Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer TV and a Winner!

First of all: Congrats to Jaime Morrow, winner of my One, Two, Three Giveaway!   A giftcard for DonorsChoose.org is on its way to your inbox!

So, I don't know what normal human beings do between the time everyone in the house is home from work and bedtime, but in our house...it's mostly TV.  Both my husband and I manage to be big readers somehow, but that evening time is pretty much reserved for TV.  We're big TV watchers--and in the summer, we get a chance to catch up on shows we've missed during the regular season.

(Warning: some of these shows lean pretty hard into their adult content.  Do your homework before watching.  That said, all videos posted here are clean.)

So far this summer:

Bob's Burgers: While we try to do heavily serialized things that really benefit from binge-watching, this was the first one we tried out and I'm really glad.  I had avoided it thinking it was the kind of show that would go in for the shock factor of a South Park or the misogyny of a Family Guy and I could not have been more wrong.  Tina Belcher--the oldest kid--is a nerdy, awkward, boy-crazy, horse-loving, fan-fiction-writing middle-schooler, and the show loves her!  There is no cynicism in Bob's Burgers--the dad isn't an incompetent boob, the mother isn't a joyless nag, the kids are unmistakably kids--this is a delightfully weird family and the show celebrates that.  Linda Belcher might be the most realistically enthusiastic mom I've ever seen on TV--even when her kids aren't on board with her made-up songs or goofy schemes, she just keeps doing her in that slightly oblivious, 100% confident way that I totally recognize from many, many of the moms in my life.  And it turns out that that is a really awesome thing.  (Example: a household that shall remain nameless in which the youngest child is 23 but Santa still brings the presents and anyone who wants to argue with that just won't get any presents, understand???)

I also don't want to overlook middle child Gene--I'll let him speak for himself:




Silicon Valley:

This is a new-ish show, so it only has one season.  It's about a ragtag group of computer programmers who stumble upon the Next Big Thing and then have to prove themselves over and over as the season goes on.  I liked the show, but I loved Zach Woods in it.  (You might know him as Gave from The Office--he is even more bizarre in Silicon Valley.)

The Leftovers:

We've just gotten caught up with this one--it's only three episodes in--and so far I like it a lot more than I usually like things that are universally described as grim.  I think the music might have a lot to do with it, particularly the use of the song "Retrograde" by James Blake.  The music sets the tone in a lot of ways; that particular song is haunting and lovely but other music cues work in different ways.

Orange is the New Black:

Continues to be great; while it is still nominally the story of Piper Kernan (an affluent white woman who participated in a drug trafficking operation and went to prison for it) the other inmates quickly become just as important, if not more so.  My favorites are Taystee and Poussey.  I cannot talk enough about how great they are.  (And then I have like seventeen next-favorites.  Sophia.  Suzanne.  Sister Ingalls.  Red.  The list goes on.)

Orphan Black:

If you are not watching this: what are you even doing with your life.  Yes, it is about clones.  No, I don't care if that's not usually your thing.  Watch anyway: Tatiana Maslany plays I've-lost-track-of-how-many characters and she is a genius.  Don't believe me?  Watch her shoot a dance party with herself.



Playing House:

Another great performance from Zach Woods, but here it's the ladies who stand out.  A great, goofy show about female friendship.

Broad City:

But taking the gold in the "great goofy show about female friendship" category is Broad City.  It's unapologetically raunchy, sometimes gross, and very New York City, so it may not be for everyone (which is ok!  We're finally getting to a point in entertainment where not every ladies' comedy for ladies has to be for ALL ladies!  Hooray for that!) but I love it so hard.  I guess this was more of a spring show, but it's too good not to include.  One of my favorite sequences depicted the process for picking up a package once you've missed the delivery guy (I swear I have done this.)




What are you watching this summer?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Book Birthday to One, Two, Three... by Elodie Nowodazkij!!! Fancast + Giveaway!

