Blood Red Road is Moira Young's debut novel, and it has been getting attention from the Los Angeles Times and The Globe and Mail. Saba goes searching across the shifting sands and through Hopetown to find her missing twin brother, Lugh after he's taken from their home by cloaked riders. Part True Grit, part The Road, with a dash of Hunger Games or Gladiator, Blood Red Road is the first novel in a brutal Wild West dystopia trilogy.
Indigo Teen Blog: What books are you looking forward to reading this summer?
Moira Young: I’ve read about half of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, so my summer recreational reading treat is to read the rest of them.
ITB: What's been your most memorable summer read and why?
MY: When I was about 11 or 12, I made a tent in the backyard from a smelly old blanket that our ginger tomcat used to sleep on. No one else was allowed to enter the sacred space, particularly my younger sisters. There, I spent the summer eating processed cheese sandwiches on white bread and reading the same six Tiger Beat magazines over and over again until I’d worn the paper thin with my feverish perusal. I learned many life-altering facts about Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. Now I realise it was all made up by bored hack journalists. Still, it might be possible that Donny Osmond’s favourite colour is purple.
ITB: Describe your ideal summer day?
MY: I would transport myself back to my childhood for a Sunday picnic. Our extended family of grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins—perhaps 20 of us—would meet up in Stanley Park in Vancouver. The raffia picnic baskets and cool boxes would disgorge their miraculous contents and be spread out on long picnic tables and we’d eat from paper plates and drink forbidden sodas. Afterwards, we kids would chase and play and shout while the grown ups gossiped mildly of deaths and births and scandals. Then, as the shadows started to grow long, we’d pack our baskets, load the cars and go our separate ways. I’d give anything to have one of those days again. When I had no thoughts of growing up. When I had no idea that one day there would be empty spaces at the long table.
ITB: Summer eats/treats you can't live without?
MY: A long, cool gin and tonic with ice and lemon.
ITB: How did you develop the dialect Saba uses?
MY: In early versions of what would become Blood Red Road, I was simply using different words every now and again; for objects, natural events, people and so on. But I realised that that wouldn’t do, so I started to think about how English is constantly changing. The way we spoke two hundred years ago is not as we speak now, nor will it be the way English is spoken two hundred years in the future. I had to think about the kind of world my characters would be living in and the kinds of lives they would be leading, because that dictates how people speak. It took me a long time to find Saba’s voice, but when I did, it came quite easily. Of course, the characters’ voices are born of the writer’s many inner voices, so the language of the book reflects where I’ve been, what I’ve done and who I’ve met in my life.
ITB: Where do you imagine Blood Red Road as taking place?
MY: Somewhere vast and expansive, with plains and mountains. My own inner visual landscape comes from growing up in Canada, on the West Coast and the prairies, but it could take place anywhere that fits that description. Australia, Russia, Asia, South America, Africa—wherever the reader’s visual landscape comes from. Saba’s world is dry and dead and harsh, but it wasn’t always that way.
ITB: Was there a character who surprised you as you wrote? Were any of the characters particularly difficult to write? Why?
MY: Jack always surprised me and continues to do so. I don’t actually write him, he writes himself. The moment he appears on the page, my fingers fly over the computer keys. I have a hard time keeping up with him. The hardest character in this first book was Vicar Pinch, the King. Villains are much more difficult to write than heroes.
Thanks to Moira for answering our questions, and to the good folks at Random House Canada for arranging the interview.
Follow our Teen Summer Reading Series:Sarah Dessen
Seeing how it’s Canada Day this week, I started thinking about CanLit. I don’t mean Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaajte. Most of us can agree that Kelley Armstrong is the queen of Canadian Teen Fiction, but Canada is full of talented authors. I could come up with the following list of authors who live in Canada—or were born here and now live elsewhere—without having to think too hard, and I guarantee there are even more writers across our country working on the next great Canadian Teen novel.
While good stories aren’t dependant on your location, the world always needs more Canada. So how about putting some more in your summer reading pile?
Joelle Anthony—Restoring Harmony
Kelley Armstrong—The Gathering
Erin Bow—Plain Kate
Don Calame—Swim the Fly
Megan Crewe—Give Up The Ghost
Charles de Lint—The Painted Boy
Cory Doctorow—For The Win
Sheree Fitch—Pluto's Ghost
Janet Gurtler—I’m Not Her
Alyxandra Harvey—Haunting Violet
Lesley Livingston—Once Every Never
Carrie Mac—The Gryphon Project
Maureen McGowan—Sleeping Beauty Vampire Hunter
Kenneth Oppel—Half Brother
Jo Treggiari—Ashes, Ashes
Allison van Diepen—The Vampire Stalker
Tim Wynne-Jones—Blink & Caution
Moira Young—Blood Red Road
Happy Canada Day!
You may have noticed over the past month the book discussions with and guestposts from Melanie Fishbane. I’m happy to share with you that she’s joining Indigo Teen Blog as an official contributor. From this week forward, she’ll be sharing her passion and knowledge about teen books through weekly posts. Welcome, Melanie!
You may already know her from Community (the online booklovers community, not the TV show), as she’s chapters.indigo.ca’s Teens' Editor & Kids' Editor and one of Indigo’s online merchandisers. She’s also the face behind @IndigoKidsBlog, so add her to the tweeps you follow.
What’s really exciting about having Melanie joining the blog officially is that she has extensive knowledge of contemporary YA fiction. I tend to read very fantasy-heavy, so this means that Indigo Teen Blog will be a more balanced representation of everything from the section. As she’s in Toronto and I’m in British Columbia, the blog now really is all across Canada.
Summer marks the beginning of one more very cool thing: The Indigo Teen Blog Summer Reading Interview Series!
