Favorite thing : A.S. King

I’ve been moving. Again. This is my fourth house in as many years, and hopefully the last for a good long while since I bought it. Touching all my things is gross. That whole Marie Conde thing about needing all your belongings to bring you joy?

If I followed that rule I would own nothing.

Things. Ugh.

Moving means no time. Boxes to unpack and phone calls to make and things to organize, but hours for lounging with a book? No. My inner voice gets loud and cranky when I don’t read. It complains. In two weeks I managed to read a single book: Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King.

I first discovered A.S. King while in grad school. I posted on FB that I wanted to make out with the book. I have continued to feel that way about every single book of hers I’ve read, and I’ve read all but her very first. As a writer, the thing I appreciate most about her is what I’ll call her not give a fuckness. In Vera Dietz I fell in love with her character Charlie who appears mostly as a ghost. Not just one ghost. A million ghosts. I remember being breathless because if you’ve lost someone with whom you had unfinished business, it does feel like there are a million ghosts following you around. You are that haunted.

For me, her ability to bend and extend reality while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground is a skill that is both inspiring and hard to conceptualize. What I mean is as a writer she does what she wants. I picture her with a deadpan expression on her face while people try to explain to her why her books might not be accessible or marketable or whatever. I imagine her beaming calm expletives in their direction. I imagine my daughter and the look she had as she tore through Glory O’Brien and I am so glad Amy has persisted because now the information she imparts in her books is available to my child. It’s available to me. 

I am not particularly a fan of going off in someone’s trippy version of reality. I don’t like being dragged into masturbatory weirdness. Yet she manages to insist on things that are impossible, that are there for a reason, and make you consider all sorts of difficult questions and never feel like you’re in anything but the surest of hands. You can call what she does surreal. But I think of it more as simply doing what she wants when she wants to with the story. I think her books are more than surreal. They’re hyper-real. They are the physical manifestations of emotion. They are what’s actually going on.

In Still Life With Tornado, when her MC Sarah starts appearing to herself at various stages of life, as a writer I actually experience fear, like I’m dangling off a bridge. That kind of boldness? As a writer you know the insane amount of guts it takes to dare a leap like that. Then the stomach twist as I acknowledge each stage of life and the things I know about myself and about processing trauma. My throat goes dry. My eyes fill. And then she simply continues on in her blunt, matter-of-fact way in the rest of her story, her short, repetitive, staccato sentences cut and rip at any bullshit you’ve ever told yourself. She slices at it. It’s as intense as the beach burn Sarah gets on her Mexican vacation. No balm though. Not until the end.

I could open any book of hers to any page and know it’s her. I can open any book of hers and know I will come away from it a little more hurt, perhaps, but also with a little less bullshit on me, maybe one more toxic layer peeled off. I might need a bunch of aloe to recover, but I’ll take that heavy dose of sun any day.

 

Favorite Thing: Little Rock Central High School

I geeked out when I found out I would be going to Little Rock Central High School, which spans four city blocks, and when it was built in 1927 for 1.5 million dollars was considered the most architecturally beautiful school in the country. I knew about the Little Rock Nine and had seen the pictures of them walking into the school, surrounded by police and of course, awful, racist people. There is something about the Civil Rights Movement that gets me right in the gut.

I thought I would be walking in to a school immune to its own history, hardened by time, oblivious. I had to remind myself, these are just kids going to school. They don’t walk in thinking OMG I am going to school here, at the site of such monumental shifts in social consciousness and law.

And there is some truth to that, though my presence seemed to bring that pride and awareness to the fore (all my gawking probably helped with that). I don’t want to romanticize my experience, but I found the students to be intelligent, engaged, beautiful, and I even heard poems from students named Jamese and Theo (what’s up, best moderator ever) that made me clutch at my heart and I’m not even just being nice.

And they did seem to know they were somewhere special, even though they groaned when I asked them what they thought of Little Rock.

Isn’t everyone dying to escape their home town?

At my visit, I didn’t say much of anything important, nothing worthy of the space, just tried to share a little about writing and reading. It’s true, those students go to school there probably without giving much thought to the pictures of the Little Rock Nine in the entryway, or the original windows and cabinetry, or the fact that they have a few incredible librarians dedicated to archiving and discovering even more about the school’s history.

After my visit with the students, one of the librarians, Claudia, took me around the school, having warned me to bring my walking shoes. I didn’t stop taking pictures. Then the head librarian, Stella, took me to the Central High School museum (Taos High does NOT have a museum), and to see Carlotta’s (one of the nine) house where the side was blown open by a Molotov Cocktail just before she graduated. Think about that. They had to go to school knowing their lives were in danger just by walking through the door.

I was extra-awake that whole day, knowing I might not stand there again, in a place at the center of so much evil and so much bravery. It is important to stand in those places and pay tribute to the people who risked everything, whether they would have chosen to or not. It makes you feel as good about humanity as bad, sits you right into reality, uncomfortable and beautiful as it is. The human spirit is no joke.

