Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sunsets and Sidewalk Chalk

I had my blog post for today all planned out. I discovered earlier this week that one of my favorite authors had a new book released in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Jaclyn Moriarty – another Australian YA author – started a new trilogy with the book A Corner of White. It’s a braided novel which switches between two worlds – Cambridge, England and the Kingdom of Cello – and promises to deliver Moriarty’s signature whimsical style. I bought it for my Kindle last night, and planned to finish it up today and write up a review.

But this afternoon, a shocking thing happened: I didn’t feel like reading. It’s one thing for me to not feel like reading when I have no good books up my sleeve. It’s another thing entirely when I have a thus-far enjoyable book by an author I know to be excellent. I blame the weather. It was gorgeous out today, warm and breezy. I saw people playing Frisbee and catch, heard them playing volleyball (the volleyball crowd was very loud) and I just couldn’t do it. Also, although I intend to keep this blog running, this is my last required post for my creative non-fiction class. I wanted to do something different from a usual review.

So I broke out the sidewalk chalk I got in my Easter basket this year. I took it outside with my camera. I doodled and wrote, looked at the lake, and mostly thought. I thought about how on Earth I was supposed to connect sidewalk chalk to reading. I mainly was reminded of something writer/dancer/papercutting artist Kimi Eisele said when she came to one of my classes as a guest lecturer last semester. She talked about the importance of having some kind of second genre or medium for “play.”

At the time, I mostly thought of it in regard to myself as a writer. Writing, for all that it’s a wonderful form of creative expression, can be and often is hard work. It seems like maybe I should start thinking of that in terms of reading, too. Reading is an activity that’s always come easily to me, and that I’ve always loved. But since starting this blog and taking several creative writing workshop classes, it’s sometimes hard to read with my writer mind off. I pay more attention to the choice of verb tense and the consistency of characters’ voices. Not to say I don’t still get completely immersed in what I’m reading, but there’s always questions the back of my mind – “What would I write about this?” or “Does that point-of-view shift contribute anything to the story?”

So I guess at the end of the day, writing and reading, as much as I love them, can also be pretty taxing. So I decided to expand my creative horizons a little, step out of my comfort zone. Despite my compulsive doodling habits, I’m no artist. But I do enjoy drawing things from time to time, and there’s something so alluring about sidewalk chalk. Maybe it’s that instead of writing at a computer or doodling in a notebook, whatever you do is immediately out there in the world, instantly available for others’ scrutiny. While I was drawing out there today, I was half-embarrassed, almost ashamed to be caught in the act of creating in public, especially something that wasn’t “good.”

I kept at it though, until my hands (and camera bag) were covered in chalk and the little pieces of gravel seemed permanently embedded in my knees. I came out with a few new poem ideas, remembered a few books I’d forgotten about, and got a chance to see one more Oswego sunset. I raced over to the banks of the lake to snap a few shots of the sun, as it slid right out of the sky. Once it starts going down, it goes down fast. I enjoyed my afternoon of play and some of the ideas it gave me for new writing and reading projects.

One of the books I thought about while I out there I’ve browsed but haven’t gotten a chance to “use” yet. It’s called Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts, and includes provides and activities from classic childhood books. It includes recipes for “Tempting Turkish Delight” and “Brucie Bogtrotter’s Heroic Chocolate Cake” and directions for making a “liberally garlanded hat,” as Anne Shirley does in Anne of Green Gables. It’s half practical, half humorous. It’s a good reminder that aside from being fun companions while you read them, books are also a fun place to look for inspiration for something to do when you don’t feel like curling up with them.

A Corner of White
Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts



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Summer Reading

I’m not entirely sure it’s spring yet here in Oswego. Although we’ve had our share of nice days in the past week or two, in mid-April there’s still the possibility of some more snow sneaking in. Yet with graduation only four weeks away, I can’t help jumping ahead to my favorite season: Summer. Although I appreciate autumn for its vibrant oranges and reds and spring for its balmy breezes, they can’t compare to summer’s constant atmosphere of celebration. And whether I’m going on an impromptu trip to Bennett Beach or going to see a free performance of Shakespeare in the Park, I like to have a book along.

A picture from last year's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Delaware Park.

A picture from last year’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Delaware Park. This year they’re doing Hamlet and Measure for Measure.

