It's been a great year for children's books (and it's not over yet), and it's always fun to see which of our favorites get recognized during awards season.
Kicking it off is the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature, released today:
• Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
• Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses
• Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots
• Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince
• Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
• David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
• Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
• Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone (BookPage review coming in October)
• Anne Ursu, The Real Boy
• Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints
Got any favorites out of this bunch?
Stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for National Book Award longlist announcements for nonfiction (Sept 18) and fiction (Sept 19)!
Geoffrey Girard's two debut thrillers offer a unique premise: They tell the same story from two different perspectives. Cain's Blood is aimed at adult fans of sci-fi thrillers, and it follows the story of a former Army Ranger, Shawn Castillo. Project Cain is intended for young adult readers and unfolds through the perspective of 16-year-old Jeff Jacobson. In a guest post, Girard shares a little more about these parallel novels.
] On September 3, Simon & Schuster releases my first two novels. Cain’s Blood is a dark techno thriller for adults. And Project Cain is a dark techno thriller for young adult readers. They essentially tell the same story. But not . . .
Cain’s Blood recounts through a dozen viewpoints (and fairly omnisciently) how the U.S. Defense Department has cloned violent serial killers in an attempt to harness the genetics of violence, and these clones (made from men like Bundy, Gacy, Berkowitz) are in their teens now. Some of these teens are good, some not so much. When the bad ones escape, a troubled and retired Special Ops agent, Shawn Castillo, tracks them down with the help of one of the “good” boys: a 16-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer clone. Project Cain tells this same story, but entirely from the point of view of Jeff Jacobson, the teenaged Dahmer clone.
The original idea (thanks to my agents at Foundry Literary & Media) was that the story was exciting/curious enough that adults would want to read it and also teens. Simon & Schuster agreed with that idea—but not quite like Paramount releasing the PG version of Saturday Night Fever (have I shown my age?) or some kind of “he said/she said” thing between Castillo and Jeff. So, how would they be different?
While they follow the same basic story, the two novels deviate often with specific scenes. Most of what happens in Cain’s Blood would surprise the heck out of Jeff Jacobson. It focuses more on Castillo and his return home from war, and has a lot more scenes with the Bad Guys. These scenes would explain a lot to Jeff (and readers of the teen novel), but they are scenes/developments that are only hinted at in “Jeff’s” book.
Meanwhile, in Project Cain, Jeff gets in adventures and reveals information that don't appear in the adult book at all. These are his own discoveries and trials outside the scope of the main book—teen discoveries and trials.
We/I do not expect readers to read both books. But if you read one and loved it and want more, you can check out the other. There were enough differences put in to make it, I hope, worth your while.
Cain’s Blood is told as a traditional thriller. (“Crichton meets King,” one blurb claims, and I’m happy to repeat it here.) It’s the book my agents first said YES to. It’s the more commercial book, written for the largest audience.
Project Cain is a first-person story from the POV of a teen boy physiologically different from other boys, which offers a special opportunity to do something different with this book for a very specific audience. I’ve been teaching high school English for 10 years at an all-boys school and have developed some ideas on the kind of book a teen (specifically a boy) might like to read. My guys prefer nonfiction, so Project Cain is written in that style. Also, the devices of composition in the novel are those of a teen boy writing a journal, not of an adult author or even a teen girl. Jeff is genetically prone to becoming a sociopath so his communication and delivery are often, at quick glance, stilted, cold, detached. While there are glimpses of a special kid throughout, he’s still gonna tell it his way. The net result is that folks either love Jeff and his take on the world or hate me as a writer. That was a risk/price I was willing to pay for this specific book.
In either case, I hope readers flip through each book and decide which works best for their reading tastes. When in doubt, if over 18, give Cain’s Blood a look. If still in junior high school or high school, check out Project Cain.
Thanks, Geoffrey! Cain's Blood and Project Cain are both out today.
In honor of first fiction month, we’re highlighting some of our favorite debut novels of the year so far. Here are our top 5 young adult debuts. What’s your favorite debut novel of the year? Comment to weigh in!
