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I’m a little late posting this but that doesn’t mean I’m any less excited. I’m so thrilled for my author/illustrator client, Lindsay Ward, and her first author/illustrator project, PELLY AND MR. HARRISON VISIT THE MOON. It’s going to be a really fun story… and gorgeous art, of course! You can visit her website here: Lindsay’s Bake Shop. I can’t wait until 2011. My first projects will be coming out then and it’ll be so fantastic to finally hold a client’s book in my hands and see them in stores!


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I read a lot of books in my line of work. Most of them are unpublished, sure, but I still have to make time to keep up with the market. I read tons of ARCs (Advance Reader or Review Copies, sent by publishers to reviewers, bookstores and librarians before the book’s release date… I get them through bookseller friends or at industry events) and already-published books. I used to do a lot more in terms of book reviews on here, but now I think I’ll put together lists of my recent favorites a few times a year. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a quick and dirty last-minute Holiday Gift Guide with recommendations for some things I’ve read lately and loved.

Support the industry you want to work in by buying two copies of each of these… one for the favorite teen in your life and one as research for yourself, the writer!


flashburnoutcoverFLASH BURNOUT
by L.K. Madigan
Young Adult (336 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547194899

For Readers: You don’t need lil’ old me to recommend this book to you. It is a PW Flying Start, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and beloved by everyone. But I will anyway, because it is just that good. You will love Blake’s voice. The main character manages to be hilarious and poignant from one moment to the next, a feat that’s not easy to pull off. Author L.K. Madigan has crafted a story where you’ll be frequently put-off by Blake and his choices, but you’ll be rooting for him anyway, all while laughing your ass off. There are some sexual situations, so this might be a good fit for the older teen set.

For Writers: This is what I mean when I say “voice.” A lot of you are still confused on that subject, or you want to see it in action. Just read this.

buckfeverBUCK FEVER
by Cynthia Chapman Willis
Middle Grade (240 pages). Feiwel & Friends, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0312382971

For Readers: I feel like I have to include BUCK FEVER here because I don’t usually cover a lot of MG and I don’t usually cover a lot of boy MG especially. This book features an unlikely hero, a boy who isn’t one of those self-conscious nerd geniuses like the character in FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE (Read my review). He’s sensitive and shy and genuinely wants to make a difference in his world and to belong to his family, neither of which he’s been able to do very well so far. A sensitively-written novel that’ll appeal to both girls and boys, this MG pits its hero against a really big moral choice… and, in my opinion, that’s the heart and essence of middle-grade right there.

For Writers: If you’re writing more literary or more old-fashioned middle-grade, pick up BUCK FEVER because it puts to bed the myth that these kinds of books have to be slow and boring. There’s a lot going on and the pacing moves briskly. There’s also a great mix here of internal conflict, of the main character and his struggles to define himself and to live up to his father’s expectations, and external conflict, with a local hunting family and the deer that he’s supposed to kill. Yes, it’s a hunting book, and that will turn some people off, but it’s still worth a study.

by Adrienne Kress
Middle Grade (368 pages). Weinstein Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1602861091

For Readers: Hilarious hijinks ensue in Adrienne Kress’ second book. Middle-grade readers who want just the right touch of whimsy and don’t want to dip their feet into wizards and dragons will love the author’s unique take on fantasy/adventure. This will appeal to both boys and girls — a rare feat — and will leave readers clamoring for more. Good thing they’ll find it in Kress’ debut ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, which shares characters and plot with the follow-up. Well worth a read!

