Teen Writers Bloc

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

The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 18 - 2011

2011 so far e1295322741293 224x300 The 100 Book Challenge: Start Reading Now!Recently, all of us here at Teen Writers Bloc posted our New Year’s Writing Resolutions. With our goals published for anyone to read, hopefully we’ll all be shamed into making 2011 our most productive year yet. But something important was missing from all of our lists—something almost as important to our writing as actually writing. I’m talking about reading, of course. Without reading, our language skills would wither and shrink like fresh, ripe, grapes turning into leathery, wrinkled raisins. Just as importantly, we’d lose hours of entertainment and priceless opportunities to learn more about the world around us.

If anyone thinks the following confession is hopelessly nerdy, I dare you to force your insults through the thick insulation of hardcovers that shelter me from the outside world: I keep track of the books I read—title, publication date, where I got the book, and the date I finished it. I’m ashamed to say that in 2010, I came in at a paltry 81 books. Now, this includes everything from graphic novels and 8 parts of the Gossip Girl series to lengthy nonfiction tomes. Maybe I should give myself credit for the kind of books that take weeks to read. And don’t I get any credit for magazines? Nope, it’s the raw number of books that I want to see, and my number last year wasn’t high enough. My goal this year: 100 books.

Average it out, and 100 books comes out to a paltry 8 and 1/3 books per month, or 1.92 books per week. With not only physical bookstores and ebooks, but also the public library and book-nerd friends to supply us, we should have no trouble getting all the reading material we want. The question is whether we’re going to let our jobs, school, friends, or reality TV get in the way.

So here’s my challenge to all the book lovers out there: read 100 books with me! At the end of the year, we’ll really have something to talk about.

Trailer of the Week: Beth Revis’ ‘Across the Universe’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 17 - 2011

across the universe big1 197x300 Trailer of the Week: Beth Revis’ ‘Across the Universe’North Carolina-based high school teacher Beth Revis’ debut novel, Across the Universe, is a murder mystery set in space. Intrigued? So were we, especially after watching this creepy book trailer, narrated by Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose.

The recently-released Universe centers on 17-year-old Amy, the daughter of two leaders who are on a mission to colonize a new world called Centauri-Earth. But first they’ve got to get there, so they’ve all been cryogenically suspended for the 300-year trip on the spaceship Godspeed. One glitch: Amy finds herself awakened 50 years early in what seems to be a murderous plot against the colony leaders — and Amy. She must unravel the mystery of who’s trying to kill her while trying to survive the rules of the brave new world aboard the Godspeed led by the mesmerizing mastermind Elder.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionEver since I was a child I was drawn to fantasy worlds. I ignored contemporary books where characters faced real world problems in favor of fantastical worlds, outer space adventures, monsters, demons and dragons. My father’s shelves were filled with space operas, high-fantasy classics, and alternate universes. I grew up coveting his book selection. I remember at some point in elementary school I attempted to read his book Dune. Dust, sand-snakes, and strange creatures kept me up at night.

So when I started writing for teens, I naturally gravitated toward fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction. I bought all of these how-to books on world-building and creating well-developed fantastical landscapes. It is a daunting task for an author to create an entirely new place with new rules and a unique sense of order. Also, children and teens are tough critics. They will let you know if a world doesn’t work. But they will also dive head first into whatever crazy sensibilities or events you have set up in the novel. They suspend disbelief better than any other age ground.

Here are some fantastical lands I enjoy:

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionKat Falls, Dark Life. This novel takes place in the future after the world’s cities are overcrowded and overwhelmed with people. Some families have become subsea pioneers and have communities along the ocean floor. Kat Falls masterfully builds her underwater world almost like the Wild West of America. Her pirates are reminiscent to outlaws and people on the run. I got introduced to this woman’s work at a round-table Writer’s Intensive at the SCBWI Winter Conference a few years back. She read the first 500 words of this novel out to us. We all loved the text, except for the grumpy agent assigned to our table. I bet the agent is kicking herself now. The movie rights have been bought and it is a strong book in the market.

