Best Friend 4-Ever: Paper Valentine

A Review of Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff 

Razorbill, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, August 12, 2013

Hannah’s best friend Lillian has been dead for six months, but for Hannah, she’s always around. And now Lillian is helping her investigate a string of murders that have been committed against teenaged girls in their town—murders connected by paper valentines left at the scene. As if that weren’t enough, Hannah finds herself drawn to Finny Boone, a boy who seems to shoplift more than he goes to school. Can Hannah solve the murders, or will she become the next victim?

Brenna Yovanoff’s Paper Valentine is about a serial killer, sure, but it’s at its most interesting when it’s exploring the territory of friendship and the ways that style and taste both express our personalities and exert control over them.

Lillian was the queen bee of her and Hannah’s group of friends, and she set their agenda:

“It was Lillian who decided . . . that there was room for only one really enviable group in school, and we were going to be that group. . . . The kind where when a band gets big or a movie comes out, everyone checks to see how you feel about it before they can decide if they like it, and if you come to class with neon crackle nail polish or colored eyeliner, they all have to . . . get it too, but they never forgot that you wore it first.

That was what Lillian wanted . . . we’d be the girls you could never confuse with anyone else. The girls who invented the colors and started the trends . . . The biggest requirement of Lillian’s fashion philosophy was to always wear it—whatever it was—like you meant it. Like no one in the world could inhabit that exact outfit but you.” (50-51).”

The girls make their own clothes, sewing one thing into another and adding whimsical decorations, Lillian always the arbiter of taste and Hannah her best friend. When vibrant Lillian dies from anorexia, though, Hannah is left feeling uncertain of herself. Lillian’s ghost has stuck around, though, and only Hannah can see her. Little by little, they realize that they have information about the murders that are terrifying their suburban town, and Hannah puts the pieces together.

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffThe atmosphere of Paper Valentine is spot-on: spooky in a heat-dazed, summer-tranced kind of way. In the mornings, Hannah walks her little sister, Ariel,  to music camp, where she runs into Finny Boone, who’s there for summer school. Hannah’s known Finny since elementary school, but never really spoken to him—he has a reputation for being a bit of a delinquent. Once, though, Finny stuck up for Hannah and she’s never forgotten it. She finds herself drawn to him, and he turns out to be a sweetheart. Plus, it’s super convenient to have a very tall/strong boyfriend when there’s a serial killer on the loose, amiright?

Paper Valentine does pretty well in terms of its component parts. The scenes of Hannah and Lillian’s friendship, and their clique, are perfectly-pitched psychodrama; the scenes of Hannah and Finny’s burgeoning friendship and romance are touching; and the throughline of the serial killer mystery is fairly satisfying. It’s just that there are a LOT of them and, for me, the book felt like it didn’t go quite deep enough into any of them to fully inhabit them. Hannah and Lillian’s friendship isn’t actually anything you’ve not seen before; Finny is your quintessential gentle giant character; and the murder mystery element, while dramatic, felt more like backdrop than narrative backbone.

I felt like Paper Valentine itself was the ghost of a few different books combined and it couldn’t decide what should be in the foreground and what in the background: are the serial murders just a backdrop against which to tell the story of Hannah’s recovery from a trauma? Or, is Hannah’s grief the backdrop against which the murders spur her to start a new relationship? It isn’t really clear, and, as such, I wasn’t quite sure what the stakes were. I enjoyed the book—Yovanoff is a solid writer, and the world she built is evocative and interesting—but each element gets about the same amount of development, and the result is a competent book that feels like a bit of a flatline. If one or two of these elements could have fallen to the background, leaving room for more development of one or two others, it would have had the peaks and valleys I craved by the end.

Lillian is the most vivid character and she haunts Paper Valentine as she does Hannah. I like the idea (if this was intentional), but the effect is still that Hannah seems lackluster. And, as in Pretty Little Liars, I’m left wondering what’s to like about these control-freak-mean-girls. I didn’t mind that there’s never really an explanation of whether ghosts are, like, a thing in the world of this book, or if it’s just Lillian, but it’s definitely one more thing the story skates on the surface of. Overall, I enjoyed the book as it unfolded, but found myself unable to remember much about it besides the outfits when it was over.

received from: the library


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?

5 Reasons to make Night of the Comet the next 80s movie you watch

If you’re the type who needs convincing, here are some

Reasons Why You Should Watch Night of the Comet (1984)


screenshots and review by Tessa


1. You’re sick of the classic 80s movies.


Ok so, Night of the Comet isn’t OBSCURE – it has a whole fan site devoted to it. It was shown at an art museum. But it’s not on the level of Weird Science or other stuff that would automatically get namechecked in, say, Ready Player One. I’m getting old and I need to branch out into lesser-known fare from the 80s in order to satisfy my craving for 80s movies. Often this means watching the quality of the film degrade, in plot or acting or both, trying to find some small part of the film to make it worth watching (usually the clothes and/or hairstyles). Not so here.


2a. You like Linda Hamilton doppelgangers.


Catherine Mary Stewart has the big blue eyes, strong jaw, tawny hair, and toughness of Linda Hamilton. Her character, Regina, is the daughter of a military-career-obsessed father. Her mom is dead and her stepmother is mean. She’s learned to take care of herself as much from her dad as from his absence –  and gets fun where she can take it – like keeping the top 10 slots on her favorite video game at work (a movie theater) filled with her initials. Her only deep bond is with her younger sister, so she has a protective and friendly side as well.


2b. Sisters!



It’s great to see loving sisterly relationships portrayed. Regina and Samantha are totes believable as siblings. Regina has the older sister leading her way into the world thing down, where she makes mistakes and worries about her sister. Samantha, being the younger sister, is more carefree . She’s happy to be a sardonic blonde cheerleader type – tough & bubbly – and she wants to make her own decisions but kinda enjoys being in the protected zone. And R&S are close enough in age that they are also friends and can razz on each other without it becoming big drama. Except in the case of boyfriend-poaching which, if they both survive the cometpocalypse, will probably become a deep seated neurosis for Samantha in her adult life.

Overall, the main peeps were well-written and came off as characters. The zombies and the stepmom were pretty much evil though.


3. You’re into great 80s fashion.


I’ll start at the boots:



And raise you legwarmers and spandex:


Finishing with the irresistible shopping-at-the-mall-cuz-everyone-in-the-world-is-dust-or-zombies montage


4. You want a post-apocalyptic movie that is as silly as it is gritty.


The premise of the movie is that the Earth is in the path of a comet’s huge elliptical orbit – not the actual comet, but its emanations or whatever. The last time it hit earth the dinosaurs died, but everyone thinks that’s a coincidence. Most people are outside watching the comet when it passes through, and are pretty much instantaneously dried out and turned to dust.


