“Think Twice Before Falling Asleep”: Welcome to the Dark House

A Review of Welcome to the Dark House, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Hyperion (Disney), 2014

Welcome to the Dark House Laurie Faria Stolarz

by REBECCA, August 6, 2014

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For seven horror fans (well, six horror fans and one traumatized girl who’s trying to desensitize herself) this will be the weekend of their lives. After submitting essays about their scariest nightmares, they’ve won an exclusive look at horror director Justin Blake’s new movie and the chance to stay at a bed and breakfast crawling with creepies. But when you hand someone else a guide to your most terrifying nightmares, don’t be surprised when they come true . . . [Come on, that clearly should’ve been a sentence in a blurb about this book; you’re welcome, Hyperion!]

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I’ve been on a total horror/supernatural/mystery kick lately, so I was excited to read Welcome to the Dark House (good title; good cover). I liked the premise a lot: horror fans competing to win an in-the-middle-of-nowhere weekend that’s all about their favorite horror director. It’s got the promise of thrills and chills alongside the possibility for some nerdy meta-horror fandom.

752px-john_henry_fuseli_-_the_nightmareWelcome to the Dark House starts really strong. Ivy Jensen’s nightmare is rooted in reality. Six years ago, her parents were murdered by a serial killer as she slept across the hall. After she called 911, their killer came to her room and spoke to her before police sirens scared him away, leaving her in constant fear that he would reappear and finish the job. Ivy’s fear hasn’t lessened over the years, so, at the end of her rope, she decides that she needs to somehow desensitize herself to it. Imagining that she might do so by learning what so many people seem to love about horror movies, Ivy enters the contest, even though she isn’t sure how she got put on the list to receive its announcement, and when she wins, she decides she will conquer her fears by facing them.

And it pretty much goes downhill from there. Here’s the thing: this isn’t a terrible book. It’s fun and has a few scary moments. But it could have been totally good, so I found myself getting more and more disappointed as it went along. What it suffers from are the same things that make so many horror films throwaways, and it’s frustrating to see, because a novel is the perfect medium (to me) with which to take advantage of everything that’s awesome about horror but also to add in a lot of that to which horror movies aren’t as suited.

Horror Film Problem #1. Welcome to the Dark House doesn’t go in depth enough with character development to make me care about the characters as people to care when they die (that’s not a spoiler if you’ve ever seen a horror movie). The reason that I wasn’t able to care much about the characters is that the book is written from six different perspectives, shifting every chapter. For the first few chapters this worked fine because the characters hadn’t gotten to the bed and breakfast yet. But once they were all together, there was NO REASON for a shifting perspective because . . . they’re all together. So, the shift in perspective seemed arbitrary—why have Garth tell this part of their dinner and Shayla tell this part? No reason. Because they’re all together.

Of course, there would have been a reason if the characters’ POVs deepened our understanding of them and their backstory, or if, as I always hope for in a shifting-POV book, the different characters’ views of events are quite different, revealing internal mysteries and hidden motivations. But that wasn’t the case here. As such, I was constantly having to flip back to the chapter to see whose POV it was from because the voices of the characters are not distinct from one another. This is a huge pet peeve of mine in general: if you’re going to use shifting perspective, your characters’ voices need to be unique enough that there’s never any doubt in my mind who is speaking.

It also turned out to be a problem because (no specific spoilers:) some of the characters die. So . . . it’s kind of awkward. Really, this should have been either in third-person, so we could fully experience things from all characters’ POVs or it should all have been from Ivy’s perspective since she’s established (as any horror aficionado will see) very early on as what Carol Clover calls “the final girl.”

haunted-dark-house_1680x1050_29115Horror Film Problem # 2. Like so many horror films, Welcome to the Dark House starts out as one kind of book and becomes a different kind in the third act. The first act, where our horror fans are arriving at the bed and breakfast and meeting each other, and the second act, when they begin to experience the delights of the horrors that have been planned for them there, feel very much of a piece. This makes up the first half of the book, which was both too long to glean as little depth about/investment in the characters as I did, and also too short to really develop the B&B as a house of horrors. It was, as horror goes, kid stuff.

The one exception to this is Natalie, a character whose nightmare is her own reflection. Her character has some interesting shit going on, which I appreciated, but which merely served to make the rest of the characters feel generic by comparison, unfortunately.

Halfway through the book, it decides it’s not satisfied with the B&B concept and takes the characters to an amusement part where, in order to be shown the new Justin Blake film, they must each face a carnival ride that is their own nightmare. Except there are also a bunch of random other rides that they can go on, so they just hang out for a while, lessening the suspense for no reason. Oh, and they’re locked in. In case that wasn’t obvious.

So, in order to be allowed to see the movie they must each face their nightmare ride, but no one is allowed to go on anyone else’s ride or they forfeit the chance to see the film. No idea why, except that this conceit finally makes it clear which chapter is told from which character’s perspective . . . ?

article-0-1B9A660E000005DC-455_964x633Horror Film Problem #3. Also like so many blah horror movies, Welcome to the Dark House isn’t even satisfied with one shift in frame; it has to add another one. The ending provides an ad hoc explanation of why they’re all actually there, which is thrown away so casually in one sentence that I don’t know why Stolarz even bothered. And, the final nail in the coffin, the book ends with the essays that the characters wrote to win the contest. But, why? Because we already saw what their nightmares were when they lived through them. Like, twenty pages before. (It also serves to remind the reader of a major plot thread that was never tied up . . .)

So, all in all, I think most real horror fans will find Welcome to the Dark House a predictable, unsuspenseful exercise in skimming. However, I would recommend it to folks who aren’t that into horror but are looking for a bit of a scare because it won’t feel as done-to-death for those unfamiliar with the genre, and because it really is only a tip of the hat to horror, so it’s not going to scare the bejeezus out of you.

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Darkhouse An Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1), by Karina Halle (2011). Y’all want a real horror novel that is also called Darkhouse? Of course you do! Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series is one of my all-time fave horror series. Perry Palomino has always had . . . issues with the supernatural. But when she meets Dex Foray, she’s willing to dive headfirst back into them to be the host of his online ghost hunting show. As the fear factor rises, so does the chemistry!

The Midnight Club Christopher Pike

The Midnight Club, by Christopher Pike (1994). Five terminally ill teens living in Rotterdam House meet (at midnight) to tell stories as a ward against the fear of death; they pledge that the first to die must send a sign to the rest of them . . . from the other side.

procured from: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz is available now.

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“I Used to Think I Was a Good Person”: The Dogs of Balboa

A Review of The Dogs of Balboa by Rose Christo

Self-published,  2014

The Dogs of Balboa Rose Christo

by REBECCA, August 4, 2014

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While walking home one day, fifteen-year-old Michael Mirez sees a sexual assault and runs away in fear. Over the next year, Michael self-destructs, endlessly punishing himself for not stepping in to do more. Now, Noah Flattery, the boy Michael saw assaulted shows up at Michael’s school, and Michael sees his chance to try and make it up to him. But what starts as a relationship of guilty protection becomes so much more, and Michael isn’t sure if he can handle it.

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Gives Light Rose ChristoAn important thing to know about the world: there is a series called Gives Light, written and self-published by the inimitable Rose Christo and, before you do anything else, you should read it. I’m telling you this because I want to improve your quality of life. (Also, you should check out our interview with the very smart and funny Rose Christo HERE.)

Whew, okay. Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s talk about The Dogs of Balboa, a book that has a similar tone and dynamic to the Gives Light series—and what a welcome dynamic it is!

Our narrator is Michael Mirez, whom we come to know as a responsible kid who loves his older brother, Joel (who joined the army at eighteen), and sisters, respects his father, a terse Spanish lawyer, and feels protective of his mother, a wheelchair-bound former-reindeer-farmer from Lapland. Michael is kind and funny, and thinks of himself as a good person. All that changes when Michael sees a boy being raped by two men in an alley. Michael wants to intercede, but, terrified, runs to his best friend, Tamika’s, house and calls the police instead. After that day, Michael never lets himself off the hook again.

Michael’s opinion of himself changes drastically that day, and he doesn’t believe he deserves anything good in his life. His guilt even causes him to fail his sophomore year. He spends his time in Joel’s room, confessing things to him that he can’t say out loud. How everywhere he looks he sees the personal failure that’s come to define him. Rose Christo has a way with this kind of character. Her portrait of Michael’s guilt and trauma over what he witnessed and his reaction to it are exquisite.

The boy from the winter alleyway crept back into my head. I almost vomited. Truth was, that boy was always in my head. Mostly he lingered toward the back somewhere, just out of sight. It was whenever I was in danger of thinking something really hypocritical—or relaxing, even for a moment—that he made his comeback, that he reminded me I didn’t deserve respite and he wasn’t going away. He was never going away. What had happened to him was never going away. If I had just said something. If I had just opened my mouth.”

earth5Then, on the first day of Michael’s (second) sophomore year, he runs into a beautiful Native American boy smoking in the bathroom and everything changes. Because it’s the boy he saw in the alley that day a year before. And suddenly, all Michael wants in the whole world is to keep this boy—Noah—safe. It begins with Michael walking him to and from school, where they develop a rapport. Michael notices that sensitive, jumpy Noah seems to feel safe around him. But this only serves to heighten Michael’s fear that he cannot ever truly keep Noah safe; that he’d already let him down too severely.

Almost without noticing it, Noah and Michael begin spending all their time together, where they realize they’re both fascinated by space—planets, constellations, black holes. But, no matter how close they get, Michael sees every interaction as pointing out his own failure; as pointing out that he doesn’t deserve to be happy.

“A part of Noah was stolen last winter. Noah wanted to go to space to get back to himself, the unmovable, indomitable part of himself that stood still with the ethers while the earth shook. I wanted to go to space to get away from myself. I wanted to stop being Michael. Noah stood his ground while I ran away.”

The closer they get, the less Michael feels he can bear to lose Noah’s friendship, so he avoids telling Noah that he is the one who witnessed his attack. But the closer they get, the more Michael feels like he’s assaulting Noah all over again by enjoying his friendship without confessing. And, little by little, Michael is beginning to question whether his feelings for Noah stop at friendship . . .  because he’s beginning to feel something very much like love.

The image of the violent practice that gave this book its title

The image of the violent practice that gave this book its title

The Dogs of Balboa is pitch-perfect; a poignant and chilling exploration of the horror of suddenly proving to yourself that you aren’t who you thought you were, and the horror of living with the aftermath. Michael, it’s clear, did nothing wrong. But after being confronted with a version of himself that he found lacking, he is unable to live with that self. Noah has his own version of events, but Michael isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to revise his opinion of himself. Christo is a master at character-building through voice and reaction, and Michael and Noah are no exception. They are delightful, complex characters who each possess something that the other one desperately needs.

As with all her novels, Christo’s secondary characters—Michael’s siblings, Noah’s sister, their friends from school—are fully-developed and help build the world. The Dogs of Balboa explores multiple different cultures, from Michael’s mixed heritage and Noah’s Native American household, to the large Gujarati population at their school.

The Dogs of Balboa reminded me of Gives Light in some ways. An unlikely friendship between two boys that’s based on unconditional protection on one side and unconditional acceptance on the other; issues of guilt and redemption; trauma, both person and cultural; and sexual assault. But this isn’t a rehashing of Gives Light by any means, merely a very worthy and very welcome follow-up. The Dogs of Balboa is a beautiful book you won’t forget.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012). When Aristotle and Dante first meet, they seem an unlikely pair. Aristotle is angry at the world, with a brother in prison and frustrations around every corner, and Dante is thoughtful, with academic parents and a paranoia that he’s not Mexican enough. But Ari and Dante quickly become inseparable, and this story of their relationship is a gorgeous testament to the ways we sometimes need someone unlikely in order to discover ourselves.

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

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, by J.C. Lillis (2012). Psh, y’all, J.C. Lillis’ debut novel is a masterpiece of the friends –> boyfriends genre. Like The Dogs of Balboa and Aristotle and Dante Discover the UniverseHow to Repair a Mechanical Heart features two opposites who form a close friendship. Brandon and Abel have a fan vlog about their favorite tv show; now, they are embarking on a journey to see the show’s appearance at comic-cons across the country . . . and a journey of lurve. My full review is HERE and our interview with the so-delightful J.C. Lillis is HERE.

procured from: bought, as I will with EVERY Rose Christo book that comes out!

Caught Between Two Worlds: Otherbound

A review of Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amulet (Abrams), 2014

Otherbound Corinne Duyvis

by REBECCA, June 11, 2014

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Every time Nolan Santiago closes his eyes, he sees through the eyes of Amara, a servant girl bound to a cursed princess in a world far from his own Arizona town. Amara has no idea he’s there. Until, one day, their worlds collide, and they realize that although all they want is to be rid of one another, their worlds are bound in a way that only working together can hope to untangle.

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Whee! I’ve been so, so bloody disappointed with all the YA fantasy I’ve been reading lately, so much so that I’ve started and abandoned five or six fantasies in the last month or so. I had high hopes for Otherbound, though, and I am so thrilled not to be disappointed. Corinne Duyvis‘ debut novel is impressive and original. But, most important to me, it has stakes—the lack of which in a number of books I’ve reviewed have been driving me wild with confusion and frustration lately.

Nolan Otherbound Corinne Duyvis

Nolan, by Corinne Duyvis

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the deal. Nolan’s parents, teachers, and doctors all think he is epileptic, diagnosing his departures into Amara’s world as micro-seizures. He has tried medication after medication, but nothing seems to have an effect on the seizures—because, of course, they aren’t seizures. He’s been visiting Amara’s world since he was a kid. Indeed, one of his early experiences of Amara’s world, while he was riding his bike, was so distracting that he was caught under the wheels of a car and lost his foot. So, although he is invested in Amara, her fellow servant Maart, and Cilla, the princess they serve against their will, Nolan pays a huge price for his implication in their world. His parents struggle to afford medications that don’t help him, his teachers and classmates don’t even notice when he barely makes it though the day it’s so common, and everyone in town knows to look out for his seizures. Nolan’s life isn’t wholly his own even when he’s in his own world.

