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  • Jenny Kawecki 7:09 pm on 2016/10/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , jandy nelson, , , , , , stacey lee, , ,   

    8 Books to Convert a YA Naysayer into a YA Fanatic 

    We’ve all got that friend who thinks that, just because they’re an adult, they can’t be seen cracking the cover of a young adult book. Maybe they’re snobby about it, maybe they just don’t think YA could be their thing, but either way you’ve got a mission: help that friend find the right book, thus opening their eyes to a marvelous, ever-expanding category of fabulous reads. Here are 8 YA books that will entice even the most selective reader.

    I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
    Dodie Smith’s old-school YA I Capture the Castle is a good place to start; it’s usually shelved with the adult books, so you may be able to recommend it with nary an eyebrow raised. Seventeen-year-old Cassandra lives in a broken-down castle with her crazy family and no money, waiting for the day when her famous novelist father overcomes his writer’s block. When they get a handsome new landlord—one who might actually expect them to pay rent—things around the castle start to change. Narrated in Cassandra’s clever, engaging voice, I Capture the Castle is the perfect gateway YA read.

    Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
    This book is like a sucker punch to your emotions: full of beautiful, lovable teenage moments, but heartbreaking as hell. Eleanor and Park meet on the bus. Eleanor, red-haired and strange, is the new bully magnet; Park has been always stayed successfully under the radar. Slowly they fall in love over comic books and music. As they face struggles with other kids, their families, and each other, they both know it’ll never last—the only question is what will tear them apart in the end.

    Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin
    Fast-paced and wonderfully original, Wolf by Wolf will quell a lot of non-YA readers bad assumptions about YA stereotypes. Yael lives in an alternate post-WWII world in which the Axis powers won. After surviving torture and experimentation in a death camp, she’s determined to get revenge for the loved ones she lost. Her plan? Win the annual motorcycle race held to commemorate the Axis victory, gain an audience with Hitler, and kill him. Sounds foolproof, right?

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Junior has spent 14 years on the Spokane Indian Reservation, watching the people around him live hard and die young, and he wants out. So he uses his smarts to gain a transfer to the local all-white high school off the res. Building a new life for himself isn’t easy: his new classmates stereotype him, his old friends think he’s abandoned them, and on top of it all, he usually has to hitchhike to school. Funny, heart-wrenching, and beloved, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is basically irresistible.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    I’ll Give You the Sun tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who used to be inseparable. At thirteen, they complete each other. At sixteen, they barely speak. What happened in between? Told in alternating perspectives, with Jude narrating the later years and Noah narrating the early years, the story slowly pieces itself together. Full of family, grief, first love, and what comes after, this book will make your YA-reluctant friend cry and swoon in equal measures.

    An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir
    If you know someone who thinks YA novels can’t include complex, well-built worlds, this book will prove them wrong. Laia and Elias are on opposite sides of an ancient Rome-esque world: Laia’s people have been conquered, and Elias is training to lead the conquerors. As Laia embeds herself as a slave in order to gather intel from the military academy Elias is training at, Elias enters into a deadly competition he wants nothing to do with. Dark, detailed, and action-packed, An Ember in the Ashes is a standout.

    Outrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee
    Looking for an excellent young adult historical fiction novel to recommend? Outrun the Moon is it. It’s 1906 in San Francisco, and Mercy Wong is determined to go to a posh private school so she can become a businesswoman. The problem? She’s Chinese, and the school is open only to white students. But Mercy is stubborn, and through a combination of bribery and blackmail, she gets in. Cue a massive earthquake that tears apart the city, leaving Mercy stranded among her less-than-friendly classmates.

    Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
    What could be better than a heist novel full of six lovably damaged characters, a gritty backstory, and a touch of magic? Kaz Brekker is notorious for his criminal skill, so when he’s offered the job of a lifetime, he can’t turn it down. But the only thing more impossible than the task ahead is getting his team of talented misfits to get along long enough to pull it off. Full of twists and distinct, well-developed characters, Six of Crows will make anyone fall in love with YA.

