Wednesday, October 30, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... THE PROGRAM by Suzanne Young

YA Guy’s probably going to be out of commission for the month of November, as I’m participating in my first NaNoWriMo. But I thought I’d slip in one final book review before the madness begins!


YA Guy remembers all too well the comments Annie Dillard wrote about my college novel.

Yes, that’s right: the Annie Dillard. She taught at Wesleyan University, where I got my B.A. And she was one of the readers for my senior project, a novel titled (at that time) Selfish People. It currently sits in my closet along with two or three other unpublished novels.

But I digress.

Dillard basically liked my novel. She called it a “creditable achievement.” But she also wrote: “This is not, in any respect, my kind of book.”

At the time, that really stung.

But in the time since, I’ve come to see her words in a positive light. Bottom line: she liked my book, even though it wasn’t something she would have chosen to read on her own.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject of this review: Suzanne Young’s 2013 novel The Program.

Ordinarily, I’d say that this is not, in any respect, my kind of book. The story of a near-future society in which teen suicide has become rampant, claiming the lives of one in three teens, The Program is full of material I generally shy from: young lust, emotional overflow, love triumphant. Plus its principal setting--the psychiatric facility where narrator Sloane is subjected to the Program, her society’s “cure” for the suicide epidemic--felt far too familiar to other psych wards I’ve seen in YA. You know, the oppressive, Big Brother type, which seems to be the only type in YA.

But having said all this, I must also say that I just plain liked The Program. It won me over. It’s still not my kind of book, but it’s a book that, for me, transcended its kind.

Maybe that was because I really liked the characters: Sloane, her boyfriend James, her friend Lacey, her mysterious buddy in the program, Realm. Maybe it was because I dug the creepiness of the Program, which functions primarily by erasing its subjects’ memories. (Why this should cure suicidal thinking is never really explained, but there it is.) Maybe it was because I appreciated the tricky line Young walks in the novel’s final third, where her characters, memories erased, have to rediscover a love that readers know from the novel’s first two-thirds. (I read somewhere that readers should never know more than the MC, and perhaps that’s true in general. But Young did an excellent job of maintaining suspense and tension despite the reader’s superior knowledge.) Whatever it was, I found The Program a good, tight read, with a sprinkling of speculative elements but a far stronger dose of everyday teen reality.

So maybe I need to read more books that aren’t my kind. Maybe I’ll discover more gems like The Program that way.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis


Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink has been at the top of YA Guy’s to-read list ever since I heard about it a year ago.

I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like the title’s Coleridgean nod. Or because the premise--a world with scant fresh water--is so intriguing (and prophetic). Or because McGinnis is a librarian (my favorite kind of people) whose blog is hilarious. Whatever, I was really looking forward to her debut.

And now that I’ve read it, I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint.

The story is straightforward and stark (as is the prose): with drinking water running perilously low, teenage Lynn and her mother defend their rural home and its tiny pond, gunning down anyone who ventures too close to the water. Under her mother’s tutelage, Lynn’s experience of life has been whittled down to bare-bones, kill-or-be-killed survival. But the arrival of newcomers in the area, including a young girl and a teenage boy, starts to open Lynn’s heart to feelings she’s never known: compassion, guilt, hope. Soon, she’ll be forced to decide whether to heed her mother’s lessons or to risk her life for those she loves.

One of the best things about Not a Drop to Drink is its portrait of Lynn, a thoroughly believable character whom McGinnis denies the tinge of vulnerability we seem to demand of YA heroines. Some readers might be put off by Lynn; others might admire her strength. I found her simply true to life.

Ditto for the book’s plot and world-building. Unlike most YA dystopias, Not a Drop to Drink does without totalitarian regimes, futuristic technology, or bizarre reconfigurations of the social order: it starts from the premise of a nearly waterless world and builds a convincing portrait of life under those conditions. Its realism is helped by the wise choice to tell Lynn’s story in the third person, past tense (a rarity in today’s first-person-present-tense-ruled YA dystopias): there’s a journalistic quality to the narration that complements the sense that we’re simply seeing life as it is. The only missteps in the book’s realism are a (to me) unconvincing romantic subplot and a static, talky chapter late in the book that fills in the backstory. Aside from those awkward moments--forgivable in a debut--the book rings true.

