Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z: Paul Zindel & THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY

"You see, my mother and father never even touch each other, which makes me wonder how on earth I ever was born. I figure it was just an accident- they both happened to be walking around the bedroom nude and they made a mistake and tripped." - Paul Zindel, THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY (HarperTrophy, YA)

When I was a young kid, I frequently tagged along with my older sister to the library's teen section (they didn't even call it YA then).  I remember Paul Zindel's books were always in the Z section. I read his book THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY ages ago. This book is a sequel to a first book, THE PIGMAN, which I don't remember if I read. THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY is about two teens, John and Lorraine, a pair of friends who meet the Colonel, a senior citizen living in the same home where another senior the teens once knew had lived. (That other senior died in the first book.) At first, the Colonel doesn't seem very friendly but he eventually warms up. John and Lorraine set the Colonel up with Dolly, a lady who works in their school cafeteria. Soon after the Colonel and Dolly meet, John and Lorraine learn that the Colonel is dying. He has always known this. After marrying Dolly on his deathbed, the Colonel dies. The story ends when John and Lorraine are walking through the hospital past the nursery with the newborns. Here, John tells Lorraine he wants to spend his life with her.

My description probably gives the impression this is a sad and somber story. But much of the story is actually told with humor, as demonstrated in one of John's quotes shared at the top of the post here. I believe  humor is a weapon that some of us cultivate to better deal with the pain we experience in our lives.

Have you read THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY? Have you ever used humor to cope with something difficult?

And that's my last post for this month's Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Thanks to all of you who visited and supported my blog this month! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y: Laurence Yep & DRAGONWINGS

"I get the ideas from everything. Children sometimes think you have to have special experiences to write, but good writing brings out what's special in ordinary things." -Laurence Yep

Lawrence Yep's DRAGONWINGS (HarperCollins, MG) begins in 1903 when Moon Shadow, 8, leaves the only home he has known in China to live with his father, Windrider, who has been working in San Francisco to support his family.  Everything about America- the food, the houses, the people- fascinates Moon Shadow. Although Moon Shadow and Windrider regularly experience racism, they also make friends with the kind Miss Whitlaw her niece, Robin. Despite the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, Moon Shadow and Windrider hold onto their gumption and work three years to build an airplane named Dragonwings that Windrider flies in 1910. 

While I've read a number of historical fiction stories set in the early 20th century San Francisco with the predictable Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (recorded magnitude: 7.8), the depiction of the 1906 earthquake in DRAGONWINGS is what I consider a very credible interpretation of an earthquake. I might be a more particular reader when it comes to earthquake fiction because I was a young child living in the City of San Francisco when, during the World Series, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit (recorded magnitude: 6.9). 63 people died, thousands were injured, an East Bay freeway collapsed, as did a part of the Bay Bridge. I was at home when it happened- I was reaching for something on a shelf when I felt the first shake. What a strange day it was, how things happened quickly and slowly at the same time, and how things were irreversibly changed for some, but remained the same for others...And in DRAGONWINGS, after Moon Shadow and Windrider help others in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, they might momentarily forget that that they're foreigners in a new country until a police officer demands that the two aren't allowed to dine with a white woman. I think this part of the story shows that in spite of the changes going on around the father and son, some things still remain the same.

Have you read DRAGONWINGS? Have you ever been in a natural disaster? If so, what do you remember about it?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X: Antoine St.Expuery & THE LITTLE PRINCE

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”  -Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

I'm cheating a little here. I enjoyed Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE (Harcourt, MG) when I was a kid, and part of the author's name makes the X sound. So, close enough. The story is about a prince from outer space dishing to a pilot about the asteroids he has visited and who he met there- a bossy king ruling no one, a vain man only hearing praise, a drunk person drinking to forget he was an alcoholic, a businessman laying claim on the stars, a lamplighter following instructions without question, and a geographer refusing to explore.

If this book is a Buzzfeed article, it would be titled "6 Types of Contradictory People You'd Meet in the Universe." Told with a delicate balance between dreaminess and cynicism, I found the little prince's observations similar to ironies I can't help noticing in some people when I'm feeling less dreamy and more cynical (no delicate balancing here). Contradictory people I notice include rude customer service employees, anti-bullying advocates who bully, leaders who are minions, dishonest people who preach integrity, people who have melodramatic meltdowns to show how "tough" they are, people who criticize others for the exact stuff that they themselves do...and the list goes on. 

Have you read  Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE? Let's get cynical! Are you familiar with any of the contradictory people I listed? Can you think of other examples?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W: Wilson Rawls & WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

“It's strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man's mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you've seen, or something you've heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.” -Wilson Rawls, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

When I was in junior high, I had a thick and heavy textbook in my English class. It was filled with short stories and it included the novel, Wilson Rawls's WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (Yearling, MG), historical fiction about a man Billy remembering his childhood when he was boy who hunted raccoons with his pet hounds at night. One day we had a substitute and she assigned the first few chapters of RED FERN for reading homework. When the real teacher came back, I was disappointed she didn't assign any more reading chapters. (The other kids were relieved but I was a book worm even then!) 

Since junior high, I have read RED FERN from cover to cover. The setting of the Ozarks in Cherokee land was beautifully illustrated. Within this setting, two things struck me: One, religion was comfortably woven into RED FERN. I've heard from industry professionals that working religion into kidlit is a risky thing to do, how it might affect market interest. But RED FERN has been out since 1961 and it's still considered a classic. And two, the setting was considered safe enough for Billy to be out alone at night with his hounds while he hunted. Once, Billy even stayed out overnight without telling his parents. And Billy was considered a good kid and his parents, good parents. I can't imagine most parents today allowing their 'tweens and even teens to stay out like this alone, even if the area is supposed to be "safe." It's interesting to see the contrast between what was considered acceptable parenting back then versus what's acceptable today.

Have you read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS? What are your thoughts about religion in fiction?  What other contrasts between acceptable parenting during the good ole days versus now can you think of?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V: Cecily von Ziegesar & GOSSIP GIRL

"I never once said that I was writing books with guidelines for how to live. I mean, they’re fiction, and I think that’s the role of fiction: to entertain. And I don’t care whether it’s for children or for adults. That’s what fiction is about: escaping into another world. I absolutely hate kids’ books that have lessons telling kids how to behave. For me, that is not the role of fiction at all."- Cecily Von Ziegesar
Cecily Von Ziegesar's GOSSIP GIRL (Little, Brown, YA) centers around the lives of teens, most who live in New York City's Upper East Side. In this world, affluent teens consume alcohol alongside their parents, shop at Barneys and receive Kate Spade handbags as party favors. Here, you're only a "somebody" when you're being gossiped about so an anoymous web site called Gossip Girl dishes gossip about some of these teens' lives.

In the beginning of the book, Blair, a high school queen bee, is ready to lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend Nate while her socialite mother is throwing some bash in their home. But Serena, Blair's former best friend, crashes the event and interrupts them- Serena just got kicked out of boarding school in Europe and has returned to the Big Apple. Turns out that Serena and Nate lost their virginity to each other back in the tenth grade but Blair doesn't know that for most of the book until she and Nate are ready to try having sex again...and then Nate tells her the truth.

You know that so-called writing advice about making your characters, especially the female ones, likable and good role models with their every thought and action? Without apology, Cecily Von Ziegesar breaks this rule. Her characters are not always likable. But they're believable and interesting, and that is what's more important to me from a reader's perspective. I can also see how some of these characters' questionable behavior stems from their pursuit of loyalty and acceptance and their fear of rejection and betrayal. That is the universal rhythm of how many teens (and adults and children) tick inside. And you don't have to be from the Upper East Side to relate to that.

Have you read GOSSIP GIRL? Do you find books with subliminal lessons on "the proper way to think and behave" patronizing to the reader?

Monday, April 25, 2016

U: Ursula Nordstrom & THE SECRET LANGUAGE

This month, I've been doing the Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger.

"I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing." -Ursula Nordstrom

Ursula Nordsrom's THE SECRET LANGUAGE (HarperTrophy, MG) is probably one of the first older girl books I've read. My sister owned a used copy of the book. I was around second grade when I borrowed it to read and was thrilled I was reading a book with chapters. THE SECRET LANGUAGE is a book about a girl named Victoria who is sent away to live in a boarding school. A homesick Victoria befriends Martha, who teaches her a secret language where phrases like "leebossa" means great and "ickenspick" refers to something silly

Boarding school stories tend to fascinate me, possibly because I had a strict upbringing and didn't always feel I had the freedom to do the mischievous things that children living in a boarding school could do, such as planning a secret midnight feast, depicted in this book.

Have you read THE SECRET LANGUAGE? If you had a choice to attend boarding school when you were a child, would you have chosen to go?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T: Amy Tan & THE JOY LUCK CLUB

"People talk about this 'bucket list’: 'I need to go to this country, I need to skydive…’ Whereas I need to think as much as I can, to feel as much as I can, to be conscious and observe and understand me and the people around me as much as I can." - Amy Tan 

I read Amy Tan's THE JOY LUCK CLUB (Turtleback, Adult) when I was in high school. The book features the mothers and daughters in several Chinese American families.The scene I still remember is the Chinese New Year crab dinner, hosted by June and her parents. Invited to the dinner are Lindo and Tin Jong and their daughter Waverly, a successful professional working at Price Waterhouse and former chess champion. 

When the two were children, Waverly had said to June, "You aren't a genius like me" after June botched a piano recital.  As adults, Waverly still torments June. During dinner, Waverly compliments June's hair, and in the same breath, she hints that June's stylist could give her AIDS. Waverly recommends her hair dresser to June and then implies that June might not be able to afford him. Finally June points out that Waverly's company hasn't paid her yet for her freelance writing work. Waverly smugly responds that the quality of June's writing isn't good enough by her company's standards. Waverly demonstrates that in spite of her looking-good-on-paper accomplishments, she is an awful dinner guest. 

Being Chinese American, I feel particularly connected to this scene because it hits home. I've known people who behave like Waverly. The scene also shows the petty rivalries that can sometimes occur internally among members of a community, such as this story's Chinese American community. What I feel is behind this is an unspoken perception, true or false, that there's not enough of a resource to go around among the group. Approval and recognition for Chinese females, for example. 

Have you read THE JOY LUCK CLUB? Have you ever hosted a terrible guest?

Friday, April 22, 2016

S: April Sinclair & COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK

“And another thing, Carla, good people come in all colors and types, just the same as bad people. But you're just too scared to find that out!” -April Sinclair, COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK

April Sinclair's COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK (Harper Collins, Adult ) is considered adult fiction though it tells the story of an African American girl named Stevie from ages 12 to 16 living in Chicago from 1965 to 1970. The story begins with 'tween Stevie asking her mother what a virgin is. When Stevie is 16, she tries to lose her virginity to her boyfriend but couldn't go through with it. Her boyfriend breaks up with her and her best friend harshly tears into her for not giving in to the boyfriend. At the end of the book, Stevie considers that she might be attracted to a woman. 

What makes COFFEE memorable to me is that it's one of the first books I've read where the main protagonist has to struggle with both racial issues and her sexuality simultaneously. I read the sequel too.

While I lived in San Francisco, I saw April Sinclair once. (Her bio says she lives in the Bay Area.) My nerves took over and I didn't know what to say or do. So I just smiled at her in passing, and she smiled back. To this day, I still regret not stopping to tell her how much I enjoyed her books. 

Have you read April Sinclair's COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK? Have you ever had a friend who was unsupportive at a time when you needed support?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R: Ray Bradbury & ALL SUMMER IN A DAY

“Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it's up to you to know with which ear you'll listen.” -Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451

Ray Bradbury's short story, ALL SUMMER IN A DAY, was first published in the March 1954 issue of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. The story is about a group of nine year-old schoolchildren living on Venus, where it rains 24/7. On this planet, the sun appears very briefly only once every seven years. Most children living here don't remember having ever seen the sun, which feels almost like a myth to them. Margot, one of the schoolchildren, knows the sun because she lived on Earth before moving to Venus. On the long-awaited day when the cherished sun is supposed to appear on Venus, Margot dreamily shares her memories of the sun with her classmates. It is clear that she misses the sun and her old home on Earth. The children accuse Margot of lying about the sun's existence and forcibly lock her inside a closet. The teacher is unaware that Margot is missing and the children soon forget about her. When the sun finally appears, the children enjoy a couple of glorious hours playing outside. When the sun disappears and it rains again, the children remember Margot and let her out of the closet. The sun will not return here for seven years. 

Contrary to the notion that victims of bullying are often lacking in a prized area, I feel that bullying victims are often quietly regarded to have an advantage over others in some way. I believe the kids were hating on Margo because she has known the bliss of being regularly pampered with the sun's light and heat while they have not. Her knowledge and experience might've made the others feel inadequate. 

