October 2007

Ben Wolf is going to die, in less than one year. He’s a senior in high school, and he’s just been diagnosed with a rare blood disease. Against the advice of his doctor, he’s chosen to forego treatment, instead choosing to live out his last few months as normally as possible, instead of sick and bald from the treatment that would buy him only a few more months. In addition to not accepting treatment, he’s also not telling anyone. Not his brother, not his parents, nobody. He’s eighteen, and his doctor can’t do anything about it without breaking doctor-patient confidentiality.

Ben knows he’s going to die, and he wants to condense an entire lifetime into a few months. He wants to make his mark on the world, and rather than the usual fifty or sixty years a guy his age has left to do it, he’s only got a few months He figures it’s also time to take some risks. He is really short and 123 pounds, and he’s going out for football. He’s got his eye on Dallas Suzuki, too, who may sound like a Texan car dealership, he says, but is in actuality a smart, gorgeous girl he’s been lusting after for ages. And in school, he’s not putting up with the crap his civics teacher tries to teach him; he’s on a quest for the truth, now that he doesn’t have to worry about pleasing the close-minded teacher for a diploma. Living with the secret isn’t as easy as Ben thinks at first, though. What about the people who he’ll leave behind?

Chris Crutcher has once again proven himself to be a brilliant author. He manages to make this difficult subject matter funny, sad, touching, a whole range of human emotions. Crutcher really understands people, and he shows it in this book; all of his characters are amazing. This book is probably his best that I’ve read yet, and that is really, really saying something. It really threw things into perspective and made me think about my own life, as I’m sure it would do to anyone who read it. Perhaps the idea of a novel about someone who is dying at trying to make the most of living is not one that is completely original, but Crutcher really makes it his own, and, really, how many truly original ideas are out there these days, anyway? This is a brilliant, well-written, thought-provoking, and, to put it simply, truly amazing novel, one not to be missed.

Five Stars


So, it’s over, and I ended up reading about nine hours (although that was frequently interrupted by things that took only a minute or two), only one and 2/2 books, and I’m not sure how many pages. I fell asleep not long after that last update. That’s Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce, half of How to Learn Any Language by Barry Faber, and half of Love Is A Many Trousered Thing by Louise Rennison. Trickster’s Queen was a wonderful book, about which I’ll post more later, and the other two I’ll probably finish in the next day or two and post about as well. Though I’m not sure I’ll post about HtLAL because it’s not really YA; it’s nonfiction for anyone, but I imagine teens could profit from it as well. It’s the best method to learn a foreign language on your own, from the experiences of the author, who is now able to express himself in twenty-five languages. I’m going to try it out when I start Indonesian. It says in the book that Indonesian is the easiest language to learn, and I’m going to try it out! Anyway, I had a great time in the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, and I hope any of you who participated in some capacity did as well! I’ll definitely be doing this next year, and hopefully it’s on a Saturday where I can do some good, less frequently interrupted reading.

I’ve now finished just one book, Trickster’s Queen, but that’s 470 pages. I’m in the middle of two others books, How To Learn Any Language and Love Is A Many Trousered Thing by Louise Rennison. I’ll be going to bed soon, and may not be able to post again until after the end of the 24 hours (hopefully I will, but I’m not sure). I haven’t been a very good reader today, but it’s not entirely my fault; other things, important things, came up! I’ve read for a total of about eight hours so far.

As you know, this is today! I’m sorry for the lack of updates until now; I haven’t been able to do a ton of reading, because I had a commitment this morning that I couldn’t skip. I’ve been reading this afternoon, though, and have just been able to connect to the internet (this wasn’t the greatest reading Saturday for me, but I’m having fun!). I have been switching back and forth between two books: Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce and How to Learn Any Language by Barry Farber. I’m not done with either, but they’re both great so far! Now, back to do some more reading.

Apparently this has been waiting in my drafts folder when I thought I pushed “publish.” That’s so annoying! Sorry for the total lack of updates lately. Anyway, I have now read the entire Red book (the book my essay is a part of), and I am so honored to be a part of such a great project.

As many of you probably already know, Red is a book of essays by teenage girls about all aspects of their lives, edited by the wonderful Amy Goldwasser. It’s a collection of stories by over fifty girls from across the country, connected by our writing.

I can’t pretend not to be biased because, well, I’m a part of it. But I am truly honored to have my writing in with these wonderful essays! Covering all topics from family relationships to guys to body image to, well, pretty much everything concerning teen girls (and other people) today, this collection of essays does not have one that is less than amazing (I can’t judge my own so everything I say here does not appy to it one way or the other). I could completely relate to so many of the essays, and I am constantly amazed at what brilliant writers people my own age (and younger) are. I mean, I doubt I was nearly as good a writer at thirteen as some of these girls!

This book shows what it’s really like to be a teenage girl in America today, more than any work of fiction by an adult (not to say those can’t be great), because it’s written by teen girls themselves. And they all certainly rise to the challenge! People who doubt us wouldn’t after reading this. In RED, teen girls prove themselves to be intelligent, talented writers, serious thinkers, and incredibly brave, to share these personal stories with the entire world, with anyone who wants to walk into a bookstore (mine is just kind of embarassing, as it’s about a guy; some of these are seriously personal and I am so impressed with the courage of the people sharing them). It is out in store next month–go ahead and preorder your copy on Amazon for a better deal, though!

Here’s my latest interview, with the wonderful and talented Sarah Beth Durst. I reviewed her book, Into The Wild, a little while ago, and loved it! Thanks so much to Sarah for agreeing to be interviewed. I hope you all enjoy it!

Are you anything like your main character, Julie, or any of your other characters?

I think I’m most like Gillian (the main character’s best friend).  No matter how many times that Julie tells her that being in a fairy tale is worse than being in a nightmare, Gillian still thinks it’s all incredibly cool.  If my town suddenly transformed into a fairy-tale kingdom, I’d totally be the one pulling on my glass slippers, grabbing the nearest pumpkin, and running into the woods… where I’d most likely be promptly eaten by a wolf or trapped in a Gingerbread House…  Mmm, yum, gingerbread…
What are your favorite fairy tales?
I love Beauty and the Beast, as well as all its variants (Cupid and Psyche, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, etc.).  It’s one of the only tales where there’s true love.  In Cinderella, they go on one date and then marry.  In Sleeping Beauty, there’s a single (nonconsensual) kiss and then they marry.  In Snow White… well, she’s dead when she “meets” the prince so I can’t imagine they had many stimulating conversations.  But with Beauty and the Beast, they spend time together, they talk, they have multiple dinner-dates…  I like that version of fairy-tale love much better than the “hey, you defeated a dragon — here, have a princess” kind.

How did the idea for Into The Wild come to you? Can you remember exactly when you thought of it, or did it take awhile to form itself?

I do remember the first idea, though it took a while before it coalesced into an actual novel.  In high school, I tried to write a musical about fairy-tale characters who lived in the real world.  It was called “Rapunzel’s Hair Salon,” and it was awful.  Really, really awful.  Picture singing pigs doing a kickline.  (Now try to stop picturing singing pigs doing a kickline…  Yeah, it’s not pretty.)  Anyway, I liked the idea of fairy-tale characters living in secret in an ordinary town.  So many years later, I started kicking around that core idea, and I thought: okay, so once upon a time, the fairy-tale characters escaped their fairy tale… what would happen if the fairy tale wants its characters back?  And the answer to that question is INTO THE WILD.
How has Into The Wild changed since the first draft?

I did thirty drafts of INTO THE WILD.  Yep, 30.  I know that sounds crazy, but it works for me.  I think of it like I’m building a person from the inside-out.  The first draft is the skeleton.  It’s not much to look at (in fact, some paragraphs are just “and then something cool happens”), but the first draft, my skeleton draft, lets me see if the story hangs together — and whether it looks like a human or more like a ferret.  After I’m satisfied with the skeleton, I start adding layers: muscles, ligaments, internal organs, skin…  By the end, there usually isn’t a single word in the final version that’s the same as it was in the first draft, but all the stuff from the prior drafts is in there, making the story walk, talk, and breathe.  So in a way, the answer is that everything and nothing has changed since the first draft.  The core of the story (the fairy-tale characters wanting to be free, the relationship between Julie and her mom Rapunzel, the adventure in the Wild) was all there in the first draft, but it took a lot of revision to get from those bare ideas to the final story.

What sort of environment do you write in, and at what time of the day do you do your best writing?
I wish I could write in a coffeeshop or on a beach or even just outside in the backyard.  Other writers do it all the time and manage to look all artistic and romantic with their hair pinned up in that pseudo-casual style that’s all gorgeously disheveled.  But I tend to play with my hair when I write, and I have very, very, very thick, curly hair.  At the end of an intense writing day, I look a bit like the bride of Frankenstein.  So it’s best for me to just write at home and not frighten the other coffeeshop customers or beach-goers.

Seriously, I do most of my writing at home on my laptop at my desk.  I often listen to music.  I usually have chocolate (ideally Raisinets) within reach.  As far as time of day… I consider any time where I can cobble together more than five minutes uninterrupted to be my best time.  Less than five minutes is a bit trickier, but it can be done if that’s the only option.  I am completely serious about this.  I treasure every second of writing time that I have, whether it’s 10am or 2am.  Writing is one of the only things that when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.

If Into The Wild were to be made into a movie, who would you want to play Julie and any of the other main characters? If you can’t think of an actor or actress like them, is there any model or picture or anything that you think looks like them?
I have absolutely no idea.  I do have images in my head for all the characters, of course, but they’re mostly mish-mashes of people I’ve known.

What writing had you done before Into The Wild? For how long had you been writing?

I have been writing since I was ten years old.  (Prior to age ten, I wanted to be either a ballerina or Wonder Woman.  I also would have accepted Unicorn Princess, but I don’t think it’s fair to count that as a career goal.)  The first story that I wrote outside of school was a cross between G.I. Joe and the Wizard of Oz.  I abandoned it halfway through (shortly after a pride of friendly, talking lions magically and inexplicably transported all of the characters to Africa), but I kept writing all through middle school and high school.  In college, I did a lot of playwriting.  My senior thesis was a stageplay that included a flying, fire-breathing dragon (but no talking lions).  In the years following college, I focused on novel-writing and eventually wrote the story that became INTO THE WILD (which does include a talking cat, if not a lion).  INTO THE WILD is truly a lifelong dream come true for me.
What are you writing now?
My next novel is a sequel to INTO THE WILD.  It’s called OUT OF THE WILD, and it’s coming out next summer (June 2008). I am really, really excited about it.  I just got to see the cover art for it — the cover will be blue with an image of Julie on a flying bath mat.  Yes, I said “flying bath mat.”  :)  If you’re curious, I’ve posted it on my website here: www.sarahbethdurst.com/books.htm.  I had so much fun writing it.  I loved hanging out with Julie and everyone again, even if it meant turning their world upside down.
Thank you so much for interviewing me!

Beyond Cool is the second book about Floe Ryan, a thawed “frozen zombie.” That’s her term for it, but really Floe was preserved after her death (vitrified, or “frozen,”) which happened about this time, and then “thawed” a decade later…..

Read More 

I’d like to remind you all that the nominations for the 2007 Cybils are now open! You can nominate a book in every category that was published this year.

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

Make sure the title you’re nominating fits in that category, that it’s published in 2007, and that it hasn’t been nominated before. I’m on the nominating panel for Middle Grade Fiction (meaning, I am part of the panel that picks the best few out of your nominations, which then go on to the judges), and I’m looking forward to seeing your nominations!

Also: I have limited internet access right now. Mostly, it’s at school. So the best way to contact me is by email (teenbookreview@gmail.com) because blog domains are blocked at school (wordpress, livejournal, blogger, etc.), along with pretty much everything else.