Amara Otherbound Corinne Duyvis

Amara, by Corinne Duyvis

Amara was taken from her home as a child because of her mage-like ability to heal herself and tasked with safeguarding Cilla, the princess who escaped her family’s overthrow with a curse that will kill her if she spills even one drop of blood. Amara’s job is to absorb the pain of the curse into her own body, should Cilla accidentally spill her blood, since Amara can heal herself. She and Cilla have been bound together so long that Amara has trouble knowing whether her feelings for Cilla are hatred, pity, friendship, or perhaps something more like love. She has no idea that Nolan has been with her, looking through her eyes and feeling what she feels, until one day he manages to take over her body—to make her body run when she’s in danger but has passed out.

Cilla Otherbound Corinne Duyvis

Cilla, by Corinne Duyvis

When Nolan is finally able to control Amara’s body enough to explain that he is there (servants in Amara’s world have their tongues cut out and communicate through sign language), Amara is horrified to realize that what she once thought were private thoughts, sensations, and feelings, have been observed. But she and Cilla may need the insights Nolan has, as a longtime observer, to discover who cast Cilla’s curse and how to break it so that she and Amara—and Nolan—have a chance at living free lives.

When I say that Otherbound has stakes, I mean that there are real personal risks to and for characters, both physically and mentally. But there are also stakes because of Duyvis’ worldbuilding. Duyvis uses the class system of Amara and Cilla’s world to raise questions about the ability of a servant and a princess to ever enter into friendship or love as equals. Ethnicities, in Amara and Cilla’s world mean different things than they do in Nolan’s, but power and race and gender and pain are all bound up in both. Yet Duyvis never falls back on allowing these to be demonstrative of any fixed meanings about characters, groups, or places.

Otherbound starts a bit slow, especially because it shifts between Nolan’s and Amara’s worlds so quickly, but as the mystery ratchets up and the stakes grow, it really takes off. There are twists and turns, but never red herrings or deliberate obfuscations for the purpose of confusing the reader. For me, Nolan’s was the more interesting story. While I was taken in by Cilla and Amara’s adventures, I cared more about the boy attempting to live a life split between two worlds, always struggling to reassure his parents and sister that, maybe, just for today, his seizure medication is working and they can watch a movie or practice Nahuatl together. Otherbound is a story about connections and the ways we become tethered together, implicated in each other’s lives whether we choose to or not.

Otherbound will appeal to fans of contemporary YA, queer YA, fantasy, and adventure stories. Oh, and you should check out Corinne Duyvis’ website to see more portraits of her characters (she went to art school—no, seriously, look at some of those gorgeous pencil drawings!). Duyvis is also an organizer of Disibility in Kidlit, which is an amazing resource for all things disability in YA.

Can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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Wake Dream Catcher Lisa McMannFade Dream Catcher Lisa McMannGone Dream Catcher Lisa McMann

Dream Catcher series by Lisa McMann (2008–2010). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.

Skin Hunger Kathleen Duey A Resurrection of MagicSacred Scars Kathleen Duey A Resurrection of Magic

A Resurrection of Magic series by Kathleen Duey (2007–present). Duey’s series (which I ADORE!) alternates quickly between perspectives in an attempt to solve a mystery of magic too. My full review of Skin Hunger is HERE. The third book in the series is slated to come out this summer.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis will be available June 17th.

Cold Calls Makes Me Want To Hang Up

A Review of Cold Calls by Charles Benoit

Clarion, 2014

Cold Calls Charles Benoit

by REBECCA, April 24, 2014

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Three teenagers are each bullying someone at their schools. But it’s not because they’re bullies—or are they? It’s because they’re being blackmailed by someone else. Who are the villains when everyone’s a victim?

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I read Cold Calls because the ARC cover touted it as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club and I was like: sold. If by Pretty Little Liars they mean that it involves cellular telephones and if by The Breakfast Club they mean that people from different social circles interact, then I guess that’s an apt comparison. The similarities end there, however.

Pretty Little LiarsThe premise is simple: three students from different backgrounds and schools—Eric (the jock), Shelly (the religious emo girl), and Fatima (the bubbly smartypants)—are each being blackmailed by a mysterious caller, each forced to tease a student at their school, dump macaroni and cheese on them, and then post the video to YouTube. In the anti-bullying program that they must attend, Eric, Shelly, and Fatima meet and team up to figure out who their blackmailer is, why he or she is blackmailing them, and how to stop it.

the-breakfast-club-netflixI’m not sure how else to say it: Cold Calls is dopey. Well, I do know how else to say it. This is a book that lacks any characterization; therefore it lacks any stakes because we don’t care what happens to any of the characters. There are the most rudimentary of backstories sketched for each character, which vaguely relate to each of their “secrets.” (Note: in case it isn’t clear, my use of quotation marks around SECRETS is meant to indicate that these things are TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Oh, god, book, look what you’ve done: you’ve gotten me so upset that I’m starting to use all caps.) Because of the complete and total lack of nuance or character development, these secrets are ridiculous.

For example, my reaction to finding out Shelly’s (which is supposed to be traumatizing to her): You cannot possibly be that stupid. No, seriously. Wait, but a.) don’t you have the ability to google anything; b.) weren’t you forced to talk to an adult in the last year; c.) no one is that oblivious. What I’m supposed to feel (I assume): oh, you poor thing; guilt and shame are terrible; I feel pity for you. Eric’s secret is obvious on page two and totally dull. The only minutely interesting thing in the whole book is what Fatima is going through, which is that (spoiler alert; it’s her secret) she’s Muslim but is having doubts about her faith and knows it would really hurt her family to find out.

Cold Calls takes up bullying, a subject central to both the current imaginary and the world of young adult fiction. The idea of bullies being forced to bully is actually rather interesting. For one thing, it engages with the fairly accepted notion that many bullies act out because of ways that they have themselves been victimized. This, then, is a literalization (if a clumsy one) of that premise. Did we need a literalization of it, or did we all already know this? My vote’s on the latter, but hey, I understand the impulse.

urlHere’s the thing, y’all. The book has no characterization, no voice, the prose is purely functional, the mystery is both uninteresting and sewn up all of a sudden (this is problem-solving and misdirection of the “hey, look over there!” variety). Thus, there are no stakes for the characters, no stakes for genre or prose. Lacking any of these stakes, the only stakes the book could have would be ethical. I mean, surely a book published by a major publishing company (Clarion is Houghton-Mifflin’s children’s imprint) couldn’t be published without some stakes. But, though bullying is the central issue here, there isn’t even a scrap of meditation upon the topic.

It’s not that I want some kind of moralizing on the subject; quite the contrary. But Cold Calls takes up the mantle of a complicated issue and flattens it into the blandest of plot sketches. I imagine that there may be an audience for Cold Calls, but I am most certainly not it. Lacking interesting characters, voice, a unique plot, and any food for thought, Cold Calls read like the thinnest of premises tortured into a novel-length exercise in going through the motions of putting one scene after another. Any one of these things might have saved it—interesting characters make me care less about a blah plot; gorgeous prose is a delight to read even if the rest isn’t great; an amazingly creative plot excites me enough that the characters needn’t be so extraordinary. But, no. As Gordon Ramsay would say (I have recently been watching Master Chef and Master Chef Junior, as I wrote about earlier this week): what a shame.

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Want some actual mysteries? Here are three!

Beautiful Lies Jessica Warman

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman (2012). Alice and Rachel are the rarest of twins—so identical that even their closest friends and family can’t tell them apart. When Alice disappears without a trace, Rachel knows that something is terribly wrong because, for the first time, she feels like their connection is broken. As the hours creep by, things become more and more unclear: what is real? where is Alice? and what secrets have the twins been keeping from everyone—and from each other? My full review is HERE.

White Cat Holly Black

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black (2010). Cassel is from a family of Curse Workers—they have the ability to change your life with a single touch—but he isn’t one. Cassel usually stays out of trouble, but when mysterious visitors come calling, it dredges up a past he’d like to forget.

When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009). When Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes that are clearly written my someone who knows her intimately she thinks she needs to take action to prevent something horrible from happening. But who is sending her these notes? And how?

received from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (thanks!). Cold Calls by Charles Benoit is available now.

5 Reasons You Should Watch Master Chef Junior!

Master Chef Junior

by REBECCA, April 21, 2014

First things first, because this is an elimination show, be careful of going to the homepage for the show because it’ll spoil the finale.

See that adorable, food-smeared child holding what looks like a restaurant-quality dessert? Well, whereas usually that would imply that the annoying child just shoved their face in someone’s beautiful dessert, in Master Chef Junior, it means they freaking made it.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking: I hate reality shows about children because they are always either victimized by their parents’ ambition, or independent psychopaths who will surely grow up to be bullies and serial killers. HOWEVER, Master Chef Junior is not like that! My sister and I watched the whole thing a few weeks ago—it’s only seven episodes, so it’s a great mini-marathon show—and it is bloody amazing. So, here are five reasons why you should definitely check it out!

1. Expertise! There are few things I love more than watching people who are brilliant at something execute that thing well. I love cooking shows because you can see every step of what people do: you can see them brainstorm ideas; you can see them make mistakes and have to fix them; and you can see them receive feedback on them. I’m a pretty good cook/baker and I know there is no way I could ever be on a food competition show. I just don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of recipes or the time management skills to cook that fast. The regular Master Chef (a competition of adult home chefs) is impressive enough to me for both those reasons.

mc jr 4When the experts are children, it’s mind-blowing. These are 8-13 year-old kids and they are cooking at the same level as the adults on Master Chef. To see an eight-year-old with professional knife skills . . . well, actually, it’s a little creepy. But, no, it’s amazing. And it isn’t only that they’re experts on a technical level; they’re also incredibly knowledgeable about food, which allows them to create unique, diverse, sophisticated, restaurant-quality dishes. Y’all, it’s seriously amazing!

2. Competitors With Heart! In most competition shows—certainly in Master Chefthe competitors talk a lot of shit. They’re nasty and cutthroat and they refuse to acknowledge the talents of their competitors as if it could, in some way, lessen their own. Not in Master Chef Junior. Almost more surprising than the incredible culinary skill these kids have is their amazingly positive attitudes toward one another. They encourage one another, they say lovely things about each other’s work, they cry when competitors leave because they’re friends, and they help calm each other down when they’re stressed out. I think this was actually my favorite element of the show. I hate to sound all from-the-mouths-of-babes, but it’s incredibly inspiring to realize that at a young age, kids don’t just assume that they have to cut people down to elevate themselves. This also made the show so much more pleasant to watch because there was none of the yelling, complaining, and other garbage that so often goes with the truly amazing cooking.

131004masterchef-junior1_300x2063. Young Adults Rule! There is an episode where the contestants take over a restaurant and have to work in the kitchen, cooking all the food for the restaurant. It’s a real challenge because it’s not just about having the ability to cook. It’s about expecting 8-13 year-olds to work together, take instruction, delegate, move quickly, all of it while being yelled at. And, man, they are amazing. After the diners have eaten their food and raved about it, when those kids come out from the kitchen and they see who cooked it, you can see every one of those diners reevaluating everything they’ve ever thought about what young people are capable of.

4. Appreciation of Food! In a culture where kids are stereotyped as being either picky or addicted to junk food, it is so refreshing to see kids who are delighted by bok choy in a delicate ginger sauce or put fresh arugula on a cheeseburger. And it’s not only about whether these ingredients are to the kids’ personal tastes, but about the appreciation of each ingredient that they demonstrate. They work hard and truly honor food, showing how important it is to give kids access to fresh ingredients. I hope that every person in charge of school lunches, programs that bring food into neighborhoods and schools, and policymakers watch this show and see what kids can do when they’re given access to food and cooking instruction—even if that instruction is in the form of the Food Network.

jrmc_104-elim_03315. Self-Motivation! A few of these kids have family members who have restaurants, but most of them learned to cook from family members or they figured it out for themselves. When the chefs ask them if they’ve ever made things before, many of them speak about how they cook for their families three or four days a week. I love this approach to kids contributing to their families. Rather than just doing chores, this approach allows kids to explore their passions and also be responsible for providing for their families, whether they’re trying out gourmet dishes with exotic ingredients (for those whose families have access and cash) or whipping up homestyle comfort foods and elevating basic ingredients.

And, bonus, if you’ve ever seen chefs Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich on the regular Master Chef then you know that they can be exacting, blunt, and intimidating. To see them interacting with kids is at times funny and at times touching (Graham Elliot is as nice as always).

You can watch Master Chef Junior on Hulu HERE.

In the end, even if you’re not a fan of cooking shows in general, the show has a lot in common with YA novels I’ve reviewed that are about teens with obsessions and skills through which they express themselves or, sometimes, into which they escape. Here are a few.

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The Sea of Tranquility Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (2012). Two people in pain who find each other and express themselves through their obsessions, Nastya through baking and Josh through woodworking. My full review is HERE.

With or Without You Brian Farrey

With or Without You, Brian Farrey (2011). Evan is used to getting beat up for being gay and used to having parents who don’t understand him. He can deal with all of it as long as he has an escape plan after high school and his painting. Evan has studied the techniques of all his favorite painters and he painstakingly imitates their styles in the expression scenes from his own life. My full review is HERE.

“A World Without Fathers”: All Our Pretty Songs

A review of All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry

St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

All Our Pretty Songs Sarah McCarry

by REBECCA, March 3, 2013

hook

Beautiful, carefree Aurora lives every moment to the fullest and takes what she wants, whether she’s moshing at concerts, throwing elaborate parties in her mother’s crumbling Seattle mansion, or stalking her latest sexual conquest. Her best friend, our unnamed narrator, has always been content to be the moon to Aurora’s sun. They balance each other and they’re sure that nothing can ever come between them. But this summer they’re going to learn that everything in life has a cost‚ and that sometimes there’s no good choice to make when it comes to protecting the people you love.

review

I want to spend a second on the plot of All Our Pretty Songs, because I think the Goodreads blurb misrepresents it. And, although I’ll say more about it than I usually would, I don’t think it spoils anything—in fact, if I’d had a better idea of what the book was actually about, I would never have waited so long to read it!

Aurora is the daughter of a Kurt Cobain-esque figure who made it big and then died when she was a kid. Her mother, Maia, haunts the halls of their huge, crumbling house like a wraith, strung-out, leaving Aurora to do whatever she wants. Aurora and our unnamed narrator are a tight duo: they go to shows and parties together, hang out on the beach, and tell each other everything.

This summer, though, at one of Aurora’s parties, a beautiful musician named Jack shows up, and his music is irresistible and otherworldly. The narrator and Jack begin a romance, which surprises and delights her because people are always attracted to Aurora rather than her. But, as the narrator spends more time with Jack, Aurora drifts deeper into the world drugs and powerful industry people that her parents couldn’t escape. A world that will seduce Jack, too, though for very different reasons. In the end, the narrator has to go on a quest—but she isn’t sure if it’s a quest to find Aurora, or to find herself.

