Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And You Thought YOU Were Addicted

These are not all of the books I bought/received during my vacation, but that's the vast majority of them. Off to the side were some 09 ARCs (excitement!) and umm a few other books. This is the brunt of it. It's all organized and stuff now, and divided in two suitcases, so the chances that it'll go over the limited are all but obliterated.

A few highlights - I have four Laurie Halse Anderson novels in there (Chains, Prom, Catalyst, and Fever 1793), all of Deb Caletti's books (The Queen of Everything, Honey Baby Sweetheart, Wild Roses, The Nature of Jade, and The Fortunes of Indigo Skye), like 25+ VC Andrews novels (almost all of the Casteel, Dollaganger, Landry, Logan, Cutler and Orphans series) courtesy of Taren, Tallulah Falls by Christine Fletcher, The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, and um um um... Life of Pi, Catcher in the Rye, Never Let Me Go, and Battle Royale. Oh! And also Margo Rabb's novel, Cures for Heartbreak, and Robin Brande's Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature courtesy of Alea.


And that doesn't even begin to cover it. YAY, books!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kiss My Book by Jamie Michaels

This thing opens with Mrs. Something—some kickass English professor—asking sixteen-year-old Ruby for an autograph. You know, because *fans self absentmindedly* Ruby is also kickass: She got a book deal at fifteen and now, a year later, she’s got a young adult book hot from the presses.

Um, yeah. Later on she’s supposed to get busted for plagiarism, which is aggravating in and of itself, and I guess is what makes this sound a bit exciting. But...

I am on page 21 and it’s astounding how many issues I have with this.

Maybe it’s because I just finished a book where even the protagonist’s dog had a personality—thus an elevated expectancy level—but I’m not feeling these characters. I can’t really elaborate further than describing them as stereotypical. Even the mean girls at the school are described as “honey haired cheerleaders” or something, and this one swim team girl who’s conveyed as jealous of Ruby’s book deal is depicted as a trashy being, because naturally one’s history of sexual activity is relevant to their congeniality.

Then there’s the fact Ruby is having an internal conflict on what to write in Mrs. Something’s copy of her book, because people who pay twenty-five dollars for a hardcover want something personalized. Dude, the hardcover copy of Twilight is like $20 or something, and that’s the high standard for YA lit. $25 = adult fiction.

Speaking of which, her book’s storyline is so generic. It’s like, a girl acquires this guy’s attention with her brains and not her body. Such is the shit that sold in a major deal. A major deal! Above $499,00 against royalties! What?!? I just don’t see any publisher paying that much money on something that isn’t just a tad less yawn worthy.

And OMG, all these literary scene people are so show-stopping. She’s going to this gala book party or something and her agent’s gorgeous, her editor is gorgeous, the toilet seat’s gorgeous—everything is scintillating in its New York allure, all in a way that makes you wonder if this is a movie premiere instead of a book event. Everyone’s fit, young, effervescent, and just all-out fucking awesome; it’s a bit unnerving. I mean, Ruby has to lose weight after her book deal and then start dressing in labels. What the fuck?

For a published book about the publishing industry, it’s like taking a knife in the stomach. All this glamour and glitter and Gucci and—GAH—is migraine-ingraining.

All of this aside from the fact I have no interest in reading a fictional take on the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal.

So, yeah. I’m on page 21, so I can’t guarantee if this book would redeem itself later on, and if my interest in finding out could be measured in temperature, it’d be the North Pole, with Santa and all the reindeer and elves and other nonexistent notions.

I’m thinking...? Aw, just remembered, can’t grade this one. Didn’ t finish it after all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I think I've emailed everyone who won except Lenore cos I already know her address. Ìf you haven't received one, email me your address anyway. Probably just got spam caught.


Merry Christmas: Contest Winners!

Perfect day to post this, eh? Anyway, if you celebrate Christmas (especially if you win), woo hoo! If you don't, here's a way to make this day somehow significant if he isn't already.

The winners:

Carmen Alexis


The 5 lip glosses:
Kimberly Derting

Hardcover of I KNOW IT'S OVER

Signed ARCs of LOCK AND KEY:



Signed WILLOW:


Signed Gemma Doyle Trilogy:
Taren, whose numerous attempts at advertising this one make this outcome childishly obvious.

ARC version of AUDREY, WAIT!:

Hardcover copy of JELLICOE ROAD:
Laura Howard



Hardcover copy of STEALING HEAVEN:

Hardcover signed LIVING DEAD GIRL:
Jennifer Hubbard

Emily Marshall

I have emailed all the winners. Please email me back with your addresses by Saturday. (ASAP would be preferable.) I have backup winners picked if someone doesn't get back to me, and I'll send out those notices at noon central time on Saturday if I don't get them addresses.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Waiting on Wednesday (9)

Waiting on Wednesday = Jill at Breaking the Spine's idea for a variation of book lusting. It's brilliant, so yeah, you should do it.

My choice for this week:

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
“Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?”
“Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?”

For Anna Reiley and Frankie Perino, the ingredients for the Absolute Best Summer Ever are simple: Two girls. Two bikinis. And twenty days in Zanzibar Bay, California. The best part? According to Frankie, if they meet one boy every day, there’s a good chance Anna will find her first summer romance.

Anna lightheartedly agrees to the fun, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie… she’s already had her romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death last year.

I am LOVING the sound of Little, Brown's lineup for next year. What can I say? This sounds exactly like the type of story I like on any occasion, and the kind for which I'll be on the lookout. Miss Ockler, I don't believe you could've gotten any luckier with that cover.

More info here.


Monday, December 22, 2008

What's Your Naughty Number?

Not even close to being caught up on email. Just to update anyone expecting a response.

I'm all about the naughty today. Sigh. If only that naught could be turned into "not," just for once.


How many books are you guys buying for your friends/family members/stalkers this year?

How many books do you think you'll receive? (If you receive a giftcard, how many do you think you can buy?)

How many books are you buying for yourself?

Oh and as a random note, I bought 4 totally new books for $26 today. I love being in the US where you actually find bargains (a hardcover for $6!). Tomorrow I'm hitting more stores. Maybe a Borders, though I hate Borders. B&N ftw.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Girl Week Guestbook!

Girl Week is officially over. So, guestbook! If you've been around - even if you haven't left any comments - sign below. I'd love to hear from you. Also, I'd love to hear what you guys thought about it. Like it? Hate it? I'm all ears.

Oh and also? It just became an annual thing. Girl Week 09 in the works, baby :)

In the meantime, here are various ways you can keep up with me and the blog:

Friend my LJ Feed (My posts show up on your LJ Friends page)
Follow my blog (for Blogger users - sidebar item)
Subscribe (sidebar item too)
Follow me on Twitter
Facebook / MySpace / GoodReads

ALSO. If you're a Facebook user and haven't done so already, join the Girl Week event page. You know, just because :)

Girl Week History, Acknowledgements, and Terms and Conditions

« Back to Table of Contents.

