Author Guest Post: Ann Aguirre of Enclave

Whenever I read a new dystopia, I wonder about the influences of classic dystopias on current authors. I love teaching dystopias in my classroom, and wonder which of the books I teach will inspire my students to write their own stories some day.

Ann Aguirre, author of Enclave, stopped by to talk about the classic dystopias that inspire her writing.
The first dystopian I ever read was LORD OF THE FLIES. I read it for a school assignment, and it made a large impression on me. I've wondered ever since I read whether children would always devolve to such savage behavior. I wondered if Mr. Golding was, perhaps, a touch pessimistic, and I wanted to create a world where the darkness came from excess order, more like 1984, as opposed to complete chaos and a devolution to primitive instincts.

In high school, I fell in love with A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ. The premise that a butcher's shopping list could become a a religious artifact charmed me utterly. It is a brilliant book and one I could read over and over again. (And I have.)

In college, I read my next dystopian, A HANDMAID'S TALE. I studied it and analyzed it for my Gender Studies class. It is a haunting story, and I suspect some of those themes pervade my Razorland books as well.

Beyond these three works, my inspiration has largely come from films. 

Thanks, Ann! I've read (and taught) both Lord of the Flies and The Handmaid's Tale, but have never even heard of A Canticle for Leibowitz. Looks like I have some reading to do!

Stop by the Teen Book Scene for more Enclave tour information.

Author Guest Post: Jennifer Archer, Author of Through Her Eyes

 Hello, everyone! Thanks to Mrs. DeRaps for inviting me to talk about my novel Through Her Eyes that will be in bookstores on April 5th.

Through Her Eyes was a lot of fun to write for many reasons, one of them being that the main character, Tansy, is the daughter of a horror writer. Tansy’s mom, Millie, writes under the pseudonym Millicent Moon, and Tansy describes her as “the female version of Stephen King, minus the mega bucks and movie deals.”  

When the idea for this story started brewing in my mind, I knew I wanted Tansy’s mother to be a writer, partially because I wanted to step into Tansy’s skin and experience vicariously what it might be like for my kids to have me for a mom! Children of writers have to put up with having a parent whose mind is always “in the clouds,” a parent who stays up into the wee hours of the morning working, or who rises hours before the sun to start banging away on a laptop. They have to put up with their friends’ teasing about “Mom’s embarrassing book covers.” (At least my kids did. I wrote romance novels for a while early in my career, so I had a cover or two that my sons wished they could hide from their friends!)

Through Her Eyes is a ghost story, so having Millie write horror seemed a natural fit. Besides, I’ve always been intrigued by the workings of a horror writer’s mind. For example, I used to think that Stephen King was brilliant, but that he must also be a tiny bit mentally disturbed to come up with the stories he does! Then I read his book On Writing, and although I still think he’s brilliant, I also think he’s a perfectly sane, extremely loving family man, who is incredibly wise. Why did I ever think anything else? As I said, I used to write romance novels, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hopeless romantic. (A romantic, perhaps, but not a hopeless!)

Tansy struggles with that same preconception – people believing her mom is a nutcase because of what she does for a living. She also struggles with embarrassment over the covers of the novels, and some of the titles completely mortify her. Tears of Blood and The Screaming Meemies, for instance. Tansy has to deal with a bit of teasing from classmates, too. One guy at her new school nicknames her “Zombie Girl,” because zombies play leading roles in most of her mom’s books.

I enjoy scary books, and I really love spine-chilling movies, as well; not so much the slash and dash kind, but the sort with a ripple of psychological suspense in them. The sort of movies and stories that don’t just terrify the audience, but make us think and question and try to figure out what’s going on. Books and movies in the genre that I’ve loved probably influenced me, at least in a small way, to make Tansy’s mom a horror novelist. During my twenties, I went on a Stephen King and Dean Koontz book binge, and I still read their novels from time to time; they’re the kings of the genre, in my opinion. If I’m in the mood for a horror novel with writing that’s a bit more on the lush side, I often turn to the writer I consider the queen of the genre – Ann Rice. Her novel The Mummy is a particular favorite.  Of course, the YA market also has many great horror titles, and in these my taste also tends to run more toward the psychologically creepy more than to vampires, werewolves and such, although I enjoy a good story in that vein, too. Some of my YA favorites are older titles, and a few of them are marketed to readers even younger than the typical YA booklover. I particularly enjoyed Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsly; and Jade Green, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Owl in Love, by Patrice Kindl is also very unique and intriguing – it’s humorous as well as creepy, and it might very well have been the first shape-shifter novel.

As for movies that influenced me, my favorite chill-raisers are The Mothman Prophecies, Identity, and The Sixth Sense. Oh, and Shadow of the Vampire, which came out in 2000 is by far one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen! 

I hope readers of Through Her Eyes will experience a few chills of the same sort these wonderful books and movies induced in me! I invite you to stop by my website and my blog to check out the  book trailer and other information about Through Her Eyes, as well as my other novels.

Book Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Jackson Pearce's newest novel, due out in August, retells the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. Rather than two young children lost in the woods after their evil stepmother forces them out of their home, this is the story of Ansel and Gretchen. They have been kicked out of their family home, but these characters are teenagers on a road trip to find a new life. When their car breaks down in the town of Live Oak, South Carolina, they are directed to a sweet shop to look for work.

Sophia Kelly, a mysterious but kind girl, owns the shop and finds lots and lots of odd jobs for Ansel to help out with. Ansel and Gretchen lose track of time and the weeks roll on. Being so close to the woods, Gretchen can't help but be reminded of the twin sister she lost when she was little. This sister was taken by a witch and never seen again.

Gretchen is determined to be ready to fight off a witch the next time she sees one. But, there seems to be other dangers crawling around Live Oak, and in the house she's staying at. There are lots of unexplained disappearances of teen girls and Sophia Kelly seems to be to blame. When Gretchen discovers that Sophia id hiding lots of information from Gretchen and her brother, the entire ruse starts to unravel.
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There are some fairy tale re-tellings that work rather well, and there are others that don't. There were some aspects of this story that I enjoyed, and I did read it to the end to figure out what would happen, but there was just too little in common with the original to make this story appealing to me. 

At times, Sweetly almost felt like a whole other tale. I was dismayed that the elements that I loved in the original Hansel and Gretel are nowhere to be found in this adaptation.  That said, there are some merits to this story. I enjoyed the fact that Gretchen and Ansel are teenagers, that the "witch" is about their same age, and I liked the setting of a candy shop rather than a house made of candy. 

Also, in the original tale, Gretel outsmarts the old witch and in this story, Gretchen is definitely the heroine. She was definitely my favorite character. 

I wish that I could gush and rave about this book. I really, really wanted to love it. I will continue to read Jackson Pearce's books and fairy tales re-told. I open to re-tellings of old favorites, even if they are not as close to the original as I would've liked!

**ARC received from Book It Forward ARC Tours**

Character Interview: Melissa from Cris Beam's I AM J

Cris Beam's I Am J tells the story of "J," originally called Jennifer. Ever since he can remember, J has felt out of place in his own body. Because of this disconnect, J goes to great lengths to alter his appearance so that he will feel and be seen as a male.

Anyone who knows anyone who identifies as transgendered and anyone who'd like to know more about this experience should read this book. This interview takes place between myself and J's best friend, Melissa. She's a super spunky and complex character herself. Here's what she had to say:

When you first met J, you were much younger and taking a photography class with him. The teacher is refusing to call J anything but Jennifer. You step in and defend him even though you don’t know him. Why do this?

Oh my god, I totally remember that day! That teacher was a fool, and so uptight! Here was J, the new kid, looking completely embarrassed, and I couldn’t stand it. I mean, I’m for civil rights. My mom taught me about that when I was like five years old: nobody gets to tell you who you are. I think it’s because I’m biracial. My mom’s pretty intense, but she practically drilled that into my head.

After meeting J, you offer him a Picasso quotation: “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” What truth are you trying to tell with your dancing?

I love that quote!!!! I don’t think I’m any more “true” than when I’m dancing; it’s like I can say things with my body that I can’t say in words, even though I talk a lot. For me, dancing cuts below the bullshit, because it moves impulsively at first; it’s not trying to prove anything, the way I am when I express myself in other ways. But it’s also a lie, because what you see in dance may not be what I’m expressing exactly, but there in that seeing is a different kind of truth. There are so many layers! Oh, I can’t say it right. Just come see me dance!  

Though J is the primary focus of this story, you have a lot going on in your life. Why do you cut yourself? J brings it up a lot in conversations with you. Does that bother you or does it help to talk about it?

I don’t cut anymore, but yeah, I used to. And it used to drive me insane the way J would constantly bring it up like it was nothing. I think he thought I was doing it to get attention, but now I recognize that he was worried. I cut because it brought me relief: sometimes all the crazy thoughts in my head would get so intense, the only thing that would make it better was this direct and focused pain. It’s not really logical when you think about it in one way, but it made some kind of sense when I was really suffering. And yeah, now it does help to talk about it, but I have to talk about it with the right people. I go to a group. And sometimes now, when I think about cutting, I’ll do something like put an ice cube on my wrist until it really hurts. That stops the thoughts, and I don’t do any real damage.  

You and J have a back and forth relationship, but underneath your bickering there seems to be a deep respect between the two of you. Why do you think this is?

Well, J is my best friend, and I think he always will be. I would probably marry the guy, if he didn’t stuff his emotions so much! Seriously, underneath all that stuffing, J is really patient. I’ve lost friends over the years because of my temper and my big mouth: I always say what I think, even if I haven’t thought about it first. J has always weathered my storms, and he’s always stood by me. He’s very loyal, and I have a lot of respect for that. I think for J maybe, I help bring him out of his shell. At least I like to think I do.

I loved your performance at the end of the book. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t read this book yet, where did you get the strength to perform this “threshold” piece?

I don’t know if that dance was strength—or desperation. That dance came at a really bad time in my life. J had already started hormones, he was going to get into college and move away—I just knew that would happen—he had this big world ahead of him and mine was closing down. I was going to finish high school and I had screwed up my college applications. Plus, my mom was gone all the time and wasn’t paying any attention to me. Nobody was paying attention to me. I was going to be a dried-up dancer at eighteen. Or that’s what I thought. I had this big pain inside that I couldn’t talk about, so my only option was to dance it in front of everybody.   

At the end of this story, we know what happens to J, but I’m not quite sure that I know where your story is going. Everything okay with you?

Yeah, I’m really good! I have a new group of friends from my support group, and I’ve been doing some speaking at high schools for kids who cut. I’ve started taking salsa classes which is weird because I thought I only liked modern dance and especially solos, but there’s something really beautiful about partner dancing and, as my teacher says, “learning to yield.” I have a crush on this guy in my class who’s blind, and I want to ask him to teach me how to read Braille, because I have this idea about choreographing a dance to raised dots on the floor. I’m going to reapply for college in the fall, but until then, I’m just taking the days as they come and appreciating the good things in my life. Like this interview. Thanks for talking with me!

Thanks for the conversation, Melissa!

For more information and a complete list of the stops on this book tour, 
please visit The Teen Book Scene!

Audio Book Review: Radiance by Alyson Noel

Radiance is a middle grade story that deals with a topic that is hard to broach with this age group: death. It can be difficult to talk about death with children, particularly in cases where the person who dies is very close to a child or where the person who dies is very young.

The main character of this story, Riley (only twelve years old), has just died along with her parents and dog. She references her life on the "Earth Plane" briefly, but does not appear to dwell on his previous life too much. Instead, her days are filled with Here and Now. She has the ability to manifest whatever she desires--clothes, money, food, excitement and entertainment. But, the novelty of this ability does not last long. Quickly, she looks for something to do. And it's not long before the The Council comes looking for her to give her a job.

She's paired with Bodhie, a teen whom she describes as "dorky," but who seems to have been cool at one time. Bodhie takes everything a little too seriously for Riley's taste, and she spares no time in telling him just how lame he is. Their conflict feels more like a sibling rivalry than a thinly disguised flirtation, which is nice in a middle grade story.

On their first mission together as "Soul Catchers,"where they try to convince souls who have remained on the Earth Plane to cross over to the other side. Riley's first assignment is one no other Soul Catcher has been able to crack, despite hundreds of attempts. Lucky for her, it involves spirits of the annoying ten year-old boy variety, a demographic she's dealt with extensively on the Earth Plane. I won't tell you what happens, but it is one of my favorite scenes!

I don't always love to read middle grade novels, but this audio book appealed to me because of the subject matter and its relevance to my life right now. My mother-in-law just passed away on Wednesday after a long battle with a variety of cancers. I listened to this book thinking that it might be of some comfort to the pre-teen nieces in my family. I think that, once they've had time to deal with their grandmother's passing, they will find solace in a vision of heaven where the elderly get to pursue all of their interests and dreams.

The reader for this novel is Kathleen McInerney and she does a wonderful job. It must be hard to find a reader who can capture the spirit and energy of a twelve year-old, but McInerney does it well. Also, this book is a quick listen at less than four hours. I can see this book being a staple of middle school libraries. I bet middle grade readers will identify with Riley and maybe even relate to some of what she goes through in the book.

Narrator: Kathleen McInerney
Length: 3 hours and 55 mins

**This audio book counts toward my participation in the 2011 Audio Book Challenge from Teresa's Reading Corner and Whisper Stories in My Ear Audio Book Challenge**

Book Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

In alternating narratives, Sara Bennett Wealer tells the story of two talented teens--Kathryn and Brooke. Both girls are exceptional singers and, though they used to be very close, they have a rivalry that has spiraled out of control.

Brooke seems to have it all. She is the most popular girl in her class, she has talent, money, and people generally look to her to decide who's cool and who's not. Of course, life is not as perfect as it seems. Brooke is lonely and desperately wants her absent father's love and attention. She is surrounded by people who want to be near her so that they can be popular. None of her friends care about her passion for singing; they only care about parties and dances. Brooke finds a true friend in Kathryn during her junior year, but by their senior year their bitter enmity has completely clouded over any friendship they might have had.