Finding good summer reading material isn’t a simple task. For me, a beach book needs to be easy to read – hold the dense sentences and experimental structure, please. And I don’t mind if it tackles darker topics as long as it has a mostly happy ending. One young adult author really fits the bill for my summer reading choices – Sarah Dessen. Although Dessen, who’s now published ten young adult novels, has written some books that deal with topics like abusive relationships and sexual assault, most of her novels are a little bit lighter, but still substantive fare. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite books of hers that I think also make great summer reading.

Keeping the Moon: Fifteen-year-old Colie visits beach-town Colby to stay with her Aunt Mira for the summer while her mom, fitness guru Kiki Sparks, tours Europe. Colie expects the worst from her summer with her strange, artsy Aunt Mira. Instead, she finds herself waitressing at the Last Chance Bar & Grill and making friends with her slightly older coworkers; sharp-tongued Isabel, friendly Morgan, and easy-going, artistic Norman. Colie slowly stops judging her Aunt Mira, and appreciates her for who she is – not the town weirdo, but a woman completely sure of who she is. Through her time there, Colie starts to stop expecting the worst from Colby, and the rest of the world, and take both herself and others as they are.

The Truth About Forever: After her father’s sudden death a year ago, Macy has focused on being the perfect daughter. She’s become a stellar student and started dating Jason, a highly-motivated student and considerate guy. She even helps out from time to time with events for her mom’s real estate business. Her summer is carefully planned out, full of SAT preparation and logging hours at the library help desk, filling in for Jason while he spends the summer at a camp for gifted students. But when Macy spontaneously accepts an offer to work at disorganized, chaotic Wish Catering and starts getting to know the crew there, she starts thinking about whether perfect is all it’s cracked up to be.

Along for the Ride: As the child of two intelligent, competitive professors, Auden has been an adult since about the age of five. While her older brother, Hollis, has always been able to get away with most anything, Auden’s met her parents’ expectations, academic and otherwise. Auden continues to excel in school, even though she finds herself unable to fall asleep during and after her parents’ rather nasty divorce. About to leave for college in September, Auden makes the impulsive decision to leave her mother’s and  spend her summer at her father’s new house in Colby – along with his new wife, Heidi, and newborn baby, Thisbe. When Auden gets to know some of the locals, including fellow insomniac, Eli, she starts to wonder if it’s ever really too late to learn to be a kid.

These books are set over the course of the summer, and, yes, there is usually a love interest. But I think it would be a mistake to write off Dessen’s work, even her more beach-appropriate books, as romantic fluff. While romantic relationships are a staple of Dessen’s books, most are just as focused on the characters’ other relationships – with their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. Aside from enjoying summer’s festive mood, I also usually find summer to be a time of individual growth and healing. In the “Note from the Author” section on her website’s page for Keeping the Moon, Dessen writes, “If you read my novels, you’ll see that I love a book set in the summer: it’s such a good, concise time period, and there’s endless potential for what can happen.” In the summer, anything seems possible. Her books capture the potential for a person to change course completely, fix relationships, form friendships. A lot can change in a summer.

Sarah Dessen also has a new novel coming out on June 4th. This one’s called The Moon and More, and also looks like a Summer Book. Check out this article for a description and the first chapter!

Sarah Dessen’s Website
Sarah Dessen’s Tumblr
GoodReads Pages for Keeping the Moon, The Truth About Forever, and Along for the Ride.

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YA Questionnaire

Some of you may know I am currently working on a thesis about how the Internet affects the YA reading experience. As much of my opinion has been informed by my own experiences as a young adult reader, I am genuinely interested in others’ experiences as YA readers in the Internet Age. In order to learn more about other YA readers, I’ve created a questionnaire with related questions. I would really appreciate it if anyone could either fill out the survey and e-mail it to me at or share the questionnaire with others who might be interested. I will be taking responses until April 30th. I posted it on my blog as it seemed too long for tumblr and most of the survey sites have ten-question limits.


This questionnaire is specifically seeking to understand the activities of Young Adult (YA) literature. Please only take this survey if you read YA literature, and answer all questions as they relate to YA literature.


Gender (optional)?

How did you learn about this survey?

How and where were you introduced to YA literature?

How old were you when you started reading YA literature?

What are your favorite features of YA literature?

What are your least favorite features of YA literature?

