Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

The set-up: Dash finds a red notebook in the shelves of his favorite used bookstore. Inside Lily (or her brother and his boyfriend) has written a series of challenges intended to weed out unworthy suitors. Instead of putting the book back after he has proved himself worthy, Dash keeps it, writes down more challenges, and gets the book back to Lily.

Main characters’ goals: Two main characters. Dash’s goal is to meet and fall in love with Lily…well, he’s half in love with her already after reading her challenges in the notebook. Lily’s goal is to have a merry Christmas, and to live up to the girl she has become in the notebook (a slightly added challenge because the notebook version of herself is more daring, more opinionated…just more).

My reaction: Dash is a bit of a pretentious ass, but he has vulnerabilities, too, so he’s still sympathetic. While his delight in words and language is not unbelievable, he doesn’t sound like your average teenager. Lily is also above-average intelligent, but I sympathized with her more. Is it a girl thing? I have no idea. I liked Dash, I really did. I loved that the thing he wants more than any other worldy possession is the complete Oxford English Dictionary. But Lily, she’s awesome.

Also, it’s a little bizarre to read a Christmas story when the outside temperature is pushing 100 degrees.

Of interest to writers: I was just reading on Maggie’s blog that in order to collaborate with another writer, you have to work well together…which I take to also mean, you have to like the person. This is Cohn’s and Levithan’s third collaborative YA book (they wrote the turned-into-a-movie Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, as well as Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List). I heart all of my writer friends, I truly do, but I don’t think I could collaborate on a whole novel.

Bottom line: It’s quirky and funny (the mall Santa who makes Dash molest him is my favorite highlight), and kept up my hope in the world.

Reminds me of: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

The set-up: Andi has been too busy grieving and losing herself in her guitar music to take the time to start the thesis required for graduation from her private school. When her dad discovers how bad Andi’s situation has gotten, he whisks her off to Paris (poor Andi) to make her get to work (Paris, but with homework? Really, this time, poor Andi).

Main character’s goals: Andi wants to go back in time, to save her brother. The loss of him is too much for her (she escapes into her music and her antidepressants), it’s too much for her mother (she escapes into her painting and periods of catatonia), and it’s too much for her father (he up and leaves the family). I would say at the start of the story, Andi doesn’t have much of a goal, but once she’s in Paris her goal is to get back to her mother. Then she finds an old diary, and strange things happen.

My reaction: This was a book to savor. I wasn’t rushing through it, trying to reach the end, but I did want to hang out with Andi for awhile, hear what she had to say. And I’m still divided as to what really happened (we have a bit of an unreliable narrator going, what with the substance abuse, so the last half of the book is…a little different. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more).

Of interest to writers: I really have a hard time with epistolary novels. If you want to incorporate a diary, or letters and notes or emails, then you had better do it well. Otherwise, I will hate your book. Aim for what Donnelly has done in Revolution, or what Jaclyn Moriarty does in The Year of Secret Assignments. For an example of what NOT to do…[] That is the sound of me biting my tongue. I am trying to be kind here. If you really want to know what I read recently that had a sucky diary thing going, send me an email.

Bottom line: So. This book is awesome.

To visit Jennifer Donnelly’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.


NiFtY Author Heidi Ayarbe AND GIVEAWAY!

Heidi Ayarbe is the author of three young adult novels: Freeze Frame, Compromised, and Compulsion. I can say with authority that Compromised and Compulsion are both awesome, and Freeze Frame is on my To Read list. Compulsion just came out on Tuesday, and it’s freaking great, and at the end of this interview you can comment for a chance to win an advance reader’s copy of Compulsion.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Compulsion?

HA: Compulsion happens over a period of five days in the life of Jake Martin. Jake’s the star of the soccer team, ready to lead his high school team to their third state championship in a row this Saturday. This Saturday means everything because this Saturday, if he plays perfect, he will be released him from the spiders – the numbers – and the other obsessions that rule his life. Saturday, the primes converge and Jake believes that if he does everything right, Saturday will be the day Jake gets to be normal. He’s tired of hiding, tired of living with OCD.

BH: What compelled you (haha) to write Compulsion?

HA: I had a few panic attacks a few years ago. I don’t know why – out of the blue – I became literally panicked over small spaces and being closed in. I figured out how to keep from panicking in elevators and on airplanes, buses and closed-in spaces – some tricks to keep me okay. Each attack lasted just a few minutes but felt like an eternity. I got to thinking about people who live with anxiety – the real deal – every day and how that feeling never goes away. I wanted to write that story because I’m aware that over 40 million people are diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder … But I can bet that so many of those 40 million feel pretty alone. I hope Compulsion, somehow, can reach out to those who suffer – give them a voice.

BH: I read Compromised, loved it, and reviewed it awhile back. (HA: Thank you!) How was your experience different when writing the two different books? How was it the same?

HA: Every book is so different. But, I think, there’s nothing as daunting and terrifying as a second novel. (Compromised was my second novel). Once I wrote Freeze Frame, my first novel, revised it, and gone through the grueling process from getting an agent through to copy edits, it felt so … done. And then I was given the chance to write a second novel, Compromised, and everything changed. There were expectations and deadlines – different ones – and reviews to compare to FF reviews. And THE DREADED FIRST DRAFT. I’d totally forgotten how abysmal my first drafts ARE (and continue to be). So seeing Compromised through the published-eye lens was ghastly! All I saw was drivel, having forgotten that I’d get a chance to make it work. I didn’t really enjoy the process as much because I was horrified. So Compulsion was pure joy. I knew I could do it. I made it through novel #2 (which I happen to love, but it was really tough) and Compulsion’s first draft, as expected, was a mess, but I got the structure down and a chance to make it into a novel I love. So, BIG difference in perspective. Same process.

BH: Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

HA: I think it’s the same tip for writing anything: OBSERVATION. Take the time to watch how people act in public, at restaurants. Watch out for clichés! Writing is about creating believable characters. So watch how males talk compared to females. Listen to them. Think of a male reacting to something and how would a female react to it (typically), then switch it up and give the male the “cliché” female reaction but make it a real guy thing. It’s mostly about creating wonderful, believable people and making them people we can relate to.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

HA: Cramped, overflowing with papers, books, receipts from milk I purchased years ago and other useless things … MESSY!

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

HA: I LOVE Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It makes me feel reassured that I’m not alone in my neurosis and insecurities and fear of failure and more. What I LOVE most is how she says, SPILL IT OUT ON THE PAGE, EVERY PAGE, EVERY NOVEL. I love that advice.  See below!

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

HA: See above … though technically she didn’t give it to me personally. But GREAT advice.

BH: Thank you for the interview, Heidi, and thanks for the great reads!

And didn’t I say something about a contest? A big thank you to Heidi for making it possible. So, the rules are simple. The giveaway is limited to the continental United States (sorry, overseas people…unless you have an address here you’d like the book shipped to!). To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post. (Email address required to comment, but your email address isn’t published or shared with anyone, ever!)

If you tweet about the contest & share this link, you can get an extra entry (limit one extra). Just comment with the link to your tweet so I can verify that everything’s on the up & up.

The winner will be picked out of a hat at random. Well, his or her name will be picked out of a hat…not the winner in person, which would be too strange.

Deadline: Next Thursday, 5/12/2011, 11:59 p.m. PST. Winner announced sometime on Friday.

For more on Heidi and her books, check out the sites below:

Heidi’s Website:  www.heidiayarbe.com

HarperCollins Website: www.harperteen.com

Heidi’s blog: http://heidiayarbe.blogspot.com/

IndieBound Link to COMPULSION: http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=compulsion+by+heidi+ayarbe&x=0&y=0

Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

The set-up: The set-up: High school soccer star Jake has to use his magic numbers to get through the week before the final soccer game of the year – the state championship.

Main character’s goals: Jake wants, no needs to win Saturday’s soccer game, because he believes if he does, he won’t need “the numbers” anymore.

My reaction: The whole time I was reading, I was worried. Would Jake help his team win the match? Would he beat the numbers? Would his secret come roaring out at the worst possible moment?

My other reaction: I used to make up equations (usually very simple) ones, for the numbers on digital clocks. Example: 11:24. 1 + 1 + 2 = 4. It would bother me if I couldn’t get them to work, and I’d toy with them, trying to square things if there was a 2, or do division or combine digits…luckily, my being “bothered” if it didn’t work didn’t translate into freaking out.

Of interest to writers: Study this for keeping the tension up in your writing. Look at how sections and chapters are ended, how there’s always something to worry about. I’m feeling tense just remembering Jake’s story. Study the first pages – that right there was tense. Even if I’d wanted to put the book aside to do something else, I couldn’t have.

Bottom line: Clear a day to read this one, you won’t want to put it down. You’ve gotta wait until tomorrow, May 3rd, though – that’s when it’s available for sale.

INTERVIEW WITH HEIDI AYARBE AND COMPULSION GIVE-AWAY COMING UP!!! This Friday or next! Stay tuned! Exciting! Lots of exclamation points!!!

To visit Heidi Ayarbe’s website, click here. To read my review of her previous book, Compromised, click here.

Reminds me of: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I’m going for the obvious connection, here. Boy protagonist, a little numbers-obsessed.


The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Why, oh why did the Internet eat my book review?

I shall have to start again, but I warn you, I’m not quite as excited to do this a second time.

The set-up: Lennie’s used to following her older sister, Bailey, around. Bailey has all the experiences with boys and doesn’t seem afraid to live. Then Bailey dies, and Lennie doesn’t know where she fits in the world anymore.

Main character’s goal: The goal changes, but without giving too much away I can say that at one point Lennie’s goal is to ignore one boy – the boy who lets her feel her grief for her sister’s death without getting swallowed up by it, and pursue the second boy – the one who is all light and happiness and helps her feel that she’s moving on from Bailey’s death.

My reaction: I thought the love triangle was done exceptionally well, and the characters were incredible, larger-than-life people. Even Bailey, who died before the story begins, is full and flawed and fabulous. The writing itself was lyrical, and I wondered how much of it was the author trying to be artistic and how much was truly Lennie’s voice. However, that was my writerly self wondering, and my readerly self kept saying, “Shut up and just enjoy the prose, you know you like it.”

Of interest to writers: The poems throughout – poems Lennie scribbles on whatever available writing surface there is, and are described as found in various places, like under a rock, or in the margins of Wuthering Heights, well, I enjoyed them and all, but then when I got to the end and ***mild spoiler alert here*** they actually had a purpose in the story line (even if it was a small purpose), I was impressed.

Bottom line: Read it for the beauty of the language, or the deliciousness of Lennie’s conflict, or the roundness of the characters…but just read it.

Reminds me of: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern.