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, November 30, 2010

rgz and First Book Partner for A Novel Gift! Over 125,000 free books to low-income teens

BREAKING NEWS! readergirlz and First Book are partnering to give away more than 125,000 brand-new books to low-income teen readers.

They’re great books, too, donated by generous publishers. Among the three dozen choices are P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast’s HOUSE OF NIGHT series and Alyson Noël’s SHADOWLAND.

We need your help getting the word out about the A Novel Gift campaign. Right now! Right now! As in, now!

Let's get organizations serving these teens registered with First Book so they can be matched with inventory during the holidays.

Here’s what we need you to do:

Post to Facebook and tweet your beak off about these books using the hashtag #novelgift.

Here’s a tinyurl link to their registration page: http://tinyurl.com/2a5mwpj.

Or you can link to this blog post: http://readergirlz.blogspot.com/2010/11/novel-gift-over-125000-free-books-to.html

Then, get in touch with every group you can think of that works with young adults–schools, after-school programs, church youth groups, community centers, etc.—and let them know that these books are available now.

The five-minute online registration these groups can use is here:

First Book is also eager to answer questions, either by email to help@firstbook.org, or by phone at 866-READ-NOW or 866-732-3669.

If you participate, drop us a note at readergirlz@gmail.com to be included in our blog roll of thanks to run December 31.

Be a part of A Novel Gift! OK, go! And thanks, sincerely, from First Book and the readergirlz teams.

Some Girls Are: What Did You Think of Regina?

This week's focus is on Courtney Summers's Some Girls Are. Courtney writes books that embody this month's theme: Resilience. Regina is a formerly popular girl who's been ousted by her so-called best friends. The brutal immediacy of Some Girls Are is riveting, and the emotional honesty at its core makes accompanying Regina on her journey a truly moving experience.

For discussion: If you've read Some Girls Are, what did you think of Regina? Like Sam in Before I Fall, she's sometimes hard to like because of her past actions.

And, in general, what books have you read where the main character grew on you over time?

Cover Stories: When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer

This week, I have a copy of a gorgeous new book to give away...

when the stars go blue final_2_2.jpg
A dancer driven to succeed.

A musical prodigy attempting to escape his past.

The summer they share.

And the moment it all goes wrong.

I first saw Caridad Ferrer's cover for When the Stars Go Blue when I was in Spain, so I have extra love for it. I did a quick story about it back then, but here's a fuller version from Caridad (with spine view, which is my new obsession):

"Since the cover was equal parts dance and drum and bugle corps, I was thinking that at the very least the cover might show a dancer, maybe standing outside or preparing to step from a stage to a football field or something to that effect. Maybe looking from backstage onto the expanse of a field with stadium lights. I did honestly think they'd employ the outdoors, especially with the word 'stars' in the title.

"I gave my publisher was the link to an artist whose work I absolutely adore, Fabian Perez. He's an Argentine artist whose work I discovered in a gallery while on vacation in La Jolla, CA. I fell so in love with it, mostly because his pieces so evoked the spirit of Carmen and of dance and passion..."

Read the rest of Caridad's Cover Story, and get a chance to win the book, at melissacwalker.com.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Featured Title: SOME GIRLS ARE, by Courtney Summers

Full disclosure: Courtney Summers, along with fellow readergirlz diva Melissa Walker, is one of twenty one authors including yours truly who've banded together to promote our own and others' contemporary YA fiction. Our blog is called The Contemps, and we while spotlight our own contemp titles releasing in 2011, most of all, our aim is to celebrate the value of "keeping it real" for young adult readers. BUT I've been a huge fan of Courtney's writing long before we "met" via the blogosphere. In fact, students in my writing workshop have cited her debut novel, CRACKED UP TO BE, as one of the strongest-voiced narratives they've read of late, so I was thrilled to pick up SOME GIRLS ARE over the summer. The book did not disappoint.

