Whatever, punk rock: Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Nevada Imogen Binnie

Nevada

Imogen Binnie

Topside Press, 2013

review by Tessa, with comments from Rebecca

characters

in NYC

Maria Griffiths- still wants to write the ultimate zine that explains what it means to be a trans woman, but hasn’t yet. feels a little trapped in her union job at a bookstore. feels a little trapped in her head.

Steph – Maria’s increasingly distanced girlfriend

Kieran – a fellow bookstore worker and catalyst for life changes in Maria and Steph’s relationship

Piranha – an agoraphobic, pill-savvy and wise friend to Maria.

in Nevada

James – a boy stuck in the worst city ever and maybe stuck in a male body

Nicole – thinking her way out of Star City’s claustrophobic social norms, and an increasingly frustrated girlfriend to James

hook

Maria Griffiths is a little tired of everything—her job, her girlfriend, thinking about being trans. She is starting to think that her new life philosophy should be about irresponsibility.

nevada2

worldview

The first time the reader meets Maria, she’s being unsatisfactorily choked during sex by her girlfriend. Then she fakes an orgasm. To say she has intimacy issues would be an understatement. It’s like Maria wants to find intimacy but someone gave her a map that omitted it entirely, so how is she ever going to find it without some serious luck?

It’s not like Maria hasn’t done relatively well for herself. She’s union at her job, she’s really good at riding her bike, and she successfully figured out that she was transgender and transitioned. But life isn’t a series of radio boxes ready to be clicked, leading to fulfillment, and something’s missing for Maria.  She doesn’t know if she wants to be saying something to a wider audience or be left alone to make bad decisions.

Luckily or unluckily, her distance from her girlfriend Steph leads Steph to tell a little lie about cheating, which makes Maria start thinking about where her life is, and where her life used to be when she was growing up in small town Pennsylvania, getting high on heroin and passing out in crash-pad houses – knowing there was more out there — “There was a Borders and hour away and sometimes somebody would manage to get a zine onto their magazine rack, so she knew that there was more going on than classic rock radio and getting fucked up.” (27) – but not being able to escape yet.  She’s not making those bad decisions now, but she’s really not making any decisions—until some bad things naturally start happening, because the scale of Maria’s life tips just over into uncertainty, and she embraces it.

did this book achieve its intentions?

Have you ever, like me, wished you could have a real-time transcription of your thoughts?  Imogen Binnie’s narrative style is as close to that as I’ve found, except it’s not in first person. It’s like Binnie read Maria’s thoughts and wrote a journal of Maria in third person, and I find it is a very fun and effective way to get to know Maria.

Here is Maria thinking about what she wishes people knew about trans women

(and please note all quotes are from the ARC and could be changed when the final copy comes out NEXT WEEK woot!):

“It’s worth pointing out that trans women in real life are different from trans women on television. For one thing, when you take away the mystification, misconceptions and mystery, they’re at least as boring as everybody else. Oh, neurosis! Oh, trauma! Oh, look at me, my past messed me up and I’m still working through it! Despite the impression you might get from daytime talk shows and dumb movies, there isn’t anything particularly interesting there—although, of course, Maria may be biased.

She wishes other people could understand that without her having to tell them. It’s always impossible to know what anyone’s assumptions are. People tend to assume that trans women are either drag queens and loads of trashy fun, or else sad, pathetic and deluded pervy straight men- at least, until they save up they money and get their Sex Change Operations, at which point we become just like every other woman? Or something. But Maria is like, Dude, hi. Nobody ever reads me as trans any more. Old straight men hit on me when I’m at work and in all these years of transitioning I haven’t even been able to save up for a decent pair of boots.

This is what it’s like to be a trans woman: Maria works in an enormous used bookstore in Manhattan.” (10-11.)

This quote showcases Binnie’s lovely (not kidding) use of colloquialisms like “Dude” and her slipping in and out of “I” to “she”, and it showcases the way that being trans isn’t what the book is about. To me, that’s the hallmark of a good read – Nevada is a portrait of Maria at a crux in her life. Maria is trans and it informs the past and current course of her life, and she thinks about it a lot, so it’s not like it’s not in there. It’s just that the “issue” is in service of the character and not the other way around. So it’s not an “issue”, it’s a part of a person, just as cancer functioned in The Fault in Our Stars and class functioned in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and being a lesbian was part of Starting From Here, and how the encroachment of meth failed to function in A Plague Year.

Imogen Binnie

Imogen Binnie, photographed by Julie Blair/Topside Press

One of Rebecca’s favorite things about Nevada, and I’m inclined to agree, is how Binnie “evokes a really particular (and very self-conscious) demographic (microdemographic?). these are characters who are really familiar to me but I’ve really never read about them in another book. And I’m so glad there is now a book about them.”

One of the ways that I see this happening is how engaged Maria and the other characters are in literature, theory, and philosophy. They think about it so much it becomes part of their in jokes, as in this part of Kieran and Maria’s friendship:

“Kieran heard that Maria liked Kathy Acker so he started doing shitty Kathy Acker impressions at her and normally she responds with shitty impressions of James Joyce, who Kieran is really into. She’s supposed to say, Yes I say Maybe Whatever Yes Sure Fine Yes Whatever Sure, but right now it’s not like she even wants to talk to him. It’s stupid, anyway-he is supposed to be this End of Gender gender tough genderqueer radical, but was James Joyce working to undermine patriarchy. Kieran will talk about all the reasons that yes, Joyce was working to undermine patriarchy, but the actual answer was no, James Joyce was a patriarchal fuck and dead white man worship is a function of patriarchy. But fuck that conversation right now.” (31).

Much of Nevada is in Maria’s head. There are glimpses of other narrative voices, but hers is the main one.  (Binnie’s style also makes it a little more work than ussual to differentiate the nuance in each voice as well, which may be a drawback to some, but I enjoyed it so much I noted it and moved on). Reading Maria’s paragraph-long musings is bracing, funny, and hypnotic. At times in the book it’s like she and I were simultaneously looking up from her thoughts to realize that there was an entire world out there, with fresh air and ways to forget her obsessions, even though her obsessions are an interesting space in which to spend time.

nyc bookstore cart - by flickr user markhurst

nyc bookstore cart – by flickr user markhurst

Rebecca notes, sagely, regarding characterization, that “Binnie is ruthless in regard to her characters, which I love. We’ll read about maria’s thoughts about how she thinks Steph is oblivious of something and then twenty pages later, Binnie will show us a glimpse of Steph and it’s clear that Steph is actually totally aware. No character is safe from Binnie’s narrative’s edge and it’s a joy to see how incisively she understands her characters’ perspectives, and also how totally capable she is of seeing their weaknesses.”

Although Nevada is a novel about adults worrying about adult things, like possibly being fired and how they’re going to pay rent if they break up with someone they’ve been in a relationship for four years with, and how that also will affect their personality, it also contains themes that run through many YA novels. In some ways, Maria feels like she never had her adolescence because she was trying so hard to protect herself by suppressing herself, so her journey in Nevada is the journey of trying to make herself open up to adolescent experiences.

The plot is divided up into two parts—her crumbling but triumphant escape from New York City and a snapshot of her travels, presumably cross country travels.  It’s in this second part that Binnie shows Maria as she’s seen by another person—a probably transgender Wal-Mart clerk named James.

Through her interactions with James, Maria tries out the guise of mentor and the task of audibly explaining her experiences to an outsider to her world. And while the ending thankfully shies away from identity-road-trip conventions, it doesn’t eschew the connection that both Maria and James are looking for. I was left with the feeling that both of their lives were opening up a little more, that they were accepting other potentialities for their life, even if getting there would be uncomfortable or painful. I’d be happy to go along with them and find out what happens, but unfortunately, the book ends.

readalikes

I’m pulling these from books I’ve read, but please check out the great lists that are available on Goodreads on the subject of trans memoirs and fiction!

girl_original

Girl by Blake Nelson – for the evocation of a strong character through voice (and: girl in a state of life transition).

hard-love1

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger – While Wittlinger has other books specifically with trans characters, Hard Love’s theme of figuring out how to separate linked feelings is apropos for many of the relationships in Nevada.

a-e-4ever-Ilike-Merey

a + e 4ever by ilike merey – intimacy issues + exploring sexuality and gender performance + close friendship + the intensity of being a teenager = a messy, real graphic novel

Girls-Visions-and-Everything

Girls, Visions, and Everything by Sarah Schulman – Lila spends a summer purposefully wandering without purpose around New York, bearing witness to the way she and her friends live before it becomes unaffordable, getting into adventures and finding ways of loving people.

And Imogen Binnie has a blog, which can also be read.

I received this book from Topside Press with no expectations or remuneration on either side

In Which Tessa and Rebecca Compose a Poem in Scotland!!!

Today (now yesterday) we went to an amazing place: Cramond, a seaside village outside of Edinburgh. There, we walked to Cramond Island, which can only be reached during low tide. Unfortunately Thankfully, we were not stranded on the island where we would meet some reclusive Highlander who had come to the island because there was a price on his head . . . nope, that didn’t happen even a little bit. But it was still beautiful and amazing. And after our trek, sea-sprayed and sandy and quite chilled, we stumbled into the Cramond Inn, where we had drinks and overheard the bartender, who was, like, fourteen, tell another patron that the place had been a pub for 400 years, and that the building was even older. Yowza.

Cramond

Anyhoo, befuddled by (one) drink (each) and sea-fresh air, we composed the following ridiculous poem as an ode to our Scotland trip so far. We traded off line by line until we simply needed to stop and buy salt and vinegar crisps so we could make it to the bus back to Edinburgh. So, here you go. We’ll be back with more actual book-related things soon. If you feel like you want to nominate this poem for a Nobel prize or something, we don’t mind. Really, we’re just in it for the art.

Oh, Aye:

An Exquisite Corpse Style Poem from a 400 Year Old Inn in Cramond, Scotland,

by Tessa and Rebecca

Down the close, the cracks get smaller,
crazes cleaving like cauliflower.
 
If our muscles with bubbles were carbonated,
we’d float up ourselves, kilted & wig-pated.
 
A beer, a cider, a winter beach or
the terror of some long walled-up creature?
 
Old men’s speech like moss ribbons curled
up on themselves, clods dropping off the bottom when their laughs unfurl.
 
The tide comes in, the gulls all cotton,
but all I see is a muddy dog-bottom.
 
If we’re wet, we’ll shake ourselves free of it ’til we’re all dog-sweat
and a double dog body branch to signify the tree of it.
 
Where’s your shuffle? The muscle now barnacle-striated,
young pip-pip birds turn their heads without knowing how they were created.
 
On a tie-dyed winter crumble beach
that high nor low tide ever reaches.
 
The bus turns to the side, promising a crunch.
You can’t see the front, don’t know what’s open for lunch.
 
But don’t retreat, don’t have a panic,
it has blown you oceanic.

 

You’re welcome!!!

Then, Tessa drew a picture of her current hero, James Boswell, whose diaries she’s obsessed with. I thought he looked like he needed to be wearing daisypants, so I added some daisies to his pants:

James "J-BOZ" Boswell

After that piece of literary history was composed, we went to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and met the biggest cat ever! We named it Cramond (obviously) and pet it a lot.

Cramond!

See you stateside . . .

Lisa Jenn Bigelow: “Put your characters through the wringer!”

Today at Crunchings & Munchings we’re proud to welcome Lisa Jenn Bigelow, author of Starting From Here. It’s a new contemporary fiction title that we co-reviewed/discussed on Wednesday (click through to find out what it’s all about).  She joins us today to talk about how coming out is still hard to do, diversity in YA fiction, the dreaded “dead dog book”, and where to eat in Pittsburgh.  Yay!

Starting From Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

C&M: I really liked that this was a story about the way kids’ lives can be really hard when they don’t have money. Can you talk a little bit about why it was important to you to portray characters that had material concerns as well as social concerns?

LJB: I grew up in a working class neighborhood. Both my parents had higher education, but they were in the minority. And while we always had enough money, we were careful, and I grew up hyperaware of how much things cost. When I got to middle and high school, several affluent neighborhoods joined the mix, and social tiers became obviously tied to economics. The popular kids, the preps, the student council, many of the athletes—they were from the rich (by my hometown’s standards, anyway) neighborhoods. You couldn’t not notice that.

I think well-off kids are the norm in YA books, and when money’s an issue, often it comes out as abject poverty. I wanted to represent the kids around the corner from me, the kids on the line between being “haves” and “have-nots.” That’s an underrepresented segment of the American population. Especially in today’s economic climate, I think those kids are the majority.

lisa jenn bigelow and carly

Photo by David Sutton

C&M: There have been more and more queer characters in YA books being published in the last few years. Have you noticed any trends (or types, or stereotypes) that have begun to emerge within these books? Did you find yourself trying to embrace/resist/complicate any of these with your own characters?

LJB: On the whole, I think we’re moving away from stereotypes and toward greater diversity. We’re seeing more queer girls and trans characters. We’re seeing more characters of color and different cultures. We’re seeing more stories that move beyond the “coming out” sub-genre. We’re seeing more genre fiction—fantasy and science fiction and even historical fiction—starring queer characters.

