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: 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: Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick

“Seriously? Your sister hates me.”

“She doesn’t, I swear. She’s actually really great.” He touched my arm, then quickly retracted his hand. “Come.”

If Evie could love someone else, so could I.

her-and-me-and-you-366x550Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick is the story of Alex, a girl who’s moved off with her mom to a new town and a new school after her father cheats. She leaves behind her best friend, Evie. At her new school, she falls in with twins Fred and Adina.

Alex likes Fred a lot, and he likes her back, but Adina keeps getting in the way. She lies to keep them apart, she starts fights with both Alex and Fred, she spreads rumors. Alex can’t tell if Adina’s just a sister who’s too possessive of her brother, or if maybe the twins are closer than it seems. She struggles with trying to figure out if her feelings for Fred are worth fighting Adina for.

At the same time, she’s losing Evie. Her best friend is moving on without her, dating a new boy, reaching new milestones. Her dad is moving in with his mistress. Her mom is struggling with alcohol. Basically: Alex’s life is a mess.

Right up to the end, I was wholly invested in the characters and the story, but it’s with the ending that Her and Me and You lost me. It ends abruptly and leaves far too much unresolved. Don’t get me wrong – I love it when some things are left purposely unresolved in a book. I love it when everything isn’t wrapped up in a perfect little bow and presented to the reader. Give me ambiguity about whether or not they truly get their happy ever after. But I need something to feel wrapped up, or else I just feel unsatisfied, like I did here.

I also wanted the relationships to be pushed farther. There were strong hints of a more-than-siblings relationship between Adina and Fred. Occasionally there were moments where it looked like some sort of strange triad could form between them and Alex. These are relationships that can be uncomfortable and weird, but my opinion is that if you’re going to go for it, you should go for it, and I was ultimately disappointed.

My other issue isn’t something that is necessarily a problem with this book, but is something I see in a lot of contemporary YA that frustrates me. When female protagonists in contemporary YA have female friends, they usually lose those friends (either simply from growing apart or, more likely, from fighting). This happens in Her and Me and You with Alex and Evie, and I’m just tired of it. This also ties in to my feelings about unfulfilled relationships, because there were definitely times when it seemed that Alex might have some romantic feelings for Evie (whether or not she would admit them to herself)

I’m saying all of this and it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book at all, but I actually really liked it. I had my moments where I wanted to punch Adina but I also have a special place in my heart for characters – especially female characters – that most would deem unlikeable. I found myself completely consumed by Alex’s story, especially her interactions with Adina and Fred.

I may have found a few aspects of the book frustrating, but I cared about these characters, and that goes a long way.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday Reads: Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

9780803739260_NearlyGone_CAT.inddThere are a lot of books that I end up buying because multiple people on my Twitter feed start talking about how much they loved it. I’ll usually do a quick summary check to see if it’s something I’d even be into, but if it’s the right people being passionate enough, I almost always buy the book. I’ve yet to regret doing this.

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano was one of those books and holy crap I’m glad I bought it.

This is a book about a girl living in near-poverty, working towards a brighter future. This is a book about a girl who is brilliant in science and math, and who uses her intelligence to try and save her friends and herself from a mysterious killer.

Back in middle school, we’d had a writing lesson about eliminating unnecessary adverbs, and the class had latched onto my name: Nearly Boswell. I became an adverb. Expendable.

Nearly has been largely invisible at school, noticed and connected to only a couple close friends. Her grades were her life. She was always working towards college, and towards scholarships to pay for that college. Her one big indulgence was buying the paper every day to look at the Missed Connections, trying to find a hint of the father that left years before.

But maybe she’s not as invisible and expendable as she thought. Someone starts sending her messages through the personals. And the people start dying, and it becomes more and more obvious that not only is Nearly connected – she’s being framed. Nearly’s attempts to solve the crimes and save her classmates only take her deeper into the plot and put her in more danger.

There is a romance plot here, too, but it doesn’t take over – something I seriously appreciate (I’m going to be blogging about romance overpowering plot in YA sometime soon). There’s a scene I’m still unsure about – where our love interest kisses Nearly without her permission or consent – but she defends herself pretty awesomely. Just haven’t decided how that scene colors the rest of their romance for me.

The murder mystery plot is fast-paced and smart. It will keep you guessing and you probably won’t be able to put the book down until you find out who’s behind it all.

Medium: Kindle
Stars: 5/5