On Being Kind, Being Afraid, and Being a Young Writer

I’ve been wanting to write something about this whole situation with Andrew Smith and #KeepYAKind. I’ve wanted to say something.

I haven’t in part because so many other brilliant people, who are more experienced in YA, who are smarter, who are braver, have already said so much. I pretty much obsessively followed what Ellen Oh, Kelly Jensen, Justina Ireland, and Tessa Gratton were saying on Twitter. I read the amazing posts by Sarah McCarry and Jenn Northington and I thought: I don’t have anything to add.

I read YA, sure, and I review some books, but irregularly. I want to write YA but I don’t have an agent or a book. I’m unestablished. I haven’t even graduated college yet. Why should anyone care what I have to say?

I also held back because of fear. Because I am unestablished, because every new connection I make is a treasure and I’m worried they’re fragile. Because I want to be published and read and I kept worrying that if the wrong person saw me tweeting about my hurt and anger over Andrew Smith, I’d be marked as aggressive and mean. I’d be overreacting and hysterical. I’d be a bullyAndrew Smith already decreed me and the many other women reacting to systemic and internalized misogyny as fools and assholes.

So I RTed a lot and I tweeted a little bit, and nothing happened, and I don’t know if that’s because my fears were unfounded or because I’m lucky or because I just didn’t go as hard as I wanted to.

It’s important to note that as a white cis woman I already have a certain amount of shielding from harassment that trans women and women of color aren’t afforded. It’s not as dangerous for me to speak up as it is for them. But I was still worried.

I was too worried to speak up, at least to any extent that I thought was good enough.

I just watched as people I respect, people that I want to one day be my colleagues, said that if I spoke up too loudly, I would be mean, I would be a bully and abuser. I would be saying that I can’t see nuance. I would be one of the horde of overreacting Twitter feminists.

I watched as women who did speak up were torn down, spammed, threatened. I watched as they were told to just sit down and shut up because he just messed up, you can’t criticize him for messing up, we have to protect our own, and our own means this white male writer, but not the women he found too mystifying to write, not the women being targeted.

I hate that I’m scared of being called mean while standing up for what I believe in, but I am. I’m scared of having something negative already attached to me while I try to get into the YA world.

When I was seventeen, I got Twitter and discovered that all of my favorite YA authors knew each other. They talked. They were friends. They supported each other.

Since that moment I’ve dreamed of being one of them. I’m passionate about YA. I’m passionate about the importance of teen voices, of giving teenagers the representation I wish I’d had. These are the books I want to write more than anything, and these are the authors I’ve dreamed of joining.

Over the past couple of weeks, for the first time in seven years of dreaming, I’ve been scared of entering this world.

It’s not that I’ve never seen conflict before, between authors, between authors and reviewers. I’ve known it’s not a perfect community. But that conflict has never made me think that I shouldn’t be there.

I’m scared of being the person I am and being a YA writer.

I’m scared because I’m a woman with strong opinions, an activist, and I don’t like to keep quiet about it. Sometimes that involves being not so nice. Sometimes that involves being aggressive. Don’t get me wrong – I like to be understanding and kind. I know that people make mistakes. But I also know that mistakes can hurt other people, and that we have to talk about those mistakes. We have to have these hard discussions or nothing will change.

I’m scared that being part of the YA world will mean compromising a part of myself. I’m scared that it will make it more difficult to stand up for the things that I believe in, because what I’m seeing is that when a woman in this community says, “Hey, that thing that male writer said? It was kind of shitty,” they get told to be nice. So, what, we can talk about things in abstract, but can’t point out the specific examples when they happen? Criticizing these mistakes means that we deserve entire hashtagged movements against us?

I’m still going to write the books I want to write, because more than the fear, I care about the fat girl in high school wondering why she never reads books about girls that look like her. I care about the kid having panic attacks between classes that doesn’t know what’s wrong with them or why they can’t just be normal.

I care about giving a voice to my seventeen-year-old self, even if her dream has become less rose-colored.

I have hope because I also see the amazing women in this community speaking up despite the backlash, despite being told to stop. I have hope because I see these women supporting each other. I see women more vocal and aggressive than me facing horrible responses, but also receiving love from those they speak up for.