Girl Week History
Girl Week didn’t start as Girl Week—it was Fashion Week, and Melissa Walker and Debbie Reed Fischer were going to be part of it. The idea sparked when I read Debbie's book, and then requested Melissa's books. I emailed a third author about it, and she turned me down because she was in the middle of revisions and couldn’t write a guest blog. I didn’t want it to be only two authors, so I thought, What am I trying to do here?

I was wanting to show how the fashion industry wasn’t anti-feminist. Then it dawned to me—why not do a week on feminism in general? So, I read a couple more books that sounded like good feminist or strong-heroine books, in addition to books of such theme I had read before The Idea, and emailed the authors. When they said yes to the event, I delegated topics for the guest blogs (or we bounced ideas back and fourth) and sent out interview questions.

And here we have it. Girl Week.

First and foremost, thank you to all the authors who participated in this. I’m a bit erratic and scatterbrained at times, and some of you saw the ugliest possible end of this flaw. Thanks for putting up with it. Thanks for those who shared personal experience, worked hard on their guest appearance either in interview or guest blog format, and to those who spread the word on their blogs and websites.

Penguin Group, HarperCollins and Random House provided giveaway copies of a lot of books. Thanks to them, and also to the authors who provided copies of their own books.

(Thank you my huge load of friends and saviors, who will all receive emails this morning containing a great many expletives, and in Taren's case, maybe even a lap dance. Those people being: Amee, Taren, Reader Rabbit, Ali, Amy, Alea, WHERE WAS LENORE?, and Carol for anchoring me with Heroes synopses.)

And last - but inherently not least - thanks to the people who came out. This week would have been NOTHING without you guys. How will there EVER be a way I can show my gratitude? I mean, seriously: all the blog linkage pointing arrows here, all the commenting (especially in non-contest posts *grin*), and all the nice emails. You all rock. Hope you continue coming.

Terms and Conditions
Given the inordinate amount of attention my blog has received this past week, I will be safe and post this:

The guest blogs and interviews are all copyright to their respective authors. They may not be reproduced without express permissions from the appropriate parties, except for brief quotations. Out of common courtesy, if you want to reproduce one of the blogs or interviews, please email me too, since they (with the exception of CK Kelly Martin's guest blog, which was an updated version of a post on her blog's archives) were created specifically to be posted on my blog, for Girl Week.

Also: I’m so happy everyone had a great time this week and that it had the turnout it did. I wasn’t expecting it to be as big as it was! I would appreciate if the format and overall scheme of Girl Week remained unique to this blog, though. I’m no stranger to the trends that go around the blogosphere and given the immense effort and work it took to make this event happen, I would like not to see it (and it would hurt to see it) replicated on another blog a week, a month, six months, whenever from now. Please respect that.

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Interlude #2 - Email/Life update

Two more posts to come - all scheduled, even this one. One is a guestbook which everyone should totally sign.

I'm taking a bit of a break from blogging for the rest of the year. I won't say actual break because I'm sure if I find something ridiculous regarding Twilight movie stuff, I'll post about it, or if I want to snark a book, or whatever, I will. But it'll be irregular until, like, *looks at calendar* the 5th.

If you got lost in the shuffle during Girl Week, now's a perfect time to catch up :) I'll probably manipulate post times for a few interviews and guest blogs on the days I post nothing, which will make those posts rise to the top. A change in scenery if you will.

My email and I will continue to be attached at the hip, so if you send me something, it'll get a reply. If you're expecting a reply, it shall come in this next week. (If it doesn't, you might want to consider resending. In fact, I urge you do.) When I sort through the chaos that is my inbox. Seriously, it grew by like 750 emails this week alone. Most are from the fact I subscribe to all comments on my blog, yeah, but you try not getting lost. :P

Happy holidays, everyone!


Last Contest: Wintergirls + If I Stay

« Back to Table of Contents.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeenyear- old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she fi nds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...
A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

Annnnd no description of Wintergirls anywhere. It's about eating disorders, and believe me, it's amazing.

Both are 09 ARCs. :) Comment below - same as always. + 1 if you mention Girl Week, and that's the only bonus since this only a flash contest. Ends tomorrow.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm Sorry If This Makes You Uncomfortable by AS King

« Back to Table of Contents.

I’m Sorry If This Makes You Uncomfortable

(A series of random thoughts, links and facts about feminism.)

by A.S. King, author of The Dust of 100 Dogs

Hi. I’m Amy. I’m a woman and a feminist. I believe in equal rights for all human beings.

Before the final title, this blog had a bunch of other titles, most of which sounded like this: “Please Stop Bashing the Women’s Movement” but then I realized people who bash it aren’t ready to learn about it. So why should I waste my time writing something for them? Instead, I wrote this for those of you who believe in equality like I do, and might want to learn a little about the women’s movement through history.

Part One - Educate yourself on why there was & is a women’s movement.

In this age of digital media and talk show talk talk talking, people get away with lying to you
all the time about feminism and what it means.

What are women’s rights?

What is a feminist? Some people say feminists hate men and want women to take over the world. Some say feminists want to make all women go to work. Others say feminists want all women to stop having or raising babies. Is this true?

Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition for your convenience:
Main Entry: fem•i•nism

Pronunciation: \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\ Function: noun Date: 1895

1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

Feminists, at first, fought for women to have the right to vote. Do you think women should have the right to vote?
Then you’re thinking like a feminist. Later, feminists fought for a woman’s right to higher education and employment, and fought to stop domestic violence and sexual assault. Do you think women should have equal educational and employment opportunities? Then you’re thinking like a feminist.

Not So Random Interjection #1

Allow me to stop here for a moment, because this is an important issue that still needs our urgent attention.
About 1 in 4 women or girls in the US experiences sexual violence in her lifetime. Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Because I don’t want to make you too uncomfortable, I’m going to link some statistics pages here. I’ll warn you. These aren’t happy reading. But they are real facts, and getting educated with real facts is good.

I offer these sites as a way to see the problem. And this is a problem, right? If one out of four people in this country had the measles, it would be a measles
epidemic, would it not?

Part Two – The Time Machine

Meet Jane Doe – Life Before the second wave of feminism.

As a single woman in the 1950s and 60s, Jane was at the mercy of the kindness of her father. As a married woman, Jane was at the mercy of the kindness of her husband. Period. That’s it. Jane wasn’t going to have much of a life unless she fought every step of the way. A few did. Most couldn’t. Jane was not allowed to go to college because people believed college was a waste on girls. Girls could get pregnant. And getting pregnant meant the end of any usefulness that a girl or woman had to offer outside the home.

