Book Bravo: The Impossible Knife of Memory

ImpossibleKnife

 

From the JacketFlap:

“For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both. They moved back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war [Iraq] threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart.

How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him? What are you supposed to do when your parent stops acting like an adult? And what happens if a sweet guy who can make you laugh barges his way into your world and for the first time, you find yourself thinking about the future?”

I knew this book had darker notes to it, so it had been moving up and down and sideways on my nightstand, waiting for me to be “ready” to read it. Then a series of snow days converged with the cover image to give me the kick I needed to dive in. And now I’m filled with the “evangelical zeal” that John Green talks about to tell other people about it.

From the first scene, Hayley had me in her corner. She sees herself as different than the ‘zombies’ in her new school, but right away I could see through her judgmental comments and understand her desire to belong. This is a young girl who has been through a lot, and is now holding on by her fingertips as things go from bad to worse.

Some reviews have criticized this novel as giving a “clean” version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If that is true, I’d hate to see the un-sugar coated version. I’m sure for people with personal connections to PTSD, it may read differently than it did for me. But I felt that the author did an excellent job of showing how some people are able to navigate daily life even when they have a very thin hold on reality. I think we would all be shocked if we knew how close so many people are to the edge of breakdowns. (Sometimes I dream that people had meters on them to show their “code red” status…Oh, he’s “code orange” today, better be extra nice...).

One of my favorite subplots of this book is Hayley’s relationship with her new friend, Finn. These two remind me a lot of Eleanor and Park*, another quirky couple who find each other among the cloud of teenage angst that surrounds high school. Finn becomes an anchor for Hayley as the chaos at her home swells.

“When I was with Finn, the world spun properly on it’s axis, and gravity worked. At home, the planet tilted so far on its side it was hard to tell which way was up. Dad felt it, too. He shuffled like an old man, as if the carpet under his feet was really a slick sheet of black ice.”

*Also a must read

*Also a must read

Hayley’s character is richly written, with multiple, believable layers. But the supporting cast all have deep back stories of their own. Both Finn and Hayley’s friend Gracie are also dealing with serious issues at home. These underlying stories enhance the theme of how we take care of those that we belong to.

Andy struggles with invasive memories and does a lot of crappy things as a parent. But we never doubt his love for his daughter. I found the other adults in the book to be very real as well…dealing with their own stuff while trying to do their best for the younger people who are in their care.

Take advantage of one of these snow days, and read THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY. Whether it does it perfectly or not, this book helps shed much needed light on the issue of post traumatic stress disorder. And that is a good thing.

 

 

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

ATTDance

 

Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014!

AnnaStan

Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including:

THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES

unfairy tale 2

THE DIRT DIARY SERIES

dirt-diary-series

..and two upcoming picture books from Henry Holt: POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT (2015) and DOGOSAURUS REX (2016). 

Needless to say, Anna is one busy writer! However, I’m happy to say she had the time to answer a few of my questions about herself, her writing, and THE PRANK LIST.

To start, here’s a little history (some dirt?) from Anna’s website on book one in The Dirt Diary Series, THE DIRT DIARY (Sourcebooks, 2014):

Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel Lee didn’t think anything could be worse than her parents splitting up. She was wrong. Working for her mom’s new house-cleaning business puts Rachel in the dirty bathrooms of the most popular kids in the eighth grade. Which does not help her already loser-ish reputation. But her new job has surprising perks: enough dirt on the in-crowd to fill up her (until recently) boring diary. She never intended to reveal her secrets, but when the hottest guy in school pays her to spy on his girlfriend Rachel decides to get her hands dirty.

And now, the wait is nearly over to find out what trouble Rachel gets into next, in THE PRANK LIST. Again, from Anna’s website:

Rachel never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom’s business. Nothing can distract her from her mission – except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family’s business, Rachel’s going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

Nancy: Congratulations on your latest series, The Dirt Diaries! How do you approach writing a series?  That is, how much is done on the sequels before book one is even sent out?

Anna: The timing of a series can make your head spin! With the Dirt Diary series, the second book was done before the first one was published and the third book is in copyedits right now, a couple of weeks before the second book comes out. It can be a little confusing to jump between writing one book, promoting another, and planning out yet another, but it’s also really exciting.

Nancy: Your main character, Rachel, seems like the kind of girl that would be easy to relate to. I think we’ve all had times when our good intentions were misconstrued, or flat-out backfired.  How much of Rachel comes from your own experiences?

Anna: The antics that Rachel gets up to are purely fictional. (I’ve always been far too much of a rule follower to pull pranks on people!) But Rachel’s emotions and quirks are based on real life. I was very shy when I was young, and I always felt like I was doing and saying the wrong thing. I took those feelings from middle school and exaggerated them for Rachel’s story.

Nancy: Again, like many people, Rachel seems to have trouble resisting requests from cute boys. A couch potato at heart, I once went on a weeklong hike (and lost many toenails) because of a crush.  Do you have your own “what was I thinking?” story that stems from wanting to please someone?

