04 Nov

YA Cafe: YA Appreciation Month

Posted in Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.

November’s Theme: YA Appreciation Month!

In honor of Thanksgiving, coming up in just a few weeks, Ghenet and I wanted to spend this month talking about how awesome YA is and why we’re happy that this literature exists.  Because of the holiday, we’ll have our book club a bit earlier this month so start looking for the book you want to discuss.  This month’s book club topic: What YA book are you most thankful for?

Today’s Special: What Do I Love About YA?

1) YA is not boring.  Let’s face it, adult literature can get away with really boring stuff simply because adults are more willing to put up with boring books.  If a book for teens is boring, readers will put it away and read something else, while adults are more likely to suffer their way through.  How many adults slog through a book club pick despite being bored to tears simply because it’s gotten rave reviews and has some fancy sticker on the cover?  Teens don’t care about book club picks or fancy stickers.  As long as the characters are awesome and the story pulls you in, that’s all that matters.

2) There’s something for everyone in YA.  OK, let’s get one thing straight: YA is not a genre.  It’s a category, a slice of the literary pie, a set of books with a common target audience, but it’s not a genre.  Why?  Because within YA there are dozens of different genres, just like there are different genres for adult literature.  Within YA you have romance, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, horror, thrillers, literary fiction and historical fiction, just to name a few genres under the YA umbrella.  What brings all these books together in the YA category is three things:

  • The primary target audience is teens.
  • The protagonist is (usually) a teen between the ages of 14 and 18.
  • The book has a “YA voice” which is nearly impossible to describe but readers know it when they see it.

What this means is that there’s variety in YA and regardless of a teen’s tastes in books, chances are, they’ll find something that will appeal to them.

3) YA crosses boundaries and takes risks.  There’s a lot of risk-taking and sophisticated writing that goes on in YA these days.  It’s not all Babysitter’s Club (not that there’s anything wrong with the Babysitter’s Club per se, but for some reason I don’t quite understand, most non-YA-readers seem to think of YA as being limited to that style and they don’t see all the variety YA has to offer).  Some literary risks that you see in YA:

  • Reinventing language in the use of vernacular (see Tyrell by Coe Booth and Feed by M.T. Anderson).
  • Interesting use of point of view (see The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, where the book is narrated in an omniscient 1st person.  I mean, talk about a daring POV choice).
  • Approaching tough issues, such as dealing with being transgender (Luna by Julie Ann Peters), homelessness and parental neglect (again, Tyrell) and the age-old issue of needing to fit in (Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky), just to name a few.


4) YA brings readers together.  The community of YA readers and writers is something unique that I have not seen in any other area of literature.  Just look at the #YASaves campaign on Twitter that not only illustrated the impact that YA books have had on readers, but also brought of the YA community.  (It was one of the top trending topics on Twitter the weekend it began.)

In the end, I love YA because it reaches readers during a critical age when books really matter.  I didn’t have YA growing up, at least not the YA that we see in bookstores today.  And even if I had had these books available to me, I’m not sure I would have been able to read them.  (As a teen I went to a hoity-toity school where all you read was Shakespeare and Chaucer or that sort of thing.)  In fact, even in college where I could have chosen English courses that were less… traditional, I always tended toward the “old stuff” because it had been hammered so deeply into my brain.

It was only years later when I started writing that I discovered YA.  I kept trying to write stories that were “literary” but the voice never seemed to fit.  It was always too young, too snarky or too fun to be stories for adults.  Then I stumbled on YA and started reading, and before I knew it I was obsessed.  It was like I had been switched at birth and shoved into the wrong literary family and now I had finally come home.

So, really, that’s why I love YA.  Because it feels like home.

Check out Ghenet’s post about what she loves about YA: All About Them Words.  And don’t forget to tell us what you love on Twitter with the #YAcafe hash tag!

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28 Oct

YA Cafe Book Club: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Posted in Book Club, Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.

Today’s Special: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

This month we talked about FEAR in YA and for today’s book club, Ghenet and I have chosen out books that we think represent this topic.  For my pick, I selected The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, a psychological thriller with a bit of a paranormal twist.

***SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain spoilers!***

First, let me set the scene for my esperience reading it.  I pulled this book off the shelf the weekend Hurricane Irene hit in New York, thinking “We’ll be stuck inside all weekend and the power might go out so I need something really good for hurricane reading.”  We live in a highrise with wall-to-wall windows and while we didn’t have to evacuate, we were advised to brave the hurricane in some part of the apartment far from the windows.  Since the worst of the storm was at night, we pulled out our sleeping bags and curled up in the hallway for an indoor camping adventure.

Anyone who’s ever spent a hurricane in a highrise knows how loud those storms can be.  There was no way I was getting any sleep, so I pulled out The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and my reading light and I started reading.  And I couldn’t stop.  I read almost the whole thing in that one night as the wind whooshed around the building and the rain pelted the windows.

What makes this book so scary and suspenseful?

It has an unexpected villain.  For most of the book, the protagonist Mara Dyer is her own worst enemy.  The story starts with her waking up in the hospital with no memory of how she got there and discovering that her best friends are dead.  As the book continues, Mara begins regaining bits and pieces of her memory, leading her to believe that maybe she was responsible for her friends’ deaths.  As readers, we’re used to thrillers where the antagonist is a character apart from the protagonist, but in this story, it appears that Mara is both protagonist and antagonist, which is a unique twist.

The author takes major risks in terms of TRUST, but the payoff is worth it.  Last week when we talked about suspense, I emphasized how important it is for the reader to trust the author.  In this book, Michelle Hodkin takes some big risks in terms of playing with our trust.  First off, because Mara can’t remember key events in the story, we can’t fully trust her as the protagonist and narrator.  An unreliable narrator is always risky.

