April 2024 Update

Writing

So much for posting monthly—I totally forgot last month, and here I am coming in under the wire for April. I’ll try to do better.

Ugliest is almost finalized. I’m just waiting on the cover (with my designer) and I need to finalize a resources section for the back of the book. And of course I have to see if I can get anyone to blurb the book. I’m a terrible networker, so this is unlikely to happen.

My publicity campaign officially got started a couple weeks ago, and we’re in the planning and setup stage. I did submit Ugly and Uglier for some more reviews to get more quotes for the book listings and maybe some quotes for the cover, and then also some visibility so people recognize them when they keep seeing them over and over. I’m in the process of preparing book plates and some more swag, with a little bit of original drawing on these mini sketchbooks.

Reading

So you all might remember that I said I’d do three reading challenges this year. The first is the Reader Harder Challenge and the second is the Goodreads one. The third one was as yet undetermined when I posted in January, because it was going to be whatever the King County Library System put together.

My Read Harder Challenge is going well. It’s got 24 categories on it and I’ve already read 10, with 3 in progress right now.

On Goodreads, I’m exactly on track to hit my 120 (though to be fair, I did recently get caught up by reading a stack of graphic novels/manga).

Finally, the KCLS challenge did come out, and it’s basically to contribute to a million minutes spent reading by all participants. FYI, I’ve spent 48 hours and 40 minutes reading so far since I started tracking on March 12. That’s actually quite a bit in just a month and a half—I’m rather surprised. But we, as in the KCLS reading community, are going to smash that goal in October or November if people keep reading the same rate, especially if new people join. They’ve already recorded 442,736 minutes.

My Writing Year, 2023 Edition

I had a decent year with my writing, wining some awards and releasing the second book in The Art of Being Ugly Series.

Awards

I found out in January that Ugly was an SCBWI Honor Book for the older readers category, which basically is second place. The SPARK Award is for self-published books, but SCBWI is an international organization that a good number of people who write or illustrate for children, from board books through YA, belong to, so the contest is competitive.

In June, I learned that Always the New Girl won first place in the YA category of the National Excellence in Story Telling (NEST) Contest. It was also a finalist in two other contests, the Next Generation Indie Book Award and Book Excellence Award.

Binding Off also finaled in the Next Generation Indie Book Award contest.

Ugly book cover
Binding Off book cover
Always the New Girl book cover

Release and Good Review

I released Uglier, book two in The Art of Being Ugly series, on August 1 and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews soon afterward.

Uglier book cover

And Finally, Some Special Things for Readers

I should also mention that Ugly and Uglier are both on sale for 99 cents through the end of December.

Also, Uglier is part of a giveaway of 20 YA books where you can win all of them and also a Kindle simply for signing up for author newsletters. It’s open to enter through the end of January, and you can enter here.

Uglier also will be available for free for a few days at the very end of January.

Review: Quiver by Julia Watts

Quiver book coverLibby and Zo form a connection over the fence as new neighbors in rural Tennessee, but they couldn’t be more different from each other. Libby’s from a fundamentalist Christian family with its patriarchal tyrant, her “caring” father who punishes her because he “loves” her. Zo’s family is the polar opposite because her parents actually do care about their kids. Zo is gender-fluid and her (I feel like she uses she/her in the book, though it’s possible I’m projecting) parents are very liberal, especially her father, who recommends she stay away from Libby because of her family. He says it’s only going to lead to trouble. Zo chooses to keep the friendship.

Libby is so in the dark about almost everything, including Zo’s gender fluidity and sexuality. But she still likes Zo, even if she isn’t sure why. Zo doesn’t seem like a bad person, and Libby can’t see how she could be based on what she knows. Zo has a much better read on Libby and is patient with her, limiting what she shares to avoid conflict, but without being inauthentic. I liked their friendship, and I obsessively wondered how things would play out once Libby learned the truth.

Libby’s world is as restrictive as you’d expect, where her father is basically a dictator who only cares about his wife’s uterus and views himself as the protector of those of his daughters, saving them for their rightful owners, some random equally tyrannical self-absorbed narcissistic “Godly men.”

Why don’t I tell you how I really feel about her father.

Anyway, Zo’s family sends an olive branch for the sake of their kids (Zo has a younger brother who befriends one of Libby’s brothers early on, too). Zo’s father tries to be tolerant, but all Libby’s does is get angry when things—including the way Zo’s family simply exists—aren’t like he thinks they should be.

