Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ask the Passengers

     Yes, I hope to soon be able to post an interview with A.S. King, author of Everybody Sees the Ants (YALSA Top Ten Books for YA, Junior Library Guild selection, many starred reviews), Please Ignore Vera Dietz (Printz Honor Book 2011, Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens), and, most recently, Ask the Passengers, due out on October 23 and the subject of the interview.  Here's my review.
     The people of Unity Valley, Pennsylvania, like most people who populate our planet, think they know everything there is to know, at least about their community.  For example, they all know that Kristina and Justin, the most beautiful, popular couple in the senior class, are going to get married someday and have beautiful, popular children.  But Astrid Jones, Kristina's best friend, knows the truth: Kristina and Justin will never marry each other because they're both gay, and are serving (with great success) as each other's beards.
     Astrid, on the other hand, isn't gay.  Last year she had a boyfriend she was crazy about, until her mother started rumors that broke them up.  Well, Mom couldn't let it go on too long between her daughter and a fat boy, now could she?  What would people say?  Mom's answer to living under a microscope in Unity Valley is to get perfectly dressed, groomed, and made up each morning, and then never leave the house.  Dad's answer is to disappear into the garage each evening in a haze of pot smoke.  And Ellis, Astrid's younger sister, has an extremely demanding 24/7 job called Trying to Merge Into The Crowd.  All of which leaves Astrid on her own, except for the passengers in the airplanes that fly overhead.
     It's a real relationship that Astrid has with the passengers, although it's a bit one-sided.  Astrid lies on a picnic table in her back yard and sends love up to the people in the planes, because her love is not a popular commodity in her family, or anywhere in Unity Valley ( a place name which the reader soon learns to surround with air quotes).  And Astrid also directs  her questions to the passengers, because she has to ask someone, not because she expects them to answer.  How would the passengers know, for example, why Astrid's mother loves Ellis, but not Astrid?  How would they know where Astrid's life is headed?  And how could they possibly know why, if Astrid is straight, she's lately been deriving such intense pleasure from her kissing sessions with Dee, her female co-worker?
     The only thing Astrid knows is that everyone, including Dee, wants to put her into some kind of a box, to categorize her, to assign her a number.  She doesn't know what she wants, but she knows she doesn't want that, nor does she want to live a lie like Kristina and Justin.   So she doesn't have much choice but to set about learning who she is and where she belongs, no matter what it costs her.
     A.S. King gets her hands dirty.  She gets down into the trenches with her characters, down where she can't fake it or look away, because they can't.  I can see this book saving a life or two.  Please read my interview with her when it posts, and in the meantime, pre-order the book.  Then, in the two months until it arrives, read up on the Greek philosophers.

Friday, August 24, 2012


     A.S. King, one of my very favorite Y.A. authors, has generously agreed to do a short interview with me before her latest book, "Ask the Passengers," launches in October!  I'm working on the questions now.  Stay tuned to this channel!  And meanwhile, if you don't know who she is or what she's written to date, please look her up!  I promise you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Very Short Follow-Up

     OF COURSE Akin didn't withdraw from the Senate race!  To an unbridled and none-too-bright narcissist like him, it's not about his political party, or its reputation, or its chances of capturing a Democratic Senate seat, or maybe even the White House.  IT'S ALL ABOUT HIM!!!!  HE'S not a quitter!  HE doesn't bow to pressure!  HE messed up one little word, and now HE deserves forgiveness!  How many more ways can this man bring disgrace on himself and still fail to realize that he's doing so?  Unwittingly, he is a veritable poster child for why there need to be more women in public office.  Should this bozo and others of his ilk ever, ever, ever be in a position to make decisions about women's health issues?  Or, for that matter, about anything else?

Why Is Everyone Picking on Todd Akin?

     Geez.  The guy makes one little mistake, and BOOM!  His party abandons him.  Is that any way to act?  All he did was express a scientific fact: that rape cannot lead to pregnancy because women's bodies possess a mystical ability to "shut all that down" if they've been forcibly (a.k.a., "legitimately") raped.  Okay, most people throughout history who accepted that as scientific fact lived during, or prior to, the Middle Ages, but a guy's entitled to his opinion, isn't he?  Clearly, his scientific opinions are worthy or respect.  After all, he's served on the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (check out his bio if you don't believe me), so he's got to know SOMETHING, right?
     Stand by your man, GOP.  Don't let a little boo-boo like this derail this righteous crusader (who, by the way, receives an "A" rating from our friends at the NRA) from his holy quest for a Senate seat.  Claire McGaskill needs all the help she can get.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

So There I Was In Union Station...

     I was getting pretty antsy last Sunday about catching my 5:00 p.m. train back from D.C. (see most recent post), and as a result, my son humored me and got me to Union Station by 4:20.  And that was when I realized that in my hasty planning for this day trip, I hadn't given any thought to what I would do on the train for two-and-a-half hours.  I guess I  must have vaguely imagined that I would sleep, but when the time came, I knew I was much too wired for that. 
     Did you know that there is a Barnes & Noble in Union Station?  One that has a YA section?  Well, now we share that valuable piece of info.  I bought "I Am the Messenger," by Markus Zusak, and I read it all the way to Newark, and then after dinner I picked it up again and read until the end, because I needed to find out what would happen. 
     The protagonist, 19-year-old Ed Kennedy, is a quintessential loser.  He moved out of his mother's house into a shack because his mother can't speak a civil word to him, but unlike all his other siblings, he's never made it out of his dead-end town.  He drives a cab for a living, plays cards with his loser friends Ritchie, Marv and Audrey for recreation, and turns to his 17-year-old dog, Doorman, for affection.  Nothing ever changes for Ed, and it's hard to imagine that anything ever will. 
     But then one day, he sort of backs into stopping a bank robbery, which wins him his 15 minutes of local celebrity, and it's soon after that a mysterious playing card arrives in his mailbox.  Although, unlike his golden-boy younger brother, he never went the University route, Ed isn't stupid, and he figures out soon enough that every notation hand-written on the card represents a task that he must complete.  He resists at first, but eventually realizes that, for the first time he can remember, a force greater than himself is taking a hand in his life, and is not going to change its mind and walk away.  Ed accepts his fate and works his way through the tasks, even the most frightening one that he leaves for last, but as soon as he does, a second card arrives, via an outstandingly unpleasant delivery service...
     I think you should read this book.  And then read Zusak's other books, beginning with "The Book Thief," as I'm going to do.  And then continue with his latest, "Bridge of Clay," soon to be released by Knopf, and with whatever other books follow that one.  The one thing I can swear to you is that you will never, ever be bored.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Endings, Beginnings