For Writers: This is another example of great voice. Kress’ work is a study in the self-conscious narrator. What do I mean by that? It’s a narrator who is very much a part of the story him- or herself. They break the fourth wall, make asides to the reader and otherwise participate. The narrator’s voice colors everything. Kress’ books are also great middle-grade adventure novels with pirates, theatre, quirks galore. They’re over-the-top and they’re romps but there’s also some serious craftsmanship going on. This style worked very well for Lemony Snicket and, if you want another hidden gem example, definitely pick up TIMOTHY.

by Natalie Standiford
Young Adult (288 pages). Scholastic Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0545107082

For Readers: I have made no secret of my burning love for this book. It slays me. If I had read it in my incarnation as a geeky, profoundly introspective 15- or 16-year-old, it would’ve changed my life. I think it has pretty much done that anyway. This book is truly for those special readers: the observers, the quirk-ridden, the deep thinkers, the lonely hearts, the painfully awkward. And that’s an amazing thing. I think this simultaneously heart-warming and heartbreaking story is one that will reach out of the pages and grab its readers, never to let them go.

For Writers: “Quirky” is such a cheap word now. Too many people think they have what it takes to write a truly quirky character and instead they emerge with a mish-mash of incomprehensible traits that don’t make a fleshed-out person. Natalie Standiford has created characters who are almost too real. Their interests, their passions, their needs are achingly authentic. They are truly quirky, without being cute or contrived about it. And they don’t harp on their quirks or their loneliness, like most other characters do. I don’t know exactly what lesson a writer can take from this book. I’ve taken so many, over several rereadings, that I really do urge you all to just read it and discover it for yourself.

by Barry Lyga
Young Adult (400 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547076645

For Readers: Kyra won’t be for everyone, but those who read her and resonate with her will carry her voice and her story for a very long time. Lyga’s angsty, fully-formed character has been waiting for a chance to tell her story and I can’t imagine a better one to showcase her side of things. Despite some very difficult and emotional moments throughout, the ending resonates will a rare, well-earned hope.

For Writers: Barry Lyga is a guy. But he writes an edgy teen girl with all the skill and conviction in the world. Many writers ask me if it’s okay to step so far outside yourself to find a character’s voice. Guy writers, especially, worry that they won’t get credibility writing from a girl’s POV. And I think that’s a valid concern, especially for men writing a first-person woman (I think women writing from a guy’s POV have it slightly easier in terms of criticism, as did L.K. Madigan in FLASH BURNOUT, above, but that’s another bucket of fish). If you are finding your current first-person protagonist is a stretch for you, pick up GOTH GIRL RISING and see how seamlessly the writer a) maintains the writing voice he’s well-known for, and b) slips on a whole new skin.


And for the love of goats, go buy these at your local independent bookstore or online at

For other books that I have loved this year, click on the “Highly Recommended” tag in my blog sidebar. You’ll see things I’ve reviewed and loved from earlier.

Disclosures: This list includes friends as well as ABLit clients. Books have either been purchased by me, obtained at BEA, passed along from friends, or sent to me by the author in ARC form.

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by Kate Messner
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Walker Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0802798428

Gianna must collect and identify 25 leaves for a school project but life keeps getting in the way… In a small, understated book that delivers a multi-faceted plot with a gloriously well-developed character in Gianna Z, Kate Messner gives us an impressive middle grade debut.

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. joins some of my recent favorite middle grades like VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review) and WHEN YOU REACH ME (Read my review) as a book where family, identity and friendship mingle in a completely truthful way. Gianna wants to forge her own path at school, where a bully and academic setbacks frustrate her, but she also longs to define and deepen the relationships that mean the most to her: those with her family. As a character, she embodies the balance that’s so important in middle grade literature.

For Readers: Gianna will resonate with readers because she’s flawed — and that’s exactly why we love her! For the life of her, she can’t seem to concentrate on her project. She loses her temper. She can’t always hold her tongue. She’s not afraid to make mistakes, but she does suffer the consequences. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is all about one girl defining what’s important in her life… a process readers young and old can relate to on a fundamental level.

For Writers: Middle grade — when done right, as this is — features characters in a very turbulent time in their lives. They want to define themselves by their choices and their social status at school… but they might not be ready to leave the embrace of their family just yet. They need to strike out as individuals… but want reassurance that they’re on the right path. They like their independence… as long as there’s a shoulder to cry on. They have deep friendships with members of the opposite sex… that sometimes blossom into something more. Middle school is hormonal, enlightening, impossible and exhilarating. Writers who understand these nuances are in high demand.

Disclosure: Kate Messner is an ABLit client.

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by Allen Zadoff
Young Adult, 320 pages.
Egmont USA (2009)
ISBN: 978-1606840047

Andrew Zansky can’t stand the label on his Levi’s jeans because it exposes his 48 waist size for the world to see. At the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, Andy can’t help feeling like something needs to change. He wants more (and not just lasagna) from his life. When an opportunity to play varsity football comes along, he can’t believe his luck. But will his new identity among the jocks change more than his size-48 outside?

Debut YA novelist Allen Zadoff wrestled with some very conventional high school tropes — loser makes his way through the popularity ranks, the unattainable girl starts paying attention — and came up with a hilarious, completely unique voice to carry this familiar story in a new way. Zadoff, who has made no secret of his own struggles with weight (he is the author of HUNGRY, an adult memoir) gives us an unforgettable character in Andy, and a great title for Egmont USA’s inaugural list!

For Readers: FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE has been getting lots of great press recently because it gives center stage to a complicated, funny and completely relatable plus-size character who is — drum roll please — a dude. And the book portrays the problems that a larger kid faces in an honest, sarcastic and ultimately triumphant way. Even though it’s always good to see body diversity in books, readers of every shape will flock to Andy because his insecurities and quirks are unique yet universal. Plus… it’s a hilarious read that actually had me slapping my knee. It hits shelves on September 8th, so pick up a copy at your local indie!

For Writers: As if writers don’t already have a lot to consider when crafting a character! Well, I’m here to add another ingredient to the mix: physicality. Andy’s physicality is central to FOOD, GIRLS because his is, partly, anyway, a story about being a fat kid. However, every character has a body and, unless you’re writing paranormal, they’re usually tethered to that body and aware of it 24/7. When crafting a person out of thin air, when creating a character who, by definition, doesn’t exist, it’s easy to forget that they’re supposed to be meat and bone, complete with all the various aches, pains, embarrassments, rumbles, heft and weight that flesh entails. Read FOOD, GIRLS and see how grounded Andy is in his particular mass. Then see if you can’t add a similar sense of physical reality to your character’s life.

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One of my favorite parts of SCBWI (where I took no pictures, because I am made of #epicfail, by the way) was Krista Marino’s voice workshop, where we dissected and discussed what an authentic teen voice is. One of the keenest insights came when she invited her author Frank Portman (mastermind behind KING DORK and the forthcoming ANDROMEDA KLEIN) to talk about his songwriting for his band, The Mr. T Experience (better known as MTX).

Now, full disclosure time: Frank Portman didn’t land on my radar with his brilliant YA debut novel, far from it. I was a fan long, long ago. When I was 14-15-16-17, I’d pile into a friend’s ride or drive my junker Ford Taurus up and down the San Francisco Bay Area and go to MTX shows. (There’s a fangirl picture of me with Dr. Frank, in fact, that I tried to find for you guys, where I’m wearing a leopard print coat, a rockabilly dress, an Avril tie, knee socks… all the trappings of good teenage fashion sense, believe you me… It’s probably best that I seem to have misplaced it, on second thought…)

Dr. Frank and Krista made a very good point during the workshop. Writers, remember:

Teens aren’t stupider versions of adults. They’re just as smart, just as emotional, just as perceptive… they’re simply lacking the experience and perspective that most adults get in the process of living more years on the planet.

And, since your character will change over the course of your story, your narrative is just one way they’ll get some different perspective and evolve as people, right? Excellent. In the meantime, as you’re fleshing your characters out, MTX songs make an excellent primer in teen voice and angst.

Have you forgotten how desperate guys are to find a girl, any girl who likes them/wants to talk to them/can stand looking at them? Do you remember the sting of feeling completely alone and invisible to the opposite sex? Listen to the hilarious “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend” off of Our Bodies Our Selves.