Starting this week and running for the next nine weeks, we’ll be posting an interview a week with great YA authors talking about their latest book and favorite summer things. And who better to kick things off than Kelley Armstrong?
I'm low on contemporary YA releases this month. Sorry about that. I found a lot of books about ghosts if it helps.
Things I've been most excited for this month include The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan, Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter, and Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston. Also found some great titles like Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, and Hourglass by Myra McEntire.
Ashes, Ashes by Jo Tregglari is a dystopia set in NYC after 99% of the population has been wiped out (I'm concluding it was a smallpox epidemic from the book jacket, but I might be misunderstanding). Lucy lives in the wilds of Central Park, but then she meets Aiden and joins up with a group of survivors. And for some reason the Sweepers—who clear out plague bodies—want her...
Possession by Elana Johnson The cover reminds me of Ally Condie's Matched, and from the book jacket summary I'd say this is a good pick for people who enjoyed Matched. I mean that in a nice way, mostly because I've heard a lot of people are enjoying Possession.
Forgotten by Cat Patrick sounds really intriguing. The premise that it's main character, London Lane, can only remember the future because every night at 4:33 am her memory of the previous day has been erased.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young—think True Grit meets The Road with a little bit of The Hunger Games. Young's debut is an amazing new old frontier dystopia journey of a sister to save her brother. I found the way it's written in phonetic spelling to be a little off-putting, but persevere, because it's a great book.
Witches of the East End by Melissa de la Cruz Hey, Blue Blood fans! This is de la Cruz's first adult novel, but it ties into the world you know and love. Telling the story of the beauchamp family, it's got magic, mythology and romance.
Sirenz by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman: I am compelled to inform you of every book in the teen section that Hades mades an appearance in. Frienemies get taken away from their war over fashion to act as Sirens who lure those who have run out of time on their Underworld contracts. And I kind of think that sounds AMAZING.
How I stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain wins for Most Interesting Title this month. It's about a guy named David and a girl named Zelda—who claims she's a space alien who has come to take Johnny Depp back to her home planet.
Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: I was flipping through this book in the store earlier this week, and I am fascinated by how it uses vintage photographs to help tell its creepy tale. @Chapters_Guelph says: "Miss Penegrine's Home for Peculiar Children a must read for summer."
Bad Girls Don’t Die: From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender: The follow-up to Bad Girls Don't Die, From Bad to Cursed sees Alexis wrapped up in danger again—but this time it's not her sister, but her who has gone from bad to cursed.
The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan the amazing conclusion to The Demon's Lexicon trilogy (The Demon's Lexicon, The Demon's Covenant). I read most of Surrender in a single sitting, because I could not put it down. It's so good—and you need to read this trilogy, too. Here is our interview with Sarah Rees Brennan.
Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston: the best-selling author of the Wondrous Strange trilogy returns with a brand new book just in time for summer. Druid curses, mysteries, and love rescue Clarinet from a summer vacation in dullsville.
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma: Ok, I picked this one up off the shelf mostly based on its amazing cover, but I've also heard good things about the story from Twitter.
Passion by Lauren Kate is the third of the Fallen novels. This one may reveal Daniel and Luce's shared past.
The Revenant by Sonia Gensler is a historical mystery set in 1896. It involves a girl borrowing the identity of a classmate to go become a teacher on at the Cherokee Female Seminary. Boarding schools, race relations, ghosts and people who aren't who they say they are. Sounds like a good read to me.
Hourglass by Myra McEntire: Again, I'm totally in love with this cover—and very intrigued by its premise. The Hourglass is a consultant group that has offered to help "cure" Emerson Cole's ability to see ghosts. But their consultant Michael insists that he needs Emerson's help to prevent a death that should have never happened.
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: I like books that don't involve paranormal or science fiction or magic, too. But only if they have kick-butt Master Thieves like Kat Bishop and Hale. Uncommon Criminals is the follow-up to the brilliant Heist Society.
Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey: I've been looking forward to this tale of a Spiritualist hoax mother-daughter duo, who learns she can acutally see ghosts. A murder mystery set in England, 1872.
Crush Control by Jennifer Jabaley: This one is contemporary times and a mother-daughter hypnotist duo who leave Las Vegas for the mother's southern hometown. Willow (the daughter) accidentally hypnotizes the quarterback to fall madly in love with her and hijinks ensue.
Several friends had been encouraging me to read The Demon's Lexicon, and it was one of those books I kept meaning to get to, but it was backlist and so many new things kept coming out. Well, after meeting Sarah Rees Brennan at RT Teen Day as part of a not-so-covert operation to get a BFF's copy of The Demon's Covenant signed—as opposed to the incredibly covert operation to get this same BFF a signed copy of The Demon's Lexicon—I was so awed by Sarah that now I want to read EVERY book she ever writes.
Having read the first two, I am so excited to spend this week reading the newly released final book of the trilogy, The Demon's Surrender.
Thank you so much to Sarah Rees Brennan and our friends at Simon & Schuster Canada for setting up this interview.
Indigo Teen Blog: I really enjoyed Nick’s POV in The Demon’s Lexicon and how Mae’s POV in The Demon’s Covenant gave us a completely different look at him. So what comes first for you: the idea for the story or the choice of who needs to tell it?
Sarah Rees Brennan: Thank you! My decision to tell each of the three books in the trilogy from a different character's point of view is a weird one, I know, but I've had lots of fun with it: letting it expand the world naturally, letting us see characters from three different angles, and thus get something close to the truth, since no one person tells the whole truth. I hope readers have liked it too!
