I apologize in advance if any of this is scattered or rambling, but it is 2:08 in the morning and I’ve had a rough day. For what it’s worth, my two cents.

Dear Wall Street Journal,

You, like so many other outside groups who pretend to know the first thing about Young Adult fiction, are wrong.

For starters, you mistakenly label YA Fiction as aimed “broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.” Now I think that was the most glaring mistake right off the bat. Hi, my name is Zane and I am 21 and I read YA fiction. There are entire groups of people dedicated to YA fiction novels who are full grown procreating adults (see: Twilight MOMS, but don’t use them as a 100% accurate representation). Young Adult fiction is, broadly speaking (if you’ll let me steal your terms), aimed at anyone who needs it. A lot of YA is not just about entertainment, it’s about growth as a person. It just so happens that ‘growth as a person’ is almost exclusively connected with being a teenager in our society. But if you can read a book like John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” at any age for the first time and not learn something about yourself or the world around you, then you need to re-read it because you missed something.

It seems to me that you wrote this article expecting it to be challenged. Almost like the publicity would be worth the bad press. That’s not an accusation, I just know good business (and this isn’t it). The argument you pointed out that us champions of YA give is that an abused person reading about an abused person gives the real person strength in the knowledge that someone, even a fictional someone, has felt what they’re feeling. I agree with that statement, but seeing as you don’t I’ll give you another argument.

I am a middle class white male from the near exact center of the great state of Alabama. Forty years ago in that golden age of literature you spoke so highly of, there’s a good chance I would have been a racist, sexist bigot by birthright. Today, I have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be someone else. I can read from a female point of view, and a black person’s point of view, and a gay person’s point of view. It is this ability to BE someone else that lets us as humans see each other as humans.

I have never been black, and I never will be, but I can experience through books on a very basic level what it is like to be black. I have never been a drug addict, and I never will be, but through these books you so quickly condemn I can see what it’s like… I can understand the struggles. This understanding is what gives us compassion, lets us feel empathy. I can feel for that person who has a drug addiction because I’m not just guessing what it’s like to be a drug addict. I have read and I have learned what it means to be a drug addict. I can understand and sometimes that’s all it takes.

We are afraid of what we don’t understand. Racism, sexism, homophobia.. it all stems from something we don’t understand and our lashing out at it. But acting like things don’t exist is more hurt than help. It’s crippling a generation to protect them. It’s locking them in their own little bubble for their entire lives and still expecting them to know about the world.

We are not protecting the youth of our nation by trying to pretend our world is something that it is not. Our world is not a fairy tale. Good guys don’t always win. Bad things happen to good people. People die. People are abused by other people. People abuse themselves. And teenagers say ‘fuck.’ These are the flaws of our world, and ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. If our children only read stories that romanticize our world, they will be in for a cruel shock when the world shows them what it really is.

Teenagers are not stupid. They are emotional, they are misguided, and they are regularly insufferable, but teens are not stupid. And they should not be treated like they are. Soon if not already, your teen will be driving a car. Your teen will be going to college. Your teen will be trying to decide what they want to do with their life. Now do you really think if you can trust them with all of that… that you can’t trust them to decide what they are ready to read?

I am a better person because of Young Adult Fiction. I have grown as a man, an individual, and a human being because of YA. I have experienced cyber-bullying, eating disorders, rape, verbal abuse, physical abuse, addiction, persecution, and depression all between the covers of novels you argue I shouldn’t have read. Two years ago, my world fell apart. It’s going to sound cliche but when you’re a teenager a breakup is the end of the world. I now know I was depressed. I wasn’t eating. I was over-exercising out of frustration. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I was all-around a destroyed person. I spent two months in that state of half-life. I lost fifty pounds and my closest friends. I read “Looking for Alaska” then and it was the catalyst that turned it all around. I have no doubt that YA Fiction played a huge part in my being able to deal with that situation two years ago. And more importantly it helped me deal with it all over again this year. And I was stronger this time. YA saves lives, whether you admit it or not, whether you understand it or not. It may not save you and it may not save your kid, but don’t you dare try to take it away from someone it will save.

Zane Spraggins
The Catcher Gone Awry

When I first created this blog, I promised to review books, have giveaways, and interview… well anyone. Thus far, I have done 2 out of 3. This is the third. I have decided to create a new type of post. I will now be doing Author Spotlights every month. Some will be accompanied with interviews, some will not. And without further ado, the author spotlight for the month of November is Jackson Pearce.

Jackson is the author of the previously reviewed here Sisters Red, As You Wish, and the upcoming Sweetly. I met Jackson at the Decatur Book Festival in September, and she instantly became one of my favorite on-Twitter/off-Twitter personalities. If you ever get the chance to meet her, go for it. She’s great. Through the efforts of my girlfriend Amy, I was given a short interview with Jackson where we discuss everything from Sisters Red‘s inspiration to the “#DamnHistoricalNovel” Jackson has been tweeting about for weeks. The interview is at the end of this post.

You can find Jackson on Twitter (regularly) at @JacksonPearce, on her website, and you can find all of her books on Amazon.

1) What inspired you to write a modern day twist on Little Red Riding Hood?
Red Riding Hood is SUCH a symbolic story– I felt like it was so easily mined for new ideas. I wanted to paint Red as the hero, not the victim– after all, in many versions of the story, she and her grandmother end up killing the wolf after being attacked. That’s my characters in the simplest form– they were attacked, and instead of falling victim they decided to learn from it and fight back.

2) Is the relationship between Rosie and Scarlett based off of the relationship you have with your sister? (Or other siblings?)
Vaguely– my sister and I didn’t get along growing up, and it wasn’t until we learned to understand and accept one another as individuals that we were able to get along as sisters. Scarlett and Rosie go through a similar process in SISTERS RED.

3) What was the most difficult part of writing Sister’s Red?

The “chain of evidence”– the voices came very naturally to me, but working out when the characters and readers discovered information was hard!

4) How did you find the perfect balance between romance and action?
I’m not sure– I think that’s just the way the story worked out. It wasn’t an intentional decision, I’m certain.

5) Did you follow a certain process when writing the book?

I LOVE to outline. I outline everything. I start with a single note of a story idea, and then fill up a legal pad with additional ideas and characters. Sometimes the story never makes it off the legal pad and withers, but usually I end up with so many notes that I transfer them to the computer, and eventually I have a first draft or, in the very least, a detailed outline.

6) What can you tell us about the “Damn Historical Novel” that we’ve seen you tweeting about?
Not very much! It’s a historical fantasy and it involves Mark Twain. I’m keeping it a secret for now.🙂

If you have any recommendations for author spotlights for the coming months, leave them in the comments.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Publisher (Publication Date): Graphia (10/18/10)

Pages: 180

Where to Purchase: Amazon, B&N, , Book Depository, Chapters, IndieBound.

Earlier this month, I discovered entirely by chance a little website called NetGalley. On this site, publishers give out e-books to reviewers for free in exchange for reviews of said e-books. I asked my friend and resident book blogging mentor Kim (of Twisted Fates’ Café) if she’d ever heard of NetGalley and whether it was legit. She laughed and said she’d been using it for a while and had just forgotten to tell me. In order to atone for her serious transgression, Kim was charged with giving me a recommendation on what book to request first. Her answer was Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler.

Hunger is the story of Lisabeth Lewis, a seventeen year old anorexic. On top of that, Lisa is also Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The story follows Lisa as she combats her own eating disorder while trying to face both the gluttony and the starvation of the world. The e-book version I received was 177 pages, so it was quite a change of pace from the 400 page bricks I have been reading. (Sidenote: One day I want to have a library in my house. And in this library, I want the arched doorframe to be made entirely of books, arch included.)

The book is very enlightening when it comes to eating disorders. I have never had anorexia or bulimia, but to date this book is the most vivid explanation I have ever gotten on the subject. And I had 10th grade Health class. It spared no expense when detailing exactly what it is to be anorexic. You have to deal with the inner demon (named the Thin Voice) just as much as Lisabeth does as it regales her with caloric value of every food she thinks of and how much she will have to exercise to work it off. It follows as her parents remain clueless, one friend enables her disease, and another friend and her boyfriend worry for her safety. My only warning on this subject is that when I say it is very detailed, I mean it. When I say you get to experience what it is to be bulimic, I mean that vividly and accurately. You know what that means. So to the queasy, be wary.

The other half of the story focuses on Lisa’s appointing as Famine by Death. Death is easily my favorite character. What person that grew up in the 90’s isn’t going to be charmed by a Kurt Cobain look-a-like that says things like “Thou art famine, yo”? And he even sings one of Nirvana’s songs. But enough about Death, let’s talk about Famine. I have never in my life read any fiction about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Even my biblical knowledge on the subject doesn’t go much farther than ‘they’re bad.’ I couldn’t even think of all four of their names! (Death, Famine, War, and who?… Pestilence.) The Horsemen plotline was a nice change of pace from the Lisabeth plotline. As Lisa, you deal with the self-centered issues of a main character, as you would expect, but as Famine, you deal with the worldly issues and what you can do to change them. It puts into perspective how bad the world can be, how great the world can be, and how little ten pounds affects the world around you.

All in all, Hunger was a great Saturday read. It is however a difficult read. The main characters struggles are very real and not to be taken lightly. The action kept it exciting and the character development kept you involved. The humor was well-placed and oft times laugh out loud funny. If you’re wondering, yes I did laugh out loud to “Thou art Famine, yo,” because of how ridiculous it is. If you have a free day, I recommend picking this book up. Do expect to finish it that day though, because as previously mentioned it is only 177 pages. That was the main shortcoming of this book, I feel like there could have been more. Its sequel Rage will be coming out in April so perhaps more of the story has been written. I’ll let you know. A portion of the proceeds brought in by Hunger will be donated to the National Eating Disorders Association which provides support to those suffering from eating disorders as well as their families. You can call NEDA toll free at 1-800-931-2237.*

In keeping with the story, I am giving Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler three scales out of five. I am not giving it a four (which was my initial reaction) because it isn’t a book that I can recommend for everyone (I don’t recommend it if you’re squeamish for example). The other main reason I didn’t give it a four was length. I felt the story could have been fleshed out more and at parts it seemed the storyline was rushed.

The sequel Rage releases April 4, 2011.

For the comments, did you know all four of the Horsemen before I told you?

*NEDA information from the Author’s Note at the end of Hunger.

Full disclosure: the author of this book is a close personal friend of mine and has been for two years. I am not however reviewing the book as his friend, I am reviewing it as a book blogger.

Bran Hambric: The Specter Key, released 10/10/10, is a great addition to the Bran Hambric series. It is exponentially better thanThe Farfield Curse, which was a very good book. Part of this can be credited to the second installment being able to build off of the first. There was much less world-building and much more story, as can be expected. In The Farfield Curse, the author had to create the world before being able to tell his story, but in The Specter Key he could just let the world be a given from the previous story and go straight for the plot. Which he does very effectively.

The book immediately sucks you in by starting with a point of view that isn’t the main character’s. You being expecting to hear the wit and charm of Bran Hambric, and are instead met with the malice of Elspeth. It is these shifts, twists, and changes that keep you interested throughout the rest of the novel.

The characters from the first installment are still great, but the best thing about The Specter Key is the new characters that come with it. There are three new characters that stand out in my mind: Thomas, Gary, and Nim. I won’t tell you who they are or their importance of course, but now you know who I mean. Thomas is one of those characters that I expect to never fully understand. He has a complexity to him that is rare in stories lately. Gary has a very Macon Ravenwood (a la Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl) feel to him that immediately makes me love him. Nim has a very small part in the story and says very little, but she is such a lovable character that I had to include her on my favorites list.

The plot line for The Specter Key had everything a reader would want in a story such as this. It had plenty of action, more suspense, and a healthy dose of relationship drama. The magic battles (and other battles as well) are written so that you can always tell what is actually happening. Often, the real choreography of a true battle is lost in the clutter, but that is not so here. The suspense of not knowing what will happen, who is good who is bad, how it will end, or who will survive keeps you glued to the pages. You’ll find yourself playing the ‘one more chapter’ game for hours. The biggest factor that will keep you reading however, is the relationship drama. The father-son and girl-boy relationships will make you want to skip ahead to the end just to see how it all turns out (though that is not condoned).

