Archive for May, 2011

May 27, 2011

Friday Feud: Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Zombies Vs Unicorns

The topic of today’s Friday Feud is: ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS, inspired by the book of the same title. It’s a collection of short stories edited by Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie). I was a little skeptical of the book before I read it–I mean, how much is there really to say about unicorns and zombies? Well, it turns out there’s a lot, and the book has a great variety of stories with lots of really creative takes on both zombies and unicorns. I also loved the sassy commentary from Black and Larbalestier that prefaced each story. But it leads to the obvious question: which side are you on, anyway?

Which side am I on, you might ask? I’ll give you a hint:

Lisa Frank Unicorn

Did you guess? Do you want another hint?


Sigh… so majestic. Anyway, in case these mind-blowing images don’t make it apparent why I am on Team Unicorn, let me share some UniFacts I found on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

  • Unicorns originated in ancient Greek natural history texts. The Greeks believed them to be a real animal, not mythical. You know what else the Greeks thought was real? Democracy.
  • There are several references to unicorns in King James Bible, though the American Standard Bible apparently changes “unicorn” to “wild ox.” Um, please. If the Holy Scripture says “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn,” (Numbers 22:22) do you really think you can just change it to “wild ox”? What kind of a religion is that?
  • Denmark’s royal throne is made out of unicorn horns. (Wikipedia says they are “almost certainly” narwhal horns. If I were Danish royalty, I would throw down at that kind of slander.)
  • You know who else is on Team Unicorn? Your role model and mine, Lady Gaga. Observe: the unicorn-studded “Born this Way” video, her unicorn tattoo, her unicorn piano. If Lady Gaga is Team Unicorn, can you afford not to be?
  • If Lady Gaga isn’t enough to convince you, how about Harry Potter? Recall the words of the wise centaur Firenze from Harry Potter and the Socercer’s Stone: “That is because it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn. Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” You know what you are if you kill a zombie? A goddamn hero.


Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.

May 25, 2011

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna?! Okay, I Guess (And Other Thoughts on Hunger Games movie casting)

In case you have not been following the Hunger Games movie casting news closely, you might not have heard that Lenny Kravitz was announced to be playing Cinna, Katniss’s stylist.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

A lot of people have been reacting with surprise/negativity. I’m definitely disappointed, but only because I really wanted Christian Siriano (from Project Runway) to play Cinna.

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano. He looks slightly different from Lenny Kravitz.

Obvi, Christian Siriano is not an actor, and I have no idea whether or not he’d be any good as Cinna. And his persona is much more manic than the calm Cinna. Cinna is actually probably more like Tim Gunn. But a long time ago someone put the idea in my head that Christian Siriano should play Cinna, and I ran with it in my head. And I think that, based on his work on Project Runway, Christian could totally design an awesome outfit for Katniss, and I would in fact love for that to be a Project Runway challenge.

Lenny Kravitz does strike me as an odd choice. He’s not an actor, either–though apparently he had a role in Precious, which I have not seen. But, like, honestly I don’t care that much. I’ll definitely see the movie no matter who they put in it.I also think it’s a positive to have another person of color in the cast–I don’t remember if Cinna was described as being black, and I don’t really care if he wasn’t. I totally missed that Rue was described as being black, but I’m glad they’ve cast an actress of color for her part.

I’m not sure what it is about my imagination, but when I read a book I hardly ever have a clear mental image of what the characters look like, which is fine. I have a better idea of what they sound like and what they feel like. Whenever a book comes out as a movie, the movie actors instantly take over in my mind as what the character looks like. I do notice occasional things–like I know Harry Potter has green eyes, which J. K. Rowling mentioned, oh, seven thousand times, and which Daniel Radcliffe does not have. But, honestly, not the biggest deal to me. If they’d cast a sassy Latina as Harry Potter (for example), I would be intrigued, but might not have been on board with it. But I think Daniel Radcliffe did a fine job as Harry, and he is now my mental image of the character, green eyes or no.

