Tag Archives: YA

Where It Began

Where It Began: A Novel by Ann Redisch Stampler (Simon Pulse, $16.99, 384 pages) won’t be released until March 6, 2012, but you can read the first 23 pages now:

http://pages.simonandschuster.com/annstampler?mcd=Z_120103_CLP_WIABegan_SA

This one’s quite engaging, so after you read this excerpt – about a young woman who has to start her life over again after a car accident – you may want to pre-order your Kindle Edition or Nook Book download!   This YA novel includes references to 11 real places in Southern California (Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Van Nuys and Santa Barbara) such as The Apple Pan on West Pico Boulevard – which was known as The Peach Pit on the TV series 90210 – and Mad Dogs on State Street in Santa Barbara.

Joseph Arellano

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Young Love

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (For Dummies, $19.99, 384 pages)

First, I have to provide a disclaimer.   I adore Books for Dummies, and I’ve used several; however, when I heard about Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, I was very skeptical that the Dummies format would be an effective tool for helping writers through their creative process and into print.   That skepticism vanished after I had the book in my hands for a few minutes.

In the Introduction, Deborah Halverson invites readers to jump around, skim, scan or pause to absorb on their own terms, and the Dummies format turned out to be brilliant for encouraging this highly-individualized use of her book.   It’s easy to spot the Bulls-eye icon that signals important time-saving Tips, or to pause at the String on a Finger because this icon means “Remember this.   It’s important.”   The Time-Bomb alerts readers to problems, things to avoid.   The Nerdy Guy icon signals that the reader can skip this for the moment and return later for a more detailed examination of a point.   The Exercise icon tells the reader to stop for a moment and try out what has just been presented.

Halverson has what it takes to help the aspiring author with a “behind the scenes” look at the world of young adult fiction.   First, she had a ten-year stint as editor at Harcourt Children’s Books, then she became an award-winning author of two young adult novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth.   In addition to these excellent credentials, she’s the founder of the website, DearEditor.com, regularly speaks at conferences and teaches writing.

In Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, she offers up her years of experience in clear, digestible chapters.   Halverson provides examples and exercises that allow the reader different ways to access, understand and assimilate what she has presented.   Added bonuses are the thirteen top notch, award-winning writers and agents who expand on the chapters with targeted tips and models.   Mary E. Pearson gives ten tips to beat writer’s block.   Agent Erin Murphy explains how to make those “quiet books loud” and salable, and Darcy Pattison discusses the book trailer’s importance as part of a promotion campaign.

Chapter one starts with getting “The Lowdown on YA Fiction.”   This chapter provides a clear understanding of what is meant by young adult fiction, a term Halverson uses as an umbrella for two categories:  books written for teens from 12 to 17, and those written for kids 9 through 14.   I found myself drawing hearts next to sentences like, “Above all, young adult fiction is not watered-down adult fare.”   I drew a double heart next to, “Let [the knowledge in this book] free you up to explore and experiment with your own fiction, finding the right way to tell your story.”

The book ends with the prospective author’s ultimate goal: selling and promoting her published book with “Ten Ways to Make the Most of a Conference.”   I wish I’d had this step-by-step help before I attended my first writer’s conference.   I would have gone with my list of tangible, achievable goals:  I would have known about the faculty and made comments on those business cards I collected; I would have come away with and retained so much more than I did.

The chapters between the beginning and the end are meaty without being dense.   They pinpoint the essentials, and they carry the reader through the most important phases of this creative process, but they also make the business and professional aspect of writing apparent, important and clear.

I really appreciated the chapter titled “Writing the Almighty Hook.”   Authors are always being told to write a “hook” in their queries as well as in the opening lines of those books that are under construction, and that’s great advice, but so often I’ve seen the question, “How do I do that?”   Well, Ms. Halverson shows the steps.   In this chapter there are models of great hooks, wonderful tips for keeping that hook right there as a guide from beginning to end of the writing process, and then there are distinct steps that lead into practicing and perfecting those first lines.

In “Strategizing and Packaging Your Submission,” she demystifies so many aspects of this part of the process:  targeting your submission, writing that dynamite query letter, the synopsis, putting all of your submission into a neat and interesting package, and turning those rejection letters into learning moments.

Overall, I’d have to give Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies a Five Star Rating.   I feel it fills a need in the “How To” market.   I’m really pleased that I happened to be in the right place at the right time to review this book and pass along what I gleaned from its pages.

C. Lee McKenzie

C. Lee McKenzie is the author of the YA novels The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge.   Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies was published on July 5, 2011.   We interpret Ms. McKenzie’s rating as the equivalent of a Highly Recommended rating on this site.

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Laugh, Laugh

Populazzi by Elise Allen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, 400 pages)

Populazzi, by Elise Allen, is a cautionary tale about climbing the social ladder at the expense of one’s true self.   Specifically, the social ladder in high school, that petri dish of pain in which only the most popular kids can thrive – or so we think.

When Cara is forced to go to a new school at the start of her junior year, BFF Claudia convinces her to use the experience to test her theory that a girl can work her way up the popularity ladder by dating guys on ever-higher rungs.   The goal is to supplant the reigning “Supreme Populazzi,” Trista, who is known for her (parents’) wealth, lavish parties, and the loyalty she engenders in her ladies-in-waiting.

Cara throws herself into the project, batting away the dreaded social rejects who want to be her friends, and reinventing herself with the clothes, makeup, and demeanors necessary to land the right boy at each stage of the game.

Allen, who also writes for children’s programs on the Internet, DVDs, and TV, gives nods to some of the pitfalls of adolescence, such as pot habits and bulimia; to some of the major sources of pain, such as divorced parents; and to the geeks, nerds, and other “types” who roam the halls of high schools everywhere.   Absent, however, are the self-doubt and the humiliation phobia that might hobble more realistic heroines, and the disadvantages and danger that might challenge more dramatic ones.   Even when Cara gets the slap down of her life, she remains perky and positive.

But this book is a romp, not an exploration of teen angst.   The characters’ cartoonish quality serves to underscore the book’s message.   Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group will launch Populazzi on August 1, just in time for rising freshmen to read it before school starts in the fall.   And there will be a test.   Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Life On Hold: A Novel by Karen McQuestion.

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When the Ship Comes In

Between Shades of Gray: A Novel by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel; $17.99; 344 pages)

In the epilogue to Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, protagonist Lina speaks to us from a time capsule:  “It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar…  prompt you to do something, to tell someone.   Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.”

The story that she has buried in that jar begins in 1941 in Lithuania.   Lina, who is fifteen, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are at home one evening when the Soviet secret police come to the door.   Through her eyes we watch as the three are deported to Siberia.   Lina’s father, a professor who has aided relatives’ emigration to Germany has been arrested.   His actions were prompted by the hope that the relatives might, in turn, help his own family escape Stalin’s tyranny.

As the truth of their situation gradually unfolds for Lina, she draws images of horror and images of heroism, and tucks the sketches into the lining of her suitcase.   It’s an act of silent rebellion that she knows is both brave and foolish.   But she is an artist who is desperate to record the history of the ordinary people swept up in Stalin’s purges.   Through Lina’s eyes we see a portrait of true grace emerge in Mother, a woman whose calm, kindness, and humanity buoy the spirits of everyone else.   We see how memories have the power to sustain and what happens when hope is lost.

What we do not see is why Stalin shipped this trainload of slave labor all the way across Siberia and north to the Arctic Circle to do work that seems only to sustain the comfort of the soldiers who guard them.   Perhaps Sepetys intended the apparent illogic of the labor camp’s location to be yet another layer of punishment – another obstacle to hopefulness.

Sepety’s characters are fascinating, even those who are the verbal equivalent of pencil sketchesthe bald man, the man who wound his watch, the repeater.   Her spare prose is reminiscent of Pearl Buck’s.   Between Shades of Gray depicts the effects of a moral disaster rather than Buck’s natural ones, but both authors know their story is so intrinsically dramatic that it needs no melodrama.   Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, published the novel, Sepety’s first, in March of 2011.   Highly recommended – and not just for young readers.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet

Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 384 pages)

Author Therese Fowler has written the 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet.   Fowler portrays the complexities of the modern-day teenage romance highlighted by cell phones, computers, and on-line social networking.   She does an excellent job demonstrating the dangers of our advanced technologies when it comes to teenagers and the sharing of personal information in her upcoming novel, Exposure.

