Guest Post: Liz Rettig

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Today, I have Liz Rettig, author of Jumping to Confusions, here with a guest post. You can learn more about Liz at here website, and information about her book is available here. I will be posting my review of Jumping to Confusions later this week.

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so they say, yet publishers spend oodles of time and money on cover design because, let’s face it, appearances count. Readers are more likely to pick up and take a peak inside a book with an attractive cover than a plain one. I’m afraid in life, love and romance it’s the same – pretty girls are more likely to be browsed than plain ones! But take heart – if the story is no good then the book will be discarded. And if the girl is a boring or nasty, well, she might, or might not, be dumped – guys can be shallow sometimes.

I was a fat, specky, frizzy haired and ugly teen - or so I thought. Looking back at pictures now I was maybe a bit overweight but firm, I had a pretty face and nice eyes which the glasses didn’t ruin like I’d believed, and even my hair was, well, no, a bit of a mess actually but still, I wasn’t the ugly duckling I’d imagined. Quite nice-looking in fact. But with zero confidence and attending an all girls school it was a very long time before my first date. Instead, I had to make up romances in my head. Many real life romances –and a happy marriage - later I’m still doing it.

I started writing my first book My Desperate Love Diary when my daughter was a young teen. She was miles better looking than I’d been at that age, as were most of her friends, yet I noticed that they were all worried about some aspect of their appearance. Too fat, thin, tall or small. Eyes too far apart or too close, nose or feet too big, second toe too large (longer than the big toe), didn’t like their ear lobes, even their underarm shape – I mean really! The irony is that when we are at our most attractive as teens and young women this is the very time when we seem to have least confidence in our looks.

By far the biggest issue with teen girls is weight. Having said that, fat isn’t all in the head if you get my meaning. Young people today - boys and girls - are fatter than their parents’ generation and it’s a real health concern. On the plus side – no pun intended – boys don’t get teased quite as much for being overweight these days as dumpy Dudleys are almost normal. And hefty girls can definitely still find partners – there’s even been talk of the NHS having to fund different heavy duty delivery beds to support the growing number of massive young mothers. All the same we really need to tackle our growing waistlines or face serious health consequences in the future.

So, yes, junk food and lack of exercise these days are real problems. On the other hand, girls of perfectly normal, healthy weight still fret over their size, always wishing they were at least a stone lighter, which makes the simple pleasure of eating a guilty misery. Often their mothers are no help at all as they are desperately dieting too!

This is why I chose to write a story about Cat, a slightly overweight but pretty teen with a skinny, constantly dieting mum who exists on crisp bread, cottage cheese and low fat, artificially sweetened yoghurt. A mum who knows the calories in a single Malteser or half a medium Satsuma and who frowns at her daughter tucking into a lasagne or even a second slice of toast. For good measure, I threw in Cat’s non-identical twin Tess who’s blond, naturally thin, and the hottest girl in the school. Poor Cat. But never fear, she finds self-esteem and her prince charming in the end.

It’s hard to lose inches from your bum or waist when you’re surrounded by temptation and feeling miserably pre-menstrual but at least it’s possible. Pity the poor girl then who hates being too tall. After all, nothing can reduce vertical inches – apart from advanced age and bone disease (not exactly desirable options). When I was at university I’d a girl friend who was almost six feet tall. She was a brilliant astrophysicist but her main aim in life was to snag a boyfriend who would be taller than her in high heels (I mean my friend in high heels of course not the guy). In Glasgow this reduced her pool of available partners to maybe 0.001 percent of the population. Imagine her fury then when I, or one of her other five-feet-nothingish pals, pulled a six foot three hot guy. You could see her point - we didn’t need someone that tall - but were we going to knock back a fit lad out of sense of fairness? Hmm, yeah you guessed it. Sorry.

My university pal was the inspiration for the character Lindsay, Cat’s best friend, in Jumping to Confusions, whose single minded pursuit of tall guys blinds her to the true love of besotted Peter, a crucial ¼ inch shorter than her. In the end however Peter’s bravery and character triumph over inches.

So the message in this story is, yes, appearances matter but they aren’t everything. As for books – I’ve had so many emails from readers saying the gorgeous cover persuaded them to pick up Jumping to Confusions and then they got totally hooked on the story. Hmm… on the other hand some of them did go on an awful lot about that beautiful cover.

Thank you Liz, for being here and sharing such a wonderful post.

Skinny by Ibi Kaslik

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

author’s website: Ibi Kaslik
release date: September 19, 2006
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Contemporary / Body Image
length: 256 pages
publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
overall rating: 2.5 Stars
body image & self perception issue: anorexia

*the inside flap*
Holly’s older sister, Giselle, is self-destructing. Haunted by her love-deprived relationship with her late father, Giselle is fighting an all-consuming battle with anorexia. As a track star, Holly struggles to keep her own life in balance while coping with the mental and physical deterioration of her beloved sister. Once a strong role model and top medical student, Giselle is spiraling out of control. And, together, they are holding on for dear life.
This honest look at the special bond between sisters is told from both girls’ perspectives as they narrate alternating chapters. Gritty and often wryly funny, Skinny explores family relationships, love, pain and the hunger for acceptance that drives us all.