    The post 8 Books to Convert a YA Naysayer into a YA Fanatic appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Dahlia Adler 6:40 pm on 2014/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: #weneeddiversebooks, 2014 titles, , jandy nelson, , laura lam, lgbtq, lindsay ribar, michael barakiva, , , , , susan kuklin, , ,   

    12 Must-Read LGBTQ YAs of 2014 

    Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to YouIt’s been a really great year for young adult lit, and for LGBTQ YA in particular. The category continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and this list includes not only contemporary coming-out narratives, but fantasy, historical, and…however you’d classify Grasshopper Jungle. There’s even realistic fiction in which coming out isn’t part of the narrative at all. What these books do have in common, besides their literary merit, is that they all take a positive step forward in ensuring all teens are able to see themselves represented in YA lit, that they’re all necessary,. I’m hopeful they are a sign of more great things to come.

    Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
    Sophie is a recovering addict whose best friend, Mina, has been murdered. With the killer still on the loose, Sophie sets out to solve the mystery, and reveals her own truth in the process: she and Mina weren’t just best friends, they were in love. Sharpe’s debut is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the pains we go through to hide who we are, and what we risk losing in the process. It’s also probably the most beautiful, on-point depiction of bisexuality I’ve read in YA, period.

    Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
    Set in 1959 Virginia, this story of two girls—one black, one white—who enter each other’s lives as a result of school integration is already fraught with brutal depictions of race relations of the time. But that doesn’t make Talley shy away from taking this book one step further, to an intersectional story featuring a relationship that’s rife with difficulty along both racial and gender lines. That they’re both girls feels secondary to the different color of their skin, and the fluidity with which their connection turns romantic feels so inevitable, it never really competes with the issue at the heart of the book.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    I make an active effort to be aware of LGBTQ books for teens, but in all my excitement over learning Nelson’s sophomore novel would be released in 2014, I had no idea one of the two main characters was gay. But in this novel about estranged twins dealing with love, loss, and the struggle to understand what tore them apart, it was a most pleasant surprise that my favorite of the passionate, real, and beautifully done romances in this book was between narrator Noah and the marvelously layered Brian.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When an author’s debut features a set of great gay dads, as did Verdi’s My Life After Now, it’s a given that any LGBTQ book by said author will jump to the top of my to-buy list. I got my hands on this one as soon as humanly possible, and fell for it hard, even as I cried my way through. I loved main character Lexi, who wasn’t the easy, obvious choice of a snarky character jumping into de-gayification camp with all the derision readers already possess on her behalf. And I loved her romance with Carolyn, which was sweet and flirty and charming. Though other parts of the book are tougher to take, the chemistry between them is a major pitter-patter-inducing bright spot.

    Shadowplay by Laura Lam
    This series (Shadowplay is a direct sequel to Pantomime) is still on my to-read list, but it’s come so highly recommended from so many trusted friends—and features such severely underrepresented characters—that I felt it needed to be mentioned here. Following the events of Pantomime, Micah is on the run, nursing heartbreak and learning stage magic in greater depth than he ever thought possible. A story of learning to embrace yourself and new beginnings set in the lush world of a steampunk-tinged circus, this promises to be one of YA’s most unique reads.

    Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
    In a subgenre full of heartbreaking coming-out stories, LaCour’s third novel is a soft, light, Hollywood-inspired breath of fresh air. Emi is a set designer, still learning her craft and bleeding passion for a rarely seen aspect of the industry. Ava is the enigmatic, downtrodden aspiring actress who draws her eye, her support, and her heart. LaCour’s writing is dependably beautiful (her previous YA novels, Hold Still and The Disenchantments, are two of my favorites, and both contain queer secondary characters), and the combination of romance and mystery ensure this is not a book to be missed.

    The Fourth Wish, by Lindsay Ribar
    I loved this paranormal romance’s predecessor, The Art of Wishing, but the sequel takes things to the next level. The first book established genie love interest Oliver as bisexual; here we get themes and discussions of gender bending and fluidity, boundaries, and consent. This duology may seem light and sweet—and at times it is—but it’s also raising issues few books are. It also makes me think that if this is what Ribar can do in a paranormal world, I’d love to see what she can do in our own.