My decision to write Nick's POV in The Demon's Lexicon was one that came all wrapped up in my idea for the story: I wanted to examine the classic figure of Mr Tall Dark Handsome And Kind Of Scary from his own point of view, not the point of view of someone mystified by him or distracted by his good looks, work out why he was the way he was, and portray him as broken and unlikable (and yet to some people, lovable) from inside his own head.
For The Demon's Covenant, though, I knew what happened but I did ponder a couple characters' points of view before picking Mae, and for The Demon's Surrender, I really wanted Sin but did discuss other options. I hope the people who read the books think I made the right choices. ;)
ITB: Speaking of Mae: I think she’s a brilliant character, but other readers seem to disagree. Do you have any theories or comments on the reaction of “Mae is annoying” or “I hate Mae”?
SRB: Well, clearly something is very wrong there: everyone has to respond to me and all my characters with instant worship and love, or else I break out my internet death ray. ;)
No, okay, being serious (which I hardly ever am...how strange this is, kind of uncomfortable...do some people live like this all the time?) I think Elie Wiesel was right—'The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.' I kind of like it when readers come to me and say 'Nick is SUCH a jerk' and 'I will NEVER trust Alan again.' Being a writer means that people in your head seem real to you: the trick to being a good writer is that you have to make them real to everyone else. And no real person is liked by everyone ever: all people have flaws, and get up someone else's nose so far they hit brain. So, on one hand, it's awesome when someone dislikes Mae, because it means she seems real to them.
On the other hand, dislike for Mae in particular is, I think, sometimes not about Mae herself, but how we—girls and boys alike—see girls in fiction. There are more boys' stories out there in books and movies, and girls are seen as 'the girlfriend'—even in stories where the girl is telling the story, sometimes it's all about her boyfriend. So people are a bit more wary of girl characters, and tend to dismiss them or be harsher toward them (just like in the real world, where if a guy is wearing a tight T-shirt, who cares, but if a girl is wearing a tight T-shirt, that says something about her).
I never expected quite so many people to react so strongly to Mae, since I always thought of her as the most normal of my motley bunch of main characters. (This is not saying much). She grounds the series for me: she's not scared and in need of rescue, or physically kickass (mind you, I like both those kinds of girl too), but a girl trying to deal with a very strange and dangerous situation mostly using her brain. I've seen a lot of that character in fantasy—new to the fantastical world, brave and a bit reckless and a bit clueless—but I'd mostly seen them as a boy, so I thought it would be fun to make her a girl. And as The Demon's Lexicon series doesn't centre on romance but on family, I didn't think much about her attitude toward romance, except that I wanted it to be normal: she doesn't want boys pushing her around, she isn't sure who she wants to end up with, and she's attracted to more than one person at a time, because sometimes you are. So some people calling Mae a ho surprised me: it never occurred to me that a girl who kisses a few people would be an issue, especially since there are frisky demons roaming around this series.
But I was also surprised by the positive response to Mae: fans of mine dressing up as her, and dyeing their hair pink to be like her, and saying how pleased they were to see a girl who was in charge like she was. I did an interview with Ms. Magazine in which we discussed Mae, and how very glad I was she'd appealed to people who wanted and hadn't found a heroine like her.
Mae was also in a bit of a tight spot as the most important girl of the series by miles for the first two books. Another girl called Sin narrates the Demon's Surrender and takes some of Mae's spotlight, and I'm very interested to see how readers react to her, particularly since Sin is pretty into kissing and is self-confident herself.
So in conclusion: I'm glad not everyone likes Mae, even though some of the reasons for not liking Mae trouble me, and I'm very glad some people really like Mae.
ITB: Had you always planned to play an active role in your fan community or did it evolve as your books grew more popular?
SRB: I am a total fangirl myself, and always wanted to go online and talk about the books and movies I love: I've made some of my best friends that way. I still remember being wee and making a valiant effort to look at every Buffy website on the internet. And I had a blog for years before I ever got published. So I always intended to play as active a role as possible (without being creepy... okay maybe a little creepy) if I was ever so lucky as to have a fan community.
It's a privilege to have one, and a privilege to talk to so many smart people who inexplicably like what I do. ;) And I've been wowed by the art and other things they've produced to show me that they do. It's also allowed me to reach them, put up free short stories online and know they'll see them, because I think every writer wants to thank their readers, but finding out their addresses and sending kittens is frowned on. This is a much easier way to give presents!
I'm really lucky to have the fans I do — a very high percentage of my fans turn up at events, talk about my books to others and online, and talk to me about my books, which I appreciate more than I can say. My fan community is its own reward: it's like having the universe say 'In return for eating that delicious candyfloss, we are giving you a pony!'
ITB: You’ve participated in Smart Pop Book’s collections on The Hunger Games and The Vampire Diaries TV show. Why would you say it’s important to have these deeper discussions about the stories we love?
SRB: Well, the most important reason for me (and the reason for 'why are you a writer,' too) is 'Because it's fun.' I love being wrapped up in stories, and I love talking about them. Like I said in the answer above, I crawled all over the internet looking for people to talk about my favourite stories (movies, TV shows and books) from the time I was about ten. I tweet about the Vampire Diaries as I watch it: I just want to have these discussions: they're my favourite kind of discussions, and the people who want to have them with me are my favourite kind of people.
It also enhances the experience: someone always notices something you didn't notice, and it's often something cool. When it's not, sometimes it's an issue you can think about, and that enriches your reading and viewing pleasure. People come together over huge distances over their love of stories, and I always want to cross that distance to them.
ITB: Alan is on the cover of The Demon’s Surrender, which I take to mean the book will be the best of all. Is this a fair assessment? What can you tell us about this final adventure?