Rank these subgenres in order of preference. Write “0” for a subgenre you rarely read. (Realistic fiction, fantasy, science-fiction, dystopian, paranormal, non-fiction, other)

Who is your favorite YA author and why?

Have you ever interacted with a YA author in any way, either in person or through the Internet? Please describe any and all such experiences.

How do you usually stay informed about YA authors’ activities and/or writing?

What is your favorite work of YA literature why?

What do you do after you finish a work of YA literature?

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions online (i.e. GoodReads, tumblr, etc.) If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions outside of the Internet? If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Do you read, write, and/or review fanfiction based on YA literature? If so, describe your experience with fanfiction. If so, what kind of fanfiction do you usually read or write (Canon, Alternate Universe, Alternate POV, etc.)?

How do you learn about new young adult literature?

Where do you gain most of your YA literature recommendations?

Please share any additional comments about why and how you engage with YA literature.

I am considering creating a website where I can share some of the responses I have received. Please let me know if you do not wish me to publicly share any or all of your answers outside of my thesis.

Again, please e-mail the completed questionnaire to me at .

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“The Key to the Golden Firebird,” by Maureen Johnson

Last week, I wrote an entry about a trip to a book event in Syracuse. I’m currently on another, much further trip – Philadelphia! I came to the city for an honors conference, not a literary endeavor. Nevertheless, as we chugged along on the highway in our extremely large, rented black van, passing skyscrapers and buildings so ornate they must be Historical, I was reminded of one of my favorite young adult novels: Maureen Johnson’s The Key to the Golden Firebird.

Maureen Johnson’s twitter profile… and a sample of her kind of humor.

In the world of young adult literature, Maureen Johnson’s name is more or less synonymous with “superstar.” Aside from having published ten novels, she has an abundant online presence. She’s particularly well-known for her offbeat tweets. I first discovered her work, however, long before she became an Internet sensation, probably before she had a twitter account. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I pulled The Key to the Golden Firebird off the shelf of my local library. I didn’t know that a Firebird was a car, or that the novel was set in Philadelphia. I picked it up because of its bright yellow and pink cover.

The Key to the Golden Firebird mainly follows May Gold, the sixteen-year-old middle child in the family of three girls. May’s father dies of a sudden heart attack at the beginning of the novel. The story then jumps to a year later, and explores the different ways the Gold sisters cope with the loss. May’s mom works over-time at the hospital to help pay the bills, leaving May and her two sisters to fend for themselves. Brooks, the oldest of the family, quits softball and starts hanging out with a different, more booze-fueled crowd. Palmer, the baby of the family, tries to distract herself with softball practice and television. May – the bookish, unathletic sister – to try to hold things together.

And then there’s Pete Camp. A long-time family friend, he and May have always been… well, less than friendly. Good-natured – and perhaps less well-natured – pranks once drove the relationship between the two. When May fails her driving test – an experience to which I personally relate – Pete ends up being the only one around to teach her. The two attempt to put aside their differences for the sake of May’s driver license. In one notable scene, Pete tries to take May driving on one of Philadelphia’s highway. It was this scene that reminded me today, as our professor wove through the mess of last-minute lane-changing cars, that reminded me of the novel.

Photo of Philadelphia as seen from the highway in our enormous black rental van. Photo taken by Paige Belisle.

I think what really made this book was the characterization. Although the book focused around May, the narration sometimes shifted to her sisters, Brooks and Palmer. Each girl had their own individual ways of dealing with their father’s death. And for a book about death, it stays remarkably, refreshingly free of clichés and cheesiness. The bonding between the sisters didn’t take place in the form of hugs and shared cups of coffee; instead, their connection shone through in a road-trip convenience store stop and a wild dash off the field at Camden Yards.

To address the YA elephant in the room – yes, there is some romance in the novel. I think Johnson does an excellent job of balancing the love interest aspect of the story with the sisters’ relationships and development. For May, her growing interest in a guy feels natural; instead of distracting from the other themes of the story, it reinforces the idea that May needs to learn to live her own life; as much as she loves her sisters, it’s not up to her to be responsible for them.

This book came out quite awhile ago, but it’s one I still like revisit quite often. What rereads do you still enjoy years later? Any books you stumbled upon a bit by accident and ended up loving? Let me know in comments.

Maureen Johnson’s Website
Maureen Johnson’s Twitter
The Key to the Golden Firebird on GoodReads


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