If you are interested only in my book reviews and not my other posts, you can find links to the reviews on Pinterest: Kelly’s Book Reviews.
Two Can Keep a Secret is the followup (not the sequel, that’s a different book) to McManus’s One of Us Is Lying, which I liked and reviewed on this blog. The two books are a little different, as I feel Two Can Keep a Secret is quieter and less complicated than the first. It was still a good suspense that kept me guessing.
The book’s narrated by two characters: Ellery and Malcom. Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are moving in with their grandmother in Echo Ridge, Vermont while their mother is in rehab. Malcolm is the younger brother of the guy everyone thinks murdered a girl five years earlier.
Things go wrong for both of them right from the start. When Ellery and Ezra are getting a ride from the airport, they stumble across a body in the road at the edge of town. At a fundraiser for the murdered girl, Ellery finds Malcolm standing with a can of spray paint next to a message sprayed on a wall:
Murderland was the name of the Halloween park where the girl’s body was found. In its new incarnation, it’s called Fright Farm, and Ellery and Ezra get jobs there like most of the other teenagers in town. Ellery also becomes acquainted with the queen bee of the school, Katrin. When meeting her, she thinks,
We all murmur hellos, and it feels like some sort of uncomfortable audition.
Who can’t relate to that? Soon, Ellery’s been sucked under the threat implied by the graffiti Malcolm might have written. But she doesn’t think so. And it’s not long before she’s hanging out with him as well as her brother and Malcom’s friend Mia.
In addition to being the shoe-in for homecoming queen, Katrin is also Malcolm’s step-sister. Malcolm isn’t overly fond of this situation, but there’s not much he can do about it. Plus, he’s got more to worry about: his infamous brother is back in town, and he doesn’t know why or what he’s doing there. The timing is bad with the graffiti, more of which appears later.
With this set up, there are quite a few suspects as well as a real threat against Ellery. I wasn’t blind-sided by the resolution, but there is a small but significant twist at the end that I didn’t at all expect. Additionally, there are several minor twists and reveals along the way that surprised me.
If you enjoyed One of Us Is Lying, or YA suspense in general, you’d probably like this one, too.
I feel like I should write a post for today since Finding Frances finally came out this week, on Monday. But in some ways it’s been a little anti-climactic. Nothing has really changed from my perspective. I know people have bought it, but I have no way of knowing how many, and I don’t have any reviews yet, so it’s all invisible. I think I can get a rough estimate of the number of books sold on Amazon with a week delay or so, so maybe I’ll get my first clue next week.
Still, it is kind of cool to no longer be a ”pre-published” author. All that work finally paid off. And man, was it a lot of work… Now I’m planning for the release party on March 21st.
Outside of regularly remembering I’m a published author now, I’m focused on the MFA and Ugly. One of the things I’m doing is a professional writing minor, and through that I’m getting some feedback on my Ugly query and the first two chapters. My instructor told me that the two chapters were maybe a little slow and that they didn’t hint at what the book is really about, instead making it seem like the main character just has normal teen problems. So I wrote a new short scene to start the book off, to be put at the beginning of Chapter 1. I’m waiting on feedback on that, but if she likes it, I will start querying again. Right now I have no queries out and only four few partials/fulls (sent in November). But I just figured out that one of the agents who had requested a full changed agencies after requesting it but before responding to it. So now I have to do some followup work on that one. I emailed the original agency, but I’ll probably have to requery the original agent at her new agency. I also followed up with another full I sent in November. So hopefully I’ll hear something soon on both of those.
The other minor I’m doing on the MFA is pedagogy. So I’m going to be observing a class in March and then teaching a one-hour workshop on the use of relationships in character-building. Both are with a former instructor who’s really nice, so I hope it goes well. I’m still developing the workshop, though I have the exercises ready. Now I just have to score books to find good examples…
When I first heard about this book, I was sort of freaked out because of similarities it has with my own Sadie Speaks (still unpublished). I’m hoping I don’t have to change the name of my character because of it. Still, it sounded like an interesting book, so I bought it.
