Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: THE MAZE RUNNER

I will be the first to admit that I have NOT been a big fan of worlds-gone-wrong novels - aka dystopian genre. But last year I "had" to read a few books of this ilk as part of my job responsibilities. The first was Unwind by Neal Shusterman; the second was The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick; and then I got hooked on the first 2 books of the The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. (And yes, I'm counting down the days when the 3rd novel, Mockingjay, hits the book stores - 26 days until August 24th.)

This baptism into these excellent novels that delve into post-apocalyptic scenarios made a convert of me. And so when I found The Maze Runner or it found me, I was thrilled to read another page-turner in this genre. BUT I was even more excited to learn that James Dashner, the author, lives right here in the Beehive state. Granted, he grew up in another of my favorite states, Georgia, where I enjoyed teaching in the same county where James went to school, but I delegate him as a Utah writer because that is where he writes. Got it?

Now about the book. It's a GREAT book for boys, but girls will like it, too. While it doesn't have an overt romance YET, there is sure to be more of that in the upcoming sequel. But girls don't always read for romance. Well, a few teen girls don't.

During my reading, I caught glimpses of Lord of the Flies without the societal break-down, and I also felt connections to Ender's Game as well. But the "buggers" (grievers) are bigger, badder, and omnipresent! I also appreciated the sass and sarcasm exhibited by the characters without recognizable foul language. I say that because Dashner's glade/community spoke their own kind of potty-lingo, and so it wasn't as offensive. (I have an Austrian friend who has lived in the U.S. for a long time, and he claims that swearing in German just doesn't seem uncivil anymore. But I digress.)

Basically, the underlying question of Maze is what can drive intelligent young men plus one girl to solve the unsolvable before giving up? What challenges will discourage or destroy their determination? What else can such individuals accomplish if they overcome the impossible? It's VERY cool AND a GREAT RIDE. Yes, yes it is! If you doubt me, check out this awesome trailer.

P.S. This novel is the first of a trilogy, and I am just as excited to read the second book that debuts in October, thus starting yet another countdown!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: EVERYTHING IS FINE

After reading Ann Dee Ellis' book Everything is Fine, my husband and I discussed why people want to read sad books. Some readers have experienced sadness, and so they may reach a point where reading a book about fictional characters experiencing similar situations comforts them. But we also realized as we talked that MOST readers relate to horrific experiences because such times may not come into their own lives, but tragedy often enters into the lives of people we know.


For example, we both know individuals who committed suicide; we know people who died of cancer at way-too-young ages; we know women who have been raped; we know a friend whose nieces died of heat-exhaustion when those little girls climbed into the trunk of the family's car; we met a woman in our neighborhood who backed over her two-year-old son; and so it goes.

We are all affected indirectly when tragedy strikes - even when we read about it in the newspaper or see the story on television. If it happens in our family, neighborhood, city, or state, it usually touches us in some way. Even so, we hang around the periphery, safe from the really deep hurt. Until we pick up a book like Ann Dee's.

Oh my, the peek into the pain suffered by this fictional family was emotionally draining. I was so grateful that it was a short book. But I loved Mazzy and her karate chops and her obsession with breasts - her own developing ones and the developed chests of others; her relationship with the boy next door, and her love for her mother. Ann Dee does a marvelous job of developing this 12-year-old heroine!

I once heard Ann Dee tell a group of teens that reading House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros inspired her writing. Until then, she thought she had to fill up all the white space, but seeing and feeling Sandra's style, she decided she could write a book. And so she took a summer to do just that. This is What I Did was the result. Isn't that amazing?

I'm amazed by her determination, her persistence, and her talent!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers: THE CHOSEN ONE

I first met Carol Lynch Williams at a poetry slam. We were both judges. While this "slam" was the third one I had judged, the experience was new to Carol. Ann Dee Ellis was another judge, and little did I know how our paths would cross again and again.

When Amy introduced us to the student performers, this is kind of how it went down:
Students, let me introduce you to today's judges. Ann Dee Ellis is the author of two young adult novels: This is What I Did, which received 3 starred reviews. Her latest novel is Everything is Fine.

Our second judge is Carol Lynch Williams who has won many writing awards and published numerous books including The Chosen One, which is being praised in the world of book critics. Her most recent book Glimpse will come out in July.