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

If you haven't read Courtney's work, I urge you to check it out, stat - no sophomore slump for this writer! But first, here's what Courtney has to say about resilience:

I really love the definition of resilience. Check it out (from dictionary.com):

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc.,
after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

Resilience is something that is never far from my mind when I write my novels. My characters kind of need to be resilient, what with the things I put them through.
Some Girls Are was a novel that moved forward due to the resiliency of certain characters. Without Michael's ability to get up every day after the death of his mother and both Liz and Regina's determination to overcome the torment heaped upon them by their peers, there wouldn't be much of a book. I think all of my books would be A LOT shorter if my characters weren't at all resilient!

And THEN I was thinking resilience is also something that was never far from my mind in my pursuit to become published. You get rejected a lot in the writing game, and not always in the nicest or most encouraging ways. You HAVE to be resilient to put your work out there and take the rejections on the chin, and then send your stuff back out there again--all without any guarantees. The resiliency of my writing peers was an inspiration. Watching them put their work out there and keep plugging away in spite of any rejection they might have received kept me going too. It still does.
Resiliency is also, apparently, contagious! So I was thinking we should maybe petition all dictionaries to include its contagiousness in their definition of the word?

I am drafting up a proposal now.

I love that so much! As a writer, we do face so much rejection, and knowing that others somehow find the resilience to persist can be just the inspiration that we need with our own work. Thanks so much for joining us, Courtney!

So, readers - whose resilience inspires YOU?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cover Stories: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

five flavors.jpg
This week, Antony John (whose first novel, Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player shares a cover model with Siobhan Vivian's second book) is here to talk about his new release, Five Flavors of Dumb. It has an epic cover, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm also reading it and loooving the book.

Here's Antony!

"Believe it or not, as I was writing DUMB I didn't have a clue what the cover would look like. I'm sure that's quite unusual, but I simply couldn't imagine a design that would capture the essence and attitude of the novel without looking seriously weird. I mean, the book touches on everything from deafness to rock 'n' roll to family relationships to coll
ege funds to secret crushes to self-identity and, uh... chess. What cover could possibly hope to encompass all of that, right? So I just gave up thinking about it altogether. Looking back, it was kind of nice not to have to worry about the cover as well as every other aspect of the novel.

"Of course, the flip side of having ZERO input is that I had no clue what the finished cover would look like. My editor, Liz Waniewski, emailed it to me last November, just as friends were arriving, so I got to open it in front of them. Trust me: I wasn't the only one who used a really good expletive to describe it. Then I forwarded it to my wife (even though I wasn't supposed to; I just couldn't resist, you know?) and she wrote back within about seven seconds with a similarly giddy response. Seriously, it was just one of those 'THEY NAILED IT!' moments that you dream about as an author...."

Read the rest of Antony's Cover Story, and see earlier versions, at melissacwalker.com.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rgz Street Team: Priya Reviews Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

The rgz Street Team is a group of teens who bring YA reviews to our blog, led by Postergirl Miss Erin. Find out more.

Today, Priya reviews Dangerous Neighbors by one of our esteemed authors in residence, Beth Kephart!

"Katherine and Anna are two peas in a pod, two sisters that are so close together than only death can really tear them apart. After Anna's tragic death, Katherine is so filled with sorrow, anger, and guilt that her desire to live fades away; it takes a series of surprises and near-disasters for Katherine to find her way. As we ride through Katherine's memories and current life, the story of her and Anna is slowly unraveled, until the thing that we've all been dying (pardon the pun) to know about is finally revealed.

Dangerous Neighbors is a quietly powerful and poignant novel that kept me enthralled the whole time. It's a lot shorter than I expected it to be - only 166 pages - but I feel that its brevity only enriched the story. Once again, the main thing that stands out in this novel - and all of Beth Kephart's novels - is the writing. All of the words were so deliberately picked, the descriptions were like poetry, and awkward phrases were nonexistent. Kephart can put things into words that the rest of us cannot, and in such a beautiful and touching way as well..."

