Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jerry Spinelli. SMILES TO GO

There’s something very comfortable about being inside a Jerry Spinelli book. His storytelling is so smooth. You glide along so easily. In his latest, SMILES TO GO, Will Tuppence is a skateboarder, chess player, stargazer, best friend, and big brother to Tabby. Will spends most of his time avoiding his little sister, who annoys him constantly. She shows up at his weekly game night with his best friends, she tries to steal his skateboard, she even shows up a at the high school party he attends down the street. Will is also struggling with the possible love connection between his two best friends, BT (a rebel guy everyone looks up to) and Mi-Su. When he sees the two of them kissing, Will realizes that, hey –wait, maybe he likes Mi-Su! Would she ever kiss him? The novel takes you on a realistic journey of the emotional ups & downs of teen life. It also has a dramatic event that causes Will to realize the importance of what he already has in his life and to stop worrying so much. A worthy read for sure, especially if you’re a Spinelli fan.

Check out Jerry Spinelli’s website here.

Although I like all his books, STARGIRL is still my favorite Spinelli title. Stargirl just spoke to me in a very intimate way. I think it's because of the way it celebrates someone who was 100% herself without conforming to societies rules (and the teenage society can be pretty darn harsh when you don't conform). Stargirl totally did not care what other people thought. How often do you come across people like that in real life?
Did you know Stargirl societies are cropping up in schools everywhere? Pretty cool. Check it out here. Also, Stargirl is under production as a movie. Wow, can’t wait for that!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Suzanne Supplee: Author Interview

Yay! I had the honor of interviewing YA author Suzanne Supplee. I recently reviewed ARTICHOKE'S HEART and I loved it so much that I really wanted to speak with the author. The interview is here:
Q. What was your inspiration for ARTICHOKE’S HEART?
A. I was sitting in the chair at my hairdresser’s, and I had all this glop on my head, and the lighting was bad, and that black cape is always hideous, and there were mirrors everywhere. I couldn’t wait to leave! Suddenly, I had this idea about a girl who couldn’t escape because she worked there. I guess it’s appropriate that Rosie was born in a beauty shop.
Q. I think many girls will relate to Rosemary’s struggles as a teen today, with her worries about her weight and how she looks. How did you write Rosemary so realistically?
A. I decided my own insecurities must be good for something, so I used them!
Q. When thinking back to my own teen years, I don’t remember as much pressure to be skinny. Do you think the pressure on teen girls to look a certain way is worse today than it was in previous generations?
A.I think all generations have pressures. Truthfully, I don’t think this will ever change. What can change, however, is our response to these pressures. We don’t always have to buy into what marketers and advertisers are telling us.
Q. Were your teen years enjoyable?
A. I’m sure most people thought I was happy. I probably looked happy. But I had a lot of burdens as a kid. My dad died when I was five. My mother struggled financially. Deep down I felt lonely and out of place, like Rosie. I wanted two parents, a so-called normal family.
Q. Would you say that you were more like Kay-Kay or Rosemary as a teen?
A. This is a hard question because I get so into my characters that I become all of them in a way. I was probably somewhere in the middle.
Q. While reading the book, I wondered if the Bluebirds were a real organization. Then I saw something about them on your website. Is this a real group for girls? Are they cheerleaders, a dance team, or something else?
A. I came up with the name Bluebirds because years ago, I heard someone talking about their elementary school reading groups. The superstar readers were the Bluebirds. I think the lower group was called the Earthworms. Those names just stuck with me. There were sororities at my high school, and we were always trying to outshine one another. It was silly, of course, but I think we thought we were pretty important at the time.
Q. The southern mannerisms, phrases and names like Rose Warren and Willy Ray felt really authentic. I’m from the south and I recognized several family members. Are you from the south too?
A. Yes, and I love the South. Even though I’ve lived in Baltimore for nearly 20 years, I still think of Tennessee as home. I always tell my daughters they’re half Southern. I also love Flannery O’Connor. She’s my literary hero (I named one of my children after her). When I first read her stories, I remember thinking Hey, I know these people! I also love Truman Capote and Eudora Welty and Lee Smith.
Q. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Rosemary feels at her most vulnerable (in a swimsuit!), yet Kyle shows up at that exact moment and asks her to the prom! It was funny and so sweet. Do you have a favorite scene?
A. This question makes me think of that old Percy Sledge song, “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Kyle loves Rosie. She is smart and funny and real. She doesn’t intimidate him the way those Bluebirds do.
My favorite scene is when Rosie goes to the Bluebirds’ car wash. Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” is playing on the radio, and she’s in her red VW bug and feeling scared but a little powerful, too. She imagines that Julia Roberts and Roy Orbison are in the car with her! I can just see them sitting in the backseat, singing along to the radio and egging Rosie on! I love this particular scene because it’s when Rosie decides these girls don’t have power over her any longer. They may still say ugly things about her and to her, but she’s moved on.
Q. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying – Yummy Cover! Did you have input in creating it? Did you design your website before or after the cover was designed? (I love your website, by the way)
A. The book cover design is by Natalie Sousa, and I don’t know her. In fact, I’ve never even spoken with her, but her design is brilliant! I can’t take any credit for it. My website was designed by Rob Miller, a teacher at my school. If anyone is interested, they can go to my website and click on the link to Rob’s site. He also does beautiful artwork.
Q. What’s your favorite part of being a published author?
A. Hearing from teenagers. I get the best emails from readers. So email me!
Q. Have you started writing your next book?
A. Yes, my next book is Somebody Everybody Listens To, and it’s the story of Retta Jones, a Tennessee River girl who wants leave her small town to become a big-time country music star. I’ve also written a novel for Penguin’s Students Across the Seven Seas series called When Irish Guys Are Smiling. Irish Guys was released this past January, and it’s available in paperback.
Q. Thank you so much for your time! This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I heartily recommend to my students.
I look forward to reading more of your books in the future!
A. Thank you for giving Artichoke’s Heart such a great review and for interviewing me.
It was my pleasure!
Read more about Suzanne Supplee and her books at her website here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Neal Shusterman. ANTSY DOES TIME

Another sequel. I didn’t plan it this way – really. But this is a sequel you could totally read by itself, without the first book*.

You gotta love a book that begins with a parade float that, well,... floats away. Antsy and a few of his friends see the beginning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debacle on TV. So, they hop on the subway to watch in person. The giant cartoon raccoon has blown away, along with three balloon handlers hanging on. The float finally gets caught up in the Empire State Building. Shortly after watching the events unfold right in front of his eyes, Antsy, hears some news from an unusual classmate, Gunnar. Gunnar tells Antsy that he has an incurable disease and will die in the coming months. After an act of kindness gets out of hand, Antsy begins to really help Gunnar with his last few months and get a quite a bit of attention for it. But as Antsy gets to know Gunnar and his family, he finds out that circumstances are really more serious than he thought. Plus, he has his own family drama. Antsy’s father now owns a restaurant, which is great, except that it keeps him so busy that Antsy hardly ever seems him. When he does see him, Antsy ends up screwing up and making him mad. He’s from a family of “fixers,” but he wonders how he can fix all of these dramas.
This was a quirky, funny, sad, heart-warming and wonderful. I marked so many great spots that I wanted to quote here, but if I did that, I would have to practically copy the whole book here, which is illegal. The events are really unexpected, but I think what I like best in this book is the cast of characters. They are so distinctive and lovable in their own ways. The dialogue between Antsy and his friends is right on. The curmudgeon Mr. Crawley is perfectly mean, but awesome. Kjerston is understandable in her desire to “reclaim her youth,” at sixteen. Even the minor character Skaterdud made me smile in his perfectness. Great! Loved it! Read it! (yes, that's Skaterdud not Skaterdude - read the book)

*You should still read the first one, though.

Click here to read my review.

A tidbit for ya...
Notice on the cover how the author's last name is different on each book. The first one has the "e" in his last name upside down. In the sequel, he has the "e" printed like this ë. Both relate to the story in the book. But, can you imagine how that conversation went with his publishers: "yeah, I'd like to turn the "e" upside down in my last name, yeah- right on the cover of the book. I know this will perplex people. Just do it."