Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for December, 2010

2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 28 - 2010
best of 2010 300x300 2010′s Best Young Adult Books: A Teen Writers Bloc Top Ten
Using your holiday break to catch up on the 2010 reads that you missed this year? Well then, our year-end best-of comes just in time! From vampires to automatons and even New York City teens, we’ve got something for everyone on the Teen Writers Bloc hot list. Check it out!

Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Sona Says: Told in a muted, almost deadpan voice, this controversial novel centers on a date rape on a private boarding school campus. As the protagonist Alex unwinds what really happened to her that night, the Mockingbirds, an underground campus justice system, decides on its own version of the truth. In ways a modern-day take on the Chocolate War, journalist-turned-debut author takes on big themes like rape, violence, justice, shame and punishment in this taut, suspenseful and eventually cathartic novel.

Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins
Amber Says: I just started reading this – thank you Dhonielle, for the recommendation! — and it is already a book that I wish I had had access to when i was a teen. It talks about what it can be like growing up Black American in a predominantly White American, suburban setting, which is an issue that is not discussed nearly as much as other aspects of the Black experience. There are multiple layers to the black teen experience and Sell-Out seems to capture this well, given that ideally all variations of black teen identity should be depicted in literature. Not to mention, she’s also a New School Writing for Children alum!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Jessica Says: I loved every single second of this book. Two authors, two narrators, two teenage boy points-of-view. It’s funny and sad, realistic and whimsical, all at the same time. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


Jane Says: I heard winner Kathryn Erskine read from this riveting middle grade narrative at the National Book Awards ceremony at the New School and the book definitely caught my interest. The story is told from the perspective of a fifth grade girl with Aspergers Syndrome. I thought this was a great book because it gives the reader a chance to see the world from a different point of view.


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Sona Says: A bullying story told from the mean girl’s perspective, Lauren Oliver’s deft debut touches on a hot-button issue without being preachy or pedantic. Instead, Oliver will have you hooked with her clever Groundhog’s Day meets Mean Girls premise as she slowly but surely unravels the final version of the tale while building an increasingly relatable protagonist.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Jessica Says: This is a novella-length companion piece to The Twilight Saga, and it’s a fun, quick read. The story is all about Bree Tanner, the newborn vampire who is almost adopted by the Cullens in Eclipse but who is killed by The Volturi before she even gets a chance. While this new story doesn’t add much to the story of Edward, Bella, and Jacob, it is interesting to read from the point of view of one of Meyer’s ”bad” vampires — one who mercilessly kills people for their blood. Something else interesting about this novella: Stephenie Meyer and Little, Brown donated $1.5M from the sales of the book to The American Red Cross.

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
Dhonielle Says: After exhausting myself with paranormal fiction, this dystopian book was a breath of fresh air in the teen market. Fischer creates a place so real, I thought it was somewhere on this earth. The darkness in the book was drawn so deftly.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Steven Says: When Dash finds a red moleskin notebook at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan littered with clues to various books throughout the store left by Lily, so begins the back and forth passing of dares between the two protagonists. Just when you think the narrative is going one way, it takes a completely different direction. Dash, written by David Levithan, is a typical Levithan male character, not unlike Nick from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Rachel Cohn’s Lily, however, is Norah’s antithesis: a shy girl who never thought anybody would find and play along with the clues in the moleskin. It’s the refreshing and unique voices that keeps readers on their toes. Not to mention the amazing collaborative efforts between Levithan and Cohn. Definitely check it out!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Corey Says: I love The Hunger Games in a way that is detrimental to my relationship. This long-awaited final installment offers a satisfying end to teen fiction’s most riveting trilogy.

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Dhonielle Says: I loved everything about this book: small town, medicine show, the devil, automatons, and a red bicycle. The writing is stellar and can be enjoyed on multiple levels. The atmosphere of the book is spooky, intelligent, and haunting from the very first page. Milford creates a fabulous tomboy heroine, a multi-faceted villain, and weaves a tale of good vs. evil that is fresh and engaging.

Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher Law

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On December - 22 - 2010

love Holiday Gift Guide: This Season, Let Love Be The Higher LawWracking my brain for the perfect holiday gift this year, I had to look no further than the expansive collection of books on my own shelves (but no re-gifting, I promise). I’ve been telling anybody that would listen to me in the last year and change to read Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan.