Have you read ALL SUMMER IN A DAY? What do you think is a suitable punishment for the children, perhaps even the teacher, in this story? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q: ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE

"In 1941, [former editor-in-chief Frederic Dannay] explained his manifesto for ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE as being to "raise the sights of mystery writers generally to a genuine literary form," to "encourage good writing among our colleagues by offering a practical market not otherwise available," and to "develop new writers seeking expression in the genre." -from www.themysteryplace.com/eqmm/

By now, you might've noticed that I liked to read in the suspense and mystery genre when I was younger (still do, among other stuff). A magazine I occasionally thumbed through was ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Lots of short murder mysteries and opportunities for writers to submit stuff. Regretfully, I haven't kept most stuff, including magazines, I owned in my youth. So I don't presently have any ELLERY QUEEN magazines to refer to specifically. Sifting through vintage EQ covers online, I chose this cover. Though I don't remember reading this particular magazine, the cover is interesting enough for me to perhaps look into purchasing a used copy. Many EQ covers come with a cryptic tone, and this one's no different. The holiday decorations and the man in the chef hat hint at a seasonal food themed mystery. In my writing life, I'm working on a food novel with a mystery component, though it's not a murder mystery, as is what's shown here. 

Have you ever read the ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE? What magazines did you read when you were younger?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P: Susan Beth Pfeffer & THE YEAR WITHOUT MICHAEL

"Playing with an idea is completely different from writing a book. I've been playing with an idea for a book that wouldn't even be all that hard to write for months now, and I haven't noticed myself scurrying to the computer and setting up a brand new doc. But I do love playing with ideas, so I've been letting myself enjoy this one." - Susan Beth Pfeffer @ susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com

Susan Beth Pfeffer's THE YEAR WITHOUT MICHAEL is about a girl named Jody and her family trying to survive an unexpected loss. In the beginning of the story, Jody's brother Michael leaves home for the softball field but he disappears along the way. At first, the police believe Michael ran away. But of course, he could've also been kidnapped. The parents hire a private detective, but no leads turn up. The family is tormented and heartbroken as they wait for Michael's return...or news. But nothing comes. After a year without Michael, Michael hasn't returned. The tone of the ending suggests that he would probably never return. 

I read this book a number of times. I liked reading the parts when Michael was still physically present in the story...When I was in junior high, I did an oral report on this book.  When I finished giving my report, a few of my classmates shared that they thought, from the book's title, that Michael would return after being missing for a year. I told them no, my story was about how a family survived the first year after one of their own goes missing. I still remember the room was quiet for a moment as my junior high classmates processed that some stories don't have happy endings.

Have you read THE YEAR WITHOUT MICHAEL? How does one heal from a terrible tragedy? 

Monday, April 18, 2016

O: Joyce Carol Oates & FOXFIRE

This month, I'm doing the Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger.

"Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort- these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work." - Joyce Carol Oates

FOXFIRE (Dutton, Adult)  is the first novel I read by Joyce Carol Oates, and it's one of the darker stories I'm sharing here this month. The story takes place during the 1950s in upstate New York. One of the first scenes depicts a junior high girl named Rita who is lured by her younger brothers to a clubhouse built by older neighborhood boys. Once inside, it's implied that Rita is gang raped. She returns home alone, bleeding and crying. Her mother takes a look at her and slaps her, refusing to hear about what has just happened. Rita goes on to join Foxfire, a girl gang led by a charismatic girl named Legs. Later, when a male teacher fondles Rita during detention, the Foxfire girls vandalize his car and call him out for his behavior. The teacher soon retires.

The story is told from the perspective of Maddy, another Foxfire member. Maddy wants a typewriter. While bargaining with a man to sell her the typewriter that he intends to throw away, the man tries to sexually assault Maddy. Maddy tells the Foxfire girls about what happened and then she returns to this guy. While he undresses, the girls emerge. They beat him until he passes out. Maddy leaves some money behind and then snatches the typewriter. 

Told with a gritty honesty, FOXFIRE challenges the 1950s as being a gentler time when parents were thought to be more nurturing, families were more solid, and girls were more docile and safe from sexual assault. Reading this book also made me think of Lois Duncan's DAUGHTERS OF EVE, though I'd say that FOXFIRE is darker with much more sexually explicit language and content. Interestingly, I found this book in the MG section of a library when I was a teen. It is currently marketed as adult fiction, though it could also be considered YA. But a MG book this is not. 

Have you read FOXFIRE?  What do you think about when you think of the 1950s?
Have you ever strongly felt that a book's intended age group has been wrongly classified?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N: Natalie Babbit & TUCK EVERLASTING

"The question of what it might be like to live forever is something that everyone thinks about. And I think you think about it more when you find out you can't do it. It's an idea that's been sitting around in my head for a lot of years."  -Natalie Babbitt

Natalie Babbit's TUCK EVERLASTING is about a 'tween girl named Winnie who meets the Tuck family and learns they have been cursed with immortality after drinking water from a magical spring near her home many years ago. The elders in the Tuck family warn Winnie about drinking the water, that not being able to die and being stuck living forever was really a wretched thing. Still, Jesse Tuck, who is forever 17, secretly asks Winnie to wait until she is his age to drink the magic water so they could be together. When the Tuck family have to go on the run, the moral dilemma Winnie encounters is whether she should drink the water. 


