Northern Kentucky YA Fest Recap


Over the weekend I got the chance to participate in the fabulous Northern Kentucky YA Fest. (Did you know that parts of northern Kentucky are considered suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio? There’s your fun State Line Fact of the Day.)

Everything about it was awesome. The teens were awesome. The authors were awesome. The volunteers were awesome. And the organizers were awesome, specifically Eden Grey, librarian extraordinaire, who was in charge of the whole damn thing and pulled it off like a pro. You never would have guessed that this was the first year they’ve ever done it!

Here are some photos. And let me just say: this all just goes to show that anyone can organize an event like this. Eden and her crew looked around, realized that there weren’t any YA festivals in their area, decided to organize one, and went ahead and did it. These events are such wonderful ways to…

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YA Anthologies – Violent Ends and Taking Aim

Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson

Incredibly powerful storytelling with a consistent tone despite the 18 different authors. One of the best contemporary books I’ve ever read, and highly recommended. Each story is very well written, and while told from different perspectives, keeping the story straight is easy because of the quality storytelling and editing. The violent end happens in the beginning, and the rest is like a web of stories woven together in a masterful way.

Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns

Poor storytelling, too much message-sending, bland characters, unbelievable and predictable settings and situations, unreadable short stories that no teen will find appealing. Sorry, I did not enjoy this at all and I don’t think teens will either.

Manga Writing Workshop for Teens

I recently ran a Manga Workshop for grades 6-12 at my public library. With very little artistic skill, and no manga drawing experience, I drew on my experiences as a writer and a manga reader to design the workshop. I also used the knowledge gained from the incredibly informative and well done manga series Bakuman, which follows two high school students on a quest to be the best manga writing/drawing team of their time. The series is done by a best-selling author/illustrator combo, and they reveal the inside world of the manga publishing world. I find that when working on manga, most teens get stuck in the character designing phase, and just draw characters – this is great, but not productive as far as creating an actual manga.

So I worked from my prior knowledge and experience to come up with a step-by-step process for designing a manga story and drafting it into a storyboard. My workshop focused only on those activities, and attendees were encouraged to practice drawing on their own, with the assistance of drawing books and guides they could check out from the library. The activities detailed below are things that anyone can do, regardless of drawing ability. At the end of the workshop the participants will have a draft of a story that they can continue working on!

Step 1: Complete the Manga Story Worksheet that I designed. As the instructor I went through each section of the worksheet and defined terms and described what was required for each. If you’re unfamiliar with the sections or terms just leave a comment and I’ll answer, or look up definitions for unfamiliar terms somewhere like’s Manga section, which is very helpful.

Step 2: Brainstorm sample chapter ideas with the participants. A lot of common manga tropes and plots can be used here. For example:

  • It’s a boring summer vacation day and the characters must find something fun to do.
  • A transfer student arrives in the main character’s class.
  • The main character sleeps through their alarm.
  • A character loses something very important to them.
  • A character finds something important from their childhood.
  • Someone from the MC’s past shows up unexpectedly.
  • The main character gets sick.
  • A new enemy appears.
  • An old friend returns.
  • A parent or friend is injured in an accident.
  • The characters discover they have magical powers or superpowers.

Step 3: Draft a quick chapter sketch. This will be a one or two page layout of what happens in a single chapter (or half a chapter) of the story. See the Manga Story Example for an example of what this could look like. The sketches will be rough, if there are sketches at all. In my example, there are no drawings, and only text and lines are used to indicate what is happening in the story.

Step 4: Draft a detailed storyboard. This will be a more detailed version of the chapter sketch done in the previous step. Each page of the chapter will be drawn out on its own piece of paper, featuring panels, character sketches (preferably with little detail, so as not to distract from the plotting), and text bubbles. Again, see the Manga Story Example for what this might look like. This step could take the students some time to complete, so encourage them to take their work home and complete a storyboard on their own.



A page from the manga “Bakuman” by Takashi Obata

Release Day Review: THE SIX by Mark Alpert

The Six

The Six by Mark Alpert

Published July 1, 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire

A hardcore science fiction joyride.