The ones who were partially exposed become zombie-like. They go a little crazy and kill and eat people, but they can also talk and reason, up to a certain point in the progression of… whatever it is. A virus? A bacteria? An environmental thing? It’s transmitted through the air. People who weren’t exposed at all are okay… or are they?  Some selfish scientists are trying to figure it out.


The scientists also like legwarmers.

The actual science is, as you may expect, vague, and its resolution is in keeping with that vagueness. Scientific clarity isn’t really the point – the setup is a great background for seeing empty city streets and setting up alternately silly and scary situations, but with a SPOILER ALERT happy ending — that has our characters totally not worried about things like gas, and continuing to put things in the trash as if there were garbage collection still happening.  Walking Dead it ain’t.  Still, the zombies are scary – there aren’t very many, but the fact that they retain brain function for a while makes them trickier to deal with.  And the human characters can also be scary – Doris, the stepmother, punches Samantha in the face, and the scientists give off a vibe that made me feel uneasy – like they were losing their minds but they didn’t know it, and so had to be watched at all times.  There’s even a plot twist that faked me out and made me think that the writer/director was really being gutsy.

5. You want a soundtrack chock full of smooth 80s jams.


Everyone is constantly listening to the radio on giant boomboxes or in their car, and the songs are uniformly full of spiraling saxophones and pulsating keyboard chords. (The shopping montage features a non Cyndi Lauper version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.)

BONUS: Because empty cities are a little thrilling.


5 Things I Learned From the Director’s Commentary Track of Valley Girl (1983)

by Tessa

I’ve been taking a wee break from reading YA, instead immersing myself in the marital concerns of a man in the late 1700s, a book about one woman’s journey within her own black feminism, and new theories of emotion as they apply to brain research. Also finishing reading this poem.

But I did watch a tale of young love on the first day of the year: Valley Girl, Nicolas Cage’s first role under the name Nicolas Cage. Cage is very young and looks like he’s stopmotion animated. He plays Randy, a devotee of punk-edged pop-rock from Hollywood, who falls for Julie, a pastel-ensconced Valley Girl.  They run up against the social prejudice of the suburban set. The whole thing felt like an Apatow precursor – it had almost-too-long scenes with Julie’s hippie parents and its comedy comes from that uncomfortable-realist perspective.  It seems improvised, but it isn’t (mostly).  It has more substance than one might expect, and a really great soundtrack – the big song “I Melt With You” got famous because of it, and costumes (partially designed by the teenage punk son of a costume designer).


I ended up watching Martha Coolidge (the director)’s commentary, and this is what I learned:

Things I Learned From the Director’s Commentary of Valley Girl
1. Nic Cage was asked to remove some chest hair so that he would look younger (though he was the youngest of the cast).  He came back the next day with a weird, distinctive chest hair triangle. Sort of looks like a swooping gull.
2. Nic Cage was in the casting reject pile and his photo was pulled out as an example of what the director wanted to see – “No more pretty boys”.


Nic Cage at the 38th Cannes Film Festival in 1985 (AP Images editorial license)

Nic Cage at the 38th Cannes Film Festival in 1985 (AP Images editorial license)

3. The club in Hollywood where they go the first night they meet was called the Central in real life. Now it is occupied by the Viper Room.
4. Coolidge asked X to be the house band before the Plimsouls, but X did not want to alienate their Valley-based fans, so they declined.

5. There’s a montage where Cage tries to win Julie back by infiltrating all aspects of her life, including getting jobs at all the places she frequents. He pops up as a disguised waiter in a chef hat at a drive-up joint, and when informed that he’s forgotten part of the order, exclaims “Well Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers, I guess I DID!” and his gum drops out of his mouth into the car.  The gum was an accident that they kept in the movie. (It was also Cage’s idea to wear a chef’s hat).

BONUS: Cage also improvised this line.

OTHER THING: Elizabeth Daily went on to voice Tommy Pickles of Rugrats among other things.

Here’s another blog post with more (unverified?) facts! FAXCXTZ.

“You Say Spoiled Like It’s A Bad Thing”

A Review of Spoiled by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Poppy (Little Brown and Company), 2011

By REBECCA, July 2, 2012

In honor of the long-anticipated divorce of Katie Holmes and scientology puppet Tom Cruise, I thought I’d visit the city of angels.

Spoiled Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan


Molly Dix: cross-country runner and all-around nicey-pants from Indiana who has just found out that movie star Brick Berlin is her dad.

Brooke Berlin: Brick’s other daughter, also 16, who grew up in Hollywood chasing after her dad’s attention and designer clothing.

Brick Berlin: Hunky and well-intentioned movie star/producer/guru (in his own mind).

Shelby: Brooke’s nemesis, her dad owns a gossip rag and she is determined to follow every lead.

Charmaine: Molly’s best friend, enthusiastic about the L.A. thing, but down-to-earth enough to provide periodic reality checks.

Danny: Molly’s longtime boyfriend, he supported her when her mom died.

Teddy: One of the hard-to-find humans that Molly meets at school in L.A., they have spark immediately.

Max: Teddy’s sister, she takes pity on flailing Molly and is a real friend to her.


When Molly’s mother confesses (on her deathbed) that Molly’s real father is movie star Brick Berlin and that she wants Molly to go live with him in L.A., Molly can’t do anything but obey her mother’s dying wish and hope that her new father and sister accept her into their family. But Molly gets more than she bargained for in the trial by fire that is celebrity L.A.—can she stay true to herself in a world of mean girls and Manolos?


Spoiled is brought to you from the ladies who write Go Fug Yourself, so you would be correct to assume that it is a (quasi)-satire of the celebrito-fashionisto-starfuckery of L.A. Molly has grown up in West Cairo, Indiana (not a real place, I don’t think, although there is a Goshen, Indiana) with her mother, Laurel. On her deathbed, Laurel confesses that when she did costumes for a movie many moons ago, she had a sweet and short-lived affair with star Brick Berlin. By the time she knew she was preggers, Brick had already impregnated another woman and married her (like you do), and Laurel was happy to just raise Molly by herself, although she remembers Brick fondly.

Across the country, in Hollywood, Brooke Berlin, that other impregnation, has no idea that Molly exists. Her mother abandoned them years ago and Brooke spends most of her time shopping, primping, and attempting to get her father’s attention, while Brick flits from project to project like an extremely tanned and white-toothed butterfly.

