Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Books We Love’ Category

Guest Blogger Jean-Paul Bass Puts the ‘Hero’ Back in Heroine

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On April - 11 - 2012

4329812168 f65b2cf670 n Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Puts the Hero Back in Heroine

She sighs. She huffs. She mumbles. She does everything except depend on herself. In the background, there is always a knight on a white horse just waiting to come to her rescue. Even if she pushes him away (usually for his own good, or so she tells herself), in the end she can’t be saved without his help.

In recent years, books have relied on the damsel-in-distress as the main female protagonist. It made me wonder if today’s teens are so blinded by the hero’s stunning abs that they don’t realize the heroine could’ve saved herself if she was a bit more plucky and a lot less sucky. But the times, they are a changin’, and none too soon, if you ask me.

With blockbusters like The Hunger Games dominating screens, bestseller lists, and even news sites, books with strong female leads are popping up on reading lists all over the blogosphere. Everyone wants to root for the girl who can kick butt, and readers are demanding more books with strong females in lead roles, but does that mean that’s all she can do?  It seems that many people equate “strong female lead” with traits usually associated with masculinity, such as being a good fighter and ruthlessness.

Giving a female character mostly male characteristics simply reinforces the idea that the stereotypes associated with girls are undesirable.  There are a lot of traits girls can be proud of, such as our compassion, being fiercely protective of those in our care, and we should definitely be proud of our superior communicative abilities. That’s right — we may talk too much for some people’s tastes, but we know how to make a point and that is a good thing.

When I was growing up, I was enthralled by Anne Shirley, the heroine of Anne of Green Gables. She has spunk, she’s upbeat, clever, and she’s determined. Once she set her mind on something, she made it happen. When her friendship is forbidden by Diana Barry’s mother after she mistakenly gives Diana three glasses of wine instead of the raspberry cordial Diana was expecting, Anne becomes determined to win over Diana’s mother so that they may once again be friends. By the end of the book, Mrs. Barry and the entire town are enamored with Anne and the incident is forgotten.

Anne is a strong female lead and although she probably couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag, she sure could talk you into letting her out. What makes Anne such a strong lead is not that she has masculine traits (because she doesn’t), but that she is written so vividly and convincingly as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and who uses her guile and wits to her advantage. And really, that’s what being strong boils down to — deciding for yourself what happens next in your life and making it happen.

I’m glad to see warrior-like characters such as Katniss (The Hunger Games) get their due. It’s time for strong female leads to once again dominate the bookshelves and cinemas. But when writing our own badass female characters, let’s not forget that sometimes a feminine touch can go just as far as a punch.

Bio: Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all.  She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School and is writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.   

Photo credit: Flickr – manan0410

The 100 Book Challenge: How’d You Do?

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 30 - 2011
Pig with Norton 300x208 The 100 Book Challenge: How’d You Do?

Don't try to take his book away.

At the beginning of the year, I challenged everyone to read 100 books with me over the year. Well, I’m happy to say, I met my goal! Despite all the agonizing and self-flagellating I’ve done over all the time I’ve wasted during which I could have been reading (exactly what is so interesting about The Biggest Loser?), I still managed to read 112 books! This is the first year that I’ve kept track of my reading habits for the whole year and tallied up what kind of books I read. It turns out that I read 62 YA books, 22 adult fiction books, and 28 nonfiction books. This makes complete sense, since nonfiction books generally take longer to read than fiction, and I generally prefer YA over adult fiction. I guess that won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading a blog called “Teen Writers Bloc.”

What did surprise me was how many of these books I read on paper. I was a Kindle early adopter—I pre-ordered the very first Kindle. So I expected a much higher proportion of my reading to have been Kindle books. As it turns out, only 24 of the books I read this year were electronic. What does this mean? Possibly nothing. Or, to be optimistic, maybe the rise of the Kindle won’t lead to the demise of the book industry. Granted, I did receive a lot of paper books for free this year, and that may have pushed me toward paper, but I also bought a lot of paper books, and I bought a lot of Kindle books. According to my Kindle lists, I still have 91 unread books on my Kindle. I just keep buying and buying and buying. It’s a compulsion. Perhaps it’s an addiction. Perhaps I need a 12-step program to wean me off the written word and push me out of my apartment and into the bars. OR, if we’re still being optimistic, perhaps I’m not that unusual. Perhaps book lovers are all out there buying more books than ever now that they have more formats than ever in which to read them. Hopefully it’s the last option!

In case anyone was wondering, here are my favorites in each genre:

YA Fiction: Herbert’s Wormhole by Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao (2009)

Adult Fiction: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Nonfiction: The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World by David Deutsch (2011)

So what’s my goal for next year? Since I’m giving up TV again (yes, for REAL this time), I should be able to read a lot more books. I’ll be moderate and shoot for 120. Who’s with me??

Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On December - 27 - 2011

Books Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Happy holidays, everyone! Now that we’ve reached the end of 2011, we at Teen Writers Bloc have come together with our favorite kid lit and YA books of the year. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

Bronxwood by Coe Booth
Caela says: Bronxwood is a must-read for any kid who has ever had a parent in prison.  Tyrell’s struggles to love, obey, and still disagree with his father when he returns from incarceration are poignant and heart wrenching.

Crossed by Ally Condie
Jess says: Though it’s not quite as gripping as its predecessor, Matched (read the review here!), Crossed, the second book in Ally Condie’s series, is a solid “middle book,” filled with beautiful language and a compelling story — complete with a giant mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. It is also told from Ky’s, as well as Cassia’s, point of view, so those of you who didn’t get nearly enough of Ky in the first book will be super happy to be inside his head in this one.

Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel
Jane says: I went to one of David Levithan’s book readings at the NYPL and heard an excerpt read by Circle Nine’s author Anne Heltzel. Abby wakes up outside a burning building and is pulled away by Sam, a boy she doesn’t recognize but somehow feels a connection to. She has no memories of who she is or where she came from. Abby is happy to start a new life with Sam, but events and memories bring up the need to figure out who she is and what happened the night of the fire. Read the TWB interview with Anne Heltzel here!

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
Jane says: I chose to read this one because I don’t know of a lot of YA books that have a male narrator. It’s about 16 year old Stephen who’s living in a post-apocalyptic future with his dad and grandfather. The family wanders the land, looking for a place to live and where they can avoid being found by gangs that find people to enslave them. Grandpa dies and Dad has an accident that results in a coma, so when Stephen looks for help, he finds Settlers Landing, a town that’s rebuilt by a group of people trying to regain civilization. Stephen becomes involved in a prank that puts Settlers Landing and lives in danger, and he has to figure out how to deal with the aftermath.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Jess says: The book starts off with our narrator and heroine, Mara, telling us that Mara Dyer is actually not her real name. Her lawyer insisted that if she is to tell her story to the world—the story of how she committed several murders—she must choose a nom de plume. So, right off the bat, we know this is not going to be a story for the faint of heart. Mara is going to kill people, and she is going to get caught. But how it all goes down is anything but predictable. If you are a sucker for dark, paranormal teen romances, trust me when I say you will love this book. Read the TWB review here!

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
Mary says:  Full of well-drawn characters and emotional pull, the story builds slowly and grows on you until you are right there in the frozen, claustrophobic fortress. Each person has their own motivations, feelings, and strengths. No one is idealized, and no one is simple. Kirby has done a masterful job of creating tension, intrigue, and action—even though the characters have limited space in which to move. Solveig especially is many-faceted and manages to be both relatable and awesome. Readers will enjoy exploring this world with her. Read the TWB review here!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Jess says: Bumped is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in… maybe ever. Though it has a sort-of “popcorn” feel to it, filled to the brim with cheesy references, corny names, and teen celebrity lust, underneath all that, there is an extremely edgy, daring story. What would happen if everyone over the age of 18 became infertile and it was up to teenagers to continue the human species? In this day and age of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, it’s a question that, amazingly, doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This book is a fun, quick read, and yet, I guarantee it will really make you think.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Mary says: A 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. 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. Read the TWB review here!

Lisel & Po by Lauren Oliver
Dhonielle says: Liesl & Po has the best blend and balance of both magic and mystery, danger and safety. The tale reminds me of the books I used to stay up late to read as a kid — both classic and modern. Each character has layers and secrets, and Oliver’s flowery prose brings them alive. This book will stand up for multiple readings.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Jess says: Part Lord of the Flies, part Bumped, and part Battlestar GalacticaGlow is filled with murder, deception, and nonstop action. The characters are layered and complicated, to the point where you never entirely know who to trust. Sometimes that can be frustrating, but Ryan pulls it off quite well. Read the TWB review here!

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
Corey says: This is a beautiful contemporary YA about a Sylvia Plath-loving teen whose family is falling to pieces the same summer she has come down with an epic case of chicken pox. Left alone with her dysfunctional family, her confusing relationships, and her virginity to ponder, she spends a lot of time with an old typewriter and a well-loved copy of The Bell Jar. Narrator Keek is one of my favorite YA narrators of all time, and this creative, quirky, honest novel was a good reminder of why I became a writer and why I love writing for teens.

Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Posted by Amber On December - 15 - 2011

impossible book final pb1 200x300 Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

This semester I haven’t done as much outside reading as I would have liked. A few weeks ago though, I did stumble upon a book by Nancy Werlin called Impossible that I couldn’t put down after I began to read it.  In this novel, Werlin takes the lyrics of a well-known folk song, “Scarborough Fair,” and turns them into a curse that has plagued protagonist Lucy Scarborough’s ancestors for many years. However, Lucy doesn’t find this out until after the curse has already begun to affect her.

The only thing Lucy knows when the novel begins is that her biological mother went insane shortly after giving birth to her and now walks around town with a shopping cart, humming the ballad “Scarborough Fair” to herself.  And while Lucy resents her biological mother in those first pages, eventually an understanding between the two emerges when Lucy realizes that she may one day have the same fate. An Elfin Knight with a  grudge has cast a spell, making it so that whenever a Scarborough girl turns eighteen, she gets pregnant, has a baby girl and goes insane. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle.

The only way to break the curse is to complete the tasks mentioned in the “Scarborough Fair” song. The tasks are to: 1. Create a shirt without needle or seam 2. Find an acre of land between salt water and sea strand and 3. Plow the land with a goat’s horn and sow it with one grain of corn. These tasks are nearly impossible to complete, hence the title and the perpetual insanity of each of Lucy’s ancestors.

Werlin is very skilled at keeping you engaged in the story. The story takes place in present day Massachusetts and because initially the plot has elements that could be a part of any realistic YA novel — prom night, track practice, falling in love with your best friend —the incorporation of the magical elements of the tale and their stark contrast to the YA norm really tug at readers, making them want to know more about how Lucy will overcome  this enormous obstacle before her.  Werlin tells the story from multiple points of view, using the third person past tense, allowing us to get into the thoughts of Lucy, the Elfin Knight, and those of Zach, Lucy’s love interest. This I found to be very effective. And while the discussions about pregnancy can feel a bit overdone at certain moments, it’s all essential information for the protagonist to know given her unfair circumstances.

If you’re looking for a quick and unique read, Impossible is a book you should at least consider.

Photo Credit: Penguin Putnam, Inc; Nancy Werlin


6604794 198x300 Looking for a Distraction? Sona Suggests Jandy Nelsons The Sky Is EverywhereI’m a busy girl. Generally, between work and writing and family and more work, I can’t afford distractions.

So I steal away reading moments when I can — on the subway, at 4 a.m. when I can’t sleep and can’t write, for five minutes with my chai in the morning. Never for extended periods of time. These days, I don’t have the luxury of picking up a book and reading it from cover to cover without putting it down. And I miss that.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to resist. And there’s occasionally a book that’s just so riveting, so enrapturing, that it just keeps calling to you, distracting you from the everyday, the mundane, the necessary. And I spent bits and pieces of my Thanksgiving weekend devouring one such book, Jandy Nelson’s delicious, engrossing The Sky Is Everywhere.

The book is truly heart-wrenching. Lennie Walker, clarinet player and awkward kid sister, sees her world shatter when her star sibling, the feisty, fiery Bailey, dies suddenly. But instead of having the expected reaction — mourning in all black silence — the band geek goes boy crazy. She finds herself falling in love for the first time with the knee-melting Joe Fontaine. And oddly, she also finds herself randomly hooking up with her newly-dead-sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Apparently, mourning does strange things to people.

Nelson’s characters are startlingly real, and the language is beautiful — casually composed poems are scattered throughout the book, little missives Lennie scribbles and tosses away on the wind, revealing her inner turmoil to no one and everyone all at once.

This book is peopled with vivid, quirky, uber-memorable characters, and drenched in such realistic emotion, it’s occasionally exhausting. But that’s also what makes it so completely un-put-downable. If you’re a fan of sister stories, gorgeous language, tortured love triangles, sweet romance or quirky characters, this is definitely a must-read.

Out of the Doldrums — Lauren Oliver’s Liesl and Po Helped Me Through!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 14 - 2011

liesl+and+po Out of the Doldrums    Lauren Olivers Liesl and Po Helped Me Through!I am drowning in work this semester. Papers, tutoring, meetings, phone calls, books I don’t want to read for my snooze-fest Lit class. At times I feel like having a Kindergarten-style meltdown — hands waving in the air, feet kicking the ground, and screaming, lots of screaming. But, each night, when I return home from tutoring somewhere along 5th Avenue, I stuff myself and retreat to bed with one good book: Lauren Oliver’s Lisel and Po.

