Thursday, April 29, 2010

Heist Society

Having been mesmerized by Aaron Johnson's performance as the young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy at Sundance, I couldn't resist going to see his latest film Kickass. It was great fun; more exciting than a bike ride in Bali. Although Aaron was great in the title role, Chloe Mertz totally stole the film with her performance as Hit Girl. Seeing her in her plaid skirt uniform reminded me of the covers of the Gallagher Girls series. (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy.) The fourth in the series, Only the Good Spy Young, will be released June 29th. If you haven't had a chance to read them, they are about a private high school for girls who are spies. A film of the first book is in development.
While you are waiting for the fourth installment, I would recommend Ally's new series, Heist Society. After a childhood spent in the family business stealing jewels, Katarina Bishop decides to retire and cons her way into an exclusive boarding school, leaving her life of crime behind. However, when Hale, her former colleague and crush, shows up with the news that her father's life is in danger, she is lured back into the fold. A powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and her father is the number one suspect. Together with her crew of teenage thieves, Kat must find the art collection and return it, before her father is killed. They travel across Europe and plot the biggest heist in the family's history. The details of thieving tools and techniques, famous artworks, and lavish settings make this a highly informative and entertaining read. I can't wait for the sequel!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back from Bali - We Were Here

I am back from my Backroads biking trip in Bali, where it was hot, hot hot! I now refer to the experience as Bikram biking. The accomodations and cultural experiences were wonderful, the biking was not. There are three million people in Bali; two million of them are on motorbikes, the other million are driving big trucks and playing chicken with them on the roads where we were biking.
During the four plane flights to get there, I read Matt de la Pena's We Were Here. Having met Matt at the Colorado teen lit conference, I was looking forward to reading his latest book and it did not disappoint. Matt charmed me with his sincerity and earnest passion for YA lit. We talked about stories with a soundtrack and he told me one of his favorite musicians was Elliott Smith, who did the music for Good Will Hunting. He was particularly impacted by Smith's suicide- he is thought to have stabbed himself in the heart. After reading the book, I now better understand Matt's fascination with Smith and his comment that good writers lie, cheat and steal.
Matt was born in the barrio in San Diego to teenage parents (17 and 15) and basketball was his ticket out. Although We Were Here is not a sports story, basketball did play a role. The book is supposedly a court ordered journal that Miguel Castenada is required to write while in a group home in San Jose. Fed up with the group home environment, Miguel and two other inmates, Mong and Rondell, break out and attempt to flee to Mexico. Miguel continues to chronicle their adventures in the journal, slowly revealing the stories leading to each boy's incarceration and the tragic event that changed Miguel's life forever. The suspenseful pacing will keep readers anxiously turning pages to find out about the boys' survival, as well as the mystery of Miguel's crime.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Colorado Teen Literature Conference - Tricks

The highlight of the Colorado Teen Lit Conference for me was hearing from Matt de la Pena, author of Mexican Whiteboy, and Ellen Hopkins, author of numerous novels in verse. On Friday evening I was fortunate to be invited to a dinner where I met both authors. On Saturday each author gave a keynote speech. I have always wondered what led Ellen Hopkins to the dark topics she addresses. She shared the anguish she experienced when her beloved daughter got involved with meth and ultimately ended up in jail. She said her first novel in verse, Crank, was her way of working through the turmoil she felt. She received such a positive response to the novel that she knew she had found her niche. Her latest book, Tricks, chronicles the lives of kids driven to prostitution. The story is narrated by five teens whose lives finally converge in Las Vegas. Seth, an Indiana farm boy, is kicked off his family farm when his parents find out he's gay. He follows a controlling sugar daddy to Las Vegas. In Boise, Eden's first romantic relationship leads her Pentecostal parents to declare that she is possessed by demons. They send her to Tears of Zion reform camp, where ironically she turns to prostituting herself to engineer an escape. In California Whitney, who yearns for male attention any way she can get it, ends up involved with a pimp who takes her to Las Vegas. Ginger, realizes that the rapes she's endured as a child, were arranged by her mother in exchange for cash. They all end up in Las Vegas where Cody, who has a gambling addiction he pays for with money he's earned selling his body, is attempting to deal with his grief when his stepfather dies. Hopkins does a wonderful job helping the reader understand the desperation that leads the teens to prostitution, as well as how difficult it is to extricate themselves once they've traveled down that road.
I'm off to Bali tomorrow. I have Matt de la Pena's latest novel, We Were Here, on my Kindle and plan to read it on the trip. I will share my thoughts about it with you soon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Colorado Teen Literature Conference - Tangled

Tomorrow I am presenting at the Colorado Teen Literature conference, which is my favorite conference of the year. I am going to talk about new book bundles, which are YA novels that are grouped thematically. In addition to talking about 25 new books, I will also suggest classroom activities for each bundle. One of the bundles involves books that have multiple narrators. Caroline Mackler's Tangled is one of the books in this group. Told from the points of view of four different teens, the story chronicles the time they spend together at a Caribbean resort, as well as the four months that follow. The story is narrated in a linear fashion, beginning with Jena's story. She is a hypercritical girl, who is her own worst critic. She accompanies her mom and her mom's best friend and daughter Skye to the resort. Skye is a gorgeous young actress who doesn't seem to want to give Jena the time of day. Little does Jena know, that Skye, who narrates the next section, is struggling with emotional problems. They both meet Dakota, a boy who seems confident and sexually aggressive. He initially spends time with Jena, but dumps her when he meets Skye. He narrates the third section which takes place when he returns home. Finally, we hear from Owen, Dakota's introverted brother, who spends most of his time working on his blog "Loser with a Laptop." Jena begins following his blog and they ultimately meet in NYC. As the story progresses through the vacation, and its aftermath, the reader begins to realize that the facade these kids present to the world hides a very different person on the inside. I loved these characters and think kids will really connect with their insecurities.
Although I'm really looking forward to my presentation, I am most excited about the two visiting authors, Matt de la Pena, the author of Mexican Whiteboy, and Ellen Hopkins, the popular author, who writes cutting edge novels-in-verse. I am also profiling her latest novel, Tricks, in my novels-in-verse bundle. In my next blog I will let you know about the conference and meeting these two authors.