What makes this story great is seeing Libby being open to ideas that are not ones her father has allowed her access to. She has started seeing cracks in the supposed perfection of her family’s world. When things come to a head with Libby’s pregnant mom suffering a health emergency that Libby has to deal with, she finally sees through her father when he makes it clear what he cares about (hint: it rhymes with tooterus). Finally there is a path out.

I really did like this book even though all the religious crap drove me crazy. But it was so clear that Libby was only about 80% brainwashed so there was something in there that was salvageable, and it was really cool to see that small part emerge victorious. The fundies know their system actually sucks for everyone except the tyrants themselves, which is why the men are so controlling and make sure their kids and wives are never exposed to the many obviously better ideas and ways of existing.

Review: An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

Book cover for An Emotion of Great DelightSetup

I was excited to read this book, because I so loved Mafi's other YA contemporary, A Very Large Expanse of Sea (also the last book I reviewed in 2022). Expanse was about a teen Muslim girl who chooses to wear a hijab, a couple years after 9-11. This book also has that same setup, but the problems the girls are dealing with are very different, although both touch on similar themes relating to bullying, family, friendship, love, defining who you are, and finding your place in the world you happen to exist in.

Family and Friends

So Emotion did not disappoint. Shadi’s parents are immigrants from Iran. We’re never told exactly where they live, but it seems to be middle America, whatever that might mean—nowhere really big or really small. Shadi’s dealing with a lot of trouble at home—her brother has recently died and her father is sick and probably dying—but her other major problem is the disintegration of her oldest friendship with another Iranian-American girl named Zahra.

It’s not clear what happened with Zahra, but we do learn over time that it was ugly and seemingly not Shadi’s fault (like legitimately not her fault, not like she won’t accept responsibility). And a secondary consequence of that friendship ending is that it also ended a friendship with Ali, Zahra’s brother, which we understand was also important to Shadi.

Getting By

Shadi is really torn up about her brother’s death, even though it takes a while for us to learn what happened to him. She’s also angry at her father about something and really wishes he would just die already. Her mom is a mess and her sister is obnoxious as ever.

Everybody keeps forgetting about her and she’s stuck walking to and from school and other places she has to go, even if they’re far away and it’s pouring buckets. She’s so busy trying to stay under the radar and not cause waves around her that she doesn’t pay much attention to what she herself needs and wants.

Final Thoughts

Shadi grows over the course of the book and figures out how to stand up for herself, even though it’s in a quiet and non-disruptive way. By the end she is doing what she wants, and reading it made me happy. The novel isn’t plot-heavy by any means, but it’s a beautiful portrait of a Muslim teen girl—who has all sorts of expectations dumped on her—trying to make her way in a tough world.

Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

I read Summers’ book Sadie a while back and loved it, even though the character was a little difficult. I still totally sympathized with her. But that wasn’t the first difficult character Summers has worked with, as Cracked Up to Be features an even more troubled one, who isn’t as easy to like.

Setup

Cracked Up to Be book coverWhen the book opens, we meet Parker, who’s not doing well and has to see the guidance counselor, which she is not happy about. (Who ever is happy about seeing a high school guidance counselor, actually?) But Parker’s a mess—she’s at a private school and her uniform as grungy and she’s got the wrong shoes, and she failed to brush her hair. Blah blah.

Parker used to be perfect—she was the cheerleading captain, made perfect grades, and was generally difficult to be around because of her high standards and overachieving nature. But the old Parker would not have a mustard stain on her skirt.

A Thing Happened

We know that Parker has been a mess for a while. She may even be doing better at this point than she was. She seems to not be drunk all the time now, for instance. But she is still on a self-destructive path. She’s rude to everyone, especially the people she was close to Before. Because that’s the thing—something really bad happened, and she knows it’s her fault. Everyone knows that Parker’s friend Jessie went missing after a party, but nobody except Parker knows that it’s her fault, and she’s not telling anyone.

Moving On—Or Not

The book focuses on Parker’s journey—is she going to manage to graduate despite her missing class and homework? Is she going to forgive herself for whatever she did? And will they figure out what really happened to Jessie? The reader obviously wants to know what really happened, how it could be Parker’s fault. Because as an outside observer, you can guess that it probably isn’t really her fault. In the end we do finally learn what she did, and while it’s easy to understand why she thinks it’s her fault, she isn’t the one who caused Jessie to disappear.

Conclusion

The book is a reflection on regret, guilt, and responsibility, with a distinctly feminist bent because it reminds us why girls and women have to look out for each other and how distinctly messed up that is. Parker was perfect but she did one thing that wasn’t perfect, and look what happened. It shouldn’t take constant vigilance for girls to stay safe.

Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

This book has gotten a fair amount of hype because it addresses some timely issues, and Callender actually won the National Book Award for another book they wrote in 2020. I am happy to be able to report that Felix Ever After absolutely lived up to the hype in my view.

Felix

Felix Ever After book title

Felix Love is a Black trans boy who feels a little lost and like an outsider amongst his group of friends, where he mostly considered his best friend Ezra the most important person in his life, and views the rest of their friend group as just people who happen to be around. In addition to feeling like an outsider, Felix laments the fact that he’s never been in love.

Freedom

Felix and his friends have what is to me an insane amount of freedom for high school students. First, they live in New York City so they struggle less with lack of acceptance of their differences than kids in a lot of places do. But Ezra has his own apartment, and Felix often stays there, only going home to the apartment he shares with his dad every few days. And Ezra may randomly decide to have a party at 11pm on a school night, and other kids all show up. This wasn’t happening in my life as a seventeen-year-old.

A Personal Attack

Felix may be struggling a little socially, but his bigger problem is that someone tried to humiliate him by posting a bunch of old photos of him before his transition in the school’s gallery space, and also deadnamed him in the display. And presumably this same person is the one who’s harassing him on Instagram, accusing him of not being a real boy and not mattering at all.

He’s fixated on figuring out who made the display, which leads him into an odd online relationship (not really a relationship) where he’s exchanging message with a boy at the school he thought was an enemy and now sees is more complex than that. Felix starts wondering if he could love this boy. But the crazy part is that this boy has no idea who Felix is, so it’s weird and when he finds out, it’s not a good thing at all.

Who’s an Artist?

One important aspect of Felix’s life is that he’s a talented and skilled artist—the high school they all attend is a competitive art school—but it’s almost like he hasn’t fully embraced his identity as an artist, an idea that is never directly addressed but I thought was interesting. You often see a lot of artists at the beginning of their journey afraid to call themselves an “artist,” or just not thinking of themselves as “real artists” (writers do this, too). But with a little bit of encouragement, Felix really comes into his own with a series of self-portraits.

Gender Can Be Hard to Pin Down

The last major thing going on in this book has to do with his gender identity. It’s worth mentioning that Felix is far enough into his transition that he’s had top surgery and gets a weekly testosterone shot. So it is really interesting when he suddenly finds himself questioning his gender again. His understanding of gender was still a little simplistic in the beginning, sort of implicitly assuming the traditional binary, and he discovers that there are many more ways to be than he originally knew. He does figure out how he identifies near the end of the book and for the first time in his life, he’s 100% certain he’s got it right.

Summary

The way I’ve outlined that major storylines in the book probably makes it sound a bit choppy, but they all weave together seamlessly in the book. And everything comes to a happy resolution (which is still completely believable) at the end. It’s clear that Felix is in a much better headspace, social space, and romantic space by the end of the book, and it’s both interesting and enjoyable to watch him come into his own.

Review: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Metal Perkins

Open Mic book coverThis slim volume of short stories/short memoirs by a variety of ethnically diverse authors is pretty entertaining. Most of the stories are by immigrants or children of immigrants (who have come to the US), with at least one is by a Black American (possibly more—I’m not certain). The goal of the book was to tell stories of people who exist in more than one culture, like so many people do, but with humor. I’ll say it definitely succeeds and I really enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t quite to the level of ROFL (I say that mostly so you don't have unreasonable expectations).

I have read and enjoyed books by a couple of the authors, Varian Johnson and Mitali Perkins, and I’ve heard of several of the others. So I’ll talk about their stories first, and then move on to the others.

“Three-Pointer”

Perkins’ story is (I’m assuming a true story) about a girl growing up as the youngest of three daughters of Indian immigrants living in a very white neighborhood. Perkins tells some funny (but also annoying) anecdotes like having to decline an offer from some hardcore Trekkies to play the brown girl in their reenactment of Star Trek episodes. But mostly she talks about liking boys along with her older sisters, and about her first secret date with a boy she’d had a crush on for a long time. Trying to learn about boys and all the relevant info in a deeply conservative household leads to a lot of funny beliefs and clarifications from her sisters.

“Like Me”

Johnson’s story is apparently fiction, about a Black boy at a very white, very small boarding school. Two new girls start at the school, and because they are Black twins, everyone expects the boy to immediately befriend them, but he hangs back. When his friends first talk about them with his friends, there’s an awkward conversation where they try to describe them without mentioning race and then make assumptions about how they’d be good at volleyball. Eventually they befriend each other, but the story isn’t really about that. It’s more about skirting two worlds. There were a couple of particularly funny parts in the story. The first is when the character is considering approaching the twins:

I mean, I could speak to them, but what am I supposed to say? Hello, my Negro friends. Welcome to Hobbs Academy, which is whiter than rice and eggshells and vanilla-flavored milk.

