2012 Was the Year…

2012 was the year I didn’t technically reach my goals, for life or for writing, but I’m not worried—I can carry a few of them over to 2013.

2012 resolution 4

2012 was the year I finished my second YA novel, 17 & Gone, which comes out in 2013.


2012 was the year I went away to write at two colonies: one in the mountains of northern California and one in upstate New York. It’s the year I went to Wyoming to learn about outer space. It’s the year I fell in love, even more, with my home here in lower Manhattan, especially in those dark days after the hurricane when it was E and me on our own, facing it together.


2012 was the year I was really sinfully awful about answering emails. Ugh, I’m sorry about that.

In 2012, I wrote more pages that I threw away than pages that I kept. So it goes, some years.

I must say, I had full intentions to write a beautifully crafted, long, and lush post of all of what happened in 2012, to me and around me. What inspired and distracted me. What blew me up and broke me down. Lists! I love lists. But, truth is, I have a lot of freelance work to do right now, plus reading for the class I’m teaching, so I will leave you with only a few small bits.

By the end of this year—2012—I found my heart again, in writing. I finished a draft of my new book proposal last night.

This year—2012—was the year many different voices found their way to this blog. Thank you to every author who wrote a piece for me to share here. I am honored.

In 2013, I will let you into 17 & Gone, which comes out March 21. I will continue on with the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz book series here, with more posts from librarians and bloggers coming in January, and because I love to read debut novels I will get to share the Anticipated YA Debuts of 2013—my first two picks of January 2013 will be announced here soon. Things will happen here. This blog will continue.

In the meantime, for 2013, I was gifted with one word to carry forward into the new year:



For me, it’s an answer to a question I’d been asking. I think it means I should be true to myself, as a writer. But maybe it means even more than that. I look forward to finding out.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you so much for reading this blog.

In Which I Fail (Most of) My Resolutions… But End 2012 on a Good Note (Really)

Fair warning: This post will be tinged with a sheen of failure—even though I do feel kind of hopeful right now, and I’ll explain why at the end.

How many of us made resolutions for 2012 that we didn’t keep? How many of us said we’d do things this year—write certain things, cease bad habits, start new ones?—and here we are, days from the end of the year, realizing how little we became the people we wanted to be?

I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. I always have high, lofty goals for myself and I rarely measure up to them.

So, hi. Want some honesty? Want to see into my pathetic little brain during one of its more idealistic tantrums? Well, here you go.

Readers of this blog may remember that at the end of 2011, I wrote myself seven (I like sevens) writing resolutions that I kept secret and said I would reveal at the end of 2012. And I photographed them, promising I’d open them up in a year and tell you if I met them?

1 closed res2 closed res3 closed res4 closed res5 closed res6 closed res7 closed res

If you were curious what writing resolutions I had for this past year, here they are… and their outcomes:

Resolution #1: A vow to not distract myself by the internet in the mornings…

2012 resolution 1

Did I meet resolution #1? Let’s be honest here. Let’s lay it bare. I did not follow this at all. Ever. I checked my email first thing in the morning—and my Twitter, and my Facebook—and though I occasionally walked out of my way to the writing café that doesn’t have wifi on purpose, I didn’t do that as often as I should have. I failed at this. I failed. And I have to say: I think most of my problems this year stem from not meeting this personal goal. If I want 2013 to be a better year, I think I should revisit this.

Resolution #2: Finish a draft of a new novel by, like, MONDAY????

2012 resolution 2

Resolution #2—are you kidding?? I am really upset and angry at myself for not meeting this. Imagine if I’d completed the draft of a new novel by the end of this year, which would technically be Monday! Maybe I’d have a new book deal by now, a new contract and chance to keep up this career, a new book coming out soon enough… I mean, yeah, it would have been all kinds of amazing if I’d been able to meet this. I didn’t. I didn’t at all. But, by the end of the year, I will have a new draft of some new proposal pages and synopsis ready for my agent to see… so that’s… well, it’s something. I need to be content with that something or else I’ll be too down on myself to even finish this post.

Resolution #3: Write short stories again!

2012 resolution 3

Resolution #3—how’d I do? Well, I kind of made some progress on this, halfway, anyway. Secretly, on the side, I revised and reworked some short stories, and realized how many I think are worthy of keeping and being made new. Short stories are what I started writing—they’re the reason I fell in love with writing fiction. And I may not have met this goal this year, but I am not done with this yet. Not done.

