Tuesday, December 11, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Jamie Beth Cohen, author of WASTED PRETTY!

As you can tell from my past several months' posts, YA Guy loves hosting debut authors, especially when they live in my hometown of Pittsburgh. But it gives me particular joy to host Jamie Beth Cohen, whose debut novel WASTED PRETTY comes out in April, 2019. I first met Jamie years and years ago when I was a counselor at a day camp in Pittsburgh and she was (no kidding) one of my campers, so to see her succeed as a writer is the next best thing to watching one of my own children grow. Now, before I embarrass myself (or Jamie) even more, let's hear from her on the artistic and commercial sides of being a debut author!

Have you seen this image floating around the interwebz? I love it!

Writer Erin Dorney made these suggestions, and I think they really speak to the fact that although publishing is a business, there are still ways we can engage with it that don’t involve money. 

As a debut author, with a young adult novel coming from a small press in April 2019, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to engage with the commercial side of my art. 

And let me just stop myself right here, because I actually don’t consider myself an artist. I tell stories in order to connect with other people and -- if I’m doing it right -- the stories will help them in some way. A reader might feel less alone after reading something I’ve written or might feel better about a tough choice they’ve made after seeing how tough choices are handled in my work. Whatever it is, language and craft are not my top priority. It’s the connection to others that is most important to me.

Art is amazing. Art is important. I love art! And maybe some people consider what I do art, but if they do, I hope they’re talking about the kind that is accessible to everyone and integral to life, not the kind that is set apart from it (hung on walls in expensive museums or unintelligible without an advanced degree).

But I digress…

The truth is, I want my book to be widely read, not because of any monetary goal, but because I did that thing people tell young adult authors to do: I wrote the book I needed when I was a teen, and I believe there are teens out there today who still need it. 

To get the book into the hands of people who don’t know me, I have to engage with the commercial side of publishing. To that end, I have to spend money -- money I don’t really have -- to promote my book in various ways. I will throw parties, I might do giveaways, I may pay for ads, and to make up that money, I will need to sell books.

This is the vicious cycle of capitalism that many writers don’t want anything to do with. They feel it corrupts their art or takes time away from writing, but, as I said, I don’t consider myself an artist. I feel this story is important and to get it out there, I’m going to jump in with both feet and try to figure out this balancing act.

Side Note: Here’s another paradox that people have been asking me about lately: I will make about five times as much money per book if you buy it directly from me, but sales I do “out of my trunk” don’t count in the measure of “how well” my book is doing. My book will be available online directly through my publisher, on Amazon and through other outlets, but in order to quickly make up the money I spend to promote my book, I’m going to have to sell a fair number of copies “out of my trunk.” 

And to be clear, it’s not just small press authors who have to spend their own money on these things. Check out Josh’s great post about what he spent promoting his debut (which came out with a big house) and his other great post about what worked and what didn't.

So, all of Erin’s suggestions above on ways you can help an author are great, but there are some things my writer-heart and my writer-brain are struggling with right now. Taking the lead from Josh, I’m letting you in with the hope that transparency is the way to go. Because people ask all the time how they can support my debut, but I’m never sure if they really want the truth…

My writer-heart wants you to love this story.
My writer-brain wants you to buy this book for yourself, your family, and your friends!

My writer-heart wants you to buy enough books through your local indie bookstore that the next time I want to sell a story, people think I’m a safe bet.
My writer-brain wants you to place an order with me so I can recoup my marketing costs and maybe see a movie with my family.

My writer-heart wants to sit over coffee and talk to you about this story.
My writer-brain wants you to tell everyone you know to buy this book!

My writer-heart wants you to write honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
My writer-brain wants you to keep your criticisms just between us. Tell me what you think so I can be a better writer, but please don’t put me on blast.

My writer-heart wants to travel the world visiting my friends and coming to book clubs they set up with their friends.
My writer-brain knows I don’t have the kind of time or cash to make this happen, but I hope I can video-chat with lots of fun book clubs.

My writer-heart wants you to buy my book and love it without me ever having to mention it again.
My writer-brain knows it takes roughly seven mentions to influence behavior... apologies in advance…

About Jamie: Jamie Beth Cohen is a writer, storyteller, and community organizer whose writing has appeared in TeenVogue.com, The Washington Post/On Parenting, Salon, and many other outlets. WASTED PRETTY, her debut YA novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who faces wanted and unwanted attention when she accidentally goes from blending in to standing out, will be published by Black Rose Writing in April 2019.

Stalk Jamie here:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

YA Guy Lists... His 2018 Top Ten!

Here's the bad news: YA Guy didn't read much this year. As discussed in a previous post, I took a bit of a hiatus from reading in 2018, my hope being that this would free up time for my own writing.

Here's the good news: it worked. I produced two novels in 2018 (both of them already published), plus a collection of short stories (also published). Two additional novels are in the final stages of revision, and should be published next year. So that's all very exciting for me personally.

And here's the even better news: I didn't stop reading entirely during 2018. I read what I needed to for the classes I taught, as well as reading a few novels that were recommended to me (including Nabokov's truly bizarre Pale Fire, recommended by, of all people, my fifteen-year-old son). I also read some YA novels--nowhere near the fifty or so I've been reading each of the past few years, but enough to produce a Top 10 List.

And so, without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

S. A. Bodeen, THE TOMB. If you've read any of Bodeen's previous novels--including her acclaimed THE COMPOUND--you know she likes to play with your mind. THE TOMB does that in a big way, and in the service of a gripping sci-fi narrative.

Parker Peevyhouse, THE ECHO ROOM. Peevyhouse impressed me a couple of years ago with her debut WHERE FUTURES END, a collection of linked short stories that fused magic with dystopian science fiction. THE ECHO ROOM is even better, a literary Escape Room with a twist you'll never see coming, even when you're sure you see it coming.

Fonda Lee, CROSS FIRE. This sequel to EXO, about an alien colonization of Earth and the human factions that develop to contest (as well as support) it, is my favorite novel so far by my favorite YA science fiction writer. If you don't read this two-part series, you're missing something truly exceptional.

Lisa Maxwell, THE DEVIL'S THIEF. Every bit as good as its predecessor THE LAST MAGICIAN, this complexly plotted, densely peopled, mind-bending historical fantasy proves beyond a doubt that Maxwell is one of the most talented and inventive YA writers of this or any time.

Eliot Schrefer, ORPHANED. The concluding book in Schrefer's "Ape Quartet," each of which focuses on a young person's relationship with one of the four great apes--bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas--this book imagines the meeting of prehistoric gorillas and humans due to a changing volcanic landscape. It's told from the gorilla MC's point of view, and it's a satisfying conclusion to one of the best YA series I've ever read.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, OBSIDIO. I'll admit that the graphic pyrotechnics of this third book in the Illuminae series are nowhere near as excitingly radical as they were in the first book, and the endless teen-snarky emails are a bit wearying. But this is still a solid ending to a revolutionary series that suggested all kinds of new directions for YA science fiction.

Erica Cameron, WAR OF STORMS. The third installment in Cameron's epic fantasy The Ryogan Chronicles, this book wraps up a story and a world so immersive, so fully realized, you'll believe you're actually there. Read the books in order to get the full experience, starting with ISLAND OF EXILES and then SEA OF STRANGERS.

Thomas Sweterlitsch, THE GONE WORLD. This is the one book on the list that isn't YA, but I couldn't resist, because any book by Pittsburgh author Sweterlitsch is a major event. His first novel, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, is set in large part in a virtual Pittsburgh that's all that remains after the real city is destroyed in a terrorist nuclear attack; THE GONE WORLD takes place in a variety of (possible) futures where a military investigator travels to try to unravel a shocking crime from the present. Both books are wildly imaginative, beautifully written, and mind-bendingly original works of science fiction.

Joshua David Bellin, ECOSYSTEM and THE DEVOURING LAND. My own books, the first two in a three-part series, tell the story of a future Earth in which the physical environment has developed into a sentient, and predatory, being. I decided to self-publish the series so I could realize a vision I've had for many years, and I couldn't be happier with the results. Look for the final book in the trilogy, titled HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, in early 2019.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Natasha Garrett, author of MOTHERLANDS!

YA Guy is super excited to introduce my friend and colleague--and fellow writer--Natasha Garrett, whose debut collection of essays, MOTHERLANDS, is available now! A book that explores the modern migrant experience, MOTHERLANDS is particularly timely in today's social and political climate. Natasha talks openly about her experience as a writer in the guest post below, and then you can find out more about (and order a copy of) MOTHERLANDS! 


I am curious about other authors’ writing spaces and habits the way some people are interested in celebrity homes. Some writers, like Hemingway and Dickens, wrote while standing; in contrast, Truman Capote wrote while lying on his couch. Mark Twain’s office was painted mauvish-pink and contained a pool table. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the morning, after waking up and stripping naked. I enjoy learning these tidbits and browsing through photos of writers’ offices, because I am being reminded of the behind-the-scenes work that happens before a book is finished, and the various routines and locations that support one’s writing life. I am also a bit envious of the writers, famous and not-so-famous, who allow themselves the time and space to write with regularity.

In my recent collection of personal essays, Motherlands, I write about my discomfort with calling myself a writer, because in many ways, I feel like an outsider to writing. I have a full-time job that doesn’t require literary skills, a busy family life and a great social circle. My approach to writing lacks the routine and the structure of many of my favorite writers: I don’t set aside a time to write. I don’t have a designated workspace in my house for writing—no pretty desk with a view; actually, no desk at all. I don’t belong to a writer’s group. I have never attended a writing workshop. I write in English, my second language. Perhaps not labeling myself a writer is a defense mechanism: I am free of all the pressure, expectations, anticipation, and disappointment that real writers seem to experience. It may be a way of creatively avoiding the responsibility of regular writing while claiming all the pleasure from it.

Desk or no desk, writing and publishing essays, poetry, and translations inevitably makes me a writer. I don’t have a writing schedule, but I do have a method; otherwise, nothing will ever be done. I am not a freewriting-type of person, though I swear I have tried to be. Once I get an idea for an essay, I let it live in my head for a while. I work on it in my mind as I am doing something else, like driving or taking a walk. Once I know what the opening paragraph or two will look like, I start writing. The act of writing typically generates more ideas, and I slowly but steadily unspool the essay. Since the piece lives in me for quite some time before it sees the light of day, my first draft is not that removed from my final draft. I let it sit for a few days, and I go back to it for revisions. I often ask a trusted friend (a “real” writer) to read it before I deem it finished and ready for submission.

Not being “only” a writer gives me a wider field of inspiration to draw from. As a Macedonian living in the US, an international student advisor, a mother to a bilingual child, a wife, a translator, a traveler, an avid reader, and an occasional and somewhat hesitant writer, I draw from a range of personal and professional experiences--which are often in conversation with one another—when I write personal essays like the ones in Motherlands. This collection in particular benefits from the weaving of the professional, personal and literary, because it tackles topics that are naturally multidisciplinary, such as cross-cultural living (cooking, gardening), language, identity, and education.

I have two writing projects percolating at the moment—an idea for a novel (part travelogue, part love story) and a poetry collection. I’ll let them live in my head for a bit longer, but eventually, I will have to sit down and start writing, perhaps at my own desk this time.

About MOTHERLANDS: In this collection of personal essays, Natasha Garrett explores various facets of the modern migration experience. Weaving academic and literary sources, as well as personal and professional experiences, Garrett uses transnationalism as a springboard for discussing topics such as home, motherhood, identity, bilingualism, family, education, and travel. The essays in Motherlands offer a well-researched, witty and heartfelt look into migration both as a global phenomenon and as a deeply intimate experience.

Buy MOTHERLANDS here: https://www.amazon.com/Motherlands-Natasha-Garrett/dp/1897493665

About Natasha: Natasha was born and raised in Macedonia and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she serves as a Director of International Student Services at La Roche College. Her poetry, personal essays, and translations have appeared in Transnational Literature, Gravel, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Arts and Letters, and other publications. She is the editor of Macedonia 2013: 100 Years After the Treaty of Bucharest. She obtained her PhD in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and her Master’s in English Literature from Duquesne University.

To find out more about Natasha's books and the events where you can meet her in person, visit her website: https://natashagarrett.pittsburgh412.com

And if you're in Pittsburgh, you can come see Natasha speak at the Squirrel Hill Library next week:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

YA Guy Hosts...Barbara Barrow, author of THE QUELLING!

One of the nicest things about being an author is meeting other authors--and authors-to-be! This year, YA Guy's been thrilled to see a number of friends realize their dream of authorship with their debut works of fiction or nonfiction. Though not all of these fellow authors write YA, I wanted to celebrate their achievements and spread the word about their books.

So I'm going to be running a series of guest posts over the next several months to do just that! First up is Barbara Barrow, whose psychological thriller THE QUELLING was published last month. Barbara has kindly written a post about her path to publication, and after you read her story, you can find out more about THE QUELLING and its author.

Ever since my debut novel, The Quelling, was released, people have asked me two questions. 

The first: What inspired your book? 

This one is easy! I love Gothic novels like Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White: sinister books about madhouses, gender, hysteria, and crime. So I wrote a contemporary Gothic novel about a couple of bloodthirsty siblings, a murder, and a rare psychiatric disorder. I told the story through multiple narrators: two sisters, their doctor, and their two nurses. 

