Kids and Teen Blog
Janet Gurtler’s new book How I Lost You is out (*squeal!*) and I’m plum happier than a paintballer landing a hit in a speedball match at the thought. Gurtler has quite the knack for picking distinct, interesting environments in which to situate her compelling characters, and this book is no different, delving headlong into the competitive milieu of professional female paintballing.
If you’re like me and have no clue about this paintball-filled subculture (the kids today with their rap music and baggy pants and their paintballing! Gah!), the opportunity to dive in is a total treat.
In the book we are introduced to Grace and Kyla, two best friends forever who are also competitive paintball players. Kyla has a dark secret in her past, one that makes Grace unsure of what to do to best help her friend through her troubled life as Kyla's demons begin to take over.
Unlike a lot of contemporary YA fiction, where the core narrative is between the protagonist and a love interest (swoon), this book’s main story delves into the dynamics of friendship, and how those moments of growth and change in a teen’s life impact both people in the relationship, for better or worse.
The notion of the best bud for women has become something of a cultural cliché. How many of us, after all, wish we could have the cocktails and chat sessions of Carrie Bradshaw’s NYC foursome? The jean-sharing comraderie of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants? (Even if we're not so keen on sharing pants). But what is not heard among all the gal-pal bonding in popular culture is how the bonds of friendship can be frayed slowly from the outside in, ultimately leaving loose strings and a host of conflicting emotions and questions:
What does it mean to be a good friend?
How long do I stay in a toxic friendship?
How can I be there for someone in a way that doesn’t hurt me?
What is the final straw? The red line that can't be crossed in this friendship?
I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to read more from Gurtler. Plus, I now have the crazy urge to don some paintball gear and go see what this sport is all about (let's just say this Mother's Day weekend might be rather interesting).
If you would rather curl up with a good book than go and get doused with paint, there's a number of excellent backlist titles from Janet Gurtler to satisfy. Check 'em out:
Did you always want to be a writer?
No. In fact, it never really occurred to me. I finished school and went straight into the workforce. I worked hard and by the time I was 23 years old I owned a company in London and everything was going really well. Then, at 27, I had my first daughter and everything changed. My perspective on what was and wasn’t important, my ideals about where I wanted to live and who I wanted to be around – it all changed. So I set about selling my business and home and by the time we moved back to Sydney, I was pregnant with our second daughter. When she was born, for the first time since finishing school, I wasn’t working crazy hours and so I was reading a lot – like a crazy amount of books. I don’t know why, but one day I finished a book and instead of opening a new one, I opened my laptop and started to write EMBRACE. It hit the shelves exactly one year after that in Australia
What was your favourite book as a teenager?
I didn’t really have a lot of favourite books when I was a teenager. YA really wasn’t what it is now. As a teenager I actually read a lot of crime and thrillers. I loved Patricia Cornwell and the Kay Scarpetta Series.
The series is set in a complex world, with multiple layers of existence happening at the same time. How do you keep the rules of this world straight when you’re writing?
By keeping lots of notebooks and timelines. You have to keep the rules very clear. If you break them, you will lose the confidence of your readers so I am fairly fanatical about these things.
It’s hard not to notice that Violet’s last name is Eden – is the relationship between Violet, Lincoln, and Phoenix a nod to the original trio from the Garden?
Yes, in some ways. The books are centered on the concepts of choice and consequence. What greater story of choice and consequence is there than the story of The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge?
Was it fun to do the research for the books?
Yes. I’m a research junkie, so I love digging around in mythology and biblical folklore looking for potential stories and myths that I might be able to twist into Violet’s world. I also love choosing things that aren’t necessarily the most obvious and seeing how I can work them in. Yeah, I’m a total nerd!
The series is headed to the CW Network! Did you ever think you’d get to see your characters come to life on TV? Are you involved with the script?
I suppose throughout the writing process I always saw the potential for a screen conversion but of course, you never expect it to actually happen. And to be honest, it still may not. The option has been picked up and they are developing the scripts for the pilot but whether or not it gets to the next stage is out of my hands. There are so many people involved in the decision making that I really have no idea what will happen, but I have my fingers crossed! As for my involvement – if it all goes ahead it will be as a consultant. I am not a scriptwriter and my passion is and will always remain with writing books!
We love the playlists you give for each book on your website! Do you have songs that you listen to for certain characters?
Sometimes. Mostly, I just love songs that seem to capture the tone of a particular scene. I do listen to a lot of Florence and the Machine though!! I also think Anya Marina’s song – All The Same To Me – is the perfect song for Phoenix.
When will Endless, the next book in the series, be available in the US and Canada?
ENDLESS will be out in October and then the final book in the series (title still to be finalized!) will follow shortly after.
Is the fifth book finished?
No! I’m working on it now. In fact, I fly out tomorrow to go on a research trip to a large section of the fifth book.
Violet is such a strong-willed, independent character. Will it be hard to leave her behind and start new projects?
Yes. It will. Very hard, I imagine. But I always promised that I would finish the series at the right point for her, not me. And this is it.
While we’re all eagerly waiting for the next two books, can you recommend another YA series to read?
Anything by Melissa Marr. Maria V. Snyder or Neil Gaiman.
“You can be Han Solo," he said, kissing her throat. "And I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you.”
I’ve become that annoying person who can’t shut up about a book. I leave the corner of the book cover peeking out of my purse in the hopes that some casual passerby will take note, giving me the chance to reel said person in for a nice, fat book chat. In my defense, it’s simply fantastic.
Eleanor & Park is the story of (you guessed it) Eleanor and Park, two teens in mid-1980s Omaha, Nebraska, who meet and begin a gradually and timidly deepening relationship through those mighty elixirs of high school outcasts everywhere: comic books and the melancholy melodies of the Smiths.
Eleanor is overweight, a red-haired, quirky girl from a troubled, claustrophobic home. She is quickly targeted by the school bullies on the bus as “Big Red”. Park is half-Korean, a lover of comics and music, desperate to get his driver’s license, and having a difficult time connecting with his father. While not an active target of the bullies, he has a built-in Teflon sheen that lets him slide under their radar. He wants nothing to do with Eleanor, who is, for all intents and purposes, the equivalent of a big red target.
Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus. He actively ignores her, hating her for disrupting his invisibility. She reads his comic books over his shoulder. He notices, begins to wait a little longer to turn the pages. He leaves comics for her to take home and read. They talk about them. They talk about music. Mixed tapes are made. The relationship evolves in this way, with cautious steps and sideways glances.
At times reminiscent of the vinyl love in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, at times displaying the quick, sardonic dialogue of John Green (who is, by the way, a BIG fan of this book too!), I have never read a book that so accurately captures the machinations of first love. The awkwardness, the feeling of being separate from the unwieldy goings-on of one’s own body, that magic moment of holding someone’s hand for the first time and persevering through a nervous sheen of sweat that lights between palms…
The scenes of hand holding in this book are intense—more likely to make your heart a-flutter than any contemporary romance novel. Take this line from Park, which I re-read three times and after which I needed to take a starry-eyed breather:
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
The characters in the book are complicated and real, the writing beautiful. The story carries with it a quiet power that will hit and will hit you hard.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough – definitely one of my favourites of 2013.
Because no review of this book is complete without mention of the music, here’s my recommended Eleanor & Park playlist (*when you’re done, check out author Rainbow Rowell’s playlists for more excellent tuneage) Some of these are Park's picks from the book, some my own.
Eleanor & Park Playlist
1) The Smiths - How Soon Is Now?
2) Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
3) Elvis Costello - Alison
4) The Smiths - There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
5) U2 - Bad
6) The Smiths - Ask
7) The Dead Milkmen - Punk Rock Girl
8) The Cure - Boys Don’t Cry
9) Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - The Morning of Our Lives
10) Dead Kennedys - Police Truck
11) New Order - Blue Monday
12) XTC - Love on a Farm Boy’s Wages
We’re soon headed into what I giddily call the Comics Season (Free Comic Book Day May 4, Toronto Comic Arts Festival May 11-12 = yay!). So I thought I’d get y’all giddy for some upcoming graphic novels for kids that I'm most excited about, with some backlist to keep you going until launch date.