Resolution #4: Try for something big.

2012 resolution 4

Did I accomplish resolution #4? Surprisingly, I think I can say I did. I applied for some things this year. I got rejected. But the point is, I TRIED. And that’s all I can control when it comes to making a resolution: only what I can do, not how the world responds to me. So, yes, I did this, and I’m proud of myself.

(Edited to say: Now that I remember, I got a couple yeses, too!)

Resolution #5: Hahahahahahahah write every day ha.

2012 resolution 5

What, is the absurdity of resolution #5 showing? I didn’t write every day. Some days I had to work. Some days I was too depressed to write. Some days I made excuses. I kind of sucked at this, what more do you want me to say?

Resolution #6: Stop comparing yourself to other writers and being so negative!

2012 resolution 6 final

Is it humanly possible to really meet resolution #6? OK, this may shock you. But guess what? I think I have finally begun to tackle this issue in myself—this flaw of comparing myself to other writers and what they can do, what they’ve accomplished, what book deals and foreign sales and movie options and awards lists they’ve reached—really. I spent most of the year trying to get away from this squishy, icky part of myself, and here I am, sitting at the end of 2012, and I feel… okay. I’ve stopped searching out the negativity and dwelling on bad comparisons. I’m myself. I write what I write. This was the biggest war inside me during 2012, and I’ve come out of it stronger and more sure of myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter that I failed most of my other resolutions, if I made this one.

Resolution #7: Start the book I’m afraid to start.

2012 resolution 7

And the last resolution of them all, lucky #7, did I reach it? Well… no. I didn’t. I know exactly what book I mean when I say the book I’m afraid to write. It’s not a YA novel. And I didn’t allow myself to embrace working on it yet. But you know what? I did embrace working on a novel that does feel BIG in a different way. It’s unapologetic. It’s all me. And I want to write it first. So lucky #7, you’ll have to wait. I’ll write you someday.

How do I not feel like a big, old failure?

Here I am, revealing to you my goals and aspirations a whole year after I set them down on paper and photographed them for future shaming purposes, admitting I failed at most of them, and yet… I don’t feel all bad about this year, either. I am ending on a good note. I am writing something I love. And we writers know how delicious that feels. I am closing out 2012 on that high feeling.

…And maybe I’ll carry over some of these resolutions into 2013.

Tell me: Did you reach your 2012 writing resolutions? 

Beyond the Buzz: Reading Recommendations from Abby the Librarian


Welcome to a new series here on distraction no. 99 called Beyond the (Latest) Buzz. I’ve asked YA & kidlit librarians and bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. And I asked them specifically because, of all readers in the know, librarians and book bloggers are some of the most passionate readers we have in this industry, they read a TON more books than I do, and maybe, if I asked nicely, they’d be eager to recommend some beloved books with us here? They were—and they did.

Read on to see what books Abby the Librarian wants to share with us today…

Guest post by Abby Johnson

Sometimes good books go unnoticed, but as bloggers we have the right—nay, the responsibility!—to give awesome books the push they deserve. Today, I’ve got my top five books I’ve read this year that did not get the buzz they deserve! If you’re looking for a great read, I hope one of these books will strike your fancy.

berlinboxingThe Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow (HarperTeen, 2011)

What’s it about? Karl Stern, a fourteen-year-old Jewish boy, takes boxing lessons to fend off attacks from the Hitler Youth boys at his school, but as violence against the Jews escalates, Karl must use his skills to protect his family.

Why should you pick it up? Have you ever felt like someone didn’t like you because of their idea of you? You’ll totally see eye-to-eye with Karl. He doesn’t even really feel Jewish. His family’s not religious, he never did anything to those guys, but they hate him just the same. Plus, the oppression of Nazi Germany is palpable and it builds and builds as things get worse. And also: World War II! Sports!

blizzardBlizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2011)

What’s it about? Halifax was never the same after the 1917 explosion of the Mont-Blanc, the largest man-made explosion EVER until the 1945 detonation of the atomic bomb.

Why should you pick it up? Sally M. Walker manages to put the reader right there, getting to know families and people going about their business in Halifax when the ship exploded. There’s been a lot of talk about the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic this year and if that’s something that interests you, I think you’ll be fascinated by the little-known story of this massive maritime disaster, too.

DogtagSummer final coverDogtag Summer by Elizabeth Partridge (Bloomsbury USA, 2011)

What’s it about? Tracy, a half-Vietnamese girl who was rescued from war-torn Vietnam and adopted when she was seven, struggles to find her place and to piece together memories of her childhood.

Why should you pick it up? This is a coming of age story made even more poignant by the lush California scenery and the historical detail of the Vietnam war time period. Not only is Tracy dealing with the impending first day of junior high and buying her first bra, she’s trying to figure out why her veteran dad won’t talk about the war and why her parents seem to hate her best friend’s family. It’s like Judy Blume but with a half-Vietnamese girl.

food_girls_and_other_things_i_can't_have_paperbackFood, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff (Egmont USA, 2009)

What’s it about? When Andy, a 300-pound sophomore geek, meets new girl April, he goes out for the football team to impress her, and ends up changing everything.

Why should you pick it up? Andy’s story of reinvention shows the importance of being who you really want to be and not letting anyone stop you. Plus, it’s funny. Plus, it has little short chapters and a totally readable style. You’ll like Andy and you’ll root for him all the way through. Oh and: football!

FaithfulPlumA Girl Named Faithful Plum: A True Story of a Dancer from China and How She Achieved Her Dream by Richard Bernstein (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011)

What’s it about? This is the true story of Zhongmei Lei, a girl who left her home and family at the tender age of eleven to audition for the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy and, despite prejudice from the teachers and other students, would not let anything keep her from her dream of becoming a dancer.

Why should you pick it up? Okay, to get to the auditions, Zhongmei had to take a train for over 1,000 miles. At the auditions, the teachers would select 12 girls and 12 boys. From ALL OF CHINA. Zhongmei’s a girl with determination, is what I’m saying. And her story is inspirational. If you’re the type to watch So You Think You Can Dance or if you dig performance stories like Bunheads by Sophie Flack or Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer, this is a book for you.

And there you have it! Five books that have flown relatively under the radar. Each of these books has less than 1,000 reviews on GoodReads (comparatively, The Hunger Games has over 1 million reviews on GoodReads). So pick one up today!

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


Abby Johnson is a children’s librarian in Southern Indiana. You can find her on the web at abbythelibrarian.com.


Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God (Giveaway open until December 26!)

The Creative Mindf*ck


So I’ll say it. I’m ready for the year to end. I am looking forward to 2013, creatively. I’ve gotten myself into a jam this year with my writing—and I know I’ve talked a tiny bit about the tough spots I’ve found myself in during this year, but mostly I haven’t spoken about it. I haven’t told you. It was something best kept close, as often these things are.

Talking about the realities of being a published author can come across as crass, heartless to those still struggling to find agents or sign book contracts—I was there, for years, and I remember. It can also sound like I don’t appreciate what I have—and of course I do; it’s all I’ve ever wanted. And also, talking too much about this puts too much negativity out there, and why would any current or possible reader want to revel in that?

But in truth, even published authors go through rough patches when we sit down to write a new book. Not every word or idea that comes out of me now is good or worthy of keeping. Not even close. Since getting the book contract for Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, I’ve trashed two entire book proposals (one middle-grade, and one YA) and I’ve cycled through so many possible ideas for what could be my next book that I realized I could have had a whole draft if I’d just stuck with one. The problem for me is reconciling the fact that, for me, my writing is the way I express myself, it’s my art. And the other fact that, since I left my day job, it’s also supposed to make me money now or whatever. These are two dueling realities that should not have to share a bed. It’s a creative mindf*ck for me, one I haven’t been able to iron out.

I’m not sure what I’ll decide to do in 2013, but I can tell you this: I am finishing out the year finally having found something that feels right, on the page. This next book—still in its very young stages, and not yet approved by my agent and not yet bought by a publisher, not even read by anyone apart from E—is what I want to write right now. When I work on it, I feel that fluttery feeling again, the one I get when there’s a book I want to spend years with and write the hell out of and dream about and see come alive on the shelf of a library one day.

If you were wondering what was going on behind the scenes with me and my writing, there it is. Now back to some more guest posts about other people’s books!