The epilogue shows Winnie's tombstone 60 years later. She went on to be a wife and a mother... and she didn't drink the water. It was a wise choice on Winnie's part, and possibly not an easy one to make. Sometimes wise choices are not necessarily easy choices. 

Have you read TUCK EVERLASTING? How would your life change if you found out you are immortal?

Friday, April 15, 2016

M: Marilyn Sachs & HELLO...WRONG NUMBER

"When I grew up, I found that I had become a great expert on bullies, and my books are full of them." -Marilyn Sachs 

I read Marilyn Sachs's HELLO...WRONG NUMBER (Scholastic, YA) when I was in grade school. The story, told strictly in dialogue, starts with Angie calling for a hot boy she likes named Jim. The boy she calls is named Jim, but she dialed a wrong number. This Jim and Angie attend the same high school, but haven't met. Angie keeps calling Jim to talk. Two weeks into these phone calls, Jim sings a song to Angie and confesses his love. Around this time, Angie jokes about a boy with a big nose at her school who has been following her around. She's unaware of how uncomfortable her shallowness makes Jim. 

Angie finds out that the boy with the big nose is Jim, her phone buddy. She also learns from talking to Jim's ex-girlfriend that Jim lied to her about some stuff. The ex-girlfriend said she broke up with Jim, but Jim told Angie he broke up with his ex-girlfriend. Jim also told Angie he is a professional musician, but in reality, he is too shy to even try out for chorus. That sort of stuff.  Angie angrily confronts Jim. Jim says he wanted her to think he was someone special. At the end of the story, the two meet and talk for nine hours. After their talk, they talk on the phone again and Angie tells Jim she loves him too. 

This book is one of many light teen romances I read back in the day. For both their sakes, I'm relieved that Jim isn't a sex offender and Angie isn't a Fatal Attraction-type stalker. 

Have you read HELLO...WRONG NUMBER? Could you be in a relationship with someone who once shallowly judged you by your appearance or lied to you to make themselves look cooler?  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L: Lael Littke & PROM DRESS

"I usually know how a novel will begin and end, but in between I more or less fly by the seat of my pants. I hate outlining."- Lael Littke

Ready for another creepy prom story? In Lael Littke's PROM DRESS (Scholastic Point, YA), an old lady shares that she has a scar on her face from wearing a bad luck prom dress. Nonetheless, her prom dress is stolen or "borrowed"  from her attic by a girl, a talented dancer. The dancer wears the dress to her prom and gets into an accident that severely injures her legs. From hereon, every time a girl sees that prom dress, they end up stealing it and then something bad happens to them. At the end of the story, the old lady who owned the dress confessed that many years ago, she started making the dress for her prom. But the guy she was crushing on asked her twin sister, considered prettier, to prom instead. She cursed the dress while she finished making the dress for her sister. When her sister returned from prom, she threw acid at her sister's face so her sister would be less attractive than she was. Here, readers learn she is not the sister who got the scar from wearing the bad luck prom dress. That sister died in a fire years ago and the creepy sister returned to their old home pretending to be the other sister...At the end of the story, we see that the dress ends up in a store and a girl who wants it badly shoplifts it...

For some high school girls, prom is the quintessential event that acknowledges their elevation from girl to woman. But the event can come with a lot of planning. Who will my date be? What if the guy I want to go with asks someone else? Where will we have dinner? Should we book a limo? What will I wear? What if someone wears the same dress I do and wears it better? How will I afford all this? This novel takes some of these questions and blows it up into something bigger and darker.

Have you read PROM DRESS? Did you attend your prom? If so, what memories do you have?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K: Stephen King & CARRIE

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”- Stephen King

CARRIE (Pocket, YA/Adult) is one of the first Stephen King books I read. The story is about a young girl who uses her telekinetic powers to start a fire at her prom. The fire kills the high school classmates who have humiliated her and the teachers who have stood by while she suffered.

While there are many things about CARRIE that are troubling- a uber-religious lunatic mother, school bullies, and being drenched in pig blood at prom- what drew my heaviest sigh is Carrie's obliviousness to Sue's intent to be her friend until the damage Carrie caused is irreversible. If Carrie knew Sue wanted her to go to the prom with her boyfriend Tommy because Sue genuinely wanted to do something nice for Carrie, I believe the ending of the story could've been different. It is important for those who are drowning in loneliness and despair to know someone cares. 

Have you read CARRIE? If you had telekinetic powers, what would you do with them?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J: Joan Lowery Nixon & THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK

For the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this month, I am blogging about authors whose work, mostly YA, I read when I was younger. 

"I wish that when I was young I had asked my parents and grandparents to tell more and more stories about their lives before I became part of them. I wish I had listened intently so that I could remember each and every word. I wish I had written their stories to keep forever." -Joan Lowery Nixon, THE MAKING OF A WRITER

The first Joan Lowery Nixon book I read is THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK (Delacorte, YA)  When the story begins, Stacy, 17, wakes up from a coma. She learns she has been in a coma for four years after being shot in her backyard by an intruder when she was 13. Stacy is devastated to learn that the intruder also shot and killed her mother. Only Stacy can identify her mother's killer, if only she could remember who he was. The killer knows Stacy has woken from her coma and is one of the many people now reaching out to her...

While grieving the loss of her mother, Stacy also mourns the loss of four years. People around her are not the same as she remembered them. Her older sister got married and is now pregnant. Her best friend has another best friend. Even her own body seems foreign to her, as she has physically transformed from a girl into a woman while in the coma.

Have you read THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK? If you had to fall into a coma for four years, what and who do you hope to wake up to?

Monday, April 11, 2016

I:Isaac Asimov & EVIDENCE

"Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments." -Isaac Asimov

Today I'm sharing about a short story found in Issac Asimov's I, ROBOT (Spectra, Adult). Disclaimer: I've read only that one story in the book. The short story I'm referring to is EVIDENCE, a tale about political mudslinging before a mayoral election. (Here I am, discussing political mudslinging during a presidential election year...)  In the story, a lawyer named Stephen Byerley is running for mayor. A political rival accuses Stephen, who has never been seen eating or drinking, of being a robot. And robots, by law, cannot run for political office. When Stephen demonstrates that he can eat an apple, a robopsychologist wonders if he is simply a robot with a built-in stomach. 

To further prove that Stephen is human, there must be evidence of him harming another human because robots, by their own law, cannot harm humans. When Stephen is giving a campaign speech out in public, a man challenges him to hit him. So Stephen strikes him and proves he is human. After Stephen is elected mayor, the robopsychologist visits him. She tells him that his political rival believed Robot Stephen took his intelligence from The Real Stephen, once severely injured in car accident. Stephen reminds her that he harmed a human, something robots cannot do. The robopsychologist reminds him about the law's loophole, which is that a robot can hit another robot masquerading as a human. Maybe the heckler Stephen hit was his plant. Then she leaves. 

The short story doesn't reveal whether Stephen is indeed a robot or a human. If he is indeed a human, his promise to protect the rights of humans accused of being a robot makes him seem noble. But if he is a robot serving in a public office meant for a human, that very claim could mean that he is using deceit to serve the interests of robots. So I don't know what to make of this protagonist.

Have you read EVIDENCE? How would you react if you found out that an elected public official you either like or don't like is actually a robot?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H: S.E. Hinton & THE OUTSIDERS

"Every teenager feels that adults have no idea what's going on. That's exactly the way I felt when I wrote THE OUTSIDERS." -S.E. Hinton

Reading S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS (Speak, YA) around the beginning of junior high, I felt I was shadowing "older bad boys." In the book, there are two rival gangs- the Greasers and the Socs. Ponyboy is a Greaser. The catalyst occurs when big brother Darry hits Ponyboy, prompting Ponyboy to run away from home. Ponyboy joins fellow Greaser Johnny. Johnny ends up killing a Soc to save Ponyboy. Now the boys have to go on the run...

This book gave me my earliest exposure to Robert Frost's poetry. Ponyboy recites "Nothing Gold Can Stay" as he and Johnny are watching a sunrise. I remember being enamored by the poem and saddened by Johnny's final words to Ponyboy, "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold..." 

In the back of one of the newer editions of THE OUTSIDERS, S.E. Hinton shares she started writing the book when she was 15 and finished when she was 16. That was also the year she got a D (yes, a D!) in creative writing at school. Nonetheless, according to S.E. Hinton's Wikipedia page, THE OUTSIDERS has gone on to sell more than 14 million super plus copies since its publication in 1967. 

Have you read THE OUTSIDERS? What's a subject you've thrived and excelled in despite a bad grade you received for it back in school?

Friday, April 8, 2016

G: Neil Gaiman & CORALINE

“You don't get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd.” -Neil Gaiman

CORALINE (William Morrow, MG) is the first Neil Gaiman book I read. The book is about a girl named Coraline who moves into a new apartment. One day she discovers a world in the neighboring apartment that strangely parallels what is in her own home-including the other mother and other father, who resemble her own parents, even though these other parents have buttons as eyes and paper white skin. The other parents ask Coraline to join their home permanently where she can always enjoy their good food (better than what she gets at home) and other luxuries. It's implied they might have to physically mutilate her if she were to become one of them. Coraline wisely rejects the invitation. 

In the story, Coraline remembers how her father once allowed himself to be stung by a swarm of wasps in order to save her from the predicament. She knows her parents love her. The book is about a child's faith in the love her real parents have for her, and this faith empowers her to reject the more glamorous but dark world the fake parents offer her.

Have you read CORALINE? Have you ever rejected acceptance?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F: Norma Fox Mazer & TAKING TERRI MUELLER

"Ideas come in every possible way you could imagine. I've had ideas come to me from dreams, from memories, conversations, news articles, letters, and certainly from plain old garden variety daydreams or fantasies." -Norma Fox Mazer

Norma Fox Mazer's TAKING TERRI MUELLER (William Morrow, YA) is about a girl named Terri, who has moved around quite a bit with her father. Now 13 years-old and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she is finding herself more curious about her mother who, says her father, died in a car accident when Terri was four. Otherwise, her father doesn't like discussing her mother. One day Terri goes through her father's things and finds out that her parents divorced a year after her mother had supposedly died. The truth comes out: Years ago, Terri's father kidnapped her and her mother is still alive and has been waiting on her return for the past eight years. Terri locates her mother, now living in Oakland, California and the two reunite, but after Terri makes her mother promise that her father won't get in trouble. At the end of the story, Terri must decide whether she should stay with her mother and get to know her family or return to her father, now waiting on her to return.

This book was published in 1981. If Terri's story actually occurred today, Terri and her mother could've found each other online, since neither Terri or her father have changed their names. Nonetheless, it's gratifying to read a good book, such as this one, showing how characters could problem solve before the Internet existed. But that said, now that we have the Internet, I do hope it can be a valuable resource for children to locate and connect with a parent and loved ones if they are in Terri's situation.

Have you read TAKING TERRI MUELLER? Can you name any pre-Internet books you've read where the problem solving would have been simplified if the Internet existed then?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E: Ellen Conford & A ROYAL PAIN

It's Insecure Writers Support Group day, which occurs on the first Wednesday of every month. This month, I'm excited to be part of the Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. This is not really an "insecurity," but as I'm writing this, I still have a few more posts to complete to fulfill this month's blogging challenge. So I hope to get to that when I have a spare moment!

“I am disturbed by the number of children and adults who have never experienced the joys of reading a book just for pleasure. Therefore, I write the kinds of books for children and teenagers that I liked to read at their age, books meant purely to entertain, to amuse, to divert." -Ellen Conford

A book I read more than once when I was a 'tween was Ellen Conford's A ROYAL PAIN (Scholastic, YA). Abby, 16, finds out she is really a European princess, that she was switched at birth with a commoner. After leaving the only family she has known behind in Kansas, she moves to a small European country, assumes the identity of a princess, and tries to get to know her new parents, the king and queen. She also has to live with the girl who had mistakenly taken her place, who is cold and unfriendly. While Abby crushes on a young journalist, she is stuck in some prearranged engagement to an unappealing prince. At the end, Abby learns there was a mix up and she was never a princess after all. 

This book feeds into the fantasy that young girls may have (whether they admit it or not) about being a princess. Here, the protagonist gets that proverbial wish fulfilled, and finds out that while being a princess has its perks, it also has drawbacks too. 

Have you read A ROYAL PAIN? Have you ever gotten something you wished hard for, and if so, was it everything you'd hoped for? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D: Lois Duncan & SUMMER OF FEAR

First, an announcement. I very randomly picked a winner for Andrea Alban's book giveaway for ANYA'S WAR. The winner is Chrys Fey! Chrys, Andrea and I will be in touch with you. Congratulations!

Onto today's post: 
"If there were a mile-high mountain of granite, and once every ten thousand years a bird flew past and brushed it with a feather, by the time that mountain was worn away, a fraction of a second would have passed in the context of Eternity." -Lois Duncan, STRANGER WITH MY FACE

In Lois Duncan's SUMMER OF FEAR (Laurel Leaf, YA), a teen named Rachel learns that her aunt and uncle and their employee died in a car accident out in the Ozarks. So her cousin Julia, pretty much a stranger, must come live with Rachel's family. That summer, Julia steals away Rachel's boyfriend and her best friend. While Rachel's family repeatedly come to Julia's defense, only Rachel and her beloved dog sense something amiss about Julia. Then Rachel's dog mysteriously dies. When Rachel stumbles across evidence that Julia used black magic on her dog, no one believes her claims that Julia is a witch. While Julia continues to taunt Rachel, Rachel decides to take action before more lives are lost. 

This book connects with the part of myself that understands how lonely it feels when someone I know is trouble wears a superficial mask of goodness and light for others. But on a more optimistic note, I've found that sometimes people do catch on. 

Have you read SUMMER OF FEAR? How were your summers like when you were a teen?

Monday, April 4, 2016

C: Christopher Pike & CHAIN LETTER

This month, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Each post will come with a quote and some details and thoughts about something I read by this author. Most featured stories will be YA, though there'll be a few exceptions sprinkled into the mix. The selected authors have an initial matching the assigned letter of the day.

“When you do something because you're angry, you almost always do the wrong thing.” -Christopher Pike, WITCH

CHAIN LETTER (Avon, YA) is the first Christopher Pike book I read.(A sequel came later but I will stick to details of the first book.) In CHAIN LETTER, a group of teens are riding in a car, they have been drinking, they get a little crazy, and the car hits a man out in the desert. When the teens get out, they see the man is dead. Panicking, the teens bury him. Some time later, the teens involved in the accident start getting messages from an unidentified person who claims to know about the sin they committed. This person, who calls himself the Caretaker, seems to know them personally. He demands that each teen perform various tasks (e.g. burn down the school) and when the teens disobey his orders, bad things happen. One teen disappears. Another is killed in a fire. At the end, the teens learn that one among their group is the Caretaker.

This book reminds us to be careful behind the wheel, whether we're drivers or passengers. Beyond that, it also asks: How well do you really know the people you call your friends? 

Have you read CHAIN LETTER? Have ever thought you knew someone and then later realized you really didn't?

Friday, April 1, 2016

B: Judy Blume & FOREVER

This month, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Each post will come with a quote and some details and thoughts about something I read by this author. Most featured stories will be YA, though there'll also be some MG and adult fiction sprinkled into the mix. The selected authors have an initial matching the assigned letter of the day.

"Do not let anyone discourage you. If they do, get angry, not depressed." - Judy Blume

I had the good fortune of hearing Judy Blume speak at an SCBWI conference a few years ago. She was so optimistic and encouraging. As a child, I loved TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING. The book I remember reading when I was older is FOREVER (Pan Macmillan, YA), a story about two teens who meet, fall in love, and they believe their love will be enough to keep them together forever....until it isn't. The story was simple but one, I imagine, that has parallels with a lot of true stories about firsts- first loves, first time sex, first break ups, and first heartbreaks.

Have you read FOREVER? What book detailing a "first" do you recommend?

A: Anonymous & GO ASK ALICE

This month, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Each post will come with a quote and some details and thoughts about something I read by this author. Most featured stories will be YA, though there'll also be some MG and adult fiction sprinkled into the mix. The selected authors have an initial matching the assigned letter of the day.

“I looked at the sky this morning and realized summer is almost gone which really made me sad because it doesn't seem as though it’s been here at all.” 
-Anonymous (a.k.a. Beatrice Sparks), GO ASK ALICE 

I read Anonymous's GO ASK ALICE (Simon & Schuster, YA) before I was even in high school. GO ASK ALICE is a first-person narrative about an unnamed girl whose life spirals downward when she becomes addicted to drugs. At the beginning of the book, there is a note from the editor that reads: GO ASK ALICE is based on the actual diary of a fifteen-year-old drug user." So back then, when I read the book, I took the story for real. I remember feeling a little sad to learn that the narrator died weeks later after her final diary entry.

Now that we have the Internet, I've learned that Anonymous is actually an author named Beatrice Sparks, and that the story behind GO ASK ALICE was fictional.

When I read the book as a kid, I remember feeling uncomfortable with certain details, but I don't remember the story as being terribly creepy as other books I've read. And that was when I believed the story was real. Having skimmed through the story recently as a parent, I feel much more troubled by some of the content, and that's me, aware that the story is fictional.  

Have you read GO ASK ALICE? Do you feel that being older and/or having children has made you more sensitive and prone to worry?