When Jane and her husband decided to buy a house using a federal loan in the early 1960s, it was made very clear that Jane’s name couldn’t be put on the documents. (Because she could become pregnant and would then have no job.) Jane was lucky to get a job as a receptionist at her local bank’s office. When she got married, she was moved to part time. When she got pregnant, she was let go.

So – sure, when feminist bashers say, “Feminists are a pain in the ass. All they did was complicate things,” what they mean is: it was a lot easier when men had complete control over women, and there were clear roles everyone could fit into.

Not So Random Interjection #2 – Let’s put this bashing into perspective.

Slavery was bad, but for a long time, we fought to keep slaves.

Some people said: Abolitionists are a pain in the ass. All they did was complicate things.

Segregation was bad, but only a few decades ago, it was still law.

Some people said: Those civil rights protesters are a pain in the ass. All they did was complicate things.

Child pornography is bad, but it was legal to possess it as late as 1987 in 37 states, including mine, even though the movement against it started in 1975. (Shocking, eh?)

Imagine someone saying: Anti-child porn protesters are a pain in the ass. All they did was complicate things.

Does anyone else see what I see? Would it be too big of a jump to say that these bashers are afraid of change? Even if it’s good change? And we’re listening to them

Part Three
Here’s a quote from above my desk.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

~Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

What stage do you think the women’s movement is in?

In this culture of polarization and nit-picking politics, I have no trouble with those people who think all feminists are crazy women out to ruin everything. I will work just as hard to make sure their daughters have a better life, even if they fight me while I’m doing it. Why? Because moving backward is not acceptable, standing still is getting boring, and I’ve got the guts and determination to move forward. Do you?

Start by going on a journey in your own time machine. Talk to your mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends about the past and about the issues we still have to solve – about our violence against women and children epidemic. Then, talk to your friends and your sisters and your brothers and boyfriends and ask them to join us. Why? Because this is your fight. Because you’re worth it.

A.S. King’s feminist stats**:

Married to man (also a feminist) almost 17 years.
Mother of two.
Shops at Target men’s department & Goodwill.
Last time shaved legs: over 6 weeks ago.
Wears very, very comfortable shoes.

**Oh have a sense of humor.
That was an AWESOME guest blog, wasn't it? Thanks, Amy! To find out more about A.S. King, go to http://thedustof100dogs.com.

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Contest: The Dust of 100 Dogs

« Back to Table of Contents.

Go here.

Contest Update

The Sarah Dessen Lock and Key ARC contest?

Make that signed ARCs. :)

The Dust of 100 Dogs by AS King

« Back to Table of Contents.

Forgive me, but this is going to be a long one. I’ve tried to do briefer reviews than usual throughout Girl Week, but this one is special and I’m going to do my usual obsessing over every minute detail.

In the late 17th century, famed pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs. Three hundred years later, after one hundred lives as a dog, she returned to a human body—with her memories intact. Now she's a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.

The Dust of 100 Dogs isn’t really a young adult novel. I’m not quite sure what age group it belongs to, actually. It’s for the most part narrated by a teenager, sure, but said teenager is only a teenager on a technicality. She’s been alive for over 300 years, first as a human named Emer, then as 100 dogs, then as Emer’s second-coming, Saffron. Emer surpassed her adolescent years, but she never really grew and appreciated her adulthood. Saffron is still a teenager when the story takes place. Still, all her years as a dog gave her a keen insight on human nature. Really, there’s no easy answer where this book is concerned, and hopefully—as Leila Roy said—it will be one more step in blurring the line between YA and adult.

Now, how do I begin this? I agree with both other reviews I’ve read. This is a peculiar book and it stands out from whatever else you were or have been reading. I’d say it takes awhile to grow on you, too. Because it’s such an unorthodox approach to the YA I’m used to—which as I’ve said before, this is most assuredly not, but I didn’t know that—I didn’t know how to react to it at first. I thought it was exceptional, whatever it was, but how do I review this? So, if you plan to read it, get that notion out of your head. It only limits this book’s potential. Once it dawned to me this is genre-bending, it escalated from exceptional to superb. Aside from its own literary merit, this book’s got that genre-bending thing going for it. That’s fucking awesome, y’all.

This book has three recurring storylines: Emer’s youth in Ireland, her travails in the name of true love, and her coming to be a pirate; Saffron’s voyage to Jamaica to unearth the treasure she buried there three centuries prior; and Fred Livingstone’s life in Jamaica. They’re all connected, the first two in obvious manners, Fred’s in a way you’ll only understand reading the book. There are also nine dog facts thrown in, which depict dog psychology. An interesting bit about these Dog Facts is that you can apply many of them to humans, too. It’s a unique parallel.

This is an odd mix of contemporary and historical without time-travel. (I keep telling you guys that this book breaks all the rules. It’s true, see?) The historical locales are well-drawn, and since part of it takes place in Ireland, you get to see a bit of A.S. King’s life experience. (She lived on an Irish self-sufficient farm for over a decade.) The wide array of settings in here—the US, Ireland, and pirate locales—are well-realized, at any rate.

And now for my favorite part in any book: characters. The dynamics here—Emer/Saffron’s reincarnations, Saffron’s dysfunctional family, and certain aspects of Fred’s life—make for a very extensive amount of discussion questions. Like Jen Robinson said:

What would it be like to live as a child, with knowledge that you weren't supposed to have? How frustrating would it be to be the sole hope of your downtrodden family, when that hope conflicted with what you wanted from life? If you were reincarnated, and remembered everything, how would you ever separate your current self from your past selves? Or would you need to?
Moreover, I’d be interested in hearing more about Fred Livingstone and the arrangement he has with his assistant. Now that I’ve finally reviewed this I’ll be able to talk to the author more about it; it’s curious-making.

And finally, the writing and storytelling: A.S. King is incredibly talented. That’s all I’m saying on that subject. (Okay, okay, and also, Saffron’s wry voice = LOVE.)

I had built up my idea of this book in my mind and it did worry me it wouldn’t meet my expectations. Know what? It didn’t. It was something else altogether, and while incomparable to what I was expecting (I am telling you, you don’t know what this book will be like), it pleased me. It’s well-rounded, cultural, and depicts the world beyond. And aside from that, like I mentioned above, there are a lot of external things going for it. I expect big things from this one. Wait for it.


Apologies to all who asked me what I thought in the past few months. I had an outstanding deal with Amy I wouldn’t talk about it to her before the review, and I applied it everywhere else. Now you know I’m a fangirl. A

Further: The book site.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Contest: (signed!) Living Dead Girl

« Back to Table of Contents.

Review // here's a guest blog by Elizabeth.

Once upon a time I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time I didn't know how lucky I was.

When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends -- her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.

Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.

This is Alice's story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

Two signed hardcovers to give away.