All Our Pretty Songs is a stunning debut by Sarah McCarry, with prose by turns lush and biting. It’s set in a realist Seattle, but, in a Francesca Lia Blockish kind of way, the city itself becomes a magical world in which music, art, clothes, and friendship create altered states that transcend realism. Then, of course, there’s the way that All Our Pretty Songs is an intertext with the Orpheus myth. Yep, as in, there is a Hades and a ferryman and other such familiar figures. I use the term “intertext” instead of “adaptation,” because:

1. An adaptation uses another story as its engine, whereas All Our Pretty Songs simply dips into the world of mythology to animate the stakes of the story, which are not the stakes of the Orpheus myth.

2. A knowledge of the myth in question does not completely give away the entire story (thank you, god, Sarah McCarry for not falling into that shockingly common trap!).

3. I hate adaptations and I love this book; so there.

Dirty Wings Sarah McCarry All Our Pretty Songs is, at heart, a story about intimacy: how it empowers us, but also makes us susceptible to grief; how it reveals truths about us, but can also distract us from discovering those truths about ourselves; and how, finally, it is a force far beyond our control. The narrator’s and Aurora’s intimacy is one of sisters, and it echoes the intimacy their mothers had before the aftermath of Aurora’s dad’s death divided them (their story is the subject of the second book in the series, Dirty Wings). The narrator’s intimacy with Jack is a revelation to her, since she’s never thought of herself as beautiful or lovable. And, as the story progresses, the narrator feels a greater intimacy with her mother as she finds herself replicating some of her mother’s struggles.

As I mentioned, I hate adaptations. I nearly never come away from them convinced that the adaptation was anything other than an uninteresting and unnecessary cheat in which the author took a narrative blueprint and danced all over it, either to lend legitimacy to their work or to avoid having to think up a narrative arc on their own. But All Our Pretty Songs completely earned its intertextuality with Greek mythology because it managed to cut to the heart of their power. The Seattle that the narrator, Aurora, their parents, and Jack live in is one in which music and art is a calling; an avocation. For them, it is worth sacrificing for—indeed, much of what they do already feels like they making sacrifices to it. Sex and drugs are just two of the ways they can both sacrifice and escape. It feels absolutely right, then, that music and drugs would narratively open up the visible world to the invisible just as they do figuratively.

It’s interesting to look at ratings of All Our Pretty Songs on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever because it’s one of the most equal distributions of opinions I’ve seen. I’m always intrigued by books where it’s split between half the people loving it and half hating it; that’s usually just an indicator of taste. All Our Pretty Songs is clearly a book that readers are ambivalent about, though. In some ways, I think it’s a very atypical young adult book, which might account for the spread: the audience it’s marketed toward isn’t expecting its slow dreaminess, or its focus on prose, or its meandering quality. And, to come full circle, I think the blurb (and the cover, which I think is a real mis-fit) sets readers up for a coming-of-age love triangle set in the Seattle music scene. And that’s definitely not what we get.

I’m incredibly excited by this debut and I can’t wait to read the second book. Are there places that feel a bit repetitive here or drag a little? Sure. But the prose is so lovely and the voice of the narrator so true that I was always compelled to read, sentence-to-sentence. If it’s not to your taste, you’ll know it in ten pages because, yes, that’s how the whole book is. But, if it is . . .

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War For The Oaks Emma Bull

War For the Oaks, by Emma Bull (1987).

Eddi McCandry just broke up with her boyfriend and her band in one night, and now she’s being chased by a dude who can turn into a dog. How much worse can things get?! Well, she could be a mortal caught in an epic, age-old war between the Seelie and Unseelie courts of the fey . . . and the dude who can turn into a dog could be forbidden to leave her side. Ever. But Eddi is a rocker and a badass, so she does what anyone would do in her position: she starts a new band—a band so good that maybe music isn’t all they’re making. My full review is HERE.

Violet & Claire Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

Ecstasia Francesca Lia Block Primavera Francesca Lia Block

Violet & Claire (1999), Weetzie Bat (1989), Ecstasia (1993), Primavera (1994), by Francesca Lia Block. Violet and Claire are a duo similar to the narrator and Aurora. All Our Pretty Songs is to Seattle what Weetzie Bat is to L.A. Ecstasia and Primavera have a Bachanalian/dystopian take on music’s power to create and destroy.

Teeth Hannah Moskowitz

Teeth, Hannah Moskowitz (2013). The line between realism and myth is blurred in Teeth, and the prose is beautiful. Check out my full review HERE, and my post on the genre of the Oceanic Gothic, of which I’m convinced Teeth is a part, HERE.

procured from: the library

All Our Pretty Songs Sarah McCarry

In Honor of MLK Day, Books About Fighting Oppression

A List of Books With Messages of Fighting For Social Justice

martin luther king jr martin luther king jr

by REBECCA, January 20, 2014

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and in its honor I’ve compiled a list of YA books about fighting injustice and oppression, both the small scale and large.

Proxy Alex London

Proxy (Proxy #1), by Alex London (2013)

As a Patron, Knox has and does anything he wants, as if there were no consequences to his actions. Because there aren’t. Well, not for him. Syd is Knox’s Proxy: any transgression of Knox’s is taken out of Syd’s hide. It’s been this way since they were boys, and Syd has learned to deal with the nerve-spasming pain of shocks, the beatings, and the manual labor. But when Knox kills a friend, Syd’s punishment may as well be a death sentence. But there are things brewing that are larger than Knox and Syd. In this future, where everything has a price, two boys will set out to see if they can take down the system. Great commentary on the crux of class and race in capitalism’s trash-economy with a kick-ass gay protag of color. My full review is HERE and the sequel comes out this Spring.

The Rock and the River Kekla Magoon

The Rock and the River (The Rock and the River #1), by Kekla Magoon

“The Time: 1968. The Place: Chicago. For thirteen-year-old Sam it’s not easy being the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older (and best) friend, Stick, begins to drift away from him for no apparent reason. And then it happens: Sam finds something that changes everything forever. Sam has always had faith in his father, but when he finds literature about the Black Panthers under Stick’s bed, he’s not sure who to believe: his father or his best friend. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore. Sam wants to believe that his father is right: You can effect change without using violence. But as time goes on, Sam grows weary of standing by and watching as his friends and family suffer at the hands of racism in their own community. Sam beings to explore the Panthers with Stick, but soon he’s involved in something far more serious—and more dangerous—than he could have ever predicted. Sam is faced with a difficult decision. Will he follow his father or his brother? His mind or his heart? The rock or the river?” (Goodreads).

Shadoweyes Ross Campbell

SHADOWEYES Ross CampbellShadoweyes, vol. 1, by Ross Campbell (2010)

In a dystopian society, humans live on garbage heaps and there isn’t much protection for those who can’t protect themselves. One day, Scout becomes able to turn into a blue superhuman creature with claws and the ability to protect the downtrodden. Along with her best friend, Kyisha, Scout embraces her new form and tries to protect her neighbors from those who would take advantage of them. For Scout, this means everything from stopping muggers to befriending her offbeat classmate Sparkle . . . and rescuing her. Tessa’s full review is HERE, and you can read Shadoweyes on Campbell’s website HERE.

Moxyland Lauren Beukes moxyland Lauren Beukes

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes (2008)

Moxyland “follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society’s white knight.” (Goodreads)

Beautiful Music For Ugly Children

Beautiful Music For Ugly Children, by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (2012)

Shy trans guy Gabe is a huge music fan (Elvis in particular) and an aspiring DJ. The summer after high school, Gabe gets the chance of a lifetime from his musical mentor, John: a chance at his own radio show, “Beautiful Music For Ugly Children.” In high school, Gabe was stuck as Elizabeth, hiding who he really was. On the air, though, Gabe is able to be himself and let his B-side play, inspiring others to do the same. With his newfound attention, though, come threats, and Gabe must decide whether to stand by his message of radical acceptance or go off the air. My full review is HERE.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling (2003)

Possibly my favorite Harry Potter book! At the end of book four, Voldemort returns. Now, in response to those rumors, the Ministry of Magic is threatened by Dumbledore’s power at Hogwarts. In Ron, Harry, and Hermione’s fifth year at Hogwarts, the Ministry sends Delores Umbrage to check Dumbledore’s power. Little by little, she strips away the students’ rights, including the ability to meet in groups or use magic to defend themselves, so the gang forms Dumbledore’s Army to teach themselves. I think this book is such a genius installment in the series, because it takes a brief break from the direct threat of evil overlord Voldemort and turns to the bureaucratic evil that occurs as a result of fear of evil, and can be just as oppressive.

Santa Olivia Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia (Santa Olivia #1), by Jacqueline Carey (2009)

“Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive ‘Wolf-Man’ who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider.

After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town. Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.” (Goodreads)

The Chocolate War Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (1974)

Cormier’s often-banned book is a classic now, but was rather radical in its time. At Trinity, Jerry’s school, there is an annual fundraiser and all the students sell chocolates. As part of a hazing ritual, Jerry is told to refuse to sell chocolates for ten days. This is bad enough, in the eyes of the Brother Leon, the chocolate-zealot in charge of the sale at Trinity. But, after ten days, even though his hazing is over, Jerry keeps on refusing to sell chocolates. And what started as a silly prank turns into a full-scale civil disobedience. Tessa’s full review is HERE.

Little Brother Cory Doctorow

Little Brother (Little Brother #1), by Cory Doctorow (2008)

Hacker Marcus and his crew are gaming in the wrong place at the wrong time—in San Francisco after a terrorist attack. After being taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security, they’re placed in a secret prison and interrogated mercilessly. After their release, Marcus realizes that the city has become a police state, with limited access to internet resources, surveillance of private citizens, and civil liberties violations up the wazoo. Marcus sets out to free the people (and the information), bending his not inconsiderable skills toward taking down the DHS himself. Awesome example of kids using the resources available to them to change the world. And Doctorow practices the freedom of information he preaches; you can download Little Brother HERE.

Catching Fire Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2), by Suzanne Collins (2009)

While Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) takes the Rebellion as its subject, I’m more interested in the political messages in Catching Fire. [Spoiler alert, in case there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t read it or seen the movie] Rather than depending on a hero, as in so many YA dystopias, in Catching Fire, the Rebellion recognize the effect that Katniss can have on their efforts and realize that they must preserve her so she can serve as their symbol after the quarter quell is over. Tributes from multiple districts unite against the Capital to do so, risking their own lives to get Katniss out of the arena. Bloody genius.

Inside Out Maria V. Snyder Inside Out Maria V. Snyder

Inside Out (Insider #1), by Maria V. Snyder (2010)

“I’m Trella. I’m a scrub. A nobody. One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I’ve got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own . . . until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution.”

And, finally, for our little brothers and sisters in struggle:

A is for Activist Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara (2012)

A board book for the next generation’s fight for justice.

Let’s keep dreaming a better world into being, my friends.

Rose Christo Talks about Native American and Queer Lit, Folk Metal, and Cheese!

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Rose Christo, author of my favorite new series, Gives Light, to Crunchings & Munchings!

Rose Christo Gives Light

 

 

reviewed the first book in the series on Monday, and am really excited to get the answers to some burning questions about Gives Light, music, and cheese. Welcome, Rose!

 

 

 

REBECCA:  Skylar’s muteness seems central to his relationships with people (who knows sign language, who can understand his facial expressions, and who treats him like he’s a child, etc.). He’s our narrator, so we know what he’s thinking, but were there challenges in writing Skylar’s character? Particularly in his interactions with others?

ROSE CHRISTO:  I think the narrator being mute came naturally.  When I was a kid I had problems with selective mutism, so I know what it feels like to want desperately to communicate with the people around you but to be unable to. Since the narrator couldn’t talk, it gave other characters the opportunity to project onto him. There’s also the fact that you have to choose to believe him when he tells you what he feels instead of relying on his dialogue. He’s had time to reflect on events, and he filters things out.

REBECCA:  Skylar and Rafael’s relationship is so magical—complicated and effortless at the same time. A topic that comes up on Crunchings & Munchings all the time is how notoriously difficult first loves can be. Do you see Gives Light (the book and/or the series) as a love story?

ROSE CHRISTO:  I love love. I love family. Family trumps romance every time but I think when you really love someone they become your family anyway. I guess it’s a love story, but at the same time it’s really about two boys who lost core parts of their families in the same tragedy but find them again in each other.

REBECCA:  History looms large in Gives Light, both Shoshone history and characters’ personal histories. The rich, vivid detail with which you render daily life and joy on the reservation feels so present, though. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship between history and presence in the book?

ROSE CHRISTO:  Oh, thank you. I think it’s easy to forget that America isn’t even 300 years old yet; her “history” was just a few generations ago. It was my grandpa’s grandpa who escaped the Bear River Massacre. My grandpa, Kookum’s second husband, he was born in the Saline Valley, which California snatched illegally in the 1950s and only returned to the Panamint Shoshone in increments long after he’d passed away. He died without getting to see his home again. The kids in the story are Plains Shoshone, but the issues are the same, and ongoing. History isn’t just the past. Everything that happens today is a chain reaction put in motion by the generations before us; everything we do today creates the world the next generation has to live in. Does that make any sense?

REBECCA:  It absolutely makes sense. The present we live in is always also someone else’s future and someone else’s past, and they’re inextricable.

Although YA lit is bringing us more diversity all the time, Native characters and settings still aren’t common bookstore fare. What are your thoughts about the state of Native representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?

ROSE CHRISTO:  One thing I think is really bad about Native characters in YA, or in any medium, is that they’re almost always used in this poverty porn kind of way. There’s this belief that we’re particularly abject and destitute but like any community we have Zitkala Sa American Indian Stories Legendsour goods and our bads. 11% of us are unemployed; but that means 89% of us aren’t. 22% of us live in poverty, and that’s by no means a happy number; but if you think for a moment, that means almost 80% of us are doing pretty well. Where’s that 80% in our media representation? Why do we constantly see the worst case scenario? We’re good and we’re bad, we’re rich and we’re poor, we’re smart and we’re stupid. Our community’s one of the fastest growing communities in America right now. I’d definitely like to see more visibility, as well as more parity.

Zitkala Sa (Lakota) is my favorite NDN author.  Not only was she the first Native American novelist but she also penned the first American opera back in 1910 (The Sun Dance).  Check her out, I think you’ll fall in love.

REBECCA:  Similarly, what about queer YA lit? Skylar and Rafael move from friendship to romance without facing too much hostility on the reservation, and Gives Light is important, I think, in talking about the ways in which culture/ethnicity and queerness inform one another. What are your thoughts about the state of queer representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?

ROSE CHRISTO:  This one time I went to a bookstore in my college town and immediately I noticed two things. First was that the queer lit was shoved all the way in the back of the store, in the dusty section no one looked at twice. Second was that almost every book I picked up in that section had some really sad plotline: kid gets bullied, kid gets disowned, kid gets AIDS, kid internalizes homophobia . . .  These are very real Carmilla J. Sheridan Le Fanuissues. But I want LGBT folks to be able to read books about themselves where they aren’t reviled, but cherished, adored. Show me a queer couple whose biggest problem is that they can’t stand one another’s furniture. Show me a queer couple whose computer has been hacked! Not because they’re queer, but because one of them’s a politician! Or a secret agent! In an ideal society you shouldn’t be treated differently just because of who you’re in love with. Maybe you like monster trucks and you also like a guy named Steve. I don’t see how they intersect at all, unless Steve happens to be a whiner baby who won’t let you go to the rallies on Sundays. Literature follows changing attitudes. I guess I think that if we’re going to make the kind of society we want to live in, literature is a good place to start.

The first LGBT-themed book I ever read was Carmilla.  God, it’s just the darkest, most beautiful story written on paper.  I can’t believe J. Sheridan Le Fanu got away with it in his time.

REBECCA:  Rafael’s particular and strong tastes delighted me. Do you share his love of drawing, tattoos, or power metal? (I have a sneaking suspicion that you do, because your Goodreads bio says “I used to have all my favorite metal bands listed here until I realized nobody cared about them. Then, I cried.” Well, I care about them (and am a fan myself) and would love to know!

EluveitieROSE CHRISTO:  Rafael’s the son I wish I had. I don’t like art, tattoos creep me out, fairy tales are stupid, but metal? Folk metal! Why’d you get me started on metal? Eluveitie and Moonsorrow are the best but there’s also Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Suidakra . . .  Aztra are those five kids who show up at political protests with molotovs, Haggard is if every classical genius in history ditched the harpsichords to play death metal, Panopticon are a great folk/black metal band from Kentucky. “Bodies Under the Falls” gives me chills every damn time, you can practically feel the wailing of the empty ghosts echoing in your veins. Speaking of black metal, CoF wasn’t always so corny, Dusk & Her Embrace is an auditory masterpiece, pure, lyrical evil.  At Sixes and Sevens, another masterpiece, Atlantis in your headphones.

Lacuna Coil Unleashed MemoriesYou know Lacuna Coil? [R: Yes, love them!I wrote to Andrea as a kid, when I was going through a messed up time and needed some guidance from an adult. He wrote back to me. Not just once, but several times. And he was in Italy, and he was on tour. I will never forget what he did for me.  I will never not love metal. I don’t know what a Goodreads bio is but I guess they got that right.

REBECCA:  I’m so glad I asked (and so charmed to know that about Andrea from Lacuna Coil)! So, can you tell us a little bit about what your experience with self-publishing has been? How did you choose to go that route, etc.

ROSE CHRISTO:  Writing is fun, but I never treated it seriously until my best friend asked if I could write him some stories where gay characters get to be heroes. This relates back to [the above discussion of queer lit], I think—he was at this dark place and he just wanted to see himself portrayed as normal for once, instead of this perpetual pariah. I started writing for him and at some point, I can’t remember when, he told me to publish the titles for kicks. Everything I write is with him in mind. If he likes it, it’s a keeper. If he doesn’t, it never sees the light of day.

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?

nebulaROSE CHRISTO:  Ha! I’m really good at physics. I was going to be a physicist until I thought, “That’s not going to help my community.” If you show me a picture of a nebula I can probably identify it. I have favorite nebulae and that’s really nerdy. Uh, I got second place in the National Latin Exam a few years back, so if you ever find a time machine please call me. I make good tea? But I hate tea. Yuck.

REBECCA:  What is your favorite food or drink to make while writing?

ROSE CHRISTO:  My dad’s family are mostly Plains Cree from Box Elder but my mom’s side were all Irish Travelers, so this leads to really weird combo dishes, like pumpkin spice frybread with hot cabbage sodmay. The last time I cooked sodmay while I was writing the tomatoes came out pitch black. I still need to replace the smoke detector. Two of them, actually. Damn.

REBECCA:  Mmmm, pumpkin spice frybread sounds amazing! Finally: cheese is very important to Tessa and me, so we’ve got to know: what is you favorite cheese?

ROSE CHRISTO:  Commod cheese. There was this tribal building on the Fort Hall rez that handed out giant blocks of commod cheese to the families that fell on hard times. Even if I were fabulously wealthy I think I’d be buying that stuff in bulk. Melt it and put it on frybread and you’ve got yourself a five star meal. I wish I could give you some right now.

REBECCA:  Oh my god, I wish you could too. Rose, thanks so much for being willing to chat about Gives Light! I loved the series so much and I’m so excited to get to spread the word.

ROSE CHRISTO:  Thank you very much for reading my stories. That’s amazing to me, and it’s really humbling.

Check out Rose Christo’s entire Gives Light series. I promise you will be wowed!

Rose Christo Gives Light Rose Christo Looks Over gives Light Rose Christo St Clair Gives Light  Why The Star Stands Still Rose Christo Gives Light

An Amazing New Series: Gives Light

A Review of Gives Light (Gives Light #1) by Rose Christo

Self-Published, 2012

Gives Light Rose Christo

by REBECCA, January 6, 2014

Friends, today I’m reviewing Gives Light, the first in the Gives Light series. I’m thrilled to announce that the author, Rose Christo, will be joining us on Wednesday for an interview about the book. Check back!

Sixteen-year-old Skylar St. Clair has been mute since his mother died eleven years ago and he was injured. After his father disappears unexpectedly, Skylar goes to live with his only remaining relative, a grandmother he has no memory of, living on Nettlebush, a Plains Shoshone reservation. “Adapting to a brand new culture is the least of Skylar’s qualms. Because Skylar’s mother did not die a peaceful death. Skylar’s mother was murdered eleven years ago on the Nettlebush Reserve. And her murderer left behind a son. And he is like nothing Skylar has ever known” (Goodreads).

People, alert, alert: Gives Light is the first in a four-book series. I started the first book one afternoon and by the next evening I was forcing myself to take tea break after tea break just so that the series wouldn’t end. In short, Gives Light (well, the whole series) was an utter joy.

Skylar, our narrator, is a wonderful character. He’s sensitive and kind, and he’s been through a lot. Because he doesn’t speak, Skylar is used to feeling disconnected from people. It never really bothered him; in fact, he’s always been kind of relieved not to have to talk about himself or his past. But when Skylar meets Rafael Gives Light, everything changes. Rafael is intense, moody, and everyone on the reservation keeps their distance from him. Because Rafael is the son of the man who killed Skylar’s mother and left Skylar mute.

As Skylar and Rafael strike up a tentative friendship, they realize they have a connection unlike anything either of them have ever experienced. Skylar feels understood even without speaking and Rafael finally feels accepted and at peace with someone. Little by little, their friendship becomes the most important thing in Skylar and Rafael’s lives, and slowly turns into love. Their relationship is a total joy to read: they’re goofy, tender, sweet, and insightful, each of them seeing a side of the other to which the outside world isn’t privy.

Their relationship plays out against the backdrop of Nettlebush, and the reader gets to experience it right along with Skylar, who had lived there as a child, but remembers little about it. It’s a huge change for him and one of my favorite things about the book is the detailed descriptions of the different parts of the reservation, and the preparation of food and crafts. But while Skylar finds himself relaxing into the routines of his new home, it’s the people of Nettlebush who really change Skylar’s life. They accept him, though he’s been living outside the reservation, and they give him a place among them.

Gives Light Rose ChristoGives Light is a love story, but not only between Skylar and Rafael. It’s also about these characters love and respect for their history, and Christo deftly weaves the stories and customs of the Shoshone people into their daily habits. Every dance learned or recipe taught is a piece of culture explained, a piece of history preserved for the future. It’s also a story about how Skylar and Rafael learn to love themselves, for their own dark histories are the current running beneath Gives Light, and they both have a lot to heal from. This makes Gives Light my favorite kind of love story, too: it isn’t a story in service of getting two people together, but a story about lots of different issues and relationships. There is a ton going on in this book (and in the series) and it’s Skylar and Rafael’s relationship that is the constant—the one thing they can count on as the outside world challenges them.

Gives Light is a beautiful and fascinating read with complex, fully-developed characters, fascinating descriptions of Plains Shoshone culture, and extremely interesting discussions of race, ethnicity, history, and politics. Rose Christo’s prose is lovely. And did I mention this is only book one in an amazing series?!

It’s such a joy to find a book by a self-published author that is truly amazing, and I’m so happy to review it here, in the hopes that others will love it as much as I did.

Join us back here on Wednesday when we’ll be chatting with author of Gives Light, Rose Christo!

Oy Vey: Heck Yes, Proxy!

A Review of Proxy (Proxy #1) by Alex London

Philomel, 2013

Proxy by Alex London

by REBECCA, July 22, 2013

hook

As a Patron, Knox has and does anything wants, as if there were no consequences to his actions. Because there aren’t. Well, not for him. Syd is Knox’s Proxy: any transgression of Knox’s is taken out of Syd’s hide. It’s been this way since they were boys, and Syd has learned to deal with the nerve-spasming pain of shocks, the beatings, and the manual labor. But when Knox kills a friend, Syd’s punishment may as well be a death sentence. But there are things brewing that are larger than Knox and Syd. In this future, where everything has a price, two boys will set out to see if they can take down the system.

worldview

denver-skylineIn the world of Proxy, the city where Syd and Knox live (where Denver once was) is considered the only real seat of civilization left on the continent, and the Proxy system the only thing preserving that civilization. The barrier between wealthy Patrons in Upper City and Proxies in the trash heap of Lower City is as wide as it is literal, and Syd and Knox both know that their positions are fixed. Knox has to live up to his father’s bloated corporate legacy and Syd has to play by every rule he’s given if he hopes to live out the last two years of debt that he incurred when he was rescued as an infant—then maybe he can have a life that’s a little more of his own making.

Knox has all the latest gadgets and he and his friends spend their time hacking, drugging, teching, and partying. Syd can fix anything, and lives in a tiny room off Mr. Baram’s shop. The day Proxy opens, Knox steals a sports car and takes it for a deadly joyride, and Syd tries to concentrate at school, but gets outed by his teacher in front of the whole class, including his crush. Both boys are feeling pretty rough, and things only go downhill from there.

Proxy by Alex London and my cat

I was trying to show you how the cover is metallic, but look at my cute cat.

Proxy‘s world is vividly rendered and Alex London deftly implies volumes about its rules and textures within a few chapters. Nothing is wasted; nothing is left unexplained. There are the typical markers of class divide, from the food to the technology, but it all feels particular to this world and—Hallelujah!—it’s a world that isn’t based on a set of suicide-inspiring misogynistic stereotypes, thank you Alex London.

Indeed, gender is something that Proxy gets very refreshingly right. It’s not the point of the story, but there are characters of all types, genders, and sexual orientations here, and reading it made that place in my heart that is defensively tensed when I start every new book unclench a little.

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

After Syd finds out he’s been sentenced to pay the debt for a life taken, Syd, Knox, and a friend set out on a cross-country journey that is part rebellion, part quest, and part desperation. I’m not saying much about the plot because it’s a joy to watch unfold and I don’t want to ruin anything. Suffice it to say, it’s fast-paced without sacrificing detail, and shies away from annoyingly predictable choices even when it hits its comfortably in-genre stride. There are risks, there are stakes, and it all feels worth it.

Proxy isn’t a perfect book. It starts out alternating between Syd and Knox’s points of view, but once they meet, each chapter combines their POVs, which is confusing and, I think, a missed opportunity for learning more about their characters, which, while they definitely develop over the course of the novel, are more based in attributes than in voice. But I hope that will develop in the sequel. The writing is solidly invisible and despite the few weaknesses, Proxy soars.

Proxy by Alex London and my cute cat!

And now she is being sucked into the book. Noooooo!

In a market glutted with dystopias, Proxy is a very unique book and a really fun read, despite its grim subject matter. There are a lot of awesome details that I’ve not mentioned, like a strand of Jewish mysticism, some awesome biotech stuff, a rebel movement (always my favorite part of dystopias!), and some definitely snappy patter. My favorite detail: in this society, orphans are named after literary characters, a demonstration of how little value books have in Proxy‘s present), so there are shout-outs to famous lit all over the place—Syd’s full name is, tellingly, Sydney Carton, the Charles Darnay look-alike from A Tale of Two Cities. Delightful.

It’s also wonderful to find a gay character of color in a major YA dystopia. While we’re seeing more and more complex queer characters, race is something that YA dystopias have mostly left alone, except when it’s majorly stumbled. Alex London writes race and class into the world of Proxy and it’s much appreciated. Can’t wait for the sequel!

Not convinced? You can download the first three chapters of Proxy for free HERE.

readalikes

The Culling by Steven dos Santos

The Culling (The Torch Keeper #1) by Steven dos Santos (2013). Speaking of there being more queer characters in YA fiction, I loved The Culling, which I try hard not to call the gay Hunger Games because that makes it sound derivative, but really it’s like the gay Hunger Games in all the best ways! My full review is HERE.

Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom #1) by Devon Monk Magic in the Blood (Allie Beckstrom #2) by Devon Monk Magic in the Shadows (Allie Beckstrom #3) by Devon Monk

The Allie Beckstrom Series by Devon Monk (2008-2012). The Allie Beckstrom books aren’t necessarily similar to Proxy in terms of plot or style, but Devon Monk’s urban fantasy series is based in a similar proxy system. In this world, set in an alternate Portland, every act of magic exacts a price from the user, and the wealthy (and the immoral) offload that cost onto people who have contracted to take it or have been forced to do so. The series went off the rails a bit after the first few books, but it’s a lot of fun and doesn’t often crop up in YA circles, since Allie Beckstrom is in her early twenties.

procured from: bought! That’s how excited I was to read Proxy. And I’m glad I did, because the cover is gorgeous.

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