The Reviewer/Author relationship

It seems like these days, everyone is a reviewer.  One of my fav bogs is YA Highway.   Yesterday (Jan. 6, 2011) Veronica Roth posted a really thoughtful piece on the reviewer/author relationship.  Whether you are an author, reviewer or a consumer of books, it’s well worth your time.

It certainly got me thinking about my approach to books and blogging.  I started blogging because I love books, I love talking about them, and I love reading about other people’s take on the books they’ve been reading.  Some bloggers tend to take reviewing very seriously, but my approach to blogging tends to be personal.  I blog about all sorts of things aside from books…gardening, dragon boating, my dog, travel, and anything else that I feel like writing about.  I know my blog it isn’t for everyone, but that’s ok.  I figure that if you want book reviews, there are plenty out there.

I tend to shy away from official “reviews” for lots of reasons; one of them being, I’m more comfortable talking about things I really enjoy.  It may come from my mother’s “if you can’t say anything nice about someone keep quiet” upbringing, or it may just be that life is to short to dwell unpleasantness.  I prefer to talk about books I enjoy, authors I like to follow, and to post information about book awards or events.  I do like to let people know when I read a good book, or sometimes even when I’m a little disappointed in one. As an author myself, I’m careful about dissing books.  I know how hard it is to put your heart and soul on the page and have someone come along and rip it to shreds.  If I hate a book, I’m not likely to spend any more time with it, and reviewing does mean spending more time.  I’d rather just move on to something I like.  Of course there will be good books that I don’t write about if for no other reason than I haven’t had time to read them.  I mean hey, I can’t spend all my time procrastinating with this blog, or I’ll never get anything done on my own books!

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I never travel without a book or two or three, but that doesn’t stop me from buying new ones along the way, even if I haven’t finished what I brought.  So, at a cute little bookstore along the wharf in San Francisco I picked up Jay Asher‘s Thirteen Reasons Why.  It isn’t new, but it’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read, and there it was front and centre.  I had a little bit of a hard time getting into it at first, possibly because we were busy being tourists ( seeing the sights of San Francisco and then touring wine country, and on to the Redwoods) and partly because the subject matter is pretty tough.  It’s about suicide.  It’s the story of how a young high school girl who is full of life could reach a place where she’d want to end her life. And believe me, it’s an amazing journey.

Once I had a chunk of time to sit down with Thirteen Reasons Why, I couldn’t put it down.  The story is mainly told in two voices; that of Hannah’s taped voice (the words from her tapes appear in italics) and Clay Jenson’s voice; one of the thirteen people who received the tapes.  Clay doesn’t know who delivered them, but he recognizes Hannah’s voice instantly.  He listens to the thoughtless acts, secrets and betrayals of thirteen people  and how each contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her life.  At first Clay can’t understand why he’s on Hannah’s list. Other than that party where they talked and kissed, he’s never done anything to Hannah Baker except worship her from afar. But, over the course of a day and a night, he listens to Hannah’s voice and visits the places around town she indicates are important.   The more he listens, the more he understands that small actions and even the lack of action can have enormous consequences.

Thirteen Reasons Why is frustrating and sad, and funny, and hopeful all at the same time.  Asher perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager; the way it feels to be excited and then disappointed.  The way it feels to be used, or invisible.  The way it feels to reach out only to be misunderstood, or understood too late.  This is a difficult but compelling read that I highly recommend.

SCBWI Conference here I come

So this morning I’m leaving for the LA SCBWI conference Monday morning.  Taking the ferry over to the lovely Olympic Peninsula, then heading down the I-5 with a detour to Nevada so that I can fit in a quick visit to my  mom.  Probably won’t get much of a chance to post, at least not until I arrive at the hotel in LA and have wi-fi again.  I’m excited about the conference,but even more so about taking a picture book workshop with Andrea Beebe Welch, of Beach Lane Books and a novel in verse workshop with Ellen Hopkins.

So glad I have friends who’ll look after my dog, house, and garden, including all the flowers I’m growing for my daughter’s September wedding.  Aren’t friends wonderful!  Happy summer.

Sci/Why: a science blog for kids and Adults

As a former science teacher, I love catching up on what’s going on in the world of science, so it was a treat to hear about a relatively new science blog launched by a group of writers who specialize in science for kids.  It’s called Sci/Why, and it’s fabulous. At Sci/Why, you can get questions answered, read book reviews and articles, and catch up on resources for kids and adults.  The articles are as diverse, covering a variety of science topics that include: geology, dragonflies, eyesight, and dinosaurs to name just a few. The common thread  (aside from science) in all the articles was that each was engaging, informative, assessable, and well written.  Bravo to the creators and contributors of Sci/Why.  Be sure to check them out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ingrid and the Wolf by Andre′ Alexis






You can always tell the locals from the tourists on BC ferries. The tourists are the ones glued to windows, binoculars and cameras, while the islanders have their noses buried in newspapers or a book, or are too busy gossiping with other islanders to notice the view. So, I finished an adult mystery on the way over to Pender Island, one of BC’s gorgeous, part forested, part sun-drenched rocky beaches west coast answers to paradise, and read Ingrid and the Wolf by Andre′ Alexis on the way home.

Despite there being a few adult writers who write brilliant kids books, I’m sad to say that most do not. So you can understand my reluctance to crack the cover of Ingrid and the Wolf. Just another adult writer dashing off a quick kid’s book between ‘real books’ for a little income, I thought. I must admit though, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to give it a chance was running across an article (can’t remember where―The Globe & Mail or maybe Quill & Quire) where he says that he read a draft to his kids who told him it was BORING, a humbling experience for any writer. Fortunately for us, Alexis took the criticism seriously.

The story is about eleven year old Ingrid, who lives in Toronto with her immigrant parents. Ingrid’s life changes for the worse when a new girl comes into her school. Sheila uses typical bully tactics to isolate and victimize Ingrid, but Ingrid refuses the role of victim. It seems that she is not the first in her family to do so. It turns out that she is of royal Hungarian descent, something her parents tell her only after strange dreams of a wolf haunt her sleep. Her grandmother sends Ingrid a plane ticket to Hungary although Ingrid’s parents are reluctant to let her go. Finally, Ingrid’s determination wins out and she is sent to the old country to meet her grandmother. Instead of being welcomed into the bosom of family, Ingrid’s worthiness to carry the family title is challenged to a series of tests.

Will Ingrid stand the tests set down by her ancestors? And what about the wolf who has plagued her dreams? These are questions that gnaw at Ingrid as well as the reader. The fact we know no more than the main character pulls us further into the story. Clearly Alexis listened to his children. Ingrid’s story is not the least bit boring. Alexis recall power as a story teller may lay in his ability to create a place and time and traditions that are hauntingly real. The wolf, the mansion, the tests that Ingrid must undergo―these do not seem in the least fictional.

Unfortunately, the place where Alexis is weakest is in his ability to bring Ingrid back to a plausible present. While I wasn’t entirely convinced of the outcome relating to the wolf, I could at least suspend disbelief. Where I had trouble, was with Ingrid’s relationship with her best friend, who was two dimensional at best. But, these are small failings. I won’t wait so long before picking up a second Andre′ Alexis children’s book, should he choose to write another. I feel certain that his next will improve upon what has been a very strong beginning in the challenging world of children’s literature.

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