Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Books We Love’ Category

It’s Release Day for Jessica Verdi’s My Life After Now!

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 2 - 2013

It’s a super-wonderful-exciting day at Teen Writers Bloc—release day for Jessica Verdi‘s My Life After Now

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!What now?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Jessica stared writing this gripping, startling, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel during our second semester at The New School and by the time we read the first few pages of her first draft, we all knew she had started something special. Turns out the folks at Sourcebooks Fire agreed with us and, at long last, now you can too! Trust me, you’ll want to get your hands on this book!

Even better, if you’re in the New York area, come and celebrate Jess’s release with us next Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00PM at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn! You can enjoy wine, a reading, a book talk, and get a signed copy (if you can wait that long to get your hands on it!)

Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most

Posted by Alyson Gerber On March - 11 - 2013

TheListBook Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most“Always remember that it is of no consequence to you what other people think of you. What matters is what you think of them. That is how you live your life.” – Gore Vidal

When I heard Gore Vidal give this advice on Charlie Rose, I didn’t just pause my DVR. I swear, I felt my life pause. He seemed to be talking directly to me—writer/secret seventh grader (posing as an adult) who worries and wonders way too much about what other people think. I know I am not alone in the self-doubt department, especially among authors. But the idea that my perspective matters the most and that the way I see things is how I live my life—that got me thinking—not just about my personal point of view, but also about the characters I write and their perspectives.

Why are some characters able to hold our attention? Is it the way they see other people? Themselves? Their world? Is it the choices they make? And when a story requires more than one perspective, how can all the points of view matter? Do they have to matter equally?

I’ve done my best to read most of the new releases in Middle Grade and YA, and from what I’ve learned, there is no formula to writing a believable, engaging perspective. There isn’t one way to tell a story. Anything goes, as long as it is done well. But the way your characters see things—regardless of the first, second, or third person—matters a lot. It’s like any magic potion—lots of love, a pinch of common sense, and a few funny, unexpected ingredients.

Before I read The List by Siobhan Vivian, I was skeptical about a book told from 8 points of view. Anyone else feel that way? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with the characters or follow all of the story lines. I have trouble juggling so many details. But it works. I was surprised as I read along that I didn’t get lost or have to flip back and re-read. I liked having the chance to dip into different people’s minds, to see the story of The List their way, and experience how each of them viewed the world around them. I liked that the novel belonged to each of them for a moment. For me, it solidified Vidal’s point, that what matters most is the way you see things—your point of view.

Book cover image courtesy of PUSH

Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early Auden

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 8 - 2013

Navigating Early 198x300 Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early AudenThis month we’re talking about our favorite characters. I recently had the pleasure of reading Clare Vanderpool’s new historical middle grade Navigating Early. The book takes place at the end of WWII, and I loved that even though the book is set in a certain era, there were no hit-you-over-the-head era clichés. I’ve found obvious era markers to be a problem in some children’s historical books, and once I saw that this book wasn’t going that way, I knew it was going to be something special. But the real reason the book is special isn’t the setting or even the narrator and ostensible main character, Jack. Jack, who at the beginning of the book is dropped off at boarding school feeling lost and alone, is sympathetic but not particularly unique. It’s when Jack meets Early that the story really gains its heart.

If Early were growing up today, he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of autism, but in the world of the 1940s, he’s not a kid with a “disorder”—he’s just weird. He sits in the basement room he’s commandeered listening to music and doing whatever he feels like, since no one forces him to go to class. He has to listen to Billie Holiday when it’s raining, and he takes everything literally, and he’s always sure he’s right, but he’s also the most friendly and open person Jack meets. We soon learn that Early is obsessed with the number pi and a story he tells about it, and what happens to the numbers as they go on. I confess that I didn’t like the pi story or some of the parallels between it and the main story. I’m just not a fan of coincidences. But I loved Early’s insistence on his story, and how he knew exactly what he had to do, and how he was such a good friend and so earnest and likeable that Jack just had to go along with it. I love it when the weird kid is the hero, and I love seeing a character who could be seen as disabled portrayed as uniquely loveable and intelligent and strong-willed. I understood why Jack was willing to follow Early on his crazy quest into the wilderness because I probably would have done it too!

Cover image: Delacorte Press

It’s Launch Day for Caela Carter’s ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!

