Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Talking Teen Fiction with Victoria Scott

This week many libraries across the nation will be celebrating Teen Read Week, a YALSA initiative designed to remind teens to read for the fun of it – even in the middle of the school year.  Yesterday we announced that this week we were doing a fun contest sponsored by YA author Victoria Scott.  Don’t know what I am talking about, check it out here!  Since Victoria is our host for the week, let’s ask her what she thinks about the state of teen fiction today and its future.

Why do you think having teen fiction is important?
I think it’s important because it eliminates reading gaps during formative years. I read a lot when I was younger, but when I reached my teenage years, I strayed from books. Adult books seemed too distant from what I was going through, and middle grade books were too childish. Teen fiction gives teens a category so their literature can grow along with them.
Do you have any lines you won’t cross while writing for teens?

Yes, only one. If I include sex scenes, I always have them fade to black. There’s no need to be graphic. Everything else: cursing, drugs, alcohol, light sexual content—I’m not afraid to include those things. I don’t believe in sugar-coating the choices teens face.
Do you read YA? It seems a lot of adults buy books packaged for teens.
Yes, I read YA almost exclusively. I think adults enjoy them because many times the pacing is faster, and some of the more mundane subjects—mortgages, children, keeping a marriage healthy—aren’t visible. It’s just about reliving raw emotions at a critical time in your life.
Why would you say to adults who think YA has gotten too “heavy.”
I’d say if it’s gotten heavy, it’s because that’s what’s selling, which means that is what teens want to read. Sometimes it’s difficult for teens to speak with parents or teachers about what they’re dealing with, and in literature they can explore these heavier subjects in a safe place. 
What do you think lies ahead for teen fiction?
I think we’ll see the cost of ebooks fall. I think you’ll see fewer divisions at bookstores (paranormal romance, teen thriller, teen science fiction), and a more generic teen fiction area. And I think we’ll see more GLBT and racial minorities as lead characters, which is great! 
About Victoria Scott:
I’m a YA writer with a die-hard affection for dark and humorous books. My work is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger literary agency. I have a master’s degree in marketing, and currently live in Dallas with my husband, Ryan.
My first YA book, THE COLLECTOR, will be published by Entangled Teen, April 2013. It is the first book in a trilogy. My second YA series will begin with FIRE & FLOOD and is being published by Scholastic in spring 2014.

Victoria is deathly afraid of monkeys.  Find out more at her webpage.  

Take a Second Look, books that send empowering messages to teens about body image

At TLT, we have an ongoing discussion about books and pop culture and how it affects the body image of our kids.  We are all constantly being bombarded with subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – messages about the way we look, or should look.  Sometimes, as I start to read a book, alarm bells will start going off in the back of mind: Warning, Danger Will Robinson!  Subtle messages include the propensity to have beautiful, white girls in flowy dresses on the cover of every book, repeatedly sending the message that this is the standard, the ideal for beauty.  Today I want to discuss with you a couple of books that seemed to be one thing, but turned out being something altogether different, reminding me, as a reader, that the beauty of a book can be more than skin deep – just like a person. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover! And yes, we all do it.  But let’s remember to look into the heart of things.  Here are a couple of books that remind us all to do that, to dig deeper.

The Collector is about a boy named Dante Walker who has died and become a demon, a collector.  His job is to collect souls for the big guy downstairs, some call him Satan.  He is given an order and has 10 days to collect the soul of Charlie.  Charlie is where our body image discussion comes in.  When we first meet Charlie she is an average teenage girl, described as being homely almost.  She sits off to the side in the cafeteria with her two besties, at times ridiculed.  Dante can’t figure out why the big guy below wants her soul, but he figures the way to get it is to make her wish that she was beautiful, which she starts to do in baby steps.  Better hair maybe, better teeth, clearer skin.  These are the things that many of us have wished for at various times at our life.  Some people spend hundreds of dollars on products to help transform the way that they look.

As I read The Collector, I was worried at times about the message the book was sending about physical appearance.  But in the end, there is a really positive spin on the message.  I can’t tell you what it is, but you’ll have to trust me. Better yet, read it for yourself and see if you agree with me. Of course this is only book 1 in the series, so we’ll have to see where it ends up going.  My wish? That in the end Charlie would choose to truly be herself.  I think that would send the most amazing message to readers.  I’ll keep reading to find out what happens, but also because it is a fun read.

