Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy

Ramona BlueI took a YA lit class in grad school with David Levithan. One of the first things he said was to make the details in our writing as specific as possible. More detailed. More specific examples. These were two phrases, I became accustomed to seeing on my personal essays. It’s one of the lessons that I try to keep in the very front of my brain while writing. It’s also a lesson that no one needs to teach Julie Murphy, apparently. Because Damn! Ramona Blue, the latest book from the author who brought us Dumplin’ and Side Effects May Vary, is one of the most specific, detailed, and unique books I’ve ever read.

As with people in real life, Ramona’s history looms large over her present struggles. She was a small child when Hurricane Katrina dramatically changed her family. She’s been a kind of surrogate parent to her little sister, who is now pregnant. She likes girls. She wants to leave town, but doesn’t know if she can now that her sister needs her more than ever. Continue reading

Author Interview: Lauren Karcz

Gallery of Unfinished GirlsHi friends! Sorry I haven’t been blogging as much. This is pretty much how well I’m balancing teaching, plus writing, plus trying to exercise, and have some kind of life. But I’m completely thrilled to have an interview with Lauren Karcz for you today. Her debut YA The Gallery of Unfinished Girls comes out tomorrow, and I can’t wait to read it.

When developing the story, did you begin with plot, character, or setting?

Characters, for sure. Three of the main characters in Gallery — protagonist Mercedes, her sister Angela, and her best friend Victoria — go way, way back with me. I started writing about them when I was in middle school, and they featured in all kinds of stories, from contemporary romances to mysteries to adventure stories. I carried those girls with me as I grew up, as I became their ages and then surpassed them. I think Mercedes and Victoria were aspirational characters for me at the beginning, but they’ve necessarily evolved over the years. I could always identify with parts of them, and aspire to parts of their personalities, while also acknowledging their flaws. And so I returned to them again and again. Continue reading

Nine Life Lessons from Jane Eyre

160315_BOOKS_Charlotte-Brontë.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge21. Maintain your freedom: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

2. How you feel is more important than looking respectable: “I would always rather be happy than dignified.”  

3. Ugly people have feelings too: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.

4. Loving yourself is important: “If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

5. Like it’s really really really important: care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

6. You don’t have to listen to people because they are older: “I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”

7. Something isn’t right just because everyone else is doing it: “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”

8. Try not to hold grudges: “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

9. When it comes to flirting, use it or lose it: “Flirting is a woman’s trade, one must keep in practice.”