    One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
    Every now and again you read a book that was pretty much put on earth to make your heart melt. This sweet, charming romance between the 14-year-old son of Armenian immigrants and an older skater boy who shows him the world he’s been missing is all kinds of adorable—the perfect read for those looking for queer kidlit without a lot of angst.

    Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis
    Sci-fi and fantasy still have a long way to go toward inclusion of diverse characters (though Alex London and Malinda Lo have contributed mightily in that vein), but Duyvis’s debut seamlessly includes them. Nolan is a disabled Latino boy…except when he closes his eyes. Then he’s transported into the body of Amara, a mute servant girl who frequently suffers abuse but also has healing powers. What’s most notable here on the LGBTQ front is that through the course of the book, Amara has relationships with both her male fellow servant and the female princess she is sworn to protect—a rare demonstration of bisexuality in a category that seldom even references it.

    Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
    There’s no question that Smith’s novel of a teen boy battling a potentially apocalyptic invasion of gigantic praying mantises alongside his friends is one of the more unusual YA offerings this year. The bisexuality of main character Austin, however, as he battles confusing attractions to both his girlfriend and his male best friend, is a much more universal kind of relatable.

    Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld
    Westerfeld’s large tome, which alternates between the contemporary perspective of a YA author ingenue and the paranormal romance that earned her a rather large book deal, was one of the year’s Big Books. But lost in all the talk of the meta structure and enormous size is the fact that Darcy’s POV contained a sweet, mature, well-done relationship between her and a fellow (female) author that had something none of the other romances between girls I read this year did: longevity. It wasn’t about the girls getting together, but about them being together, and that’s noteworthy enough in YA to earn it a spot on this list.

    Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    The only nonfiction title here, Beyond Magenta goes in depth with six transgender teens to discuss their experiences and share their struggles with self-identification. There are photographs, accounts, varying situations, and, most importantly, true-life stories that benefit readers of any age, whether they are trans, know someone who is, or simply want to educate themselves on the gender spectrum.

    What’s your favorite 2014 book featuring diverse characters?

  • Dahlia Adler 7:00 pm on 2014/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: alison cherry, , c. desir, , , complicit, , , jandy nelson, , sophomore superstars, , , , YA novelists,   

    8 Great YA Sophomore Standalones of 2014 

    Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't MeThe sophomore slump can be one of the greatest curses of any writer, and the stronger your debut, the scarier the expectations. Many an author has been felled by the pressure to write a great second novel, and yet, for whatever reason, when it came to YA standalones, this was The Year of the Sophomore. I don’t think I read a single follow-up this year that I didn’t like as much or better than that author’s already strong first offering, and I dare you to read the following books and disagree.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    Probably the most anticipated sophomore novel in the history of ever. I have to admit I was terrified when I opened this one up. Like so many other YA readers, I absolutely loved the gorgeous and poetic The Sky is Everywhere, and three years is a whole lotta time to build up expectations. But Nelson delivers something every bit as beautiful and then some in this nonlinear dual-POV book about familial relationships, art, pain, envy, and love.

    Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
    Haydu has rapidly become my favorite uncomfortable writer; you know when opening one of her books that it will not be easy on either your mind or your heart. But you also know it won’t simply be a read, but rather a thoughtful experience. Just as Haydu’s phenomenal debut, OCD Love Story, penetrated my brain by putting my anxiety in perspective, her sophomore novel, about a girl who has been isolated by her peers and gets sucked into the questionable online forum she turns to for advice, constantly makes me think about the approval we solicit from strangers, and why. It also kept me up waaaay past my bedtime.

    For Real, by Alison Cherry
    From the very first paragraph of Cherry’s sophomore novel, it’s impossible not to wonder, “Is this even by the same author as Red?” Where Cherry’s 2013 debut was charming satire with a younger-reader bent, For Real reads older, edgier, and straight-up fun. The story of two sisters who embark upon an Amazing Race–type reality show in order to get revenge on one’s boyfriend is sweet, funny, inspiring, and eminently likable. It may not be “unputdownable” in the thriller sense, but it certainly was in the “No desire to do anything else until I’m done reading” sense.

    Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian
    Mesrobian’s debut, Sex & Violence, was a Morris Award nominee, and her followup just as seamlessly nails not only a teen male voice, but a teen male experience. This thoughtful, honest, fearless depiction of a boy in his final year of high school, who’s sitting on his decision to join the marines upon graduation, is a rare character-driven novel with deeply quiet power.

    Bleed Like Me, by C. Desir
    Desir is that most divisive sort of YA author, the kind who writes about the sort of things you wish teens didn’t experience, but must acknowledge they do. What struck me the most when reading Bleed Like Me was that while adult me could clearly see the toxicity of the central couple, and the way they fed each other’s self-destructiveness, I also felt how teen me would’ve experienced that exact same pull. It is simultaneously terrifying and a relief that books like this exist. They are necessary.

    Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn
    Creep. Tastic. It’s hard to top the second-book pressure of an author who literally won the award for best debut (Kuehn’s Charm & Strange took home the 2013 Morris Award), but man, does she deliver. It’s hard to say much about this dark, twisty psychological thriller without spoiling, but I will say this: no matter what you figure out along the way and when, the ending is still going to rip your heart out.

    My Best Friend, Maybe, by Caela Carter
    In a year when conversation about diversity was at the forefront of the YA conversation, this is a book it pained me to see get lost in the shuffle. Yes, the main character herself is a straight, cisgender white girl, but this is the story of how she reunites with the best friend she didn’t know was a lesbian, falls for that friend’s adopted Haitian brother, and examines her Christian faith in the process. There’s so much character nuance here, it was the first time I remember reading a book feeling like I had to keep turning the pages just to observe the character development.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When I saw the premise for Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, was about a girl contracting HIV, I immediately feared that no future premises would live up to it. Then I saw that her sophomore novel was about a girl going to de-gayification camp, and I felt a strange rush of relief. For me, this actually exceeded the debut (though I definitely recommend both), and had me in tears both happy and sad the whole way through.

    What’s your favorite amazing sophomore novel?

  • Melissa Albert 5:30 pm on 2014/09/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , huntley fitzpatrick, , , jandy nelson, john corey whaley, , my life next door, , noggin, , , ,   

    What to Read Next if You Loved If I Stay 

    If I Stay recommended reads

    You cried when you read the book, you cried double when you saw the movie, and now you’re all cried out and in need of a seriously good follow-up read (and a glass of water). Gayle Forman’s elegiac heartbreaker If I Stay finds teenaged Mia on the precipice between death and life, after the rest of her family has been killed in the car crash that left her in a coma. Now she must choose: oblivion, or all the sorrows and joys of staying in her life on earth—and choosing life comes with the added sweetness of a boy, a dreamy rocker named Adam who is the yin to Mia’s classically trained cellist yang. After you’ve read and loved it, here’s what to try next:

    If you need more Mia and Adam like you need air…read Where She Went
    At the end of If I Stay, (highlight white area to show spoiler) Mia chooses life, rededicating herself to her art. In follow-up Where She Went, she and Adam reunite in New York City three years later, where Mia’s Juilliard successes are shadowed by her painful past, and now-successful rocker Adam’s still not over the girl who was his muse. This is a cathartic after love story, that may or may not end in a new beginning for two relatably imperfect characters.

    If you loved the opposites attract love story…read The Raven Cycle
    It’s disdain at first sight when Blue meets Gansey, a polished future president type who comes swaggering into the restaurant where she works and pisses her off posthaste. Blue is prickly and hotheaded, the daughter of an unconventional psychic mother who raises her among an extended family of clairvoyant women in a house that doubles as their workplace. But the things is, she’s seen Gansey before, in a vision that leads her to believe against all odds that he’s meant to be her first love, and over the course of two books (The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves), they warily circle each other and try to deny their growing attraction. We’re fangirling hard for the release of trilogy ender Blue Lily, Lily Blue, out October 21.

    If you want another meditation on life and death…read Falling Into Place
    Zowie. Falling Into Place takes bullying and grief and best friendship and parent-child relations and the struggle to be cool and how far people go to fit in and suicide and loss and redemption and SHAKES IT ALL UP LIKE A SNOW GLOBE, giving us a gorgeous, breathlessly written story about the day queen bee high schooler Liz Emerson decides to die, and all the days that lead up to it and come after, and all the lives she touched for better or worse. Read it and weep.

    If you’re looking for another tearjerker…read Noggin
    This book about a dying boy whose head is removed from his body, cryogenically frozen, then sutured to a donor body five years later extends far beyond the boundaries of speculative fiction. It’s about what it’s like to drop out of your life for five years, and come back feeling exactly the same—only to find that the world has moved on without you. It’s about the secrets people keep, out of fear or love, about the kind of relationships that can overcome age difference and near-death, and the disorienting blend of compassion and selfishness that true love inspires. Argh, read it! You’ll cry your eyes out (I did).

    If you loved the window onto a wonderful family…read My Life Next Door
    Dissatisfied with her own family—one older sister and a striving single mother—Samantha has long been fascinated by the big, messy, ebullient family next door: two parents, eight kids, and a bursting house that can barely contain them. Her chilly mother finds the riotous Garretts distasteful and forbids her children to mix with them, but Samantha can’t look away. And then one night, 17-year-old Jase Garrett catches her peeking. Just as her mother’s new boyfriend is making her home life unbearable, Samantha finds her escape in Jase. As the two fall for each other, you’ll fall for the wonderful Garretts—and have your heart wrung out by what Samantha and Jase have to face on their way to a happy ending.

    If you loved its artistic heroine…read I’ll Give You the Sun
    Jude is a teenaged sculptor whose work always fall apart in the kiln. It’s not her fault, it’s her mother’s unsettled ghost.  Three years after losing her mother in a car wreck, Jude and her once-close twin brother, Noah, are practically strangers, and her bold, brave self is whittled down almost to nothing. It takes the appearance of a boy as messed up as she is and a legendary artist with his own losses to mourn for Jude to find her way back to her brother, the memory of her mother, and herself. This beautiful book will make you feel lucky to be alive. If it also makes you feel like punching the air and running down the street hollering, just go with it.

    What YA cry-reads do you love?

  • Dahlia Adler 5:00 pm on 2014/09/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , jandy nelson, , ,   

    Jandy Nelson on Her Sophomore Novel, Siblings, and Why Adults Should Read YA Lit 

    Jandy Nelson and I'll Give You the Sun

    As will quickly become apparent, I’ve been a total Jandy Nelson fangirl since I first read her debut, The Sky is Everywhere. (This admiration was cemented the very next day, when I reread The Sky is Everywhere.) It’s been three years since its release, and I’d been waiting with bated breath for her follow-up, which turned out to be every bit as stunning, if not more so. I’ll Give You the Sun follows twins Jude and Noah through two different years of their lives: age 13, which is narrated by Noah, and 16, which is narrated by Jude after she and Noah have drifted apart. Art and pleasure and passion and love and pain and loss bleed off the pages, and if you only read one YA book this year…well, read more. But make sure this is the top of that list. And if you’re still not convinced, perhaps this interview with the author will do the trick.

    You do such intriguing work on sibling relationships, in both The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You the Sun. What is it about that particular connection that inspires you?

    Thank you so much! It’s funny. I didn’t even realize I was writing predominately about sibling relationships until people started reading I’ll Give You the Sun and pointing it out. And my third novel is also about siblings! It’s amazing how unaware we are as writers! But I do find the sibling connection endlessly fascinating, as I do all family dynamics. I like how siblings seem to create their own parentless mini-civilization within a family, one that has its own laws, myths, language, humor, its own loyalties and treacheries. I like that no one on earth gets you like your siblings or can get to you like your siblings. I like how families are these wonderfully dramatic/comedic pressure cookers, and with the right (or wrong) ingredients the lid always blows. It’s such rich fodder, loaded with pathos and humor and interpersonal dynamics that are both ever changing and always the same. I grew up with older brothers, adore them, can’t imagine going through life without them, and I definitely think I draw on that love when I’m writing about siblings. It’s so powerful, the jump-in-front-of-a-train-to-protect-them kind of love.

