A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SCBWI-AZ Conference Report, Part One

Last weekend I escaped from the rain and drab of the Northwest and headed to sunny Arizona for their SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. At least I thought I'd escaped rain and drab, it turns out that Western Washington was sunny and dry with a mild 70 degrees while I was gone. Arizona, on the other hand, had hot dry winds and 109 degree temperatures. I soaked it in, knowing that the rainy days of the Northwest are coming. Besides, the conference was well worth enduring the heat. I had the chance to meet with fellow writers and learn from the great faculty: publisher, Francesco Sedita; editors Claudia Gabel, Calista Brill, and Eve Adler; agent, Jill Corcoran; and senior designer Amelia Anderson.

I've never been to a SCBWI conference, or any writers conference before, so I didn't know what to expect. My experience started on Friday night with the hospitality room for conference-goers. Over M &Ms, almonds, and cheese puffs we talked about what we were working on, our successes, and of course, our learning experiences. I love meeting other writers. We all seem to share the same insanity--I mean passion--even though we come from different backgrounds and have different ideas. (Thank goodness, think how boring reading would be if all writers were the same!)

Because I got so much good information from the conference, (still trying to digest it myself) I'm going to spread it out over a couple of posts. My overall summary is that I came away from the conference with new ideas about the business of writing, and with inspiration to continue writing. It was definitely a worthwhile experience, and I would recommend a writer's conference for anyone who needs to recharge their writing batteries.

The first speaker on Saturday morning was Franscesco "Rocky" Sedita the Vice President and Publisher of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. His presentation, entitled "You Do it Because You Love It," was funny, poignant, and inspirational. In the midst of stories from his childhood, (I'm exactly one month older than him), he reminded us all that we write because we love it. A message that doesn't always stay clear when writing becomes a job.

Here's a quote that Francesco put into the conference packets:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you.

Keep the channel open.

--Martha Graham

I love it! I can see why Francesco told us to hang it up where we write.

Francessco also talked about what he does at Penguin Young Reader's group. He gave me a whole new perspective on "mass-market" paperbacks, especially the kind of books that you find in the book orders kids bring home from school, (like a Strawberry Shortcake or Sponge Bob Book). He emphasized that these books aren't junk, but are an effective way to get kids to read. Find a character that they're interested in and they'll read the book. This interested me as both a writer and as a mother. "Mass Market" paperbacks not only a good way to get kids into reading, but they are a way for a writer to build their "list" and experience. (Something to file away for future reference.)

Claudia Gabel, (Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books) talked about another avenue for writers. Her presentation was called "Think Like a Packager." She talked about "Packaged" books, books that came from a concept, decided on by an "Intellectual Property" development team. With this kind of book an idea is developed by the team and then an author is hired to write the book. Books that were developed this way include GOSSIP GIRLS and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. This is another interesting concept to a writer. Taking someone's idea and making it their own.

According to Claudia some of the things writers can learn by "Thinking Like A Packager" and looking at "packaged books" are:
  • How to strengthen plotting and outline skills
  • What a high concept idea is
  • How to construct a three-act story arc
  • What publishers and editors are looking for
  • How to create a book that will thrive in a digital age
The next speaker was Calista Brill, an editor at First Second Books--writen like this :01 (like the first second, get it?) First Second Books publishes graphic novels, sometimes called comic books with a spine. She brought up some interesting points about graphic novels:

  • They are for all ages (on :01's list there are novels for 5 year olds through adults)
  • The brain process for reading a graphic novel is different than the process for reading a regular novel--you have are engaging more senses as you read and look at the illustrations
  • There are some brilliant, original, graphic novels out there. She suggested THE PHOTOGRAPHER which I am adding to my "to be read" list.
Before listening to Calista, I didn't know very much about graphic novels, although I read and loved a bound copy of Frank Miller's BATMAN, years ago, before graphic novels were popular. Now I look at graphic novels as another way for writers to get published and to get kids to read.

