Kate’s life is pretty miserable. Her best friend has dumped her. Her father quit his job to sell infomercial vitamins in the mall. Her family, as a result, is having some serious money troubles that can only be resolved by her grandmother coming to stay. Of course, Grandma being around just makes everything more tense and more stressful. Kate is also lusting after a boy who has done nothing but torment her since they met in ninth grade. Will also has a bit of a reputation around school for hooking up with every girl he sees. Kate likes Will, but she doesn’t want to, and when he starts to act like he might be interested, she certainly doesn’t want to be just another name on the long, long list of girls that Will has been with…does she?

I loved Elizabeth Scott‘s other two books, bloom and Stealing Heaven, but Perfect You just might be my favorite! It’s a close call as to which is the best, but Perfect You is in no way disappointing, and in many ways awesome. Kate is an awesome main character, but I loved all of the characters, and the complicated relationships they had with each other. Perfect You is a fresh, funny, and honest story that is everything readers will expect from this talented writer, and more! Honestly, I can’t recommend highly enough this fantastic story about family, romance, friendship, love, life, and growing up.

Maximum Ride: The Final Warning is the fourth book in this series about a “flock” of kids who were genetically modified so that their DNA mixed with avian DNA, and they now have wings and can fly (and some of them have other special abilities, too). Fourteen-year-old Max is the leader of the group, and she is also the narrator of the story. In this latest installment in the series, the flock is off to Antarctica to work with scientists to combat global warming, but, of course, as always, there’s an enemy on their trail.

This is a fast-paced, exciting story with an interesting premise. It’s well-written, and I love the character of Max. The Maximum Ride series is great for reluctant readers, and it’s quite entertaining, and at times quite thought-provoking as well. This book was a little heavy-handed with its environmentalist message (a message I do agree with, but a little more subtlety would have been nice). I certainly take issue with some of James Patterson’s recent comments about children’s and YA literature, but this is a review of the book, not the author, and the book itself is certainly worth reading, especially for fans of the series. I think the way this series came about is a little strange (James Patterson apparently got the idea from one of his other books–I guess that’s what happens when you have ghostwriters, which I suspect he does though I have no proof of that, because the similarities are really strange, and couldn’t he at least have changed the main character’s name if they’re not the same people?) , but it’s a quick adventure that I most definitely enjoyed every page of, and I do recommend it.

Jenny Davidson‘s first YA novel, The Explosionist, takes place in an alternate version of Edinburgh in 1938. Sophie’s world diverges from our own when Napoleon wins at Waterloo in 1815, though there are other discrepancies that cannot be traced back to that battle–most importantly, the paranormal element of this book. Spiritualism is alive and well in this world, and actually real and sometimes state-sponsored. It’s quite possible to speak to the dead here, though not everyone can do it, and there are certainly plenty of frauds and skeptics.

Sophie is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her Great-aunt Tabitha in Edinburgh. Oh, how to explain this book! All of the political intrigue (to which Sophie is privy–often by eavesdropping–because of her great-aunt’s high status) and the ways in which this world differs from our own would take pages to explain properly (which is why you’re lucky there’s a lengthy novel about it). Suffice to say, Sophie and her friend Mikael soon find themselves involved in various mysteries and plots on which the fate of Scotland and the rest of the world hangs. Seances, explosions, terrorist groups, murder, politics, and various other things are involved. This world (like our own in 1938, though for different reasons) is on the brink of a war that will shape the coming years, a war that could be avoidable.

Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance. I was caught up in it all from the beginning, and now I absolutely cannot wait for a sequel–which is too bad for me, as this book isn’t even out until July, so there’ll be quite some time before any continuation of the adventures of Sophie and Mikael. I admire the way Jenny Davidson ended this in just the right place–readers are anxious to find out what happens next, and there’s no doubt that, barring exceptional circumstances, there will be a sequel, but there’s still a decent enough ending place so that the book actually ends rather than just stopping the way some series books do.

The Explosionist is an amazing book! Jenny Davidson is such a talented writer, able to make more than 450 pages absolutely fly by. The complicated twists and turns of the plot are never overwhelmingly confusing, but just enough to keep your brain busy. I quite enjoyed all of the characters, who were refreshingly real and human. This is an unputdownable, read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book, a remarkable feat for one so long. And remarkable really does describe this novel! I was so impressed and completely in awe of Jenny Davidson’s skill the whole time I was reading it. And when I finished, my first thought was of course a desire for more! Seriously, read this book. If you have any way of doing so, get ahold of a copy now, and if not, well, you’ll just have to wait for July.

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.

Before I read this book, I already knew that Deb Caletti was amazing, but The Fortunes of Indigo Skye showed me just how brilliant and talented this author really is!

Indigo Skye is a waitress, and she loves her job. She loves forming personal relationships with the people who come regularly to Carrera’s (a group known as the Irregulars). She loves when she manages every table and order perfectly, like it was a dance someone choreographed. She loves her boyfriend, Trevor, and her family (her mom, her little sister, Bex, and her twin brother, Severin).  She’s about to graduate from high school, and she lives in a suburb of Seattle, Washington. Her life is great, and she’s happy just the way it is.

And then, it changes. A new guy comes into Carrera’s, a guy who seems to have a lot of money. He rides a Vespa, and becomes known as Vespa Guy. He orders “just coffee,” and becomes something of a mystery to the Irregulars, who like to speculate on who he is. One day, Indigo sees a package of cigarettes in his jacket pocket, which really sets her off. She yells at him about killing himself, then talks to him about his life. Not that remarkable, really–except then, he leaves an envelope for her at the diner. It’s a mystery that she’s sure will be disappointing when she finally opens the envelope.

Disappointing? Think again: he’s left her a two-and-a-half million dollar tip.

That seems great at first, but money changes people. Indigo has been warned of it, but she doesn’t believe she will be changed by her sudden fortune. She was fortunate enough already. Once she gets over the shock, having that money is pretty great–or is it?

This book is seriously amazing. Deb Caletti is such a fantastic writer, and her characters! They’re just so real and awesome. All I can do with regard to this book is gush! The characters, and the relationships between them, are just so marvelous and honest and real and fascinating. The story, too, is very interesting, but there’s a lot more to this book than a rags-to-riches or money-doesn’t-buy-happiness story. There are real, big, fundamental truths here about life and humanity and love and family and so much more. All I can say is, read this book!

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!

This sequel to Michele Jaffe‘s fabulous Bad Kitty is pretty fantastic in its own right. In this book, Jasmine Callihan’s father has moved himself, Jas, and Jas’s stepmother, Sherri!, to Venice. Yes, to Italy. The day before the start of her senior year. With twenty-four hours’ notice. To research soap. He is, quite possibly, Jas thinks, insane. Or maybe evil. After all, what kind of a father would move his daughter half a world away from her friends, her new boyfriend, and her chances at graduating high school and continuing on to an institution of higher education? (Side note: I’d be thrilled to move to Italy today, right now, but I have been told that I am not representative of teenage girls–or people-in general).

Of course, moving to another continent doesn’t mean Jas will stay out of trouble like her father is hoping. Trouble can find her anywhere. In this case, it begins when her only friend in Venice is murdered, and more people may be in danger. This is a mystery that Jas can’t solve on her own, so I was thrilled to see more of some of the awesome cast of characters from Bad Kitty. Tom, Polly, Roxy, Alyson, and Veronique (excuse me–Sapphyre and Tiger’s*Eye) were as hilarious and quirky as ever.

Kitty Kitty is kind of like a mixture between Ally Carter, Meg Cabot, and Louise Rennison, but with Michele Jaffe’s own fabulously unique twist (and in many ways, dare I say it, better than these authors) on it all! It’s a smart, fresh, laugh-out-loud hilarious mystery full of cool gadgets and inventions a Gallagher girl would be proud of (reference to Ally Carter’s books, for those who haven’t read them). It’s as hilarious and insane as Louise Rennison only with a much better, suspenseful, and more recognizable plot. Jas is a heroine worthy of a Meg Cabot book. Put it all together, and you have near-perfection!

My only disappointment in this book was that we did not see more of Venice, but that’s more of a personal taste than anything else. I love great settings, and Venice was a barely-there backdrop; only the canals were of any importance, and any body of water would have worked there. Jasmine’s Italian classes and hilarious troubles with the language were the only indication that they were even in Italy!

Kitty Kitty is a funny, intelligent, and adventurous mystery that readers will love. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, and this one isn’t even out until July! I guess for now I’ll have to be content rereading Bad Kitty, but I think this book may be even better than that one (unbelievable, right?). Kitty Kitty is a madcap adventure in the streets and canals of Venice involving friendship, mystery, fashion, pigeons, crime fighting, language barriers, suspense, romance, water wings, six-foot-tall squirrels, locked-door murder mysteries, tweezer tasers, cats, gondoliers, and much more hilariousness that will have readers laughing hysterically as they turn pages as quickly as their fingers will allow.

Charles de Lint‘s latest novel, Dingo, is certainly good, but it was less wonderful than I expected. Worth reading for fans? Yes. But if you haven’t read anything of his, don’t start with this, or you’ll have an unfairly low opinion of his talent (my favorite book of is is The Blue Girl).

Dingo is told from the viewpoint of Miguel, a teenager who is working at his father’s store one day when a girl and her dog come in and change his life. Lainey is a beautiful girl, with eye-catching red hair the same color as her dog’s coat. Em, the dog always at her side, is less than fond of Miguel. They have just come from Australia, and Lainey is being homeschooled by her stepfather, Stephen.

Lainey is gorgeous and smart and funny and seems to like Miguel. He can’t stop thinking about her. Still, though, there’s something a little strange, a little off about Lainey and her life. He’s not sure what it is, so he can’t tell his friends, even when strange paw prints show up outside his window, or when he starts having bizarre dreams. Lainey needs his help, and he needs Lainey–but is he up to the challenge, far greater than it seems, of saving her?

It’s hard to give a summary without  giving away too much, though if you read any summary of the book online, you’ll find out a major plot twist (which I advise you not to do, if you dislike spoilers. Don’t read anything else about it). I liked this book. I read it all at once, never putting it down. But isn’t the author’s ability to make us  suspend our disbelief essential in fantasy? I never felt like I was able to stop questioning certain elements of this book–the love story in particular, which happened quickly and was never explained in such a way as to satisfy my disbelief. I also felt like Charles de Lint took the easy way out, the short way of solving the many problems, in a way (though it was still difficult for the characters–I just mean from a writing standpoint). After thinking long and hard about it, I realized that this seems like a several-hundred-pages-more-long story abridged and shortened and made into something that makes far less sense but is only 213 pages long. This is a big story crammed into a little book, a book of such a length that Charles de Lint didn’t explain things well enough, a short book that meant he took too many shortcuts. There was so much potential in Dingo to be amazing and brilliant, and I know Charles de Lint is capable of that, but this potential was far from realized.

Laura Langston‘s Exit Point is technically, I think, a novella. Or maybe a short story. It’s a really short book, not a full novel by any means, whatever you want to call it. So, it is a quick read, and a good one!

It’s a story about  a boy who dies with some serious unfinished business. In this book, a person has five ‘exit points,’ or opportunities to die. Logan took the second one–the easy way out. He was only sixteen, and he was supposed to wait until exit point five, sixty-one years later. But, he didn’t.

Logan’s death didn’t stop life on earth. He was supposed to help his little sister, Amy, but her well-being is seriously threatened without him. But can he still make a difference? He’s got to try. He can’t leave Amy on her own. Of course, as a spirit without a real body, who can’t be seen, who can’t do much of anything, can he really save his sister? Or did his taking the easy way out mean he can’t help her anymore?

Exit Point is a fascinating, engaging read that I certainly recommend. For having only 110 pages, it certainly packs a punch.  It is well-written and fresh and funny and touching and wonderful!