Have you forgotten the tremendous roller coaster of first love? The ups and downs and the dizzy compulsion to make it work despite any and all common sense? Try “Who Needs Happiness (I’d Rather Have You)” from Revenge Is Sweet, And So Are You on for size.

Do you remember the ecstasy of finding the one person who understands you? The relief of discovering an oasis amidst the torture of high school? Listen to “Thank You (For Not Being One of Them)” off of Love is Dead.

If you think your voice is lacking authenticity, if your teen emotions aren’t ringing true, do yourself a favor and pick up a couple of Mr. T Experience albums. And yes, this is extremely, extremely gratifying for my 16 year-old inner fangirl. Who knew my nerdy MTX fandom would pay off career-wise? You can check out their record label’s minisite by clicking here. You can also check out Dr. Frank’s website.

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by Rebecca Stead
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0385737425

“There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days.”

Miranda thinks she has her life as a latchkey kid figured out: her frazzled mom is dating Richard, Sal is her best friend, the crazy man in the street sleeps under the mailbox, the spare key is tucked into the fire hose.

Then a series of mysterious letters, written by someone who knows the future, shake up her world and things begin to change.

A WRINKLE IN TIME is lauded in the acknowledgments for WHEN YOU REACH ME and that is no accident. L’Engle’s classic has influenced this book thematically and plot-wise. Both books, you see, happen to feature time travel.

At first, that really surprised me about WHEN YOU REACH ME. Rebecca Stead has created a very convincing real world full of authentic, idiosyncratic characters, spare description and witty, engaging writing. The extra twist of time travel was unexpected but fascinating. By the time the climax comes together — with two of the same person, one from the present, one from the future, colliding in a gripping scene — I was riveted.

Best of all, this book reminds me of LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review), my favorite middle grade book of the year. Surprise, surprise, both are from Wendy Lamb’s imprint. Bravo! WHEN YOU REACH ME adds another quiet, unassuming but completely engaging and heartfelt book to an already amazing list.

WHEN YOU REACH ME came out July 14th. Here are links if you want to buy: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: This book will be a hit with smart kids, teens and (cough cough) kidlit-lovin’ adults. It is a blazing-fast read. No joke, I polished it off in, like, three minutes and wanted to read it again. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, Stead has paid her tribute to L’Engle and, at the same time, has created an emotional, intelligent and intricate story that could easily become its own modern classic.

For Writers: WHEN YOU REACH ME is a perfect example of my favorite “genre.” I put that in quotes lest all the MFA and PhD students in the world  jump down my throat, for it isn’t really a genre, per se, but a term from literary criticism. For me, though, “magical realism” is the only way to describe this book. Magical realism is our world with a twist, a little magical quirk, like time travel. The people are like us, the world is our own and easily recognizable, but something is a little off and the characters must react to it.

For me, that term aptly fills the gray area between genres like sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal (that usually feature a world not quite our own) and what you’d call “contemporary” or “literary” fiction (that feature no crazy anything). If it isn’t a genre you’ve tried writing, then do. It is so much fun and such a treat (as long as you’re clear when you set the rules of the magic and stick to them, of course).

Also, I’m pretty much a stickler about the use of the 2nd person in fiction (more on this later) but Stead has used it here to great effect and as a surefire way to keep tension and stakes sky high. Definitely check it out to learn more about that.

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by Jake Wizner
Young Adult, 304 pages.
Random House Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0375852152

Disclosure: I love Jake Wizner. A lot. So when it came time to read CASTRATION CELEBRATION, I was a whole mess of fuzzy/nervous/excited feelings. I will try to leave my obnoxious crush on SPANKING SHAKESPEARE out of this review.

At a Yale summer program for artistic teens, Olivia and Max run into each other and can’t seem to separate again. While Olivia is there to nurse a broken heart and write a ball-busting, dick-shrinking play called, duh, “Castration Celebration,” Max makes it his goal to pursue her and win the girl that doesn’t want to be won. Their story is paralleled by Olivia’s characters, Jane and Dick, who fall in love, fall out of it, sing songs about Edward Cullen drinking Bella’s period blood and then fall back in love again. Much Ado About Nothing is another overarching parallel.

