Before or after you watch The Bling Ring, also watch Foxes.

foxesposter

review by Tessa

A group of friends from the Valley participates in an activity that is part bonding and part trying to become part of the adult world, and it backfires. They end up in a police station. Their actions and reaction reveal cultural preoccupations of their time. It could be a vague description of The Bling Ring,  reviewed by Rebecca yesterday, but it’s also a vague description of Foxes, Adrian Lyne’s 1980 film starring Jodie Foster and Cherie Currie.

2sideeye

As I watched Foxes I immediately connected it to the teens of The Bling Ring – although I haven’t seen Coppola’s film yet, I have read Nancy Jo Sales’ book. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t stretching my interpretation – Coppola mentions Foxes as an inspiration in this interview with Rookie.

I thought The Bling Ring, Sales’ expansion of her original Vanity Fair article about a celebrity robbery ring run by a bunch of middle class teenagers in the Valley, an enjoyable if depressing look at celebrity-stalking culture, starring teenagers who are unaware that their narcissism is showing. Sales fills out the story with speculation as to why and how this kind of culture grew and affected Valley denizens (and non-Valley denizens), but it’s never a mystery how the kids (allegedly?) did it, and it ends up being cringingly sad how they all try to deny it and rat each other out.

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Foxes has a smaller and more internal trajectory, and a comparison of the two says a lot about the current interpretation of adulthood in America these days–and here I’m using “adulthood” to mean “grown-up aspirations”.

In Foxes, parents are around, but don’t get it – what it’s like to be the teenage girls. The movie follows four friends – Jeanie, Annie, Madge, and Deirdre, as they re figuring themselves out and yearning for family and a place in the world, somewhere safe – as Jeanie says “somewhere we can try to help each other.”  Annie is a burgeoning drunk and her dad is a psychotically strict policeman – she’s always running away from him to the back of some too-old dude’s motorcycle and the rest of the girls are always retrieving and trying to protect her. But the other three have good-to-normal bonds with their mothers. There’s a great scene where Jeanie (Jodie Foster) gets in bed with her mom to read her Plato, so her mom can study for a college class, and a very real scene where Madge (Marilyn Kagan) gets upset that her mom is questioning her about her virginity at her birthday party, so she shuts herself up in her room to cry — and then her mom comes in and curses her with calling every single friend who shows up later and apologizing for canceling the party.

27madgereprimand

In The Bling Ring the parents aren’t so much of the picture, and if they are they identify too much with their children’s youth – like Alexis Neier’s mom. Although she is yelled at by Alexis every single time she tries to speak to Nancy Jo Sales, it is clear that her mom sees herself as a friend to Alexis, and booster of the pursuit of beauty and fame, and spiritual enlightenment (through the use of The Secret).

Is it better or just different than this outburst from Jeanie’s mom in Foxes?:

“You want a place of your own? Fine, take this one. …There’s too much music here, too many boys, girls laying all over the furniture, half out of your clothes, on the floor. You’re too beautiful! All of you! You make me hate my hips! I hate my hips.”

28jeanieandmom

In Foxes the girls are always talking about finding a space of their own:

Jeanie: “[Annie] should have someplace to go, you know?”

Madge: “Where?”

Jeanie: “I dunno… Sometimes I think it’s, like, 1 o’clock in the morning, you just had a fight with your mom, there’s no place to go. Someplace with like, pillows around, a little music, people to talk to. That sort of thing, you know?”

Their lives seem to be whirlwinds of trying to get to class on time, hitting on guys in the supermarket line, covering for each other when two dates show up to the same Angel show, fending off the gently clumsy advances of Baby Scott Baio, 10baioand being there for each other after breakups.  Eventually they try to fulfill their friend/family fantasies with a private dinner party at Madge’s older boyf’s house and it totally turns into a rager (no thanks to Baby Laura Dern).38dern

39police

The girls don’t explicitly learn lessons from this, but they do realize that they hurt other people’s property. And further, more serious plot developments change and toughen them, or set them up for even more growing.

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In The Bling Ring the guy and girls are yearning for a place in the world through fame – if you don’t do something, you are no one. The line that Emma Watson says in the trailer about being a world leader is taken from the mouth of Alexis Neiers herself.  They want a family that’s more like a clique and try to fulfill this through stealing (whether consciously or not) and it falls apart – they all try to blame each other to avoid jail time. Neiers gets married and reforms herself.

They need the crime to feel like they’ve been made real –they push in to the celebrities’ space, committing criminal acts, whereas in Foxes the police element comes from other people pushing into the girls’ space, their fantasy of what they want a family to be. But that doesn’t mean they don’t wish their families were like famous, or at least beautiful, people:

Annie: “You know, he’s not really my dad.”

Jeanie: “Since when?”

A: “It’s true. Remember the flower children that all the time used to do acid? I was like eleven. I dropped acid and it all came out. I mean that guy, the cop. He ain’t my dad. I saw my real dad. No shit.”

J: “Well what’d he look like?”

A: “Really cool. A cross between Cary Grant… and the Mighty Thor. He was a motocross biker.”

J: “I don’t see Cary Grant on a bike.”

A: “He was! He was so beautiful.”

But I think the most glaring difference between the fake teenagers of Foxes and the real teenagers of The Bling Ring is that the fake teenagers are more in touch with their own feelings. The kids in The Bling Ring are masked, disaffected, and their friendships fall apart when things get rough. The kids in Foxes might be just as bored as their future counterparts, but they seem less miserable, even when they’re crying, and more capable of real joy. Does that mean the world is grimmer today?

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Jeanie: “You go out into the world, it gets scary sometimes. Learn to laugh a little!”

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Movie Review: The Bling Ring

A Movie Review of The Bling Ring, written and directed by Sofia Coppola (2013)

The Bling Ring Sofia Coppola

by REBECCA, June 26, 2013

By now, everyone knows the story of the Bling Ring—a group of L.A. rich kids who repeatedly broke into celebrities’ homes and stole three million dollars worth of clothing and jewelry from Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan before ever being caught. It’s a story as shiny as Paris Hilton’s jewelry and as intoxicating as the loads of coke these teens shove up their noses. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of beautiful story with a rotten underbelly that Sofia Coppola loves to turn into beautiful movies with a little bite.

