Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blog Book Tour: Maximum Ride

(Cross-posted at Midlife Mama)

So I was talking about YA fiction the other day, and how I didn't have it to read when I was (ahem) a young adult. So I'm making up for it now, and my latest foray was James Patterson's Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. As my earlier reading choices indicate, I was and am a sucker for plot: move it fast and I'm yours for the ride. A little mystery and a little romance are good, too. Maximum Ride has all of the above. It reads, indeed, like you're watching a movie: every scene can be visualized, every encounter moves the plot forward. It's exciting and fun, and it's absolutely meant for kids from about 12 to 16. (Nick, who just turned ten, started it, but I found his bookmark on page 54, right where the first kiss takes place He swears that's not why he stopped reading, but he also hasn't asked for it back.)

Saving the World is book three of Patterson's Maximum Ride series, but I found it easy enough to start here with a narrator who helpfully brings readers up to speed this way:

Those of you who picked up this book cold, even though it's clearly part three of a series, well, get with the program, people! I can't take two days to get you all caught up on everything! Here's the abbreviated version (which is pretty good, I might add)…

Max, the titular character (yes, Maximum Ride is a name), narrates about half the chapters, with the others going to an omniscient narrator who's able to fill us in on the action that takes place out of Max's sight. And there's plenty: winged kids, werewolves, a talking dog, telepathy, cloning, and blogging (yes! Blogging as a plot point!) keep the story moving forward. There's an appealing cast of characters, though I did have trouble keeping a few of them straight at first (with names like Fang, Iggy, Angel, Gasman and Nudge, they did all run together at times--particularly Nudge, whom I'd completely forgotten until I picked up the book to refresh my memory). And while the "evil scientist wants to rule the world" storyline has been done before, and while the evil scientist lapses into explanatory mode much in the manner of a James Bond villain, and to similar effect (allowing our heroes enough time to reflect and perhaps save themselves) a little too often, still the overall effect is exciting and fun. The short chapters (2-3 pages) contribute to the sense of urgency and speed. I might quibble with the snarky knowingness of the narrative, which too often addresses the reader in a somewhat postmodern "this is all a fiction, right?" way, but I have to admit I also find it fun--and, more to the point, I think a lot of teen readers will.

This book is pure escapism. It'll make a great movie (and I can't wait to see the special effects.) Sure, there's a message--"kids can make a difference"--but the pleasure of the book is in the action and the characters--and that's a considerable pleasure.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Harry Potter Factor

(Cross-posted at Midlife Mama)

My new column is up, and it comes with a spoiler warning. So if you haven't finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but you think one day you might want to--and you don't want to know ANYTHING about it--well, then, don't click on this link. (I don't give it all away, by any means, but I just couldn't keep it all to myself.)

Here's a spoiler-free taste:

17 years. That's how long I've been a mother. It's also how long J.K. Rowling has been living with Harry Potter. She started the series while pregnant with her first daughter, Jessica, in 1990; my daughter, Mariah, must be a little older than Jessica, then, as she's rapidly approaching her 18th birthday at the end of this year.

10 years. That's how long I've been the mother of two: Nick's tenth birthday was this month. It's also how long Harry Potter novels have been out in the world available to read. My mothering life, then, has tracked the Harry Potter series in more ways than one.

Mariah and I began reading the books some time in 1998 or 1999, I think, before the biggest hype but after the first book was available in my public library. At first I didn't know I'd be buying them all (in multiple copies, no less!). I just thought I was sharing another fun book with my daughter.

We read the first few books together, sprawled on a couch, each wedged into a corner with our feet meeting in the middle. As we continued reading, she grew taller -- and her reading got faster -- so we read them sequentially, talking about them over meals...

Read the rest here...

Why YA?

Like a lot of bookish kids, I didn't read much young adult literature growing up. I skipped right from Madeleine L'Engle and C. S. Lewis to Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer. Though most of my grad school colleagues, unlike me, jumped straight to the Brontes or Dumas or Tolstoy (well, I did try to read War and Peace after seeing it on Masterpiece Theatre, but I skipped all the "war"), I did want to stop reading "books for kids" from a fairly early age. And there weren't all that many YA books then, so I found "grown-up books" instead. After A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye, my tenth grade English class moved on to the too-little-known Good Times, Bad Times (by James Kirkwood, better known for A Chorus Line and PS, Your Cat is Dead), but by then we'd pretty well exhausted the boys-in-boarding-school genre that my English teacher thought appropriate for girls in boarding school, and we moved on to "real literature" like Macbeth and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. While I might have sought out S.E. Hinton's books or Go Ask Alice (wait, there's a DVD? With William Shatner?) on my own, the genre of YA literature really didn't come into its own until the late 1980s, by which time I was married and starting my own family.

Which may explain why I find the genre so compelling now. While I'm skeptical of the bibliotherapeutic approach to reading, which suggests that for every problem there's a book, and every book should help solve a problem, still I do find that young adulthood is its own developmental stage, and literature that recognizes that good readers may still have a lot of growing to do does have an important place. (I've never been able to read John Fowles' The Magus again, after trying it way too early.)

So that must be why I spent the weekend in YA land. I went to the library with Nick on Friday and came back with four books: Gail Gauthier's Saving the Planet & Other Stuff, Mitali Perkins' Monsoon Summer, Meg Rosoff's Just in Case, and Christopher Paul Curtis's Bucking the Sarge. I'm halfway through the Curtis, having finished the others. These are books I wish I'd had to read when I was a teenager. Monsoon Summer tells a great story of being bicultural (and falling in love, and learning to dance!), Saving the Planet reminded me of my first job (out of college), which was with a way-less-cool magazine than the protagonist, Michael's, and Just in Case is heart-breakingly realistic in its depiction of anxiety and fear (though, yes, the novel itself is more allied with magic realism than any other genre). Add in Bucking the Sarge and you have a great range of teen experience: kids who have more responsibility than they know what to do with, who want to make a difference but don't always know how, who love their families even when their families aren't quite working.

Not every teenager wants to read about teenagers, of course. I might have thought myself too "grown up" for these books--I was desperate to grow up and grow up soon. (No Peter Pan syndrome for me, thankyouverymuch.) But maybe if books like this had been available for me I would have realized that other kids felt the same way. Maybe not--again, I'm not so sure about bibliotherapy. What I'm sure about is that these are terrific writers, writing terrific books: great characters, snappy dialogue, plots that make sense. It was a fun reading weekend.

(And stay tuned for news later this week on another YA book I read recently--I'll be blogging about James Patterson's Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports on Tuesday.) [um, sorry, Wednesday.]

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pay it Forward Winner

This month's winner, of a copy of John Green's Looking for Alaska, is toknowhim, of the blog, To Know Him.

Drop me a line with your mailing address and I'll get it out to you soon!

And, thanks for playing, everyone. I'll have another book in September. Maybe even another book by John Green. (No promises, though. I have a lot of great YA books, especially, so I'll find a good one.)

Edited to add: OK, Kim of toknowhim has already won too many books this month! (What a problem to have...) So instead, the winner is Kathleen Marie, of The Open Window. Kathleen Marie, drop me a line!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Something New

I did something I've never done before a few weeks ago: I served as a judge in a fiction contest. It was fun! I read a bunch of short stories, then met with the other judges to choose the winners. Over coffee and pastries we read and discussed and came up with three winners, which were announced today. I'm just back from hearing the authors read them (well, two of them: the first place winner just left town to enter an MFA program) and the reading was terrific and well-attended. So congratulations, winners!

I know this isn't children's lit stuff (truly, it isn't--read the stories!), but it still merits a mention here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

new stuff

There's always good stuff to read over at Literary Mama, as I hope you know by now. This month I particularly like this piece by children's lit author Gail Gauthier about being a mom who does tae kwon do.

(cross-posted at the other blog...)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Get a Free Book!