Posted by Jessica Verdi On February - 26 - 2013

Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 199x300 Its Launch Day for Caela Carters ME, HIM, THEM AND IT!Today is a big day at Teen Writers Bloc — it’s the release of our very own Caela Carter‘s debut novel, Me, Him, Them and It!

When Evelyn decided to piss off her parents with a bad reputation, she wasn’t planning to ruin her valedictorian status. She also wasn’t planning to fall for Todd—the guy she was just using for sex. And she definitely wasn’t planning on getting pregnant. When Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn’s not sure where to go. Can a distant mother, a cheating father, an angry best friend, and a (thankfully) loving aunt with adopted daughters of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?

Caela began writing this incredible story during our first semester at The New School, so several of us at TWB were lucky enough to get to read early drafts of the book before anyone else. And now that it’s out there for all to read, we know it’s going to make quite the splash in the YA lit world.

I’ve held a finished copy of Me, Him, Them and It in my hands, and let me tell you — it’s beautiful. Definitely something I’d pick up off the shelf and Barnes and Noble. And we hope you will too!

If you’re in the New York area you can come celebrate the release of this book with us and with the author herself at the launch event on Thursday, February 28th at 6:30 PM at the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue at 93rd Street.

Mary’s Great Middle Grade Reads

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 28 - 2013

Hello Teen Writers Block readers! Today I want to share with you a couple of great middle grade books I read this month.

Gustav Gloom 102x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsFirst, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro. It’s the first in a planned series, but never fear, it stands alone as a great read. Although Gustav Gloom is the title character, the real star of the book is Fernie, a plucky, scary-story loving ten-year-old who moves in across the street from Gustav Gloom’s weird, cloud-enshrouded house. She’s joined by her equally cool twelve-year-old sister and her hilariously cautious father. I couldn’t stop laughing at all the funny ways Dad had supposedly tried to keep the girls safe from imagined dangers. After noticing her cat’s shadow run off into the mysterious Gloom house, leaving the cat behind, Fernie is quickly moved to follow, and the adventure begins. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a fantastic adventure story all set inside a single house. This works perfectly because the house is much bigger inside than out and filled will all sorts of wonders and dangers. Gustav, the boy who lives among the weirdness, is an interesting, sympathetic character. Most importantly, there are plenty of laughs thrown in along the way. I’m so glad I came across this book and I highly recommend it!

The Mostly True Story of Jack 103x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsSecond, I finally got around to reading my copy of The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. Wow, is this book right up my alley! It has a slow-building mystery, ominous and subtle magic, and a cast of unique but relatable characters. I recommend skipping the publisher’s book description, because it really does a terrible job of reflecting the book’s coolness. In the beginning, Jack’s mother drops him off at his aunt and uncle’s house to spend some time while his parents work out their divorce. But it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not right. Jack’s mother seems to have a hard time remembering him. He tries calling both parents, but his calls never go through. His letters mysteriously erase themselves. There are two weirdly sentient and protective cats and a book that talks about magic that couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Then there are the twins down the street, the silent and scarred Frankie with a mysterious past and his plucky sister Wendy, who will do anything to protect him. The writing is fantastic and the artfully layered story comes together in a unique way. This is for fantasy fans who are looking for something deeper than a wham-bang action extravaganza, and I loved it!

Well, it looks like I got lucky with my picks this month. How’d you do?

Cover Images: Gustav Gloom—Penguin, The Mostly True Story of Jack—Little, Brown

Corey’s Picks for 2012

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 8 - 2013

10798418 Coreys Picks for 2012I was not going to write a “best of 2012″ list. Mostly because I did not read nearly enough in 2012. So even if I loosened the criteria of “best of 2012″ to simply mean books I happened to read in 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to put on there.

But. BUT. Then I read WHY WE BROKE UP.
I started read it on Christmas Eve Day, at my good friend’s family’s house in Virginia. In front of a fire. With a cup of peanut soup (yes you read that right! Peanut soup!) in hand.
I’m not going to say the fire and the peanut soup and the Christmas spirit and the quiet away from the city didn’t influence this read. I’m sure they did, as every experience of reading a book depends partly on circumstance and timing and mindset.
But I believe regardless of the fire and soup and intense calm of the not-city, I would have fallen in love with this book anyway.
Because I did. I fell in love with the book. HARD.
I fell in love with this book so hard I had to slow down my reading of it to five days instead of two, just to make it last longer.
I fell in love with this book so hard my own writing magically stopped sucking and started being fun again.
I fell in love with this book so hard it has officially (or, unofficially since I am not one for spreadsheets or remembering anything or lists) made my Top Ten Books of ALL TIME list.

Daniel Handler’s WHY WE BROKE UP is a series of letters (or, more accurately I think, vignettes) written from teenaged Min to her (now-ex) boyfriend. She plans on delivering this packet of lovely stories detailing their relationship to him along with a box of objects from their time together.
It is simple and complicated. We know how it ends, but we also totally have no idea why it ends. Every moment Min details has a shade of anger over it, but the romance and love are all there too. It’s a masterpiece.
Plus there are gorgeous illustrations, a great cover, and heavy, thick, glossy, unusual pages.
It’s not a book, it’s an experience.
I needed an experience.

I loved this book so much it reminded me that I loved some other books this year:

LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay. A novel in verse. Another to-die-for voice of a smart teenager. The kind of book that makes you stop every few pages so that you can admire the loveliness of the writing.

GONE, GONE, GONE by Hannah Moskowitz: A haunting, raw story of two teen boys who are trying to love each other despite how screwed up the world around them might be.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr: Maybe my favorite of Zarr’s books so far, this accomplishes the impossible: two narrators who are both flawed, brilliant, lovable, and different. I was blown away by the story, the writing, and the voices.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green: I mean, yeah. I don’t have to tell you what a triumph this book is. Also, it gives me a special thrill to see a contemporary YA captivate the whole world and be taken so seriously.

WONDER by R.J. Palacio: I blogged about this book already, I believe. But it is one of my favorite middle-grade novels of all time, and again, a book that inspired me to do better in my writing, to take more risks, to remember why it is we spend time writing.

USED TO BE by Eileen Cook: This is actually two books packaged as one, and they got me through a 24 hour layover in the Mexico City airport. I probably don’t have to say much more than that, but these two novels are crazy fun without losing their depth, power, and emotional sparkle. I’d call them page turners, even though they don’t have killers or zombies or any traditional cliff-hanger tropes. Cook is an expert storyteller, and I couldn’t have survived Mexico without these charming, moving, exciting, beautiful books.

I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR BAND by Julie Klausner: This is a great collection of personal essays (non-YA!) by a great comedian and podcaster who details her dating life in NYC with humor, honesty, and the kind of quirky, specific details that for me make a good book or essay or memoir great. This is a great memoir. And so much fun.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed: This is a collection from Strayed’s advice column (I shudder to call it that, since it is a literary triumph and an ocean of therapeutic knowledge) which was featured on The Rumpus, a great literary website. Strayed is such an excellent writer she will make your jaw drop, and these columns/essays/moment of pure genius got me through a dark spot in 2012. I have since gifted the book to three different girlfriends, who have all gifted it to their girlfriends. It’s unmissable.

So, I guess I did have a lot to say about the books of 2012. I cared most about great writing this year. Page-stopping, arresting, startling, inspiring, challenging, unforgettable, soaring writing.

I needed to be inspired this year. I needed to be carried through some tough times. And I needed to really, truly love a book in order to read it.

Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown

Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 31 - 2012

Dragonswood 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Hello everyone, it’s that time again, the time when we take the arbitrary ending of the year on the calendar and make a big deal out of it. But hey, there’s no better excuse for a “best of” list! So today, I want to share with you my favorite 2012 YA books. I read lots of other books this year (more on that soon), but these are my favorite books that were published in 2012. Of course, this is in no way scientific, because I didn’t read anywhere near all the books published in 2012. I have to get work done sometime. But having said that, without further ado … let’s start with dragons! I read two fantastic books involving dragons this year! The first was Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, the sequel/companion to the fantastic Dragon’s Keep (2007). In Dragon’s Keep, our heroine Princess Rosalind, a Pendragon, was born with a dragon’s claw, which she had to keep hidden on pain of death. Much action, romance (but not too much romance), and frolicking with dragons ensued. In Dragonswood, Carey returns to the same world two generations later. The heroine is a peasant who flees an accusation of witchcraft and finds romance and a connection to both dragons and fey. The historical world of Wilde Island is just as well realized as in the original, and the author has expanded on the world she created. Both books are must reads!