In an interview, Falls states that she “came up with the premise for Dark Life during a writing exercise. I’d set myself the task of combining three things that my son loved to read about into one story – the ocean, Old West pioneers, and the X-Men. Suddenly, the world of the story took shape in my mind and the plot came together fairly easily after that.”

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials. Armored bears, dirigibles, dust, a golden altheiometer, daemons, a knife that cuts into other worlds, the land of death, angels, strange horse-like creatures called mulefas, witches, golden telescopes, aeronauts, etc… Even though Philip Pullman’s world is controversial and ruffles people’s feathers (well, maybe it’s only in America), it is a well-constructed place full of complex relationships, conflicts, creatures, multi-cultural characters, and a small, girl-child who must save the world. He takes well-used fantastical creatures, such as witches and angels, and refreshes them. He also creates an epic tale on a grand scale that is so multi-faceted I had to read the text several times to grasp what he was attempting to do. This text and world has so many textures. He blends traditional fantasy with steampunk elements (machinery and technology that are steam-powered).

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionI was first introduced to this series during my last semester in college. Strangely, I decided to go abroad during my senior spring semester and went to England. My undergraduate university, Wake Forest, has a house in north London off Hampstead Heath (right next door to Jude Law’s ex-wife and kids!). My English professor from the States accompanied us and we had to take an intense British Literature course, as well as British Theatre course. She included His Dark Materials on the course list because she had secured for us to see the stage play that was all the rave in London at the time. In 2005, The National Theatre had adapted the three books into an elaborate two-part stage play. Each part of the play was 2.5 hours. They used Japanese puppetry for the daemons and had a million different scene changes. It was one of the highlights of my time there.

Phillip Pullman has admitted a fascination with John Milton’s famous poem Paradise Lost based upon the Bible’s description of the fall of man and Satan’s rebellion. Pullman borrows the phrase “His Dark Materials” from Milton’s poem.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionSuzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. This dystopian text masterfully builds the world around a Big Brother-type of government that elects teens to participate in a battle to the death. Collins does a fabulous job invoking the different districts in the ruins of North America through the everyday mundane things Katniss must do to keep her family afloat, such as hunting and bartering and traipsing through the Wild. I can’t wait to see how the world is adapted in the film version. I hope they pay close attention to how Suzanne developed her world so subtly.

During an interview with the School Library Journal, Collins said she was influenced and inspired by the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as Spartacus and the Third Servile War. Katniss’ story arc and struggle had many parallels to those stories.

C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. The classic Narnia has endured and will probably always be on the shelf. Even though at times C.S. Lewis’ wordy prose and mixed mythological beings are frustrating as an adult reader, when I was a small child I adored all things through that wardrobe. I read every single Narnia book over and over again. When I was in Catholic high school, we had to study his work in a Religion class and we examined his Christian ethos and mythology in the text. As a child, I never thought of these things. It was just a story about 4 kids and all the adventures they went on.

Lewis has been said to be influenced by his writer friend, J.R.R Tolkien, writer of The Lord of the Rings, and his introduction to Christianity. He also borrows creatures from different mythological backgrounds, from Greek to Asian to Irish/Celtic and so forth.

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionTony Diterlizzi, The Search for Wondla. I came across this book recently and ploughed right through it. Eva Nine is a curious and sensitive 12-year old, who has existed only in a subterranean home called Sanctuary. She is looked after by a robot named Muthr. Eva’s greatest desire is to go above ground, and her wish comes true, though not as she had pictured. The illustrations that accompany the text are beautifully strange and magical and lure readers further into the text. I wanted to continue with the story and also turn the pages to see what illustration was next. There is also an online component to this novel, which is so cool. You can experience Wondla-Vision and hold the illustrations up to the computer screen and interesting things are revealed.

