February 2008

Since moving to Florida, Fin has felt like her life is spiraling out of control. Her parents split up, she doesn’t have any friends, and, well, it’s just hard. The only thing that brings control and stability to her life is counting. Completing her rituals is one thing she can take control of.

Medication only makes her feel more messed up, and Fin doesn’t really know what to do. Neither does her mother. She does have one person, though, that she’s beginning to feel she can maybe trust and count on: Thayer, a boy in her class at school who, like Fin, doesn’t see the world quite like everyone else.

Total Constant Order is an honest, powerful debut novel that will appeal to all teens, but perhaps particularly to those who have problems of their own (like OCD) that make them “different.” Even though we don’t all have Fin’s problems, though, isn’t that outsider-ness universal? Even if it can’t be diagnosed, there’s something in all of us that makes us feel different, and so we can all relate.

Crissa-Jean Chappell’s novel is a compelling, captivating story that readers will devour. It’s smart and true and wonderful. I love her witty observations of high school life (and life in general). Chappell’s perfectly created, real characters, a story that needs to be told, and Fin’s distinctive voice combine to create a brilliant first novel that will ring true with readers. I also particularly enjoy books that make use of setting, and I like the glimpse we get into Fin’s Miami (and, in fact, would have liked to see a little more of this–but that’s just me, as I love interesting settings). Chappell is a talented new writer, a fresh new voice in YA fiction, and I am greatly looking forward to reading whatever she writes in the future.


I personally find it more difficult to get into books written in third-person. It’s a perfectly valid choice of writing style, of course, and many of my favorite books are written from a third-person POV, like, oh, I don’t know, the Harry Potter series! Tamora Pierce usually writes in the third-person, too, and so does Melissa Marr. So, obviously, it can turn out awesome. But for me, it’s harder to get grabbed from the first page, harder to get completely into the story to the point where I don’t want to answer the phone or eat or anything! It has to be done very well to capture my attention immediately. Also because it’s a little more difficult to get to know the characters, because you’re not inside the main character’s head all the time. I guess it’s just less personal or something. And while I realize that is entirely a personal bias and that neither first nor third person point of view is intrinsically better than the other, it sometimes affects my opinions on books that I read.

And with that in mind, The Juliet Club, written in the third-person (with lots of head-hopping, which was handled with minimal confusion, thankfully–with six main characters, that had to be a little difficult!) did not fully grab my attention. I enjoyed it all the way through, but I wasn’t racing to the next page. I didn’t feel close to the characters. I kept reading, hoping I’d get drawn into the story more, but sadly, no.

The Juliet Club is about six teenagers spending a month in Verona, Italy, the city where Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet takes place. The three Americans are winners of an essay contest whose prize is to study at the Shakespeare Seminar, and the Italians are there for various reasons.

Kate, Tom, and Lucy have flown halfway around the world (not together, as they are from different parts of the country) and are excited for a summer in Italy! Kate’s father is a noted Shakespeare scholar teaching at the seminar, and they’re all staying in a villa owned by his chief rival, Francesca Marchese. Kate is suffering from a broken heart after a bitter breakup, and, as she is a very practical and sensible person, thinks that means love is not worthwhile. Her two best friends, however, think her heart will be thawed with the promise of a summer romance in Italy! Tom is not much of a scholar–his main interest is soccer (er, football, now that they are in Italy!). Lucy is a charming, bubbly Southern beauty who is absolutely swept away by the fact that she is in Italy!

Benno, Giacomo, and Silvia all live in Verona. The three teens come from different backgrounds, and are studying at the seminar for different reasons, and with entirely different attitudes about it. Benno is short, cheerful, and a hard worker who is always having to dash off to run an errand for whoever pays him. His best friend, Giacomo, is the handsome type all the girls fall for, but he never really cares about any of the girls always flocking to him. He flirts, has fun, breaks their hearts, and moves on. He is less than thrilled about having to study Shakespeare all summer, but his mother insists. Silvia is an angry beauty, lashing out at the world for various reasons that will later be revealed.

The six of them are thrown together for a summer of studying Shakespeare by acting it out and answering letters for the Juliet Club. Apparently, people all over the world write the fictional character for advice in romantic matters, and they are supposed to answer these letters. The study of romance is not limited to text and letters, however; there are some romantic sparks flying around in reality, too! And, of course, with that comes romantic mishaps and misunderstandings and all sorts of things that don’t go exactly as they’re meant to.

While this sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, I do think that perhaps Suzanne Harper has taken on too much with this novel. There are six main characters, but I don’t really think we get to know any of them. Kate is in the spotlight more than the rest, but still not very much. Because Harper has to divide the story between all six of them, their motivations and personalities, everything that makes a character seem real, is just explained rather than really shown–she takes the easy way out. As a reader, I didn’t feel close to any of the characters, and didn’t feel like I knew them well. They were not well-developed.

There’s some potential in this story, certainly. I do love books with fun settings, so a summer in Italy is perfect! However, this would have been a much better book if the author had focused on one of the couples, rather than all six characters, and let the reader really get to know them, switching viewpoints. This is making me wish for what might have been! With some changes, this could have been a great book rather than a mediocre one. Especially if the ending had been less tidy. Real life is rarely tidy.

The Juliet Club is enjoyable, but it could have been so much better. You might be better off checking this one out from the library rather than spending money on the hardcover, if you are so inclined to read it. It will be released in June.

Siobhan Vivian is the author of the fabulous A Little Friendly Advice, an impressive debut about a sixteen-year-old girl named Ruby, her friends, her family, her possible love interest, and, well, life. It’s one that I highly recommend you all read as soon as possible! Anyway, without further ado, the interview. Thanks, Siobhan, for doing this!

Can you tell me a little about your road to publication?

It was a pretty straight shot that began and ended with my acceptance into the New School Univeristy MFA program in Writing for Children. I felt that hard-core training in this very specific genre was the best way for me to approach completing a YA novel. I wrote my butt off for two years whenever I could find a spare moment from my day job as an editor.

During my last semester at school, I started working on A Little Friendly Advice. David Levithan was my thesis advisor, and he helped me massage a very rough idea into a full-fledged novel. He was vital in helping me tell Ruby’s story in the best, most engaging way. I adored working with him!

After graduation, David said that he was interested in publishing ALFA. I got an agent and sold the book, unfinished, to Scholastic a few weeks later.

What authors are some of your biggest writing influences?

Rachel Cohn is a master of voice, Blake Nelson writes the most crisp, clean prose, David Levithan makes me fall in love with words, and Cecil Castellucci oozes creativity and inspiration.

One of the book’s characters, Beth, celebrates her birthday every year with a big Halloween party. What was your best Halloween ever?

I’m going to say sophomore year of college, when my two friends and I went as the PowerPuff Girls. Our costumes were dead on! Everyone knew who we were and wanted to take pictures with us. It was so awesome.

Are you a lot like Ruby, or one of the other characters?

Of all the characters, I think I’m the most like Ruby. We’re both thoughtful and optimistic (to a fault), a little bit weird, not too girly-girly, and we both love our Polaroid cameras.

Do you have a favorite character in the novel?

Hmm. Good question. I’ll say that Katherine was the most fun character to write. Whenever she showed up in a chapter, she brought so much tension with her. And I loved thinking up sharp, snappy things for her to say.

And Charlie was awesome too. I wished he was real, so he could be my boyfriend.

Do you outline before writing?

Yes! I am a firm believer in outlining. I like to know where I’m going before I get there. But I try not to put in too much detail when I’m writing an outline, so I can still let happy accidents and discoveries happen along the way.

How did A Little Friendly Advice change from first draft to final published book?

At the very, very beginning, ALFA was about four girls who came from divorced families. That circumstance was what united them as friends, and they all took care of each other. Ruby’s dad came back the same way he does in ALFA, but in the old version, he wanted to patch things up with her Mom. Ruby worried about how that would affect her friendships, so she actively tried to keep her parents from getting back together.

I still really like elements from that original concept, but it’s a lot stronger now.

A Little Friendly Advice is written for teenagers. Why did you choose to write for this audience, and do you or would you like to write for other audiences?

I have absolutely no interest in writing books for any other audience but YA. I’m a little like Peter Pan, in that I have very much resisted the idea that I had to grow up. I feel way more comfortable in a room full of teenagers than I do with adults. And the story ideas and characters floating around in my brain are always of that genre. I think it’s just how I’m programmed.

A Little Friendly Advice is realistic fiction. Do you or would you like to write other genres?

I’d like to try and write YA magical realism. I took a class on magical realism in college and loved every single book we read.

Ruby begins to take an interest in photography in this book, when her mother gives her an old Polaroid camera. Are you a photographer?
Not officially, but I love snapping photographs. I own a few cameras, including my beloved Polaroid, and took a few photography classes back in high school, when you actually had to load the film by hand in a dark room.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on my second young adult novel for Scholastic. It’ll be out in Spring 2009 and it’s called SAME DIFFERENCE. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s about a girl named Emily who struggles with having two different identities—depending on whether she’s at home with the popular, suburban friends she grew up with, or hanging out in a city with a super cool, wild new girl she befriends in a summer art class.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

I am really, really into graphic novels. My favorite of all time is BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. I tell every single person I know to read it and be ready to fall in love.
Is there a question you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?
I wish you had asked me how awesome you are on a scale from one to ten.
I’d have said an eleven.

Aw, thank you so much!

Crimes of the Sarahs is about a clique of four girls, all named Sarah (though Sarah Cody had to change her name, legally, and show the paperwork to prove it, in order to become part of the group)–and all criminals. Admittedly, it’s nothing too serious–they’re not the mafia or anything. Almost entirely shoplifting, it seems like, stealing silly things like snacks and books. No murders or anything. Aside from being criminals, the Sarahs are very popular, good students, and good singers. Anyway, Sarah Trestle is the narrator of this story. She drives the getaway car.

Being a Sarah isn’t all about petty crime; they are a very organized bunch, in other areas as well. Like getting into the same great college, or maybe ending the “purity vow” they made together years ago (basically, don’t interact with boys at all). Sarah Aberdeen leads the group, and when she hints it may be time to downsize the clique, Sarah Trestle knows that can’t end well for anyone who is cut–but she never thinks it’ll be her, until she screws up a shoplifting attempt at Barnes & Noble…by wetting herself. Unfortunately, her anxiety sometimes manifests itself in a complete lack of control over her bladder. A little embarrassing for someone in high school.

In any case, that leads to a lot of uncertainty about her fate in the Sarahs. She’s willing to go to great lengths to keep her spot–but why?

Crimes of the Sarahs is a wonderful, funny book about friendship and finding yourself. Kristen Tracy is great at creating believable characters and relationships between them. This is a smart, fun book that readers will really enjoy. I could hardly put it down, and I’ll definitely be reading Kristen’s first book, Lost It.

I put this book aside for ages after reading it, because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I’m still not entirely sure. It’s an engrossing read, yes. Interesting, certainly. But did I even like it? I’m still not sure! I loved Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. And this is certainly written in a similar style–that odd, haunting, lyrical prose that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. It’s like something out of a dream. It’s like Salvador Dali in book form (surrealist).

Blood Roses is a collection of short stories. Some are kind of connected, but they are all stand-alone stories. And they are very intriguing. Very mind-bending sometimes. Thought-provoking. Lots of words come to mind about this book. None of them are bad. I think I enjoyed it; it certainly stuck in my mind. I’m not sure it’s for everyone, though. But I liked it. I think.

Elizabeth Scott’s debut novel, bloom, is wonderful, so her fans will be expecting something pretty amazing to live up to that! Stealing Heaven will not disappoint. It’s amazing; I absolutely loved it, and I’m sure I won’t be alone when it comes out in May! Order your copy now!

Dani and her mother do not live a traditional life, not by a long shot. They travel around the country, making their living with burglary. They are master thieves. Every job is well-planned and well-executed. Every step is calculated. It’s the only life Dani has ever known. She’s never had a normal life, with friends or school or a boyfriend or anything.

When they get to the beach town of Heaven, it seems like it’ll be just like any other place. They’ll pick the best of the big houses sure to hold lots of silver (their item of choice to steal), scout it out, find an in, grab the loot, and take off. Dani’s mom will use her looks to her advantage somehow, maybe to secure them a place to stay or find some useful information. Dani will make no lasting, important connections with anyone. That’s how it always is.

Except Heaven might be different. Dani might have an actual friend. And then there’s the guy who won’t leave her alone (and who happens to be a cop!). She has to choose–the life she’s always known, or the life she’s always secretly dreamed of?

Elizabeth Scott is amazing at creating wonderful, believable characters. I love that despite Dani’s very unusual and interesting life, she is a very relatable character, who is dealing with some very normal teenage girl problems (and some less normal ones). Stealing Heaven is a well-written, absorbing book that grabbed me from the first page and refused to let go! I highly, highly recommend it.

I have to be creative with the names of the link posts, or else I find out that I’ve used the same name before and the URL has the number “2” at the end, and I don’t like that. So, Marvelous Links today! I’ve always liked the word marvelous.

Ahem. I ramble.  So without further ado, on to said marvelous links from around the internet.

First of all, I found this link in a variety of places. The most awesome staircase/bookcase ever ! I so want that in my house. The perfect solution to the teetering stacks of books everywhere!

Liz on A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy is on the Printz committee this year, and she’s got some interesting posts on how the whole thing works.

I recently discovered adbooks, an email list for discussion of YA books. Lots of very interesting stuff!

Just in case you missed it, the Cullen family has been cast in the upcoming Twilight movie. Check out pictures on Stephenie Meyer’s website! Also, the release date for Breaking Dawn, the fourth installment in the series, has been announced: 2 August 2008. I can’t wait! On May 31, a special edition of Eclipse will be released, with the first chapter and cover art for the fourth book included.

Little Willow always has great author interviews going up! She has tons of them, and you can find a full list here.

I know we have a lot of great books to look forward to, but this list of books by the 2009 Debutatntes will have you wishing it was already ’09!

I’ve also been updating my links in the sidebar quite a bit, so check those out.

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