Monday, September 22, 2014

You Go, Roo!: E. Lockhart's THE BOYFRIEND LIST

Just finished the first of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver quartet, THE BOYFRIEND LIST, which my friend Jen Mathieu has mentioned more than once as inspirational to her writing of her smashing debut, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.

Ruby, better known by her nickname Roo, is 15. She is in 10th grade at Tate Prep, a small private school in Seattle, which she has attended on scholarship for most of her schooling, along with the same insular group of (mostly) rich kids. She lives on a houseboat with two rather neurotic parents. And she is having a very bad year.

In the words of the School Library Journal review: "Through a series of social debacles, she loses her best friends, her boyfriend, her dignity, and the respect of her fellow Taters in less than two weeks' time. Following nearly half a dozen panic attacks, Roo starts to spend some quality time on Doctor Z.'s couch, where she makes (at her shrink's urging) a list of boyfriends past and present, official and unofficial, and starts on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, Ruby begins to think about patterns in her life and ways that she might be more like her mother than she'd care to admit. Fortunately, Ruby survives her traumatic exile and lives to tell the tale."

What I love particularly about this book is that Roo's journey creeps up on you. That she might not be the most reliable of narrators is not immediately evident -- at least it wasn't to me. Roo believes her friends are worth keeping, her boyfriend worth loving, her social status worth keeping. She is totally blindsided by the machinations and betrayals around her and by her own callousness at times. She misjudges people. She misjudges herself. She acts passively when she should express herself. She gets called a slut because she kisses the boyfriend who has broken up with her most likely because he's been cheating on her with her own best friend. In other words - she is a teenager. She is a human. She is a girl finding out who she is and what she wants and who she likes. Why she likes a boy enough to kiss him or why she kisses a boy she doesn't particularly like. Why it feels good to be the girlfriend of a popular boy. And what it feels like to discover that maybe he's not as nice as she thought… and that maybe she still likes him desperately anyway.

(Let me interject here that a boyfriend once broke up with me via a phone call the day AFTER Valentine's Day. Which means that in one 24 hour period, I got a really cute, enormous Valentine's card declaring his affections (we didn't go to the same school, although this was less the problem than that we had zero in common except that he was a good kisser, which I appreciated. But I digress), and the next night he called and said he thought we'd been drifting apart. Yeah. Whatever, dude. I know this wasn't going anywhere, but seriously?)

 Particularly in the microcosm that is high school all that type of thing can be quite cruel to those who don't fit the mold-- even if they fit it the day before. Tough stuff to navigate. And sadly, even in 2014, girls often can't express a healthy sexuality without someone calling them names. (This just makes me crazy, by the way. Absolutely furious. As it should.)

And the whole pecking order craziness is tough stuff as an adult too, isn't it? So often there's still a territorial thing going on. We're just better able to hide our disappointments when don't quite make it to the 'cool kids' table. Or be more generous when we do.

BOYFRIEND LIST is a slow build. Ruby's narrative weaves back and forth in time and there are wonderfully clever and droll footnotes elaborating on various observations. It takes a few chapters to realize that Roo's world is not exactly what she thinks it is. But as she reveals the history of why each of the boys is on her list, (her sudden status as a social 'leper' has induced a series of panic attacks that land her with a therapist, who suggests that she create a list of all the boys who seem significant to what has happened to her), she begins to see the truth and so do we.

If you haven't read BOYFRIEND LIST, you really should. Emily Lockhart's most recent title, WE WERE LIARS, is of course, also brilliant. As are all of her books, including one of my favorites, THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS. I think you can see elements of both of those here in BOYFRIEND LIST, the germs of ideas she continues to poke and prod at -- about life and love and girls and power.

And thus endeth the Monday morning book talk.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five for Friday

Happy 9/12/14 y'all!

A quick five:

1. Started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which has been on the TBR list for a very long time. It is a compelling read with a fascinating narration, but I do have to say that beginning this book while revising and trimming a sample chapter of a new project of my own, left me with some deep thoughts about adult novels vs YA novels and back story. I am fairly although not totally positive that the vast amount of backstory just leading up to the MCs conception would not fly in a YA novel simply because the entire matter could be covered with a sentence or two about gender. Now I might find I'm wrong about this and all that context about basal temps and Greek families and a brother named Chapter Eleven (which is still currently confusing me) and aunts predicting sexes with an egg will be of great significance later on. But my initial opinion stands. I'm feeling interested but I'm finding myself skimming. Thoughts?

2. In the 'in love' phase with a new project. Let's see if it sticks. And for any other writers reading this, I will say that I am definitely in synch with this post by brilliant editor and publishing friend Emma Dryden, which talks about loving and lusting after a new story. As well as this post that she passed on about it talking five drafts to get to the meat of the story, which I definitely relate to. I am certainly a wanderer when it comes to drafting and start out quite often in a very different place than I end up in later drafts. The core story remains, but the details? Holy cow, they end up different. This new project is case in point, although that's all I'll say for now.

3. Still loving the Jamie/Claire love story in #Outlander. And the STARZ series is still making me happy. Not just a guilty pleasure, but a well done one where the actors clearly care about making it all work. So hooray!

4. Oh how I want to show you the cover for FINDING PARIS. But I can't yet. But next month for sure, which will be six months out. For now I can leave you with this: What if your sister disappeared one night leaving only a cryptic note behind? What if you had to find her? And what if there was a boy who offered to help? What would you do? It begins in Vegas, by the way. Just so you know.

