Daphne Grab is a member of The Longstockings blog and The Class of 2k8. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is her impressive debut novel about Matisse Osgood, a New York City girl through and through who has to move with her parents to Prague, a small town in upstate New York about four hours away from the city. Matisse loves the city, and that, along with her bitterness about having to leave her world of art galleries and foreign restaurants and everything she loves, makes her seem to be a bit of a snob at first. Matisse has a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude; in her opinion, city people (herself included) are cultured and artistic and mature and intelligent, and the residents of Prague are backward hicks. The name of the town, in Matisse’s opinion, is a cruel joke.

However, Matisse’s attitude can be forgiven, a bit, when readers discover the real reason she and her artist parents left the city. Her father, a rather famous sculptor, has Parkinson’s Disease, or PD. He can’t sculpt anymore; he can hardly function even with the help of all his medications. Matisse can’t deal with that, and she doesn’t want anyone in Prague to find out. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the huge pity party that she left behind in the city. Matisse has a lot to deal with; she may be a pain and a snob at first, but there’s a real reason she’s acting that way. She’s refusing to deal with what’s really bothering her (her father).

Soon, though, despite her attitude, she begins to make some friends. Violet, a loner who writes poetry and sits by herself with a book at lunchtime, for one. Maybe even Hal, her next-door-neighbor who Matisse at first writes off as a complete hick, and Marco, who at first just seems like a shallow stereotype of a jock. Despite alienating her best friend in New York, maybe Matisse isn’t as alone as she thought.

I quite enjoyed Daphne Grab’s debut. Matisse is a realistic character, especially in terms of the way she handles (or rather, doesn’t handle) her father’s illness. Matisse’s character development is right on. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is an engaging, interesting story, and solidly well-written. I loved Daphne Grab’s portrayal of small-town life, and it’s pretty accurate (though I don’t live in such a tiny town, the community where I live is a lot like Prague, New York in some ways. And, yeah, I’ve been on a hayride!). I put this book down feeling quite satisfied, and I look forward to Daphne Grab’s future efforts. This book will be released on June 3.

Liz Gallagher is the brilliant new author of The Opposite of Invisible. Liz is also a member of the Class of 2k8, and the second one to be interviewed here (I have also interviewed 2k8 member Lisa Schroeder)! Liz’s debut novel is really amazing, and we are quite lucky to have her here today for an interview!

Where did the inspiration to write The Opposite of Invisible come from?

I used to walk from a bus stop in Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood where the novel is set and where I now live, to my job at a before-school program. One fall day, while passing the big junk shop (it’s called Deluxe Junk), I realized that Fremont would be a great place to set a book. I knew right away that I wanted to set the book around Halloween, because it’s my favorite time of year. From there, I came up with the original first line: “It all started with this dress.” That line just haunted me and was a great springboard, but I don’t think it ended up anywhere in the actual book!

How has the novel changed since the first draft?

It’s changed so much! I originally wrote it as a short story. One of the biggest changes is that Simon used to be a one-dimensional jock character, and he was way too mean to Alice. Now, I think he’s more like a real guy who just happens to be popular, which is how I always wanted him to be. Other main elements didn’t change that much — the tight friendship between Alice and Jewel has always been there.

Why did you choose to write for young adults? Would you like to write for other audiences?

I just think young adult literature is where it’s at. My favorite writer is MT Anderson. I was already working in a kids’ bookshop (All for Kids here in Seattle) and loving young adult books, but it was while reading his book FEED that I really fell inextricably in love with the genre. I might like to try some adult romantic fiction, or a fun series that’s a little younger than OPPOSITE, but for now I’m stickin’ to YA.

In the book, Alice talks to her poster of Picasso’s Dove Girl. How did you choose the piece of artwork that would be Alice’s confidante? What are some of your other favorite paintings?

Good question! I have that actual poster, from the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I just love the image. It was a natural choice. I didn’t want her to have a journal, but I knew she needed an outlet for her feelings, and that idea just appeared on the page. I love lots of Picasso (I even have a Picasso tattoo!), and I am intrigued by Duchamp (like Vanessa); I also love Matisse and van Gogh. STARRY NIGHT is one of my favorite paintings.

What was your road to becoming a published author like? How is the experience of actually being a published author different from what you expected?

My road seems pretty smooth, looking back! When I knew I wanted to get serious about writing, I applied to the Vermont College MFA program in writing for children and young adults. It was in the program that I wrote most of OPPOSITE. Right before graduation, I signed on with my agent, Rosemary Stimola. She sold the book soon after graduation, and here I am, two and a half years later. The experience is fun every step of the way. I think it’s different than what I expected in that I still feel shocked that my book is out there in the world. I just can’t get used to it!

The setting of The Opposite of Invisible, Seattle, is very much a presence in the novel. What’s your favorite place in Seattle?

Oooh, that’s hard. I have a few, and they’re all in the book — Pike Place Market (I’m so excited that it’s becoming good-fruit season!), the view from the top of Queen Anne Hill. But I’ll have to say my favorite is the Troll. I’m lucky enough to live on the same block as the Troll, too. (Psst: the road was closed a few days ago because, apparently, Jennifer Aniston is filming a movie here. So look for the Troll in an upcoming flick!)

Is Alice like you in any way?

She’s like me in the way she thinks — her thought process, the way she makes decisions. But she’s more well-adjusted to life than I think I was at age fifteen. And she speaks her mind, which is still hard for me to do sometimes.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on a companion to OPPOSITE, actually. It’s all about Vanessa.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Like I said, FEED by MT Anderson changed my life! I also love books by Lara Zeises, Alison McGhee, and Ron Koertge.

Now, ask yourself a question (and give the answer)!

Do you know any other writers, Liz?

Why, yes, I do! Some from my days at Vermont College, and 27 debut writers from The Class of 2k8 (classof2k8.com), of which I am proud to be a member.

Thanks so much, Liz!

I adored Paula Yoo‘s debut novel, Good Enough. It was fresh and honest and funny and well-written, and, well, just plain awesome! Today, we are lucky enough to have Paula here for an interview, and she has some awesome things to say about the book, her non-writing-and-music-related dream job, writer’s block, and more.

How much of Good Enough is autobiographical? What do you and Patti have in common?

Wait a minute, you mean Good Enough is fiction?! What? OMG! Oh no! :) Haha! Just kidding. Yes, I admit quite a bit of my first novel is based on my own life. Like Patti, I play the violin and I was Concertmaster of my All-State Orchestra and I did perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with my youth orchestra. I even had a bad perm that burned my ear! But Patti’s way more sarcastic than me. She’s also much smarter than me (I was horrible at math, so I made Patti a straight-A AP Calculus student!) and she plays the violin WAY better than me! Although a lot of the book was inspired by my life, it IS fictional because I took what happened in my life and wondered, “What if…?” and that’s where the fiction kicked in. It was interesting, however, when I attended my 20th high school reunion this past Thanksgiving and met some of the real-life people who inspired many of the characters, including the real-life version of “Ben Wheeler.” Fortunately, they all liked the book… phew!

What was your favorite scene in the book to write? Which one was most difficult?

I’d say my favorite scenes were with Patti’s youth group, especially when she snuck out of church to go to a rock concert with Ben. I grew quite fond of Patti and her little circle of uptight square friends, and I loved how they all lived vicariously through her rebellion! As for the most difficult, I would say the ending was very, very hard to write. The original ending had Patti joining the track team to impress Ben – it was a funny ending but it lacked depth… it felt like a very superficial “sitcom” ending. My editor suggested that instead of making Ben the main focus of the story, I concentrate on Patti’s relationship to her parents and learning to stand up for herself. That led to a much more poignant and “deeper” ending. I would also say the scene where Patti witnesses her father being the victim of prejudice especially difficult to write because of my own family’s personal experiences.

Besides Patti, who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?

I had a crush on Ben Wheeler! I also loved how Samuel Kwon, the most uptight of Patti’s friends, learned to loosen up the most in the end. The most difficult characters were Stephanie and Eric – I didn’t want them to come off as cardboard stereotypes, which is why their character arcs ended the way they did (Stephanie trying to apologize to Patti and Eric being suspended from the graduation ceremony)… I tried to show that despite their flaws, they were human beings who simply made mistakes based on their environment and family influences. It was difficult, however, to keep them from becoming stereotyped Evil Villains, so I would say it was most challenging to make them as three-dimensional as possible.

Who are your biggest writing influences?

That is a tough question! How much room do you have in your blog? haha. Seriously, I have many favorite writers, because I was an English major in college. I loved the American “realism” movement, and I’m a huge fan of poets like Wallace Stevens. I had a thing for Japanese authors like Shusako Endo (loooved his novel “The Samurai”) and Junichiro Tanizaki (loooved his novel “The Makioka Sisters”) Currently, I love the author Tom Perrotta – he masterfully balances humor and poignancy, which is something I strive to do in my writing as well. And I’m reading “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris, and it’s HILARIOUS. I’m also a Stephen King/horror fan… as for YA authors, my favoritest all-time books are “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “When She Was Good,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “Tuck Everlasting” and everything by Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls. Hmmm. Like I said, this answer could go on and on and on…

What do you do to beat writer’s block?

I no longer believe in writer’s block. I think there is “left brain” writing and “right brain” writing. For example, there are days when you can’t stop me from writing. I’ll write 10,000 words in one day if I’m that inspired! On the days when I’m not in the “mood” to write, I usually use those days to do other forms of writing – research, revising/editing what I’ve written, or reading new novels or re-reading the classics. I strongly believe in reading as much as possible because reading helps you become a better writer. Sometimes I’ll play my violin or play some video games or watch a lot of guilty pleasure TV, especially Food TV, and let my brain wander. I also believe in taking breaks – sometimes your subconscious has to solve some writing problem, so it’s best to do anything NOT related to writing…. then the next day, bam! Writing problem solved. On some days when I’m not ready to write, I will brainstorm new ideas or work on outlines for other ideas I’ve been developing.

If you couldn’t write or play music, what job would you have? What other jobs have you done in the past?

I used to be a journalist and an English teacher and a music teacher, and I’m still a freelance musician between writing jobs, so all my jobs have involved either music or writing. If I had to do a dream job that had nothing to do with writing or music… it would be to host my own cooking show on Food TV. I am ADDICTED to cooking shows. I’m such the foodie! I even have a title – “Are YOO Hungry?” hahaha. I would love to have a Rachael Ray type show where I toured the country, eating at great restaurants and talking about the food!

You write for television, you have written picture books, and Good Enough is a young adult novel. What is the same with all types of writing? What is unique to writing a YA novel? How has your other experience in writing affected Good Enough?

Writing for television, writing picture books, and writing novels are three totally different experiences. They’re like apples and oranges! With TV, you are working with a limited number of pages – most drama TV show scripts are no more than 60 pages and obey a strict four-act plus a teaser structure. So with TV, you’re constantly finding shortcuts to have each scene reveal as much new information as possible plus move the story forward. It’s all about the dialogue, and any stage directions must reveal character or push the plot along. Less is more in TV writing. With non-fiction picture books, less is even more! You’re supposed to tell the life story of someone famous in about 1,500 words, tops. Every word has to shine, it’s almost like you’re writing poetry because every single word has to count, given how little text you’re allowed in a picture book. Novels, however, can be as long or short as you want – the freedom and the “looser” quality can overwhelm most writers, which is why everyone can start a novel, but not everyone can FINISH a novel. I found that my TV and picture book writing experience helped me structure my novels and to make sure the plot clipped along at a quick and interesting pace. But as a novelist, I learned to slow down and really reveal the inner workings of my character through inner monologue and point of view perspectives.

You are a musician as well as a writer. Who are some of your favorite musical artists?

Every musician listed in Good Enough! My iTunes has everything from the Sex Pistols to Shostakovich, from Radiohead to Ravel, from Bill Frisell to Journey, and of course, Duran Duran. I grew up on ’80s new wave and old school punk and college radio gloomy alternative music, so I’m very happy to see that the ’80s are back in fashion! But being a classically trained musician, I also love all types of jazz, blues, old school rock ‘n roll (Zeppelin!), Broadway, the list goes on and on. I just like music that’s got a good beat, a cool melody, and an interesting structure. It could be polka or Prokofiev or Paula Abdul, I don’t care, if it’s got a great melody, I’m happy!

How long have you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be writer from Day One. When I read Charlotte’s Web in the first grade, I knew instantly that I wanted to become a writer. I began writing short stories as soon as I finished reading Charlotte’s Web. I wrote my first “novel” – a 50-page hand-written manuscript – in the 2nd grade and actually submitted it to Harper & Row Books because they published “Little House on the Prairie,” which was my favorite book series at the time. I have never not wanted to be a writer – I have never wanted to be anything else but a writer since the first grade. I feel very lucky and honored to have achieved that dream, and I don’t take it for granted!

What are you writing now?

As a working TV drama writer, I have to work on a new “spec script” for the upcoming staffing season in the spring – this is when the networks decide what shows will air in the fall season. They read sample scripts from TV writers and if they like your script, they hire you for a show! So I need to write a new sample script for staffing season. I’m also researching and writing my next YA novel, and I’m doing revisions on my next picture book. And I’m always brainstorming future ideas – I have a little notebook that I carry around with me all the time to jot down new ideas. It’s a great way to kill time while waiting in line at the bank!

Now ask yourself a question! (And answer it.)

PAULA’S QUESTION: Why is https://teenbookreview.wordpress.com/ so cool?

