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Christie’s To Drool For: November/ December 2013 Releases


Oh, so many good books coming! And with the holidays and everything, I don’t know how I will have time to read them all!

November Drools:

6th in the Iron Fey series, Ethan slips back on the world of fairy in order to try and save both worlds, and the girl that he loves.

The finale of Marie Lu’s trilogy, June and Day have sacrificed everything in order to stop war, yet a new plague threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked for. 

A new series from the writer of The Godess Test series, Kitty Doe knows that she’s stuck in the life she’s born with, and the only way to get anything is to score well on the Test. When she scores a III, her life might as well be over, so when she can become a VII she jumps at the chance. Yet, drawn as a pawn into the ruling class’s power games, can she take control?

December Drools:

Conclusion to the Under the Never Sky triology, Perry and Asia are trying untie the survivors of the Aether storms and tribal infighting in order to make it to the one place that might still be safe.

Elizabeth can’t wait to begin coordinating EVERYTHING with her freshman year roomie, and starts sending letters in order to coordinate bedding and mini-fridges; much to Lauren’s surprise, as she asked for a single room. Soon they’re sharing letters, secrets, and learning that sometimes the only people you can count is someone you’ve never met.

The sequel to Prophecy, only days have passed since Kira has safely returned her cousin the  prince back to their uncle the King. Yet the Demon Lord has not been defeated, and in order to defend her cousin’s claim to the throne, she must set out to gather the remaining the two dragon treasures before the country is destroyed by war.

Book Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Since Angie Manfredi is talking about Sara Zarr today, I thought I would review The Lucy Variations.

Publishes May 7, 2013 by Little, Brown

Lucy Beck-Moreau was a world renowned pianist at a young age, and the pressure from her family to be the best was intense.  That’s why one day in Prague, she simply walked off the stage.  Not quite a year later, a new piano teacher named Will comes into the family for her brother Gus, and he challenges Lucy to think about what music means to her.  It seems such a simple question: What do you love?  But as in all of life, the answer is never that easy.  But Lucy things that one of the things she may be in love with is Will.

In true Sara Zarr style, The Lucy Variations is an exploration into the inner workings of a teenage girl, told with insight and flourishes of genius.  Where The Lucy Variations differs is in our main character.  Lucy is a child born into a family of privilege, where money isn’t really an issue and she has always had access to the best piano teachers and support for her passion that money could buy.  When she walks away, terms like “ungrateful” and “spoiled” are used.  But coming from this life of privilege also means that Lucy must really dive into self discovery and and gives her the opportunity to choose what she wants to do and who she wants to be in ways that many (most?) teens don’t have.

Lucy is an interesting character because she can be selfish and hard to sympathize with, but then you get insights into what the demands of her life were like and you can understand who she is and what she has struggled against.  Substitute sports, academics, or whatever parents are pressuring teens to succeed in and any teen reader will be able to relate to Lucy’s family life.

Zarr is a beautiful writer who can create the perfect phrasing to make us all stop a moment and not only think about the story, but to reflect on what it means in our own life.  When Lucy is asked “what do you love?”, you can’t help but take a moment and think about who you are and what you really love.

The most interesting thing that Zarr does, however, in this story is that of the character Will.  At first, he is a treasured mentor and friend who really shares wisdom with Lucy and encourages her on the path of real self-exploration.  But he also dances perilously close to crossing important boundaries.  And then in the end, there are some reveals that shed new light on their relationship and provide both new wounds and new opportunities for Lucy to take ownership of what music means to her personally.  This relationship between Will and Lucy is a delicate dance below the surface of the story that adds the tension that is lacking overall; it’s delicate and just ripples below the surface, but it provides insight into what is basically a very intense character piece.  What happens with Will is subtle but cuts to the core; he plays with crossing a line, more than one actually, and it could be shattering, but because Lucy is strong is not.

Lucy’s family is intact and very active in her life, and although there is tension that are in many ways a healthy, in tact family, which is always nice to see in YA lit.  There is a nice sibling relationship showcased.  And there are some nice friendships depicted with the characters of Reyna and Carson.

Different sections of our story are introduced with headings that relate to music terms, the terms of a movement in music, so you read Lucy’s story not only as a story in words, but in ways you can hear it flow in your mind as a piece of music.  It was a fascinating and moving flow that unites the story pieces.