HollywoodSo, you can see where this is going, right? Molly arrives in L.A., sweet and wholesome like all people from Indiana in books are, and Brooke is massively jealous of the attention that Brick gives her and decides to make her life more of a living hell than it already is when she realizes that part of going to a wicked fancy prep school in L.A. is that people carry Prada bags instead of backpacks and swap gossip column appearances at lunch instead of gossip. Enter Shelby, Brooke’s nemesis, who befriends Molly and shakes things up even further. As if rocky family relationships aren’t enough, Molly didn’t quite break up with her Indiana boyfriend, so when sparks fly between her and low-key sweetie Teddy, Molly is guilty and confused.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

This is all to say: there is really nothing surprising in Spoiled‘s goings-on. The plot is totally predictable and the characters are straight out of central casting. Still, it’s a competent book, certainly, and the writing is very much in the vein of Go Fug Yourself: chatty, snarky, and rich in fashion-themed metaphors. As for the characters, no one can accuse them of being black or white, exactly: Molly is boring, but at least she’s nice; Brooke is selfish and vapid, but at least she’s amusing and has well-earned daddy issues; Shelby is conniving, but at least she’s smart, etc.

Brick Berlin, however, is comic gold and saved the book for me: he’s the perfect endearing and infuriating combination of total sincerity and extreme stupidity that seems to characterize people who take Hollywood (and themselves) seriously. When Brick picks Molly up from the airport in L.A.:

“‘This is an emotional time for us all,’ Brick said kindly. ‘Cancer is a vicious thief.’

He paused to let that sink in and then grabbed her face. ‘I’ve been waiting to meet you all your life, Molly. And now that you’re here, I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain, sweet child of mine!’

. . . She blinked back fresh, unexpected tears. Maybe it was the effect of being comforted by her father for the first time in her entire life, maybe it was that meeting a new parent reminded her of the one that was gone, or maybe it was the fact that he was gazing searchingly at her through fake Harry Potter glasses, giving him an air of permanent surprise. . . .

‘Let it out,’ he advised. ‘Tears are full of toxins. If you hold them in, they’ll flood your brain.’ . . . ‘That does sound kind of ridiculous,’ he admitted with a grin. ‘My trainer told me that. But I’m sure it’s true on a deeper level. I’ll ask my hypnotherapist'” (40-41).

Ashley OlsenSpoiled is moderately charming—the writing is fun and fast-paced—and it’s a fast read, but it’s not much more than that. I think a lot of the fun of the book comes from the fact that the authors are such experts on this specific milieu: everything about fashion, the paparazzi, and celebrities rings true. However, the downside to this is that even one year later all those bits of expert trivia already feel outdated. Similarly, the characters are more like outfits that are so well-coordinated that they feel right off the manikin—mere collections of characteristics. I think a huge contributing factor here is that Spoiled is written in the third person. The better to satirize with, I imagine, but the effect is that although we switch back and forth between Molly and Brooke’s perspectives, they’re in the same voice. As a result, Molly and Brooke never came alive for me and so I didn’t care about either of them.

The biggest problem, though, was that—as often happens when enthusiasts satirize—the line between sendup and obsession was . . . thin. Of course, there are moments where it’s quite clear that Cocks and Morgan are poking fun at extreme retail therapy, smoothie-meals, and paparazzi-baiting, but many of those same moments are so loaded with devotion—the sentence’s caress of those hunter green crocodile ankle boots—that they could just as easily be read as such. Really, it’s that Spoiled doesn’t take anything far enough to be satire (except Brick), nor is anything extreme enough to be truly entertaining or original.

Chuck Bass loveFor example, I have written here about why I think Gossip Girl is a thoroughly delightful show—a full-scale vivisection of the desires and psychologies of its Upper East Side characters. Spoiled, in contrast, skates on the surface, content to revel for a few hundred pages in a fleshed-out tabloid story with lots of pictures. If you are looking for a super-light read with a heavy dose of fashion and sprinkling of high school drama, then definitely give Spoiled a go—it’s fun and has lines like “asses are totally in right now” (73), “Brooke had insisted that looking bitchy would make Molly’s cheekbones appear more prominent” (80), and “can’t we just have a teeny-weeny taste of revenge? Like, retribution tapas, or something?” (276). The sequel, Messy, is out now.

personal disclosure

I think one of the things that most intrigued me about Spoiled was that Molly is freaked out to find out that her dad is a movie star. I know that some people fantasized as kids that it was revealed that they were a princess or the son or daughter of a movie star or rock star, but that always seemed thoroughly unappealing to me. In point of fact, I would put myself up against anyone anywhere as the person who would make THE WORST CELEBRITY EVER.

Kristen StewartFor one thing, I would be arrested within two weeks for camera-smashing and photographer-punching; for another, my face looks like I’m pissed off even when at rest in neutral. So, for a critical and traumatizing chunk of years around middle/high school (you know, when girls are considered old enough to be aware that society considers it their responsibility to smile constantly, thus assuring men that they’re ok, but young enough that total strangers still feel like they have license to give them advice) people would always ask me “what’s wrong?!” and “why do you look so sad/mad?!” and (the absolute fucking worst) “it wouldn’t kill you to smile!” Yes, that may be true; but I might kill you for saying that. So, obviously, I would constantly be featured in magazines with captions like “Where’s RP-G going in those jean shorts and that scowl?” or “Is emo back? RP-G seems to think so!” or perhaps “Celebrities have bad days, too!”


Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl. Ok, so, obviously, Gossip Girl is a a watch-alike. Sink into the glamorous/sordid/privileged lives of Manhattan’s elite, and watch the fashion, scheming, making and breaking up, murder, destruction, love, and, well, fashion. Here are my top ten reasons why you will be delighted by Gossip Girl even if you, like me, are not someone who thinks you would like it. I’m not sure about the books the show is based on—anyone who has read them should tell me if they’re worth reading in the comments.

The Princess Diaries Meg Cabot The Princess Diaries Meg Cabot Princess Diaries Anne Hathaway Julie Andrews

The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot (2000-2009). Mia is living a life of teenage obscurity in New York when she finds out that due to some heir-snafu she is now the crown princess of Genovia. Chaos, make-overs, princess lessons, balls, tiaras, and a fierce grandmother then ensue. I read the first couple of these when I was home from college on winter break one year and my Welcome to the Dollhouse Todd Solandzsister had them in her room (hmm, I don’t know why she would have them). I didn’t realized that there are like 18,000 sequels, but Goodreads informs me that there are. And, actually, I quite enjoyed the Disney movie version. Anne Hathaway is pretty charming (esp. pre-makeover), Julie Andrews will cut a bitch, and it has a perfectly-cast Heather Matarazzo as Mia’s best friend, whom I have loved unreservedly ever since going to see Welcome to the Dollhouse like five times in the theatre when it came out when I was in eighth grade (woo-hoo, Brendan Sext0n III!).

procured from: the library

An Extravaganza of YA Lit Awesomeness

In which we celebrate some awesome YA Lit . . . stuff, from tattoos to tie tacks!