Sadie makes an interesting format choice. The book alternates chapters between the character Sadie’s narrative and the transcript (basically) of a serialized podcast called The Girls, narrated by West McCray (an adult man). It opens with the show, which gives Summers an easy and legitimate way to provide the setting and backstory. Thirteen-year-old Mattie was murdered and her older sister, Sadie, disappeared soon afterward. The Girls came about because Sadie and Mattie’s unofficial, stand-in grandmother, their neighbor May Beth, contacted West. Thus began his investigation and the show.
We learn a lot about Sadie from May Beth, but we learn even more about how people never really know the people they care about. Obviously we learn the most from Sadie's own narrative. What we know early on is that she’s heartbroken over Mattie, who she basically raised because their mother was an addict who eventually disappeared, and she knows who killed her. And she’s going to kill him. In the first chapter, we see her clumsily buy a car and learn that she has a significant stutter that makes most of her interactions with people difficult, or at least awkward. Thus begins her quest.
The show and Sadie’s narrative are on two different time lines, but they interact seamlessly, where basically something happens in Sadie’s chapter and afterward West will figure out that part of her journey, just in time for Sadie to describe her next steps. It takes a little while for West to “catch up” to Sadie in terms of the book, but it still works very well. What’s interesting about it is that despite the fact that we’re with Sadie for her journey, sometimes we learn more about it—in the wider context—from West.
Sadie’s a very interesting character. Even though she’s on a dark path, you eventually figure out why and sympathize with her. Despite that, I had a little trouble connecting with her, but I had no trouble rooting for her. The characters in the show storyline are pretty well drawn given the format. We can see West is credible, and he learns a little more about the darkness of the world and how it impacts him given that he has a young daughter. May Beth also is very believable and she too learns about the dark side of things. The characters that Sadie interacts with for fleeting moments are less developed as they’re seen entirely through her slightly distorted perspective, but the most important of them get revisited with West, which is interesting.
If you’re in the mood for a different kind of thriller, this might be for you. Like a lot of thrillers, it deals with some of the unpleasant aspects of the world, which makes reading it demanding at times. But it’s engaging and unusual and has an ending that will stay with you.
It’s probably a little odd to be doing a review of a holiday short story collection several weeks after the holidays ended, but since when did I claim to be normal. Besides, I started reading this before Christmas.
This nice collection focused mostly on Christmas experiences, but there were a lot of creative interpretations of that in the twelve stories, many of which came from big names. Rainbow Rowell’s “Midnights” was one I’d read (and loved) before. In it, Mags and Noel meet at a New Years party one year and the story focuses on their friendship over the years by showing us the subsequent New Years parties. It’s a sweet little romance. Next comes Kelly Link’s “The Lady and the Fox.” This was a creative one involving a ghost, but it didn’t really resonate with me (though I know a lot of people who are big fans of Kelly Link, so it’s surely just a matter of personal taste). The next story is “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Peña. I quite liked this one. It’s about a down-on-his-luck (i.e., completely and utterly broke) college student house/cat-sitting for a friend who meets a college girl from a very different background. It’s really about how they connect.
In “Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me” by Jenny Han, a human girl is living amongst Santa’s elves at the North Pole. She has to figure out who she is despite being truly one of a kind in her surrounding. How do you figure out who you are when you’re different from everybody else? Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” features a video maker and a guy with a great voice. It’s also a sweet little romance—with a bit of angst in it—that I quite liked. In “Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan, a Jewish boy dresses up as Santa to give his boyfriend’s little sister one more year of believing in Santa. It's sweet.