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Angie Manfredi (+Giveaway)


Welcome to a new series here on distraction no. 99 called Beyond the (Latest) Buzz. I’ve asked YA & kidlit librarians and bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. And I asked them specifically because, of all readers in the know, librarians and book bloggers are some of the most passionate readers we have in this industry, they read a TON more books than I do, and maybe, if I asked nicely, they’d be eager to recommend some beloved books with us here? They were—and they did.

Read on to see what book YA librarian Angie Manfredi of Fat Girl, Reading wants to share with us today…

Guest post by Angie Manfredi

“Call me Ishamel.”

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”

“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I love first lines.  When they are well-crafted they become declarations of the greatness that is to come; single line memories you keep of the moment you were about to fall in love.

For me, the first line in young adult literature that I can never forget comes from a novel published in 1996.  To me, it’s just as perfect and unforgettable as anything from Austen or Orwell. It goes like this:

“Though I tried to clear my head of the effects of the fat, resiny doobie I’d polished off an hour before, things were still fuzzy as I stumbled into senior counselor Jeff DeMouy’s office.”

Do you recognize that first line?  I am guessing you don’t—even though the book was named to YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and was enthusiastically blurbed by the likes of Paul Zindel, Chris Lynch, and Chris Crutcher.

You probably don’t recognize that wonderful first line because it’s from an author who only wrote four YA novels and one middle-grade novel before leaving the field to work full-time in television production. More than that, though, you probably don’t recognize that line because it’s from an author who wrote in an era when there was no social media as we know it today, no YA lit world thriving online, and authors who wrote for teens had to hope that maybe the Newbery committee would think their work skewed young enough because there was no such thing as the Printz Award.

I don’t know what would have happened if that first line was a first line that came into the young adult literature world today—but I know what happens when I read it to my teens, teens who weren’t even born when it was first written. They want to check the book out. They want to read that guy’s story.

They love the first line of Rob Thomas’s Rats Saw God and, all these years later, so do I.

Rats-Saw-GodRats Saw God is two stories at once: the story of Steve York’s senior year in San Diego where he’s the kind of student who shows up stoned to his counseling meetings about how he’s ever going to graduate and the story of Steve York’s sophomore and junior years in Houston where he’s a National Merit scholar who has many friends. Of course, the real story in Rats Saw God is everything that got Steve from one place to another and, moreover, where he’s going to go next.

One of the things I like best about Rats Saw God is how Thomas creates a real sense of time passing. In showing how far sophomore-year Steve has traveled to become senior-year Steve, Thomas accurately captures something easily relatable to teenager readers: the huge changes that can happen in their lives over the years that make up high school. This also gives Steve a really meaningful character arc: as readers you are really with him as he goes from the junior who loves English class, his girlfriend, and his life full of intellectual challenges to the senior who is blurring the edges of his life to dull the pain of his losses. Steve changes, grows, and, yeah, loses and you are with him through it all, through the believable passage of time in his life.

In Steve, Thomas has created the kind of narrator I still hear librarians beg for: a smart, believable teenage boy with a sharp voice and a real heart. Steve plans pranks with his friends, lusts after girls, and struggles with his relationship with his famous and domineering father. He’s kin to young adult heroes like Pudge Halter, Cullen Witter, and Cameron Smith. His story is the story of how teenagers deal with huge disillusionments, adults that let you down in the worst ways, and crushing heartbreak without letting all of it swallow up who they are.

Steve isn’t the same person at the end of his high school career—but there’s something brilliantly, hopefully resilient about the person he ends up as and the path he takes. And it’s that change that sticks with the reader; that has stuck with me, just like that first line, from the first time I read Rats Saw God.

I often think about if Rob Thomas would still be writing young adult novels if Rats Saw God had been published today, in the community that gives young adult literature so much love and attention and, yeah, sales. I think about the novels he might have written—maybe one about a tough-talking teenage sleuth determined to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. I’d love to read that one. But then, maybe I’m just lucky I had a chance to watch it. Yes, the Rob Thomas who wrote Rats Saw God in 1996 is the same Rob Thomas who created Veronica Mars in 2004. And I was as lucky to know Veronica Mars as I was to know Steve York.

So Rob Thomas doesn’t write young adult novels anymore. He’s still active in the field of television production, and the creative world is better because Rob Thomas is still out there writing but, damn, I miss his voice in young adult literature. I miss books as incisive, unflinching, and daring as Rats Saw God and Slave Day. I miss his humor, his fearlessness in dealing with contemporary social issues, and the strong, clear, cleverness of his prose.