     When I first found out my son was going to have to leave for law school as soon as we got back from vacation, I offered to go down to D.C. with him to help him move, but he said no.  My husband, knowing how much it would mean to me, asked him to reconsider, and so on Saturday on the way home from Vermont, I was invited to get up at 5:30 the next morning and make a day of it.
     Did I say yes?  I ask you - Who could say no to this face?

     Not me, that's who.   So I got to visit the new apartment, meet the new roommate, see the once-and-future roommate, and watch in amazement as these three kids managed to calmly juggle: picking up a rental truck; backing it up to a loading dock at the other two's old apartment; getting the entire contents loaded and into the new apartment in less than three hours; signing the lease; picking up Nate's stuff from the storage facility, loading it onto the truck and then unloading it into the new apartment.  Do you have any idea just how many sets of KEYS this entailed, not to mention planning, cooperation, and judgment?  And readers, they pulled it all off.  Efficiently, intelligently, and with exceeding good humor.  So I was able to leave to catch my 5:00 p.m. train home with a peaceful mind, knowing that Nate is in good hands and that there is almost no problem these three couldn't handle together.
     I'm so grateful that my husband thought of this plan, and then persisted with it.  And I'm beyond grateful that, by all indications, Nate is going to find his way in the world and be happy.
     Toward the end of December of 1988, my first husband and I separated.  At the beginning of the following March, I discovered that I was four months pregnant.  (Yeah, I know, it's the question everyone asks: no, I wasn't getting my period, but I chalked it up to the stress of the separation.)  I was ten years out of law school, but had just started a new job and was only beginning to learn how to be a trial attorney.  My father had died many years earlier, and I was estranged from my mother and brother.  To put it mildly, neither my future, nor my baby's, looked remotely promising.
     But we made it, Nathan and I.  Somehow, as a single parent from Day One, in all of my ignorance of what good mothering would even look like, in all of my terror, I managed to blunder my way into doing a lot of things right.   I must have.  Look at him.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vermont Makes Me Happy

... even hokey Vermont, like the Ben & Jerry's factory tour.  The flier I had said that each tour participant gets a free T-shirt and either a free pint of ice cream or a voucher for same.  The flier LIED, people.  We each got a single mini-scoop of the day's experimental flavor: pineapple and white chocolate.  Not a combination I would recommend.  And here's my question: do Ben and Jerry spend more time (a) making ice cream, (b) doing good in the world, or (c) patting themselves on the back for doing good in the world?  It's a close call indeed.  But I guess in this regard, making ice cream is not that different from making books.  If you don't put yourself out there, it's not going to sell.
     I got another "liked-it-a-lot-but-didn't-love-it" rejection email this morning, but at least I got to read this one while looking out a window in our rented house across beautiful, placid Lake Champlain.

  And I got to read it while on vacation, very possibly for the last time, with my whole crew: one husband, two kids, two dogs.  The one that's striking out on his own most immediately is my son.  Either the night we get back to New Jersey or early the following morning, he's leaving to start his new life as a law student in DC.  For the next few days, though, I'll have the privilege of watching him and my daughter engage in mock shoving matches across the table at restaurants, and THAT makes me happy too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Thrill of Victory; the Agony of (Giveaway) Defeat

     Well, okay then.  So much for my generous impulse to donate my copy of "Where Things Come Back."  For me, this book can never come back, because evidently it will never go away.  I will chalk my effort up to a noble, but failed experiment.  The book and I will have to learn to coexist peacefully, despite our differences.
     And speaking of noble but failed: don't you have to love that tragedy-into-triumph story of Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. Women's gymnastic team?  Didn't she come through for her teammates like a real champion?  I did feel sorry for those tearful Russian girls, though.  Especially knowing that they'll be going straight to the gulag upon their return.  KIDDING.  I feel particularly bad for them because their loss clearly wasn't entirely their own fault.  Each of them was cruelly weighed down in competition by at least a pound of State-issued eye makeup, and the effect could well have impacted on their ability to achieve the necessary height on their jumps.  But we'll never know, will we?
     I never expect to get hooked on the Olympics dramarama, but somehow I always do.  As a quintessential nonathlete, I watch it with the fascination of a six-year-old at a magic show.  How do they DO that?  Or rather, how do they so convincingly make it appear that they're doing it, when I know full well that it's all physically impossible?  Of course none of it is real, but I'm always just a little too slow to catch them in the act.  So I keep watching.
   Can't wait for Saturday, when my family is going to South Hero, Vermont, for a week of hanging out and doing nothing in particular.  My hope is that I'll finally get back to w-r-i-t-i-n-g, but I can't say it for fear of jinxing it.  But if you want to send good vibes my way, I'll gratefully accept them.