Read the rest of this review on Priya's blog. (And read the story behind that gorgeous cover here!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November Feature: The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand

Are you ready to wade across The River? This intriguing novel by Mary Jane Beaufrand is one of this month's recommended titles. Take a peek:

Veronica Severance feels cut off from the world. Forced to move from the city to rural Oregon with her parents, she is haunted by loneliness and by the chilling sounds of the Santiam, the river that runs through her backyard.

Through the fog of isolation, Ronnie finds herself becoming close with Karen, a young girl who she babysits. But when she discovers Karen's body on the banks of the Santiam, the victim of a supposed accident, Ronnie feels compelled to uncover the truth.

As she becomes increasingly obsessed with solving Karen's death, Ronnie is led deeper and deeper into the woods surrounding the river and to the dark secret hidden within its midst.

Mary Jane Beaufrand, the author of The River, shared this deeply personal story with us:

My sister Ann is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2007, has been in remission since 2008. But recently, a full two years being pronounced healthy, she had herself a good freakout.

Here’s the sitch: she wanted to swim laps at the Open Swim Hour at her local high school, and didn’t want to be seen changing in the girls’ locker room. The problem? The scars from her bilateral mastectomy. Don’t get me wrong—she had reconstructive surgery, so from five paces away she looks perfectly normal. But that scrawny hairline scar still stretches from one side of her ribcage to the other. Uber-dramatic up close. Like in a locker room.

“Girls that age just don’t understand,” she told me. “They still think you can be perfect.”

I nodded and made noises like I agreed, but five minutes after I left her, realized that she was dreading the judgment of teenage girls as much as she dreaded chemo. Huh. Something was definitely off.

I kept going back our conversation when Readergirlz asked me to blog about resilience. Believe me, I’d much rather write about things that invoke a different kind of response, like moose drool. Or donuts. (Or, as my daughter would add, moose drool *on* donuts. She gets a kick out of stuff like that.)

But it seems to me there’s a nugget in my sister’s dread that’s worth exploring. Because I think the issue of teenage judgment—both real and imagined—has more to do with resilience than it would first appear. I’m thinking of my sister’s scars, but I’m also thinking of Spirit Day this past October 20, and the glut of teen suicides in the wake of bullying. When I was listening to NPR last week, a commentator was talking about this subject and mentioned that, while some of the bullied suicides were gay, not all of them were. The common denominator was that they were perceived to be different.

It seems to me that a major component of resilience is tolerance, both in yourself and the people around you. If you’re going through an episode in your life where you have to be strong, it’s important to find someone who, if they can’t identify with what you’re going through, can at least imagine going through it. Those tolerant, understanding buddies? They may not be the ones you think.

In The River, my heroine, Veronica Severance, makes a series of mistakes along those lines. At the beginning of the book, she’s judgmental of the people around her, thinking that since she’s a transplant from the city, she’s better than her neighbors in the country. Ya-huh. You just know attitude can’t continue.
Secondly, she’s drawn to people based on the way they dress and their taste in music. And yes, in real life those things can really endear someone to you, but they don’t go deep enough to tell you about their true character. It’s no accident that, in order to see the truth about the people around her, Veronica has to be submerged in something that’s much more treacherous than it looks on the surface. Surfaces can lie.

So that’s about it. If you’re in need of resilience, I’m with you. Stay strong. Practice tolerance and seek out tolerant buddies. Veronica’s mother would also tell you that comfort food helps, and to be sure to enjoy a donut now and then.
But please, for my sake, hold the moose drool.

- Mary Jane Beaufrand

Now we want to hear from you. What did Veronica learn about truth and treachery? Have you ever heard a secret that you wish you hadn't? If you were in Veronica's shoes, would you have acted the same way she did? Leave your comments below!

Story Secrets: ENCHANTED IVY by Sarah Beth Durst + Giveaway!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I'm very happy to be hosting Sarah Beth Durst to hail the arrival of her fourth amazing YA fantasy novel, ENCHANTED IVY (and you may remember that she was my very first Story Secrets post last January for ICE).

Sarah Beth and I go way back...all the way back to the SCBWI Conference in New York the year before I signed with my agent and sold Tell Me a Secret. She had just come out with her first book, Into the Wild, and I was almost finished writing the first draft of mine. It didn't take long to become fast friends!

Sarah Beth, welcome back to Story Secrets!


Enchanted Ivy is about getting into college. You know, taking the campus tour, talking to the gargoyles, flirting with the were-tigers, riding the dragons... Essentially, it's about magic at Princeton. (read a first chapter excerpt here)

Holly Cupala: Hi, Sarah Beth! Tell us about Enchanted Ivy.

Sarah Beth Durst: Junior and senior year of high school, I was absolutely obsessed with the whole college application process. I saw college as this huge Life Turning Point (with all capital letters) that would determine the shape of the Rest of My Life, and I was desperate to do everything "right," i.e. choose the right school, write the right essay, etc.

Of course, after all of my neurotic obsessing, I choose my college because I liked the trees and wrote my essay about the trials and tribulations of having curly hair...

Find out more of Sarah Beth's secrets and enter to win ENCHANTED IVY here...

~Holly Cupala

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If I Stay: Powerful Emotions (+ Win the Paperback!)

This week's focus is on Gayle Forman's If I Stay, and it's a near-perfect representation of this month's theme: Resilience. Mia is faced with a terrible tragedy -- her parents and little brother are gone, possibly dead, and she lies in a coma, critically injured in a hospital, weighing her options... to live, or to die.

For discussion: If you've read If I Stay, what emotions did you come away with? I laughed, I cried, I hoped, I doubted. You?

And, in general, what books have brought out the strongest emotions in you, as a reader?

3 commenters will win a copy of the new (gorgeously covered) paperback! Be sure to include your email with your comment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cover Stories: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

A.S. King is the awesome author of TheDust of 100 Dogs (remember its amazing cover?) and the new Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which I flew through recently and just a-dored.

What else do I adore? This new cover. Let's hear about it from A.S.:

"I never have any ideas for covers, which, if I think about it, is kinda weird because I'm a really visual person and I went to art school and I do most of m
y promotional graphic design myself. But NEVER do I think about covers. I just draw a blank or something. I think cover artists are geniuses, so maybe I just know I'm out of my league in that department.

"I do not believe I was asked for input this time around. The art department at Knopf was one of the deciding factors when PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ was at auction. No, not the biggest factor for choosing Knopf, but one little deciding factor because their books are BEAUTIFUL. Absolutely gorgeous. And as a book design geek (and I am one) this kind of stuff matters to me.

"The cover they sent me at first was nothing like the final version you see here now. There were elements I loved about the first try. There were elements I disliked. The people at Knopf were very kind to give it a second shot after hearing my concerns. The final cover is NOTHING like the first try. I'm sorry I can't share the first try here, but having worked in art departments in my life, I am protective of the unused artwork. Genius does take more than one try sometimes.

"When I saw the final cover for PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ I screamed. I absolutely loved it. I'd just finished reading a paperback of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (left) and it was a similar color green and I just loved the color. And the purple type for my name! YES! And the ZIPPO...."

Read the rest of A.S.'s Cover Story, and enter for a chance to win the book, at melissacwalker.com.

PS-Just for fun, go see a pic of A.S. King in her awkward years on Before You Were Hot. She cracks me up!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Featured Title: IF I STAY, by Gayle Forman

What would you do if you had to choose? 

