Sunday, May 23, 2010

Growing Pains

I know what it looks like. New members joining, old members leaving, sporatic posts and vampires on the front page. Well. We can't help it. We've got growing pains.

That's right. You see. The YA-5 is growing. But not in the way that you think. We're changing the way we look, act and... OK, maybe not the way we act. But we ARE getting a new look and taking a short break to regroup and kind of get it together.

We're excited about the changes coming in a few weeks and promise to be stronger, faster and better than before--with even more shenanigans.

Can you handle it?

We hope so.

See you soon.

Georgia, Kelly, Justina, Kari and Emily
The YA-5

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My hair is still in bad shape

I went out tonight to get a haircut, but somehow I ended up at the bookstore instead. (Doesn't that always happen to you, too?) When I walked through the door, I wasn't thinking of anything specific that I wanted, which was weird. But I was also supposed to be telling someone to "take a little off the top" so I was distracted.

When I left the bookstore, I came away with a handful of books that arguably make up a decent part of the modern YA canon. (Books that I, embarrassingly, haven't read yet.)

What did I pick up?

A Great and Terrible Beauty by, Libba Bray
The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites by, Heather Brewer
An Abundance of Katherines by, John Green

I also grabbed a copy of Gregory Maguire's What the Dickens and a Percy Jackson companion thing for my oldest son's birthday.

So my hair is still doing the old-lady-on-top-party-in-back horror show, but at least I have some books to read.

Hooray, books!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Over It

I don’t know about you guys, but about ten minutes into a fad I’m completely over it. Done. Don’t want to hear another word about it. Which makes it extremely painful and agonizing when the fad just doesn’t seem to want to die.

My outlet? Complaining.

So here is a list of things that I’m completely over:

1. The emo vampire: I like vampires. I do. But I can’t stand the vampire boy (or girl) who slinks through three hundred pages bemoaning their porcelain skin and penchant for ripping out people’s throats. I want my vampires to glory in the killing with a wicked grin, like Damon from the Vampire Diaries. Look, people, you are a vampire. You are probably super strong and maybe have some other crazy abilities that will vary depending on the series. Still. You are bad ass. Act like it.

2. Girls who break up only to find another Mr. Right Now: I’ve read a couple of books recently about girls who are dumped/cheated on by their boyfriends. They spend the rest of the book not getting over it until they meet another sparkly boy who catches their attention. Look, getting dumped sucks. It hurts. But dating a new guy does not erase that pain. And what’s with all of the doormat girls in YA? Ladies, you don’t have to wait until the last two chapters of the book to actually do something about your situation.

3. Dystopian: as much as I love the genre, I’m starting to get a little burned out on the pretty-on-the-surface-seriously-corrupt-underneath dystopian novel. Maybe it’s because so many other authors have done it well that I don't have a lot of patience for new series.  And it’s not entirely believable that one person would try to change the world, (although I’m willing to suspend disbelief for Katniss, at least for one more book). Most of us are perfectly happy to just float along and hope no one notices us. Why aren’t there more of those characters in dystopian novels?

4. The twenty book series with a cliffhanger at the end of each book: Seriously? Nothing tees me off quicker than getting to the last page and seeing that of the twenty loose threads in the story maybe, MAYBE, one has been resolved. And oh, by the way, the next book doesn’t come out until NEXT YEAR. *head desk* Come on, can we at least get our characters to a good ending spot so that we know they aren’t going to die? That would be great, thanks.

5. The Justin Beiber/Jonas Brothers War: Okay, this has nothing to do with books, but I am a little tired of this whole thing. Trust me, in ten years they will all be doing specials on VH1 talking about how it was “such a surprise” when they became famous and how it eventually got to be “a little overwhelming” towards the end (right before their popularity faded). Don’t believe me? Google any one of the following:

98 Degrees
New Kids One the Block
Leif Garrett
Backstreet Boys
N*Sync (although Justin Timberlake may be the exception)

So that’s my list. What are you completely over? Lists about things that other people hate? Shapeshifters? Paranormal in general? Leave your thoughts after the beep.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

What's your THING?

Hi everyone! This is my first post at Ye Olde YA Five, so I thought I'd give you a little background. I mean, some seriously deep recon stuff. Like, actual excerpts from my teenage journals. I recently posted some scans on my own blog, at The Hate-Mongering Tart, and they were a hit, so here I am to share MORE craziness from The Dark Ages.

But here's the thing. As much as you couldn't PAY me to be a teen again, it wasn't all bad. Sure, I had a separate diary in which I wrote about the tough stuff and my struggles with depression and my fights with my parents and woes about the elusive beast known as Sean O'Leary (hi, Sean. This girl? You missed out. Bummer for you!) -- but I had this OTHER set of journals where I wrote about my THING. My THING -- and I think everyone has one, especially as a teen -- was pop music. Oh man I knew everything about pop music. I even eventually had a job at a record store where I used my mad skillz to sell awesome under-appreciated music to the masses. But I digress.

Okay, so, like I was saying. Being in high school can be kind of a total bummer. Mean kids, homework, nasty teachers, coaches on your case to be biggerbetterfasternow and all that jazz. And I wasn't in with the in crowd, and lived in a small town in Maine, so this lead to a lot of entertaining myself with one or two friends on the weekends. A lot of the best times I had were writing about music in my journals with my best friend, Fiona, and any other kids I could rope into joining us. All our inside jokes are there, our obsessions, our loves, our annoyances. I swear to God, I was Rob from HIGH FIDELITY, except for the fact that I was a teen girl with very few exes.

Anyway, the images that I've posted to correspond with this post are from various volumes of my journal. There's that first one there where I drew me and Fiona's pretend band the Cinnamin Twists (yes, spelling a word wrong makes your band name cooler) which features actor Seth Green on bass. We loved him. We still do. We stayed up all night listening to the radio broadcast of Woodstock '99 and drew all these pictures of our imaginary adventure. Then you've got one of the intros to my monthly music reviews, where I'd talk about goings on in music and review my new CDs. Did this lead to my college career as a music columnist? You decide! Then I have a fun list for you -- the entirety of my Songs of the Month for 1999-2000. I did this every year and put little reasons as to why I picked the songs. You can see that list below.

So here's what I want from you: what's YOUR thing? And do you journal about it? Blogs totally count. It makes me sad that teens don't seem to paper journal anymore. Which leads me to my challenge: START A FREAKING PAPER JOURNAL. Do it with your friends! Write about your THING or your collective THINGS and savor it and cherish it. I swear, when you grow up to be a badass YA author/music journalist/lawyer/artist/software engineer/whatever you choose to be, there is VALUE in these journals.

And for the grown-up readers: I double dog dare you to post your teen journal on your blog. No blog? Post a scan/excerpt in the comments. Like I said, DOUBLE DOG DARE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Magic?

A couple of weeks ago, I met with a groups of fifth grade teachers at a fancy-pants school for gifted children. Now, this little anecdote is in no way intended to knock teachers or students or gifted students or gifted education at all. I myself, after exhausting my poor little soul in search for a school for my own darling child who was not being challenged (neither appropriately, nor, alas, at all) in her current school, I think very highly in giving gifted children peers and substance in which their minds might expand, exercise and delight in the pursuits of Knowledge and Beauty and Truth.


There is, unfortunately, a tendency among educators for the gifted, to see their academic potential in limiting terms. Deceptively simple ideas are dismissed as being “too easy”, and enjoyable tasks are shunted aside in favor of Projects Worthy of Princeton (or, if we are aiming for a security school, Harvard). And, after creating an entire school designed to challenge these children, thus allowing their “gifts” to shine, the message that gifted children receive is that there is something inherently “lacking” or “low” in the natural inclinations or interests or passions. Gifted children too often are told that there is a “correct” answer always, and the fear of being “incorrect” - and therefore no longer “gifted” - is a terrifying thought indeed.

Now, with that sort of set up in mind, let me tell you what happened to me:

In anticipation of a creative writing residency that I was to do at this Certain Gifted School, I scheduled a meeting with the teachers to talk a little bit about what they were expecting from me, what I'd need from them, etc. etc. I was sitting there at a table with three teachers and the coordinator who brought me in, as I chatted about the nuances of characterization, my methods for getting kids invigorated and invested in the creation of narrative arcs, and etc. Now, these women were teachers in the archetypical sense – nubbly blazers with matching skirts and a silk blouse with a built-in scarf tied smartly at the throat. If Joseph Campbell was ever to describe his Hero With A Thousand Faces sallying into an adventure at an elementary school, he would run smack into these women.

And they would not be amused.

After fielding what seemed like a million questions regarding my stance on paragraphing and what my intentions were when it came to rampant grammar mistakes that may or may not show up in the text, one teacher asked me this:

What do you intend to do about the over-proliferation of fantasy stories?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

The over-proliferation of fantasy stories. There's nothing like the prefix “over” to really lay on a nice thick layer implied judgment. I stammered for a moment or two before finally managing to say, “I'm not sure I know what you mean.”

It's all because of Harry Potter,” one teacher said while the others pursed their lips and nodded sagely.

It's a trend.”

A fad.”

A distraction.”

You'll have to nip it in the bud.”

It's the only kind of story they'll want to write. They'll need to be taken in hand if you want them to write real fiction.”

I closed my eyes for a moment and pressed my fingers to my lips. “Usually,” I said, “I have the children write the stories that they like to read.”

That, of course, was not the thing that I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was “don't you people know that I freaking write fantasy stories?” But I digress.

But what interests me most, particular in the context of today's discussion, was a comment made by the eldest of the schoolteachers – and the one least impressed, I might add, by me. She regarded me for a moment, and then said, “Reality is hard enough for these kids to deal with. Why would they bother with fantasy?”

Why indeed?

And ever since then, I haven't been able to get that conversation out of my head. Why fantasy? Why magic? I tried to conjure up an image of myself at ten years old, reading the Narnia books for the seventeenth time, or the multicolored fairy books of Andrew Lang, or Anne McCaffery or Robin McKinnely, or Tolkein or any number of books that fed my childhood brain. What was I looking for? What did the book about magic have for me that the twenty seven novels about the girl with the sister dying of leukemia did not.

But it's an interesting question: What does magic or fantasy do for me as a reader? What does it do for you? When we choose fantasy, what are we looking for?

Monday, May 10, 2010


So, the weather's getting warmer and you know what that means. Or, maybe you don't. Here at The YA-5 it means, less is more. Or as my mom would say, "give a penny, take a penny."

In other words--Sara McClung and Steph Bowe have bid us farewell. School, life-balance and editorial demands require them to leave us to our own devices (forgive them--they know not what they do). But no worries, we shall not leave you with only Justina, Kari, Cristin, Kelly and myself to entertain you. Heaven forbid. Instead I bring you E. Kristin Anderson, The Hate-Mongering Tart (I swear, she calls herself this--I didn't do it). She promises to keep us all entertained with even MORE shenanigans.

I will leave it up to "E" to introduce herself when it's her turn. For now, I'll leave you with a link to her official blog and remind you of how this all began! Watch with shock and awe (or simply laugh out loud at my silliness).


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When Life Imitates Art

If you haven't been living under a rock you've probably heard about the major oil spill in the gulf (how's that "going green" campaign working now, BP?) and how it might just be the worst environmental disaster EVAR (dum dum DUM!).  While that's all good and depressing, the really important part is that this echoes a scene in a book almost exactly.

How creepy is that?

In M.T. Anderson's book Feed (a must read if you haven't already) one of the precipitating events is a major oil spill.  Not that the Gulf of Mexico spill is the first oil spill to ever happen, but there is something eerie about an event in real life happening after reading it in a book.  So, that of course got my little brain to thinking...what books would I never, ever, ever want to come true?  I came up with the following:

1.  The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins):  You know that part at the beginning of the games where like four people bite it in the first few minutes?  Yeah, that would be me.  I'm not very fast, and I'm not very strong, and I can't use any weapons. My face would most definitely be in the sky after the first day, and Katniss probably wouldn't even know my name *sniff*.

2.  The Last Survivors books (Susan Beth Pfeffer):  What's worse than a free for all to the death?  The moon.  Seriously.  In these books the moon is hit by an asteroid and forced closer to the Earth, setting off a series of tidal waves, earthquakes, and every other natural disaster you can think of.  The survivors try to eek out an existence, but how do you live in a world gone wrong?  Answer: not very well!

3.  The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan):  ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!  Enough said.

So, I guess the question is, what book would you NOT want life to imitate?

Monday, May 3, 2010


When Holly Black's WHITE CAT arrived I must admit, I didn't know what to expect. I'm not one of those people who actually enjoys reading review copies. I don't enjoy the pressure of feeling like I have to like the book. Honestly, I expected it to be good.

When I read the synopsis of WHITE CAT on the official website, I figured this was no ordinary YA book. This was something I hadn't seen before--something smart, engaging and fun. I figured this was going to be exactly the kind of book that I was going to fall in love with. I was right.

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

WHITE CAT reads like a thriller, family-saga, crime drama and coming of age YA all rolled into one. Cassel is the perfect main character even with all of his flaws and we love to cheer him on even as he gets into trouble, makes bad choices and shows us his imperfections.

The relationship between Cassel and his family is one of the more interesting I've seen in YA. Everyone has an angle. Mother, brothers and grandfather all there with some sort of influence--good or bad. I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out with the mother in the next book.

In WHITE CAT, nothing is truly as it seems and yet, everything has a wonderfully reasonable explanation--well--in the world of curse magic--that is. The world Black has built is completely compelling and alluring and only slightly unlike that of our own. It is those minor yet incredible differences that make Cassel's world so amazingly intriguing.

The book has a very cinematic flow from opening to ending. I could easily visualize every scene as I read. The intricacy of the world in which the characters lived was so well developed--that you almost forget that their existence is not normal.

I finished the book in a day and a half and am genuinely disappointed that I will have to wait so long for the sequel. WHITE CAT is the best book I've read this year. I challenge you to come up a book that is as original, evenly paced, well put together and solid overall in terms of a YA offering. It will appeal to boys and girls as well as those interested in both contemporary and paranormal content. With a little romance sprinkled in, it has something for everyone.

Simon and Schuster says the book works for ages fourteen and up. There is some some under age drinking but it's done well. I highly recommend WHITE CAT. I can't say enough great things about it. I may even be gushing.

Visit the WHITE CAT official website here.

Visit Holly Black's official website.

visit Simon and Schuster.

Visit our wonderful tour hosts, MundieMoms.