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Join Us: Twitter Chat with Jenny Torres Sanchez

Tomorrow, May 28th, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez is released (Running Kids Press).  This was one of the best books I have read so far in 2013.  In fact, it was for me a 5 star book.  Jenny has agreed to do a Twitter chat with us on Tuesday, June 21st, to talk about the book, which really captures what it is like to be young, confused, and depressed.

So, get your hands on the book, read it and join us. Please.  I would love to hear what others think about this book.

Here is my original review.  Kirkus gave it a starred review and said, “An exceptionally well-written journey to make sense of the senseless.”

Tell us in the comments: What books do you think really capture the essence of grief and depression?

Book Review: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (An ARC giveaway!)

The Excerpt (the beginning paragraphs):
 “The old man across the street is dead.  I don’t know who figured it out or how, but I think he’d been dead for days when they found him.  School has been out for three weeks.  I estimate that would have been the last time I saw him. Alive.

     First the police came, and then the county coroner. We watched, Mom and I and our neighbors who never really talked to the old man, as they wheeled his body away in a black body bag, atop a gurney. The world stood still as they drove him away.  And then, as if someone hit play. it resumed.

     People on our block trickled back into their houses, and Mom went back into ours.  But I sat on our stoop, thinking about the old man. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since he was taken away four days ago.

     I guess death is funny.  Not ‘haha’ funny, but more like screw-with-your-head funny.  It makes you think strange things.  Like how a person can sort of exist but not at the same time.

     I imagine the old man arriving in front of a blinding light, staring at it with his milky eyes and scowlng. And still another part of me imagines him safe inside his house, at his kitchen table, drinking coffee maybe. But the logical part of my brain tells me the truth, that he’s either at the funeral home, or being loaded onto a hearse, or already in the hearse on his way to the cemetery at the end of our block.

     Living here I should be used to death.  But every time a procession goes by.  I wonder about the person inside the hearse.  Did they live happily but die horribly? Or maybe they lived horribly but died happily? Or worse, maybe they lived horribly and died horribly.

    I look at the old man’s house and try to decide if it looks numb.” – Opening scene to Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Synopsis:
Frenchie Garcia is depressed.  She is about to graduate high school and take off to Chicago with her long time best friend, but everything seems to be changing.  He has started dating the lead singer in a band that just might make it, and as we all know – that changes everything.

But beyond on the normal problems of the changes that accompany the end of high school, there is this: after years of crushing on Andy Cooper, she finally got to spend one amazing night of adventure with him.  She just didn’t realize it would be his last night alive.  Sometime after he left Frenchie that evening, he committed suicide.  And Frenchie is reeling – did she miss something that night? Were there clues? Could she have stopped him?

Which brings us to two important people: Emily Dickinson – no not that Emily Dickson, though Frenchie likes to pretend that it is – and Colin.  When visiting the grave of not the real Emily Dickinson at the cemetery at the end of her street doesn’t help, Frenchie grabs the new guy in her life, Colin, and asks him to go on a night of daring adventure, where she goes back through the steps of that last night with Andy.  Along the way, will she find the answers she is looking for?

The Review:

This is hands down my favorite read so far in 2013 in terms of cutting edge, contemporary fiction and I am going to go out on a limb and say that it could be a real potential Printz winner.  Why?  Well, I am so glad you asked.

THE VOICE.  No, not the TV show. Sanchez captures the voice of Frenchie – and of adolescence and depression and confusion – spot on.  Frenchie is depressed, she is difficult, she is angsty, and at times completely unlikable, and yet because you the reader know why, your heart overflows with compassion for her.  Like John Green and A. S. King, Sanchez creates a spot-on teenage character that has a fabulous voice that is authentic, raw, and completely relateable for teen readers everywhere.

She laughs, “You’re only seventeen.  How can you be having a midlife crisis?”
“Maybe I’m gong to die at thrity or something, in what case, I’m late.” – page 78

In addition, Sanchez captures the fear and anxiety of graduating high school perfectly.  It’s huge! It’s scary! It’s so unknown; bot the thing that all teens wait for and yet, what a terrifying moment, to step off the edge of that cliff into the world of adulthood with new places, new people, and, most teens hope, a new you.  But Frenchie’s moment, her gigantic step off that cliff, is cast under the shadow of guilt and confusion and fear cause by this moment, this one night.  This death is the branch that her shirt catches on and keeps her from moving forward.  She is stuck in this swamp of despair and doesn’t know how to move forward.

“And now, I’ll tell you the only thing that matters. It’s that you make your own future . . . Because the future is like clay, every day you mold it, every day people leave impressions that change its form.  It’s never concrete, it’s always changing.  We might see some things, possibilities, but you are the one who decides what form your life takes.” – page 136

A large portion of DDDLFG takes place in a night as Frenchie relives the moments of THAT night.  In alternating chapters you have the night with Frenchie and Andy and the night with Frenchie and Colin.  This is the perfect storytelling device that allows for a slow unfolding of both nights and the little glimpses into all three characters.  This is definitely the strongest part of DDDLFG and its shining moments.

The only thing that drove me crazy about Frenchie is that she told no one about what really happened, not her best friend, not her parents. No one.  So everyone is king of concerned and frustrated with her behavior with no sympathy towards her.  It’s like an episode of Lost or The Walking Dead, you scream at the characters, just take a moment to talk to each other already.  But no, this is in fact a very realistic thing, because many teens would hold a secret like this inside and try to work through it alone.  So her friends are reacting to one situation, which is an incorrect assumption, and Frenchie is living an entirely different one.  There are some complex relationship issues being played out, and it is also done well.

I give Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia (which may be the longest title ever) 5 out of 5 stars.  Fans of A. S. King will eat this title up I think.  It also reminded me of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. On the quoatability meter, it rocks: there are so many perfectly, written elegantly written sentences that capture the essence of life.  And do I dare? Yes, I dare, fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower will eat it up. And I loved it so much that I contacted the author, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked her (no, begged her) to please give me an ARC so I can give it away and let others read it.  So leave a comment (with either a follow back on Twitter or an e-mail) by Friday, April 5th, 2013 to be entered to win this ARC.

The One Word to Terrify Them All (a guest post by K. A. Holt)

On Sunday, March 10th, author K. A. Holt will be visiting my library as part of our Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels visit.  If you live in or around the Grand Prairie area, please consider stopping by and supporting libraries and authors. Today, author K. A. Holt shares a guest post with us to talk about the one thing that seems to terrify tweens and teens.
Sometimes I’m afraid that among pre-teen and teen readers there is One Word To Terrify Them All. Or maybe worse: One Word No One Thinks About Until They See It And Then They’re All OH MAN I Don’t Want To Read THAT.

The word?


Wait, wait – don’t run away.

I’m here to convince you that poetry is not boring. It’s not difficult to read. It’s not snobby or foofy or lame or whatever. I mean, it can be… but it doesn’t have to be.

I should probably come clean and tell you that I write books in verse. Not all of my books, but some of them. One of my books is about zombies and chupocabras and humans all trying to go to middle school together without eating each other. The whole book is written in haiku. Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. Three-lined poems tell the whole story – brain-eating, fights, crushes (both of the romantic kind and the bone-crunching kid) and more. It’s poetry, but it might not be the first thing that pops to mind when you have that “aaargh, a book in poetry, what?!” reaction.
A zombie novel written in Haiku? Yes please!

Another book I’ve written (that is tentatively scheduled for release in 2014) is about a bully who rips pages out of library books so he can scratch out words and make messages. You don’t usually think of defacing school property as poetry, and yet… That’s the cool thing about poems. They can be anything you want. It’s just a way to focus words on the most important details of a story.