“Krampuslauf” by Holly Black was kind of strange. Black does that well, though. I suppose it’s about wishing things into being. In the next one, I first have to say, kudos to Gayle Forman for naming her fictional college the University of Bumfuckville, which she does in, “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” It’s a nice story about finding your place among strangers—and not making stupid assumptions about people. “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire is a funny story about a prankster kid who accidentally burned down a church’s barn, where they stored everything for the annual Christmas pageant, and ends up helping pull said pageant off against all odds—and making a friend in the process.
Kiersten White’s “Welcome to Christmas, CA” wasn’t steeped in Christmas spirit, but it was a nice little story about appreciating and helping the people around you, whether you want to be where you are or not. And also psychic cooking. There’s that too. The next story, “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter, deals with the unexpected consequences of two girls switching identities. Sometimes home can be found in the most unlikely of places. The final story in the collection is “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor. It’s about believing in yourself to the point that you manifest exactly what you need, with the help of a little magic.
There’s a good variety of stories in here so some should appeal to you. If you’re missing the holidays, pick this up to get back in the spirit.
Time for a somewhat rambly post.
Yesterday my third MFA residency wrapped up. It was a good ten days, but now I’m sitting at the Oklahoma City airport waiting on my already-delayed flight. And there’s three more hours for it to be delayed even more. It’s likely snowing in Seattle so I’m really hoping that I get in and home okay. I can’t wait to see my kitties.
On the writing front, it seems like everything is focused on promotion for Finding Frances right now. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is “Professional Writing,” which is going to basically be the instructor helping me figure out how to promote Finding Frances and how to sell Ugly. I’m supposed to be figuring out possible venues for my release party. I was hoping to have it at Barnes and Noble in Issaquah, but I’m not sure they’ll work with my publisher. So I’ve got to find some backup locations. And I’m also trying to find ways to get reviews. In other promotion efforts, I signed up for a blog tour starting release day and running for four weeks (a “book blast” where they’ll put info on my book on several blogs). I also signed up for a review tour, also four weeks, where I’m supposed to get reviews. I have no idea if these will really give me a return on the money I put in, but I have to try something.
The other extra class I’m taking this semester is in pedagogy of creative writing. I am supposed to observe a class and also teach one before the end of the semester. So I have to figure out what to teach on. I’m a little nervous about this—it should be on some element of craft, but the field is wide open. I did ponder doing one on outlining at various stages of the writing process. I’m not sure if that would count.
Besides that, my faculty mentor is looking at the writing I’m planning to use for my thesis (I don’t have to produce any new creative writing this semester since I’ve done it all already) and I have to write five short papers and one big one, 15-20 pages.
That’s what I’m looking forward to this semester. I’ll be busy, but it should be good.
Finding Frances is now up for pre-order in several places. Release date (February 3rd) is coming up soon.
Amazon paperback [this should soon be linked to the ebook]
Apple Books: just search for my name and the title and you’ll find it!
Google Play: coming soon
Kobo: coming soon
(I’ll update this post as I get additional/corrected links.)
At the end of the year, I like to look back and identify the books that moved me the most during that year.
Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen was the first book I reviewed this year, in January. It’s the only historical novel on this list because I don’t read much historical stuff anymore. But that didn’t keep me from really liking the book. It was also kind of funny—this was the first review I tweeted and atted (is that a word?) the author, who actually responded with a gif from Finding Nemo because I’d referred to the middle as being a little squishy.
A book I reviewed in July, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, stuck with me because of its emotional depth. The main character is basically destroyed when her best friend commits suicide. She has to find a way out of the darkness.
On a lighter note, I reread the Chi’s Sweet Home series by Konami Kanata this year, too. I was behind on my Goodreads challenge and needed to catch up—what’s better for that than some graphic novels? 🙂 But I seriously love this series. Anyone who loves cats as much as I do would also like it. Here’s my review from September.
The next book I reviewed, A Heart in a Body in a World by Deb Caletti, takes us right back to the darkness (I gravitate toward these kinds of books…). This one is interesting because of its structure. We know something really bad happened to the main character before the book opened, but we don’t know what. The author reveals the whole story bit by bit, all while focusing on the MC’s inspiring run across the country.
The last book I reviewed this year was Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, which I did just last week, and which was (happily) a bit lighter. It’s a nice feminist read that deals with some important things while managing to mostly stay upbeat. I liked it quite a bit.
That covers my favorite books from 2019. Can’t wait for all the books I’m going to read in 2020.
I wish I could remember how I found out about this book, because I’d like to go back and ask for more recommendations, because this was a great read.
Vivian is sick of how girls are treated at her small-town Texas high school, with good reason. The coarse football players can do no wrong. Make overtly sexist comments, wear sexist t-shirts (like GREAT LEGS—WHEN DO THEY OPEN), touch girls without their consent, be general assholes—it’s all cool because football players are kings in Texas. The girls, on the other hand, can’t do anything right. The school holds regular “dress code checks“ where they decide that what girls are wearing is too risqué and they make them put on a giant football jersey to cover up. After all, they can’t be tempting the saintly boys.
Everyone thinks Vivian is a good girl. Her grandparents even call her “dutiful” after she tells them about an incident at school, which gets her hackles up—and which surprises her. She knows she is dutiful, but isn’t sure she wants to be. Because she’s grown up knowing about her mom’s rebellious past. Her mom was a Riot Grrrl in Portland after leaving Texas. Vivian was born there, but her father died in an accident not long afterward and her mom had to move back to Texas so she could get help from Vivian’s grandparents. But Vivian knows about the rebellious times because of a box labeled MY MISSPENT YOUTH, which contains pictures, zines, and other memorabilia from the Riot Grrrl days.
After an incident at school, Vivian’s had it. She makes her own zine called Moxie and secretly distributes it in the girls’ bathrooms before school starts. It points out the unfairness of the school administration and their misdirected punishments, and calls for girls to decorate their hands with stars and hearts on their hands. This is just the beginning of a difficult journey that the girls at her school will take, and it’s fun to watch. Because of course it’s not as simple as that, and the horrible administration is going to fight back with all the misogyny they’ve got (which is a lot).
And while all this is getting started, Vivian meets a cool boy who seems as appalled by the behavior of the boys at the school and the school administration as many of the girls are. I loved her attitude about him:
I decide that Seth Acosta deciding I’m kick-ass is even better than him thinking I’m pretty. Definitely better.
It’s fun—and inspiring—to watch Vivian grow from the dutiful good girl she is at the beginning to a brave and bold girl by the end. The transformation of her friends and the school is mostly believable (maybe a tiny bit idealized, but only a tiny bit). This is a fantastic book about girls both respecting themselves and demanding respect from everyone around them. More teen girls need this message, especially those lost in small towns where misogyny is still par for the course.
I think everyone should read this one because it has some good lessons without being an issue book. I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mathieu’s books, too.
So, I finally got my release date for Finding Frances (!). It is:
Monday, February 3, 2020
I’d hoped it would come out before the end of this year so I could enter it in a contest through PNWA, but this is fine (I’ll have to wait until 2021 to enter it).
Other than that, there’s not much news. I’ve got my MFA residency coming up in January, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be my third semester.
I’m working on finishing up the Now Would Be Good collection about my character Sarah, which I’ve now decided is going to be a novel in parts rather than a short story collection. Each part will just have its own arc, in addition to the whole book having one.
My critique partner is almost through Sadie Speaks, so I may pick that one back up and revise it.
I’m still shopping Ugly around, without much luck. I’m a little irritated about that one—I’m not getting as many bites as I think I should. They all say they want something different (which this story is) but it seems like they really just want the same thing as always. Frustrating.
I’ve just discovered a new gem in this author/artist. There were moments I was reading this when I thought Tung must have been channeling my thoughts word-for-word. Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story is a memoir chronicling Tung’s life from late grad school at the University of Birmingham in England through her first real job. She reflects some on her childhood and basically shows how she came to realize that being shy and very introverted is okay, not something to be ashamed of. Her art style is subdued in black, white, and gray watercolors and I really liked it.