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick is another example of book that appears to be sending one message, but is in fact sending a completely different one.  In Gorgeous, Becky makes a deal with a world renowned fashion designer: he will make her 3 dresses and she will be turned into the most beautiful woman in the world.  Becky is soon transformed into Rebecca and is thrown into a life greater than you could ever imagine.  But she also knows that in many ways, she is betraying herself and there is kind of a shallowness to her life that she begins to recognize.  Gorgeous is an absurd twisted fairy tale; funny, but in the end, a fairy tale with a really good message.  In fact, with a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly proclaimed: “With writing that’s hilarious, profane, and profound (often within a single sentence), Rudnick casts a knowing eye on our obsession with fame, brand names, and royalty to create a feel-good story about getting what you want without letting beauty blind you to what’s real.” (May 2013)

Both of these books start out seeming like one thing, but when you read them all the way to the end, they end up saying something completely different about appearances.  A look at the covers would make you think they are something different than what they are, something we do with people every day.  Once you get past the shiny, glitzy covers, there is a fun reminder that what you see is not always what you get, and that we shouldn’t judge books – or people – by their appearance.

What other books do you feel send a positive message to teens about self acceptance and body image? Help us build a list by leaving your favorites in the comments. Thank you.

Texas Debut Authors: Victoria Scott, author of The Collector

Author Introduction

Victoria Scott
Today I am going to use my personal website to promote an upcoming event at my library, but you’ll want to be there so you can meet 6 debut authors – and the 2012 Printz Award Winning author John Corey Whaley.
Victoria Scott is one of the authors we’ll be featuring at our Texas Debut Authors event, May 9, 2013 at 6:30 pm at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prarie, TX. She is the author is THE COLLECTOR Trilogy (Entangled Teen) and the FLOOD AND FIRE Trilogy (Scholastic). Victoria lives in Dallas with her husband and loves all things dark and creepy. 
Victoria, here are your three questions:
1)   If you met the main character from your book, Dante Walker, in real life, do you think you’d fall for him? 
I think my seventeen-year-old self would, absolutely. Today, maybe not. Not saying I wouldn’t eye stalk him, but I like to think I’m past falling for a hot guy who only wants to seduce me. Then again… 😉 
Christie and I both just read and reviewed The Collector for Entangled Teen week
 2)   What’s your favorite city? 
I’m going to go with New Orleans. There’s something about that atmosphere that’s just addicting. It’s got this electricity and this gloom that’s so beautiful.
3)   What are you eating for dinner tonight?
Ha! Um, it’s Friday so it’s definitely going to include a slice of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. Not saying I’m going to actually eat there, but that thing will be in my belly by the end of the night. True story.  

I’m a YA writer with a die-hard affection for dark and humorous books. My work is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger literary agency. I have a master’s degree in marketing, and currently live in Dallas with my husband, Ryan.

My first YA book, THE COLLECTOR, will be published by Entangled Teen, April 2013. It is the first book in a trilogy. My second YA series will begin with FIRE & FLOOD and is being published by Scholastic in spring 2014.

Victoria is deathly afraid of monkeys.  Find out more at her webpage.

Book Review: The Collector by Victoria Scott

“As you know, it’ll be held in the gymnasium. We’ll be selling tickets during lunch all week. So don’t forget to buy yours or you’ll be left dateless like me.”

Charlie stops. Her smile falters, but she quickly recovers. “I would know…only ugly losers…” She stops reading the cue cards. Then she gazes right into the camera and freezes.
People in the classroom laugh nervously.

Taylor. She messed with the cue cards. I should have known. I should’ve known!

I bolt from my desk and run for the door.

Behind me, I hear the teacher yelling my name, but there’s no way I’m stopping this time. My sneakers thump against the floor as I run down the hallway, into the cafeteria, and down another longer corridor. I’m heading to the journalism room, but I stop suddenly when I hear the sound of quick footsteps coming from the closest bathroom. Somehow, I know it’s her.

The bathroom doesn’t have a door, just an entrance that turns sharply so you can’t see inside. I don’t even check to see if anyone’s watching. I just go halfway in, knock on the wall, and say, “Charlie? You in here?”

The footsteps stop briefly.

Yep. It’s gotta be her.

I go the rest of the way inside and find her pacing in front of the restroom stalls. Her back is to me as she says, “You can go, Dante. I’m fine.” But when she turns to pace in the opposite direction, I see the truth. Her face is pink and blotchy and her eyes hold so much pain, it rips something apart inside of my chest.

My hands curl and uncurl, and my breathing comes harder and faster. Who do these people think they’re messing with? This girl has been assigned to me. Boss Man wants her soul, which means anyone messing with her—is messing with me. And they’re about to find out exactly what that’s like.