PAULA’S ANSWER: Because they promote reading for young people and offer balanced, fair and very insightful reviews of the latest YA novels and they encourage young people to read, read, read! I am honored to be included in their website!
Thank you so much for the kind words, Paula, and for doing this interview!

Stephanie Kuehnert is the rather brilliant author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a book I absolutely adored! From the comments on my review, it looks like quite a few of you are excited for this book as well, which comes out in July, and, trust me, you should be excited! It really is just such an amazing and wonderful novel. Seriously, just pre-order it now; you will be far from disappointed when you read it.

I’m really thrilled to have Stephanie here today for an interview! A really great interview, too; I loved reading her answers. So, without further ado, here it is.

Is any of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is based on your own experiences?

I didn’t really draw from my own experiences for the book, but I did draw from my love of music. In fact, the first paragraph of the book is lifted straight from a journal entry I wrote about flipping through my parents’ record collection. I just changed the reference to cold Chicago winters to cold Wisconsin winters.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? What came to you first–plot or characters or something else?

The characters came to me first. I discovered Louisa’s story and then Emily’s and then I realized that if I connected the two I’d have a very powerful basis for a novel. The main inspirations for the book were my love of punk rock and also of the Midwest. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for a little while and my roommate and I used to go for drives in the countryside late at night. We’d pick a random County Highway and follow it. We’d drive down Main Streets in towns like my fictional Carlisle and imagine what the town and the people were like. IWBYJR is kind of an extended version of those imaginings.

What do you have in common with Emily and/or Louisa?

I certainly share the passion for music, particularly punk rock, with both of them. I also share Emily’s desire to prove herself at her chosen art. I escaped into my writing during my teenage years like she escapes into her music. I’d love to be the literary equivalent of a rock star. Like Louisa, I’ve had my fair share of demons and spent period of my life running from them, though I was never as haunted as she is and I never ran as far or for as long as she does.

Obviously, a big part of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is music. Are you a musician? Have you ever tried to be, if not?

Oh, I’ve tried. And failed. I took guitar lessons on three different occasions. I talked about having a band called The Morning After all throughout high school with a few of my friends. One friend actually wrote a song for the band and taught me the song, but that was as far as it went. I have a Fender Jagstang, which shows what a huge Nirvana nerd I am because it’s the guitar Kurt Cobain designed and I bought it solely because of that. I go through phases where I try to play it. I teach myself some punk songs, try to write my own songs, but I get frustrated because I can’t sing and play at the same time. It’s probably because I don’t practice enough, but I don’t practice enough because I want to spend my free time writing. Since high school, I’ve been choosing writing over music. Maybe one day when I can write full time, music can become a more serious hobby.

If you could be suddenly amazingly talented at one musical instrument or singing, what would you choose and why?

I’m gonna cheat and say I’d be a singer/guitarist like Emily. After all, I created Emily because she’s the girl I always wanted to be. (Well, minus the missing mom. I like my relationship with my mom as it is.) But the combination of words and guitar is just so powerful, I would love to wield that power.
What are some songs that have a special significance to you?

Music is so significant to me that I don’t just have songs, I have entire albums. Nirvana’s Bleach album reminds me of the period in junior high when I embraced my creative, weird girl self and stopped caring about fitting in with the popular crowd. …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid reminds me of my best friend and our adventures junior year of high school. Live Through This by Hole will always be the album I turn to for strength. Though there are some individual songs that are extremely meaningful to me for reasons that are hard to explain-they are just my songs-like “Young Crazed Peeling” by the Distillers, “On A Plain” by Nirvana, and “Another Shot of Whiskey” by the Gits. Of course now “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” by Sleater-Kinney will forever remind me of my first book!

What are some songs that you’re into right now?

I’m utterly obsessed with this album Saturnalia by the Gutter Twins right now. They are just soooo amazing, I blogged about them twice last week. I’m also really into the song “Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!, the girl they sing about in that song is totally one of the sad girl characters I would write about. I’d love to write a short story to accompany that song.

What would be some of Emily’s favorite songs?

I’ve always thought of “Don’t Take Me For Granted” by Social Distortion as Emily’s theme song. She would absolutely adore “The Hunger” by the Distillers and wish she’d written it. It combines an almost bluesy sound with raw, angry punk and brutally honest lyrics; that’s exactly Emily’s type of song. But she’d also get a kick out of “40 Boys in 40 Nights” by the Donnas-that’s totally her sense of humor-and she’d love the Sleater-Kinney song her book is named for, too.

Who are your writing influences?

I have so many… I love John Steinbeck. I can’t tell you how much I learned about using place to shape character from GRAPES OF WRATH. I definitely used that in IWBYJR. Irvine Welsh has been a huge influence. He showed the world that you don’t have to be all hoity-toity to write literature. You can write about raw, real situations and write the way real people speak. His books just gave me so much permission. John McNally’s work taught me how to weave humor into dramatic situation. Joe Meno…I was lucky enough to take a few classes from him at Columbia and could probably write an entire essay on how much he taught me, but most important, he taught me discipline. He’s so focused, he teaches full-time, plus writes a couple books and a couple plays a year. It’s amazing. And then of course, I also took a lot from his book HAIRSTYLES OF THE DAMNED and the very honest, touching, but humorous way he handles a coming of age story. My other writing influences include the songwriters that I consider to be great lyricists like Johnny Cash, Courtney Love, and Robert Smith.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

My favorite (and someone who was certainly an influence, but I saved her for this question) is Francesca Lia Block. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the WEETZIE BAT books. WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr touched me in that same Francesca Lia Block place. And as I mentioned, I love really real, raw stories, so some other faves are ALMOST HOME by Jessica Blank and then both SUCH A PRETTY GIRL and LEFTOVERS by Laura Wiess.

How has IWBYJR changed since the first draft?

It’s been through eight drafts, so it has evolved quite a bit. It was originally conceived of as a “novel in stories” so the chapters were a lot less linear and they could stand on their own like short stories. Since that point, a lot has been added and a lot has been cut. It was originally written for adults, so there were other points of view I explored including Emily’s dad Michael’s and Louisa’s best friend Molly’s that fleshed out the wider world of the story, gave you more of their history with Louisa and more of a sense of Carlisle. When MTV Books picked it up as YA, my editor asked that I streamline it and only use Emily and Louisa’s points of view. As a result, I wrote two more chapters that heightened Emily’s band’s career and I cut those Michael and Molly sections. But they had some great scenes and I plan to put them in an outtakes section on my website after the book comes out.

What is your writing process like?

I’m best as a binge writer, writing in four to fourteen hour blocks. When I was a student with two part-time jobs, I was able to arrange my schedule to suit this. Now I work a 9 to 5 and I’m still adjusting. When I’m discovering a story, I write the scenes that are taking my attention first until I figure out the whole story, then I outline and put it together linearly. I think I like revising best though. I do a ton of revising!

What are you writing right now?

My agent is shopping my second book. MTV Books gets the first look and I hope they’ll like it because I love working with them. You can see what it is about here. Right now a few ideas are taking my attention, so I’m just playing around till I figure out which is the strongest. But I think Book 3 is going to be a YA about a boy helping to avenge terrible things that have happened to his twin sister and her best friend. It will play with the Persephone myth in a modern, realistic way.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

I wanted to be a writer since I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books at the beginning of grade school. I mentally composed my autobiography and started keeping a diary then. I got more serious about it in high school when I started doing ‘zines along with writing short stories and poetry. But it wasn’t until my early twenties when I went to get my bachelor’s and master’s in fiction writing that I really made writing my main focus in life. I met my agent through an event at my college. It was one of those dream scenarios where she saw one chapter of IWBYJR and knew she had to have it. I worked my butt off to finish it over the next six months, did some revisions for her, and then she started shopping it. It took a year for the book to sell. She tried adult publishers first and we got a lot of polite rejections. Then, she decided to try the YA houses and MTV Books picked it up right away!

Emily criss-crosses the country searching for answers about her mother. Other people (real and fictional) have driven thousands of miles in search of many other things, some physical and some not. It’s a recurring theme in lots of fiction. If you had time to go on a road trip, what would you look for and where would you start?

The road trip I’m dying to take is Route 66 all the way to California. It starts here in Chicago so that works out nicely. And I guess I’d be searching for what I’m searching for every day: a great story. Maybe it’s my whole GRAPES OF WRATH obsession, but I think I could find inspiration for a great, real American story on that road, either in the historic things I’d find along the way or maybe among the locals in a bar in New Mexico or something. Either way, I’m convinced I could collect a lot of stories along Route 66.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it!).

I don’t know how I can top that last one, which was such a great question. So I think I’ll take this as an opportunity publicly clear something up that I know is going to vex me…

How is your last name pronounced?

Well, it’s not Coon-heart or Kway-nert or Coo-nert like I often get. “Kuehn” is prounouced Keen in German, so I’m Stephanie Key-nert.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to say thank you for having me and for your commitment to getting the word out about books. I have huge respect and admiration for book review bloggers like you. Also I should probably let everyone know that I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is available for pre-order on Amazon and invite everyone to visit me on my blog and my website and myspace because I love meeting people who are interested in books, road trips, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Thank you so much, Stephanie!

