Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

Month: October 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: It’s That Time Again!

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2007. As a freshman in high school, my very first novel rode the heels of the Twilight craze and was a very convoluted paranormal romance in a town populated by billionaires. It involved genetically engineered humans and artificial wombs, a slightly incestuous romance, and also this strange scene where the main character and her love interest go to a Taco Bell for wealthy people, complete with silver platters and black tie waiters. I hit 50,000 words (and some of that was hastily copy-and-pasted song lyrics in a last-minute karaoke scene written on November 30th) but I never actually wrote an ending, so God knows where that story was actually going. But it was that year that I realized that I might actually be able to pull off this writer thing (still working on that part).

The point is, NaNoWriMo is my favorite time of year. Not only does it distract me from the pre-Christmas psychosis that seems to obsess everyone else, but I can lose myself in a new totally random and whacked out writing creation with absolutely to obligation to making it “good.” Plus, I happen to live in a super active NaNo Region, meaning I have the chance to get together with other crazy writers and have a damn good time. We do some awesome activities, like writing on the train or writing in IKEA or taking over half a Panera Bread. Some of these people have become year-long writing partners and very good friends.

This year, I originally planned on continuing a current WIP. It’s a YA fantasy novel and I’ve been working on it for about two years now. This is the third rewrite, but this is the draft that feels like it’s working. At the same time it makes me feel super bogged down. I’m too invested, it’s too overthought, and I know I won’t be able to enjoy the freedom that NaNo usually encourages if I try to write 50,000 words of that in-progress novel.

Instead, I’m doing something different. Something new! And just the thought of letting go of this current novel, even just for a month, is ridiculously refreshing. This new idea I have is going to be a fun adventure story, and it’s not going to be as doom-and-gloom as the YA I was writing. Plus, it’s a middle grade, so there’s no icky romance in it! (Ew, boys! Gross!). I made it a middle grade for a few reasons. One, I really want to focus in on themes of self-discovery. Two, I just really don’t feel like writing about romance or sexual tension or anything like that. And three, I feel like a middle grade novel can actually be written to completion in 50,000 words, and I want this to be a self-contained drafting project. I want to write THE END as words 49,999 and 50,000. I want to have a complete zero draft on November 30th, not just three-quarters of one.

NaNoWriMo starts in two days! Will you be participating?

4 Middle Grade Books With Awesome Girl Protagonists

I love middle grade books. Middle grade fiction explores what it means to discover who you are and what you want to be, compared to YA, which tends to ask questions about where you fit in with the world. With middle grade you get action-packed adventure and journeys where characters begin to discover who they are as rational, intelligent people without all the sexual tension holding them down.  And while I like romantic subplots that make me squee and roll around my bed in “will-they-or-won’t-they” agony as much as the next girl, there’s something special in watching a character discover themselves before they romantically connect with other people.

I decided to compile a list of five middle grade novels that have an awesome girl as the leading character. Getting inside the head of a strong, willful girl is one of the reasons I love to read. The following books are in no particular order; they’re all awesome!

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

51guorNbKBL

Summary from Amazon:

Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

The Glass Sentence plunges readers into a time and place they will not want to leave, and introduces them to a heroine and hero they will take to their hearts.

The Glass Sentence is a unique middle grade fantasy–probably one of the most interesting and quirky premises I have read in a long time. In its essence it is a time travel story, but it’s the earth itself that has fragmented, meaning the characters travel in time just by physically moving from place to place. I’m unsure where to categorize this as far as genre–historical fantasy? Science fiction? Steampunk? The genre-bending line-blurring of The Glass Sentence is one of the reason I love it so much. The premise is just so fresh.

The main character, Sophia, seemed really relatable to me, as well. I like that she was timid and emotional and didn’t always make good choices. Most young teens are like that, but with most middle grade adventures it’s like they suddenly burst from their shell as full-fledged, confident adults. Sophia’s anxiety was a breath of fresh air. She got frustrated. She cried. She stomped her foot. And even though she resented these emotions, they’re just so real to me. We aren’t all stoic statues that can control ourselves, and controlling my own emotions was something I struggled with a lot as a teenager–I still struggle with it sometimes today.

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

51gubUXsmpL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_

Summary from Amazon:

A hilarious and heartwrenching story about a bullied girl whose search for a new beginning takes a dire wrong turn.   

Newcomer Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into a club whose members have no intention of letting her join. Now Kammie’s trapped in the dark, growing increasingly claustrophobic, and waiting to be rescued—or possibly not.

As hours pass, the reality of Kammie’s predicament mixes with her memories of the highlights and lowlights of her life so far, including the reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to run out of oxygen, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.
This one hasn’t been released yet so I don’t want to give too much away. It will be published on March 15, 2016, and I plan on releasing a full review when the date gets closer. But I will say that Kammie has a super sassy voice that I completely fell in love with. The majority of the narrative is of her thoughts while she’s in the well. She reminisces about the past, and battles with some serious issues of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. The style becomes stream of consciousness at times as Kammie begins to hallucinate, and I just feel like I’m there with her. This book should be on everyone’s 2016 TBR.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

51ma5BhAvVL

Summary from Amazon:

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.

But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

This book sounds cheesy, and it kind of is. It’s fun and ridiculous and it doesn’t take itself seriously. I know I said I liked my middle grade romance-free, and this could be considered a deviation from that. But I would argue that the romance in this book is only there to parody itself; is finding your “true love” even necessary in a story? Not just in fairy tales, but in all narratives. Did we really have to pair off all the Harry Potter characters at the end? Does not having a True Love by the end mean you’ll be an old maid forever (and is that a bad thing)? I think this book, through satire and tomfoolery, really gets to the heart of love stories purpose in narratives for children and young adults.

As a bonus, it explores the dynamics of friendship between girls, a theme I always love to see. The girls in this novel actually have distinct personalities–something that can be rare even in books with a strong female lead. Both Sophie and Agatha are strong in their own way, and neither way is good or bad.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

Summary from Amazon:

WHEN YOUNG TENAR is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away — home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan. While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.

This is an oldie, and it’s technically in the YA section, but I see it fitting in more with middle grade themes. Middle grade as a genre didn’t exist back in the 70s when this was published, and if it were published today I believe it would be sorted definitively into middle grade rather than YA.

I chose The Tombs of Atuan because it changed the way I see coming-of-age stories about girls. Tenar is a girl who lost everything, even her name–but through sheer willpower she finds the light in the darkness (quite literally). Many authors, most recently David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame, have said that LeGuin’s Earthsea series is one of the best fantasy series of all time, and I absolutely agree. I don’t think there exists a series that packs as much of an emotional, literary punch through the fantasy genre as Earthsea does. Out of the entire series, The Tombs of Atuan is a strange, beautiful outlier.

 

What are some middle grade novels you love and recommend? Let me know in the comments!

REVIEW: THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US by EMILY SKRUTSKIE

b543a9505294c4760bcdf8f782e273e4THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US by Emily Skrutskie
Release Date: Feb 8, 2016
Publisher: Flux
Format: ARC Ebook from NetGalley
Purchase: Paperback (Amazon)

 

This book is pure girl power. Sometime in the future, the world has fragmented into smaller nations, and the rise of cities floating in the ocean has created a booming piracy industry. In order to combat this, many ships hire giant, genetically-engineered sea monsters called Reckoners to protect them. From the beginning, Cas is a girl that’s driven to succeed and prove herself as a Reckoner trainer, no matter what it takes. When she’s captured by pirates, rather than give up or give in, she takes matters into her own hands in order to do what’s right. Rather than just let the pirates get away with having their own terrifying monster of the deep, she’s determined to discover just who enabled them to get their hands on such technology, even though doing so comes at a high personal cost. Cas is not physically strong, but her inner-strength and determination are admirable.

And then there’s Swift. Oh man, I am 100% straight but let me tell you, Swift could convince me otherwise. She’s totally kick-ass, doesn’t take crap from anybody, and even though she’s kept on a short leash by the captain she has her own set of morals and obligations. You can tell that Swift, though extremely loyal to Santa Elena, faces a lot of internal conflict—and not just romantic—once Cas arrives, and that tension is fantastic.

Santa Elena, though very important in her actions, doesn’t make a super in-depth appearance in this book, but since it’s a series I’m seriously hoping to see more of her. She herself is a badass in her own right, and though I downright hate her at times for the things she does, I can’t help but admire her strength and fortitude. She took charge of a ship with a baby strapped to her back, and as a mom myself I always appreciate them getting some screen time. Even though she’s pretty much the antagonist, I loved that there was a strong woman that could kick ass, take charge, and be a loving mother at the same time. (Not to mention all the sexy outfits she wears—seriously, #goals.)

From the outset this story seems like a simple swashbuckling adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean style, but it actually poses some interesting questions about morality, in particular the morality of counter-terrorism. Until she was captured by pirates, Cas was basically on the side of the law—but in the NeoPacific, certain systematic factors drive people inevitably to piracy for their own survival. Is utter destruction a fair punishment for scavenging the seas to survive? These are questions that Cas battles with, and can’t really answer by the end. But as a reader, it’s apparent that underneath the action and adventure and sexual tension, there are some really deep themes being explored.

Before I read it I did have some doubts. A friend I was describing it to asked me if it was like Pokemon. To set the record straight: it’s nothing like Pokemon (even though Pokemon is totally awesome). It’s a wonderfully diverse, girl-powered adventure, and it’s written in a delightful voice that’s quite funny at times. It’s definitely a page-turner, because I couldn’t put it down! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Cas and Swift in the next installment.

This is my first every book review. Sorrynotsorry if it sucks.

five-star

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén