Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part II

 

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Day One of Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. Day Two found us in the capable hands of Linda Urban, children’s book author and mad genius when it comes to dissecting what makes a book work.

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

The focus of her revision intensive for the day was on voice and point of view.   Of course, what is it that agents and editors always say they want in a story, and the one thing that everyone says is all but unteachable?

Voice!

Linda showed us how making the right choice with point of view can affect the voice of your story. Some POV choices bring readers in closer, while some give more distance and offer more flexibility.

Not all YA books have to be in 1st person, and not all Middle Grades have to be in 3rd person. Surprising, I know. Making a more thoughtful choice for your story is essential to giving it the greatest impact.

One specific example Linda gave to show how these two ideas work together is to consider if your character changes the way they express themselves in a moment of crisis. If so, how does POV shape this expression?

Interesting question, right?

Linda teaching us about voice and POV.
Linda at our Fall Retreat teaching us all the good stuff.

Linda also talked about using mentor texts – examples of good writing to be studied and imitated – to help you learn rhythm and sentence structure. You can tear apart these stories and study them; figure out how they work. (Another reason to be reading!)

Here are some great examples she used:

1st Person POV

clementine_book1CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

In this first book of the series, Clementine tries to help out her friend Margaret, but ends up in a lot of trouble for it. Things get worse each day of the week, until finally she’s worried that Margaret is right: Clementine’s parents might consider her “the hard one” in the family. They’re up to something mysterious…are they thinking they’d be better off if they only had her little vegetable-named brother…”the easy one”?

 

 

book thiefTHE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

 

 

vera with printzPLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S King 

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

 

2nd Person POV

blink and cautionBLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones

Boy, did you get off on the wrong floor, Blink. All you wanted was to steal some breakfast for your empty belly, but instead you stumbled on a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an “abducted” CEO, giving you a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now you’re on the run, but it’s OK as long as you are smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold.

Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a night- mare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the bus station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naive, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel.

 

book-whenyoureachme_f2WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

3rd Person POV

Mouse MotorcycleTHE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary

In this imaginative adventure from Newbery Medal-winning author Beverly Cleary, a young mouse named Ralph is thrown into a world of excitement when a boy and his shiny toy motorcycle check into the Mountain View Inn.

When the ever-curious Ralph spots Keith’s red toy motorcycle, he vows to ride it. So when Keith leaves the bike unattended in his room one day, Ralph makes his move. But with all this freedom (and speed!) come a lot of obstacles. Whether dodging a rowdy terrier or keeping his nosy cousins away from his new wheels, Ralph has a lot going on! With a pal like Keith always looking out for him, there’s nothing this little mouse can’t handle.

 

KeeperKEEPER by Kathi Appelt

Keeper was born in the ocean, and she believes she is part mermaid. So as a ten-year-old she goes out looking for her mother—an unpredictable and uncommonly gorgeous woman who swam away when Keeper was three—and heads right for the ocean, right for the sandbar where mermaids are known to gather. But her boat is too small for the surf—and much too small for the storm that is brewing on the horizon.

 

harry-potter-and-the-philosophers-stoneThe Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

 

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard! The first book in the “Harry Potter” series makes the perfect introduction to the world of Hogwarts.

 

Omniscient POV

ManiacMagee500MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run–and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

 

bk_realboyTHE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

 

Feeling overwhelmed by all the choices? Here’s one final thing to consider:

“Part of deciding point-of-view is knowing the experience level of your readers.” – Linda Urban

I’ve barely brushed the surface of everything we learned. It was enlightening and educational, to say the least. If you get an opportunity to take in a workshop taught by Linda Urban, I highly recommend it.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

Follow Linda on Twitter @lindaurbanbooks.

 

 

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!

 

SCBWI OK FALL RETREAT 2015 – Fan That Spark

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During the fantastic SCBWI OK Spring Conference this past March, we all got our Spark Ignited.

The next step?

We gotta fan that spark!

Come to our unbelievable Fall Retreat. You won’t want to miss it!

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This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, will have specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. Manuscript critiques will also be available. (For full details, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

Meet our speakers:

stacks_image_43Tim Jessell – Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Jessell is also the author and illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.

