When the Museum of Memory Becomes a Haunted House

From Electric Lit:

Jiordan Castle’s memoir-in-verse Disappearing Act follows the teen-version of herself as she lives through the arrest, court proceedings, and subsequent incarceration of her father while navigating the fraught years of the transition from girlhood to adolescence. Through mostly narrative poems‚ Castle invites us into her world as it’s changing faster than her mind can keep up.

The book’s dedication—”For me then, and for you now” —immediately signals to the reader a rare intimacy; that we will be led—sometimes smiling, sometimes wincing—into a moment in time not often shared beyond the performed facade of the nuclear family. Disappearing Act begins mid-story—following an FBI raid, Jiordan’s father’s suicide attempt, bad news from the attorney, Jiordan’s refuge with her best friend and their endless online personality quizzes (it being the early aughts)—the book progresses in a mostly chronological order.

In books about prison and “crime,” readers often desire—feel entitled to, even—grizzly details (look no further than the proliferation of true-crime podcasts and TV series). Castle deftly subverts this expectation: in Disappearing Act, we learn more context than content—her father’s mood swings; her mother’s torn support; her older sisters’ balancing of their own lives—though the reader does get a vague understanding that the father is guilty and the crime is money-related. This is not an attempt to hide or minimize the father’s actions, but is instead mimetic of a teenager toggling dizzyingly between an “adult,” “mature” perspective and the innocent confusion, sadness, anger, and helplessness of a young child.

Castle and I discussed her experience of crafting this book from painful memories; the role of the self in grand themes of “crime” and “punishment,” and how she navigated the personal and the secret when disclosing sensitive information.

Leigh Sugar: Disappearing Act is written in the voice of an early teenage you. What was it like writing the then-you, as the now-you?

Jiordan Castle: I have this sense of an inner child and a secret self when I write about myself, my life, no matter the when or the topic. To pull something not too grisly from True Detective, I think time, to me, probably is a flat circle. The person who lived this book is also the person who wrote it, but in time traveling through memory, I got to look at the character of myself as a kind of younger sister. I got to be generous and real and mean and thoughtful about the realities of coming of age in a way you can’t when you’re in it.

LS: That’s so interesting to me, because I realized recently I don’t have a strong connection to my inner child; I don’t really experience my life as continuous; it feels very disconnected. How did you get yourself in—and especially, out—of that inner-child/secret self headspace?

JC: For most of us, I think the hard-hearted memories live right at the surface. But that’s not all there is. I remember the funniest things, the sweet things. And when you’re a child, you’re feeling everything for the first time. Everything is, in some sense, the end of the world. And the beginning of a new one. I still feel that about that time, so it was easy enough for me to drop into character in a way and let myself feel the too-much-ness of that time. I remember presents and fights and how certain shirts looked and felt.

It also helped for me to create a playlist from that time in my life, and a playlist that’s more like what writing the book felt like to me. Having the two in conversation with each other is something special.

LS: What is different about this version than, say, a version for an “adult” audience?

JC: It’s so complicated because I do consider this book to be what I call “YA+” as if it’s for young adults and the dot dot dot of adults reconnecting with that version of themselves. Because this story still lives in me, I know it lives in other adults with similar experiences. The people I love talking to now, after readings, are teenagers who have a loved one in prison or have a friend who does, but also mother-daughter pairings. I find that so interesting. And it reminds me that maybe if we just allowed ourselves—and each other—to love what we love in earnest, without shame or bias, we would come to a place of more “we” than “I.” I’m looking for that “we” more and more these days.

I can’t ignore the fact though that if I had written, let’s say, a chronological, prose memoir looking back at the past in past tense—an adult lens on a teen experience—I would have a radically different book. I can’t say whether it would be better or worse (or whatever that means), but I do think it would pull me as the narrator further from the story I most wanted to convey.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

For some reason as he read the OP, the original definition of geek drifted into PG’s mind:

a carnival worker who was so unskilled that the only thing the worker could do at the carnival to entice an audience was to bite off the heads of live animals

Perhaps, it’s unfair to the author, the book and the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but that’s what occurred.

Child Reading

From The Paris Review:

In childhood, books have a smell. Not an actual smell: I’m not talking about the sweet mustiness of a Knopf hardcover circa 1977, or the creaking sawdust odor of a Bantam paperback. I mean that, in childhood, books have the hunch of a smell: the way, later in life, you might suspect that each thing has a noumenon, a reality independent of our apprehension of it. In childhood, a given book’s particular smell—though it might actually smell, like snow, of absolutely nothing—emits a kind of hovering mysterious message: here is something you can give yourself up to, it seems to say; here is something you can give yourself over to, and at the same time never quite reach. In this sense, in childhood, books are more serious than they’ll ever be again.

In childhood, you find a book in the library, or you’re handed one—in my case, my reading program circa 1990 was shaped by a saturnine and pinchingly generous librarian named Cynthia, who noted our shared inclination toward what I might now call optimistic gloom and gave me, at the age of eight, a children’s series on environmental disasters: Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Love Canal. It was Cynthia—alarmingly old, nimble, with fraying hair, and whose face seemed to shatter when she smiled (a wonderful moment in itself, though it was scary to see her face reassemble into its usual austerity, like watching the breaking of a water glass in reverse on VHS)—it was Cynthia who gave me Robert Cormier’s 1977 YA novel I Am the Cheese.

The cover of the book was promising, I saw. It showed a boy, such as I both thought and wished I was, maybe twelve years old, with a wistful, reluctant look, big ears, and sharp elbows; he’s in the gray wash of a prison cell with cracked concrete walls, a wood pallet for a bed, a key (weirdly—why the key?) on a peg behind him. And I had a hunch of the book’s smell, certainly: it was something contiguous to the feeling of an fall morning, and to the horizon looking south, out of town; contiguous, too, to the brackish salt sense of future adulthood, of workdays and money fear, of someone, someday, mysteriously wanting to kiss you. In it I sensed some shadow of the future—as adulthood is, for kids, both inevitable and impossible; as childhood can be intuited, when you’re a kid, as the long shadow of your own adult body cast back onto your child present. I Am the Cheese contained a message for me, I felt. I read the whole thing in one go, one morning in the back of our Datsun Maxima, headed to the mountains, probably, the Oregon Cascades, with the ever-present smell of cut grass and gasoline in the car from my father’s landscaping work; I read the whole thing as though goaded to—whipped on like a dog in a pack of dogs behind the musher of the book.

It’s a paranoid book, and desolate—written, I now understand, at the end of the Vietnam War, around Watergate, the grimmer surfaces of world order newly visible in the first hints of Cold War melt-off—and it was hypnotizing. I dread descriptions of plot, blow-by-blow accounts, but suffice it to say here: I Am the Cheese involves a family swept up in the nascent witness protection program via the father, a small-town-journalist-turned-whistleblower to the violent excesses of government corruption. The book unfolds through the consciousness of the family’s only child, a quiet boy named Adam, and it takes place in the fall, in New England (itself a thrill: me, who had never left Oregon except to visit, once, Fresno). And it is threaded through with references, tightening my ignorant heart to anticipation: references to jazz; to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel; to petty shoplifting; to the perpetual haunting of the father; to shabby motels, diner hamburgers, pay phones; to conspiracies, details, forms of love and betrayal organizing like ice crystals just behind the surface of things.

It turns out, however, that this anticipation of the heart feels quite different in reverse—rereading the book this month, I was unnerved to discover how many fantasies, desires, impulses that I had thought my own were in fact informed by it. I saw that I had, for instance, unconsciously interpreted a number of difficult and very real events in my own family through its fictions; I saw too that several people with whom I’ve fallen in love share a glimmer of psychic resemblance to the girl Adam loves. I was unnerved to discover, in short, that a YA novel could be the source of a greater portion of my instincts and reflexes than seemed at all appropriate; that it could make desirable—so desirable, in fact, as to seem outside of desire—a whole array of emotional tendencies: toward shame, melancholy, irreverence, estrangement. As in: hi-ho, the dairy-o, the cheese stands alone. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Categories YA

Where Have All the YA Paperbacks Gone?

From Publishers Weekly:

Young adult fiction sales are in decline, and it’s a hot topic in publishing, where the internet is awash with questions of why. Are YA books really “New Adult” books in disguise? Are we still writing for teens, or for adults who read and review teen books—those who grew up in the second Golden Age of YA and now seek a similar experience as adult readers? And have we forgotten the 13–16-year-olds?

Keep in mind the natural ebbs and flows of publishing, the economy, and the recent years of upheaval that have driven us all a bit chaotic in our entertainment habits. Also, perhaps the “baby bust” of the mid-aughts means there are actually fewer teens around to buy and read books. All these things are certainly at play.

As a YA author, I’m keenly interested in this decline, the reasons, and possible solutions. I recently tweeted (sorry, posted? X’d? Anyway…) a theory that struck a chord: in our mission to make books beautiful and important, pay authors well, and appeal to adult buyers, we have forgotten the teen aesthetic and budget.

