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Posts Tagged ‘YA’

Well, hello again! I’ve been taking a break from blogging after struggling with health issues post-car accident, but it is time to talk about books. I cannot miss an opportunity to talk about books with you all!

Here are this year’s stats. I’ve read 52 books this year, a little bit down from last year. (My usual goal is 60, and I’m hoping I’ll get closer to that number by the end of the year.)  About a third of those books were adult speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), which is in line with my usual reading habits. I read a lot less YA than normal, which makes sense given I was writing a novel that wasn’t YA. I read a lot more romance than usual, mostly fueled by my fondness for Georgette Heyer, who I definitely recommend reading while recovering from a brain injury. 79% of my reading was written by women, the same as last year, and 25% of my reading was written by writers of color, also similar to last year.

My Favorite Volume of Poetry:

Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong

I haven’t read much modern poetry, but this volume made me want to read more. I like his sense of language and the emotionality of his poems.

My Favorite Romances:

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

Honestly it’s between this one and Frederica for my favorite Georgette Heyer Regency romance thus far. Why Georgette Heyer? Because she does some serious world building and in general doesn’t go in for weird modernizations for a historical. She does jump the shark occasionally plot-wise, but these two novels, if I remember correctly, are particularly solid in that regard. And swoon-worthy, which is what I want from a good romance.

The Undateable, by Sarah Title

After falling in love with Heyer’s work, I tried to find a modern romance writer I also liked. And finally after mostly despairing I stumbled upon this title. The female protagonist is a feminist librarian who likes little dogs so basically this book was written for me.

My Favorite Literary Titles:

These three works are as different as different can be, but all blew me away.

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

This novel is quite weird and effective in its weirdness. If you want something uncomfortable and surreal that makes you think, give it a try.

Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster

I found this classic about social conventions and mores and gender dynamics in turn-of-the-century (that’s 19th to 20th century, mind you) England to be surprisingly fascinating. I got so uncomfortable in the middle, and so sure my lovely protagonist was going to make a terrible and unsupportable error that I wanted to stop reading. I’m glad I didn’t.

Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay

What can I say about this short story collection? Well, Roxane Gay has become one of my favorite writers, largely based on these stories. I kept sending my friend excerpts and links to various stories because I had to share them with someone as I read them. Roxane Gay has a clear eye for revealing poignant, painful, and uncomfortable truths through her fiction. Highly recommended.

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Do not be distracted by the little dog sleeping in the background.

My Favorite YA Novels:

Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

I love M.T. Anderson’s Feed so I was excited to try his newest science fiction YA novel, and while I didn’t love it as passionately as Feed, it was thought-provoking and well drawn, showing the personal effects of an alien invasion on one teenager, including the detrimental economic consequences. This novel has a small, mostly quiet scope that creeps up and knocks your socks off.

Jane Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore

This is one of my top three reads of the year (along with Roxane Gay’s collection and a science fiction novel we haven’t gotten to yet). Its structure is fascinating and  allows Kristin Cashore to play with several different genres (some speculative) in a way that really worked for me. I was worried she wouldn’t have an overall progression/arc across the entire novel, but she managed to do it. This book was crafted with such attention to detail, it stuns me to contemplate. If you enjoy parallel universes, art and being an artist, capers, spy shenanigans, really creepy shit, devoted dogs, and/or magical houses, you might enjoy this book. Or, you know, if you just want to read something brilliant.

My Favorite SF/F Novels/Novellas:

Mostly science fiction this year (except for The Stone Sky), which is very exciting!

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

I was a little nervous beginning this because the stakes felt high to me–would N.K. Jemisin land the ending to this fascinating trilogy? The answer is yes. She manages to tie all the threads together. Probably the must-read fantasy trilogy of this decade.

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

This clone generation ship murder mystery was a fun frolic; very entertaining and exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it.