I turn abruptly from Charlie and storm toward the hall.

“Dante,” she says. Her voice becomes urgent. “Dante, don’t.”

I head down the hallway, gaining speed, unstoppable.

As I round the corner, I see Taylor and one of her boy-toys laughing. They’re having a grand ol’ time mocking my girl. The guy sees me and his mouth turns up on one side. “Oh, here comes the boyfriend. Did you catch our show, boyfriend?”

I don’t stop. I keep moving. One second, Dick Head is standing upright and the next my fist slams into his jaw. He hits the floor with a hard thud. I jump on his chest and throw my fist over and over into his face. I’m a big guy, there’s no denying that, but what’s more—I’m a mother fucking demon. And now the guy below me knows what it’s like to piss one off. When the guy’s eyes roll back in his head, I stand up and wipe blood from my knuckles.

Then I look at Taylor.

Fear screams in her eyes. I approach her slowly. She backs up until her shoulder blades hit the lockers behind her. “Dante, I—”

I cover her mouth with my hand. “Shut up.”

I step so close I can practically feel her heart beating. The hand not covering her mouth flicks, and her soul light flips on. Just as I expected, she’s coated in sin seals.

What I don’t expect are the two sparkly, pink seals. What the hell? Did Charlie do this?
Right now, I don’t care. All I care about is delivering what this girl deserves. Usually, the size seal I can assign is based on the sin. But this time—just this once—I’m going to take a little liberty.

I close my eyes and pull as much as I can out of my core, then I let go. A seal the size of Canada attaches to her soul light. And oh, sweet mercy, I can tell Taylor feels it. Actually feels that I just took something sacred from her.

My mouth curls into a smile.

“Pow, bitch.”

Dante Walker is the personification of bad.  A collector of souls for the Bad Guy himself, set free to walk upon the Earth, Dante’s good looks, killer charm, and stellar confidence have made him one of Hell’s best, and he knows it. Sealing souls isn’t personal- it’s just the job. Until Charlie, that is, because the Boss wants Charlie bad, and is willing to promote Dante if he can seal her soul in 10 days. Dante doesn’t know why the Boss Man wants her so bad. and doesn’t care; it’s a permanent ticket out of hell for him. However, Charlie becomes more than an assignment- and Dante discovers that he’s not as distant as he seems.

As the TOP collector of souls for the Devil, Dante has been working on passing judgement for the Boss Man since he died at the age of 17. Released on Earth only for short sprints to seal souls of sinners, Dante leaps at the chance to be promoted to head reaper, and the assignment seems simple- deliver the soul of Charlie Cooper in 10 days. Yet, Charlie is as innocent as they come, and her soul shines. She ends up making Dante believe in himself in ways he never believed he could, and as his heart changes, the stakes only rise. Can he save himself and Charlie before she’s cursed to Hell? 

Dante can be hit or miss with some readers, and his attitude can miss the mark at times and make a reader want to cringe. However, his change throughout the book is dramatic, as well as Charlie’s transformation, and through that he is redeemed (in more ways than one). The world Scott builds is very detailed (how they seal the souls, why they’re doing it, etc.) and the ideas build upon the next so that the reader is left waiting for the second in the series, The Liberator to know what happens in the struggle that is coming.  Very good paranormal romance, and alluring to readers that it’s in a guy’s voice.  I’m not sure that male readers will pick it up as much as female ones (with the *ewwww kissing* factor) but that remains to be seen.  3.5 stars.  Would pair it with books like Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Obsidian or Wendy Higgins Sweet Evil for the romance, or Kim Harrison’s Madison Avery series for the paranormal aspect.  Goodreads lists The Collector at 3.82 stars as of April 23, 2013.

Karen’s 2 Cents: I also read The Collector and seriously ended up enjoying it.  Dante is a bad boy, kind of a version of Spike-lite, and I loved his snark and wit and confidence.  I also loved the effect that Charlie had on all of the above (Yay for Charlie by the way!).  I was curious as to how it would work to write such a smug character and still get the reader to like him, but Scott epically pulls it off.  I also love the discussion of inner versus outer beauty.  In fact, although this could appear to be a fun, surface type of read, there is some real substance here and I really appreciated that.  Yes, it was a seriously fun read, but I think it also drives home some of my favorite life lessons in completely non-obvious, non-teachy ways: people are more than what they look like on the outside and people can be redeemed.  I really liked the characters and the dialogue, they are pitch perfect, and would give it 4 stars (maybe even 4.5).  This one could be (and should be) huge and popular. (edited 4/30/2013 so Karen could add her 2 cents)