Let me be right up front about something: I couldn't wait to read this book.
There aren't a whole ton of people writing literature - Literature with a capital L - for teens these days, and even fewer that I can stand to read. Not because they're bad, not at all - but because the truth of teens is so hard. If you write it well, it's going to hurt.
I love helping kids find books. I mean, der, that's what unadulterated.us is all about, that's why I work in the public library, etc. etc. But it bears saying. One of the things I love about it is surprising a kid. Say it's a kid who doesn't want a book. A kid who is reflexively embarrassed because his mom is insisting that he talk to the librarian. He just wants me to go away and stop asking him questions.
Nicki Minaj wants nothing to do with this reader advisory nonsense.
So I say, "What about a book where a bunch of people get killed?" And the mom's face goes like - "errr..." and the kid is just startled enough that he forgets how mortified he is by the situation.
Until she starts hearing about little girls battling supernatural fireball demons.
I am home, at my kitchen table in the dimness of my house, birds and windchimes and helicopters (and the 12 o'clock boys) are all I hear, and my ears are still ringing from the din of a thousand conversations in the cavernous hollow ice cube that is the Javits Center in New York.
That's just me being metaphorical. My ears always ring like this.
But sure, let's do it. Let me put my thoughts in order, or at least jot them randomly into a blog post and see if I learned anything at BEA this year.
BEA, or Book Expo, is an annual book industry trade convention. Publishers and others stake out booths where they showcase their upcoming titles, sometimes by trotting out the authors to meet and greet and sign and press the flesh.
Poor authors. You just know some of them got into this game thinking that once they became successful they could just "eat cheese in a cave" as Rainbow Rowell said during her EXTREMELY funny speech at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. She is possibly not as shy as she makes herself out to be: "I made Nathan Lane laugh!" she marveled at one point during her talk. "The rest of you don't count."
(Nathan Lane was there as the moderator of that breakfast. He qualifies as moderator because he has a forthcoming Celebrity Picture Book about his French bulldog, Mabel.) (There is only one reason for celebrities to write children's books, and that is so that we can have a famously entertaining moderator at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. In past years I've seen Julie Andrews, Chris Colfer, Neal Patrick Harris, and Octavia Spencer.) (Colfer wins it, by the way.) (Even without singing.) (I know you were curious.)
I live in Baltimore City. If my city were a character in a middle grade novel, it would be described by reviewers as "a mass of contradictions," "quirky" and proud, "intensely loyal," and the kind of kid whose self-destructive outbursts camouflage a wounded heart. Readers would be fascinated by Baltimore's mercurial nature: he is strict but playful as he distributes lunch money to his younger siblings; goofy and creative hanging out with his friends; but can become ferociously confrontational when he believes himself opposed.
Anger and love, the urge to destroy and the will to build - not mutually exclusive, not in people and not in a city.
Sometimes my children like a book. Ok, if you are at all familiar with my two sons you might be rolling your eyes right now. Yes, Milo and Ezra are enthusiastic readers. But that doesn't actually mean that they just loooove all books. The fact is that they, like most enthusiastic readers, have developed into fairly critical readers as well.
They'll race through a book and then when you ask about it, say, "Ehh." That's good intel. I need to know that. It doesn't do to falsely praise a book to a kid.
I won't give an ehhh book to a picky reader. I might give an ehhh book to an avid reader, especially if she is impatiently waiting for a favorite to come in. In that case I am happy to say, "Listen, can I give you something to read until the next Artemis Fowl/Cupcake Diaries/Origami Yoda gets here? Here's something that will tide you over. It's ok. It's exciting enough, but it may not knock your socks off."
And she'll respect you for it - they can't all blow you away, and you're not doing anybody any favors by pretending otherwise. Especially not a kid who reads two or three books a week.
When I was approved to read an advance copy of The Royal We, the first adult novel by the snarky minds behind the fashion commentary site GoFugYourself, the timing could not have been better.
It was four days before Christmas. My husband had ruptured his Achilles tendon and was in a fracture boot and on crutches. His injury had briefly cast our long-planned holiday travel into a gutter of despair and frenzy.
But at long last, I was on an airplane with my whole family headed for the Caribbean. Bob was loaded with anticoagulants and the kids with Axe Cop and Skulduggery Pleasant books. We were going to make it. And - ding! - I got the email granting me access to the Advance Review Copy of The Royal We. It was like a smiling, studly waiter appearing from nowhere with a Mai Tai and a bowl of cherries.
By now, everyone has seen that Ugly Volvo post on everything that is wrong with Goodnight, Moon. Many of us were already quite firm in our understanding that Goodnight, Moon is abominable - in my case I find it suspicious that we say goodnight to AIR and to SOUNDS - much as one might if one were being nailed into a COFFIN because of premature burial, which people are not afraid of as they once were but maybe that is just because we're not reading as much Poe as we ought to be.
RIGHT?! Here in Baltimore, where we are generally pretty well up on our Poe, we know that the 'great green room' is a good place to lie in your bed scared shitless. So does Emily Carroll, apparently - this is one of the final spreads from her deliciously creepy graphic novel Through the Woods. I think it's the only use of green in the entire book - there is noooo way that's a coincidence.
In fact, one of the themes of that Ugly Volvo post is the utter hideousness of the great green room - and I mean KELLY green, SHAMROCK green, not apple green like my living room or swampy green like my basement bathroom (I am a big fan of green walls) but screaming pure uninflected green - with a red floor. And it's true, we can do better.
"You're going to have to realllly convince me," I can hear famous curmudgeon Philip Pullman mutter as he surveys the latest in what I imagine must be a never-ending parade of proposals to adapt his 1995 masterpiece trilogy His Dark Materials into graphic novels. He probably imagined himself as Penelope at her loom, trying to wave off a crowd of greedy suitors. He's got a Classics turn of mind, does our Phil.
But I'd say that the old atheist let the right one slip the ring on. This art - patently Frenchy in its scritchy artiness - is specific enough to let the reader's personal mental images of Lyra, Pan, Lord Asrael and NOT NICOLE KIDMAN Mrs. Coulter persist. It hews extremely closely to the original text (it's going to have to be hella long), so first-time readers will be no more lost than the rest of us were at first.
And the images of the College, the bogs, the gyptians' boats, and the glowing, faded sky of Lyra's England are beautiful. Panels are very small - there are often as many as a dozen per page - but the exterior scenes are extraordinarily full of light and air. Go ahead and click on that right-hand image to see it larger. Yum.