Guest post by Sara J. Henry

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I asked author Sara J. Henry to write a guest post for this blog on how I managed to get an agent (she had to write it because, had I written these things, I really would have come across as being totally self-centred and big-headed. Which I'm not, honest.)

So she's written a bit of a theoretical Q & A of things you might have been wondering. Or not. It depends how inquisitive a person you are. But after you've read this, you should definitely head over to her blog where she says more lovely things about me and my book.

Okay, I think I'm getting a bit longwinded with the intro. Here's her post:


Here are the questions I figure you're dying to ask:

How did Steph get "discovered"? She set up a quirky, entertaining, and well-written blog. That's what brought me to her door and why I beta read her novel and steered her to agents. One of the things that drew me in was a funny photo of Steph standing on one leg in a boat on a yard, a photo that's now gone. (I have learned that teens redecorate their blogs frequently.) Her posts "20 Things to Say" and "A Complete History of My Writing Failures" were phenomenally well written and told me much about her and where she was with her writing.

And who the heck are you? Just another writer. My agent quest was in May and, like Steph, I had multiple offers and signed quickly, and my novel sold at the end of July. So I know a few agents. And because I've edited many books and read a zillion more, I have a sense of story and a knack for critique.

How did you find Steph's blog? Sheer chance and some cross-linking. I stumbled across her blog while reading YA blog reviews of DUST OF 100 DOGS, a book I adore. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of teen and young-adult readers and writers - although I didn't actually form the master plan of I will help Steph get an agent and she will be so grateful she will promote the heck out of my novel when it comes out. Not quite that prescient.

What about Steph's book made you suggest she approach agents? It was really, really good - sheer magic in parts. I read a lot of manuscripts, for friends and for members of an online writing group, but none excited me like this. Many manuscripts start out well and fall down in the middle, but this one didn't (okay, maybe the last half chapter, but Steph quickly realized that). It wasn't perfect, but the parts that were good were so good I had no doubt she could fix the weaker parts. It was also one of the cleanest manuscripts I'd seen, with very few typos or other errors.

What did your beta-reading involve? Many, many comments. When I read Steph's novel, I not only told her everything that didn't work for me (at one point I believe I said This is rubbish!) but also told her what did work. And perhaps because of all the not-nice things I said, she believed the good stuff. I made comments like
  • This is dragging here – too much info too early.
  • I think you can tighten this scene
  • HUH? Why such a strange reaction?
  • Uh, this is a little creepy.
  • Holy crap, what does hot chocolate cost over there!?
  • Would like to see her expression or posture here.
  • And this sounds really lame! Like a third-grader would say!
  • Oh, blah blah blah! MC, give it a rest! What a bore! DELETE!
  • Sort of a bland and colorless statement
  • Achh! Don’t ever have a guy “breathe” words. Heck, don’t have a girl breathe them unless you’re writing a romance.
    You can see I don't mince words. But these are all minor things, easily fixed. I made a pacing suggestion, marked scenes I thought needed work, and raised questions about one plot point. But nowhere did I tell her what to do (okay, other than one DELETE). It was her story to tell.

    How much did she revise the manuscript? I have no idea. Which I think is great. I made my suggestions and Steph decided which to pay attention to and which not. She revised within three days, and sent the manuscript off to the agents. Steph has a strong sense of story and knows what works for her characters and what doesn't. She knew, for instance, to shrug off some of the comments made by readers at the Secret Agent blog, because they didn't make sense for her story.

    What's this whole Secret Agent thing? It's a contest that forces an agent to read your first page. A woman called Authoress (Americans have a penchant for secret identities) runs a monthly contest where an unnamed agent comments on the first 250 words of 50 entrants. Then the agent's identity is revealed and one or more writers asked to send partials or fulls. I mentioned the contest to Steph, who planned to enter. But you had to enter dead-on at noon here, which was 2 am in Australia, so near submission time I asked if I should submit her entry (perfectly legal). No answer. Steph was out of town with intermittent internet access. So I crossed my fingers and sent in her entry, wondering uneasily if I were stepping over an invisible mentor line into horrid pushiness - but Steph was fine with it. And then the agent requested a full, and ended up being the agent Steph chose. Sometimes you have to take a chance.

    Are people going to be upset Steph got an agent so quickly? Yes, some will - including some who have been querying for years without success and some who haven't gotten around to querying. But many people write terrible query letters, and many write a novel and think it's wonderful (and their friends tell them so) and don't revise it. Steph's book is good because it's good, not because she is 15. And she did a lot of things right:
  • She built a "platform" by starting a blog and gathering followers.
  • She wrote a riveting manuscript with a strong voice, and edited it.
  • She solicited beta readers.
  • She handled criticism well, and revised quickly.
  • She wrote a strong query letter with a succinct description of her novel.
  • She took prompt advantage of the suggestion to introduce her to agents.
  • And she did her research and carefully considered each of the three agents before deciding which was best for her and her novel.

    What's your advice for writers? Read, write, revise. The last is the most important. And revision can be very, very hard. I've seen more than one writer come very close and stop because they weren't willing to dig deep and do the difficult work of revision. (I've also seen some writers make their work worse by revising - so I'll add: Find your voice and stick to it.) Get beta readers and learn which to listen to and which not. And never forget that you write because you love it.

    Sara J. Henry is the author of LEARNING TO SWIM, a suspense novel being published by Shaye Areheart Books in fall 2010, with its sequel the following year. She blogs at Sara in Vermont and is @SaraJHenry on twitter.

So I have an agent now

Friday, September 25, 2009

Her name is Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown (who doesn't blog, but she tweets). She represents a number of great authors, including Jeri Smith-Ready. She also handles the British rights for all of Curtis Brown (click those links above to find out more about her).

This is what happened (a really short version):
Sara J. Henry* beta-read my novel and suggested I query a couple of American agents. A thought which didn't occur to me before (since I'm in Australia), but I thought, why not?**

Of the three agents I queried, two offered representation. Which is pretty much unheard of, so obviously I have some kind of long-distance hypnotism capabilities.

This, for a person as indecisive as me, was about the worst thing ever. Both of the agents were absolutely wonderful agents, who'd sold brilliant books and had well-known clients. (One is a 'dream agent' for a lot of people.)

And then, I entered the Secret Agent contest on this blog***. Ginger Clark was the Secret Agent, and from that she read my full and decided to offer me representation.

So I had three offers of representation. Three of them. Which sounds wonderful, but I was freaking out.

After speaking to all of them on the phone, and a lot of deliberation I ended up deciding to sign with Ginger. She's really lovely and I'm really looking forward to working with her.

(Note: All of this occured over the course of September. Most of the time I was in NSW or Queensland. Had you have asked me about this last month, you would've been time travelling.)

If you have any questions, put them in the comments below and I'll answer them in another post. If you'd rather email me, that's fine. I love emails.

*Who is pretty much a goddess. You should read her blog.