The last normal moment that Mia, a talented cellist, can remember is being in the car with her family. Then she is standing outside her body beside their mangled Buick and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being tended by paramedics. As she ponders her state (Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this), Mia is whisked away to a hospital, where, her body in a coma, she reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live. Via Mia's thoughts and flashbacks, Forman (Sisters in Sanity) expertly explores the teenager's life, her passion for classical music and her strong relationships with her family, friends and boyfriend, Adam. Mia's singular perspective (which will recall Alice Sebold's adult novel, The Lovely Bones) also allows for powerful portraits of her friends and family as they cope: Please don't die. If you die, there's going to be one of those cheesy Princess Diana memorials at school, prays Mia's friend Kim. I know you'd hate that kind of thing. Intensely moving, the novel will force readers to take stock of their lives and the people and things that make them worth living. -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

I read IF I STAY in one breathless night during my last semester of graduate school in writing. "Research," I told my advisor; specifically, research on how to create a tone of hope and uplift in the midst of a tragic scenario. And isn't that the very definition of resilience, after all? 

I can't say that I've been able to replicate Gayle's pitch-perfect portrayal of strength in the face of overwhelming grief in my own work (though I do still aspire!), but hearing her speak specifically to her own experiences with resilience is as inspiring as her beautiful writing: 

I often say that Mia, the heroine of If I Stay, is much more mature than I am. When her voice popped in my head and then onto my computer screen, at first I was like: Who is this person? She seemed so much more worldly wise than me. I still talk like a Valley Girl. I couldn’t believe I had this girl inside of me—or what I put her through:

Mia is in a terrible car accident that, by page 16, kills her parents and gravely injures both her and her little brother. For the duration of the book, she finds herself separated from her body, watching, as doctors try to save her life, as relatives, loved ones, and her boyfriend, Adam, come to her side. She comes to realize that it’s her choice whether to stay—live—or not.

Mia is 17-years-old. I gave this burden to a 17 year old. And don’t think I didn’t feel bad about it. While revising, I had to add a moment to the accident scene when Mia recognizes the horror of what has happened and I cried for her, for what I knew was awaiting her in the coming pages.

But the thing with Mia is, in addition to being more mature than I am, being a far better musician than I am, having a way hotter boyfriend than I ever did in high school, she has something else on me, too. Mia is resilient.

Readers often ask me what I would do in Mia’s shoes. Would I choose to go with my family or would I choose to stay? My initial response is that I’d want to go with my family—my husband and kids—but the thing with resilience, as Mia discovers, is that it’s a muscle you never use until you need it. You never know if you have it until you’re tested.

I didn’t lose my family in a car crash, but I did lose four very close friends in a car accident on a snowy Oregon road. If someone had told me before that this would’ve happened, and I would survive it, grow from it—and here’s the shocker, still remain close to my dead friends, feel closer to them than ever by writing a book inspired by them seven years after the fact—I never would thought it possible.

Maybe I am a little resilient. Maybe I have a little more of Mia in me than I thought.

Thank you so much for sharing Mia with us, Gayle. May we all take some of her strength when we're tested. 

So readers, what we want to know is, are their characters (in literature or elsewhere) that you turn to for strength during difficult times? Who are they, and why? 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Little Willow's Book Bag

This Week's Picks
The Secret Journeys of Jack London, Book One: The Wild by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon (coming out in March 2011)

Read the latest issue of readergirlz.

Cover Stories: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney


Daisy Whitney's The Mockingbirds is out this month, and she's here to tell the tale behind a cover that reminds me of a classic already!

First, a little about the book:
Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way-the Themis Way.
So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds-a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

And now here's Daisy:

"As I was writing, I pictured a girl at boarding school ala The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (left)!

"Ah, but there's the myth that authors have any say over their covers! My editor showed me cover comps throughout the process and I was able to give feedback on the elements I liked. I had suggestions on elements of the bird and the trees and some of them were incorporated. The original cover was red and green (right) and the final is blue and yellow. I'm so happy with the blue version!

