Wintertown by Stephen Emond

Described as “Garden State meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, Wintertown is a book I have been looking forward to reading. I am probably the world’s biggest “Garden State” fan, so it sounded perfect. Fortunately, I was not disappointed!

First, the structure of the book is unexpected. There are illustrations throughout the book, so upon first glance one might think it is a graphic novel. However, the prose is narrative. There are not a lot of illustrated YA novels out there and I think Wintertown will hit the sweet spot for many readers.  I am not a big fan of comics, but I found myself drawn to the comics at the beginning of each chapter.  In fact, I think I would read a graphic novel based on the comic strip!

Evan is preppy.  He is Ivy-League bound, works hard at school, and wants to make his parents happy.  His best friend Lucy moved away a few years ago, after her parents’ divorce, but Evan looks forward to her annual visit each winter.  But this year, something is different. New Lucy arrives in town  with short choppy dyed-solid-black hair. New Lucy suddenly has a nose piercing. Evan is shocked that she smokes and drinks now.  Even worse?  This New Lucy is always angry, quiet and moody. She no longer opens up to Evan and it’s like they aren’t even friends.

Evan is a good guy.  He knows that the real Lucy, Old Lucy, is buried somewhere beneath this new facade.  But after a few days he isn’t so sure.  He doesn’t know how to be her friend even though he is pretty sure she needs a friend more than ever right now.

The POV changes from Evan to Lucy halfway through the book and you get to see Lucy’s point-of-view.  While I did not particularly like Lucy, I appreciated the change.  Seeing the events of the book through her eyes softened my feelings toward her a bit.  She has had a hard life, one much harder than those around her realize.  Being “tough” is her coping strategy.  But she also wants to help Evan.  She needs to convince him that he has to take control of his future instead of letting his father dictate his life’s path.  But can she do that when she can’t even hold a real conversation with Evan?

This is a great coming of age story that will resonate with boys and girls.  The comic strips and illustrations add another dimension to the story that is very much appreciated.  The issues the characters experience are relatable and I think they will ring true for contemporary fans.  I look forward to sharing this with my readers.  Recommended for high school classroom libraries.

 

*ARC provided by the publisher

Alyssa Sheinmel Interview!

Today I am very happy to welcome author Alyssa Sheinmel to the blog.  Her realistic fiction books always grab me so when I was offered the opportunity to speak with her, I jumped on it. Her new book, The Lucky Kind is the story of Nick, a teen in New York who’s world is turned upside down when he learns that his father had a son whom he gave up for adoption. Suddenly, Nick doesn’t know who he is, and if he can trust his parents.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Alyssa! I read and loved The Lucky Kind  and I can’t wait to share it with my high school students. When you first got the idea for The Lucky Kind , what came first? Did characters come to you first, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

Well, first and foremost, thank you for reading and for sharing it with your students! I’m thrilled that you like the book.

The idea for this story had been percolating in my imagination for a while before I sat down to write it. From the beginning, I knew I was going to tell the story of someone on the periphery of adoption; not the person who gives up a child for adoption, and not the person who was given up. The story in my head was of a boy just outside of the experience of adoption, but who was nonetheless deeply affected by it. As far as Nick’s character, I didn’t really get to choose it; as The Lucky Kind took shape in my imagination, Nick’s voice – and through it,his character – came right along with it. It was always Nick’s story.


The Lucky Kind  and your previous book, THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN, are both set in New York City. What made you choose NYC as your setting?

I’m a big fan of writing what you know – or at least, writing some of what you know – so I always try to ground my stories in real details. For me, that meant placing The Lucky Kind in New York City. That’s where I went to high school, and those are the restaurants and movie theaters that I grew up going to, the subway I grew up taking, the streets I walked with my friends. That’s not to say I’d never write a book that takes place anywhere else. (I hope that I will!) But New York seemed like the natural setting for this story.


What is your routine like? Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I don’t write every day. Right now, writing fits into my life in bits and pieces – I fit it in around my day job, around walking my dog, even around silly things like the TV shows I want to watch and the friends I want to meet for dinner. So, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to when I write; though my favorite time to write is in the morning.


What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

Somewhere in between. I don’t outline, but I do make a lot of notes, from the minute I get an idea for a story. I generally begin with an idea about where my story is going to start, and where it will end, and a few of the plot points in between. But as I write, some of those plot points are almost always abandoned in favor the ones that manage to pop up along the way.

Your books are so perfect for teens of both genders. What inspired you to write for teens?