But that’s not the only risk the author takes.  Characters we think are the “good guys” turn out to be more sinister than we thought and characters we’re convinced are evil turn out to be in Mara’s corner.  No one is what they seem to be.  This is a risky move for an author because we can’t trust the narrator/protagonist and we can’t really trust the secondary characters either. So, who do we trust?

We trust the author.  Ultimately, this is what all good writing comes down to: you don’t have to trust any of the characters as long as you know the author is in control and knows what she’s doing.  This trust is what allowed me to keep turning pages, even when I had no idea where the story was going or which character I should be rooting for.  I knew I could trust the author to pull it all together at the end.

Speaking of endings… this ending had one crazy cliffhanger.  Normally, a cliffhanger ending would really annoy me as a reader.  I like having some sort of closure when I finish a book, even if I know it’s part of a series.  With this book, though, the cliffhanger ending didn’t bother me as much.  Again, it all comes down to trust; by the time I reached the ending, I knew I could trust that the author had a master-plan in mind, so I was able to accept the cliffhanger.  Because the author did such a good job of earning my reader-trust, I was willing to give the ending the benefit of the doubt, trusting that there is some good reason for that cliffhanger.

What about you?  What scary book did you choose to read this month?  Tweet the title using the #YAcafe hash tag!

Check out Ghenet’s book club post on her blog: All About Them Words.  And don’t forget to join the conversation on twitter!

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30 Sep

YA Cafe: Banned Books Week

Posted in Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs. We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned! Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #YAcafe.

This Week’s Special: Banned Books Week

As many of you may know, this week is Banned Books Week, and all week long there have been events–online and off–celebrating banned books and our First Amendment right to read what we want.  But why address this topic on a YA Cafe day?  Well, one quick look at the banned books lists and you’ll notice that somewhere around half of the banned books fall under the umbrella of teen literature.  Now, when you consider that teen literature is only one small slice of the literary pie (a fast-growing slice, to be sure, but still just one small part of the whole) the number of banned books from this category seems grossly disproportionate.

So this week, Ghenet and I thought we’d look over the most recent Banned Books List from the ALA and tell you which books on that list we’d read.  (To find this year’s full Banned Books List, go to this link and scroll to the bottom of the page.  There are PDF downloads for lists from the past seven years).  According to the ALA, the top ten most banned books in 2010 were: (books with * are ones I have read)

1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie *
3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley *
4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins *
6) Lush, by Natasha Friend
7) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
8 ) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

But for me, the banned book from the full 2010-2011 List that had the most impact was Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler, which was challenged at the Quitman, Tex. Junior High library (2011) by a parent who described one scene as “on the verge of pornography.” (Source: Jan. 2011, p. 8.)

First off, let’s just chuckle at the irony that a book with the word “virgin” in the title gets challenged for being too “pornographic.”  I mean, did said parent actually read the book?  Because there isn’t an actual sex scene in it, and trust me, when it comes to make-out scenes this book might have some steamy ones, but nothing even nearing “pornography.”

Secondly, I can see why over-protective parents might feel threatened by this book, and it’s not because of sex.  This book is about a girl who does everything her parents want her to do.  Then one day, she says “enough” and starts thinking for herself.  Frankly, I think the message about independence is far more scary to parents than the alleged scene that’s “on the verge of pornography.”  It’s not so much that the main character has a steamy make-out session with her boyfriend, but that she’s doing it behind her parents’ backs and with a boy they wouldn’t approve of.  I’d be willing to be that this is what freaked out that outraged parent, not the so-called pornographic scene.  I mean, teens having minds of their own… such a scary concept, right?

Forgive me, but isn’t the whole point of kids reading books like Vegan Virgin Valentine for them to figure out their own opinions about important life topics?  What’s the point of teens having their own brains and free will and all that good stuff, if they never get to use it?  And honestly, the kids reading these banned books are not the ones I worry about.  After all, they’re reading.  The ones I worry about are the kids who don’t read anything at all. *Steps down from soapbox.*

Soapbox is free; anyone else want to hop up? And while you’re at it, tell me: how many books from this year’s banned list have you read? Did any one book really hit home for you? Which book was it?

To read about Ghenet’s pick from the Banned Books List, check out her YA Cafe post.  Also, don’t forget to tweet about YA books that you love on Twitter, using the #YAcafe and #YAsaves hash tags.


22 Sep

KidLit and TeenLit Books on Body Image

Posted in Kid Lit, Literature, Reading, Teen Lit


Today, as promised, I have a list of books I’ve discovered that deal with the subject of body image for teens and middle grade.  This list was tough to put together because as I’ve mentioned before, there are very few books that address this topic.  Below is what I have so far.  If you think of any other books that should be on this list, leave a comment and I’ll update the post.  Here’s my list (in no particular order and with links to Goodreads):


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
by Sarah Darer Littman
North of Beautiful
by Justina Chen Headly
More Than You Can Chew
by Marnelle Tokio
The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things
* by Carolyn Mackler
* by Scott Westerfeld
Reasons to Be Happy
* by Katrina Kittle
by Amy Kathleen Ryan
by Judy Blume
Best Little Girl in the World
by Steven Levenkron
Operation Beautiful
by Caitlin Boyle
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.
by Medeia Sharif

(Note: Books marked with a * are ones I myself have read and would recommend.  All other books have been recommended to me by you all!)  Also, if you’re still looking for more body image books (particularly ones dealing with eating disorders), here’s a list I found on Goodreads: YA Eating Disorder Books


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