It cracked me up because it so highlights the absurdity of the expectation that everyone in a particular minority grouping would want to be friends. Except, also, it isn’t totally absurd that they'd want to at least know each other. Which is it’s a two-worlds thing, I suppose. The next one is more of a conceptual thing that’s funny, but Johnson totally captures how white Americans' “diversity” is “interesting” (and absurd) while non-white people’s ethnicity is generally considered more fundamental and consequential. He’s thinking about his friends:

Technically Rebecca is “one-eighth German, three-eighths Sephardic-Jewish, and one-half Irish.” And Evan has enough Muskogee blood running through him to be a member of the Creek Nation. Still, I didn’t see anyone looking at them when we talked about the Holocaust or the Trail of Tears last year in World History. But let anyone mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Will Smith or even the slightly black-looking dude who trims Principal Greer’s prized rosebushes, and suddenly I’m the center of attention.

It got bad during Black History Month.

I own February at Hobbs.

“Becoming Henry Lee”

The first story in the collection is this one by David Woo. It's about an eighth-grade boy with Chinese immigrant parents trying to convince everyone he’s white and being frustrated that all the stereotypical assumptions about him—being good at math and martial arts—were completely wrong. He deals with a lot of crap through eighth grade and into high school (much of which is presented as funny, but still disheartening) until he finally stops trying to be white and trying to be super-Asian, and just stumbling into something totally new that he discovers he loves. Now he has a way to define himself by something he chooses to do, not some happenstance of genetics.

“Why I Won’t Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie"

The next piece is also by an Asian-American author, Gene Yuen Lang. It’s a comic describing his frustration with the casting of the Last Airbender movie. The film was based on a cartoon that celebrated Asian-ness in a fictional Asian-inspired world (he says it showed “a deep respect for and knowledge of Asian cultures”), but all the major characters in the movie were filled by white actors. Lang publishes a call to boycott the movie, especially during release week, and ends up getting another great comics job out of it, all because he braved public scrutiny to stand up for something he believed in.

“Talent Show”

This one is by Cherry Cheva and is about a couple kids auditioning for a high school talent show. She’s stereotypically Asian—petite, cute, relatively quiet at first—but she’s there to do stand-up comedy. And it’s the white guy in the room holding the violin. They have an only-awkward-at-first conversation joking about stereotypes, and by the end they’re friends, even if their auditions don’t go as planned.

“Voilà!”

Debbie Rigaud's story is more sweet than funny, but I still liked it. It’s about a high school girl taking her beloved Haitian great aunt to the doctor. Some classmates doing volunteer work bring a couple of patients in and at first the girl is embarrassed, but eventually her obnoxious but well-meaning classmate suggests she could volunteer as a translator for some of the patients, and she sees clearly that her differentness doesn’t have to only be a burden.

“Confessions of a Black Geek”

This one by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is about a group of confident, high-achieving (academically) Black high schoolers in the 80s. They assumed they were regarded as equals of their similarly high-achieving white peers. But a cartoon showing Black kids speaking “Ebonics” published in the school paper caused an uproar and it turned into a mess where they ended up getting called “reverse racists.” And this sort of opened the floodgates for all the microaggressions (and more overt stuff) they’d happily ignored for years.

And then comes the main character’s meeting with the guidance counselor, who tells her her intended schools are a “reach,” despite her academic and extracurricular record (which would have been more than sufficient for white students for this particular counselor). And then when she did get accepted to all these reach schools, everyone attributed it to affirmative action. She knew she’d earned it, but it was still heartbreaking to find out what so many people really think when they don't get what they want.

“Under Berlin” and "Lexicon"

The next piece is “Under Berlin” by G. Neri, and I’m going to admit that I didn’t read it because it was a long poem, and I simply cannot do poetry. For the same reason, I also skipped the last piece, “Lexicon” by Naomi Shihab Nye. I feel kind of bad about this, but trying to read poetry literally makes me feel anxious and/or agitated. I have no idea why.

“Brotherly Love”

The last story is by Francisco X. Stork and it’s about a boy growing up with a very traditional father from Mexico (I assumed? Definitely Spanish-speaking) and an older brother and sister. Their father was always going on about how “real men” behave and the main character engineers an opportunity to speak to his sister when no one else is around, because he’s worried that his brother is doing all these things that make him seem like he isn’t a real man. It’s a funny and ultimately sweet conversation when the character comes to realize what his sister has known all along—that it’s the main character who isn’t the “real man” and his brother has just been looking out for him.

Conclusion

So this was quite a long review for a book that is only 129 pages, but I wanted to talk about each story. Together, they add up to a nice exploration of living in two different worlds, culturally, linguistically, or however. The characters range in ages (eighth grade to graduating seniors), but this feels more lower-YA to me, as it stays fairly light in tone, even when dealing with troubling things.

Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

I Wish You All the Best book coverThis is one of the first books about a nonbinary teenager I’ve read. I’m definitely on the lookout for more books like this, too. But this one was good, even though it was heartbreaking to watch the character struggle so much with coming out.

Crisis

Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary at the very beginning of the book. They knew their parents were conservative, but they still thought it would be okay. They were wrong. Ben’s dad kicked them out immediately after they told them, and they ended up at a Walgreens in their socks.

A Way Out

Fortunately, they had a single lifeline—the phone number for the older sister who abandoned them. She’d hidden it in the bathroom but Ben found it and stored it for all those years, using it when they finally really needed it.

Ben moves in with their sister, who is supportive and well-intentioned (if not perfect) along with her husband. They get Ben enrolled at a high school in Raleigh.

A Fresh Start

Ben’s not comfortable being openly nonbinary, so they still use he/him pronouns at school. But they manage to befriend a boy and his friends (more accurately, the boy, Nathan, goes out of his way to befriend Ben despite them being kind of a jerk). This friendship develops slowly because Ben has major trust issues and doesn’t open up to Nathan until late in the book.

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was Ben’s art. They’re always sketching and clearly have a lot of skill, but they’re intimidated by painting. But their new art teacher takes them under her wing and encourages them to try acrylic. Ben takes right to it, producing a lovely painting of Nathan. A school art show provides a focal point for a lot of conflict.

Wrapping Up

I really feel like this book captures the internal struggle people questioning their gender identity go through. It’s not easy and it’s not about other people, like other people often think. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the book still ends on a very positive note. It also successfully shows one way that world can be navigated.

Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I’ve been reading more adult novels lately, but while I was out walking, I listened to a YA book by one of my favorite authors, Sarah Dessen. This was Saint Anything.

Setup

Saint Anything book coverThe premise of Saint Anything is that Sydney, a well-behaved teenager who lives in the shadow of her gregarious brother with his oversized personality, has her life upended when that very brother gets himself thrown into prison. Her parents, especially her mom, fixate on supporting the brother and making his prison stay as cushy as possible. But Sydney is torn up by the event that landed her brother in jail—a teen boy riding home on his bike late one night getting hit by Sydney’s drunk-driving brother. The teen survives, but he’s going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Sydney’s mom doesn’t seem to care at all about the kid, even going so far as to blame him for being out so late at his age.

A Fresh Start

At the beginning of the book, Sydney has transferred from the private school she and her brother have always gone to to the public high school, so she can have a fresh start where people don’t know everything about her. She’s pretty shy, so she’s lucky when she stumbles into a friendship with a girl—and then her family—at a pizza shop. This friendship is eye-opening for Sydney because Layla, Layla’s brother Mac, and the rest of their family are very open, in direct contrast to Sydney’s own buttoned-up family. Layla and Mac also come with some other friends. Soon Layla in particular is helping Sydney deal with her stress over her brother, and she’s getting closer to Mac.

Being Seen

Sydney is increasingly frustrated with her mom, who is so focused on her brother that she seems to forget Sydney is alive. There’s also a total creep who was her brother’s best friend and is beloved by their parents, especially her mom, so he’s constantly around. He’s gross and Sydney knows it but nobody else is paying attention to her.

Eventually, Sydney’s mom notices Sydney, at the worst possible moment, and her entire life is thrown into upheaval. Her parents blame Layla and co for being bad influences, and Sydney has to figure out how to fight for herself, friendship, and love.

I pretty much like everything Dessen writes, and this one was no different. Check it out.

Meet Fea!

New Book Release

I’ve just released another book this past Wednesday: Fea, the Spanish translation of Ugly. Here’s the cover:

Fea book cover

Obviously it’s just the Ugly cover with the carving swapped out and the tagline at the bottom translated (and way longer than the English version). 

The book is available pretty much everywhere, like my others (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Kobo, and you can order it at your local indie shop). See my landing page for links to all the places you can buy it and the book page here for more details.

Translation Experiment

This translation thing is kind of an experiment. Several writers I know do get translations of their books and they actually seem reasonably well with no marketing. (Nobody knows how to market in a foreign language they don’t speak.) One writer said people just find them. I think this makes sense because the problem of discoverability that I’ve been dealing with is partially a result of the explosion in self-publishing—which while not exclusively in English books, is predominantly English work. Other languages aren’t overloaded with so many books to choose from.

So the chance of coming up in a search that someone is making on Amazon or wherever is simply much higher. I decided to start with Ugly because of the timeliness of the subject matter. Although it’s probably much more of a current event in the U.S., I am sure that some of the other progressive places in Latin America (plus Spain) have people questioning their gender identities and exploring those ideas. I suspect there aren’t very many such books out there, so I’m curious to see what happens. 

Finding a Spanish Translator

Finding a translator was interesting. First, I needed a literary translator, not someone used to doing marketing copy. When I started searching for translators, most do business work and the first literary ones were so expensive—like in the range of $7000 for my 90,000 word (about 400 page) book. I could not justify that kind of expense. After some more searching, I decided to try Upwork. I put together a project and a max budget and got a lot of bids right at my max budget, naturally. But then I got one from a translator living in Bolivia that was hugely lower than my max.

Too Good to Be True

At first I thought a couple things: this was probably too good to be true, and if it is legit it might not even be ethical. I thought about the ethical aspect and decided that because cost of living is much lower in Bolivia, it makes sense that she doesn’t need as much money to make the project worth her time, which is obviously different for people living in the U.S. or other expensive countries. She set her rate. So I think it’s okay. 

Too Good to Be True?

But I still wondered if it was too good to be true. So I asked her to translate the first few chapters, slightly less than 10% of the book, and I’d pay her 10% of the fee and then have a couple people look at it to make sure it’s a good translation of the book in terms of accuracy and tone. My friend Gwen was willing to read it. And in a stroke of luck for me, my house cleaner had once seen some of my books lying around and asked if I was a writer. It turns out that her son is a writer too, and by chance he also is transgender, which made my book an even better fit. She asked him if he’d be willing to read the sample, and he agreed. So that was great. 

It's All Good

Both of them said it was a good translation. They noted that it was a little more formal in Spanish, but that that was probably just the nature of the language, which makes sense to me. Like there’s a point where someone calls Nic a “lesbo” and that was simply translated as “lesbiana,” which is the same as “lesbian” would be translated. This formality is also a result of the fact that she translated into what is called Neutral Latin American Spanish, so we avoided country-specific words (which of course also means there’s less slang, because so much of slang is country-specific, in any language). But anyway, she ended up doing the whole book and now it’s out in the world. 

What About Italian?

Another possibility is Italian. Supposedly that market is desperate for more books. I have a good Italian friend from my grad school days who works as an English to Italian translator, so I asked her if she’d be interested in translating my book. She doesn’t do literary translation, but has a friend who does. So we’re going back and forth about that. Her rate is much higher (it’s actually in line with what my original budget was for the Upwork project), but this is obviously to be expected because Italy’s much more expensive than Bolivia. But it’s still a decent rate that is be worth trying. I’ve told her I can’t do it now but if she’s still willing to do it in January, I’d be able to do it then. This isn’t finalized, but I’m guessing it will go ahead, so I’m really curious to see how this goes. 

Uglier

And during all of this, I’m working on the sequel to Ugly, which is tentatively called Uglier. If the translations do well, I’ll need to get Uglier done, as well. So I’m really curious how all this is going to go. 

Review: Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Girl, Unframed book coverI’m a big fan of Deb Caletti and have reviewed some of her books here (One Great Lie, A Heart in a Body in the World, Essential Maps for the Lost, The Nature of Jade, and Stay). But I’m going to openly admit that I didn’t love Girl, Unframed as much as the others. This is probably because it places celebrity front and center, and I’m pretty much not remotely interested in celebrity. But the book still drew me in because of a particular device Caletti used, which I’ll talk about below. I’ve been in a major reading slump and still had no trouble getting through this one, so I think it would resonate more with people who do find celebrity interesting. 

Sydney, the fifteen-year-old main character, is not herself a celebrity, or even particularly enamored of it. But her mom’s a very famous movie star who’s sort of moving out of her prime at this point. Sydney attends a boarding school in Seattle during the school year and I think spends most holidays with her grandma (I think also in Seattle). But summers are for bonding time with her mom in San Francisco.

Leading up to the summer where she’ll turn sixteen, Sydney’s got a bad feeling about the visit. She can’t shake it, and it stays with her even after she gets there and meets her mom’s new boyfriend. Her mom is typically aloof and not super-interested in Sydney as a person. She’s definitely a narcissist. And the boyfriend is someone Sydney never quite trusts or likes, even though on the surface he seems fine. But there is something going on, because the house is being watched and there’s some tightly wrapped up art in one of the empty rooms. 

It’s not just Sydney’s misgivings that clues the reader in. Caletti puts a little text at the top of each chapter that lists evidence in a criminal investigation. It’s never enough to say what actually happens, but there’s no doubt that Sydney is right and something really bad is going to come to pass. This keeps the reader engaged because you’re looking for clues to try to guess what it could be and who will be the presumed victim. 

Sydney’s relationship with her mom isn’t great, which is down to her mom’s selfishness, really. But even more importantly, she’s not in as strong a position as she used to be. Sydney’s seeing evidence of some financial trouble, and her mom's relationship with the boyfriend doesn’t seem great. But she’s still famous and going out into the world with her is an experience. 

I’m going to admit that the bad thing that eventually happens actually did surprise me. One of the things that I actually questioned throughout the book was Sydney’s almost age-inappropriate wisdom and insight into the injustice in how women are positioned in society. But the ending actually made this make more sense to me. 

In the end, I enjoyed the book even though it’s not my favorite, so if you’re a Caletti fan, check it out (especially if you enjoy reading about celebrity). 

 

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Review: The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

The Perfect Escape book cover

Suzanne spoke at a meeting of one of my writing groups a few months ago, and she was really entertaining but also had some good info for writers. So I decided to check out her work, and I started with her debut YA, The Perfect Escape. 

This is a romance featuring Kate, a white girl who loves theater but has an unsupportive father, and Nate, a Korean-American academic overachiever. They meet at a zombie-themed escape room in Seattle, where they both work, and they become friends after he gives her a ride home and accidentally leaves her wig in his car.  

Setup

Kate’s father runs a cutting-edge robotics and home automation company that is constantly pushing out products prematurely. Their pilot and current products are all over Kate’s house, much to her chagrin. These various devices monitor her while her fathers travels, and malfunction all the time. Her father is unwilling to support her in theater pursuits, instead trying to force her in “practical” directions. She knows the only way to escape his plans for her is to do things herself, because she’s more or less a prisoner in her own home. So she gets the job at the escape room as a starting point and plans to move to New York on her own.

Nate is a scholarship kid a fancy and expensive boarding school full of super-entitled jerks, including one who thinks he can pressure Nate into helping some of them get better GPAs through fraudulent means. Nate doesn’t want to do it, but he is considering it because his family really needs the money because his dad’s just lost his job and his mom makes very little money.

A New Option

But then something new comes up with Kate: a zombie-themed survivalist competition with a big monetary prize. This is Kate’s main escape plan, but she needs a partner, so Nate it is. This is a much better plan for Nate than helping out the entitled rich white boys. As Kate and Nate get to know each other better, they find they like each other more than either expected. They really gel. Nate’s long-term crush throws a wrench in the works, but Kate and Nate still decide to join in the competition. 

Once they start the competition, they discover it’s serious business, not all sunshine and roses. There are robot zombies moving around trying to “get” all the participants. It’s a lot of fun seeing Nate and Kate work together and figure out how to deal when things go completely haywire. Because things do go completely haywire, and it ends not at all to plan. You kind of wonder how they could possibly work things out, so seeing it happen is very satisfying. 

Review: Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth

Not My Problem book cover

Not My Problem is another book that broke through my horrible reading slump. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I managed to do it in just over a week (fast for me right now). It’s incredibly funny but still has enough teen angst to make me happy (I do love to watch characters suffer).

Aideen is the star of this YA contemporary novel set in Ireland. Aideen is dealing with a pretty difficult home life in the best ways that she can, just trying to hold it all together. She doesn’t really let people in, not even her one real friend. So when Meabh, a girl she’s thought of as a sworn enemy for years, convinces her to “help” her by pushing her down the stairs, Aideen surprises herself by doing it—for the right reasons, not secret revenge. Now Meabh and Aideen are going to be weirdly tied together. The act also basically conjures another friend, a boy named Kavi who is a sufferer of verbal diarrhea. 

This one act triggers a whole series of other incidents that turns Aideen into the unofficial school fixer. Not everything goes exactly to plan, but that makes it all the more interesting. And in the process of fixing other people’s problems, she makes new friends, all while her one long-term friendship is falling apart. Her mom is cracking up a bit, too, and Aideen’s pretty stressed out by that. But she feels like she has a handle on everything. It’ll be fine. 