*my review*
I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. I picked it up expecting to read a story about two sisters and how they dealt with one of them having an eating disorder. While the book does have the story of two sisters and of how one has an eating disorder, I thought that it talked about so many more topics that I would almost categorize it as a book about self exploration, not just an eating disorder.

The book is told by both Giselle and Holly, and since the girls are very different ages (22 and eighth grade respectively), they do have very different perspectives, which enhances the story. The chapters alternate the narrator, but they aren’t labeled, and it was sometimes difficult to tell who was narrating, especially if you are just picking it up again after a break from reading. It was interesting to read about the girls different explorations as this book progressed. Giselle tells about many of her explorations as memories, and does touch on topics of bisexuality, drug use, drinking, and her history and experiences at medical school. Holly is experiencing things quite differently because she is younger and is trying to discover herself (although she doesn’t say that is what she is doing, and she may not even recognize that is what she is doing, but it is interesting to read). Holly deals with peer pressure in terms of athletics, drinking, drugs, her own body, and boys. Some of these topics lead to some rather explicit explanations, and while the descriptions may be true to topic, they may also be inappropriate for younger readers of YA books.

This book is written in a kind of “stream of consciousness” style that I didn’t care for. There was especially a lot of this when Giselle narrated. She had an interesting internal struggle with a very different version of herself. It was almost as if her intellect was arguing with the disease, but it was difficult to follow sometimes. Even when I was reading and enjoying certain parts of the story, I wasn’t drawn to pick it up. The book dealt with a number of issues that can be important to teenagers, and may appeal to others, but I didn’t care for it.

In My Mailbox (#12)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.

This is the first week that I actually received someghing in my mailbox! Last week, Elizabeth Scott had a twitter contest to win a free YA book, and I won! I got my book in the mail on Wednesday and was super excited because it came autographed to me!

In My Mailbox:
The Unwritten Rule – Elizabeth Scott
Other than that, I didn’t get anything because I was preparing to leave for a week at an awesome teacher workshop at James Madison University. I’ve been here two days and the workshop is great and the campus is beautiful.

What did you get in your mailboxes?

Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

Friday, July 16, 2010

author’s website: Deborah Hautzig
original publication date: August 1981
reissued in 1999 by Puffin Books
appeals to: Young Adult
topic: Eating Disorder (anorexia)
length: 158 pages
overall rating: 3 stars
body image & self perception issue: anorexia

*the back cover*
Leslie Hiller is a bright, attractive, talented teenager who leads a privileged life in New York City. She is also a perfectionist. When she starts something, whether it’s a drawing or her homework, she will not stop until it is truly finished. This time, she has started to diet. And Leslie finds herself becoming obsessed, getting thinner and thinner, until she is forced to realize that her quest for perfection is killing her.

*my review*
There were many things about this book that I liked, and many that I didn’t, but the first paragraph of this book was at the top of things I did like. The book starts, “It’s hard to know where to begin . . . I wonder if there’s even such a thing as a beginning . . .” In terms of a story about a girl with an eating disorder, it was interesting that our narrator couldn’t even define where or when it began. She goes on to describe her life as a normal 14-year-old girl living in New York. However, soon we realize that Leslie is obsessed with how she looks. In fact, by page 12, she is describing herself - 5’5.5” and 125 pounds – and says, “If I were think, my life would be perfect” (p. 12). This becomes her mantra throughout the story.

The major struggle with the eating disorder doesn’t begin there. In fact, the beginning of the problem reminded me of a line in the movie, “The Devil Wears Prada,” where a character says, “I’m on stomach flu away from my goal weight.” That seems like such a crazy statement, but for Leslie, that is exactly how her downward spiral into the eating disorder began. During winter break, Leslie had the stomach flu, and when she realizes that the flu caused her to lose enough weight that her jeans were too big, she is motivated to start (and stick to) a diet. The diet she chooses doesn’t seem to bad at first: healthy food and some sit ups are things we could all try. But she takes it to the extreme, working her way from 45 to nearly 700 sit ups, and restricting her food to what I’d estimate is no more than 500 and probably closer to 400 calories a day.

As the story progresses and her disorder becomes more and more severe, a number of changes happen, both physical and psychological. She stops having her period as her weight falls and falls and falls. Even when people point out how thin she is getting, she doesn’t believe it. At one point (p. 51) she and her best friend Cavett have a conversation that captures how twisted Leslie’s self image is. Basically, Cavett wants to know when Leslie is going to be eating again, and Leslie replies by saying, “When I’m thin enough.” Cavett is shocked and says as much, but Leslie continues to affirm that while Cavett IS thin, she isn’t.

At different places in the book, Leslie comments on her current weight and on her goal weight of 105. The scary thing is that when she reaches her goal and still doesn’t feel thin, she keeps losing. She restricts her food intake even more and soon loses the energy to get through the day. But still, she loses weight. There are sentences scattered throughout the novel that count down the pounds with ticks (for example “100, 99, 98, 97, tick, tick, tick.” p. 63) and still, Leslie’s mantra is “I’ll know when I’m thin enough because I’ll be happy.” (p. 61).

One thing that was strange in this novel is that Leslie didn’t want to be sick, she was willing to go to doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, and even to be hospitalized. She just wanted to be thin above all else. When her mother suggests doctors, Leslie goes willingly, even though she knows she is well below the healthy weight for her body. She even agrees to be hospitalized, and yet, she continues to lose weight.

Even though this book was relatively short, I found that it took me a long time to read it. Some places were very slow moving, and others were just difficult to read. Sometimes, there would be paragraphs of Leslie’s thoughts that kind of spiraled around without really making a point, and I kind of got lost during those sections. I didn’t think that they really advanced the plot or added much to her character. And the part I was most disappointed with was the ending. As the end of the book drew closer, I wanted there to be some kind of closure or conclusion, but there really wasn’t. In fact, the book ends with one of Leslie’s thought sequences, and while there were a few good points, it didn’t have enough for me. I even turned the page hoping for a little bit more conclusion! Instead, I found the author’s afterward, and truthfully, that made the best conclusion the book could possibly have had. The afterward doesn’t have spoilers in it, so you could read it at any time, and I think it makes the book so much more meaningful. I’ll leave you with a quote from the afterward:
“Anorexia . . . is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something to be proud of. It isn’t anybody’s ‘fault.’ It’s an illness – a life-threatening illness – and it’s treatable.” (p. 157 – in the afterward)

*short and snappy*
writing: the book was published in 1981, and I think you can feel the age of the writing. It sounds weird, but I really think that the writing style of YA literature has changed a lot in the last 29 years, and this is reflective of its time.
plot: varied – some places were slow, others moved quickly and kept you hooked
characters: frustrating – Leslie really captures the essence of a girl with anorexia, but it is still frustrating to read her flippantly talking about how she just isn’t thin enough – what makes her a bit more likable is the fact that she doesn’t want to be hurting her family and she does make an effort to explain to them that she can’t help her disorder.
judging by the cover: As I was looking for images of the cover, I actually found three. The first is the one that matched the book I read, but the other two paint interesting pictures too!

Interview with Allen Zadoff

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today, I have Allen Zadoff, author of Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have, here for an interview. You can find my review of his book here, and more information about him on his website.

What are your feelings/opinions on how YA books deal with the topic of body image and self esteem?
I have to be honest and say I don’t really know how YA deals with this issue as a whole. I’m really writing my own experience in these books. In FOOD, GIRLS, I tried to write about what it felt like for me to be different in the world, both in high school and as an adult. I will say this: Life was complex for me as a kid, and I prefer books, films, and tv shows that portray it this way. I like stuff that is juicy, interesting, difficult, and amazing. What doesn’t work for me: “fat kid miraculously becomes thin and life is perfect”. That may happen from time to time, but it never happened to me!

There is a lot of pressure on teens (from the media and from their peers) to look a certain way, but it seems like more books are aimed at girls than boys. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think a market exists for more body image books for boys?
Absolutely! And I’m writing them. I think the male perspective in YA is very important, and I actually get more letters from girls than I do from boys. I think it’s exciting for girls to get a window into the male mind, and to know that boys have feelings, too, including feelings about their bodies, how they look, and how others look at them. I think it’s less cool for boys to talk about this stuff in our culture, so I try to write about it. I hope boys will read it and feel less alone. When I was a kid, I felt like I was crazy and I was the only one thinking about this stuff. Only much later did I learn that it wasn’t true.

The main character in your book is a high school sophomore, but the book could appeal to readers who are older or younger (in my opinion). Was there a reason for Andy’s age?
When I wrote FOOD, GIRLS, I was thinking about my own life when I was 15 years old. I fell in love for the first time around then, and I was really struggling with food and my weight. That’s why I made Andrew that age. But as a novelist, it’s my job to write from a lot of different perspectives, and I get a surprising number of letters from adults who really connect with the book. My favorite type of letter: “I’m reading this at the same time as my son/daughter, and we’re both laughing and loving it!”

What was the most challenging part of writing “Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have”? What was the most rewarding?
I really enjoyed writing FOOD, GIRLS, and I think the biggest challenge was to tell the truth as best I could but to do it in an entertaining way. Although I did not have Andrew Zansky’s exact experience in high school (I never played football, for instance, though I was asked), I was definitely a fat kid and felt many of the same feelings as Andrew. The most rewarding thing is to be able to share it with readers. As was mentioned before, there’s not a lot of YA from the male perspective, especially when it comes to body image issues.

You’ve also written a memoir that is aimed at adult audiences. How was that experience different from writing for teens? Do you prefer one over the other?
I wrote a memoir for adults called HUNGRY: LESSONS LEARNED ON THE JOURNEY FROM FAT TO THIN. It talks about my real world experiences losing over 150 pounds when I was 28 years old. Imagine that. I was fat for nearly 28 years, and now I’m a normal weight. It’s like I’ve lived two different lives, and I wanted to talk about that. While I loved writing HUNGRY and I hope it’s helped and inspired a lot of people, I’m a big fan of the YA community. The readers are more passionate, more organized, and really excited about books! There’s nothing that makes an author feel better than to meet people who love reading, and YA people are like that. So no offense to the adult marketplace, but YA is much cooler!

What are you working on now?
I’m very excited about my next novel. It’s called MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES. It’s a high school theater novel with a very interesting twist. It’s told from the perspective of the techies, the backstage crew who are at war with the actors. The main character is an aspiring lighting designer. I loved theater when I was in high school, and I actually ran the undergraduate theater company when I went to Cornell, so this is a topic that is really personal to me. The novel is funny and sad all mixed together. It’s due next Spring from Egmont-USA. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it soon.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?
I’m very lucky to meet and work with amazing YA authors now, people who inspire me as artists and a few of whom I’ve gotten to hang out with. Forgive me for just mentioning the guys here, but here I go: Andrew Smith, Barry Lyga, Ben Esch, James Lecesne, Francisco Stork, Blake Nelson. If you haven’t read their work, I recommend it!

Thanks Allen for answering some questions and for participating in Body Image and Self Perception Month!

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

author’s website: Allen Zadoff
release date: September 8, 2009
(paperback release: February 22, 2011)
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Contemporary / Body Image
length: 320 pages
publisher: EgmontUSA
overall rating: 5 stars
body image & self perception issue: obesity (male protagonist)

*the inside flap*
What’s worse than being fat your freshman year? Being fat your sophomore year.

Life used to be so simple for Andrew Zansky – hand with the Model UN guys, avoid gym class, and eat and eat and eat. He’s used to not fitting in: into his family, his sports-crazed school, or his size 48 pants.

But not anymore. Andrew just met April, the new girl at school and the instant love of his life! He wants to find a way to win her over, but how? When O. Douglas, the heartthrob quarterback and high-school legend, saves him from getting beaten up by the school bully, Andrew sees his chance to get in with the football squad.

Is it possible to reinvent yourself in the middle of high school? Andrew is willing to try. But he’s going to have to make some changes. Fast.

How far should you go to be the person you really want to be?

Andrew is about to find out.

*my review*
This is an interesting novel that covers many more topics than it would seem by reading the cover. This book talks about weight, self esteem, divorce, insecurity, friendship, and the hierarchy of “cool” that happens in high school. That’s a lot of meat for a novel that’s only 311 pages long, but it works beautifully. Allen Zadoff merges these topics into a truly excellent story about the life of an overweight teenager.

Andrew Zansky isn’t just a little overweight. He is big enough that he actually has to worry about fitting into the new desks at school. He even refers to himself as fat – he says it runs in his family. And while he doesn’t want to be fat, he doesn’t do a ton to change it, which I think has to do with the pressure his mom puts on him. She isn’t comfortable with her weight, and she projects those insecurities toward Andy by encouraging diets. Truthfully, it is because she doesn’t want Andy to struggle with the same problem, but putting pressure on Andy isn’t helping. Also creating issues is Andy’s sister Jessica, who happens to be super skinny. (Enter one of my favorite lines of the book: “There’s a lot of fat in our family, but there’s some thin, too. Dad is thin and athletic, and my sister Jessica is super skinny. She’s also a super bitch, so there’s clearly no correlation between being skinny and being nice, at least in her case.” p. 2-3)

Andy seems to be living a pretty decent high school life, until he meets April – the girl of his dreams – and decides that he wants to impress her. This leads to perhaps the most embarrassing situation I can imagine happening in high school. And obviously, it isn’t very impressive either. Things seem to go worse and worse for Andy, until the quarter-back (and high school superstar) O. Douglas suddenly becomes Andy’s friend. Andy goes out for the football team and finds that he actually isn’t half bad. What is interesting is that throughout this transformation, Andy loses touch with his old best friend, and begins to change who he is.

Anything else would spoil the ending, but I highly recommend this book to female or male readers of any age. It is an incredibly story with a lot of depth to it if – especially if you really pay attention.

*short and snappy*
: easy and fun to read – the writing pulls you into the story and definitely captures the feel of high school life
plot: not at all what I expected Рthis is not the clich̩ high school novel
characters: Andy has a lot of depth, but it is the well developed minor characters (Eyton, Mom, Dad, O, and April) that make the book come alive
memorable line:
judging by the cover: brilliant! The cover ties directly into the story if you look at the details
miscellaneous: You can read an excerpt from “Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have” here (scroll down for the link), and tomorrow, Allen Zadoff will “be here” for an interview!

If you’ve read the book, or don’t mind spoilers, I have a bit more to say:
I absolutely loved the depth of Andy's character and the fact that he realized that he wasn't playing football for the right reasons. It sounds a bit pessimistic, I suppose, but I liked that Andy didn't get the girl and lose 100 pound at the end of the book - it would have been too cliché. This story felt much more realistic because those things didn't happen, and I think that people will really be able to better relate to the character because of that.

In My Mailbox (#11)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.
This week, I've been spending A LOT of time on homework, but I did manage to pick up a few things. (I actually picked up about 30 books about explorers and Native Americans for my project, too, but I figured you wouldn't be interested in those!)
From the Library:
By the time you read this, I'll be dead – Julie Anne Peters
Brilliant – Rachel Vail
Candor – Pam Bachorz
Uglies – Scott Westerfeld
Pretties – Scott Westerfeld

New this week:
Since the last IMM, I’ve had several posts for Body Image and Self Perception (BISP) Month.
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Out of the Fire by Deborah Froese
Beastly by Alex Flinn
Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton
Guest Post by Deborah Lytton

That sums up my week. I hope you had a great week too!

Also – I’ll be traveling next week, so if you have good suggestions for travel/airplane reads, let me know! (That’s actually why I picked up Uglies and Pretties.)

Book Blogger Hop #2

The Book Blogger Hop was started (and is hosted) by Crazy for Books.

This week's question: Tell us about some of your favorite authors and why they are your favorites!

My favorite authors have changed as I have grown up and as I have changed in taste as a reader. I have favorites for my reading and favorites for teaching. Here, I’ll share a few that come to mind right away:
Laurie Halse Anderson – because she captures difficult topics in incredible ways. Speak is one of my all time favorite books, but I can’t think of a book of hers that I haven’t enjoyed.
Maggie Stiefvater – because she creates characters with so much depth that you can , slightly snarky, and incredibly creative. And because James (of Lament and Ballad) is probably my biggest book crush.
Wendi Corsi Staub – because her stories are full of suspense and keep me hooked to the last page.
Rick Riordan – because he takes mythology and weaves it into modern times in a way that is truly fantastic (and must take a TON of research).
J.K. Rowling – because she created an incredible world in the Harry Potter series and wrote a series that appeals to people of all ages.
Elizabeth Scott – because her books are real, well written, and address topics that need to be discussed.
Andrew Clements – because he writes books with realistic stories that appeal to kids in elementary and middle school, and because a lot of his main characters are boys (which I think is important in MG and YA books)

I could literally go on all day, so I’ll stop with seven. What are some of your favorite authors?

Guest Post: Blooming by Deborah Lytton

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Today, Deborah Lytton, the author of Jane in Bloom, is here with a guest post. You can learn more about her and her books on her website. I'd like to thank Deborah for contributing to my blog and for participating in BI&SP Month!

Blooming by Deborah Lytton

I first had the idea to write Jane in Bloom when I saw a piece on television about forgotten siblings. These were the forgotten children in families consumed with the care of a problem child. The problems were all different, but the result was the same. These siblings were invisible. Unseen and unheard because there was nothing wrong with them. I wanted to tell their story. And that became Jane’s story.

I decided to afflict Jane’s sister, Elizabeth, with an eating disorder because I see younger and younger girls focused on their bodies and media images of perfection. I wanted to speak out to girls and encourage them to find their own uniqueness and to embrace it. In Jane’s journey, there is a ray of hope—for Jane discovers gifts inside herself that give her self-esteem. She finds inner strength, courage, creativity and friendship. All of these things come to Jane not because of the way she looks on the outside, but because of who she is on the inside. The inner beauty begins to shine through her, and that is when Jane blooms.

Jane in Bloom depicts Elizabeth’s eating disorder through Jane’s eyes, so the details are blurred—this was intentional. There are many good books already on the shelves about eating disorders, many written by women who have personal experience. Jane in Bloom is unique because it deals with the impact of this disease on the family, and most specifically, on a younger sister. Jane sees her sister as popular and perfect. She sees only what she wants to see. And she thinks that she is less than her sister because she is different. Jane craves the attention Elizabeth receives, but it is only later in the book, after Elizabeth is gone, that Jane realizes the cost of that kind of attention.

Holding ourselves to a standard of perfection is impossible, no matter what our age. But I think girls have it the hardest. They are bombarded with images of thin, sexy young women, and they are told that this is how they should measure their worth. But I don’t blame the media for this. Movies have always featured beautiful seemingly-perfect people (think of all the MGM stars, in their Technicolor gorgeousness) and magazines have always had stunning models on the covers in exotic locations many of us will never visit. I think the problem comes from a trickle-down effect. Handed down from mothers to daughters. Girls see their mothers worried about their weight and their wrinkles. They see their mothers comparing themselves to airbrushed models, and they begin to compare themselves, too. In Jane in Bloom, Jane’s mother has an eating disorder as well. Again, since the story is told through Jane’s eyes, the specifics are subtle. But she has an image of her own perfection that has impacted her daughters. Happiness eludes her because she hasn’t accepted herself, flaws and all.

I think our only defense is to enlighten our girls and ourselves. We need to embrace ourselves, no matter what our size, shape and color. We need to remind ourselves that self-esteem and confidence are the tools we need to accomplish our goals and fulfill our dreams. We need to show by example that we love ourselves, just as we are. And then we need to instill this in our daughters and our friends. Women need to reach out to other women to remind them of their inner beauty. We need to water our daughters, sisters and friend with support so they can bloom.

Jane learns to look inside herself and no longer compare herself to Elizabeth, or to anyone else. This is the message I hope will reach girls who read this book—I want them to see how special they are and to nurture and value themselves. Jane’s babysitter and friend, Ethel, says it best, “‘We live in a world filled with comparisons. We’re always being compared. Asked to conform to a certain size, a certain weight, a certain beauty. But we have to learn to live with what’s in here,’ Ethel taps her chest. ‘Because we live with it forever. Believe me, beauty fades. But who you are inside, that’s who you can really depend on.’”

Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton

Friday, July 9, 2010

author’s website: Deborah Lytton
release date: March 19, 2009
appeals to: Middle Grade or Young Adult
genre: contemporary
length: 208 pages
publisher: Dutton Juvenile
overall rating: 4.5 stars
body image & self perception issue: eating disorder

*the inside flap*
Jane’s big sister, Lizzie, has always been the center of attention. No one ever pays attention to boring, plain Jane. But Jane’s twelfth birthday marks the beginning of Lizzie’s final descent into a fatal eating disorder, and Jane discovers that the only thing harder than living in her big sister’s shadow is living without her . . . .
In the wake of tragedy, Jane learns to look through her camera lens and frame life differently, embracing her broken family and understanding that every girl has her season to blossom.

*my review*
Jane is a typical 12 year-old girl. She’s excited to celebrate her 12th birthday, she can’t wait to finally get her ears pierced, and she admires her big sister, Lizzie, to bits. Unfortunately, Jane describes some things about her sister that might be huge warning signs to an older person. For example, Lizzie fights her parents about eating even one bite of food, she runs all the time, even without eating, she resists eating food as much as possible, and she is tied to her journal, shutting out everything else. Jane doesn’t see these things as problems – it’s just Lizzie being Lizzie - until Lizzie collapses and has to be hospitalized for her, eventually fatal, eating disorder.
Jane’s connection to her big sister is beautiful. She truly admires Lizzie and is completely devastated by her loss. As Jane’s family begins the healing process, Jane turns to photography and finds that she has quite a talent. She befriends an older woman, Ethel, who hires Jane to photograph her rose garden. While Jane tackles the project, we see her bloom into her own personality and talent. Jane works through her grief on her own terms, and matures in her understanding of how much Lizzie struggled, and of how present Lizzie can remain in her life.
Lizzie’s eating disorder is tragic, but this story really shows how an eating disorder can impact and devastate an entire family. The book describes how blame, guilt, and a roller coater of emotions play a role in the family’s daily interactions. This is an incredible story about family, growing up, and accepting that the people we love have faults, but we still love them.

*short and snappy*
: beautifully captures the essence of a 12 year-old’s feelings and emotions
plot: a lot happens in this relatively short novel, be it never feels rushed.
characters: Lizzie, Jane, Mom, and Dad all have elements to their personalities that show depth, and as the book continues, some of the “minor” characters play important roles in extracting those depths
memorable line: Sometimes life has a way of turning things around. So that the things that were upside down are right side up. (p. 180)
judging by the cover: a perfect connection to the story

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

author’s website: Alex Flinn
release date: October 2, 2007
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Fairy Tale Retelling
length: 336 pages
publisher: HarperTeen
overall rating: 4 Stars
body image & self perception issue: disfigurement

*the back cover*
A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

*my review*
Beastly is an interesting look at the story of Beauty and the Beast, but with a few twists: the story is set in modern New York City, and the story is told by the beast. Kyle has just about everything a ninth grade boy could want: he’s the best looking boy in his grade, his dad is famous, they have plenty of money, and he is extremely popular. Unfortunately, he knows all of these things and is also extremely conceited and acts like he is better than everyone else. Then, an unfortunate run in with a witch transforms him into a beast, with one simple “out” clause: he must fall in love with someone who loves him in return within two years.

What was interesting to me was that Kyle doesn’t even think about finding a girl. Instead, he tries to find any method possible of reversing the change. He truly believes that looks are so important that no one would possibly love him in this new form. As time passes, Kyle experiences a roller coaster of emotions, and gradually, you begin to see a change in him. He moves through emotions almost like a person would move through the stages of grief. At first he is in total denial, then he’s angry, and then he gives up completely. It is when he has given up that I thought the most growth occurred. When Kyle began to explore aspects of himself, the most growth occurs.

Since this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, we know that a “Beauty” must be coming, but the situation that brought the girl to Kyle surprised me (even though it is quite true to the fairy tale). I tried to imagine being in her shoes, and it would have been a terrifying experience! Because this is a retelling, the story was slightly predictable, but it is handled in a way that makes it very enjoyable.

While this is a fantasy story, there are elements of the story that could apply to real teenagers as well. It is easy to understand how important looks are, especially in high school. Kyle believes that looks are the most important thing, until he loses them and has to use his personality to make an impression. Throughout the book, internet chat room conversations that are interspersed between the chapters. They are from the “Unexpected Changes” chat group and they provide a fun look into other fairy tales as the creatures vent and give each other advice. What is really interesting is that all of the characters have issues that also apply to real life. “SilentMaid” likes a boy and wants to change so she can be with him, “Grizzlyguy” is torn because he likes two girls, and of course “BeastNYC” is trying to find his true love despite the animal-like appearance. The conversations are funny, but they have underlying messages too.

Overall, this is a clever way to retell Beauty and the Beast in a way that can definitely apply to modern readers.

*short and snappy*
writing: clever – it really captures the attitude and emotion that Kyle is feeling throughout the story
plot: not a ton of action, and slightly predictable, but all of the internal change makes it captivating
characters: complex – there is a lot of development and change in Kyle from the beginning of the story to the end
miscellaneous: An excerpt of the book and a video feature about the upcoming movie are available

The Dark Divine Trailer

Monday, July 5, 2010

There are two awesome contests going on right now in relation to Bree Despain's The Dark Divine!
Enna Isilee over at Squeaky Books is having a contest giving away the book. You can head over to Ennalee's blog (here) to find out how to win.
To celebrate the new trailer, Bree Despain is also having an awesome contest over on her website. Enjoy!

Out of the Fire by Deborah Froese

author: Deborah Froese
publication date: 2001
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Contemporary
length: 282 pages
publisher: Sumach Press
overall rating: 4.5 Stars
body image & self perception issue: disfigurement from burns

*the back cover*
Life finally seems good to sixteen-year-old Dayle. No longer a self-conscious bookworm, she’s captured the attention of Keith, the perfect dream boyfriend. Her worries are the same as those of most teens her age. She wants to stay friends with her longtime best friend Amy while pursuing the excitement of her relationship with Keith. At the same time, she has to fend off the embarrassing overtures of another friend Stu, and tend to her schoolwork and the usual demands of family.

But suddenly Dayle’s world turns inside out when a moment of carelessness causes tragedy. She is badly burned, and one of her friends is gravely injured. Stage by stage and day by day, Dayle endures, drawing strength from her family and friends and sustained by the memory of a strong and loving grandmother. Out of the Fire follows Dayle’s despair and triumph as she learns painfully that her own resources go much deeper than appearances.

*my review*
Let me begin by saying that this book was quite different from what I expected. From the description on the back, I thought I’d be reading about how a bookworm met and started dating her dream boy, had troubles with her best friend, and at some point she would become badly burned and have to recover. Instead, the story kind of jumps in with Dayle already dating Keith (the dream guy) and beginning to recognize troubles with her best friend Amy.

Dayle almost seems a bit self-centered at the beginning of the story. She is choosing Keith, who does seem nice enough, over her best friend – which is never a good idea. As I kept reading, I didn’t really like Keith. There wasn’t something obviously wrong with him – he treated Dayle pretty well actually – he just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Especially after you meet Stu, who obviously has a crush on Dayle. Stu seems genuine and like he really knows Dayle even though she isn’t interested in him.

As the book moves on, you know that there has to be some kind of fire or event coming, because of the title and the description on the back of the book, but it happens all of a sudden and so fast that it’s over before you can even grasp what has happened! All of a sudden, Dayle is in the hospital, in intensive care, trying to stay alive. It is hard to say that I liked this part of the story, because reading about such a tragedy isn’t a positive experience, but the attention to detail was amazing. Froese describes Dayle’s thoughts and dreams in the midst of all of her pain and treatment. I really appreciated that she wrote about medical details like the Rule of One Hundred (p. 100 coincidentally). Basically the Rule of One Hundred is a rule of thumb type prediction for survival. You “take the percentage of the patient’s body with second and third degree burns and add that number to their age. If the total is less than one hundred, their potential for survival is good. If the total is one hundred or more, the patient is less likely to recover.” (p. 100). Adding in things that nurses and doctors would talk about really created a more effective setting for the story.

After the burn, Dayle still has a lot of healing to do, both physically and emotionally. A lot of her emotional healing is inspired by Gram. Even though she is dead, Gram has an incredible presence in this story. She is actively present in memories and dream sequences, which show how important Gram is and was to Dayle.

By the end of the story, I felt like so much had happened, that I couldn’t believe the book was only 282 pages long. There is an immense amount of emotion, change, and plot in this novel that definitely make it worth reading.

*short and snappy*
writing: detailed – it is obvious that Froese did a lot of research while she wrote the book, but she put it into the story in a way that makes sense
plot: there are fast points and slow points, but they combine to make a breathtaking story
characters: deep – as Dayle begins to heal, you really seem the depth that was created in the characters
judging by the cover: the cover really captures the heart of the plot
miscellaneous: While I was researching to find information for this post, I found a picture of the “Rule of 9s” on the Saint Barnabas Burn Center’s website. It shows what parts of your body make up what percent and is used to determine the total percentage of the body that has been burned. There is also information about burn degrees and treatment at their website.
I also found several articles talking about the fact that research and work in this field has actually increased survival rates, so the Rule of 100 isn’t as “accurate” as before.

In My Mailbox (#10)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.

I have been working on reading through my TBR pile this week, so I didn’t get too many new books. HOWEVER, my birthday was this week, so I decided to use a Barnes and Noble gift card from one of my students to order myself some birthday gifts. I ordered them on the 23rd thinking that they would be here for my birthday (on the 29th) but they didn’t get here until Friday.

