readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

rgz Seattle HOST: TRAFFICKED releases at Secret Garden Books!

Our Seattle HOST, Stephanie Guerra, is back! Take it away, Stephanie!

Hi Girlz!

Kim Purcell launched her debut novel, Trafficked, at Secret Garden Books in Seattle last Wednesday. The book, which I can't wait to read, is about a Moldavian teen who is trafficked into the U.S. to work as a domestic slave. I’m fascinated by the premise of the story, because many of us here in the States think of trafficking in a purely sexual context, whereas it actually takes many forms. I couldn’t attend the launch, but I was so excited about the book’s release, I asked Kim if she’d like to do an interview and send me a photo from the evening. Here are both, and I’d like to draw special attention to the level of research Kim conducted for the novel. I’ve heard people say that fiction doesn’t require research, but the truth is that the best fiction often requires research as meticulous and time consuming as that required for non-fiction. Thanks, Kim, for caring enough about this issue to dedicate time to learning about it and sharing it with us!

Do you have any advice for young writers?
My advice for young writers is exactly the same as it is for older writers. You have to become a great observer. You have to observe people and situations without getting so wrapped up in it all, and if you do get wrapped up in it all, observe every detail about yourself and your body and the way others are responding to you. And then write. If you are a great observer, you won’t write cliches or bland descriptions and your dialogue will be right on the mark. As an offshoot, it’ll bring you more joy because there’s nothing more beautiful than really noticing every little detail of this world we live in, both the miserable stuff and the good parts.

Where did you find your inspiration for TRAFFICKED?
I’m interested in fear as a general concept. I believe fear and love are the two great motivators of all time. When I learned that many modern-day slaves have many chances to escape but don’t because they’re too afraid, I knew I had to write about it. Suddenly, they weren’t so different from anyone else who’s too afraid to do something they want to do. It could be me. It could be you.

How did you research this book?
While I was working on my craft, taking writing classes and writing a couple practice novels, I taught English as Second Language to immigrants in Los Angeles. This experience informed a lot of the book because they’d share their funny observations about America and I’d see it from their eyes. They also told me their sad stories of being mistreated in America. When I decided I wanted to write a book about modern-day slavery and trafficking, I traveled to Moldova to interview girls and women in the villages and the capital city because Moldova has one of the most serious trafficking problems. I also talked to anti-trafficking nonprofits in Moldova and America.

Can you describe the writing process?
After my trip, I wrote about twenty drafts, over the course of seven years, and throughout the process, I continued to interview people to make sure I was getting all the details right. The funny thing is that one Moldovan would say, yes, that’s exactly right, and another one would say, oh no, that’s not true. For example, I had a drama about the kitchen in Hannah’s apartment in Moldova. One Moldovan woman who read the novel was insulted because she said kitchens are nice in Moldova and the Hannah’s kitchen is far from nice. And yet, I saw a kitchen exactly like the one described in TRAFFICKED. I also saw immaculate kitchens, which at that point weren’t mentioned in the book. So, getting that feedback really helped because I then described Hannah’s friend’s kitchen as a contrast.

Are there any back-stories on characters?
So many of the characters in the book and Hannah’s experiences are based on real events and people. Like, one of my rich Russian students told me he thought there was nothing wrong with bringing someone from your country to work in your house and not paying them. He said life was better for them in America, wasn’t it? He was both one of the most generous people I’ve ever met and also one of the most fiercely ambitious. He told me his whole life he wanted a 90210 zip code. He made it into the book.

Any funny experiences which informed this book?
The entire bizarre experience Hannah has at the border is copied from what I experienced. I traveled through Romania into and out of Moldova in order to get a sense of the journey Hannah might have experienced. I really did see a peasant woman spit three times on a well-dressed woman’s pregnant belly to give her good luck. It was fascinating.

Any plans in the works for another book?
People who’ve read the book have asked me if there’s going to be a sequel. So far, I don’t have any plans for one, but I would consider it. I did write at least forty more pages at the end of the book, which we cut, and I do have any idea for what a sequel would look like. For now, though, I have two books nearly ready to head to my editor. Both are thrillers: one is a paranormal thriller and the other is contemporary.

Thanks, Kim, and thanks, Stephanie!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cover Stories: The Darlings in Love by Melissa Kantor

I've got a new copy of Melissa Kantor's The Darlings in Love, and she's here to share the Cover Story! Here's Melissa:

"I had a fantasy of the cover, which might be different from an idea. When I was a kid, there was this book Forever, by Judy Blume. On the cover was a locket with a picture of a girl's face, and when you opened the cover, you saw more of that picture--the girl's whole body, the boy she was standing with, etc. It was this amazing reveal. Well, since pearl pendants play a big role in the story of the Darlings, I wanted the cover to picture a chain with a pearl on it, and when you opened the cover, you saw that the pearl was actually on a girl's neck and that girl was standing with her two best friends. There's a name for that (a cutaway? something like that). But my editor said that covers like that tend to snag and rip and that's a real problem. As happens with so many things in life, reality intruded on fantasy.