Also, I was ambivalent about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, but after reading her interview in Entertainment Weekly this week, I’m on board. (I can’t find the full interview online–I borrowed the magazine from a friend & don’t have it anymore to quote. But she talked a lot about her archery training and how important it is to her to be authentic as warrior-Katniss, and how she’s been working with the wardrobe people to make sure that her outfit for the Game is appropriately athletic. Here’s a link with the cover photo and part of the interview.)

Cool. So now that is how Katniss looks in my head, and that’s fine. Until I see the movie, though, Cinna will probably still look like Christian Siriano.

Finally, I’d like to say that when I was in junior high I thought this song was totally cool:

So, rock on, Cinna. Rock on.

May 19, 2011

My Summer Reading List

Summer’s here! If not in weather–it’s cloudy and in the low 50s here in central Illinois–at least in official school terminology. This summer session I’m only taking one class (web design), and I’m hoping to catch up on some non-academic reading. (Okay, let’s be real, I’m taking classes on youth librarianship, so a lot of my “academic” reading is in size 14-font with a lot of pictures. But still, woo, summer!) Here’s some of what’s on my list:

  • Re-reading the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. I burned through all three of these books so Firequickly that I don’t even really remember half of the stuff that happened. And I need to have a good background so I can nitpick all the movie photos that are starting to leak out!
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Highly recommended by many, including Sandy and John Green.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore. I loved Graceling, the book to which this is a prequel. (That phrase is awkward. Sorry.) Everyone I’ve talked to (sample size = 3) says that Fire isn’t as good, but that it’s still pretty good, so I’m willing to check it out. (If you haven’t read Graceling yet–it’s a must! A very cool fantasy world–and I’m not necessarily a huge fantasy fan–with great characters and a very suspenseful story.)
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Where She Went, the sequel to this, receShipBreakerntly came out, and everyone I know who’s read both raved about If I Stay and says that Where She Went is even better. If I Stay is about a girl in a coma deciding whether or not to live, and apparently it’s much more riveting than that plot summary might imply.
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Honestly, this book–a dystopia/post-apocalyptic kind of thing–doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea. But it did win the Printz award this year and I would like to at least have an opinion about it.
  • White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black–the audio book. Holly Black has been on my radar for awhile, ever since I read Zombies Vs. Unicorns which she co-edited (with Justine Larbalestier). She was Team Unicorn, as am I. (I highly recommend Z vs U, even if you do not have particularly strong feelings about zombies or unicorns.) Also, Stephanie Perkins was recently tweeting about her crush on Jesse Eisenberg (of Zombieland and The Social Network), which I share, and she mentioned that he reads the audiobooks for this series and recommended them, both for their own merits and for his narration. Anyway, White Cat is the first in a series about people who have magic curse WhiteCatpowers or some shit, I don’t really know. I’m going to wait until Jesse Eisenberg tells me about it.
  • More Meg Cabot! I loved the entire Princess Diaries series, but until I did a big project about Meg Cabot for my YA Lit class this semester I didn’t really realize how many books she’s written! Here’s a link to my project, which has info about her life and career as well as blurbs for all of her 50 + books. (And if you haven’t read the Princess Diaries yet–check them out! So funny and fun.)
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Not YA lit but it has been on my to-read list ever since it came out! It takes place in Peoria, which is kind of where I grew up. DFW is my non-YA, extremely-difficult-to-read homeboy. I will probably read this book at a ratio of one chapter of The Pale King to every complete YA novel I read this summer.

What are you planning to read this summer? Any suggestions for me?

May 17, 2011

Soul Surfer: Sharks ‘n Jesus

A few months ago, I went to see the movie Soul Surfer. I was drawn both by my love of watching other people surf and my love of teen movies. Soul Surfer looked like it would be promising on both accounts.