Veronica Mars: marshmallow! Mars Investigations bag

By REBECCA, June 1, 2012

As we all know, whenever a YA novel gets adapted into a move, tons of schlocky merchandise floods the market (*ahem* Twilight jeweled comb). Still, just because the powers that be market some ugly crap doesn’t mean that there aren’t some awesome tips of the hat to YA lit out there. Sometimes when I’m googling around for info on a review I’m writing I stumble upon just such random YA lit awesomeness that has no place in the review itself. So, rather than deprive you all of this bounty, here is a smattering of it for you to enjoy!


I love tattoos, and some of my own are admittedly nerdy—check out these amazing celebrations of YA lit.

Ramona Quimby tattoo

I love it so much! Ramona Quimby tattoo, via bellabling.

Where the WIld Things Are tattoo

Where the Wild Things Are tattoo, via The Word Made Flesh.

Chronicles of Narnia Tattoos

Chronicles of Narnia tattoo, via Minutest.

Twilight tattoos

YIKES! Twilight tattoos, via Geekologie, Chicago Now, and Digital Bus Stop.

Harry Potter tattoos, color

Harry Potter tattoos, black and white

Harry Potter tattoos, via Bloody Hell HP Tattoos, HP Tats, and The Frisky.

Forever Young Adult has some more YA tattoos here.


These ladies are artists—artists!

Hunger Games manicure

The Hunger Games manicure, via The Nailasaurus. In other news, there is a line of nail polishes called Capitol Colours that was released in tandem with the film.

Harry Potter manicure

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows manicure, via Nails by Asami.


So, as some of you know, I also write for the wonderful online food magazine Good. Food. Stories. One of the things I write is a column called “Eating My Words,” in which I make up recipes for the food found in my favorite books. So, here my recipes from Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Hunger Games Stew Good Food Stories

Rebecca’s Hunger Games lamb stew with dried plums, via Good. Food. Stories.

Harry Potter Cornish Pasties

Rebecca’s Harry Potter-inspired Cornish pasties, via Good. Food. Stories.

Marbury Lens cake Andrew Smith

As many of you know, I am in complete love with Andrew Smith‘s amazing novel, The Marbury Lens (see my review here). So, when I stumbled on Andrew Smith’s tweet of this cake, I just had to come and add it to the post immediately! It is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I’m so ashamed that I didn’t think to make it first.

Neil Gaiman cakes, Sandman and Coraline

Some Neil Gaiman deliciousness: Sandman cake via flikr user ToodlesJupiter and Coraline cake via flikr user looking glass cakes.

Vampire Diaries cake

Vampire Diaries cake, via flikr user Wiggles Whoo.

A Wrinkle in Time cake

A Wrinkle in Time 50th Anniversary edition cake, via Fictional Food.


Some folks out there have created fabulous clothes and outfits based on YA characters/books—here are a few. Check back in the future for my favorite YA fashionistae!

Scott Westerfeld Uglies series shirt Scott Westerfeld's Uglies shirt

Uglies shoes

Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series provides inspiration for these t-shirts, via Zazzle, and these frankly alarming shoes, for which I can find no source!

Harriet the Spy outfit

This one has a special place in my heart because I dressed up as Harriet for Halloween in college (I went with the red hooded sweatshirt from the book cover instead of the yellow raincoat—just saying, I’m a purist). Harriet the Spy outfit via Polyvore user katherinecginnaven.

Hunger Games Shoes

Amazing Hunger Games shoes, via Etsy user Holly Grothues (they’re sold, folks).

Nancy Drew outfit

Nancy Drew outfit via Polyvore user bramblewoodfashion.

What Claudia Kishi Wore Babysitters Club fashion

If you were anything like me, Claudia’s lobster earings and red & turquoise leggings were a total fashion inspiration! Check out What Claudia Wore for more delightful dissections and disquisitions on Claudia’s fashion. Babysitters Club‘s Claudia Kishi collage via Refinery 29.

Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block fashion Goat shoes Cherokee and the Goat Boys Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat has some of the best descriptions of clothes ever. Above, left, via Papermag, as part of a whole Weetzie-inspired photoshoot called Danger Angels. Above, right, via goatberries, remind me of the shoes that Cherokee Bat wears to stomp around when she plays music in Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys. Also check out this photoshoot at I Love Wildfox.

Flowers in the Attic t shirt

Ok, but I seriously want this Flowers in the Attic shirt. Image via No Good For Me.


Auryn The Neverending Story

The AURYN, from The Neverending Story, seems to have been pried off Atreyu’s cold, dead neck—ATREEEEYUUUUU!—via Etsy user Plumevine.

Wonka Bar Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

An entire brand was born of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Ramona Quimby sculpture

Did you know there is a bronze statue of Ramona Quimby (indeed, a whole Beverly Clearly sculpture garden!) in Grant Park, Portland? Image via Flikr user Karathepirate.

The Baby Sitters Club Board Game

An old favorite. Tessa, I want to play The Babysitters Club board game the next time you visit!

Twilighted covers of classic lit

We’ve all seen these covers that got Twilight-ed, but I still can’t get over them. Image via A Muse Sings.


YA author BINGO! For the . . . most mature YA fans?

Goosebumbs lunchbox

Goosebumps lunchbox, via Worth Point.

Harry Potter tie tack Alice in Wonderland Tie Tack

Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland tie tacks via Etsy user Altered Etc.

What’s your favorite piece of YA lit awesomeness?

Winter in Paris: French Milk

Saturday was Free Comic Day! In celebration, here is a review of French Milk, a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley

Simon & Schuster, 2007

By REBECCA, May 7, 2012

French Milk Lucy Knisley


Lucy is really the only character that we get to know. She’s a bit melancholy and extremely invested in food, drink, art, and feelings.

the hook

When you’re a graphic artist and you spend a month in Paris, what do you do? You keep a graphic journal and publish it when you’re done, of course!


Lucy and her mom have rented an apartment in Paris for the month of January, 2007, to celebrate her mom’s 50th birthday and Lucy’s 22nd. They spend most of their time eating, drinking, and wandering around Paris looking at stuff. Since this is a journal, it takes us through the trip day by day, so it mainly focuses on the details of what they ate and drank, where they went, and what they saw. This makes for a sensory smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, pickles, cakes, spirits, cigarettes, rain, and music. If, like me, you enjoy reading about such things, or about Paris in general, you will be delighted by the feeling of immediacy that Knisley’s scenes evoke. (Note: better eat before reading or you’ll be sadly disappointed at the non-Parisian state of your refrigerator when you become hungry halfway through.)

