It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Erin McCahan's second novel for teen readers, Love and Other Foreign Words, would've been an easy favorite for my 12-year-old self. It stars an over-analytical, brilliant 17-year-old named Josie who can't keep her hilarious and too-astute commentary (and enormous vocabulary) to herself—and thank goodness she can't. The precocious teen approaches the world around her as an outsider, observing and translating the communication styles of others. The pattern and familiarty of language—from math to the "language of beautiful girls"—make sense to her, unlike the language of romantic love, an area where Josie's brillance offers no insight. So when her older sister Kate plans to marry the insufferable Geoff, Josie is determined to break them up.
Naturally, this doesn't go as planned, and Josie ends up learning a bit more about love than she expected. Read on for an excerpt, when she first starts considering the possibility of falling in love and makes a list of her potential guy's necessary critera:
"Okay. He has to be older than I am. And taller. Preferably handsome but not so gorgeous that he knows it. And smart in a way that makes me just want to sit and listen to him talk."
"About what?" she asks.
"Just—everything interesting. We have to be able to have marathon conversations. But we also need to be comfortable being quiet together." He will appreciate the value of self-possessed silence and practice it judiciously, I want to add, but don't.
"He should play some instrument too," I say. "Preferable guitar or piano, but I wouldn't mind a woodwind. Bagpipes would be my first choice, but percussion is out of the questions."
"Bag—? Josie," Sophie says.
"Well, he has to be able to do things I can't do that don't drive me crazy so that I stay interested."
"Like walking a straight line without falling over?" Stu asks.
"Yeah. Like that," I agree, pointing at Stu and shaming a smile.
"Stop listening to us," Sophie orders him. "Just go back to driving."
"You realize I haven't stopped driving," he says.
"Be quiet," she says. To me, she asks, "What else?"
There's more. There's lots more.
He will never ask me to eat gray, slimy, gelatinous food nor will he tousle my hair. Not that he could tousle it since I wear it daily in a neat and tidy ponytail, but there are times—showering, blow-drying—when my hair is, in fact, tousle-able. I'd prefer it if he just never touches my head or touches it only with my permission, which I will grant on special occasions such as Arbor Day, poor, neglected holiday that it is, but never on my birthday.
What are you reading this week?
South African novelist Lauren Beukes, author of last year's supernatural thriller The Shining Girls, returns this fall with a new violent mash-up of fantasy and crime fiction. Broken Monsters is set to publish on September 16 by Mulholland Books.
Beukes had us on the edges of our seats with her wildly imaginative, uber-creepy second novel, the international best-selling The Shining Girls. With the help of a portal in a mysterious House, an unfathomably cruel serial killer travels through time to hunt his victims—all women. The only one of his targets to ever escape is Kirby, who decides to track down the villain and put an end to his murderous reign.
Broken Monsters once again finds a capital-B Bad Guy who indulges his sick compulsions, this time in abandoned Detroit warehouses. The publisher gives a preview:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen—known on the street as TK—you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed wth setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
What do you think, readers? Looking forward to getting creeped out by Beukes' newest horror-filled vision?
The twists and riffs of an Eoin Colfer story combined with the gleeful quirkiness of Oliver Jeffers' illustrations? That's what I call an unbeatable team. Their first-ever picture book collaboration, Imaginary Fred, is coming this fall from HarperCollins.
Here's what we've got to look forward to:
Imaginary Fred is a unique take on the concept of imaginary friends. It’s the story of two little boys and their shared love of movies, music, and comic books. It is about how a little bit of electricity, a little bit of luck, and a little bit of magic can spark a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork will make for a treasured new picture book.
The publisher's already calling it an "instant children's classic," "genius" and "the stuff of dreams." It's way too soon to be throwing labels like that around, but we're nevertheless excited to see what fun this duo whips up.
There are few writers as prolific as T.C. Boyle who consistently produce such high-quality and varied work—he is the author of 24 books of fiction and has been the recipient of several literary awards, including the PEN/Faulkner—so it's both unsurprising and exciting to receive news of upcoming novels.
After three decades with Viking, Boyle will publish his next two novels with Ecco, an imprint of Harper. The first, The Harder They Come, will be published in March 2015. As with many of Boyle's books, it will be set in California and will feature multiple interwoven storylines, featuring an aging ex-Marine, his unstable son and the son’s much older lover.
Boyle commented on his move to Ecco:
“This is an occasion for my books to reach a new and ever-widening audience, a circumstance that every author, however successful, yearns for. We live for and through our work and hope to bring illumination and entertainment at the deepest and most joyous level to our readers. So look out: here we come.”
No word on the second novel, but we'll keep you posted.
Author photo by Pablo Campos
Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
Ooh, creepy moms and their even creepier children.
It doesn't get more psychological than Laura Kasischke's new thriller, Mind of Winter. Holly Judge wakes on Christmas morning, seized with paranoia and convinced that "something had followed them home from Siberia" when she and her husband adopted their Russian daughter Tatiana 13 years ago.
When Holly's husband leaves the house to pick up his parents from the airport, a snowstorm traps Holly and teenager Tatiana together in the house—just the two of them. As the day progresses, Holly's paranoia skyrockets. Kasischke, a National Books Critics Circle Award-winning poet, slowly draws readers into this twisty, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and readers discover layers upon layers of guilt and denial as reality gives way to the tricks of the mind.
From the opening chapter, it's clear that Holly is not a narrator we can trust. She comes off a little (OK, very) crazy, but we still want to believe that she hasn't completely lost her marbles. She might not be particularly likable, but once you get used to Kasischke's writing style, Mind of Winter is nearly impossible to put down. Read on for an excerpt:
Something had followed them home from Russia!
It was the explanation for so many things!
The cat, crawling off. Her back legs, her tail.
And her husband. The bump on the back of his hand, like a tiny third fist—a homunculus's!—growing. They'd said it was benign, but how could such a thing be benign? They'd said to ignore it, but how? Something was bearing fruit inside her husband, or trying to claw its way out. How were they to ignore it?
(Although, to be fair to Dr. Fujimura, they had learned to ignore it, and it had eventually stopped growing, just as she'd said it would.)
And Aunt Rose. How her language had changed. How she'd begun to speak in a foreign language. How Holly'd had to stop making her calls because she couldn't stand it anymore, and how angry her cousins had been, saying She loved to talk to you. You were her favorite. You abandoned her when she was dying.
And then the hens. Ganging up on the other one, on the hen she'd so stupidly, so cavalierly, named Sally. Six weeks, and then—
Don't think about Sally. Never think of that hen and her horrible name again.
And the water stain over the dining room table in the shape of a shadowy face—although they could never find anywhere that water would have seeped through their skintight, warranty-guaranteed roof. The roof company men had stood around in their filthy boots and stared up at it, refusing to take any blame.
Also, without explanation, the wallpaper had curled away in the bathroom. Just that one edge. You could never do anything to keep it in place. They'd tried every adhesive on the market, but the daisy wallpaper would stick fast for exactly three days and nights before it peeled away again.
Holly needed to write down these things, this evidence! The cat, Aunt Rose, the bump on her husband's hand, the hens, the water stain, the wallpaper—along with the clue provided to her by the dream:
Something had followed them home from Russia.
Who's up for some creepy reading? Anyone else going to check out Mind of Winter?
Two long-forgotten classic cozy mysteries will get a new look and a new readership on April 15, thanks to the British Library Crime Classics—which highlights gems from the Golden Age of British crime fiction—and the University of Chicago Press. Readers can discover (or rediscover) John Bude's debut, The Cornish Coast Murder, and his follow-up, The Lake District Murder, both originally published in 1935 by a small press called Skeffington & Son.
"John Bude" is the pseudonym for Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), co-founder of the Crime Writers' Association, but don't be surprised if you don't know his name. None of Bude's 30 books (except his very last) were ever published in the U.S., despite their popularity in the U.K. And all of his books are very rare, as Skeffington sold mainly to libraries.
The Cornish Coast Murder's unconventional hero is the Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen. He loves mystery novels and "bodily comfort," like crackling logs on the fire and his favorite chair. When a local magistrate is found dead, Dodd jumps in to help solve the murder.
Bude's descriptions of the charming setting, a fishing village on Cornwall’s south coast, are especially lovely. Plus it's nearly impossible to resist a book whose first chapter is titled "Murder!" It practically comes with its own glass of port.
The introduction to The Cornish Coast Murder provides some fascinating history on British mysteries and publishing in the 1930s:
"At the time The Cornish Coast Murder appeared, detective novels with a recognisable and well-evoked rural background were less common than they are today. Perhaps anxious to avoid unintentional libel, authors who wrote rural mysteries often resorted to setting their stories in 'Midshire' or 'Wessex,' a habit that persisted until after the Second World War. Bude was ahead of his time in realising that detective fans would enoy mysteries with attractive real-life settings other than London."
For his second novel, The Lake District Murder, Bude gives readers a new investigator and a new setting, but his descriptions of the Lake District are just as vivid and finely crafted. When a faceless body is found in a garage, it's up to Inspector Meredith (a man) to figure out where the clues lead, and the result is a meticulous and lively police procedural.
Less literary than Dorothy Sayers and less complex than Agatha Christie, Bude is nevertheless a delight. It's light, entertaining crime fiction, and fans of the genre will love discovering this unknown treasure.
Do you love cozy mysteries? Will you check out John Bude's cozies on April 15?
Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings, will publish a new young adult (YA) novel this September! Coming from Dutton Children's Books, Belzhar is inspired by The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
It's the story of 16-year-old Jam Gallahue, who is coping with the death of her boyfriend. She is sent to a boarding school in rural Vermont for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teens, and she is placed in a small, elite English class that is reading Sylvia Plath. During this semester, Jam and her classmates discover a fantastical and strange world called Belzhar.
Wolitzer spoke with NPR about the new book, what it's like to write a YA novel and how Plath inspired her. I found her explanation of the Belzhar world to be especially intriguing:
". . . I guess it can be described as a kind of alternate universe in which the person (or thing) they've lost is returned to them. The fantasy is fairly lightly handled (I hope), and to my thinking somewhat metaphorical. It's about having unmet needs met, about getting rid of the ache of loss. I also employed a very light drift of fantasy in my adult novel The Uncoupling, as well as in a book for middle-grade readers about kids who meet at a Scrabble tournament, called The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. (I remember comparing the level of fantasy in Duncan Dorfman to the amount of fudge running through one of those ice cream sundae cups we ate as kids: a very light vein, a suggestive and necessary ripple.)"
I can see this one having major crossover appeal for Wolitzer fans of all ages. Who else is excited?
It's been an especially fun Women's History Month here at BookPage! Our March issue featured amazing real women who blazed the trail for change. We highlighted the 14 women writers we're most excited about this spring and summer. And we loved choosing 10 favorite heroines in new children's and young adult books.
It's wonderful to see we're not the only ones celebrating Women's History Month in such a big way. Open Road Media is paying special attention to the Women in Mystery this month, spotlighting crime-writing pioneers like Dorothy L. Sayers, Anne Perry, Charlotte MacLeod and many more. Check it out, mystery fans—they've also downpriced several of their eBooks this month, from $1.99!
"I don't want a job at a newspaper, I want to get my book published!" - Ruth Rendell
"Growing up, I had friends whose fathers said, 'You're pretty.' They would say it every day. 'You're pretty.' But that doesn't help a girl get on in the world."
- Susan Isaacs
Watch the full video from Open Road Media:
How are you celebrating Women's History Month?