1 entry per person.

+ 1 if you post about this week anywhere. (If you already did so for another contest or just because you're awesome, no need to do it again. Just relink/remind me)

+ 1 if you post about this contest/Elizabeth's guest blog.

+ 1 for a secret criterion. (Yeah, I suck like that.)

Contest ends on Dec 22nd.

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Bloom by Elizabeth Scott

« Back to Table of Contents.

Everything’s okay in Lauren’s life. It’s not exhilarating but she it’s not too shabby. She’s the girlfriend of the most popular guy in her class, Dave. That alone should make up for the fact she’s depriving herself of things (like sex) for him and his beliefs, right? She certainly thinks so... Until Evan moves into town and suddenly Lauren can’t deal with the attraction she feels for him. Moreover, when she’s with him, she’s a different person. And she likes it. But how can she choose between the safety of being with Dave, who’s stable and wants a future with her, and Evan, who comes as a risk and who inspires something in Lauren—love?—that scares her?

I found it hard to like Lauren, and I can’t work out if that’s because we’re too much alike and it sucks that I’m so whiny or if it’s because she’s generally unlikable. I’m gonna guess the former, which makes her relatable, even if aggravating at times.

That said, I loved the choices she had to make and how they were presented. Also, this book is very frank on the subject of female sexuality without being graphic. Lauren’s conflict is believable—it makes the romantic in me squeal because it creates a lot of tension. I thought this was an excellent presentation of the safety vs risk dilemma that is so true for so many girls.

As far as Elizabeth’s books go, this is my favorite. In terms of steamy romances, I won’t soon forget it. It’s not on my list of *highly recommended*, but it is on my list of notable reads. I just really loved the point of conflict. B

Further: Elizabeth's guest post on the conflict in Bloom.

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

« Back to Table of Contents.

Once upon a time I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time I didn't know how lucky I was.

When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends -- her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.

Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.

This is Alice's story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

You know, it’s impossible to enjoy books dealing with sexual abuse. I may end up loving them, but rest assured I do not enjoy them. There’s a difference. However, with Laura Wiess’s books, for instance, the main character Meredith’s combat with her reality made the book compulsively readable for me—I wasn’t able to put it down. Here, however, by the time the book starts, Alice (as she is called for the majority of the book) is already dead to the world. She’s resigned to her reality and is the very embodiment of hopelessness. Although her voice is strong, she is, as the title implies, a living dead girl.

That, to me, makes the book a whole different kind of heartbreaking. It made me want to set it down to take a breather many times. The only thing that saved me there was the fact that when faced with these stories, I can numb myself away.

And all of the above is what led me to understand Chris Crutcher’s blurb: “Living Dead Girl is a book you have to put down; then you have to pick it right back up.”

Living Dead Girl isn’t explicit but it’s graphic. The narrator is distant, but it hits close to home. It’s got a devastating but hooking plot, and even if I hate what Alice had—and tried—to do, it was just impossible not to pity her because she was, too, a victim. In all her years of abuse, she’s lost herself, and when presented with a chance to be freed from it all, an overpowering sense of survival takes her in.

This is another one of those no-easy-answers reads. This is Elizabeth’s writing at its best, I think. Definitely recommended. B+. (To justify my grade: I wish Ray’s character had been built better. I’m still considering Alice’s displeasure with talking about him as a reason for his sometimes thin characterization, though.)

Still wondering why a 176-page book was released in hardback when Perfect You - from the same publisher - was like 300 pages and paperback. I get the profit thing, but come on.

Further: See what everyone else is saying.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Contest: Stealing Heaven

« Back to Table of Contents.

My name is Danielle. I'm eighteen. I've been stealing things for as long as I can remember.

Dani has been trained as a thief by the best - her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends - a real life.

In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She's making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani - because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they've targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she's always known - or the one she's always wanted.

Have not read this so I can't recommend it or not, buuuuut here's a guest blog by Elizabeth. This is a hardcover I'm giving away. Same as always -

1 entry per person.+ 1 if you post about this week anywhere. (If you already did so for another contest or just because you're awesome, no need to do it again. Just relink/remind me)

+ 1 if you post about this contest/Elizabeth's guest blog.

+ 1 for a secret criterion. (Yeah, I suck like that.)

End date: Dec 21st
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Soul Mates vs. Security, and Perfection by Elizabeth Scott

« Back to Table of Contents.

Soul Mates vs. Security, and Perfection--or a Little Bit About Bloom.
by Elizabeth Scott, author of Bloom, Perfect You, Stealing Heaven and Living Dead Girl

I think teens face face a lot of pressure to be perfect not just academically, but in every aspect of their lives. I also think the pursuit of perfection is something that can be very hollow, as perfection is beyond elusive. It's impossible.

And more than that, I so often see happiness equated with perfection, and happiness isn't, and shouldn't be, about being perfect. Happiness is messy and complicated and amazing. But it isn't perfect. And I think the idea that perfect = happy is something that Lauren wrestles with in Bloom.

I think it's something a lot of us wrestle with.

Lauren's real dilemma in Bloom, as I see it, isn't about a soul mate vs. security--it's about her trying to decide if she should do what she *thinks* she should do, or if she should follow her heart. It's not an easy choice to make because taking chances *is* hard and sometimes they don't work out.

When it comes to relationships, I don't think it should be soul mate vs. security. The very idea of that scares me a little actually, because a real relationship, one that lasts is about finding someone who you desire *and* who you feel comfortable with. A soul mate isn't just about passion. It's about someone who you know will be there for you no matter what.

And, of course, you want to be with someone who respects you and values you for who you are. Without that, any relationship you have can't be real, because if the other person doesn't respect you--then how can they truly care about you?

I think that's enough from me, and so now it's your turn to talk.

What do you think--do you see a difference between safety and soul mates? If you do, what is it? And what do *you* think is the most important aspect of a relationship?

Thanks, Elizabeth! Y'all, really, she was a rockstar about this. I only figured out this topic for her to tackle on Sunday and she got back with me 24 hours later with the guest blog done and was so, so gracious about my bad timing. Really, how much more awesome does a person get? Visit her at http://elizabethwrites.com.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.


There are 18 hours left in Girl Week and in that time there will be 2 more guest blogs and four more giveaways. How does that sound? :)

On Saturday I'll do all my event closing stuff - history, acknowledgements, feedback, etc.

Until maybe Monday-ish you might not hear back from me because my inbox is very chaotic. I have email notifications on for new comments and, well, with all these giveaways, things got hectic. Bear with me and please, please don't think I'm ignoring you. I love personal emails and will reply to every one of them once the Week is done.

