It's been 10 years since the publication of Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci's groundbreaking young adult debut, now one of Time magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Ten years ago, sci-fi fans—especially young females—felt like they could let their geek flags fly after reading about Egg, who styles herself after the heroine of her favorite sci-fi movie, Terminal Earth, by dressing all in white, shaving her head and coloring her eyebrows. She's got her shields up—especially against boys. But then she meets Max.
Castellucci looks back on the book that defined her as an author and encouraged nerdy girls to stay weird while finding their courage:
It begins at a bookstore: one of my favorite indie bookstores in Los Angeles, Skylight Books. When I was first trying to sell my first book and dreaming of becoming an author, I would walk to the store, which is funny because nobody walks in Los Angeles. I went there to haunt the shelves, paw the books and dream that maybe one day I would be an actual author. The staff was friendly and encouraging. They let me stay for hours.
In those early years of being a dreamer, they asked me to help out at inventory. I came in to support, but also needing the grocery money to help clean the store and count and shelve the books. I still do inventory with them every year—15 years and counting. I had written two novels and a picture book that had not sold. I was blue. And poor. And dreaming. Somewhere in fiction while I was dusting and lamenting my rejections both by the book industry and gentleman suitors. Then Steven Salardino, the manager of the bookstore and now a dear friend, turned to me and said, “You should write a book called Boy Proof and the boy should be named Max.” Instead of shrugging him off, or throwing a dust rag at him, I said, “OK,” and set about to do it.
The title had struck me deep in my core. And as a nerdy girl myself, I had felt like that growing up and wanted to write a book about a girl who was a true nerd and the star of the book, not the sidekick or the best friend. A girl who, like me felt a little boy proof. I wanted to write the book that I had needed and wasn’t there when I was growing up geek. I had a few loose threads in my head that I thought I could pull on to make a story.
While time coding for my friends production transcript company, I had seen footage of a girl who dressed up as Trinity from the Matrix movies. To give myself swaths of time to write, I was an extra in movies and once got a call to interview to be a child ape on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. I was not chosen to be an ape. (Tim Burton’s loss, to be sure!) The interview was at special effects make-up artist Rick Baker's studio, which was truly inspiring. Living in Hollywood with all of this buzz of making it and reinvention made me think to back to when I was in high school. I had a great friend whose mother, a famous singer and actress, was making her big comeback, and there was a boy I was too shy to figure out how to make my boyfriend who sat next to me in math class. His name was not Max, but the shadow memory of him was a place to start.
I put those things together to write a book called Boy Proof about a girl named Egg who dressed as the main character of her favorite sci-fi movie. Who loved post-apocalyptic movies and read comic books. Who felt uncomfortable around the new boy. Whose dad was a special effects make-up artist. Whose mom was a TV star making a comeback. A nerdy girl who lets down her guard to let love in.
It was the first novel I sold, and it was born in a bookstore.
And to this day, I always ask Steven to help me title my novels.
Author photo credit Eric Charles.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at one of our favorite classic YA novels, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.
Teen Read Week kicks off this Sunday! As an annual celebration of reading for fun, this is the perfect time to look back on one of the most fun YA books of all time.
Fourteen years ago, 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson made her debut in the pages of Louise Rennison's laugh-out-loud funny Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Nine more books, an online short story and a movie would follow.
In hour by hour—and sometimes minute by minute—diary-style entries filled with British slang and her own neologisms, Georgia relates her adventures with her half-wild cat Angus ("I used to drag him around on a lead, but as I explained to Mrs. Next Door, he ate it"), her 3-year-old sister Libby, her best friends Jas, Ellen, Rosie and Jools, and most of all her attempt to snag—and snog—Robbie, the Sex God. In between, she and her classmates study geoggers and blodge (geography and biology), debate what boys really mean when they say "see you later" and handle various beauty mishaps, like shaved eyebrows and attempts at hair dying.
If these seem like silly concerns, they're supposed to be. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, her path to writing about Georgia started when a newspaper column of hers caught a publisher's attention in an unusual way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
The glossary at the end of the book might be even more fun the main story. Georgia spells out the exact meanings of deely-boppers (an amusing piece of headwear), nuddy-pants ("literally nude-colored pants, and you know what nude-colored pants are? They are no pants"), "double cool with knobs" (which means "very" but is "altogether snappier") and other terms, to hilarious effect.
Recently the Guardian featured a guest piece by author Louise Rennison reflecting on how well the British humor of Angus, Thongs and its sequels has translated to "Hamburger-a-go-go land"—that is, the United States. Among other points, Rennison relates a confusion as to whether or not Americans wear knickers and an oddly impossible interpretation of the British title of the fifth book, . . . And That's When It Fell Off in My Hand.
Rennison's article was perfect timing, because I had recently been reminiscing on the bizarre incidents, urban folklore and noteworthy reputations that've accumulated around this cult classic over time.
First, there's Rennison's unusual path to writing about Georgia's "fabbity fab fab" life. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, a newspaper column of hers had caught a publisher's attention in an unexpected way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
Then there's the climate of YA lit into which Rennison was writing. Angus, Thongs, a 2001 Printz Honor book, entered the American YA lit scene in April 2000, at a time when the Printz Award had just recognized its first crop of winners, John Green was about to graduate from college, and Harry Potter fans were eagerly awaiting the upcoming fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Technology was different, too: Georgia and her friends pass notes in class rather than texting, call each other from "phone boxes" and listen to music on audiotapes. But their desire to evade school rules, their interest in kissing lessons and their frustrations with their parents are universal teen themes.
And don't forget about the longstanding appeal of the diary format itself. Georgia's entries are immediate and highly emotionally charged, with the quick ups and downs characteristic of teens' feelings ("6:00pm: Is my life over? Is this all there is? . . . 8:05pm: Jas has just phoned to say we've been invited to a party at Katie Steadman's and . . . Katie has asked Tom and Robbie. YESSSSS!!!!")
Although Angus, Thongs didn't invent diary format or even bring it to YA lit for the first time (it's a defining feature of 1971's anonymous Go Ask Alice, for example), Rennison's book might very well have popularized and encouraged this way of telling stories. Diary format has gone on to be used in dozens of other YA novels, ranging from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (also published in 2000) to Girls Like Us, longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
And finally, there's the book challenges, the complaints and the apologies. In 2005, the second book, On The Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, was challenged in a Bozeman, Montana, middle school on the grounds that "an unstable person seeing a girl reading the book might think from the title that the girl was promiscuous and stalk her." (Louise Rennison had appeared on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged authors list two years before, in 2003.)
In another incident posted on a children's lit listserv at the time, a bookseller found herself awkwardly explaining to a horrified parent what "snogging" meant (it means kissing, not to be confused with the significantly more R-rated "shagging").
Lastly, one of my own YA lit students shared an incident of her own with our class. Echoing Seventeen magazine's review—"You might want to refrain from reading this one in public"—my student found that Angus, Thongs and public transportation didn't quite mix. "I was reading it on the bus and laughing hysterically, and everyone was looking at me funny," she mock-complained.
Fans of Rennison's latest work might want to check out last year's The Taming of the Tights, her third book featuring Georgia's theater-loving cousin Tallulah Casey. But to some readers, nothing quite compares to their very first encounter with one of YA lit's funniest teens.
What retro YA book have you been meaning to read . . . or re-read? Let us know in the comments!
Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
The BookPage editors spend so much time talking about new books, sometimes it's extra fun to look back on old favorites. What was our Whodunit columnist, Bruce Tierney, reading five years ago, and what were his Top Picks?
Travel back in time with us . . . all the way back . . . to the year . . . 2009!
January 2009: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
Lewis' debut thriller was already a hit among British readers when we got our hands on it. Chinese cop Jian heads to the mean streets of rural England in search of his daughter, where he crosses paths with migrant worker Ding Ming, who faces a similar search for his missing wife. "And so these two strangers in a strange land careen through the pastoral English countryside in search of the women they love." Read our review.
February 2009: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
McDermid drew on her own childhood experiences to tell this story of intertwining cold cases. In 1984, a Scottish miner abandoned his family to join the national miners' strike and disappeared. In 1985, Scottish heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant and her infant son Adam were kidnapped, and when her father attempted to meet the demands, she ended up dead, and her son was never found. In present-day Tuscany, journalist Bel Richmond finds herself on a path to unravel both mysteries. Read our review.
March 2009: Spade and Archer by Joe Gores
It was a gutsy move for Edgar Award-winning author Gores to write a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, but he did it well, and the result is a milestone mystery. "Atmosphere: check. Hammett’s spare, clipped prose: check. Action and plot setup: check. Faithful description of Samuel Spade: check." Read our review.
April 2009: The Long Fall by Walter Mosley
In his first outing, Private Investigator Leonid McGill proved to be just as complex and engaging as Mosley's popular character Easy Rawlins. What Easy is to South L.A., McGill is to New York, though "McGill has a very different sense of the world, and a very different voice as a storyteller." Read our review.
May 2009: Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser
This Swedish import has a standout premise: A young woman, obsessed with a "holy mission" of righting heinous wrongs, becomes the "angel of death," preceding murders with unsettling, happy music via phone call. Police inspector Van Veeteren is on the case. "[T]he plot development is spot-on, the characters sympathetic and well drawn (even the villainess), and the denouement richly satisfying." Read our review.
June 2009: The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson
Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón is still on the trail of the terrorist bombers from The Hidden Assassins, and it appears now that the attack may have been a cover for something worse. When the son of his girlfriend is kidnapped, Falcon finds himself caught in a Sophie's Choice. Wilson's final book is "intensely personal . . . a book to be read slowly and savored, with a fine Spanish rioja." Read our review.
July 2009: Get Real by Donald E. Westlake
Another final novel, this one a "tongue-in-cheek look at both larceny and America’s love affair with mindless reality TV." John Dortmunder and his merry men play themselves on a reality television show and decide to pull a heist on the series production company. For our benefit, a hidden flaw leads to things going hilariously wrong. Read our review.
August 2009: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The second outing by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Michael Blomqvist—following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—made serious waves in 2009. "Salander is an edgy character, more than a little reminiscent of Robert Eversz’ punk photographer/detective Nina Zero; Blomqvist, for his part, is an urbane mix of relentless researcher and firebrand reformer, always stirred, never shaken." Read our review.
September 2009: Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan
Gonzo expat travel writer Poke Rafferty has a penchant for finding trouble—this time with a ruthless mob boss who is the subject of Rafferty’s forthcoming book. It's "action-packed and steamily atmospheric, and as cleverly plotted a mystery as you are likely to read this year." Read our review.
October 2009: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
"Sophie Hannah’s suspense novels . . . reach back to the days of Agatha Christie, where the identity of the miscreant is hidden until the final pages of the book." A fitting comparison, as Hannah will be reviving Poirot later this year. In the third book in the acclaimed Zailer and Waterhouse series, Sally Thorning discovers that the man she had a secret affair with—Mark Bretherick—is not actually Mark Bretherick. And the real Mark's wife and children are dead. Read our review.
November 2009: G.I. Bones by Martin Limón
In their sixth adventure, military police sergeants Sueño and Bascom must find the bones of a dead G.I., who was murdered 20 years ago and is presumably haunting them. "I remain singularly impressed with his ability to whisk the reader away to an exotic place and time (the anything-goes Itaewon pleasure quarter of Seoul, Korea, in the turbulent 1970s)." Read our review.
December 2009: Hollywood Moon by Joseph Wambaugh
Wambaugh has his thumb on the insanity of Hollywood—as well as what makes an irresistible crime novel. Intersecting storylines feature LAPD veteran Dana Vaughn and "Hollywood" Nate Weiss, two surfer cops and three dubious suspects. "Like life, Wambaugh’s novels are by turns comical, whimsical, tense, gripping and, in one memorable instance in the final pages of the book, tragic." Read our review.
Think you'll check out any of these standout 2009-ers? Peruse all our 2009 coverage here.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at one of our favorite classic YA novels, Forever . . . (which I think we can all agree is pronounced, "Forever dot dot dot") by Judy Blume.
When I taught young adult (YA) literature in a graduate program, my students were often less enamored by the academic background of YA lit and more interested in practical applications. So every year, I approached with trepidation our reading of Forever . . ., Judy Blume’s classic story of first love. What would contemporary library school students (and the teens they serve) make of this 40-year-old powerhouse?
And every year, Forever . . . inspired one of the most lively and animated discussions we’d have all semester.
“I remember sitting at the back of the school bus in junior high and passing this book around,” one student reminisced. Others reported middle school age readers borrowing the book and returning it partially read, having decided on their own that they weren’t ready for it yet.
Forever. . . , first published in 1975 by Simon & Schuster, is narrated by high school senior Katherine, who meets fellow senior Michael at a New Year’s Eve party. They date; they have sex. Katherine thinks their romance will last forever, but life has other plans. Minor characters include: Michael’s friend Artie, who may or may not be gay; Katherine’s friend Sybil, who fully intends to continue having sex after putting her baby up for adoption; and Jamie, Katherine’s younger sister, who in true 1970s fashion defends an impolite slang word for having sex: “That's not a bad word . . . hate and war are bad words.”
Blume wrote Forever . . . in response to a request from her then-teenage daughter for a book featuring “two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die.” In other fiction of the time, as Blume explains, “if they [teens] had sex the girl was always punished—an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion (illegal in the U.S. until the 1970’s), sometimes even death.”
As well as inspiring an entire genre of teen romance books, Forever . . . is also the direct inspiration for Daria Snadowsky’s 2007 YA book Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which retells Blume’s story in contemporary terms.
Like other controversial works of YA lit, Forever . . .’s reception has been mixed. The book comes in at number 16 on the American Library Association (ALA)’s list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009 and at a whopping number seven on the corresponding list for 1990-1999. On the other end of the scale, Blume won the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1996, an ALA lifetime achievement award recognizing an author and her body of work for “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” Forever . . . was specifically cited in the award announcement.
Forever . . . has been reissued with over a dozen different covers since its 1975 publication, including a now-iconic 2003 cover and a sexy new cover coming next month.
Perhaps some of the most fascinating aspects of Forever . . . are the urban legends that have sprung up around it. One such legend claims that page 115 of Forever . . .—the scene in which Katherine and Michael first make love—is the most read page in YA literature. (In class, readers of the 2003 edition were always slightly disappointed to find that its new pagination puts the content of the former page 115 on page 97.)
Another legend holds Forever . . . responsible for the decline in popularity of the name “Ralph,” the moniker Michael ascribes to a piece of his anatomy. Like many urban legends, this one isn't technically true—the number of American babies named “Ralph” peaked in the 1910s and has been dropping ever since—but who can say whether Forever . . . contributed along the way?
At a time when a seemingly endless amount of explicit content is available with a tap of a touchscreen, what accounts for the continued popularity (and infamy) of Forever . . .?
One factor might be the book’s relatability and accessibility: Katherine and Michael seem like real people teen readers might know, and Blume tells their story in simple, easy-to-read language. Another could be its usefulness as what scholar Amy Pattee describes as a “secret source” of love and relationship advice, including the practicalities of how to obtain birth control. (Newer editions include a letter to the reader with information about preventing sexually transmitted diseases.) Or maybe it’s the sheer idea that a book—a format that to some is clearly the domain of adults, school and other aspects of the formal grownup world—would dare to voice teens’ feelings and experiences in such an honest and upfront way.
Readers, share in the comments what classic YA book you'd like Jill to feature in her next Locker Combinations: Flashback Friday!