From the moment I spotted the cover, saw the smoky, black-and-white illustrations, and read the first line: “On the third night after her father died, Liesl saw the ghost”, I was HOOKED! Swept away! Captivated! I don’t want to describe Liesl or Po or Bundle or Will or The alchemist or The Lady Premiere, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Getting to know all these characters was the best part.

Here is a little summary of the plot from our friends at Amazon.com: “Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone. That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.”

The language is sweeping and the characters’ dilemmas fantastically life-threatening. It reminded me of the books I loved growing up — the ones that I’d stay up all night reading even after my mother told me to go to bed. Stuck in the doldrums of a boring adult literature class, this book helped pull me through.

Check it out!


Photo Credit: Harper Collins

Mary Says Have a Laugh With “School of Fear”

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 10 - 2011

School of Fear Cover Large Mary Says Have a Laugh With “School of Fear”It’s our third semester at The New School, and it’s going slooooow. For some reason, The New School administration is forcing us all to take non-children’s literature classes, and let’s just say the books aren’t exactly what we love to read. This week I was supposed to read Naked Lunch, a book so obscene and offensive that it made me question my stance against banned books. Boy, am I in the mood for something fun! Thankfully, I’m in luck, because the third book in Gitty Daneshvari’s School of Fear series came out on October 3rd! I’ve got my order in to Amazon, and while I’m supposed to be reading some “adult” slog-fest, I’ll be eagerly devouring Daneshvari’s particular brand of goofy fun.

The original School of Fear (2009) is about four middle-schoolers who each have hilariously over-the-top phobias. Madeleine is deathly afraid of bugs, to the point where she exists in a cloud of bug spray. Garrison is afraid of water. Lulu is claustrophobic, and Theodore is afraid of dying. Think these fears sound serious? Think again! Each fear is hilariously extreme and the cause of seriously funny behavior. All of the kids’ parents have had enough and have decided to send them to the mysterious School of Fear, which consists of a weird mansion staffed only by Schmidty, a man with a ridiculously long comb-over, and Mrs. Wellington, a former beauty pageant queen with a penchant for silly wigs. Add in a dog named Macaroni, a ridiculous lawyer, a mysterious forest-dwelling former student, and a series of absurd “lessons,” and you have a recipe for much laughter and forgetting of your silly troubles.

The silliness continues without abatement in 2010’s School of Fear: Class is NOT Dismissed, in which the kids return for more fun with wigs, comb-overs, and beauty pageants. If you are looking for something to get you through your boring semester, try the School of Fear series! School of Fear: The Final Exam is out now.

Cover art courtesy Little, Brown and Company

Jess’s (Reading) Cure for the November Blues

Posted by Jessica Verdi On November - 9 - 2011

Crossed Jesss (Reading) Cure for the November BluesSuper-obvious fact #1: School is hard.

Super-obvious fact #2: School is time-consuming.

Super-obvious fact #3: Distractions are a necessary factor in keeping one sane.

This semester, as I’ve delved into my adult literature seminar on “the Use of Setting,” which requires me to read lots of long, not-so-entertaining books about not-so-entertaining topics and write lots of not-so-exciting papers on them, I’ve found myself needing sanity-saving distractions more than ever.

This month, one such distraction has mercifully arrived in the form of Ally Condie’s Crossed, which came out last week. In this dark, action-packed, emotionally-fueled sequel to Matched (read my review here!), separated lovers Cassia and Ky are trying to find their way back to each other — and the Society sure isn’t making it easy.

I also have a few go-to books that never fail me when I’m feeling sad/exhausted/depressed/overwhelmed/in need of an escape. Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me?, about a girl who wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and doesn’t recognize anything about her life — including her gorgeous stranger of a husband — is one of my all-time favorites. They really need to make a movie out of it — and let’s hope it’s better than that god-awful film version of Kinsella’s Shopaholic series.

Also, Stephenie Meyer knows exactly how to yank me out of any mood-induced funk. I’ll go back to The Host, Breaking Dawn, and New Moon (beginning at the part where Alice comes back, of course) time and time again, and even though I could probably recite the words by heart at this point, reading about things so far from reality as vampires, body-snatching aliens, and ridiculously perfect boyfriends makes me happy.

Crossed cover image courtesy of Dutton Books.