 

Learn more about Tim by visiting his website: www.timjessell.com

 

trasler - photo with puppet-crop-u483Janee Trasler – Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website: www.trasler.com

 

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!, ASSASSIN, GRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

For full details on the retreat and how to register, visit the OK SCBWI website here: oklahoma.scbwi.org/fall-conference-2015/

Hope to see you there!

TweetSome of our speakers and manuscript critiquers may be making guest appearances on upcoming sessions of #okscbwichat on Twitter prior to the retreat, so stay tuned!

 

 

My Favorite Reads of 2012

IMG_20121128_163625I read close to sixty books this past year, which was about twenty short of my goal – ouch! As a really lame excuse, I do have to say that I was on track until I got sucked in to reading the first four books in the Game of Thrones series. Those averaged out at a little over a thousand pages a piece. I could have swapped each one out for five short books, easy. Ah, well. They were worth it.

I read more young adult than anything else, but that’s to be expected since that’s what I write, although I did read my fair share of adult novels, poetry, and even some classics. As far as genres, I read mostly fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction this year, which was surprising. There were some fantastic contemporary fiction novels in there as well.

So many beautifully crafted words by some of my favorite authors and some by newly discovered ones.

Here are my favorites:

(In the order that I read them)


will graysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

A book authored by the dream team. Could YA get any better? Well, if Libba Bray and A.S. King ever do a mash up, I might just die.

Some people may think I’m crazy, but I loved this book more than Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Don’t worry, that’s on this list, too. I think that book is mandatory for every favorite reads list made from now on.) I’ve loved John Green since I saw him in LA at the SCBWI summer conference right after his first book Looking for Alaska came out. I think he knows this and he has me on some stalker watch list. As for David Levithan, he pretends he’s an editor but he needs to quit that day job and keep writing wonderfully strong characters that just happen to be gay. His book Boy Meets Boy is not to be missed. He also shows up by himself later on this favorites list.

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. (Plot summary from John Green’s site.)

Learn more about David Levithan at his site here.

Learn more about John Green at his site here.

beauty queensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

I bow down before the queen of teen YA. I never ever thought I’d read a book with such a title or cover, believe me. (Yes, damn it! I did judge.) This may appear to be just your average story about a bunch of  beauty queens whose plane crashes leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman. If you have read her Gemma Doyle series, which I also adored, this is quite a departure from that writing style. It’s more like her Going Bovine, although nothing really compares to Going Bovine, does it?

Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. (Plot summary from Bray’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

TFiOSThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

As promised, TFiOS.

I said before that I am a huge fan of John Green. He had me at Looking for Alaska and I’ve read every novel since. This book is one of his best. Green’s humerus bone must be infused with adamantium because his sense of the comedic is sublime. We even forgive him for following the most hysterical scenes with extremely poignant, heart-wrenching moments that have you grabbing for the tissue box. Always questioning, always thought-provoking in a non-condescending way, always everything I want in a book.

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble).

elegy for trainsElegy for Trains by Benjamin Myers

This is the only book of poetry to make the list and this book of poetry is very special to me because it was written by the son of one of my writing mentors, the ever amazing and wonderfully talented, Anna Myers. Ben is a fantastic writer and poet on his own merits and won the Oklahoma Book Award in poetry last year for this very book. This year, at the Oklahoma Book Awards, I was privileged to hear Ben give a heartfelt introduction as his mother, Anna, received a lifetime achievement award for her 19 published children’s books. Ben’s second book of poetry, Lapse Americana, comes out later this year.

Benjamin Myers’ poems range from Virgil through Shakespeare to Woody Guthrie.Just as facets in gems come to life when light strikes them, so do the themes, images, and tropes in Elegy for Trains when the brilliance of Benjamin Myers’ wit, sensitivity and intelligence illuminate his words. His poems make us see Oklahoma and the world afresh. You will read this book, then want to read it again! book overview from Amazon website.

Learn more about Benjamin Myers here and here.

Divergent

The Divinsurgent-by-veronica-roth-297x450ergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

This is one of the best dystopian series I’ve read. I devoured this debut novel and it’s sequel by Roth. Now I’ll have to wait an entire year to see how everything turns out! ACK!

I believe I picked this one up because of all the positive, passionate word of mouth comments about it out in the twitterverse. I love discovering new writers that way.

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. (Plot summary from author’s site.)