It happens there was a This American Life on the subject that same week. Check out the middle story here, if you’re interested.

Meantime, Central High is definitely my favorite for the week: for its rich history, its curious and open librarians and kids, and its spectacular now.

Favorite Thing: Goodbye, Girls

I know lots of people hate-watched Girls. I know it drove people nuts with its narcissistic rants and sometimes grotesque kink. But I loved it. I loved it so much I couldn’t bear to watch the last several episodes and let them stack up on my DVR.

My life as I knew it started to unravel about the time this show came around. I was so grateful  for this anti-Sex and the City where everything was gritty. Not only was it what I adored about New York, it was also real. Sex wasn’t in soft focus. The girls weren’t always pretty, in fact most of the time they weren’t. They weren’t always good to each other, either. Nothing about this show shied away from what is nasty about being a human. Shots on the toilet, plenty of thigh fat, mediocre relationship sex.

But, the connection between those girls was totally authentic. The dancing, the fighting, the dedication and flakiness. And the acceptance. For me, the best thing about my relationships to the women in my life, with all the ebbs and flows, is that. As my friend put it, “You can lift your skirt to those ladies.”

And (sharp intake of breath)…Elijah. Elijah, I think I will miss you most of all. You and your hot pants, your snark. How many nights did I watch that show flatlining with depression? How many nights did you say just the right thing to take the pain, if only for a second? I, Elijah, I will bring you a pizza whenever you have need of one.

Praise Lena Dunham for having it together enough to challenge everything we knew up ’til Girls, that sickening gloss that was slathered all over women and conditioned us all to strive for certain bodies and behaviors that were totally inauthentic. Praise Lena Dunham for embracing the full scope of femininity, of badassery, and for being honest enough not to give us answers she didn’t have, but only to boldly ask questions.

So I finally did watch the last three episodes. I cried my whole face off. I cried from the moment they went into the bathroom in the penultimate episode through the end. I know people didn’t much like that ending. They didn’t like that it ended out in the country instead of in the city, that it was about (ick) a baby, that weird Tracy Chapman singing. But you know what? She had an arc. She grew up a little bit even though she was a huge mess. She was ugly and beautiful in her newest incarnation as she had been the whole time.

I went to a party right after I finished watching, and every time I tried to tell people about it, I started crying again. Because Lena Dunham gave everyone permission to be ugly and bright and fleshy and horny and self-centered and enormously compassionate and wise. That’s what’s real. That’s what being a woman is.

Goodbye, Girls. I’m going to miss you, but I promise never to forget.

How I learned my relationship was abusive

I wrote an article for the Huffington Post. Here it is, and here is the link if you want to look at it there!

 

How I Learned My Relationship Was Abusive
The night I lost my virginity was the first time my first high school boyfriend turned on me, though it wouldn’t be the last. We were all ready, had been planning for weeks, and at the last minute I got scared and said I wanted to wait. He told me calmly that no one besides him would ever want me and that if I did not “put out” he would leave me. Did I not realize how difficult I was, how much patience it took to be with me?

Those words resonated. I had heard them many times before throughout my life. They sounded true. I put out, terrified of what my life would be without him. In the end he dishonored me in every possible way. He cheated on me repeatedly, stalked me when we broke up and smashed a window in my house.

The next time it happened I was eighteen and in college. This boy and I moved in together right away. People said we reminded them of their grandparents who had been married for fifty years. People said we were perfect for each other. People said, awwww, because of how he loved me. Because my household growing up was unstable, I felt I had finally found a home. He meant everything to me.

Over time, things degenerated, beginning when he read my journal, a place that had always been sacred, where I could unleash hell if I wanted to. He began checking the odometer when I left the apartment to make sure I had only gone as far as I said. He isolated me from my friends who were almost all boys, which he hated. He insisted we shower together and hardly ever let me be alone. He demanded sex several times a day. If I said I didn’t want to, he accused me of cheating.

The controlling downward spiral was hard to define. It was incremental. It happened so slowly that it took me a while to figure out I was bound and even longer to figure out why I had allowed it to happen.

Sally Jesse Raphael saved me. It was a talk show that came on in the afternoon and one day when he was in class I watched. The subject was emotional abuse in relationships. She talked about the sex, the isolation, the fear. I had a bowl of pasta in my lap and I remember dropping the fork. I saw myself clearly for the first time in a year and understood that this situation wasn’t special. This was textbook emotional abuse.

His temper, his demands, the fact that I hadn’t written a word in my journal that wasn’t tailored to him—it all came into focus.

I left him pretty soon after that. My friend pulled up to the apartment in his mom’s minivan, I ran inside, grabbed all my clothes, shoved them into the van, and we sped off. I didn’t so much fear that my boyfriend would hurt me that day, but I never wanted to be cornered again, animal-like. I never wanted to crouch or to hide or to be anything other than I was ever again. I didn’t want to hear him say for the thousandth time the thing that had started with the first boy: that I was difficult, complicated, too much for anyone but him and that I should be grateful he was with me at all.

I am still ashamed writing this. It feels like my words dirty the page and like I will make the people who know me, who knew me then uncomfortable. But we have to talk about this stuff. It’s not just about being hit or having your life in danger. It’s also about being debased, minimized, dependent and afraid. It’s about being made to feel like less by someone who knows all your insecurities so intimately they know exactly how to work you.

If someone is not hitting you, if they’re, say, just being an asshole, it’s pretty hard to point fingers. You sit in suffocating silence. You do not want to rock the boat, lose your friends, change everything just because you can’t take a little heat. They know it’s your greatest fear to be alone and rejected, ostracized. They know you funnel your sense of self through them. They have hobbled you with their erratic adoration, with their kisses and threats, and you know it’s because there’s something inside you that is so weak it could fall prey where other, better people wouldn’t.

Back when it happened to me, I felt utterly alone and afraid to tell the people around me. We had so many mutual friends who loved not only him, but were invested in our relationship so I couldn’t talk to them.

So here are a few things you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation, if you’re having your Sally Jesse Raphael moment right now:
AdChoices
· Loveisrespect.org (link here) is there 24/7/365. You can call 1-866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522 to chat.

· If you’re confused about what you’re experiencing, you can read this article from Psychology Today. It’s a great resource and will help you sort through what’s going on.

· Most importantly, I wish someone had said this to me: You are not damaged goods. You are not being difficult. You are worthy of the utmost respect, of privacy, of personal space. You are not alone. You will recover.

I’m turning my attention to this issue in a big way. I’m working in my local community to make more resources available for girls in this situation. I’m also mentoring girls in writing because I know in the aftermath of leaving my relationship, it was my interests and passions, not anything external, that gave me the beginnings of a foundation. That is how I can heal.

I know now that I am rebellious, alive, and a force of nature. I always was. That is what they wanted to harness and control, for whatever reason. That is what they called “difficult.” Abusers want your light all for themselves and to hold you prisoner in your shame. Don’t let them. Fight for yourself. Be that force of nature. Be every complicated bit of yourself in all its brilliant dimension. And shine.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline .

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY HAPPENING NOW!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging Light

by Estelle Laure

Giveaway ends March 07, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

I saw green!

There’s green in the flower bed by my front door.

I’m not a winter person. Winter hurts my eyes, I’m itchy, and I hate wearing more than three items of clothing at any given time. I blame my grandmother who was from Martinique. I’ve got island in me that is at war with these snow-capped mountains. Winter is always dark and dangerous and I have to take long baths to rid myself of the chill. This is ironic because my boyfriend is literally at his happiest and most productive while in the snow in a semi-refrigerated state. Not me. And this year my bummed outness is compounded on a global level.

I’ve been pretty vocal about how totally grossed out I am by the current state of affairs in government. I’m so sick of looking at old white men I want to vomit every time I see a new picture of Trump’s White House. I fight this, and the winter of my discontent with daily actions and a steady diet of TV shows, movies, music and books.

I’ve powered through The Leftovers (which is like the best show ever) and Santa Clarita Diet  (which actually made me laugh a lot and plus Tim Olyphant). I read The Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance), Born a Crime (Trevor Noah), Underwater (Marisa Reichardt), Vagina (Naomi Wolf), and Faithful (Alice Hoffman), which were all pretty damn amazing, and I blurbed for a hysterical first sex Forever sort of book called I Never which is a lot of fun and will be out soon. I watched Moonlight, La-La Land, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Lego Batman and 13th which were all extraordinary in their own ways. I also decided to spring for Apple music because when a person is as panicked and frozen as I have been, a person needs lots of choice (new favorites include Kflay, Cage the Elephant and Ladytron).

So I haven’t gotten to put my feet in the ocean in a while. It’s okay because art.

Speaking of, on my own front, I was included in a Barnes and Noble article, 7 Magical Realism Must-Reads You Want Right Now. I was asked to go to Little Rock, Arkansas for the Arkansas Literary Festival which I’m super excited for. I haven’t been to Little Rock since I was nineteen and driving around the country with my boyfriend. And a few of my brothers and sisters, my dad, and about fifteen of my VCFA graduating class are heading to Parnassus Books in Nashville on April 4 to be with me as I celebrate the launch of But Then I Came Back.

Not only that, but March is shaping up. I’ll be teaching again at Taos Academy which is one of the best things I did last semester, and I’ll be in Denver the last week of the month for some school visits.

