This is my first week back from maternity leave, and I am not too pleased with myself for having assigned myself the blog. BUT, as I had put an almost stop on queries, and I am in the unusual position of not having too many requested manuscripts to read, I thought I might discuss what I am hoping you will send me.
I will focus on YA, and will tackle middle grades in another post. I am going to talk about some of the authors I have taken on, and why.
John Ford did not give a long description of his debut, THE MORGUE AND ME (published in June by Viking) in his query letter. It was just a sentence:
The Morgue and Me, winner of the Maryland Writer’s Association Novel Contest, features eighteen-year-old in Northern Michigan who takes a unusual summer job -- at the local morgue -- and uncovers the truth behind a violent death that the Medical Examiner has ruled, quite suspiciously, to be a case of suicide.
Wrapping up the plot of a novel in one sentence is far from easy, and John impressed me with doing exactly that. He did not need more than one sentence to tell me that the book is a mystery, and that it features a teen who works in a morgue, both of which made me want to read the novel immediately. A summer job at a morgue is quirky, and I like quirky. I also love mysteries and thrillers for young adults, and great boy protagonists.
Michael Northrop’s GENTLEMEN (published in April by Scholastic), like THE MORGUE AND ME, could also me described as a thriller. Its about a close-knit group of boys who are ignored or feared by everyone at their school, except for their English teacher, who calls them gentlemen. When one of their group goes missing, the story takes a dark turn, and clues start to point to the teacher having something to do with his disappearance. I like dark as much as I like quirky.
Nina Lacour’s debut, HOLD STILL is coming out from Dutton in October. Here is the description from Nina’s original query:
Caitlin Madison and Ingrid Bauer are more than best friends—they are each other's sole allies in a town of strip malls and identical houses. But when Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin plunges into her junior year alone. Determined to remain friendless, she chooses a locker in the undesirable science hall on the edge of campus, where she hopes to go unnoticed. The discovery of Ingrid's journal pushes Caitlin even further into her reclusion, but soon the new girl in town, Dylan Schuster—confident, quick-witted, rumored to have been expelled from her old school for making out with a girl in the bathroom—claims the locker next to Caitlin's. As Ingrid's journal reveals the events leading to her death, Caitlin struggles against grief to navigate, with Dylan's help, the new and unexpected course her life will take.
I think I have said that I am not a huge fan of problem novels-- which to me refers to a novel that feels that it is about an issue and not about the characters. That this book is about suicide could make it a problem novel, but Nina’s beautiful description of the book let me know that this was also a book about friendship and about how to navigate high school and a difficult year. I loved her quick description of Dylan- letting me know in a few short phrases who she is, and revealing Nina’s sharp attention to detail.
Lisa Schroeder’s first young adult novel, I HEART YOU YOU HAUNT ME is also about loss, and is a verse novel— something I know I would not have said I was looking for at the time. Here is her query:
Fifteen-year-old Ava is heartbroken over the death of her boyfriend, Jackson. But it isn’t long after his funeral when she discovers while he may be dead, he definitely isn’t gone.
At first she’s thrilled to know his spirit has stayed to be with her. He lets her know he’s with her by playing particular songs on the CD player, appearing in the mirror occasionally, sending her brief mind messages, and visiting her in her wildly intense dreams.
And then, one day, when her parents whisk her away to the beach, she meets Lyric, who reminds her what it’s like to laugh and flirt and talk with a real, live boy. She begins to realize that having a ghost for a boyfriend is neither easy nor fulfilling.
How can she ask the love of her life to leave when he seems unable to leave her behind and when she is harboring some guilt over the accident that killed him? Will he leave peacefully, or is Ava destined to be haunted by Jackson forever?
That this was a ghost story was appealing to me- and I liked how she sets up the idea that Ava will have to choose between a ghost and “real, live boy” and is dealing with the problems of having a ghost for a boyfriend. This gave me a sense of who Ava is, and how she thinks. Lisa’s second verse novel, FAR FROM YOU again about loss- this time losing a mother was published in January, and a third, CHASING BROOKLYN, is coming next year, again about a loss! So- I do look for books with serious topics. BUT I love funny books as well.
Which brings me to Kristen Tracy’s forthcoming YA, A FIELD GUIDE FOR HEARTBREAKERS (Hyperion, summer 2010) which is about two best friends spending a summer in Prague. Dessy hopes to hone her writing craft at their prestigious summer program and to get over her recent breakup, while Veronica is hoping to complete her "Man-wall" in Prague, one paper cutout for every hot-dude she meets. Side note- I also love interesting settings, and Prague is a perfect setting for a novel about breaking hearts.
Early on in the book, Veronica is helping Dessy shop for a suitcase for the trip, and while Dessy is thinking about what is practical, Veronica has other concerns.
I spotted Veronica crouching beside an upright purple suitcase.
“What are you doing?”
“Measuring. We need to be able to fit inside our bags.”
I looked down at her face, but she was completely focused on her measurements. Then I asked the obvious question.
“Because I plan on having real fun!”
“Inside your suitcase?”
Veronica knocked over the suitcase and continued looking.
“Listen, I don’t plan on playing by the rules,” she said. “We’re going to be the youngest people there. I can predict right now that there’s going to be a ton of sneaking around. Therefore, we need to be able to fit inside our suitcases. Because that’s the ultimate sneak. Trust me. It’s how Boz sneaked me into his bedroom three times this spring.”
Boz and Veronica had a very exciting relationship. More exciting than any other high school students I knew. It was what I would call tumultuous. Except mostly the tumult seemed like fun. Separate, those two were already fearless. But together, they had no inhibitions whatsoever. It’s as if nobody had ever clued them in on the fact that they were mortal. You could see it in the way they danced. And swam. And assembled sandwiches. And downhill skied.
It was just like Veronica to already be thinking of something as crazy as sneaking around in luggage.
I rejoined her beside a mound of bright bags.
“So who’ll be pulling us around?” I asked. “That could turn dangerous. Some crazy person could run off with us. We need to make sure we can unzip ourselves from the inside.”
“How lame,” Veronica said. “That totally deflates the thrill.”
Veronica accused me of deflating the thrill on a fairly regular basis. But deep down, I suspected she appreciated my foot-dragging nature. It’s as if I operated as her second conscience--the one that was fully functioning.
“I’m not magician’s-assistant bendable like you. I’m five foot seven.” Veronica was five foot three, which gave her a clear advantage in terms of making herself suitcase-size. “I was thinking about something more like this.” I pointed to a medium-size green case.
“Why do you want to limit our options before we even go? The world is our clam,” she said.
“Oyster,” I corrected.
I am sure I have said in some places that I am not looking for fantasy or historical-- but that is not quite true. I don’t rule anything out because its historical or fantastical. Contemporary often speaks more to me because I respond to the realism of that writing, its emotional truth, but when a story is out of this world and fantastical, it can still work for me-- as long as I can believe in the characters and the world they are living in. Brian Yansky's ALIEN INVASION AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES-- due out next spring from Candlewick, is a perfect example. Yes, aliens have taken over America and the rest of earth, and this is not a situation I am familiar with, but the story is told through the experiences of two teens and Brian perfectly captures their emotions about the new world-- and the reader will believe that this is indeed what teens would feel like and be like when faced with this challenge. It is also very funny. And serious.
I hope this has given some sense of what I love to read.
Looking forward to your queries,