The second question: How long did it take to get published? 


This one is hard. The truth is, my road to publication was less a direct path and more of a long, meandering detour, the kind that can leave you feeling stranded and lost and desperately behind schedule. But just as a detour can make us slow down and pay attention to new scenery and unexpectedly beautiful vistas, so too did my winding path to publication teach me invaluable lessons about the publishing process, and about my own writing. 

The road to publication began with an email and a phone call from an editor at a small press. I had revised the manuscript five times, over the course of several years, and had been submitting for a few months when he requested the full manuscript and showed it to the lead editor. He liked the manuscript very much, he said, especially its elegiac and mournful mood. However, he felt that the characters’ voices needed to be “peeled apart” more, to be made more distinct, perhaps with different vocabularies and ways of speaking. Would I be willing to make revisions? 

Thrilled that a press liked my book, I said yes right away. And I began the revisions. I re-read and studied classic multiple-narrator books like William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and began to peel two of the first-person narrators apart. I gave my learned doctor character more of a scientific vocabulary and a clipped, businesslike tone, and my loutish nurse character Simon a frank, talky, and arrogant voice. I worked through a revision or two with my beta reader friend, and I sent the chapters in. 


Finally, the editor emailed back. He appreciated the revisions, especially to Simon’s chapter, he said, but he felt that with the new voices the book had lost some of the lyric, elegiac quality that he had admired so much in the earlier draft. What did I think about trying a close third-person omniscient narrator who could get into all of the character’s heads? 

So I went back to my desk. I studied novels with a close third-person narrator like Meg Wolitzer’s The Position, and, over the course of one bleary weekend, I switched my whole novel into third person. I sent the revised book back in, and waited. 

And waited. 

This was the hardest part. Months elapsed without much other than a few lines of acknowledgement, and I began to wonder if the novel would ever be published at all. I dallied. My creative life felt stalled. At the encouragement of my friend, I kept submitting the original version of the manuscript, since I hadn’t yet had much feedback on the third-person revision. And I waited and waited. It was a long, agonizing summer.  

At the same time, that interval deepened the third-person revision for me. I began to think of my characters in the third person. Whenever I read fiction or watched television I paid even more attention to perspective and point of view. Whenever I listened to a friend tell a story, I noticed the switch between the I and the They. In that time period, my novel went from being written in the third person to actually becoming a third person novel.  

Then, one day, I checked my email and found some correspondence from a small press that specialized in the “weird and strange.” Expecting another rejection, I clicked on it to discover the opposite: the editors had read my submission, loved it, and felt that the style was a great fit for the aesthetic of their press. Was the manuscript still available? 

I was elated. I reached out to writer friends (including YA Guy!) for advice, I parted ways cordially with the first editor, and in a week, I had a contract with the new press. A year later, after some revisions and some copy-editing, the book came out: with its original cast of first-person narrators. 

It’s tempting to think of my experience as roundabout: almost as if I had to walk in a very long circle in order to get back to square one. And there were days, especially during that long summer, when it felt that way. But the process taught me patience, and also a kind of creative flexibility, a willingness to re-imagine my characters and story and structure in radically different ways. 

It also reminded me that the editorial process is subjective. At the launch party for The Quelling, someone asked me about the revision process, and I talked about the third-person alternative version. Afterward, a colleague and writer friend who had read the book said, “Oh, I don’t think this would work in the third person at all.”

Was he right, and the editor wrong, or vice versa? Probably neither. In the end, I learned, the best stylistic choice is the one that a publisher and author agree is right for this story. There is another version of The Quelling that exists in an alternative universe, and I’m okay with that. It also taught me the importance of always submitting up until you have a signed contract in hand. It’s important to revise, of course, but it’s also important to find a press whose aesthetic vision merges with yours. 

Finally, the process taught me that editorial feedback has a long, rich afterlife. For my next novel, a multiple-POV book, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of richly contrasting voices, about other uses for the different versions of the two characters I revised, and the lessons I learned from studying other books and re-thinking my own manuscript.

As it turns out, even a long, agonizing detour can be worthwhile.

Thanks, Barbara! Readers, when you dive into THE QUELLING, I think you'll be pleased to see that Barbara stuck with her vision and her gut (while also cultivating the flexibility to make the editorial changes needed). It's a taut, tense story with great characters and tone, and I can't wait for the next book to come out of Barbara's (dare I say slightly twisted?) imagination!