But every second I’ve been writing this, I keep thinking: This is silly, these fears are silly, you’re just paranoid, you can’t post this.

Maybe they are, maybe I am, but the emotions and fear are real, and I know I’m not the only one feeling them. I know I’m not the only young female writer hesitating, thinking,

“Is this really the world I want to be part of?”

And I think that fear matters. I think it should matter that young women are seeing this situation go down and having those thoughts. I think this is worth posting.

Tuesday Reads: The Body Electric by Beth Revis

“Science can make a heart beat,” Jack says softly, each word falling on me like a caress. “But it can’t make it race.”

22642971I loved Beth Revis’ Across the Universe trilogy (please can we get some more YA in space? can that be the Next Big Thing?), so when The Body Electric came out, I bought it immediately. And I regret nothing, because it’s wonderful.

There’s a lot about Ella Shepherd’s life that isn’t awesome. Her father was killed in a terrorist attack. Her mother’s terminal illness is barely kept at bay by the nanobots in her brain. Ella spends all her time at her mother’s spa, where people come to enter reveries – technology that lets them relive their happiest memories.

When her mother’s illness makes it difficult for her to enter reverie, Ella does something experimental, and possibly dangerous. She enters her mother’s reverie. Manipulates it to be as happy as possible. People aren’t supposed to be able to share reveries, but Ella can do it. The government finds out, and recruits her to enter the reveries of suspected rebels. They want her to learn their secrets. With justice for her father on her mind, Ella’s happy to do it.

This starts Ella on a path to discover the secrets her government and family have been hiding. She meets a boy, Jack, who claims to know her intimately – but she’s never met him in her life. Her memories of him have been entirely erased, and she doesn’t know by who, and she doesn’t know if she can trust him. She pretty quickly realizes she’s not sure if she can trust anyone – not even herself.

There’s so much about this book that I loved. I loved the futuristic world that Revis created. It’s filled with nanobots and androids but doesn’t feel like every other scifi book with nanobots and androids. They’re still fresh and interesting and I enjoyed learning about the world.

I loved that it’s set in the Mediterranean rather than future US. This is a scifi YA with a kickass girl of color as the protagonist. I’m actually pretty sure that there are more people of color in this book than there are white people, so that’s awesome (it was similar in Across the Universe, actually, Beth Revis is great).

I was also really into the romance aspect. It was there and it was swoon-worthy, but it didn’t overpower the plot and it didn’t define either Ella or Jack. It was part of their arcs and part of their characters, but it wasn’t everything, they didn’t drop their entire lives and beings for each other. Plus, Ella had other important relationships in her life, ones that often took precedence over Jack – her family and her best friend.

I honestly don’t have much bad to say about The Body Electric. I thought it was incredibly fun and interesting, I loved the setting and the characters, and I think all y’all should read it ASAP.

STARS: 5/5

Tuesday Reads: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

“We’ve all had terrible things happen to us,” Marcus said without looking up. “Only the weak use it as an excuse to prey upon others.”

91RBFPPpCNLI’m a huge fan of Lisa Mantchev. If you haven’t read Eyes Like Stars and its sequels, you should do that immediately. Unless you’re reading Ticker. You should finish that first.

I’d been waiting for Ticker for…I don’t know how long. Months. Years. Lifetimes. Lisa would post about it on her Facebook page or Twitter, and then that beautiful cover was released, and even though at that point I wasn’t sure what it was about, I knew I needed to read it.

When I finally got a chance, I was hooked by the first line: “A girl with a clockwork heart shouldn’t be running late, but I was.”

Ticker is about Penny Farthing, the first of the Augmented – someone who has had parts of their body replaced with clockwork. For Penny, it’s her heart, her Ticker, and it’s running out of time. It was only ever meant to be a prototype. She needs a new one.

Problem is, the only surgeon with the skill and willingness to do such an Augmentation, Dr. Calvin Warwick, is in prison for the many murders he committed experimenting with the Ticker now in Penny’s chest. Penny’s happy to have him there, quite frankly, because she’s never been able to feel like the blood isn’t on her hands, too.

Then there’s an explosion at her family’s factory. In the chaos, her parents are taken from their home. In a second explosion at the courthouse, Calvin Warwick escapes. His demand? Penny.

I was a little little bit worried going into this, because I wasn’t sure that steampunk isn’t played out and I wasn’t sure that wouldn’t bug me, but really, I should have known. I should have trusted in Lisa Mantchev, because the steampunk world of Ticker is beautiful. It’s like this Victorian clockwork fairyland decorated with some healthy doses of murder, intrigue, and romance.

The characters, of course, make it. I rolled my eyes in frustration at Penny’s very big-brother-y twin brother, Nic. I fell in love with Marcus Kingsley right along with her. I kind of need her best friend, Violet Nesselrode, to be my best friend. I also really want to be able to go to the SugarWerks Fully Automated Bakery.

(Warning: Whenever you read Lisa Mantchev’s books, you will get hungry. Her description of food is second to none. You know how in Miyazaki movies, something as simple as egg on toast looks like the most delicious thing in the world? Yeah. That’s how this is, only in prose. You may eat your e-reader or book in desperation.)

Lisa gleefully quoted one of her first negative reviews as using the phrase “an over abundance of nonsense”. That is a completely accurate thing to call Ticker, but I don’t see why that’s a bad thing.

STARS: 5/5

Tuesday Reads: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.” But I think she’s wrong. I think this is a test. It has to be.

I have been super craving YA horror lately, and I’m a huge sucker for good zombie stories. This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers gave me a fix for both of those, and it gave me some stuff I didn’t really know I wanted.

First, let me give you a quick summary. The bulk of this book takes place in a school where a group of teenagers is taking shelter from the zombie hoards while they try to plan a way to survive longterm. They’re each carrying secrets, they’re all hurting and scared, and they might be more dangerous to each other than the zombies outside.

12043771The thing is, although This Is Not a Test has zombies and could technically be called a zombie book, it’s not about the zombies. They’re not remotely the focus of the story or even most of the scenes. This is a book that is truly about the characters and their dynamics with each other. They fight, they form alliances, those alliances fall apart and new ones form, they plot against each other, they save each other.

There are a million things in this book that I love – little details, big-picture things – but the one that I really want to talk about is our protagonist, Sloane. See, the day the zombie apocalypse started, Sloane was ready to kill herself. Not just feeling suicidal, not just ready – she had a plan. She was about to do it when the zombies came through her front door and everything descended into chaos. She’s saved and pulled along by a group of fellow students, but she’s not quite there.

She’s not fighting for her life, she just happens to be surviving in a dying world.

She was ready to die. There’s a certain numbness to being so suicidal that you’ve made a detailed plan, and that’s where Sloane is. The zombie apocalypse didn’t magically heal that. It doesn’t instantly wake her up and make her realize that she wants to live. She continues to struggle with it throughout the book, and I love that. In a lot of apocalyptic stories, we see these extreme events either healing mental illness, or exacerbating it to the point that the person just completely breaks and dies.

In Sloane, we see nuances and complexity to her suicidal urges. We see how it’s become part of her, and it’s not something easily shaken off – but she also can’t quite get herself to do it, because now she feels responsible for the others in her group. She doesn’t want to give them a dead body to get rid of when they can’t leave the school safely. There are a lot of storylines and emotional threads to this book, but this is the one I was the most invested in, the one I most badly needed to know the resolution for.

This Is Not a Test is emotionally intense, it’s creepy, and you should absolutely read it.

STARS: 5/5

And, of course, a reminder that you can still enter to win a BOOKMARK SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ and, if you’re curious about who this new author is, check out my post about her and her debut novel, EXTRACTION.

Tuesday Reads: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

“This is running away. This is some punk rock New Orphans shit. This is not like any Vivian Apple I have ever been before. But this is Vivian Apple at the end of the world.”

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle isn’t going to be out until January 6th, but I was lucky enough to borrow the UK version – Vivian Versus the Apocalypse – from Cathy Day and listen. Listen. I’m going to have some trouble doing this review without just full-on fangirl squeeing because I loved it so much.

51CU4k2l5+LFirst, let me tell you a little of what it’s about. Vivian Apple is living in a United States not entirely unlike our own, though there are even more natural disasters and mass shootings. There’s also a thing called the Church of America, which celebrates capitalism and says that women and gays are destroying the country, but it’s okay, because the Rapture is coming.

Only a lot of people believe that.

Like, a lot.

Vivian’s parents are Believers, and she’s watched as more and more of her classmates drop out of school to be taught by the Church of America. The President is a Believer. And it’s been weird, but survivable, and Vivian always thought that if she could just make it through to after the Rapture, when everyone would see that they’d been wrong, things would go back to normal. Her parents would go back to normal.

Except the Rapture comes and about five thousand people disappear inexplicably – including Vivian’s parents, who leave everything they own, a couple holes in the ceiling, and their daughter.

Only five thousand people disappear, but tens of thousands are left behind, and more Believers are being made every day, and they’re angry. They’re angry they weren’t taken, they’re angry they didn’t Believe before, and they’re looking to take it out on sinners like Vivian and her wild best friend, Harp.

So they get out of Pittsburgh with a boy they’ve just met, and they start out on a road trip to find the truth about the end of the world.

And it’s awesome. The only reason this book took me a couple weeks to read was because school kept interrupting, like it will, but yesterday I got the chance to just sit and read and that’s what I did. I stayed up and read the last couple hundred pages, and then did that thing that totally everyone else does, right, where you finish a really good back and close it and hold it close while you sort of roll around on your bed and make happy squealing noises?

Totally not just a thing I do.

The writing is great, the humor is completely my sense of humor, the world building around the Church of America’s takeover of the US is both funny and sinister and a little too plausible, but what really got me is the characters.

Vivian is a good kid. She gets good grades. She doesn’t really fight with her parents, she doesn’t get in trouble, she’s an easy, good kid, and she’s fine being that kid for a long time, but then the Rapture happens and suddenly being who she’s always been makes her feel trapped, stifled. She needs to be what Harp has always told her to be: The hero of her own story.

One of my favorite parts of this, in fact, is that in the beginning, Vivian makes a plea to the universe. “Dear Universe, make me the hero of my own story.” The universe doesn’t grant that wish for her, which is good, because if it had, Vivian wouldn’t have been quite so wonderful. Vivian is not a reactionary character. Vivian is a girl who, once she reaches that breaking point where she can’t be meek anymore, breaks out and forges her own path. She makes herself the hero of her own story, and I am completely in love with her.

I’m in love with Harpreet Janda, too, who is, in many ways, Vivian’s opposite. She’s never been the good kid. She’s been the wild child, the one who dresses on the edge of school codes or in flagrant violation of them, who doesn’t have time for authority, who has a temper and isn’t interested in being meek or obedient, and who is unendingly loyal to the people she loves.

Their friendship, by the way, also one of my favorite parts. Sometimes, even in otherwise very good YA books, the romance starts and the friendship gets left behind. It fizzles out. It becomes less important. That doesn’t happen here. Their friendship has a couple of bumps, but it doesn’t end or falter. It doesn’t get replaced by the romance. It thrives alongside it. And Harp doesn’t push Vivian to be stronger only to get jealous and mean when Vivian steps up. She’s proud. They protect and support each other.

I’m completely in love with Harp, too.

I’m also completely in love with Peter, the boy who comes with them on their road trip, and yes, Vivian’s romantic interest. He’s a mysterious boy they don’t know much about, but, refreshingly, he’s not mysterious and brooding. He’s funny. He’s kind and generous. He has secrets, but he is trustworthy, he is true. He isn’t there to rescue Vivian or to make all the decisions for her or to make her believe that she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen. He isn’t a romantic interest that disrupts the story. Peter, Vivian, and Harp work together as a team, and though they never say “Vivian’s the leader”, you still see Peter and Harp defer to her and trust her.

Basically, the friendship and relationship dynamics in this book are amazing. They aren’t constantly sniping at each other and belittling each other. They’re complicated, because they’re all different people with different sets of beliefs who are all pretty freaked out by this end of the world thing, but they also all care about each other and they’re all good people and good friends to each other.

This book is just beautiful, on levels, and you should be reading it.

STARS: 5/5

(I’d also like to remind you to GO ENTER to win a BOOKMARK SIGNED BY STEPHANIE DIAZ and to check out my post about her and her debut novel, EXTRACTION)