 

I take all of these as signs that winter will be over soon and that it won’t feel like a fight every time I walk out the door. I take it as a sign that I, like the dirt, am thawing. I’m not too excited yet. My mountain town has a way of teasing.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

At this point I’ll take all the green I can get.

 

P.S. book goals for Feb 15-March 15:

Swing Time, Zadie Smith/ American Street, Ibi Zoboi/What Light, Jay Asher/History is all You Left Me, Adam Silvera/How to Make a Wish, Ashley Herring Blake (if the ARC EVER GETS HERE!)/Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

 

Love and fear

We all get a pass for November.

Most people I know fell into a post-election depression, couldn’t write, couldn’t sleep or slept all the time and couldn’t get their shit together in the day. I personally don’t quite remember it.

I do know the morning after the election I went to the local health food store early so I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. My face was puffy and also mascara streaked. I wasn’t the only one employing this avoidant strategy. I sobbed in my friend’s arms most inappropriately. This happened two more times with various levels of friends before I left the store. And it happened again and again all that week. Wake up, cry for humanity, read the terrible news, work, parent, sleep. I had to come out of my sad coma long enough to move houses and visit my doctor who informed me I tested positive for H-pylori, so…ulcers. I think somewhere I hoped if i slept enough I would propel myself into the version of the multiverse where this tacky-ass dangerous turn of events never happened and maybe then my ulcers would also disappear.

By the middle of November, I was never out of sweats, and I was really into carbs, whichever kind I could get my hands on. Preferably with an assload of dairy on top. I was listening to NPR so much I would hear the same show twice a day. I zombie cooked and zombie worked and everything hurt.

The Gilmore girls saved me. I’m not playing. I don’t know why I finally decided to watch that show after all these years, but praise Lorelai. Glory hallerory! I watched all seven seasons plus the new one, and I allowed myself to become obsessed with all those boys and the mom and Sookie and OMG Jess and Luke. I had never seen a single episode and it completely propelled me into this fantasy world because WTF even is Stars Hollow… and Kirk. Jesus. It’s not bombs and bad choices and freedom threatened and big men playing dangerous games at everyone’s expense. It’s not a total disregard for decency. It’s just simple, every day drama. Easy to tend to.

And then, December. December has been good, like roots, like rain, like waking up from a deep sleep, like great books and art and remembering the world isn’t a complete piece of shit and that people are mostly good.

For instance, this poem blew my everlovin’ mind:

Good Bones
BY MAGGIE SMITH
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

 

For instance, this book blew my everlovin’ mind:

I mean, it blew my mind. 

And I went to New York and saw brand new babies and aunties from Greece and I went to the Met for the first time and saw my wonderful, wonderful Folio family. The writing started up again, it got better. I didn’t feel like I had weights in my shoes anymore. Nicolas Cage sat atop my Christmas tree and my kids made me laugh and I started getting that teary connected feeling again that I always have when my daughter sings.

Art and good people and being so insanely grateful for every free minute on this earth–all of that helps mitigate the rest. I have remembered myself, and that myself is passionate about everything on this planet. Myself is hopeful and the best antidote to all types of fuckery is a steady diet of inspiration, because in the midst of all this bullshit, people are doing great things.

Yesterday when I was listening to The Tim Ferris Podcast (highly recommend for any creative person), he quoted Oprah, so this is me quoting TF quoting Oprah. Could be like a copy of a copy, but take it for what it’s worth.

  1. There are only two emotions, love and fear. If you aren’t coming from love you’re coming from fear. Stressed out is just the ambitious person’s word for scared.
  2. Never be a vehicle for darkness. It is all around you, but don’t let it use you. Be a vehicle for light.
  3. Run your own race. It’s about you and your goal. You can never run anyone else’s race, so focus on yourself. If you watch the other runners, you’re going to fall behind.

For me, that’s enough of a hint about what I want 2017 to be. Those are my resolutions. Because it’s fucked out there and there’s nothing I can do about it except pay attention, call it out, give where I can, and focus on my role in the world. I have to run my own race, and so do you.

Never hit snooze. Be a good person. Don’t let sad-comas take you down. The shock has passed. Stars Hollow doesn’t exist but we do. And we make things. And we give. And that means everything.

Have you asked me for a YA book recommendation?

Last night I had insomnia. I stayed up for about two hours trying to answer questions I’d been asked, after the fact. Like, for instance, what books to read. I’m not good with rapid-fire questions so I always blank. But I’m asked all the time by parents, by kids, by teachers. I’ve tried to compile some of my favorites here.

Also, I would like to add that if you are a truly passionate reader of YA, you might want to consider the Parnassus Next book club, which will send you a carefully and intelligently curated selection of the newest YA each month. I personally love it. It also makes a great gift. Subscriptions of all kinds are available and you’re supporting the mother of all indie bookstores, located in Nashville.