The star-crossed lovers, Anthony Winter and Amelia Wilkes have everything in common, excluding the financial status of their families.   Their shared passion for theatre brings them together in their affluent high school’s production of As You Like It, which in verse summarizes their own love story:

No sooner looked but they loved

Their commitment to one another begins with a secret romance shielded from Amelia’s arrogant father, Harlan, who shelters Amelia with the primary goal of ensuring that she ends up with the ideal partner who will provide her with a rich life, not the poor unfortunate one he had as a child.   He hopes for Amelia to pursue a business degree at Duke University and to find a shadow of him, a man with money and power who will provide her with the wealth that he finds essential for happiness.

Anthony, the talented and non-conformist son of a single mother was abandoned by his father before he was born.  He is fortunate to attend Ravenswood, the esteemed private school where he meets Amelia, only because his mother, Kim, has been hired to teach Art and French.   Kim, a supportive mom doing the best she can to raise Anthony with the limited resources she has, supports the relationship between her son and Amelia, knowing all too well the power of love and romance.

As Amelia and Anthony spend their time contemplating their plan for the future they become closer and, as a result, intimate.  Following graduation Amelia will reveal both their relationship and plans to attend New York University for drama while they both pursue careers on Broadway.   Months away from graduation their relationship becomes physical and, being the artists that they are, commemorate their relationship through writings, texts, e-mails, and photos.   This intensifies their relationship, which is presumed to be private and innocent (Anthony is 18 and Amelia 17), while they are away from one another…

One unfortunate day Amelia’s father hacks into her computer and finds explicit photos of Anthony.   Outraged and presuming that his innocent, naive daughter has been the victim of a heinous crime, he instinctually calls the police and begins an investigation that results in a series of events altering the lives of everyone involved.

Fowler expresses the true nature and concerns of sexting, and the repercussions of the open access that our children have to the Internet and other related avenues for sharing information.

Yes, Exposure may also take you back to relive the story of your first love… or the one that got away.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Exposure will be released on May 3, 2011.

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It Won’t Be Long

The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor

“I wish I were as famous as a Beatle.”

Sixties-inspired musician-songwriter Regina Bloomsbury is casting about for ways to keep her garage band from dissolving when, in frustration, she makes the wish that her band was as famous as the Beatles.   Fame, she reasons, would fix the problems in her life:  no boyfriend, a shaky self-image, and loneliness.   Enter the fairy godmother who Regina didn’t know she had, and suddenly she’s not just as famous as the Beatles, she’s inherited their place in history and their entire catalog of music.

Life in the Grammy lane is fab, but being the smart 16-year-old she is, Regina comes to understand the tradeoffs that go along with fame and world popularity.   Then the question becomes, Should she stay or should she go?

The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Feiwal and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan) is a rock ‘n’ roll-themed fairy tale for a young adult audience.   Though there is the drama of a girl-on-girl fight scene, for the most part the story maintains the innocence of the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” days.   The plot is fast-paced; the ending is satisfying, even though it’s predictable; and the characters are interesting “types.”   There’s the supportive, cool-in-a-Cosbysort-of-way dad; the divorced mom who’d rather be a big sister; and the soulful band-mate love interest.   The problem is that the characters never step off the stage and run with the story.   Even Regina remains flat, especially when she wonders things like, “Are all teenagers like that?   Ricocheting from despair to euphoria within one turn of the minute hand?  If so, no wonder we’re always so exhausted?”

If the novel has the “tell, don’t show” feel of a screenplay, it’s probably because author Greg Taylor was a screenwriter before he started writing novels.   This is his second.   His first, Killer Pizza, is being made into a movie for 2013 release by Italian producer Raffaella De Laurentis (The Forbidden Kingdom, The Last Legion, Dragonheart: A New Beginning).   And according to the publisher, De Laurentis has optioned the film rights to The Girl Who Became a Beatle, too.

If you’re a YA reader who favors light, fast-paced, feel-good fantasies, don’t wait for the move version.   You’ll like The Girl Who Became a Beatle.   Especially if you’ve ever dreamed of any kind of stardom.

Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Girl Who Became a Beatle was released on February 15, 2011.

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