SRB: Yes, this book is the best of all. Of all the books. Of all time. I urge you all to read it. ;)
Okay, I'm lying. Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, 'I cannot decide on my own performance.' But I know I had a lot of fun writing this book, and that I tried hard to write it right—this is the conclusion, so it had to be the payoff for all the characters and all the storylines that my readers deserved! It also had to be a book that stood on its own, and that was fun, so it has all the action, romance, magic and parties I could put in.
Alan, the hero's sweet nerdy older brother with a soft spot for books and lost causes and a real talent with long-range weaponry, has lots of fans who were pleased to see him on the cover! Which makes me really happy—Simon & Schuster took on an epic task, finding a model with red curly hair who looks cute in glasses, and I was so stunned and pleased they managed it! And it's been a revelation to me, how many guys have said 'thanks for making the nerdy guy kick ass' and how many girls there are who like guys who read. Of course, I'm not sure why, since I always did myself...
As for the final adventure, well...you find out which romantic couple has been the One True Couple for me all along, you hear a demon indicate it might actually genuinely love someone, you see someone's hand chopped off, the Thames river set on fire, and one more epic sword fight in modern London for the road.
ITB: Your next trilogy, starting with LISTEN FOR A WHISPER, is rumored to be a gothic romance involving lady detectives. Anything else you can share about it?
SRB: That rumor you have heard is most accurate! I am now the proud possessor of a whole bookcase full of Gothic novels. What's a Gothic novel about?
INNOCENT YOUNG MAIDEN: Boy, this is a creepy old mansion, in which live a creepy old family, who are all nursing creepy old secrets. What was that sound?!
MANLY DUDE: Probably the pipes.
MAIDEN: I think someone's trying to kill me! How else can you explain the rising body count, mad cackling outside my door, and numerous unexplained fires?
MANLY DUDE: Probably the pipes.
MAIDEN: Maybe you're the one trying to kill me.
Gothic novels fell out of vogue as women became much less likely to stay in a creepy mansion, because they had other jobs they could get and cellphones and could go on dating sites looking to meet Mr 'Less Creepy Than Current Boyfriend.'
But teenagers still have to go wherever their parents take them, even if it is to creepy old mansions in which live creepy old families and creepy old secrets. So I thought the kid taken to the creepy mansion could be a guy, since the idea of a sulky teenage guy used to San Francisco being transplanted into an English manor o'horrors would be So. Much. Fun.
Since that leaves my heroine with something to do: in a Gothic novel, there are all these secrets. What this calls for is an intrepid reporter! As a fan of Lois Lane ever since I was tiny, this was clear to me at once.
And as the Gothic always contains so many secrets (probably the pipes), I thought it would be a nice switch to have two people who don't have secrets from each other—two people who thought they had an imaginary friend (or were crazy) and then discover their imaginary friend is real.
And what would you do, if you met a stranger who knew all your secrets? (DUN DUN DUN.) So: yes, that's my new trilogy! I am hoping people will like it: I love it a lot.
ITB: Your blog has a tag specific for Adventures. What has been your favorite of your most recent ones?
SRB: My blog DOES have a tag specific for adventures. I have a lot of adventures: the image of a writer who sits at her desk is not very much like me. I always want to ground my books in the real world, plus magic goings-on. So I have wandered into armories and asked guards how to kill people, called up tourist offices and asked to be directed to dodgy parts of town, and balanced on the support rail of the Millennium Bridge. I research for YOU, my readers! There is nothing I will not do to hone my craft, even if this means the prospect of some jail time.
Which brings me to my latest adventure. Well, writing about a teen sleuth who can't flash her reporter credentials about the place means that you have to think creatively about how she gets her information. So I have been trying out various sneaky methods of my own.
Infiltrating a hotel as staff is quite easy, as it turns out. But, IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Do not choose a ferry for this impersonation. When discovered, you will be left in Wales, and that will be an embarrassing phone call for you.
The story of how I got the uniform is another adventure entirely...
ITB: Maybe you can come back another time and tell it. ;) Thanks so much for the stories and advice and the answers, Sarah!
SRB: Thanks so much for having me, and for the most excellent questions — I hope everyone who reads this enjoys it... and I also hope they enjoy The Demon's Surrender. ;)
The title is a reference to Libba Bray's response to the article that prompted this post.
Alas, once again, someone was wrong on the internet about young adult fiction. Nearly once a week, someone is wrong on the internet about YA fiction, but this particular incident is an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon entitled Darkness Too Visible in the Wall Street Journal, which basically calls for an intervention against the dark books of YA for the sake of the children (interesting to note is that the article now contains a poll asking if dark themes in youth fiction are helpful or harmful and when I checked the results on Tuesday afternoon they were 82% in favor of helpful).
Since this happened, there have been some incredible responses defending dark books and the right of teens to read them. You can search #YAsaves on twitter—and the hilarious #YAkills—for bite-sized responses. Blogs have been posting rebuttals since Sunday, and one of my favourites is from Emma, a Canadian teen book blogger, who wrote an open letter to Gurdon entitled There Are Whole Lives In These Bookshelves.
It makes me sick to my stomach to read of a friend's novel—which donates proceeds to charity to help self-injurers recover—be suggested as a means of glamorizing cutting. But could there be a valid point buried in all of the Gurdon's bias? Does the theory that reading dark books is detrimental to a teen reader hold any water?
I am not an investigative journalist of the fine calibre that the Wall Street Journal employs, but I'll give answering that question a shot:
No, it's not detrimental. I base this mostly on my personal opinion that I've become a well-adjusted member of society because of all the dark books I read as a teenager. My dark came from fiction. My dark plays itself out in the fiction I write. Healthy expression that harms no one, except maybe that one friend who had the phobia about birds—but that was pre-existing (Ok, and there's that other friend who is a tad more wary of mirrors now, but adults scare way easier than teenagers).