Also - if you've been around and you like this and you have a blog and you want to talk about it, I'd appreciate it so much. Not just for contest entries - to help get the word out, too. I am in awe at how many people have done this already! I'm trying to comment in all of your entries about Girl Week and I'll get around to doing that as soon as the madness is over :) In the meantime, even if you're not entering any contests or whatever, if you don't mind, I'd love the plug :) (And feel free to email me the link - makes my hunt easier and ensures I won't miss it!)

Yeah, I'm reduced to groveling. What can I say? It's 5am and I want the last day in this week to be legendary :P


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Megan McCafferty on Jessica Darling

« Back to Table of Contents.

Megan McCafferty is the author of sloppy firsts, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. Its sequel, second helpings was also selected to the NYPL list, and was a Booklist Editor’s Pick for one of the best novels of 2003. charmed thirds was an instant New York Times bestseller and a NYPL pick. fourth comings also hit the New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, Booksense, Barnes and Noble, Borders and other national bestseller lists in its first week. Her fifth novel, perfect fifths, is scheduled to be released in April 2009.

Thanks to Taren for help with the interview. (Again.)

If you're a fan of Megan's books, you should know that when she got back to me with these she said, "You're getting quite the scoop." I'm just saying. You might wanna read :)

When and how did you get the idea for the Jessica Darling books? How did it go from there to publication?

I started making up stories as soon as I learned how to talk. My first creative writing notebook was from my first grade teacher and had the words I LOVE TO WRITE on the cover. I kept a journal between the ages of ten and twenty five. By my late twenties, I had hundreds of pages worth of short stories, non fiction essays and other uncategorizable writings about growing up on the Jersey Shore. Whenever I read these stories aloud in creative writing sessions the whole class would laugh and tell me I needed to turn it into a book—even those who came from backgrounds totally unlike my own (or Jessica Darling's). Positive responses from such a wide range of readers gave me the encouragement to push myself, to try to make something of all this stuff. After a lot of disciplined editing and re-writing, those hundreds of pages of unstructured writing turned into the first thirty of so pages of Sloppy Firsts. That was enough to get an agent, who urged me to write the first half of the book, which I did in six weeks of eight-to-twelve hour marathon writing sessions. (I had quit my job in magazines at this point—this novel was my full time job.) Four months after I had secured an agent, she got me a two book deal with Crown based on the first 150 pages of Sloppy Firsts.

Were there any notable changes from the first drafts of any of the books to the published manuscript?

My editor has always made suggestions that improved upon my first draft. However, I can't really remember what those specific changes were! I think that's a good sign. I actually like diamond-in-the-rough revision phase much more than the first draft phase, which always feels so much more daunting and difficult.

What experiences, if any, did you draw from in your own life in order to create Jessica? Is there anything in the books that happened exactly the same way in real life?

My stock answer to this question is that I began with the truth and then started lying my ass off. I definitely draw upon my own life experiences—especially with the first two books. But as the series progressed, Jessica and all the characters really became their own people, to the point that I actually cringe at some of the things they say and do. And I can honestly say that the only event that is true to book and true to the life is my/Jessica's depiction of the Glam Slam Metal Jam in Charmed Thirds. A few years ago a group of us saw a line-up of Poison, Warrant, Quiet Riot dressed like spandexed hair-band groupies and were the only eight people out of a crowd of several thousand who had thought to do so.

Just for trivial knowledge: Are you as fanatic about the 80s as Jessica is?

Sort of. I've got too many interests and too little time to be fanatical about anything.

For further trivial knowledge: Did (do) you use alliterations as much as Jessica does in your own journals? (If not, what was the idea behind that?)

No. I wrote more plainly. I think the alliteration came from my years in working for women's magazines.

Do you view Jessica as someone girls can relate to or someone they should aspire to be?

It's risky whenever anyone starts assuming “role model” status. But readers seem to appreciate that Jessica isn't perfect. She can be judgmental, bitchy, rude and selfish...but that doesn't make her a bad person. She redeems herself by learning from her mistakes and growing up. Her sense of humor helps too.

I have seen two reactions to your books among my friends: One loved them right from the start and immediately identified with her. The other hated her until she realized Jessica was exactly like her. Do you think there’s a bit of Jessica in every girl? If you had to guess, what would you say it is about your books that relate to your many readers?

I think everyone can relate to feeling like an outsider...even if you really aren't. I've heard that Jessica articulates common feelings in a way that makes readers feel like she has gotten inside their heads. That's a HUGE compliment because that's exactly how I feel when I read fiction that moves me.

This series in general is very frank and more risqué than most other YA fiction. Have you ever had any negative feedback because of this? Do you think it’s important for there to be honest books about sex, friendship, etc available to teens?

I disagree with you. I think there's plenty of YA fiction that is as risque—if not more—than my books! I think it's important to be frank and honest about sex without being exploitative.

In a genre populate with perfect, cookie-cutter males, Marcus is a unique characters—particularly in Sloppy Firsts, in which we see his transition from Krispy Kreme to reformed male-slut, as Jessica puts it. Were you ever worried that he would be disliked by your core readership?

Well...I knew that making him more flawed and human in Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings might wreck the fantasy ideal established in Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. But did I worry about it? No. I hope my readers understand that no one loves my characters more than I do and that they trust me to know what I'm doing.

You chronicle Jessica’s progression from adolescence to adulthood realistically and effectively. How did you develop her change in your own head?

Each book had to change in form and content to reflect where Jessica was at that particular stage in her life. Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings are the most similar because because she's still stuck at Pineville High. Charmed Thirds is set over the course of three years instead because I wanted to show how college and New York City shapes Jessica's identity over an extended period of time. Fourth Comings comes down to Jessica stalling for a week as she tries to figure out how to tell Marcus something she knows he doesn't want to hear. And Perfect Fifths is told in third person to reflect--I hope--a sign of Jessica's own awareness of others beside herself. It also gives readers a chance to see things from Marcus's perspective for the first time—which I thought was crucial for this final book in the series. It's also a very intimate book—the whole thing takes place over about sixteen hours or so—because I wanted it to focus on the two most important people in the series: Jessica and Marcus.

Speaking of change, there’s a big difference between Second Helpings and Charmed Thirds. Some fans didn’t react didn’t react so positively to University Jessica. How did you feel about that? Did you view all her actions—erroneous or otherwise—as necessary for her growth? Conversely, were there things she did that you didn’t approve of? What about the other characters?

I knew going into Charmed Thirds that some readers would not like the direction that Jessica—and the series for that matter—was headed. You said it perfectly: Her mistakes were necessary for her growth. And as a writer, it's important for me to grow as well. I have no interest in doing the same thing over and over and over again. Following Jessica through the years required me to think and write in a different way with every book, as we all think and write differently at sixteen and eighteen and twenty two and twenty-six.

What are your views on Jessica and Marcus’s relationship? In many ways, it’s a unique one in YA. Do you view it as a positive or a negative?

I think their relationship is positive because of all its negatives. (That sounds like something Marcus would say, doesn't it? And Jessica would call it bumper sticker wisdom!) It's more real that what is often depicted in fiction for teens.

Given Jessica’s colorful use of language in the books, I was more or less ordered to ask you this: What’s your favorite swear word? :)

Whenever I'm in physical or emotional pain my reflex is to launch an F-bomb. But I don't curse as nearly as much as Jessica does in her journals. I have a six year old son who is an expert mimic—I need to watch myself.

Okay, so it is my understanding that you’re a great writer...and a talented singer. Should we be expecting a CD any day now?

Tragically, no. This is why I have to bribe readers to request songs at my events.

Your work is largely referred to as chick lit. What are your thoughts on that label? Do you agree with the allegations that it is anti-feminist?

I never set out to write chick lit. I thought I was writing a series of comic coming of age novels. Chick Lit a marketing term that makes it easier for publishers/booksellers to promote and sell books. Conversely, I think that it negatively affects sales by turning off anyone who assumes that centers around shoe-shopping and Cosmopolitans. In Fourth Comings I had fun taking many chick lit conventions and turning them around. Like, Jessica works in publishing, but it's a crappy job in publishing at an obscure journal no one reads. She has a great apartment, but it's in a neighborhood for breeders and she has three roommatest. She has to borrow all her most fabulous clothes because she's heavily in student loan debt and cant' afford to shop for herself. She gets the marriage proposal from her soulmate but...

You started out as a YA writer published by an adult house. Can you give us some information on how that happened? What were the benefits to this arrangement? Also, has your editor (or publisher) ever been in opposition of any of the content in your books as they take on an increasingly more adult tone?

We pitched Sloppy Firsts YA houses who loved it BUT thought it was too mature. We pitched it to adult houses to said that they loved it BUT thought it was too young. I didn't want to dumb down or overdramatize the story so I waited until I found the right place. We were lucky to find an editor at Crown who totally got what I was going for—a sort of millennial twist on John Hughes type storytelling—teen angst told with intelligence, humor and heart. We all understood that it would appeal to teenagers still in high school as well as twenty-and-thirty-somethings who graduated long ago. Crown has totally supported my vision for the series and has let Jessica grow old gracefully—if imperfectly. My publisher realizes that I'm doing something pretty unusual--a positive thing in a competitive market.

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of prejudice against YA writers. What do you have to say to this?

There's never been a better time to be a YA writer. Some of the most moving and imaginative writing is happening in this genre.

I understand you’re now working on the final Jessica Darling book, Perfect Fifths. How’s that going? What can you tell us about it?

I'm finishing revisions. It's scheduled to go on sale April 14th, 2009. In addition to what I've already said, I can also tell you that most of the story is in third person. The two parts that aren't in third person are told entirely in dialogue and poems exchanged between Jessica and Marcus. Finally, I can tell you it's a love story...one perfect in its imperfection.

What can we expect to see next from you? Will you be going with YA or adult fiction? Any series in the works?

My next book will be a dystopian high school sex comedy. I can't wait to start working on it!

And finally: Does writing YA rock or what?

Yes, it does. Even though I'm not technically a YA writer, I am proud to be considered one!

Thanks, Megan!

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

Contest: (SIGNED!) Jessica Darling Books (1-4)

« Back to Table of Contents.

I'm gonna leave it in a prettiful "step" effect.

Okay. They're bestsellers. They're awesome. Here's my review of 'em. And they're signed. So, you know you want them. :)

So, comment to enter.

1 entry per person.

+ 1 if you mention Girl Week somewhere. (LINK me.)

+ 2 if you mention the Megan McCafferty post that'll come an hour after this is posted somewhere.

+ 1 secret criterion.

Contest ends on Dec 21st.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

The Jessica Darling Books by Megan McCafferty

« Back to Table of Contents.

I gotta thank my good friend Taren for discussing these books with me and thus helping me create this review.

** Major spoilers ahead **

First thing I’ll start out saying is that there’s a major divide between books two and three, and I think the reason Charmed Thirds received the negative backlash it did is because people were hung up on Second Helpings and expected the same tone to carry throughout. To like and understand this series you have to understand that the first two books take place in high school and it’s more familiar ground for the vast majority of its readers, who probably were in high school when they read it. The third takes place in college—it’s a whole different world, in fact it’s closer to the real world, where things are more complicated and the world is not as small as it is when you’re in high school.

With that out of the way, let me start at the beginning:

Sloppy Firsts is sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling’s diary for the last semester of her sophomore year and the first semester of her junior year. Her best friend Hope’s moved away, her parents couldn’t be more clueless about her and her needs if they tried, and she’s got no friends. Well, she does—except she hates all of them. They’re your typical in-crowd (or Upper Crust, as Jessica calls it): a bit dumb, very annoying, and endlessly bratty. “Jessica is quite hopeless. (Ha. In more ways than one.)” The moment that Hope moves away marks the beginning of the rest of Jessica’s life, because everything that happens that year is significant to the other books in the series.

I immediately fell in love with Sloppy Firsts not only for Jessica’s voice—it’s quite obvious I like snark, and she’s got plenty of it—but because I related a lot to Jessica. In fact, if it weren’t for Marcus Flutie, I would think Jessica was me. We were both runners, we both thought everyone around us were a bunch of idiots, and we were both very cynical about pretty much everything. But like I said—she’s got Marcus Flutie, druggie dreg, who’s interesting and an utter enigma, and she doesn’t know her own feelings for him. What’s more, it feels like he gets her.

But at the end she finds out it was all a farce and pushes him away.

Second Helpings is her journal during the summer before senior year and her senior year. She’s still cynical, witty, et al, as ever, but now she’s struggling with her college choices. In the meantime, there’s still Marcus in the background—and also his best friend Len. She wants nothing to do with Marcus, after all. She’s obsessing about being the last virgin—aside from Len—in her school. All those great Class Brainiac things.

Through a too-complicated-to-describe series of trials and tribulations (ick, hate that set phrase, but it is what it is), she accepts Marcus’s apology and they get together. She gets into her top choice college—Columbia—and it turns out her grandmother left her $50,000 in her will, which Jessica will use to pay for college. Everything ends up working out.

And this is where people end up confusing things. Second Helpings had a huge fairy-tale feel to it. Charmed Thirds? Not so much. Marcus, as always, is “predictable in his unpredictability.” His character goes from dream guy—admit it, you had a crush on him—to real guy, one who’s not always so…perfect. He makes it hard to like him. Jessica doesn’t know what to do, so she goes on with her life and sleeps with different guys and is, you know, as always, Jessica.

** End of spoilers **

I wasn’t as keen on the third as I was on the first and second because it’s just easier to like books where the characters do what you want them to do, but I still loved it. And here’s the thing—as Taren is always saying, these are those kinds of books where the main character, Jessica, is much too relatable and similar to you than is comfortable. (But don’t mistake her for an Evergirl character. Like I said: relatable. Not fill-in-the-blank.) She makes these books some of the most realistic you’ll find in YA and in crossover.

Even though these are very ordinary in their plot and such (it is mirrored on reality after all), the writing style is great, funny and insightful and filled with clever phrases and alliterations. Jessica’s observations are hilarious. The characters—especially the main ones—all have depth. In fact, Taren told me she thought this is why people found it hard to like Marcus in the later books—he’s an actual character and you can’t attribute him your own fantasies, because he’s got his own personality and is not a blank canvas.

Annnnnd. Then there’s Fourth Comings. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. On the one hand, I understand Jessica—as always. On the other hand, I didn’t like how some characters were portrayed in it, like Bethany, who I think lost all her depth from Charmed Thirds. I could see it as a natural progression to the series, granted, but there’s still a lot riding on Perfect Fifths.

If you haven’t read these already, be mindful of the difference between the first two books and the last two. They’re in different settings and it’s to be expected the characters will adapt to the new surroundings.

Definitely recommended. These books are tied for second with Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy on my list of favorites. Series overall grade? A-
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Contest: Leftovers (signed!)

« Back to Table of Contents.

Review // Author Interview

Blair and Ardith are best friends who have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you'll have to understand why. You'll have to listen as they describe parents who are alternately absent and smothering, classmates who mock and shun anyone different, and young men who are allowed to hurt and dominate without consequence. You will have to learn what it's like to be a teenage girl who locks her bedroom door at night, who has been written off by the adults around her as damaged goods. A girl who has no one to trust except the one person she's forbidden to see. You’ll have to understand what it's really like to be forgotten and abandoned in America today.

Are you ready?

I have two signed copies of this book to giveaway. Want it? Comment below.

1 entry per person. Make SURE you have your email address somewhere because I'm gonna be contacting the winners.

+ 1 if you mention Girl Week somewhere & link me to it. Have you done that already? Thanks :) Remind me/relink me again, please.

+ 1 if you mention the author interview/review/contest somewhere. Link me!

+ 1 secret criterion. (Fun :))

Contest ends on Dec 21st.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Such a Pretty Girl and Leftovers by Laura Wiess

« Back to Table of Contents.

And on this installment of Books You’ve Never Before, I bring to you Laura Wiess. I picked up her book Such a Pretty Girl in accordance with a deal I’d made with Kelsey of Just Blinded Book Reviews—I had to get me some Wiess and she had to get her some Megan McCafferty. The result? Well, she’s included in this week, isn’t she?

In Such a Pretty Girl, Meredith’s got a huge problem: her convicted sex offender of a father is coming home sooner than she expected. They’re convinced he’s reformed. Meredith isn’t as naïve, but even so, what can she do? Her mother wants to create a new life for the three of them, and in doing so, wants to give him a new child. (And as Meredith sees is, a new victim when the time comes.) With everyone—the mother who’s supposed to protect her, the legal system that’s supposed to give her justice—turning their back to her, and an abusive father coming home, again: What can Meredith do?

She knows what she’s gotta do. But no one said it would be easy.

This one is a short read but it stays with you well past the last page. For someone unfamiliar with the subject matter (and by unfamiliar, I mean blessedly spared), it’s a mixture of repulsion and awe over the events that take place here. It’s intense and borderline unbelievable. And that’s what makes me be repulsed: it’s hard to believe that’s the reality for some people. Unreliable adults and a predator living at home? Guys, this is too sad to deal with. That’s what makes me be awestruck: Meredith—and doubtlessly other teens—don’t have the choice of “not dealing” with it.

It’s recommended by me, but it’s not a light or pleasure read. In my own measure, I find it important to be read, but I know not everyone likes or can stomach these sorts of books, so use your discretion. But if you start it, finish it.

In Leftovers... I’m going to use the cover description because I really like it:

Blair and Ardith are best friends who have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you'll have to understand why. You'll have to listen as they describe parents who are alternately absent and smothering, classmates who mock and shun anyone different, and young men who are allowed to hurt and dominate without consequence. You will have to learn what it's like to be a teenage girl who locks her bedroom door at night, who has been written off by the adults around her as damaged goods. A girl who has no one to trust except the one person she's forbidden to see. You’ll have to understand what it's really like to be forgotten and abandoned in America today.
Are you ready?

Between the two, this one is—I think—the heavier one, also my favorite. Such a Pretty Girl had the benefit of a sympathetic narrator, whereas here, it’s hard not to hate these girls. I came to maybe/slightly understanding what drove them to do the “unforgivable act,” but I can’t condone it, and it disgusts me just to think about it. However, both girls were a bigger mystery to me than Meredith was, which made me like this one more. It’s a denser read and employs second person through the majority of the narrative, but it’s also a fascinating one.

In sum, both are powerful—but hard to digest—books. Don’t take the “Are you ready?” in Leftover’s description for granted. B+

Further: Read an interview with Laura Wiess pertaining to these books.

Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.

Author Interview: Laura Wiess

« Back to Table of Contents.

Laura Wiess is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Such a Pretty Girl and Leftovers, both with MTV/Pocket Books. She lives in a very old farmhouse at the edge of the woods in south central Pennsylvania with her husband, Chet, and a splendid assortment of rescued animals. To find out more, visit http://laurawiess.com/.

Could you describe your road to publication?

Sure. I've always been an avid reader - a trait I inherited from my mother who belonged to multiple book clubs, read to me constantly and spent at least an hour every night curled up reading for her own enjoyment - and my best subject in school was Creative Writing.

I wrote fiction for pleasure, sharing the stories with teachers, friends and family but never thought seriously about writing as a career until my late twenties when one day I asked myself if I was serious about this or just doing it for fun. And if I was serious, did I want to try and learn and see if I maybe had what it took to be published someday.

So I decided yes, I would give it my best shot and subscribed to Writer's Digest Magazine, bought Writer's Market, went to the library and took out every single book I could carry about theme, plot, characterization, writing for children, short story Writing and on and on. I wanted to learn everything about crafting fiction.

I wrote pretty much everyday. I learned how to shape and polish the work, find the appropriate market, submit, and start again. I received many rejections. Many. But every so often I would receive a word of encouragement scribbled across the front of the rejection slip and that made me dig in and try harder.

My first short story sale paid in contributor's copies but it was pure gold to me. That's all it took. Someone liked what I wrote enough to actually buy and print it. What a wonderful moment. The word bliss is not an exaggeration.