PLEASE NOTE: I’m not dealing in classics like Paul Zindel and Robert Cormier and Lois Duncan, and I will assume you know all about Harry Potter and the incredible wonders of Neil Gaiman and don’t need any information about Katniss Everdeen or Jenny Han or E. Lockhart or  John Green or Morgan Matson. I haven’t read everything by any stretch and sometimes I get the slow blink from colleagues for what I have somehow missed, but FOR GOD’S SAKE I AM NOT A MACHINE! I’m sure I’ll be scrambling to add things, but hopefully this is good for now. Also, this took me all day, so I’m not sorry for all the mistakes or how many times I said weird and kickass, and the non-uniform nature of the post.

MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold

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David Arnold can write. He can write and write and write. His characters freak me out they’re so three-dimensional, and my highlighter was busy the whole time I read this one. Also, I love southern books, and this is a perfect one, as Mim runs away from home and across state lines. The plot is as windy as her path to reach her destination. I cried. A lot. Everyone I’ve recommended this to has loved it. In fact, someone has stolen my copy (Anais).  He also has a new one called KIDS OF APPETITE that came out on Tuesday and that is currently sitting next to my bed, waiting.

I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Pena

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Maybe I’m biased because I read this one first. I love everything from the title to the cover to every last word in between. This story of Kid, a boy trying to cope while living in a group home as he develops a fierce fascination with the beautiful Olivia, slays me. It has a wicked twist, a sick supporting cast of characters, and this simple cadence that I almost can’t deal with it makes me feel so much. I went into it blind, knowing nothing at all about Matt. Now he’s won the Newbery among many other awards and accolades, and has a great backlist of books, including MEXICAN WHITEBOY and WE WERE HERE. He’s gritty and honest and totally cool.

 

THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE by Adele Griffin

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This edgy story from two-time national book award finalist Adele Griffin, about an “it” girl’s mysterious death, is just straight up fun. There’s some sex and drugs so maybe not for really little kids. Adele used models and created a whole world of images to support the story as this poor girl comes undone. Addison can’t survive. You know that from the first page, but on the last you get a totally unexpected chill. Adele has a new one coming out soon called BE TRUE TO ME. I’ve had the pleasure of reading it and it’s a blast.

 

TYRELL  by Coe Booth

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First of all, if you ever get lucky enough to hear Coe read from this book, run don’t walk. She’s so funny. Anyway, this story of a boy who has to go into a shelter with his family while trying to maintain his life is a killer. SO. GOOD. A bunch of sex (mostly head), and a lot of swearing. Like, so much swearing, which is what makes it real, and is also what makes it maybe not perfect for younger kids. But so get it.

 

HECK SUPERHERO by Martine Leavitt

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I am almost at a loss for words about how I feel about Martine Leavitt. She’s practically perfect in every way. She’s excruciatingly talented. She is absolutely my most coveted one and I happily worship at her feet. I love all her books (ALL OF THEM), but this one, about a boy trying to find his mother, is my favorite. She’s so close to Heck she’s breathing on his neck.

TRASH by Sharon Darrow

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This book, written in verse, is about kids taken out of their home who become taggers. The poetry is genius and just writing this reminds me of how intense it was and how much I wanted to embrace it and crawl out of my skin as I read it. It’s a gem written by a gem. It was another one with a ton of quotables.

 

THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner

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Another great southern read. And I know. I’ve been babbling about this one a lot so you probably don’t want to hear it anymore. But seriously. There’s a guy with a freaking staff, and a fashion blogger, and some snake charming, too. There’s discovering our own power, and discovering what we are powerless against, and there’s all the love, too. God, I loved it. Please read it.

 

THE CRESSWELL PLOT by Eliza Wass

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My UK editor shoved this one in my hands when I complained I’d run out of books this summer. Creep out. It didn’t change my life or anything, but I do love books about sketchy giant families with freaky relationships that live in the backwoods of upstate New York, with possibly homicidal parents. It kind of made me think Manson family. I’m saying, if you want a book that’s hard to put down and gives you really odd dreams, give this one a try.

 

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertellli

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Adore. Love. Freakout love! This book, about the fallout of a forced outing, is downright rad. It’s an epistolary book (which I love) and is all about what we show on the outside vs the inside, and why, and it’s also about falling in love and how two people allow each other in. It’s gorgeous. I’m not doing it justice because I’m delirious from trying to get this done. I don’t know anyone who didn’t go crazy over this book.

 

TILT by Alan Cumyn.

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Boy YA books seem scarce, and really good ones that deal with sexuality and love and identity and dads, seem even more scarce. This book has perhaps the most awkward sex scene in any book ever, and it stole my heart completely. Alan’s new book, HOT PTERODACTYL BOYFRIEND is making some noise right now, and I can’t wait to read it. I trust him completely, so I’m sure it’s going to be good.

 

DAMAGE by A.M. Jenkins.