Learn more about Veronica Roth on her website here.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I picked up this book because Sepetys was on the faculty for the SCBWI summer conference in LA this past August and I wanted to have some knowledge of the writers and editors that were speaking. Sepetys was one of the most motivating and moving speakers at the conference. Her passion for writing definitely came through in her work. This is a fictionalized account of her family’s history. She wrote this when she started asking, “What’s my story?” – the whole story.

This book was a surprising view of  life under Stalin’s rule through the eyes of a people who suffered just as much as the European Jewish population- the citizens deported to Siberian labor camps because of their anti-communist views. Truly moving and endlessly fascinating.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? (Plot summary from author site.)

Learn more about Ruta Sepetys on her website here.

shineShine by Lauren Myracle

I love this book so much, I devoted an entire blog post to it.

Lauren Myracle is another writer I started reading because she had been placed on the banned authors list, and I don’t mean just casually placed on it somewhere near the middle. In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country.  That takes quite a bit of parental ire to achieve. She raises difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse and explores them with characters that respond like real characters would. I loved her response to being asked about her own children’s reading habits. She said, “As a mom, I want my kids to read any fucking book they want! I want them to read.” That is exactly the kind of writer I want to support. I was an instant fan.

A few years ago, I picked up one of her “internet girls” series to see what all the fuss was about. After reading ttyl, a book that was written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. I think it was because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens (and there were enough controversial issues for the fanatics to get their panties in a wad), but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did. Emotional impact achieved. I must now go back and read everything else she has ever written outside of the texting series. She has lived up to my expectations and then some.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author. (Plot summary from Amazon.)

Learn more about Lauren Myracle from Wikipedia here.

year of the beastsThe Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci & illustrated by Nate Powell

I love Cecil Castellucci and not just because she’s quirky and sweet and has a really high-pitched Minnie Mouse voice that doesn’t match her hardcore rocker exterior. I first read her book Queen of Cool years ago and loved it. In her latest book, she joins forces with a fantastic illustrator, Nate Powell, to merge the graphic novel with YA. The result is mildly intriguing at first; you’re thinking, “Oh, what a clever marketing gimmick!”.  Then, as you near the end, (or sooner if you cleverer than I am) you begin to realize that the pictures at the beginning of every chapter actually have meaning; the images make such an overwhelming impact at the end when you realize their significance. Such a completely different kind of story and yet universal at its core. Loved this book!

Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test. Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci on her website here.

Learn more about illustrator Nate Powell on his website here.

Wednesday-WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

This was such a fantastic book with so much heart, I fell in love with Gary Schmidt forever and ever while reading this one and vowed to read all of his other books in the near future. He was one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, actually closing out the conference, and I think he was one of the best. This book came out of an actual experience he had with a teacher who hated him…and he hated her.

He was stuck with her alone one afternoon a week and she made him read Shakespeare to keep him out of her hair. The only thing was, he loved it. The parallels may end there. Schmidt set the story in Vietnam era small town America where conflicts of culture and what to stand up for still creep in and impact everything, including how his main character learns to deal with his own father. Great book. Read it!

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.

He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare…outside of class?

The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gary Schmidt on his website.

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan

The talent poured into this one is just inhuman. It’s almost indescribable. Such a beautiful book. So fantastical, so creative, so touching in such an unusual way. Argh! You should so read this! I love love love everything I have ever read by Levithan.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

David Levithan has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day. (Plot description from author’s website.)

Center of EverythingThe Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Another writer friend passed on this ARC to me because she knew I was such a big fan of Linda Urban’s. We had both just loved her debut middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. This book is just as stellar and is a straight-forward kind of perfect all on its own. I probably cried more than normal having just lost someone dear to me when I read it, but I think it made the book even better. This book comes out in early March.

For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug.  That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control. But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world? (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble website)

Learn more about Linda Urban here.

cover_ravenboys_300The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

What a way to finish out the year! I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, but she topped herself with this imaginative and oftentimes lyrical story. I would sometimes reread passages because they were so lovely, just let them roll around on my tongue and fill my head with imagery. I cannot wait to read its continuance.

Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.

This series has a dedicated website. You can read the first fifteen pages online here.

Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.

What were you favorite reads of 2012? What are you reading now? Tell me! I need some suggestions outside my usual realm. If you want to know what I’m reading right now, check out the tab at the top of the page. I hope to read a more diverse collection of genres this year as well as more authors that are new to me.