5. And did I mention that the dog sprained some soft tissue in her knee and we ended up at the emergency vet clinic on a Saturday nite and were told she had torn her ACL and would need surgery (which turned out not to be true) just after I had bought the pair of boots of my dreams? Yes. But the grand news is, that rest and inactivity was all that was needed. And she is healthy and fine now and not limping and crying and looking at me with sad eyes. So hooray!!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

13 Years Ago

So thirteen years ago, on 9/11/01, I was in my classroom, getting ready to teach. I had first block off that semester, so there were no kids with me and I hadn't even turned on the computer because I had a bunch of papers to grade and I didn't want the distraction of email and all the rest. But then around 8 AM CST, I walked over to the counseling center to get something. And the talk had begun. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I thought, terrible. But I also thought, must be a small plane. Because what else, right?

Of course, by the time my first class of the day tumbled in a little before 9 AM CST, I knew differently. And not long after that, well, you know the rest.

What I remember most distinctly from that day where terrible things were happening but here in Houston we were watching them unfold on the screen and not knowing what to do or what was truly happening is how both responsible and impotent I felt. I had classroom after classroom of kids coming to me that day. (school stayed in session. I think no one could get their heads around a national emergency of this scope then. Now it would be different, I think, but I am not sure) I didn't know what to tell them or how to comfort them and honestly after the towers were fallen, I turned off the computer monitor periodically because watching was becoming too much for some students and I think we tried to read a story that we were going to read. Not for any reason than because we were in shock, we were (as far as we could tell) safe, and we didn't know what else to do. Plus, there was the weird thing where the remove of watching it on the screen wasn't sinking in to some of the 10th graders under my watch. It was like watching a movie to them. They weren't getting that it was real and I think in the moment I thought if I let it just sit in their heads for a bit, they'll get it. Which for the most part they did.

My own son was in his own school during that day-- the high school across the high way from where I taught. And my husband was actually at the airport and had been about to take off on a business trip to Chicago. The phone lines were so busy that it took a frantic long hour before I knew he wasn't already in the air as he was supposed to be.

And so it's been since then. Each year remembering the moment. The horrific day. The dead.

Last time I was in NYC, I rode the subway down the World Trade site and stood amidst the crowds headed to work and looked up at the new building. I went to the Memorial. (lots of New Yorkers I know have no desire to go, by the way. They remember in their own way. But for me it was a good thing.) It was a sunny June day then. After that, I rode the subway back and had my first visit to the Soho Press offices, then walked up Broadway with my editor Dan Ehrenhaft (who has his own stories of that awful day) and then when we parted ways, I walked up 5th Avenue back to mid town. I stopped and although I'd done it before and it's so touristy, I went to the top of the Empire State Building on my way.

I love you New York.
Today and all days.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Three For Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, my pretties. Getting back into the swing of fall and blogging and writing (well, that never stops, but somehow fall coming makes it feel like I'm revving up again) and all the other things.

And on to the three:

1. Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz and it is a wonderful, lyrical masterpiece. Shamefully, I have had an arc of this book since I went to BEA in 2011 but never got to it. Now I can't put it down. A coming of age story, a story of manhood, a story of what it means to be different but not marginalized, a story of love and courage and a million other wonderful things. And oh the voice!

2. Excited to be teaching a workshop later this fall on Finding an Agent at Writespace Houston. More on that soon. And so thrilled for so many upcoming events! To name some that I can name: I'll be presenting panels at AWP again this year in April. (more on that soon too!) And in February, I'll be down in Corpus Christie at the first annual Teen Book Fest By the Bay! Of course Comic Con Austin is coming in October and Houston Book Rave in November and more stuff to be revealed soon.

3. So excited to show you arcs of FINDING PARIS soon! Oh the cover! Oh the jacket design!
And thus my last of the three today is that two of my writing crushes -- two fabulous authors whose work I admire SOOOO much-- have read and blurbed FINDING PARIS (which will be out 4/2/15 from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins) !!

The first is Jennifer Mathieu, whose debut THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE (Roaring Brook) is one of those break out books that everyone needs to read.  It's about truth and lies and what it means to stay strong when everything falls apart. Great things are coming from her and if she's not on your list, put her there. And the second is Adele Griffin, whose writing simply blows me away every time. She is a master of craft and psychological drama and character study and I can't express the thrill of having her say kind things about PARIS. Adele Griffin's latest book is a tour de force-- THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE, which is not like anything else you're seeing in YA these days. It's a faux biography and a mystery and the kind of addictive prose that makes me want to read it over and over. It's out now from Soho Press. You need to read this book.

Here's what they both had to say:

“A compelling page turner—the perfect mix of heart-stopping plot and memorable characters—fully formed, flawed, and worth cheering for. A road trip story, a mystery, and a romance, along with Preble’s pitch perfect descriptions of place and you’ve got a real winner. I couldn’t put it down.” (Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice)

“Joy Preble’s signature style-breakneck pace, whip-sharp dialogue and sly humor—is the perfect fit for this ride-or-die novel of Leonora and Max. An inspiring story of lost souls, and the hope and compassion that must piece together a family long exiled and devastated by secrets.” (Adele Griffin, author of The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone)