Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie & More Gift Book Suggestions from 2010

These entertaining novels were either released in hardback or came out in paperback this past year. I’ve selected books that should appeal to a broad audience. Click on links for my reviews.

Fiction for Adults:

1. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (historical fiction paperback)
2. The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (literary suspense)
3. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (literary fiction)
4. One Day by David Nicholls (commercial fiction paperback)

Young Adult Fiction (ages 12 and up):

1. The Indigo Notebook and The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau (contemporary)
2. White Cat by Holly Black (paranormal for boys)
3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (dystopia)
4. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (boy/girl)

5. Matched by Ally Condie (dystopia/romance)

Cassia trusts “Society” to make all the important life choices for her until she is accidentally matched with two boys for her life partner. Handsome, kind and smart Xander is her best friend, but Ky is a mystery, a boy living on the fringe of Society. Does she go with what is safe or risk everything to challenge the system? In this romantic tale, banned poetry becomes a weapon for revolution.
“Then, the question I asked myself was: Do I look pretty?
Now the question I ask is: Do I look strong?”
Condie’s paternalistic dystopia is very typical of the genre, but the romance angle is fresh. Matched is quite similar to The Giver by Lois Lowry. The writing and pacing made for easy, engaging reading. I read it in one day. The story felt a bit predictable, but there was a clever twist towards the end. The most interesting relationship was between Cassie and her grandfather, rather than with either of the boys. For a romance it was missing sizzle, but the dystopian world was well developed. Definitely a girl book and appropriate for tweens as well as teens. Matched would make a really good holiday gift. Doesn't the cover look like a spooky Christmas tree ornament?

Matched received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. First book in an upcoming trilogy to be released on November 30th in the USA. I borrowed the ARC from a friend.

Middle Grade Fiction (ages 8-12):
The protagonists of these three realistic novels are girls who defy gender stereotyping. Boys will enjoy them too. The contemporary subject matter is handled in classic style, reminding me of books from my childhood.

1. The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister by Charlotte Agell
2.  Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

3. The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane (paperback)

Molly wants to join the eighth grade boy’s baseball team as the only girl. It’s her way of connecting with her baseball fan father who died recently. He taught her how to pitch a knuckleball/butterfly.
"The knuckleball wasn’t just a pitch. It was an attitude toward life; it was a way of being in the world. It was a philosophy. ‘You don’t aim a butterfly,’ her father used to say. ‘You release it.’ Each pitch had a life of its own. It wasn’t about control, it wasn’t about muscle. Each floating and fluttering pitch was a little miracle. It was all about surprise."
Now Molly has to convince her teammates and her mother that she has a right to play baseball instead of softball.
“The ball didn’t care if you were a girl or boy. Skinny or fat, rich or poor, black or white, cool or uncool, happy or sad, smart and funny or awkward and shy, if you were charming and had a way with words and a winning smile- didn’t matter. The ball didn’t care.”
Mick Cochrane writes beautifully about friendship, first romance, family, grief, personal identity and, of course, baseball. The only part that rubbed me the wrong way was a girl player tap dancing in outfield. The implication was that boys take baseball more seriously than girls take softball. This otherwise perfectly crafted book manages to be both moving and funny.
“In Buffalo, any day in April without snow was considered spring.”
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies received a starred review from Kirkus and was a Booklist Top 10 Sports Book for Youth. I bought this paperback at a school book fair. I've been looking for sporty girl books since my work in progress, NOT CRICKET (renamed A MATCH FOR EVE), is about an American softball player who wants to play cricket in England. I'd love more recommendations, especially cricket or softball novels for teens.

More gift book ideas? Leave a list in a comment or the URL to a list on your blog.  I'll add a link to your gift book post here (up until the week before Christmas/Kwanza - Hanukkah starts next week.)  I'll be mostly offline over this holiday weekend but will catch up soon.

"A List of Books" From the House of Edward
"2010 Book Lists" @Steph Su Reads
“End of 2010 Survey” @The Perpetual Page-Turner (includes link list to more best 2010 book posts)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memory, Morality and Youthful Indiscretions

Psychologists have found that the mind pushes immoral acts into the past and recalls good deeds as happening more recently, creating a false sense of moral progress. Memory amplifies self-righteousness. The mind creates distance from unpleasant events. 

Benedict Carey’s “Why All Indiscretions Appear Youthful” reported how “people subconsciously maintain and massage their moral self-image.” One sentence about high school memories really resonated with me: “Those who hated their time in those locker-lined hallways feel further from their teenage selves than those who enjoyed it.” 

So that’s why I'm writing young adult fiction! It’s not just that I’m a parent of two terrific teens; I also enjoyed being a teenager. I went to a fabulous school in NYC. Not everything was perfect: my love life was a tangled mess and mean kids picked on me. I was not a typical teen, but I had a group of good friends who understood me then and now. Living in Manhattan gave us independence and plenty to do outside of school. We were bookish girls and not part of the “popular” crowd, but even good girls had bad fun.

Back in the 1980’s dance clubs gave free passes to high school girls. The drinking age and club admittance was 18, but fake ID's were easy to get in the Village. A bouncer at a club gave us the address. We went to clubs to dance but didn’t drink much because cocktails were expensive. We never drank to get drunk, and none of us drove. My friends’ midnight curfews meant we left clubs before the drug scene started. The worst thing that happened was Andy Warhol stole our cab on a rainy night. I bet he didn’t have a curfew!

Still, I look back on those years with amazement because no responsible parent would allow club hopping now. The legal drinking age in the USA went up to 21 when I was in college. Binge drinking has become a big problem at both high schools and colleges. My children consider alcohol to be as bad as I considered drugs at their age. Our mind may rearrange events to bolster our ethical self-image, but society also shifts our definition of moral behavior.

When I write for teens now, I take this shift of morality into consideration. In “as u like it” under aged drinking in Manhattan leads to consequences.  In my work in progress, NOT CRICKET (A MATCH FOR EVE), I'm facing a different moral landscape where the drinking age is 16 (for beer and wine) in England. I write about teens that act responsibly and sometimes make mistakes, just like I did. We learn from experience, and it appears, the good deeds will be remembered and our slips pushed into the past. I’m not sure if that’s disturbing or reassuring.

YA Book Blog Watch:

Lisa Schroeder blogged about Binge Drinking for The Comtemps, a new blog penned by a group of authors who write contemporary realistic young adult fiction.

Presenting Lenore asked, "Does a YA Novel Have To Be Accessible?"

The Story Siren posted a list of  2011 Debut YA Authors

Reading in Colorposted a list of 2011 Debut YA/MG Authors of Color.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Tide at Maquoit Bay

Let us ride one last time to the ocean.

Where light plays drama,

Perspective shifts,

And islands hide in fog.

The coastline is awash in color,

But pastures dull toward winter.

Autumn's sweetness dissolves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interview with Kate Egan, editor of The Hunger Games trilogy

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, this year’s “It” series in young adult (YA) fiction. The trilogy's editor, Kate Egan, happens to live around the corner from me. She came to my house for coffee to share the publishing story behind this #1 New York Times bestseller series, which has been popular with adults too.

The premise draws on both pop culture and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur: a despotic ruler selects children from every district to fight to the death. The sole survivor brings back a bounty of food to his or her district. The battle is staged in a nightmare world of mutant hazards and broadcast live as entertainment, the ultimate reality TV. Needless to say, this gory spectacle foments, rather than subdues, rebellion in the districts.

When her younger sister is selected to be a contestant, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Katniss is a skilled archer who has been poaching wild game to feed her family. She is paired with a boy, Peeta, who once saved her from starvation. Katniss owes Peeta her life, but only one contestant is allowed to survive. Peeta loves Katniss, but she also has feelings for her hunting partner, Gale. This love triangle frames a coming-of-age story set in a war zone.

Although the first two books The Hunger Games (2008) and Catching Fire (2009) were more entertaining and better paced, Mockingjay (released last August 2010) has greater philosophical depth and moral ambiguity. The regime is corrupt and evil, but are the revolutionaries any better? In this not-so-distant future, television has become the most effective weapon of war. Despite the violence, this series does not glorify war, rather the opposite. The cost of war is paid by all participants, win or lose.

This dystopian trilogy reminded me more of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm than of books written for teenagers. If you've never read YA, try these. My daughter found the first book too scary at age eleven but returned to the books at age thirteen and really enjoyed them. I loved them too. All three books were hard to put down and impossible to forget. After finishing, I had many questions. Kate Egan had the answers.
photo of Kate Egan by Sarah Laurence

My Interview of Kate Egan

Sarah: how did you first connect with the author Suzanne Collins?

Kate: while working for Scholastic in NYC, I acquired and edited Suzanne’s first book, Gregor The Overlander. It became a five book series. The Underland Chronicles is about a boy who falls through a hole in his laundry room into a world hidden under New York, populated by giant rats and cockroaches and other creatures you might expect to find beneath the city.

Sort of like a modern Alice in Wonderland?

Exactly. The Underland Chronicles is meant for a younger audience but shares a similar central theme with The Hunger Games series.

What is that central theme?

Suzanne’s main interest is “what is a just war?” She’s especially concerned about the effects of war on a person.

What first attracted you to her writing?

The un-put-down-able quality to her writing. Suzanne started her career as a screenwriter. She wrote the adorable Little Bear television program on Nick Junior, among many other shows. She knows how to move a story and how to hold a kid’s attention, although Little Bear and her novels are extremely different in tone.

What was the inspiration for The Hunger Games trilogy?

Suzanne was flipping back and forth between the Iraq War coverage and Survivor on TV when she got the idea for The Hunger Games. Suzanne always writes her books in 3 parts with 9 chapters each so a trilogy was natural. She had the whole story in her head from the start.

When did you first hear about The Hunger Games?

Four years ago I was doing the final edits on the last Gregor book, when my second child was born. It was a month before I was ready to get back to editing. Suzanne used that time to write the proposal for The Hunger Games trilogy. The original proposal had the fight to the death and the intriguing character of Katniss. I realized that this was going to be the biggest book I’d ever worked on.

Why do you think The Hunger Games series has been so successful?

When I started working in publishing in the mid 1990’s, young adult fiction was all but dead. Scholastic, the publisher of The Hunger Games, barely published YA back then. There was no dedicated space for teen fiction in the bookstores. In the past ten years, the publishing pendulum has swung towards YA, even garnering an adult crossover audience. The Hunger Games was impossible to put down, and Katniss was a great character. Suzanne is a terrific storyteller.

Given that Scholastic’s headquarters are in NYC, why did you move to Maine?

My husband worked for the New York City government, and one of the terms of his employment was that we had to live within the city limits. We were living in a basement apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Our daughter’s crib was in the hall! In 2003 my husband was offered the job of running the State Ethics Commission in Augusta. In six weeks we bought a car and a house and moved to Maine.

How did you manage to keep working as an editor after the move?

I switched to working freelance for several publishing companies, mostly for Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. I kept 3 of my old authors from Scholastic, too. I work in the mornings when both kids are in school, during naptime and late at night.

How did you hold onto Suzanne Collins as your author?

When Suzanne’s agent sold The Hunger Games trilogy to Scholastic, it was agreed that I would remain her editor. We’ve been together for eight books now.

What are Suzanne Collins’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and how do you help her as an editor?

Storytelling is Suzanne’s strength. As an editor, I help her develop the characters. For example, I asked her for more of the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. Suzanne was more focused on the war story. We’ve learned to trust each other. Sometimes Suzanne thinks it’s obvious where she is going, but I tell her I don’t see it. When I need help following, it’s a sign that the manuscript needs some shoring up.

What has happened in the wake of The Hunger Games?

Suzanne wrote the screenplay for the movie of The Hunger Games, which will be produced by Nina Jacobson at Lionsgate Productions. They are in talks with Gary Ross, who directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Suzanne is also busy with the Mockingjay launch and approving licensing products, like a Hunger Games board game.

Is Suzanne Collins working on a new novel?

I think she is starting to think about it, but that’s all I know right now.

I’m struck by how much The Hunger Games has appealed to adult readers as well as to teens. What marks a book as young adult as opposed to adult fiction?

I'd say that there has to be a teenaged protagonist. They are coming-of-age stories. The ending does not have to be happy, but there must be hope. A window is left open.

Thank you, Kate!

Reviewer’s Disclaimer: I bought all three books myself when they were first released. Kate Egan and I were introduced by our neighbor Charlotte Agell, author of another dystopian novel for teens, Shift. This interview was our first meeting. We met up more recently for a walk to enjoy the fall foliage. That first shot is from my front yard, and Kate is standing in my back yard. All photos were taken by me.

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@Barrie Summy

Note: Please do not contact me to reach Kate Egan. I am unable to forward e-mails.