Indeed, The Bling Ring *is* pretty to look at: its young stars are beautiful, and the clothes and houses pornographies of conspicuous consumption. But the film never quite decides whether it wants to justify the Bling Ring’s behavior, or skewer them, and it suffers for it. Either choice would have made for a more interesting take on the story. If she had decided to delve beneath the surface of these teens’ obsession with the trappings of celebrity culture and show us where it stems from or what it felt like, I would have been interested to see it. If she had fully committed to derogating the teens or to lambasting the culture that produced them, I would have been interested in seeing that, too. As it stands, though, the film never fully commits to anything except an aesthetic and, while it’s a nice one, it’s not quite enough to carry a whole film.

The Bling RingThere’s definitely an appeal, though. Emma Watson is charming, Katie Chang charismatic, and Israel Broussard compelling. There are clothes galore, some lovely and familiarly Sofia Coppola-esque montages, a Gavin Rossdale cameo, and a lot of white girls trying to act like they’re in a rap video. It’s fun and fluffy, but left me wishing it had more of an angle and more of an ending. In any case, if you’re looking for a light and pretty matinee pick, The Bling Ring is definitely bling-y.

The Bling Ring is based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” by Nancy Jo Sales, which she later turned into a full-length book, The Bling Ring: How A Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World.

Have you seen The Bling Ring? What did you think?

Happy Reaping! Croak (Croak #1)

A Review of Croak (Croak #1) by Gina Damico

Houghton Mifflin, 2012

Croak by Gina Damico

by REBECCA, June 24, 2013

From Goodreads: “Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business. She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice—or is it vengeance?—whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?”

I actually picked up up Croak at BEA last summer but hadn’t quite been in the mood for it, but I needed a light airplane read recently, and Croak seemed to fit the bill perfectly—with the added bonus that I was able to use its shiny silver cover to reflect the glare of the reading light directly into my sister’s face whenever she least expected it! No, I promise, it was really funny; I’m not an adult or anything. Anyway, I’ve stolen Gina Damico’s quippy signage for the title of this review because I think it sums up Croak so well:

Croak by Gina Damico

worldview

First of all, Lex’s real name is Lexington Bartleby and her twin sister is Concord (Cordy)—their mother loves American military history—which I assert is hands-down the best set of twinly names ever.

Lex doesn’t know why she’s turned into such a moody monster lately (her classmates have taken to calling her Tyrannosaurus Lex”), or what’s made her take to wearing a black hoodie every day, especially when her twin has remained unaffected. When she gets to her uncle Mort’s, though, it all becomes clear: the sudden fury is the sign of a natural reaper, and black hoodies are their uniform. Best. Summer. Job. Ever. Finally, Lex has found something she has a talent for, and some people who seem like they could be real friends. Sure she has to keep her new life a secret from Cordy, and, okay, so she seems to experience more pain than the other reapers when she does her job. But, still, the town of Croak (population 82) is swiftly becoming Lex’s favorite place ever. Until someone starts killing reapers—and Lex is at the top of the suspect list.

Ok, so the first impression of Croak is that it’s funny and fast-paced. There are definitely cool world-building things in the town of Croak, a rural town inhabited only by reapers, with a flower shop called Pushing Daisies, a mattress store called The Big Sleep, a grocery store called Bought The Farm, and other death-related puns. And, like all worlds where our protag is an outsider and needs everything explained to her, we get it laid out for us in complete, info-dumpy detail. It’s clever, and Damico wants to make sure we notice—still, it’s done with humor, which makes it pretty palatable as these things go.

We meet Lex’s fellow junior reapers—teenagers are, no surprise, excellent reapers due to their teenagery anger. There’s Zara, the buttoned-up responsible one; Ferbus, the geekily manic one; Elysia, the sugary sweet, friendly one; Kloo, the motherly one; and Ayjay, the athletic one. And, of course, there’s Driggs, Uncle Mort’s houseguest and Lex’s new partner who has “romantic interest” written on him from their initial angry meet-cute in their shared bathroom.

what were this book’s intentions? did it achieve them?

It takes a while for the whole introduction to the concept of reaping and Croak to unfold and the core of the story to start—the first third of the book or so—and then the tone shifts from light to more intense. It’s a good and necessary shift, but having set the story up as seeming so ironic and frivolous, it’s jarring to start viewing it in the light of real threat and fear that begin when the junior reapers begin to see a disturbing pattern in some of the deaths when they’re reaping. A mystery begins to emerge and the last third of the book is dedicated to solving it.

The two main strengths of the book are 1.) its humor, and 2.) its concept, which has the potential to reach tentacles out in multiple directions, while also building a deep culture of reaping. For example, Croak allows them to chat with folks in The Afterlife—folks like Elvis, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, George Washington, etc. The thing is, though, that the humor begins to wear thin as its repeated throughout the book, and the world begins to feel a little bit like it’s being shaped more to accomodate the plot than to capitalize on the cool concept. The most promising thing in the book is the notion that to these reapers, death is just Croak #2 Scorch by Gina Damicoa day job—hence Croak’s gallows-humor-meets-infomercialese. Thus, when reapers begin to be the target of murders, their sense of invincibility and the detachment that their jobs breed can all be turned topsy-turvy. And while Croak gestures toward this limply, the stakes of such a reversal never really come to fruition.

All in all, Croak was a cute, fun read with a hint of teeth in the second half and an unquestionably dramatic (if not unpredictable) turn at the end. I enjoyed it, definitely enough to want to read the sequel, if not enough to want to hang out with Lex. But if Uncle Mort invited me to Croak for a tour, I’d be down for a day trip.

readalikes

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (2010). While working a fast-food job, low-key Sam finds out that he’s—you guessed it—a necromancer. And there’s another creepy necromancer who wants something from him. Book two in the series, Necromancing the Stone, is out also.