When I was a teenager, I read Stephen King’s It and ever since I have had this intense distrust of clowns. Not because I believe they are child-stealing shape-shifters who live in the sewers. I mean, even as an impressionable teenager I could tell the difference between fiction and reality, but there is something unsettling about all that facepaint messing with my brain’s ability to immediately categorize a clown as a person.
Maybe clowns have always been a little unsettling and Mr. King just played into that when he wrote his novel. I realize it’s a radical notion that authors who Make Stuff Up play on existing fears instead of creating new ones, but it’s pretty tame compared to the suggestion that no one should read The Hunger Games because it’s violent.
Of course, it’s violent; it’s an anti-war trilogy. If you read The Hunger Games and all you think is how cool it would be to fight people to the death, then you’ve missed the point of the book. When you can miss a point that obvious, what books you’re reading aren’t the real issue that needs to be addressed.
Of the many teens I’ve spoke to who have read The Hunger Games, I can’t recall a single one who honestly wants to be put in the Games. They’re happy to discuss the hypothetical situation, but they don’t want that to be their reality.
Seriously, though, teen lit makes adults who don’t read it nervous. They hear these things about what’s in some of these books they don’t read, and they worry. Many of them are worried because they’re parents and they have the natural instinct to protect their children. That's biology at work, and it's cool and I totally respect it. I'm relieved to know parents are involved in their teenager's lives.
My point is that the world can be a scary place. It’s a lot easier to blame Lauren Myracle’s Shine for that than to discuss why it is we feel so threatened by the content of a book.
Also, terrorism and war and poverty and natural disasters and that strange hold Justin Bieber has on the tweens makes most of us adults feel helpless. Feeling helpless can make us grasp at the most ridiculous reasons to provide an answer as to why our world isn’t as awesome as the nostalgia for our childhood insists it used to be.
So, yes, it’s easy to cry for censorship of youth fiction in the name of protection, because there are so many real and scary things that we can’t protect young people from. But that doesn’t make it right.
I agree with the WSJ article on this: What you read as a teenager has a major role in shaping your adult worldview. However, where I disagree is that we as adults should actively control the shaping of worldviews by refusing to allow exposure to certain ideas. I will not join the thoughtpolice just because I’m no longer in high school.
When you work in the teen section like I do, you talk to both parents and teens. Often it’s once a shift that a parent bemoans the darkness of all the books on the shelves and their vampire love triangles. If they have time, I do my best to help this adult understand that not every book in the section has a vampire love triangle in it (for example, some have fallen angel love triangles).
But for every parent I assist who longs for books that are “not so dark,” there are five who are just thrilled their son or daughter wants to read. Would those parents like it if it was something not so scary or not so dark or wasn’t fantasy or didn’t feature sex/drugs/alcohol/profanity? Possibly, but it’s more important to them that their young reader loves books.
I like those parents a lot, because they're the ones who come looking for a good book and trust that I can find them one. But my favorite parental visitors are the ones who show me a Stephen King title and confess that they read it when they were a teen, too.
Beach reading where I live would mean you take your blanket down to the park pictured above and sit on the sand by the river or drive out to one of the many lakes nearby. We may not be on the ocean, but we are definitely close to the beach.
In honor of June, we thought we’d kick off Summer a little early with this list of our top ten picks for Summer Reading. Ten great Teen books to get outside with and enjoy—when that sun finally comes out to play.
The list was a collaboration between Natalie Garside, Melanie Fishbane, Kate Newman and myself. It has a little bit of everything, with some new and some older favourites. We hope you'll start your own summer reading list with these titles:
The Summer I turned Pretty by Jenny Han: We all agree this trilogy about Belly and her love for brothers Conrad and Jeremiah is a perfect beach read. With all three books out now (It's Not Summer Without You then We'll Always Have Summer) you don't have to worry about waiting to find out what happens!
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: We've been talking a lot about this one recently, but that's because we love it! What's more summer than a plane full of beauty queens crashing on a not-so-deserted island? Hilarious shenanigans, memorable characters, and...pirates!
Heist Society by Ally Carter: A Teen Read Awards Best Hero nomination, Heist Society is in the vein of great heist movies like Ocean's 11—except it stars 15 year old Kat Bishop. Uncommon Criminals, the second book in this open-ended series, will be out June 21st!
Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier: This translated-from-German tale involves time travel, romance and intrigue. Getting rave reviews around the globe, this is a newer title you must read!
Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: Read and reviewed earlier, Spoiled is a perfect one for summer. What if you found out your dad was actually a famous movie star—and you had a completely spoiled half-sister who wanted to ruin your life? Molly is about to find out.
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: Sam loves Grace, has loved her from the moment he saw her. But Sam is only Sam during the summer. Shiver is the first book in Stiefvater's heart-wrenching werewolf romance, followed by Linger. Forever, the final volume, will be out on July 12th!
Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston: We're so excited for Les Livingston's new book! A Druid curse adds some definite excitement to what Clarinet Reid thought would be the dullest summer vacation ever. Mortal peril, romance, and adventure all awaits in this title releasing on June 14th.
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen: Auden and Eli are two insomniacs looking for a way to pass all their awake time in the beach town where they're spending their summer vacation. If you haven't read it yet, it came out in paperback recently to make it easier to pack to the beach!
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl: Still our favourite go-to Southern Gothic, this gorgeous story is full of magic, secrets, curses and Ethan Wate's star-crossed love for Lena Duchannes. I loved Beautiful Darkness and can't wait for Beautiful Chaos to come out in October! This summer is a great time to catch up.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore: Graceling is one of those wonderful fantasy novels that take you away to another world and wrap you up in romance and adventure. Po and Katsa have a really inspiring relationship, and she is such a kick-ass heroine! If you're hungry for more, there's a companion novel called Fire (and Kristin is working on a sequel called Bitterblue).
What would you add to list? There must be at least one book this summer that you can't wait to get your hands on, so tell us what it is.
Our friends at Simon & Schuster Canada were kind enough to help set-up this interview with the wonderful Jeri Smith-Ready, whose Shade Trilogy has two titles out already—Shade and Shift—and will conclude with SHINE in May 2012. One of the wonderful things about Jeri's trilogy is how it handles teens and teen issues in a realistic manner but has a little kiss of paranormal to keep things interesting. Plus, it has the amazingly sexy Zachary (team Zach all the way!). I highly recommend it—and it's a great title for our adult readers of teen fiction, too.Indigo Teen Blog: Music is obviously very important to Aura. How do you choose the songs to mention in the novels? Except for the local Baltimore bands, they’re all songs that readers can go and listen to, aren’t they?
Jeri Smith-Ready: Like Aura, I live and breathe music. It’s incredibly important to my creative process. Songs can tell stories and get to the heart of emotions so much sharper and quicker and more intensely than mere words. Often while I’m writing a book, certain bands or songs will be particularly inspiring and provide the answers I’m looking for, especially for certain characters.
That’s why I dedicated SHIFT to “Those who make music. Many books—many LIVES—would be impossible without you.” I came up with that dedication in the middle of the night last summer when I was revising SHIFT and struggling with a scene. A song helped me figure it out.
All the bands except the local bands (The Keeley Brothers, Something Wicked, and Dork Squad in SHADE; and Tabloid Decoys in SHIFT) are indeed real, and you should definitely check them out! Some people say writers shouldn’t refer to current music because it “dates” their books. But whenever I read a fake “famous” band in a book, it pulls me out of the story. I want to feel like a book with a contemporary setting like mine (paranormal or not) really could happen here. For me, part of that verisimilitude (ooh, English-major word, forgive me) is created with music.
Besides, I owe so much to these bands—they bring such beauty and inspiration to my life—I want to repay them in some small way, especially the less well-known artists. So if a reader decides to check out A Place to Bury Strangers or Great Lake Swimmers or even a “mainstream indie” (ha!) band like Mumford & Sons because of SHIFT, nothing would make me happier. Nothing.
ITB: You have a short story—"Bridge"—in the forthcoming ENTHRALLED anthology. How connected is it to the trilogy? Will a reader miss something in SHINE without reading the short story?
JSR: No, not at all. “Bridge” is a story from Logan’s point-of-view—written in free verse, because as a songwriter he’s a lyrical kinda guy. Chronologically, it’s nestled inside of SHIFT, between chapters 21 and 22. It’s about how Logan and his brother start speaking again. Sort of.
So “Bridge” can stand completely alone, but it will also give readers of the SHADE trilogy much deeper insight into Logan and his siblings. It’s honestly one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I feel very close to the character of Logan, so it meant a lot to give him his own voice. I hope readers think it’s a beautiful voice.
ITB: Sex is something that your teen novels discuss in a realistic and comfortable way, yet this is often a topic that many teen books want to tip-toe around. Do you receive feedback from parents about that content?
JSR: You know, it’s funny. Not once have I had a parent complain, and I’ve never heard of SHADE being banned. This is either because:
a) I treat the subject honestly and realistically, and in a tasteful, non-sensationalistic, non-exploitative manner.
b) Teens are really good at hiding my books.
But seriously, I find it curious and sad that so much attention is paid to sex in the media, while violence is more or less ignored. Books that depict graphic violence are deemed suitable for ages 12 and up, yet books that treat sex with honesty and realism are not. What are people so afraid of?
JSR: I don’t know—why does anyone write anything? I did it because I wanted to. Thankfully, this is the kind of job where we’re our own bosses and can follow our instincts and creative impulses. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. For me, nothing has ever been so fulfilling or fun as writing teen characters and interacting with teen readers. I have at least two more teen books coming down the pike, so I guess it’s working out pretty well. :)
ITB: What do you think is the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy? Do you think the genre guidelines are more blurred in the teen section?
JSR: I have a simple definition when it comes to adult fiction: if the series follows one character throughout a series, it’s an urban fantasy. If it focuses on a different couple in each book, it’s a paranormal romance.
But you’re right—with YA it gets a little blurred, because readers of YA fiction don’t demand that happily ever after at the end of each book. They have the patience and appetite for a longer character and relationship arc. If it takes three or four books for the couple to finally find happiness, that’s okay. So with YA I’d have to go with the distinction a lot of people use for all urban fantasy: UFs have lots of world-building and the focus is on the main character’s development as a person, not as part of a couple. So even though the SHADE trilogy has a lot of romance in it, it’s definitely an urban fantasy. I’ve done more world-building for SHADE than any other series, because when ghosts are an acknowledged part of society, every aspect of that society has to be considered.
ITB: What’s the YA novel you’ve read most recently that you think we should all run out and get?
JSR: If you haven’t read GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray, your life is incomplete. Remedy this immediately. I finally did, a couple months ago, and I’m a happier person for it.
My favorite 2011 YA is definitely DARKNESS BECOMES HER by Kelly Keaton. It completely gripped me from start to finish. It’s dark (obviously, from the title), but not grim or gloomy. The characters are vivid and real, and the setting—wow! New Orleans like you’ve never seen it portrayed (which is saying a lot).
Thanks again for having me—you guys rock!
Jeri Smith-Ready’s latest release is SHIFT (May 3), the second in the YA ghost trilogy that began last year with SHADE (now out in paperback). She loves to hear from readers, so please visit her at www.jerismithready.com, or better yet, on Facebook or Twitter, where she spends far too much time.
Due to the popularity of the The Summer I Turned Pretty Jenny Han chat, the online Teen Editor and I spent some time discussing one of our favourite books for 2011: Libba Bray's Beauty Queens. Here's the book trailer for it:
Chandra Rooney: So, Beauty Queens has a lot to talk about.
Melanie Fishbane: Indeed. A lot to talk about. I read the ARC of this book in February and I'm still thinking about it. So, let’s begin with how she structures it like a TV show/channel. BRILLIANT! Like she's created this whole television universe, ones teens would be familiar with, yet throws in international espionage and the dramas of a pageant (this makes me think of the fake MTV station in Going Bovine). My personal favourite is the Lady Stach Off commercial.
What do you think of how she put this whole "world" together?
CR: Honestly, Beauty Queens changed how I read other books and watch TV shows. I notice things that I didn't see before—especially in the way that female characters are treated and the way female interactions and relationships are portrayed. I don't say that to scare people away from this book, because I know some times we have moments when we'd like to just ENJOY something. But it's definitely eye-opening and brain-stimulating.
I thought the same thing about the fake network. It's very reminiscent of Going Bovine—in a good way. Also, I really admire how this book is structured. It's so cool—and I felt it was very successful in not only recreating that sense of watching a TV show, but also satirizing reality television in general.
We're seeing—not just in teen—novels trying to work with digital means to create more of an immersed experience (Is it Cathy's Book that features the phone numbers and websites?), but Bray has created that experience without the reader having to go beyond the text.
MF: That is profound. I think that years from now, when whoever studies the growth of teen lit during the late 20teens? (I don't know how we would refer to this period,) s/he will see this as one of the pivotal books that wasn't just a satirical look at popular culture, but also a significant contributor to literature as a whole.
I think that there are a few authors out there who are examining women's portrayal in the media, discussing sexuality in truthful and thought-provoking ways. I admit, there were times in the book, when each of the beauty queens had their epiphany, that she sort of lost me; at the same time, I was impressed with how each girl went about rediscovering herself. I think that the issues that each of the characters are dealing with will speak to teens, particularly regarding the tremendous amount of pressure to make life decisions when they are still discovering who they are.
I agree that, although I would love to see a commercial on You Tube for Lady Stach Off, I am glad that I never had to leave the book to do it.
Truly, this book is so funny that I was crying. Rarely do I read something that has me laughing that hard.
CR: Oh yes, Beauty Queens reminded me of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Where you're laughing hysterically, wiping away tears, while thinking "I should be really upset about this, but I can't stop laughing."
I have to admit, it took me about five chapters to sort out who the characters were. It's very challenging to have an ensemble cast in a novel.
MF: I actually love how a few of the beauty queens continue to be nameless. Even they had their own individual quirks. Balancing such a large task certainly takes a lot of skill. Developing each character must have been quite an exercise for her. Bray isn't afraid to take risks and I think her fans will love her for it.
CR: Who were some of your favorite beauty queens?
MF: For starters, I love Taylor. She's like everyone's worst nightmare, but there is something comical and endearing about her. I identified the most with Miss Teen Hampshire, Adina, probably because I agreed with her about how she felt about beauty pageants…and then how wrong she was. Petra would be the other one that I completely adored for her strength and perseverance.
I also think that Bray dealt with her issues with great sensitivity and depth. Those are the three that stick out when I think about the book, but, the more that I think about the book, the more that I find something awesome in the other girls, Mary Lou, Shanti, Nicole, and Jennifer as well. That is why I think this book will really speak to teen readers, there is someone for everyone to resonate with.
What about you? Who was your favourite?
CR: My favorite remains Petra, because she was one of the most interesting. Throughout the book, she was the one that I really wanted to see get a happy ending. I really admired her character.
MF: I had hoped that Petra would as well. I thought that her past was certainly fascinating.
CR: But let's talk a little more about Taylor and Adina, because there is something I am desperate to ask. Are you familiar with Lost and did you see shades of Locke and Jack in those two girls?
MF: Sadly, I actually am not familiar with Lost. But, do tell as I am sure other readers would be fascinated by this (maybe you can ask Libba via Twitter and see what she says).
CR: I know from her tweets that Bray does like Lost, and I found the whole island to have echoes of the show. Adina was all "let's get off the island, let's get rescued!" And that was very much Jack's intention during the first season. Jack was very much about reason, and Locke was very much about faith. They often clashed over what should be done. I thought that opposing dynamic was also clear in Adina & Taylor.
...and I'm pretty sure Locke went a little crazy at one point, too.
MF: I am going to have to watch Lost :)
I think the dynamic between Adina and Taylor was priceless. Plus, I guess because there is a bit of the Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness in the novel, there would be references to those books as well. She's so brilliant it blows my mind.
CR: Oh, I loved that part where the girls discuss how Lord of Flies wouldn't have happened if it had been a girl school who were stranded. Mostly because while having to read Lord of the Flies, I had that exact thought.
So was Ladybird Hope as obviously Sarah Palin-inspired to you as she was to me?
MF: Ladybird Hope = total Palin. I would also say that she reminded me of like Candice Bergen's character in Miss Congeniality— the sort of power hungry beauty queen type.
CR: Adina reminds me a little of Sandra Bullock's character in that.
MF: What about the James Bond espionage references? Did you find that it worked within the novel or was it a little too far fetched?
CR: I think the James Bond stuff works, because by the time it's introduced, the reader has worked out that the book is going to be zany. What did you think about the pirates?
MF: I loved the pirates. I loved how piratey they wished they were and how piratey they weren't. I enjoyed how Bray dealt with their arrival. They didn't quite take over, and yet the dynamics certainly changed when they had arrived. I also liked how not every relationship was perfect. It was "real" in the absurd world that she created.
CR: Well, that's the key: No matter how absurd a world is, so long as the author obeys the rules, then us readers are likely to believe it. Beauty Queens, for as much of the absurd as it brings in, is kind of frightening in how much of it isn't exaggerated. Is there an island like this somewhere? I hope not, but I can't quite bring myself to swear that there couldn't be. The world we live in can be pretty absurd. In that way, Beauty Queens reminds me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
MF: I think that is kind of the point, isn't it? To look at our absurdities.
CR: Agreed, and I've not found another book this year that does it as successfully as Beauty Queens.
For a little something different, here's a dual review done as conversation between me and the Indigo online Teens Editor, Melanie Fishbane, about Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty—the first book in her Summer series (read that one, then It's Not Summer Without You, and finish with We'll Always Have Summer). If you enjoy seeing reviews done in this format, let us know and we'll do them more often!
Since this is done more like a book club discussion, there are spoilers for the book!
Chandra Rooney: I'd heard a lot of good things about Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty. Now that the series is finished, it seemed a good time to read the first book. I don't read a lot of non-fantasy teen fiction, but The Summer I Turned Pretty was well-written. I didn't find it incredibly compelling, but I think that's because I need more than what it was offering plot-wise to keep me engaged.
Melanie Fishbane: As you know, I do read a lot of teen fiction, and I can totally see what you mean. The book is certainly more character driven than plot driven and it takes a while to get going. That is a hard thing to pull off. Han provides some hints about the underlying troubles that Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah have to deal with, particularly with the all of the changes that they are going through, particularly with their mother.
There is one line in particular on page 152, "His voice made me shiver, it was like the sound of water when it pulls off the sand." Just reading that makes me shiver.
CR: That was one of the lines I enjoyed, too.
MF: I also liked how Han compassionately dealt with the physical changes that Belly was going through, how uncomfortable she was in a bathing suit, how exposed she felt when she realized that she was growing out of some of her clothes. Also, how bizarre it felt to have someone pay attention to her.
CR: I have to agree. Han handles that awkward 'turning pretty' moment so well.
MF: I think that teen readers would certainly debate over the merits of Conrad vs. Jeremiah and I wondered about Cameron...he certainly has his appeal... Who did you find yourself leaning towards? I'm still on the fence.
CR: Debating merits is such an interesting habit. Because are we debating which boy we like better or which boy we think Belly would be better off with? If it was me, I would pick Jeremiah. But I think Belly will choose Conrad, because that's who (at least at the end of book one) her heart belongs to.
Poor Cam, though. He helped her realize that she was pretty and special and could be loved.
MF: It is an interesting habit. Given my interest in what makes boy characters attractive to readers (and to protagonists) I'm interested in this kind of question. So Conrad is all dark and brooding and insular and is overprotective of Belly and Jeremiah is the laid back one, the best friend who loves her. A love triangle that we have encountered before. What makes this slightly different is the complexity of how long they've known each other and the blurred lines between family friendship and something more.
Cam sort of annoyed me though, he seemed a little too straight and narrow for Belly. He was a good first boyfriend though.
CR: What I really enjoyed about this set of brothers is that they're a little bit different than say, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Conrad is dark and brooding, but he's not so much a "bad boy" encouraging Belly to rebel. He's someone with a lot going on who wants to just keep the people around him safe. I felt bad for Conrad because obviously he knew something was going on with his mother, and his need to protect his younger brother meant that he kept all of that bottled up inside. No wonder he was so moody!
The part that made me upset on Belly's behalf was when someone told her that she couldn't date all the boys, because it wasn't fair. I thought, but she's just turned 16! She's supposed to have that opportunity to like all the boys. How else will she learn who is best for her?
MF: Yes! How can she even know what she really wants when she has been crushing on the same guy since she was 11?! I liked, too, how confusing it all was for her to date Cam because she like him and wanted things from him. There were moments when she could tell him what she wanted and other times she couldn't. Like, when she told him that she wanted him to kiss her and not just ask her. That showed a strong sense of self on her part.
How do you think Han treated the flashback chapters? I thought she did a good job and getting into the head of 11 year old Belly.
CR: I thought the flashback chapters were handled very well. They got across the sense of history between the characters so I could understand what perceptions the boys had of Belly that she had to overcome in order for them to see who she was instead of who she had been.
I also felt that Han handled really well how Belly needed that sense of belonging without making her seem needy in a negative way. That's something a lot of readers can connect with-that desire to be accepted.
MF: That is totally true, particularly in the scene at the party where she first meets Cam. You could tell that the boys had to start perceiving her in a different way.
The other thing, too, is that because it is all from Belly's perspective, we don't quite know how the guys are really seeing her. I actually wonder if Jeremiah has noticed her long before she was pretty—that thing with Taylor aside.
CR: That thing with Taylor broke my heart, because Taylor was the kind of character who has no idea the destruction she brings. She didn't want to intentionally hurt Belly, Taylor just wasn't thinking. It was sad, because Belly didn't want to hurt Cam or Jeremiah. So there was kind of a parallel between Taylor and Belly.
MF: Oh, I didn’t see that. So true.
CR: So I’d say this is a good choice for beach reading.
MF: It is a great summer read. Perfect for those days under the umbrella or rainy days. I think the comparison that I would make is that The Summer I Turned Pretty is like Nicholas Sparks meets Sarah Dessen...what do you think?
CR: I think that's an apt description. I can understand why the Summer series makes a deep connection with teen readers who enjoy this genre.