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!

Chicklish is a wonderful website that has long been linked in my sidebar. It’s a wonderful blog with interviews, reviews, giveaways, excerpts, and more. They talk about some wonderful books, but if you’re American (as I am)  you’ll sigh wistfully at their wonderful reviews, because many of the books are only available overseas (it is a UK site).

Anyway, I’m very happy to announce that I am now writing for Chicklish! I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them, as I have long admired their site from afar. I am now the US correspondent,  and to start off with they’ve posted my review of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, which is a truly wonderful novel and, certainly, if I dare say it so early in the year, a Printz contender. Check it out here, and make sure to add Chicklish to your reading list if it’s not there already! I’ll tell you all here when I have something new over there.

Also right now, they’re doing a contest for a copy of Tabitha Suzuma’s From Where I Stand, which sounds great, and they will ship internationally if you win, so go on over there and enter!

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.

Garret Freymann-Weyr is the author of My Heartbeat, Stay With Me, When I Was Older, and The Kings Are Already Here. All of these books are nothing short of brilliant! If you haven’t read them, you’re seriously missing out. She’s one of my all-time favorite authors. Really, she’s just amazing! And today, I’m very pleased to have an interview with her for you all to enjoy, and enjoy it you will! Her answers to my questions are fantastic (much like Garret herself).

You’ve written about a lot of very diverse characters, and you seem to know all of them so well. Are you like any of your characters?

No. But I do build characters by starting with a trait (for example, determination, curiosity, or fear) which I know well (either from having it or observing it in others) and exploring it. Phebe (the dancer in KINGS) and I are alike in that we both have a lot of determination, but I was a terrible dancer.

I’m a good reader though, and so I did a lot of research. I took ballet class again to remember what it felt like (it hurts), and I read everything I could get my hands on.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

My father is a writer, and I often fell asleep to the sound of his typewriter. I loved his study, which was in our dining room which was, in turn, full of bookshelves. I used to sit at my father’s desk, looking at his stacks of Foreign Affairs and the novels with their old, crumbling bindings and I felt as if I were in the center of ferocious activity.

My guess is that I always wanted to a writer, but it took me a while to figure it out.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read. Really, I can not begin to describe all the times I’ve met people who tell me that they would love to write, if only they could find the time (as if writing were a hobby, although given the quality of much of what is published, I sometimes think it is!), but if I talk to them at length it quickly becomes clear they do not read. That’s like wanting to run a marathon, but not wanting to run. Reading is the only way to learn how to write. It can’t be taught, exactly. It has to be absorbed.

I’ve heard that some authors think this is like being asked to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?

I have two. I love The Kings Are Already Here because it was, after the first draft, a real joy to write. Also, it taught me a lot about both writing and publishing. I love Stay With Me because in spite of its being really, really hard to write (not quite a joy), I managed to find a way to do it.

Which of your books would you most like to see made into a movie, and who do you see playing your characters?

Here is the thing: I’m very old fashioned, and I believe in books precisely because they do what movies, for the most part, do not – books invite you to think. So, other than the potential for making some money, I don’t have a burning desire to see any of my books made into movies. It’s kind of the way I feel about going to Egypt one day. Yeah, sure, I would be thrilled to go, but I’m not learning Arabic or saving money for tickets. Does that make sense?

What can readers look forward to next from you, and what are you working on now (if that’s different)?

I have no idea what I’m working on now – which is often the case when I start something. Next spring, my new novel, After the Moment, will be published by Houghton. It’s about a young man, Leigh Hunter, and how his first experience with true love shapes the man he becomes. I think that we tend to think of young love as purely romantic – but every love places demands on us, and sometimes we can’t meet them. I was interested in a story that depicted what the consequences of that would be.

How different are the final versions of your novels from the first drafts?

My first draft goes through dramatic changes before I finish it, and then I do about 3 or 4 more before I send it to my first round of readers (my husband and father). Then I do another draft, and send it to my agent, who sends it to my editor. For whom I do another draft (this one is usually the most fun). One more draft after copy editing. Which means, I suppose, that the answer is: very different.