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A.M. Jenkins isn’t famous for this book. She won the Printz honor for another book called REPOSSESSED about a demon who possesses a teenage boy and discovers he’s the most decent guy around. That one is great too, but this one killed me. I cried and cried and cried. It’s about a suicidal star football player who appears perfectly fine but totally isn’t, written in second person. It’s a feat in terms of the writing itself, but more than that it’s the most honest portrayal of depression I’ve found in YA lit. I feel like it’s underrated. It shouldn’t be. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Because it goes pretty deep into suicidal psychology I would both recommend it and suggest caution in terms of the reader’s age. Either way, it’s heavy, so know that.

 

FEED by M.T. Anderson

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This book is becoming a modern classic. Written in 2001, it predates Facebook significantly, which makes it kind of prophetic given what life looks like now. It’s the sort of sci-fi I love, more 1984 than Star Trek, but singular and brilliant. This is one of those I think all kids and adults should read, because we’re humans and this is happening, but also because it’s beautiful. Also, it’s been banned a lot. Doesn’t that make you want to devour it?

 

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly

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Last year I was at NCTE and had the opportunity to see Jason Reynolds speak in person. He totally blew me away. Basically told a story that could easily have ended with a mic drop. Badass. Now he’s nominated for the National Book Award for a completely different book which I’m sure will be just as powerful, but this is the only one I’ve read. Told from dual perspectives, it’s about a kid who’s beaten for being a person of color, and the ensuing consequences. With everything going on right now in terms of racism and diversity and the police, it couldn’t be more relevant. This is a great one for kids. It’s got a compelling voice and story, and also I cried.

 

 INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.

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This was one of the first YA books I ever read (knowingly). It’s about date rape, told from the “good guy” rapist’s perspective. It’s also passionate and beautiful and sad as hell. Remarkable on a craft level and also just in terms of the way the story unfolds, it’s poetic and strange and so hard to read, harder to put down. Just read it. But don’t give it to a little kid. Also, Chris Lynch has a ton of other books, lots of award winners, including FREEWILL which I also loved.

 

 TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan

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It doesn’t take a genius to know what this book is about. It’s right on the cover. I think it’s important because it’s narrated by the ghostly presence of gay men who contracted AIDS early on and are now watching how much has happened and bearing witness to the struggles and triumphs of the newer generation. That part of it left me aching. I cried. But it’s also irreverently joyful, and I loved that too. I am a huge fan of David Levithan’s and would read pretty much anything he has to offer (and have). It’s only that this one is especially relevant and should be a part of everyone’s reading list.

 

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon

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Why am I including her? Woman needs no help from me. You would have to be living under a rock in Siberia not to know who she is since she’s spent the last 100 years on the NYT bestseller list, but just in case, she’s totally fabulous, and I inhaled this one, about a girl with an immune disorder living in a bubble who falls in love with the boy next door. Her next book, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR has been nominated for The National Book Award. I have a special affection for her since I sat beside her at my first ever panel (disaster), and have had the pleasure since. She has a humble, soothing sort of presence that comes through in her heartfelt, love book. This will soon be a movie, so you should read it quick if you haven’t yet.

BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

 

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Laura is another magical person who has a really kickass backlist, but she won the Printz and was a National book Award finalist for this one. A retelling of the Persephone myth, everything about this book is perfect, including Laura’s extremely steady storytelling hand. She’s a weaver, and a great one. I did a lot of talking to this book as I read it, as well as a lot of humiliating fist pumping. It’s excellent, feminist, achy, gorgeous.(I knew it was going to win.)

 

JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia

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This short but very satisfying book told in three perspectives, is about violence and how we get there, how every minute and action invariably lead to this one explosive outcome. I HIGHLY recommend this for every child, because it illustrates so well what happens when we lose ourselves in rage, and how a perfectly innocent storm can lead us there. If you don’t trust me, trust the fact that Rita Williams-Garcia is an award machine.

 

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson

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You’ve probably heard of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN which won the Printz two years ago. That book is so confoundingly spectacular I can’t even. But I chose this one, Jandy’s first, because it’s one you shouldn’t miss, either. Bailey is grieving the loss of her sister, trying to find her way, along with a gorgeous cast of amazing secondary characters. The language is expansive and free, the love is deeply romantic and magical, and I did not just cry. I wept.

 

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Laurie Halse Anderson is probably best known for her book SPEAK about rape. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so artistically done. I love a book that can present an issue without shoving it down your throat in some gross lesson-y way. This one is about a girl with an eating disorder whose best friend has died of the same disorder. I cannot overstate the singularity of the voice, how raw and visceral it is. I felt my guts in a twist the entire time I was reading, and didn’t exhale until it was over. It’s pretty brutal in dealing with the reality of anorexia, so I would say no tweens on this one.

