Archive for the ‘Books for Young Adults’ Category

One day to live

13 Jan

Oliver’s world is just like our own–except that people get “Deathday letters,” 24 hours’ notice before they pass away. And snarky 15-year-old Oliver has just gotten his. Which renders him, in his own words, “living-challenged,” and with some major choices to make about how he’ll spend this day.

This is the premise of Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter, which fascinated me with its unique blend of testosterone-fueled humor and the poignancy of the ticking clock. As soon as I finished reading it I wanted to pelt the author with questions. Which I proceeded to do, because Shaun and I were in Tenners together, and I don’t hesitate to presume on that connection when it means I can bring you all a good interview.

Q: I somehow managed to miss the “Intro,” where you tell the reader up front that Oliver is really going to die. And so I read the book with a sense of suspense about whether Oliver might manage to get out of this somehow. When I looked back and saw the Intro, I wondered why you included it, rather than keeping the reader guessing? Was it that a humorous book sets up such strong expectations for happy endings, that you felt obligated to warn readers against pouring their expectations into that mold?

A: This is an interesting question. That intro was the first thing I wrote. There was an epilogue too, which I lovingly referred to as my “Outro” until we finally decided to cut it, but the intro was, to me, the most important part of the book. A small portion of it was to keep the reader’s expectations grounded. We’ve become so accustomed to happy endings that I didn’t want anyone to feel duped. But my main reason for putting it out there was to let the reader know that despite being a book about one boy’s death, we wouldn’t be focusing on watching him die. It was my way of letting readers know that they should be paying attention to how Ollie spends his last day rather than trying to figure out whether he’s actually going to die or not.

Take any book. Take the Harry Potter series. We know through all seven books that Harry is going to face Voldemort. We also have the expectation that Harry is going to triumph over his enemy. So as we march toward the end, we spend time trying to figure out how Harry is going to survive. The tension comes from wondering how Harry is going to defeat Voldemort. But what if J.K. Rowling had prefaced Book 7 by telling the reader that Harry was going to die. What if she said that Harry would not, in fact, defeat Voldemort. People would have read the book looking, not for how Harry was going to survive, but how he was going to die. The tension would come from the How of Harry’s death and from watching him reach that inevitable end. With Ollie, he knows he’s going to die, the reader knows he’s going to die, so the story isn’t how one boy escapes certain death, but how he meets it.

Q: Do you wish people actually got Deathday letters? If so, how long a notice do you think is optimal–one day, as in the book? Or one week, one year? Or do you think we’re all better off not knowing when?

A: I think 24 hours is a good number. I thought about this a lot, actually. Too long and it would feel so drawn out. There’s a scene at the end of Deathday where Ollie laments having to keep saying goodbye to people. He’s spent. And that’s only after one day. I couldn’t imagine a whole week or a whole year. But I think a day is good because it gives you just enough time for family to come say their goodbyes, even if they live far away. But since we don’t get Deathday letter, I think we should all live as if we only had 24 hours to live. One of my favorite poems is TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME by Robert Herrick. The first line, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” encapsulates the carpe diem philosophy that I wanted to bake into Ollie’s journey. Of course, old Herrick wrote the poem to try to convince some impressionable girls to part with their virtue, but the sentiment is solid.

Q: There have been books about kids who know they’re dying, but they tend to take a darker, more tragic bent–for obvious reasons, since the topic is inherently sad! And The Deathday Letter certainly has its poignant moments. But there’s also a lot of humor that gets quite edgy at times. What made you decide to blend earthy humor with impending doom?

A: A couple of people have commented that they wouldn’t have chosen to spend their last day on such immature pursuits, but Ollie is a normal guy. He’s not your typical hero. He doesn’t read Wuthering Heights or spend his days writing poetry. He’s probably not the kind of guy girls fantasize about ending up with. But he’s the kind of guy who sat behind you in math class. The kind of guy you went to prom with because you couldn’t find anyone better but ended up having a good time despite yourself. I wanted to see how someone so average would respond to something like this. Ollie starts out not sure what to do. Despite the ubiquitousness of Deathday letters in Ollie’s world, he hasn’t spent much time thinking about what he’d do if he got one. He doesn’t have a life plan. He’s just been sailing through life, figuring he’d always have time to do stuff. Until he got his letter that is.