If you are familiar with Zarr’s work, you know the plot is not the thing but the characters and emotion are, this is where Zarr excels.  There is some nice introspection here, though I do think it lacks the raw emotional intensity of some earlier works, in part because Lucy must first undergo an awakening of sorts.  But the idea of pressuring teens to be something they may not want to be is spot on and so very important.  Subtle, nuanced and empowering. 4 out of 5 stars. 

More Sara Zarr on TLT:
Why YA? Story of a Girl by Lisa Burstein
Book Review: How to Save a Life

My Writing Hero: Sara Zarr, a guest post by Angie Manfredi for Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, so when I put the call out for guest bloggers (we love guest bloggers here at TLT, you can write one too), I was so excited that Angie excitedly answered that call wanting to write about Sara Zarr.  I read my first Sara Zarr book last year, Story of a Girl, discussed here by author Lisa Burstein.  Later, I reviewed How to Save a Life.  But this post is not about me, so read what Angie has to say about Sara Zarr.
These days it seems you can’t turn around without running into another young adult fantasy/dystopian/post-apocalyptic series or even stand-alone featuring a strong female heroine.  They’re wielding swords, leading rebellions, learning magic, saving lives – you name it.  And isn’t that fabulous?  Isn’t that fantastic? 

But it can be somewhat harder to find teen girls in contemporary fiction that have the same kind of realistic urgency to them.  They don’t often get the chance to save their societies from destruction or carry heavy weaponry across planets.  Yet their struggle to define themselves, to find out what their power in the world is, is just as important, and just as compelling. 

That’s one of the reasons I love Sara Zarr and her well-written and beautiful books: she writes contemporary young adult fiction about those teen girls – the ones you know from your

classrooms and your library, the ones you see at Starbucks and the movies on Saturday nights. She writes their stories and their lives in such a rich, full way that her books let those teen girls know that their stories have merit, their lives have worth, and that they are just as awesome as any fantasy world heroine.

Zarr’s four young adult novels (with a fifth set to be released in May) all have one thing in common: female characters of all ages, particularly teenagers, who are complicated and layered.  In What We Lost (originally published in 2009 as Once Was Lost) protagonist Samara wrestles with making her faith in God fit with the complications of the real world and Zarr shows how the struggle for grace can, in and of itself, be a blessing.  To this day my heart still aches when I think about Sweethearts (2008) and the beautiful story it tells about Jenna and Cameron, best friends and third-grade sweethearts, who meet again in high school as totally different people but find themselves still drawn to each other.  Jill and Mandy, two teenage girls with very different lives, are brought together by Mandy’s pregnancy in How to Save a Life (2011), truly one of the most honest and original young adult books I’ve ever read. 
But even though each one of these books is lyrical, well-crafted, and thoughtful my favorite Sara Zarr book is still her 2007 debut Story of a Girl.  In fact, Story of a Girl is one of my all-time favorite young adult novels.  I’d even go as far as to say it’s an essential young adult novel – one you must read if you want to understand the true power of the genre when done well. 

The girl in the story is Deanna who is sixteen now but still must live in the shadow of choices she made when she was thirteen.  Everyone thinks they know Deanna’s story but this novel is about Deanna deciding that, in the end, only she will determine the course of her life and the kind of person she wants to be. 

Story of a Girl is unblinkingly honest and unfailingly fierce.  It still amazes me that all the way back in 2007 a book this bold and frank about sex and what it can mean in teen’s lives was published.  Deanna is truly an unforgettable character and the way she comes into her own potential, her own huge capacity for forgiveness and change, her own power – well, if that’s not the essence of feminism I don’t know what is.  It is also, of course, the essence of the young adult journey into adulthood and Zarr captures that so fully here that I think this is a book that teens can easily see themselves in.  Story of a Girl, a finalist for the National Book Award, is a quick read but one that stays with the reader forever.  It’s a book for all those teenagers living life in the real world that you know and every day and it’s a book that tells them that everyone makes mistakes but life, real, adult life, is about being strong enough to start letting that go.  Six years later, this book is still a little masterpiece.

I’ve been lucky enough to read Zarr’s upcoming book The Lucy Variations and I’m happy to report it is Zarr at the top of her game.  Lucy is a former child prodigy who stopped playing piano after a serious life crisis.  Now sixteen, Lucy begins to wonder if she can find her way back to music. It’s another book with a strong female character who takes the world on her own terms and is creating her own path.  It’s also a great look at a character who is an artist, who cares deeply about creativity and self-expression even when it’s hard.

Sara Zarr is one of the most interesting and unique current young adult writers.  As of yet, no fantasy/dystopian/post-apocalyptic heroines wielding magic swords and riding dragons have showed up in her work.  (Not that it’d stop me from reading her work if they did). And yet the female characters she so expertly brings to life are just as bold, memorable, self-realized, and, yeah, bad-ass.  They are characters you need to meet and characters you need to share with your teen readers. 

(also worth checking out is Zarr’s This Creative Lifepodcast, a thoughtful and insightful series featuring great dialogue between Zarr and many talented writers and creators.)

Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System.  She is a proud feminist who loves working with a young adult literature, a genre that celebrates strong female characters.  You can find her blogging sporadically at www.fatgirlreading.comand tweeting incessantly @misskubelik. 

Book Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

When most people think of Joss Whedon, they tend to think of the guy who writes kick-ass girls.  Which he does.  But when I think of Joss Whedon I think of this: you are born into a family, but you also build a family and in many ways, that family is so much stronger because those are the people you have fallen in love with along the way.  Buffy came from a broken home, but she built the strongest of families with Xander and Willow and Giles and in the end, even Spike.  When Angel left he too built his own family in LA, with Cordelia and Wesley and Fred and Lorne.  And in Firefly, the rag tag gang of outlaws became a family that gathered together to protect the weakest among them, River (even if Jayne did occasionally stumble).

McFarland & Company (June 23, 2005) 978-0786421725

What, you may ask, does this have to do with How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr?  Why, I’m glad you asked.

“I’m still going to love you, always. And in the rock-paper-scissors of life, love is rock. fear, anger, everything else…no contest.”

You see, I have been working with teens for 19 years now and one of the most common things I see among them is a certain brokenness.  Yes, it is normal and natural to go through that difficult transitional phase of separating from parents and becoming your own person.  But to be quite frankly honest, a lot of my teens haven’t really had parents to go through that separation phase with.  No, they were struggling more than anything to find someone – anyone – to connect with.  My teens were being raised by grandparents, single mothers, and far too often – themselves really.  I have sat in a room with 70 teens and felt the need to belong to someone, anyone, buzzing in the air with such a ferocious electric energy that it seemed like we would all soon spontaneously combusts as if hit by a lightning bolt.  These teens were the dry, parched trees in a desert just ripe for burning when that electric need coursed through the air – there was nothing they could do but burst into flames with their parched desperation.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (October 18, 2011) 978-0316036061

Enter Mandy Kalinowski.  Mandy is a pregnant teen from a very broken home.  She is the teen whose mother tells her to sell her soul to a man to be taken care of financially, not to be loved, not to feel that sense of connection; no, to Mandy’s mom sex and abuse and making sure you stay pretty are the price you pay to make sure that there is a roof over your head and food on your table.  Love, happiness and self-fulfilment aren’t even possibilities.

Enter Jill MacSweeney.  Jill is a senior in high school that had a grounded life until her father passed away and she is left reeling without her anchor.  To muddy the waters even more, Jilly’s mother has decided to adopt a baby to honor a promise her and her deceased husband made years ago.  It is this adoption that causes the two teens paths to cross, and it is not a pretty crossing.  Sara Zarr does not do pretty crossings you know, she gets to the down and dirty reality of life before taking us to a point where we think that we can even begin to see hope.

“Try a little tenderness …”

To break it down for you, it goes like this: Mandy comes to live with Jill and her mom while they wait for the baby to be born and adopt it.  Jill is not at all on board with this plan.  Mandy looks at everything that Jill has and thinks, hmmm – this is kinda awesome.  Mandy also wrestles with the emotions of whether or not she can give her child up for adoption.  Jill wrestles with the emotions of losing her dad and having pushed everyone in her life away out of grief.  Jill and her mom try to find a way to deal with everything that being Jill and her mom entails.  And then there is the most awesome resolution that I didn’t even know was possible but looked up and it sure enough is true.  I can’t tell you what it is because I don’t want to spoil the book for you.  Insert pouty face here because I would love to discuss the merits of this.

So I will get back to talking about the book.  Mandy and Jill are both whiny, annoying characters at times who do a lot of self-sabotaging behaviors and make it really hard for you to care about them.  In other words, Mandy and Jill are totally typical teenagers.  But somehow you do care about them.  Although true confession, I really cared about Jill and although I completely understood the where and why of Mandy, it was so much harder for me to get invested in her character.  That may be more a me issue than a character issue, reading is so very subjective.

I really liked that even though Sara Zarr employed the whole dead parent card, here it was not a device but a part of the story that added emotional resonance and clearly illustrated that before the dead parent Jill was in fact part of a happy, healthy, functioning family.  And her mom was clearly doing her best to be there for her, even in the midst of her own grief.  So I am giving points for parental involvement.

I really wrestled throughout the book with the adoption storyline because (keep in mind I am in no way a lawyer) the way they go about it seems completely illegal and unsafe, emotionally that is.  Mandy makes it clear that there can be no lawyers, no contracts, nada, zilch, nothing.  Here Jill’s mom is depicted as being an intelligent community woman and yet she doesn’t seem to understand the tremendous ramifications of the situation.  It kind of didn’t mesh with the character, but I think she was trying to explain that away given the emotionally vulnerable state she was in, which I kind of understood but still gritted my teeth.  But then finally, there is a moment where a doctor says, um but what about and AHA! – there is that very necessary jolt of reality.

In the end I found this to be an uplifting story and there are teens out there that need to read it.  There are those Mandy’s in this world who need to know that in the end, they may just find a family that they can be a part of.  For that reason alone I recommend that libraries add this book to their collections.  If you agree with Joss Whedon, you are doing something right in my book.  4 out of 5 stars because there are a few hiccups along the way, but Sara Zarr does authentic teen voice well.

Love is rock. This review is dedicated to my own adopted “mom” and librarian mentor, who is definitely 5 stars and my favorite Joss Whedon fan.

Why YA? The Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) as discussed by Lisa Burstein

It was only earlier this year that I read Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.  I was touched by the fact that it was a simple yet raw coming of age story about a teenage girl.  There were no bells and whistles, no magical powers or arena fights to the death – just raw, unbridled emotion.  Then, a couple of months later, I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.  When I finished I wrote my review and said that Pretty Amy brought to mind Story of a Girl.  Today, in our ongoing Why YA? feature, author Lisa Burstein discusses Story of a Girl and does a brief interview with one of her writing heroes, Sara Zarr.
“A lot of people can change you – the first kid who called you a name, the first teacher who said you were smart, the first person who crowned you their best friend. It’s the change you remember, the firsts and what they meant, not really the people.”  – Sara Zarr

My mother and I had what would have been described as a strained relationship when I was in high school, but that was really a nice way of saying that I hated her and she didn’t understand me. I understood then that she tried to understand me, but because I was in high school I did not have the capacity to explain the emotions I was dealing with. I couldn’t tell her that it had nothing to do with her that I broke curfew, tried alcohol and drugs, and skipped school. That all of that had to do with what was inside me. The uncertainty, the low self-esteem, the need for acceptance from anyone but her and my father. Of course, I couldn’t tell her any of this. I didn’t want to and honestly I didn’t really realize it all myself at the time.

When I think about the many reasons why adults should read YA, the strongest argument I can come up with is to help them understand their teenagers. Not all YA books can do this. It is a special, meaningful, true book that can. Story of a Girl is such a book.

I read Story of a Girl for the first time a year ago. I was thirty-five and very far away from high school, but reading it brought me back to the confusion, emptiness and uncertainty I felt during that time. Deanna’s story was very different from mine, but the way she reacted to her surroundings, the way she kind of gave up on herself and everyone around her, was very, very familiar. So familiar that reading it was like reading my journal from the time.

Would I have let my mother read my journal? No way. But she could have read Story of a Girl. She could have given it to me to read (if it had been published at the time). We could have attempted to talk about it. Because we were not talking about anything during that time, we were yelling and fighting and not talking. I believe that something as simple and beautiful as a book could have opened a door.
What Deanna says when she talks about the stories she writes in her journal could have opened a door: “Personal feelings I did not want to feel, I gave to her.” This encapsulates what I think so many teen girls go through. Sometimes they even sort of become another person. Angry, rebellious because that is easier than letting people see the person they really are. They are afraid to be who they really are.

Zarr is a brave enough writer to present the deepest, darkest parts of a teen’s mind. The things they hide from their friends, parents, sometimes even from themselves. I cannot tell you how many times, I thought this, “What if everyone got another chance after making a big mistake?” That is how being a teen feels. Everything you do brands you. If you lie to your parent’s once, you are a liar, get caught smoking in the bathroom you are a dirt-bag smoker. You do not have the opportunity to redeem yourself, so you keep falling deeper and deeper into the person everyone thinks you are anyway. There is no way I could have explained this to my mother, but if she would have seen Deanna say it, it may have made her think.

If she had seen Deanna say, “I Deanna Lambert, belong to no one and no one belongs to me. I don’t know what to do.” She might have just given me a hug instead of screaming at me when I came home smelling of alcohol.

Story of a Girl is a book that has the power to open doors between parents and children. It is a book that could help a parent understand why their child feels like an outsider when all the parent wants is for their child to let them in. I knew when I was a teenager that my mother still loved me, but it certainly didn’t feel like she liked me. Zarr captures this effortlessly when she writes, “The girl started to wonder if anyone would look for her.” My mother didn’t seem like she wanted to help the me I was in high school, it appeared that she wanted to help the me I used to be and that hurt most of all.

As a formerly troubled teen, as someone who thought daily what Deanna thought about her own life, “How, how am I supposed to find my own way out?” I would advocate that parents search out books like Story of a Girl when they feel like they don’t know where else to turn. Your teen probably thinks “My life is a question mark,” just like Deanna does when you ask them why they do the things they do. Books like Story of a Girl have the power to help you know your child, which even if they don’t admit it, is all they really want.

While talkinga bout Story of a Girl should be enough to make you want to go out and read it right now, Sara Zarr agreed to talk to us about it as well.  How awesome is that?  Below are just a few of me and some of my Twitter followers had for her.

What YA book do you think adults would benefit from reading?

There isn’t one specific book for all adults, but I encourage people to spend some time browsing the young adult section of the library or book store. I think people who only hear about YA through the mainstream media think all of YA is The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter. In truth, it’s a huge, huge category of publishing, with something for everyone.

What did you intend readers to take away from Story of A Girl when you wrote it?

My intention is always just to tell the story that’s in my head, and do it the best I can, and hope that readers connect on some level while they’re reading it. With all my books, I’m just trying to tell a story. I do think there’s lots to take away if people are open to it, but I only hope they enjoy the book at whatever level organically happens for them.

What did readers take away from Story of a Girl that you didn’t expect?

There’s been some discussion that the story is partly about the double-standard (for girls vs. boys) when it comes to sexuality, that I didn’t really expect. And also some comparisons to The Scarlet Letter, which I’ve never read!

What was the best compliment you’ve received from an adult who read Story of A Girl?

One of my aunts, who is in her 70s, said that the emotions of Deanna’s struggle with herself and with her dad felt real to her experience, though her adolescence is over 50 years behind her and was in a very different time. This upholds my theory that the personal experience of moving from childhood to adulthood stays pretty much the same – it’s the context, the language, the accessories that change.

How did you get the idea for Story of a Girl?

It’s been so long now that I can’t totally remember. But I know this particular book started with characters. Deanna sort of came to me fully-formed, and she was tough but vulnerable and I wanted to know what that was about, where it came from.

When you completed Story of a Girl did you know how resonant it would be?

Virtually everything in my career has been a huge surprise and blessing. When it first came out, I just hoped more than ten people would read it. I think every writer fears his or her book won’t connect. It’s a relief when it does, and it makes you grateful.

You blogged once that you were considering giving up writing. What were your reasons for that, and how do you feel now?

Funny – I don’t remember saying exactly that. I think what I probably meant was not giving up the act of writing itself, but the career of “being a writer”, which is a different thing. Whereas once that felt vital to my identity, I think now I could see myself finding satisfaction making money other ways. For me, writing under contract and deadline is not my favorite thing. I am, right now, taking a little break from that, and it feels good.

How do you think you achieve such an authentic voice?

That is a nice question – thank you, to whoever asked that! I don’t know the answer. I know that I’m an extremely picky and critical reader, and am easily pulled out of a reading experience if I don’t “buy” the character’s words or emotions. So I’m picky and critical with myself, too, and always do a lot of cutting in my final drafts in attempts to get rid of anything that rings false to me, especially emotionally. It’s a tough call sometimes, though. (For the record, Karen J from TLT is the one who asked this questions – just saying.)
Meet Lisa Burstein
Lisa Burstein is the author of PRETTY AMY a book that Girls’ Life Magazine called “a must read for anyone who’s felt like they don’t belong.”; and The New York Journal of Books said has “a lot of wonderful snark that will make grownups laugh out loud.”
Please also check out Lisa Burstein’s Dear Teen Me letter.  It is an honest, powerful, bold and necessary reminder to girls everywhere that no means no.

Lisa Burstein