Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Books We Love’ Category

Alyson’s Ode To R.J. Palacio

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 1 - 2012

wonder Alysons Ode To R.J. PalacioWonder. I wish I’d written it. I’d like to cross out R.J. Palacio and write in Alyson Gerber. It’s everything I love about middle grade in one book.

For one thing, there’s no caramel coating. August — a 10-year-old boy with extreme facial abnormalities — tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to speak the truth, as he sees it. I drink my coffee black — no sugar — so this makes me very happy.

August is real, likable, and at times hilarious, but the book is serious and the emotional core is deeply rooted in his painful experience and journey. Nine to fourteen-year-olds can handle tough topics. And whether we like it or not, I think they do. So they should be addressed in literature.

While this story is specific, there is a universal element. On the inside, August wants the same thing as every other fifth grader (and I would argue as every person, at any age) — he wants to belong somewhere. He wants to find friends and a place where he can be himself. He wants acceptance.

August is an ordinary ten-year-old boy on the inside, which by nature makes him a part-time tough guy. He’s just starting to reject his parents’ affection and fighting for a sense of independence, yet he still has moments that remind us he’s only ten (and they are so sweet). The intricate balance of extremely guarded, but also vulnerable is beautifully done here. It’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time.

Here are a few additional things that make me think R.J. Palacio is a genius:

#1. August never describes his physical appearance and yet I can see him so clearly. It’s like I’m Summer and we’re eating lunch together right now.

#2. Wonder has eight parts. Parts one, six, and eight are told from August’s perspective and the other five are written from other points of view, all in first person. Oh, and did I mention that the story is seamless and each perspective adds another amazing emotional layer? I mean, come on. It’s too good.

Photo courtesy Knopf

Sona Wishes She’d Written a Book Already

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 30 - 2012

290382 Sona Wishes Shed Written a Book AlreadySo my deadline is coming right on up — next Friday to be exact — and still more than 8,000 words to go. Minimum! Which means that I get to interpret this question as I will. Thankyouverymuch.

And so, I’ve decided, in pondering the countless astounding books that came before — tearjerking fiction like The Fault In Our Starsshockingly cathartic memoirs like Pretty Is What Changes, funny essay collections like Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? — that if I had to limit it to one book that someone else wrote, it would be Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron, which is rich and expansive and sprawling as it travels from the U.S. to the U.K. to the heart of Pakistan, filled with startling lyricism, lines that stick with you. But the book — and its narrator — is still incredibly real in its light touch on those mundane, everyday moments, like the first time you meet someone whom you know will change your life forever.

But I digress. Because the real point I’d like to make here is that I still haven’t written an actual, complete draft of a book. I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and that deadline is looming large. But after two years in a grad program for fiction, I still have three works-in-progress, none of which are finished. This is unacceptable. So on Friday, when my deadline hits, I will report  back here. It will either be an epic celebration. Or I will once again hang my head in shame. Hold me to it, folks. I’m not kidding.

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless Books

Posted by Corey Haydu On September - 24 - 2012

 Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless BooksIs there anything better than John Green? I mean really, is there? Reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska in David Levithan’s class at The New School our first semester of class was life changing for me. I hadn’t read much “literary” YA or middle-grade, and a door opened in my head when I realized there was room for experimentation, lyricism, and depth in every genre of fiction.
I wish I’d written Looking for Alaska because it is surprising and dark and funny and true. I love the characters, I believe in their journeys, and the writing itself is magical. Uh, yeah, I wish I’d written that.

Other books I wish I’d written? Elissa Schappell’s Use Me. I still hope to write some adult literature someday, whenever I feel re-inspried by that genre, and I seethed with jealousy (the good kind!) when I read it. She explores relationships and the kind of adult-coming-of-age that happens in your 20s and 30s, that kind that mirrors that other coming-of-age that I currently write about. Like Green, Schappell takes risks, experiments with structure, fills out characters with flaws and humor and beauty. She writes about discomfort and love and pain and bliss with the kind of articulation I always shoot for.

Lastly, for middle-grade, I would love to write a classic, like The Great Gilly Hopkins or The Giver. There’s something amazing about a book that everyone reads when they are children and then still talks about when they are grown. I would love to have written that kind of book. The timeless kind.

Book cover image courtesy of Speak

Which Book Does Jess Wish She’d Written?

Posted by Jessica Verdi On September - 19 - 2012

 Which Book Does Jess Wish Shed Written?What’s the one book you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

With all the books I hold dear to my heart, you’d think this would be a tough question for me. But it’s not. There is, hands down, one book out there that I wish I’d written. And that one book is Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Now, this question is not: what is your favorite book? It’s Kind of a Funny Story is, in fact, one of my favorite books, but that’s not the point.

The reason I chose this book as the one that I wish I’d written is because Vizzini does so brilliantly what I try to do in my own work – he tackles a very serious issue, but puts a positive spin on it.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about Craig Gilner, a fifteen-year-old with depression so severe he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital without his parents’ knowledge – but only after spending a very long night planning out every detail of his suicide. When Craig gets to the hospital he is faced with two surprises: 1) He can’t just stay for the day, get some medication, and go on his merry way. He must stay for a minimum of five days. 2) The teen wing is undergoing renovations, so he’s admitted into the adult psych wing, where he meets some very colorful characters.

Read the first line, and you’ll be hooked: It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is simultaneously one of the most depressing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and hilarious books I have ever read, and Vizzini writes with absolute authenticity. At the end of the book, there’s a note that reads as follows: Ned Vizzini spent five days in adult psychiatric in Methodist Hospital, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 11/29/04 – 12/3/04. Ned wrote this 12/10/04 – 1/6/05.

I mean, it doesn’t get more real than that. And I, for one, am incredibly glad that Vizzini was brave enough to write his story.

And bonus – the novel was turned into a movie that came out in 2010 and starred the brilliant Keir Gilchrist as Craig, as well as delivered spectacular performances from Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, and Lauren Graham.

Read it. Watch it. Love it.

Book cover image courtesy of Disney Hyperion.

Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could Write

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On September - 14 - 2012

love is the higher law Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could WriteWhen I think about the books I wish I had written, it’s not so much about the ONE book that I kick myself for not having written. Too often, I love a book because of all the different elements, but there’s always something I would’ve done differently. Not that I’m saying JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye isn’t perfect, or David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law doesn’t inspire the pants off me, because it is and it does, respectively. What I’m saying is that as much as I admire these books and wish that my name was on the front covers, it doesn’t mean that I truly wish I had written these books.

For one, wanting to have written Catcher in the Rye is a HUGE idea. I mean, it was so overwhelming for Salinger that he retreated and became a recluse. And I can’t say that I blamed him. Where do you go after having written one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and hated books of all time? With that being said, Holden Caulfield seems to creep into my head every single time I write a new character. He’s so much a part of my psyche that he can’t help but assert his character when I write.

The same can be said for Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law. He captures three perfectly distinct voices and personalities so well that it makes me hate him. I long to be able to what he did, write the same story through different eyes and voices. Do I wish I had written that book? I mean, I would lie if I said “no” because, well, as an aspiring writer I would kill to be published. But Love is the Higher Law is so perfectly David Levithan that I could jealous all I want; I’ll never write like him, with the same fluidity and knack for making words sound less like words and more like the most epic love songs…

Sometimes I sit and daydream about body-swapping with JK Rowling. What would it be like to be in her head? What would it have been like to put pen to paper and watch as Harry Potter evolved from lead scratchings to flesh-and-bone hero? Not to mention her ability to build an entire world that lives alongside our own and make it seem 1,000% plausible! And I won’t lie, what would it be like to have her billions? Would I roll around naked in a giant Gringott-sized vault? Absolutely. But I digress…As much as I wish I could’ve written Harry Potter, my mind just wouldn’t have been to do Potter as much justice as Rowling clearly did.

What I’m trying to say is that all of these books influenced me hugely. All of them are like the books that I wish I could write because they have inspired me tremendously. Their voices linger in my head, their stories play out in my imagination, and their words wake me up every day and whisper, “write, write, write…”

P.S. Happy Birthday to me! I’m 26 and unpublished. Holler.

Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On September - 3 - 2012

The Broken Lands Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate MilfordI’m admitting it right in the title: Kate Milford is a friend of Teen Writers Bloc, and I’ve personally mentioned her before in multiple blog posts. She hosted my book release party and saved my day at BEA. AND we have the same publisher, Clarion Books. Now that that little disclaimer is out of the way, go buy her new book because it’s awesome!

The Broken Lands is a prequel/companion to Kate’s first novel, The Boneshaker, which took place in 1913 and starred 13-year-old Natalie Minks, who had to save her small Missouri town from the evil Jake Limberleg and the devil himself. Of course, everyone should read The Boneshaker just for the fun of it, but you don’t need to read it to understand The Broken Lands. Though both books take place in the same alternate-history world where folklore is real, the The Broken Lands stars different main characters and stands alone.

The setting is 1877 New York City, a time when the country had yet to recover from the Civil War and tensions were thick. Into this come the mysterious and evil Walker and Bones (a literally-derived name), who want to turn the city into a new kind of hell. I don’t want to give away too much, so let’s just say there are a goodly amount of evildoers, a well-laid-out and diabolical plan, and a need for heroes! Enter Sam and Jin, a 15-year-old Coney Island card sharp and a Chinese girl who is a pyrotechnic genius. With the help of a few “uncanny” good guys and their own wits and spunk, they must save the world by beating the bad guys at their own game. Kate renders the setting, characters, and folklore in exquisite detail and makes the New York of 1877 feel as real as New York today. Anyone who likes historical fiction, fantasy, or historical fantasy will love this book!

Aaand … Kate is having a book release party on September 6, 7:00–9:00 P.M., at McNally Jackson Books in Soho (52 Prince St.). The party is for The Broken Lands and the companion novella The Kairos Mechanism (which I can’t wait to read!). I guarantee a good time.

Cover image courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Sona’s Summer Reads: Better Late Than Never

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 30 - 2012

10335308 Sonas Summer Reads: Better Late Than NeverOkay, so yeah, I’m a little late. It’s August 30, which means, unless you’re one of those people who counts the first three weeks of September as summer — and c’mon, who really does? — this barely counts as a summer reads post.

But I’ll tell you this: August 30 is still technically summer. Anyway, so for most of this summer, I’ve been traveling a lot. We did a two-week stint in California, a few days in AC, another week in the lovely Provincetown, Mass., where my husband Navdeep earned a scholarship to a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, an amazing program with some awesome online classes, too. In between work-work, hanging with the kid (who, yes, is still not back at daycare), occasional workshopping (yay for returning to that in September!) and trying to squeeze in some writing, well — I still managed to read! Caught you off guard there, huh? You thought I’d be one of those slackers who didn’t manage a single book all summer. Nuh uh, not me. That would have simply been sacrilege.

So in my signature long-windedness, that’s me saying, yes, I do have summer reads for you! Only one YA, but hey, you’ll cope.

Herewith, the list:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
For the longest time, my sister (and screenwriting partner) Meena and I claimed that one Kevin Williamson had stolen our “life.” You know, by creating hit teen shows like Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries, which we both read in high school (back in the day, when the books first came out) and thought would make a perfect teen TV drama. Anyway, it turns out we were wrong, because, in actuality, it was one Mindy Kaling who’d been living a parallel life all along — and now she’s documented said parallel life in her really funny, super-nostalgic and very YA memoir. It’s wry, insightful, embarrassing, and rings oh-so-true, especially if you’re a small, hippy brown girl from the Northeast who was pretty book-obsessed and un-athletic in high school, but then used all she learned there in her later work. (Yeah, I’d say that is a pretty accurate description.) Anyway, it’s got plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s a good warm up for Mindy’s upcoming sitcom, The Mindy Project, which premieres in September (which marks the beginning of the FALL).

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Okay, I really like Jennifer Weiner. Yes, she writes in the much-demeaned chick lit category — which I’ll proudly place myself into — but her work is fun, fast-paced, and frequently insightful. Nothing wrong with that. Many of us could aspire to such success. Anyway, she’s also a very vocal, feisty, no-nonsense woman, and her blog, which frequently calls out the New York Times and other publications on their sexist take on publishing, is pretty awesome. The Next Best Thing, her latest, centers on an everygirl who ends up the head of her own show in Hollywood. Given what I’ve mentioned above, you can see why this was a fun read for me. But underneath the fun, fast-paced read is an examination of the way women struggle to gain and maintain their own power — in the workplace, in romance, in life. Weiner’s got a light touch, but her work isn’t as fluffy as the Times thinks it is.

An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns by John Green
Having read and enjoyed — despite the tears — The Fault In Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I decided to go back to the classic John Green, perusing his other works, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth revisiting these, which both bear his signature confused-yet-adorable male protagonist, quirky, fun, troubled girls, and twisted, crazy plots that veer off in unexpected directions. Plus, his omnipresent themes of loss, reality versus fantasy, and figuring out who you really are. You may need to keep the tissues handy for these, too, but you won’t use up like three boxes like you did for Stars. Smart, weird, and really fun reads, as expected, from this YA icon. And if you’re a fan like I am, check out this awesome, autographed box set of all four!

Photo courtesy Three Rivers Press

Alyson’s Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!

Posted by Alyson Gerber On August - 29 - 2012

Document1 600x301 Alysons Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!
It all started about three weeks ago in Penn Station. I was 30-minutes early (as usual), bored, and Facebook had nothing left to offer me. While I waited for the train and my boyfriend, who was securing my extra-spicy Chipotle burrito, I decided to activate the Goodreads account I’d opened back in the spring. I was curious what other people were saying about the middle grade novel — Wonder — that Corey Haydu had recommended to me earlier in the day. After reading the first 30 out of 3,000 reviews, I added it to my ”currently-reading” shelf. By the end of my ride to Boston, I’d switched it to “read,” downloaded the following books to my Kindle Fire, and added them to Goodreads:

#1 One For The Murphys

#2 The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

#3 Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies

#4 The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney

#5 Deenie

#6 See You At Harry’s

#7 Out of My Mind

#8 When You Reach Me

I’ve never been a fast reader, and I’m definitely not the competitive type. I’m more of a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race/ I’m up against myself kind of girl. I should also mention that as far as I know I do not have an addictive personality. Yes, I am passionate and potentially obsessed with a handful of things/topics. Namely: horoscopes, The Gilmore Girls, manicures, and Sugar Babies (a popular 1990s caramel candy), but something about clicking on “currently-reading” pushed me to finish nine books in three weeks. That is more than we read per week in David Levithan’s lit class. I’m not sure if it is the act of announcing my progress to the world (if it is, dear Internet coders of the world, please invent this app for writing), or if it’s been part of a reading community, but whatever the reason, I am definitely addicted to Goodreads.

Burn for Burn e1345948151544 448x600 Summer Reading Success: Dhonielle Couldnt Put Down New School Alums Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivians Burn for BurnBack in June at the awesome FOLIO BEA party, I got the pleasure of catching up with fellow New School Writing for Children alums Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian. It was wonderful discussing their experiences during the New School program with the two of them and comparing/contrasting our experiences. It was also awesome to see ARCs of their collaborative project Burn For Burn.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a HUGE fan of collaborative writing and projects. Combining the talents of several writers into one book sounds like a recipe for success. And Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian have taken everything I love about their individual writing styles and put them into a book!

So a day after I left the party, I emailed my wonderful agent Emily van Beek (who represents both Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian — SQUEE!), and begged for an ARC. And I received that awesome ARC the next day because she’s awesome like that. And the book did not disappoint.

Our friends at Amazon describe the book as follows:

Postcard-perfect Jar Island is home to charming tourist shops, pristine beaches, amazing oceanfront homes—and three girls secretly plotting revenge.

     KAT is sick and tired of being bullied by her former best friend.

     LILLIA has always looked out for her little sister, so when she discovers that one of her guy friends has been secretly hooking up with her, she’s going to put a stop to it.

     MARY is perpetually haunted by a traumatic event from years past, and the boy who’s responsible has yet to get what’s coming to him.

     None of the girls can act on their revenge fantasies alone without being suspected. But together…anything is possible.

     With an unlikely alliance in place, there will be no more “I wish I’d said…” or “If I could go back and do things differently…” These girls will show Jar Island that revenge is a dish best enjoyed together.

I started this book on my flight to Hawaii and finished it by the time I landed. I started it over twice because I just did not want it to end. Here’s what I loved about the book in no particular order.
  • Each girl had a distinct and interesting voice and I loved being in each girl’s chapters.
  • The backstories were thick and complicated — Mary’s story especially. I remember gasping out loud when I found out what happened to her. READ TO FIND OUT!
  • The teenage drama is palpable — best friend drama between KAT and her ex BFF REENIE; boy drama with LILLIA and ALEX; and an old wound for Mary between her and REEVE. They combined so many elements of high school drama seamlessly into one novel, and this first book sets up so many other things to be explored in the next two books in the series.
  • The pacing is extraordinary — the chapters hit that sweet spot of seven pages or so with the perfect balance of character information, snappy dialogue, and plot.
  • Last, but not least, its MULTICULTURAL! LILLIA is Asian, not a stereotype, and is refreshingly complex. Her ethnicity is not forgotten throughout the text, nor is it belabored. Her ethnic identity is drawn with the perfect strokes.

Pre-order this book, experience the wonders of collaborative work!

Photo courtesy Simon & Schuster

This Summer, Riddhi’s List Features Some Tasty Reads

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On August - 27 - 2012

TWB August Evertaster 393x600 This Summer, Riddhis List Features Some Tasty ReadsThis summer I read more than ever before, probably over 5,000 pages — at a rough estimation of about two novels a week, both middle-grade and YA. Amongst titles I thoroughly enjoyed were:

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Two aspiring filmmakers go through a riot of emotions as they make a film about a girl with leukemia. This was precious. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I know it’s a little late in the day to be talking about this one, but has anyone tried reading the book while listening to the audiobook version narrated by Allan Corduner? Doubly worth it. Just lovely.

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell by Crickett Rumley
An outspoken Jane is forced back to Alabama where she must learn manners in order to one of the Southern Magnolia Maids. I haven’t finished it, but find it pretty sharp and unique.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama
Guilty as charged and off with my head, I’m a sucker for Alice reimaginings. If you collect art books, this one’s a mustmustmust have. Clothbound jacket. Kusama’s trademark style. It really pops. Here’s a great preview.

Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
In an attempt to save himself from starving, Guster, a picky eater, gets embroiled in a food quest in search of the One Recipe — the recipe to end all recipes. As Guster and his family travel around the world, running from the Gastronimatii (a deadly, perfectionist cult of processed food-hating superchefs) they must collect some rather ordinary ingredients from some extremely unusual places. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes to eat. I mean read. I mean eat. While they read. It contains the most amusing method of butter churning (joggling bovines) I’ve ever come across. This was delicious from start to finish.

Image courtesy: Future House Publishing

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