Very LeFreaking out over Rachel Cohn

I may have mentioned that I am an avid reader; a devourer of books. If you are going to be a writer of any worth,  then you HAVE TO READ. Yes, it is mandatory. Read in the genre you are writing for, and although it’s great to read the classics, make sure you are also reading what’s current. If you hate to read or even worse, loathe the audience members for whom you are writing, stop now. Exit, stage left. Pottery class will begin shortly next door.

Reading the work of other writers can teach you so much. Seeing how someone else has tamed the words onto the page and tackled the story arc successfully may help you see where your own story may be lacking. Study the way your favorite authors accomplished the task of telling a complete story and you will learn something about how to make your own writing better.

Ever been told by an editor that your story lacks that intangible thing called “voice”?

When I open one of Rachel Cohn’s books, it’s like cracking open the skull of the nearest teenaged girl and blasting her thoughts through a thousand watt amp.  Her books scream out with a unique teen voice. She gets it.

I love Rachel Cohn. She not only authored one of my favorite YA series Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake following the fascinating character Cyd Charrise through her search of self-discovery and the ultimate cup of coffee, but she’s also co-authored several books with another favorite author of mine, David Levithan. Together they’ve written Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, and their latest collaboration Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.

I first encountered Rachel in 2008 at the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) Summer conference in LA. Not surprisingly, Rachel did a talk on “Teen Voice”. Something she said during that talk stuck with me. She said that one of the biggest mistakes writers make when writing YA is to idolize their teen years instead of writing things the way they actually were. It’s all about the emotions. “The emotions of being a teenager are the same as they were 50 years ago.” You can’t go to the mall or watch popular culture and expect to develop a true teen voice; you have to tap into the emotions. Right then, I about jumped out of my chair because I was very in touch with what it was like for me when I was a teenager. Angsty was my middle name. Now all I needed was the courage to let those emotions spill out onto the page. (That is a completely different post.)

Rachel’s latest book, Very LeFreak, is about a young college girl more obsessed with technology and what’s happened to her elusive online crush than whether or not she’s failing out of school. When we first meet Very, short for Veronica, she is listening to her iPod in one ear, her iPhone plugged into the other, while working on her laptop. She always has her phone against her skin so she doesn’t miss a vibration alerting her to a message of any kind, especially from her secret crush. She ends up in rehab for the technology-challenged after attacking an ex-boyfriend who destroys her laptop.

I did feel odd reading this on my Nook, like I was somehow cheating when Very couldn’t have so much as an ohm of electricity. I felt like I myself should go on a week-long tech cleansing or at least take a walk outside in solidarity. That’s how connected I felt to Very. But in my defense, I couldn’t stop reading…and I was trying out my library’s newest program – downloadable eBooks. (Again, that is a different post for a different time.)

Overall, I’m happy to say that Rachel Cohn is my first. First blog review, first library eBook, first YA author crush forever. Her book Very LeFreak is superb. She has an amazing teen voice you will fall in love with, laugh with, even as your heart aches. In the end, Very’s story shows how we all need a sense of balance in our lives. And for us writers-in-training, we can learn what an authentic voice sounds like and maybe even find some balance in our own writing.

To learn more about Rachel Cohn, visit her website at: http://www.rachelcohn.com/

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