I facilitated the Blue Spruce workshop at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference last Saturday and as always had a wonderful time and got new ideas for future reads. The keynote speakers were Gail Carriger and Greg Neri and I also attended a "Happily Ever After" workshop with Entangled Teen Crush writer Lisa Brown Roberts. Gail Carriger is probably best known for her steampunk series called The Finishing School. Greg Neri refers to himself as a "mashup DJ of a writer" who likes to sample real life and remix it into a story. Although best known for Tru and Nellie, his re-imagining of the childhood friendship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, he spent the majority of his talk on Ghetto Cowboy, a book about urban cowboys in Philadelphia. Lisa Brown Roberts did a workshop with fellow romance writer Jenna Lincoln, examining trope driven novels that lead to happy endings. Her latest book Resisting the Rebel is a bad boy/good girl story wrapped around the fake girlfriend/boyfriend trope.
Gail Carriger's keynote speech was very brief, outlining how she transitioned from archaeologist to YA author. Then she spent the rest of the time eloquently fielding questions from teens in the audience. I was struck by the fact that when asked what "Harry Potter House" she identifies with, she had a detailed answer. Investigating further I found quizzes online that place one in the proper house. (She and I are both Ravensclaw) I wondered if she had been asked that before. When asked about her favorite character in her own books, she said "Vieve" and talked a bit about her Finishing School series, which begins with Etiquette and Espionage. Like her adult series the Parasol Protectorate, this series is set in an alternate history version of Victorian era Britain, where supernatural creatures such as werewolves and vampires are part of society. The first book introduces the headstrong, calamity seeking 14-year-old Sophronia, who is sent by her mother to Mademoiselle Geraldines' Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. What her mother doesn't know is in addition to dance, fashion and manners, the girls also are trained in the "fine arts of death, diversion and the modern weaponries." The school is set on a chain of dirigibles and is manned by mechanical servants as well as "sooties" who work in the boiler room. Sophronia's friend Vieve is a cross dressing lesbian whose aunt is one of the teachers. She invents many useful devices, such as one that interferes with mechanicals long enough for the students to evade their watchful eyes. In Etiquette and Espionage the girls are tasked with finding a prototype essential to communications which is sought after by flywaymen who are determined to have it. This spy-school romp includes subtle commentary on race, class and gender identity. Kids will love Sophronia and her band of misfits in this madcap espionage/adventure mashup. Additional novels in the series include Curtsies and Conspiracies, Waistcoats and Weaponry and Manners and Mutiny.
Greg Neri, (pen-name g.neri) the 2011 Coretta Scott King Author Award winner, was inspired to write Ghetto Cowboy by the real-life inner-city horsemen of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, The story begins when Cole's mom takes him to live with the dad he's never met in the mean streets of Philadelphia. The last thing he expects to see there is a stable full of horses complete with black cowboys. He changes his slacker behavior of skipping school and goofing off, and is soon hard at work in the stables. Then the city threatens to shut down the stable and take away the horse Cole has come to love. He decides that it's time to fight back and stand up for what is right. School Library Journal's review says,"Cole's spot-on emotional insight is conveyed through believable dialogue and the well-paced plot offers information about a little-known aspect of African-American history, as well as a portrait of contemporary urban stable life." Neri also has written novels-in-verse, including Chess Rumble and Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, and is soon to release Paulie and Artie, a book about Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's childhood friendship.
Lisa Brown Roberts writes for Entangled Teen Crush publishing, which features contemporary romances between 16-18 year-olds with trope driven stories, whose "heat level" can vary from sweet to suggestive. Her latest Resisting the Rebel is a cut above when it comes to teen romance. In the story Mandy Pennington, the high school spirit committee leader and all around extra-curricular queen, is secretly crushing on her friend, Gus. When he takes her to a party and then hooks up with her archenemy, Mandy flees and is inexplicably rescued by Caleb Torrs, who has a loner bad boy reputation. He enlists her in a scheme to pose as fake girlfriend/boyfriend so that she can make Gus jealous and he can get his stalker ex-girlfriend to leave him alone. One of the things that makes this book stand out is Mandy's passion for everything from the 70s. Her mother, who recently died of cancer, has a closet full of clothes and music from the 70s and embracing the 70s makes Mandy feel closer to her mom. The book's chapters are titles from appropriate 70s songs. Caleb predictably finds her music annoying, but secretly finds her style adorable. Unpredictably, he is the good student who agrees to tutor her, so that she can keep her grades up and remain on the dance squad. Their disagreement over Catcher in the Rye, a book he loves and she hates because Holden Caulfield is such a whiner, makes for hilarious, yet thought-provoking dialogue, as he struggles to help her write a paper about the book. There is no doubt that the two will end up together, but the journey to that destination is an enjoyable one. If you are looking to recommend PG-13 rated romance for teens, Entangled Teen Crush books are a safe bet.