And its truths, I have to caution, are not for the faint of heart. The world McGinnis portrays is an ugly one, bleak and, at times, seemingly hopeless. If Lynn learns to find moments of grace and beauty in this world, those moments are hard-earned, and they don’t come without devastating sacrifice. The raw beauty of McGinnis’s prose perfectly captures this struggle, as in the following passage:

Her lost bucket rested on the bottom now, not far from the edge. Lynn used it as a marker, a sign that they hadn’t had enough rain in the dry summers. The year before she’d been able to see the white plastic grip on the top of the handle, floating only a foot below the surface as the level dropped. Each day brought it into clearer focus, driving a spike of fear into her heart and inviting the flood of certainty that this would be the year they didn’t make it. This would be the year they died.

The bucket, it may be needless to say, is an apt symbol for Lynn’s world, where promises are seldom kept and even the implements of life can become harbingers of death. (It’s also a great allusion to the Greek myth of Tantalus.) Such an unsparing vision of the future makes Not a Drop to Drink a tough read.

But at the same time, a breathtaking one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

YA Guy Reveals... THE STAR CATCHER by Stephanie Keyes

Today on YA Guy, I'm happy to be part of the cover reveal for Stephanie Keyes' new book THE STAR CATCHER! Stephanie is an awesome writer and great Twitter friend (with Pittsburgh roots, always a bonus!). Her book's available for pre-order, plus there's a Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post. So slip into Stephanie's fantasy world and get ready for....

The Star Catcher (The Star Child #3)
By Stephanie Keyes
Release Date: Fall 2013
Publisher:  Inkspell Publishing
Cover Designed by: Najla Qamber Designs

Book Summary:
Magick and destiny intertwine as he fights to save his kingdom and the goddess he loves.

Her kiss…the feel of her skin…the beat of her heart…For seventeen-year-old Kellen St. James, each memory is marred by a single sentence on a lone strip of paper.
Cali has been taken…

Armed with an amulet that channels the ultimate power of Faerie, Kellen searches for his love. However, control of the amulet’s energy comes with a price, and Kellen soon learns that Cali’s captor has plans for the stone. With the threat of the Star Catcher’s evil looming above Kellen and his kingdom, he’ll have to free the Heart of Faerie and break the curse the binds the Children of Danu to the darkness. But before that, he has to find his real father, the king. No pressure, right?

Kellen and Cali will battle bewitched armies and unknown foes as they fight to stay together. Will Kellen embrace his immortal destiny? Or will his world, and the man he is fated to become, be destroyed by The Star Catcher?

Pre-Order HERE!

About the Author
Stephanie Keyes has been addicted to Fantasy since she discovered T.H. White as a child and started drumming up incredible journeys in her head. Today, she's still doing the same thing, except now she gets to share those ideas with readers!

When she's not writing, Stephanie is also a graphic designer, international speaker, teacher, musician, avid reader, and Mom to two little boys who constantly keep her on her toes. In addition, she's best friend to her incredible husband of eleven years.

Mrs. Keyes holds an undergraduate degree in Business and Management Information Systems from Robert Morris University and a M.Ed. from Duquesne University. She is a member of the Society For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), as well as a featured author in the global group of writers, Love a Happy Ending.com.

Keyes is the author of the YA Fantasy series, The Star Child, which currently includes The Star Child, After Faerie, The Fallen Stars, and the soon to-be-released finale, The Star Catcher (November 2013), all from by Inkspell Publishing. Mrs. Keyes is hard at work on a new YA Paranormal Romance.
***Author Links***
  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cover Reveal Organized by:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

YA Guy Posts a Letter

Now that Scott Blagden's DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK giveaway is over, I thought I'd offer the following treat to those who enjoyed Scott's interview: the actual query letter he sent to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick Press. It's written in the voice of his irrepressible anti-hero, Cricket Cherpin, and it gives you some idea what to expect when you read DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK. (It also says something about Scott's chutzpah!) So enjoy!