Star’s End, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

There is some great character work in this science fiction novel about a woman poised to take over a powerful corporation from her ailing father. It asks important questions like: how much does your family inform who you are, and can you avoid their mistakes? How much does the past and your past choices inform who you are? What does it mean to make compromises for the greater good? What responsibility do we bear for other people’s past mistakes? How can we make amends to people we have betrayed or is that even possible? Ah, such a good book. It also involves terraforming and corporate espionage and first contact and clones (and oh how I love clone stories!)

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

The first two of a…trilogy, I assume?…of military science fiction fantasy, these books blasted into my life, full of originality and freshness. There was a certain curve figuring out what was happening in the first novel as I grew to understand the world, but the effort was well worth making.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

This page-turning novella featuring a “Murderbot” trying to protect her clients is almost painfully charming. The plotting and world building is top-notch here in a fun mystery-action adventure, but it is the inwardly misanthropic yet deeply caring android protagonist that steals the show and makes me love this story. And I got a sneak peek at the next two installments in the series, both due out in 2018, and they’re excellent as well!

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks

And now we come to the third of my three favorite books of the year, and the last of the Culture series. I heard this book being recommended as an uplifting novel, which seemed like something I could do with this year, and then I heard it was Iain Banks’s last novel and he wrote it when he knew he was dying (I am not certain this is true, by the way, but it informed my decision to read it). And oh, this book. It deals with questions of death and the meaning of lives and entire cultures and species, and the anxiety of considering what comes after life as we know it.

I will say that overall this book didn’t get great reviews. It was long and a bit meandering and not a page-turner, and there were some holes and oversights. It is a flawed novel, yes. But for me it also managed to hit some relevant and powerful truths that made it very worthwhile for me. And I have to admit I have a weakness for Culture Ships, musicians who aren’t quite sure of their way, and questions of immortality. So it is a definite Amy book.

* * * * *

And that completes my list. I’m glad I got to read so many interesting books this year, and as always I’m looking forward to MORE BOOKS. Feel free to tell me what you read that you most enjoyed this year; I’d love to hear your favorites!

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2015 was a mixed reading year for me. I didn’t fall head over heels with that many books in the first half of the year. In fact, I stopped reading altogether for a month this spring, which is unusual for me, and then spent the following month reading only nonfiction. Luckily things picked up in the summer, though, so I still have some great books to talk about.

So far this year I’ve read 56 books, which is one less than last year. However, I’m already partway through another book right now, with every expectation of finishing it, so I should finish the year on par or above last year’s mark, which makes me happy.

This year about a third of my reading was YA, a third was adult SF/F, and a third was nonfiction and memoir. Around 84% of the books I read were by women, which happens to be a bit higher than usual. Around 30% of the books I read were written by PoC, which is also higher than usual and something I have very consciously worked on.

Today I’m going to talk about the YA titles I particularly enjoyed reading this year. (Please note these aren’t all titles that came out this year, just ones that I happened to get around to reading.) Then on Tuesday I’ll talk about the (mostly science fiction) novels written for adults that I enjoyed, as well as the most impactful nonfiction I read.

Once again this year, the majority of my YA reading was contemporary YA (meaning YA set in the near-present day with no speculative element), as I’m finding these novels to be the strongest overall right now. I tried reading a few new high/historical fantasy YAs but was left mostly unimpressed (I’m in the middle of another one right now, so we’ll see how it goes). I did find a couple of speculative YA titles to recommend this year, along with several contemporary titles.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han (YA contemporary)

I discovered Jenny Han this year, and I read FIVE of her novels, mostly in great big gulps. This is my favorite of those five. I appreciated the voice, the characterizations (particularly of our protagonist), and the high concept romance angle.

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers (YA contemporary)

You might remember Courtney Summers from last year’s list. This is her newest novel, and I think it’s a very important one. To be clear, this novel was painful to read, and at times I had to force myself to keep going. It confronts rape culture head-on, which can be uncomfortable and upsetting. But it’s well written and shows a reality that too few novels dare to show.

