Monday, December 31, 2007


A quick, mid-vacation post . . .

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a fantastic Frida Kahlo exhibition up, including some early family photos of Frida as a teenager. The paintings were stunning and haunting, as I knew they would be, but the photographs almost stole the show for me. Even as a teenager, she was recognizably the iconic Frida Kahlo of her famous paintings--it's almost like she knew what she was going to do with her life and wanted to present a consistent image. I particularly loved this family portrait of her at 19. That's Frida on the left in her father's suit.

Interestingly, this was barely a year after the bus accident that horribly fractured her back, pelvis, and leg, and left her in pain for the rest of her life.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

YA Book Cover Blog

Here's a new blog well worth adding to your feeds: Jacket Whys. The blog's "about" page sums it up nicely:

"I am a librarian and former graphic designer who enjoys “The Book Design Review,” a blog by Jack Sullivan. I’ve subscribed to for a several months and always look forward to new posts. I wished there was a similar blog for those of us who focus on children’s and young adult books. It occurred to me that I could write one myself - so here it is."

I'm a Book Design Review fan, too, so I'm really happy to see a blog with similar goals focusing on YA.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Here's a plot twist, free for the taking

NPR's Day to Day has a piece on a high school that searched a student's phone for evidence that he had been smoking. When they found something, naturally they followed the trail of incriminating texts to other students. The privacy rights implications are interesting, but I rather like the dramatic implications. One teenager tells this story:
"She knew that [phone confiscation] had been happening to a lot of her friends, so she smashed [her phone] rather than give it up," he says. "It's not like they have any justification for it at all. … I'd probably break my phone, too."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Useful new Blogger feature

Attention LiveJournal users: Check this out.

College Loans

Paying for college is a fairly common theme in lots of realistic YA, and how that's handled is a pet-peeve of mine, so no surprise that I found this article about the Ivies phasing out loans interesting. Granted, it's a very small percentage of colleges, but I think the social and familial pressures associated with affording college are changing.

This amused me

It's Monday morning and this is somewhat geeky, but what the heck. From Gizmodo . . .

"Today in class [name redacted] had a program launched called Foxfire.exe. I had told [name redacted] to close the program and to resume work but he told me that is was just a different browser and that he was doing his work. I had given him two warnings but he insisted that it was just a "better" browser and he wasn't doing anything wrong. I had then issued his detention."
I remember getting in some slight trouble in high school for playing around on BBSs with the newly-modem-equipped library computers (it made poor Mrs. Lincoln nervous). Seems like very little has changed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Multimedia extravanganza

New-to-me blog LIFT 2008 (Literature For Teenagers 2008) "provides critical information and commentary about books that have been nominated for 2008 book awards and book lists sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association." They just posted this text and video review of Simone Elkeles' How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. Check out this review and the reviews of other books, which all seem to have active comment threads. Excellent stuff!

My bookshelf runneth over (and a contest)

So that's my bookshelf. As you can see, it is a mess and quite full. The bottom shelf is all Llewellyn and Flux titles and it is almost to capacity. Very soon, I will no longer have the luxury of duplicate copies of books, so in the interest of making room I'm going to have a little contest.

Here's what I'm thinking. (Bear with me.) I have a tendency to associate novels and rock albums. Sometimes, I read a book while listening to a certain song or album, and they become inextricably and quite durably linked in my mind. The first example of this phenomenon for me is the deeply weird paring of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" (and most of the rest of the Violater album) with the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher (I still love half of this pair). Almost twenty years have passed since the pair was formed, but the song--which I don't listen to intentionally--never fails to evoke the book to this day.

Other times, the connection forms more deliberately and rationally. These connections are more interesting to me. For instance, I was cross-country skiing last weekend and listening to The Who's "The Who Sell Out." I'd also recently re-read M.T. Anderson's Feed so that was knocking about in my head, too. And thus the pairing was formed--and it's much more fun to contemplate than Depeche Mode with John Christopher.

Most readers of this blog probably know Feed (the best dystopian novel in recent memory) as a brilliant story of language, adolescence, and consumer culture, but for those of you unfamiliar with "The Who Sell Out," it's from 1967, and it's a concept album. There are thirteen songs--many great ones, including "I Can See for Miles"--but interspersed among there are faux commercials and PSAs, sung and played by The Who. Listen to the whole album, and you get a really interesting mix of intensely earnest, often intensely adolescent*, rock with jingles for things like deodorant, Coke, and baked beans. Sound a little like Feed already? The demarcations between songs and ads aren't clear, and the sensation I get of adolescent earnestness and intensity struggling and interacting with marketing and commercial messages is almost identical to what I feel reading Feed.

So, that's my other pairing.

How is this a contest? Easy, put your pair in the comments (and make sure to leave a way for me to reach you), and the first ten commenters win a book (from Llewellyn or Flux). The first kind of pair (accidental connection) is fine, but I really want to read your more intentional pairs (Feed+"The Who Sell Out").

*I'd argue that The Who were the most seriously YA of the British invasion bands--much more so than The Beatles.

UPDATE: Another song that feels very YA-ish to me is Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels) by The Arcade Fire. I don't have a pairing though.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The movie "Juno" is underwriting a lot of public radio programming here in town, and although I think the movie sounds great, the underwriting copy is getting on my nerves. It says something to the effect of Juno "is about a precocious teen dealing with things way beyond her maturity level."

Is there a word more condescendingly applied to teenagers than "precocious"? Toddlers are precocious; teens are not. And what's this "maturity level" nonsense? The main character--Juno--gets pregnant.

How about a new consumer slogan for the imprint? "Flux: Dealing with things way beyond your maturity level."

Slightly related update: Apparently David Levithan's and Rachel Cohn's excellent Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (a novel that saved me during horrifically dull jury duty last spring) is going to be a movie (as in, production-is-scheduled going to be a movie, not the-option's-been-sold going to be a movie). Why is this an update? Because the co-star in "Juno," Michael Cera, is apparently going to be Nick. I'm sure precociousness will fucking abound and maturity will be leveled. (Thanks Sara's Hold Shelf!)

Monday, December 10, 2007


I don't think I ever frustrated a teacher more in high school than I did in AP Calculus my senior year. I was never good at math in high school, mainly because I never truly mastered basic algebra. However, I managed to shuck and jive my way through all my other math coursework, on track for calc senior year, where the wheels finally came off. Fortunately, the class had a rather forgiving grading policy. Perfect attendance + all homework turned in + an attempt at the actual AP test = a grade of A, never mind anything else (like actual knowledge of calc). So I did the first two and then on the third managed the miserable grade of 2 (no, sadly not out of 3) on the AP test. Ugliest A I ever "earned."

I suspect Varian Johnson does not have a similar story (at least I hope not, for the sakes of the people who drive over the bridges he designs). His book, My Life as a Rhombus, was noted by Booklist, along with luminaries like John Green's An Abundance of Katherines, as one of the few books that features (and features brilliantly) mathematics in YA literature. As they say, "math is everywhere, so it’s surprising that it appears so rarely in fiction for young readers."

Don't miss the discussion . . . the comments section of this post about Bible quotes in children's books. Good stuff.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Love for Suzy

A reviewer at the Trashonista blog posted a great review of Sara Hantz's The Second Virginity of Suzy Green.

The Second Virginity of Suzy Green has everything - laugh-out-loud humour, exciting cliffhangers, cringey embarrassing incidents, and also some total lump-in-your-throat moments. Plus a lovely cover, featuring two cherries - nice touch!
She's also running a contest to give away a copy.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Interview with author Brian Mandabach


This is an excellent interview, touching on a wide variety of topics, from Brian's book to his unique teaching experiences. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Awesome review of Or Not

The South Florida Sun Sentinel has a feature called Teen Link where teens do book reviews. The reviewer had this to say about Or Not:

"Or Not is the first novel I've read in a while that actually made me think. The writing style perfectly matched both the way a person's mind works in the after-effect of situations, and how they would write it down, in Cassie's case, for release."

Here's the whole thing.

So, anyone care to explain this to us?

Christine MacLean and I are confused about something. I bet you can figure out what. Here's how the story begins, with Christine's initial manuscript query to me more than two years ago:
"PULLING OUT [original title for How It's Done. Catchy, eh?] is a contemporary coming of age story about Grace, a high school senior from a fundamentalist Christian home who gets swept off her feet by a visiting professor who is teaching a term at the local college. Before long, she's in love, engaged, and in way over her head. It's a story about power and love, and the power of many different kinds of love. Ultimately, it's a story about how a young woman stops letting others define her and learns to define herself--just in time. NOTE: This book does not fall into the category of 'Christian fiction.'"
Easy enough. I didn't really need her "note," but it was good to know and I agreed after reading the manuscript that it was not "Christian fiction." So, fast forward nine months and the manuscript for PULLING OUT is a book called How It's Done and reviews are coming in. SLJ weighs in with a nice review, closing with:
"MacLean delivers a gently redemptive, compelling story of a young woman who wants to grow up too fast."
Good start, but it places the book under the heading "Fresh Christian Fiction." Hmm. I'm not sure what's up with that. But there's more. Soon after, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books also writes a positive review but says:

"Numerous Biblical references are presented familiarly, as if readers will know chapter and verse . . ."
Wait, huh? And then there's a very positive review in Publishers Weekly, but with this qualifier:

"A couple of scenes that feel like 'battle of the scripture quotes' as well as an occasional curse word and sexual situations help make this a fully rounded tale. "
Bah! Finally, the coup de grĂ¢ce, from a teacher on her unsuccessful attempt to get the book approved for curricular use:
"The district thought it was a bit racy and could put some parents on edge. They also worried about the Bible verses."
Mercy! "Worried about the Bible verses"!?! WTF!

By now, if you haven't read the book, you might think it's wall-to-wall scriptural references, appropriate mainly for divinity school students. Nothing could be less true. I haven't counted but I bet there aren't more than a dozen quotes, none of them particularly challenging and prior knowledge of any of them isn't at all necessary to comprehension. So why do they get mentioned in the majority of reviews by adults, even more often than the on-page sex (which is what Christine and I worried about about prior to release)?

Don't misunderstand, I have no problem with reviews that raise issues. I welcome any aesthetic judgment, like "the Bible quotes felt forced coming from Grace and were badly integrated into the story." I'd disagree, but that's how reviews work. But there seems to be more than that at work here. These reviewers seem to feel readers need to be aware of the very existence of a few Bible quotes, just as they feel readers need to be aware of the existence of explicit sex or particularly strong language (in PW's case, they point out Bible quotes, profanity, sex in that order and in the same sentence--an odd trio, don't you think?).

So, here's are question--or questions? First, am I overreacting (entirely possible)? Or is the children's book establishment have a rather . . . unusual relationship with the portrayal of religion in children's books? And isn't this a bit odd, considering where we are as a culture?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's a book!

It's been far too long since we've had a new book show up (we don't release books in Nov. or Dec. for reasons too arcane to bother with here), so I was very pleased to get an early copy of Varian Johnson's My Life as a Rhombus. It's a January book, but it's here all the same. Available online shortly and in stores a little less shortly.
Should you buy it? Of course, but don't take my word for it. And do check out Varian's latest project with a few of his colleagues.