One of the things I liked about the book is that the problems the kid have are perfect—they show the range of things teens deal with, from overly strict parents to an accidentally submitted assignment full of profanity. Some are relatively trivial, while others are a little more consequential. But they all feel big to the characters in the story. Another cool thing is that the language the kids use has the flavor of Irish dialect, so it’s extra interesting. A final great thing about the book is the relationship Aideen and Meabh form—it’s a mundane but sweet lesbian relationship, not one rife with trouble and issues. 

This one’s definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of contemporary YA. 

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Review: Breathless by Jennifer Niven

Breathless book coverI am a big fan of Niven’s first book (All the Bright Places—it’s one of my favorite books) so I’ve read both her others, including Breathless. One thing that I like about her books overall is that they’re all different. Her first two feature dual perspective, on the girl’s and one the boy’s, but in this one, she sticks with the single protagonist, a girl named Claude who’s just about to graduate high school when the book opens.

At first, everything’s just fine—everything’s cool with her parents, her best friend and other friends are all great, and she has a boyfriend she likes well enough. Her boyfriend is of course desperate to have sex, and she’s been putting it off. It’s not a moral dilemma for her; instead, she just isn’t sure if this is the guy she wants to first have sex with. Which she firmly believes is not “losing” anything, thank you very much. When an opportunity presents itself and she very clearly choses not to sleep with him, it’s pretty clear to both of them that this is her final decision. So that’s over, but she’s unfazed and re-fixates on a long-time crush. 

But this isn’t the only fissure in her otherwise just-fine life. Her dad shocks her—or takes the floor out from under her—by telling her he’s leaving. She is torn up about this, and her parents have insisted she not tell anyone, even her best friend (Saz), which is torture for her. And then, Saz has a new girlfriend she’s really into, and Claude feels a little left behind. Not to mention the fact that she and Saz are planning to go to different colleges several states apart, anyway. 

To make things worse, her mom has decided the two of them are going to go away to a tiny island on the coast of Georgia, where neither her crush nor Saz will be. And then when she gets there, it turns out that there is no cell service except in the general store that is open at the whim of the store owner. How’s she supposed to stay in touch with everyone?

But that’s all just setup. Really, this is a book about first love when it happens at that weird quasi-adult time of your life. Because soon after Claude meets a down-to-earth guy named Jeremiah who works summers on the island (I mean, seriously—the dude wears no shoes), her world starts to shift. But Claude is pissed off about being away from everything she cares about, so it’s not all sunshine and roses with them at first. But soon they start to bond, and promise each other they won’t fall in love. This time she feels differently about sex and her new boyfriend in general. They don’t necessarily follow all their own rules, either. 

It’s enjoyable to see Claude grow as her experiences expand beyond the smallish Ohio town she grew up in. She wasn’t exactly naive in the first place, but it’s one thing to be aware of differences and another to experience them. She and Saz have some work to do, and she’s also got to figure out how to feel about her dad, because the split is all about him. By the end, Claude has figured out things well enough to move forward with the next stage of her life. The book features a rather open ending, which often I don’t like, but I did here. It feels more authentic this way 

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd book coverMaddie has several things she’s passionate about, but none of them are the things she’s “supposed” to care about. She’s a cheerleader dating one of the school’s finest catches—the quarterback—and everyone has forgotten a disastrous incident in junior high, where she outed herself as a nerdy and very enthusiastic comic book fan and was laughed off the costume contest stage. The only thing she could think to do was pretend it never happened, and never, ever mention comics in front of anybody ever again.

This is fine except for the fact that she still loves comics, especially one she’s been following for years. After her safe, at-home acquisition of the final issue of her favorite one falls through, she’s desperate enough to head out to the local comic shop—in disguise, of course. But even this doesn’t work, as the shop is sold out of the last issue. Somehow she talks the high school kid—Logan—working the register to loan her his copy of it. She’s hoping he doesn’t recognize her. 

Turns out, Logan knew exactly who she was. And much to Maddie’s surprise, the two become friends, bonding over comics, and she feels the pull of the life—and the pop culture—that she genuinely loves. It distracts her from the friends and pop star she’s supposed to love. She doesn’t really know how to handle it all, afraid her world will come crashing down if she’s not careful. But treating your new friend like a dirty secret doesn’t go well, so she’s got some thinking to do. 

The book celebrates nerd culture and while the resolution didn’t read entirely believable to me (I’m just not convinced cheerleaders and LARPers can actually mix), it was still an entertaining light romance.