Anna: Haha, I cringe even thinking about this, but I once pretended to be into a whole type of music because I thought it would impress a boy. I bought CDs of bands I didn’t like and forced myself to listen to them. Luckily, my ears couldn’t take it after a few days and I gave up. 🙂

Nancy: Rachel works as a house cleaner to help out her mom’s new business.  I’ve done that job, and it was hard, and kind of awful. What was your first job? What has been your hardest/worst job?

Anna: One of my first jobs was at a bagel place where I worked the registers, toasted bagels, and helped make sandwiches. During lunchtime, there was literally a line out the door every single day. I liked the people I worked with, but I would come home exhausted, reeking of coffee, and totally sick of bagels. I also worked for a temp agency during college, and at many of my temp jobs (doing data entry, answering phones, etc) people would talk about me right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. It was mortifying and belittling. I have a feeling both of those jobs have worked their way into my books. 🙂

Nancy:  When you were in eighth grade, what were your favorite kinds of books?

Anna: In eighth grade I went through a huge Stephen King phase. I tore my way through The Dark Half, The Shining, etc. The darker the better! I still enjoy a good dark read these days, but I think my taste in books has lightened up a bit since then.

Nancy: If you could time travel, and you had two minutes with your eighth grade self, what would you tell her? (I know for me, I would take at least a few seconds of that time to say for heaven’s sake, enough with the perms!)

Anna: Haha, yes, I think I would have some words for bad hair and fashion, too! But I think ultimately I’d tell my eighth-grade self that it’s okay to be weird. When I was young, people would tell me I was a weirdo (because of my sense of humor, my non-permed hair, etc) and I would let it cut me down. Now I realize that weirdness is an asset. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do!

To find out more about Anna Staniszewski (including how to say her last name!), her books, and her writing process,  visit her gorgeous and fun website, www.annastan.com.

THE PRANK LIST is available for pre-order via AmazonB&NPowell’sBook Depository, and Indiebound

prank list cover 2

Bio:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

 

Teenage Dream

images

I’m going to say a word and I want you to think of the first word that comes to your mind.

Me: Teenager.

You: (I’ll wait while you go enter your word into the comments section below.  Go ahead.  Or maybe you don’t want to, you’re being obstinate.  Like a teenager.  That’s okay, it works here).

People who are currently living with teenagers probably had a very easy time coming up with their word. I do not have teens under my roof (except occasionally, when the husband regresses).  However, the word “moody” leapt quickly to my brain, taking a seat at the stereotypical table.

Moody, obnoxious, loud, sassy, rebellious.  These are all things we sometimes assume a teenager will be.  Certainly that is how many are portrayed in books, movies, or TV shows.

Now let me throw out a few other words:  classy, considerate, gracious, funny, loyal, smart, interesting, quiet.  What comes to mind?  Would you believe that to come up with that list, I pictured several different teenagers I have gotten to spend time with recently?

For example, I was serving ice cream to an enthusiastic group of young people during summer vacation, and one of the teenagers paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “Thank you for dessert.” A small moment, a big impact.

I was also delighted to spend time recently with teenagers from my extended family.  I got to listen to them discuss books, watch them be thoughtful and generous toward siblings, and in general just be very un-stereotypical teenagers.

I also got to know a few literary characters this summer who are giving adolescence a good name.

images

In John Green’s AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, child prodigy Colin Singleton sets out on a road trip with his best friend Hassan after being dumped by the 19th Katherine he has dated in a row.

Colin is a quirky guy with a love of math and a penchant for anagrams.  But it is his friend Hassan that I love, for being a loyal friend, a funny kid…an awesome teenager.  My favorite thing about Hassan is that he helps Colin negotiate the world that us non-prodigies live in by simply saying, “not interesting!” whenever Colin starts pontificating.  The boys don’t have a perfect friendship, but Hassan stands by Colin in a way that has me hoping my kids will have a friend like him to help pick them up when life deals heavy blows.

In E. Lockhart’s THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS, it is female characters who take the lead roles.

1629601

Frankie is a girl who knows her own mind, and infiltrates the ‘old boys’ network at her boarding school to prove a point.  But again, it is her best friend, Trish, that I’d choose to hang out with.  She never wavers in her loyalty to Frankie, even when Frankie doesn’t deserve it.  Trish also stays true to her somewhat geeky, horse-loving self and I love her for that!

Teenagers.  Do not discount their intelligence, humor, charm, and loving spirits!  I know they have their moments.  But don’t we all?  Special thanks to the teens in my life who have shown me that my own kids’ teen years are not something to fear or fight against, but something to embrace and look forward to.

IMG_3903

Teens being gracious about having to eat spaghetti with spoons.

IMG_3940

Teen being kind to her younger sister, who could not ride unaccompanied.

TEENAGERS ARE SURPRISING AND AMAZING!