 

THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black

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If you have it in you to read another vampire book, this is a good choice. It’s slick and kind of sexy and very now in terms of technology and communication. Tana wakes up one morning and pretty much everyone she knows is massacred around her. Except her annoying boyfriend and another not annoying mysterious guy. They make there way to Coldtown where monsters are quarantined. It’s like Hotel California. Once you go in you can never leave. Adventure ensues. Holly Black is one of those writers you can pick up anywhere anytime and know you’re going to have some fun, but this one is surprisingly poignant as well.

 

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

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She’s another writer I will always pick up with complete faith that whatever it is, it’s going to be great. This one, though, for which she won the Printz, is especially so. About a cliffside community contending with and attempting to race monster horses that emerge from the sea. Her two main characters, Sean and Puck, are so memorably delicious I wish I were reading them again and again. I’m in the middle of her Raven Cycle now, about psychics and Arthurian legends. It’s rad. Also rad is her werewolf series, beginning with SHIVER. She’s one of those people I’m grateful has written so many books. Also, (sigh), she writes really good music, drives fast cars, makes art and wears combat boots. She’s my dream girl.

 

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy

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Julie Murphy is a major ass-kicker. From what I’ve seen of her, she’s funny, feisty, and totally herself. So is Dumplin’. This story, about a girl who defies stereotypes by joining a very Texan beauty pageant, has done really, really well. There’s something infectious and irreverent about the writing. Julie has a new book coming out soon and is also the author of  SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. Total fan.

 

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

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If you were alive in the 80s, you must read this book. If you felt alone in high school, you must read this book. If you like music, read it read it read it. It’s so good. THEY FALL IN LOVE ON THE BUS. Sobbing, hysterical, ugly crying, and one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. This made a lifetime Rowell fan of me. I fucking LOVE her.

 

SUFFER LOVE by Ashley Herring Blake

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Oh, the tangled webs, man. In this one, Sam and Hadley fall in love, except they can’t because their parents had an affair and the reason both their lives suck is because of that exact thing! Ashley is masterful with the dialogue and really good at making you say ouch out loud. It’s pret-ty sexy and also the affair stuff, but it’s also accessible and handles the subject with respect.  Maybe don’t buy it for your ten-year-old niece, especially if your brother is a player. Ashley has another book coming out soon, HOW TO MAKE A WISH, with bi characters, so yay! More of that, please! I’m a fan and will definitely read anything Ashley has to offer.

 

WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block

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WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T READ WEETZIE BAT? Even after Lena Dunham yelled at her writer friend on Girls for being a wanna-be Weetzie? What the hell? Please do this right away. It’s super short, completely un-homophobic, totally punk rock, and, like, a modern California classic for sure. Also, I don’t know about tweens. I can’t totally remember, but I feel like there might have been a threesome (or maybe they just all live together). It’s totally perfect for grown-ups though.

 

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King

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Well, this was the first time I ever actually wanted to make out with a book (that I can remember). I fell in love with Charlie, Vera’s dead best friend, only to have A.S. King herself basically pat me on the head and tell me she felt sorry for me for having those feelings. “No, no,” she said, “we don’t love Charlie.” She looked at me like she could see my soul. It really freaked me out. But anyway, it’s magical realism, but somehow more real than most books I’ve read. There’s also a talking pagoda, which never hurt anyone. You’ll never forget Vera. You’ll never forget Charlie. I want to read it again and again. A.S. King doesn’t really have boundaries in her writing, so as a writer it’s a little like standing at the edge of a cliff and teetering slowly. Also, for my favorite bully book, check out EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS. 

 

THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

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I love a good ghost story, and Nova Ren Suma is sublime at it. Plus her writing in incredible. I’m going to say savage. I’m not only a fan of her fiction but of her blog. This story, about a ballerina and a girl in a correctional facility, will satisfy all your suspense and murder needs. She’s all around magnificent, and really good at keeping me at the edge of myself and supporting the part of me that likes to understand the human underbelly.

 

BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME by Leah Thomas

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This lady is super into cosplay, so she’s fun to be friends with on Facebook. She’s also written this book, an epistolary story between two friends each dealing with almost superhuman limitations that cause intense isolation. They develop such a deep love for each other that they basically save each other. It’s kind of a mind-bending sci-fi twist type thing. I loved it. Read it in one sitting. There’s a sequel I haven’t read yet, and after that, I think she said there will be aliens!

 

THE UNDERTOW TRILOGY by Michael Buckley

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Life on Coney Island is not what it once was. It’s been invaded by ocean people of all sorts, and Beck finds herself caught right in the center of it. Was that a good synopsis? I don’t think so. This is a big, epic, dystopian political statement, with awesome characters with really good names, and it’s so much fun. I’ve recommended it to a bunch of kids who all report back that they love it. The third one isn’t out yet, but will be soon. Perfect for younger readers who want adventure.