One of the many areas where I especially felt like she and I were on the same wavelength was with books, which she loves (as do I). She goes nowhere without one, even if she knows she won’t be able to read it, because it gives her a sense of comfort and the feeling of a friend by her side. She says:
When I see a book I’ve read and liked on someone else’s bookshelf…
I secretly know we are going to be good friends.
She talks about how emotionally attached she gets to the characters in the books she reads, and how it feels like a relationship has ended when she finishes them. She watches emotional movies so she can have an excuse to cry without judgment.
I also could really relate to the way she seeks meaning in everything and feels the need to constantly be productive in some way. She says:
I always doubt that I’m living up to my full potential.
I should learn a new language every year. Or a new skill. Maybe I can take some classes.
I feel like I should constantly be doing something to improve myself, learning new things, and growing as a person.
When will I know it’s okay to stop?
When she is starting to realize she finds her job meaningless, she asks:
I did everything right at work today.
Why do I still feel so empty?
I also expect to find meaning in the things I do, and when work isn’t fulfilling, it’s so draining.
I loved how she conveyed what it’s like to meet new people.
I’m so uncomfortable that this is pretty much how it is for me, too. Her general discomfort in social situations causes her a lot of stress until she finally accepts herself. She says:
I’m socially awkward and weird.
I’ve always felt like there is something wrong with me. I’ve been like this my whole life.
Sometimes her description of social interactions are so relatable. Here's the aftermath of one:
Some of it is kind of funny:
Another one that made me laugh was her having to make a phone call for work in front of people:
I hate calling people I don’t know well, and with people watching... Well. But in all three of these cases, it might make you laugh, but it’s kind of a sad funny.
She doesn’t feel great about herself because of the pressure society puts on introverts to be extraverted. And especially as it relates to shyness—shyness is sort of forgiven in children, but once you’re an adult you’re supposed to have outgrown it and “come out of your shell.” Although she tries to be friendly, how she really feels is:
A mixture of frustration, insanity, and dying on the inside.
She famously overthinks everything, something I can totally relate to. She’s even got a sort of flowchart that shows the thought process she goes through when deciding to go to a social event or not:
I loved how she talks about ”energy level” and how it reflects her ability to deal with social situations and her general emotional state. It’s true for me too that when I’m low on that type of energy, everything is hard to deal with:
The good news is that by the end of the book, she has discovered and accepted her introversion, and no longer beats herself up over it.
Overall, this is an excellent portrayal of the shy introvert’s experience (though not all introverts are shy). It’s very sweet and a little funny at times, but always honest and real to Tung’s experiences. Many people will find this highly relatable, and I think it could even be helpful for some people who can’t relate to it (i.e., extraverts) to learn about the way the other half lives. I’m looking forward to reading her other book, Book Love (how can I not like that, right?).
I’m a big Rowell fan because I think she does a fantastic job of capturing the emotional truth of people in her characters. I was new to Hicks, but I quite enjoyed this graphic novel. Hicks’ art was sharp and evocative. It felt like she used an autumn color palette, too, that comes across as seasonal and vivid.
Deja and Josie have worked together every fall at the local but immense and involved pumpkin patch and now it’s their last year there before they go off to college. It has numerous stations, from Pappy’s Apples, the Corn Maize, the S’mores Pit, and the Haunted Hacienda. The two of them have worked at the Succotash Hut every year and they’re very good friends, even if the don’t see each other except in the fall.
Josie is a shy boy who’s harbored a crush on Marcy, a girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe, since he started there. Deja is an outgoing and bold girl who wants to help Josie seize the day and tell Marcy how he feels. They do something that feels wild and crazy to Josie—leave their station and go on a quest to find Marcy, who keeps getting moved from station to station right ahead of them. Along the way they run into many of Deja’s exes—boys and girls—and we learn just how timid Josie really is. He has a lesson to learn about pining for someone from a distance rather than paying attention to what’s in front of his face.