Lauren Myracle: A Class Act

Posted by Caela Carter On October - 20 - 2011

crop ShineCover Lauren Myracle: A Class Act

Lauren Myracle, you are the definition of a class act.

By now we know the story: Myracle’s most recent teen novel, Shine, was nominated for a National Book Award.  She was informed about the nomination via phone call; she kept the biggest secret of her life bottled up in her heart for two full days. Then she celebrated the joy of being recognized so highly with her family for two full hours.

Then came the “oops.” The NBA judges had meant to nominate the book Chime, but when they read the list of titles over the phone the message was unclear.  At first, Myracle was told that by a unanimous decision the judges would leave her book on the short list. But that was apparently another mistake, because later the NBA committee asked her to withdraw her name.


So we all know what happened. Now we’ve been able to read about Ms. Myracle’s feelings on the Huffington Post and hear her side of the story on NPR. But the devastation of this even can be summed up in one sentence from her interview with Vanity Fair.

“I felt ashamed that I had the gall to believe this book was worthy.”

Heck yeah, this book is worthy. Because it deals with a hate crime in a way that brings humanity to both the victim and the criminal. Because it’s a mystery fraught with raw emotion. Because it’s sense of setting is apt and palpable. Because it’s narrator is the most open-minded person in the book, and even she needs to pry her mind further open. Because it deals with religion in a way that is not damning or preachy. And, perhaps most impressively, because it brings humanity to even the most ignorant and hateful characters.

So it angers me greatly to know that this book will not be winning the National Book Award, after I thought it just might. I want lash out and scream at the NBA judges and anyone else who will listen. And if it’s making me angry, how must Lauren Myracle feel?

Well, regardless of how she’s feeling, she is certainly acting like someone who would write such a touching and respectful book.  She’s turned her devastation into a donation to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, which, she told NPR, “works on protecting the integrity of young people and putting tolerance over hate.” She’s referred to Harold Augenbraum, NBA committee member and the bearer of the bad news, as a “darling.” She made jokes in her Vanity Fair interview. She’s defended the work of Franny Billingsly — author of now NBA-nominated Chime — and all of the nominated authors. And, she’s defended the humanity of the NBA judges and committee, saying there is no way that they removed her book as an act of intolerance, and that they simply made a mistake, as all people do.

Ms. Myracle, I have always been a fan of your books and it is heartening to know that you practice what you write. Because it’s hard to be a good writer, but it just might be harder to be a good person.

Photo credits: Amulet Books

Sona Believes Banning Books Is A Slippery Slope

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 30 - 2011

KaviBannedBook 400x600 Sona Believes Banning Books Is A Slippery Slope

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And sometimes it’s true.

Take the image above. My husband, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, took it two weekends ago at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s the second time we’ve gone, and Kavi’s first — not bad for a 20-month-old. She had a grand old time. She got to color, run around the kids’ tent, hear Mo Willems read, eat gelato. It was a fun-filled day for her. And it’s continuing to instill in her a passion she already very much has, even though she’s not even two. It’s a love for books.

She can’t read them yet, but she can make things out, pointing to puppies and apples and creating her own little version of the story in her head. It’s a good place to start.

Boy was she excited to see that Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, on a shelf of books at the festival. But boy were we disappointed to see the reason it had been placed there. It took its place, on the shelf of shame — or perhaps it’s pride? — alongside titles like The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Judy Blume’s Forever and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, all in a tent set up by the very noble organization, the American Library Association. The non-profit was on a mission that day: to get people reading banned books. In fact, they created a YouTube Channel of Americans across the nation participating in a Banned Books Read-Out to counteract the effects of censorship. It’s a genius idea, one that builds one person at a time.

Now I’m not saying that sometimes there isn’t sex and violence and drug abuse and other issues too heavy or perhaps inappropriate for specific readers in some of these books. Certainly that can be the case. But here’s the thing: most readers will find the right books when they’re appropriate for them. And if they’re not appropriate? Well, perhaps they’ll simply put them down. In the case of little ones, like Kavi, I think it should be up to the parents to make informed decisions about what their kids — but not everyone else’s — are reading. You decide what’s right for yourself and your family, but you don’t decide what’s right for a classroom full of kids — or a nation, for that matter.

And in this case, I certainly wouldn’t prevent Kavi from reading Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax once she’s ready for it. In fact, the book has a very important message, one I’d like Kavi to ponder herself, once she can actually read. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read to her. Even if some of those books are banned.

pixel Sona Believes Banning Books Is A Slippery Slope

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