Exit, Pursued By A Bear by EK Johnston

Nothing prepared me for how excellent this book is–not just as a story, which I couldn’t stop thinking about to the point I lost sleep, and not just as a political statement (about rape and rape culture and cheerleading as sport and abortion and faith).

And I was prepared!
–I read a interview with EK Johnston about this book in which she called it the most “fantasy” thing she’s written.
–I attended a conference with Andrew Karre who described a particular scene in this book as the kind of honest, gritty stuff he’s looking for in books he edits.

Still, nothing.

It’s that revolutionary.

I’ve asked our library at the school where I teach to order five copies, and I plan to recommend this book far and wide, teach it in my WNDB unit, and specifically recommend it to kids who’ve already read SPEAK and ALL THE RAGE.

PS) Hermione Winters and Polly Oliver effing rock. And Pastor Rob and Officer Palermo and Caledon (sp?) and even Hermione’s parents are pretty great too.

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My Year in Books 2015

My Year in Books 2015-page-001

Thanks, GoodReads!

An easier-to-read .pdf version of My Year in Books 2015 available here.

So, you have a chapbook coming out. What’s that?

Covers x 2

Tuesday’s Children covers

I’ve used social media to share the wonderful news that Hermeneutic Chaos Press is publishing my chapbook, Tuesday’s Children this December (pre-orders beginning November 23).

My editor came up with the awesome idea of commissioning two different covers for the book, and you can see both of them here. Meanwhile I’ve been working with a variety of different visual artists on postcards for several poems in the chapbook.

As I’ve shared this news, lots of folks are wondering “so…what is a chapbook?” It’s a great question. I had no idea what a chapbook was until I started reading and ordering them over the last few years.

A chapbook usually a small collection of poems by an individual author. The books themselves are meant to be lovely but fleeting objects.

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Some of my favorite chapbooks, links below

They’re often little! If you didn’t know you were looking at it, you might think it was a booklet or a pamphlet.

Often chapbooks are handmade by small presses who love book-making and treat it as an art. They can be bound in all kinds of ways—saddle stitches, post-binding, staples or even perfect-binding like a full-length collection.

Unlike most full-length collections, though, chapbooks usually have a theme or unifying idea behind them.

Typically, poets, flash-fiction writers, and even novella-writers submit to chapbook reading periods and contests from a variety of small presses. And small presses support chapbooks as a less expensive way of promoting authors they enjoy and admire.

If you want to see other chapbooks out there in the world, take a look at these options by some of my favorite contemporary poets:

And a few chapbooks on the weirder side that I adore:

Also, my poet-friend E. Kristin Anderson answers the “What is a Chapbook” question way better than I do so if you want more details and history, take a look.

 

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Violet DiamondViolet Diamond’s dad passed away when she was a baby, so she feels like the only “brown leaf” on a pile of “white snow” in her family and at school. Sure, her mom told her she could get a kitten, but her best friend has plans to be in Greece all summer visiting her extended family. What’s she going to do with a kitten and no best friend?

That summer, Violet learns that her “other Grandma,” the one she’s never met, is having an art show in nearby Seattle, and she convinces her mom to go. Despite a fraught first encounter, Violet wins over her “Bibi” and begins to reconnect with her father’s side of the family. Sure, her cousins tease her about her “white” name and she’s never eaten grits pie before, but those things are easily remedied.

So when Violet faces a possible tragedy, she’s grounded and ready to step up to the plate with a heart full of love and a strong sense of herself–both the “Violet” and the “Diamond” parts.

This is a charmer of a middle-grade book, easy breezy reading, and has a ton of potential to connect to lots of kids and families. Most kids will love Violet’s sassy-sweet personality and will relate to her struggles. (Boring summer? Check. Best friend gone? Check). But the book will also find a special home in the hands of kids who are biracial or have been adopted into a family that’s racially or culturally different from them.

The Meaning of Maggie

18656207I read Megan Jean Sovern’s The Meaning of Maggie while I was on vacation. The titular character charmed my pants off (not literally). She’s ambitious, nerdy, certain about her place in the world and so incredibly loved.

Maggie faces summer vacation pragmatically–counting down to school starting again and dutifully rising at the same time each day to prevent the need for a re-adjustment period. She decides that Clyde is “perfect” for her on the basis of one conversation, and when no one will tell her what’s happening to her dad, she hits the library.

That he’s dealing with MS will be obvious to adult readers, but the process of discovering it is meaningful for Maggie, and becomes meaningful for us. The elliptical nature of how the family addresses their dad’s illness surprised me, though. They don’t talk about it, they shelter Maggie from a lot of the details, and they keep repeating that things will be “okay” and he is “not going to die.” –the frame story of Maggie writing about this from her father’s hospital bedside gives lie to these assertions in some ways, but leaves it stand for the (young) readers in other ways.

The book is also historical in a way adult readers will enjoy. It’s set in 1988, when I myself was a fifth grader, so I recognized trapper keepers and color-coded notecards as the familiar detritus of school life. The parental throwbacks to the sixties were the reality of growing up with those parents at that time.

I admit, the writing was a little too “voicey” for me as a reader despite being 100% authentic to a sixth grader. And near the end, especially reading the acknowledgements, it became clear that the story is much more of a mem-novel than fiction. This left me a bit at odds on where to peg it if I loan it to students in the future.

But all in all, I’d recommend it alongside The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher and the Penderwicks for wholesome family relationships.

Why I’m Not Here

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Around mid-April I lost my mom. The part of my brain that says “read more” started saying “read less” and I’ve been listening. I’ve read prayers and Hope Edelmen’s book Motherless Daughters and that’s about it.

But looking ahead, I know the reading part of me that mom nurtured so carefully and tenderly will bloom again soon. The six year old who saw her mom come home from the library with tall stacks of books will rise up and demand I start making those trips again.

So I’m not reading now, but I’m planning for summer reading. Imagining books-on-the-porch and books-by-the-pool and books-at-the-lake.

At the top of my list? First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen. It came out ages ago and I’ve been saving it for summer reading. But I’m also looking forward to Kissing in America at the recommendation of Book Riot. And several others:

  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, a book that made a lot of bookternet headlines earlier this year
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  • The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
  • Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler

I have some Read Harder books to read

  • Finish Americanah (if I can ever get it back from the library; it has twenty billion holds)
  • Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
  • Ash by Malinda Lo or Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas for a retelling of a classic

And some Read Harder books to find

  • A microhistory – my students have advised me against SALT, which was at the top of my list, so I’m looking for other options
  • A book of short stories
  • A book published before 1850 (to be fair, this is actually *quite* hard for a former English major/English teacher — I’ve read 80% of the most popular ones still in print, and I am not particularly interested in the other 20%)

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

22896551Krissy is a hurdler, a runner, and part of the homecoming court, but when she gets diagnosed with AIS and discovers that she has testicles, her whole world gets flipped upside down. Of course, it’s even worse when her boyfriend finds out what happened and Krissy gets targeted for bullying and hate crimes.

She loses him. Her best friends. And even her sense of herself–and she has to find her way back to those things or stay lost forever.

I enjoyed the book a lot–and I plan to recommend it to students, who will like it, I suspect, for the educational aspects. Learning about intersex folks and even AIS specifically isn’t going to do anyone any harm. And the romance that develops is really sweet. So so sweet. I

However, I will say that it wasn’t particularly surprising on the points where I think it was trying to be. It was obvious to me (as a reader) that Krissy would be crowned queen, that Vee hadn’t told the secret, that Kristin’s surgery was ill-advised, that Darren was into Krissy. The friendships were also a struggle for me. I wanted to believe them, but I felt like there were too many “we’ve been through so much-es” between Vee/Faith and Krissy and not enough going-through-so-much-es. Even the memories of what they’d been through were murky and felt underdeveloped.

So overall? A great book with tons to recommend it, but not going to be a personal favorite or one I re-read.

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