Mayra Lazara Dole‘s wonderful first novel is a very necessary addition to the somewhat limited selection of LBGTQ literature out there (and what there is seems to be more about gay boys than anything). Necessary, because it represents a subset of the population that perhaps doesn’t have much literature to directly relate to. Laura, the main character, is a Latina (Cuban, specifically) lesbian living in Miami, but enjoyment of this great book is not limited to those that fit that profile, not by a long shot! I’m a straight white girl in North Carolina, and I really liked it.

Laura’s life is seriously changed when she is caught reading a love letter in class. That would be embarrassing for anyone, sure, but seeing as Laura’s love letter is from a girl, and Laura goes to a conservative Catholic high school, she’s more than embarrassed–she’s expelled from school and kicked out of the house by her mother.  Being a tortillera in Cuban Miami is completely unacceptable, and Laura’s mother won’t let her back–won’t let her even see her beloved little brother–until she is convinced that her daughter has turned straight. Laura can’t tell her it doesn’t work that way.  Laura’s life is further devastated when her first love, Marlena, is shipped off to Puerto Rico–to marry a guy.

Luckily, Laura is far from alone. She has her little brother, when he manages to call despite their mother’s forbidding they have contact. She’s got her dog, and for those who aren’t dog people out there–that means a lot. She’s got great friends, especially her best friend, Soli, and Soli’s mom, who take her in when she has nowhere else to go.  Now, if only she can come to terms with who she is, help her mother to accept her,  and find her place in the world, things might just be okay.

Down to the Bone is a funny, bold, and poignant novel  readers will quite enjoy. I loved the great characters, and the setting of Miami! I’ve never been to Miami, but reading these books set there (this and Total Constant  Order, most recently) really makes me want to go! Also the fact that I am freezing here makes the weather there sound like heaven…

I loved this fresh, engaging, and honest book about love of all kinds, friendship, heartbreak, family, and life in general.  Down to the Bone is a promising debut novel, and I look forward to Mayra Lazara Dole’s future writing.

Stephanie Kuehnert’s debut novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, is a painfully honest, raw, heart-wrenching story about a mother who is running from guilt and a daughter who just wants to bring her home.

Emily Black has grown up without a mother. Her mother, Louisa, left Emily and her father, Michael, when Emily was an infant. Her father has always told her that Louisa left to follow the music, to find the next great thing. He raised Emily on music. They listened to records and he taught her to play the guitar, and when she got to be old enough, Emily and her best friend Regan, spent every night they could at a local club where they heard great music (and did other things that her father would have stopped if he’d known about them).

When she got older, Emily figured the only way to bring Louisa home, if she were following the music, was to be the next great thing. And so Emily and her band, She Laughs, stop being spectators and start actually playing the music, hoping all the while that it will bring her mother back to her, not knowing the reasons Louisa left are far deeper and more complicated than what she’s been told.

 I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a brilliant first novel about music and life and love and family and friendship and growing up. It follows both women–Emily and Louisa–as they both try to deal with their separation, with never having known each other. Both stories are told from a distance, Emily’s in first-person and Louisa’s in third. It feels kind of like both stories are being told after the fact, being looked back on from some indeterminate later point.

This is an unputdownable book. I really could not stop reading! It’s so real and emotional and it really just blew me away. In I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert creates wonderful, believable characters, and gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the punk rock scene as Emily is living it. This is at times a hard book to read because Stephanie Kuehnert is able to make readers really feel the book, and there are some real, serious, painful things happening.

Stephanie Kuehnert is an unbelievably talented writer. Her debut is a smart, touching, intense and emotional novel that readers will absolutely love. It will be released in July, at which point I suggest you get your copy immediately. It’s certainly a new favorite of mine!

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.

Okay, just for fun, I thought I’d share a little about a few upcoming books I’d like to read. I’d also like to know what you’re looking forward to, so I don’t miss anything!

First of all, is I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert. See the awesome cover! You can read more about the book at stephaniekuehnert.com.  Here’s the summary from the website:

“A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.

The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones. Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?”

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Another book I’m really looking forward to (and another MTV book) is What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando. I loved her first book, The Pursuit of Happiness, and I can’t wait to read this one! It has one of my favorite things, travel! Plus romance! And Las Vegas! Where I’ve never been, but it sounds exciting. Here’s the summary:

“When Chloe’s parents decide to take her to Europe the summer before senior year of high school, she’s ecstatic… she only wishes her best friend, Lindsay, could come too. Living in Las Vegas, they have long imagined the world through casinos inspired by great cities and have vowed to travel the globe together someday. Unfortunately, Lindsay’s parents won’t agree to send her along.

So Chloe goes to Europe and sends postcards to Lindsay every day. But when she comes home, she must cope with shocking news that rips her family—and Lindsay’s—apart. And as she tries to uncover the truth about what happened, Chloe soon begins to feel that Lindsay’s brother, Noah, is the one person alive for whom she’d go to the ends of the earth…

From the acclaimed author of The Pursuit of Happiness this is a stunning new novel of friendship, love, and loss set against the dazzling dual backdrops of Europe and Las Vegas. “

I have to mention Stephenie Meyer, too. She has two books coming out in 2008. The first will be The Host, which Stephenie describes as a love triangle involving only two bodies. The second is Breaking Dawn, the latest in the Twilight Saga, which I love! I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters.

Good Enough is Paula Yoo’s debut novel, about Patti, a Korean-American girl struggling to live up to her immigrant parents’ expectations. You may think you’ve read this book before, and maybe the plot is a little stereotypical, but Paula Yoo’s novel blows the rest of those books right out of the water! Seriously, it’s fantastic.

Patti has been trying all her life to make her parents happy. Immigrants from Korea, they push her to do everything possible to get into HARVARDYALEPRINCETON (which, yes, they say as one word like that), and if she ever slacks off, they tell her how hard they’ve worked to give her a better life in America. Because of their pressures, she studies almost constantly trying to secure her spot as valedictorian, is an accomplished violin player, and is shooting for at a 2300 on her SATs. At Korean church, everything is about bragging to the other Korean parents about how awesome your kid is. Patti doesn’t want to let her parents down, but she’s learning that she’s got to be faithful to what she wants, too. Rock music, a cute new guy friend, and reading teen magazines? Totally not what her parents had in mind. But maybe there’s a balance–making her parents happy, and being true to herself. Or is that too much to ask for?

I can relate to Patti, in a way. I am not Korean, and  I put most of that 2300-SAT (which I have yet to achieve….2160), straight-A, first-in-my-class pressure on myself, but, still I can relate to being under all that pressure, to the point where you wonder if that’s really what you want. And, what’s more, I’m sure there are lots of other people out there who will be able to relate, too! I really hate it when people classify a book based on the ethnicity of the main character. Who cares if they’re black or Korean or Hispanic of Vietnamese? We’re all human, and a book with a Korean main character is certainly not meant to be read just by Koreans! That’s ridiculous, yet so often I see books classified as, for example, “African-American Fiction,” like white people can’t read and enjoy books about black people, which is just so insane and ridiculous. Hmm. I may have to write another post about this; this is a book review!

Anyway, back to GOOD ENOUGH–a book which, being absolutely marvelous, is far more than its title suggests! Patti is a very three-dimensional character, and a great narrator. This book was just so well-written, time slipped away from me while reading it! It’s very absorbing, and pretty much unputdownable. This is a funny, fresh and honest debut from a brilliant writer. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

A Little Friendly Advice, Siobhan Vivian’s fantastic debut novel, is blurbed on the back cover by Cecil Castellucci and Maureen Johnson. To some of you, blurbs may not matter, but for me, a book blurbed by two fantastic authors always moves higher up on the to-be-read stack! Which is good for the book, but it also probably raises my expectations, which could turn out to make me unreasonably disappointed.

In this case, however, those high expectations were certainly warranted! I absolutely loved A Little Friendly Advice. It’s a smart, funny novel that is mainly about people and their relationships (friends, love interests, and family). It all starts on Ruby’s sixteenth birthday, when her father shows up unexpectedly after years of being totally out of the picture. She was planning on a nice celebration with her mother and group of three close friends (her longtime best friend, Beth, her boy-crazy sometimes-outrageous friend, Maria, and the new addition to their group, Katherine), but all that goes out the window when Jim comes through the front door.

One good thing does come out of Ruby’s birthday, though: her mother has gotten her an old Polaroid camera, which she uses to document the events that follow. She realizes her best friend, Beth, has been keeping secrets from her, but with good intentions. She must make some difficult choices about her relationship (or lack thereof) with her father. A new guy steps into her life, Charlie; this is a new area for never-been-kissed Ruby! The friendship dynamics within her group are changing, too. The next few days are very eventful for Ruby, and it’s all a bit much for a girl to handle alone, and her friends’ advice may not always be for the best.

A Little Friendly Advice will ring true with readers; Siobhan Vivian’s sharp, engaging prose captures people and their relationships perfectly. Her characters are fully drawn and three-dimensional, and the story she tells is full of important truths. She understands that life is not always black-and-white, and people and their actions are not always clearly for the best or worst. Life is complicated, and Siobhan Vivian’s portrayal of that is honest and moving. She has quickly become one of my new favorite authors! Siobhan Vivian is a fresh new voice in YA literature, one to watch, and you should all read this book as soon as possible!

Robin Benway’s debut novel, Audrey, Wait!, completely blew me away! It’s about what happens to a teenage girl living a pretty typical life when her ex-boyfriend’s band suddenly shoots to worldwide fame, and his song about her–titled Audrey, Wait–is suddenly playing on radio stations around the world, and rising to the top of the charts. Suddenly, Audrey is famous. She definitely did not ask for fame; all she did was break up with her rather self-centered musician boyfriend. Now, however, she has to deal with the paparazzi and reporters who twist her words and her phone is ringing off the hook, and, well, she’s rather understandably overwhelmed.

Her best friend, Victoria, wants to take advantage of all this fame by getting free stuff and maybe getting Audrey a reality show, but all Audrey wants to do is go back to her normal life, to being able to go out in public without getting mobbed by screaming fans. Her fans–how is it that a girl who has never done anything fan-worthy can’t go out in the street anymore? And there are videos of her on the internet!

She’s also got a potential love interest in James, her co-worker at the Scooper Dooper. He’s kind of quiet and shy, but Victoria insists they’d be good together–that is, if he’ll actually talk to her about something other than work, and if they can handle the fact that if they go out, they’ll be all over the tabloids!

Audrey, Wait! is about sudden fame, yeah, but being about life in the spotlight isn’t really how I thought of this book. Mostly, it’s about a girl trying to hold onto her sanity in a crazy world! Despite her celebrity status, Audrey is a very relatable character, with a distinct, funny voice. This book was blurbed by Rachel Cohn, and her blurb–calling it “Awesomely funny, fresh, and true”–is right on! Also, Rachel Cohn fans will love this book.

Even the background characters are fantastic. Victoria and Jonah were so awesome and interesting and cool that I kind of wished there was a book about them, too! Three-dimensional background characters almost take over the story at times, but Audrey is too fantastic for that to happen. The writing, the characters, everything in this book is just perfect. I seriously can’t gush about it’s fabulousness enough! Nothing I say seems to really express how much I adore this book. Robin Benway is a brilliant writer. Audrey, Wait! is an unputdownable book about music, love, friendship, and life from an author to watch. It comes out in April, and when it does, I strongly suggest you get in your car, turn on your favorite music as loud as it can go, and get to your nearest bookstore as fast as you can!

Wicked Lovely is another one of those books that I’d heard so much hype about, I almost didn’t want to pick it up, for fear that it would be terribly disappointing. I mean, the blurb on the cover is from Tamora Pierce! It fits, too; though Aislinn is a modern-day heroine, she’s much like some of Pierce’s strong female characters. Aislinn doesn’t let anyone else control her–she is very much in charge of her own fate, despite ancient faery curses working against that independence!

Anyway, Wicked Lovely does not disappoint. It is the story of Aislinn, a teenage girl who can see faeries. She’s always lived with the rules her grandmother has set to keep her safe, ignoring the faeries. If they knew she could see them, if the wrong faery found out, she’d be in grave danger.

Of course, keeping her secret may not keep her safe after all. She’s being stalked by two faeries. One of whom just happens to be the Summer King, Keenan, who has been searching for his queen for centuries. Those who are chosen as possible queens cannot escape; they either become Summer Girls, slutty faeries without a care in the world, or they try their chances at becoming the Summer Queen–and when it is discovered they are not, they are filled with Winter’s chill, vowing to try and convince other mortal girls not to try and become queen, despite the fact that the current Winter Girl can only escape and be free if another takes her place.

While there’s all of that faery drama going on, Aislinn also has some real-world problems. Like, her relationship with Seth. They’re very, very close friends, but nothing more. Aislinn might like to be more, and Seth’s always flirting with her, but he doesn’t date; he just sleeps around. Aislinn wants to keep their friendship, rather than being used and discarded like she fears.

Melissa Marr’s novel is brilliant. Her writing slowly but surely draws you in until you (like me) are reading under your desk in World History to finish it as quickly as possible, to find out what happens to the characters who seem so real! This urban faery tale is remniscent of Holly Black, with faeries who aren’t at all what we see in those fluffy, pink cartoons and books for little girls. These faeries are beautiful, dangerous, dark, and terrifying, even the so-called good faeries.

This marvelous debut is dark, beautiful, and unputdownable. Luckily for readers who will be aching for more after finishing, the sequel (well, more of a companion book than a sequel; same world, different focus), Ink Exchange, will be out in April. I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy, and am in the middle of reading it, so expect a review here soon!