(9781596435575), May 14
Theodora is a normal, respectable duck. She shops for her quackers at the supermarket and does a little stargazing now and then. That is, until Chad the odd duck moves in next door with his tie-died feathers and teddy bear. This book is so fantastic (an in-house favourite), and just might have you trying to balance a teacup on your head like the oh-so-lovely Theodora. Author Cecil Castellucci will be attending the Toronto Comic Arts Festival May 11-12, so be sure to keep an eye on the Raincoast blog for futher details.
More From Illustrator Sara Varon
Cupcake has a pretty darn good life with his bakery, his band, and his best friend Eggplant. See what these two get up to in the kitchen (disclaimer: they are adorable).
I don't usually confess up front to a kids' comic making me cry, but... this one got me a little sniffly. Robot Dreams tells of a dog and a robot. After a jaunt at the beach that leaves the robot rusted and wedged in sand, the dog has to return alone to the life they shared. You might want to grab some tissues now (I have allergies! I swear!).
Anna & Froga: I Dunno... What Do You Want To Do?
(9781770461208), July 23
ANNA AND FROGA ARE COMING BACK! I can't believe how much I love this comic, which follows the adventures of Anna, Froga the frog in her saucy red boots, Ron the Cat, Bubu the imposter-artist dog, and Christopher the worm. Their snarky, mischievious, primary-coloured adventures and pranks are laugh-out-loud funny, and I can't wait for this latest installment!
More from Author/Artist Anouk Ricard
Anna & Froga: Wanna Gumball?
Quite possibly one of my favourite comics EVER! The adventures of Anna, Froga, and the whole gang are so silly and snarky, you will likely find yourself snorting and chortling away while your family give you suspicious glances (not that this has happened to me...). A frog in saucy red boots? A cat playing volleyball while wearing a Speedo? A worm who has an unquenchable french fry addiction? Oh it's so good!
For more graphic novels for kids, check out our recent Newsletter "Comics For Kids," and be sure to stay tuned for more updates on the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and their amazing line-up just for kids!
February 08, 2013
Today's blizzard news from the East Coast got me thinking about hot chocolate, coziness, and warm clothes, which naturally led to thoughts of anoraks in my typical Friday-jumping-around train of thought (for those of you who don't know, an anorak is a type of heavy jacket with a hood, often lined with fur or fake fur, so as to protect the face from a combination of freezing temperatures and wind. They are tres snuggly).
Anorak is ALSO a wonderful, tremendous, stupendous magazine for kids! I was so excited to see Issue #2 of the happy-making mag for kids, released February 1, that I practically catapulted through the Raincoast office to get a copy in my hot little hands. This issue's theme is animals: the weird, the wacky, the furry and the funny (spoiler alert: there's a sloth wearing suspenders and painting alongside a flamingo in a kimono = YES!).
Anorak Magazine is an indie kids publishing house with five issues per year, aimed at boys and girls aged 6-12, as well as adults who refuse to grow up (like, erm... me!).
The mag contains short illustrated stories, book reviews, games, activities, and it's an absolute showcase of the most beautiful and unique children's artists in the world. The magazines are meant to be kept, collected, and adored, like kids' magazines of the past.
My favourite feature has to be the recurring exploits (told as a photo-story) of Munkie and Horrace, two real monkey stuffies. In this issue, Munkie and Horrace's world is turned upside down by the arrival of G Munkie, a bling-wearing scamp who convinces the other monkeys to get in on his illicit cupcake business, driving his RV to a remote location to instigate his mobile bakery in order to protect the secret cupcake recipe (Breaking Bad fans, you will LOVE this).
Issue #2 also features some gorgeous illustrative work by Edmonton's Studio Tipi, who created the cover.
Check out Issue #1, the circus-themed issue, if you want even more Anorak giggles and games:
February 01, 2013
Why Marissa Meyer, what kickin' reads you have!
Marissa Meyer’s epic Lunar Chronicles series kicks into high gear next week with the release of book #2, Scarlet (Check out the Facebook fan page for the latest release information). Cinder and Scarlet’s dystopian take on the fairytale aren’t your average damsel-in-distress, singing-drawf stories. I am so excited for Scarlet’s release, I’ll be wearing my red cloak and bionic leg all weekend (family, watch out, you’re about to be embarrassed). Here’s a quick recap to get y’all in the mood:
Not Your Average Dystopia: Raises questions about what it means to be human when the androids are often more empathetic than the warmbloods.
Not Your Average Fairytale: Androids? Plague? Cyborgs? YES! So much for tiaras and tulle.
Girl meets boy. Girl is cyborg, boy is prince of New Beijing, and, oh yeah, the world is being threatened by both a deadly plague and a race of eerie moon people who seem bent on intergalactic domination.
Cinder is a cyborg, a second-class citizen with a mysterious past who is both reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her sister’s illness. After becoming intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai, Cinder becomes caught in an intergalactic struggle. Cinder must uncover secrets about her own past in order to protect the future of the world.
Not Your Average Dystopia: Raises questions about permanence, leaving a mark on this earth. Can a person’s essence be captured in a microchip? Is destiny something to be embraced, or avoided?
Not Your Average Fairytale: Grandma ain’t goin’ down without a fight. Take that, wolfie.
A young girl and her missing grandmother. A big bad (and handsome) wolf. A vicious lunar queen trying to hunt them down.
Scarlet Benoit is searching for her missing grandmother. In the search, she discovers secrets about her grandmother’s life and her own, and the grave danger they have both been in for their entire lives. Scarlet meets Wolf, a street fighter who promises to have information about her grandmother. The two are drawn to one another, growing closer in their search. Cinder also appears, trying to break out of prison and in the process, becoming the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.
In honour of the Lunar Chronicles and their awesomeness, I’ve taken down a list of recommendations à la Scarlet for other fairytale creatures (listen up, gnomes):
- Always travel with an android if you can swing it, preferably one with a smart mouth and a celebrity obsession. Much more entertaining than singing dwarves.
- Cyborg parts are SO HANDY! Run out of pockets for your magic wand/spare change/poisoned apple? Simply open up that metal panel in your thigh and stick 'em inside! Ikea storage taken to a new level.
- If you’re going to be bitten by a wolf, make sure he’s tall, dark, and mysterious.
- Train your grandmother to kick butt. And not just a little, but a LOT. A grandma with a wicked sidekick is much more excellent when it comes to battling evildoers than one who just pulls the covers tighter and gets eaten.
- Take note Hansel and Gretel: it’s much easier to navigate dark forests and fairytale settings with an internet connection in your brain. Not to mention the money you’ll save on breadcrumbs.
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January 25, 2013
Sometimes, being a teenager sucks.
Sometimes it goes beyond plain-old suckage and into downright nasty, over-the-top suck-tastic territory.
Adult fiction loves the coming-of-age tale, but what if that coming of age is horrendous, cataclysmic, short… or doesn’t happen at all?
There’s been an ongoing spate of attention to the so-called genre of “sick lit” for teens (a term that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for argument). What is "sick lit"? (I cringe whenever I type that term... Every time I read about so-called “sick lit” I hear a shrill shriek in my head of “Won’t somebody please think of the children!"). Essentially it describes books for teens that explore topics such as death, disease, and anything not particularly PC.
This subject got a lot of attention from the success of last year’s The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a story about two teens with cancer. Whether you think the whole sick lit argument is a somewhat bogus idea that doesn’t give teens enough credit [full disclosure here: I DO! ], or an argument with some merit, it can hardly be disputed that bad things happen to kids, bad things act as good discussion points, and bad things can make a pretty compelling story.
Here are a couple of good books on the horizon that I’ve been reading that do it right, and some good discussion points raised therein.
Much like the Marleys were dead to begin with, Paige is dead from the get-go after a freak fall from the school roof during her physics class. Seemingly doomed to be confined in ghostly form to the high school that was the scene of her death (as nightmarish an idea as any I’ve ever heard), Paige feels hopeless as rumors circulate that her death wasn't an accident, but a suicide... until she discovers that she can possess living people when they think about her. Can she use this new ability to stop the rumors swirling about her death?
Why you’ll talk about it: There is a mystery involved in this story, and the borders between the living and the dead are not so rigid as they would seem.
Discussion points: Questions of free will are raised, the labels we assign to people, and the idea of reputation, that bastion of obsessed high-school attention, extended to life after death.
My Life After Now
Theatre-loving Lucy is sixteen and happy, with a boyfriend, her best friends, and an upcoming role in the school play. But after her boyfriend makes a less-than-graceful exit with another girl and Lucy's choice role in the school play goes to said girl, Lucy loses it and does something completely out of character. After an unplanned night, Lucy becomes HIV positive. Yikes. Now there’s a yearbook summary from hell for you.
Why you’ll talk about it: This is no “don’t have sex or bad things will happen” kind of book, but a book of what happens "after". As the protagonist notes, what happens when you need to know information beyond the “practice safe sex, kids” lessons of sex ed class?
Discussion points: How do you go to high school being HIV positive? How do you deal with the misinformation and fear around the disease? How do you forgive yourself for a costly mistake?
BIG Discussion Point: As the authors notes in the "Facts and Figures" section at the end of the book, though teenagers make up only 25% of the sexually active population, young peole (13-29) accounted for 39% of all new HIV cases in the USA in 2009. That is a scary number.
(BONUS: the book includes book Reader's Guide discussion questions and an HIV Resource Guide For Teens at the back).
January 18, 2013
If you’re feeling a little chafed that ye olde Mayan apocalypse failed to materialize (really, how bothersome), fear no more frustrated mortals. There are some amazing dystopian reads floating like a mushroom cloud above the horizon for Winter and Spring 2013, filled with destruction, magical realism, adventure, and introspection.
If you’re like me, there’s nothing better than curling up with a great dystopian read, some cheesie poofs (official foodstuff of the apocalypse) and letting glimpses into the possible future take over your imagination. Here are some recommended dystopian reads, and some suggested survival accessories.
Love in the Time of Global Warming
Essential Survival Accessories Kit: Flippers, snorkel, giant-repellent, a copy of Homer’s Odyssey.
After losing everything to a tidal wave that sweeps across her city, 16-year-old Penelope sets off on an Odysseus-esque quest that will bring her face to face with life and death, and all the choices therein. The beautiful language and writing will pull you in, and the gripping story will keep those pages turning.
Essential Survival Accessories Kit: Burn ointment for those pesky radiation burns, a tape measure to determine quarantine distances, running shoes.
Three normal kids discover that their families and friends are suddenly overtaken with rage and have an unstoppable mission to kill them. Just another Saturday night for some, but the scope of this epic story ensures it is anything but ordinary. This page-turner will keep you guessing: who are the real bad guys in a setting where survival itself may be the worst thing one can do to a person?
Essential Survival Accessories Kit: Social insurance card and birth certificate, lifejacket, parachute.
Being in a plane crash probably isn’t the most fun thing in the world. Being the sole survivor and media target, as well as losing your memory completely? Probably even less so. This book is all the more intriguing and alarming for how completely around-the-corner it feels. Science running rampant? No way, that would never happen…
Essential Survival Accessories Kit: Toolbox with ALL screwdriver heads (no skimping), degree in mechanical and/or computer engineering, up-to-date vaccinations.
The second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, this book continues to follow Cinder as her story crosses with that of the fiery Scarlet, as well as her grandmother and, oh yeah, a futuristic big bad wolf. Intergalactic espionage and fighting forces Cinder to finally accept, acknowledge, and embrace a destiny that will change everything she has ever known.
Siege and Storm
Essential Survival Accessories Kit: Warm clothes for those brisk northern snowstorms, pickled herring (mmmmm), boating license.
Fantasy with an overlay of dystopia, this book, the second in the Grisha series (FYI waiting for the third book feels like my own personal dystopia—I want it now!) further pushes main character Alina’s personal powers to a brink that could either sever the natural world or save it. This book will make
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