**I ran this by my mother first. Don't think I'm doing anything without her permission, kids.

***Okay, Sara sent my entry for me. I was on a road trip and it was about 2 in the morning and I was probably in Dubbo or something. (By the way, don't go to McDonald's in Dubbo. Worst. McDonald's. Ever.)


Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm not sure what prompted me to write this post. It's just something I thought I'd talk about. Anyway, I know the subject matter is a bit dark for a book blog, but it is an issue that's pertinent to teenagers and is featured often in novels, so I think it's an important thing to think about and talk about. If you're not comfortable don't read; if you're really uncomfortable, email me and let me know.

Recently, four students from a Geelong school killed themselves. Not together, and they weren't kids who were all friends. In four separate instances, four kids committed suicide.

I was researching this (because I research a lot. I like to know things) and I found this startling fact: Suicide now accounts for one in seven deaths among males
aged 15 to 19 years. (This is in Australia.) There are a lot more very scary figures in this article, if you want to read it (it's just numbers and what influences these, but it's still scary.)

Australia's 60 Minutes did a segment on the deaths of the students in Geelong. It was never broadcast, because Jeff Kennett (former Vic Premier and BeyondBlue chairman) blocked it in court. I can understand why the families of the deceased students would be upset if the segment was shown, but the reasoning behind the segment being blocked was that it would encourage more teenagers to commit suicide.

I believe this is ridiculous.

Now here's the thing: there's something wrong with you if you think teenagers being informed about suicide will result in them knocking themselves. In fact, I believe that teenagers being informed about suicide won't even cause a suicidal teenager to be pushed over the edge. I think a segment on 60 Minutes about teen suicide might even start conversations betweeen kids and their parents. It would be an opening for discussion, a chance to talk about it without trying to find the right moment.

Here's what I think: It sucks to be a teenager. People treat you like crap, you're often angry for no reason, you get sad and you can't ever remember a time when things seemed brighter (this isn't everyone, naturally, I'm just saying this is how it is for a lot of people). You can't see anything in the future except never doing well enough at school, or being tormented by your peers (because everyone is bullied on some level), or something else that seems insurmountable.

Largely, this is normal. A lot of kids will at some point be depressed. They need to be able to talk to their parents, and look for ways to feel better about themselves. They need people who are willing to talk to them and to help them.

But instead, it seems as if adults would rather keep the whole thing shut lest some kid see on 60 Minutes that some students have killed themselves and go, Hey! I could do that too!

Information about suicide, advice about how to kill yourself is readily available on the internet. We shouldn't shut up about the issue and think it'll go away, nor should we blame the internet or bullies or binge-drinking -- I think communication between teachers and students and parents and children and family and friends is the important thing. Listening to people when they need you to listen; reassuring them it does get better when they need to be reassured.

Anyway, this is a good article; have a look at the rest of the Reach Out website too.

So tell me, what do you think? Have you read any books lately that feature teen suicide? (Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is an excellent book that immediately springs to mind.)

Why romantic relationships are stupid and you should become a celibate

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Now, today I was reading a blog, and I read this post. It's a good blog (advice for teenagers and the like), but this post made me snort the rasberry lemonade I was drinking at the time out my nose.

After I cleaned up the lemonade off the keyboard and checked all the keys were still functional, I decided to write a blog post. A blog post that'll probably make you feel uncomfortable and possibly disown me.

If clicking through links is against your religion or something, that blog post was titled 'How can I get girls to notice me?' In case you're wondering, the answer was humour. I was thinking 'sparkles' but hey, obviously that's not going to work for everyone (especially if you don't have a chest carved out of marble, and of a similar temperature, consistency and colour).

Please be aware that this isn't anything against that blog or blogger, just something that popped into my head as I read. As I said, it's a good blog.

Here, I impart some advice for teenagers of both genders (as well as hermaphrodites like Caster Semenya, who I think is awesome, personally) on how to attract people of your sexual preference. All based off my own experience:

1. If you aren't really gay, don't tell boys who ask you out who you don't like that you are. Somehow it'll get back to a lesbian and she'll ask you out because teenage lesbians are kind of an endangered species (and as a rule, a lot of lesbians kind of detest those flip-flopping bisexuals) and hello, I - uh, you - are really attractive to dykes.

2. Take what you can get! This is high school, kids. You can't be .picky. It's not particularly about serious relationships at this point. It's about getting what you can and boasting about it. Or spying on people getting what they can so that you're reasonably informed about this whole second-base thing and can boast realistically.

3. Don't invent fake summer romances. You will tell someone, about like this amazing boy who's, like, amazing, and they will snort and say, "Yeah, Steph, like you hooked up with some hot guy in Queensland. You're a complete prude."*

4. Get drunk and/or high. Teenaged parties + intoxicants = definitely doing someone you'll regret. Um, something. I meant something.**

I'm serious about this one, though:
5. Really, don't worry about it. People mature at different rates. If you aren't engaging in oral sex by the time you're sixteen, believe me, you're not a freak and you're not alone, either. Respect yourself, and concern yourself with other fun stuff you can do (writing novels, blogging, helping the elderly cross the street, etcetera). everything will happen in time, and no one person is going to make you magically happy and fulfilled (unless they're Edward Cullen. In which case, if you are dating Edward Cullen, let me know and I'll come to your place during the day and stake him while he sleeps. Not that he sleeps in Twilight, but what does Stephenie Meyer know about vampires?).

6. Don't look for advice on attracting romance. People are different. Be yourself. You can read all you want on trying to impress people by being confident, acting happy, telling jokes - but seriously, do that stuff for yourself. Nobody cares if you're a virgin at forty, really, so long as you're happy. You don't need to rush into things because it's what's expected.

*I am a complete prude, but that's not the point.
**My jokes are terrible. I apologise.

I'm going to get this novel done if it kills me. Preferably, it'll kill me soon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I don't have very much faith in my writing.

Every time I log in to Blogger and write a post, I think, damn, this blog is no good. On an almost weekly basis I'll go to that page where 'delete blog' is an option and I'll hover the cursor over it for ten minutes and think "It's just a blog. Nobody cares about it anyway."

That's not the bad bit.

Every time I write a chapter of my novel - spend an entire afternoon writing and rewriting and thinking, hey, this is okay. Then I'll stop, and I'll read it, and I'll think, fug, I'm an atrocious writer. I need to give up now and go into accounting.

For me, it's 90% self-doubt that keeps me going. 10% inspiration. It's 90% I-have-to-prove-myself-wrong, I-will-amount-to-something.

Sometimes, the self doubt becomes overwhelming and I'll get rid of whatever I was working on. I'll delete it or shred it or rip it up and burn it. I've lost thousands of words this way. I've written three novels, and I've locked the files and backed up the files on my computer so that I can't delete them all in a sudden flurry of you're-shit-Steph-give-up-stop-wasting-everyone's-time.

I've lost so many beginnings I've written this way.