Diterlizzi is quoted in an interview stating, “WondLa is full of many classic sci-fi elements (robots, aliens, hovercraft, etc.), but it is a fairy tale at its heart. It contains many familiar fairy-tale plot motifs we all know of: a little girl lost in the woods, an evil huntsman after her, forest spirits who aid her in response to her own kindness and an uncaring queen who rules the land.”

 Calling All Fantasy Geeks, Science Fiction Nerds, and Steampunk Aficianodos: Great Worlds In Teen FictionScott Westerfeld, Leviathan & Behemoth. This steampunk series is a force to be reckoned with. Scott Westerfeld dives right into the genre. He re-imagines World War I with a global conflict between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. He follows Prince Aleksandar after his parents are assassinated and his people turn against him, as well as Deryn Sharp, who is training to be an airman with the British Air Service, and praying that no one will discover that she is a girl. Deryn serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem.

By definition steampunk is (usually) an imaginary Victorian age that features brass and copper clockwork and steam-powered inventions that extend beyond the scope of 1800s technology. The novels from this genre also include steam-powered mechanical wonders, gear driven computers, dirigibles, clockwork machinery etc…I appreciate this world because Westerfeld re-imagined an historical event and meticulously created machinery and clockwork to accompany it.

There are so many facets to Scott Westerfeld’s world-building it is hard to pin down everything. He’s interested in tanks, guns, and machinery from the WWI period, biology, airships, etc…Read more about it here.

All of these worlds took a great deal of complex world-building through scenes, characters, and powerful descriptions that doesn’t slow the narrative. I wish I could interview each author and determine the inspiration for their fantasy landscapes. In my writing class, I am privileged to be in good company with two other fantasy and science fiction writers: Mary Thompson and Amy Ewing. As the nosey person I am, I wanted to immediately know how they went about building their fantasy worlds. So check back to see how Mary Thompson, Amy Ewing, and I build our own worlds.

What are some worlds you like? What world would you like to live in? And how do you world-building?

Vernacular in Young Adult Fiction

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On January - 13 - 2011

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionI’ve always known the power of language. I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t. The world is built on words; letters strung together and given meaning. Words are a beautiful, calligraphic foundation that informs our past, forms our current thoughts, and shapes our future. They open us up and can close us off to each other. Written words and language create the building blocks of pretty much everything. And just as powerful is the creation of vernacular.

As I continue to work towards my MFA at the New School, I’m constantly learning new aspects of writing and how best to improve myself. In the spring of 2010, I took a literature seminar, taught by author Robert Antoni, in the written vernacular. I learned more about the construction of a novel than in any other class. I only hope my brain will remember it when I’m ready to call upon it. I already use what I can when I construct my own prose and dialogue.

Vernacular is defined as a native or indigenous language written as it’s expressed. It can be constructed by the author, indicative of their own rules, or it can follow the oral traditions of the language (for example, being written phonetically, like how one would hear it spoken out loud), or it could be constructed out of an already established vernacular. It includes dialect, patois, slang and anything that makes the language seem authentic. It very much informs the voice, which is the one thing that really draws me into a novel. I’m trying to incorporate these ideas into my writing, because often times I find the voice of many teen novels to be too samey; there is nothing that sets them apart. And if I can tap into something realistic, I think it could really jump start things for me as a writer.

The book that really brought this to life for me was Push by Sapphire. While not published as a teen novel, Push is told from the perspective of an illiterate 16-year-old girl who is pregnant for the second time with her father’s child. She is the victim of incest, sexual abuse, and all she wants is to be white and pretty and free from her life. As the novel progresses and she learns to read and write (yes, at 16), the prose becomes more fluid, more like poetry. And the way Sapphire constructs the novel is really breathtaking. It begins zeroed in on Precious, and we’re really in the character’s mind, almost like a stream of consciousness. The prose is long, grammatically incorrect, almost incoherent in places. It used African American vernacular, ghetto slang, and dialects found traditionally in inner-city communities. As we see Precious grow, we slowly emerge from inside her head and become almost removed, especially when Precious’ own writing takes the place of her thoughts. At the end, the reader is completely out of Precious’ head, and into her writing. It’s almost as if the camera zooms out on Precious, having an opposite effect of most novels, which start out more broad and zoom in over the course of the book.