You know those bouillon cubes you drop in hot water to make chicken broth? The cube dissolves in the water, leaving trails of salty silt that you stir to make a warm, filling soup. A poem is like a bouillon cube – all the salty goodness of a story is compacted into a tiny space. The hot water is like your brain. Those compacted words seep out of the poem, filling your brain and spreading out into worlds and characters that the author trusts you to help create. Weird analogy? Sure. But kind of true.

Reading a novel that’s written in verse gives you all the punch and excitement of a prose book (sometimes even more), but with fewer words, fewer pages, and arguably more imagination. You become an important part of the telling of the story because you take those few words and give them life.

Here are some ya titles written in verse, with a fun poetry activity to do w/teens

So please, for the sake of zombies and chupocabras and sonnets and free verse, and torn out pages everywhere, don’t freeze up when you see the word “poetry.” Don’t feel harrumphy when you see “novel in verse” on the cover of a book.

Poetry is beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s exhausting. It’s freeing. It’s simple. It’s complex. It can hold the whole world in just a handful of words.

Book Inspired by a Poem or Poetry . . .
Golden by Jessi Kirby comes out in 2013, based on Robert Frost, so very good
Coming in 2013, and so very brilliant. Great voice.

Yes, I’m biased, but I want you to be biased, too. Poetry can be anything you want it to be. Not everything can say that. Not everything can live up to that. So give it a whirl and see what you think.

Sharon Creech, Ron Koertge, Ellen Hopkins, Lisa Schroeder, Sarah Tregay, Sonya Sones, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Linda Oatman High, Caroline Rose, Walter Dean Myers and more, more, more. All of these authors write novels in verse. And so do I.

Why not pick up a book and give it a try?

[I totally did not rhyme that last part on purpose. I swear.]

And more poetry:
TPiB: Poetically speaking, poetry activities to do with tweens and teens 
TPiB: Freeing your life with words . . . more poetry activities

K. A. Holt  is the author of Brains for Lunch and Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel? You can find out more about her, and her books, by visiting her webpage. It is set up like a comic book and epically cool.

Cover Reveal: Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting debut ya author Jenny Torres Sanchez at ALA Midwinter and introducing you all to The Downside of Being Charlie.  Today I am honored to share the cover of her second novel, Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.

Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with Andy Cooper’s death. Her friends didn’t know she loved him or that she was with him the night he committed suicide. And Frenchie’s biggest concern right now is how she may have blindly helped him die that night. Though already obsessed with death and Emily Dickinson, neither help Frenchie understand the role she played during Andy’s “one night of adventure.” But then she meets Colin, and  stumbles upon the perfect opportunity to recreate her last night with Andy.  And it just may help her figure out who Andy really was. While exploring the emotional depth of loss, Sanchez’s sharp humor and clever observations present a richly developed voice. Published in 2013 by Running Press.

More Jenny Torres Sanchez on TLT:
Meet Jenny Torres Sanchez 
Jenny Torres Sanchez reviews Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
Book Review: The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Book Review: Ask the Passengers by A. S. King (reviewed by Jenny Torres Sanchez)

It was author Jenny Torres Sanchez that introduced me to the marvelous writings of A. S. King, so I thought I would let her review Ask the Passengers for us today.  Besides, you probably already know that I love the book.  So here is another point of view.  Stay tuned at the end and enter to win a chance to Google+ Hangout with A. S. King.
Kingism- A short narrative from the point of view of a seemingly odd, out of place, or nonsensical object/subject but which holds incredible meaning and is interjected throughout an awesome novel. Ex: including narrative from the point of view of a pagoda in a story decidedly not about pagodas (Please Ignore Vera Dietz).
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
October from Little, Brown and Co.
ISBN: 978-0-316-21824-5

I like Kingisms, not just because my rebellious spirit appreciates this break from the norms of writing and what most writers are cautioned not to do, but because I know there’s a reason for it. It demands your attention.  It makes you question why? Why include the point of view of passengers in this story, passengers we meet only briefly, if this is really a book about a girl named Astrid Jones who is trying to figure out who she is, how she fits in her family, her town, the world?  Why?