But you know what? I'm done with deleting my stories and chapters. I'm done with thinking this is atrocious. I'm going to give this a chance. I'm going to write the whole entire damn thing. It will be finished. I'm going to try and write a novel before the holidays end.

I also have some exciting news. Scary exciting. But I still think the rug is about to be pulled out from under me so I must keep it a secret.

I will tell you as soon as I possibly can.

Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest For Cool by Hannah Friedman

Monday, September 21, 2009

When everything sucks,
change everything . . .

And that's exactly what Hannah Friedman set out to do in an ambitious attempt to bust out of a life of obscurity and absurdity and into an alternate world of glamour, wealth, and popularity.

Being dubbed 'That Monkey Girl' by middle school bullies and being pulled out of sixth grade to live on a tour bus with her agoraphobic mother, her smelly little brother, and her father's hippie band mates convinces Hannah that she is destined for a life of freakdom.

But when she enters one of the country's most prestigious boarding schools on scholarship, Hannah transforms herself into everything she is not: cool. By senior year, she has a perfect millionaire boyfriend, a perfect GPA, a perfect designer wardrobe, and is part of the most popular clique in school, but somehow everything begins to suck far worse than when she first started. Her newfound costly drug habit, eating disorder, identity crisis, and Queen-Bee attitude lead to the unraveling of Hannah's very unusual life.

Putting her life back together will take more than a few clicks of her heels, or the perfect fit of a glass slipper, in this not-so-fairy tale of going from rock bottom to head of the class and back again.

I can honestly say that Hannah Friedman is incredibly brave to write such an honest and intimate memoir about her teenage years; most of the things in this book you can probably file under Things People Don't Talk About. Sex, drugs, eating disorders - all are dealt with in a way that's unflinchingly honest, and I think teenaged readers will really appreciate that. From reading the back cover blurb, this novel sounds like a pot luck of teen issues, and you might think that it's going to be the kind of thing where there's some overarching moral (Teen sex leads to slow and painful death, Recreational drug use is flat-out evil, etc), but really it's just a recollection of her experiences, and there's no need for there to be some message behind it all.

I'm not going to give an age rating here, mainly because I think teenagers should be able to decide for themselves what they want to read. As long as you're comfortable with books that have cursing, sex and drug use, this book is definitely worth a read. It's such a frank portrayal of life as a teenager, and I think that young readers will take a lot out of it. I didn't expect this novel to be anywhere near as truthful or as dark as it is; it was definitely a memorable book, and all high-schoolers will find something to relate to in it.

One more thing I'll mention is the Newsweek article Hannah wrote whilst still at high school. It's worth having a look at, and then reading the book to see the negative reaction she received from peers and teachers. Overall, this book gives the reader (okay, me) a sense that they're not alone in their high school experiences. I can say that though I've never been to a private high school, or bullied, or taken drugs I still found this book to touch on things I'd experienced myself, and I went: Thank God, maybe I will make it out of this alive.


Book trailer:
Author's blog:
Author's website:

The Phoenix Files: Arrival by Chris Morphew

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Phoenix Files: Arrival tells the story of Luke, forced to move with his mother to Phoenix, a new town in the middle of nowhere where she’s offered a job, following his parents’ divorce.

Upon his arrival in Phoenix, he discovers life isn’t quite normal there – everything is expensive and new, but the phone lines are always down, there isn’t any TV or internet and security guards constantly roam the streets.

Then he discovers a plot to destroy the world. He and his mother are the last residents of Phoenix, and their arrival marks the start of the countdown to the end of the world. Together with friends Peter and Jordan, Luke tries to uncover what’s really happening.

This was a fantastic book – incredibly interesting premise, really strong setting and well-executed. Each revelation was shocking, particularly right near the end. There are many things left unanswered at the end of this book, and I wish perhaps a bit more had been uncovered, but it does a great job of making you want to read the next book, and find out what happens next.

The characters seemed to be secondary to the plot, and though they were interesting and unique, I felt they could have been further developed. I suppose there’s room in further books for us to find out more about them.

It’s difficult not to give anything away in my review (I really, really want to), but this looks like a really promising start to a new series. I believe it’ll appeal to both teenage boys and girls, particularly those who enjoy adventure series. The sequel, The Phoenix Files: Contact, comes out in February 2010, and after reading The Phoenix Files: Arrival you’re definitely going to want to get the next book and find out what happens next.

Hostage by Karen Tayleur

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hostage tells the story of Tully, a girl who is abducted from the chemist on Christmas Eve. It begins with Tully being taken into the police station in the early hours of Christmas Day and being questioned over what really happened. The rest of the novel jumps between Tully’s story, recollections of her childhood and what really occurred.

I loved Karen Tayleur’s previous YA novel Chasing Boys, and Hostage was just as wonderfully written. The language and tone in Hostage was genuine; often in books for teenagers it’s obvious the author is a grown-up, but the way in which this novel was written was so realistic that as I read I felt as if Tully really was telling the story herself. The jumps between present day and Tully’s memories were seamless, and her memories in particular were incredibly authentic.

There were so many details in Hostage that really made the novel, including the snippets from receipts and notes in Tully’s memory tin. Tully recalls moving around a lot, and I loved that I knew all the places, and lived in some of them (in and around Melbourne) – this gave the novel a really strong sense of setting, for me at least. I loved the fact that a character from Chasing Boys made a brief appearance, and that the main characters from that novel were also mentioned (I love a bit of character crossover!).

Tully was a character that I had trouble liking until near the end of the novel, but I think she was meant to be that way; she’s been through some tough stuff in her life, and as a result she puts on a stubborn front. This book was largely centred on her, and I felt maybe that left little room for the other characters that were around her to be properly developed.

Apart from those small things, Hostage was a remarkably realistic and superbly written novel. I’d recommend Hostage to older teenage girls.

Outside In by Chrissie Keighery

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Outside In is a series of interrelated short stories centring on a group of friends, though it reads as a novel. Each chapter is about a different person in the group, and the things which they’re dealing with as well as how they feel about each other. It reflects well how different the way in which people see you is to the way you see yourself, as well as being a teenager and finding out who you are.

Outside In was a quick and easy read, but it was also written really well – beautiful in its simplicity. Each character was well-developed, each struggled with their own issues, and as well as each story being separate, the entire novel fit together seamlessly as a whole (reminiscent of Town by James Roy, though Outside In seems written mainly for younger teenage girls).

I was slightly confused through this novel by how old the characters were. It’s never stated (at least I don’t think so), and the way they speak and behave and some of the issues tackled in it made them seem 13 or 14, whereas other themes seemed more suited to older teenagers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I think it’ll appeal to both younger and older teenagers, mainly girls.