I am so excited to celebrate the release day of One, Two, Three... by my friend Elodie Nowodazkij!  I had the privilege of reading this story nearly two years ago now, and I fell in love with Nata and her friends.  Since then, the characters have all gotten even richer and more human, and I can't wait for you to meet them!  Congrats, Elodie!

Book & Author Details:

One, Two, Three… by Elodie Nowodazkij
Publication date: June 26th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

Synopsis:
When seventeen-year-old Natalya’s dreams of being a ballerina are killed in a car accident along with her father, she must choose: shut down—like her mother—or open up to love.

Last year, Natalya was attending the School of Performing Arts in New York City. Last year, she was well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina. Last year, her father was still alive.

But a car crash changed all that—and Natalya can’t stop blaming herself. Now, she goes to a regular high school in New Jersey; lives with her onetime prima ballerina, now alcoholic mother; and has no hope of a dance career.

At her new school, however, sexy soccer player Antonio sees a brighter future for Natalya, or at least a more pleasant present, and his patient charms eventually draw her out of her shell.

But when upsetting secrets come to light and Tonio’s own problems draw her in, Natalya shuts down again, this time turning to alcohol herself.

Can Natalya learn to trust Antonio before she loses him—and destroys herself?


Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20656288-one-two-three?ac=1
----

AUTHOR BIO
Elodie Nowodazkij was raised in a tiny village in France, where she could always be found a book in hand. At nineteen, she moved to the US, where she learned she'd never lose her French accent. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Modern Language & Linguistics, and later earned master's degrees in German Cultural Studies and European Studies. Unbeknownst to her professors, she sometimes drafted stories in class. Now she lives in Germany with her husband and their cat (who doesn't seem to realize he's not human), and uses her commuting time to write the stories swirling in her head. She's also a serial smiley user.

Author links:




To celebrate these awesome characters, I've decided to share the fancast that I've had stuck in my head as I've read:

Nata: Julia Goldani Telles

I first read One, Two, Three... the summer I started watching Bunheads on ABC Family.  It made sense that I'd picture one of the young dancers on the show as Nata, but I really think Sasha (Telles' character) and Nata have a lot in common.  And, once Nata gets her haircut and dye job, it's even a pretty good physical match.  Rather than a picture, here's the dance that made me fall in love with her:




Becca: Madison Burge

Source
 I know Madison Burge as Becky from Friday Night Lights--she has a combination of irrepressible cheerfulness and real sadness underneath that I think is hinted at in Becca (and someday, someday, Becca will get her own book and I can finally hear her whole story!)  Becca has been my favorite part of this book since before her name was even Becca, and once I pictures Madison there was no going back.

James: Beau Mirchoff

Source.


Beau Mirchoff plays the athletic, goofy Matty McKibben on Awkward.    I'm not sure he's quite what I had in mind for James (too much hair, for one!) but he's close.  Maybe add a dash more earnestness, a la Corey Monteith or one of the boys from Friday Night Lights.

Camilo: Francis Capra

Source
 Tough, but complicated.  And that's all I'll say because I don't want to ruin anything!

Nata's Dad: John Shea

Source


This is another one that popped into my head early: Blair Waldorf's father from the Gossip Girl TV show.  I love his sweetness and his troubled by loving relationship with his daughter--both of which fit perfectly here.

Nata's Mom: Kelly Rutherford



Because no show had more messed up parents than Gossip Girl.  Blonde, cold--and I have no doubt she could pull off drunk.  (I'm sure she did on Gossip Girl!)  At the same time, she can dig into her emotional side when needed.


So...you may have noticed an important omission.  Where's Tonio?  Well, to be honest...I haven't been able to think of an actor who would do Tonio justice!  So I'm turning it over to all of you.  Once you've read One, Two, Three..., leave your ideal Tonio in the comments!  I will pick an entry at random to win a $10 giftcard to Donors Choose, where you can put it toward projects that include school sports (for Tonio, James, and Camilo) or arts programs (for Becca, Nata, and little Karina!)