"My cover was illustrated by an artist. The final cover design features a blue and yellow bird and the blue matches all my blue shoes! Hurrah! In the end, I love it. I think it's unusual and stands out."


Thanks, Daisy! I just think something about this cover looks old-school lit in the best possible timeless way. It also has a great spine, right? (And how about that storyline--whoa! Love.)

What do you guys think?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Suggest Songs for Our December Playlist

Hey rgz!

We are building the playlist for December. Our theme is Compassion. Give me your suggestions in the comments below, and I'll compile the list for us to rock our November reads.

Suggestions so far:
Sally by Jonatha Brooke
Serena by Duncan Sheik

What songs would you like to hear on the Compassion playlist? Let me know!

Friday, November 19, 2010

November Feature: The Struggle to be Strong: True Stories by Teens About Overcoming Tough Times

Our November non-fiction featured title is The Struggle to Be Strong, a compilation of true stories from teens. This book was edited by Al Desetta, M.A., of Youth Communication, and Sybil Wolin, PhD, of Project Resilience. When I got in touch with Youth Communication, I met (virtually) with Loretta Chan. When she was a teenager, Loretta wrote for New Youth Connections, one of Youth Communication's magazines. Now Loretta is the marketing director of Youth Communication, and she has something she wanted to share with you readers:

How can young women overcome tough times, media stereotypes, and even abuse? The resilient girls whose true stories appear in The Struggle to Be Strong know what it takes. Danielle stops being stuck up and learns that beauty really is more than skin deep. So does Tonya, after she gets suckered by a beauty school, which just takes her money. Artiqua stands up to people who criticize her dating a boy from another race. Tamara describes how taking long walks helps her deal with the anger and rage that she feels. Tameka learns how to stop feeling sorry for herself and succeed in college, even though she grew up in foster care and doesn’t get any care packages or other support from home. Shaniqua overcomes her shyness and her fears to perform at a poetry slam. Paula, whose mother abused and neglected her, finds it in her heart to forgive her mom as she is dying. And Terry-Ann, like all of the girls in this book, used writing to learn about herself and become more resilient.

The girls who wrote stories that appear in The Struggle to Be Strong participated in Youth Communication's intensive teen writing program, which has helped thousands of teens explore their lives and improve their writing. Notable alumni from the program include the novelist and National Book Award finalist Edwidge Danticat, Glamour editor Veronica Chambers, New York Times reporter Rachel Swarns, and "Life Hacker" author and blogger Gina Trapani.

How do our teens write their stories? Watch this short film.

- Loretta Chan

Now we want to hear from you: Which of the stories in The Struggle to be Strong reminded you of your own life? How did you relate to the real-life experiences which were shared in this book? Who is the most resilient person in your family or household? Leave your thoughts below in the comments!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Story Secrets: THE MOCKINGBIRDS by Daisy Whitney + giveaway!

Ok, so this is without a doubt one of the hottest reads this fall - welcome to fellow 2010 debut author Daisy Whitney, who is here to chat about THE MOCKINGBIRDS!

I haven't met Daisy in person, but she was part of the TELL ME A SECRET blog tour. We did this crazy fun blog interview together:

Welcome, Daisy!


THE MOCKINGBIRDS is about an underground, student-run secret society at a prestigious boarding school and a case they try involving date rape.

Holly Cupala: your book weaves intriguing threads while tackling a very serious topic. How did your ideas come together?
Daisy Whitney: I’ve always been intrigued by boarding school and also by the potential teens have to take a stand for what’s important. THE MOCKINGBIRDS - an underground student-run justice system - was born from those twin thoughts as a way to look at what it takes to stand up for yourself and for others...

Find out more of Daisy's secrets and enter to win an advance copy of THE MOCKINGBIRDS here...

~Holly Cupala

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hate List: Characters Who Face Tragedy

This week's focus is on Jennifer Brown's Hate List, and it's an amazing representation of this month's theme: Resilience. Valerie faces doubt and and derision at every turn--from friends, family, teachers--but somehow learns to get up every morning and make it through her senior year after the terrible tragedy of a school shooting perpetrated by a boy she loved.

