Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green [spoiler-free post, but I’d avoid the comments!]

It was John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars that inspired me, back in January 2012, to put down the manuscript I was working on and try my hand at writing YA literature, the result of which was my debut novel Truest. (Please see: 3 Novels That Changed My Life.)

It’s been over five years since TFIOS came out, so of course, everyone has been excited for Green’s next book, me included. I was less excited to discover the coincidental similarities it had to one of my works-in-progress: Turtles is about a girl named Aza with OCD; Yes Novel is about a boy named Asa with OCD. Yes Novel, meet backburner.

But what a cool intersection of my passions– YA lit, John Green, OCD!

In Turtles All the Way Down, Aza Holmes is fighting against her intrusive thoughts, all while she and her best friend Daisy attempt to locate a runaway millionaire, the son of whom was Aza’s childhood friend Davis. I loved how Green showed the way that Aza’s OCD impacted not only her but all of her relationships.

Did the book get OCD right?

Yes. I was pretty pleased. Green did a really good job of showing both Aza’s obsessions and the resulting compulsions, and I think readers will be able to see the *faulty* logic that presses sufferers to perform compulsions. And although some readers might think things were a bit exaggerated for the sake of the story, in my opinion, Green actually toned down OCD for the book. (My own editor told me of Yes Novel that I had to find a way to lighten it up, make it less depressing, as readers could only handle so much.) There are definitely degrees of OCD (see: YBOCS), but for it to be considered OCD, it has to noticeably disrupt one’s life. I took the YBOCS as Aza Holmes and scored 26 out of a possible 40, which is the severe category. Just because I was curious. 🙂

The book was good, very well written, a much quieter book than The Fault in Our Stars, and I think it needed to be. Though others might argue that it didn’t pack the same emotional punch as TFIOS, I think it was exactly the book Green needed to write after the phenomenal, almost debilitating success of the former.

In September 2016, John Green made the following video. It’s wild to watch it now (especially if you’ve finished Turtles) and see that just 13 months later, that book would be published. It’s because of this video that I say that I think Turtles is exactly the one he needed to write. I’m curious to hear what you think of it. (Probably best to avoid the comments section BECAUSE SPOILERS.)

State of the Blogger: idk.

Back at the end of 2016, I posted my creative goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Salt Novel.
  2. Find the soul of Yes Novel.

So. Yeah. Life.

Salt Novel is getting closer, but it won’t be done before the end of the year. The exciting news is that my agent, my editor, and I all want another pair of eyes on the manuscript, so I’m getting to work with an editor I really admire who has worked on NYT Bestsellers in the YA world. I’ll get notes from her in mid-January, which means a 2.5 month break from my novel! It’s quite needed. I’ve been working on this since I finished Truest back in 2013– well, along with a time where I wrote out a draft of Yes Novel. Speaking of …

Yes Novel. For those of you who didn’t know what it was about, it’s about a boy named Asa with OCD. If you’re active in the YA community, you’ll know that John Green’s latest novel just came out last month. About a girl named Aza with OCD.

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Yup. So Yes Novel is headed to the backburner for now.

But all this means that I have 2.5 months to brainstorm new ideas. Or, as my therapist put it, to “be playful.” I am truly, deeply excited to just explore ideas and characters and names without any stressful deadlines I have to meet. I have a handful of ideas (Fox Novel, Ivy Novel, Glass Novel, Gold Novel, Egg Novel) and a handful of characters that have been … percolating. It’ll be fun to mix and match and dream.

 

 

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Operation: Adulting, Part Two

Well, folks, I keep moving forward in my efforts to get my crap together for/in 2017. In addition to creating a budget and subscribing to all my recurring expenses (which you can read about here):

  1. I created a custom planner with Wrights Notes. Mine has my own personal weekly to-do list on the left page of each spread and a weekly calendar on the right. I freaking love lists.
  2. I’ve been cooking for myself. Mostly eggs.
  3. I ordered a bunch of stuff to organize my closet, in the hopes that this will help me to keep my room in better order. I’m kind of excited.
  4. I returned to my therapist for the first time in maybe nine months. It was so good to go over everything that’s happened since I’d been there and see how much I’d grown.

Good news.

Got an email from my editor last weekend.

Subject: just finished

Body: your beautiful book.
Wow. Just wow.
You did all that?
How???
Totally incredible.
I wish I could zap you a big bouquet of flowers and a chandelier.

I can’t tell you what a relief this is. With my editor on board with this novel, I feel like I can tackle any revisions.

In fact, she sent me a list of questions to be considering as we move forward with revising/restructuring this thing. This week has been so busy that I haven’t had a moment to think on it, but tomorrow and Sunday I hope to spend thinking, praying, and journaling in search of my next steps. Think of me.

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Six Parts of Writing a Book that Aren’t Actually Writing

There is so much more to writing a book than just writing a book. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and thought I’d write up a few thoughts about it. Note that this is my experience; every writer has his or her own methods!

writing3Research. 

When I was younger, I thought, “I’ll never write historical novels; that way, I won’t have to do research.” HA. I think any well-thought-out piece of writing requires so much research, and not always the kind you might imagine. I’ve spent countless hours researching things that my characters are interested in, just so that I can have my characters talk about them with convincing acuity. When those things are above my head (i.e. the quantum mechanics in Yes Novel), I have to still find a way to write just enough to convince the audience I know more. (Then I had to have my physics Ph.D friend read those scenes to make sure I didn’t say anything absolutely wrong.)

Speaking of bringing in friends, I do this all the time. My Facebook friends usually assume that any random question that comes from left field is usually book research. Sometimes I will spend hours just finding the name of a color or how to build a table or how to translate one sentence of Portuguese. I remember taking so long just to find the name for the “blanket” used during X-rays: a lead apron. That sentence wasn’t about X-rays either; it was about how depression presses weighs on a person. I spent all night researching boats for a paragraph in Salt Novel. And if I get the details right, the reader probably won’t notice– it will flow smoothly instead of tripping someone up!

Brainstorming.

For me, this usually looks like conversations, either prayer or otherwise. I get out either my prayer journal or my process journal and start asking questions, thinking, waiting for answers. Sometimes I tell my friends, “I have a problem to solve. I need this square peg to fit into a round hole,” and we go back and forth until we make it work. Sometimes this takes a long time and means headaches and tears. But I don’t do it alone.

Listening.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely the right word. But with the exception of when I’m sleeping (although not always– sometimes I think about my novel while I dream!), I am always on alert for ideas, solutions, objections. My co-worker said, “Can I still rent a vehicle if I’m not 25 yet?” and my first thought wasn’t how to help her but, “Oh crap, I have a 19-year-old renting a car in my manuscript. FIX.” Anything funny or beautiful or interesting– all my experiences, in fact– pass through the novel-sieve: is this something I can use for the story?

Timeline.

I spent the entire evening earlier this week nailing down the timeline of my story. For me, I find it easiest to use an actual calendar and to fill in the days with the names of scenes. Timeline matters especially if there is a “time bomb” in the novel or if there is some process (pregnancy, an academic year, etc.) that has to follow certain general guidelines. It also keeps me from bypassing important holidays. And the weather has to be right for that time of year (see above: research). And if there is a love story, I want to make sure that it’s reasonable. I don’t want my characters falling in love in just three days.

Strategy.

This is something I am learning. With my first novel (Lights All Around, unpublished), I had no strategy. I barely even considered the most basic constructs of a novel: action, climax, resolution, and the like, let alone thought strategically about how the characters were changing from beginning to end. I did that so much more with Truest, and now it’s becoming a built-in part of my writing life. I find myself thinking things like, “If I want M to relax and C to become more assertive, then I should have a scene where C takes control and M follows suit.” That probably seems like a no-brainer, but for this writer, it took about three decades to get there. Now I think, “If I want X to be especially impactful, then I need to set it up by making Y more extreme. How can I do that?” (See above: brainstorming.)

Reading. 

When I am writing, I like to stay deep in the waters of great fiction. I have re-read a handful of books that inspire Salt Novel over and over again. I enjoy the story, but I also examine it. Why did that work? How did the author make me feel that way? Why did I change my mind about that character? If I am trying to create a river, it helps to stand in one. 

There are other things too, like outlining, marketing (eventually), and finding connections between themes (my favorite!). It’s a lot of work, but soooo rewarding! How blessed am I to get to do this with my life?

Off to write now– actually write!

Review: The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

rose and daggerI’ve made it no secret on this blog that The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh was my favorite book of 2015The Rose & the Dagger is the sequel, and I could not WAIT to spend time with these characters again. Shazi is seriously one of my all-time favorite heroines, so fierce and stubborn and incredible. She takes zero shit, not even from the king himself.

Speaking of the king– or rather, the caliph of Khorasan– Khalid is one of my top book boyfriends. He is breathtakingly INTENSE and sexy and mature. I love him love him love him.

