See You at Harry’s: A YA Must Read

See You at Harry’s has been on my radar and on my TBR list for a few months now, thanks to my Nerdy Book Club friends via Twitter. I had to wait a few weeks after buying it last month before I could read it, but it was totally worth the wait.

I have been a big fan of Jo Knowles for a while now and loved her novel Lessons from a Dead Girl. You can read all about it here.  As I read See You at Harry’s, I began wearing various hats: mother, young teenage girl, sister, and writer. I experienced a slew of emotions as I continued reading, sometimes stopping because I had to catch my breath and let my eyes rest—not from strain, but from tears and swelling.

I feared I would run out of tissues.

This book touched my heart in ways not many books do. Knowles has an incredible talent for writing, and for getting to the heart of things, for tapping into our emotions, grabbing them, and not letting go. Not even when the book is finished.

As a writer I always wonder how other writers craft scenes that tear your heart out, and I wondered this over and over as I read See You at Harry’s. I wondered how Knowles captured such raw emotion and handled it in such a genuine and delicate way. I marveled at how she handled such sensitive issues and captured the essence of this family, which could be anyone’s family really.

I want to be like Jo when I grow up. She’s freakin’ awesome.

Advertisements

A Little Victorian Lit Is A Good Thing

Can you believe it’s already nearing the end of September? I can hardly believe it myself! My kids have been in school for over a month now and so have I. Although I’m not teaching in my own classroom right now, I have been subbing for my local school district and am enjoying it immensely. I still get to do the teacher thing, but have no papers to grade or lesson plans to make. It’s a pretty sweet gig right now.

These days I am up to my eyeballs with my grad school readings and course work, but I really don’t mind it most days. I’ve read a couple of really good books from the Victorian era so far: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskill. I have to admit I was unsure how I would like Victorian lit, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

There is one book on my Victorian Lit horizon I’m not super excited about reading: Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I’ll let you know how that one goes, but in the meantime, I’ll tell you a little bit about the two books I did like.

The Moonstone is hailed as the first detective novel, and while I love television police procedurals like NCIS and Hottie Hawaii Five-0, I’ve not read many mystery or detective novels. The Moonstone focuses on the theft of the famous Moonstone diamond that brings with it a curse from its native India. The novel’s narrative is shared by multiple, and very distinct, voices that must follow very strict rules during their turn to narrate. Wilkie Collins did a remarkable job with the narrative voices as he wove them together in a seamless fashion. The plot is interesting, and just when you think you’ve figured something out, you realize you really haven’t.

If you’re a Jane Austen fan like I am, you will very likely like (or in my case, LOVE) Wives and Daughters. This novel follows two families: the Gibsons and the Hamleys as they navigate life, love, and marriage in English bourgeois society. It is so unfortunate that Gaskill died before it was completely finished, as I desperately wanted to know more about Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, and also Cynthia Kirkpatrick (Molly’s step-sister) and her husband. One thing I find fascinating about the book, is the fact that the two marriages we as readers are most interested in are the two marriages we know little or nothing about. Perhaps this is a result of Gaskill’s death prior to the completion of the novel, or maybe for her it was the girls’ journey to marriage that mattered most. We will never know for certain, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the beauty of this novel.

Oh, I almost forgot! It’s International Book Week!! I’ve seen this all over Facebook this week:

It’s International Book Week!! The rules: grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence as your status. Don’t mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your status. Here’s the quote from the book I grabbed:

“The corners of his lips turned up, yet despite his smile, the pain on his face made my eyes well with tears.”

Feel free to leave yours in the comments!

Necessary Things in Life: Unconditional Love and a Can of Whoop-Ass

I know it’s pretty normal to stop and reflect from time to time on the things we are thankful for in this life. You know: things like our families and friends, jobs, health, etc. While I am extremely thankful for these things, I have reason to pause of late and really reflect on the things I am most thankful for. Things I am truly grateful for and would never want to live without. The last several weeks have been very trying for me personally, and this is a rather personal post.

The focus of this post, however, is not me and my woes, and believe me, I could write a rather LENGTHY post outlining all of the things that have made the last several weeks tough for me. I am, instead, going to write about something that is weighing heavy on my heart right now.

We found out in early October that my sister-in-law Tammie had acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), which is a very aggressive form of leukemia. She is in her mid-forties and has a husband and three beautiful children who depend on her. She underwent months of treatment in Kansas City at KU Med Center’s Cancer Center. Tammie’s body fought hard though she was tired, but she DID NOT give up. After completing her chemo, monitoring her counts closely, and having “clean” bone marrow scrapes, she was officially in remission.

Tammie went home and resumed her life. She began a much healthier life style and joined an exercise group in her community to help her stay connected to people, stay active, and have the extra support she needed. Tammie was doing well.

And then she wasn’t.

Her counts started falling and Tammie found out two days ago that her AML is back and she must have a bone marrow transplant.

The other shoe we hoped would never drop, dropped with a thud that shattered that hope in a single instant.

Fortunately, when Tammie was first diagnosed with AML, her siblings were tested to determine if any of them might be a match should she need a transplant in the future: three of them were matches. We couldn’t believe it. From what we understand, it’s lucky for one sibling to be a match, but to have three matches is pretty remarkable, and now one sister and two brothers are her lifelines.

My husband is one of the matches. He went to Kansas City the evening we found out Tammie’s AML was back along with two

Photo credit: CafePress

of his sisters, one of whom is also a match, so other tests could be performed to determine which of the three siblings is the best match for Tammie’s transplant.

My husband himself is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in early January 2003. He had surgery to remove the cancer and underwent months of chemo. In late July of 2003, he was officially in remission and continues to be cancer-free nine years later. We were incredibly lucky, and I am so thankful our children still have their father and I have my husband.

Thinking about this, and trying to process the sheer gravity of it all, is pretty overwhelming. While it’s a no-brainer that whichever one of them is the best match will donate the necessary bone marrow without question, and his or her part of the procedure is clearly the easier of the two physically, the emotional toll involved will still be great.

It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility to bear when you think about it—this bone marrow donation is potentially the difference between life and death in the most literal sense possible. I pray one of them will be able to help Tammie open an old-fashioned can of Whoop-Ass and kick this leukemia right out of her body and stand next to her in victory shouting “AND DON’T COME BACK…EVER!!”

Yesterday we found out that my husband’s brother was the best match and he would be the donor. Today, we found out he has a heart condition that will prevent him from donating. The heart condition is not life-threatening, but it is enough to eliminate him. My husband and his other sister must go back to Kansas City early next week to undergo a battery of tests to see which one of them will be the donor.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like for them or anyone else who has been there. Or those who will inexplicably find themselves in the same situation someday. I don’t know how Tammie stays so positive, although I’m sure she has moments when it all seems like the worst possible nightmare. And it is.

One thing I know for sure is this dramatic turn of events definitely makes me more grateful for my family, my health and that of my family, and unconditional love. And great big cans of whoop-ass.

It’s CAMP Time!!

I had the most fortunate accidental meeting of author Elaine Wolf on Facebook through a mutual friend (none other than Mr. Paul W. Hankins), that has resulted in a developing friendship of mutual respect and support. Elaine is the author of CAMP, a brand new YA novel which she graciously sent to me complete with autograph!! *insert SQUEEEE here*

Although I couldn’t get to reading CAMP right away, my daughter Keri snatched it up and read it in a matter of hours (she devours books almost as fast as I can get them into her hands) and loved it. I started reading it on Sunday and finished it last night in the wee hours of the morning. It was worth losing sleep over.

From the book jacket:

A coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets.

Every secret has a price.

For most girls, sleepaway camp is great fun. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent to Camp Takawanda for Girls for the first time as a teenager. Although Amy despises spending summers at home with her German-immigrant mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled about going away to camp. At Takawanda she is subjected to a humiliating “initiation” and to relentless bullying by the ringleader of the senior campers. As Amy struggles to stop the mean girls from tormenting her, she becomes more confident. But then her cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy’s mother’s past, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

Camp is a compelling family drama that will resonate with a wide teenage readership. It will be a strong addition to recommended reading and summer reading lists, and it is appropriate for anti-bullying programs. Mostly, though, Camp is a mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters

Here are my thoughts:

The afore mentioned Mr. Paul W. Hankins says he thinks CAMP will be the “sleeper hit” of 2012, and I think he’s absolutely right about that. I hope word of this well written debut YA novel spreads very quickly so that multitudes of people read it and share it, particularly via social media. We all know the power of social media.