Kathryn is more content in the shadows than in the limelight when it comes to being popular. That is, until she gets a taste for the spotlight when Brooke invites her to a sleepover their junior year. After that fateful night, Kathryn is kept busy with parties and activities and shows with all of her new friends. In particular, Brooke seems to want to hang out with Kathryn and talk about music. But, when Kathryn unwittingly betrays Brooke, their friendship crumbles and so does Kathryn's new popularity.

In the end, the only thing these two unlikely friends have in common is their desire to win at the Blackmore--a prestigious singing competition. And, it seems that both girls are willing to crush the other in order to win.

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Rival is an excellent debut for Sara Bennett Wealer.  It is always a risky venture to write a book where the main characters are complex and not always sympathetic. There were points in this book where I didn't like either of the main characters, but this dislike was because the girls are presented as real people who make real mistakes and use poor judgment. It would've been much easier for Ms. Bennett Wealer to present one of the girls as "right" and the other as "wrong." It's much more difficult to make each girl complex in their own way. 

In addition to the characters, I loved the format of this book. It alternated between main characters and from their junior to senior years. In all of this, I was not confused in the least by which character was speaking and when the scene was taking place. It was interesting to flip between the girls' senior year, when they hated each other, and their junior year, when they were inseparable. Through the shifting time periods, the relationship and the motives behind the girls' actions becomes much more complex and interesting. 

I loved that this rivalry was based, for the most part, on singing. There were some jealous moments based on boys and beauty, but that was not the crux of the girls' conflict. That story has been played out, in my opinion. In this book, the girls are vying for something real and based on hard work and merit. This focus on singing took away from some of the catty, stereotypical competition over looks that is often portrayed in YA lit. This story was far more serious and interesting than a typical girl-hates-girl story. 

This is an awesome debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from this author. I can imagine that there are several students in my classes, particularly those girls involved in chorus and one of our school's music programs that will understand the richness of this book.

**Thanks to The Teen Book Scene for providing this review copy**

Author Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Savita Kahlan, Author of The Long Weekend

Savita Kahlan is the author of the chilling thriller, The Long Weekend. This book is absolutely terrifying, due to the subject matter and the author's skill at creating a tense, suspenseful situation where the lives of two boys are at stake. Though this book is thoroughly disturbing, I know that it takes a great writer to develop this type of character/ reader connection. I am highly impressed and completely freaked out.

For her tour stop at DeRaps Reads, I asked Ms. Kahlan to share a bit about a nightmare that she's had. As many of you know from previous posts, I have nightmares almost every night. In fact, I just had a horrific one last night, based on a book I'm currently reading. I'm glad to report that it wasn't as terrifying as Ms. Kahlan's, which you can read about here.

My Nightmare
“It’s dark and the streetlamps emit little light. I’m crouched behind a car, hiding. I’m alone. The street is eerily quiet and deserted, the houses on either side are abandoned. I don’t know how I ended up here all by myself with not a single living soul in sight. I’m catching my breath, thinking maybe I’m safe for a while. I’ve been running all night, running and hiding, running and hiding. Am I doomed never to see the light of day breaking over the horizon, the sweet chorus of birdsong, the rattle and clink of the milkman? I can hear a distant rattle and clink, but it’s not the milkman making early deliveries of bottles of milk. This is the rattle and clink of something else, something that may have once been human, but any humanity it once had has been lost for an age and it has no recollection of what it was like to be human.
The dreaded sound is distant, but I won’t be fooled by that. They almost had me before – yes, there is more than one, more than ten, perhaps twenty or more. I did not stop to count each contorted, disfigured being as they defied their stuttering gait, their misshapen limbs, and robot-like seethed across the fast dwindling space that separated them from me. I begin to move, slowly at first using the parked cars as my shield, then quicker as a glimpse of a rotting arm from the other side of the car. I begin to run. They’re closing in on me. Their guttural cries, their agonised moaning, their strange wheezing, the rattle and clink of the chains that once held them dragging across the ground, it all becomes louder. I run into an abandoned house, hoping to find help, but there is no one there, no weapons, nothing I can use to defend myself. I hear the shuffle of footsteps scraping across floorboards. They’ve followed me. I stifle a scream, my hand stuffed in my mouth, my heart beating so fast I think it might explode...”
And this is when I hope to wake up from the nightmare! Sometimes I do, sweating and panting and clutching at the duvet, other times the nightmare continues...
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And that's just a sample of the quality of Ms. Kalhan's terrifically terrifying writing. The Long Weekend is sure to have you feeling disturbed--even the most jaded of readers will have some heightened sense of fear or fright!

Ms. Kalhan is giving away one copy of her book to one lucky commenter. You have one week to enter this INTERNATIONAL giveaway (closes March 4th). Please leave a comment reacting to Ms. Kalhan's nightmare or describe one of your own. Make sure to leave an email where you can be reached if you are the winner.