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill (YA dystopia)

This is another incredibly dark novel that doesn’t pull its punches. It’s a YA futuristic dystopia about society’s obsession with how women look and act. It deals with the beauty myth and body image issues, as well as double standards of behavior based on gender. This book hurts. I felt wrung out when I finished it. But like All the Rage, it’s an important read and well done.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

I was completely charmed by this novel, which is told from the POV of one of the “normal” kids in a world full of Chosen Ones and dangerous supernatural happenings. In this way, it reminded me a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo,” in which Buffy is off stopping another apocalypse, but the episode follows the mostly unrelated adventures of Xander instead. The concept is great, and the illustrations of different kinds of relationships between the teen characters are very well done. The protagonist also deals with having OCD, which is addressed with realism and sensitivity.

It's always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

It’s always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby (YA contemporary)

I love the frame story of this book so much! It’s presented as our protagonist’s narrative nonfiction project for her arts school, and there is so much scope for creativity and character expression in this concept. I found the psychology behind the conflicts and characters of this story to be fascinating, and the theme of truth (when it’s good to reveal/discuss the truth and when the truth can be harmful) is handled deftly here.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly (YA contemporary)

A screwball mystery a la Veronica Mars and Sherlock? Yay! This book made Publisher’s Weekly’s best of the year list, which is how I found out about it, and I then proceeded to read it in about twenty-four hours of bliss. The banter is great here, and the plot is fun and just convoluted enough to stay interesting.

Have any YA titles you read this year that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments! And I’ll see you back here on Tuesday for more book talk.

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2014 was an AMAZING reading year for me. So incredible that I have trouble shutting up about it sometimes. Honestly, the only bad thing about my reading year has been knowing how hard these year-end reading posts will be to write. Because how can I choose between all these amazing books I read this year?

So yeah, this might be kind of long. And I might also not mention some books that would normally make the cut.

First, a few stats because I geek out about these things. So far in 2014, I’ve read 57 books. (Of course, there are still three weeks of the year to go, so I suspect the final count will be higher.) 22 of the 57 were YA or MG (although I only read two MGs this year), or about 39%. 20 were adult science fiction or fantasy, or about 35%. 41 were written by women, about 72%. And thanks to my POC reading challenge, 14 were written by people of color, at not quite 25%.

Today I’m going to be talking about the YA novels I’ve read this year that have stuck with me. Most of the titles are contemporary YA (I read a lot of it this year).

Books, books, and more books!

Books, books, and more books!

Interesting Enough to Mention:

Shatter Me, Unravel Me, Ignite Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi (dystopia)

I was torn as to whether to include this trilogy on my list, and I’m still a bit torn. It certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, to put it mildly. It is overwrought (which I actually like but your mileage will vary), it is melodramatic, there are plot holes, the world building is … not the most convincing thing ever. But. (You knew there was going to be a but.) If the overwrought prose style doesn’t drive you bonkers, it is actually a fascinating reflection of the character’s precarious mental state, and it changes over the course of the three books as she changes, and that’s just cool. And I love the protagonist’s character arc across the three books. Also, Tahereh Mafi knows how to write a romance. But there are some troubling indications of gaslighting etc. here too. So, I don’t know. Definitely memorable enough to talk about, that’s for sure.

The Testing, Independent Study, Graduation Day trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau (dystopia)

An easy-to-go-down, suspenseful dystopia trilogy. The main criticism I’ve heard about it is that the main character is a Mary Sue. Yeah, whatever, it was nice to watch a female character be so competent. (And I’ll mention that so often when the female main character is not a Mary Sue, instead she’s “unlikeable.” Oh, what a fine line we draw for our fictional women.)

My Favorite YA Reads of the Year:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (Fantasy)

I feel like this book has a disadvantage because I read it waaaay back at the beginning of January, which means I don’t remember its details super well. What I do remember is that it is a creative dragon fantasy that didn’t irritate the hell out of me, which is noteworthy in and of itself. Also it featured music, hooray! And a plot that (from what I remember) held together for me AND was exciting.