To give all of us some time to digest, I'll write about the two fabulous workshops I attended and the rest of the speakers next Monday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review Wednesday--Getting Boys to Read

As an initiation into his freshman Honor's English class, my son had to read JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte over the summer. It came down to the last feverish three days of vacation, but he finished the book. After so many hours of reading his review of this long-standing classic-- "Ehhh, kind of boring."

My first thought about the assignment, (and don't get me wrong I love JANE EYRE), was that this was a "weeder" assignment--designed to see who was serious about taking the class. My second thought was that JANE EYRE is not much of a "boy" book--especially not much of a 14-year-old boy book.

I know, I know, there isn't supposed to be such a thing as a "girl" or a "boy" book, but I have three sons and one daughter who read, and I know (in general) different books are read by boys and different books are read by girls.

Research has shown that boys read less than girls and that boys are getting worse at reading and are less likely to be readers in the future. I'm lucky, my two older boys both enjoy reading thanks to books like the PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS series, (Rick Riordan), and the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books, (Jeff Kinney). But I have one more son that I need to get into reading, and I remember a time when getting my sons to read wasn't such and easy thing to do.

It goes back to my oldest son and second grade when reading became an assignment and part of his grade. Then he wasn't much of a reader so our conversations went something like this:

ME: Son, you're supposed to read twenty minutes a day and fill out your reading chart.

Son: But I hate reading. It's so BORING.

ME: Learn to love it and it won't be a chore anymore. (This from a busy mom who was DYING for some time to read.)

It turned out the solution for getting my son to read wasn't begging, pleading, threatening, or even a grade, it boiled down to a competition and finding books he was interested in. First the competition: Time read equaled points and my son and his friend decided to see who could get the most points possible. He was determined to beat his friend, (I honestly don't remember who won), but after a few MAGIC TREE HOUSE books (Mary Pope Osborn), and some non-fiction, dinosaurs, tigers, and general gross-out books, he was hooked.

So my first piece of advice for getting a boy to read...
Look for something he's into

Find something that he likes and then look for a book about it. For my nine-year-old it's reptiles, snakes, and bugs. For my 14-year-old it's sport or adventure books like the TAKE IT TO THE EXTREME series (Pam Withers). My 6-year-old likes books with familiar characters like SPONGEBOB, (yes you can find SPONGEBOB books and it's okay to let your kids read them).

Which leads me to,
Don't judge a book...

When he was in a big video game phase my oldest read THE FALL OF REACH (Eric Nylund), and other books based on the HALO video game. I was a little skeptical, I mean, a book based on a video game? Then I read THE FALL OF REACH. It was a well-written and complex book. There were even technical pieces I had to have my son explain to me.

And my final advice...
Be interested in what your son is reading

You know I'm a big advocate of reading with your kids, but I want to say it again. READ WHAT YOUR KIDS READ. Reading with, too, and alongside your kids read gives you a chance for real conversation, whether it's about "issues," creepy-crawly things, or even their favorite cartoon character. It's especially important for boys. The world and their friends may not give them kudos for reading, so you have to. Listen, discuss, let them be the expert for a while, even if it means a listening to a twenty minute plot synopsis for a ten page book, (Six-year-olds have a hard time getting to the point,) or hearing (in disgusting detail) how a spider liquifies the insides of its prey.

It might not be easy. Don't expect your son to digest (spider-like) JANE EYRE or even LORD OF THE FLIES (pun intended) immediately. (And he may not ever enjoy those kind of books.) But a love of books and a love of reading is a life-long joy for girls and boys, (not to mention how much reading will help them child in school).

JANE EYRE may not have been my son's cup of tea, and most of the time he would still rather play video games then read about them, but his reading has paid off--(bragging time)--he scored 100% on two portions of our state's reading evaluation.

Getting your boys to read is worth it. Few things give me greater pleasure than watching my kids get into a book, especially as I think back to the "reluctant reader" of second grade.

For more information and advice on getting boys to read check out this website, guysread.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something to Do While You're Waiting

This will totally date me and maybe brand me as a nerd, but I have an old...(gulp) Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood song running through my head. (Did I mention I have four kids.)

"Let's think of something to do while we're waiting. While we're waiting for something new to do."

Maybe I have this song stuck in my head because my manuscript is on submission and, once again, I find myself playing the waiting game.

There are many different points in a writer's journey when all you can do is wait. Waiting to hear from your critique partners, waiting to hear from the agents you've queried, waiting to hear from publishers when your manuscript is on submission, waiting for the next round of revision notes--waiting, waiting, waiting.

It can be a very helpless feeling, but it doesn't have to be.

As I wait, I've been wondering what productive things a writer can do while they're waiting. For me it's been cleaning out closets. It's almost like the nesting thing I did when I was pregnant. Cleaning out closets may be productive for me and for my house, but it isn't necessarily productive for my writing--other than I have a great action-adventure story in the works about a woman who gets lost in her closet due to WAY too much stuff. (Has that already been done?)

So what can a writer do to be productive during the waiting game? (Obsessively checking e-mail while consuming an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream doesn't count.)

The first and obvious answer is write. Write more. Write often. Write well. (Same answer to most questions about what a writer should be doing.)

But sometimes when you've poured you heart and soul into something and lived through the revisions, (yes many revisions), necessary before it's ready to send out, you need a breather.
Being productive while you wait might mean reading. It might mean networking, blogging, commenting on blogs, researching additional agents and editors to so you're ready with the next query if you do get a rejection.

It's all about moving forward.

With the explosion of the Internet there are more ways than ever before to stay productive while you're waiting. (No, I don't mean a harvesting a bumper blueberry crop on Farmville or stalking your ex-boyfriend on Twitter.)

A friend of mine, Jenny Reynolds, introduced me to Smories.com, a charming, (because it's British) website that features stories read out loud by kids. As a mom, I like to visit Smories because it's a fun place to visit with my kids to hear new stories and because the kids that read them have the cutest British accents.

Instead of sitting around waiting, Jenny submitted her story, EASTER GIRAFFE to the Smories website. It was accepted as one of the new September stories. (Yay Jenny!) She's building credentials, fans, and most importantly her work is being enjoyed by children. (And really isn't that the reason we write?) Check out Jenny's story and her Working on Words website.

Smories is a fun idea and a great thing to do while you're waiting, and I'm sure it's not the only site like that out there.

So I was wondering...

What do you do while you're waiting? How can an author be productive (and stay sane) during a waiting period? AND are there other websites like Smories out there?

Oh, and does anyone know if Mr. Rogers' songs are available on iTunes?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I had a unique experience “reading” THI1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, by Jay Asher, (Published by Razorbill), because I didn’t really read it. Rather, I experienced it. In fact, I may have experienced it in a way that was perfect for the format of the book.

I listened to it.

"Listening" instead of reading THIRTEEN REASONS WHY gave me an interesting perspective into a story that is told through tapes. In essence, I was experiencing the story as the main character was, through a recording.

The story begins when the main character, Clay Jensen, receives a set of audio tapes recorded by his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker, who has recently committed suicide. Through the tapes, Hannah tells Clay that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself and thirteen different people involved, and that he is one of them. Clay spends an evening listening to the tapes and follow Hannah's directions through town as she describes the events that led up to her decision to take her own life.

The story is told through Hannah's tapes and Clay's narrative. As I listened, I got a sense of the helplessness that Clay felt as he heard Hannah's last words. There was nothing he could do to change what happened. The plot is intricately woven as Clay follows the Hannah's experiences and agonizes over what part he played in Hannah's decision.

This story is painful, well-told and heartfelt. I hung on ever word until the end. But I had a problem with the story that I hope I can explain.

I have been a teen aged girl. I have worked with many teen aged girls. I have a teen aged daughter. Many, if not most, of the experiences that Asher (via Hannah) sites as reasons for Hannah's suicide are common to every teen aged girl. I was waiting for the one terrible experience that pushed her over the edge. What she faced and saw and heard got more serious as the story went on, but I didn't see one good reason for her to give it all up. Nor did I find that the compilation of her experiences would lead up to suicide. When I finished reading I was worried that other teenagers would read this book and say, "My life sucks way more than that, maybe I should commit suicide." I kept looking for signs that Hannah had some kind of mental illness or even serious depression, but throughout the story she seemed completely rational. I had to take some time to think about this, and this is what I came up with...

The power in this book IS that Hannah seems completely rational and normal and that she faces very similar problems to any other teen aged girl. To her those problems seemed so overwhelming that she chose to kill herself.

One of the reasons I was drawn to this book was that I had something in common with Clay. I had a friend--also my secret crush--who committed suicide in high school. This friend seemed very normal and very rational and although I didn't know the whole situation, he seemed to have the same problems that any other high school student had.

At the time, I was told, or chose to believe that my friends' death was an accident. It took years for me to look back at the situation and wonder what I could have done differently. What would have happened if I had let my friend know I had a crush on him? What could I have changed? And the big questions: How did he not know that he had so many people who loved him? How did he not know that life would be okay--that it could and would get better?

That is the reason I think you should read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and why you SHOULD have your kids read it. We never know what is going through another person's mind. We never know what will push someone over the edge.

And that leads into

The Mom Review

Obviously this book deals with a very sensitive subject, teen suicide. It is not a happy book. But it is a real book, it is an important book, and it is an intriguing book. It's a book that can be read by kids who don't do read very often, (it was picked as a "Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers" by YALSA--Young Adult Library Services Association).

There are illusions to date rape and some sexual activity--not descriptive or graphic. There are some scenes of drinking and some bad language, but I would recommend this book to teens as young as twelve. (Again know your child.)

Discussion: Parents can (and should) read this book with your kids and use it to open up a discussion into teen suicide. Questions to ask: Was Hannah's situation as bad as she thought? Do the things she experienced happen at your school? How could or should she have dealt with her problems? Did she have resources or friends available to help her?

Most Important things to ask your child: Have you ever felt hopeless or like you had no where to go for help? Who is available to you when you feel alone? (Your kids need to know that YOU are available.) Do you have friends that seem hopeless or depressed? How do you recognize suicidal thoughts in your friends?

Do you know how to recognize suicidal thoughts? Look at the National Suicide Prevention's website, Here is a link to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's article on Teen Suicide and Teensuicide.us.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is a good read because it is complex and intriguing and real. You will be pulled along with Clay and Hannah on both of their journeys of discovery--one of hope, the other of hopelessness.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is an IMPORTANT book because it presents teen suicide in the light that it could happen to anyone, even someone you know.

Where I got this book: I checked this book out from my local library (Timberland Regional Library System) as a downloadable audio book. (An excellent service many libraries now offers by the way.) Incidentally, this book also a "Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults from (YALSA)".

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9-11 Day of Service (Kids Doing Great Things)

Today was 9-11.

A day of remembrance.

President Obama has asked us to make it a day of service. I think that's the perfect way to remember those who died that day and to honor those who lost their lives trying to rescue the victims. It's the perfect way to show those who were trying to break us that they haven't won.

None of us old enough to remember 9-11 will ever forget that day. It was my daughter's first ever day of preschool. My son's second week of kindergarten. I was afraid to let them leave the house. I watched the second tower go down on live T.V. I cried buckets and hugged my kids and felt like I had lost someone in my family.

For a few short weeks, our country was united. I'll never forget that part either.

Nine years later, sometimes we do forget. Life is busy. It moves forward. So when my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) organized a community service project for today, I admit, I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about it.

For one thing, the project was removing ivy from a community park. Not very glamorous. Not very fun. And having battled English Ivy in my own yard, I knew it was a losing battle. (For those of you not familiar with this plant it will cover EVERYTHING. It spreads, it climbs, and it kills trees. And just when you think you've gotten rid of it...)

When the time came to get out of bed and go to the service project this morning, excuses like coming home late from a high school football game last night and trying to catch up from the first week of school made me almost decide to stay in bed. But I didn't.

(So far this has been all about me and it's not even Monday. But hold on, I'll get to the point.)

When I got to the project site, I saw kids--teenagers down to almost-toddlers--working with their families and friends. They were doing the thankless, itchy, back-breaking job of yanking out ivy. And they were smiling. And they were having fun. And they were working together to do something good for their community.

It was great to see teenagers from rival high schools (who had battled it out on the football field the night before), joking with each other and working side by side. I laughed when my nine-year-old pretended he was a super hero, rescuing the trees from the ivy. I had to smile at a sweet little girl with her arms full of vines stumbling towards an overloaded compost pile.

A simple service. No lives were saved (unless you count trees), no medals were awarded. Nothing but a thanks from the mayor and a less ivy-covered park.

Dirty and tired, the kids who had worked so hard went home to clean up. I bet they didn't give a second thought to what they had done. They were probably thinking about a dance tonight, or homework they needed to finish, or maybe just taking a shower and a nap.

Most of them are too young to even remember 9-11, and pulling weeds probably won't stop terrorists or create world peace.


For three hours this morning, the kids (and adults) were doing something for their community. They set aside their own lives, their busy schedules, and even their rivalries. They met some new people, worked side by side with friends and family, and made a community park a better place. As I watched everybody working together it reminded me of the sense of patriotism and unity that we all felt after 9-11. It was a good feeling.

So maybe I'm making too much of a morning of ivy removal.

Or maybe even little bits of service make the world a better place.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review Wednesday--MOCKINGJAY

I'm not sure I'm in a position to review MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins, (published by Scholastic Press), other than to say the entire series was awesome.

Enough said.

Except, that's not enough, because there is so much that can be said about MOCKINGJAY. And then there's always the "Mom" portion of the review, which I will get to in a second.

Synopsis: (No Spoilers)

MOCKINGJAY and all of the HUNGER GAMES series (HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, and MOCKINGJAY), take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. Twelve colonies are ruled by one supreme Capital. In the beginning, there were thirteen colonies, but colony number thirteen was destroyed for rebellion. (If you've read MOCKINGJAY, you know there is more to that story, but I promised no spoilers.) To punish the remaining twelve colonies the Capital instituted the Hunger Games, a contest in which one teen aged boy and one teen aged girl from each colony (total of 24) are forced to fight to the death. The three books follow Katniss Everdeen through the Hunger Games and beyond. (That's a tiny spoiler, but about all I can say without giving anything away.)

The plot is so full of action and plot twists that it will keep you turning pages far into the night. As my son said while I was reading it on our vacation, "I found something that distracts Mom more than writing...reading." Yes, I brought it on a family vacation and yes, I finished it (late) the first night. (So it wouldn't continue to be a distraction.)

The plot is compelling, but the thing I liked most about this series is Katniss. She is REAL, REAL, REAL. She never
intended to be a hero (or heroine). She only wanted to keep her family safe. She did what she needed to do to protect them and to survive. She did what she thought was right. She got angry, she did stupid things, she was confused. Katniss was well aware of her own weaknesses, so much so that she worried (in a very real way) that no one would like her if they knew what she really was. Don't we all feel that way sometimes.

One of my favorite parts in MOCKINGJAY was when they (again, no spoilers) tried to make Katniss into the celebrity they thought they needed, but figured out that she was only likable when she was real. That's a good message for anyone writing a main character and honestly for anyone who is trying to figure out who they are.

Keep it real.

There is also a "love triangle" which kept me guessing all the way to the end. The romance part of this was light, but well done. Katniss is not clear on her own feelings and both guys, Peeta and Gale, are different and likable for different reasons. It was hard for me to chose sides. (No team Peeta or team Gale.) I actually rooted for both of them at different points in the book, and ultimately liked the outcome. (Although I probably would have liked it either way.)

MOCKINGJAY is riddled with excellent political messages. Here's what I got out of it: War is brutal. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nations shouldn't sacrifice their children to settle their differences. Freedom and democracy are worth fighting for. It is NOT okay for one group of people to stand by and allow another group to suffer.

I felt the ending to the series was perfect. (Again no spoilers.) Both sides tried to mold Katniss to what they wanted to suit their purposes. But the Hunger Games (both the series and the game) couldn't end until Katniss acted on her own and struck the final blow.

Ambiguous enough for you? Read the series and maybe you will get it. Or maybe you'll come up with a completely different idea. Either way, I highly recommend reading these books.

They will make you think.

An now for the MOM REVIEW

All of the books in this series are BRUTAL! That is the only way to describe it. No sex, no bad language. TONS OF BRUTALITY and VIOLENCE done REALISTICALLY. Death, destruction, war, and mayhem. You have been forewarned.

So, would I let my kids read it?

Before I answer that question let me go back a little. In fifth grade my son was learning about the Revolutionary War. All of the fifth graders were all assigned one of four books that took place during colonial times. My son read, MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. As I often do, I read the book along with him. I was struck by the brutality of the ending. In fact, I wasn't sure it was appropriate for a 5th grader. (It made me sick.) And then I realized--it was real, it was true to the time period, and war IS brutal. I decided that a story that paints the brutality of war truthfully might be just what a generation of kids who are used to HALO and CALL OF DUTY might need. I feel the same way about the HUNGER GAMES series. Even though it is not real, I think there are a lot of "reality" lessons to be learned by reading these books.

That being said. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under the age of twelve or thirteen. (Or maybe even older.) I let my fourteen-year-old son and my twelve-year-old daughter read the series, but you have to know your kid and what will upset them.

Discussion Points:

THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES can be used to facilitate a discussion on the price of freedom and democracy, and about American History and World History. Questions to ask: Which historical leaders were like the leaders in the Capital? Are there any causes that are worth going to war for? What methods should a civilized society employ to preserve their rights and/or protect their freedom? Or maybe: Why weren't the people in the Capital sympathetic to the plight of the other colonies? How did their excess blind them to the poverty of all of the other citizens? And the big one: How can we keep the brutalities of the past from happening again?

I would highly recommend MOCKINGJAY and any of THE HUNGER GAMES books. They have an amazing plot, real characters and the entire theme is thought provoking.

I'm sad that the story has come to an end. I can't wait for the movie(s) to come out.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Teens Doing Great Things--Christina and Ali

This is going to be a quick post because I'm trying to squeeze the last bit of summer out of the long weekend. (Cannon Beach, Oregon, with my husband and kids.)

For this week's teens doing great things I'm featuring Christina and Ali, singers competing on NBC's America's got Talent. (Although technically Christina is twenty.) If you are into America's Got Talent, and maybe even if you aren't, by now you've probably heard of Christina and Ali, currently one of the top ten acts in the competition.

Christina and Ali are sisters with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic and deadly lung disease. Despite their disease they have the courage and strength to get on stage in front of millions of viewers and sing their hearts out. They sing beautifully, especially considering their decreased lung capacity.

A cool thing to note this pair is from Idaho Falls, Idaho, a town that's only an hour away from where I grew up. Go Idaho girls!
I don't watch a lot of TV, but was introduced to Ali and Christina by my sister-in-law, author, Angela Morrison. Ali and Christina's story struck a familiar chord with her. Angela's daughter sang with the talented Amabile choir in Ontario, Canada. Their she met another young singer with CF, Matt Quaife. His story inspired Angela to write her book, SING ME TO SLEEP. Read the book, and then read Angela's moving tribute to Matt on her blog.

Christina and Ali have made it to the top ten acts in America's Got Talent. They'll be showing their voices and their strength on the show on Tuesday. I can't wait to see them and wish them the best of luck.

Click here to see a clip of Christina and Ali performing on America's Got Talent.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review Wednesday, Tell Me a Secret, Holly Cupala

I'm thrilled to present TELL ME A SECRET, by Holly Cupala, a well-crafted, sweet, and hopeful story about teen pregnancy and living with the death of a loved one.

Holly is my fellow SCBWI-WWA member. I was introduced to "Tell Me a Secret" when she gave me the promotional first chapter for the book. (See my post "On beginnings..."). The first chapter was awesome and I was dying to read more.

I bought TELL ME A SECRET just before I left with my husband to celebrate his (mumble, mumble) birthday in the beautiful San Juan Islands here in Washington State. I started reading when we got stuck with a three hour wait for the ferry and I was hooked. My husband asked if I was going to spend his whole birthday reading. I told him, "Of course not" (It was after midnight when I sneaked into the corner of the hotel room to finish reading the book.

TELL ME A SECRET is the story of Miranda, aka Rand, aka. Mandy--pregnant at seventeen and struggling to reconcile her sister Xanda's death in a household where

to speak of my sister... there's nothing more sacrilegious.
(TMAS page 1)

As her multiple names suggest, Miranda is also struggling with who she is. She has always played the good daughter to Xanda's bad daughter, but she's not sure if that's who she is. Her need to find a connection with Xanda causes her to become friends with Delaney, a "bad girl," like her sister.

When she finds out she's pregnant Miranda is left without support. Her pregnancy is another stain on her overly-religious mother's perfect image, her dad withdraws further into his work, and her boyfriend and friends all desert her.

The story is a very real and well-portrayed image of teen pregnancy. My hear ached for Miranda when she joined a "First time Mother's" chat room to find a place where she could celebrate the life inside of her, even if she had to do it with an assumed identity.

What they had in common, though, wasn't fear or resentment. More like joy. (TMAS page 76.)

I was totally hooked as I followed Miranda through her pregnancy and her search for the truth about her sister's death. I hurt with her, cheered for her, and as a mom, sometimes I wanted to grab her and say, "don't you see what's going on?" That made the book, and Miranda's character all the more real--seventeen-year-old dealing with a grown-up responsibility, and she made some bad judgment calls.

I enjoyed TELL ME A SECRET and would definitely recommend it to a friend.

And I LOVE the book trailer for this one. Check it out!

Now for the MOM portion of the review...

When I read the first chapter of TELL ME A SECRET, I wasn't sure if this was a book I would let my kids read. BUT, I changed my mind by the time I finished it. As soon as I came back from my trip I handed it to my twelve-year-old daughter and told her that she should read it. She loved it! Cupala handled the sensitive issue of teen pregnancy in a way that made it easy to discuss with my daughter, even though she's not quite a teenager yet.

Content and Issues:

Since this is a book about teen pregnancy, sex is obviously implied, but it is well-handled and the actual act is not described--curtains closed. There are scenes that include drinking and drug use. Neither are glorified, it's more of "this is how things are." There are consequences when the characters in the story make bad choices.

The issue of religion is handled fairly well. The overly religious mother is often the "bad guy" but I didn't feel like a judgment was made one way or the other.


TELL ME A SECRET can be used to open a discussion about teen pregnancy and dealing with death, but after I read I wanted to have a discussion my daughter was along a different line. The problems Miranda had with her mother made me want to tell my daughter that there is no mistake she can make that will keep me from loving her, and there is no problem she has to face alone. This is probably the best message I can get across to her now and during her crazy teenage years, and one I'll probably have to repeat over and over.


I would definitely recommend TELL ME A SECRET for teen aged and some pre-teen girls. (My daughter is a little more sophisticated reader than some girls her age.) The story will pull you along, the themes are handled beautifully, and the characters and situations are very real.

Good job Holly!