Category Archives: Reading

YA and The ‘New Adult’ Category

Apologies for the radio silence!  New York was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Sandy and I lost power for about 3 days (my parents fared worse, their electricity returning after nearly two weeks).  There’s nothing quite like mother nature to remind you of how fragile life is.  Nevermind the many ‘first-world’ problems we had such as not being able to charge your cell phone.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Young Adult category.  There’s also been buzz about the “New Adult” category that caters to Generation Y and 20-somethings.  Now that I’m 30, I can successfully say that I survived my 20′s, but I definitely remember the angst, confusion, identity-quest and soul-searching that categorizes 20-something life.  The New Adult category, not to be confused with the Young Adult category (of which there are gradations within such as mature YA, paranormal YA, fantasy YA, sci-fi or futuristic YA, the list goes on), seems to be gathering steam.

YA is still hot and will likely be that way for the foreseeable future, especially given how young readers prefer to receive content on multiple platforms, such as cell-phones, e-readers, etc.  Harper Collins recently announced a new imprint, HarperTeen Impulse, which will solely be a digital imprint that focuses on short stories and novellas.  You can read more about it here.

When you hear the phrase ‘Young Adult’ do you think of this movie starring Charlize Theron?Source: Paramount Pictures

But back to the “New Adult” category, which I’m more intrigued by.  In a recent interview with Dan Weiss, publisher-at-large for St. Martin’s press, and arguably expert of all things YA (he started SparkNotes among other things, don’t tell me those of you born in the 80′s didn’t use SparkNotes or CliffNotes!), Weiss explains that he quickly discovered that Gen Y’s preferred medium is digital.  He opines, “it became clear that digital publishing — multi-platform, multi-format and interactive, plus conventional print — were powerful ways for kids to acquire content.”  He also relates that there’s no ‘New Adult’ shelf and so publishers have to use analytics to find their target audience.

Perhaps part of the reason why there isn’t as much clarification about what books qualify as ‘New Adult’ is that even if the books in terms of content deal with 20-something themes, we are all at some points of our lives 20-something.  The terms quarter-life and mid-life crisis are common now but I think because we are all living longer lives that some of us undergo re-invention at multiple points of our lives, which resonates with 20-something themes.  And since our culture is a culture that is obsessed with youth, 20-something themes will always receive attention and publicity.  See Lena Dunham of “Girls”/ HBO fame.

Sometimes I wonder if these reader distinctions are necessary or helpful.  We all saw how The Hunger Games ripped the box apart in terms of cross-over appeal.  We can say it started with Harry Potter or The Lord of The Rings, or any number of typically thought of as YA type books.  What is so interesting about these categories, other than from an industry and functional standpoint, is that they reveal our reading habits at any particular moment in time.  We like to re-visit our favorite books as the years pass.  When I was a YA you could find me reading R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series or Louis Duncan books (Down a Dark Hall was particularly memorable and chilling).  But I won’t lie and say I haven’t read some books that qualify as YA recently…not to mention the manuscripts I’ve been reading that deal with YA concerns.

What do you think about the YA category?  About the up-and-comig New Adult category?  Do you think having categories or genres is necessary for books?  What do you think about when you think about your 20′s?  And most importantly, can someone tell me what happened to that VH1 show “I Love the 80′s?”

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Book Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

During my two-week family vacation in Texas, where we zig-zagged across the Lone Star State, driving from Houston, to Dallas, Austin, and then back to Houston again, I managed to stop and visit the local library to pick up some good reads that weren’t related to my work as an agent. I picked up a book in the featured fiction section based partially on the cover and the cover copy.  I was intrigued.  This book seemed like easy reading and I was hooked after gleaning the first several pages of the story.  And maybe it had something to do with the 80-degree weather outside, but The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, just looked cool and refreshing, if not a little bit magical.

I read the The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, in less than 48 hours.  It was one of those books that you can’t put down and constantly think of when you have to put down.  It’s difficult to describe the book, it seems part allegory, part realist adventure, with dashes of magical realism thrown in.  The story revolves around a child-less couple, who, one night, carves a snow girl in the Alaskan wilderness.  The next day, a small almost elfin girl, is seen flitting through the woods with the very mittens and scarf that had adorned the snow girl the night before.  What enfolds during the story, is an intimate portrait of a marriage, individual longing for a child, and the meaning of family. Of course, that’s not as eloquent as the cover copy:


I have a feeling NY is going to see a lot of this soon…
Credit: Moscow Daily Photo

“Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.”–Cover Copy from The Snow Child

At times, I felt like I was reading Henry James’s Turn of the Screw–is the narrator reliable or unreliable?  Here, there were two narrators.  The book alternated between the husband’s perspective and the wife’s perspective.  This way of writing can at times seem like a gimmick, but with Eowyn Ivey’s prose, the transitions were smooth and realistic.  There was an undertone of sadness in the book that immediately appealed to my melancholy side.  I also think that, being a mother myself, heightened my awareness and made it all the more poignant, the relationship between mother and child.

What I also loved about the book was the great sense of place.  Adventure writers whom I love, like Jon Krakauer, are able to achieve this immediate sense of place that transports you to the scene of the story.  I’ve never been to the great wilderness that is Alaska, but I was transported there by Eowyn’s fine and crisp prose.  I was really impressed by how the prose was never overly-flowery when dealing with such a fantastic subject.  A lot of debut writers tend to ‘over-write.’  That was definitely not the case here.

Oh, did I mention that this is Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel?  And that it was recently short-listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize? All the more impressive, I’m in love, and I’m just a teensy bit jealous of the fine folks at Folio Literary who helped bring this book to market (Jeff Kleinman represents Eowyn).

It was strange to read the book when outside it was in the 80′s but this is the perfect read for Fall/ Winter.  Curl up with a hot cocoa and let The Snow Child take you into the Alaskan Wilderness.

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The Browsing Effect

I was in Bluestockings the other day–an independent book store on the Lower East Side that publishes a lot of provocative titles, including gender and area studies– browsing books.  I didn’t have an agenda in mind in terms of what book I was looking for, just something interesting and fast to read.  Although I am inundated with submissions and queries, I still find it really important to take some time out everyday and read for pleasure.  I think being open to other genres and types of books, sharpens your instincts as a reader.

I came across a book in the YA section called, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron.  I liked the premise of the book.  I liked the title.  I read the blurbs on the back and then turned to a random page in the book.  I didn’t sniff the book but I did read the prose and liked what I saw.  I turned to another page in the book, and continued to like what I was reading.  I decided to take a chance and purchase the book.  I’m about half-way through it now in one-sitting.

The nice thing about bookstores is that you don’t lose the browsing effect.  Because you can see the books in a physical space, it is easier to chance upon a book you wouldn’t have noticed while browsing for instance.  True, different review services, blogs, book clubs, writer’s groups all serve similar purposes in terms of exposing us to new books.  But sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than going to a bookstore and plucking one book out among thousands just based on the back cover copy, the writing on one random page, or even the title.

How do you browse for books online versus in a bookstore?  Does the cover matter?  What about the title, have you bought a book based solely on an interesting title?  What makes you take a chance on a book you’ve never heard of?

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Book Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

I just finished reading Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.  I found it after buying the e-book version of When The Empire was Divine by Julie Otsuka, when Amazon suggested ‘other books I might like’ (thanks Amazon, you know me!).  Based on the excellent mostly five-star reviews of the book, I decided to get a hard copy since the cover was so beautiful AND the hard copy version was cheaper than the e-book version (sometimes I still like to kick it old school!).

I finished the book in 3 separate sittings.  I immediately loved the protagonist, Kimberly Chang, who had such a brave and formidable voice for a teenager.  The story is told in the first person and the details are so finely drawn, so realistic, that at times I felt I was reading a memoir.  The book is a coming-of-age story of a girl from Hong Kong and her mother, who came to the United States, only to have to labor for years in a sweat shop and repay an aunt for their debts.  The descriptions of the run-down roach-infested building that Kimberly and her mother return to after working at the sweatshop, were heartbreaking.  To realize that other human beings live, nay, survive, under such conditions is appalling.  Indeed, author Jean Kwok has revealed in interviews that the book was based, at least in some part, on her own life, where she too worked at a sweatshop, even at age 5, buttoning clothes and tagging clothes.  That is probably one of the reasons the book feels so authentic, because it is semi-autobiographical.  Here’s an excellent interview of the author, if you are curious:


The story is also one of the American Dream, overcoming great odds and becoming successful despite not being white, privileged, or rich.  That is the part of the book that I loved the most, the plucky self-assurance of the character despite some real and formidable challenges such as not understanding the English language, prejudice from peers, and no institutional support from her public high school.  Through talent and hard work, Kimberly Chang achieves a full-scholarship to Harrison Prep (Kwok’s real life counterpart was Hunter High School), achieves independence for herself and her mother, and then goes onto Yale.  Like Kimberly Chang, Kwok underscores that she was one of the lucky few that was able to escape the sweatshop, unlike many others who worked in sweatshops.

The character development and changes that the central characters undergo in the book are honest and believable.  One of the strongest characterizations is for Kimberly’s jealous aunt, who secretly does not want her niece to be as successful as her son.  Every time Kimberly out-achieves Nelson (the aunt’s son), you find yourself cheering for her.  Additionally, I love how skillfully the author brings the reader into Kimberly’s world by using evocative language that is a mash-up of the wrong English words as Kimberly hears them, it’s not quite Chinglish but rather explores how Kimberly obtains language with her limited vocabulary.  You have to read the book to catch my drift, but the way that Kwok uses the mash-up language is highly creative and makes you sympathize with the character instantly.

I find it very difficult to criticize any of the choices Kwok made in writing the book.  Although on Amazon some felt the ending was maudlin, I thought it was an appropriate, maybe a bit dramatic, way of ending the book.  The one thing I wonder about is why Kwok made her relationship with her mother seem so wonderful.  Maybe because it would almost seem unfair to have a mother-daughter relationship filled with conflict when the protagonist already had to endure and overcome so much.  Or maybe the family was just so busy keeping up with the exhausting work at the sweatshop that there wasn’t room or time for conflict.  Also, having a common enemy (the aunt, society), helps bond mother-daughter despite the age gap. Because the father is absent from the story it is particularly plausible that the mother and daughter would have such a close relationship.  I found that extremely touching and a departure from the mother-daughter conflict that is portrayed so well by other Asian American authors such as Amy Tan.

A beautiful book, I highly recommend it for your summer reading list!

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True Story: I have never read Harry Potter

If the world could be separated into two kinds of people, a good way to categorize things, I think, would be between those who have read Harry Potter and those that haven’t.  I fall into the latter camp.  When I tell people I have never read Harry Potter, I almost always receive a gasp or similar look of horror in return. “You’ve never read Harry Potter?! Really?” or something along those lines.  And when I tell the person the reason why: I’ve never been particularly interested, J.K. Rowling has enough fans, I would rather read x, y, or z, the justification still doesn’t seem good enough.  As an agent that does represent some YA, it’s almost sacrilegious to mention that my eyes have not had the pleasure of delving into the world of Harry Potter. As if to add insult to injury, I have watched some of the Harry Potter movies, including the last installment.  Gasp, the horror, the horror.

ImageMaybe one day I’ll read it, but in the meantime, my list is full of books I’d rather read in lieu of Potter, not to mention the manuscripts and queries I receive that have taken priority in my reading list.  Perhaps I should take a speed reading course just so I can get through the entire Harry Potter cannon.  Right now though, I can’t justify it.  After all, I still haven’t read James Joyce’s Ulysses, ostensibly one of the most difficult reads in the entire English literature cannon, so why should Harry Potter deserve a spot above Ulysses?

In picking a book, in our increasingly media-saturated and attention-deprived world, what rules or methods do you have to keep your reading list manageable?  I have some rules for reading, some of which you may (or may not) find helpful:

1) Does the subject matter interest you?  No offense but I’ve also never read Twilight.  This doesn’t make me a book snob (alas, I have seen some Twilight movies).  I’m just not interested based on the subject matter.  I’d rather read a riveting memoir or another Jon Krakauer book (I loved Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and his other books on are my list).

2) Is the author one you have read before and enjoyed?  Usually a good bet is that if you enjoy the author, you’ll like his or her other books. In high school I went through a Jane Austen stint and read most of her books, one of my favorites being a lesser-known or less-popular one called Persuasion.  I enjoyed every single one.  I also try to follow authors that are new-ish and have written books I enjoyed, such as Chang Rae Lee.  His book, The Surrendered is on my list because I loved reading Native Speaker.

3) What do your friends, who know your tastes, recommend?  Often, I’ll ask my friends who know my literary taste, what they are reading.  Usually they are pretty spot on.  Sometimes there are misses, but it’s good to branch out and ask a friend what book they are reading that may not usually fall into your list.

4)  What is everyone else reading?  I admit it, I was curious about The Hunger Games but resistant to the mass-mentality that made it so popular (sort of along the lines of Harry Potter).  I read the first installment and loved it.  I haven’t gotten to book two or three yet but imagine I will in due course.   Another book that has garnered a huge following, especially among the Stay at Home Mom contingency, is 50 Shades of Grey.  I’m sure you’ve already heard what that one is about.

5)  The close your eyes and point test.  Sometimes, when I don’t feel like reading from my list, I will take a total risk and go to the library, run my fingers along the spines of book, close and point.  I’ve come across some surprises and some duds, but it’s never a boring experience.

What popular books and movies have you not read or seen?

In short, there are really no rules about what to read and what not to read.  Everyone has biases and everyone has their favorites.  Some of us may be romance novel junkies, some of us love paranormal thrillers, and some of us don’t read (which is sad!).

And yes, a few of us have never read Harry Potter.


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