I miss Rob Thomas.

But I still have Steve York. I will never forget him.

You have a chance to discover him for yourself. And from the moment you open Rats Saw God and read on from that perfect first line, you’ll never forget him either.

(Rats Saw God is the only one of Rob Thomas’s books still in print. I want to buy you a copy in my never-ending quest to keep it in print.  Leave a comment on this blog or fill out this entry form to be entered in a random drawing to win a copy. US residents only, please.)


One winner was chosen from between the entry form and the comments, and it’s…  Dahlia Adler!

Congrats, Dahla! I will email for your mailing address soon. Thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you to Angie for giving away this book to one lucky reader! —Nova

Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! And read on for a chance to enter the giveaway to win the book of your choice from this great list…

P1010612Angie Manfredi blogs sporadically at www.fatgirlreading.com and tweets incessantly @misskubelik. She is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, NM, an active member of YALSA, and would happily run away with Logan Echolls.


Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Liz Burns


Welcome to a new series here on distraction no. 99 called Beyond the (Latest) Buzz. I’ve asked YA and kidlit librarians and book bloggers to share some books that they think deserve more attention. And I asked them specifically because I thought that, of all readers in the know, librarians and book bloggers are some of the most passionate readers we have in this industry, they read a TON more books than I do, and maybe, if I asked nicely, they’d be eager to recommend some beloved books with us here? They were—and they did.

Read on to see what books youth-services librarian Liz Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy wants to share with us today…

Guest post by Liz Burns

When Nova Ren Suma asked me to be part of this series I was all YES. OF COURSE. Picking what books to talk about? Very, very difficult. I decided to pick three; and cheated, by including two series amongst the three.

PresidentsDaughtercovMy first recommendation: Ellen Emerson White, a fabulous, talented writer, whose books make you think you are there, hanging out with her characters, sharing a TAB and watching TV. And yes, some are out of print and may be hard to track down, but it’s worth it.

The President’s Daughter introduces Meg Powers, daughter of the first serious female presidential candidate. (Originally published in the late 1980s, these titles were reissued [with some updates to make the references to things like TAB less dated] by Feiwel & Friends in 2008.) Spoiler: Meg’s mom is elected president, and the series takes Meg from high school to college with some unique challenges along the way.

White looks at issues of politics and power, the sacrifices people make for each other, how family is there for you yet can let you down, and does so via one of my favorite teens in literature. Meg has a wicked sense of humor, and her voice will stay you with you well after you’ve finished these books. The other titles are White House Autumn, Long Live the Queen, and Long May She Reign. Fun Fact: the final book came out almost 20 years after the first book.

FloraSegunda_coverNext: a book I adored, yet, somehow, I never reviewed. All I can say is in 2007, I was less disciplined in my writing and reviewing, which is why I never reviewed Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog by Ysabeau S. Wilce, (Harcourt, 2007). Flora is almost fourteen, the daughter of a famous General and a mad father. (See what I did there? You didn’t think “mother” when I said “General,” did you?)

Flora is a fabulous character: smart, quick, brave, stubborn, everything one would want in a heroine. Her world is fantabulous with fantastical elements but it’s also grounded in reality, that is, real consequences. Her family is a military one and it’s been scarred by war: her father suffers mentally and physically from being captured and tortured, and there was another daughter named Flora lost in that war who Flora is named after.

Flora wants to chart her own course, be a ranger like the famous Nini Mo who is full of such advice as “You can see more standing on a ladder than crouching in a ditch.” Her world is an alternate version of our own, set in a vaguely familiar California called Califa. Califa is just as smart and amazing as Flora, a fully realized world that I want to visit. Bonus points that it’s a place where women are generals and no one thinks twice about it. Finally, there is humor, as you can tell from the title of the book. You’re lucky if you’re just discovering this trilogy, because it’s now complete: Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) was published in 2008 and Flora’s Fury: How a Girl of Spirit and a Red Dog Confound Their Friends, Astound Their Enemies, and Learn the Importance of Packing Light was published this year.

One final word about Flora: much as I love this series, I think the covers say “middle grade” when this is really a teen book. Oh, not saying younger readers wouldn’t like it, but it has appeal for older readers that the covers haven’t always reflected.

