18 Nov

YA Cafe: What YA Book are You Thankful For?

Posted in Book Club, 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!

Today’s Special: Book Club!  What YA Book are You Thankful For?

First of all, let me start by saying that when it comes to YA, I’m thankful for all of it.  The amazing books that shook me to my core.  The fun beach reads that kept me entertained on vacations.  Even some of those forgettable books that all blur together in my memory.  For me, YA is what I read and what I love, so I’m thankful for all of it: the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

But if I had to choose one book that really resonated with me and turned my mind upside-down it would have to be Blankets by Craig Thompson.  First off, this gorgeous graphic novel instantly spoke to my visual side.  Add to that the part where Raina sews the quilt for Craig (which totally appealed to my love of all things craftsy) and I was sold.  But it was the whirlwind romance between Craig and Raina that resonated with me most.

In this book, we see how two teens can go from connecting like soul-mates to having that romance fall apart.  And this all takes place in the span of a few short weeks.  Their romance reminded me a lot of college romances.  Something about being together on a college campus speeds up the pace of relationships.  Add in the fact that most college students are either teens or in their very early twenties, and you get the kind of whirlwind relationships like the one you see in Blankets.  You can get together, fall in love, fall apart and never speak to each other again, all in a matter of days.

What spoke to me most in this book was (SPOILER ALERT) the end, where Craig and Raina break up for good and Craig destroys everything (minus the quilt) that reminds him of her.  Having grown up in a very tight family where loyalty is king, I’ve been raised with this mindset that you either love someone to pieces, or they’re dead to you.  There’s no in-between.  So when Craig destroys his mementos of Raina, I could relate to that impulse, that desire to get rid of all the memories and start fresh.  After all, that’s how I dealt with all my romantic relationships.  Until I met my husband.

Lawyer-hubby likes to joke about something I said to him early in our relationship.  I don’t remember this incident, but apparently on our second date, I told him that I didn’t break up with boyfriends, I “obliterated them from my life.”  I know… charming, right?

That was ten years ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then.  About forgiveness.  And second chances.  And shades of grey.  A lot of this learning has been thanks to this amazing man who’s stood by me despite my “moments.”  When I read Blankets in 2008, not only did this book remind me of relationships from my teen years, but it also showed me how far I’ve come since then.  And that’s a lot to be thankful for.

What about you?  What YA book are you thankful for?  Tell us in the comments or by tweeting with the #YAcafe hash tag.  And don’t forget to check out Ghenet’s post to see what YA book she’s thankful for!


11 Nov

YA Cafe: Why I Love Dark YA

Posted in Reading, Teen Lit, Writing, 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!
…and book club topic:
What YA book are you most thankful for?  (Book Club is next week!)


Today’s Special: Why I Love Dark YA

These past few months, there has been a ton of buzz on twitter and the interwebs about dark YA.  It started with an article titled Darkness Too Visible which appeared in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in June.  Much discussion, disagreement, even outrage ensued, coming mostly from the teen lit community.  People took sides and a lot was said throughout the blogsphere about the various misconceptions presented in the article.

Here were some of the responses:
•  Janet Reid (AKA Query Shark) shared her straight-to-the-point response on her blog.
•  Misty from Nothing Cannot Happen Today raised an important point about the age-range for YA being much wider th an any other age group in children’s literature.
• Kate Hart from KateHart.net took a different approach and looked at the covers were for YA books published in 2010.  Her post is fascinating and shows that YA might not be as edgy (and definitely not as multicultural) as one would think.

Finally, the hashtag #YASaves, which started in response to the Wall Street Journal article, not only was the #3 trending topic on twitter the weekend it came out, but it’s continued as an active and vibrant community of YA writers and readers alike.  Many lovers of teen lit have posted links and responses with #YASaves, weighing in on why YA–but especially Dark YA–is important.

So what does this have to do with why I love Dark YA?

Dark YA makes us think.  It challenges us to reconsider our assumptions and view situations from alternative points of view.  Even YA books that aren’t necessarily “dark” per se, will often raise some sort of question or challenge that pushes readers outside of their comfort zone.

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler

Right now I’m reading I’m Not Her by Janet Gurtler.  Looking at the cover, it doesn’t appear to be a particularly dark book.  But as we soon discover, the story has more darkness to it than first it seemed.  For me, in particular, this book has been a challenge because (full disclosure here) one of my greatest fears since I was a child was that of losing a limb.  And one of the characters in I’m Not Her grapples with this very issue, trying to come to terms with what will happen if she loses her leg to bone cancer.

For other readers, this book might be “sad” or “tragic” but for me it has been a challenge, and a good challenge at that.  This book pushed me outside my comfort zone and forced me to face something that in the past has been very difficult for me to approach.  And for that reason, I am loving this book.  (In fact, I’m loving it so much, I’m reading it really slooooowly because I don’t want it to end.)

And why is it so important that Dark YA exists?  That one’s easy to answer.  Teens (the intended audience for these books) are at an age where they’re learning to stand up for their own thoughts and beliefs.  They need books that will challenge them and push them beyond their comfort zones.  If all books in teen lit were happy-go-lucky-everything-is-perfect types of books not only would these books be unbelievably boring but these books wouldn’t add anything that teens are not already experiencing in their own lives.

These days, teens deal with a lot of very real and very difficult situations.  Problem parents, bullies, coming to terms with their sexuality, violence, discrimination (which isn’t just based on race or sexual orientation but can occur for just about any reason imaginable).  You name it, there are teens out there dealing with it.  If YA didn’t represent that experience–both the good and the bad–then it would be a lie.

And we all know the purpose of fiction: while the stories and characters may be made-up, at the heart of it fiction always tells the TRUTH.

Check out Ghenet’s post today on why she loves Dark YA!  And don’t forget to share your book club pick next week!


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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