This is a cute fall story, very well-illustrated. Fans of Rowell should like it, and I’d imagine the same can be said of fans of Hicks (I’m planning to check out some of her other stuff).
I heard about this book and put it at the top of my list since it was about a girl working in an ice cream stand, similar to one of my characters. I didn’t quite pick up the authenticity tidbits I’d hoped for (the situations were different), but I got to experience a good story.
Amelia is going to be head girl at the Meade Creamery ice cream stand for its summer season in their vacation town before she heads off to college. The Meade Creamery has always only hired girls, ever since its founder Molly Meade opened it after World War II. Amelia and her best friend, Cate, have put their time in, starting as freshman and working there through their senior year. But just before the stand is scheduled to open, Amelia makes a shocking discovery that results in a boy—Grady Meade—taking over the stand. Molly’s hands-off management style no longer applies.
Amelia takes her head girl duties seriously which eventually causes friction with the more free-spirited Cate. But even more significant is the fact that Amelia has to work with Grady to learn to make the four ice cream flavors the stand offers. In the process, she discovers Molly’s diary, which she reads as the summer progresses. Consequently, we get two different storylines—Amelia’s and Molly’s. Molly’s comes with a surprise at the end, and Amelia’s friendship with Cate is tested as her relationship with Grady develops unexpectedly.
I’ll be honest—this is a fairly quiet story, but it surprises you at the end with a feminist twist. And the ice cream theme is fun and gives it a summer feel. I liked the story and the quest for the recipe that Amelia and Grady go on. Grady is a good character even though I found him kind of off-putting at times, but he grows and you learn more about why he’s the way he is. Cate is also a well-developed character. And of course Amelia is complex and interesting.
Pick this up for next summer, or for a reminder in the middle of winter. You will want to go get ice cream, though.
This is the first sci-fi I’ve read in a while, but I quite enjoyed it, despite some reservations I had and will address below. I consumed these three books as audiobooks, which I think were well-executed, all by the same narrator.
The overall plot involves dimensional travel. The idea is that there are an infinite number of dimensions (fully-formed worlds) that make up the multiverse. The idea is that all dimensions derive from the same starting point, but every possible variation creates a new dimension that proceeds from that point and so on. As an example, if someone is presented with a choice, choice A will continue with the same dimension, but choice B will spin up a new dimension that’s identical up to the point immediately before the choice. Apply this choice-based dimension-splitting to every single person who’s ever lived and you can imagine “infinity” is really incomprehensibly large and always growing.
Marguerite Caine is the artist daughter of two scientist parents who have invented a way to travel through the dimensions with the help of their two graduate students, Theo and Paul. In the first book, A Thousand Pieces of You, Marguerite’s father is apparently murdered by Paul before he fled to another dimension, the first to do so. Theo and Marguerite take off after him, intending to kill him in revenge. One of the dimensions Marguerite spends a great deal of time in is a Russia where the House of Romanovs never fell. And to her surprise, Marguerite is in the middle of it all. It’s also where a love triangle between Marguerite and Theo and Paul starts. The book eventually wraps up fairly tidily, with only a hint at a sequel.
In the second book, Ten Thousand Skies Above You, Marguerite deals with a major conspiracy (I’m trying to not give away much here) involving multiple dimensions and her in a way she never would have expected. She travels to several different dimensions in this one. The conspiracy unfolds more and more, which is interesting and complicated. The love story gets complicated. Then the book ends on the worst kind of cliffhanger. At first everything seems great, and then in the last sentence, you discover it’s not.