Oh, before I say more–after I saw it, I went out and told everyone I knew all of my opinions about it, and they all looked at me blankly and said, “What’s Soul Surfer?” Apparently the marketing campaign did not reach my peers the way it reached me, so, in case you haven’t heard of it either–Soul Surfer is a movie based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, the young competitive surfer whose arm was eaten by a shark when she was 13 years old. Remarkably, she continues to surf (and win) at a competitive level with one arm. (By the way, “soul surfer” is a surfing term for someone who surfs for the love of it, not for money.)

And, okay, when I was in the Peace Corps I lived near the ocean. I took surf lessons and I went out a lot of weekends and tried to surf. It’s really hard. The physical strain of paddling, the strength required to push up to standing, and the timing of figuring out when to get into the wave–it’s hard. With two arms. So from a purely physical standpoint, let’s take a moment to say that Bethany Hamilton is a total badass for even getting up on a wave with one arm.

Soul Surfer Movie poster Anyway. So. Soul Surfer, the movie. I saw it with my friend Anna, and about half an hour in we glanced at each other and said, “I didn’t realize this was a Christian movie!” It isn’t, exactly, a Christian movie, but it is definitely a movie about a Christian family, in a way that is much more explicit than in most popular teen movies. Carrie Underwood plays Bethany’s youth minister, and there are scenes where they attend church. There’s a scene where Bethany’s father reads her an inspirational Bible quote while she’s in the hospital. All in all, there’s a total of maybe ten minutes of explicitly Christian content in the film.

Personally, I am not a Christian. I often cringe at Christian “inspirational” shows and movies, though I sometimes watch for entertainment value. (See: whenever Walker, Texas Ranger decides to have an explicit moral to an episode.) But I had no problem with Soul Surfer. Like I mentioned, Bethany Hamilton is a total badass in my book. If she says Jesus Christ helped her become such a badass, who am I to tell her otherwise?

After I saw the movie, I read an article talking about the studio’s reluctance to make such a “Christian” movie. Apparently they toyed with changes like, no joke, Photoshopping the word “Bible” off the cover the the Bible her dad reads. They also thought about changing the character of her youth minister to some kind of generic youth group leader. I’m glad they didn’t do that. Even though I’m not a Christian, I don’t have a problem with people reading the Bible. Frankly, it offends me that a movie studio would think that I would.

I really enjoyed the film. It was, yes, inspirational. The surf scenes were cool. The shark attack scene was not too graphic for my delicate sensibilities. And I’m pleased that Kevin Sorbo is getting work.

So, naturally, I decided to check out the book. (I was 14th on the hold list for it at the library, so clearly I was not the only person in town inspired by the movie.) It’s called Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, and it was written by Bethany Soul Surfer BookHamilton with Rick Bundschuh  and Sheryl Berk. She says that she talked for hours with Rick and he helped her turn those conversations into a book. The quality is about what you’d expect of a book written by a fourteen-year-old girl, and I don’t mean to be unkind. It’s a great story, but it’s written in a very simple, straightforward way. It is also a lot more Christian in content than the movie was. (I believe it is marketed as “inspirational” literature.) Christianity is clearly a big part of Bethany’s life. It isn’t proselytizing, exactly. It’s just part of her life. She gets up, she prays, she surfs. God had a plan for her, and it involved her arm getting eaten by a shark so that she could be a role model. I’ve never been attacked by a shark, so I’m certainly not going to tell her what she should believe.

The movie is pretty similar to the book, although it tightens things up to make it flow faster (and apparently invented a surf-nemesis for Bethany). The real story is pretty amazing, and elements that I assumed were made up for dramatic conflict apparently actually happened.

Overall, I’d say: check out the movie (if you’re into surfing, or have been wondering what Helen Hunt has been up to lately), pass on the book (unless you want it for your church youth group or something), and check out this interview with the real Bethany, featuring amazing footage of her surfing.

May 16, 2011

A success story

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend my fourth New England Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators AKA NESCBWI (worst acronym ever) Conference and it was a doozy. The keynotes speakers were Jane Yolen and Tomie DePaola, both known mostly for their work in picture books, but Jane Yolen has a few novels in her 200 publications. My favorite presentation was given by Mark Peter Hughes, the author of Lemonade Mouth, which is now a Disney Channel movie. A hit one at that. Truth is, probably more kids have seen that movie than Prom, which was the movie Disney released a few weeks ago (and Renata blogged about). My friend Shoshana (Hi Shoshana! Check out her blog here) works at a bookstore and said copies have been flying off the shelf. I read Lemonade Mouth three years ago, when I attended my first Whispering Pines Retreat and MPH (Not NPH, but just as cute and funny) was the mentor. He is a Rhode Islander like me, and sets his novels in my home state. I was so happy when I heard that Lemonade Mouth was becoming a movie, because I knew how big that this was. It is fantastic to see a local guy get success like this.


Anyway, I digress. His workshop was entitle Help! Help! I’m Stuck! and while I’m bound by the oath of NESCBWI to not discuss the details on my blog, let me say that I’m excited to continue writing my novel. Just seeing him there so excited to talk about the craft we both share and know that he is turning non-readers into readers at this very moment is exciting.

The theme of the conference was something about Milestones because it was the 25th year and there was a lot of talking about the success stories that have come from SCBWI and it gave me some hope and goals. For now, though, I’m just going to plug along on my novel and read my YA novels and dream that someday I’ll be standing in front of a room of pre-published writers with a story to tell.

May 13, 2011

Friday Feuds: Team Peeta

Oh Peeta. Sweet, unwaveringly loyal, smart and cute… what else does a girl need? Well if you’re Katniss  Everdeen, you could go for the best friend, the one you’ve known all your life – the one that looks so much like you he could be your brother (AKA Gale)! But you should go for the one that risks his life for yours over and over and over again. The one who when you kiss, even though you tell y0urself you’re just pretending, it makes you week in the knees. The one who doesn’t keep secrets from you for your own good.

Even at the beginning of the series, there was something about Gale that just didn’t sit right. What was he waiting for? Did he just think of Katniss as a kid sister or something more? When we are introduced to Peeta, Katniss tells the reader about how he gave her some bread, even though he knew it would lead to a beating from his evil mother. So even before they were put in the arena, Peeta was risking himself for Katniss.

And then in Mockingjay when he is brainwashed into hating her, he comes around and still loves her. And meanwhile, Gale because war obsessed and loses his compassion for humanity in exchange for the “greater good”. There is no way that Katniss would ever love Gale after the decisions he made and murders that he put into place. Peeta is the only one that was in the arena with Katniss both times and the only one that truly understands.

PS – I agree with Renata though, what she really needs is a good therapist and a white padded room for awhile.

May 13, 2011

Friday Feud: Gale vs Peeta!

Sandy and I decided to try out a new feature called FRIDAY FEUD. Gotta get down (with YA literature) on Friday.

Our first feud comes from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Which, if you haven’t read it yet, you’re probably a really boring person. I just don’t know how else to say it.

In case you haven’t read it, I will warn you that this post is full of SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE TRILOGY! But if you want to read on anyway, a quick intro: the Hunger Games books are set in a weird dystopia where every year, each district is required to send two children to fight to the death against children from other districts. It serves both as reality entertainment–the games are broadcast and are the most popular show on the air–and as a way to keep the people scared and under control.

Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games. She’s accompanied by Peeta Mellarck, the relatively well-off baker’s son who she doesn’t know very well. Katniss is well-prepared for the games, having grown up illegally hunting in the woods with her late father and her best friend, Gale Hawthorne.

Gale and Peeta

Left: Liam Hemsworth (Gale). Right: Josh Hutcherson (Peeta)

Gale is rough and manly and woodsy! Peeta is gentle and shy and artistic! And they are both so totally in love with Katniss. And Katniss, well, she is basically over it. She just wants to save her sister and have people leave her the eff alone.

So, Team Gale or Team Peeta? I think Team Peeta is more popular–at least, among people I know. And, of course, Mockingjay ends with Katniss and Peeta together. I don’t have strong feelings either way, honestly. I like the Hunger Games trilogy for its political intrigue, and not so much for the romance. And if you ask me, Katniss doesn’t need a boyfriend, she needs a therapist. But for the sake of FRIDAY FEUD I will stick up for Gale.

Gale and Katniss have a history. Gale’s the one Katniss trusts with taking care of her family, with her secrets. She and Gale are both hardened and traumatized by the war. They are both warriors in a way that I don’t think Peeta understands. Let me revisit the epilogue to Mockingjay, which I found pretty disturbing:

It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree [to have children]. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it. Carrying him was a little easier, but not much.

What? Come on, Peeta, Katniss should not have kids. Homegirl is too traumatized for that business. You should know better. Gale wouldn’t pull that.

Opposites may attract, but lasting relationships tend to be built on similarities. Katniss and Gale could have had a good thing.

May 12, 2011

Literary Moms

In honor of Mother’s Day, how about some fictional moms?

(NOTE: I started writing this on Mother’s Day and then got distracted and never finished it. But, you know what? In the Dominican Republic, Mother’s Day is the last Sunday in May, so I’m early for that. Also, you should love your mom every day!)

Unfortunately, it’s hard to come up with too many great moms in YA fiction, since YA books nearly always kill or marginalize the parents. This is understandable from a narrative perspective–it really forces teen protagonists to take action if they know they can’t count on help from their parents. But it makes it hard to write Mother’s Day blog entries.

So, the top fictional moms in my book (ha!) come from what should probably be called children’s literature, not young adult literature. But whatevs! It’s all good.

1) Marmee from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Until re-reading this as an adult, I never really realized how very religious Marmee and the March girls are! That is okay, though. It’s just how they roll. Marmee is such a sweet, hardworking lady. She knows how to encourage her daughters to make it through some rough times without going all Tiger Mom on them. Like, remember when she gave them a week without chores so they would realize on their own how terrible it was when the house was so messy? Great parenting, Marmee.ILU Marmee

2) Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Smart, brave, and up to the task of mothering insecure Meg, child prodigy Charles Wallace, and average-ish twins Sandy and Dennys. All this while her husband is being held prisoner on the planet Camazotz and their small-minded neighbors assume he’s left her for another woman. But, please, who would leave Kate Murry?

3) Lowercase will grayson’s mom from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. (Sorry–I don’t remember her name and can’t find it online. It might not have been mentioned.) I love her response when will comes out to her, and I love the way she helps him through his breakup as best she can. She hasn’t had the easiest life herself, but she’s got will’s back.

Then, because I kept thinking of them while I was trying to come up with good moms, here are some of the worst moms in children’s and YA fiction:

1) Renee from the Twilight saga. Flaky, annoying, childish, and responsible for creating Bella Swan, the most irritating female protagonist since, like, ever.

2) The Other Mother from CoPlease keep those buttons away from me!raline by Neil Gaiman. Sure, she seems nice at first, but then it turns out she wants perfect conformity and obedience. Oh, and to replace your eyes with buttons.

3) Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Obviously, she’s horribly cruel to her nephew Harry. But she really wasn’t doing Dursley any favors by spoiling him so much. He turned out fat, mean-spirited, and generally awful–not that Petunia will ever see it that way.

Who are your favorite or least favorite literary moms?