The contest will close in two weeks, on Thursday, July 10th--so get reading!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#YesAllWomen

The Washington Post reports that over 40% of women are afraid to walk alone in their neighborhoods after dark.



Ok, though, but what does "afraid" mean?  Afraid like I wouldn't do it?  Or afraid like I make extra sure I have my keys between my knuckles?  Who are these women saying they AREN'T afraid?  Did their mothers let them walk ten blocks to the ice cream shop without their guy friends when they were teenagers?  Did their college security people never tell them to yell "fire" instead of "rape" if they got assaulted?  Have they never been pressed to let someone drive them three blocks home at 6pm in December, because "it's dark!  You can't walk home!"

Nothing in my life has ever suggested that walking outside alone after dark is a good idea, or a safe idea.  So I want to know, who are these women who aren't afraid?  And should I try to teach our girls to become these women, or is it safer to be afraid? 

I am SO ANGRY that I have to ask these questions.  That on top of the fact that we live in a world where anyone would commit violent crimes to begin with, we also live in a world that takes for granted the notion that women will be the victims of a disproportionate number of those crimes, or at least of certain types of crimes.  That I have to choose between trying to make my students afraid or worrying that I am endangering them by making them fearless.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reading on the F Train v. 3.0

Friends!  It has been too long.  After a tumultuous year of working at two different schools, teaching a total of six completely new and completely different courses, and buying a house, things are finally calming down as I head into my last three weeks of work before summer break.  As usual, I have a whole mess of goals for my summer, but in a nutshell:

1) Read more.

2) Write more (both WiP and this blog).

3) Move more.

4) Prep for next school year.

I had planned to re-launch the blog in a few weeks, after school ends for real.  Going forward, I'm going to keep writing about the world of YA lit, but I want to broaden my horizons a little more.  Working at an all-girls school this year, I've started focusing more on the ways women and girls are treated both in real life and in pop culture.  I'm planning to make this a place for discussions of women and girls in books, music, TV, movies, and also in real life.  I hope you'll stick around and join me in Reading on the F Train v. 3.0! 

The reason I bumped up my re-launch is that I came across an article today that was too fascinating not to share: 

Fairy Tales are Women's Tales (from The Toast, which I cannot recommend highly enough.)

The article examines the transition of fairy tales from stories that belonged to women--like, adult women--to stories that we now think of as belonging to children.  It also looks at how those stories changed as that transition took place--turns out, our ideas about what's ok for kids hasn't changed much since the Grimms took it upon themselves to polish up their stories for a young audience.  (So: tons of violence, no sex whatsoever!) 

The part I was most interested in, however, echoes something I talk about in my classes.  "Traditionally, fairy tales had seen luck and chance count for more than hard work and obedience, but Wilhelm put a stop to that – instead the sweet, well-behaved, godly women were rewarded, and those who deviated from that mold were punished."  There's a lot of debate about the role of morality in YA literature, especially where sex is concerned.  Many critics seem to wish it would disappear altogether, but if it must exist, then it should have consequences: pregnancy, STDs, DEATH.  The feeling seems to be that appropriate punishments for all "wrongdoing" in YA will keep teenagers in line, and so under the right circumstances, reading about sex might be fine.  (Violence, as always, is mostly ok.) This is similar to the treatment of other controversial acts: I took a great class in grad school that focused on queer representation in different eras of theatre; in nearly every play written before, I don't know, 1990?  Later?  The GLBTQ characters wound up dead or tragically alone. 

So I tell my students, when we are looking at literature as a lens through which to view a particular moment in time, to ask themselves: what is rewarded here, and what is punished?  Sometimes the answer is obvious (Oedipus tries to outsmart the gods and he is punished; Noah ignores his mocking neighbors to follow God's instructions and he is rewarded.) 

Other times, the message is a little more subtle.  I started one class this year by looking at the music videos for You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift and Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne.  In each video, you get the classic "The boy I like was dating this other girl who wasn't right for him, but then I won him over because I'm perfect for him."  And in each video, there are different criteria for being "the right kind of girl." 

In the Swift video, the "right girl" is rocking an awesome periodic table t-shirt, which she later ditches for a demure white dress.  Her rival wears "short skirts" and "high heels" most of the time, and comes to the dance in a flashy red number with midriff cut-outs.  So in the morality of this video, liking science and band and looking sweet are good; liking cheerleading and showing skin are bad.  How do we know?  Because version one is rewarded (gets the guy) and version two is punished (gets dumped at the dance.) 

In Avril's version, we don't see much of the losing girl, but we hear all about her.  She's a ballet dancer with long, golden curls, who lets her friends talk her out of dating the titular baggy-jeaned "punk."  Her loss, though: not only does she lose the guy, but the same friends apparently ditch her later on when the Sk8er Boi hits it big--they all bought tickets for his rock show without her.  The narrator, on the other hand--rocking streaked hair, matching baggy jeans, and studded wrist bands--appreciated the guy when he was rejected by Miss Toe Shoes.  She is rewarded for some combination of her perception (she saw "the soul that is inside" hiding under those punk clothes) and her ability to run with the guys. 

This fundamental question has become the starting point for most of my analysis of literature and pop culture these days.  What is rewarded, and what is punished?  In some cases, there's another step: how does the book/TV show/song feel about the punishment and reward?  In Mad Men, for example, characters are constantly being punished and rewarded for who they are, based on gender, race, sexuality, age, appearance, etc.  The show walks a line between showing us a time with a different morality from our own and using today's morality to judge those characters.  Usually, when a character suffers for his or her identity, we are meant to sympathize with that character and not with his or her oppressor.  So, while that punishment takes place in the plot of the show, the character is ultimately rewarded with the esteem of the viewers.

As YA writers, I don't think it is our place to safeguard the virtue and moral fiber of our young readers above all else; sometimes people make bad or stupid or hateful choices and get away with them (although that's rarely satisfying, from a story standpoint.)  I do think we should be mindful of what we reward and what we punish, even in minor ways.  What kinds of clothing do our protagonists wear, and what kinds of clothing do our antagonists wear?  Are all the good guys members of higher-status groups (whether that's jocks or guys or straight people or white people or thin people or attractive people--and yes, even attractive-but-self-conscious people and "not conventionally attractive but somehow stunning" people count here--or able-bodied people or blonde people or whatever) and the only characters from other groups are the antagonists?  Do our protagonists always demonstrate social graces that are considered "correct" for their gender/class/race/whatever, while the antagonists are maybe a little too outspoken or flirtatious or confident?  

This is not to say that we all need to run screaming in the other direction.  There is no magic formula for a protagonist that will magically make all teenagers love themselves and turn into awesome adults who are committed to equality and social justice and responsible enjoyment of their bodies.  But we do need to ask ourselves: What am I rewarding, and what am I punishing?  What are the embedded messages about identity and social norms in my story?  Am I ok with putting those ideas out into the world? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: One, Two, Three by Elodie Nowodazkij

YOU GUYS.  I am so excited.  Today I get to participate in a cover reveal for the first book I ever beta read!  This book, y'all.  You are going to love it.  Ballet and bad boys and best friends--this book has it all (Nata's best friend is my favorite character, and their relationship is so fabulous--but I know a LOT of you are going to lose it for Tonio.)

Anyway, here's the story: 

Synopsis:

When seventeen-year-old Natalya’s dreams of being a ballerina are killed in a car accident along with her father, she must choose: shut down—like her mother—or open up to love.
Last year, Natalya was attending the School of Performing Arts in New York City. Last year, she was well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina. Last year, her father was still alive.
But a car crash changed all that—and Natalya can’t stop blaming herself. Now, she goes to a regular high school in New Jersey; lives with her onetime prima ballerina, now alcoholic mother; and has no hope of a dance career.
At her new school, however, sexy soccer player Antonio sees a brighter future for Natalya, or at least a more pleasant present, and his patient charms eventually draw her out of her shell.
But when upsetting secrets come to light and Tonio’s own problems draw her in, Natalya shuts down again, this time turning to alcohol herself.
Can Natalya learn to trust Antonio before she loses him—and destroys herself?

