I felt obligated to read it.
And! Yay! I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed it!
For those who don't know, Cam is an apathetic teen who gets mad cow disease. He embarks on a road trip with his friend Gonzo and a yard gnome who's really a Norse God. Along the way he's helped by a punk rock angel. Cam is not the most likable of characters, but that doesn't mean he's not believable as a character. He's selfish before he finds out he's dying, and when he gets sick, he doesn't see it as an experience to turn his life around. Instead, he gets pissed off. Which, while not likable and not what we tend to see in books, is frankly, the same thing I would do.
I didn't like Cam in the beginning, but I loved his voice, so I didn't mind that I didn't like him. I really liked Cam by the end.
I most loved the happiness cult and what the snow globe company does to protect people. (Yeah, that's vague, but I don't want to spoil it.)
This draws a lot of inspiration from Don Quixote, which I haven't read (but I have read a few plot summaries, and seen the Animaniacs version). Bray's not shy about the Don Quixote connections (Cam's reading it for school) and c'mon! The angel is named Dulcie!
My one complaint is that much of the tension comes from wondering if Cam's adventures real or a hallucination brought on by his brain's disintegration. The truth is too obvious too early. I wanted her to stretch that out further. While I knew what was what, I didn't want my feelings to be confirmed that early...
The other was the end, which I'll talk about here, because MAJOR SPOILAGE.
But overall? A really great book that's really enjoyable on the surface, but underneath lurks an homage to great literature and lots of other little things that make it secretly amazing.
Book Provided by... my local library
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I have had, as I mentioned yesterday, the gift of time. I've been watching and listening to other authors in part of that time, and yesterday I sat and listened to this utterly remarkable talk by Libba Bray on the occasion of her Printz Award win (for Going Bovine). I had met her, but only briefly, at ALA, and been utterly charmed. But one must listen to this entire talk to get a full sense of who Libba Bray is—gracious and wickedly funny, spontaneous and utterly prepared, entirely human and extra-stellar, a writer and a performer.
This is speaking at its best and joy at its utmost.
A few years ago, during fellowship hour at my church, a friend and her daughter began describing their most recent literary adventure. They'd driven to New York, they said, to see John Green read. The line to get in was at least a block long. When the crowd finally fully compacted, when it contained its excitement and hushed, John Green wasn't just the funny, smart, wonderful, warm writer my friend and her daughter thought he would be. He was infinitely better than that.
I believe it. Like Libba Bray, John Green emanates a good Bigness, not just of talent, but of spirit. Travels to his web site yield a glimpse of a guy whose humor, occasional gentle self-mockery, and unabashed love for World Cup Soccer have remained intact, through the tsunami of his success. If you had a chance to visit readergirlz during their John Green month, you'd find the man waving with both hands, talking up playlists, and jiving his way through his infamous tweets (he hates the term social media, apparently, but he's textbook good at it). If you've read any of his books, or even just the acknowledgments in his books, or maybe the extras in his books, you get the aforementioned good Bigness.
This morning I've been reading the book that launched Green's career, Looking for Alaska, because it is a good thing, I think, to go back to the beginning with authors, to remember what was first for them, the platform that they built from. Everything is right about this book—the tone, the relationships, the slow build of tension and mystery (slow, or fast, depending on how you take to the chapter "titles' which are all variations of "fifty-eight days before" or "one-day after"). Alaska has the intelligence of A Separate Peace and the wit of a Salinger. It has something only this former hospital chaplain might have written about The Meaning of it All.
Green's work will, I'm certain, be around for a long time. He is an author who makes me proud to be counted among the YA writers of right now. Because Green's work is first-rate no matter what genre label you give it, and that's what YA books must be, first and foremost—well-written, thoughtful, funny if the author can swing it, capable of leaving readers psychically richer than they were.
Bray knows her characters. The medley of sixteen year old underachiever/loser guy to talking garden gnome cast she creates is a fun romp to read through. Which is good because this is a looooooooooooong book. Very long. 480 pages long.
I know. I know. I sound like a griping teenager. The target audience. I wonder if the story has enough to keep them reading. I had a hard time remaining engaged.
While I enjoyed the imagination, the characters, the dialogue, the constantly changing setting, it was, ultimately, the leap of faith I was unable to take. At about the end of the first third of the book, when Cameron has already been hospitalized and is degenerating quickly - he's suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jacob (mad cow) disease, which is incurable and deadly. He sees an angel. Not just any angel. A punker angel. Okay, I'm still with you. The weird angel has appeared before in the distance. This might work. A punker angel named Dulcie.
We, as readers, sign a contract to take the leap of faith. To believe in the parameters of the story. Cameron's reality. It seems to incredible to be real. Sure enough, we come to discover in a 100 Years of Solitude sort of way toward the very end (and there are hints throughout that this might indeed be the case) that Cameron's been hallucinating/dreaming the last two weeks of his life. In other words, everything, including Dulcie, is a figment of his imagination. Yet his imagined life is far more alive and real than the 16 years of his life he more or less drifted through.
It's a great ending. Gabriel Garcia Marquez genius type of ending. But will the reader get there? We aren't in Latin American mysticism but modern day Texas. Realistic setting makes the leap hard. Dulcie makes the leap even harder. Granted, we're not supposed to take the leap in the end, we realize. It was a fantastical leap to begin with. One Cameron dreamed up. But because we do not know that right away, and because the fantastical keeps getting further and further out there, it's really hard to stay engaged, leaving the reader wondering, huh? What's the point? And, um, is it coming soon?
I hate not liking a book. I hate finding stuff wrong with the writing. There is no pleasure in it for me, especially with a book so close to greatness. Ultimately, it feels as though this piece lacked a stronger editorial pen. The right external input could have turned unbelievable into fantastical genius marvelous. We authors need editors. We really really do. No matter what stage of writing we are at. And we should never forget that. Because when we do, we are doomed to repeat our own mistakes without correction over and over and over again.
Read Going Bovine for its characters. For its Garcia Marquez crafty twist on reality. But also to notice where the editorial pen would have helped. Could have tightened, condensed and lifted such promise to the next level of greatness.
My new proposal is finally done and handed over to my super agent, so to celebrate, I allowed myself a giant weekend of reading for pleasure.
After having it gaze longingly at me from the to-be-read pile, The Sweet Far Thing finally made it into my hands.
For me, if I'm going to read an 800+ page book, I need solid blocks of reading time. That's why, this book, which I purchased in hardcover when it first came out (a long while ago!) has been languishing. Also, it's the third book of a trilogy, so it's hard for me to let the series go. Maybe that accounts for the delay, too...
As I hoped, it was an awesome read and a great wrap up to Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series. I highly recommend it.
So, I'm curious --
How many of you will wait to start a bigger book like I did? Do you save books for a big reading weekend, or do you nibble away over weeks and weeks? What is next in your stack for a pleasure reading weekend?
Heather www.heatherdavisbooks.com Wherever You Go - Harcourt November 2011 The Clearing - HMH Never Cry Werewolf - HarperTeen