One of my favorite trends is the growing recognition of the fluidity of sexuality and gender. Characters aren’t so quick to label themselves. They’re more comfortable following their hearts without taking a hard line on whether a particular attraction makes them gay or bi or what-have-you. That’s something I really liked about Very LeFreak, by Rachel Cohn, which stars a girl who might best be described as pansexual—if she were one to care about labels.

very lefreak rachel cohen

In Starting from Here, Colby identifies strongly as gay, but the two girls she’s involved with don’t want—or aren’t ready—to label themselves that way. I want teens to know that it’s totally okay not to. I think it’s more important to simply feel what you feel at any given moment and to accept those feelings without judging yourself or worrying about “what it makes you.”

C&M: What do you think of the cover? I’m super into it – no generic photograph of a person staring off into the middle distance — and it reminds me of the iconic David Levithan covers. I especially like how the truck is pink and the heart is yellow. Did you have any input on it?  Were you hoping for a certain vibe from the cover?

LJB: The cover’s awesome—no thanks to me. My nightmare was actually that the cover would be a stock photo of an empty country road with one of those yellow diamond-shaped road signs with the title printed on it. So I was thrilled with what the designer came up with. I think it’s very appealing and distinctive from the slew of stock-photo-girl covers out there. I do love that it evokes David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, and also the hardcover edition of Lauren Myracle’s Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks—two great books by two of my favorite authors.

peace love and baby ducks lauren myracle  boy meets boy david levithan

C&M: Starting From Here is set in rural-y Michigan. What’s your connection with the area and why did you decide to set it there?

LJB: I grew up in the Kalamazoo area—technically in Portage, which is a smallish city just south of Kalamazoo proper. It has one huge, commercial road running through the center of town, but drive a mile or two to either side, and you basically end up in the country. Cornfields, trailer parks, lakes and nature preserves. My own neighborhood was right near the commercial center, but over the course of eighteen years, I got a feel for just about the whole town. It’s all remained very vivid to me, plus I get a refresher course every time I visit my parents.

The culture of the area is just as important. When Starting from Here was on submission, there were actually editors who expressed confusion as to why Colby had qualms about coming out to her father. I think that’s cosmopolitan New York talking. Anyone who follows the news should know that in most of America (including New York), coming out can still be a dangerous thing. Coming out can mean being harassed, ostracized, disowned, assaulted, or even killed. Kalamazoo County may have gone Blue in the 2012 presidential election, but Southwest Michigan is, overall, a pretty conservative area. Things have changed for the better there since I was a teen, but I wanted to reflect the reality that things are still far from perfect.

kalamazoo michigan

Kalamazoo by Dave Sizer on flickr (creative commons)

C&M: Mo the dog is a huge part of the story, and in some ways the heart of the story (please forgive me for that cheesy phrasing). Rebecca and I, as devoted cat owners and animal lovers, were both very touched by Mo’s inclusion. So we wanted to thank you for showing the responsibility and love that pet ownership entails! Although, thankfully, this is not a dead dog story, those types of stories are notoriously divisive. Where do you come down on the Old Yeller issue? Do you have a dog?

LJB: Funny you should bring up Old Yeller. The very first chapter of the very first draft of Starting from Here had Colby talking about how she’d read that book over and over again, until she didn’t have any tears left. That’s how I feel about “dead dog books” at this point in my life. I read Where the Red Fern Grows, as well as various other tearjerkers, so many times when I was a kid, but I got to a point where I was tired of crying. Maybe because real life seemed hard enough.

this dog will lighten the mood. by RollanB on Flickr

Now whenever I pick up a dog book, I flip to the last page—something I normally don’t do—to see if the dog makes it to the end alive. If it doesn’t, forget it. I’ve had to say goodbye to three dogs in my life, and it’s terrible. I still tear up when I think about my dog Carly, who died a year and a half ago–she’s the German shepherd mix in my official author photo. She was more neurotic than the average dog, but I loved her to pieces.

I adopted another dog last fall—another shepherd mix, incidentally. Her name is Saffy, and while she’s middle-aged, she’s very energetic and loves fetch and going in Lake Michigan. She’s also a total cuddle. Now I’m searching for a second rescue to make us more of a pack.

Anyway, that was actually the initial inspiration for Starting from Here: I wanted to write an “anti-dead dog book.” A book that kicks off with an awfully close call but doesn’t end in tears. A book that shows how a dog can save someone’s life simply through love, no fatal acts of heroism required.

C&M: Colby’s trust issues get worse and worse and she eventually reaches a breaking point. I thought it was a really truthful portrayal of a character with a lot of love to give and a fear of being hurt. It’s a fine line when you have one of your characters do hurtful things to the people around them and to themselves, but Colby is never unlikeable. Did you ever feel bad about putting her through that process?

LJB: Will I sound callous if I say “not really”? That’s how the novel-writing game is played: put your characters through the wringer! I guess the hardest thing was making Colby convincingly self-absorbed. She feels like the world is out to get her, when it was obvious to me (as it will be to readers) that isn’t true. If I knew her in real life, I’d want to give her a good shake. But we’ve all been there, and I hope readers can make that connection.

The most emotional scenes for me to write were, unsurprisingly, when Colby hits bottom. But they were also some of the most satisfying. I figured that if I could make myself cry—me, the puppetmaster, the one person who should be immune to emotional manipulation—then those scenes would touch readers, too.

C&M: Does your work as a youth librarian influence your writing, and if so, how so?
LJB: As a youth librarian, I’m immersed daily in books for young people. I read reviews of them, purchase them, read them, review them, discuss them, suggest them. All these activities have given me a strong awareness of what’s being published (which is far beyond what you are likely to see on the shelves of a big box store), what kids like to read, and what reviewers and award committees are looking at. On the one hand, it makes me read–and therefore write–more critically; on the other, I’ve become more generous in my definition of what makes a “good book,” because as a librarian you have to accept that it’s different for everyone. Above all, being a librarian gives me perspective. There are so many very good books out there that don’t get starred reviews, don’t win awards, don’t make the bestseller list, and go out of print within just a few years. A lot of that is luck; it’s just how the business is. So you just have to hope your book will find its readers and touch their lives before it fades away. And libraries, which treasure books as long as they have the shelf space, play an instrumental role in that.

BONUS QUESTION:

Tessa: Tell me about your favorite place(s) to go in Pittsburgh!

LJB: You’re making me nostalgic. I went to Carnegie Mellon University, which doesn’t have a particularly nice campus but is a great home base for what Pittsburgh has to offer. For ice cream, I have to go with Dave & Andy’s. For pizza, the Church Brew Works. My friends and I loved Sree’s Foods for Indian. Sree himself ran a food cart next to campus and was a kind and generous man. He died last year, unfortunately.

one of the buildings at CMU, taken by Flickr user jiuguangw

I could go on all day about food—have I mentioned Bloomfield Bridge Tavern makes tasty pierogi?—but onward. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a beautiful old building, and I checked out many a YA book from it while I was in college. Bonus, the art museum is right next door. I also love Pittsburgh’s wooded parks, especially Schenley and Frick. The best part of Frick Park is Hot Dog Dam, a swimming hole for dogs. So cute!