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...the cover!




I think this cover just nails it...once you get a chance to read this, I'm sure you'll agree.  It fits the mood of the story perfectly! I can't wait for you all to get to know the wonderful characters Elodie has created!  And speaking of Elodie, here's a little bit about her:



Elodie Nowodazkij was raised in a tiny village in France, where she could always be found a book in hand. At nineteen, she moved to the US, where she learned she’d never lose her French accent. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Modern Language & Linguistics, and later earned master’s degrees in German Cultural Studies and European Studies. Unbeknownst to her professors, she sometimes drafted stories in class. Now she lives in Germany with her husband and their cat (who doesn’t seem to realize he’s not human), and uses her commuting time to write the stories swirling in her head. She's also a serial smiley user.
ONE TWO THREE is her first novel.


You can add One, Two, Three to your Goodreads shelves here, sign up for Elodie's newsletter here, and follow Elodie on Twitter here.  One, Two, Three will be released on June 26, 2014!




Giveaway:  


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quick Review: Text/Chat/Email by Erin Mallory Long

 It's spring break at one of my two schools, which means that I am tearing through books!  Today I want to highlight a fun, quick read by a friend of mine from high school: Text/Chat/Email by Erin Mallory Long.  (Full disclosure: while I know the author, I bought the book on my own, and I have not been compensated for this review.)

Text/Chat/Email follows 24-year-old Emily as she navigates a romantic crisis: she's living with Brian, the guy she's been dating since high school, but she can't stop thinking about a guy she just met.  And (hello, did you see where I said she's 24?) she does not handle it well.  What I really loved about this book is how messy it is, in a way that often gets smoothed over in books and television.  Sometimes people make bad choices, or weird choices, or just put off making choices, and the results are complicated and unpredictable and confusing.  I also really appreciated the way that Emily's choices in one relationship affect her other relationships; nothing is neatly cordoned off.  Reading Text/Chat/Email is like eavesdropping on someone at Starbucks, crossed with a Taylor Swift album (and let me be clear: those are two of my favorite things.)

Oh, and did I mention it's funny?  Here's one of my favorite lines: "If you were looking at two sides of a coin, Brian would be the really shiny side that looked like hardly any homeless people had put it in their mouths."  I also really enjoyed the interactions (in chat, because DUH, what do people do at their jobs all day?) between Emily and her co-worker Britney.  Emily's deadpan responses to Britney's weird doofiness made me laugh out loud, but I really appreciated that Britney gets fleshed out a little more as the book goes along, so she isn't just a ditzy stereotype.

This book is solidly New Adult material, which means that there is some (totally realistic) language and drinking (obligatory mention since this is usually a YA blog!)  There is not, however, the graphic sex that most articles on NA seem to think define the genre.  This is a character-driven story about taking stock of yourself, owning your choices, and trying to make sense of adult life. 

Edited to add: Here's a link to the Goodreads page!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Long Time Ago...We Used To Be Friends

Still here!  I'm just stupid-busy at school (took on an extra, brand-new, never-before-taught-by-me class this trimester with about two weeks notice!  These are the things that keep me on my toes and honestly, I love having the opportunity to dive into new things, but whew--it's a lot of work!) and so not doing much blogging or reading of YA at the moment.

HOWEVER--I have to mark the occasion of the Veronica Mars movie!  Mr. S and I drove all the way up to Waterloo, ON (that's Canada, for those of you not conversant in province abbreviations!) because it wasn't playing in Buffalo.

I won't say anything spoilery, except that I remain Team Piz and pretty much got what I expected from that quarter.  (Also, hello Wallace.  You grew up nice.)  But it was a great time, well worth the wait, and totally sets up a whole new bunch of stories that I hope Rob Thomas will get to tell!