Tag Archives: Young Adult

Tales From Big Spirit (Series) by David Alexander Robertson

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I have been a fan of David Alexander Robertson since I read his 7 Generations graphic novel series a few years ago. Recently I stumbled upon his graphic novel series for a younger audience called “Tales from Big Spirit”. Each book is about a prominent First Nations person from history and teaches the reader about their contributions using beautifully drawn graphics (there are a few different illustrators for the series). Although intended for children, I as an adult really enjoyed reading the books and learned a few new things.

The first title I read was “The Peacemaker- Thanadelathur” (illustrated by Wai Tien). This book teaches the reader about Thanadelathur, a remarkable Dene woman who helped make peace between the Cree and Dene peoples in the 1700s. She was originally captured by some Cree people, and managed to escape after the winter had passed. Nearly starving in the process, she was discovered by some geese hunters from the Hudson’s Bay Company and she agreed to become an interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish trade agreements. After some difficulty, she proved the be successful, and Thanadelathur is still remembered today through oral tradition and the Hudson Bay Company’s records (quite a rarity for a First Nations woman at that time!)

Second was “The Poet-Pauline Johnson” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This book introduces Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk poet who was quite famous for her poetry reciting, especially “A Cry from an Indian Wife” which told of the Battle of Cut Knife during the Riel Rebellion. Being half European and half Mohawk, she worked towards reconciliation towards those groups of people, and her works have been honored by different groups yesterday and today.

Third was “The Ballad of Nancy April- Shawnadithit” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson) which tells about the extinction of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland in the 19th century. They became instinct due to various reasons, including loss of food sources due to competition with other groups in the area, death due to European diseases (especially tuberculosis), and violent encounters from other groups. Shawnadithit was the last known full-blooded Beothuk person until her death in 1829, and because of her, some history of the Beothuk people survive today.

Last was “The Scout-Tommy Prince” (illustrated by Scott B. Henderson). This installment teaches about Sgt. Tommy Prince, the most decorated First Nations Soldier in Canada, who served in both World War II and the Korean War. As a young man, he spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and doing other skills, and he joined the army cadets when he was a teenager. Despite facing discrimination, he applied for recruitment several times until he was accepted in 1940. He volunteered to the parachute unit, being one of few who passed training. Later on he did many dangerous tasks; including scoping out and reporting on German assembly points (he laid a 1,400 meter long telephone wire and attached it to a phone in an abandoned farmhouse to do so!). After the wars, he became known once again for saving a man from drowning in Winnipeg. Since his passing, many schools and awards have been named after Prince to honor him.

In total, this has been a wonderful group of graphic novels that taught me a bit of Canadian History. Pauline Johnson’s writings are officially on my to-read list, and I have done further readings on the other individuals.  I truly recommend this collection for those young and old. These titles are available by Interlibrary Loan.

 

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Interview with Ruta Sepetys

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Photo of Ruta Sepetys by by Magda Starowieyska

Photo by Magda Starowieyska

Ruta Sepetys is the New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea. Born and raised in Michigan, she grew up in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She currently lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee. You can find her online at rutasepetys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest book, Salt to the Sea?

Ruta Sepetys: My father’s cousin was involved in the refugee evacuation of East Prussia and was granted passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff. By a twist of fate, she did not board the ship the day it sailed. She shared the story with me and that inspired me to write about it.

How fortunate! Your novels are all historical fiction; how much time do you typically spend on research for them?

I typically spend three years researching each novel. I know it seems like a very long time, but it goes so quickly!

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching the Wilhelm Gustloff?

There were so many interesting and surprising things I discovered, but one that stays with me is that it’s estimated that during World War II, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea.

Wow! On your website, you say that while researching your books, you interview people who have experienced the event you’re writing about, then you combine their stories into one character.  Have you always used this method to make your characters?  

Yes, I generally interview and research the background of dozens of people and then weave elements of all of them into one character. That allows me to represent a larger human experience.

Are any of the characters in Salt to the Sea based off of real people, or are they all amalgamations of people you have interviewed?

The main character of Joana was partially inspired by the story of a Lithuanian nurse who fled during the evacuation, but then I quilted together elements from several other witnesses as well.

All three of your books are set between 1940-1950.  Why does that decade appeal to you?

I’m drawn to stories of strength through struggle and the journey of finding meaning through hardship. The war and post war period are full of experiences of hope, courage, love, and loss.

So what are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a novel set in 1957 Madrid, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.

Good luck with that!  Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

There were many authors and many books, but as a young child I was incredibly inspired by the work of Roald Dahl. His books are so full of creativity and imagination, of innocent young people at the mercy of unsavory adults. I still cherish my copy of James and the Giant Peach.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I love Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It reminds us that even if suffering is unavoidable, we alone choose how we cope with our suffering.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading research materials for my new book, so I’m reading Interrogating Francoism by Helen Graham. Once I’m finished with research, I can’t wait to read Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman.

 

Salt to the Sea cover

Interview with Michelle Krys

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author picture of Michelle KrysMichelle Krys is the author of Dead Girls Society, Hexed, and Charmed. When she’s not writing books for teens, she moonlights as a NICU nurse. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, with her family. You can visit her online at michellekrys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your newest book, Dead Girls Society?

Michelle Krys: Ideas rarely come to me organically. I often have to go after them with a club, which is what happened in this case. I knew I wanted to write a book with the mystery and intrigue of Pretty Little Liars, but with a fun competition element à la Panic by Lauren Oliver, so I sat down and brainstormed ideas until I landed on something I liked. Not very romantic, but if I waited around for ideas to strike me I would probably write a book a decade.

Hope, your heroine with cystic fibrosis from Dead Girls Society, seems very different from Indigo, the cheerleader heroine of your first series.  Where did you get the ideas for these very different characters?

Indigo’s personality is one of the first things I knew about Hexed. I wanted to subvert the gothic witch stereotype, and having the protagonist be a popular, sarcastic cheerleader felt like the natural first step.

With Dead Girls Society, I really wanted to explore what it would be like to be a normal teenager in a lot of ways, experiencing all the normal teenager things, like love and angst and a desire to push boundaries and rebel, while also living with an incurable illness that really limits your experiences.

Dead Girls Society takes place in New Orleans, while Hexed is in LA. What’s the appeal of using big American cities for your novel settings?

I mentioned that one of my goals with Hexed was to subvert the gothic witch stereotype. Besides making the protagonist a popular cheerleader, I thought it would be fun to use a setting that most readers wouldn’t normally associate with witchcraft. Sunny L.A. seemed like a great fit for that. As for Dead Girls Society, I got the idea for the setting while roaming the French Quarter in New Orleans while attending a writing festival. I just fell in love with the rich, vibrant culture of the city.  

You wrote your first book while on maternity leave.  Was it difficult fitting in writing during that time?

Not at all! My son slept 12 hours through the night and took 3-4 hour naps during the day. His incredible sleeping habits are actually what prompted me to try my hand at writing. I found myself with all this free time, and I figured there would be no better opportunity to write that book I’d always been thinking about.

Wow, that’s incredibly lucky! Did your writing routine change once your maternity leave was over?

Definitely. Fitting in time to write became much more of a challenge. After coming home from an exhausting 12-hour shift and then putting my baby to sleep, all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch. This meant that all my writing was restricted to nap times on my days off, which were few and far between as I was working full-time then. One thing I will say is that, though challenging, the rigid schedule did force me to be very focused and driven. Now that I’m part-time at work and enjoy long stretches of days off between shifts, I find myself procrastinating a lot.

Why do you like writing YA books?

I could say something very noble about using artwork to provide teens with the tools to tackle a time of great upheaval (and that would also be true), but mostly? It’s fun, and it’s what I like to read.

That’s totally fair. I read in an interview with you in the Walleye that your first book was rejected.  Have you ever reused or reworked elements of that book into something new?

I’ve brought it out from time to time, but it’s very much a first novel. No redeeming features whatsoever. The book was great for a learning experience, and that’s it. It’s pretty humiliating to look at!

That’s too bad. But at least it led you to better stories! What are you working on now?

I have a few different projects on the go. A middle grade set in the east coast of Canada, a YA psychological thriller, and an adult contemporary romance. I like to dabble on a few different projects before I decide which one I want to spend my time on.

Good luck with whichever one you choose to develop! So what book or author inspired you to write?

The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Say what you will about the problematic elements of the book, but the series completely swept me away. I can’t remember another time I connected with a book as deeply. It perfectly captured the thrill and innocence of falling in love for the first time. When Edward brushed Bella’s arm, I felt the drop in my own stomach.

It’s amazing how different books can speak to us so strongly! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

The first book that comes to mind is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which is a graphic novel about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s utterly brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful, all the more so when you discover that the original concept was created by the author Siobban Daud, who died of cancer before she had a chance to write the book.  

That sounds amazing; I’ll have to check it out. Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished a wonderful YA novel about a female gladiator in the Roman Empire, called The Valiant by Lesley Livingstone, and now I’m reading Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, which is a Labyrinth retelling by way of The Sound of Music. So far it’s dark and gritty and romantic and exactly up my alley.

book cover of Dead Girls Society

Interview with Peadar O’Guilin

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Picture of Peadar O’GuilinPeadar O’Guilin grew up in beautiful Donegal in the far northwest of Ireland.  These days, he lives in Dublin where he toils day and night for a giant corporation.  You can find him on Twitter by following @TheCallYA.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write The Call?

Peadar O’Guilin: I have always believed that one idea is never enough to make a good novel — you need at least two. Everything grows from the interaction of these concepts. The first piece of inspiration I had for The Call was an image of somebody disappearing in a crowded room. I imagined their clothing falling to the floor and I wondered what had happened to them. I knew it had to be something bad, I just didn’t know what. I guess a lifetime of reading mythology and folklore finally broke through to the surface because I used the Irish mythology I’d grown up with to supply the answer. Our version of fairy tales are weird and beautiful and quite unlike the ones that are more common in the rest of the western world. Nobody could fail to be inspired by them, in my opinion.

I completely agree!  So why does the Call last exactly 3 minutes and 4 seconds?

I wanted it to last three minutes so that any witnesses would be on the edge of their seats and counting down all the way, terrified of what might come back. The extra four seconds are there for no reason other than the fact that life isn’t very neat.

That’s fair.  How did Nessa, a girl with weak legs, become the heroine in a story where the teens have to run for their lives?

I always pick heroes for my stories that everybody else expects to fail. They put her in a box, they dismiss and pity her. But Nessa is not the type to lie down and I love her for that.

You said you “picked” Nessa. Were there other characters you were debating about making the protagonist?

No, there were no other characters before Nessa came into existence. All of the others materialised in response to her. I “picked” her, in the sense that I knew I would need somebody that others would consider useless. My main characters are often thought of by others as a “waste of resources” and a “waste of time”. But, like all of us, they have enormous value that society is in danger of squandering.

All of the teens had such different adventures in the Grey Lands.  How did you decide on what each of them would go through?

I never do a lot of planning in my novels. I want to be every bit as surprised as the readers by what happens. When I sat down to begin each “Call”, I didn’t always know if that character would live or die, or what would happen to them. This is why I wrote it in the present tense. I wanted to feel the unpredictability of the story that I was creating. And you’re right — I knew I had to be very careful to make all of the stories wildly different from each other. To do anything else would have quickly bored the readers.

So which character’s Call surprised you the most?

There were quite a few that surprised me. I didn’t know Cahal would turn out to have an inner decency. I didn’t know Chuckwu would do what he did. And I really didn’t expect what happened to Emma. I could say more, but… spoilers!

Emma’s Call was probably the most surprising one for me as a reader as well.  Outside of the whole idea of being Called by the Sidhe, I found the Sidhe’s world to be quite fascinating.  Where did you get the idea for the Grey Lands?

The Sídhe needed to live somewhere awful so that their desire for vengeance would be bottomless. So, I designed a world that would be the opposite in every way from the home they lost: The Many-Coloured Land. I took away the colour they loved so much. I left them no animals, so that they had to create their own out of pure hatred.

The Grey Lands and the Bone World of your previous trilogy are both very brutal settings.  Why do these types of worlds appeal to you as a writer?

It’s all about increasing the stakes. The greater the threat, the more heroic the characters have to be to overcome them and the more we, the readers, fear for their safety and root for their success. At least, that’s how I feel.

So what are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to The Call. I have no name for it yet and don’t plan on writing more than two books in this series. I have plenty of other stories in my mental queue for when that’s done.

How exciting – I can’t wait to read that sequel! Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing stories my whole life — at least since the age of five! So, I can’t remember what book first got me started. But the one that made me passionate about world-building, has to be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading that the first time was like having a bomb go off in my brain with lights flashing and trumpets blaring. It changed everything for me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think the book everybody should read is the one that will do to them what The Lord of the Rings did to me. However, that book is different for every reader. Please, read whatever you love and feel no guilt about it. Sure, you need to study whatever books your school demands too, but in your own time, you should be free in every sense of the word.

And what are you currently reading?