Tessa: Those are indeed all wonderful Pittsburgh places.  Thank you for visiting, Lisa, and giving us thoughtful answers and a great book to read and recommend.

“Pink Is Not Pink”! Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

A Joint Review of Starting From Here, by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Amazon Children’s Publishing (formerly Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books), 2012

Starting From Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

by TESSA and REBECCA, November 28, 2012 (Happy Birthday to Rebecca’s dad!)

It is our total delight to announce that Lisa Jenn Bigelow will be joining us on Friday for an interview about her debut novel, Starting From Here! Be sure to check back for a chat about Michigan, dogs, and love!

Sixteen-year-old Colby Bingham’s heart has been broken too many times. Her mother has been dead for almost two years, her truck driver father is always away, her almost girlfriend just dumped her for a guy, and now she’s failing chemistry. When a stray dog lands literally at her feet, bleeding and broken on a busy road, it seems like the Universe has it in for Colby. But the incident also knocks a chink in the walls she’s built around her heart. Against her better judgment, she decides to care for the dog. But new connections mean new opportunities for heartbreak. Terrified of another loss, Colby bolts at the first sign of trouble, managing to alienate her best friend, her father, the cute girl pursing her, and even her dog’s vet, who’s taken Colby under her wing. Colby can’t start over, but can she learn how to move on?”

After both reading Lisa Jenn Bigelow’s debut novel, which she was lovely enough to send us, we decided that we wanted to have a little Pittsburgh-to-Philadelphia book club about Starting From Here, so the following joint review is brought to you via g-chat. Woo-hoo, technology.

Tessa: Hello

Rebecca: Hi!

[long period of talking about weird things, including cookies, toilets, and Scotland]

R: Anyhoo, wanna talk about Starting From Here?

T: Yes. Let’s start out by talking about the basic plot.

R: Sure. I really liked that it started with a breakup as opposed to a crush; it had romance and relationships in it, but the structure was totally not the structure of a romance, and the main relationship is with the dog!

Michigan!T: Yeah! Colby starts out being broken up with by the girl she’s obsessed with [Rachel], and she’s really bummed. So the book kind of fakes you out at the beginning, because I thought it was going to be a pining-after/getting-over book. And it is, but it’s much deeper than that. Colby works through more issues that are brought up by the breakup—family issues, self-esteem issues. But I feel like it’s a fast, almost light read nonetheless, because it has love and hopefulness. I read it in a day. Would you agree?

R: Yeah, it’s interesting that you call it light—to me, it was really quiet. Definitely fast. I, too, read it in a day and it flowed really well, so I read it quite quickly. There’s nothing out of place, no sticking point that tripped me up or made me put the book down. I think that for me, the emotional core of the book (whether I think of it as Colby’s relationship with the dog, or her dad, or her girlfriends) was about Colby’s depression, and, like depression, I felt like I just slid right down into the book and had to read until I came out the other side.

T: Oooh, good description. Yeah, Colby has a relatively good support system, except her dad isn’t around. But her friends can’t save her from herself.

R: Totally. I thought it was a really brilliant description of depression (whether or not we mean that clinically or not) because it built slowly, thing piled on thing, until Colby just couldn’t bring herself to move or change or pull herself out. But Bigelow never says, like “Oh, Colby’s depressed”; it’s just part of her psychic landscape. It felt very real to me, and very relatable.

T: Yes, and so when she hits rock bottom it’s so heartbreaking. And so frustrating that she can’t talk to her dad—I feel like a lot of teenagers (including myself) feel like this around their parents, but with Colby it’s amplified because she knows how important her dad’s job is and she feels like she can’t protest how much time he spends doing it. Plus she can’t find the words or the space to come out to him:

“Even when we spent the day under the same roof, I felt like we were sealed in a crystal bubble. It looked so easy to reach out and touch each other, but there was only so close we’d get before—crack!—knocking each other back.” (187)

This is also mirrored way earlier in a school dance scene—Colby feels so alone!

“I was aware of a girl standing solo across the room trying to catch my eye. . . . I didn’t want to dance with them, bump shoulders with them, feel them soft and vulnerable through their shirts, hoping the negative space in our hearts would somehow add up to a positive.” (84)

R: Yeah, her relationship with her dad was my favorite part (besides the puppy). My favorite part of it is when she tries to get him to buy the pink big rig.

“If dad bought his own rig, he was in this for good. Instead of getting a short-haul job, he’d keep working extralong weeks driving from one end of the country to the other. I’d come home each day with no one to talk to, no one to hug me, no one to just sit on the couch with who remembered and missed Mom the way I did. . . .

‘Tell you what, Bee,’ Dad said, looking up at me, ‘Why don’t you pick one out. What color do you think I should get?’

‘Pink,’ I spat out. . . . Get pink.’

‘I can’t get pink. I’d be laughed off the road. I don’t even know if I could find one. Even lady drivers—’

‘You said I could pick.’ I stared him down, by arms folded across my chest. ‘Promise you’ll get pink, to remember me when you’re on the road. That’s the least you can do.’

For a moment Dad looked—ashamed? Guilty? Both, I hoped. . . .

Dad shook his head, but he said, ‘All right, Colby. I promise.’” (127-8)

It’s such a perfect moment because you can imagine everything that might be going on in his head—trying to please his daughter; being willing to sacrifice for her; knowing something’s wrong but not knowing what; not knowing what to do to make her happy; dreading having to drive a pink truck, etc. And then he actually finds one, and tells her that pink is pink because he doesn’t know the exact shade, she’s like “pink is not pink” (198) and tells him to do whatever he wants since he always does. Broke my fucking heart.

T: Yes, all those things—subtle awkwardness and love between a parent and a kid. I was so happy to read adult characters who were fully fleshed out. Even the vet’s husband wasn’t a two-dimensional character. He could so easily have been “laid off angry dude,” but he had more behind him, and he wasn’t even in very many scenes!

R: Totally. I think that’s one of the things that made it a quiet book for me: each character is really fully fleshed out, but it’s done in such a beautifully economical manner that the book is really bare bones. I feel like every thing I learn about someone is one more pebble in the bowl of them, but there’s nothing that doesn’t do a lot of work. Also, I know it sounds simplistic and superficial, but I love that Colby was a total tough guy whose favorite color was baby pink.

T: Good point.

R: What did you think about Colby’s friends and girlfriends?

T: I felt like as a reader I was seeing more of how Colby saw Rachel than how Rachel actually was. So she remained on a pedestal or tucked away as a painful ideal. I liked how Van was like a brother to Colby, or even a cool aunt. And Amelia . . . I don’t see their relationship lasting after high school, but I liked seeing their appreciation for one another unfold. You?

R: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly about Rachel—we never got to know what the big deal was about her (which seemed very realistic to me); we just knew she broke Colby’s heart. Van did seem super brother/aunt-ish, which I liked because Bigelow didn’t work too hard to portray their relationship; it just was, and it clearly had been for a long time. As for Amelia, I don’t know: I couldn’t tell if Colby’s feelings were about Amelia or about Colby being lonely. I could believe either, and both seem right. Or maybe it was a combination of both.

T: Maybe it was just about feeling good about being with someone who felt good to be with you. I can get behind that.

R: Me too!

T: Let’s talk about Mo. Were you a dog person before this book?

R: I feel about dogs the way I feel about other lives I could have lived: I don’t see one ever just existing in my life as it is now, but I think if I’d ever taken a slightly different path then maybe one could. I think dogs are beautiful and cute and I love how loyal they are, but I’ve never really been a dog person, per se. I think part of it is that I’m afraid of the commitment; partly that I think they smell bad unless you bathe them constantly (which I’m too lazy to do); and partly that I may not think I’m worthy of the kind of unconditional love they give you. What about you?

T: I feel similarly. Only recently have I become more dog-positive. I used to just like them but not want to really hang around them, but I’ve met several very cool dogs, and now I like hanging around them (and petting their soft bellies, if they are Pitbulls). But I still can’t see myself owning one, mostly because I feel like I’m too lazy. And because it’s hard to tell if you’ll get a dog that has a dog smell, or one that likes to lick your hands too much. But this book definitely made me more of a dog person. It also helps that I own a cat and could identify with that kind of quasi-maternal love and responsibility

R: Yes. I think I might like a dog if ever I find myself living with a lumberjack in a cabin in the woods and the dog can mostly live outside and like, I dunno, chase sticks and stuff, and only come inside to lie in front of the fire. Dogs seem happiest when they have a purpose, so I think that would be a nice way to have a dog. As I mentioned to you earlier, when I was reading about Mo needing surgery at the vet’s, Dorian [my lovely cat] was sitting on my lap, and I was straight-up sobbing and clutching at her fur, so I definitely felt the pet relationship hard.

INTERLUDE: Tessa’s cat, Turkey, and Rebecca’s cat, Dorian Gray, are totally adorable!
Turkey! Dorian Gray

T: I also liked that it showed all the facets of having a pet. I’m used to seeing dogs as quest-companions in YA books. They’re supernaturally loyal, already trained, and basically understand English. You don’t see the work that goes into getting a dog to adapt to a habit.

R: Absolutely! (Another reason I don’t know if I could have one.)

lumberjackT: (I can see you living the lumberjack life, btw)

R: Yeah? I think I could learn to love it. After all, freshly-cut wood is totes one of my love potion smells, à la Harry Potter!

T: ha ha!

R: I loved the end of the book—I won’t say any more because of spoilers, but I really liked it.

[chat devolves into spoilery personal discussion about our feelings about the end of the book, families, and Scotland.]

T: Anyway, I’m glad we’re in agreement about the fact that people should read this book!

R: Yes! I can’t wait for your interview with Lisa on Friday!

T: It’s going to be great—she’s so nice!

R: ta

T: bye!

R: ❤

You have just enough time to gobble down Starting From Here before you join us right here on Friday for an interview with Lisa Jenn Bigelow!

We received these books from the author (thank you!), with no compensation on either side. Starting From Here is available now.

Best Scary Stories to Read at Sleepovers

Friends, it’s HALLOWEEN, the best holiday in October! You know how we celebrate Halloween here at Crunchings and Munchings? We have creepy sleepovers where we read scary stories; then in the morning, we have Halloween brunch where we make elaborate Martha Stewart Haunted House Cake and watch movies like The Craft  and Hocus Pocus!

Martha Stewart Haunted House Cake

Cake made in an overnight frenzy by Rebecca and S. Dubs!

We don’t know about the sleepovers that you attended in your youth, but ours often involved scary storytelling—more like urban legend-remembering—and they never went well. Sure, as tweens we weren’t that concerned with having a well-crafted plot arc in our stories, but it does help to bring about chills and frissons of terror. Maybe you’d like to put together your own super-scary Halloween Sleepover? Or perhaps you’d like to come to ours? You can really never be too old, we assure you. If so, here are some of our favorite scary stories to ensure you never get to sleep. But don’t worry, if you can make it through the stories, you get the cake!

compiled by Rebecca & Tessa

TESSA’S PICKS

#1: TAILYPO

Found in the Robert D. San Souci collection Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales and illustrated by Katherine Coville, this illustration and accompanying story haunted my sister and I for years and years. It’s only repeated exposure therapy and the wisdom of old age that allow me to look at it now. I scanned it so that all of you dear readers could understand.

Imagine a voice whispering through your walls, all night, after you chopped off and ate a snake-like tail that was conveniently sticking through a crack in your log cabin. The voice wants its tail back (or its “tailypo”, who am I to question the dialect of chimeras in the deep fictional wilderness). You can’t give it its tail back, you ate the tail! You know it. It knows it. You try to ignore it and go to bed, hoping for the sunrise. Instead you wake up to those GLOBES OF HORROR at the bottom of your bed.

The tailypo is being returned, doesn’t matter if it’s half digested.

lucy clifford new mother

#2 THE NEW MOTHER

You may know this story from its effective adaptation in Alvin Schwartz’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark under the title “The Drum”. It was originally published (in English, I have a vague recollection of my roommate telling me that there is a Russian version of it, but that’s hearsay) by Lucy Clifford in her Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise from 1882. (It’s free as an ebook on Google, so click click).

“The New Mother” is about two impressionable and unfortunately named children, Turkey and Blue-Eyes (Turkey is a fine name for a cat, but I draw the line at children.) Their goodness is tested by a girl they meet at the edge of town, who says she has such a thing as a pear-drum, with little people who dance inside of it. But she can’t show it to T & B-E unless they go home and behave as badly as they possibly can. No, they don’t understand, she tells them, you have to be positively evil.

The more they misbehave, the more their mother gets upset. Not just frustration upset, but really upset. Something really bad will happen if they continue their Pear-drum Campaign of Badness, she says. She will be replaced. With a new mother. One with glass eyes and wooden tail.

I think we all can see where this is going. Urgh, the feeling of consequence: your mother is really gone. You are alone, and here comes this new . . . not-quite human thing up the walk, to live with you.

#3 THE BOOGEYMAN

I just re-read this Stephen King short story, from the Night Shift collection, in order to re-assess it as an adult. Although my faster reading speed makes the story unfold more quickly and robs it of a little of of its power, it was so scary to me as a tween that I’m still a little afraid of closets. I spent many a night awake, sweating under an unnecessary bedspread, with my eyes averted but whole body attuned to whether or not the closet door. Might. Be. Opening.

I mean, let’s overlook the fact that Mr. King used “The Boogeyman” partially as a chance to do a character study of a guy who was bumbling and misogynistic and racist, and focus on some of the excellent, teasing descriptions:

“Last year wasn’t so good. Something about the house changed. I started keeping my boots in the hall because I didn’t like to open the closet door anymore. I kept thinking: Well, what if it’s in there? All crouched down and ready to spring the second I open the door? And I’d started thinking I could hear squishy noises, as if something black and green and wet was moving around in there just a little.”

Also: slithering.

#4 HAROLD

“Harold” is from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, collected by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell 4EVA, no offense, Brett Helquist. Someone read it aloud at a scary story share a couple of years ago and it still made me want to physically run from the room. As if Harold were in a corner of it . . . and he suddenly grunted.

Again with the theme of something not human interacting with an uncanny intelligence with humans. It freaks me out.

“Harold” is also acting as a stand-in for all the Schwartz collections. They reign supreme!

#5 MONSTER

Kelly Link has a story called “Monster” and illustrated by Shelley Dick in this book called Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and some other things that aren’t as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Far, and one other story we couldn’t quite finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

Firstly, Kelly Link is a modern short story genius. I urge you to click on that link above where her name is and download Magic for Beginners from her site, if you haven’t read it yet. So this story is fun to read aloud. It’s about kids at camp, and about the monster that they meet in the woods. The monster is startling. The kids are funny. Kelly Link perfectly describes the cabinthink of a camp group, the finality of gossip, the way things instantaneously become The Way Things Are.

“‘There wasn’t any monster,’ Bryan Jones said, ‘and anyway if there was a monster, I bet it ran away when it saw Bungalow 4.’ Everybody nodded. What Bryan Jones said made sense. Everybody knew that the kids in Bungalow 4 were so mean that they had made their counselor cry like a girl. The Bungalow 4 counselor was a twenty-year-old college student named Eric who had terrible acne and wrote poems about the local girls who worked in the kitchen and how their breasts looked lonely but aslo beautiful, like melted ice cream.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

“Siren Song” from Ghostly Companions: A Feast of Chilling Tales by Vivien Alcock
: a boy gets a tape recorder for his birthday and through his taped diary entries we hear him discover children singing in the yard at night, their songs asking him to come out to play (hoooo, hoooo!)

“The Snipe Hunt” from Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour: 13 Stories of Horror by J.B. Stamper.
: a group of campers is sent on a wild goose chase (aka a snipe hunt). But one catches a snipe.

Now, on to Rebecca’s picks!

All My Best, Scary Tessa

REBECCA’S PICKS

Holy monkey brains, Tessa, I couldn’t agree with your picks more! Kelly Link is totally a short-story-genius, and I heard her read a few months ago and it was chilling and detached-sounding. The Scary Stories books (and especially the amazing illustrations) haunted my childhood too. The line “people can lick to” is one of the all-time scariest. So, I just got back from a week in New Orleans with C&M guest writer S. Dubs, who lives there. It really got my Halloween juices flowing. I’m not saying that we jumped the fence at Lafayette Cemetery #1 at midnight to light a candle on the Mayfair Witches’ grave, but I’m not saying that we didn’t.

So, without further law-breaking, here are my picks.

Clive Barker Books of Blood

#1. IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES, by Clive Barker

“In the Hills, the Cities,” is in Clive Barker’s collection Books of Blood, volume 1 (1984) and it’s one of my favorite short stories. It’s more creepy-bizarre-cool than it is scary, which would make it a nice breather for our so-far-totally-terrifying sleepover. Mick and his lover, Judd, are on vacation in Yugoslavia, looking for an historic church in the middle of nowhere, and realizing that their politics are . . . incompatible. They decide to drive down the valley of the Ibar and go see the hills. Duhn duhn duhn! Never have hills been so ominous! Well, I guess in The Hills Have Eyes, but this is quite different fare. Judd and Mick stumble upon a ritual contest between the cities of Popolac and Podujevo:

“Every single citizen, however young or infirm . . . all made their way up from their proud city to the stamping ground. It was the law that they should attend: but it needed no enforcing. No citizen of either city would have missed the chance to see that sight—to experience the thrill of that contest. The confrontation had to be total, city against city. This was the way it had always been. . . . Tens of thousands of hearts beat faster. Tens of thousands of bodies stretched and strained and sweated as the twin cities took their positions” (144-5).

Pretty Hate Machine Nine Inch NailsFor any Nine Inch Nails fans in the room, you might know “In the Hills, the Cities” for another reason: Trent Reznor borrowed one of Barker’s lines from this story for the song “Sin”: “I told you, I don’t want to see another church; the smell of the places makes me sick. Stale incense, old sweat and lies” (137). Also, though it’s not sleepover-length, you should totally read The Hellbound Heart (what the Hellraiser films are based on) by Barker, too.

Shirley Jackson the Lottery

#2. THE LOTTERY, by Shirley Jackson

I think “In the Hills, the Cities” would segue really well into another of my faves: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948). I sort of feel like anyone who has never read “The Lottery” should just stop reading this post right now and go read it—I envy you getting to experience it for the first time. It is one of the most subtle and masterful We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jacksonexamples of evoking terror from otherwise banal pastoral moments. Originally published in The New Yorker on June 26th, the story takes place on June 27th, as if with creepy prescience, and upon publication it received more hate mail than any New Yorker story in history (the mark of a winner, Shirley!). She lived in Bennington, Vermont for a time while her husband taught at Bennington College, and she reportedly was inspired to write “The Lottery” because she was thinking about the sinister underbelly of the idyllic small town.

Actually, I am of the opinion that everything Shirley Jackson touched turned to gold. Also check out The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Make sure not to miss this amazing cover by Thomas Ott, one of my favorite graphic artists!

Looking for Jake and other Stories China Miéville

#3. LOOKING FOR JAKE & FOUNDATION, by China Miéville

China Miéville is one of my favorite authors, and his short story collection Looking For Jake is a total treat. They’re all great, but the first two, “Looking For Jake” and “Foundation” are great to read out loud. Both are gorgeously textured stories of shifting, roiling, disappearing urban landscapes. In “Looking For Jake,” an unnamed narrator writes to Jake:

“It’s dark out here on the roof. It’s been dark for some time. But I can see enough to write, from deflected streetlamps and maybe from the moon, too. The air is buffeted more and more by the passage of those hungry, unseen things, but I’m not afraid. I can hear them fighting and nesting and courting in the Gaumont’s tower, jutting over my neighbours’ houses and shops. A little while ago there was a dry sputter and crack, and a constant low buzz now underpins the night sounds. I am attuned to that sound. The murmur of neon. The Gaumont State is blaring its message to me across the short, deserted distance of pavement” (13).