Outside In covered a lot of topics, and had a number of central characters. It’s a wonderful novel, but I felt it would have been even stronger if the scope of it – the themes covered and how many people it focuses on – had been narrowed a bit. I’d recommend this to girls in the 13-15 age bracket, particularly those who aren’t super-keen readers – it’s an easy read, but also beautiful written, and well worth picking up.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Kerry on Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life sucks for everybody, for the most part. At least that's the general consensus I get from my friends. Almost everybody hates their jobs, gets in arguments with their families, and experiences some bad luck. But life is also great for everybody, too. Everybody also laughs at stupid jokes, cheers for the good guys, and smiles when they see a baby giggle.

I've learned a lot about writing from reading a lot of books. One book has taught me more about living than any of those books.

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is a book that millions have read, and gobs of people have heard of. I have read this book a million times, and I get something out of it each time I read it.

How this changed my life was that it showed me, through some very tough times, that everything that happens to you is part of who you are. Not what just happened to you. Not what happened to you 10 years ago. Not what is going to happen to you 10 years from now. Not just the good things, and not just the bad things.

It's written as a collection of memories that happened to the main character, but they aren't in any order whatsoever, but they all have their place in one man's life. And it's not confusing. All of us are like that, and we have to roll with the ups and downs of this crazy roller coaster ride, and - consciously or not - we are always reflecting on our own experiences and how they affect what's happening to us.

Nothing is as devastating as we make it out to be. The sun always comes up. The sun also sets on all of our good times. Remembering and using all of those things make each one of us who we are.

This book has helped me stay grounded during life's good times, and stay positive through life's real bummers. Every time I read it, it shows me how great our collection of experiences are to everything that has happened and is going to happen to us.

Like any book, it's probably not for everybody. But I strongly feel that anybody can relate to the message of this book. It's made me look at life differently and appreciate all the things that happen - whether they make me laugh or cry. I'm not perfect, but Slaughterhouse-Five has shown me that everything in my life fits together perfectly, whether I realize it right away or not.


K.C. Collins is a newspaper reporter delving into his first try at writing a novel. Follow the ups and downs of this writer's process of discovering how to write all over again, check out his blog On the Write Foot at

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Celia on The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some of the books that change our lives are ones we picked up out of curiosity, or on a recommendation, or perhaps because we received them as gifts or had them read to us as little children. I could name many books that ultimately shaped my worldview that I discovered in those settings. This book, though, the one I’m going to write about, I found in my sophomore English classroom. That’s ages 15 to 16 in the American system. In fact, I found most of the books that I hold as standards of good literature during my high school years or through my high school teachers.

When I learned that we were reading The Good Earth, by someone named Pearl S. Buck, I was a little disappointed. I’d never heard of this person, or this book. It couldn’t be very famous. It would most likely be a flop, just like Beowulf (bad translation, switching teachers & hormones made going over that poem complete torture). I read it anyway, and was instantly captivated. Nothing in my background prepared me to love this book. I was raised in a Caucasian, middle-class family in the Seattle area. Buck tells the story of a poor farming couple eking out their survival in the fields of rural, pre-industrial, pre-Revolutionary China. I had my needs taken care of and worked for spending money. The characters, Wang Lung and O-lan, faced intense hardships, suffering and societal upheaval. What was it then, that so drew me to The Good Earth?

Answer: Intense difference, or ‘otherness.’ I know that each of us have moments when we realize that the world is not just our immediate surroundings. Perhaps most people attain that knowledge at an earlier age. I do not know. What I do know is that The Good Earth was one of the catalysts for my lifelong love of travel, different cultures and language acquisition. The lives that Buck described were so foreign from my own, and I was appalled by my ignorance. This is the first book that brought home to me the fact that most of the world is strange and different. It broadened my horizons, and introduced me to an entire globe-full of possibilities and cultures. The Good Earth contains a universal human story, but somehow for me that translated to an appreciation for that which is not universal – in other words, the vivid regionalisms and local traditions which make up most of our daily lives and routines.

Its doubtful anyone else in that sophomore English class felt the same way about Buck’s novel, or that it evoked the same reactions in them as in me. But The Good Earth is an abiding and powerful masterpiece of modern literature. It inspired in some small way my own worldwide travels, historical and cultural studies, and interest in all things different and curious. For that, I will always claim it as a book that changes lives.


The Good Earth is a poignant tale about the life and labors of a Chinese farmer during the sweeping reign of the country's last emperor.
Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics.

"I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, landmark story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is a must read for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.

Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel – beloved by millions of readers – is a universal tale of the destiny of man. 
(summary by Goodreads)

Celia is the blogger behind the hilarious and informative Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia, one of my favourite blogs.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

The Greatest Blogger in the World by Andrew McDonald

Monday, September 14, 2009

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Whoa, Steph, someone wrote a book about you already?”

Alas, no.

The Greatest Blogger in the World is about Charlie, a boy with big dreams. He’s planning on winning the Greatest Blogger in the World competition. He has a little brother who always wears a tuxedo to kinder. His best friend is running an illegal red cordial business at school. He’s got a crush on a girl he calls ‘the Boots’. His pet is a duck named Barcode. Obviously, he has a lot of stuff to blog about.

I’m going to be entirely honest: I loved this book. It was ridiculous. It was hilarious. There was mystery and intrigue – strange posters put up on the noticeboard, a disappearing Unshorn Merino. There’s a crazy principal (which everyone can relate to, I’m sure) and corrupt school monitors.

The characters are fantastic. Charlie’s best friend, Phattius Beats, is illegally selling things at school – red cordial and lemonade and zoetropes. The Boots is a teacher’s pet who photographically documents everything that happens at school. Cardboard trying to be bad but who is unfailingly polite. And of course Charlie’s brother Joshua, wearing his tuxedo to kinder.

I think this book is intended for a slightly younger audience. It didn’t matter to me because I have the maturity of a ten-year-old boy, but I’d recommend it to kids between nine and thirteen, and older readers’ if you like silly, irreverent stories.


The author's hilarious site and blog:
The book's website:

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Jay Montville

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I was an English major, so I've read a hundred books, a thousand, a million. (Okay, not a million. But a lot.) And there are at least a few dozen I could name that had a major impact on me, but the one that I want to talk about today is The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. I read this book when I was a sophomore in high school and I've read it at least once a year since then. The Changeover isn't an "important" book. It's not a book that's likely to be taught in school.

I didn't learn any important lessons from The Changeover, like I should love my neighbors, or not be racist, or share my crayons. It's not that kind of book. But here's what you can learn from The Changeover (or, at least, what I learned):

1. That New Zealand is a lot like suburban Wisconsin, except that they have prefects in school.

2. That working mothers are the same around the world--they mean well, but they don't always see what you're going through because they've got a lot to handle.

3. That everyone has a friend who thinks you'd look cooler with a streak in your hair.

4. That boys who can do magic are hot.

Also, Margaret Mahy? Can really write.

The Changeover is about a girl named Laura. Laura's been having a rough life lately, what with her dad having a new family, and money being tight at home, and her being a total non-entity at school. Pretty much the only good thing happening for her is her little brother Jacko, who she adores. So when something happens to him, Laura is not only scared, she's also angry, and she'd do anything to save him, including speaking to Sorensen Carlisle, prefect and witch.

The Changeover changed my life in two ways: first, as a reader, in the way all good books change you, just a little. And second as a writer, by showing me that characters should be real. The book has demons and magic in it, but all of the characters are 100 percent real. Laura is difficult, and crabby, and impatient, even with people she loves. And Sorry Carlisle is sly and defensive and not 100 percent trustworthy for reasons of his own.

Laura lives in a dodgy neighborhood (while walking to Sorry's house one night, she recalls a new report of a girl getting raped). She wants to be popular, but she doesn't have the money to do what it would take (and she probably would want to, even if she did). Her mother works in a bookshop and dates a sort of cheesy guy. Laura lives in a three-dimensional world.

After I read it, I looked at all the stories I wrote, all the ones where the only thing that mattered was the main plot and nothing else, and realized I was doing it wrong. It wasn't until after I read The Changeover that my characters began to live on the page, that I understood that they had to have more going on than just the story they'd been put down to tell. They had to be real, the way Laura Chant and Sorry Carlisle were real. They had to breathe. If I get a book published (fingers crossed) it will be because Margaret Mahy taught me what characters were. And that prefects are sexy.

Jay Montville is an aspiring young adult writer and an attorney. Her blog, How Do I Know What I Think Until I See What I Say, is at

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest review by Lindsey

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones

Belle Philbrick and her boyfriend, Dylan have been together for what seems like an eternity. Their relationship has become a permanent fixture in their small town, along with the fact that Belle's dad is no longer around and her BFF Em's photo-holic attitude. But then Dylan confesses that he's gay, and everything changes. Now, Belle must survive her Senior year without her "Golden Boy" and with accusations of being a "Fag Hag." Belle tries to recover from this shocking news and resulting heartbreak by making lists on everything relevant to her crumbling life.

Belle's situation isn't a typical one, but it's one that I have experienced firsthand. When a guy dumps you because he likes boys, it often brings up a couple of questions:

1. Was it my fault? Did I do/say something to make him like boys?
2. Could we still be friends? Would I still be able to look him in the eye and remember all the memories we shared and not miss the relationship?

A few months after I went through this, I saw Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend sitting on a shelf in a bookstore. Now, I happen to judge books by their cover, and Tips really caught my eye with its flashy scrapbook-type cover. Before long, I had delved into the novel headfirst and refused to come up for air.

Not only did Tips have excellent structure and have a unique raw eloquence, but Belle's voice helped me find comfort. I discovered that things aren't always what they seem. It wasn't my fault (and it never is) if a guy I liked was gay. I had to pick myself back up and find a way to get over it.

Carrie Jones represents what a first novel should truly be like. She sits you down and says, "This is how it's going to be. Enjoy the ride - hands and legs and all other body parts are free to move outside the ride." So, in a very untraditional (but appropriate!) manner, she conducts this book and makes people really think about what it's like to be on the bad side of a broken relationship - and how to resurface after the fact.

This is the type of novel that you rarely come across, but when you do, it makes you sad to finish this gem of a story. It's one that is well-worth a second read. Or a third. Or five-millionth.

*Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend also has a sequel, Love and Other Uses for Duct Tape, which is fabulous and just as life-changing.

Check out Lindsey's fantastic new book blog You Didn't Hear It From Me!

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Adele of Persnickety Snark

Thursday, September 10, 2009

There are many books that have made an enormous impact in my formative years. In fact there are so many that I could rattle off a list of books and characters that showed me something about the world and myself. Whether it was laughing uproariously at Anne thwacking Gilbert with a slate (Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery), admiring Lizzie and falling in love with Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen), follow Josie as she discovered the truth of her family (Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta) or experiencing Katherine’s awakened sexuality and heartbreak (Forever – Judy Blume) . Not one of them changed my life but they all contributed to it greatly. Austen feels like an old friend with a violently sharp tongue, Montgomery was a reassuring quilt to cloak myself in, Blume informed some great decisions in my teen years and Marchetta allowed me to relate to a ballsy Aussie girl.

However the title, or series, I would like to put forward Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure as a book that changed my life. I was eleven years old when I stumbled across Alanna in my primary school library and I swiftly fell in love with the world of Tortall. You see, I wasn’t ever that girl who loved pink, or dreamed of riding unicorns or even crushed on Jonathon from New Kids on the Block (the 80s Jonas Brothers). I have always been pretty practical and pragmatic so Tamora Pierce’s land of sword play, magic (not the Xanadu kind) and palace intrigue was like heaven to this bookworm with tomboy tendencies.

Alanna showed me a girl working her butt off to follow her dreams and aspirations. Alanna disguised herself at ten years of age, exchanges identities with her twin brother and rode to Tortall’s castle to learn how to be a knight. She commits to hiding her gender for eight long years in order to step into a role she was destined to have. As Alan of Trebond, she earns her friend’s respect by working her guts out and striving to be her best, despite opposition from a loathsome bully and the risk of being found out. Alanna was truly noble, she possessed firm ideal and was loyal, selfless and stubborn as all heck. She may have been a name on a page in a book, but to me Alanna was something to aspire to. Not that I ever wanted to become a knight but the way in which she conducted herself, the quality of her friendship and the divine George Cooper (from where I developed my fascination with bad boys) made me long to be her.

After reading it once I returned that book and time fogged my memory, Iforgot the name of the name and author of the book but held onto the character’s essence. For years I searched for the story of a girl training to be a knight, apparently not very well because it was thirteen years until I found it.

I was in my second year of teaching and I was perusing the Scholastic Book Club catalogue during my lunchtime. By chance I saw the new British covers for the Song of the Lioness series and from the exceedingly short blurb knew that I had finally found my beloved book, and also discovered that it was part of a series. I was actually going to find out what happened to my heroine!

I won’t blather on much more about how much I loved this series except to say that it (along with my family) helped shape my work ethic. Alanna helped inform the kind of girl I wanted to be and the kind of girl I didn’t. I could do anything the boys could, I would keep trying until it hurt and I would be strong in my convictions.
Last of all, Alanna changed my life in a way that has transformed my life this year. When I graduated university and started teaching, I stopped reading. Eighteen months isn’t an enormous period of time but those of you who are also bookworms, you know that this is ghastly. Rediscovering Alanna, becoming reacquainted with her, plunged me back into YA world and for that I would like to thank Tamora Pierce sincerely for without it I wouldn’t be persnickety or snarky or a blogger.

Thank you to Steph for inviting me to be part of her Books Change Lives celebration.

Life Changing Books ( in no particularly books and largely YA)
1. Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
2. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
3. Alanna: The First Adventure – Tamora Pierce
4. Forever – Judy Blume
5. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
6. Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta
7. So Much To Tell You – John Marsden
8. Song of the Sparrow – Lisa Ann Sandell
9. The Stand – Stephen King
10. Twilight – Stephenie Meyer (life changing and not necessarily in a good way)

Adele is the lovely blogger behind Persnickety Snark, a brilliant book blog with an Aussie slant.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Kristi aka The Story Siren

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I love books.

I love books that entertain,
books that teach lessons,
books that change your way of thinking.

I love books that remind us that we’re human,
that though we may make mistakes,
we can learn from them.

Books that change your perspective,
that open your eyes,
that open your mind.

One novel that particularly stands out to me as life changing would be Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Although it’s not classified as YA fiction, I still think teens would benefit from reading it. It’s not a happy story by any means, but it’s a very thought provoking one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it’s about a school shooting. But it’s much more than that. It explores the why of the situation. Why would a student decide to go to school one day with the intent to kill their teachers and fellow students?

It’s eye opening to say the least. It made me sick, it scared me, it changed me.

People are cruel. And why? To make them feel better about themselves? To impress their friends? I remember all to well what it was like in high school and how very cruel kids can be to one another, because they don’t live on the “right” side of town, or because they don’t wear the “right” kind of clothes. I was on the receiving end of jokes and ridicule many times. And too many times I stood by and watched it happen to someone else. I still remember the names of the people that made fun of me, and remember how much it hurt. That’s sort of sad on my part, but sometimes things like that just aren’t forgotten.

This novel just ripped open those old wounds. It made me wish I would have stood up for myself and for all those times I stood on the sidelines watching it happen. It made me re-evaluate the type of person I am now. How I can be too judgmental, too impatient, and too uncompassionate. It made me want to be a better person. It made me strive to be a better person. Life changing.

Some of the books that have made my “Life Changing” list:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Giver by Lois Lois Lowry
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

Kristi is the blogger behind the amazing YA book blog The Story Siren, which if you don't read, you definitely should!

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Leah on Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rauls

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Until this day, the book that has made the most impact in my life still is Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.

I read it in 6th grade for a class assignment. Looking back, I was extremely sheltered and blissfully ignorant—for an 11 year old. Up until that point, all the books I read had happy endings and no one—no one—ever died. In fact, it never occurred to me that an author could kill a character. Death simply didn't exist in my little world. Don't get me wrong, I knew of death. But, I had yet to be directly impacted by the death of a loved one. And, according to everything I knew at that point, death never happened in fiction. Ever.

Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book that took away some of my childhood naiveté and replaced that sparkle in my eye with one of adult-like wisdom.

I followed Billy Colman through his hardship of acquiring his two puppies, Old Dan and Little Ann. Breathlessly, I read how Billy trained them to coon hunt, eventually entering them into competitions. I cheered at their successes and chuckled at their silly antics, investing a little bit of my heart along the way.

When I stopped reading the required pages for the day, I eagerly awaited for the next adventure. To find out what trials Old Dan and Little Ann would inevitiable conquer. To experience the love and devotion shared between them and Billy. For, never before that book had I ever experienced that type of emotion with fictional characters. It was all new to me, but I, too, came to love Old Dan and Little Ann as deeply as Billy did.

It was the ending of Where the Red Fern Grows that sparked the seed of change within me. It was the first step in my long journey away from childhood and toward adulthood.

It started with the mountain lion attack. I didn't understand why the author made that happen, but I was certain everything would turn out OK. I was wrong. My heart stilled when Old Dan died. I was in shock and disbelief. Then came my first feelings of anguish. I felt the pain and suffering as sharply as Billy and Little Ann did. My heart broke again when Little Ann followed her brother.

That was the first time in my life that I had ever cried over fictional characters. That I felt heartache and mourned the loss of loved ones. That was also my first experience with death. Fictional or not, it was very real to me.

Looking back, that experience was cruel yet beautiful. Because, before that moment in my life, I had never truly understood how deeply moving and life changing a truly good book was.


Top Ten List of Life Changing books:

1) Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
2) The Giver by Lois Lowry
3) The Fledgling by Jane Langton
4) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5) The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
6) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
7) Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone by J. K. Rowling
8) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
10) Revenge of the Witch (The Last Apprentice) by Joseph Delaney


Leah Parker is a teen librarian and aspiring author. Check out her blog, Travails of a Budding Author.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Andrew Finegan on Indigenous Literacy and the Barrumbi trilogy Leonie Norrington

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Recently, on September 2nd, Indigenous Literacy Day was celebrated across Australia. Having worked in the Northern Territory for a few years, a lack of literacy skills amongst many indigenous Australians is a huge barrier toward social inclusion – especially when faced with a predominantly English-speaking society. Indigenous Literacy Day focuses on addressing the current literacy crisis that exists in remote indigenous communities, where 1/3 of of Australia’s indigenous students do not have the sufficient skills, by the age of 15, to face real-life challenges.

Working as a librarian in Darwin, I became aware of Leonie Norrington’s “Barrumbi Trilogy”, when the third book in the trilogy “Leaving Barrumbi” was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers in 2008. For me, this was at a time when I was still getting used to life in Darwin, and suffering slightly from culture shock, especially when the media was, at the time, full of shocking stories of violence and disorder in Indigenous communities, and the Federal Government were implementing their Intervention into Aboriginal Communities.

Reading Leonie’s books showed me a very different life in Indigenous communities, following the lives of two boys – Tomias, who is indigenous, and Dale, who is white – growing up in the Top End community of Long Hole. It describes community life in great detail, providing insight into the ways in which indigenous traditions are
followed in day-to-day life, and observing the traditional spirituality that emerges through the landscape and weather. The books also depict the tensions that arise between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures, especially in “Leaving Barrumbi”, where Dale and Tomias finally leave Long Hole, and face boarding school, where
Dale is encouraged to associate with the white students. But what is most striking about these novels is the amount of pleasure that these stories evoke – in spite of living in seemingly-adverse conditions, Leonie always takes a positive approach to addressing the central, without making light of them in any way. This is a huge departure from the misery lit that one might often associate with stories of indigenous communities.

I also had the pleasure of hearing Leonie speak about her books at the Wordstorm Festival in 2008, and she talked about the importance of children being able to read themselves in the characters of the books that they read. When you’ve lived in a remote community all of your life, it’s hard to see the relevance of white kids living in cities, or wizards going to school in castles, or vampires playing baseball
and sparkling. Leonie said that she wanted to write books that kids in indigenous communities could read, and enjoy, because it was about them, using their landscape, their traditions, their language, to tell their stories. It’s important in not only empowering these children with the pleasure in reading, but also giving them confidence in the knowledge that their stories are important, and are worth sharing with the world.

And for me, a non-Indigenous “Southerner”, these books were instrumental in providing a fresh and positive perspective into indigenous life in communities, and a thoroughly delightful read at that.


Andrew Finegan is a Melbourne librarian who runs a blog called Librarian Idol which is well worth reading.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

An interview with Sally Rippin

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sally Rippin is the author of Chenxi and the Foreigner and the writer and illustrator of numerous picture books.

From the start of the bio on her website:
I was born in Australia, but grew up in many other countries like England, Brunei, Hong Kong and China. We moved nearly every two years because of my father's work. When I finished my secondary studies in Australia, I went to China and studied traditional Chinese painting for three years. Much of my experience of studying in China became the basis of my first novel Chenxi and The Foreigner.
You can find out more about her on her website.

Here is my interview with Sally (my questions in bold). And check out Sally's blog, too!

I find it really interesting that you revised this book. How did this come about, and how different is this edition of Chenxi and the Foreigner than the original?
Essentially the story is still the same but there are a few major changes. The ending, for example, is quite different now, and I changed the dates slightly to have the novel set in the lead up to the government crackdown in Tiananmen Square rather than just after, to create more tension in the story.
It’s pretty rare for an author to have the opportunity to go back to an already published book and make significant changes, but I can tell you that it is an incredible opportunity. I imagine I am not alone when I look at my body of work and think, ‘Oh, I would have done that differently…’ or ‘If only I’d had more time to spend on that book…’ but usually I just tell myself that I have to let go at some stage and I can only aim to make each book I publish better than the last. So, when my novel was picked up by my new publishers after it had gone out of print, I was given the opportunity to rewrite this book and make all those changes I wanted to.
A lot has been made about the adding back in of swear words and the writing in of a very timid sex scene (yawn!), but for me what I am most proud of is that I hope to have written truthfully and authentically about that period in Chinese history, which has since been erased from all history books. As I mention in my afterword, I am fortunate enough to live in a country where freedom of speech is considered a basic right and as this is not the case for writers all around the world, the least that I can do is honour that right.

Who is your favourite character in Chenxi and the Foreigner, and why? Which character in the novel is the most like you?
Hmm…Anna is probably my least favourite character, but definitely the one most like me! I cringe when I read how naïve and sheltered she is but that is exactly what I was like when I was a nineteen-year-old student studying in Shanghai and it would have been dishonest of me to write her any other way! Chenxi is my favourite – of course! He is a mixture of all the best things in a half a dozen friends I had when I was in China – that guy’s looks, that guy’s personality, that guy’s bravery. That’s one of the great things about inventing characters – you can invent your dream guy!

I recently read an article in The Age (I think it was in a lift-out they had for Children’s Book Week), where you were quoted talking about having your novel rejected. Could you tell me a little bit about the road to publication for you?
It’s a long hard road, but I know very few writers who have had it any differently. I teach writing at university and I am always amazed to discover students who want to become ‘Writers’, but don’t actually want to have to write. So many people want to know the ‘secret’ to getting published – there’s no secret: you just have to write. And write and write and write. (With lots of reading thrown in.) Before my first novel was published I had written dozens of short stories and one unpublishable novel, that’s how I learned to write. By writing. I know I’m harping on about this but no one in their right mind would ask a sprinter how to win a gold medal unless they were serious about running. That’s where I see so many talented writers fall by the wayside – they’re not prepared to put in the training. It’s not easy, but as Rilke said, ‘Only write if you must.’ (That answer’s especially for you, Steph – fifteen years old and you’re already writing your arse off. You’ve got what it takes.)
Steph's note: Thanks!

What were your own experiences living in China like?
Very much like my main character, Anna’s experiences and, like Anna, by the end of my time in China I was very ready to leave. I love so much about China: the Art, the culture, the food, the language, but after three years I became exhausted from living in such a big, noisy, polluted city, where everywhere I went I was stared at and treated differently for being a foreigner. Even though I was a student, and poorer than many of my Chinese friends because my boyfriend and I were living off one scholarship, I was always expected to pay more than any of the locals. Sometimes, when we went on school excursions, to a museum or a gallery, the price was one Yuan for a local and ten Yuan for a foreigner! Even though I would argue until I was blue in the face that I was a student and should pay student prices, they would never budge. It seemed so outrageously unfair when I was living there, but now, as an adult, I think those years of always feeling like the outsider and being treated differently because of the colour of my skin were probably good for me, and I am grateful for the empathy that that little taste of discrimination has given me.

Are you working on any new Young Adult novels at the moment? Could you share a little about it?
Yes, I am working a new YA novel, but as it is still such early days I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it. I also find that talking about a book too early, when the ideas are still forming in your mind, can diffuse it, especially if people start giving you their two cents’ worth!

Was there any particular event that led to you writing this novel, and choosing it to be set in China, a place where not a lot of books for teenagers are set?
I am fascinated by China and it amazes me that the rest of the world seems to take so little interest in it, considering that one in five people live there. Having said that, I grew up in South-East Asia as a child and, as you know, spent three years in China as a university student so I definitely have an affinity with that part of the world. I guess my main drive was to write a complicated multicultural love story, but I hope China creates an interesting backdrop. I also hope to show readers that while the politics of the vast and powerful country that China is may differ greatly to the country they are living in, young people all around the world have much the same hopes and desires regardless of their nationality.

Did you intend to write this novel for young adults? Or did it just turn out that way? (I think it has a lot of crossover appeal, even though the characters are all fairly young.)
Not necessarily. As you know I was nineteen when I first began writing this novel, so I guess I was firstly writing it to myself. Now I give it to my friends who are my age (ancient) and they seem to enjoy it as much as my young adult readers, so yes, I hoped it would have crossover appeal.

What books and authors inspire you?
Oh, dozens of them. Writers who play with language and can combine this with great story-telling are my favourite. I read lots of contemporary Australian YA authors because there are so many wonderful authors here, but I’d love to hear some recommendations of other great YA books anyone has read lately?

Complete this sentence: My teenage years were…
A heady mix of heightened emotions and complicated relationships, with lots of bad fashion and great music thrown in.


Many thanks to Sally, and Joanna at Annick Press. Chenxi and the Foreigner is available in the US, Canada and Aus! And maybe some other places but I'm not sure. You should definitely check it out.

The Chenxi and the Foreigner blog tour finishes tomorrow at Into The Wardrobe.

Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chenxi and the Foreigner is set in China in 1989, in the weeks before the Tiananmen Square protests. It tells the story of Anna, an eighteen-year-old Melbourne girl, who is visiting her father in Shanghai and taking classes in Chinese painting. There, she falls in love with Chenxi, who is also a painter and engages in counter-revolutionary activities.

I found this to be an incredibly interesting novel. Very few Young Adult books are set in China (even though a fifth of the world’s population lives there), and the way it is described – the people, the places, the customs – seems brutally honest. The setting is very central to this novel, especially because Anna is new to the country, and all of it was compellingly real.

All of the interactions between the characters were particularly believable – the dialogue convincingly real, and each character unique and genuine. Everything seemed like something that could have occurred in real life, and nothing was held back. Chenxi and the Foreigner was to me a really authentic novel.

Anna was a frustrating character. She was stubborn. She was naive. An otherwise fantastic novel, but Anna was a bit of a downer. HOWEVER Anna is a sheltered girl from an affluent country, and her reactions to things, her behaviours and her naivety are all reflective of the way she’s been raised, and what a fish out of water she is in China. There’s no other way she could have been written, and she’s very true-to-life.

One thing disappointed me. It was the ending – not that it was unsatisfactory, but that it was so brief. It was a truly wonderful novel, and I really felt like the ending could have been expanded more, to give it a deserved finished. Apart from the ending, it was a very satisfying and beautifully written novel.

Overall, Chenxi and the Foreigner is a really brilliant book, which packs so much to think about. This is a novel that will really appeal to teenagers who are interested in foreign culture, and books with a bit of substance. I think it’s also a novel that will have a lot of crossover appeal, so adults should check it out as well.

The Chenxi and the Foreigner blog tour finishes tomorrow at Into The Wardrobe.

Books Change Lives: Ari's top life-changing books

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ari of Reading In Color sent me a list of her life-changing books, and what a great list it is! Make sure you check back through the month for more life-changing books (I'll be away, but I'll get to a computer at some point!):

1. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

2. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

4. Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake

5. The Absolutely True-Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

6. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

7. The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

8. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

9. Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

10. Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith


Ari is the blogger behind the fantastic Reading In Color, where she talks about all sorts of YA books, but in particular with diverse characters - you might have read her guest posts on Justine Larbalestier's blog a little while back, where she recommended awesome books with protagonists of colour. Keep up the great work, Ari!

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest post by Donna on The Giver by Lois Lowry

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“…they were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.” – Lois Lowry’s The Giver

When I read Steph’s post about Books Change Lives month, one novel immediately came to mind, and I felt compelled to write about it.

I first read Lois Lowry’s The Giver in fifth grade, and though there are very few middle grade novels that have stuck with me over the years, I have never lost my awe for The Giver.

For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to read The Giver, here’s a brief synopsis:
Eleven-year-old Jonah lives in a futuristic society that has eliminated war, fear, pain, injustice, and hatred. Extensive rules govern all aspects of life in his community, but citizens understand that these rules allow for a peaceful, noncompetitive, harmonious world in which everyone’s needs are met; even spouses, children, and jobs are assigned. Anyone who breaks the rules or does not adapt is “released” into Elsewhere as punishment. This is the world of Sameness.

When Jonah takes part in the Ceremony of Twelve, in which the Council of Elders assigns every twelve-year-old a lifelong career, he is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory. In the community, there is one Receiver, the person whose job it is to remember life before Sameness (“back and back and back”), in case the Council ever needs advice. Jonah embarks on a journey in which The Giver (the current Receiver) passes on his memories—ones of suffering and loss, as well as love, joy, and beauty. Jonah begins to see the truth of his seemingly utopian world, and the price of Sameness, and he realizes that his life will never be the same.

As a young reader, the futuristic society in which Jonah lives and the idea of Sameness truly made me look twice at the world around me. At eleven or twelve years old, I contemplated weighty topics like free will, individuality, and personal freedoms. I giggled at the mention of “Stirrings”—the onset of hormonal changes that gives Jonah some risqué dreams about a girl in his class—and I marveled at the idea of a truly colorblind society.

But the beauty of The Giver is Lowry’s stunning ability to allow the reader to come to his or her own conclusions about Sameness. We are transported entirely into Jonah’s world, and in the beginning, Sameness doesn’t seem all that bad. We understand why people would want to live there, and so Jonah’s realizations of the dark sides of Sameness (the lack of meaningful emotions, complexity, passion, and choice) are also revelations to the reader. I was horrified to learn, with Jonah, that “release” meant death: he’d watched a video of his father, a Nurturer, euthanize a newborn identical twin and dump the body down a garbage chute—simply because two identical people would cause confusion in the community. My heart rebelled with Jonah’s as he decided to change his society and end Sameness.

As an “adult” and a YA writer, I still love reading The Giver. I would never call myself a sci-fi fan, or even a huge middle grade reader, but The Giver stands out as one of my all-time favorite books. Despite any imperfections that critics may find, the simple, direct style and intriguing ideas always leave me thinking about what’s familiar, what’s safe—and it reminds me to strive for more. Every single time I begin Jonah’s story, it’s like I never left. That’s what I call a life-changing book!


Donna is a YA writer nearing completion on her first novel, Multiple Choice, which follows three best friends (Maddy, Nina, & June) as they navigate their junior year of high school. The alternating chapters tell their intertwining stories and how their choices may affect their friendship forever. She’s one of four critique group members who blog at First Novels Club, which follows their adventures in writing, reading, networking, and the rest of life.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.

Books Change Lives: Guest Post by Robby on Let's Get Lost by Sarra Manning

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The books that I remember the most are the books that make me cry. The books that make me happy to be alive, and also a little afraid. Books that remind me life is not all sunshine and happiness, that remind me that life is really hard. Books that don’t necessarily have a happy ending, because these books are about humans with real feelings and with real things happening to them. If there’s one book I can recommend to everybody in the whole entire world, it’s Let’s Get Lost by Sarra Manning.

Sarra Manning has written so many books, and every single one of them is absolutely brilliant. But this book, Let’s Get Lost, I can barely begin to describe. But I’ll try.

Let’s Get Lost is about Isabel, a girl who no one, repeat no one, wants to mess with. Not her friends, not her teachers, not even her father. Nobody understands her, even though people pretend they do. If she had a dollar for every time someone tells her that they’re “sorry for her loss,” she’d be rich.

Not too long ago, Isabel’s mother died in a car accident, and Isabel almost died too. Isabel won’t tell anyone what actually happened. She just holds it all in and puts up a wall around herself which no one can seem to get through. No one but Smith.

Smith is different, Smith is an exception, and Smith absolutely drives Isabel insane, in the best possible way. He knows how she feels, and he understands that she’s not ready to talk about it, not yet at least. Isabel, of course, falls in love with him.

Let’s Get Lost is a sad book, but it’s not one of those depressing books that just make you feel like absolute crap. This is the only book I’ve ever read that has made me cry so much I’ve had to stop reading. My eyes were so full of tears at one point I just had to put it aside and let myself cry. Once I started reading again, it happened once more.

This book reminded me how much I love my mom. And usually 14 year old boys are monsters to their mothers, but my mom is everything to me.

This book changed my life, you know? That’s what this little post/essay is supposed to be about. Let’s Get Lost is about a girl who is falling apart, a girl who is self-destructing. A girl who has no idea how she’s supposed to feel, so instead she just doesn’t feel at all.

Let’s Get Lost is the book I wish I’d written. The day I finished this book, I’d had a horrible day. I came home, sat on my floor, and read over half of this in one sitting. Even if I can’t tell you exactly how this book changed me, it did.

If you don’t like crying while reading a book, don’t read this. But if you want a book that will remind you that it’s okay to be unhappy sometimes, if you want a book that is as real as they come, Let’s Get Lost is the one for you.


Robby writes an excellent book blog called Running For Fiction which I encourage you to check out, and he's also an aspiring author.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.
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