A couple of days ago, Elaine posted a picture on her Facebook of a display table her book was on at the Barnes and Noble where she was doing a book signing. One of the books on that table was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. After reading Elaine’s book, I see why both books were on the same table. I don’t want to give too much away from either book, but I will say I see a common thread among both books: huge secrets kept under the guise of protection that lead to devastating truths.  I also see a quite obvious pairing with Dear Bully: 70 Authors Share Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones.

The main focus of this story is how the narrator Amy Becker deals with despicable bully Rory at sleepaway camp (Camp Takawanda) and finds sanctuary in new friend and ally Erin. But the story runs much deeper than that. There is also the undercurrent of the classic mother/daughter struggle at play here, but with a twist: Amy’s mother is a German immigrant with a past too painful to share with her daughter, which drives a deep wedge between them. As I read the final chapters of CAMP, and the secrets revealed themselves, I thought of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, which chronicles a similar mother/daughter struggle complicated by a secret past from another land.

Mother/daughter relationships are complicated (I have three lovely daughters, by the way) and beautiful and sometimes hard. I think this book can create and provide a path for more open communication between mothers and daughters. We mothers most likely have things in our pasts that we may not want to talk about with our daughters, which is probably an indication that we really should.

Two Kids, Some Gravity, and A Messenger

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I have talked YA lit and shared some thoughts on the matter. If you’ve been following along over the last couple of weeks, you know I’ve been talking up #TeachersWrite and have been pouring a lot into my writing. I’m still doing that writing thing (and loving it, btw), but I’m also still reading a lot of fabulous YA lit.

In case you’re wondering why I read so much YA lit (even while working on my own), I read it for three reasons: 1) because I LOVE it!! 2) to make good recommendations to my students, and 3) reading good YA lit helps me be a better writer of YA lit.

I finished two gems in the last week or so: The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.

First up is The Pull of Gravity. I really love a good coming of age story, and this one fits the bill. I LOVE the two main characters: Nick Gardner (the narrator) and Jaycee Amato, who are very real and with whom readers will easily identify. Plus, its many references to Star Wars and Yoda will appeal to Star Wars fans, and I really dig the incorporation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (which makes it a great mentor text). *Good job, Gae!!*

Here’s a small excerpt and synopsis from Gae’s website:

“Nick? Yes or no? Are you in?”
I shake my head at how crazy it all is, but even as I do, I know.
“Jaycee, why are you even asking? Do I really have a choice?”
“No,” she smiles, “No choice at all.”

While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, the Scoot, is dying from a freak disease. Enter Jaycee Amato, a quirky girl with Siberian-husky eyes and an odd affinity for Of Mice and Men. She’s made a seemingly-impossible promise to the Scoot, and wants Nick’s help to keep it.

Armed only with the wisdom of Yoda, the beauty of Steinbeck, and the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to find the father the Scoot has never known. When everything goes awry, will the pull of gravity be enough to keep them together?

And hey! Check out the book trailer!


The Pull of Gravity is a coming-of-age story about friendship, first love, and the true nature of family.

 

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is quite different from his other AMAZING book The Book Thief. One thing that is similar, though, is Zusak’s ability to make words form sentences and phrases that I wish I’d written myself.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Book Trailer!!

Happy reading and I’ll catch ya later!

Teachers Write! Day One: We’re Off and Running!

Today marks the first official day of Teachers Write! I have visited the blogs of Kate Messner and our gracious guest author Jo Knowles. Kate offered words of wisdom regarding finding making time to write, and Jo offered us some encouraging words before giving us our writing prompt.

Kate says that finding time to write is pretty much a myth—you have to make time to write. I talked about this very thing a couple of posts ago. When I get really honest with myself—even with the demands of teaching and raising four kids, a husband, and two dogs—there really are enough hours in the day for me to carve out some writing time. I just have to choose to write instead of doing some of those other things that usurp my time (like all those NCIS marathons I LOVE to watch again and again and those Facebook and Twitter notifications that call to me like Sirens). Kate also helped me see that I also need to have an honest conversation with my family regarding my writing. Of course my family knows I’m working a novel and that I write blog posts, but I’m not sure they see me as a writer yet. My writer friends and I have talked about this ad nauseum, but don’t think I’ve ever really told my family how important writing is to me. Thanks, Kate!

After pondering and processing Kate’s words of wisdom, I went to visit Jo, who seemed to know exactly what I needed today with her words of wisdom, encouragement, and the writing prompt she gave us. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how she did that…  Anyway, the writing prompt was to write a sensory description of a kitchen from our childhood. This prompt transported me to my Grandma Tedder’s kitchen, which I spent quite a bit of time in while growing up. I see sunlight and bright yellow cabinets and Grandpa’s garden through the rear window. I smell fresh baked bread and coffee. I hear sizzling bacon and whispers of past conversations. But most of all, I feel love oozing from every nook, cranny, and crevice of that kitchen and it hugs me tight. Oh, how miss that kitchen. And I miss them.

Jo’s prompt did more than just transport me to Grandma’s kitchen, it was just what I needed to help me fill out a chapter I began a few months ago in the YA novel I’ve been working on for the past year. I couldn’t quite figure out the connective tissue between scenes, and that was SO frustrating! This prompt was EXACTLY what I needed to help me fix this, and I am so excited and relieved to feel a sense of accomplishment and forward motion. Thanks, Jo!

Teachers Write! Camp is off to a great start!

Get Off Your Butt and WRITE!!!!

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other. I’ve been a bit busy with the winding down the school year, my son’s high school  graduation, school events, etc. School is now out for me, so the spinning of my head has slown down a bit.  Here’s what’s on my mind right now, so let’s get to it. Shall we?

I was reading my new Twitter/Facebook friend Gae Polisner’s blog today when a realization whompped me upside the head: I dream of the day when I get invited to be a part of a book festival! Oh, wait! That will require me to finish my book and find an agent and get published and… *cue the Charlie Brown after Lucy pulls the football away voice saying, ARRRGGGG!!!!*

Sheesh! That’s not a tall order or anything. It just means I’ll have to get off my butt (actually it means I’ll have to get off the Interwebs and TV) and focus, focus, FOCUS on FINISHING my book!

Here’s the deal: I started off really strong last summer and pounded out a good 12,000 or so words over the course of 2-3 weeks. That might sound impressive, and I guess it kinda is, but since then, I’ve only added another 3,000-4,000 words or so. You do the math. No matter how you add those words together, they don’t add up to a finished draft, much less a finished novel.

In my defense, I do have four kids, all of whom have been in school, I’m a teacher, wife, mother to two dogs, and a student. I am a very busy person. But still… I lament a great deal about not having enough hours in the day to do all the things I need to get done, when the truth is you make time for what’s important to you. I manage to find time to plan and grade my students’ work,  read all the amazing YA books I love (although that is truly a part of what writers do), and I ALWAYS find time to watch NCIS.  ALWAYS.  So…why can’t I find time to write? Why can’t I find time to finish this manuscript (wow! I’ve never referred to my novel as a manuscript before), which is very important to me?

Why indeed? What IS stopping me? I’m pretty sure it isn’t one single thing. No, I’m pretty sure it’s more like seventy-two  things. Mostly, though, I think it’s fear. Fear of success and fear of failure. Fear that I won’t be able to piece it all together because I’ll run out of words or I won’t be able to connect with the right agent/publisher/audience. I mean, who’s going to want to take  a risk on this Kansas girl no one has heard of?

Then I wonder if my YA writing idol Laurie Halse Anderson ever had similar worries. Or Neal Shusterman? Jay Asher? Gae Polisner? Suzanne Collins? You know her. She wrote those Hunger Games books. You know, the WILDLY successful Hunger Games books!! So. I guess it’s really possible that someone out there will someday be willing to take a chance on me and my manuscript. Once it’s finished, that is…

Previous Older Entries

Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Reverse Perspective

by Lucie Smoker

Dani Stone

I Hear Laugh Tracks

Cat Poland

When Life Gives You a Story, Tell It

chantelltiatrakul

A topnotch WordPress.com site

Texana's Kitchen

Yummy food. Pithy commentary. Pretty pictures.

Wyz Reads

The Reviews of The Reads of The Wyzlic

Summer of SUCCESS

Having FUN Getting Ready for Sixth Grade!

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

kennedp85

Just another WordPress.com site

Rachel Russell

YA AUTHOR * SUBMISSIONS COORDINATOR * EDITORIAL ASSISTANT * FREELANCE EDITOR

Our Fun Filled Journey to Motherhood

Just your average lesbian TTC blog!

Book Tasty

a young adult fiction blog

The Tikiman Says...

The Writing Life

Neal Shusterman's Blog

The author's official blog

April in Wichita

squeezing more Life into Poetry

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.