As you say, it’s obvious why most books about people who are dying tend to be dark, but that was never going to be Ollie. He met death with the same slacker mentality that he met everything else in his life. The thing that people don’t like to think about is that we’re all dying. Right now, you’re dying, I’m dying, everyone reading your blog is dying. It might not happen for fifty years, it might happen tomorrow. Knowing the when shouldn’t change how you live your life. Every person has the ability to choose how they attack life. Either we can let it get us down or we can laugh at it. With The Deathday Letter, I chose laughter.

Q: Since you wrote this book, how many people have asked you how you would spend your own Deathday? I won’t ask you to fill out the whole day’s schedule, but what’s one thing you would make sure to do?

A: So many! I kind of expected it though. But if I only had one day to live, one thing I would HAVE to do is get into a fist fight. I know it sounds odd, but I’ve never punched anyone in my life, nor been punched. I’m not a particularly violent person, but I’ve always been morbidly curious as to what it would feel like to be in a real fist fight. Then I would eat a lot of pie.

Shaun David Hutchinson is a writer and a self-described “major geek” who can be reached “via tin cans and string,” or on Twitter where he goes by the name @ShaunieDarko.

This interview was cross-posted from the blog of Jennifer R. Hubbard, author of young-adult novels The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) and Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012).

Comments Off on One day to live

Posted in Books for Young Adults, Fiction for YA, Interviews


Mysteries plus

21 Oct

Josh Berk writes contemporary mysteries solved by teenage boys with senses of humor. In The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, a boy solves his classmate’s murder in a mineshaft, while tossing off lines like, “I don’t have a proven talent for normal,” and, “What if they get out a battering ram and knock down the door, thinking I have died, Elvis-style, on the crapper?” In Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator, a boy and his friends investigate a theft and a mysterious death, but Guy also channels Josh Berk’s trademark irreverence: “Does replacing an ‘e’ with an apostrophe automatically make something sound more poetic? I lunch’d on school burritos; I fart’d for days. Yup, sure is poetry …”

This mix of amateur detective work and sometimes-crude humor (similar to that found in Don Calame’s Swim the Fly) makes the books readable and fun, although a couple of serious issues also give them substance. Hamburger Halpin is a deaf student trying to mainstream into his new school. Guy Langman is coping with the death of a father who was less than perfect.

Guy Langman also includes some technical details about crime-scene analysis that are likely to appeal to readers in a world where CSI and forensics have become media staples.


Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of young-adult novels The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) and Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012). She has not solved any murder mysteries.

Comments Off on Mysteries plus

Posted in Books for Young Adults, Fiction for YA


Armchair mountaineering

16 Sep

When Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air first came out, I had an eerie feeling. The book described the tragic deaths that happened when several climbers were caught high on a Himalayan mountain in a severe storm in 1996.

That eerie feeling was deja vu. Because I had already read Jim Curran’s K2: Triumph and Tragedy, which described the tragic deaths that happened when several climbers were caught high on a Himalayan mountain in a severe storm in 1986.

It was Krakauer’s book that brought the riskiness of high-altitude mountaineering into mainstream consciousness. But it’s only one book in a vast collection of nonfiction mountaineering accounts that are gripping and often tragic. Before Into Thin Air appeared, I had already become hooked on the works of Chris Bonington, Greg Child, Arlene Blum, Julie Tullis, and many others. From Child’s tales of catching poisonous snakes in his youth, to Blum’s accounts of avalanches on Annapurna, to Bonington’s descent from a mountain with a fellow climber who had broken both legs, these books were definitely about living on the edge.

A book about mountain-climbing has a natural external quest built into it: to reach a summit, often by a new route. But the story can change midway, and on the world’s highest mountains, the goal often switches to basic survival.

The literature has now expanded beyond the classic will-we-climb-the-peak stories to books that address the ecological effects of human encroachment into pristine environments; the effects of mountaineering on the Himalayan people; the medical limits of the human body at altitudes normally reserved for jet airplanes; the psychological factors at play in such a risky activity; and the personal growth that occurs when people climb a mountain, or even attempt to climb a mountain, or even just survive the experience.

Readers with an interest in survival stories, sports, or the outdoors may want to check out the nonfiction authors I’ve listed here, in addition to David Breashears, Jennifer Jordan, Maria Coffey, and Stephen Venables, just for a start. Those who prefer fiction may wish to begin with Peak, by Roland Smith. But fair warning: These books are only for readers who can handle a survival quest in which not everyone survives.