"Once the pearl necklace idea was nixed, I think we discussed there being three of something, to symbolize the thee Darlings. The only thing I didn't want was three cupcakes. There are a lot of cupcake covers out there."

"When I first saw my cover, I hated it. I am not exaggerating. I remember calling my editor and making it clear that I was furious. I was like, This is the worst cover! What were you thinking? I hate this cover, etc. She's a very calm, rational person, and she tried to get me to be specific, so I more or less listed everything about the cover (from the font to the color to the cookies) and said why I hated it..."

Read the rest of Melissa's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cover Stories: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

You guys, I'm reading Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan right now, and it's filling my Friday Night Lights void! Yay! Here's Miranda with her Cover Story:

"I imagined my main character, Jordan, lying head-to-toe in a patch of grass with her best friend, Sam Henry. She’d be holding a football and he would be playing with some white clover.

"[My publisher] didn’t ask for input, but I couldn’t have been happier with the first options I saw.

"There were three options, and I didn’t have any comments other than, 'I love them!'

 Read the rest of Miranda's Cover Story, and see previous cover tries for the book, at melissacwalker.com.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rgz Salon: Irises by Francisco X. Stork, Reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The book has had multiple print runs and is available for order. (Don't forget to read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have Lyn here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, she reviews Irises by Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic):

"Eighteen-year-old Kate Romero and her 16-year-old sister, Mary, have helped their father take care of their mother for years, after a car accident left her in a permanent vegetative state. The stress has taken its toll on their father, a Pentecostal minister with an increasingly restive flock. When Reverend Romero dies suddenly of a heart attack, Kate and Mary must take care of their mother themselves. Their financial resources are dwindling rapidly, and the people around them to provide support—Kate’s boyfriend, Simon; their Aunt Julia; and Andres Soto, the ambitious young preacher who intended to replace Rev. Romero even before his death—have their own agendas. When the intellectual Kate spurns Simon’s marriage proposal because she wants to attend Stanford University on scholarship and the artistic Mary falls in love with an unlikely gang member, the girls weigh, in their separate ways, their duty to family against their right to pursue their dreams.

"Stork (Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) has proven himself a master of characterization and character development, and Irises—his first novel narrated from a female point of view (though in third person)—is no exception. There is a subtle creepiness in otherwise good people that draws the reader in and doesn’t let her go. Basically, no one is who he or she seems on the surface. A concerned and overwhelmed father turns out to exert a level of psychological control, even beyond the grave, that borders abuse. An ambitious preacher who challenges doctrine and urges congregants to be honest with themselves struggles with inappropriate sexual urges. (Stork’s restraint for this plot thread is masterful.) A resentful, grudging aunt makes a far larger sacrifice for family than she is willing to reveal. The reader senes the competition and jealousies beneath Kate and Mary’s apparent closeness. While Stork doesn’t feel compelled to give his protagonists a happy ending, insight into who they are serves as the first step to genuine growth and maturity." -Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Avi's City of Orphans Contest

Attention students, teachers, and librarians: Check out this news from Winding Oak about an awesome Avi contest!
Children’s book author Avi, winner of a Newbery Award and multiple Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards among his many other high honors, is hosting an “American Idol” style video contest for young readers in fourth through ninth grade. The videos are to be inspired by Avi’s 2011 title City of Orphans (Richard Jackson Books), which has already garnered multiple starred reviews in journals such as Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews.

Any teacher or librarian is eligible to submit a City of Orphans video for a student or classroom in fourth through ninth grade. Options include formats such as live action, documentary-style, readers’ theater, costumed theater, and book trailers; the format is not as important as the entrants’ demonstration of creativity and their interpretation of City of Orphans.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cover Stories: Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala

Diva Holly Cupala was here to talk about the cover of her debut novel, Tell Me a Secret. Now, her second novel, Don't Breathe a Word, is out this month, and it has a cover that manages to convey both darkness and sparkle! Here's Holly with the Cover Story:

"After the gorgeous cover HarperTeen put together for Tell Me a Secret, I knew to expect something fantastic for my second, Don't Breathe a Word… though it came about in a completely different (and for me, much more nail-biting) way…

"The original working title was Street Creed, which is what the design team initially had to work with. The first cover concept was… steamy (below). It featured two gorgeous creatures, probably Italian models, who met as if by chance after a swirling, beaded-dress-bedecked night for an almost-kiss. Sigh.

"But it didn’t feel like my book.

"Don’t Breathe a Word is the story of Joy, who runs away from home to escape an abusive relationship to the streets of Seattle. She finds allies who have secrets of their own, including Creed—a homeless boy who dreams of making it in the music industry.

"There is a steamy relationship (and Creed is swoonworthy!), but there are no beaded dresses. In fact, the only scene where that dress could have appeared was at a fundraiser party where Joy meets her boyfriend Asher—the dark reason she has to leave. Also, I was worried with the final title, it would look like 'Don’t Breathe a Word about that naughty thing we did after the prom.' No. Oh no..."

Read the rest of Holly's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com, and read about her amazing launch contest too!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cover Stories: Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook has been here before, sharing Cover Stories for What Would Emma Do?The Education of Hailey Kendrick and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood (all awesome tales, btw). Her new release is Unraveling Isobel, and there's a rainbow Cover Story to tell:

"When I finished this book I was certain I knew what should be on the cover.  I pictured a creepy gothic house perched on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  I’d been imagining the house in the book for so long I could imagine it perfectly.  I’d even drawn floor plans of the house when writing the book.  Of course the problem with having this type of clear vision, it’s really hard to find something in the real world that matches.

"I’m incredibly lucky to work with the team at Simon Pulse. They always invite me to participate in the cover design process. They talk to me not only about what I imagine the cover looking at, but also the feeling I want the cover to impart. My cover designer, Cara Petrus, wanted to make sure that the cover had some of the creepy gothic feel, but also wasn’t too dark as the book has humor too. Cara picked up on Isobel’s interest in art and also her feeling of being trapped..."

Read the rest of Eileen's Cover Story, and see the other color scheme possibilities, at melissacwalker.com.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cover Stories: Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

Writing my own Cover Story is always odd. But here goes.

I sent Caroline, my editor at Bloomsbury, a bunch of inspiration images for this cover (one is below). You know, girl, sailboat, sun, water... okay, so I was kind of vague.

When they came back to me, it was with this first draft (right). And it DID capture the girl, sailboat, big sky stuff. But the boat? It wasn't right. So here's how I responded:

Thanks so much for sending along this design! I do like the echoing heart from SINNERS and the general feeling of being out on the water, glimmering sun, and mood of the girl. I have a couple of things I'd like to mention though:

1. That boat is a Catamaran, totally different from what Clem's family is on. I think because the boat is such a big part of the story, it matters. 

2. The pink feels a little like it veers over the cheese line. Maybe it's the pink with the heart, maybe it's the pink and purple of my name... it just feels a bit like it's trying too hard somehow to shout "Love Story!" Maybe there's a way to get a similar tone in there with a natural element, like a sunset?

And Bloomsbury was great, really took my concerns to heart. Everyone really loved the girl (myself included) so at first they tried to adjust the boat so it would look more like Clem's... but that just made it look less like a real boat. So they went in a totally different direction...

Read the rest of my Cover Story at melissacwalker.com!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Fight: Cancer Books Don't Suck

So, I had this book fight in my head. I just finished The Fault in Our Stars. It's beautiful 
and wonderful, and I, as always, give a standing ovation to John Green. His wit, 
philosophy, theology, and worldview are packed inside this work I will remember.

That said, my mind hung on protagonist Hazel Grace's statement that "cancer books 
suck." She goes on to explain the kind she means, and I totally get it. But wait, I thought. 
I wrote a book about cancer! It wasn't but a second later that I began to question my 
own work, and even worse, "Do I suck BECAUSE I wrote a book about cancer?" It 
doesn't take much, right? I know. Try living in my brain.

Anyway, I felt I had the right to speak back to Hazel as I sorted through my thoughts. 
Like her, I had thyroid cancer. I had thyroid removal and follow-up radioactive iodine 
treatment. I was radioactive in isolation for two weeks. I still have autoimmune diseases, 
one of which raises my chance of lymphoma 44 times more than others. Last week, 
doctors were checking for leukemia. Nope. But I am under watch regularly to verify I'm 
not lighting up the scans.

That said, I want to make the case that cancer books don't suck if they are honest. 
I loved the touchpoints between The Fault in Our Stars and my own work Loose Threads
There are themes, moments, and choices that echo between them because of common experience. But then there are divergent thoughts around the why and what for. 
Worldviews that split from each other; truths we wouldn't agree upon but are so
 thought-provoking and challenging, regardless.

Eventually, I did realize: Wait! Hazel loves a cancer book. The Fault in Our Stars is a
cancer book. John wrote a cancer book. He doesn't suck. Loose Threads is equally 
honest and doesn't suck either. And neither do I. Well, for the moment. In this realm.

Here's to authors speaking the truth about cancer with realism and honesty. And 
here's to those on the journey themselves. "There's hope. Look." Loose Threads

Monday, February 6, 2012

rgz Everett HOST post - Carole Estby Dagg on FLYAWAY

Hey there rgz: 

I've been in hibernation for the past few weeks on a quasi-maternity leave, but what better way to ease back into the writing world than with a post from your Everett Host, Carole Estby Dagg? 

Readergirlz Report – Helen Landalf and FLYAWAY
Flyaway, by Helen Landalf
Harcourt, 2011, 167 pages
 I love going behind the scenes with authors to hear how their books came about, so last Saturday I drove to Bellingham to hear Helen Landalf talk about her debut YA novel, Flyaway, at Village Books.
As I approached the back of the store, strains of a mellow guitar wafted up the stairwell which led to the events area in the basement. A cozy group of us met Helen’s guitar-playing husband, Steven Bishofsky, and chatted with Helen and amongst ourselves until she started her introduction and read from the second chapter of Flyaway.
In that scene, the main character, Stevie Calhoun, is alone in the apartment, waiting for her mother. Stevie is used to her mother’s irregular hours—she is, after all, a free-spirited exotic dancer whose job requires late nights. But this time, Stevie hasn’t seen her mother in three days, the collection agency is calling again, and she’s afraid that if anyone finds out about her situation Child Protective Services will take her from her mother.  
Without warning, her Aunt Mindy shows up. She’s indignant that Stevie has been left alone for so long and horrified by the rumor that the place Stevie’s mother works is a front for dealing crystal meth. Under duress, Stevie leaves a note for her mother and goes with Aunt Mindy to her home. She refuses to pack a bag because she intends to return to her mother’s apartment the next day, when her mother is sure to be waiting for her.
The reading ended with a provocative cliff-hanger, so what could I do but buy the book to see what happens next?  Helen signed my copy and I read it in one sitting. Without giving too much away, I’ll tell you this much:  A perfect twist near the end of the book refocuses Stevie’s picture of the world around her, causing her to re-evaluate herself, her mother, a boy she meets in a bird rehabilitation center, and her aunt. Throughout the book are recurring images of things broken -  things that can be mended and things that can’t.
I could have read an un-autographed copy of the book, but without seeing Landalf in person I’d have missed the answers to all these behind-the-scenes questions:
What was the inspiration for Flyaway?
Trying to explain why a teen would remain fiercely loyal to irresponsible parents.
Is this your first book?
Flyaway is Landalf’s first published YA book, but she also published a series of books for teachers on using dance in the schools and two picture books. Two previous YA books were rejected, but Flyaway had publishers in a bidding war over it!
Do you write full-time?
No, the day job is teaching dance and Pilates…hmmm. Any similarity between the loving Aunt Mindy (who owns a Pilates studio) and Helen are purely coincidental, of course.
How did you learn how to care for injured birds?
Landalf spent time at two wildlife rehabilitation clinics.
The event concluded with Steven Bishofsky singing a song, "Flyaway," which he composed for Helen about the book’s main character and about the struggles of the writer—or any artist--to persevere until her inspiration takes wing.
I love the ambiance of a reading—think of the difference between hearing a recording of a favorite band and seeing them live. Check out your near-by bookstores to get a schedule of author appearances and get a group together to see an author in person!

Carole Estby Dagg is a former librarian who is now writing historical fiction. Her first book, The Year We Were Famous, earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly and a place on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer list of books chosen by the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association. The Year We Were Famous is based on the true story of Clara Estby and her mother, who walked from Spokane to New York City back in 1896 in a race against the calendar to win $10,000 to save the family’s farm and to prove women could do it. Carole is lucky enough to have a song composed for one of her main characters, too – it’s on Linda Allen’s CD, Here’s to the Women, which honors women of the suffrage movement.
Under the supervision of a bossy cat, Carole writes in Everett and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reading Right Now: The Fault in Our Stars

Flipping through TIME magazine, February 6, and ran across a full page review of John Green's latest, The Fault in Our Stars. I'm guessing this is what I think of as a life work, not that there won't be further great works from John. I shot it into my Kindle, and now I am s-a-v-o-r-i-n-g it. I encourage you to do the same.

Bravo, John. Once again you've dropped the divider from between YA and adult, and you engage us with your intellect and heart. Bravo!

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cover Stories: Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst has shared the Cover Stories for her novels Enchanted Ivy and Ice, and now she's here to tell her perspective on the scintillating cover of Drink, Slay, Love.

"Creating the cover for DRINK, SLAY, LOVE was a traumatic experience. The problem began when the vampire hired to pose as Pearl came to the photo shoot hungry. She drained three assistants before someone had the presence of mind to pass her the bottle of donated blood that you see on the cover. The photographer snapped shots of her as she sated the last of her hunger with the bottled blood. Though they'd originally planned for a panorama, he was forced to do a close-up due to the carnage that littered the studio behind her.

"Okay, that's not true. She only drank from two people and both survived..."

Read the rest of Sarah's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com.