Tag Archives: young adult fiction

The Game of Life

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

Everyone has a dream. Ricky’s is to pitch for the baseball team of the high school that he’ll be attending in the coming year. The Hispanic youth has a great fastball but no control, so the dream appears unlikely to come true. But then he meets The Pitcher, a former major league baseball player who pitched his team to victory in the World Series. The Pitcher is not only gruff, he’s in mourning for his late wife and wants nothing to do with the world.

William Hazelgrove has fashioned a near classic baseball story with a few unexpected elements. Because Ricky is Mexican-American in a predominantly white and prosperous community, he faces discrimination based on his ethnicity and poverty. He’s willing to do almost anything to prove that his athletic skills are good enough, knowing full well that life generally gives you only one shot at success. Can he somehow convince The Pitcher to be his coach and mentor?

This novel is completely unlike Hazelgrove’s previous book, Rocket Man, but it’s engaging and uplifting. It would be a perfect story for a young athlete-to-be who needs inspiration and encouragement. Ricky demonstrates that grit and determination are essential qualities for dreamers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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Miles From Nowhere

Sliding on the Edge: A Novel by C. Lee McKenzie (WestSide Books, $16.95, 268 pages)

The rent is overdue and Jackie, a compulsive gambler, has skipped town with the latest in a long line of bad boyfriends.   She leaves a hundred dollars, a bus ticket to Sacramento, California, and a note telling her daughter to look up the grandmother she’s never met.   So when sixteen-year-old Shawna wakes up to find herself alone in their seedy rental, we expect a coming-of-age story set against the bright lights and gritty underbelly of Las Vegas.

But Sliding on the Edge by first-time novelist C. Lee McKenzie delivers something quite different.   It’s an interesting look at the lives of two women – grandmother Kay’s and Shawna’s – linked by blood and stained by tragedy.   They are each others’ last chance for happiness, as impossible as that seems to both when they first set eyes on each other.

McKenzie tells the story of their uneasy first months together, alternating chapters in Shawna’s words and in Kay’s and sometimes recounting the same scene from each character’s perspective.   It’s a technique that deftly lets the reader in on Kay’s past and on Shawna’s self-destructive present.   But it falls short of making Shawna a likeable character.   When Kay’s teenaged stable hand develops a crush on Shawna; and Marta, a classmate, pursues her friendship, this reader wondered why?

Kay is a far more sympathetic character, which is brilliant:  It lets the reader, likely a teen, see that authority figures are people, too.   At times, however, it seemed to have been edited too tightly at the expense of details that might have developed the characters further.   Who is the redhead with the ice cream about whom Shawna thinks?

Sliding on the Edge tackles the difficult issues of depression, cutting, and attempted suicide in an unflinching manner and ends on a hopeful note.   Recommended.

By Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the author.   “Sliding on the Edge is the compelling, courageous chronicle of one girl – destined to be a no-one – who fights back against her secret grief and pain and finds her life.”   Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club.

C. Lee McKenzie has released her second novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas.

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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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