Reality Boy, by A.S. King

Yay, a dysfunctional family story told from the victimized and traumatized viewpoint of the “Crapper,” as he became known in his family’s reality TV days. (I realize that might have come across as sarcastic, but I am actually completely serious in my love for dysfunctional family narratives. Their potential for conflict and depth is verra attractive.)

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

You either love this book or you hate this book, apparently based on whether one twist towards the end works for you or not. It worked for me, and therefore I loved the book. That being said, I also liked the structure, the interstitial “fairy tales,” and our troubled protagonist. Yes, she is privileged, and that privilege is worked into how messed up everything in her life is, which I appreciated.

Since You Asked, by Maurene Goo

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot of this one. What I do remember is that it was FUNNY. The protagonist Holly is hilarious and snarky and full of attitude and I could read her voice all day. Also she gets into trouble by writing a newspaper column, and I love novels that feature high school students working on newspapers, so this is my jam.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin

Stories featuring amnesiacs are also my jam, and this one is less silly and more serious than most of them. I’m fascinated by memory, and the way this book played with that theme was thought-provoking as our heroine got to see her life and the people in it from a different perspective. I also liked its realistic handling of romance.

Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers

My friend recommended this, and as you know, I am always leery of books that have been recommended to me. But I gave it a try, and then I felt like my friend knows me! Because this was such a good Amy book! Dark and gritty with a not-very-likeable protagonist whom I adore to pieces. It’s about rape culture and bullying and going to a dark place for self-preservation, and it all felt very, very real.

The Truth About Alice, by Jennifer Mathieu

And then I found this book soon afterwards, and it explores some similar themes, but the structure is oh! so brilliant. There are several different point of view characters, all of whom give the reader different pieces of the puzzle to understand the swirl of rumors surrounding the central character Alice. And we don’t hear from Alice herself until the very end.

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

This was probably my favorite YA read of the year. I love the prose, I love the contrasting POV characters of brother and sister. I love the structure of how there was a gap in time between the alternating chapters: in the brother’s chapters they are 13, and in the sister’s chapters they are 16. I love the sibling relationship with so much love. I love the characters and their passion and their dark broken places. I love the truths that come to light as the story unwinds itself. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending, which was a bit too pat for me. But even so, wow, what a book.

What I Want to Read in YA Next Year:

I’d love to read a YA dystopia that really holds together plot-wise for an entire three books! Or else isn’t three books long. That would be cool. Also unlikely since dystopia is not the it genre any more.

Now That You’re Here, by Amy K. Nichols. This is my friend’s YA science fiction novel that COMES OUT TODAY! I am very excited about it!

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers, who wrote Some Girls Are above (out in April 2015)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King

Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

The Young Elites, by Marie Lu

I Was Here, by Gayle Forman (out in January 2015)

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman, a companion novel to Seraphina above (out in March 2015)

Rhiannon, by David Levithan, a follow-up to Every Day, may be coming out; if so, I’m all over that! I still think about Every Day sometimes.

Okay, okay, obviously I could go on forever here, so I’m cutting myself off. What YA novels did you read and like this year? Which ones are you looking forward to reading next year?

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Today I’m taking part in the “My Writing Process” blog tour. I was invited to participate by my friend and last-name sister writer, Ingrid Sundberg, who posted about the same topic last week. (And can I just say, the novel she’s working on right now sounds INCREDIBLE and I want to read it. A steampunk retelling of Peter Pan? Awesome!)

What are you working on?

I buried the lede in last week’s post, but I just recently finished the rough draft of my latest novel, which has the working title Beast Girl. It’s a contemporary YA retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the perspective of a female beast.

“Now what?” many people want to know. This week I’ll be going back through the manuscript, checking the places I marked with brackets and going through my list of notes on things I wanted to fix. Then I’ll print the whole thing out and read it, taking more notes as I go. Once I’m satisfied I have a basically cohesive novel, I’ll send it out to my first reader for his feedback.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

A lot of fairy tale retellings fall into the fantasy genre (ie they have some kind of magical or secondary world element) and/or the historical genre (they are set sometime in the past). Mine is set smack in the present with no magic whatsoever.