Renae Salisbury works for our school district.
It was a little humbling, but also inspiring. As is The Chosen One. I love reading, but I can put a novel down to fix dinner, wash, run to the store, etc. So when I ignored all those daily necessities so I could get Kyra out of her terrible situation, I knew all the reviews were true:
  • "Unsettling and COURAGEOUS ... beautiful, COMPASSIONATE, full of hope."
  • "An important book."
If you haven't checked it out, Chosen One is about a 13-year-old girl, raised in a polygamist community. Her father and motherS are good and kind and loving, but when the misguided prophet receives revelations that designate the older men should have the young girls as wives, the polygamist situation is even more scary.

I heard Carol say this was a hard book to write. Heartbreaking doesn't really describe her research. I would love to interview her and find out more about that research because her daughter quoted author Ellen Hopkins as saying something like, "tell [your] mom not to be afraid to write the truth." Of course, this made me wonder if Carol has been hastled about being so blunt about this very complex and frightening topic.

Secondly, I like to know if she has any plans for a sequel. Once again, I have SO many questions I would love to have answered. Somehow, I don't think Carol will do that because she just has so many more stories to tell. And I can't wait to read them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer of My Utah Writers - THE WAY HE LIVED

As I continue my quest of reading books by some of Utah's talented authors, I must say I am proud that this state can boast that it could become a YA Author Factory. Just as BYU earned the reputation of cranking out super-star quarter backs, Utah is producing an amazing array of WonderWriters.

Among these writers is Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived. There were so many things I loved about this novel, including the format. Each chapter tells the story about Joel, an outstanding young man who sacrificed himself to save others when a Scout troop ran out of water while hiking the Grand Canyon. Although Joel brought enough water to stay hydrated in the heat, some did not. He died of heat exhaustion because he deprived himself in order to help his fellow scouts and leaders.

As we view this teen through the eyes of his sisters and friends, we learn about him AND them. Using lines from "Monday's Child" to title the sections, Emily hints at what we can learn about the sister or friend. For Example, "Wednesday's child is full of woe" establishes Miles as the wayward friend who is deeply impacted by Joel's death.

Emily also uses first and third person narratives to tell the story, even using fictional blog entries, chats, and other communications to share intimate details. Included among the details are connections to life as a Latter-day Saint, a Mormon. Because Joel and his friends live in a community where most citizens are members of that church. I appreciate her realistic portrayal of teens who embrace AND struggle with that religious culture.

When I closed the book, I knew Joel a little better, but I was left with dozens of questions, too. Some about him, but mostly, I wanted to learn more about Miles, Norah, Alden, Claire, etc. I was still worried about Joel's mom and dad, too.

Isn't it a great book that leaves you wanting more?

Monday, July 12, 2010


A few conferences and workshops later, I have developed an awe for Utah's Young Adult authors. At least the ones I've met, and especially the ones I've read! Because these writers are A.MAZ.ING, I decided that I'd dedicate my summer reading to these talented individuals by delving into their works.

I've read two of Sara Zarr's novels, Story of a Girl and  Sweethearts, plus Brandon Mull's first book in the Fablehaven series, but I have a long way to go in my quest to sample books birthed right here in the Beehive state. Thus far, I have finished Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George.

While I am not a big fantasy fan, I wish I were because there are TONZ of great fantasy novels are out there. I do think Jessica's are my kind of fantasy, however, because I love fairy tales, and some of her books retell fairy tale in a refreshing way. Princess is one of those.

The twelve dancing princesses lie at the heart of this story, but an ex-soldier turned gardner is the hero who outwits the evil king from below. Jessica not only weaves in her knowledge of Norwegian tales and legends, she also tucks in details from her love of handicrafts: sewing, knitting, crocheting, tatting, fabrics, yarns, threads, etc. Jessica tucks in a fun surprise, when we learn our gardening hero also knits, and as readers might guess, this knowledge and talent helps him save the day!

This book is pure enough for the middle grade readers - chaste romance, minimal violence.

I can't wait to read Sun, Moon, Ice and Snow, but it must wait until I've visited stories by other authors from Utah. My next mini-review will be Emily Wing Smith's novel The Way He Lived.

Later, rbs