I’ve fallen in love with pretty much all of your characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Do you ever plan on doing sequels to any of your previous books?

That is very kind of you to say. I do not have any plans for sequels. I tend to think that, fantasy series and Little House books aside, a sequel usually signifies a failure of imagination. Although, A.S. Byatt wrote four books about the same set of characters and she is a literary genius, so what do I know?

Why do you write for young adults?

I have no idea. I used to say that I loved the voice – the way a teenage voice goes from 12 to 35 in the space of a minute – but I’m not as confident in that reason any longer. When I come up with some kind of answer that strikes me as truthful and at least close to articulate, I will let you know.

Your books contain some controversial subject matter (such as Leila’s relationship with a much older man). To your knowledge, have they ever been challenged or banned, and if so, what’s your reaction to that?

I should start by saying that I do not think Leila and Eamon’s relationship was controversial. Lots of young women find themselves entangled with older men. It happens. And in Leila’s case, it turned out to be a really good thing.

But, yes, one of my books has been both banned and challenged. My Heartbeat, which has two bisexual boys in it, is often on lists of books that libraries and or schools ban. My reaction tends to run in the direction of pity. I do not believe that people who ban books understand what they fear. People who ban books about gay people are usually upset about a culture that embraces choice. Or a culture that allows for secular thinking. But they think they are against homosexuality without thinking through what it is about gayness that upsets them. And that makes me sad for them.

Is there any question you wish I’d asked you or anything else you’d like to say?

Nothing except for how much I admire your energy for and support of books. Thanks for asking me to answer these.

Thank you so much, Garret!

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!

Andrew Karre is the editor of Flux books, a teen imprint that publishes some fantastic books. At Flux, “young adult is a point of view, not a reading level.” As I said before, I’m trying to cover more aspects of publishing, so here is an interview with a book editor! Thanks so much to Andrew for doing this.

It doesn’t seem like there are many aspiring editors out there. Why is this a career more book lovers should consider? (In other words, what do you love about it?)

Actually, I think there are a fair number of us. It’s just there aren’t many jobs and most of them are in New York (and, for one, don’t want to live there). It’s not a job for everyone, but if you love books and, more importantly, getting your hands dirty while they’re being made, it’s a good gig. The best part, by far, is helping authors do their best work and then reach an audience.

What do you not love about it?

The meetings. The financial headaches. Good books that don’t sell.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring editors who might be reading?

Read lots and read well. Take any job you can get in the book industry and go from there.

You read lots of manuscripts as an editor. What makes a book really stand out for you?

The quality of the writing. In teen fiction, this usually means memorable, infectious narrative voice. But if you can write a book’s worth of beautiful sentences, you’re well on your way. I’m less impressed by a cool idea blandly executed than I am by a simple story perfectly told. That said, there’s nothing to beat a cool idea gorgeously told.

What would be your dream book to publish?

Do you mean one that’s already published? I’d be extremely happy to be MT Anderson’s editor. My dream book that doesn’t exist is probably a literary, realistic YA full of wordplay and neurosis that ends with the reader questioning every assumption he made about the teenage narrator. Something like Peter Cameron’s latest, which is a masterpiece.

What are some of your favorite YA books not published by Flux? (I know you’ve got to love all of those!)

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron

FEED by M.T. Anderson

KING DORK by Frank Portman

CLAY by David Almond

I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier

DUNE by Frank Herbert (I’m kinda thinkin’ this is a YA, now)

AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green

And many others.

Why have you chosen to work with young adult literature (instead of books for other audiences)?

It chose me, more than anything. And then I chose to stick around. The writers are wonderful and full of energy and talent. There’s a great enthusiasm for risk taking.

There have been criticisms of writers choosing to write for teens, as if it isn’t “real” literature. What do you have to say to those critics?

Nothing. That’s nonsense unworthy of reply.

Thanks!