They Were:
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (review) - This book actually spurred my entry into the book blogging world, but I never bought it, so I decided to get it before all of the hard covers became unavailable. It was my first review, so I’m sorry if it’s terrible!
Jumping to Confusions by Liz Rettig (This cover is actually MUCH cooler than it looks here. The blue in the background is metallic and shiny!) - I’ll be posting a review for this book on the 22nd for BI&SP Month, and Liz Rettig will be here for a guest post on the 23rd!
Lenka (self titled CD) - I know this isn’t a book, but I was excited about it. I have loved her song, “The Show” for a while, and I think the whole cd is good, too – which is great, because sometimes when you buy a cd for one song, it doesn’t work out well.

Other Stuff:
I’ve been working on a lot of reviews for Body Image and Self Perception Month, and if you haven’t heard about this month, you should check it out! The main info is available at Once Upon a Bookcase and my initial post (explaining how I’ll be participating) is here.

This week, I actually made a header for this blog. I got the image from shabby blogs, which has a ton of free blog stuff. If if you like it, you can see their other things there.

I've also been working on a project for grad school (a Masters in Reading). If you teach, or are just interested, my other blog "the bookish advantage" has information about what I've been doing for class.

That sums up my week. Stop back for Body Image and Self Perception Month posts throughout July!

I hope you got some great things too!

Book Blogger Hop #1

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Book Blogger Hop was started (and is hosted) by Crazy for Books.

The Hop now has a twist each week, and since this is my first hop, this week’s twist is especially well suited!
This week’s twist/question: Tell us your NAME and WHY YOU STARTED BLOGGING

Hi, I’m Molly and I started ‘a dazzling distraction’ as a place to record my thoughts about the books I’ve been reading. I often find that after I read a book, I’m not done thinking about it, but since none of my friends read YA books, I didn’t have a place to share my thoughts. Then, in November of last year, I came across my first book blog online (the story siren) and I was hooked! I read blogs for about a month before actually considering one of my own, but now I love it!

I usually read/review YA books, and this month, I’m participating in Body Image and Self Perception month (hosted by Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase).

Thanks for stopping by - Leave me a link to your site, and stop back in for more BI&SP posts all month!

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

author’s website: Kelly Bingham
release date: April 10, 2007
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: contemporary
length: 288 pages (paperback)
publisher: Candlewick Press
overall rating: 5 stars
body image & self perception issue: loss of arm

*the back cover*
On a sunny day at the beach with her mom and brother, fifteen-year-old Jane Arrowood went for a swim. And then everything – absolutely everything – changed. Now she’s counting the days until she returns to school with her fake arm and kids will whisper, “That’s her. That’s Shark Girl,” when she passes. But right now there are only questions. Why did this happen? Why her? What about her art? What about her life?

*my review*
This book carries you along on the incredible journey Jane takes in her path to recovering from a shark attack. Through a combination of free verse poems, newspaper articles, letters to Jane, and conversations, Kelly Bingham brings us Jane’s first year after the shark attack. Jane’s account is all told through the free verse poems, some current and some memories, and through this account, you feel Jane’s frustration, anger, sadness, and eventually determination. The change in emotion is very apparent throughout this story, and at first I thought that the division of the book into three parts would mimic Jane’s changing attitude, but it isn’t quite that exact.
While Jane does show a lot of growth throughout the story, there are times when she seems to contradict herself, which adds to her realistic quality. In the hospital, Jane meets Justin, a younger boy (Jane guesses 8, 9, or 10, but it never says) who has lost a leg and is also recovering. Justin seems to be exactly what Jane needs. He doesn’t want to talk about their injuries, but just wants to be friends. It is incredible how supportive Jane is of Justin, and how much she admires that he is accomplishing new tasks, which she is still unable to accept her own look.
Another important man in Jane’s story is her brother, Michael. The relationship Jane and Michael have is very interesting. He obviously cares about Jane, but as he pushes her to do and try new things, she gets more and more frustrated. He seems to want her to improve her attitude and just get over the accident, but can’t seem to grasp how difficult it is for Jane to do that.
I don’t usually like books that are told in verse, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. The segmented feel that comes from the varied format seems to augment the telling of Jane’s story. It captures her sharp and cutting attitude at the beginning, but then begins to unfold the layers of her personality as she begins to heal, both physically and emotionally, from what is a genuinely tragic event. While this book doesn’t have the happiest beginning, it is an amazing story about determination, emotions, and ultimately, self acceptance.

*short and snappy*
writing: creative – the combination of poetry, news reports, and conversations is an interesting way to approach this story and I think the somewhat segmented feel helps in the telling.
plot: sometimes, it’s hard to tell that time in the story has passed and other times, it is obviously flying by – I imagine that Jane feels similarly in her recovery though, so it works
characters: Jane is very complete, since the story is told from her point of view. There isn’t a ton of development in other characters, but enough to make them realistic
memorable line: Can you imagine getting your arm bitten off by a shark?
As though getting your arm bitten off by a lion would be easier to live with. (p. 231)
judging by the cover: I like the cover. The contrast between the rough water on the left and the calm water on the right captures the feel of Jane’s recovery

Summer Giveaway Winner

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My first contest ended last night at midnight, and I have a winner!

Katrina (entry #3) was the winnder selected by I've emailed you the information you'll need to use your gift card.

Thank you to all who entered and to for providing the gift card for this contest!
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