About THE QUELLING: Addie and Dorian have always been together. They're clever, beautiful--and hopelessly violent. Diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition and accused of murder in childhood, the sisters have spent most of their lives in a locked ward under the supervision of eccentric researcher Dr. Lark. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Addie has a plan: start a new family to replace the one she lost. Dorian struggles to quell her violent tendencies in time to help raise her sister's child.

But Dr. Lark sees these patients as key to the completion of his revolutionary cure, and he will not allow Addie's absurd ideas to get in the way. As his "treatments" become increasingly bizarre, they put Addie and Dorian's safety at risk. The girls' only lifeline may be Ellie, a ward nurse with troubles of her own, who's never felt the need to protect anyone--until now.

Harrowing and bittersweet, at times claustrophobic, this gritty debut explores the fragility of familial bonds and the sometimes intractable tension between freedom and safety.

Order THE QUELLING from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Quelling-Barbara-Barrow/dp/1941360181
Or directly from the publisher: 

About Barbara: Barbara Barrow is a literary critic and fiction writer who loves all things Gothic and strange. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, The Forge Literary Magazine, Folio, and elsewhere. She is Assistant Professor of English at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. In her spare time she eats mangoes and binge-watches old seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. THE QUELLING is her first novel. Anca L. Szilágyi calls it a “ferocious, tender, astonishing” book that “lays bare our animalistic drives toward violence and love.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

YA Guy Participates in... The Fall 2018 YA Scavenger Hunt!

YA Guy's super excited to participate in this year's FALL YA SCAVENGER HUNT! This is my sixth Hunt, and I've got a new book, the YA fantasy ECOSYSTEM, out this year, with the sequel due in another month. So I'm totally ready for the Hunt, and I trust that you are too! (I mean, why would you be here if you weren't?)

As you can probably tell by all the green lettering in this post (not to mention the banner at the top), I'm on the GREEN TEAM, along with the other awesome authors you see below:

The YA Scavenger Hunt is a bi-annual event first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! Add up the clues on each GREEN TEAM page, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in our team! There are SEVEN contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! But don't delay: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will be online only until noon Pacific time on OCTOBER 7! (My personal giveaway, though, will run a little longer, through October 9.)


Directions: In the author biography below, you'll notice I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the Green Team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form to qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, October 7, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered. For more information, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Personal Giveaway: In addition to the prizes named above, readers who enter my personal giveaway will have a chance to win a signed copy of my forthcoming novel THE DEVOURING LAND! The sequel to ECOSYSTEM, this novel is having its cover revealed right here, right now! Like the Hunt itself, the personal giveaway is open internationally. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter!

Got all that? Then let's meet the author I'm hosting, SHANNON KLARE!

Shannon Klare is a writer, teacher, reality TV fanatic, and movie connoisseur. A born and raised Texan, her writing is heavily influenced by small town living and year round sports. When Shannon isn’t writing or daydreaming new plots (22 of them to date), she can be found frequenting Starbucks or hanging out with her family. SURVIVING ADAM MEADE is her debut novel. It's available in stores now!

To find out more about Shannon, go to her website!

About SURVIVING ADAM MEADE: Seventeen-year-old Claire Collins has a plan: get into college and leave North Carolina behind. What she doesn’t have is an idea for how to get rid of the local football star and womanizer extraordinaire―Adam Meade, who she can’t even avoid (despite many efforts), because Claire’s dad is the high school football coach.

Seventeen-year-old Adam Meade never fails. He always gets what he wants . . . until he meets Claire, the new girl who leaves him unnerved, pissed off, and confused. But there’s something about her that he just can’t resist....

With the bite of lemon meringue pie and the sugar of sweet tea, Surviving Adam Meade is a sexy and compelling young adult novel about two strong-willed people who think they know what they want but have no idea what they need.

To buy the book, follow this link!

But wait, there's more! Enter below for a chance to win one of two signed copies of my forthcoming YA fantasy novel THE DEVOURING LAND! This personal giveaway runs through October 9, and the cover is being revealed to the world for the first time ever!

About THE DEVOURING LAND: On the day of Miriam and Isaac's wedding, Sarah’s village is overrun by monstrous creatures from the Ecosystem. With the community’s leaders dead and few Sensors remaining, Sarah shepherds the survivors into the deadly forest surrounding the village. Her own Sense badly damaged in an earlier attack, she must fight through a host of new threats in hopes of discovering the place where her mother was born, rumored to be home to a community of healers.

When another attack decimates her band, the survivors are rescued by a group of people under the leadership of a man named Gabriel. Taking Sarah and the remnants of her village to a sheltered city ruled by healer-women known as queens, Gabriel instructs Sarah in the Ecosystem’s origins and teaches her a new way of coexisting with its creatures. But the City of the Queens is haunted by a dark secret from the past, and Sarah will have to learn the truth of her lineage in order to save the people she loves and protect the world she knows.

The second book in a fantasy-adventure trilogy that begins with Ecosystem, The Devouring Land will be released on November 20, 2018. Sarah’s story concludes with House of Earth, House of Stone (2019).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Fall 2018 Hunt is over, but my personal giveaway is still going on for a couple of days. Thanks to everyone who participated, and I hope to see you back in Spring 2019!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

YA Guy Announces... SKALDI CITY!

YA Guy is thrilled to announce that my novel SKALDI CITY will be published by Entangled Teen in 2019! Here's the formal announcement from Publishers Weekly:

Skaldi City is a survival story, a horror story, and (maybe most of all) a love story. It features one of the characters from my Survival Colony series, but it takes place fifty years before the events depicted in those novels, so readers can enjoy it whether they're familiar with Survival Colony 9 or not. And if I do say so myself, it includes some of the scariest monsters and most intense scenes I've ever invented.

I'll have more news as the publication date nears, but for now, I just wanted to let you all know. Thanks for reading the blog, and please feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, July 16, 2018

YA Guy Reviews... CROSS FIRE by Fonda Lee!

YA Guy's favorite YA science fiction author is Fonda Lee.

There. I said it.

While I like and admire lots of YA science fiction writers--Paolo Bacigalupi, Amie Kaufman, AdriAnne Strickland, Parker Peevyhouse, M. T. Anderson--Lee is at the top of my list. I've loved all of her sci-fi books, starting with ZEROBOXER and moving on to EXO and, now, CROSS FIRE. (I'll confess I didn't get into her fantasy novel JADE CITY, but that's not a reflection on its quality; it just wasn't my type of story.) I love her world-building, character development, eye for action sequences, and--in particular--her willingness to explore moral problems without settling on simple answers. In too much YA sci-fi, the world is neatly divided into nefarious (often adult) villains and virtuous (typically teen) heroes, who might have some superficial character flaws but who always manage to do what's right in the end. In Lee's books, the picture is much more complicated.

Take CROSS FIRE. It's the sequel to EXO, which featured a future Earth colonized by the alien zhree. Unlike most races in alien-invasion narratives, the zhree didn't come to destroy Earth but to colonize it and, to some extent, to share their superior technology with the human race. Thus they've rebuilt Earth's cities, incorporated many of Earth's citizens into their government and trades, and biologically enhanced a select group of human beings, including main character Donovan Reyes, to share the zhree's virtually indestructible battle armor. But there are some people, including the radical group Sapience, who hate the zhree and those humans who work along with them. Sapience wants to take Earth back, and they'll fight and kill to do it.

With this kind of premise, it's hard to draw clean lines between the "good guys" and "bad guys." Sapience is viewed by many in Donovan's world as a terrorist organization, and there's validity to that viewpoint--but at the same time, their admirable desire for human independence complicates the reader's response to them. By the same token, if the zhree seem generally willing to share their technology and their resources with humanity, there's no doubt that humans are second-class citizens in zhree society, and that becomes all the more apparent in CROSS FIRE, where the zhree decide that Earth is too costly to maintain and make plans to evacuate, knowing full well that their departure will leave the planet vulnerable to other alien races bent on the annihilation of humankind. Under that scenario, Donovan is faced with a wrenching choice: to stay behind on a threatened planet in order to defend his own species, or to accept the zhree's offer to take a tiny percentage of the human population, himself included, with them.

It's just at this point in the narrative, though, that I feel Lee adopts a course that reduces some of the moral complexity she's established. I don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that the book takes a turn at its approximate midpoint that makes Donovan's choice no less physically demanding but somewhat less ethically challenging. Later in the book, a second turn--one that, like the first, hinges on the sudden appearance of a fresh threat just at the moment of a critical decision on Donovan's part--similarly serves to draw somewhat cleaner lines between heroes and villains. I wonder how Lee would have worked out the issues she set up if these plot twists had not occurred, and whether that resolution would have been more morally murky but intellectually satisfying.

That being said, I loved CROSS FIRE and found it in some ways even better than its predecessor (which is rare for sequels). If you're interested in reading Lee's book, leave a comment on this blog post; I'll be giving the book away to one person chosen at random from the comments.