And in “Foundation,” a man speaks to buildings whose foundations are

“a stock of dead men. An underpinning, a structure of entangled bodies and their parts, pushed tight, packed together and become architecture, their bones broken to make them fit, wedged in contorted repose, burnt skins and the tatters of their clothes pressed as if against glass at the limits of their cut, running below the building’s walls, six feet deep below the ground, a perfect runnel full of humans poured like concrete and bracing the stays of the walls” (27).

Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber

#4. THE BLOODY CHAMBER, by Angela Carter

First published in a collection of the same name in 1979, “The Bloody Chamber” is a retelling of the Bluebeard tale. In Carter’s version, the girl who marries the Marquis (the Bluebeard character) is a pianist, and a blind piano tuner hears her playing and falls in love with her music. When the Marquis returns to find that his young bride has looked in the forbidden room and found his victims, her mother saves her. Long live moms! Badass. My absolute favorite Carter is Nights at the Circus (1984), which is too long to read at a sleepover, but which (along with Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love) so set the genre of weird-circus fiction for me that I’ve never been able to look at a circus book and not wish I were reading Carter. Also, I like to tell myself that Christina Aguilera’s video for “Hurt” is inspired by Nights at the Circus. God, I love that song.

#5. WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, by Joyce Carol Oates

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1966) is inspired by three real-life murders that took place in Tucson that same year. 15-year-old Connie gets picked up by a drifter who first acts charming, but then begins to threaten her family while getting her to do things for him as he describes to her exactly what is happening to her parents and neighbors . . . It’s creepy, with an inconclusive conclusion, and Oates signature insidious eerieness. For an extended creepfest, check out Oates’ Zombie (1995), told from the perspective of a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer.

My buddy Edgar Allan Poe

OTHER STANDBYS

There are certain people that I didn’t want to list above because, heck, I wouldn’t know which of their stories to pick. Edgar Allan Poe is a classic for a reason—one of my all-time favorite short story writers, and you really could add almost any of his stories to our sleepover. A few personal favorites = “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” As for H.P. Lovecraft, another classic, well, he was a racist, intolerant little shit, but some of his ideas are amazing. I actually don’t think they would read out loud that well, and many of them are pretty long, but dang are they bizarre, so go read them quietly in a cemetery or something.

Another standby for me is Harlan Ellison, who wrote so many kinds of messed up shit I wouldn’t even know where to begin. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is great, and “Midnight In the Sunken Cathedral” is one of my faves. Check it out if you like underwatery things:

“He marveled that, if he were indeed somewhere beneath the Bermuda Triangle, in some impossible sub-oceanic world that could exist in defiance of the rigors of physics and plate tectonics and magma certainties, then this subterranean edifice was certainly the most colossal structure ever built on the planet. A holy sunken cathedral built by gods” (Slippage, 356).

Roald Dahl! Holy childhood terrors, Batman. There is just something about this man’s imagination that got me all my soft, squidgy parts. The Witches is absolutely terrifying, but in terms of short stories, I’d have to nominate “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “The Landlady,” and “Royal Jelly.”

So, Halloweeners, what are you bringing to read to the sleepover?! Tell us in the comments.

Too Much Fun!

Friends,

Happy Monday! This weekend, Tessa came to Philadelphia to visit and we had so much fun. We went to see Bruce Munro’s amazing light display at Longwood Gardens, which I thought were in Delaware and was therefore looking forward to saying “Hi. We’re in Delaware” while there, like in Wayne’s World, but it isn’t. We ate the most perfect meal ever at Amada: manchego cheese with truffled lavender honey, beef shortrib flatbread with horseradish and bacon, patatas bravas, lamb meatballs with truffle oil and pea shoots, and cocktails named after Pedro Almodóvar movies. We went to the art museum and I got to see my favorite room there (Cy Twombly) and Tessa got to see one of her favorites (Marcel Duchamp), made penny wishes in fountains, discussed how Medieval artists seem to portray Jesus with more ribs than people really have, and looked at armor. We rocked out to show tunes at a gay piano bar and Tessa killed it with “Where or When.” [ed. note: “killed it” is kind of Rebecca to say, but it was fun. – T.]

Cy Twombly    Marcel Duchamp

So much fun, in fact, that we couldn’t possibly stop to write about young adult literature. But never fear—we’ll be back on Wednesday with more YA lit than you can shake a stick at! (Also, while we were at the museum we were pretending that we were the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and that we were going to be locked in the museum. Tessa would touch the Brancusi statues and I would climb on the armored horse.)

Books That We Never Would Have Bought If It Weren’t For the Library

by Tessa & Rebecca

Not only is it National Library Week, it was also Support Teen Literature Day yesterday.  In that spirit, we’d like to highlight a benefit of the library that also doubly benefits the writers, illustrators, and publishers of the items we can check out of those institutions. Namely, things that we discovered at the library and loved so much we had to buy them.

Yes, the library purchases items, which allows the community access to the items. And then people can purchase the items for their personal collection. It really happens!

(If I can digress a little: In my opinion, it’s better for everyone this way because people are more likely to end up with what they want to own if they pre-screen it first, rather than ending up with a pile of stuff they kind of like, and a pile of frustration that they can’t seem to find what they want.)

Here are some of the things we loved so much we didn’t want to return them, but we did and then bought them elsewhere. It’s not too late to Support Teen Literature – buy a YA book today. Don’t know what to buy? Click on the link to read some of the books that have recently won honors due to the work of YALSA!

YA LIBRARY TREASURES*

Tessa

I don’t own the Folio edition, but mine are almost as neat.

His Dark Materials Trilogy / Philip Pullman

Crunchy, dense fantasy.  English fantasy. Like a special chocolate bar given to you from a friend who traveled abroad, it must be sampled (read once) and saved for savoring later.

The Dark is Rising Sequence / Susan Cooper

More English fantasy with a movie version you’d do better to skip – but this stuff has a legendary, Arthurian bent.  I bought a paperback omnibus edition and plan to track down and buy the originals with their fantastic Alan Cober illustrations. Check out my full review here.

