Friday, October 23, 2009

I read bad books so you don't have to

For the past few weeks, I've had to cut back on blogging because I've been busy with, among other things, an internship at a well-known NYC literary agency. It's an agency where I'd love to work someday, and I love the intern work. Getting my first "job" in publishing, though, has really changed the way I think about and read YA literature and how it gets into the hands of readers, and also why librarians ask the questions they do about publishers' mindsets.

On an average day at my internship, I might read 8 query letters. Queries, in short, are a one-page letter from an author to a potential agent selling the agent the idea of the book. A query's job is to make the agent say, "This sounds intriguing. I'd like to read this book." Now, do some math. If the average agent gets 8 queries a day, multiplied by the number of agents at the agency (let's say there are 5), that's 40 queries a day, multiplied by 7 days a week = 280 queries a week, 14,560 queries a year. It takes a lot to stand out among 14,000+ other book ideas. If there's one thing I've learned here, it's that good writing can make any plot or character appealing. I've also learned that a query and the first fifty pages of the novel it describes aren't always equal. Some queries that seemed so-so to me have turned into 50 pages that made me hassle the author (not really, but I wanted to) for more. In short, I get to see a lot of ideas both good and bad, and trust me, those who complain that "there are no good books anymore" need to see the slush pile. I'll SHOW them where the no-good books end up.

In order to be good at your publishing job, you do have to read, but because I'm now enjoying a longer commute and longer hours, I'm not reading as much unless the author is a client of the agency. I'm still reviewing for Kirkus and VOYA but I'm not going to print those reviews here, obviously. Future reviews will include Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan and How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. After I get some much-needed sleep.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Listen up: Carter Finally Gets It

Brilliance Audio has this cool new program where they send out review copies of their audiobooks, and when I got the box of Fall 2009 titles, I didn't know what to listen to first. With the help of my to-read list and a recommendation from my good friend Liz B, I picked up Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, which on the surface sounds like everything no one wants right now.

Besides being realistic fiction, Carter is set in the suburbs where the weather varies. The main character is from a white, middle-class family with two happily married parents and an older sister who sometimes antagonizes him, but generally isn't too bad. Carter is not the smartest or dumbest or handsomest or ugliest kid in the class. He has friends, but he's not super-popular. If you press me, I'll tell you that the book doesn't even have a plot; it's just a series of events and mishaps in Carter's freshman year. No vampires. No zombies. Nothing hi-tech. It's everything that could make for a boring book, but as Miss Snark always said: Good writing trumps all. In this case, good writing plus a great voice performance trump all.

Reader Nick Podehl's calling in life is to be a fourteen-year-old boy. Carter is a boy with a rich, dynamic inner monologue, and Podehl beautifully captures Carter's highs as well as his lows. Podehl also brings delight when he reads in the voices of Carter's friends and family, particularly the girls. Crawford's characters are real and recognizable to any reader, and when Podehl reads through the speech of fourteen-year-old girls caught up in fourteen-year-old boy/girl politics, you'll feel like you're in the hallway at a high school.

Carter reminded me a lot of another favorite guy-centered realistic book: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. It's got that sort of appeal where teens will read it and laugh, and adults will read it and laugh...and then cringe.

retailer info page at Brilliance Audio
|| Brent Crawford's website || The New York Post finally gets it || audiobook review at Green Bean Teen Queen

Review copy courtesy of Brilliance Audio.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Refresh, Refresh: The waiting is the hardest part

I don't review a lot of graphic novels because my knowledge of art can generously be described as "lacking," but when I heard about Danica Novgorodoff's graphic retelling of Benjamin Percy's short story "Refresh, Refresh," I knew it was one I wanted to read.

Refresh, Refresh follows three teen boys, Cody, Josh, and Gordon, whose fathers are serving in the Marines. Stuck in their small Oregon town, they form a fight club so they can strengthen themselves against their enemies. They party, they go camping, they cause more trouble than they solve, and they refresh, refresh their email, hoping for a message from their fathers. Seasons pass and the boys, seniors in high school, make important decisions about their futures. Cody is sure he wants to become a Marine and fight terrorists, and Josh takes flak from his friends when he confesses that he'd rather go to college than join the armed forces. All three boys also feel stress at home, because they've become the men of their respective houses.

I'm sure this is a book that will be mentioned when the inevitable, "Do you know any books about teens whose fathers have gone off to war?" readers' advisory question is asked, but Refresh, Refresh is not just a book about a parent at war. It's about grieving someone who may or may not be dead, and it's about three boys trying to move forward with their lives when uncertainty holds them back. In trying to become strong, Cody, Josh, and Gordon show their biggest weaknesses and how isolated they feel in their own families and among their peers. Novogodoff uses a fair amount of dialogue at the beginning of the book, but the last ten pages are almost entirely wordless. It doesn't end on the happiest note, but it does end realistically, something this reader appreciated.

review at Pop Candy || Danica Novgorodoff's Refresh, Refresh site || Author interview at Comic Book Resources || review at Reading Rants!

review copy courtesy of First Second Books