I never intentionally chose to write for teens; I just wanted to tell the stories that came to me to tell. But I do love writing for teens. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but I truly think that no books stay with you like the books you read when you’re young. I still remember the first chapter book I ever read (The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo), and I still remember how proud I was when I finished it, exactly where I was sitting in my grandmother’s house, my father at my side. I considered myself a reader from a fairly young age, but never more so than as a teenager. The books that I loved then are the books that I read over and over; I can recite passages of those books from memory to this day. Now, I try to write for the teenager that I was, who loved her books so much that she begged her mother for bookshelves the way most girls beg for clothes. (Though, I begged for plenty of clothes, too.)

And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Does gum count as a snack? I chew a lot of gum while I write. Sometimes I can’t start working until I have a piece of gum in my mouth (though I spit it out after about 60 seconds).


Thanks so much, Alyssa!  Readers, be sure to pick up a copy of her new book, The Lucky Kind , in bookstores today!  It’s fantastic and you can count on a review very soon.

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son is an interesting book.  It follows the same group of friends as her Saving Francesca, but it readers can pick up The Piper’s Son without reading  Saving Francesca  (I haven’t read it).  It walks the line between YA and adult, and some readers will definitely feel it is more adult than YA.  The story follows two members of the Finch-Mackee family- Tom and his aunt, Georgie.

I’ll let the flap cover do the summarizing:

homas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything’s broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

Marchetta weaves two stories together, alternating POV between Georgie and Tom.  From the outside, they seem to be very different, but over the course of the book it becomes clear that they are very similar, despite their age difference.  I found myself drawn more to Georgie, even though I could not personally identify with her struggle.  However, I it’s interesting to present teens with both a late-teens main character and a clearly adult character.  I don’t see it done very often and I am interested to see how my readers feel about it.

Marchetta is a fantastic writer.  She pulls you into the story word by word. Nothing happens quickly in The Piper’s Son, but that’s because it is not an action book.  It’s a book about people and about relationships.  It’s about picking up the pieces and trying to move on, even when it feels like you can’t.  It’s about the ways we react to tragedy in our lives, and the ways we shut out the people who love us most.  Marchetta is a gifted writer and I think The Piper’s Son will resonate with a lot of adult readers.  It’s the perfect crossover book.  Older teens will also gain a lot from reading her book.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher  

Opening the Gate: YA Books to “Hook” Adult Readers

One of my favorite parts of working at my new school has been exposing some of my colleagues to the great YA literature being published today.  Back in October, my AP biology colleague asked for a book recommendation because she loved my vast classroom library.  She listed a few books she enjoyed reading and I started thinking about great, literary historical fiction in YA.  Within a day or so I was handing her Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. She read it and loved it, passing it on to a few others to read, too!  A new YA fan was born.

I have also shared books with our guidance counselor, including Emma Donoghue’s Room: A Novel. My freshman biology colleague has been borrowing books since the school year started.  So far he has read the Hunger Games series and Bumped. He reads my blog and when a review catches his interest, I can count on a book request the next day. :)

Before spring break I received an email from one of our Spanish teachers. She was looking for some books to bring on her spring break road trip. Moments later, I ran into our AP biology teacher and she also asked for some books. I spent a few minutes during my prep gathering books and then acted as the “traveling librarian”, walking around the school and delivering books to that who requested them. The Spanish teacher received Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light and Judy Blundell’s Strings Attached. My AP Biology colleague took home Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution and Judy Blundell’s What I Saw And How I Lied.  I am so looking forward to hearing their thoughts after break!

My students love knowing that their teachers are reading and enjoying some of the same books they love.  Reading is a social activity, and students don’t just want to talk to their peers about the books they read.  They love having conversations about the ending of Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) with myself and their biology teacher.  They love knowing that they can recommend a book they enjoyed to their Spanish teacher or the teacher in charge of their free period.  That’s why my freshman colleagues and I decided to completely integrate our summer reading this summer.  All of the choices on the list touch on our various subject specialties and we also noted our own favorites.  I want to build this reading community from the beginning, with common texts and student choice.  I also want to continue exposing my colleagues to the fantastic YA literature that is being published today.

What YA books do you find yourself recommending to adults?

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

National Book Award winner Judy Blundell is one of my favorite authors.  What I Saw and How I Lied is one of my all-time favorite books and I love recommending it to my teens.  When I received an ARC of Blundell’s newest venture, Strings Attached, I was ecstatic. Within 24 hours I sat down with it and read it cover to cover. I immediately handed it to one of my students, who also read it cover to cover in less than a day.

Set in 1950, Strings Attached takes on a lot. It’s historical fiction, a mystery, a romance, and so much more. A summary can’t do the book justice. Yes, it’s about Kit Corrigan setting out on her own and trying to break into show business in New York City. It’s also about the gangsters who control so much of NYC and life up and down the East coast. It’s about class differences. It’s about depression and parental neglect. It’s about love, and what is true love. It’s about Broadway and music. About intrigue and deception, talent and determination.

What an evocative and atmospheric book! This is exactly what I love about Judy Blundell- her writing absolutely immerses you in the time and place of the book. I could smell the salt air in Providence, and smell the smoke in the NYC night clubs. I could hear the street noises outside Kit’s window and smell the coffee she brewed in her kitchen.  While reading, you are Kit, and you see what she sees and you hear what she sees.  The setting manages to overwhelm your senses at times, in an amazing way.

The chapters alternate, jumping from earlier in Kit’s life to her present situation. This nonlinear storytelling could throw some readers off at first, but within a few pages you are invested in Kit’s life and her story, and there is no going back. A slow-building story, it pulls you in, winding and twisting before ripping your heart out at the end. Upon finishing the book, my student rushed into my room and exclaimed, “I just screamed OUT LOUD in the lunch room! When I got to that part! AGH!”. She then stormed out of my room, still aghast. I felt the same way when I finished the book. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Blundell turns the story on its head and you are turning pages faster than you can read. Unbelievable. The suspense builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.

This is a book that teens and adults alike will love. I am recommending it to everyone I know. Go out and pick up a copy right now. Do not miss this book. It’s on my Printz and National Book Award list for this year.

Need some more convincing?  Check out this writing:

“We pack away lies in that house like you pack away Christmas. We put them in boxes and tape them over.”

“Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers.”

Sad News for the YA World

Back in January, author L.K. Madigan posted a heartbreaking entry on her blog.  After surviving breast cancer many years ago, she was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I watched a friend’s father fight pancreatic cancer and my heart broke for Lisa, her husband, and her son.  Pancreatic cancer is an awful, awful disease.

Today, I learned that Lisa lost her battle with cancer.  My heart is broken and I can’t imagine how her family is coping.  I did not know Lisa, but I felt like I did because I read her wonderful books and followed her blog.

Tonight, please hug your loved ones.

Cure Pancreatic Cancer

 

 

 

Buy Lisa’s books-

Morris Award Winner Flash Burnout

The Mermaid’s Mirror

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is on the edge, toes already over and the rest of her ready to fall forward. Two years ago, her little brother Truman was killed. In the ensuing years, her family split up, her mother has slowly lost her mind, and Andi has blamed herself for her brother’s death. When her father, a Nobel-Prize-winning geneticist, makes a surprise visit on account of Andi’s failing grades, he discovers just how deep her mother has retreated into herself. He immediately gets her into a treatment center and takes Andi with him on his business trip to France. He hopes that in Paris she will be able to concentrate on her thesis, a graduation requirement.

Andi is miserable in Paris, medicating herself with her pills in increasing dosages. The only thing that keeps her tethered to the earth (barely) is music. When her father’s friend shows her an antique guitar case, she is drawn to it. When she discovers a secret compartment in the case, a dusty diary falls out. It is here that we are introduced to Alexandrine Paradis, companion to Louis Charles, the young dauphin who was imprisoned as a child, walled up alive. Andi begins reading the diary and feels a strong connection with Alexandrine and the young prince, who reminds her of her brother. What ensues is a story of pain, of loss, of love, and finally hope.

This book is absolutely unbelievable. First of all, what a fantastic way to introduce teens to the French Revolution. I was hooked from the moment I read the first words in Alexandrine’s diary. And Andi…oh my gosh. It was like I was standing there next to her. That is how real she felt to me. And honestly, all of the characters are compelling. I fell in love with them all, even if I wanted to hate some of them, too.

I am not sure how I can convince you to go out and read Revolution right now. If you love historical fiction, this is for you. If you love teen characters who are actually real teens, then you will love Revolution. If you just want to immerse yourself in some of the best writing of the year, go get Revolution. If you want to shut out the world for a while and forget about everything else, pick up Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly is a genius.  My fingers are crossed that this book is on the list of Printz winners come January.  It sure as hell deserves it.

And hey, I already have a few students gushing over this. Really! Gushing over a book about the French Revolution. As one of them updated on Goodreads recently, “Still reading. I can not put this book down!”.

*ARC from BEA

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