Kid Got Shot by Simon Mason. It’s a YA mystery with fantastic characters. I loved his previous novel, Running Girl.

cover art of The Call

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

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cover art of The CallThis tense, fast paced thriller asks the question, what would happen if the gods and goddess of mythology returned to the modern world with their hearts full of vengeance?  O’Guilin has taken modern Ireland and cut if off from the rest of the world, due to the magic of the Sidhe.  These were the mythical fairy folk of the Emerald Isle and of Scotland, physically beautiful but cruel and capricious. The Sidhe were tricked by the ancient Irish into a hellish netherworld and now are seeking their revenge by abducting their adolescents into the Greylands to be mutilated or killed.

Twenty five years have passed since the horror began when without warning young people began disappearing suddenly for a little over three minutes of our time but a full day in the alternative world, during which they are hunted by the Sidhe. Their chances are surviving are slim at best and should they return alive, the survivors are forever altered both physically and mentally. The young are now sent away to school to be taught and toughened for when their “call” comes.

The story focuses on Nessa who is not expected to survive due to a childhood bout of polio which has damaged her legs, but not destroyed her strength or will to live. She and the other residents of the Boyle school are simply ordinary teenagers forced to fight for their lives and many of the characters the reader comes to care about meet tragic fates.

The author O’Guilin mixes moments of humour with moments of anguish, loyalty with betrayal, desire with scorn, each with a deft hand.  Despite the overall darkness as the country slips into subsistence living when the doom of the Sidhe takes hold, there is a sense of hope and defiance in spite of the odds.

Interview with Shane Peacock

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author picture of Shane PeacockShane Peacock was born in a place that doesn’t exist … the city of Port Arthur, Ontario. He grew up in Kapuskasing, Ontario, then earned a Bachelor’s degree (Honours) in English and History from Trent University, and a Master’s degree in Literature from the University of Toronto. Shane worked as a labourer for Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, a wilderness bush sprayer for Ontario Hydro, and a box mover for a university bookstore. But ever since childhood, his mind was on other things: on extraordinary people and events, on personalities who made legends of their lives, on what motivated them, and what made others accept supporting roles. He set out to write about such individuals, some real, some invented, and others so eccentric that they seemed to be a combination of both. Because he writes about unusual subjects, his research methods have, at times, been out of the ordinary too. He has learned the arts of tight-rope walking, silent killing, trapeze flying, and sumo eating, all in the service of his art. Shane and his wife, journalist Sophie Kneisel, live with their three children on a small farm near Cobourg, Ontario, where he continues to search for and imagine larger-than life characters. In his spare time he enjoys playing hockey, reading, and walking the wire, pretending that he is the hero in each story.

Shauna Kosoris: You are most well-known for your Boy Sherlock Holmes series.  What inspired you to write about a young Holmes?

Shane Peacock: The Boy Sherlock Holmes series grew from an idea for a novel about racism and prejudice, and the need for the opposite of those two horrible things, justice. There was no one named Sherlock Holmes in the first draft of the first novel. It was a story about a brilliant half-Jewish boy in Victorian London, plagued by racist tormentors in school, who ends up being implicated in a murder and must find the villain. It wasn’t until someone suggested that my character could actually be Sherlock Holmes that I re-constructed the novel to make it about him. That allowed it to grow in both its appeal and complexity.

That most certainly would allow the story to grow in interesting ways.  More recently, you were involved in the Seven series; how did you get involved in that?

Eric Walters asked me to be involved in the Seven Series. We had been friends and colleagues for a while, and when he came up with his brilliant idea of a series written by seven different novelists, with novels all with the same starting point (a grandfather’s dying wish that his seven grandson’s attempt the seven amazing things on his bucket list), I thought it would be fascinating to be part of it, almost like a writing exercise.

That does sound like fun!  Did you choose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels?

I most definitely chose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels. Eric simply gave the other six authors the premise of the series and then we all created our characters and took them where we wanted them to go. One of the many strengths of this triple series is the uniqueness of each novelist’s creations in their respective novels.

Your new series, The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, centers around a very sensitive character who suffers from night terrors.  Did you plan for your protagonist, Edgar Brim, to have this sleep disorder?

The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim was always meant to be a book about fear and, in particular, a story about a boy who suffers from a sort of anxiety disorder (though it certainly wasn’t called that in his day). I added the sleep disorder known as “sleep paralysis” or “the hag phenomenon” to his character, a terrifying ailment that most certainly still plagues people when they wake up suddenly and cannot move. Some people, over the centuries, report some sort of presence in the room with them, often a sort of hag or witch who is sitting on their chest, paralyzing them, squeezing the breath out of them. Edgar Brim struggles with this throughout my horror trilogy.

Both your Boy Sherlock Holmes series and your new series about Edgar Brim are set in the Victorian era.  Why does the Victorian era/Gothic period appeal to you so much?

I think the Victorian period appeals to me so much because it occurred after photography had been invented but before moving film, so we can see images of people and places and buildings and machinery from that time, but they sit or stand there, ghostly and immovable. I am fascinated by the idea of making it move in my novels, of animating that fascinating historical period, especially in London. I am also a huge Charles Dickens fan … that will do it to you!

In the middle of working on all of these series, you’ve also written a children’s picture book.  Why did you decide to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh?

As is often the case with artists of all genres, I didn’t choose to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh as much as it chose me. I had written a short story about him long ago that Karen Li, a brilliant editor at Owlkids Books, learned about and asked if I might consider turning into a picture book. I am an admirer of Van Gogh, of his genius, his individuality and courage, and an enemy of bullying, so I put those two things together in “The Artist and Me” and told what turned out to be a unique picture book that has, thankfully, met with great critical acclaim.

All of your books to date have been aimed at younger audiences, both young adult and children.  Why do you like writing for these younger age groups?

Actually, my first book, The Great Farini, was for adults, all my plays, documentaries, journalism and even a novel I am working on now, are for adults.

Whoops, that’s my mistake.

But I do enjoy writing for the younger audiences. It is definitely fun to be anywhere from six to eighteen again. And it is also intriguing to tell stories that are challenging, as all YA literature is if you try to get it right – to stay on plot, make your work exciting, AND make it say something and be structurally and stylistically interesting.

It is often commented that my books are like adult novels for kids.

So what are you working on now?

I am writing the second novel in the Edgar Brim trilogy, entitled Monster, as well as a new picture book, and the adult novel. I also have an idea for a Teen romance (a very different sort of one) and am developing a strange new YA series.

Wow, you’re very busy – good luck with everything!  Finally, let’s talk a bit about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I think the aforementioned Charles Dickens may have been the greatest influence on me. My father actually read us Oliver Twist and other Dickens works when we were pretty young and I was absolutely enchanted by the characters and the worlds I encountered. I am also a big fan of The Little Prince, which is prominent in each of my novels in the Seven Series, Sequels and Prequels.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Well, everyone should read Shakespeare. I know he is difficult for young people, but he is undoubtedly the greatest writer who ever lived and his stories are absolutely alive. They are magical. But Dickens is close behind.

And what are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot of classic Horror stories for The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, lots of Frankenstein, Dracula, Poe, and I recently read an amazing novel called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which is 1,100 pages long and very complicated but also rewarding. At this moment, I’m part way into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The Fault in Our Stars, which I’ve somehow avoided for a while, is up next.

cover picture of Edgar Brim

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

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Popular perception is that Westerns are out of style for readers. Despite this, Western influences have been appearing in young adult books in recent years. There have been westerns with steampunk elements, those set in dystopian worlds, and even one with zombies. However, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman includes no extras – only the classic settings and tropes. The book opens with, “It weren’t no secrets Pa owned the best plot of land ‘long Granite Creek, and I reckon that’s why they killed him.” Written in a dialect liberally sprinkled with ain’t, yer, and gotta, Vengeance Bound was my first real Western read and I was not originally convinced I was going to enjoy it. Luckily, it is a highly entertaining mystery adventure with propulsive plotting that kept me glued to the page.

Similar in theme to Cormac McCarthy’s True Grit, Vengeance Road follows a young woman thirsting for revenge. After her father is viciously murdered by the Rose Riders gang, eighteen year old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and sets off to track them down. Intelligent, wily, and ruthless, Kate dispatches her first villain ten pages in with a cold-blooded shot to the heart, and steels herself against sentiment throughout the book despite her growing connections to allies met along her journey. Cowboys, grizzled prospectors, a possibility of romance and an Apache guide play important roles, but the core of the story is Kate’s discovery of her father’s lies and family connection to a legendary gold mine. Featuring a journal with mysterious clues, genuine villainy and heroics, and an entirely feminist and capable heroine, adult Western fans and fans of strong female heroines alike should look past the “young adult” label and give Vengeance Bound a look.

Vengeance Road