What I mean is: what ever happened to the paperback book? That luscious, bendy, cheap, satisfying companion you could stuff in a backpack, fold over on the train, take to the beach or the park without fear of “ruining” it. The $7 price tag that meant just about anybody could buy one. When seeking a serotonin boost where my options might be an $8 vanilla oat milk latte, a $6 phone game, or a $20 hardcover book, even as an adult my choice is clear.

Maybe it’s time for teen books to be an impulse purchase again.

Book bloggers, adult reviewers, and social media influencers have warped how we market, review, and perhaps even make books. This is a natural evolution—we want to sell books. Maybe publishers were so afraid that the e-book would replace our beloved physical tomes that they’re overcorrecting and trying to make every book precious, beautifully made, heavy, important; an artifact of bygone days.

Except the days aren’t bygone. “Kids these days” are very into aesthetic and retro life. Aside from generational cycles and fascinations, what is life in the roaring ’20s missing that they’re seeking in the styles and trappings of millennial and Gen X childhoods? And how can book publishers capitalize on these cravings?

Understand that when you’re competing for the attention of a teen reader, you aren’t competing against games, movies, and social media. A teen reader is reading, just reading differently. Often, they are reading fan fiction—on their phone. They are part of a secret club, finding comfort in characters they already know and scenarios that are reassuring (and yes, maybe titillating, but these are teens we’re talking about). However, there’s something else extremely important to remember about fan fiction: it’s free.

Maybe part of the decline in YA sales is because books for the average teen are not affordable to the average teen.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The island on which traditional publishers and their camp followers live provides a very warped view of the real book world.

Plus, approximately one out of ten thousand “kids” would choose a paperback instead of an ebook.

8 Books About Friendships With Wealth Disparities

From Electric Lit:

There’s not much ordinary humans love more than ogling rich people. On reality television, on prime time, as they run our governments and corporations, we of humbler socioeconomic status can’t look away from the 1% and the gleam of their golden safety nets. Obviously, there’s vicarious living at play—the question of where we’d go in the private jet and what we’d buy with the unlimited credit. For the most part we can only imagine, but occasionally, two unlikely paths will cross and one of us normies is invited into the fold. But can rich people and poor people actually be friends?

Of all the identity divergence in a friendship, a difference in finances is especially insidious. Money is power, and it can be hard to untangle its influence. Having a rich friend can mean anything from all-inclusive vacations to unwillingly maxing out your own credit card at a group dinner, from networking ins to being fully responsible for the legal ramifications of a joint bad decision. After all, rich people don’t live in the same world as the rest of us, and they certainly don’t suffer the same consequences—just ask F. Scott Fitzgerald.

. . . .

Social Engagement by Avery Carpenter Forrey

Callie and Virginia grew up spending summers together in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where they became fast friends. The fact that Callie lived in a cottage while Virginia lived next door to Taylor Swift doesn’t really seem to matter until they become roommates in their twenties, crashing together at Virginia’s parents’ Upper East Side condo. There, Callie quickly succumbs to the pressures of keeping up with Virginia’s monied crowd, growing ever more resentful as Virginia appears unencumbered by the practical considerations of an average person’s life. Billed as a book about weddings, this clever novel is just as much about the unspoken truths between friends. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Categories YA

How to Make a Cliché Work for You

From Almost an Author:

In middle grade novels, do you know what gets my goat? Stories riddled with clichés.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: cliches often come across as lazy writing. Cliches can make dialog as flat as a pancake and cause your labor of love to become as dull as dishwater. Worse, an ill-fitting cliché can throw the reader out of the story world you’ve created. Mark my words, your writing will improve if you weed out these overused sayings. But how?

Once upon a blue moon (and for a different website), I wrote a longer article detailing six ways to deal with this issue. But here, I’d like to focus on just one tried and true method that works especially well for middle grade stories. Consider it my “two-cents worth” approach because it adds humor to your story and gives you more bang for your buck.

Are you ready for this tip? It’s “Run with the cliché.”

I can explain it best like this: Take an old phrase and give it a middle grade twist by adding onto the end of it. The result may tickle your funny bone.

Look at my examples and then try this method for yourself.  

  • That problem was as old as time… but not nearly as old as the Twinkie Mom packed in my lunch today.
  • Sweet Sally. She’s always bending over backwards for people. Literally. She’s a gymnast.
  • I was left with one burning question. I guess that’s what happens when you set your homework on fire and your best friend douses the flames at the last second.
  • In my homeroom, finding a friendly face used to be a dime a dozen. Not with today’s inflation.
  • It’s hard for grandma to jog her memory. It’s more like a crawl.

Link to the rest at Almost an Author