Reading the final book, A Million Worlds with You, is necessary once you finish the second, because of the killer cliffhanger. Marguerite again travels to different dimensions here, this time trying to save her other selves, who are all in danger because of the conspiracy. This book has some heart-breaking moments and also explores the ethics of dimensional travel a little more than the earlier two. The series is effectively wrapped up, with an epilogue to give us an even more illuminating conclusion.
Now, to my reservations. I have to admit that there are some pretty significant logic and scientific weaknesses in the worldbuilding of the book. For instance, each person travels by inhabiting the body of their counterpart in the new dimension, the original person’s consciousness getting pushed down, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I was really bugged in the first book by the fact that I wondered how they could be gone more than a couple days if nobody was feeding and watering their body in their original dimension (this was eventually explained, but not until near the end). More importantly, the big conspiracy involves many dimensions, but they’re all ones where all the main characters exist, which would actually be a tiny (infinitesimal, really) fraction of all the dimensions out there—why would these be so important? There are more things, too, that bugged me as I went along. But I chose to ignore them as the books proceeded because the story overall was well-told and interesting. If you just accept that this is how things are, you can go with it. But if you start the first one and these things nag at you and you can’t get past it, you should know that the latter books just get even more hard to believe.
Additionally, I felt like the characters ignored the ethical ramifications of interrupting other people’s lives in other dimensions. This does eventually get somewhat addressed, but it bugged me throughout (especially some of Marguerite’s decisions along the way). And I should mention that some of Marguerite’s choices didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Still, although I clearly have reservations, I did like the series overall. If you’re a fan of alternate history stories, this one will especially appeal to you.
I made the last edits I’ll make on Finding Frances and my editor sent it off for formatting. Once I get that back, I’ll approve it and then I think I’ll finally get a release date.
One of my critique partners did a full read of Ugly and gave me a few recommendations. I’ve implemented two of the three I plan to deal with before submitting to the agents and editors who requested it at PNWA and ECWC. Just need to do the last one…
Another critique partner is working her way through Sadie Speaks a few chapters at a time. That book needs quite a bit of revising, but she’s giving me some good guidelines for doing it.
I’m still working on the “Now Would Be Good” story collection that I’m going to submit for my MFA thesis. My critique group is going through the last story I’ve written. I need to plan out the next (last) story, or maybe the last two if necessary—I can’t decide.
That’s pretty much what’s going on right now.
I had heard of Federle because of his Better Nate Than Never middle grade series, but I’ve never read them. So The Great American Whatever was my introduction to him. It’s about a movie- and screenwriting-obsessed sixteen-year-old boy named Quinn. About five months before the book opens, Quinn’s sister Annabeth was killed in a car wreck, which has him devastated and not particularly functional. She was his filmmaking partner—they had a production company called Q&A Productions and Quinn envisioned them going to Hollywood together some day.
Now, he hasn’t been to school since the accident, which happened the day before Christmas break, and summer’s already started with its incessant heat (he’s in Pittsburgh). In the beginning of the book, Quinn’s long-time friend Geoff shows up to force him out of the house. This sets off a series of events that finally brings Quinn out of his shell (and out of the closet, even though everybody already “knew”). Geoff takes Quinn to a college party, where he meets love interest Amir, and things take off from there.
I feel like there isn’t a strong plot in the book, but Quinn does have a clear coming-of-age character arc. He learns better to look at things from other people’s perspectives and matures quite a bit in other ways. He’s a good character in that he’s very flawed and still relatable. He’s rather self-absorbed and a bit on the arrogant side, at least in his two known subjects (i.e. movies and screenwriting), but he's vulnerable and cares about his family and friends. His friend Geoff is a generally good guy who turns out to have a secret that blows Quinn away and drives them temporarily apart. Amir is fine as a love interest, though he was kind of bland. Quinn’s sister features a lot in the book through flashbacks, and she is very interesting and more complex than you realize at first. Still, Quinn’s voice and attitude make the book what it is—funny and full of movie references any film buff will love.
So if you like coming-of-age stories, especially those with coming out storylines, you will probably like this.