AllUnquiet_coverTime for something more recent; one of my favorite books of the past couple of years. Anna Jarzab’s All Unquiet Things (Random House, 2010). Neily’s ex-girlfriend was murdered a year ago, someone convicted and imprisoned, but his cousin Audrey believes the murder is still out there. Both Neily and Audrey tell the story, with plenty of flashbacks to the relationships between the three teens.

All Unquiet Things is a mystery, yes: who killed Carly? But it’s also about friendships and families; it’s about how personalities and relationships develop and change over four years of high school, and what that means to people. The writing is beautiful; and the characters are so real, they are almost uncomfortable to be around. Not because they are unlikeable; no, rather, because when they do unlikeable things, they are familiar things that people do.

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 

LizBurns_authorphotoLiz Burns: “My blog is A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy at School Library Journal. I mainly talk about young adult books and reading, but I also include other things that interest me. During the day, I’m a youth services librarian for a network library of the National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped.”

Follow her on Twitter at @lizb.


Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock Star, First Day on Earth, Frost, and more (Giveaway open until December 17!)

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Kelly Jensen (+Giveaway)


Welcome to a new series here on distraction no. 99 called Beyond the (Latest) Buzz. I’ve asked YA and kidlit librarians and book bloggers to share some books that they think deserve more attention. And I asked them specifically because I thought that, of all readers in the know, librarians and book bloggers are some of the most passionate readers we have in this industry, they read a TON more books than I do, and maybe, if I asked nicely, they’d be eager to recommend some beloved books with us here? They were—and they did.

Read on to see what books YA librarian Kelly Jensen of STACKED wants to share with us today…

Guest post by Kelly Jensen

A reader and a book work in tandem. What you bring to a book is as important as what the book brings to you.

One of the best parts of being a reader—and by extension a librarian and a blogger—is stumbling across those books where the act of reading is intimate. Where, after closing the cover, I find myself constantly thinking about the story and wanting to tell people about it. Where I wonder weeks and months and years later how those characters are doing. Where I wonder how I am doing without those characters.

Where the story becomes mine.

Most of the books that have done this happen to be quieter books. Not necessarily quiet books, but rather, books that slide under the radar or didn’t quite receive a huge buzz. Despite not shouting from the shelves, they deserve more readers and more attention.

SortaLikeARockStarWhat happens when you’re living in a school bus with your mom? When the only life you know has been one of instability? And what happens when the only thing that has been stable is ripped away from you? If you’re Amber Appleton, you put on a strong face and keep moving forward. Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like a Rock Star is a punch to the gut, but not because it’s about a girl finding herself with all of life’s lemons. It’s a punch to the gut because Amber is one of the most positive, optimistic, and tough characters despite every setback. Let me be honest a second—the first time I read this book, I quit on page 50. It was slow. There’s some weird slang, and Amber’s internal dialog is initially jarring. But I was urged to try this book a second time. Once I toughed it out past page 75, I couldn’t turn back. I had to know what it was that made Amber such a powerhouse. Why she continued to keep good spirits when she had no reason to. Why in the midst of living through hell she wanted to help everyone else around her so much. There is an authentic kindness to this character that so rarely finds itself in YA stories, and I cried as I made my way through the entire last part of the story. I wanted so much for this girl because she deserved it, even if she never once believed it. Amber is not just sorta like a rock star. She IS a rock star.

FirstDayOnEarthWhile we’re on the subject of books that made me cry, one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read happens to also be one of the sparest: Cecil Castellucci’s First Day on Earth. Mal is an alien. He’s lonely and doesn’t feel like he has any reason to be here on Earth; he wants to go back to the home planet where he belongs. But in the course of therapy, he forges a unique friendship with Hooper. Hooper wants to return to his home planet, too, but now that Mal feels a bond between them, the last thing he wants is for Hooper to leave him.

Castellucci’s book is never about aliens, nor about spaceships. This is a story about life as the child of a parent who doesn’t want you. Of what it’s like to grow up without what everyone else around you has. It’s a story about growing up too fast and making hard choices about who you do and do not let into your life. Mal has the chance to reconnect with his father, but his father doesn’t recognize him. It’s in that moment where Mal realizes the only way to move forward with his life—the only way to find home on Earth—is to let him go. Even writing this, I’m getting choked up because Castellucci’s book is the first book where I ever fully and completely understood a character going through the trauma of making such a life-altering decision at a young age. As a teen, I had to cut ties with my father, too, and did so in a manner not too unlike this one. Mal’s anger, his frustration, and his utter loneliness were palpable, aching, and nothing short of honest. In a mere 150 pages, this book riled up more from me than I could have expected. This little gem may look like an alien novel, but it is one of the most human stories I’ve ever read.