Dear Ms. Bicknell,

I just read a book you edited and I was like oh my god this author reminds me of the dude who’s writing my story like when he tells how my English teacher Foxy Moxie whisper-growls at me in class like she’s some highfalutin Roxbury street corner candybar bullhorning that she’ll oodle-a-noodle in the poopadaloopa if the price is right which reminds me of testicles on breasticles but don’t heavy-hymnal my ass if that naughtytime hankering is over the top onacounta I told him not to write it but he was like sometimes you have to write about old men poking little boys in the bum and sticky thongs and girls tinkling in the woods and other scratchy understuff as a way of exposing silky upperstuff and my author does a million things like that with goofy idiotsyncrasies and other poetic bisons like sometimes he’ll communicable things without actually saying them by dripping them metafornical and stuff and I’m not saying that my story is any great shakes or anything but it’s kinda interesting onacounta my fisticuffing encounters and my scar and Caretaker and my friend Grubs Dillar who ends up getting killed which is sad and my stupid crappy past onacounta how people like to read about bad things happening to other people which personally I think is fucked up and I’m like why don’t you go and read a story about your own stupid life and sometimes I feel like walking into Borders and popping some Harry Potter-eyeglasses-wearing douchebag square in the nose and be like there’s your blood and guts asshole how do you like it but I know I’d just get in more trouble than I already am and get like my two hundred and fifty millionth speech from Mother Mary Mothballs who punishes me like a real mom which is probably the only reason I’m still Superglued to this enormous floating ball of shit and my Dear Life You Suck English ASSignment letter which is really the funandmental point of the hole story which Moxie wants me to elaborate on like she’s all SPECIFICITY and I’m like this sliver of flimsy pulp ain’t nothing more than a see-ya-on-the-flipside farewell but to be honest I know it’s more and I do want to finish it before my eighteenth birthday which is in May and which is also D-Day and the place I live which I call the Prison but it’s really not a prison but I call it that onacounta it was a prison a long time ago back when dudes dressed like beefthiefs in silky knee-highs and poofy pantaloonies and the story room which used to be a guard tower where I tell tall tales to my roommates the Little Ones who are the reason I get in so many fights onacounta I defend them from bullies except Mother Mary says my fist flailing is really about something else and I use the Little Ones getting picked on as an excuse but I’m like oh yeah right like you dishing out free eats and sandpaper sheets to abandoned doorstep turds ain’t about something else too and my nighttime giggle-juice-induced rumpus ruckus on the Silky Jets that has wicked awesome God Art views of the briny deep and of course the silky girl Wynona.

Well, I gotta run on now.

Sincerely,

Cricket Cherpin (yeah, it’s my real name so you can corkitate the snickerfizzles.)
Professional Tagonist

PS        You should like write Scott a letter and ask him to send you some of his word diddlings onacounta I think you guys would hit it off and I don’t mean for that to sound sexplicitly grandiose or anything but literarically-speaking I mean.

PMS    I put his address on the flipside.  Graciass for reading this.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan

YA Guy found David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing both inspired and a bit tiresome.

Here’s the inspired part. Narrating the story of two gay teens who try to break the world record for longest kiss is a chorus of gay men who died of AIDS. Their disembodied voices speak to the characters (and the readers) of the joys and sorrows they knew, the discoveries they made, the pain they suffered, the excitement, hope, and fear they feel for the younger generation. It’s a daring narrative choice, and at its best it yields passages of transcendent loveliness and sadness like this one:

Harry, of course, knows he is being looked at. But what he looks like is the farthest thing from his mind. When your body starts to turn against you--when the surface value of the skin is nothing compared to the fireworks of pain in your muscles and your bones--the supposed truth of beauty falls away, because there are more important concerns to attend to.

Believe us. We know this.

At the same time, however, it’s this narrative choice that can make the book tiresome. When the chorus rails against the injustices they suffered--the indifference of governments quite happy to let a “gay disease” run its course; the hatred of fellow citizens; the apathy or antipathy of their own families--or the injustices gay youth still suffer, the book feels less like narrative and more like polemic, or even screed. Here’s an example:

There is power in saying, I am not wrong. Society is wrong. Because there is no reason that men and women should have separate bathrooms. There is no reason that we should ever be ashamed of our bodies or ashamed of our love. We are told to cover ourselves up, hide ourselves away, so that other people can have control over us, can make us follow their rules. It is a bastardization of the concept of morality, this rule of shame.

Though I don’t disagree with anything stated in such passages, I nonetheless found them problematic. In ancient Greek tragedy, the chorus plays a dual role: they are both the collective voice of social wisdom and the befuddled dupes of events beyond their comprehension. They are at once in the story--as characters--and beyond the story--as commentators. As such, there’s a delicate irony in their addresses: they don’t always know what they think they know.

In Levithan’s book, by contrast, the chorus, being dead, cannot participate in the events unfolding before their eyes. They’re not characters; they’re only commentators. And what they’ve earned through their unmerited deaths is an absolute moral authority, an ability to speak the Truth. I struggle to find an ironic undercurrent in this ghostly chorus: they seem to voice the author’s convictions without the slightest trace of distance. They are the author’s stand-ins, a contrivance that allows the author to speak directly to the reader.

This makes them powerful agents of social commentary. But it also makes them rather dull agents of fictional narrative.

Levithan’s experiment was a risky one, and he’s to be applauded for pulling it off as successfully as he did. But for me, the narrative voice ultimately did a disservice to the story it was meant to sustain.