Seraphina 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And then, later in the year, we got Seraphina! Seraphina is even more about dragons. I loved the way Rachel Hartman created a realistic historical, yet pleasingly modern world in which science plays as much a part as magic. Like the heroine in Dragon’s Keep, Seraphina has a secret connection to dragons. In this world, dragons can fold themselves into human shape and mate with humans. To be frank, I had a huge problem with that premise because … physics! Mass! Biology! But I took a deep breath and got over it and allowed myself to get lost in the story. The world Hartman created is extremely well imagined and intricate, but the story never gets bogged down. Even though I’ve seen dragons before, the world felt completely new and fresh. Also, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it has a satisfying ending that completely wraps up the plot. I’ve become extremely annoyed with the current trend of ending books in mid story, and I was super happy to see that Seraphina did it’s job and finished. All in all, a fantastic book!

Every Day 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Leaving dragons for the time being, the next book on my list is Every Day, by our New School professor David Levithan. In Every Day, our hero “A” jumps from body to body every night at midnight. Why? I never stopped to wonder, which is a credit to the fantastic writing. Every day our hero takes over a new person’s life, always the same age as A, which is sixteen. A has no intrinsic gender or sexual orientation, but after a lifetime of experiencing people’s lives in day-long snippets, he/she/it suddenly falls in love with a girl. Yes, suddenly. It’s YA insta-love, and like with giant reptilian dragons suddenly turning into tiny mammals, I just had to get over it. Once you accept the love, you get to experience all the interesting complications. How do you develop a real relationship with someone if you’re a different person and in a different place every day? This book really got me thinking “what if?” Levithan, unsurprisingly considering his wild optimism in Boy Meets Boy, chooses to see A’s predicament as bringing out the best in A’s human nature. A’s experiences in the bodies of different people make him thoughtful and understanding. I’m not so sure I would behave as well as A if I jumped into other people’s bodies. I think I might party hard and screw the consequences. But not A! He takes good care of the people he borrows. Until he falls in love, and his careful system threatens to fall apart. Will A get the girl? You’ll want to read this and find out!

The Theory of Everything 112x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And finally, my absolute favorite book of the year is The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson. I already reviewed the book here, so I won’t go into great detail again. Let me just say that I tend to read more fantasy than realistic fiction, so it’s a big deal that a realistic book ended up on the top of my list. I haven’t read a book with a better mix of sadness and humor. On its surface it’s a book about a girl dealing with the death of her best friend, but Johnson tells the story in such a way that it becomes about what it means to be a person dealing with life’s stuff. The main character’s voice is absolutely perfect.

Well, that’s my list! What were your favorite 2012 books? Is there anything that we here at Teen Writers Bloc absolutely must read?

When It Comes to Adaptations, Sona’s Kicking It Old School

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On November - 27 - 2012

look 600x450 When It Comes to Adaptations, Sonas Kicking It Old School

Okay, so I couldn’t agree more with my pal Jess Verdi about how uber-awesome the TV version of The Vampire Diaries. In fact, some — myself included — would venture to say that the TV take is even better than the books (which, if you check them out, did get a bit nutty as the series continued). And there are plenty of other awesome examples of books  turned TV shows — like “True Blood” and “Pretty Little Liars.” There are also plenty of film adaptations of books — in fact, I recently did a gallery on them for Mom.Me, if you care to learn what’s hitting a theater near you sometime soon.

But my favorite adaptation to this day is an old school one. It’s a world I used to wish I could live in when I was a little girl, one dominated by feisty redheaded orphan (no, not Annie) who took a staid old town by storm. To this day, I love me some Anne of Green Gables. The 1985 TV movie adaptation of the Lucy Maud Montegomery series was flawless in its execution, following the travails of young Anne (played by the impeccable Megan Fellows), was thrilling to watch — the world I read in the books coming to life right there in front of my eyes. Sullivan Entertainment produced the books into a satisfying, uplifting and occasionally heartbreaking series, bringing to to life those moments where Anne got drunk on currant wine, warred with her grade school crush Gilbert Blythe, and eventually fell in love and experienced her first loss. You can relive all those moments in this awesome collectors’ box set of DVDS, which I will buy for my daughter Kavya when she’s old enough to enjoy them — but not until after we’ve read the books together, of course. I can’t wait.

Book Review: The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 14 - 2012

The Theory of Everything 225x300 Book Review: The Theory of Everything by J.J. JohnsonI first discovered J.J. Johnson last year when her first book, This Girl is Different, came out. I loved it and reviewed it for the blog here, so I was really excited to get my Amazon pre-order of her follow up, The Theory of Everything. I was not, however, prepared for the totally completely overwhelming awesomeness that is The Theory of Everything. When I was finished with the book, pretty much all I could say was, Wow!

The Theory of Everything is about fifteen-year-old Sarah, whose best friend, Jamie, died about eight months before the book begins. The world has moved on, but Sarah’s life will never be the same. She’s pushed away her other friends and family and can’t even begin to go near Jamie’s twin brother, Emmett, or Jamie’s parents. She still has her sexy boyfriend, but she’s going through the motions. Sarah’s voice is humorous and realistic, never becoming depressing but never letting us forget what she’s going through. Sarah’s main comfort is her dog, Ruby, and even though personally I’m not a dog lover, I totally got it. I felt like I was inside a real person’s head, and all the external characters were painfully real. I don’t recommend reading the front cover copy, because it gives away plot stuff that I’m glad I didn’t know before reading.

There were several places where I cried yet no places where I felt manipulated. There were no brightly painted signs saying, “This is so sad! Cry here!” Just real, believable emotions naturally worked into a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. If I was on all those fancy awards committees, I’d have The Theory of Everything at the top of my list. Everyone go out and read this book now!

Cover image courtesy Peachtree Publishers

Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the Way

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 2 - 2012

brief wondrous life of oscar wao by junot diaz Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the WayWhen asked what book I wished I had written, three immediately come to mind: Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. All three of these books made me almost-cry (and at times cry) at the perfection of their stories. They motivated me to become a writer and hopefully write something as awesome. They filled me up with that nice kind of envy, maybe not a greenish envy, but a sweeter baby bluish or pinkish envy.

All three of these works have some similarities that I personally obsess about in the works I choose to read and what I write about. They’re all about the coming of age of an urban teen of color, the struggles of growing up underprivileged in the USA and the difficulties of being bicultural. And the authors all write about it in a fresh, original and creative format that had me captivated from beginning to end. I LOVED and connected with these stories and I LOVED how the stories were told.

The House on Mango Street uses short poetic vignettes to share the experiences Esperanza faces growing up in her neighborhood. Using colorful and concise language, Cisneros describes her awesome characters in such a way that you laugh at their imperfections and at the same time sympathize with many of their lost dreams. The story ends with a conflicted Esperanza, who wants more out of life. Despite loving her neighborhood and her heritage, she realizes that in order to pursue her dreams she must eventually leave it behind — a common decision many of us face when going away to college and leaving the ‘hood to pursue our dreams.

When I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in David Levithan’s class last year, I was absolutely mesmerized by Junior’s tragic life. I mean, this kid had absolutely nothing good going for him. Absolutely nothing.  Anybody else would have jumped off a bridge, seriously. Between his physical limitations, living on the depressing reservation, the bullying, the deaths, the adversities surrounding his people, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the anger… how can you have so many issues in one book?  My classmates have told me many times that I have too many issues in one of the pieces I’m working on, and all I do is think about Alexie’s book. But I think you can do it because it can be real! Some people have really shitty lives. But Alexie tempers the trauma with humor. And once Junior (like Esperanza) decides to leave, he ends the book with hope.

And what can I say about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? It won a Pulitzer, for crying out loud! But I will say this: I read this book about a week after it came out (obviously before the Pulitzer). I had patiently waited ten years for Mr. Diaz’s next work of art.I read it voraciously in a few days, hypnotized by Diaz’s curses, urban-Dominicanness, his hilarious footnotes and fantastic story telling. Once I finally finished it, I slammed it on the table and yelled to my husband who was watching TV, “This is a freaking masterpiece! And it deserves a Pulitzer, but probably won’t get it because… because, well I don’t think many would understand it in its entirety. Last time I checked there weren’t any geeky, urban, poor Dominican immigrants masterfully mixing Spanish and curses in their writing on the Pulitzer judging table.” Well, thank god I was wrong, dead wrong.

Thank you for opening those doors Ms. Cisneros, Mr. Alexie and Mr. Diaz.

Photo courtesy Riverhead Trade

pixel Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the Way
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