Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for July, 2011

Books With Bang: Norma Klein Shocked Sona At 14

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On July - 27 - 2011

41C5ZD5WKKL. SL500 AA300  Books With Bang: Norma Klein Shocked Sona At 14So I’m going old school with this one. When I was 14, perusing the shelves of the local Barnes & Noble, as I often did, I came across a teen tome titled “Just Friends,” by Norma Klein.

At that point (and actually, still to this day), I had never read a Klein book besides “Mom, The Wolf Man and Me.” A lot of her canon was way before my time. So I didn’t know that her YA list frequently courted controversy — and, of course, often made the banned books list. A young 14-year-old in the days pre-Internet-everything, I was blissfully unaware.

And this book, “Just Friends,” looked innocent enough. It was about Isabel and Stuart, two smart teenagers who grew up together as pals — and, as usual, had a bit of trouble navigating their relationship once hormones and teen angst kicked in. Isabel had feelings for Stuart, and Stuart was going out with their other friend, Ketti. So, to get on with her life, Isabel hooked up with the gawky, skinny, unappealing but decidedly available-and-interested Gregory. And it’s with him that she experiences some of those awkward teen firsts.

And that was the shocking part. Unlike other teen fare I’d read, Norma Klein wasn’t afraid to go there, the body parts, the confusion, the humiliation. Klein drew her characters in 3D, from the teens facing the trauma of growing up and apart to the adults dealing with their own version of adolescent angst. It was a vivid, satisfying and frequently shocking read. And it made me want to write.

In fact, I do recall some horribly derivative dribble I scribbled back in the day, at all of 14, which may be officially dubbed my first attempt at fiction. I likely have it stashed in one of my high school journals, never to be seen by prying eyes. There it will remain. But when I think of books with bang, Klein’s books, as little as I’ve read of it, surely make the list. In fact, maybe I’ll go back into teen fiction history and hunt down some more of her titles this summer, to see what I missed.

The Book With A Huge Bang for Dhonielle!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On July - 25 - 2011

9780738711010 The Book With A Huge Bang for Dhonielle!When I started exclusively reading Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, one of the books that had a HUGE bang for me  was Anne Spollen’s book THE SHAPE OF WATER. In 2008, I came across this book while on  the hunt for lyrical, Young Adult magical realism that dealt with tough issues like death, teen loneliness, and alienation. Immediately, The cover art struck me: the juxtapostion of certain colors, the shapes/objects inbedded in her hair, and the red tear on her cheek. I was sucked in. And when I started the book, the prose did not disappoint.

Our wonderful friends over at Amazon.com do a great job summarizing the book: “As 15-year-old Magdalena tries to cope with her mother’s death, reality and fantasy clash until she accepts the truth of what really happened. The beach was their favorite place, and they often swam and explored together. Now, the girl’s companions are a family of fish that live in her imagination. At first this device is somewhat off-putting, but as the pain surrounding her loss becomes apparent, it becomes more acceptable. Her father tries to help her recover from the trauma she has suffered even while he must also adjust to his own grief. Hannah, her aunt, helps with practical things at home. She seems like a strong, focused woman but her background unfolds in surprising ways. Magda’s father eventually marries a widow who tries to deny the troubles of her teenage son until he winds up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Gradually, Magda begins to come to terms with reality, and, as she does, the fish companions begin to disappear. Though at times confusing, this story is riveting, and Spollen’s incredibly descriptive prose creates images as clear and alive as those of a master painter.” —Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

After reading this book I figured out how I wanted to write my own Young Adult novels. I wanted them to be rich and lyrical and contain an extended metaphor that gives it depth and emotion. Anne Spollen’s prose is full of lush richness, something I crave as a reader. Minimalist prose irritates me because I want the author to paint the fictional world full of colors and textures and specificities. For me minimalist writing is only a doodle or black sketch of a world, lacking color. Anne Spollen gives me this, along with a mood.

Every time I start a new YA project I re-read this novel. It reminds me of how to make a narrative rich and evocative for a teen, and how to capture sadness and alienation so beautifully. Check it out! It may be slow at first, but this is the kind of book that rewards those who linger.

Photo Credit: Flux


Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On July - 21 - 2011

A Monster Calls Cover Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls is a great illustration of how fantasy can depict reality better than so-called “realism.” What, after all, is more real than our greatest fear? For younger children, that fear might be a monster under the bed or in the closet, but as we get older, we begin to realize that real life contains monsters that can’t be scared away by a bright light.

In Patrick Ness’s excellent and heart-wrenching novel, inspired by an idea from the late Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, thirteen-year-old Conor faces fears both surreal and real: as his mother faces the final stages of a terminal illness, a monster visits him. Taking the form of an enormous, powerful yew tree, it always comes at 12:07. But what does it want? What are the meanings of its stories? Is it leading him to destruction, or does it have the power to heal?

The author’s writing is sparse but lyrical. With few characters and not a single gimmick, Ness brings us into a world of nightmares. Whether the nightmares will end depends on Conor. How will he face the monster that stalks him? Ness’s poignant answers make this book required reading for anyone, young or old, who appreciates the power of a story to reveal truth.

A Monster Calls will be released in the U.S. on September 27. With beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay.

Cover Image Courtesy Candlewick Press

Books with Bang: Amber looks at books with purpose

Posted by Amber On July - 20 - 2011

ThanThe Bluest Eye Books with Bang: Amber looks at books with purposeks to my 11th grade Honors English teacher I was introduced to two classic literary works that sparked a certain hunger within me to try to write with a purpose, i.e with something meaningful to say, even in the smallest sense. The two works I’m referring to are The Bluest Eye and Native Son, by Toni Morrison and Richard Wright respectively. These works are political and poignant, purposeful and dour, with strong narratives and emotionally-charged plots and language. They describe horrible and discriminatory acts, cast their protagonists and our society in an unsavory light, and yet they are written in such a way that you cannot tear your eyes away from the page. And with The Bluest Eye especially, as with all of Morrison’s novels, each piece of the story—from the plot to the structure and the language used—matters.

Admittedly, these works scared me when I first read them because they were both devastating and disturbing beyond belief. Pecola is a little black girl who is so unloved and mistreated by those around her, so abused by her circumstances, that she is driven to the point of insanity.  And Bigger Thomas commits a heinous and unforgivable crime, which Wright uses to get the reader’s attention so that he can highlight the plight of the black man in 1930s America. These books are haunting, but worth reading at least once. Up until that point, I’d never read works with such social relevance before. If I hadn’t read such works when I did, who knows if I would appreciate books like The Awakening, Caucasia, and The Girl Who Fell From The Sky as much as I do now? Books that mean something more than an escape, books that push you to think and doubt and inquire, those are books with bang.

Then again, Native Son was published in 1940, and The Bluest Eye was published in 1970.  Do you think that today, being political, as in dissecting, criticizing and questioning specific aspects of  society and social behavior in a realistic narrative, a YA narrative even, is as acceptable as it used to be? Maybe this isn’t even an issue, if you write such a work, correctly.


Photo Credit: Random House

Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On July - 13 - 2011

akatawitch Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi OkoraforNnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch is a coming-into-your-powers story much like the original Harry Potter. A kid with a set of problems learns that she’s really part of a community that commands all sorts of fantastic power—and she and her friends must fight great evil. The refreshing difference—and the reason I recommend this book to everyone—is that Okorafor introduces American readers to a magical tradition that few of us are familiar with: West African juju. All of the magical methods, creatures, rules and folklore were completely new to me, and I also learned a lot about modern life in Nigeria. Okorafar was brilliant in her creation of Sunny, a twelve-year-old albino girl who was born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents but moved to Nigeria at the age of nine. She has the wisdom that comes from being an outsider, but loves soccer and embraces the new and amazing like any kid. Sunny and her three best friends, who initiate her into the secret world, are each well-rounded, complex characters who bring their own interesting pieces of culture to the story.

The book portrays a harsh reality in which the magical world is somewhat wondrous, but also full of terrible dangers. Deadly beast abound, kids who transgress are flogged, and teachers send their students out on tests that might kill them. People are still people, some good and some bad. The best part about the magical world is that its currency, called chittim, drops magically from the sky when Sunny learns something. The story makes it clear that even the magical Leopard People can succumb to a hunger for wealth and power, but I love the idea that someone, somewhere, is trying to run a society where knowledge is wealth.

While following Sunny’s journey from ordinary outcast to powerful witch, I was swept along in the current. You will be, too.

Cover art courtesy Penguin Group Inc.

Books With Bang: For Steven, It’s All About the Anatomy of a Sneeze!

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On July - 12 - 2011

kachoo 216x300 Books With Bang: For Steven, Its All About the Anatomy of a Sneeze!One of the greatest lessons I ever learned came courtesy of Dr. Seuss.

When I was a wee little lad, the book that had the biggest bang for me was Dr. Seuss’ Because A Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! Essentially, the book is about a little bug who sneezes, and because of its sneeze, a seed drops on a worms head and the worm gets mad and kicks a tree from which a coconut drops and hits a turtle and so on a so forth, each setting off a wild chain events that causes a city to erupt into chaos. “That started something they’ll never forget. And as a far as I know it is going on yet. And that’s how it happened. Believe me. It’s true. Because…just because…a small bug went KA-CHOO!”

This was my introduction to the idea of a ripple effect. Because of one action, no matter how small, inconsequential or unintentional, there’s always a reaction. Whenever something happens in my life or around me, I always think of the original action that caused that event. I trace back the ripples to the source and analyze it. I guess that’s what makes me a writer.

Applying this concept and philosophy to my own writing has greatly benefitted me. Before I start to write an important scene, I tend to map out in my head how every one of the characters will react. I envision their stories playing out and I think about how each one is affected. I spend a lot of time doing this, and in my head I always envision a pond and throwing a rock into the water and watching the ripples. It’s important to think about:

A)   How strong the ripples are.

B)   How far they stretch.

C)   How big the pool is. Do the ripples keep rebounding and creating waves? Or do they ebb and stop flow? How long does it take until all is calm again? What will everything look like in the aftermath.

And all of this came from a little bug who sneezed. The ripple effect from that I Can Read Dr. Seuss book continues to affect me today. I look at the back of my worn-out copy, where I scribbled my name, and think about how far I’ve come and how much I think about that little bug on a day-to-day basis. And it that sense, I guess it’s had the biggest bang or impact in my life.

ender 184x300 Books With Bang: Corey Offers Up Picks Old and New, From Enders Game to RoomWhen I think about “books with a bang”, my mind goes to that particular brand of book that you cannot put down, because the action/suspense/intrigue is so intense. This is tough for me, because though I love a page-turner, my tastes in general skew towards quieter novels.

But then I remembered childhood Corey, and what SHE liked to read. I was a voracious reader from a very early age, so it took a lot of books to keep my happy. Which meant that I read a lot of unexpected and atypical books just to satisfy my hunger.

A book I would LOVE to return to that made a huge, big bang impact and is completely outside my genre is Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I don’t remember much about the plot, but I remember everything about my love of the novel, my speedy devouring of its contents, and my insistence that it was my favorite book for a year or two (a huge honor, given how much I loved EVERY book).

I was a sucker for a good Lurlene McDaniel book about dying girls, and found those, also, impossible to put down. And if life or death survival is what classifies a book as being a page-turner, than Hatchet has to be at the top of the list as well.

As far as recent reads go, I think I’m realizing how much I miss the speedy, engrossing reads. I want to be shocked by a novel, and a lot of authors I’m reading these days are playing it safe (Hunger Games being the obvious exception, but how many times can I prostheletize about that series before I am redundant? Already there? Oops!)

Two novels that I would consider “crossover” fit the bill this year: Never Let Me Go and Room. As I do most of my non-work “reading” via audio book (my eyes can’t handle any more than my six hours of reading manuscripts in the office), the sign of a great page-turner for me is when I don’t take off my headphones even after I have gotten off the subway. Both of these books made me walk in the door and sit on my couch as if I was still trapped on the F train. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is!

part time indian Books With Bang: Caela Gets Fired Up About Sherman Alexies The Absolutely True Diary of A Part time IndianThe book has made the most bangs and sirens and fireworks and yelps and screams and general noise crash around my brain was definitely Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I am a huge fan of stories — or actual situations — in which kids from totally different backgrounds are forced to face each other’s culture head on.

Junior, Alexie’s principal character, finds the high school on his Indian Reservation lacking. He yearns to learn more than he can there, and at the urging of one of his white teachers, he goes after his education. This comes with consequences. He has to go to an all white school very far away from the reservation. Sometimes he has to hitchhike or even walk to get there depending on who in his family is around, is sober, and has gas in his car. But the logistical problems Junior faces are tiny compared to the cultural ones.  He finds it difficult at first to deal with the bullies at school — that is, until, in one of the most honest and “bang” moments in the book, Junior punches the white boy who is three times his size.

But at the heart of this book is the loss of Junior’s friendship with Rowdy. The Reservation does not adjust well to Junior’s new ambitions and when Rowdy refuses to go with Junior to the new high school, Junior realizes he is leaving his best buddy behind.

Alexie beautifully sets Junior’s story parallel to both the white bully who cannot and will not understand Junior’s struggles, and to Rowdy who cannot and will not try to escape them. There is a genuine humanity, depth and “boy-ness” to each of these characters that sends them screaming into your brain. It is an absolute must-read.

A Chorus Line 300x225 Too Young to Take Over, Too Old to Ignore: Jess pays homage to “A Chorus Line”Let’s face it—though we write for and about kids and teens, the YA/MG authorial community is mainly comprised of grown-ups, distanced by time and circumstance from the very people we are writing about. This rather basic fact got me thinking. In a grown-up world of bills and rent and taxes and marriages and parenting and responsibilities, where do we get our inspiration from? How do we find an authentic place in the heads of our adolescent characters? Well, I’ve actually found my greatest inspiration in an unlikely source: A Chorus Line.

Now, you’re probably thinking, what does a 1970s musical about a bunch of adults auditioning for the chorus of a Broadway show have to do with anything? Well, if you know the show, you know that, as part of their audition, the dancer hopefuls are asked to tell a personal story about their own life. And nine times out of ten, the stories they choose to tell are from their childhood, and infused with such realism, raw emotion, and detail that all I have to do is turn on the cast album and, to quote the show, ”suddenly I’m seventeen.”

It’s far more powerful if you can actually hear the music, but nevertheless, here is a sampling of A Chorus Line’s lyrics:

On mother/daughter relationships and self-image:
Mother always said I’d be very attractive,
When I grew up, when I grew up.
‘Diff’rent,’ she said, ‘with a special something and a very, very personal flair.’
And though I was eight or nine… I hated her.
Now, ‘diff’rent’ is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.
Pretty is what it’s about.
I never met anyone who was ‘diff’rent’ who couldn’t figure that out.

On coming from a broken home:
I don’t know what they were for or against, really, except each other.
I mean, I was born to save their marriage.
But when my father came to pick my mother up at the hospital, he said,
‘Well, I thought this was going to help, but I guess it’s not.’
Anyway, I did have a fantastic fantasy life.
I used to dance around the living room with my arms up like this.
My fantasy was that he was an Indian Chief.
And he’d say to me, ‘Maggie, do you want to dance?’
And I’d say, ‘Daddy, I would love to dance.’

On puberty-induced humiliation:
The worst thing in school was that
Every time the teacher called on me, I’d be hard. I’d be hard. Really…
Walking down the halls, you’d have to walk like this,
With all your books stacked up in front of you.

On self-discovery:
Then there was the time I was making out in the back seat with Sally Ketchum.
We were necking, and I was feeling her boobs and feeling her boobs.
And after about an hour or so, she said,
‘Oooh. Don’t you wanna feel anything else?’
And I suddenly thought to myself, no, I don’t.
It was probably the first time I realized that I was homosexual.
I got so depressed because I thought being gay meant being a bum all the rest of my life.

On being humiliated by teachers:
Mr. Carp, he would say,
‘Very good, except Morales. Try, Morales, all alone…’
The kids yelled, ‘Nothing!’ They called me ‘nothing.’
And Carp allowed it, which really makes me burn.
They were so helpful, they called me ‘hopeless,’
Until I really didn’t know where else to turn.
And Carp kept saying,
‘Morales, I think you should transfer to Girls High.
You’ll never be an actress, never.’

A Chorus Line image courtesy of AChorusLine.com

Books With Bang: Mary Recommends Battle Royale

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On July - 8 - 2011

battle royale Books With Bang: Mary Recommends Battle RoyaleWhen I first heard about The Hunger Games, I thought, hmm, that’s been done! Of course, I ended up reading the trilogy and finding that The Hunger Games took its own fantastic approach to the concept. Still, if you like the idea of kids forced to kill each other at the whim of an oppressive future government, you’d be missing something if you missed this book!

In Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, first published in 1999, the oppressive government is in a future Japan, where each year, a junior high school class is picked by lottery to be taken to an island, where they’re each given a weapon — some more effective than others — and forced to kill each other until one kid remains. The author begins each chapter by telling us how many kids are left, and the writing is sparse and brutal. We mainly follow a single hero, but we learn about a wide variety of characters, from cold-blooded future mobsters to soft-hearted teens experiencing first love. How will the different personalities in the class deal with their situation? Who will be ruthless and who will band together to escape?

If you’re not not faint-hearted and can handle a little blood with your bedtime reading, pick this up!

Cover Image courtesy VIZ Media LLC

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