  

Whales on Stilts / Feed / M.T. Anderson

Whales on Stilts was my gateway drug to M.T. Anderson – I picked it up for an assignment in my Children’s Services class in library school and felt like there should be more books with such a sense of silliness. When I became a Teen Services person I gathered that Feed was a big deal so I read it and fell in love.  I’ve been recommending it to basically everyone ever since.  Come on. The first line is “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

Lowboy / John Wray

I think I read a review of this, got it from the library, was sucked into its story of a sadly schizophrenic teenager who sort of kidnaps his friend and takes her to an out-of-commission subway station (perhaps the City Hall stop?) and the parallel story of how his mom tries to find him.  I think it was one of the best things I read all year. And I love the cover design.

The Magicians / Lev Grossman (and The Magician King)

Harry Potter, only real, with even more teenage confusion and sadness and exhilaration and friendship, and referencing Harry Potter. And Narnia.  And… Magritte. I’m so glad that there’s more than one book set in this world(s). (There will be three, actually). I’m now a pre-orderer.

Bodyworld / Dash Shaw

It takes barely any incentive for me to buy graphic novels – usually I have to make myself NOT buy them because I have a budget to stick to.  I’d read Bottomless Belly Button via the library and was researching more about Dash Shaw so I could get more of his work into my brain, and found that he had some free stuff online.  Bodyworld was all up online at that point. I gulped it down – it’s set in a world that seems just offset from mine.  It’s the world in the corner of your eye.  And it’s kind of dangerous and psychedelic and nasty and sad.  (This is more of an adult title, but it’s partially set in a high school so I’m including it.)

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks / E. Lockhart

The cover seemed like it would hold a story that was a little too precious (it was the seal that did it—I can’t tell you why). Luckily my fellow librarians booktalked this enough so that I knew that there was something else to it.  Frankie is sort of my hero, but she’s not without flaws. I’m glad she’s on my shelf to return to whenever I wish.

Rebecca

The Marbury Lens Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens / Andrew Smith

As I mention in my review of The Marbury Lens, I picked this book up because of the amazing cover (I’m shallow), thought the blurb looked sinister and awesome, and then proceeded to read the first two chapters before having to be dragged out of the library by the friend I was supposed to be meeting. I finished it that night, thought it was so amazing that I had to buy it immediately, and have since read and pretty much adored everything Andrew Smith has written. Check out his blog, too. The sequel to The Marbury Lens, Passenger, comes out this Fall!

The Unwritten Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey Peter Gross The Unwritten Inside Man Mike Carey Peter Gross The Unwritten Dead Man's Knock Mike Carey Peter GrossThe Unwritten Leviathan Mike Carey Peter Gross

 

 

 

 

The Unwritten / Mike Carey & Peter Gross

In this amazing series of graphic novels we meet Tom Taylor, whose father wrote a series of fantasy books about a boy-wizard named Tommy Taylor, which became massively popular. Now an adult, Tom must fight a metatextual battle with his father’s character in the eyes of rabid fans the world over, and maybe find out who he is in the process. This series is now an auto-buy for me. The art is wonderful and the story fascinating and innovative. Plus, did I mention that #4 is called Leviathan and features one of my two favorite sea dwellers? Yes, indeed, Tommy Taylor enters Moby Dick(no jokes, sexual or Jonah-related, please). Joy of joys!

Will Grayson Will Grayson David Levithan John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson / John Green & David Levithan

This book is pure joy from the word go (well, the first word is actually “when”). I had no idea what to expect when I grabbed this from the library one afternoon—I just loved the concept of two dudes with the same name meeting (sometimes it doesn’t take much). Anyhoo, as they say, I laughed, I cried, etc. And then I bought the book so that I could laugh and cry again, only without dripping my tears on the library copy of the book. Sorry about that, Bloomington public library patrons. Check out our joint review here, here, and here!

Skin Hunger Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic #1) / Kathleen Duey

I’ve raved about how much I love this series in my review. Skin Hunger was recommended to me by my friend E— and after reading it on an airplane, I didn’t even bother getting the sequel from the library; I immediately bought both because I knew they would be must-rereads. Duey promises that she has made much progress on the third book in the trilogy, so we’ll keep you informed.

Skellig David Almond

Skellig / David Almond

I don’t remember how I first heard about Skellig but it’s a short British novel about a young boy whose sister is sick and who finds a bird-man-angel dripping with bugs in his shed, so of course I read it. And loved it. The bird-man-angel eats Chinese food, for god’s sake. Skellig is a very simple story, but its elliptical quality makes it haunting and very re-readable. I was thrilled to find it in a used bookstore this summer.

Just Listen Sarah Dessen

Just Listen / Sarah Dessen

Believe you me, I did not pick this puppy up because of the cover. Indeed, I had resisted reading Sarah Dessen for years before finally giving this one a try. Girl who is too nice to tell the truth + boy who tells the truth as part of anger management = delightful conversations set to a soundtrack of music discussion that I couldn’t resist. Have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with the notion of radical truth-telling? (Not that I practice it—I mean, I’m not a sociopath. Or brave enough. Or mean enough.) I bought this (well, traded it) because it’s exactly the kind of comfort book that I want sometimes.

The Toll Bridge Aidan Chambers

The Toll Bridge / Aidan Chambers

I’ve been a big Aidan Chambers fan since I first read YA lit as a kid, and The Toll Bridge is my favorite of his novels. Piers takes a job as the keeper of a toll bridge, where he befriends Tess and they both fall for Adam, a compelling wanderer. First of all, is it any wonder that I do not have a realistic view of the world, given that as a child I thought that being keeper of a toll bridge was a totally reasonable summer job. I also didn’t understand that color and colour were American and British spellings, respectively, because I didn’t know that I was reading American and British books—I just thought there were two spellings. And I just thought there were toll bridge keepers. But I digress. The point: this book is an awesome story about a group of friends figuring out what they want and with whom they want it. I’ve re-read it many times.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You Peter Cameron

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You / Peter Cameron

I won’t lie: I checked this out because it had a kick-ass title. Well, and because even though I’m 30, I always seem to identify strongly with misanthropic, gay, teenage boy characters (seriously, some of the things James Sveck says . . . It’s like Peter Cameron was following me around with a tape recorder). James Sveck is awkward and odd and hilarious, and this was a definite re-read. Check out the full review here.

Tithe Holly Black

Tithe (The Modern Faerie Tales #1) / Holly Black

I actually read this as part of a breakfast book club with some friends from grad school, so we collectively checked out every copy in the library. I won’t say that homemade scones and cucumber sandwiches at the discussion of Tithe made me like it even more, but they certainly didn’t hurt. I love this whole series, and after reading Tithe I bought all three.

*Most of the poetry I buy is because I read it from the library, and the music. But these are not germane to our mission here at Crunchings & Munchings – Tessa

So, what are your favorite books that you just HAD to buy after getting them from the library? Tell us in the comments!

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