For discussion: If you've read Hate List, did you understand why people doubted Valerie? Was she an easy-to-love character for you? Did you see her as sympathetic? Complicated?

And, in general, what books have you read where a character comes out on the other side of a tragedy and has to deal with the aftermath? Which are your favorites, and why?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cover Stories + Contest: Pull by B.A. Binns

This week, B.A. Binns is here to talk about the cover of her new release, PULL, and there's a chance to win the book!

Here's B.A.:

"My publisher, WestSide Books, did something many publishers shy away from these days. They not only bought a young adult book featuring an African American couple, they also put a picture of the hero on the cover. Because PULL revolves around the boy, and is told completely from his POV, the decision was made early on that the book would have a teenaged male spotlighted on the cover. They showed me a selection of models. I picked out a picture of a really cute guy with curly hair and a huge smile.

"They picked the David that now dominates the cover of PULL. And when I saw what the art department put together, I realized they had my hero's essence, and by now I feel that is the face of David Albacore. While I wasn't given cover art approval, they did run things past me and my editor assured me that if I really hated things the
y would make changes. It took me ten seconds to realize I wouldn't change a thing. They had captured the essence of what I wanted potential readers to feel when they see that cover.

"They and I both know the cover is a risk. There is the fear that some young people will turn away from the book just because of the face on the cover..."

Read the rest of B.A.'s Cover Story, and have a chance to win the book, at melissacwalker.com.

PS-Check out the trailer for PULL:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Featured Title: HATE LIST, by Jennifer Brown

Hate List is a book that dares you not to be drawn into it, and I'm pleased to report that I was most definitely NOT up for the challenge of ignoring this amazingly powerful story.

I bought Hate List on a whim after seeing it on the shelf in my local bookstore. The strong cover image of the original hardcover jacket called out to me, and after reading the flap copy, I knew the story would be right up my alley. Here's what "School Library Journal" had to say about it:

At the end of their junior year, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend pulls a gun in the Commons, leaving six students and a teacher dead and many others wounded. Valerie is hit by a bullet in the leg trying to stop him, just before he ends his own life. Until that point, Valerie had no idea that the "hate list" that she and Nick created would be used to target victims in a vengeful shooting spree. For her, the list of tormentors was a way to ease the pain of being bullied and an outlet against the constant fighting between her parents. Although the police investigation reveals that Valerie had nothing to do with the actual shootings, many people in her community, including her parents, have a hard time believing that she is not at fault, too. With the help of a patient and insightful therapist, Valerie bravely returns to school after the summer to face the challenges before her. This is a startling, powerful, and poignant account of the incidents leading up to, immediately following, and continuing through the teen's senior year of realization and recovery. Valerie is stronger than she knows—a beautifully drawn character who has suffered pain, guilt, and incredible stress as she heals from the shooting, the loss of a troubled boyfriend she deeply loved, and difficult family circumstances. Readers will snap this novel up.

I can attest to that - I raced home from the bookstore and finished the book in one night. Jennifer does an incredible job of making Valerie as complicated as she is sympathetic, and the pacing of book is airtight. We're so happy to have Jennifer here at the blog today! Here are her thoughts on this month's theme, "resilience:"

Resilience isn’t in and of itself anything terribly noble. We’re all born with the capacity for it. We all have an ability to shrug off the hurtful, to pick ourselves up off the floor after the tragic, to bounce back after the shock. It’s innate in humanity, I believe, to keep searching for the sun, even in the darkest times, much like a flower will do its best to grow away from a shadow if it can.