In addition to being an armchair mountaineer, Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of young-adult novels The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) and Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012).


Swim the Fly, by Don Calame – Book Trailer

27 Apr

Don Calame’s Website

Comments Off on Swim the Fly, by Don Calame – Book Trailer

Posted in Book Trailers, Contemporary, Fiction for YA


An Interview with DJ MacHale – Morpheus Road

16 Apr

D.J. MacHale is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pendragon series. He has written, directed and produced many television series and movies for young people including the cult-favorite TV show ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK. His work has been seen on Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, HBO, Showtime, PBS, Discovery Kids and the broadcast networks. D.J. lives with his family in Southern California. Today, he talks to about his new book, Morpheus Road, which is being released on April 20, 2010. Please visit his website at

About Morpheus Road:  Marshall Seaver is being haunted. In The Light, the first installment of this chillingly compelling trilogy, sixteen-year-old Marshall discovers that something beyond our world is after him. The eerie clues pile up quickly, and when people start dying, it’s clear whatever this is–it’s huge.

Marshall has no idea what’s happening to him, but he’s soon convinced that it has something to do with his best friend Cooper, who’s been missing for over a week. Together with Coop’s sister, Marsh searches for the truth about what happened to his friend, ultimately uncovering something bigger than he could ever have imagined. will be doing a giveaway of an autographed copy of Morpheus Road beginning on April 20, 2010. The contest will run for two weeks – details to be announced.  Please enjoy the trailer for Morpheus Road at the end of the interview.

1. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. I understand that you have a background as a writer and producer for children’s television. My children loved Flight 29 Down, which you co-created and produced, and you were also the co-creator and producer of Are You Afraid of the Dark, as well as several other successful children’s shows. You author the very popular Pendragon series, which is Young Adult series with a male main character. Now you have taken a more macabre turn down Morpheus Road. Is Morpheus Road your first venture into the horror/suspense genre? Tell us a little about the story.

I’ve actually worked quite extensively in the genre. “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” was all about being spooky. Between the 91 episodes and twenty some odd books and computer games, board games, articles, etc., I wrote more scary stories than the average bear. I also wrote and directed a movie for Disney called “Tower of Terror”, and created several scary TV shows that never got off the ground. So I’m fairly well versed in the world of horror/suspense, that’s why I wanted to write the Morpheus Road trilogy so much. After having gotten away from that genre for a few years, and written so many books, I thought it would be fun to go back to my roots and write a spooky book. So for me it was like going home. A very creepy home.

2. What inspired you to write in this genre? Do you think there is a large market for it in the Young Adult demographic?

I’ve always loved scary stories. I like the notion of normal people being confronted with totally abnormal challenges. It also allows me to flex my creative muscles by coming up with unique and surprising scares. That’s the fun part. Coming up with the scares. There’s a scene in Morpheus Road: The Light where the main character, Marshall, is home alone and you know something spooky is going to happen. He knows something spooky is going to happen. And it does. But rather than encountering a monster or horrific image, he is drawn to his living room by music box music and finds that the room is completely, impossibly, decorated for Christmas. It twists his head inside out, and then the terror happens from there. I love stuff like that.

As for there being a market in the YA demographic, I hope so! But that’s not why I’m writing the story. For me, it always starts out with an idea that excites and interests me. I write it, and then the story itself determines who it will appeal to. For instance, Flight 29 Down was definitely a “girl” show. Guys watched it, but girls LOVED it. Another book series that will soon come out is called The Monster Princess. I came up with the idea for a little troll who dreams of becoming a princess, and the only place that story could exist was with a picture book which will appeal to very young kids. I found with my Pendragon series that the largest number of readers are boys . . . of all ages. From 9 to grandfathers. So I think my job is to tell the best story I can, and then see who likes it!

3. Did you give any thought to the prospective audience for this novel when you were writing or editing it? What is it about this book and its genre that you think boys in particular will enjoy?

Like I said, I write the story the best way I can and then see who likes it. But for whatever reason, most of my writing appeals to boys, which is kind of cool since everybody is trying to get boys to read. Girls are easier. Boys are tough. But it’s not like I said: “I’m going to write a book for boys!” I just write what I think is fun, and in most cases, guys like it.

And what I think is fun is showing normal guys rising to the occasion. Or sometimes not. That’s what I think so many guys like about my stories. They can see themselves in the story and reacting the way the characters react. That’s key for me. I want the readers to imagine what they might do in hairy situations. I love that stuff, and I’m a guy, so I guess other guys do too!