Because it’s a Kingism.  The passengers in ASK THE PASSENGERS receive the love Astrid sends them from her backyard as they fly overhead.  We see it hit them. We see how it affects them. We see how it changes them.  And this connection between Astrid and the passengers, a connection they are not even really aware of, made me think of how we are all connected. How what we feel, think, wish on others is this very real energy that goes out into the world and can impact others.  It made me wonder about what we wish on others and if we knew our energy was to directly impact someone else, what kind of energy would we send? It makes you look inside yourself and wonder what you have to give. Love? Hate? What? Why?  I love when books do that, when they become so much more than a story, when they become a vehicle for self-reflection. There’s some deep stuff going on here. I mean Socrates kind of stuff, speaking of which. . .  he’s a character. 

I am partial to stories with famous dead people as characters, but I especially love Socrates in this novel, just chilling in his toga, his wisdom present in Astrid’s tumultuous life even as he says nothing to her and makes Astrid rely on herself, her thoughts, her ability to question everything.  I love that King respects her readers enough to throw Socrates in the mix and know teens will get it. They’ll understand. We can talk about art and philosophy and some deep, deep ideas and teens will not only GET it, they’ll appreciate it and apply it to themselves, their view of the world, their lives.

The novel also deals with Astrid trying to understand her sexuality, it’s both central and secondary. I know that doesn’t make sense. What I mean is, yes, Astrid trying understand her sexuality is a central part of her struggle, even more so because Astrid is trying to understand her sexuality without falling victim to standard black or white definitions of you’re either THIS or THAT. And that’s what this book is really about. Trying to understand who we are, who others are, without necessarily having to define ourselves or force ourselves into society’s neat little boxes and definitions. Absolutely there are aspects of this novel that I think will certainly speak to LGBT teens. But I also think it’s a novel that will speak to every teen. To every one. Because there’s always so much more to a person than what fits in a box.

There is so much to love and appreciate about this novel. I love the imperfections of the characters, the pot-smoking dad, the sister who seems to have betrayed Astrid unintentionally by becoming a product of a town Astrid doesn’t respect, the mom who is both neglectful and overbearing. I love Astrid’s friends even though they unintentionally cause her grief by pressuring her to define herself as gay. I love Socrates. I love Astrid who finds the strength to love even when she feels unloved. I love how it made me think and feel and understand and lift my eyes from the page and close the book and view the world a little differently, in a way that stays with me, in a way that makes me want to be a better person. I love this novel. I think you will too.


After reading this novel, I can’t help but picture AS King in her writing cave wearing a toga.  Doesn’t it seem fitting? I think maybe King was Socrates in another life. Thanks, AS King, for another novel that makes us think, ponder, and makes us want to live life in a toga . . . knowing only that we know nothing.
And now you will understand the Toga Optional aspect of this contest . . . To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form.  Please do take a moment to make sure you have the system requirements you need to participate in a Google+ Hangout, including a gmail account.  If you don’t, they are free and easy to set up.  Requirements.  Because we can do a Google+ Hangout with anyone, this contest is open to all.
The best contest ever! Inspired by Felicia Day and her online bookclub.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meet Jenny Torres Sanchez

On Tuesday, May 22nd, a little book is being born called The Downside of Being Charlie.  Charlie is a rare gem of a novel because it tells the story of a boy who doesn’t often find himself in teen lit.  He is not swoony, he is not a raging bad boy oozing layers of angsty sex appeal, and he is not anyone’s hero – until the end where he is maybe his own.  The Downside of Being Charlie is a contemporary marvel by a debut ya author that knows what she is talking about because she served her time in the trenches as a high school teacher.  Today, Jenny Torres Sanchez shares with us her thoughts about Charlie, her journey to being a writer, and the 5 books that every teen should read.

What made you interest in becoming a writer? Why young adult?

In fourth grade, I wrote a short story for a creative writing contest. That’s when I first become interested in writing and have been at it ever since.  And I write young adult for a couple of reasons. First, I think teenagers are incredibly honest about the world and those around them.  I like and respect that kind of honesty.  Second, adolescence is when you’re trying to find your place in the world, trying to figure out how exactly you fit in and how you’re going to go about life.  i find the complexity of that pretty compelling and think there are great stories to be told there.

Tell us about your journey in trying to find a publisher.  How long did it take? What steps did you take? (I ask this question for Cuyler, our teen reviewer who has written a novel he wants to try and have published.)

Well, I bought those big huge volumes of Writers Marketplace every couple of years since around 2002. See, I’d heard that if if you want to be a writer, you should go and get one of those.  They sat on my shelf and made me feel writerly, even though I wasn’t seriously pursuing publication.  But every now and then I’d browse through them, and so I learned about things like queries and agents and the mysterious SASE. It all came in handy when I was actually ready to put in the time, and work, and effort into writing and becoming published.  So, in a weird way, it took years and years and years, and really from the moment I started writing. But specifically, from when I started querying agents to when my debut novel sold was about 9 months.

What does it feel like to see your first novel in print?

Weird. Strange. Cool. Surreal. Satisfying. Proud. 

Why Charlie? How did his character and his story come to you?

Charlie came about kind of quietly when I began this novel.  He was always the narrator, but at first he was actually narrating Taynya’s story (a minor character in the novel who this book was originally about) but then, I started to get to know Charlies.  And I realized he had some pretty big issues he was dealing with and slowly, the story became more about what he was going through.

In the novel, Charlie’s mom appears to have some type of mental health disorder.  How did you research what you would be like and how her actions would be authentic?

Charlie’s mom isn’t diagnosed in the novel with any particular mental health disorder because it was important to the story as a whole for Charlie and his family to not really acknowledge it or know what exactly they were dealing with.  I did some research on bipolar disorder and loosely based Charlie’s mom on this, though I didn’t say she had this specifically because I wanted the reader to experience the not knowing the way Charlie does.

Charlie himself develops bulimia and your description of his binging and purging episodes capture deep emotional resonance.  What steps did you take to make sure your expression of his eating issues were authentic? And why did you choose to make Charlie bulimic?

Well, I’ve struggled with body image and weight issues for a long as I can remember. And I was always kind of insecure as a teenager. I remember being about eight years old and thinking, okay, I can have this now, but I shouldn’t eat for the next two days.  I actually thought that! I was never the skinny kid in class and even though I wasn’t exactly overweight, I remember feeling large and uncomfortable in my own skin and just different than everyone else. So Charlie’s eating issues stem from what I remember dealing with.

There’s this part in the book, the first time he trhows up, where Charlie is just miserable.  And I remember while I was writing that, that he just wanted relief, even if it was temporary, of the pain he was dealing with, specifically his ever eating, generally his life, and suddenly I knew how Charlie was going to deal with all of it.  I know about bulimia, in the sense that it usually develops when someone feels a lack of control in their life and I realized that was Charlie.  And this was something he wanted – control.  In fact, this seemed the only thing he could control (even if that control is only an illusion).  And so, it just seemed this would be something Charlie would do.

I felt one of the things that you did exceptionally well in the story was to authentically depict the teenage life and times in all of its harrowing, messy glory.  You covered important topics such as eating disorders and bullying.  What message do you want teen readers to get from the life of Charlie?

I want teens to hope.  I want them to know that yes, life can be cruel, and unrelenting, and dark, and unfair – but there is hope. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.  There is incredible power in hope.  Hope is what motivates you and propels you out of the cruel, the unrelenting, the dark and unfair.

Charlie uses photography as a mean of self expression.  Why photography?  And do you do photography yourself or did you have to spend some time researching to learn a little bit about the topic for your book?

I’ve always liked photography and the whole idea of how much can be conveyed in a single snapshot. Photography is very similar to writing in that both tell a story, and I wanted Charlie to tell his story, so that’s why I choose photography.  I do take pictures, but really, I’m just messing around hoping I’ll by chance get a good shot.  I do like looking at the world through that square frame, though.  It seems different somehow.

Do you think that you will ever explore Charlie’s life more? What do you feel like as a writer about your characters: do you become emotionally invested?  How does it feel when the work is done and the you the story arc that is Charlie’s life?

I definitely become emotionally invested in my characters.  I think you learn a lot about yourself, and others, and the world when you are going through the toughest times, so I put my characters through tough times.  I think I’ve put Charlie through enough and I feel really good about where he’s at when the story ends so I don’t think I’ll explore his life more.  In a way, I like leaving his future up to him, not me.  It’s satisfying to see Charlie’s development as a character and growth as a person.

Why the Rat Pack? I loved the uniqueness of Ahmed and that he stuck to his passion (Sammy Davis, Jr.) despite the fact that it would make him stand out in a world where fitting in is often the goal. And I have to say, I am glad that you put someone in Charlie’s life who was a no exceptions will always be there kind of friend to Charlie.

I knew I wanted Ahmed to be the opposite of Charlie, and so I knew he needed to be a pretty confident and cool guy. But it also needed to make sense that he would be Charlie’s best friend.  The Rat Pack has always been revered as cool and smooth and so I figured I could make them Ahmed’s idols and the kind of guys he tries to be like.  The more I thought about and wrote Ahmed’s character this way, the more I realized it was a perfect fit.  This was a way for him to be cool, but still dorky and misunderstood by his peers, although in his eyes that’s only because he is too cool for even them. 

I know that you were a high school teacher and one of the characters in the book that helps Charlie is his photography teacher. What advice would you give to teachers and librarians working with teens?

In some way, big or small, let teens know you care.  And be genuine.  Even though teens may not show you it matters to them, it does.  It matters to everyone, really.

What were you like as a teenager? Who did you like to read?

Errrr . . . uh, I was a great teen—very well-adjusted, happy, and non-problematic. Really. *smiles nervously*

Actually, the ugly truth is I was insecurity, anger, sadness, and apathy cloaked in black clothes.  My mother repeatedly asked me if I was in a cult. I was anti-everything and had a huge chip on my shoulder. 

As far as reading, I just kind of read whatever I had to read in English class.  I have to give my senior AP English teacher credit here though, because we read Camus, Austen, Morrison, Dickinson, Plath and just some amazing, amazing literary works that really turned me on to reading and writing and thinking about literature in a whole different way.  Also, I liked any book that I thought fit into my image of being deep and tortured.   

As a writer, who are your inspirations?

A lotof people inspire me, from my family, to my ex-students, to the people I grew up with, to famous artists and their works.  As far as writers/poets who inspire me, there are too many to name them all, but at the top of the list, I’d say Junot Diaz, John Green, Pablo Neruda, Joan Didion, J.D Salinger, and Langston Hughes.

What’s next for you as a writer? Do you want to continue in the young adult field?

There’s always the chance I’ll venture into something non-YA.  I think adventure is good.  But for now, I definitely see myself continuing in the YA field. I love writing for teens and that’s where my heart is.

What is the one piece of information or advice you want to leave with teens? What do you wish you had known as a teenager?

One piece of advice I’d like to give teens is to try to see beyond now. I get that it’s hard to realistically see beyond the now or even a few years from now, especially because sometimes the now sucks. But teens should know there’s so much beyond now. Try and look and believe in what’s beyond now.

What are five books – besides The Downside of Being Charlie – that every teen should read in your opinion?

Looking For Alaska by John Green (and I’m totally going to cheat here because any and all of John Green’s books are amazing reads every teen should read).
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
PleaseIgnore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Have you met Charlie? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Before writing her debut novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories—many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children. You can visit her website at http://jennytorressanchez.com/ and find her on Twitter @jetchez.