Roughly 60 short story sales later I sold a YA romance novel to HarperCollins called Downtown Boy, then a ten book series called Girl Friends for Kensington under the pseudonym Nicole Grey, then an independent YA romance for Kensington called Backstage Pass and finally three Animorphs books with K.A. Applegate at Scholastic. Most recent are SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, LEFTOVERS and my next novel HOW IT ENDS (due out in August 2009) with MTV Books/S&S.

What made you write about "society's leftovers", a category that fits for all of your characters - Meredith, Ardith and Blair? What were the challenges that came with it?

Maybe it sounds odd but I don't necessarily see any of the girls in that light; I see them as kids whose worlds are shaped by whatever influences the adults in their lives surround them with or see fit to display. (Meredith's father is a convicted pedophile and her mother refuses to acknowledge the damage he's done to her daughter because she loves him, so she lets him back in. Ardith's parents party and indulge in their addictions right in front of her. Blair's parents trade family time to chase status and wealth.)

In that way they're not leftovers at all, seeing as how all of our families play such a large part in shaping not only how we look at the world and what we grow up thinking is normal/abnormal but also what we have the power to change and what we don't.

Each character is an individual to me, a person in her own right who has a much bigger story behind her than any of us can see from the outside. That always fascinates me too: There's the outside layer we display to the world, and then there are the inside layers, and all the whys behind who we are and what we do.

I love exploring the whys.

When you were researching for your books, did you come across anything that shocked you? If so, could you share?

The most shocking moments came during researching SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, watching a documentary called JUST MELVIN, JUST EVIL (if you ever get to watch it, do. Amazing.) and speaking with incest survivors, as this last research put to rest - once and for all for me, anyway - the notion that no mother (and/or father) would stay with a person who molested their children once he or she knew about it.

I discovered that they have, and they do. Even though the incest occurred and the survivors told trusted adults about it, oftentimes the crime was swept under the rug and the kids were supposed to continue living with their molesters and acting as though nothing had ever happened.


How has the reader response been for your novels? They're quite heavy, so assume it's a personal type of communication your readers have with you.

The reader response has been amazing, heartfelt, distressing, inspiring and humbling. And you're right; the majority of the emails contain personal, private stories of past sexual abuse including parents or other relatives who turned away and pretended not to see even when the truth was told, and then the aftermath. Many readers have identified with Meredith's spirit and her desperate struggle to make it through.

I answer email in date order and although I've fallen behind, I've kept every note received and am trying to answer them as soon as possible.

In Leftovers, you use second person in a good chunk of the book. Why did you make this choice?

This was how Ardith and Blair presented themselves and their story. I think second person also provided them a safe distance from what happened, and helped convey the downward spiral they're powerless to stop.

Both Leftovers and Such A Pretty Girl feature teenage girls who have to make extraordinary decisions in the face of an extreme situation. When you were crafting this book, did the situations come to you first, or did the characters?

For PRETTY GIRL, I was listening to a news show about a sexual predator being released from prison early and going home, and I was wondering, Home to who? Did he still have a wife and a family? Who would stay in a relationship with a pedophile...and would he have children of his own?

The more I mulled, the more questions I had and the more infuriated I got at the thought of what this homecoming might do to this fictional guy's kids, perhaps his daughter, and after quite a bit more of this - including a rant about how the language used to describe sexual predation in no way captures the absolute horror of the crime, I heard a voice say, Well, if the phrase 'child molester' doesn't freak you out anymore, then maybe the details of what happened will. I won't mince words, if you won't turn away. Don't you dare, because I can't.

And that was the moment Meredith was born. What happened in the story after that was pretty much character-driven.

Ardith and Blair also drove LEFTOVERS. They were best friends, they had high hopes but neither girl had the kind of family back-up she most needed so they turned to each other for support and a safe place.

I started to think about anger and frustration, and what it would take - if it was during the course of their normal, every day lives -- to break them. We've heard about boys feeling like outcasts, feeling angry and powerless and blasting those feelings outward at everyone around them but how would this breakdown happen for these two girls? Would they destroy themselves? How would their anger manifest?

Ardith, Blair and LEFTOVERS became the answer to that question.

Did you set out to write about the characters per se, or about their choices?

I begin with a question or an issue I feel passionate about. I let it sit and simmer and I start asking why, and wondering what the answer is. Characters are born in response to this wondering and once they're real to me I usually follow along after them typing whatever happens. Sounds strange but it's true.

Do you condone what Ardith and Blair do in Leftovers?

Ah, this is interesting. At the end they do everything the adults in their worlds tell them to do and follow their parents' directions, even going so far as to warn the innocent victim ahead of time. Was it their fault the victim didn't heed their warning and fell as prey? Was it their fault for following directions?

I don't know. When I look at these girls and their lives I see a thousand shades of gray and very few absolutes.

The moral dilemma still intrigues me.

Do you think it's possible to judge characters who act under extenuating circumstances?

I think people will always judge. I also believe these same shades of gray between absolute right and absolute wrong matter, the why of it matters, even though it's still very difficult to ever really know why someone does something. Even with having all the details, the stories are fed through our own life filters so in the end it's still all about individual translation.

Your books are heartbreaking tales of girls made powerless by their circumstances, and also often by the men around them. My question is, how common would you say this bleak scenario is? And what can be done to stop it?

I would think most people feel powerless at some point in their lives and to some degree, especially kids who are subject to everyone bigger and older's rules. Sometimes the key is to remember that It's just for now, it's not forever but sometimes that's hard to remember when the bad consistently outweighs the good.

As for the behavior of the guys around the girls - and I'm just talking about Meredith, Ardith and Blair, here - I think the romantic attachments are part free will, part learning the ropes and coming up (for example, dating and learning what kinds of behavior you decide to accept or reject in prospective partners) and in the case of family, part nature and nurture.

There's a scene in LEFTOVERS where according to Blair, Ardith rewards her boyfriend Gary for bad behavior. Gary is mad about something he really has no right to be angry about and treats Ardith pretty badly. Instead of calling him to account on it, Ardith has grown up in a house where the woman defers to the man and has the role of making nice, so instead of saying don't do it again or we're finished and following through on it, she swallows her humiliation and smoothes it over.

This comes with a price.

I don't know of only one thing that can be done to stop it as each person has his or her moment of powerlessness for different reasons.

You've got a new book in the works! What can you tell us about that?

Yes, HOW IT ENDS with MTV Books and it's due out in August 2009. It's a love story, dark, intense and the path of discovering true love is twisted because one of the questions I had writing this was Is anybody ever really who they seem to be or is it just that we so want to believe them?

Now, last question: Does writing YA rock or what?

More than anything and thank you, Stephanie, for inviting me in and asking such great questions. It's been a real pleasure!

Steph: Laura is the only one who gets away with calling me Stephanie. I'm just saying. And thank you, Laura!
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

« Back to Table of Contents.