The Chance You Won’t Return Launch Party!

The Chance You Won’t Return‘s release date is less than a month away, which obviously means my mind is turning to thoughts of celebration. Because you need tasty treat and a new outfit for your book birthday, right?

If you’re in the Boston area and want to join me for an evening of reading, happy dances, and tasty treats, come to The Chance You Won’t Return launch party at Porter Square Books!

The details:

The Chance You Won’t Return Launch Party
April 29, 2014
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

Come for the Q&A, stay for the happy dancing and book signing! There’s an event page for it over at my Facebook page, in case you want to be all official and RSVP.

I’d really appreciate seeing friendly faces, so please come out on April 29!

Writing with Headphones

Today I’m over at OneFour Kidlit talking about how I created a playlist for The Chance You Won’t Return and why that helped me through the writing process. (Plus gifs, of course.)

Another song that felt just right for The Chance You Won’t Return was “Simple Song” by the Shins:

I especially like the chorus: “Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, to play like a stone / Could be there’s nothing else in our lives so critical / As this little home!” It totally reminds me of Alex trying to hide all the drama at home from her boyfriend and friends. And the song itself has that great forward momentum that I associate with a lot of the songs from the TCYWR playlist.

Do you associate certain songs with your books/characters? Share them in the comments!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…What Ends by Andrew Ladd

Before getting my hands on an ARC of What Ends, I’d read several incarnations of the first chapter, which I loved. No, I didn’t hack into Andrew’s computer–he and I were grad school classmates and members of the same writing group. Needless to say, having read the first chapter a few times in workshop, I had pretty high expectations for the subsequent chapters, and Andrew totally delivered. What Ends is a beautifully crafted novel about family and home and art and what ultimately connects us. Here are a few of my reasons to read What Ends.

1. Island Life
The book is primarily set on Eilean Fior, a small island off the coast of Scotland. Books about life on an island always intrigue me–how do residents define themselves by their surroundings? How do they see outsiders? What’s it like to have go to school with only your sibling for a classmate? With the island’s population shrinking, the McCloud family has to face the ending of their way of life.

2. Shifting Perspectives
The novel is told in a close third-person perspective that touches on all members of the McCloud family–three children and two parents. I love that everyone gets a moment in What Ends to share their own experiences and challenges. I was especially intrigued by Maureen’s chapter, which looks at the sacrifices Maureen has made and her potential for choosing another life.

3. Let’s Do the Time Warp
Along with the shifting perspectives, What Ends also jumps around through time, during the span of about twenty years. I think this provides the narrative with a nice energy, as we get to flash between what is to come and what choices have already been made. This works particularly well between 1995 (which is focused largely on Flora) and 1988 (in which we get a closer look at Maureen).

4. First Love and Beyond
From eldest son Barry’s crush on island resident artist Bella to Flora’s relationship with mainlander Michael to Maureen’s imaginings of David to the McCloud’s marriage, Ladd creates a touching and complex portrait of love and relationships. Even when it’s painful or awkward, Ladd takes great care with his characters and their emotions.

5. Art
As a kid who was big into art, I’m a sucker for books about developing artists. I loved seeing Flora grow from a kid who spied on Bella to an artist in her own right.

6. Scotland
I loved getting a bit of an international perspective with What Ends. As a Scot himself, Ladd captures the rhythm of the Scottish dialect so well that I immediately heard the characters’ voices in my head.

7. The Writing
It would be accurate, it somewhat limiting, to describe What Ends as a quiet novel. Like most literary fiction I like, What Ends has a wonderful focus on language and connecting with characters. So often I had to stop and think, “Yes, that’s the perfect way to say it.” But ‘quiet’ can also suggest ‘not much happens,’ which doesn’t feel like the case for What Ends. The plot is quiet in that it’s very much rooted in characters’ daily interactions and struggles, but it never feels slow or plodding. I felt invested the whole way through, which is a testament to Ladd’s skill.

8. Crossover Appeal
What Ends is pretty firmly in the literary fiction category, but I think it would work extremely well for advanced teen readers and high school classrooms. Ladd expertly touches on the complications of growing up and growing away from the nuclear family unit–common themes in YA and for teen readers in general.

9. The Last Chapter
Told from George McCloud’s perspective. I don’t want to spoil anything, so let me just say: all the feels. Damn you, Ladd.

10. Andrew’s a Cool Ladd
I had to work that pun in here somewhere, right? Andrew is not only a great writer, but he’s a good friend as well. When he’s not writing heartbreaking novels about Scottish islands, he’s editing the Ploughshares blog, doing improv, working at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and supporting fellow writers. He’s totally unassuming and unexpectedly hilarious, and I’m so happy that the world can now get to know What Ends.

What Ends is to be released on January 20, so you don’t have to wait long at all to get your hands on a copy. Pre-order now!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs

I was so excited to read Breakfast Served Anytime. Sarah Combs is a fellow Candlewick author and one of the sweetest, most genuine people in the world. Plus she wrote a book about a summer camp for gifted teens? I was already obsessed. Breakfast Served Anytime not only met my expectations but exceeded them like crazy. In case you need specifics, here are my ten reasons why you should read Breakfast Served Anytime:

1. Gloria
Can I hug a fictional character? Because I really want Gloria to be real and she and Teen Annie can hang out. Such a beautifully written narrator full of intelligence and sensitivity and sadness and humor and love.

2. Secrets of the Written Word
At camp, Gloria takes a “Secrets of the Written Word” class, which includes field trips to kissing trees and defenses of the greatest novels ever written. Gloria and her classmates all bond in a way that’s realistic and makes you want to be part of the group. Also, there’s a puppy.

3. Theater
Gloria is a true actor who can transform on stage, and I love getting to learn about acting through her eyes–even the anxiety of what it means to be a true artist and giving of yourself as a performer.

4. Butterflies
When I saw the Breakfast Served Anytime cover, I noticed the diner setting first, then the butterflies. “I wonder how those come into play,” I thought. Turns out, they come into play in one of the most beautiful scenes ever. THE FEELINGS, guys.

5. Hallmates
Gloria’s roommate Jessica and her friend Sonya could easily have been set up as pretty, popular girls who don’t care about deep or geeky things. I loved that they were both complex and wonderful characters. Jessica even brings up issues Gloria hadn’t thought of before for a compelling exploration of what it means to be from different backgrounds and have to make different choices.

6. GoGo
Gloria’s grandmother, GoGo, is a beautiful presence throughout the story, even though we never meet her in real time. She’s the kind of character you wish you could make real so you could send time with her. I love the idea of her sitting in the audience at Gloria’s performances.

7. Kissing
I don’t think I’d necessarily classify Breakfast Served Anytime as a “romance,” since I think there are so many important relationships and lessons in here, not just romantic ones, but let me tell you–Combs knows how to make a swoony kissing scene or two. So heartfelt and so genuine.

8. Mother/Daughter
Okay, so maybe I have an interest in stories about daughter dealing with their unstable mothers. 😉 But Combs weaves in the backstory of Gloria and her mother so sensitively and beautifully, it would be hard for any reader not to feel for them. I loved getting glimpses of how Gloria’s mother’s instability not only affected her but the rest of the family as well. It’s definitely not an “issue book” kind of plotline, but I loved seeing that part of Gloria’s life included in a very touching and real way.

9. The Writing
Oh my gosh, guys, the writing here is just so stellar. Every page there was a line or image or idea that made me stop and think, “Yes, that’s it, that’s how it feels, that’s it exactly.” Combs’s writing is deft and beautiful and true. It’s the kind of book I wish I’d had as a teen, because I know I would have read it a thousand times and taped quotes up from it all over my walls. A few places, I actually got teary-eyed, not because anything particularly sad was happening but because the writing was just so damn good. I’d be wild with jealousy except…

10. Sarah Combs Is the Sweetest Ever
Sarah and I have been emailing since we met via OneFour KidLit and found out we were both Candlewick authors. Every time I read an email from Sarah, I feel like I’m filled with rainbows and sparkles and corgis. She’s so kind and thoughtful and positive, and we share an affection for things like Twelfth Night and Our Town. After reading The Chance You Won’t Return, she sent me the loveliest note with her thoughts on the book and I practically cried I was so touched. Of course such a generous, sweet author wrote such a beautiful novel.

Breakfast Served Anytime is coming out April 8th from Candlewick Press. Put it on your to-read list now!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Fault Line by Christa Desir

My fourth Fourteenery read is Christa Desir’s Fault Line, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the grittest and most heartbreaking debut of the ’13/’14 season. As a warning, I will say that I’d only recommend Fault Line to mature teen readers and it could be a potentially triggering read. But it’s a book that doesn’t shy away from the harsh, real issue of sexual assault that all too many teens are dealing with. Here are my ten reasons why you should read Fault Line:

1. Ben
Most of the YA novels I read have a female protagonist. Ben was a refreshing change, as he always felt like a typical guy I might have gone to high school with. I hope this means it appeals to readers of both genders.

2. Ani
Ani always felt like a full character to me, not like a character in an “issue” novel created so the author can talk about a given issue. I loved her fierceness and heart in the early pages of the novel, and my heart continually broke for her after that awful night, as she tried coping with having been raped and being tormented at school for being a so-called slut.

3. Survivor Support
Lots of other YA books dealing with sexual assualt, including equally powerful YA class Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, look at it from the survivor’s perspective. I love that Fault Line is structured from the perspective of Ben. It’s a great reminder that sexual assault doesn’t just affect the person who’s been assaulted. We’re all affected and thus we all have a responsibility to stand against it.

4. Being There for Someone
When something horrible happens to someone we love, we want to “be there” for them and support them. But what does that really mean? How can you support someone who’s going through a lot of awful and complex emotional reactions? I totally sympathized with Ben as he tried to figure out how to help Ani.

5. Coping Mechanisms
After being raped, Ani experience anger, guilt, denial, etc. She lashes out, withdraws, and puts herself in further damaging situations as she tries to deal with her pain. As hard as it was to read, I was glad to see Ani’s reaction to being raped as being complicated and changing as she tried to cope with what had happened.

6. Trying and Failing
Ben wants to help Ani, but he doesn’t always know how–and as a result, doesn’t always make good choices in his attempts. I liked that he got frustrated and felt hopeless, and wasn’t always calm and helpful. Again, it was hard to read, but it felt like the actions of a very real teenage book who doesn’t know what to do.

7. “The Manhole”
Another hard but realistic part of Fault Line was Ani and Ben’s peers’ reactions to the rape. Ani is called the worst slut-shaming names I’ve seen in YA and, unfortunately, it totally rang true for me in terms of what a teen girl would experience in that situation. I hope that readers see how Ani is treated and reevaluate their own behavior in how they treat so-called sluts at school.

8. Family Life
I have a special affection for Ben’s family. His relationships with his parents and his younger brother felt so real, and I was glad to see they played a part in his everyday life. (So often, families take a minor role in YA.) Also, Ben’s from a biracial family–something else you don’t see too often in YA.

9. Real World Help
Christa is donating a portion of her book’s proceeds to help sexual assault victims. This is an author who walks the walk.

10. Christa’s Rules
Christa Desir was able to create such a complex, gritty book because she’s worked extensively with and deeply cares about sexual assault survivors. Christa is a passionate, caring, amazing person who seems to understand everyone. In the Fourteenery, we live by Christa’s rules.

Fault Line is out now, so make sure you buy a copy and check out this powerful and arresting read.