Plus, we are introduced to new(er) characters in this book too, a few of whom stole my heart. A few of whom broke my heart.

I’m not going to say too much about this book, just that you need to read it. The first book still takes the top spot for me, but this sequel was just the reunion I needed!

Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a book cover misrepresent the story inside so much as this one. Let’s take a look at it.noggin

What do you expect from this title and cover?

I pictured a Grasshopper Jungle type of story– weird and wild and fast and sort of hard-to-believe-but-I’ll-go-along-for-the-ride, you know?

Not at all. This story was the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read so far this year. And maybe for ALL of last year too. In fact, I can’t remember a book putting my heart through the meat-grinder quite like this one did since I read The Fault in Our Stars. My gosh. I’m still reeling.

First of all, what’s this book about? Travis Coates is the second person to have a successful head-transplant surgery. When he died, his head was cryogenically preserved while they figured out the procedure– the medical organization he was with suspected they would have a solution within twenty years, though, secretly, neither Travis nor his friends or family thought it would ever work. So, when only five years later, it does work … well, everything is different. Most notably, Travis is still sixteen and in love with his girlfriend Cate … who is now 21 and engaged to someone else.

This book was intense. All the feels. Multiplied exponentially. While I often love to just binge-read through a great story, I couldn’t with this one. I could only handle small doses– an hour of reading here, a half-hour there. And when I finished it today, I just sobbed and sobbed and then took a nap to deaden the feelings.

Noggin was incredible. Layered characters. Meaningful story. Made my head spin and my heart break. This book was so much more than I ever anticipated.

 

 

Review: In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

I met Jen Brooks during a panel discussion we were both a part of last November, and I was fascinated by the excerpt she read from In A World Just Right. I bought a copy that very night, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in until yesterday. I started it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. I was home sick from work, so I legit just read for eight hours straight.

in a world just rightThis book.

Let me tell you.

The premise is clever: ever since Jonathan went through a traumatic accident at age eight, he’s been a world-maker, that is, he can invent worlds and come and go from them as he pleases. The one he spends the most time in is Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, where– you guessed it– Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In real life, that’s not even close to being true. Jonathan is a bit of an outcast, mostly invisible to his classmates.

Fascinating, right?

Things get trickier from there, once the real Kylie Simms starts paying attention to him and Jonathan starts learning the extent of his powers and has to deal with some pretty huge moral decisions. Like, fantastically huge. He really, really wrestles through things, and I loved him for it.

Then things get even trickier. Really.

Let’s just say that this is as close to a YA Inception that I’ve ever read. That’s a good thing– no, a great thing.

About halfway through, I tweeted to Jen that “I can’t figure out how in the world(s) this will end,” and she tweeted back, “Fingers crossed you like where it ends up. :)”

After my eight-hour journey of my mind being blown, I tweeted her, “PERFECT ENDING!”

Not my typical read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. You guys know I love books that make me think. This book will make you think.

Enjoy!

2016 Books I’m (More Than) Excited For

I’m sure there will be many, many more as we progress through the year, but from the get-go, these are the ones on my radar:

The Series-Enders:

raven kingThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. NEED.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows knocked me off my feet. I can’t wait to find out what happens to this crew of misfits.

Illusion by Martina Boone. Eight Beaufort. That’s all.

Rose and DaggerThe Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Many of you know that Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn was my favorite read of 2015. I’m more than ready for the sequel.

The Series-Starter:

crown's gameThe Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. This has been pitched as The Night Circus in an alternate Russia. So much yes.

The Standalones:

salt to the seaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I had the pleasure of hearing Ruta talk about this book when she was in St. Paul this winter. It’s the true story of an accident on the sea that was astronomically worse than Titanic. I can’t wait to see how Sepetys brings it to life.

underwater2Underwater by Marissa Reichardt. I “met” Marissa when she interviewed me about Truest, and now it’s her turn to debut. Listen to this description. Is this not right up my alley? “Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.”

 

What about you guys? What books are you looking forward to in 2015???

Eight Themes

I wish I could remember where I read it– I’d have loved to link to the article!– but somewhere around the internet I read the suggestion to boil my novel down into 7-10 major themes and post them where I could easily see them.

As I write Mill City Heroes, these are the themes I keep on my radar in image form (my computer desktop’s background actually!):

themes mch

Clockwise from top left: poppies, winter, feline, slavery/freedom, red, Peter Pan, city (particularly Mill City, i.e. Minneapolis), ravens.

So, are you intrigued? Confused? A little of both?

I can’t wait to tell you more as this novel takes form!