OK, I'm in. I'm joining the Pay it Forward Book Exchange, initiated by Overwhelmed by Joy. All the cool kids are doing it: Caroline, cloudscome at A Wrung Sponge, Kelly from Big A, little a, and now me. What a great concept! Here's the deal: I get a lot of books, one way and another, and after I've read them I don't always need to keep them around. So once a month (or so) I'll give one away. Just leave me a note in comments that you want to enter, and next week I'll draw a name out and send the winner the book. Easy-peasy, right?

Here's how Overwhelmed describes it:
Most all of us love to read and get “new-to-us” books, right? And if you’re anything like me, you love winning things (what a rush), not to mention getting fun stuff in the mail! So here’s what this book exchange is all about:

1) Once a month I'll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) Details on how you can enter to win will be listed below.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway and you have your own blog I ask that you, you in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating the book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let me [that would be Overwhelmed] know so I can publish a post on my blog plugging your giveaway and directing my readers your way!

OK? So, this month, I have a copy of John Green's fabulous, Printz-Award-winning Looking for Alaska to give away. (If you live in Central VA, by the way, he's coming to speak at the University of Richmond at the end of September.) This is a terrific YA novel, an astonishing debut novel by a writer who has a great career ahead of him. So let me know if you want a copy and I'll be sending one out in a week.

(I got this promotional copy from his publisher, Penguin, by the way. I'll probably have a few more Penguin books to give away in the future, too.)

Again: leave me a comment by August 16, and you could get a copy of Looking for Alaska.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hey, writers--

My friend Masha Hamilton is teaching two ten-week novel-writing classes this fall--don't they look great?

Take a ten-week novel-writing class online from Masha.
Dates: Sept. 4 through Nov. 13.

Novel Writing I is right for any writer who has been thinking about starting a novel or is up to halfway through. The class will include weekly lectures, critiques, and exercises aimed at helping you see your work freshly. We'll motivate you as we cover discovering the essence of your novel (and learning how to convey it in a single sentence), as well as the importance of the opening chapter. We’ll discuss where to start the story, how to create a strong protagonist, the dramatic arcs of major characters, choosing a point of view, and exploring the voice of your novel as well as individual characters within it. We'll analyze scene and delve into the dramatic possibilities created by strong dialogue. We'll also look at setting, pacing, profluence and psychic distance. Finally, we’ll consider the business end – where and how to market your novel manuscript – and you’ll get guidance on the next step. Limited to 10-15 students. $500 for ten weeks.

Novel Writing II is for the writer who has more than half of a novel completed and is looking for a critical, helpful eye before the manuscript reaches the agent or editor. In this class, more of your work will be critiqued, and you will be called upon to write detailed weekly critiques yourself. Lectures will spring more naturally from the nature of the work. We'll talk about motivation in the soggy middle of our manuscripts. This will be a chance to workshop a large portion of your completed work, and resubmit if you choose. We'll focus on the skills of revision and layering your novel, as well as how to become our own teachers, learning by reading the work of others. The class also will include guidance on what to do once the manuscript is finished. Limited to 6-10 students. $650 for ten weeks.

Classes are small to allow for lots of individual attention to manuscripts. Please email Masha at masha at mashahamilton dot com for more details about either class.


Masha has taught novel-writing privately, on-line, and for Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, 92nd Street Y/Makor in New York City, Ann Arbor Writers’ Workshop in Ann Arbor, MI, Pima Writers’ Workshop in Tucson, AZ, Willamette Writers in Portland, OR., Ocean Park Maine Writers’ Conference near Portland, ME., Poets and Writers League, Cleveland, OH, and others.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Review Up

Check out my review (scroll down!) of The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel in this summer's fabulous edition of The Edge of the Forest. This is my first review for TEotF; I've got two more books on deck for next month, though, and I'm hoping to keep it up in the fall as well.

There's lots of great stuff in this big issue: a piece about Brotherhood 2.0, another one about the 48-Hour Book Challenge, blogging writers, and lots and lots of reviews. I'm really delighted to be part of all the fun.