Mini-review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

ariTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Pages: 359
Genre: contemporary, romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: the lovely local library
Availability: February 21, 2012

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: When you read a lot, you realize that there are books — and then there are books — the sort that you want to throw at your friends and scream “READ IT! I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!” This is that sort of book. The plot, characters, style — everything about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is done so well. You really get to know the two protagonists, Aristotle and Dante. There’s friendship, romance, family — everything you could want. The only teensy problem I had was with the ending, which felt sort of rushed and a little forced. But, aside from that, it was wonderful. Talk to me and I will gush about this book for ages.

Recommendation: Buy it now! It’s such a beautiful story.

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Interview: Kat Zhang

what's left of me
Kat Zhang, the author of What’s Left of Me (a book you should totally read!), was kind enough to answer a few questions for us this week —
The idea of two souls in one body is a fascinating one. What gave you the idea to create an alternate universe where this was the norm?

I don’t really have a super interesting story to tell about how I came up with the idea for WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, unfortunately. I wish I did! Really, though, I just started wondering one day–everyone has a bit of an internal monologue going at times; what if that little voice in the back of your head was a real person? What would it be like to live trapped in your own body? That was how the idea for Eva began, and the rest of the story grew around her.

There are a number of siblings in What’s Left of Me. Would you consider siblinghood a central relationship in What’s Left of Me?
I think so. I know my editor has said that it was one of the things that really drew her to the story. I’ve always been really interested in relationships–not just romantic ones, which are the ones most popularly explored in fiction–but the special, unique relationships that human beings can form with each other (or sometimes with animals or even inanimate objects!).
In WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, there are two kinds of sibling relationships–that between “normal” siblings, and that between the two souls that share a body. Funnily enough, I don’t think I based the latter off my idea of “real” sibling relationships (though many people do say it reminded them of such!).
It’s always said that authors are also great readers. So — any book recommendations? Who are some of your favorite authors? 
I’m sadly not as prolific a reader as I wish I were. The funny thing about publishing is that it often keeps you so busy (especially if you also have another job/school/ etc), that your reading time shrivels up! I tend to stick to recommending the classics of my childhood–things like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, and ENDER’S GAME, and SABRIEL 🙂 I have favorite books more than favorite authors.
So you just got back from the Young Authors Give Back Tour. Sounds fun, but what’s it all about? 
It was a lot of fun! Basically, Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah Maas, and I traveled for 2.5 weeks all along the North East, starting in NYC for BEA and ending at Anderson’s in Chicago. We hit 7 cities along the way. The special thing about the tour was that we wanted to do something more than the usual book signing/panel stuff, so in each city, we also gave free writing workshops to people aged 13-22 (in general…some others slipped in ;P). It was a fantastic experience working with so many young writers!
Final question: Are you ready for the release of Once We Were?
Definitely! It’s nerve-wracking, too, because it’s the first book I wrote on deadline, and the first book of its kind that I’ve ever written (and really, just only the 3rd book in general I’ve ever finished). But I’m very excited for everyone else to read it, too!
—-
katKat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.
[Author photo and bio via Goodreads]
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New Releases

Happy book birthday to The Weight of Souls (release date: August 6, 2013)!

the weight of soulsThe Weight of Souls

by Bryony Pearce

Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Definitely grabbing this book when I get the chance!

 

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Review: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

open micTitle:  Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Editor: Mitali Perkins
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 127
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: ARC
Availability: September 10, 2013

 

 

 

Summary: Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Take a moment to admire the cover. Go on. Cute, isn’t it?

Open Mic is an anthology with a colorful mix of stories in different mediums. Gene Luen Yang discusses the problematic casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender movie using comics to tell his story. G. Neri lays out a cultural map of Berlin using a blend of humor and free verse poetry to describe a multi-cultural family in a place not quite ready for diversity. Debbie Rigaud creates a snapshot of the relationship between Simone and her great-aunt Ma Tante.

One story in particular stood out to me: Mitali Perkins’ story gave me a glimpse of her teenage life. The story centers around Mitali and her two sisters playing the Game of Guys and being perfectly comfortable with who they were. Recognizing Mitali in her own story, I realized how personal each of the stories in Open Mic were. The autobiographical thread running through the short stories and poems is a story in itself. The story told is, like the title says, a story of life between cultures.

My main complaint is that of length. Only ten stories? The last work, Naomi Shihab Nye’s gorgeous poem “Lexicon,” left me wishing Open Mic would continue on. The value in this sort of anthology is that it’s so rare — an anthology written about and by people who have actually experienced life between cultures. These are voices that need to be heard. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of ten voices, there were hundreds? Thousands? Here’s hoping many more such anthologies will follow.

Recommendation: Get it soon or borrow it from the library when it comes out.

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FWFF alas

Foreign Words for Foreign Flavor (FWFF): when writers toss in words from languages not their own just to make it clear that everything is happening in a foreign culture where things are ~exotic~ and different

Example: The shadows made his face resemble a gui. He looked just like a demon! Terrified, I dropped my xiezi on the ground and screamed as my shoes hit the ground.
Bu pa!” the figure said, stepping into the light. It was only Wang Dazhong, son of the Long emperor and the heir to the Dragon Dynasty. “Don’t be afraid! I will turn out to be handsome and soft-hearted in three to five chapters!”

Yes, sometimes authors mix in different languages and it totally works.* It’s fantastic, beautiful even. Makes me cry tears so joyful and pure that scientists use them in chemical experiments. Many books don’t commit FWFF.

But sometimes — the author means well. The author has done research, lots of it. The author has even toured the country in question. (I’m a little bitter about this part because flying off to have fun in other countries costs $$$. Hmph.) The author might even have stayed in the country for years and years. Still. I’ve got problems with FWFF:

1) Hey, this isn’t even about ethnicity/nationality/cultural background. This is a matter of writing quality. It’s just plain bad writing to throw in words from other languages when they don’t serve any purpose other than, well, foreign flavor. If the words are only there to provide exotic atmosphere, then that is a failure on the part of the writer. Good writing should be able to explain cultural differences to the reader without hitting the reader over the head with it. Don’t fall into the FWFF trap — especially if you’re not from the culture in question and the foreign language isn’t one you’re intimately acquainted with, which brings us to:

2) Okay, so it is kind of about cultural perspective. FWFF assumes that the reader is always an outsider, just like the author. For example, someone who doesn’t know Japanese would need translations for the greetings and clan names and weapon types in all those Japan-inspired fantasy books (written by people who aren’t Japanese!) that have been cropping up lately. There’s always the super awkward translation of every foreign phrase stuffed into the text at intervals (necessary because there’s no way the reader could possibly speak that language, right? /sarcasm).

FWFF and all its related buddies make it clear that the target audience is not from or even remotely knowledgeable about the language/culture in question. It turns the insiders into the true outsiders. When an author uses a different culture as an easy substitute for a fantasy setting, or to add spice to the tale, the result is shoddy writing and an alienating story. When an author uses a culture not their own as a shortcut for an exotic setting, the author says: This book isn’t for you. It’s for people who think foreign means exotic and mystical and weird.

Well, let me tell you a thing. “Foreign” and “Other” — these things are a matter of perspective. What’s foreign to you isn’t foreign to someone else. That’s something to keep in mind when writing, okay? Okay.**

*The Summer Prince uses sprinklings of words from other languages — like “mushibot” — and it’s awesome! Swoon.
**Note: FWFF has many little friends crawling around literature land. You know — stereotypical characters, names that are straight out of a foreign language dictionary, mystical customs, strangely alluring dance moves, etc.

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Interview with Justina Chen

Welcome Justina Chen, author of some of my favorite books growing up! She took the time to answer a few questions for us on her books.

nothingWhere did Patty Ho come from? How much has your own life influenced your writing of Nothing but the Truth? Imagine being surrounded by teens who are mocking you in pseudo-Chinese. That’s exactly what happened to me and my kids one day. The next morning, Patty introduced herself to me while I was running the morning. To be perfectly accurate, she started dumping on me three miles into my run. She ranted about not being able to get a date, ironic since her last name is Ho. Then she told me about being half-Asian, half-white, and all-American. I couldn’t resist writing her story.

As an Asian American, how much of your cultural heritage do you try to reflect in your writing? I drew on my cultural heritage to write my first three novels–North of Beautiful, Girl Overboard, and Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies).

Why do you write YA lit? I have always loved YA! Let’s just say that I wrote my first YA novella when I was about ten. Teen years are exhilarating and bewildering and tumultuous and wonderful–and I adore exploring that important time in our lives.

What are you working on now? Talk about drawing from my past! If you can believe it, I went to 13 proms when I was in high school. And I drew hard on that experience to write my forthcoming novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS (August, 2014).

(And an obligatory silly question.) What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you? How about a different obligatory silly question. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? When I was Peru, guinea pig was on the menu. Couldn’t do it. That said, I must say alligator tastes a lot like chicken.

Justina Chen TreeJustina Chen is an award-winning novelist for young adults whose most recent book, Return to Me, was called an “uplifting story” by Publishers Weekly. North of Beautiful was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus and Barnes & Noble. Her other novels include Girl Overboard (a Junior Library Guild premiere selections) and Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), which won the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. Additionally, she co-founded readergirlz, a cutting-edge literacy and social media project for teens, which won the National Book Foundation’s Prize for Innovations in Reading.

When she isn’t writing for teens, Justina is a communications strategist for executives and was the speechwriter and executive communications manager for a president of Microsoft. She conducts popular corporate storytelling workshops and has presented at prestigious organizations ranging from the Mayo Clinic to NASDAQ and AT+T to SAS.

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