French Milk Lucy Knisley

My favorite thing about French Milk is that although Lucy is in Paris for a month eating and drinking delicious things (god, I’m so hungry now), she still gets in funks, misses her boyfriend, gets annoyed with her mom, has cramps, and generally feels out of place in the world. And, while in moments she could come off as an asshole to those of us not in Paris, it mostly adds texture to what might otherwise be a pretty superficial trip. She has that feeling of being privileged to do something that she’s not fully appreciating: that feeling of “I’m in Paris on vacation so I should be happy but my stupid brain is intruding with my real personality and preventing the word vacation from being synonymous with bliss.” You know that feeling, right?

French Milk Lucy Knisley

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Oscar Wilde's grave

Oscar Wilde’s grave avec kisses!

To celebrate Lucy’s birthday, her father comes to Paris to visit and she and her parents go to Père Lachaise cemetery so Lucy can pay homage to Oscar Wilde, who’s buried there. Lucy talks a lot about Wilde—he’s an apt interlocutor for her journal, which is so invested in physical pleasures, art, and aesthetics. But, while French Milk is mostly delightful drawings of food and wanderings around Paris, the funks that Lucy gets in from time to time begin, by the middle of the book, to touch on real depression: fears of her impending college graduation, anxiety that she won’t be able to find a job, insecurity about her self-worth as an artist. So, woven throughout this story of a Parisian adventure are the real world concerns of a woman in her early twenties trying to find where she belongs.

The strength of French Milk’s journal format is the specificity of Lucy and her mother’s experiences—that cheese, this painting, that bridge, these buildings. That immediacy drew me in and made me feel like I, too, was in Paris for a time, along with all my senses. That format was French Milk’s biggest weakness, too, I think. Because the book was stuck in the realism of what things happened when, it never quite opened up into being more than one woman’s experience with things in a highly unusual setting. Whereas sometimes travel shines a light on the feelings of alienation or belonging that a writer always feels but cannot quite capture when in familiar territory, in French Milk those feelings become so specific as to seem a bit solipsistic.

Paris in the winter

Image: design serendipity

The frontispiece of the book says that French Milk “deals with the valuable and significant influence that we take from our mothers, as well as my own struggle toward adulthood at an age when we so desperately cling to our adolescence.” This is true, in moments, but the journal format doesn’t leave Knisley any room to shape those themes into more affecting art, instead leaving them where they lie. That makes French Milk, for me, an escape piece—more travel writing (drawing) than creative nonfiction. And that isn’t a bad thing; far from it. I thoroughly enjoyed my trek through the streets and foods of Paris—even though I don’t care for milk.

personal disclosure

The one moment that French Milk lost me was this page when Lucy and her mom learn of Saddam Hussein’s execution but then find “humanity redeemed” when they eat good cookies (66):

French Milk Lucy Knisley

I think this is actually a very realistic reaction. So much of the book upholds a Wildean aestheticism (a celebration of taste food, drink, sensuality), though, that the use of taste in this instance—to redeem acts of cruelty and violence—made the rest of the book feel a bit more . . . superficial?


Carnet de Voyage Craig Thompson

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson (2004). Also a graphic travel journal, in Carnet de Voyage Thompson finds himself lonely and lovesick during his travels.

Everything is its own reward: an all over coffee collection paul madonna

Everything Is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection by Paul Madonna (2011). “All Over Coffee” began as a column of Paul Madonna’s that first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. It pairs Madonna’s stunning ink wash drawings with musings about the places he visits, from San Francisco to Tokyo to Paris. Gorgeous!

Procured from: library

Spotted: 10 Reasons You Should Watch Gossip Girl

By REBECCA, April 27, 2012

Gossip Girl

Okay, so I came super late to Gossip Girl. Yeah, I had a friend or two who watched it. And I knew what it was, sure: a superficial show about a bunch of privileged kids with nothing better to do than talk about each other and swap lip gloss colors. Right? Right! And yet, so very, very WRONG! I stand before you humbled by the power. The power of Gossip Girl.

So, I have compiled the following list of reasons you should watch Gossip Girl if, like me, you have either a.) operated under the assumption that it wasn’t worth your time, or b.) have had it on your list and just needed a little shove into the upper East Side.

Or, for those of you who were on it from go, maybe this list will remind you that, oh, look, global climate change likely has us in for a hellish summer—what better way to spend it than inside with air conditioning, a frozen cocktail, and Gossip Girl?

Without further ado, here are 10 Reasons You Should Watch Gossip Girl!

Veronica Mars Kristen Bell1. Kristen Bell. I wouldn’t necessarily say that everything is better with Kristen Bell’s presence. Nope, I just double-checked on IMDb and I can confirm: Everything Is Better With the Presence of Kristen Bell. It’s like, actually, all the times when I thought to myself, “self, this show Gossip Girl is probably crap,” myself should have said, “shutup, RP-G—it has Kristen Bell in it.” Even though she’s only voice-over, she manages to seem like she knows everything and yet could be anyone. That, my friends, is talent.

[Sidebar: once, my friend A— tricked me into seeing Forgetting Sarah Marshall (ok, she didn’t trick me; I was writing my dissertation and she basically had me at “want to go to the mov—”). When we got there and I realized that it was a romantic comedy in which I was going to have to watch people be laughed at for humiliating themselves I was un-pleased. However! Within like 14 seconds of Kristen Bell coming on camera, I was laughing. (Well, and then there was that thing with the puppet musical of Dracula that just slayed me.)]

Sugar Cookies xoxo

Image: Whipped Bake Shop, Philadelphia

2. Relatedly, the signoff “xoxo, Gossip Girl.” This is one of the most addictive and delightful inventions of the information age. The “xoxo, —” provides an email salutation that is simultaneously warm and suggests a shared cultural milieu,  but isn’t overly intimate and can always be explained away as a GG citation were the recipient to feel it intrusively intimate. Besides, Kristen Bell’s snarkly little “you know you love me. Xoxo, Gossip Girl” is about the best ending to a tv episode ever. It works no matter what the state of the cliffhanger. Because we do love her!

3. Incestuousness. Among the core cast, that is. I love when even the cast photos make it clear that a show is going to have all the cast members sleep together.

Gossip Girl Queer as Folk The L Word 90210

America's Next Top Model


Seriously, though, sometimes it’s infuriating to see a show where the couple combos just keep flip-flopping: it’s like, what, show, do you not have the budget for a new character—go to a coffee shop and meet someone. But in Gossip Girl, with the familial expectations of marriage, the incredible elitism, and the suspicion of people being after them for their money, the inter-relating actually makes sense. And it’s kind of cool to see a model of how a small group of people can be friendly after dating, rather than the character having to leave the show.

Blair Waldorf

Image credit:

4. Fashion, of course. Unlike many teen shows where fashion isn’t mentioned and the designer clothes, coiffed hair, and high heels are supposed to just be naturally occurring, in Gossip Girl fashion is talked about, aspired to, and expected. This is so much more realistic (narratively), and it actually acknowledges the time, money, and effort that it takes to look put together, much less stylish. My particular favorites in the fashion department are Blair and her school cronies. Blair’s gowns are stunning, and her school clothes (dictatorially echoed on her ladies in waiting) are like British school boy uniform + Godard waif + Marie Antoinette + money.

Gossip Girl Blair Waldorf Gossip Girl Serena Van der Woodsen Blair Waldorf

5. Champagne. It’s as effervescent as the nightlife and as fizzy as the fashion. The folks of Gossip Girl remind us that it doesn’t have to be New Year’s Eve or a wedding to pop the cork on some bubbly. And, especially with summer coming, Gossip Girl has inspired me to pair my YA with a bit of the Brut, thank you very much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go get a bellini.

6. What I called the Random Appeal Factor in my list of 10 Reasons You Should Be Watching Make It Or Break It.  I’ll just be honest. I’m really not the intended audience of Gossip Girl. I mean, I’m like the anti-Gossip Girl. But I LOVE it. And then one night my sister was hanging out, and we were all, what should we watch while sipping whiskey, petting the cat, and brainstorming how to topple capitalism? Well, Gossip Girl, obviously. I was in the middle of season 2, and I just popped it on, telling my sister we’d change it if she didn’t like it. By three minutes in, she was like, “wait, pause it and tell me EVERYTHING about EVERYONE.” And I did. And then she kept calling me after work and after hanging out with her friends, all, “oh, yeah, hey, um, I’ve got like 48 minutes before my next thing—you wanna watch an episode of Gossip Girl?” Yes. Yes, I do.

7. Blair. Sure, it’s “Serena” that gets whispered in the opening credits; sure, it’s Serena’s return that whips the upper East Side into a tizzy in the first episode; sure, dudes seem to find her irresistible. But who cares about Serena when the HILARIOUS Blair Waldorf is in a scene? Oh, Blair, you are so crazy. You’re insecure, entitled, uncompromising, spiteful, vindictive, petty, and dictatorial. And HILARIOUS.

I have discussed my love for monomaniacal characters here and here, and Blair definitely makes the list. And that’s why I actually love her; because despite her many, many horrible qualities, she is a hella hard worker who goes after what she wants and is willing to appear ridiculous to get it. And, as Chuck remarks to Blair, “you don’t get nearly enough credit for your wit.”

8. Chuck. Chuck Bass. Chuck Basstard. Mother Chucker. Speaking of monomaniacs with extremely questionable ethics! Ok, Chuck, I hated you in the beginning of the show because I have a soul and you treat women like disposable party favors. And yet, despite finding every element of your politics despicable, with each passing 42 minutes I found myself more and more delighted by you. Dude, you are fucked up. And hilarious, ambitious, smart, and resourceful. Plus, you can say things that would sound ridiculous coming from any other character/actor. (In response to why he should be chosen for a position: “Because I’m Chuck Bass.”) Chuck Bass, you diabolical, screwed-up fiend.

Chuck Bass Evil Genius

9. Chuck and Blair! If you look up “synergy” in the dictionary, you will find the equation “Chuck+Blair.” Okay, you won’t; you will find something like “the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements” ( Or, as George Orwell would put it, 2+2=5. These two superpowers are each formidable on their own. But whenever they join forces, it’s seismic. Their scenes are far and away the best written scenes on the show, and it’s worth the price of admission just to see them glower at each other, admire their own and each other’s craftiness, and dress impeccably.

[slight spoiler for Season 1:]

“Blair: Do you . . . ‘like’ me?
Chuck: Define like.
Blair: You have got to be kidding me.
Chuck: How do you think I feel? I can’t sleep! I feel sick, like there’s something in my stomach . . . fluttering.
Blair: Butterflies? Oh no, no, no, no no.
This is not happening!
Chuck Bass: Believe me no one is more surprised or ashamed than I am.
Blair Waldorf: Chuck, you know that I adore all of God’s creatures and the metaphors that they inspire, but those butterflies have got to be murdered”

Image: January Jones Prints on etsy

10. Scheming, Plotting, and General Mischief Making via Gossip Girl. Okay, so ordinarily, I’m not a fan of lying and scheming on shows—it so often feels like the writers couldn’t create drama without a convenient “misunderstanding” that leads to plotting, etc. But, in Gossip Girl, the scheming seems so much a part of the characters and the world they’ve been raised in that it all makes sense (we even see how Upper-East-Side-itis can be contagious . . .). Despite all their money and connections, there is so little that these teenagers have control over in their worlds that they seem to crave the tiny pops of control that they get when they reveal something via Gossip Girl or use it to punish someone else, even if they know they’re inviting retribution.

Image: Blue Ribbon General Store

These people use Gossip Girl to measure their social cachet, perpetrate retribution on one another via truth and lies alike, and air confessions and grievances. And they variously describe Gossip Girl as ally and threat. As Gossip Girl points out at one point, though, it is only through the very active participation of each person who sends tips to Gossip Girl or acts in accordance with her tips that she has any power to destroy their lives or tell their secrets. As my sister astutely pointed out: even though they would be better off if they simply didn’t play the game, it’s like a very well-orchestrated self-destruction that they all participate in because they believe momentary notoriety and the upper-hand are the only forms of capital they have.

And so, the scheming, lying, vicious truth-telling, innocent acts caught on camera from the wrong angle, incidents of omission, and flat out manipulation creates drama, yes, but it’s a dynamic and dangerous drama, even when it’s based on lies and misunderstandings.

So, there you have it. Have I missed your favorite (or most hated) thing about Gossip Girl? Your favorite Chuck- or Blair-ism? Let me know in the comments!

A Summer of Art: Same Difference

A Review of Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

PUSH (Scholastic), 2009

By REBECCA, April 4, 2012

Same Difference Siobhan Vivian

The List Siobhan VivianI’m reviewing Same Difference in celebration of Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which came out on April 1st. Make sure to check back on Friday when we will be interviewing Siobhan! Note: We have two copies of The List to give away on Friday, so start thinking about your best high school stories to leave in the comments. Two lucky winners will win The List!


Emily: Sheltered suburbanite torn between her newfound love of art and what people expect of her

Meg: Emily’s best friend who loves their New Jersey town, Emily, and her boyfriend, Rick

Fiona: Overly confident art student with control issues whom Emily worships

Robyn: Fiona’s sidekick, an art gallery-orphan with a snarky streak

Adrian: Awestruck art boy with a major crush on Fiona and a talent for comics

Yates: Emily’s TA/crush who gives her confidence in her art . . . and turns her into some

Claire: Emily’s sporty little sis who supports her summer transformation

Love Park, Philadelphia Robert Indianahook

It may only be a quick train ride from Emily’s home in suburban NJ to her summer art program in Philadelphia, but a lot can change in one summer. Especially with a new friend like Fiona . . .


Starbucks Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceEmily is an observant and talented girl who has always been happy with her life, hanging out with her best friend, Meg, at the pool and the local Starbucks and buying the same tank top in different colors. When Emily begins to explore her artistic talents in Philadelphia, all the things that once felt personal to her and Meg begin to feel generic, boring, and chosen for her, like her rosebud wallpaper and bedroom set. When Emily turn her powers of observation on her own life and habits—to say nothing of her tank tops—she finds them wanting. The trouble is that for every thing she learns about herself she grows more apart from Meg and her old life.

Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceSame Difference is the story of a growth spurt. It’s unavoidable and uncomfortable, but once the immediate pain is over you wonder how you were ever anything else. Siobhan Vivian’s world building is wonderful, particularly her ability to render the same places different as Emily grows. On her first day in the city, Philadelphia seems scary and foreign to Emily and so does her art class:

“I unload a few supplies, like a big drawing pad and the red plastic art box that holds my pencils and brushes. Glancing around the room, I notice I’m the only one with brand-new, untouched materials—paintbrushes wrapped in plastic, tubes of paint that need to be peeled open, unsharpened pencils. I’m a screaming newbie. I decide not to put on my smock, since no one else is wearing one.

Five more minutes and the classroom is practically full. Pixie Girl with the red scarf enters the room huffing and puffing, I guess because she had to take the stairs. She climbs onto a stool right next to Shadow Girl. Their eyes scan each other briefly before they nod and roll their eyes, as if they’ve just shared a silent joke . . . They seem like they should be friends” (39).

But then, when she gets home to New Jersey, instead of feeling like her old self, her friends seem just as alien to her.

I think Emily’s a brave character for Vivian to write. She’s so malleable and eager to be . . . cooler, for lack of a better word, that it would be easy for her to be a total dishrag, or to be unsympathetic. Instead, Vivian manages to tap into that exquisite humiliation that I’m sure we all remember from high school: of wanting to seem like a new mode of self-expression is a totally natural extension of our selves. Same Difference is a great entry into the wonderful category of books that map super-intense, almost romantic female friendships that involve the characters expressing their identities in their developing tastes (in music, books, fashion, etc.). I’m totally a fan of these books because they manage to capture that elusive time when a new friend could totally revolutionize the way you saw the world.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceSame Difference reminds us of how contingent everything is. If Emily hadn’t gone to this summer art program, would she have ended up a totally different person with a totally different life? If she’d become best friends with Adrian instead of Fiona, how would that have changed things? I really love the arc of this novel—it’s divided up by month, from June to September, and the short time period paired with Emily’s extreme growth make for really dynamic story-telling and character-building.

The characters are really strong. Emily’s transformation is not only believable, but feels almost inevitable. Fiona is an amazing vivisection of the line between identity and the cultivation of taste because of how it reflects on her. The biggest treat for me, though, were the descriptions of clothes, hair, and art of which Same Difference is chock-full.

“Robyn has on gray leggings, a blousy yellow tank top that could almost be a dress, and a pair of saddle shoes. Fiona wears a pair of skinny frayed jean shorts cut at the knees, a cropped navy vest buttoned tight around her chest, and these vampy open-toe red heels. I think the vest might have come from a little boy’s Catholic school uniform or something—it fits her like a corset. A tangle of long, thin gold chains hangs from her neck. It’s the kind of outfit that belongs in a magazine, the sort of thing that you can’t imagine anyone would wear in real life. But there she is, in real life, wearing it” (58-9).

My So-Called LifeThere is a class trip to a museum, and I simply cannot read or watch anything involving a class trip to a museum without invoking the episode of My So-Called Life (“Why Jordan Can’t Read”) when Angela’s class goes to the museum and Angela loses the note she’s written describing the pathos of her love for Jordan and he finds it . . . In fact, I feel like a lot of the things that I enjoy about Same Difference Tessa discussed in her review of Blake Nelson’s Girl on Monday, including it’s association with My So-Called Life. (Who am I kidding? I could find some connection between every book I read and My So-Called Life.)

personal disclosure

I moved to Philadelphia in September and began teaching at an art college very like the one where Emily attends her summer program, so I’ve been thinking about this book a lot recently, and about reinventing yourself, so it was a particular delight to re-read Same Difference.


Hey, Dollface Deborah Hautzing

Hey, Dollface by Deborah Hautzig (1978). Val and Chloe are the odd ones out at their Manhattan prep school. Together they pick through thrift stores, hang out in cemeteries, and generally have better taste than everyone. As Val’s feelings for Chloe deepen into romance, she realizes that adults don’t always have all the answers.

The Truth About Forever Sarah Dessen

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2004). Over the course of the summer, Macy, who is doing everything she can to impress her studious and controlled boyfriend, falls in with a ragged band of caterers and finds herself taking risks to be with Wes, an artist who believes in telling the truth, especially when it’s unpleasant.

procured from: bought, on Tessa’s recommendation when I was off to a summer program of my own.

So, come back on Friday for our interview with the wonderful Siobhan Vivian—and bring your best high school stories, be they wonderful or humiliating. I’m sure for some of you these triumphs and tribulations are still fresh; the rest of you can take the time between now and Friday to clear away the cobwebs, have a drink, and dredge up the dirt necessary to win a copy of Siobhan’s The List.

I Found My Thrill On Dragon’s Tooth Hill: Elsewhere

A review of Elsewhere (Borderlands #1) by Will Shetterly

Harcourt, 1991

By REBECCA, Friday, March 23



Just Ron: Newly arrived in Bordertown, Ron has some growing up to do, but a good heart

Mooner: Half-elf and ersatz leader of Castle Pup, he’s charisma + recklessness + pride

Wiseguy: Mooner’s twin, she’s a badass and a fierce defender of Castle Pup

Florida: Mysterious little girl who just showed up one day . . .

Mickey: Human owner of Elsewhere bookstore, she ushers Ron into life in Bordertown

Goldy: Co-worker at Elsewhere and crusader for love through books

A Few of the Crew at Castle Pup . . .

Leda: Dreamy elf addicted to peca, the Dragon’s Milk, she also has a royal pedigree

King O’Beer: Will’s roommate, he and Sparks (their third roommate) are both in love with Mooner

Strider: Beautiful, regal elf, he seems like he’d be a dick but he totally isn’t

Sai: Resident mature, non-idiot, she is also Bordertown’s middleweight boxing champ


When you arrive in Bordertown, the city that stands between The World and Faerie, where spellboxes power motorcycles and gingerbread cookies beg not to be eaten, it isn’t very wise to piss off anybody.


image: (Annette Kurtis Clause)

When Ron Starbuck runs away to Bordertown in search of his older brother, Tony, the first things he does are get kicked off a moving train, call a pair of half-elven twin bikers “pointy-eared dinks,” and chuck a rock at them. Not a good first impression. But Mooner  takes pity on Ron and soon he is zooming through the streets of Bordertown on the back of Mooner’s motorcycle, past “a ruined church that twisted around itself as if magic had brought it to life and someone had barely managed to kill it before it could slither away,” and along the Mad River that smelled “thick and soporific, sweet and fetid like sweat or blood or the beach after a storm,” (15) into Soho, where “something drifting from across the Border reminded [Ron] of waffles and orange blossoms,” and, finally, to Castle Pup, collective house extraordinaire (16).

Everything in Bordertown is cobbled together, carved out and layered atop of what used to be “any damn city in the World”—“Its soul changed, not its shape” (14). Thus, Elsewhere is a delightful romp through an urban landscape repurposed by teenagers and unpredictable, motley magic. Will Shetterly is a master at world-building through description; he’s also one of a fabled few who can use physical description well—in a way that shows how a combination of a character’s born physicality and choices of presentation can give some (limited) insight into her personality.


“wore a black leather jacked draped with chains, a gray Danceland T-shirt, and dirty purple chinos tucked into low blood-red boots. When she came near, I saw that her skin was as pitted as Mooner’s. His made him look dangerous. Hers made her look vulnerable as well, which made her look even more dangerous” (20).


“wore torn blue jeans, black cavalier boots, and a ruffled white silk shirt open almost to his waist. His white hair was tied at the back of his head like a samurai’s. His features were elvishly perfect: high cheekbones, flaring eyebrows, lips that seemed ready to laugh, eyes the color of smoke.

I didn’t hate him immediately. I pitied him. There are three desirable things that a guy can have: height, looks, and brains. The odds of getting all three are so slim that he probably needed help tying his shoes” (21-2).

Shetterly’s descriptions of Bordertown are Elsewhere’s worldview, too. In a city where places and possessions are hodgepodge and magic lives in the cracks of worldly pavement, things are not what they seem. Except when they’re exactly what they seem. Every scene of this novel is packed with delicious atmosphere, funny and smart dialogue, action, and, of course, magic.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

I first read this book when I was around twelve or thirteen, and it’s absolutely one of my favorites. Each character—even those who appear for only a page or two, and there are many of these—is an individual, and we can read backstory in those brief sketches. This makes the place of Bordertown feel incredibly alive. The cast of central characters, too, is extremely well-drawn, each carrying the mark of her life in every action.

Characters make bad choices and do wonderful things; they are infuriating and lovely. There is not only magic, but also hair-cutting, cooking, dancing, and lots and lots of love, requited and un-. Shetterly shows the mundanities of life in a magical place, and he clearly shows Bordertown’s problems as well as its pleasures. This is one of the novel’s biggest successes, for me: gangs of elves war with humans and halfies; Castle Pup is threatened with a choice between folding from a lack of access to funds and turning itself into a business to stay afloat; King O’Beer and his boyfriend run into Elsewhere to escape a group of gay bashers; throughout the city, kids are addicted to peca and the water of the Mad River; magic backfires and harms people; magic intentionally harms people. The problems of any city run throughout Elsewhere, and Shetterly shows what permutations they might take in a place like Borderland.

Elsewhere is an original novel, but it inhabits the world of Bordertown that was originally created by Terri Windling in the anthologies Borderland (1986), Bordertown (1986), and Life on the Border (1991). Shetterly and Emma Bull (they’re married) contributed the story “Danceland” to Bordertown, and Elsewhere grew out of that story (as did Emma Bull’s 1994 Bordertown novel, Finder). You can read it here.

As Terri Windling explains here, in the late 1980s she was commissioned to create a “shared world” anthology for young adults—a world, that is, that could be built and then opened up so that other authors, like Will Shetterly, could write stories in that world. The setting she proposed, of course, was Bordertown, which she describes as “a modern city at the edge of a mysterious, magical realm—a border city where runaway children gather to create new lives for themselves . . . sometimes successfully, sometimes disastrously (reminiscent of Real Life teen meccas such as Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s).” The books gained a cult following in the 1980s and early 1990s, spawning, among other things, Borderland parties and raves. Count. Me. In.

Elsewhere is a wonderful read: great characters, awesome writing and—I saved this one—a little mystery that twines slowly through the book like a bike with a semi-busted spellbox. And, at the end, when Ron’s smart mouth pisses off the wrong person, magic turns him into something he could never have imagined. Check out Shetterly’s sequel, Nevernever, to find out what happens to Ron, and whether he can reverse the curse.

Note: in 2011, a new anthology set in Bordertown was published, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner and featuring stories by such YA delights as Cory Doctorow, Jane Yolen, Will Shetterly, Annette Curtis Klause, Cassandra Clare, Terri Windling, and Neil Gaiman.

You can read Cory Doctorow’s story, “Shannon’s Law,” here.

And, hey, want to write some fanfiction or make some art in the world of Bordertown? Here are the guidelines.

personal disclosure

The reason I picked this book up at a library book sale in Ann Arbor many moons ago is that I adore the cover. I guess I can see why someone might think it was ugly, but I challenge that person to a boogie-off at Danceland.



Ecstasia by Francesca Lia Block (1993). In this prequel to Primavera (1994), members of a popular band live in a magical world where youth and fun are the most valuable commodities; one by one they are driven underground or out of the city, some for love, and others by addiction.

The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar (1992). If Elsewhere is punk with elves, then this is elfpunk—well, fairypunk.

The Modern Faerie Tales by Holly Black (Tithe, 2002; Valiant, 2005; Ironside, 2007). Black’s trilogy also delves into the grittiness inherent in the seeming beauty of fey mythos.


And, of course, if you just like the world, anything in the Bordertown oeuvre.

procured from: a library book sale long, long ago (best $1.50 I’ve spent, not counting that one coffee that one time)

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