Thirsty by M.T. Anderson

Thirsty by M.T. Anderson (1997). Chris is turning into a vampire in a totally non-romantic way while he is also forced to be that most curséd of all beings, a teenager. Thirsty is also a combo of funny and scary, but with a little more desperation thrown in. My complete review is HERE.

procured from: I received a copy of Croak from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Croak (Croak #1) by Gina Damico is available now.

Down but not meowt: Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti

clawsgrinti

Claws

Mike and Rachel Grinti

Scholastic, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Emma Vu

Helena Vu

Mr. & Mrs. Vu

Jack the Magic-less Cat

Hook

One day Emma’s older sister Helena is around and life is happy. Then Helena goes missing, and her family is quickly losing all its money in trying anything to find her – including associating with crags, or magical creatures, a culturally-shunned segment of the population. It isn’t long before Emma takes advantage of her parents’ distracted and stressed out state to accept the help of cats in order to pursue her own investigations.

UK cover!

UK cover!

Worldview

So, unfortunately I haven’t had time lately to read much middle grade fantasy so I’m not even going to try to couch my comments in relation to the field as a whole. I’m just going to tell you why Claws grabbed me.

It’s set in a world where magic is known but not socially accepted, except by excitable teenagers who watch a show called Gnomebots, read Tiger Beat style magazines about the glamorous (literally) lifestyle of fairies, and read dubious information about the magical world on CragWiki. However, most people avoid crags and, therefore, Emma’s first encounters with them are a little scary and not what she expected. The book opens with Emma and her parents moving into a decrepit house next to the big forest that took over a human city some years ago. Crags live near there, but most humans have relocated. Emma’s parents have had no luck with normal policework in finding Helena, her father has lost his business, and he’s ready to try the magical underground for any information on his missing daughter.

Emma finds that her next door neighbors are a boring snake-man who has a lecture for everything and a hag who has had all of her teeth pulled so she won’t eat any more children – doomed to a life of unfulfilled hunger- but that doesn’t stop her from trying to lure Emma into her house.

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

Pretty much immediately, Emma finds that a cat has been living in her family’s new house, and he doesn’t intend to stop doing so. Cats are magical creatures and can talk in this world, and this cat, Jack, has done something to get him kicked out of his pride. But he also has a way to transfer the pride’s power to Emma. He wants her to do this, and in return, he’ll help her find Helena.

I loved reading a good fantasy grounded in reality that didn’t exalt magic but still made it exciting, dangerous, and fun. Each crag that Emma meets has his or her own personality, and the crag world, apart from the class tensions between it and humans, has clear tensions between creature groups and within peer groups. The Grintis pack all of this effortlessly into 250 pages. The reader doesn’t have to work to see it happening, but it’s not explained in expository dialogue, either (thank goodness).  The facts that are presented straightforwardly come in quotes from CragWiki at the beginning of every chapter, and serve to deepen the world.

Does this book fulfill its intentions?

Claws hit a sweet spot for me, readingwise. Emma doesn’t hesitate very long before accepting Jack’s deal. I could easily see the book veering off in a much different alternate-future direction, where it spends the first book with Emma hemming and hawing about her decision, in order to stretch out and become a trilogy.  Instead Emma goes for it. In a sense she has nothing much to lose – her friends at school have turned against her now that she lives in an undesirable area, and she’s lonely all the time – she misses her sister and her parents are fully preoccupied and brokenhearted for the same reason. But I feel like she also decides to accept Jack’s offer of the Pride Heart because it’s exciting. I’d be willing to bet that most 12 year olds have an innate sense of their own impending destiny – who among us wouldn’t have accepted the chance to assume the source of power for a pride of magical cats? (Cat-allergic peeps aside.)

My cat is obviously magic.

My cat is obviously magic.

Once her decision is made, Emma is set up for a crash course in Adventure and Split Second Decisions, and after a few false starts it seems she’s well-suited for it. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, but I will say that the end set-piece, which takes place in a faery-run high rise in the human downtown, is a particularly well-done example of the ways in which the faerie can be simultaneously attractive and deeply, primally scary. It involves something called eye-puppets.

In addition, Claws was refreshing because it provided intrigue and a personal-growth story with real emotion and imagination, and, because of its target market, had none of the love triangle or sexy urban werewolvery that has become so tiresome to me, even secondhand from reading reviews. I could read it and wholeheartedly enjoy it in the moment as a grown lady, and also think about how much I would have loved it as a younger person.

Disclosure/Digressions

– I met Rachel Grinti at a local conference where I was co-presenting something and she gave me a copy of Claws for free cuz she’s nice. I’m so glad that she did.

-Emma’s parents are Vietnamese-American and when she’s feeling tired of her new family life as The Girl With the Missing Sister and worn down by her new cat magic responsibilities she reminisces about the better times when her family would make homecooked meals. I think it’s safe to say that this is the only book I’ve read that could make me want to eat banana pudding.

Readalikes, as far as imaginative worldbuilding goes.

KieselWarTeachersKids

The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids by Stanley Kiesel

The world of this book isn’t strictly magical, it’s just weird and surreal and things matter of factly happen that you as a reader know are totally crazy but you don’t care because it has hooked you with its very weirdness. A girl eats a janitor and it blew my mind that that could even happen in a book.

how-to-ditch-your-fairy

How to Ditch Your Fairy  by Justine Larbalestier

The fairies in this book are very much fairies and not faeirie as in Claws, but Larbalestier brings the reader into her sort of complicated world–where everyone has an invisible fairy that bestows specific luck or powers onto their human, and it’s luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a useless one, or just a really annoying one–with ease.

YA Loves . . . Comic Books!

A List of YA Books That Love Comics!

by REBECCA, June 19, 2013

Here at Crunchings & Munchings we love young adult literature and we love comics! So, here is a list of books that combine two of our favorite things: YA books featuring comics and comic culture, and books about superheroes. All quoted descriptions are from Goodreads.

Hero by Perry MooreHero by Perry Moore

Hero by Perry Moore (2007)

“The last thing in the world Thom Creed wants is to add to his dad, Hal’s, pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League–the very organization of superheroes that spurned his father. The most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay. But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world for Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide, but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League. To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagine. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.”

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

“Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.”

Rise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne

Rise of Heroes (Masks #1) by Hayden Thorne (2008)

“Strange things are happening in Vintage City, and high school goth boy Eric seems to be right in the middle of them. There’s a new villain in town, one with super powers, and he’s wreaking havoc on the town, and on Eric’s life. The new super hero who springs up to defend Vintage City is almost as bad, making Eric all hot and bothered, enough so that he almost misses the love that’s right between his nose. Peter is Eric’s best friend, and even if he does seem to be hiding something most of the time, he finds a way to show Eric how he feels in between attacks on trains and banks and malls. The two boys decide to start dating, much to the chagrin of their other best buddy, Althea, who has a terrible crush on Peter, and a secret or two of her own to keep. As the fight between the villain, known as the Devil’s Trill, and superhero Magnifiman picks up, Eric’s relationship with Peter almost ends before it begins when Eric finds out about Peter’s special talents, which might just rank Peter as a superhero in his own right. When the Trill takes an interest in Eric, too, Peter and Althea, along with Magnifiman and Eric’s normal, middle-class family all have to work together to keep Eric, and their city, safe. Can they figure out the super villain’s plan in time?”

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden Age (Golden Age #1) by Carrie Vaughn (2011)

“Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world’s greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she’s ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she’s the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Comemrce City. She doesn’t have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder. Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents’ archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the “Trial of the Century,” Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus—and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.”

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (2012)

“Eighteen-year-old Castaway Planet fans Brandon and Abel hate bad fan fiction—especially when it pairs their number-one TV crushes of all time, dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim. As co-runners of the Internet’s third most popular Castaway Planet vlog, they love to spar with the “Cadsim” fangirls who think Cadmus will melt Sim’s mechanical heart by the Season 5 finale. This summer, Brandon and Abel have a mission: hit the road in an RV to follow the traveling Castaway Planet convention, interview the actors and showrunner, and uncover proof that a legit Cadsim romance will NEVER, EVER HAPPEN. A Brandon and Abel romance: also not happening. Brandon’s sick of his struggle to make “gay and Catholic” compute, so it’s safer to love a TV android. Plus Abel’s got a hot new boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and how can Brandon compete with that? But when mysterious messages about them start popping up in the fan community, they make a shocking discovery that slowly forces their real feelings to the surface. Before they get to the last Castaway Planet convention, Brandon’s going to find out the truth: can a mechanical heart be reprogrammed, or will his first shot at love be a full system failure?”

My complete review of this amazing self-published debut is HERE, and my interview with author J.C. Lillis is HERE.

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Evil Genius (Genius #1) by Catherine Jinks (2005)

“Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he’s fourteen and studying for his World Domination degree, taking classes like embezzlement, misinformation, forgery, and infiltration at the institute founded by criminal mastermind Dr. Phineas Darkkon. Although Cadel may be advanced beyond his years, at heart he’s a lonely kid. When he falls for the mysterious and brilliant Kay-Lee, he begins to question the moral implications of his studies for the first time. But is it too late to stop Dr. Darkkon from carrying out his evil plot?”

The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller (2013)

“On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way. Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.”

My full review of The Summer I Became A Nerd is HERE.

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross (2009)

“What do you do if you can deadlift a car, and you spend your nights flying to get away from it all? If you’re fifteen-year-old Avery Pirzwick, you keep that information to yourself. When you’re a former jock turned freak, you can’t afford to let the secret slip. But then Avery makes some friends who are as extraordinary as he is. He realizes they’re more than just freaks—together, maybe they have a chance to be heroes. First, though, they have to decide whether to trust the mysterious Cherchette, a powerful would-be mentor whose remarkable generosity may come at a terrible price.”

SO, what YA books about comics, comic culture, or superheroes am I missing? Tell me in the comments!

Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With, part 2

MORE Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition

Obscura Burning Suzanne van Rooyen Gone Gone Gone by Hannah Moskowitz Openly Straight Bill Konigsberg

by REBECCA, June 17, 2013

Hey, folks, today I’m over at Housequeer for the second installment of Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With! Last month was the first installment: my favorite recently-published (since 2000) queer YA lit. This month, it’s the To-Read edition: the top fifteen queer YA books that on my to-read list. It’s got everything from contemporary YA to sci-fi dystopia; middle grade to superhero fiction. Come check it out!

The Summer I Became A Nerd—A Nerd’s Coming Out Story

A Review of The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

Entangled Teen, 2013

The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

by REBECCA, June 12, 2013

hook

Maddie Summers is a popular girl, a beautiful blonde cheerleader who dates the quarterback of the football team. But Maddie has a secret—a secret that she’s sure would turn her into a social pariah if anyone found out: Maddie Summers loves comic books. And science fiction. And superheroes. Maddie Summers is . . . a nerd.

review

The Summer I Became A Nerd is a coming out story. It’s the story of how a girl who values her friends, her social standing, and the ease that it brings her at school, learns that hiding her true self brings her pain instead of freedom. And it’s a story about how you can’t be happy—no matter your popularity—if you’re being dishonest with yourself. It’s a simple story, but one that never really loses its appeal, and debut author Leah Rae Miller presents this version with humor, poignancy, and definite nerd appeal.

Once, years ago, Maddie dressed up as one of her favorite superheroes for a Halloween costume contest at school. When she stepped onstage and told the audience of her peers who she was dressed as, her best friend made fun of her for liking comics and, ever since then, Maddie has equated her love of comics with being ridiculed and losing friends. It’s understandable, then, that she has learned to hide her nerdy obsessions from her new friends, especially since she really, legitimately loves her best friend and is terrified of facing the same ridicule again. She keeps a journal of all the comics she’s read hidden in her closet (yeah, when I said it was a coming out story, I wasn’t referring to subtle cues), and she downloads her comics to her computer rather than risk being caught with the evidence of paper comics.