I don’t know if I always felt this way. I’m not sure if, at 13, 14, and 15 years old, I was resilient on purpose. I was bullied. Called names, picked on, humiliated. I was tripped in the cafeteria and laughed at when I fell. I was the subject of rumors and gossip, and the recipient of nasty late-night phone calls and threats. All of this at a time of personal struggle at home as well. God, it would’ve been so easy to not be resilient. So tempting! But easy or not, resiliency won out. I kept waking up in the morning and somehow shoring up enough courage to walk into those unfriendly school hallways and face another day. Resiliently.

Maybe down deep I knew that my story of resilience might be the story some other teen would need to hear someday in order to pick herself up off the cafeteria floor and just keep walking toward the sun. I don’t know. Probably it was just that innate thing going on.

But if I didn’t know then that my story of personal resilience had a purpose, I certainly know now. The fact that the main character of Hate List, Valerie, goes back to school to face her tormentors and her doubters—and yeah…herself—in an impossible, frightening, and at times threatening situation is no accident. Valerie needed to not only have resilience to get through her tragedy, but she needed to do something with it to make an improvement. She needed to show herself that she was capable, and that sometimes if you try hard enough things can get better—truly better!—and she needed to come out the other end of her tragedy whole and changed…and resilient with a purpose. Resilient so that others might be inspired to hang onto their resiliency tightly, and trust that it will get them through to the other side of their dark time.

What makes resilience noble isn’t that we have it; it’s what we do with it. If we just bounce back, but then flounder around being all bouncy and dithery, our resilience is wasted. If we pick ourselves up, only to fling ourselves back into ugliness time and again, our resilience has failed us. But if we crane our necks toward the sun…and then really see it when our faces are lit, really make an effort to use that sunlight to warm ourselves…well, then that’s where magnificence lies!

That’s where resiliency turns something that you just lived through to something that made you great.

Well said, Jennifer! In the wake of so many recent bullying incidents, the message of Hate List feels more resonant than ever. Hopefully those who've suffered through being the target of hate are able to move beyond resilience to a place of forgiveness, ultimately planting seeds for a more compassionate world.

If you haven't read Hate List, grab a copy of the recently-released paperback. Pretty new cover!

And in the meantime, let us know - has resilience ever helped you in the face of hate?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Little Willow's Book Bag

This Week's Picks
Family by Micol Ostow
What Would My Cell Phone Do? by Micol Ostow
Underfoot in Show Business by Helen Hanff (non-fiction)

For Your Younger Siblings
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Read the latest issue of readergirlz.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Take Action Against Hunger!

Action Against Hunger has launched a new online student contest titled Meanings of Hunger. They're asking students 18 and under to get involved in exploring an aspect of hunger that interests them. The contest is simple but has room for a lot of creativity: use the definition of hunger as inspiration to explore an aspect of hunger that interests you, with possible projects ranging from a poem or essay about hunger to a diorama of a refugee camp in Darfur. You can get more details here, and "like" them on Facebook for updates!

The contest is open until December 3rd, 2010 and will be judged on clarity of information, creativity and connection to the topic. While everyone can participate, the three highest-scoring submissions will be profiled on the ACF website and will receive a Student Activist package.

Good luck, readergirlz!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Say It Again: Nina LaCour

"We struggle and grieve, and then we pull ourselves together, and the parts of life we once took for granted we come to recognize as beautiful and important."  Nina LaCour

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz

November Playlist

Hey readergirlz! We asked you to suggest songs suitable for this month's theme, Resilience, and here's what you came up with:

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(If you can't see the playlist above, you need Flash.)

Note: Not all of the recommended songs were available at the Project Playlist website. Here's the full list of tracks suggested by readergirlz:

Promise To Try by Madonna
Unprofessional by Katy Rose
Got Dynamite by Demi Lovato
Dark Carnival by Vanessa Carlton
Nobody by Amy Studt
Change by Taylor Swift
So What by Pink
Voldemort is Going Down from the soundtrack of A Very Potter Musical
Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson
Superwoman by Alicia Keys
Stronger by Britney Spears
Fighter by Christina Aguilera