    I read that for the writing of I’ll Give You the Sun, you basically turned your writing space into a sensory deprivation chamber. How did that help, and what do your research and writing processes look like? (Please don’t withhold any important snack details.)

    Yes, the cat’s out of the bag on that one! I wrote Sun in a pitch-black room, curtains drawn, with earplugs in and sound machine blasting. For YEARS! It was nuts, but also fantastic and I highly recommend it to those willing to take the lunacy plunge. The only light in the room came from the computer screen and it became like this portal straight into the story. I really feel like this somehow allowed me to get much deeper into the characters. I’m hooked.

    But in general my writing process is pretty all or nothing. I’m not very balanced when I’m in the throes of a novel. For the last couple years, I wrote Sun from the moment I’d wake up, which is pretty early, until I couldn’t write anymore which was usually late afternoon. But the first four or five hours after waking are key for me, that seems to be when lightning strikes if it’s going to. The rest of the day is more like that Oscar Wilde quote: (“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”). And I’m totally boring about snacks! I just guzzle vats and vats of green tea. That said, when I’m done, I really like to go out to eat, drink, and be very merry. In terms of research, I love doing it and did a lot for Sun. I took a stone-carving class, read lots about astronomy, about art and artists, about twins, about meteorites. I probably do way too much research actually but I just really enjoy it. One of the things I so love about writing fiction is you get to follow the interests and passions of your characters, which often, lo and behold, mirror your own.

    The Sky is Everywhere is probably my favorite YA debut, and I know I’m not alone there. With expectations so high, it’s amazing to me that I’ll Give You the Sun managed to exceed them. What do you think helps make for a great sophomore novel, and how do you distance yourself from the first one as needed?

    That just makes me so happy—thank you! Maybe to distance yourself from the first one you sit in a pitch-black room with earplugs in and sound machine blasting for several years! But in all seriousness, I think it’s difficult. Second novels are bears. As are other people’s expectations for them. I think taking the time you need with the second book is key. Writers spend years and years on their first novels and then are often expected to turn out a second at warp speed, a recipe for failure. I’m a firm believer that, for most of us, writing a novel—getting to really know your characters, their voices, their inner and outer worlds, the story, the everything—takes time and focus and devotion and there’s just no way around that. The whole writing is in the revising thing, so I guess I think the only way to separate from the first is to dive headlong into the new work and be true to it and give it your all and take the necessary time to make it as good as you can. After you’re done, you can and will likely agonize over how people are going to respond to it, how it will compare to the first, etc., but at least you’ll know you went for it, that you did the best you could for the new characters and story. Sounds hokey, I know, but I think it’s true.

    You weave other media beautifully into your books, with poetry in TSIE and sculpture in IGYTS. What roles do these media play in your life, and what others could you see yourself exploring?

    I love art and it plays a huge role in my life. It’s definitely one of my greatest joys and I’m a bit fanatical about certain painters and poets and musicians and sculptors. I can spend days on end in museums and I’m with Guillermo in Sun who believes that art remakes the world. I wish I could paint like Noah or play clarinet like Lennie or sculpt like Jude but I’m useless with all other mediums. Within my own novels, I like for there to be different “stories” inside the story, want there to be Easter eggs hidden around, and so I like using other media that way, to layer the narrative, and also as a way to explore the characters’ psyches more deeply and intricately. Like in Sun, I got to know Noah in a whole new way through his invisible paintings. There will be textual surprises woven into the narrative of my next novel, The Fall Boys & Dizzy in Paradise, too, but I can’t spill the beans quite yet on that.

    Coming from a poetry background, you seem like the perfect candidate to write a verse novel. Will we potentially be seeing one from you someday? Or at least more poetry intermingled in your YA?

    I really hope so! I’m dying to write one. The Sky Is Everywhere was actually going to be a verse novel for about two weeks but then I realized to best tell Lennie’s story I’d have to write the story mostly in prose. This totally freaked me out, by the way! I’d never written a word of fiction at that point. But perhaps after The Fall Boys & Dizzy in Paradise, I’ll finally write that verse novel…

    You used to work on the other side of the desk, as a literary agent. What surprised you about being an author after coming from that experience?