Now. There has been some hullabaloo about this book already (I’m lookin’ at you, New York Post) because of its sexual content. And when I say sexual content, I don’t mean ugly-bumpin’ porn scenes. I mean jokes about sex, penises, periods, vaginas, sheep-molestation, all of it. Some people are up in arms but this is exactly why it doesn’t really bother me… Wizner writes jokes. For a person with my sense of humor, the bawdiest sex joke won’t really make me blush. It’s harmless.

What struck me about CASTRATION CELEBRATION, as a book, though, is that it all seems like one big joke. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes… not. The whole hook/title/play-within-a-book idea feels like Jake Wizner riffing with himself, coming up with a funny concept and thinking “Wouldn’t that be a freaking hilarious book?” Sometimes, these crack-yourself-up moments lead to really awesome, funny stuff. Other times, developing a one-line inside joke into a book and then actually releasing it into the world can’t compare with the freshness and fun of the original idea. While a lot of CASTRATION CELEBRATION is funny, some of it strains to be so. Some of the musical scenes and songs are great, others feel like they’re trying too hard, like Wizner had a fabulous idea but got in a little over his head once he realized he’d have to develop it all the way.

As I think I’ve said before, I love Jake Wizner’s writing. I love it. His sharp characterizations and effortlessly hilarious dialogue in SPANKING SHAKESPEARE won me over. In CASTRATION CELEBRATION, though, I didn’t feel like the characters were as sharp as they could be. Olivia, Max and Zeke, Max’s roommate, are the standouts, while the others, especially Olivia’s gaggle of female roommates, blend into one another. And some of the dialogue — while it was fun and banter-y and random and totally captured the cadence of a group of hormone-drunk teens shooting the shit and trying for laughs — didn’t elevate all that goodness to the realm of interesting and compelling fiction.

That being said, the book really picks up steam after the first 75 or so pages. I think Wizner struggles a little to nail the tone of this book (which, believe me, I admire so much… a farcical, faux musical, bawdy romp comedy is a tough tone to nail) but finds the true voice of it eventually. As a book, CASTRATION CELEBRATION raised some really interesting questions for me. Can a person write the literary equivalent of Superbad or an SNL sketch and expect audiences to react to it the same way in book form? Even though the script-format scenes of the book are written for the stage, they read like they’d be better in a Judd Apatow film.

This is something I’ve noticed a lot in film/TV/advertising lately. It seems like the lowest common denominator has hit rock bottom since Judd Apatow, The Office, Will Ferrell and others soared to new heights of popularity. Now even Madison Avenue admen with bazillion dollar budgets are casting their version of The Office’s Jim and making him say random stuff/do some physical comedy because they think that’s what the public likes (see: those ridiculous Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads). It’s a really interesting phenomenon to watch, because most producers/advertisers/writers are totally clueless about comedy. Jake Wizner, on the other hand, writes excellent comedy. And there are some really funny parts to CASTRATION CELEBRATION. But did Wizner fit this story with the right medium? My gut says no. It reads more like a sketch or a movie. Though, who knows, that might just be the new synergistic format to reach older teen (and especially boy) readers.

CASTRATION CELEBRATION comes out May 26th, 2009. Order it today or pick it up for your grandma, pastor or therapist at your favorite local indie! (I know I’ve used this joke before, but I’m not nearly as funny as Jake Wizner, so gimmie a break!) Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: SEX!!!!! Did I just make you blush? Then you probably shouldn’t read this book. If you can handle a lion’s share of tasteless sex jokes, you’ll be fine. Older readers who are fans of comedy, sex, laughing, sex, smiling, sex, boys, sex, girls, sex, sex, sex and sex will enjoy this book. As with SPANKING SHAKESPEARE, cool kids who hang out with the drama nerds, artists, music geeks and otherwise party on the enlightened fringes of their high school societies will probably find more here than will those who loved PAISLEY HANOVER.

For Writers: I’m still convinced that writers who want to write older teen comedy need to add Jake Wizner books to their curriculum. Another cool thing he does here, as he did in his first book, is intertwine narrative chapters with a character’s “own” writing, in this case, Olivia’s play. This is a popular technique to showcase what a character is thinking, as witnessed by the journaling phenomenon. If you’re looking to add another layer of voice to your character, maybe think about featuring something “they’ve” written in between chapters of narration.

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Just last night, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some awesome YA authors. Cheryl Renee Herbsman, who wrote BREATHING (Viking, 2009), Sarah Quigley, author of TMI (Dutton, 2009) and C. Lee McKenzie of SLIDING ON THE EDGE (WestSide Books, 2009) were our three debutantes at Books Inc. They can be seen pictured here from left to right. (Sorry your eyes are closed, Cheryl, it’s hard to get three people coordinated in a group shot!)

The reading was wonderful, with so many friends, family and fans in the store to cheer our debs on. Punch, cupcakes, cookies, tiaras and pearls were in abundance to make it a truly white-glove affair. In fact, bookseller extraordinaire, Summer, even showed up with kid gloves. Cheryl read from BREATHING first, and had some inspirational words for writers:

Read a lot, write a lot, kill the inner critic.

When her first manuscript didn’t sell, Cheryl admitted the following:

It was hard not to give up, but people told me to start working on something new. That book was BREATHING. It was the best advice I got.

C. Lee McKenzie read from SLIDING ON THE EDGE next. In fact, she had her first paragraph memorized! She told the audience that her idea for the book came from a newspaper article, and brought the clipping that started it all. So look out, writers, inspiration is everywhere. She also told people to build their web presence, book deal or not, so that you can start connecting with readers and develop your career.

The pretty pink princess of the evening, Sarah Quigley, then read from TMI (here are links to: my review, my interview with Sarah). No wonder Becca, her character does theatre… Sarah had great stage, er, bookstore presence and totally nailed her character’s voice.

After getting books signed, everyone poured out of the store on a total sugar high. This isn’t the last you’ll hear from these debut authors, so if you haven’t picked up their books yet, do it now and get in the know. Some of my lucky readers don’t need to go through the trouble, though. They’ve won autographed, personalized copies! Click the link below to reveal the contest winners and see more awesome pictures from the event!

Read the rest of this entry »

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by Maureen Johnson
Young Adult, 368 pages.
Point (2009)
ISBN: 978-0545096324

Scarlett Martin gets a special present for her fifteenth birthday… a key to her very own suite at the boutique Hopewell Hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Only she’s not staying in it. With her suite at the Hopewell, the Martin family business, comes the responsibility of caring for whoever resides there.

This particular summer, as things at the Hopewell take a turn for the economic worse, the Empire Suite guest happens to be Mrs. Amberson, an eccentric, wealthy and flamboyant actress who wants to reconnect with her passion for the theatre… and to inject some drama into Scarlett’s life.

Between trying to bolster her brother Spencer’s acting career, being at Mrs. Amberson’s beck and call and playing the part of Spencer’s hottie castmate crush, Scarlett suddenly has her hands full. When Spencer’s play gets in trouble and Scarlett’s sister’s love life crumbles, Scarlett will have to step in and, with her suite guest’s help, save the day.

SUITE SCARLETT is a fast, laugh-out-loud funny read full of Johnson’s signature hilarious and quirky characters.

This review celebrates the paperback release of the novel, which is technically May 1st, 2009. If you want to get your hands on it sooner, though, you can order Suite Scarlett right now from Amazon!

For Readers: Readers will love Scarlett and her siblings, who manage to make ends meet and scrape by no matter how crazy their situation. They’ll also adore Mrs. Amberson, who is like the theatrical aunt everyone wishes they had. Her money doesn’t hurt things, either. There’s also a romance between Scarlett and Eric, Spencer’s castmate, which has some real depth. If you’re into theatre, fun and great, snappy dialogue, pick up SUITE SCARLETT, now in paperback!

For Writers: Every writer, at one point or another, has dreamed of writing a crazily eccentric character like Mrs. Amberson or Chessy Chestnut, from Lisa Yee’s ABSOLUTELY MAYBE. If you’re into writing humor, you will enjoy studying Johnson’s use of dialogue to this effect. Her interactions between the siblings, especially Scarlett and Spencer, as well as her characterization of Mrs. Amberson are hilarious.

Also, Maureen Johnson is excellent at using social technology. Case in point, she told her Twitter followers yesterday that if they could make SUITE SCARLETT break the 1,000 number of the Amazon Sales Rank, she’d sign up for trapeeze school. Guess what? SUITE SCARLETT topped out at #643. Follow her on Twitter: @maureenjohnson. She’s also got a ning site, which is a cool social networking utility that authors like John Green use. Check out her website for more details. This is stuff that up-and-coming YA and kidlit authors should get very comfortable using, because these social networking tools are going to be key to promotion in a few years, if not already.

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by Cameron Tuttle
Young Adult, 352 pages. Dial (2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0803732865

You can’t always get what you want? Not if you’re Paisley Hanover. No matter how much Cameron Tuttle’s plucky heroine, named indirectly after the cloth pattern, wants to pretend she’s UnLucky, you’ll think otherwise after finishing PAISLEY HANOVER ACTS OUT.

Welcome to Pleasant Hill (aka. “Pleasant Hell”) High School, where the social scene is so stratified, it gets its own complicated ranking system. Cute and quirky Paisley Hanover is just on the cusp of becoming a real “Pop,” or popular girl, at the beginning of her sophomore year when things take a drastic turn.

She doesn’t get into Yearbook and has to take Drama with Pleasant Hill’s ultimate freakazoids. Her BFF Jen falls in with the ultimate Pops and ditches Paisley for her cute, older boyfriend. The more Paisley circulates with the UnPops, though, the more she sees that being an UnPop isn’t as UnCool as she thought.

This sugary, hyper read gives us a larger-than-life main character who excels at word play, crushing on every cute boy in sight, drama (who knew?!) and finding out where her moral compass really lies, despite a few blunders along the way. Cameron Tuttle has created and populated a faithful, if very familiar, replica of high school and its trials and tribulations.

Fed up with the contradictions of the Pops and the bad rap of the UnPops, Paisley sets out to vent. She submits an anonymous op-ed to The Fly, the school newspaper, writing as Miss UnPleasant and urging her UnPop friends to be UnStoppable, UnIque and UnAfraid. The columns polarize the school, pitting outraged Pops against inspired and galvanized UnPops and Miss UnPleasant is an instant hit. But will Paisley be able to keep her secret identity under wraps when she runs for sophomore class president?

There’s a sequel, PAISLEY HANOVER KISSES AND TELLS, coming October 15, 2009.

For Readers: PAISLEY HANOVER ACTS OUT is a great choice for reluctant readers who’d prefer an episode of Gossip Girl to curling up with the analog version. Tons of characters keep the plot engaging as Paisley gathers friends, enemies and secrets. While no one but the main character gets many layers and sides to their personality, there’s someone for everyone to relate to here. Readers will also sympathize with Paisley’s many foibles and mistakes as she searches for her true place and her true allegiances.

For Writers: If you’re looking to study a high-energy plot, some funny dialogue and how an author builds relatively high stakes in a regular old high school world, pick up PAISLEY HANOVER ACTS OUT. While some of Tuttle’s language (especially in the text messages) comes off contrived and over-eager, the author has a great voice for this type of book, one she honed by writing THE BAD GIRL’S GUIDE series, which is a lot of fun (I tried using The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want on my parents, all through high school, to no avail). The book also comes with a special pull-out version of “Paisley’s notebook” that has notes and doodles, so check that out if you’re interested in book packaging and book marketing. The website for the book is very congested, however, and is an extension of the world, not so much an informational, functional page.

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