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell made her actual fiction debut with her 2011 adult novel, Attachments, but her YA debut is too good not to include on this list. This raw, complex depiction of two teen misfits falling in love in the '80s is at once heartbreaking and searingly hopeful. With a shared love of music and a mountain of hurdles to overcome, Eleanor and Park's love story is just the right amount of awkward and magical.
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
H.G. Wells gets the teen treatment with this entertaining adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The story, as told by the doctor's daughter, 16-year-old Juliet, doesn't tone anything down for younger readers. Gothic horror and Victorian romance blend masterfully here, and the gruesome scientific experiments are so creepy that animal-loving Shepherd had trouble writing them.
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan
In 13-year-old Habo's home country of Tanzania, a person with albinism is called a zeruzeru, meaning "zero-zero." He has always been an outcast, but he now faces a greater threat: He is being hunted for his body parts, as many believe his light skin will bring them luck. Sullivan's depiction of this growing East African human rights issue is at times horrifying, but she writes beautifully of the landscape and of Habo's strong spirit in the face of such monstrous injustice.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin
No punches get pulled in this story set during a freezing Maine winter. Fifteen-year-old Dinah is innocent and endlessly positive, but her best friend Skint, who has stopped wearing a coat for some reason and whose father suffers from early-onset senility, is exactly the opposite. This heart-wrenching, thoughtful tale is sad, for sure, but Griffin speckles the novel with flashes of humor and warm personality.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This dazzling story of two Iranian girls in love sensitively approaching issues rarely—if ever—addressed in YA literature. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, but gender reassignment surgery is generally accepted. So when Sahar discovers that her best friend and the girl she loves is to be married, she contemplates the surgery as her only option. Farizan tells this important, compassionate story with immense grace. On sale 8/20. Look for a review in our September issue!
Fans still have a long wait before the conclusion to Veronica Roth's Divergent series—Allegiant comes out October 22! At last week's San Diego Comic-Con, Roth teased fans by revealing that Allegiant will be told in alternating chapters by both Tris and Four. Both Divergent and Insurgent were told through only Tris' perspective.
HarperAudio has created a contest for Divergent fans to vote on who will be the voice of Four in the Allegiant audiobook! The voice of Tris is already spoken by Emma Galvin, who also narrated Divergent and Insurgent.
Fans vote from a selection of four pre-approved narrators who will remain anonymous until the contest is over. Everyone who votes can enter for a chance to win “the ultimate Divergent series audiobook prize pack” which includes: a Kindle Fire HD loaded with copies of the Divergent and Insurgent audiobooks, a pair of Skullcandy Crusher headphones, 12 Audible credits and a signed copy of Allegiant.
The contest began last Thursday and will continue until noon EST on August 2. Vote here!
Young adult mysteries and thrillers tap into some really creepy ideas—often with the help of a supernatural element—that keep teen readers burning through the pages. Few characters in YA mysteries are like cops and spies—they're not out looking for trouble, but it finds them anyway, and the pursuit of the truth is impossible to resist. And this year, it's all about the girls.
17 and Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Seventeen-year-old Lauren has visions of girls who have gone missing—always without a trace. As the missing girls reveal their stories to Lauren, she becomes obsessed with one girl in particular: Abby Sinclair, who vanished from summer camp. What happened to her? Is she dead like the other missing girls? A chilling psychological thriller with whispered warnings for young readers.
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
It's 1867, and Verity Boone has just moved to Pennsylvania to live with her father and meet her future husband. But when she discovers that her mother and aunt, who both died 15 years before, are buried in unhallowed ground outside the cemetery and are guarded by a cage, she begins to dig into the mystery of the two women's deaths—and the secrets of her father's town. A great historical mystery.
What We Saw at Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Three kids with Xeroderma Pigmentosum (or XP, a disease that requires complete avoidance of sunlight) take to the nighttime rooftops, practicing Parkour and slighting their own vulnerability. But one night, they spy through an open window a possible murder in progress. The daredevils begin an investigation, and it seems to be no limit to their ability to risk their own lives.
This Is W.A.R. by Lisa and Laura Roecker
Revenge is sweet for an unlikely alliance between four girls. When popular girl Willa Ames-Rowan is pulled from the lake at Hawthorne Lake Country Club, everyone knows golden boy James Gregory was the last person to see her alive. Willa’s friends Sloane and Lina, Willa’s sister Madge and outsider Rose team up to solve Willa's death and make the killer pay.
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
Coming September 10
The publishers are calling this one an homage to Stephen King, and that's dead on. This horror thriller finds 12 people dead, killed by five murderers who were all friends and family. Only one murderer didn't take her own life, and she has no idea why she did it. It falls to five survivors to stop whatever's happening. A terrifying, thrilling read.
Anyone up for something creepy?
Bernard Waber, the creator of many beloved picture books featuring Lyle the Crocodile and other gentle souls, passed away on May 16 at age 91. His books included The House on East 88th Street and Ira Sleeps Over, among many others. Though his most common milieu was New York City, children all over the world found comfort and humor in the stories he told. What could be more reassuring than to know that everybody, even Ira, gets homesick sometimes?
Waber's more recent books included Courage (2002), which he wrote partly in response to the 9/11 attacks. In a hand-drawn Q&A about the book, Waber exhorted children to hold onto their dreams, as he surely did. He leaves a legacy of more than 30 books, ensuring that generations of children to come can still meet Lyle the Crocodile and follow him on his adventures.
With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, we know that many of you are searching for a special gift to share with your mom. And since there are few better treats for a mom than the opportunity to read a few good books with their children, we've put together a list of our favorite new picture books that celebrate mothers of all kinds, from soldier moms to squirrel moms. Read about two of them here, and then check out the whole feature to read the rest.
Reviews by Robin Smith
Brayden Bunny loves his mom but bristles at some of her rules. When she lets him know it's time to get out of bed, he wishes aloud that he could go and live with his friends. His mother overhears, and soon Brayden tries living at a number of his friends’ houses. Missy Mouse’s house is fun—but messy. The Badger family smells of unwashed badgers. The Squirrel family lives so high up that Brayden instantly knows it will not work out. He loves being with Auntie Grace, but still . . . something is not right. What is missing?
More sophisticated, but no less loving, is Sean Qualls’ treatment of Langston Hughes’ poem Lullaby (For a Black Mother). Collage and watercolor play well together here, inviting little ones to sleep while introducing them to the poetry of Langston Hughes. Qualls’ palette is calm and filled with overlapping circles, mirroring the repeating nature of the poem itself. The mother is front and center, wearing her lace dress, collaged with words from books. She is always looking right at her beloved diaper-clad baby, which is just where children expect their mother's gaze to fall. I especially loved the winding musical notes with the chubby baby singing in delight. The repeating words, displayed in a pleasing, stylized large font, will invite older brothers and sisters to read right along with baby—always a plus!
A few years ago, YA lit fans were calling for more sci-fi, and it's safe to say that the genre answered. With YA's built-in fanbase for apocalyptic thrillers, the opportunities were endless: zombies, contagions, aliens, interplanetary romances and doomsdays that can be thwarted only by 16-year-olds.
Characters in high-action teen lit are right at home a hundred years in the future on Mars (Losers in Space, Black Hole Sun), surviving on space stations (Glow, Mothership), waking from stasis to discover a strange new future world (Across the Universe, A Long, Long Sleep) and thwarting dominate species (The Lunar Chronicles).
But this summer, it gets personal.
YA sci-fi comes to the home front as alien invasions sweep this summer's crop of teen lit. Naturally, many are set post-invasion, because honestly, YA dystopia will never die.
Here are a few of the big ones:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam, 5/7)
Aliens quickly and mercilessly destroy the majority of the human race in attacks called "Waves." The few survivors include Cassie, who runs along an abandoned highway in search of her missing brother, completely unaware that the aliens' most terrifying strike is yet to come. Think The Host, only much better. Read our review from the May issue.
Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, 5/7)
The aliens in this one barely show their faces—but that's what makes them creepy. The survivors of this post-alien invasion world are so scared of their overlords that they perpetuate the aliens' horrors willfully. Four teens with a special immunity to the aliens are Earth's only hope. Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will enjoy this one.
In the After by Demetria Lunetta (HarperTeen, 6/25)
Amy and a toddler she calls "Baby" survive after aliens invade Earth and kill almost all of the population. But when Amy and Baby are miraculously rescued, everything is not as it seems, and she begins to discover the truth behind "Them."
Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner (Holt, 6/25)
Call this one an alien invasion of the heart. Set in London in the year 2218, an empath named Zee falls in love with David, a member of a mysterious alien race. Sure, there's some fighting, but it's mostly fighting for their love. An alien invasion tale for the romantic set.
And one more to look forward to: The fourth book in Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four series, The Fall of Five, comes out on August 27.
Are you a fan of YA sci-fi? Are you excited for the upcoming thrilling alien reads?
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin • $18.99 • ISBN 9781250012579
Published February 26, 2013
Ages 13 and up
Pretty much every YA novel that comes out these days has at least some element of romance. With all those twitterpated hormones in teen readers, it's practically a requirement for YA characters to find their soulmate at 16. There is no growing up with typical fictional true love: It is eternal and halting, with ever after more a natural progression than a rare gift.
But it rarely works like that, doesn't it? That's what makes young love such an incredible thing. Its intensity is nearly impossible to maintain.
That's why I found Eleanor & Park so special. Neither character really believes in ever after. They do, however, get to experience every surprising moment of young love, every second of anticipation as they fall for each other. Rowell's new book for teens is one of my favorite depictions of teenage love, and adult readers will find it to be a wrenching, wonderful reminder of their own first loves.
Keep an eye out for my interview with the author in the March issue of BookPage! And read on for an excerpt from one of my favorite parts, when Eleanor and Park hold hands for the first time. From Park's perspective:
Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he'd gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Park had held hands with girls before. Girls at Skateland. A girl at the ninth-grade dance last year. (They'd kissed while they waited for her dad to pick them up.) He'd even held Tina's hand, back when they "went" together in the sixth grade.
And always before, it had been fine. Not much different from holding Josh's hand when they were little kids crossing the street. Or holding his grandma's hand when she took him to church. Maybe a little sweatier, a little more awkward.
When he'd kissed a girl last year, with his mouth dry and his eyes mostly open, Park had wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him.
He'd even wondered—seriously, while he was kissing her, he'd wondered this—whether he might be gay. Except he didn't feel like kissing any guys either. And if he thought about She-Hulk or Storm (instead of this girl, Dawn) the kissing got a lot better.
Maybe I'm not attracted to real girls, he'd thought at the time. Maybe I'm some sort of perverted cartoon-sexual.
Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognize all those other girls. The way a computer will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognize the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognized her. He knew.
Do you make room on your TBR list for excellent YA reads? Will you check this one out?
My husband can name all 44 U.S. presidents (without cheating)—a feat that never ceases to amaze me, especially when he works his way through Hayes-Garfield-Arthur-Cleveland. The late 19th century stumps me every time. So I'm spending this President's Day brushing up on the "Oval Office All-Stars" with an informative little book from Kingfisher, Basher History: U.S. Presidents.
Each president gets a two-page spread that includes a list of his three top achievements, a first-person description of his tenure ("I started out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" says James K. Polk) and a colorful portrait. The illustrations are by English artist and designer Simon Basher, who gives these somber old guys something of a Hello Kitty look. Grover Cleveland is shown with a baby carriage and a halo (he was known as an honest guy and is the only president to have a baby born while he was in the White House) while John F. Kennedy is surrounded by tiny, colorful nuclear warheads.
Though the book is aimed at kids 10 and up, those of us on the far, far end of that age range will find many items of interest in Dan Green's clever text. Who knew (besides my husband) that James Monroe is the only president to have a foreign capital named after him or that Calvin Coolidge is the only president to have a pet raccoon?
One of our favorite parts of the book is a teaser on the cover that reads "2012 Election Winner Inside!" For those of you who hadn't heard (spoiler alert!) Barack Obama was re-elected and is pictured wearing a lei of Hawaiian flowers and clutching an economic chart. I'll use those as mnemonic clues when I practice naming the presidents for our next family duel.