 

FAT & BONES by Larissa Theule

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I think this might technically be middle grade, but it’s so twisted I’m putting it in here. It’s about a completely insane fairy who gets into all sorts of trouble on a farm. Calling it dark would be putting it mildly, which is weird, because its author is totally luminous. I ate it whole. Larissa writes mostly picture books, so you ought to look her up if you need some of those. After reading it, I happened to be at a writing retreat with Larissa, and couldn’t help but stare at her in fascination. I don’t know whether or not she appreciated this. I’m guessing not.

 

 

THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH by Peter Brown Hoffmeister

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If I laughed, it was that all the way down hysterical cover your eyes kind of laughter, because this book is hardcore. About a kid living with his grandparents, whose entire life and hopes ride on basketball and his best friend, Creature, who writes romances about dead Russian princesses. It’s one of those gritty, urban realistic novels that mirrors reality so acutely you can’t breathe. I got to blurb this book, so if you want to know what else I think about it, you can check it out.

 

JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta

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Well, she’s an Australian goddess. This book is a godsend. I would eat her leftovers in hopes of having something of hers seep into me. Again, I fell in love with Jonah, the main guy. But it’s about so many things: trust and magic and war and love and things you can’t really understand when you’re a kid and that are so painful and beautiful when you finally do put all the pieces together. This book broke my heart so hard I couldn’t read anything for a while after. I needed a period of mourning. Several cries.

 

FELL OF DARK  by Patrick Downes

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This book, about two boys drawn into confrontation by miraculous forces, is surreal, dream-like, and kind of insane. I read it in one sitting. This one is absolutely not for someone looking for a regular narrative, but if you want something uncomfortable and spectacular and deeply skilled, it’s completely worth your time. DEFINITELY not for younger kids.

 

 

SKELLIG by David Almond

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There’s an angel living in your garage. Either that, or possibly a vagrant who really likes Chinese food. Oh, how I love this book. Magical realism, but dark and beautiful. I don’t remember the plot as well as I remember the feeling as the kids whisper, “Skellig, Skellig, Skellig.” Everything I’ve read by David Almond has made me feel seen in a way I can’t explain. He’s so good.

 

 

STOLEN by Lucy Christopher

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Told in second person, this is the story of a girl who is kidnapped from an airport in Thailand and taken to Australia, where her relationship to her kidnapper gets very complicated. Brilliantly well done, this is my daughter’s favorite book, even though she’s too young to have read it, but what can you do when she has access to my Kindle and she read it without asking? Also, Lucy Christopher is a fairy person.

 

Now that that’s done, here’s what’s on my TBR shelf (in addition to what I mentioned above). This means I own it, I can’t wait to read it, and I’m more than likely mortified that I haven’t because I can be pretty sure it’s all amazing. I’ve put an asterisk by the ones for which I especially suck. They’re all supposed to be excellent. 

LOST STARS by Lisa Selin Davis

THE ART OF NOT BREATHING by Sarah Alexander

THE READER by Traci Chee

*ALL WE LEFT BEHIND by Ingrid Sundberg 

*HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

*THE GIRL WHO FELL by S.M. Parker

*UNDERWATER by Marisa Reichart

EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven

*THE EMPEROR OF ANY PLACE by Tim Wynne-Jones

*GIRL IN PIECES by Kathleen Glasgow

* THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith

*MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp

*MY INVENTED LIFE by Lauren Bjorkman

ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

 

 

Colorado Teen Book Con

After a dramatic and kind of exhausting summer, I’ve been hibernating, finishing the copy edits for But Then I Came Back (April 4, 2017), 51lewwbchal and getting all workaholic-like in my job as an associate at Folio Literary Management, while getting my third project underway.

Plus, kids.

Anyway, I’m turning away from the computer (seriously, I have a Fitbit and there are legitimately days I don’t move at all) and heading up to Denver for the inaugural Colorado Teen Book Con on October 15th. I’ll be meeting some new people, and I’m on another panel with Nicola Yoon, which is always a comforting and thrilling thing. I don’t have my exact time, but the panel is called Love, Adversity, and Life. That’s pretty much my jam.

 

SO, if you’re in Denver, or near Denver, or you know someone in the Denver area, this is going to be a sweet event. Plus it’s being organized by The Tattered Cover, which, you know, indie bookstores rule for real. Please come see me. I will smile and hug you and tell you something meaningful. 

1st five pages

Just checking in (pausing my insane editorial frenzy) briefly to let everyone know that I will be one of April’s mentors for the 1st five pages workshop. Basically, you submit five pages of a WIP and get some help sorting yourself out for submission.

 

Click to find out more details here. I’m completely excited to be doing this, and it’s but the first of many things I’m planning! It opens tomorrow at 2EST, and I hear it fills up within minutes.

Hope to see you on the other side!cover-and-author