4. I noticed that you started the book with a prologue. A lot of writing “experts” discourage the use of prologues, but to me it came off like a voice-over at the beginning of a movie setting the stage for the action, which I think will appeal to the tastes of young men. Does your television background influence your writing?

I never listen to experts. I just write what I think works. One of the reasons I have used a prologue, and did it with Morpheus Road: The Light is that I think it’s important to set up the main characters early on. As much as I like action, I think the heart of a story rests with interesting characters that you get to know and care about. Or hate. To do that, it takes a bit of exposition early on. Call it my movie-instinct, but when you want to grab somebody up front with a book that is expected to be exciting, starting out by introducing characters doing “normal” things might turn off the more impatient reader. So a short prologue is my way of saying: “This is the kind of story it’s going to be so relax. Learn about the characters and then the fireworks will start.”

5. Morpheus Road is the first book in a planned series. How many books will be in this series, and what can you tell us about the “rest of the story?”

Morpheus Road is going to be a trilogy. I don’t want to give away anything about where it’s going because there are some big surprises. But I’ll say this much, it’s going to be one of those stories that starts out small and just keeps on building and building in ways you could never imagine.

6. You have a book trailer for Morpheus Road, which we have embedded in the Boylit Blog site. How did the making of the trailer come about? We have a great interest in book trailers here because we think it’s a great way to market to boys.

I think the Morpheus Road trailer is awesome. Publishers are always looking for new ways to get the news out about their books and my good friends at Simon & Schuster started making trailers that are seen before movies in the theaters. When I heard that they wanted to do one for Morpheus Road, my first reaction was: “Great, but boy it better be good if it’s going to be on the big screen!” And they pulled it off. It’s going to be seen in late May in certain theaters before the film “Prince of Persia”. It’s gotten such a great reaction that they’re already throwing ideas around about what the trailer for Morpheus #2 will be!


Gone, by Michael Grant – Book Trailer

13 Apr

Michael Grant’s Website

Comments Off on Gone, by Michael Grant – Book Trailer

Posted in Action Adventure, Book Trailers, Dystopian, Fiction for YA, Thriller


Dark Dude, by Oscar Hijuelos – Book Trailer

12 Apr

Oscar Hijuelos Website


City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare- Book Trailer

12 Apr

Cassandra Clare’s Website

Comments Off on City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare- Book Trailer

Posted in Action Adventure, Book Trailers, Fantasy, Fiction for YA


The Necromancer, by Michael Scott – Book Trailer

12 Apr

Michael Scott’s Website

Comments Off on The Necromancer, by Michael Scott – Book Trailer

Posted in Book Trailers, Fiction for YA, Thriller


An Interview with Author Rebecca Barnhouse – The Coming of the Dragon

12 Apr

Rebecca Barnhouse is the author of The Coming of the Dragon. She writes books for middle graders and young adults. Rebecca teaches and writes about medieval topics and about children’s literature set in the Middle Ages. Please visit her website at

1. I try not to interject myself into these interviews, but I have to comment on the premise of your book, The Coming of the Dragon. As I understand it, the story is not a retelling of the Beowulf story, but it does involve King Beowulf and some elements of the original Beowulf story. When I was a teenager, (which was probably only about 20 or so years after the whole Beowulf/Grendel incident occurred) most of my classmates (all boy school) were very good readers, but the idea of reading an epic poem in something that only vaguely resembled the English we knew was not exactly one that we embraced. However, most of us loved the story and I think that proves that if a story is compelling, we are willing to push through anything to finish it. The story of Beowulf had many of the elements that boys love:  heroes, monsters, and battles. So, with that entirely self-absorbed introduction over, please tell us about The Coming of the Dragon. Is the story involving Grendel mentioned in this book? Where in time, in relation to that event, does this story occur?

How great that you and your classmates loved Beowulf when you were teenagers! “Heroes, monsters, and battles,” as you say—what’s not to love? (Well, besides all those digressions and difficult names and stories within stories that can make it very hard to follow the main action of the poem.)

In The Coming of the Dragon the focus is not on the first half of the poem, in which Beowulf battles Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Instead, I skip forward to the second half of the poem, which takes place after Beowulf has ruled for 50 years. When a thief steals a goblet from a dragon’s hoard, the dragon gets revenge by destroying much of Beowulf’s kingdom. The king takes a small band of warriors with him to fight the dragon—but except for one young warrior, they all abandon the king in his hour of need. That’s the story I’m telling in my novel, so in that sense I am retelling part of the poem. But I’m also inventing a lot of backstory for my protagonist, Rune, whose nickname comes from the from runic letters inscribed on the amulet he wears around his neck. It was there when—as a baby—he washed up on Geatland’s shores. So was a sword, a shield, and a coat of mail. Throughout the novel, Rune struggles to find his courage and his identity.

2. What about this novel do you think young boys would enjoy?

Besides heroes, monsters and battles? How about ancient swords, chain-link mail, and masked helmets? Or a terrifying, fire-breathing dragon? Trust me, this is not your friendly, ride-on-my-back, read-my-thoughts kind of dragon. It has no name and it wants vengeance! If that’s not enough to get boys reading, there is also friendship and a smidgeon of romance—and plenty of action to make them keep turning the pages.

3. What style would you say it is written in? Is there any history to
be learned from this story?

Although the novel—like Beowulf itself—is historical fantasy, the style is realistic. I want readers to experience the heat and wind and acrid smell that Rune feels when a dragon flies directly over his head. The kind of weapons sixth-century Scandinavian tribes used, the architecture of their halls (no castles here!), the kinds of food they ate, the drinking horns they used; that’s the kind of history readers will pick up from this novel. There are also references to Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature and culture.

4. Is this novel intended for middle graders? Do you think young
adults would like it, too?

Rune is 16 years old. Originally, the book was intended for a YA audience, although now it’s being marketed for middle grade readers. But I think it’s for anyone who loves fantasy.

5. Your previous novel, The Book of the Maidservant, has a girl
protagonist. Did you give any thought to the prospective audience
for The Coming of the Dragon when you were writing or editing it?
Did you intend for this to be a book for boys?

I wasn’t really thinking about the audience when I wrote the book—instead, I was thinking about how to tell Rune’s story while remaining as true as I could to Beowulf. As a teenager, I loved fantasy novels about both male and female characters (still do, in fact), and never thought of them as being boy books or girl books.

6. Is there a sequel planned for The Coming of the Dragon?

There’s a companion book, called Peaceweaver, in the works. A different character, a girl, tells her version of events, and there’s some overlap with The Coming of the Dragon.

7. If you had to describe this novel by comparing it to other books,
which would you choose and why?

Besides Beowulf, right? The novel is full of the classic fantasy tropes, such as a main character of unknown parentage who has to prove his mettle both to himself and to those who are suspicious of him. In some ways, I’m drawing on all the fantasy novels I read growing up, starting with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (who makes liberal use of Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon literature himself). Recent novels that might make good comparisons to this one are Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, which is the first novel in her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, or John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books.

8. Can you think of any novels by other authors that you would
recommend to boys?

For readers who want more about Beowulf, Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, Beowulf, is excellent. Other fantasy novels I recommend include Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, starting with The Thief, and Cinda Williams Chima’s The Warrior Heir and its sequels. A wonderful novel that middle grade boys and girls are going to love, Matthew Kirby’s The Clockwork Three, is coming out in October 2010.

For readers who have the patience for gorgeous, complex language, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea (published in 1967, it features a school for young wizards). For YA readers, I can’t recommend Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock highly enough. Cynthia Voigt’s The Wings of a Falcon, too.

9. When is this novel being released?

October 26, 2010.

10. Rebecca, your bio says that you’re a teacher. What do you think
schools can do to encourage boys to read?

Individual schools don’t have control over this, but the number one thing I wish the country would do is get rid of our focus on testing. Without meaning to, No Child Left Behind has turned “reading” into reading sentences and paragraphs in order to answer multiple choice questions. It has gotten rid of the concept of reading for pleasure (not to mention its pernicious effect on the arts, on science, and on any subject other than reading and math).

Something I think teachers and schools can still do is to recognize other forms of reading than novels, which we sometimes focus on to the exclusion of nonfiction. I’ve known boys who can very happily absorb encyclopedic works about engines and vehicles, but who are left cold at the thought of reading fiction. I know I’m stereotyping here, but I’m also taking examples from my own family. Exciting magazine stories, for example from Flying or Sports Illustrated, are valid reading material, too, and reading about subjects they feel a passion for can help both boys and girls gain confidence in their reading skills.