    I’d always written poetry but never fiction, so being in the situation of having a novel to sell at all was a HUGE surprise! Because of my work as an agent, none of the business-y stuff surprised me at all except maybe how nice everyone is in children’s publishing—it’s a little more cutthroat in the adult trade publishing world. But I think what shocked me the most was the sheer joy of writing fiction itself. It just blew me away. I had no idea how mesmerizing it is, how all consuming, how it’s like living two lives at once. Perpetually. How lucky is that? I had no idea how much life it stuffs into your life. It’s been a tremendous gift. I don’t know how I lived without doing it for forty years!

    I happened to have been reading I’ll Give You the Sun during the whole “You should be ashamed to read YA” fiasco, which felt like the height of irony to me because it’s such a perfect example of how sophisticated and layered YA can be. What books come to mind for you when you want to give examples of “YA really isn’t only the sweet, escapist fluff you think it is”? (Not that I have any problem with the “sweet, escapist fluff,” by the way, says this author of sweet, escapist fluff.)

    Thank you so much! Nor do I have any problem with sweet, escapist fluff! That discussion was silly and I don’t really get it. I came to young adult literature late in my literary life as a reader and it was a total revelation. There was an immediacy and rawness to the writing, an emotional urgency to the narration, a propulsion to the storytelling. The YA books felt electrified, just had this voltage, so I definitely think it’s an inspired section of the bookstore! Anyway, here’s a few titles out of hundreds I’m thinking of: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block, A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff, I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, True Confessions of a Heartless Girlby Martha Brooks, Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta, A Step from Heaven, by An Na, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, Cures for Heartbreak, by Margo Rabb, Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, The Chosen One, By Carol Lynch Williams, Hold Still, by Nina LaCour, Every Time a Rainbow Dies, by Rita Williams Garcia, Looking for Alaska, by John Green—and I could go on and on. Also, how about Catcher in The Rye, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Pride and Prejudice, all of which would be published as YA today. Plus, there’s so much experimentation going on with form in YA. (Where else can you find so many verse novels?) Young adult books teem with life and energy and the freshness and rawness of youth itself, so, in my mind, the question shouldn’t have been “Why should adults feel embarrassed about reading YA literature?” But “Why should adults miss out?”

    “To MFA or not to MFA” comes up often among writers, but I’m guessing from the fact that you have two, you’re pretty pro. How do you advise authors who ask whether an MFA program might be right for them?

    I think it depends on the writer. I love school so for me it was wonderful being in an MFA program, both times, but I think for certain writers it might feel restrictive. Still, when asked, I usually encourage aspiring writers of YA and children’s literature to go to VCFA because it’s truly an extraordinary personal and creative experience. Getting such individualized feedback on your work by so many different (brilliant) mentors over a two-year period is amazing, just invaluable. And it’s an exceptional community that is like this huge extended crazy inspiring family for life. When I went, I knew nothing about children’s or young adult literature and had never written a word of fiction, so for me it was life-changing both as a reader and a writer. One of the best decisions of my life.

    You have a third book, Fall Boys & Dizzy in Paradise, set to come out in 2017. What can you share about it?

    It’s a novel about two brothers and a sister living in a hot dusty Northern California vineyard town called Paradise. Their father mysteriously disappeared sixteen years earlier and the story begins when this strange, enigmatic girl shows up and sends all their lives into tumult. It’s kind of a relay race of a love(s) story, with some serious trumpet playing, food making, grape crushing, break ins and outs, dreams shattered and pieced back together, time lost, love lost and found, and a band called Hell Hyena and the Furniture. I’m really excited about it!

    And speaking of highly anticipated books, as a reader, what upcoming titles are you most highly anticipating?

    As YA and MG goes, I’m very much looking forward to Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, Jackie Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and my friend Rachel M. Wilson’s debut, Don’t Touch. As adult books go, I’m dying to read David Mitchell’s new one, The Bone Clocks, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, and Denis Johnson’s forthcoming The Laughing Monsters.

    I’ll Give You the Sun is out today!

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