May 5, 2011

“Teens will like”

I was just perusing Goodreads and saw this beginning on one of the reviews. “Teen will like” and then later “Teens will identify” – and I’m not sure why, but that really bothers me, though I’m sure I’m guilty of it as well. Obviously, as a writer of YA I want to write novels that teens will like, but if I spend too much time thinking about their likes and dislikes, my story will get lost. Because lets face is, not all teens like the same thing. In fact, the reason there are so many different “cliques” in high school is because teens are so different. Is there any book/movie/song that every person likes? If there was, there would be a backlash as soon as people started talking about it. (Even Harry Potter has his naysayers, though those people are obviously unhappy in their general lives). My point is, to say “Teens will like this novel” is a huge generalization.

For an adult to even try and guess what teens will like is patronizing. I believe that for every teen, reader or no, there is a right book and for every book there is the right reader. For example, I just finished reading K.L. Going’s King of the Screwups which was in fact where I found the quote that offended me. Sorry “Darlene” on Goodreads, but you put yourself out there – here’s her quote, copy and pasted  “Teens will like this YA novel about a boy who just can’t seem to do anything right, even when he’s deliberately trying to do things wrong!” And a kid with a not-so-nice dad may have a different reaction to a kid with a great relationship with his father.

That’s great that you think teens will like it, but did you? You were the reader, weren’t you? Yes teens may have been Going’s intended audience, but if an adult reads it, they bring an entirely different lens to the story. I enjoyed the novel, felt for Liam and as an adult worried about his future. His father is emotionally abusive to both him and his mother, but that term is never used. His father is consistently disappointed in him, but he never realizes that no matter what he did it would not be good enough. Eighteen years of this weighs on Liam’s self-esteem, though fortunately,  he inherited his mother’s good looks and charismatic personality. This seems to be a big reason why his father treats him the way he does, but that is left for the reader’s interpretation. His father kicks him out and Liam goes to live with his estranged cross-dressing “Aunt Pete” and tries everything he can to be the son he thinks his father wants, but he can’t change who he is, so he feels he even fails at that.

I can’t imagine how a teen will feel about this novel – would they get that years of emotional abuse will effect Liam for the rest of his life, or will they enjoy the story at its surface, as our friend Denise says “about a boy who just can’t seem to do anything right, even when he’s deliberately trying to do things wrong!” My prediction is that it will depend on the teen, and their own experiences, and that is something you can’t predict.

May 4, 2011

Retro YA: “The Outsiders”

I discussed in my first post about finding that Judy Blume novel on my sister’s shelf made me a reader, but it was another tattered book that I read that made me obsessed. That one was S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel (one of, if not the first “YA” ever) The Outsiders.

The cute Greasers of The Outsiders. Check out Tom Cruise's original teeth!

Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t remember if I saw the movie first or read the book first. I know one happened quickly after the other. And let’s face it, there were a lot of cute guys in that movie. (left to right in the photo, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise . It was the Twilight of the 80s, they even line up and stand around waiting for a big fight at the end of the movie. I do know that I forced every one of my friends to watch the movie with me and/or read the book. By the time we read it in 7th grade Reading, most of the girls in my class had read/analyzed and obsessed over it.

My 12-year old niece broke my heart when she told me she had to read the novel in her 7th grade class and she hated it. She said it was boring. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t hold up, it is over forty years old now. Do teenagers have the same intense feelings they had in the late 60s? Would Ponyboy be able to exist today in an age of cell phones and the internet? The whole essence of the novel is the strong relationship between the Curtis brothers and their friends. Their parents were killed, so they make their own family. When Pony runs away after his oldest brother hits him, a cell phone would have solved the conflict instantly- there would be no story at all.

The is a reason The Outsiders has a special place in my heart. My friend and I would write stories about the characters (usually making ourselves their girlfriends, but what can you do).  I wrote more back story for the other boys in the gang that as readers we only get glimpses of. It was fan fiction at its most pure, because it was before I knew such a word existed and the only people I was writing for was my friend and myself. It, however, sent me on a lifelong path of writing primarily adolescent boy characters and being interested in the “bromance” between guys. I love watching males bond and become friends and I love writing about that. I think The Outsiders has a big part of that.