What happens when you take six dying teens and upload their brains into the most technologically advanced robots ever created by man? You get a team of unruly superheroes who are the only hope for destroying a rogue Artificial Intelligence hell-bent on the destruction of all humanity.

Meet the Six, a group of teens given a second lease on life. Led by the violent ex-gang member Zia and computer prodigy Adam, who happens to be the son of the tech-genius who is leading the entire operation, the Six have less than a month to learn how to fight together using their new robot bodies. A rogue AI program, named Sigma, that was also created by Adam’s father, is trying to take over the world – and now only Adam and his team can stop it.

The best feature of THE SIX is that the author does not portray the scientists as the bad guys. In fact, advanced science and technology is on the side of the good guys – they need it to save the lives of millions of people. Among a wealth of dystopias and sci-fi novels in which the scientists and the government are the enemy, this standpoint is refreshing and exciting.

With accessible writing and a diverse cast of characters, THE SIX is a well done sci-fi action novel that will appeal perfectly to its intended audience. However, adult readers of YA, particularly women, will most likely find the series opener not quite to their tastes. There is the tiniest hint of romance, but once the teens are virtually ensconced in their new robot bodies, any hint of romance is crushed but the technological barriers between them.

The verdict: I highly recommend THE SIX, a well-researched, hardcore science fiction joyride for fans of first-person shooter video games like Halo and Destiny. Fans of YA sci-fi romance and dystopias may find it not quite suited to their tastes.

(Adapted from a review first published in School Library Journal, June 2015 issue)

THE CAGE by Megan Shepherd

THE CAGE is the first in a compelling new science fiction series from popular YA author, Megan Shepherd. ALIENATED (Melissa Landers) meets NIL (Lynne Matson) in this sci-fi romance survival adventure.

The Cage (The Cage, #1)

Cora wakes up in the desert, completely lost and with no personal belongings, and totally alone. She wanders the dunes, trying to find help or a landmark. What she finds are snow-covered hills, a manicured farm, and a miniature town with other teens already there. Cora and the other teens are members of a cohort kidnapped from Earth in order to populate a zoo-like habitat. They were kidnapped by an alien race, known as the Kindred. While Cora tries to find any way out of the habitat, her cage, the others learn to settle in and enjoy their captivity. Meanwhile, romance blooms between members of the cohort, and Cora finds herself undeniably drawn to their alien captor.

What I loved: Shepherd really blows it out of the water with the world-building. While we start out discovering the “cage”, the habitat that Cora and her cohort are confined within, due to Cora’s curiosity and tenacity we quickly discover more about the alien planet they are on. Discovering these secrets, things about the very world that they exist on, is breathtaking. I can’t say anymore, because I don’t want to spoil anything for potential readers, but I’ll leave it at this: You won’t guess where they are, or why. Trust me.

What I wanted more of: I wanted just a little more tension. I felt like there wasn’t a point at which the characters’ lives were really in danger. With the Caretaker watching their every move and the habitat specifically designed to keep them alive, I felt like the cohort really could have used some actual danger. However, I expect the danger and heart-pounding action will be very intense in the second book!

The verdict: With exquisitely crafted world-building, a tantalizing romance, and thrilling character dynamics, THE CAGE is a page-turning intro to a series that YA readers will fall in love with.

Best YA Debuts of 2015

With so many incredible contemporary books out this year, I wanted to highlight my favorites. These are the best YA debuts of the year, and books you should be reading or adding to your to-read list! 

None of the AboveNONE OF THE ABOVE is a fantastic contemporary debut novel by a strong writer and expert in the medical field. Gregorio is a force to be reckoned with – her seemingly effortless prose will capture readers’ attention and keep them enthralled all the way to the last page.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon Spiers is a little bit of a mess. What is a boy to do when a complete stranger discovers the emails you wrote to your secret, anonymous, online boyfriend? Try to deal with the blackmail, and generally mess up your life – sounds like a great plan. SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA is an incredibly authentic and heartfelt debut novel that follows Simon through his junior year of high school. Romance, parties, angst, drama club, and many conversations in a Waffle House are in store for readers. Simon Spier’s junior year of high school is a fantastic and funny adventure reminiscent of Andrew Smith’s WINGER. Highly recommended for readers looking for a heartfelt slice-of-life romance.


Incredibly written and complex storytelling couple with deep characters and thrilling adventures makes this debut one-of-a-kind. Mim struggles with the loss of her mother, who moved away, her dad making a new home with her stepmother, and her own mental health issues as she traverses the Midwest. Strong writing and clever storytelling complete this impressive debut.

My Heart and Other Black Holes

Jasmine Warga’s debut is a very well written look at the real effects of depression on teens. A heartfelt story with authentic writing and a lot of feelings, this is a book full of real issues and a whole lot of hope.

We All Looked Up

Imagine if the world was going to end in 2 months. All those imminent disaster by comet exploding the Earth? It’s actually going to happen. Suddenly, Seattle is in turmoil, chaos reigns, and 4 teenagers with tenuous connections suddenly become connected. This is the story of their connections, their attempts not only to survive, but to thrive in the little time they have left. This is a novel that everyone is going to be talking about, and if they’re not yet – they will be once the movie is in production. The novel will also be released with an accompanying album, since the author is a talented musician. Adults and teens alike will fall for this novel, and I hope it creates connections between the readers. I think when people finish it, they’ll all look up and wonder about their own purpose in the world.

Anything Could Happen

Tretch is in love with his best friend, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. Not only that, the bookstore girl crushing on him becomes his date to the New Year’s dance, and his best friend gets a girlfriend. How does Tretch deal? With Ellie Goulding’s Halcyon on repeat, Tretch dances his way through lies, bullying, and awkward situations, and I loved every minute of it. ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN is a powerful debut novel about being true to who you are. There is so much hope in Tretch’s world. He never gives up, and that combined with the support he gets from friends and family is simply unbelievable. I wish I had this book as a teenager, and I want to share it with every teenager I know. A powerful story of self-discovery and empowerment. ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN will warm the hearts of readers.

More Happy Than Not

MORE HAPPY THAN THOUGHT is a powerhouse of a YA debut that will crumple your heart and make your soul soar, all in the same chapter. The writing is very good, driven by Aaron’s strong and captivating voice. While I wanted a little more connection to Aaron in the first half of the novel, I got that connection later on, once the secrets and twists come to light. The near-future setting is so very authentic, yet fascinating in its nuanced differences. The story is also incredibly contemporary – it isn’t quite sci-fi and isn’t quite your typical realistic novel. With powerful, sucker-punch moments and tearful, soul-searching questions, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is quite possibly the best debut novel of the year.

Review: 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

5 to 1

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Expected publication May 12, 2015

SUMMARY: In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.

Sudasa, though, doesn’t want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view-Sudasa’s in verse and Kiran’s in prose-allowing readers to experience both characters’ pain and their brave struggle for hope.

REVIEW: In a groundbreaking debut told in alternating points of view, one in poetry and one in prose, Holly Bodger explores a future in which gender selection in India has led to there being 5 boys for every girl.

The prose is captivating in its authenticity, portraying Kiran’s point of view very well. The poetry is appropriately jarring and nuanced, showing many aspects of Sudasa’s culture and lifestyle. Sudasa is about to come of age, meaning that she, along with many other girls just like her, will watch 8 boys compete for her hand in marriage. Kiran is one of those boys, but he has a plan to escape the tests, escape his inevitable military assignment, and escape the oppression of his country.

Sudasa struggles against her grandmother’s strong and repressive influence, while Kiran battles pressures from the other boys in his testing group. Over days of testing and judging, Sudasa comes to realize that Kiran may have another agenda besides winning her in marriage.

Meanwhile, Kiran comes to see that Sudasa is not just a power-hungry woman looking for a male companion to obey her every wish. What these 2 discover puts them on the cusp of changing their worlds forever.

In a not-so-distant future we see the possibilities of giving too much power to one gender or the other, and the negative impact that inequality can have on our young people and an entire country.

Review originally published in School Library Journal, February 2015.