 Vernacular in Young Adult Fiction

There aren’t as many titles published under the young adult label that truly do what adult fiction does with vernacular. One book that does the vernacular extremely well is Coe Booth’s Tyrell. What Sapphire’s Push lacks in consistency with the construction and the individual vernaculars of each character, Booth’s Tyrell makes up for. There is fluidity there from cover to cover, and each character has his or her own set of rules.

Now, as a male writer, my goal is to bring some more testosterone to this wonderful blog. So, in keeping with that, I want to talk about MT Anderson’s Feed, which is one of the more recent novels I’ve read where the construction of a vernacular is completely new. What Anderson did was create his own slang and idiolect among Titus, the protagonist, and his friends. In doing so, Anderson was able to lure the reader into this world he created, where, in the future, it is completely believable to think that humans would have a computer or television feeding into their brains. It’s clear from the start that Titus is living in a consumerist society driven by advertisements, where, if you can’t think of a word, it’s fed into your brain (and usually it’s not what the reader would be expecting to see).  Using these ideas, combined with Titus’ inner monologues and the dialogue between him and other characters, Anderson has created a satire of our modern world, a book that examines our own more so than giving us a look at the fictional one in the text. Here, in Feed, teenagers are so connected to computers and technology that they hardly think for themselves, and their speech patterns are very indicative of Anderson’s views on teenage consumerist society.

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionUsing a well-constructed vernacular, Anderson gives us his world through Titus, whose vocabulary parodies the worst speech patterns of the modern teenager. From the very start of the novel, Anderson thrusts the reader right into this world, and the vernacular is tightly wound around the feeds. The construction of the language shows a few different things. In the following quotation from the opening of the novel, Anderson shows us the vernacular he has created:

“We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like ‘I’m so null,’ and Marty was all, ‘I’m null too, unit,’ but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.” (3).

The italicized words indicate slang that Anderson has created, which riffs on popular slang phrases in our modern society. “Shit-all” is a creation, an idiom, blending together very informal vocabulary usage that is reminiscent of the ephemeral quality of slang phrases language in our language. Anderson creates his slang in a very interesting way, using words in our modern dictionary, like “null” and “unit” and turning them into popular expressions. Here, “unit” is used as a term of endearment in place of “dude” or “guy” or “buddy.” Other words like “mal” for “malfunction” are other common slang terms used. The bolded words indicate an idiolect in Titus and his friends’ speech patterns. The text relies heavily on words like “like” and “all” and “thing.” These few words brilliantly construct the world of these teenagers better than any descriptor because it links the reader from our world to the one Anderson created seamlessly, and in a way that connects.

 Vernacular in Young Adult FictionAnderson utilizes words that are in our modern vocabulary, perhaps to ease the reader into the world he created. Words like “brag,” “big,” and phrases with obscenities (most popularly, the word “shit” in common slang phrases like “shit-stupid”), help to connect the reader to the text. In a world where fad slangs come and go, it was easy to buy into Anderson’s constructions, even though at times they seemed purely comical, purely satirical, commenting on the vapid trendsetting slang of our own ever-evolving vernacular. Even words like “fugue,” which, by definition means “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect them,” were used as slang when describing when the feeds were overloaded with advertisements. It’s no coincidence when Anderson uses words and phrases like “fugue,” which pertain to psychological states and physiology, and turning it into modern slang for these characters. It gives humanistic qualities and a depth to the feed, like the feed has replaced their own personalities and mind-states.

One of the most interesting touches to Feed was the inclusion of made-up words. “Youch,” “meg,” “braggest,” “slurpy,” “bonesprocket,” “junktube,” “droptube” and “upcar” and variations of the like, are some of the words that kept repeating in the text throughout. “Meg” sounds like “mad” in our modern slang.

Through the vernacular, Anderson is commenting on our society, and the vapidity of teenagers and their lack of education on what goes on around them. Even through the use of e-mail terminology, Anderson is commenting on our society and our problematic dependency on technology. Titus and his friends live in a world where, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to verbally communicate. Thoughts travel like e-mails, from mind to mind, through these feeds. Even through the trademarked schools, we see how the words and letters on the page come together to construct not only a novel, but a vivid world for the reader. Anderson perfectly encapsulates this satiric world and brings it to life – for me at least – through the constructed vernacular.

As a writer, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to incorporate a real sense of vernacular into my prose. Each one of my characters has a different ways of phrasing things. Each one of my characters has a unique inflection. Isn’t that the whole point of writing? The whole point of creating new characters in new environments is to give them a voice, a story that’s uniquely their own. Here’s hoping I can accomplish what I set out to with language.

What are you thoughts? I’d love to hear from all the TWB readers out there in the blogosphere: Do you enjoy reading vernacular? Does it detract from your reading? Does it add to it?

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Mary’s Fabulous 2011

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 2 - 2011

To Do List 300x287 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Mary’s Fabulous 20112011 is an exciting year for me! I’ll be working on moving my first novel, Wuftoom, toward its 2012 release. Since I’ve never been involved in the publishing process before, I’m looking forward to learning the ins and outs of how this really works.

But that’s not all! I have another middle grade novel that I’m hoping to get into the pipeline … stay tuned for news. I’m not going to give away the story, but let’s just say: Aliens! Portals! Space!

Next, I plan to finish the project I’m currently working on. It’s about older teens, and it’s a more serious foray into hard science fiction — time travel! I’m starting revisions now, and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up. Finally, I plan to complete another middle grade novel. After turning to hard sci-fi, I’m itching to write another creep-fest like Wuftoom — the kind that puts a chill in your bones and a smile on your face at the same time.

Can I do all this in one year? I think I’m going to cheat and get started now!

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

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

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

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

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

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


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


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On December - 22 - 2010

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

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

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

Holiday Gift Guide: Sona Suggests “The Secret Circle”

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Gift Guide: Amy Feels “The Hunger Games”

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 20 - 2010

 Holiday Gift Guide: Amy Feels “The Hunger Games”This season, there’s one book I’d definitely recommend for a teen. (Or anyone, really.)

The Hunger Games. For three reasons.

First: My boyfriend read it in three days and can’t wait to get his hands on the second installment. This probably doesn’t seem like a good reason, but this is a guy who never reads. And when he does, if the book doesn’t involve the South African rugby team, he’s not interested. So to watch him devour a teen fantasy book and then ask for more? I think a 16-year-old girl could probably enjoy the story just as much, if not more, than that.

Second: Katniss. She is a kick-ass heroine. In a story in which the protagonist is thrown into an arena with twenty-three other kids in a literal fight to the death, it’s imperative that we believe she actually has a shot. And Suzanne Collins does a great job in creating a girl who was forced to learn survival skills, thereby making her a believable opponent. She’s also clueless when it comes to romance, which I love. Shoot a squirrel through the eyes with a bow and arrow? No problem. Decipher the hidden meanings behind Peeta and Gale’s words? Not a chance.

Third: This is a fantasy book for people who don’t like fantasy. There are no magical creatures, there’s no magic at all, in fact, and no fantasy-sounding names like “Quidditch” or “hobbit” for people to roll their eyes at and snub without giving the book a chance. It’s packed with action — once Katniss gets into the arena, the book is nearly impossible to put down. And the best part? There are two more outstanding books to read after it!

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

Posted by Jane Moon On December - 19 - 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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