Obviously, I would suggest reading The Farfield Curse before The Specter Key, so I am hereby recommending them both to you. In keeping with the story, I am giving Bran Hambric: The Specter Key 4 nimble dandelions out of 5.

Sidenote: Check the acknowledgments page. You might see someone you know. (Hint: My name is Zane.)

I am writing this review assuming that you have read the book. I believe in order to fully review Crank, I may have to give some spoilers. If you have not read the book, you have been warned.

Banned Books Week ends in two days (October 3rd). In celebration of the freedom I enjoy to read whatever it is that I want to read, I picked up Crank by Ellen Hopkins. I had heard a lot about the book, but most of it I ignored because I don’t believe anything someone says condescendingly. I had heard complaints about the drug use (it’s literally named after a drug, guys) and sex. So for my review, I will tell why those complaints are unfounded, wrong, and even ridiculous.

First off, drugs. People have complained that they didn’t want their children reading this book because of its main character’s repetitive drug use. My question in response is, would you rather your kid know what drugs do or find out themselves? That’s what books are for. They are a fictional means of finding things out for yourself. I am not a parent, but I imagine that I would much rather my child read about what drugs do to you than let drugs do it to them. Ignorance is not a desirable state. Ignorance leads to curiosity. And curiosity is far more dangerous than a book.

Second, sex. This is the most understandable complaint pertaining to this book. It’s the most understandable not because it is right but because I can see why the parents want to avoid it. Letting their child read Crank would mean explaining to them what sex is. Fun fact to know and tell: if your child wants to read this book, I can almost guarantee they are ready for the sex talk. It takes a mature mind to want to read Crank because it isn’t a desirable story. This is not something you want to lose yourself in. It is a book to read for understanding, not enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but I got more understanding out of it than enjoyment. And just to be clear, the sex in Crank is a pretty clear example of what drugs do to you. The character has unprotected sex and gets pregnant. Her mistakes had consequences. She even keeps the baby, deciding against abortion. So let’s review that: this book tells the reader to be careful with sex, shows the consequences of sex, and the main character doesn’t have an abortion. Do you see anything in there that would make you think reading this would lead to bad as it pertains to sex? It gives a pretty realistic view on the subject in my opinion.

Crank does not glorify drug use. It does not glorify sex. It does not promote unhealthy activities. It does not condone lying, stealing, dealing, using, or whoring. It is a real look at what can really happen. The only reason anyone would think this needs to be banned would be that they are out of touch with reality or wish they were.

In keeping with the story, I am giving Crank by Ellen Hopkins 4 Marlboros out of 5.

A few weeks ago my girlfriend Amy and I made a day trip to Decatur, GA for the Decatur Book Festival. We forgot to take into account that Georgia is Eastern Time whereas Alabama is Central Time, so we were an hour later than we’d planned. We just managed to make it into the church where Cassie Clare was giving her talk.

And that was when I first saw Jackson Pearce. She was wearing a wig and rainbow tights. She was introducing Cassie, and she walked out onto the stage dressed as one of Cassie’s characters, Magnus. Now I haven’t read Cassie’s Mortal Instruments series yet, though it is on the list, so most of what happened next I didn’t understand, but I did get to see how hilarious and charismatic Jackson Pearce is in person though, so I knew exactly where we were going after Cassie’s signing (which we were at the end of): Jackson’s signing.

Because we were at the end of Cassie’s line (which stretched a block… outside.. in the Southern heat) we didn’t get to attend the panel on Sibling Rivalry with Jackson Pearce, Robin Benway, and Michelle Zink. We did however get to be first in line (inside, air-conditioned, sitting down) for the signing afterward. And that is where I picked up the book I am now reviewing, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

The story follows a pair of sisters named Scarlett and Rosie and a friend named Silas. The sisters and friend are hunters of creatures called Fenris, which are basically werewolves. They spend their time protecting others from the Fenris by killing them before they hurt someone. Obviously this leads to isolation from the world, desperation to save it, and constant exhaustion from their efforts.

The first thing I need to say about this book is that it is amazing. It has just the right mix of action and romance and lore to keep people from very different demographics all locked in on the story. It takes from the story “Little Red Riding Hood,” gives it an urban twist, and empowers the women within. The product is an undeniably well-written story. It almost reads like a comic book, with the characters feeling like super heroes. It has a good balance between characters as well. There isn’t one of the trio that is the Aquaman to the others’ Superman and Wolverine. Each of the three have their own characteristics that make them powerful as well as their weaknesses that make them rely on their partners.

The action in Sisters Red is perfect. It is descriptive enough that the battles seem real without being too grotesque or gory. The battles seem real, not choreographed or what the author thinks a battle would be like. The tactics and strategy and reliance on reflex and instincts is what gives it a unique and concrete feel. But even more so than the action, the relationships are real. I say relationships and not romance, because it isn’t just about a romantic relationship. This story contains and highlights many relationships, from grandmother to granddaughters, girl to boy, sister to sister, wolf to world, hunter to wolf, hunter to world.

I highly recommend this book as well as Jackson Pearce. If she ever comes near you for a signing, event, festival, or perhaps even fast food, you should definitely meet her. You can find her event information on her website. In keeping with the story, I am giving Sisters Red 4 axes out of 5.

Think of your favorite food.
Do you have it in mind?
Well, I don’t like it, so you can never eat it again.

Does that make sense? Is it okay for me to tell you that you can’t consume something because of my personal feelings about it? Would it be okay if it were a book you were consuming? The answer should be no, but not everyone sees that yet. For some reason, people still think that banning books is a justifiable activity.

Throughout the history of mankind, there have been instances upon instances of book banning, burning, or censoring to prove without a shadow of doubt that it does not work. Book banners have been vilified, parodied, dismissed, and denounced and yet there are those who still believe that it is worth their time to tell others what is fit for them.

Tell me, book banner, what would you say to a book that contained the following: murder, drinking, repeated use of ‘damn,’ ‘hell,’ and ‘bastard,’ violence, and it vilifies the church. Would you say that it is not appropriate to be read? Would you want to ban it? If so, congratulations you just banned the Bible. Does this prove to you that book banning based on content is wrong? It should.

This is not to say that censoring what children read is a bad thing. By all means, censor what your children read. But there is an important difference in censoring for your family and censoring for the world. There has to be a distinction there. You can tell your child not to read something, but when you tell someone else’s child not to read something, you have crossed the line.
Who are you to tell them what is fit for them? Do you know what they are going through? Maybe they need to read about a suicide survivor because they are battling thoughts of suicide. Maybe they need to read about a drug abuser because they are toying with the idea of taking drugs. Maybe they need to read about a rape survivor because they have been raped and don’t know how to deal with it.

Books save lives. It may sound ridiculous to you, but I guarantee I can explain it to you.

Let’s have pretend time now. Pretend you are 15 years old. Since you were twelve, you have been ritually molested every night by your step-father, who is supposed to be your provider, protector, and all-around life-guide. That equals out to being molested over 1000 times. You don’t understand why it has happened. You don’t know what to do about it. You don’t know who to tell. You don’t think you could even talk about it if you had someone. You see your only option is to bear the burden, to live with the pain. Maybe in three years you can move off to college and get away from it all and pretend it never happened. Of course, maybe in three years when you move off to college you will find that your psyche is so messed up that you can’t maintain a healthy relationship. Maybe you develop a complex where you have a crippling fear of middle-aged men. Maybe you find someone who loves you, but you can’t love them because you are so worried that they will hurt you like your step-father did and you couldn’t bear that so you push them away. Maybe you find yourself so unbelievably swallowed up by your past, your fears, your hate that you decide to kill yourself. Maybe you succeed.

Now what if you were supposed to read Speak in high school? What if some bigot decided you shouldn’t read that because you don’t need to know anything about surviving rape? Maybe if you had read Speak you would have been empowered to change your own circumstance. Maybe you would have gotten to live. Maybe by reading about a survivor, you would have become one. What if that is all it takes? What if all some people need is to know that it is possible? They just need to know that somewhere, someplace, some world, someone survived what they are going through. Someone lived. Even if that person is fictional, that person is there, which means those people who are suffering aren’t alone.

Books save lives. This is a fact. Book banning saves no one nothing. This too, is a fact. Speak loudly, speak many, and speak to those who need it most.