Other than that, I have no idea, given that I haven’t actually read the thing yet.

Why do you write what you do?

This question has caused me some existential angst, from which I may never recover.

But seriously, I write YA because the teen experience speaks to me. It’s such a rich time of life, filled with possibilities and discoveries and confusion and emotion. Fiction that grabs me often involves tough choices, and there are so many tough choices to be made when you’re a teenager…and often the first tough choices you’ve ever had to make.

How does your writing process work?

I like to have things planned out and organized, and I like to have a schedule. But I also recognize that during a creative process, things aren’t always going to work out the way I’ve planned. There has to be room for flexibility and taking advantage of what is uncovered. That being said, I generally have a daily goal of some kind, whether that be word count, page count (for revising), or time spent. At the beginning of a project, my goals tend to be a lot fuzzier, but once I start on the rough draft, things get real.

I don’t have any particular writing ritual: no beverage I need to have, or a specific place I need to write, or the right mood music. I do prefer to write in a quiet place without interruptions. And I have to have a place to write that works for me ergonomically-speaking. I also like it when my dog is nearby. It can be a struggle to focus on what I’m doing, but so far I haven’t found any rituals that are particularly helpful for improving my focus. I still experiment from time to time with these sorts of things, though.

I also like to have something I’m concentrating on improving while I’m writing. This varies from project to project and even within the same project. For example, in Beast Girl I was paying a lot of attention to character and voice. For Academy of Forgetting, I spent a lot of time honing in on structure and plot. And within these larger aspects, I try to drill down to smaller specifics that I’m working on. I think targeted practice is important for improving oneself as a writer.

And the tour goes on….

My long-time readers know how much I fail at these kind of blog memes, and especially at tagging other people to participate in them. So it should come as no big surprise that I didn’t ask anyone to do a similar post for next week. I encourage you to go ahead and do it if the questions sound interesting to you.

I often use my lack of tagging as an opportunity to talk about other blogs I’m reading right now, but I have a confession to make: I haven’t been reading many blogs lately. It’s been way too busy with the move and the novel and life. So the few blogs I’ve kept up with are the ones I mention again and again: the blogs of Rahul Kanakia, Theodora Goss, and Ferrett Steinmetz. They are such good blogs I made time for them! I’ve also been following the Youtube show Emma Approved, a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, produced by the same people who did the Lizzie Bennett Diaries. It’s on sabbatical for the month of May, so now is an excellent time to catch up if you’re interested.

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It’s once again the time of year where I look back over my reading list and think about my favorite reading experiences from the past twelve months.

I didn’t read as many novels this year as I have in recent years. Partly, this was because I began reading plays for one of the local theater companies, which took up a bit of my reading time. But mostly it was because, for the first time, life events took so much of my focus that I didn’t have much left over for reading. Let’s hope this changes in 2014!

Today I’m going to talk about the YA novels I enjoyed the most this year and follow up with a list of titles that I’m looking forward to reading in upcoming months.

Honorable Mentions:

When We Wake, by Karen Healey

Science fiction about a teenager who dies during a protest and then is woken up a hundred years later, after being cryogenically frozen. As many Amazon reviewers mention, there are a lot of political ideas in this novel; I personally did not find them too heavy-handed, but your mileage may vary. I really enjoyed the world building and the setting of a future Australia. The actual story did remind me a bit of The Long Sleep, though.

The Originals, by Cat Patrick

Light science fiction about three teenage sister clones. They divide each day into three: high school morning classes, high school afternoon classes, and extracurricular activities after school, while the other two clones are homeschooled. What makes this novel is the family dynamics, both between the three sisters and the relationship they have with their mother.

My Favorite YA Novels of the Year:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

Holly Black makes vampires fresh and creepy (no small feat!). Her protagonist has a strong voice that pulled me right through.

The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson

The finale of the trilogy begun with The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers, this novel had a big job to tie everything up in a satisfying conclusion for our heroine, and it did not disappoint. A very strong YA epic fantasy trilogy.

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

This YA contemporary novel follows the life of Lucy, a concert pianist prodigy who, in reaction to family pressure, retired during her teens. The reader gets to watch as she explores her family dynamics and decides what place to give music in her life. Complex characters, character relationships, and family dynamics combined with a passion for classical music? This is novel written for me.

The Different Girl, by Gordon Dalquist

I don’t want to say much about this one for fear of spoiling it, but I can assure you that it is definitely science fiction. We see the world from the perspective of our young protagonist, who is sheltered and often ignorant, and we learn about how the world actually works as she does. I found this story to be compelling and beautiful as it gradually unfolds.

YA Novels I’m Looking Forward to Reading in the Future:

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart (comes out in May 2014)

Reality Boy, by A.S. King

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick (comes out in April 2014)

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (I’m in the middle of this one right now)

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (It’s already on my Kindle, hooray!)

Roomies, by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr (comes out December 24, 2013)

Which YA novels did you read and enjoy this year? Which ones are you looking forward to?

 

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Over the last months I’ve been asked a few times by wonderful people to do “The Next Big Thing,” which is a writer meme in which writers talk about their latest work. I said no because I’d already talked a lot about The Academy of Forgetting here, so it wouldn’t have been very interesting. But then my friend Amy asked me to do it this past weekend, and I thought, ooh, I can talk about the new book! So I said yes.

I’m going to post Amy’s bio here, and I’ll also tell her a little about how we met. She was in my first critique circle at my first SCBWI conference in New York, and I heard her read the first page of the YA novel she was working on, and I thought, “I want to be friends with her.” Happily, it turned out she is as kind and intelligent as she is talented.

Amy K. Nichols is a YA author from the Phoenix area. She is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. Her first novel, Another Here, Another Now, will be published by Knopf BFYR in fall of 2014. You can read samples of her work at http://www.amywrites.com.
Blog: http://www.amyknichols.wordpress.com
Twitter: @amyknichols

But I’m not going to follow the rest of the directions. First of all, I don’t like tagging people because it reminds me of those chain letters I got in first grade that my mom wouldn’t let me do. I think she had a point. Plus, this meme has been going on for long enough that I have no idea who has done it and who hasn’t.

Second of all, I started reading through the questions, and I realized that, even talking about my new work-in-progress, my answers were mostly going to be…pretty boring. Or nonexistent. I mean, how could I possibly know what actors I’d want to play my characters when I’m still getting to know those characters? (And it’s not like I have ideas for any actors for Academy of Forgetting characters either. This is just not how I think.)

So instead I’m just going to tell you about my new book. It’s a YA murder mystery set in space, and I think I’m going to call it Nikki in Space on the blog because I have no idea what the real title is going to be yet. That’s why it’s called a work-in-progress.

I’m really excited about it for the following reasons:

1. Space! The setting is just the most fun ever to write. It’s set in the same universe as my short story Daddy’s Girl, and the beginning is set on a single family space habitation, and the rest is set on a space station. So fun.

2. Murder mystery! I’ve inhaled Agatha Christie mysteries for most of my life. (And I also really like Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries, which reminds me that I should read more of them soon.) And now I’m getting to do one myself.

3. Nikki! I’ve had Nikki’s voice in my head for over a year now, and it’s very satisfying to finally get to explore it.

I did my usual playing with index cards to outline (although I did a simpler version this time), and I’ve been working on the rough draft for the past three weeks. Last week I went up to the Rainforest Writers Village in Washington and pounded out the words. (It was lovely, the people there have become a core part of my writing family, and I feel so lucky I got to go.)

The view from my cabin up in Washington.

The view from my cabin up in Washington.

At this point, I’m very close to finishing Act 1 of the novel. In fact, by the time you’re reading this, hopefully I already have. This means I’m theoretically about 25% through the rough draft.

So that’s what I’m working on right now, and hence that’s where a lot of my brain is going. What about you? Working on any cool projects?