Law tells the story of three teens in New York during the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Peter, Jasper and Claire don’t all know each other, but their lives intertwine and they all become a part of each other because of the after-effects 9/11. Written from three perspectives, the book is a triumph of superb and heartfelt writing as well as story. As a writer, this is something that I covet and wish I could accomplish. As a reader, how could I not completely fall in love with a book that had me reaching for the Kleenex, laughing out loud, sighing from its immense beauty, and rapidly turning each page. For me, the mark of a good book is how fast I read. I often find myself slowing down when I reach the last thirty or so pages because, while finishing a good book is fulfilling, it’s sad because the end of exploring something new is just around the corner. I had to force myself to NOT slow down, simply because I couldn’t stop reading.

I never thought a novel about such a tragic event could be so inspiring, and carry such a strong message of hope. David Levithan’s exploration of Jasper, Claire and Peter will definitely leave your holiday season feeling that love, indeed, is the higher law.

Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2010

secretcircle Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”If the teen in your life is addicted to the Vampire Diaries, and the best-selling L.J. Smith series the CW hit is based on, then have I got the book for you!

It’s L.J. Smith’s first series, The Secret Circle, published back in the day when I was in high school. And for those who like to be in the know, it’s also about to become a hit (no doubt) CW series.

The original trilogy (recently re-issued in a two-book set) follows the travails of Cassandra, an all-American California girl who finds herself stuck in New Salem, Mass., when her mom heads back to her hometown to take care of her ailing grandmother. There, she runs afoul of the powerful popular crowd, a bunch of kids all born within 24 hours of each other. Naturally, they’re a coven of witches who rule the school — and the town. But factions within the group threaten to hit the boiling point any second.

When the girl who’s supposed to become the final member of the coven dies in a freak accident, half-breed Cassie is inducted in her place. She’s befriended by coven leader Diana, who’s all about fairness and light. But a sordid secret keeps Cassie in the clutches of villainous Faye, who uses the information to try to take Diana down. Will Cassie be a good witch or a bad witch? What secrets does the old town of New Salem hold? And will she ever hook up with the mysterious and beautiful young man she met when she first got to New Salem? The Secret Circle is a juicy, fun fantasy that will leave you wanting more.

But what really elevates it above the typical teen fantasy is Smith’s careful world-building. She bases each of the 12 witches on an ancient Greek god, incorporating the mythology into their magic. Given the richness of the text, I can’t wait to check out what they do with the CW series. And if your favorite teen (or adult, for that matter) loves fantasy, they’ll be all about The Secret Circle too.

Holiday Gift Guide: Jane Wants to Take You To “Narnia”

Posted by Jane Moon On December - 19 - 2010

 Holiday Gift Guide: Jane Wants to Take You To NarniaThe winter holidays always make me think of family, presents, and, of course, snow! The book I would love to give to the teens I know would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia because it has all three themes.

Family. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – the Pevensie family – discover the world of Narnia and the fantastic creatures that live there. As they become involved in the battle to free Narnia from the rule of the White Witch, they discover the importance of sticking together as a family. I always get a little choked up when I get to the part where Edmund is reunited with his family.

Presents. I love the part where Father Christmas makes an appearance to give everyone their gifts. Who doesn’t love receiving presents?

And snow! There’s snow in the book… lots of it! A perfect reminder of the winter holidays.

Of course, there’s the added bonus of magic and the ultimate battle between good and evil. If you’re looking for a great book to give to your teen for the holidays, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be a definite pleaser. Happy holidays!

 Holiday Gift Guide: Amber Suggests The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIf I could give any teen a holiday gift this year, it would have to be The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

This is a book for:

Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.

Anyone who has ever wanted something more.

For those of us with friends that we are afraid to leave behind.

Or those of us who are afraid to branch out and meet new people.

Or anyone who has ever gone through a rough time, like losing a loved one.

It is a book that sheds light on poverty and racism, but also gives hope that understanding and love are more powerful than judgment. Alexie gives us a balanced world, where there is plenty of good to make up for whatever bad is in protagonist Junior’s life. Junior is thrust into a whole new environment, and while he tries to hold onto his old life, he makes new friends, gets the girl, loses old insecurities, and becomes a better version of himself.

It’s a book you won’t be able to put down. Everyone, young or old, will be entertained and enlightened by this New York Times Bestseller. Guaranteed.

There is Only One Lisa Greenwald

Posted by Alyson Gerber On December - 17 - 2010

51j2gl7NVNL. SL500 AA300  There is Only One Lisa GreenwaldAs a terrified nine-year-old camper, who’d managed to misplace my vast and very colorful Speedo collection in just four weeks at Camp Eisner, I was in awe of the junior counselors (called machon), including Lisa Greenwald. So when I started to read all the books published by New School Writing for Children graduates in preparation for my first semester in the program, I started with My Life in Pink & Green by Lisa Greenwald, as an ode to this celebrity camp counselor. It wasn’t until Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes came out in November that I began to Google, and I quickly realized there is in fact only one Lisa Greenwald (at least in my world).

And yes, she is a former Longstocking! Lisa’s latest novel, Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes, was just selected by Barnes and Noble as this month’s must-read for younger readers. Add it to your wish list and then tell us what you think…

Holiday Gift Guide: Alyson Suggests Historical Fiction

Posted by Alyson Gerber On December - 17 - 2010

what i saw and how i lied Holiday Gift Guide: Alyson Suggests Historical FictionGrowing up, I refused to learn about World War II. From the little knowledge I had of life during and even after the war I was afraid, and for good reason. I buried every book my mother ever gave me on the subject in a puffy painted bucket of trolls (which terrified me in a very different way).

Perhaps if I had started with Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied instead of The Devil’s Arithmetic, I would have have been more open to learning about life during this historical time period.

This holiday season, I am giving the gift of Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied and you should too. Add this National Book Award winner, School Library Best Book of the Year and ALA Best Book for Young Adults to your Christmas list if you (or the teen you’re buying for) is interested in historical fiction or loves mystery. Blundell’s book keeps the reader wondering long after the last page.

Set in post-World War II Palm Beach, Evie’s father has returned from the war with a small fortune –  among many other secrets. During their extended Floridian escapade, Evie falls for a handsome GI from her father’s company named Peter Coleridge, who shows up at their hotel unannounced. When tragedy hits, Evie is forced to chose between her family and the mysterious man she loves.

Blundell creates a beautiful world filled with old music, movies and fashion. Through her careful writing, she allows the reader to slip into the past while still holding the attention of young readers with a modern sense of suspense.

New Can Be Great: The Case of Teen Audio Books

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 17 - 2010

Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot about the future of the book. Will ebooks destroy publishing? Will children’s books morph into video games? A couple days ago, our professor David Levithan was quoted on NPR’s Morning Edition, talking about the interactive nature of one of Scholastic’s most popular series. Are books that are more than just paper and ink harbingers of the dystopian future-without-reading in M.T. Anderson’s Feed, or can books actually be made better?

I am a firm believer in innovation. Most people who’ve had a conversation with me in the last few years have had to endure my proselytizing about how much I love ebooks. But even I have to admit that to get the convenience of carrying my library in one hand, I have to give up the great things I love about paper. (Like the smell. Mmmm!) Can you add value without taking any away? I say, absolutely. It’s been done for years with audio books, and they’re at their very best in the teen genre.

I love so many teen audio books that it was hard to whittle it down, but here are the three I’ve heard that use the format best:

Fairest 150x150 New Can Be Great: The Case of Teen Audio BooksFairest by Gail Carson Levine

Fairest is a fairy tale set in a kingdom where music is a way of life. In the printed book, the lyrics just sit on the page. In the audio book, the characters sing! The main character, Aza, is defined by her beautiful singing voice and special vocal abilities. Listening to the music along with the heartfelt narration, we feel along with the character and believe in the spirit of her community. I can’t imagine a better way to experience this imaginative, engrossing book.

Airborn 150x150 New Can Be Great: The Case of Teen Audio BooksAirborn by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn is a fantastic alternate-universe adventure about a boy who lives to sail on an airship. It has strange creatures, pirates, danger and romance. Narrator David Kelly is wonderful, but what really makes the audio version so great is the full cast from Full Cast Audio. Teen books, especially adventure stories, are perfect for full cast performances. The excitement and wonder of the characters and the adventure really come through.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass4 150x150 New Can Be Great: The Case of Teen Audio BooksThe Golden Compass is such a bestseller that everyone reading this has probably already read it, but if you haven’t heard the audio version, I highly suggest you try it this way! Like Airborn, this is done with a full cast—but with the main text read by the author. All the characters are so alive that you feel like you’re right there in the room with them. Everyone from Lyra to the armored bear to all the minor characters are perfectly cast. No single narrator could have pulled off anything this engrossing.

I don’t think audio books are less valuable or “literary” by virtue of being accessible even to people who can’t physically read—the special format makes them accessible to far more people than printed books. Maybe “enhanced” and “interactive” books will make reading accessible to (and more enjoyable for) people our works wouldn’t otherwise reach. And having many different formats means that we authors will have more ways to express ourselves. Reading is not about putting your eyeballs in front of a printed page—it’s about the intellectual and emotional experience. I think there may be many ways for people to get everything we already love out of it—and more.

keturah and lord death 216x300 Holiday Gift Guide: Something Heartfelt and Unexpected — With a Touch of DeathI didn’t even have to think about my choice for best holiday gift.

In Keturah and Lord Death, Martine Leavitt seamlessly weaves a living, feeling grim reaper into an engrossing historical landscape. Keturah is an ordinary girl of her time, dreaming of love and a family of her own. But Death stalks her village, both metaphorically and physically. Leavitt brings to life a world much harsher than ours — where death is far more than an abstract future. More aware of this than others, Keturah still searches for the joy of life. This is no ordinary love story and also no ordinary fantasy. Readers of all ages will be touched by Keturah’s story — and will never think the same way about Death.

Half-Brown or Half-Yellow, Will it Sell?

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On December - 13 - 2010

 Half Brown or Half Yellow, Will it Sell?  After reading an article about mixed race or biracial characters in children’s and teen fiction, it made me reconsider or rethink my own project. I am writing a middle grade historical steampunk novel with a biracial main protagonist. Questions swirled in my head: Why did I choose a biracial identity for the main character? What did I gain by doing that? Or what could my future gains be?

The author of the article was reviewing two picture books that profile biracial children, Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids and Spork. Kip Fulbeck’s Mixed book reminds me of a coffee table book full of pictures of happy biracial children. The second book, Kyo Maclear’s Spork, shows the offspring of a fork and a spoon and symbolizes an interracial union. These picture books made me think about multiracial or biracial teens and tweens in teen and middle grade fiction. Would my protagonist be lonesome? Or a perfect intersection of cultures to boost sales? Not too brown to impede sales?

There has been little press devoted to the fact that the main characters in Rick Riordian’s The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles) are, in fact, biracial. Sadie and Carter are the children of a dead white woman and a black Egyptologist father. Sadie looks white and has been living with her mother’s parents in London, only getting the opportunity to see her father and brother a couple times a year. Carter looks more like his father and lives with him, traveling all over the world. Their racial identity doesn’t inform the text or become a thematic element, but there is a scene where Carter’s father has a serious conversation with him about being African-American. Here is a snippet:

“Carter, you’re getting older. You’re an African American man. People will judge you more harshly, and so you must always look impeccable.”

“That’s not fair!” I insisted.

“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same,” Dad said. “Fairness means everyone gets what they need. And the only way to get what you need is to make it happen yourself. “  (67)

Last month, at an event at New York City’s Books of Wonder featuring the National Book Award Nominees Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Gracia, Katherine Erskine, and Paolo Bacigalupi, I polled the illustrious panel of authors with the following question: Do books with brown faces on them sell?

Rita Williams-Garcia and Walter Dean Myers both answered that it has been hard, but you must persevere and write the book in your heart. The owner of Books of Wonder, Peter Glassman, said that he has often found that white parents don’t buy books with brown faces on them for their kids — and that it is an unfortunate fact. Rita reminded the audience of the publishing hoopla caused by the cover of Justine Labarastier’s book Liar, and how the first cover featured a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl when the main protagonist was in fact a black female.

 Half Brown or Half Yellow, Will it Sell?  Paolo Bacigalupi commented that the main protagonist in his futuristic novel Shipbreaker is mixed race and based on his own child’s ethnicity. He said that his publishers didn’t put his face on the cover and that could say something, but that it is a fact often overlooked when the novel is reviewed. When reviewers neglect to mention the ethnic and/or racial identity of main characters in successful books, does it add to the feeling that biracial characters are invisible in the teen market? Are they doing the book a disservice, even if it isn’t central to the plot?

My historical steampunk novel would be complicated by the race relations of the late 1800s if I made my character full-blood African-American, so I chose to give myself some freedom by making her only half. Additionally, I think that it enhances the tension in the novel to have her be able to pass for white, but also be confronted with the racism her mother faces. The novel is not about race and it’s not a sub-plot or part of the thematic content of the novel. But it is mentioned to add another layer of isolation and tension to the main character’s journey and how she came about. I do worry about whether this decision will effect the book’s marketability and whether my main character’s biraciality will be swept under the rug in reviews and marketing. And sadly, I can’t help but wonder, is that for the best? Peter Glassman’s words haunt my subconscious.

Even though this book hasn’t been sold yet, I find myself already thinking about its racial implications. What is gained by making a character biracial? What is lost? Will my heroine still be considered a multicultural heroine? Will she speak to the child I was? Will all middle-grade girls find a connection with her?

Does anyone know of other middle grade and teen texts with biracial main characters where the novel is not about race? I’d love hear about them.

pixel Half Brown or Half Yellow, Will it Sell?
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