Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

unwind dystologyI’m an unlikely fan of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind dystology. I don’t normally go for the high-octane, super-intense, action-packed books.

But I love this series.

It’s set after the Heartland War, a war between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements, and the compromise that they’ve arrived at is to ban abortion but to allow teenagers to be “unwound”: every organ used in donation. Since all body parts are still alive, this is not seen as killing the teenager; rather, they are “living in a divided state.”

Totally creepy, right?

I loved the characters in this series. There are three main ones, although every book adds more POVs, more well-drawn characters. Connor, the Akron AWOL, on the run from his own unwinding; Risa, a ward of the state being unwound due to budget cuts; and Lev, a “tithe” who has been raised his whole life to believe that his unwinding will be giving his life back to God.

Book one: awesome.  (Bonus: includes the most disturbing scene I’ve ever read in YA ever.)
Book two: even better. (Bonus: Miracolina.)
Book three: love this series. (Bonus: frenemies/rivals/awkward love triangle!)
Book four: everything at stake. (Bonus: all your beloved favorites make an appearance.)

This was a really thought-provoking series for me, and I’d love to talk it over with someone who has read it. What did you like? Did anything bother you about the ending? Who was your favorite character? Which scenes made you sick to your stomach? Was the premise hard for you to believe?

Obviously, if you haven’t read this series, avoid the comments section due to SPOILERS!

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Filed under book review, reading, YA

Random Facts about Me

unsplash7.21. The only countries I’ve been to outside of the US are the Dominican Republic and Canada. Both of those trips were in high school. I’d very much like to see others, but I don’t want to travel alone.

2. The nurse who helped deliver me as a baby was also the nurse who gave me my shots for college, and I kept thinking how she was probably thinking how much of a baby I still was. (I really hate needles.)

3. My favorite hardwood is cherry. There’s a lot of it in my apartment.

4. My college friend Yexy was an international student from Venezuela who called me by a nickname for most of college. When I finally asked what it meant, it was “Jackie from Hell.” Thanks, Yexy.

5. I like visual art a lot. You should check out Loui Jover.

6. I grew up on a tiny beef farm. Sorry to my vegetarian readers.

7. My car’s radio is most often tuned to the 90s station on satellite radio. Love me some Gin Blossoms.

8. In college, I wanted to create a commune and live with all my friends. These days, that sounds horrible.

9. I think I’m funnier in real life than I am in my writing.

10. My favorite sports teams are the Wimbledon Wimbly Womblies and the Swindontown Swoodilypoopers. DFTBA.


Filed under real life

I Repeat: Mental Illness IS Physical Illness

brain disorderPhysical illness: an illness that affects the physical body and its organs.

Mental illness: an illness that affects the brain.

The brain: a physical organ.

Therefore …


This has been a Jackie Lea Sommers Uses Logic PSA.

Image credit: Dierk Schaefer




Filed under Uncategorized

From Idea to Novel

Lighting a candleHow does an idea become a novel?

First, you throw away the match. Then you hold the idea in your hands like a flickering flame. You protect it and you breathe life into it: research, conversations, prayer.

You put flesh on it. That is, you create characters. You make them look like real people, broken and complicated, and you make them want things.

Then you look around and see where this idea is happening.  In space? In post-apocalyptic London? In a dollhouse? You open your fist and let your idea and your characters start to run around in this new terrarium. With any luck, they will make very bad decisions.

Then you write about it. Pen and paper, laptop, 1921 Woodstock typewriter, whatever you’ve got. Start putting the words down. They’ll be bad at first, but you’ll fix them later.

After 20 drafts or maybe 220, you take off your beret and put on your marketing hat and hammer out a query letter and find an agent. If the agent likes the 220th draft, he or she will probably ask you to write the 221st, and then they take it to some editors, where your manuscript bats its eyelashes and sucks in its tummy and tries to walk the runway without falling.

If an editor is sufficiently besotted by your story’s showing-off, then the editor will give you a contract, after which, you’ll write even more drafts. Those characters that seemed so fun and clever and charming, albeit broken and complicated and wanting, might start to get on your nerves, but there was no pre-nup, and you lose it all if you divorce them now, so you stay with them and learn to love them again.

Eventually, the story goes through copyedits and formatting, and it gets a cover and a release date, and by then, you’re all starry-eyed over your sweet little idea and characters and story terrarium that you start thinking about all the evil people who might not care about them the way that you do.

But it’s too late. You’ve written a novel, and it gets to go out into the world, and your job is to light another match, keep the flame safe, and make magic. Again.


Filed under writing

Hogwarts Yule Ball Couture

Because I am the biggest nerd you know, I found the time to create Yule Ball outfits for the different houses at Hogwarts.  Which is your favorite– is it the house you were Sorted into?  I’m a Ravenclaw, and it’s my favorite outfit below– but that’s unfair, since I’m the curator!


gryffindor yule ball

dress, Vera Wang; clutch, Toriska; headband, BeadsBroochesBridal; lion ring, King Ice; shoes, Valentino


hufflepuff yule ball

necklace, Jane Stone; badger ring, Accessorize; parasol, stncrafts; dress, David’s Bridal


Slytherin Yule Ball

dress, Fox Gown; earrings, Jane Stone; snake cuff, avicraft; snake purse, TheStarzLounge; shoes, Badgley Mischka


Ravenclaw Yule Ball

headband, E. Kammeyer; eagle necklace, Punk Fashion; shoes, Karen Millen; peacock clutch, Paulownias; dress, LaFemme



Filed under Uncategorized

No Shortcuts

When Jeff Bell, spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, spoke for our OCD Twin Cities event, one of the things he said that really stood out to me was that there are no shortcuts in treating OCD.

Woman and maze

That’s true, or at least it was in my case. I wanted easy answers: for deep theological conversations to solve my problems, or for comfort and reassurance from friends to be enough, for an hour-long conversation with a therapist each week to take away the anxiety, for an easy prescription to fix everything.

I definitely did not want the hard answer: exposure and response prevention therapy.

My psychiatrist didn’t mince words in his description: “It will be hell.”

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, but one of the most necessary and most rewarding. For me, there was no shortcut to healing, and since I was already living in OCD hell, the best way out was to keep going.

So, believe me, friends: I get it. ERP therapy is hard, so hard. You might think you won’t survive it. You might think your loved ones won’t survive your going through it. You might think it’s sinful or disgusting, and your exposures are probably going to be loathsome and repellent to you.

If you need to, go ahead and look for shortcuts. I know I had to.

But in the end, there were none for me, and I’d only wasted time looking for them.

While experiencing it, ERP was hell. But on the other side? It was my rescue.



Filed under blasphemy, CBT, checking, compulsions, ERP Therapy, OCD, overcoming, Pure O, scrupulosity, therapy, uncertainty

Recent Reads

janie face to faceJanie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney Do you remember The Face on the Milk Carton? It was published back in 1990 and was an important book in my childhood, about a girl who saw a picture of herself on a milk carton ad about an abducted child. This book is the last of the Janie books, and I think it was mostly nostalgia and the desire for a neat conclusion that drove me to read it. The sad truth is that I didn’t find it well-written, which confused me and made me wonder if maybe Milk Carton hadn’t been as good as I’d thought. So I went back to it, and no– it still held up. But Janie Face to Face just didn’t. It covered years much too quickly, and it made Janie and Reeve seem a bit ridiculous. It was a let-down, but at least now I know what happened to everyone!

wild awakeWild Awake by Hilary T. Smith | This book was fascinating and visceral, exciting and sad and overwhelming. It’s the story of Kiri, a piano prodigy whose parents leave her at home for a month while they travel the world, and about what happens while they’re gone (hint: a lot). It was an eye-opening look at bipolar disorder, and I’ve already added Smith’s next book to be TBR list, though it doesn’t come out till May.

undividedUndivided by Neal Shusterman | Wow, okay. So, you guys know that I have been dying for this final book in the Unwind Dystology, and it did not disappoint! In fact, I have a confession to make: at one point, I was so overwhelmed with the story that I had to peek at the ending. Isn’t that just awful? I try not to do that, but Shusterman is such an intense, keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, nothing-is-too-sacred-to-keep writer that I just had to. Anyway, I was very, very pleased with the book, and I’m going to write up a whole blog post about this series, since I’m such a big fan. I highly recommend this series but have to warn you: it contains some of the most intense scenes I’ve ever read. Actually, the first book– Unwind– has a scene that might haunt me till the day I die. Worth. It.

magnoliaMagnolia by Kristi Cook | This book was billed as a “backward Romeo and Juliet“– that is, the families want the kids together, but the kids are not interested. It wasn’t really my cup of tea (or sweet tea– it’s a Southern novel!) because I didn’t think the main characters had much chemistry. (Gosh, I hate bad-mouthing books because I know how much work goes into them! I’m sure lots of other people will like this book, but it wasn’t for me.)

blue lilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater | I’ve basically been frothing at the mouth for this book, and– as one would expect from Maggie Stiefvater– it was fantastic. Her characters just kill me. They are so deep and complicated and broken and beautiful. I hope that someday I can write such intense, complex characters as Stiefvater does. To be honest, I’d not be particularly interested in the premises of her books (which tend to be about things like mythical water horses and sleeping Welsh kings), but the characters make everything more than worth it. This is the third book in a four-book series, so I’ll return to my frothing-at-the-mouth for now.

shaking the treesShaking the Trees by Azra Tabassum | Another poet I found via Tumblr. I really liked this book, though I did think that the poems suffered a tiny bit from her young age. One thing that I really loved about this collection of poems was that there was a narrative arc to the poems. You actually follow a couple through the highs and lows of their relationship as you go through the pages, which was incredibly satisfying and something I’ll be looking for in future poetry books.

And for the little readers …

book with no picturesThe Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak | This book is so much fun! It doesn’t have pictures, but the words are so fun and goofy that kids will love it anyway. I love the way that Novak is able to display the power of words alone to young readers via this book. I bought several copies already.

poem that heals fishThis is a Poem that Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Simeon | My friend Kathy Ellen Davis, a fantastic children’s writer herself (check out her website here!), sent me this book, and it was fun and lovely and a super adorable search for the answer to What exactly is a poem? I loved it so much and can’t wait to read it to my favorite kiddos!

What have you been reading lately?


Filed under book review, reading, real life, YA