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Very soon after I decided that I wanted to be a YA writer, I learned the following “truth:” that girls will read novels with both male and female protagonists, but boys will only read novels with male protagonists. So if you want the widest crossover, you write a boy protagonist, and if you write a girl protagonist, that means you’re mostly writing for a female audience.

Then I heard the oft repeated story about how J.K. Rowling decided to use her initials as her author name so that the readers would not know she was a woman. And I heard about how YA was dominated by women writers, sometimes as though this were a bad thing.

Then I heard a couple of male writers who I respect talking about the problem of there not being enough boy books in YA. Later on, I heard about what a problem it was that there were too many female protagonists and “girl books” in modern YA.

Shall I define “boy book” for you? A boy book probably has a male protagonist. It features action and adventure and is quick paced. It probably doesn’t have much if any romance. The language and structure might also be more straightforward and simple, since one of the main reasons having YA boy books is supposed to be important is to encourage reluctant boy readers to read.

A “girl book,” by contrast, probably has a female protagonist. It may have action and adventure and be quick paced. It almost certainly includes a romantic element. It might focus more heavily on social interactions and relationships in general, as well as issues of social status (because of course, men aren’t interested in status at all. Ha!). There might also be a stronger focus on emotions. The language and structure run the gambit between simple and complex.

I’m not going to mince words: these truths about boy readers, the YA genre, and boy and girl books are harmful and sometimes flat-out false. If boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, especially by the time they are teenagers, this is not a good reason to write and publish fewer books with girl protagonists. This is a red flag that something is wrong with the message our society is sending to these boys.

Often this argument gets lost in the rush to emphasize the importance of boys learning to read. It’s fine to perpetuate this “truth” of boys being unwilling to read anything not entirely male-centered, the unstated message goes, as long as we can wheedle them to read anything at all. And this is how sexist thinking gets passed on to the next generation.

Obviously boys learning to read is important. It’s important that everyone learn to read. And it’s also important that we throw away outdated and harmful ideas about gender and stop teaching boys that girls and anything related to girls are somehow shameful or uninteresting or embarrassing. THESE CAN BOTH BE IMPORTANT AT THE SAME TIME. Revolutionary idea, I know.

If YA did have such a predominance of female protagonists, I’d be happy, given all the messages female teens receive to the contrary, that there was at least one place where they could experience other females being front and center, having agency and their own individual identities. But it is not necessarily even true that YA has more female protagonists than male. According to this study, 49% of YA protagonists are male. 49%. And only 36% of YA protagonists are female. (15% have protagonists of both genders.)

You know what else isn’t true? That YA is dominated by women writers. The same study found that 56% of YA writers were women, which is hardly an overwhelming majority.

When we talk about female protagonists in YA books as if they’re somehow a bad thing, we’re strengthening harmful stereotypes. When we believe boys won’t read books with female protagonists, we’re sending them the message that they shouldn’t want to, or that there’s some kind of problem with reading these so-called “girl books.”

The Feminist Batwoman wrote a fabulous essay called “Boys Don’t Read Girl Books and Other Lies My Society Told Me.” She ran a successful experiment exposing her little brother to novels about girls as well as boys, and she has this to say about boys not reading books with girl protagonists: “My outlandish theory is that if boys aren’t belittled for reading books about girls, if they’re not taught that girls are lesser, if they’re not teased about cooties, if we don’t teach them to fear the feminine… they’d probably like more “girl” stuff.”

We need to stop talking about boy books and girl books as if this is some kind of important and valid distinction. We need to wake up and realize that 56% of YA writers being women does not mean that women dominate the genre. And we need to think long enough to realize that if girls are happily reading novels with protagonists of both genders, there’s no reason we can’t work towards encouraging boys to do the same. Plenty of boys already do.

For a long time I took these assumptions about YA and YA readers for granted. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Therefore, if you think this is an important and interesting issue, I encourage you to share this essay or start a conversation with your friends and colleagues. Let’s challenge what everyone knows and find out what lies underneath, shall we?

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