FrostA good scary story is one you don’t see coming, and more often than not, I can see the twist from miles away. But Marianna Baer’s Frost kept me guessing. For her senior year at her boarding school, Leena is finally able to live in Frost House. It’s an old Victorian home, a bit off campus, and residing there with her good friends has been Leena’s dream. Since one of Leena’s roommates is abroad for a semester, the Dean, though, has assigned another girl—Celeste—to room with her. Leena is skeptical of Celeste, but she tries making the best of the situation. Except Celeste keeps getting stranger and stranger. Her behavior is erratic and she does things that scare Leena, like littering her bed with insects.

But Leena is far from the perfect girl she thinks she is—she herself hears voices. Her wooden owl, where she stores her medication, talks to her. Slowly but surely as the semester moves forward, both Leena and Celeste become more and more erratic toward one another and toward themselves. Baer’s momentum and subtlety make it tough to guess what it is causing the girls to slowly lose their minds—is it the setting? Is Frost House haunted? Is someone playing an elaborate prank on them all? Or is the stress of senior year causing their minds to play tricks on them? This book is unsettling through the entire ride because as a reader, you can never quite put your finger on it.

DestroyAllCarsBlake Nelson is one of my favorite authors, and his Destroy All Cars is gold. Seventeen-year-old James is angry. He’s angry about everything in the world, particularly about how people continue destroying the earth with their big SUVs, their malls, and their waste. But it’s not just about that—James is also angry because he’s no longer with Sadie. She was his dream girl, and she was the only one who truly understood him. Sure, there are plenty of other girls but none of them will ever be Sadie. What makes Nelson’s story stand out to me is the non-traditional narrative structure. We learn about James through a series of essays he turns in for his English teacher’s class; we see what his teacher says back to him, too. It’s through this back-and-forth of successful and unsuccessful essays that James works through his anger to better understand himself and his passion. This book is hilarious. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time with teenage boys, but James is a quintessential 17-year-old guy. He is witty without realizing he’s being so, and he’s driven and motivated about something without realizing it, as well. Teens are smart but they’re also obtuse creatures, and Nelson captures that through James.

ThreeRiversRisingHistorical fiction is a tricky genre for me, but when a book does it right, I can’t let it go. Jame Richards’s Three Rivers Rising is set in 1899 during the Johnstown floods in Pennsylvania. This novel-in-verse captures a number of voices, exploring what it meant to be wealthy, to be a servant, and to be in love across social classes prior to and following a massive natural disaster. Celestia—a girl born of a wealthy family—falls in love with Peter, one of the family’s hired hands, but her parents do what they can to keep them apart. Maura, the wife of a train conductor, waits for him to come home because they too have been separated. He has been working while she’s tended to their children. And the final voice is that of Kate, who is hard at work studying nursing, separated from her dream only because of the necessary schooling. The tension is believable and Richards’s use of verse serves purpose in the narrative and serves purpose visually, too. When the dams break, the story only becomes much more intense.

TenCentsADanceChristine Fletcher’s Ten Cents a Dance is set in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in the 1940s. It’s one of poorest areas of the city, right along the stockyards so well-known thanks to Upton Sinclair. For 15-year-old Ruby, who is responsible for helping her sick mother make ends meet, the only opportunity to earn a living is working at the packing plants. It’s the last thing on Earth she wants to do. Through a once-in-a-lifetime encounter, though, Ruby’s offered an opportunity to become a taxi dancer. She has to do it in secret not just because it’s a trade with little respect—especially for someone her age—but because she’s taking it to a new extreme and stealing from her patrons. Of course, Ruby can’t keep the charade up forever. The atmosphere, the setting, and the rough-and-dirty descriptions of night clubs, jazz halls, and even the mob. Fletcher nails life in Chicago during this era and offers up a great story about class and attempting to break social expectations.

HighDiveBecause I could offer up many more titles, I’ll share just quickly a few contemporary gems before talking about the final book. One of the most overlooked books in this genre is Tammar Stein’s High Divea tale of a girl struggling with her mother’s deployment to Iraq and the sudden loss of her father. She’s tasked with closing up the family’s vacation home in Sardinia since it’s being sold, but she uses a chance opportunity to travel Europe, meet new people, and experience life in a way that she never has before. Arden is witty, intelligent, and adventure driven, despite all of the fear in her life.

Everything BeautifulSimmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful follows badass, faithless Riley Rose as she’s tricked into attending a spiritual camp full of athletes. While she can think of no worse punishment in the world, it’s through the relationships she builds with a physically disabled camper where she learns her life isn’t so bad and that maybe, just maybe, she has faith in something (even if it’s not the God they preach about at camp).

ChildrenandtheWolvesAdam Rapp’s recent release, The Children and the Wolves defines literary YA and defines “dark” and “edgy” at the same time. Three middle schoolers take a four-year-old girl hostage and leave her tied in a basement. Bounce, Orange, and Wiggins plan on using this kidnapping as an opportunity to raise money, except this story isn’t about the kidnapping or about the money-raising. It’s about power, about control, and about what happens when those who have too much power abuse those without any. It’s a hell of a risky story and one bound to make you both angry and sad for the same reasons.

StupidFastI can’t forget to mention two favorite sports stories, either: Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast and Joshua Cohen’s Leverage. Herbach’s story follows former skinny dork Felton as he learns to work with his new, much larger body. He’s drafted at his school for the football team—not necessarily by choice—and aside from learning what it means to play the game and be an athlete, this summer Felton’s learning the truth of his family and the truth of what it means to fall in love. This story is tender and funny, the romance sweet and believable, and Felton’s voice is one of the best I’ve read.

LeverageCohen’s story also features football, but it’s much different than Herbach’s. Arguably, it’s not a story about sports at all. Leverage is about bullying and about being a witness to inexcusable and sickening torment of other people. Told through two voices—Danny, a gymnast, and Kurt, a hulking football player—Cohen offers an unflinching look at what happens in the guys’ locker room and what it means to forge an unlikely friendship. The voices in this book are outstanding, and Kurt Brodsky is the kind of guy you wish you had in your back pocket whenever you needed him.

My final recommendation is one that I love to champion as often as possible.

SomeGirlsAreWhen I started my new job in July, one of my co-workers asked me to recommend to her one book from the YA section she absolutely had to read. I thought about all of the books I’ve read that have left an impact on me in some way or that have refined my thinking about what a YA book can do to a reader. One title came to mind above others: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. I didn’t tell my coworker much about it except my standard line that it’s a book about mean girls with actual mean girls in it. She came back to me shortly after, telling me in great detail how she could not put it down, that it made her sick to her stomach, and that it scared her. She told me these same things the following week and after she read other recommendations I’d passed along to her. Some Girls Are sticks.

I think a lot of bloggers and a lot of authors are familiar with Summers’s book, but I recommend it here because every time I have mentioned it to someone, they tell me they haven’t read it. That when they do, their perceptions of contemporary YA are slightly different. That their understanding of what YA writing is is different. This book is brutal, intense, and an absolute must-read for anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet. It’s one of those rare books worth a second, third, and fiftieth read. It’s mean girls but it’s so much more—it’s power wielding, it’s bullying, it’s testing the limits of what relationships and social status are, and what it means to be yourself when yourself may be the ugliest thing there is.

That’s what YA is all about, isn’t it?

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! And read on for a chance to enter the giveaway to win the book of your choice from this great list…

  • Add Frost to your shelf on Goodreads
  • Frost on Indiebound


Kelly has generously offered to give away one book from this post—winner’s choice! Who won? I randomly chose a winner from the comments and entry form and it’s…


The book she chose out of all the exciting titles Kelly mentioned is (one of my own personal faves):


Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers!

Congrats, Alison! I will contact you for your mailing address. And thank you, Kelly, for sponsoring this great giveaway!

KellyJensenKelly Jensen is a teen and adult services librarian in southern Wisconsin. She blogs at stackedbooks.org and tweets @catagator. You can also find her over at YALSA’s The Hub blog, talking up debut novels and more. She is unashamed in her addictions to black licorice and tea.


Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies