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Wednesday
Mar122014

Falling is only the beginning

I’m about to say something that’ll make me sound like a horrible, blasphemous, cynical monster. Ready?

Often, my favorite YA romances aren't the Happily Ever Afters—they're the ones that run their course and end up falling apart.

I’m not talking about tragic love stories, where one of the characters dies or the two lovers are separated by obstacles beyond their control. I’m talking about the stories where two people get together, discover they're not right for each other, and learn things from that failure. The Happily Ever After (or Happily for Now) absolutely has its place—those stories are really satisfying to read, and they give us lots of hope, which I think is important. But it bothers me that nearly every YA book I come across focuses on the beginnings of relationships without ever exploring the more difficult middles or ends, where most of the work takes place. So many people learn about relationships by reading, and I kind of feel like we’re dropping teens at the tops of beautiful, scenic overlooks and then bailing before we tell them how to climb down or get home.

Before I go any further, I want to admit that I’m just as guilty of this as everyone else. Beginnings are incredibly fun to write, and the push-and-pull lead-up to two people getting together can make for excellent dramatic storytelling. But there are lots of situations that happen all the time in real-life relationships but seldom pop up in YA, and I’d love to see more of that stuff on the page, too. Here are some examples:

Already-established relationships that exist for their own sake, not just to give the MC something boring/bad to leave behind in pursuit of something better.

Falling in love is so easy, and by and large, the beginnings of relationships are overwhelmingly similar. You eye each other from afar. You banter flirtatiously and blush a lot. You’re delighted by every tiny quirk and fascinating detail you discover about the other person, because everything is so new. You stare into each other’s eyes for hours on end and think about how OMG YOU’VE NEVER FELT SO CONNECTED TO ANOTHER PERSON EVER EVER EVERRRR.

And then there comes a point when you’ve heard most of the other person’s stories, and maybe some of those little quirks are starting to become annoying, but you’re still totally in love, and that’s where things start to get interesting. It’s no secret that relationships are tons of work and that love involves plenty of negotiating and compromising. But in YA, it’s rare that we get to see any of that. Amidst all those first kisses and spectacular breakups, I’d love to see some middles. Ask the Passengers by A. S. King and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan explore this admirably.

Unrequited love.

It shocks me how often YA characters fall for people who actually like them back. The number of all-consuming crushes I’ve had in my life is infinitely larger than the number of people I've dated, and I think everyone I know would say the same. Statistically, most people don’t like each other that way, and the feelings that come from being fixated on someone who doesn’t care about you at all are really interesting. So many highs, so many lows, and nothing is actually even happening. Marisa Calin does a great job describing those feelings in her debut novel, Between You and Me.

Relationships with unequal levels of emotional commitment.

Another thing I’ve noticed about YA couples is that the two people usually care about each other the same amount. In reality, I’d venture to say that one person almost always falls harder and faster than the other, and it can be exceptionally awkward. I dated a guy in high school who told me he loved me after two weeks, and I had no idea how to handle it. (I handled it by panicking, saying it back, rescinding it the next day in a letter, and then saying it again two weeks later after he bought me jewelry. Because that’s what you do when you’re fifteen.) My diary entries from that time are a roiling jumble of confusion, and I think it would’ve helped me to know that other people had the same problem.

Relationships with unequal levels of growth/change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I saw the movie Her a couple months ago. I thought it was brilliant; I’ve never seen a better allegory for the unbalanced growth and change that happens in a lot of (human-human) relationships. Being in love with another person deepens and broadens just about everyone, but people often don’t deepen/broaden at the same rate. That means some relationships essentially end because they teach one person so much that he/she ends up outgrowing the other; the breakup is a direct result of the relationship being really informative. (Yeah, my head is spinning now, too.) I realize this is incredibly hard to write about—I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge, personally—but I’d love to see someone besides Spike Jonze give it a shot!

Those times you can’t quite tell the difference between platonic and romantic love.

I adore Elizabeth Wein’s CODE NAME VERITY, and one of the lines that resonated with me most was, “It’s like falling in love, finding your best friend.” When you find someone who clicks with you on a really deep mental/emotional level, it’s easy to confuse it with a crush. You want to be with the other person constantly. You do a lot of worrying about what he/she thinks of you and when you’ll see him/her again. When the other person compliments you, you feel like you have champagne in your veins. He/she makes you feel like your very best self. Sometimes you also want to make out with said person, which makes it a pretty standard crush. But sometimes you don’t—or you’re not sure if you do, because the other person isn’t the gender you usually make out with—and that can make things really confusing. Benjamin Alire Saenz does a nice job of parsing that confusion in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and so does Bill Konigsberg in Openly Straight. (I am also attempting to write a book about this! We’ll see how that goes.)

The long, drawn-out, exciting lead-up to a kiss… that ends up being absolutely terrible.

Remember that time in Buffy when Cordelia and Wesley make eyes at each other for an entire season, and then they finally kiss, and it’s the most awkward, embarrassing, disappointing kiss in the history of the world? Yeah, we’ve all experienced that. And yet, everyone in YA seems to be remarkably good at kissing. I’d love to see some more awkward, fumbling, ultimately unsuccessful physical contact!

Do you know of a great book that explores one or more of these things? Tell me in comments!

 

Friday
Jan102014

Psst... want to win an ARC of FOR REAL?

YOU GUYS... I got FOR REAL ARCs in the mail yesterday!!!

Here's the front (with bonus cat)*:

 

And here's the back...

 

And here are the pretty, pretty spines!

 

You know what? I think I have a few too many of these. How about I give one away RIGHT NOW?

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Good luck! 

Love,

The slightly delirious author

*I'm not giving away the cat. Sorry.

Sunday
Dec292013

Best reads of 2013!

It's time for Alison's Best Reads of the Year Awards!

The rules are as follows:

1) I must have read these books for the first time in 2013, though they don't need to have been published in 2013.

2) Books I read as ARCs in 2012 do not count, even if they came out in 2013. (Unfortunately, this eliminates all my critique partners' books from the running... but I'll give them their own special section at the end.)

3) Books are listed in no particular order.

4) I am not allowed to choose more than five books per category, but I can choose fewer.

5) Books may receive more than one award.

Here we go!

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT:

ELEANOR AND PARK, Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRL, Rainbow Rowell

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, Benjamin Alire Saenz

CHARM AND STRANGE, Stephanie Kuehn

GONE, GONE, GONE, Hannah Moskowitz

 

BEST MIDDLE GRADE:

THREE TIMES LUCKY, Sheila Turnage

NAVIGATING EARLY, Clare Vanderpool

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, Karen Harrington

THE REAL BOY, Anne Ursu

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, Claire Legrand

 

BEST ADULT FICTION:

THE SNOW CHILD, Eowyn Ivy

LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Aktinson

THE INTERESTINGS, Meg Wolitzer

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?, Maria Semple

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, Neil Gaiman

 

BEST NON-FICTION:

BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott (granted, this is the ONLY non-fiction I read this year... but it's also the best non-fiction I've read maybe ever. I love it.)

 

And now for the special awards:

THE LAUGH-OUT-LOUD-ON-THE-SUBWAY AWARD: ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, Jesse Andrews. Never would've thought a book about cancer could be hilarious. It can!

TEARJERKER AWARD: THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, Claire Legrand. Man, what a gorgeous book. Also, extra points to Claire because when told her about my copious weeping, she gleefully said, "I'm so happy I made you cry!" Honorable mention to my reread of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, because... obviously. 

MOST SATISFYING REREAD AWARD: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, which makes me all melty and warm and fuzzy and stupid, and HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. HP5 is still not my favorite of the HP books—it's my third favorite, after 3 and 6—but I loved it WAY more this time around than I ever had before. It was a very pleasant surprise.

BEST BOOK WITH ILLUSTRATIONS: A MONSTER CALLS, Patrick Ness. Seriously, just LOOK at it.

BEST COVER AWARD: ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, Benjamin Alire Saenz, and PARCHED, Melanie Crowder.

THE CLINGINESS AWARD: FANGIRL, Rainbow Rowell. I loved this book so much that I was weirdly unable to let it out of my sight after I read it. The ARC lay on my bed for days and days, and I didn't even bother to move it when I went to sleep. When the hardcover came out, I bought it that day, brought it home, and told myself I was just going to look at it "for a second." Then I proceeded to read the entire thing again. 

THE UNDER-MY-SKIN AWARD: WILD AWAKE, Hilary T. Smith. Though this wasn't one of my favorite books of the year, I could NOT stop thinking about it after I read it. It made me all itchy and antsy and uncomfortable, and I worried about the main character for days after the book was over. That, to me, is a mark of really excellent writing. I can't wait to see what Hilary writes next.

THE UNEXPECTED ADORATION AWARD: THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, Leila Sales. I liked both of Leila's other books, so I was certainly expecting to like this one, too. But I loved it way, WAY more than I expected. I've been recommending it to everyone.

THE SATISFYING ENDING AWARD: THE BITTER KINGDOM, Rae Carson. I don't want to say anything that might spoil people for the first two books, but I'll just say that there's this THING that I really thought might happen, and I DESPERATELY didn't want it to happen, and it didn't happen, and I was so relieved.

THE CLIFFHANGER AWARD: REBEL BELLE, Rachel Hawkins. This is a 2014 release, so I'm breaking my own rule here, but I purposely tried not to read books with cliffhanger endings this year. However, when I got to the end of this one, I burst out laughing, pointed at the book, and shouted, "WELL PLAYED, HAWKINS."

MOST ASTONISHING READ OVERALL: A MONSTER CALLS, Patrick Ness. The reason this book isn't listed above is that I have no idea how to categorize it. The main character is middle-grade-age, but the book says "14 and up" on the back, and I would really only recommend it to adults. But I've never read a book that dealt with grief in such an astute way without being at all manipulative. This book had been sitting on my shelf for two years, and I'd been too afraid to read it, having lost a parent to cancer myself. But I'm so glad I picked it up, and I'm sure I will do so again many times. The whole time I was reading it, I sat there going, "Yes. Yes. Yes. YES."

 

And now, because I can't help myself... here are some 2014 books I've read that I know you're going to love. They are all by people I adore, and I can't wait to watch them make their way out into the world!

I HEART BAND, Michelle Schusterman (January 9)

FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE!, Tim Federle (January 21)

POINTE, Brandy Colbert (April 10)

LIFE BY COMMITTEE, Corey Ann Haydu (May 13)

THE FOURTH WISH, Lindsay Ribar (July 31)

THE TERROR OF THE SOUTHLANDS, Caroline Carlson (September 9)

AT YOUR SERVICE, Jen Malone (Sept 26)

 

Happy new year, and happy reading!

 

Sunday
Dec292013

2013 book-buying/reading stats!

We're all friends here, so I can confess something really nerdy to you, right?

Okay. Here goes.

I keep track of every book I buy and every book I read in a spreadsheet.

A color-coded spreadsheet.

I have gotten a LOT of grief about this from my friends, but the spreadsheet serves many purposes. It makes it really easy to remember what I've read recently when people ask for recommendations. It allows me to see if my reading is really unbalanced—I don't want to be that person who reads ONLY YA because that's what I write. It ensures I don't forget any candidates when I do my Favorite Books of the Year blog post at the end of December. And most of all, it gives me hard evidence with which to shame myself about my book-spending habits so I can be more frugal in the future. (Just kidding, that never works.)

Keeping track also allows me to write this ridiculously nerdy statistics post at the end of each year, which I'm sure nobody actually reads. But who cares! For those (three) of you who want to know about such things, here are my book-buying and reading statistics for 2013:

 

THE BUYING STATS:

In total, I bought 132 books this year, just two more than last year! (My total has gone up every year, so this plateau is pretty impressive.) Here's the breakdown:

58% YA;

17.5% middle grade;

17.5% adult fiction;

3% nonfiction;

4% graphic novels.

14% of those were ebooks, and I expect that percentage to go up next year, since I got a new Nook HD at the end of November.

I bought 50% of those books at indie bookstores and the other 50% at Barnes and Noble. As always, I did not buy a single book from Amazon.

8% were books I'd already read as ARCs but felt the need to own.

86% of the books were written by women.

Shockingly enough, I finished reading 75% of the books I bought, which is better than I've EVER done. Last year, I only finished 64%. *high-fives self*

First book I bought this year: MONICA NEVER SHUTS UP, A. S. King

Last book I bought this year: CONTROL, Lydia Kang

Month I bought the most books: August, with 21 (I bought the new Harry Potter box set that month)

Month I bought the fewest books: December, with 5 (such restraint!)

I'm not going to tell you how much money I spent on books because it is PREPOSTEROUS, but it was 116% of what I paid last year for almost the exact same number of books. This makes sense, because almost none of the books I bought this year were used, and last year quite a few of them were.

  

THE READING STATS:

I read 142 books this year, up from 120 last year! The breakdown was as follows:

64% YA;

20% middle grade;

13% adult fiction;

3% graphic novels;

Less than 1% nonfiction. (I read ONE nonfiction book this year. Oops.)

10% of those books were rereads.

22% of those books were ARCs.

83% of those books were written by women.

Month I read the most books: July, with 17

Month I read the fewest books: August, with 9 (I guess I was burned out from July?)

First book I read this year: WONDER SHOW, Hannah Barnaby

Last book I read this year: reread of LOLA THE BOY NEXT DOOR, Stephanie Perkins

  

Stay tuned; tomorrow I'll post my FAVORITE books I read this year! 

Sunday
Dec152013

UK RED giveaway!

All right, UK readers, it's YOUR turn to win some free books! My wonderful UK publisher, Quercus, is giving away FIVE gorgeous British editions of RED, which hits shelves on January 2! The competition will run from the 16th of December to the 6th of January. Here's the gorgeous cover and synopsis, in case you need some enticement:


Top student. Beauty queen. Girlfriend of the hottest football jock: Felicity's got everything. And it's all down to her red, red hair. Felicity lives in Scarletville, the world's only redhead sanctuary, where red hair is celebrated, protected - and the key to success.

But Felicity has a secret. A red hot secret. And if anyone finds out, she's finished.


Because Felicity's actually a natural blonde.
And in Scarletville, blondes need not apply.

 

Go ahead and enter: the competition is underway! (UK only, please.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway