Saturday, 19 March 2016

Kaeli Baker's Sylvie the Second Blog Tour & book giveaway

I'm the final stop on the blog tour for Kaeli Baker, talking about her new, and first, YA novel Sylvie the Second. There's a copy of the book and bookmarks from Makaro Press to giveaway too, details at the end.


Sylvie has an older sister who suffers serious depression, and it seems that their parents are so busy worrying about Cate that Sylvie feels very much second place (hence the title). Cate attempts suicide and is hospitalised, leaving Sylvie home alone much of the time. She re-works her image which suddenly gets her a whole lot of attention, not all of it good. She ends up in a very messy and dangerous situation, which her parents are oblivious to. Luckily she has a great best friend who forces her to take some positive action. There are some serious issues here - rape, STDs, alcohol, mental health, dysfunctional families, relationships... All stuff teenagers today need to be aware of, and reading a novel like this is a great way to get them thinking and talking.

Being last stop on the blog tour has its own problems - so many great questions have already been asked. 
Monday 14 March: Beattie's Book Blog
Tues 15 March: KidsBooksNZ
Wed 16 March: Saradha Koirala
Thur 17 March: Booksellers NZ
Fri 18 March: On the My Best Friends are Books blog Zac McCallum's asked my favourite question - Who are Kaeli's five favourite sisters from books

I started thinking about Sylvie the Second from the point of view of the school library.

There is often debate in the library community about the pros and cons of stocking books with themes of suicide, self harm etc in a school library. The argument against is often along the lines of not wanting to put ideas into young people's heads. Can you share your thoughts about the benefits (and negatives if you see any) of having YA books that discuss these issues openly?

It's definitely something I'm conscious of, and I can understand that people have reservations. I think it's a scary topic for many people - particularly the parents and teachers of teenagers, but I'd suggest that brushing the subject under the carpet is misguided. In fact, I believe it breeds more fear and stigma, which in turn reinforces shame and secrecy. If society as a whole can approach subjects like this more bravely and openly, perhaps less young people will feel the need to turn to unhealthy ways of coping to communicate their distress. 

I think teens are looking for some kind of connection, some kind of relevance to the problems they face in today's world. It's a scary one. Most of them already know about the issues Sylvie faces, but only a handful of them cope in the way that she does. Books can't actually be in control of a human being's actions. I think the majority of teens are smart, discerning and insightful. They know they are accountable for their own choices. 

"Literature is the safe and traditional vehicle through which we learn about the world and pass on values from one generation to the next. Books save lives." Laurie Halse Anderson said that. She's a smart woman!

Any thoughts about the age group where we should start sharing such books?

About thirteen, I think. It might surprise adults to find just how many kids already know about such topics by the time they reach the teenage years. It's a pretty overwhelming time. Why not create a safe environment for young people to learn about the world, and be honest about the fact that it can be confusing and messy and dark, as well as exciting and promising and bright?

Have you read lots of YA fiction yourself, and do you have any favourite authors or titles that address similar issues to your book?

I love YA fiction! Favourites which also tackle some of the more difficult topics include: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick, We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart, Looking for Alaska, by John Green, Looking for Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetta, and All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven.

What issues do you see as a result of you being an anonymous author – does this mean you won’t do speaking engagements like school visits and festival appearances? Do you think this might affect how successful you can be in the long term when the personal appearance seems to be such an important component of being a successful author these days? Do you see a future when you might be able to reveal your real identity?

Wow, that's a tricky one!

The main reason I chose a pen name was because of my work with young people who are dealing with issues similar to Sylvie's. I wanted to keep a clear boundary between work and writing and initially I hadn't intended for it to be made public knowledge that I was writing under a pen name.

All of my colleagues have pseudonyms and/or locked accounts on social media due to boundary issues, so to me it made sense that I would publish a book that dealt with the same sensitive subjects under a pen name. 

As far as school visits and festival appearances go, I'm new around here and have no idea what that even entails! 

Likewise, I haven't considered the possibility of being successful - I just had a story I wanted to share and can't believe it actually got published! I am on Twitter though, and everything I write on there is a glimpse into my real life. 

I'm sure one day my real identity will be revealed. It happened with similar books, like Go Ask Alice, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden back in the 60s and 70s. 

Plus, I'm always writing, so maybe I'll be published again - maybe under my real name!

Great answers thanks Kaeli!

Win a copy of the book by commenting here or on my Facebook link to this post. I'd love it if you would suggest your favourite YA novel about a tricky subject you think teens should read.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children [YA fiction]

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 2011
ISBN 9781594744761

This book is five years old, and many of you may already be aware of its merits, but I've only just got to reading it. Just in time too, as there's a movie adaptation by Tim Burton out this year, that looks fabulous, and I do always like to have read the book before I see the movie.

The main character is 16-year-old Jacob. He is traumatised by finding his grandfather, Abe, mauled to death in his garden. The old man had told many strange tales about monsters, and shown Jacob a few odd photographs of 'peculiar' children, saying that they were part of his very happy childhood in a big house on an island.
Jacob meets regularly with a psychiatrist, who agrees that it might be a good idea to go the the island and find out more about Abe's childhood. He goes with his father - a rather pathetic man who is constantly starting book projects which he becomes disenchanted with and gives up before they are finished. He's planning to write a book about the many birds on the island.
When Jacob goes looking for the big house he finds nothing but an empty old ruin, until he encounters the time slip and discovers that the peculiar children are very real indeed, and in great danger. I don't want to tell too much more about the storyline but it's mighty exciting with marvellous peculiar characters and twists in the plot.

I was amazed to read that the photographs which are scattered throughout the book, are all real photographs, collected by a number of people who search long and hard for these strange photographs, which the author has then used to build his characters around.



Mystery, time travel, romance, adventure, supernatural... this book has something to tempt so many readers with. It's not currently in my school library but I've ordered it, and the rest in the series, and I look forward to introducing readers to it. It might be one of the older books on your library shelves, but the movie coming out give a great opportunity to promote it again.

NB: as I go to add labels to my post I look again at the author's name - Ransom Riggs - can that truly be his real name? He sounds like an old time movie star.