But, on the day the book begins, Maddie arrives home elated because the final issue of her favorite, long-running comic will be arriving in the mail (no digital option, so she had to order a physical copy). When she brings the envelope to her room, however, she finds that she has not received issue #400 of her comic; it’s been back-ordered and she won’t get it for two months.

“There’s only one place in town that would have a copy. Is the risk of being seen and losing my place atop Natchitoches Central’s elite worth it? No. Absolutely not. It’s been a long, hard climb to the top of the popularity ladder . . . I’m in a constant state of ‘no one can know,’ and it sucks. But . . . can I go two months without knowing? Can I last two months without going on the comic book forums, Twitter, or Facebook for fear of spoilers?

Of course I can’t. Damn your awesomeness, Super Ones. I grab a hoodie, my dad’s green Boston Celtics cap, and I make double sure my shades are in my purse. Drastic times call for drastic measures.”

At The Phoenix—the only comic shop in town, and the “one place” that would have issue #400—Maddie tries to get total strangers to buy the comic for her; she nearly has a heart attack about going inside. Finally, though, she has to do it, and she meets Logan Scott, a kid she goes to school with whom she’s had a crush on ever since he got expelled for wearing a shirt with a comic artist’s image on it the year before.

And thus begins Maddie’s awakening to the fact that there are people who she can connect with about comics and other nerdy things, who won’t judge her. And that she feels more herself with those people than she does when she’s caught up in the “deceit and subterfuge” that have defined her popular-girl life.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah DessenThe Summer I Became A Nerd reminded me a lot of Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and Just Listen. Both are books about girls who have previously defined themselves by others’ expectations and their internalizations of them—in The Truth About Forever it’s as a smart, together girl, and in Just Listen, it’s as a model. And both are about how certain experiences that break those patterns (not to mention awesome boys who like the characters for who they really are) enable these girls to embrace selves that they like better. And I mean those comparisons in a great way—Miller’s writing is breezy and compelling without making the story seem fluffy, and she has Dessen’s ability to make a summer seem like plenty of time to totally reinvent yourself. (Also much like Sarah Dessen novels, The Summer I Became A Nerd has an absolutely horrible cover—but don’t let that stop you!)

I was a little nervous, upon beginning the book, that I would find Maddie a shallow, timid thing—so desperately brainwashed about popularity that she buries her true passions. Instead, I sympathized with Maddie, who is smart, and kind; when she acts thoughtlessly, it’s out of fear rather than malice, and Miller does an excellent job making her struggle believable without making her unlovable. A bonus here is that everyone has parents who are not caricatures of awfulness or amazingness. Throw in some role playing games, a little bit of indie comic shop business, and the obligatory comic nerd descriptive comparisons, and I was sold:

“If this was an alternate timeline or maybe a galaxy far, far away, I might have the guts to tell him the truth. But this isn’t. This is the galaxy where Madelyne Jean Summers is a liar and a wuss, end of story, thanks for watching, roll the credits.”

The Summer I Became A Nerd is a breezy, fun read with substance and definite nerd appeal. Charming.

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The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

 

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2004). The Truth About Forever takes place over a summer in which Macy decides to stop playing it safe and start taking risks to be herself. I love this book because it gives a prismatic view of summer: there’s Macy’s new job at the chaotic catering company, her late-night truth-telling sessions with Wes, and lazy evenings with her new friends, etc. My favorite scenes are the casual summer night hangouts at the diner, going for soda at the gas station, walking and talking with nowhere to be and nothing to get back to.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

 

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (2006). Dessen really gets the power of not just music, but radio. Owen uses his radio show as a way to communicate, and to feel like he is making his little corner of the world more beautiful. His show helps Annabel discover that she, too, wants to be in control of her world. A really delightful read, even for those who don’t think of themselves as being part of the Dessen crowd. You can check out my full review HERE.

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (2012). Like The Summer I Became A Nerd, my new favorite book, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, takes on the ways that our obsessions and fandoms have a huge affect on who we are as people. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Or both. Either way, to deny your fandom, both books suggest, is to deny yourself. You can check out my full review of the wonderful How to Repair a Mechanical Heart HERE, and an interview with author J.C. Lillis HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller is available now.

 

We Don’t Need No Thought Control: Deviant

A Review of Deviant by Helen FitzGerald

Soho Teen, 2013

Deviant by Helen Fitzgerald

by REBECCA, June 10, 2013

Abigail Thom has been living in foster homes and dodging trouble in Glasgow nearly her whole life. When her mother dies, leaving Abigail a mysterious letter, a wad of cash, and a plane ticket to L.A. to go see a father and sister she never knew existed, Abigail thinks that a ticket out of Glasgow may be the only good thing her mother ever did for her. GlasgowWhen she arrives in L.A., though, Abigail quickly realizes that things are more complicated than she could have imagined. In addition to trying to find her place in a new country and a new family, Abigail soon realizes that her new-found sister is has discovered something—something people are willing to kill to keep secret. And now Abigail is right in the middle of it.

L.A.When we first meet Abigail, all she wants is to get the hell out of Glasgow. She’s organized, smart, savvy, and has perfected her “robot mode” over the years—a detached affect that accompanies all stressful or emotional situations. When she gets news that her mother has died, all she really feels is a slight pang of regret for a life she might have led. She’s grateful for the chance to go to America and start over, and excited to meet Becky, the older sister she never knew she had. Becky is rich, privileged, beautiful, and full of life, and from the moment Abigail meets her she realizes how much she’s longed for someone she can feel a connection to.

This first third-or-so of Deviant reads like a gritty contemporary YA. Abigail is a sympathetic character who combines the appeal of a street-smart badass with the vulnerability of someone who has longed for a family and is, therefore, willing to do almost anything to fit in. Her contrast with Becky is particularly poignant, and Helen FitzGerald does a subtle job of showing moments where Abigail sees who she might have been had she lived her sister’s life.

Deviant by Helen FitzGeraldBut then Becky takes Abigail along with a few of her friends as they graffiti the back of a freeway sign, and Abigail realizes that Becky is part of a group that the L.A. media has called vicious vandals. Their stencil is of a group of zombielike teenagers (on the cover), and each time they do it, they tag it with a letter. Abigail is furious, thinking about the trouble she could get in if they were caught, whereas Becky and her friends have powerful parents who can set things right for them. But . . . something seems a bit off about one of Becky’s friends, and Becky is so secretive about what the letters might mean. Abigail is happy to ignore the weirdness around her, though, because she’s so happy to be getting to know her sister. This second third of Deviant starts the mystery percolating.

Finally (no spoilers), things escalate, and Abigail realizes that what Becky and her friends are pointing to with their graffitied letters is larger than she could have imagined, and has the possibility of harming not only her newfound friends but millions of teenagers around the world. Shit gets serious, y’all, and the final third of the book is action-packed and tightly plotted. It also takes on a science fiction shade, but it’s subtle enough that it could be real, which is awesome.

Deviant is a book that’s doing several things simultaneously, and it’s doing them all well! This is a well-plotted mystery that is actually a mystery. Not that I only like books where I can’t figure out the mystery, but many YA mysteries are bit light on the mystery, if you know what I mean. Deviant, by virtue of beginning with a solid, character-driven family story, backs into its mystery, and it’s the better for it. Details from the first part of the book become important to the mystery later, and though the plot is tight, there is a lot of room for things to be filled in later, or for the reader to imagine. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be the first in a series, even though it read like it was winding up for one. The ending is wide open in a way that seems to set up a sequel, but it isn’t unsatisfying as a standalone, either.

I really enjoyed Deviant and, more than anything, it read like an extremely confident novel. Helen FitzGerald doesn’t overdo any one element, be it character, explanation, or prose style. And, bonus, it’s a really wicked class critique. It unfolds quickly and with panache, and I was definitely left wanting more—I’ll let you decide if that’s a strength or a weakness.

procured from: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. Deviant, by Helen FitzGerald, will be available tomorrow.

Interview With J.C. Lillis, Author of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

by REBECCA, June 5, 2013

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

Friends, today I am so thrilled to bring you an interview with the wonderful and amazing J.C. Lillis, author of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, which I reviewed on Monday. Many thanks to J.C. for being here! She has generously offered the chance for one lucky Crunchings & Munchings reader to win an e-copy of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart—the form is at the end of the interview. Welcome, J.C.!

REBECCA: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is your debut novel (and damn, what a debut!). How did you find your way to this story and these characters? 

J.C.: Aw, thanks so much! I’d been trying to write a book about fandom for years and years, but I never really hit on the right concept or the right characters. The basic idea for HTRAMH was inspired by a fandom I was lurking in a few years back—I won’t name names ‘cause it would just be mortifying for all involved. 🙂 There was this big debate surrounding some real-person shipping; basically, some fans were writing slash and then tweeting it to the boys involved, and there was this growing sense of horror about the fourth wall crumbling and real lives being affected. And as a writer, I just started thinking about it from the boys’ perspective: how would it feel to read fanfic about yourself, if you were a young guy still trying to figure yourself out? What if you really did have feelings for this guy you were being shipped with, but were terrified to show it?

At first I thought I’d write about two teen TV stars with a huge fandom writing slash about them, but I felt like it would be funnier and more manageable to make the boys small-potatoes vloggers who attract an unlikely little cult following. I also thought it might be interesting if the guys themselves were anti-slash at first. Spoiler alert for people who haven’t read it yet, but that scene where they first stumble across the fan community and die of embarrassment when they see all the fic about them? That was the first scene I imagined, and then the characters and their situation just kind of filled themselves in from there.

REBECCA: HTRAMH is the most delightful expression of fandom, and it seems way too spot on to be written by anyone but a fan! Can you talk a little bit about your own relationship to fandom and geek culture? 

J.C.: One of my favorite topics! I’ve been fandom-hopping since I was a teenager. It’s been a huge, huge part of my life, for a bunch of reasons. I’ve used it as a form of escape and distraction, I’ve used it to try on different identities, I’ve used it to jumpstart my own story ideas and recharge my passion for writing. It’s funny, I always sort of figured I’d phase out the fangirling once I was officially a grownup, but I still do it! I’ve mellowed out a lot—fandom isn’t as angst-ridden for me anymore; now I just have fun with it.

Cersei LannisterI had to stretch a little writing Brandon and Abel, because they love the heroes of Castaway Planet and I usually obsess over the villains. Nothing makes me swoon like a good complicated baddie. Like, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan and I adore Cersei Lannister. It’s a problem. At my day job I sit in this awesome Bermuda Triangle of geekdom where we all watch GoT and have sigils on our office doors, and my poor Stark and Targaryen friends have to listen to my weekly Why Cersei Doesn’t Suck apologetics.

REBECCA: HTRAMH has a lot to say about fan fiction and slash fiction, and also about real person fiction. How did these fan fictions inspire you? Do you know if there are any fan fictions about Brandon and Abel?

J.C.: Well, there’s bad fic in every fandom, and I did use some of that as inspiration for the terrible Cadsim slash Brandon and Abel are so up in arms about. But as a general rule, I love fanfic. Love it. I don’t understand writers who get all proprietary about their characters and put out these public statements denouncing fanfic. I mean, fanfic is the ultimate compliment—it means you created a world so compelling that people want to be a part of it themselves. They want to play with it, revise it, extend it—not just passively consume it. To me that’s just straight-up awesome.

Since the book came out, I’ve gotten some Brandon/Abel fanart, which pretty much made MY ENTIRE LIFE. And one reader is working on an alternate-universe Brandon/Abel steampunk fic.  She tweeted me about it and I had the stupidest, dorkiest grin on my face the whole rest of the day. So yeah—if anyone gets an idea for Brandon/Abel fic, they’re yours. Have at it!

REBECCA: In the novel, Brandon and Abel are huge fans of Castaway Planet—how fun was it for you to make up an entire show and its fandom?!

J.C.: SO MUCH FUN. Like, I want to make fanart for the TV-show-within-the-book. I don’t even want to know how geeky that makes me. My daughter’s going to dig up this interview in ten years and just facepalm.

I’ll tell you something funny that totally wasn’t funny at the time. The show was originally called Planet Fear, and then at the eleventh hour—like literally two days before the book’s release—I found out there was this sporting-goods chain called Planet Fear and my friend’s lawyer husband advised me to change it to be on the safe side. Which meant I also had to change the name of the fan convention and the ball, which were originally FearCon and the FearBall. I’d used those names for so long that the thought of changing them made my eyelid twitch. I sat in my room with a thesaurus, my Descriptionary, and my laptop for about five hours and rattled my brain until I came up with an alternate name I could live with. (I was delirious . . . I think at one point my husband actually heard me say “What about Planet Bob?”) And then after I picked names and did a search and replace for everything, I had to proofread the manuscript again, for like the five hundredth time, and I wanted to KILL THE BOOK with fire.

But yeah, other than that? A blast, making up all the actors and characters and fans. I still think about the people behind the forum names. I think I could write a whole book about lone detective. (Or hey_mamacita, because girl has issues.)

REBECCA: HTRAMH is freaking hilarious and also heartbreaking (my favorite combination!). How in the hell did you strike such an amazing balance? Do you think humor plays an important role in fandom? Do you think fandom plays an important part in learning about ourselves?

J.C.: First of all, thanks, ‘cause that’s a gigantic compliment. Yeah, the older I get, the easier it is to see the humor in fandom. When you’re wrapped up in it, it’s easy to take it too seriously—I’ve been guilty of that a few times. But if we can’t laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of ship wars and tinhatting and all that, then it stops being fun. Plus that’s just me; I don’t think I could write a story without humor, because that’s what pulls me along while I’m writing and keeps me interested in the characters. Nothing’s more boring to me than a book with zero sense of humor.

As for the second part of your question—yep, I do think fandom can play a huge part in helping people figure themselves out. Like, back when I was young and confused and destroying myself over some stupid non-relationship, getting into X-Files fandom snapped me out of self-pity and made me think of myself as this ass-kicking lone wolf. . .which was a silly self-dramatization, but it was just what I needed at the time. And I think you see stuff like that play out in HTRAMH, too, with the boys using Castaway Planet fandom as an escape and then as a way to expand their definitions of themselves (like when they go to the ball dressed as each other’s favorite characters). Fandom definitely plays a huge part in helping them sort out themselves and their relationship.

REBECCA: You have written such an amazing young adult novel; are you a YA reader? What are some of your favorite YA reads?

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia BlockJ.C.: Ooh, yeah, I love reading YA. The ones I still reach for over and over again are the ones I grew up with: Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books, anything by M.E. Kerr, Ellen Wittlinger’s books like Hard Love and Razzle. I love reading books by other indie YA authors, too—I just reviewed One by Leigh Ann Kopans, which is a great read for anyone who loves superheroes.

When I’m deep into edits, I tend not to read as much YA. I’ll go for something totally different—I’ll pick up some nonfiction or some Iris Murdoch, or I’ll spend the night with my favorite Edward Gorey anthology.

REBECCA: Are you working on anything new right now? Might the world be so lucky?

J.C.: I am! I’m so excited about it. It’s another YA novel, and it’s something I originally wrote years before I started HTRAMH. It’s about a teenage boy and girl who are in forbidden-love with each other and miserable about it, so they sign up for this experimental self-help program to rid themselves of their unwanted feelings. It’s really different from HTRAMH, but at heart it’s another quirky comedy-romance, so hopefully people who enjoyed Brandon and Abel’s story will like this one, too.

I feel kinda bad because my original plan was to tidy it up and put it out by late spring/early summer, but the more I got into the manuscript, the more I wanted to change. I’m a way different writer now than I was in 2005. So it’s going to take a little longer than I hoped, but that’s the beauty of indie publishing. You set your own schedule, and if life intervenes or you want to put the book aside and walk away for a few days to clear your head and/or tear out your hair, you can totally do that.

REBECCA: Can you tell us a little bit about what your experience with self-publishing has been like? How did you choose to go that route, etc.

J.C.: Basically, I just really, really hate querying. I’m kidding. But not really.

Here’s what kept happening: I’d write a book, edit the hell out of it, send it out to a very small handful of agents, and then I’d get all wrapped up in a shiny new story and when I’d come lumbering home from my day job, THAT’S what I’d want to work on. The querying would get shoved on the back burner, and then I’d just quietly stop doing it.

I got a couple “almosts” from agents I queried, and I know some people would probably consider me a quitter for not persevering with that, but seriously: I LOVE being indie. I decided to go for it after my husband passed me this article on the new world of indie publishing and was like, hey, you should consider this. It’s been the perfect fit for my temperament and working style, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.

The best part is that the whole indie writing community is pretty damn amazing. Supportive, helpful, welcoming, hilarious. I love being a part of it, and I love that I get to decide everything—from what my cover will look like to what my next blog post will be about. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve got a bunch of great “teachers” now in my fellow indies, and it’s a total pleasure to cheer them on and learn from their successes.

REBECCA: I have a theory that everyone has at least one hidden talent, no matter how random or seemingly useless. Will you tell us yours? 

J.C.: I can name all fifty states in alphabetical order in under twenty seconds. Also, I have never once ripped off a piece of packing tape without getting it stuck to itself. (Truly useless. Sorry.)

REBECCA: What is your favorite food or drink to make while writing? Snickerdoodles, like Abel, perhaps? (Bonus question: do you have a favorite snickerdoodle recipe? Ilove snickerdoodles.)

SnickerdoodlesJ.C.: Ha! I WISH I had time to bake snickerdoodles, but I’ve got a six-year-old and a day job, so I don’t have much free time. I try to funnel most of my spare minutes into writing. (And by “writing,” I mean “procrastinating on Twitter” and “dreaming up new blog entries about vintage pantyhose ads.” That counts, right?)

I do have a weakness for peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Not those crazy deep-fried fat bombs Elvis used to make—just peanut butter on wheat bread with sliced banana and a little cinnamon sugar on top. My go-to comfort food, especially at 11:30 at night when the words aren’t coming and I start getting unwelcome visits from the I SUCK fairy.

(Betty Crocker has a great snickerdoodle recipe if you’re so inclined.)

REBECCA: And, finally: cheese is very important to Tessa and me, so we’ve got to know: what is you favorite cheese? Tell us all about it!

J.C.: God, there isn’t a cheese I wouldn’t eat. My daughter HATES all cheese, which makes me suspect she’s a changeling. I think smoked gouda takes top honors. I don’t know, though. Ask me next week and my loyalties may have shifted to Camembert.

REBECCA: And there you have it, folks: smoked gouda, and please write some Brandon/Abel fan fiction! Thanks so much, J.C.!

J.C.: Thank you so much for having me on the blog!

WIN AN E-COPY OF HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART!

All you need to do is fill out the handy form below and leave us a comment on the blog telling us what you are the biggest fan of! TV show, band, book, movie; it doesn’t matter, just fill us in on what you geek out about! The giveaway will stay open for two weeks; I’ll announce the winner here on June 19th. UPDATE: Congrats to We Heart YA, the winners of a copy of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart!

Holy Nerd-Con Love, Batman! How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

A Review of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

Self-published, 2012

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

by REBECCA, June 3, 2013

Friends, it is my pleasure to announce that the author of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, the lovely J.C. Lillis, will join us on Wednesday for an interview and a GIVEAWAY! Make sure you check back then!

Brandon and Abel are huge fans of Castaway Planet, a science fiction show, and their nemeses are the CadSim shippers—fans who believe that Cadmus and Sim, the “dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim” who are the show’s two main characters, will end up together by the end of Castaway Planet, and who write fan fiction about it. After all, Cadmus and Sim are Brandon and Abel’s biggest crushes ever. So, they set out on a six-week odyssey with their friend, Becca, to attend Castaway Planet conventions and prove once and for all that the space captain and the android are not in love . . . but they get more than they bargained for when they find themselves in the sights of the fanfic community. Could they ever make an RL romance work, or is their relationship  destined to self-destruct?

People: I think How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is the most adorable book I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean that in an infantilizing way, but in an I-want-to-have-sleepovers-with-it-every-Friday kind of way. This is YA nerdqueer at its most charming. (Also, it’s so delightful to find such an amazing gem that is also self-published!) Abel is confident and flirtatious (“This RV is like, nine months pregnant with awesome“) and Brandon is still working through residual (and paralyzing) Catholic guilt about being gay. Yet, their shared Castaway Planet obsession and vlog brought these two opposites together. This results in some absolutely hilarious nerd-talk, as well as some super poignant heartache. How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is told from Brandon’s perspective, so his battles with his religion and his sexuality are particularly poignant:

“Abel Charges after me. Grabs my arm by the bakery case. He does it like it’s nothing, like he doesn’t even realize his hand is there, and meanwhile my arm is zapping hot panicked messages to my brain: he’s touching me I’m being touched don’t move don’t breathe act normal be Sim.”

and

“‘Brandon, it’s time you knew. Your mother has a crush on an android.’

They all crack up, Mom and Dad and Father Mike the loudest of all. Coffee sours in my stomach. If a nice little anxiety disorder wasn’t programmed into my motherboard, I’d say So do I and watch them implode.”

Anyone with love for geek or fan culture will read How to Repair with a warmed heart and giggle, because in addition to being about coming out, coming of age, and finding love, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is an absolute love letter to geek culture. And, where some books about geek culture are mocking it out of the sides of their mouths, How to Repair unabashedly wallows in its own geekiness.

“She throws back her head and releases an unholy screech, loud enough to chill the collective blood of the Social Media conference two ballrooms over.

Everyone freezes. The guy chatting up Bec breathes holy shit.

Abel leans close. ‘Omigod,’ he hisses.

‘I know.’

‘We were there, Bran. We were there when Bree LaRue melted down in Cleveland. Historic.'”

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. LillisGeek culture here includes real person shipping; that is, as I mentioned, there are some folks who decide to write fiction about Abel and Brandon themselves. This element of the book is particularly interesting to me—the notion of fans caring so much that they will intercede in order to bring about a different course of action, and the line between character and persona being blurred. (Supernatural, seasons 4 and 5, amiright?) J.C. Lillis clearly knows how the fan community works and she brings it all to bear in the amazing fictional chatrooms of the ABANDON (that’s Abel + Brandon, y’all) shippers:

“sorcha doo: if they get together global warming will stop and wars will end and kevin will love me again.

amity crashful: hey_mamacita are you here?? we neeeeeeeed you.

hey_mamacita: OMG SOBBING AND SHAKING AND VOMITING RAINBOWS. LIKE WHAT IS THIS LIFE EVEN.

amity crashful: your last fic made me cry like a bb

hey mamacita: LISTEN: it’s not fic anymore. okay? It is PROPHECY. i mean SHIT ON A SHINGLE, SON it is SO CLOSE to happening and I don’t give a porcupine’s bumhole what maxie & her minions at Cadsim think. . . . THINGS. HAVE. EVOLVED.

amity crashful: omg I worship you. Never stop saying words.”

and, later,

retro robot: OMG mamacita that is eerie. I love you so much.

sorcha doo: mamacita u give me life.

hey_mamacita: THIS HAS TO HAPPEN. WE WILL WRITE IT INTO BEING.

When even the chat room personas have unique and intriguing voices, you know it’s gotta be good. And it is! There are wonderful characters here, as well as a truly fun road-trip-structured plot. There is humor, there are tears, there are snacks. There is fighting, there is making up, there are costume balls. And, after you’ve read the book, check out these character extras on J.C. Lillis’ website . . .

Indeed, I don’t want to say much more because J.C. Lillis has such wonderful things to say about the book and its many fascinations. So, check back here on Wednesday for our interview with her and for your chance to win a copy of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart!

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