May Reading Roundup

May was a crazy month. I finished up finals and moved down to Gaithersburg, Maryland for my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They’re keeping me busy at NIST, and I’m really enjoying the work. The public transportation in this part of the world does leave something to be desired, and I have never ever had allergies like this (at least I’m hoping they’re allergies), but I can get back and forth to work and I can get food, so it could be worse. I’ve been writing again too, slowly but surely, and finishing up critiques I promised people forever ago.


I also read twenty books this month. Which means I’ve read ninety books this year. I’m probably going to reach my goal of a hundred books this coming month. The question remains: should I increase my goal for the year? Or should I just bask in my victory for the next six months? Opinions welcome.


Many of the books I read this month were relatively short. I only read one book in Braille, because most of my reading time is while I’m doing things like cooking and laundry and such, and audio works better for that, obviously. Working full time tends to cut down on your ability to chill on the couch with a book. I made progress on a couple series I’ve been working on, read three series completely, started another new series, and read a couple stand-alone things. As usual, I’m clumping series together in this posts, and keeping my thoughts as spoiler-free as possible. And so, without further ado, here’s what I read in May and what I thought of it.


First, I read all three books in the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver—Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem—as well as the collection of Delirium stories: Hana, Annabel, Raven, and Alex. I enjoyed these books. They weren’t fabulous, but they were very decent. It’s a YA dystopian series set in a futuristic America where everybody undergoes a procedure to cure them of the ability to love, which is viewed as a deadly disease. So of course, our protagonist, Lena, goes and falls in love a month before her scheduled procedure. There were a lot of things that I liked about these books. The world building was pretty solid, and I really enjoyed Lena’s journey from a scared believer in the system to an awesome resistance fighter. I also like that Lena is just an ordinary girl within the system. She’s never even such a big part in the resistance, though she does do a lot of good things for it. It was kind of refreshing compared with the YA dystopians where the hero is always the unwitting or even unwilling figurehead of the rebellion. I also thought Lauren Oliver definitely stuck the ending. A lot of people on Goodreads disagree with me on this, but I liked it. I was worried about it, given the split point of view in the third book. But it worked for me. All that being said, the books were pretty predictable. I knew what was going to happen way before it happened, particularly with the romantic side of the story. But this was still a fast-paced, fun series to read.


On our drive down to Maryland, my mom and I listened to Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I really enjoyed this book. It’s about a Mexican girl who immigrates to America with her mother after her father dies and works in a migrant camp during the Great Depression. There were times when Esperanza was a bit of a brat, but it’s also totally understandable and watching her journey of becoming self-sufficient was great. I would definitely recommend this book.


Next, I continued my journey through the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins with the next two books in the series: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane and Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. I am absolutely loving these books. They’re middle grade novels, but they tackle some really important issues, like racism and biological warfare. In the second book, Gregor and his little sister Boots return to the Underland to go on a quest to kill the evil rat overlord. In the third book, Gregor and Boots go back to seek the cure for a plague. Gregor is such a great protagonist. It’s also really interesting to read these books after reading the Hunger Games series, because you can see similar plot structures, characters, and themes handled in a completely different way. This gave rise to an interesting conversation with my writing friends about authors using the same or similar pallets for different projects. I haven’t finished the series—knowing Suzanne Collins it’s going to get darker from here—so I can’t speak for the series as a whole, but so far I am loving these books.


After that, I read the entire Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis: The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, Mud City, and My Name is Parvana. These books are about a girl in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, and when her father is arrested, she disguises herself as a boy to support her family. Each of these books was very short, and I could see it working better as one longer novel with more detail rather than four separate shorter ones, but I think it was written this way because it’s a middle grade series. But the whole series put together is fabulous, and I highly recommend.


After that, I read Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth. It was interesting to get Four’s point of view before and during Divergent, but on the whole it was kind of meh. I already knew how it was going to turn out, and I’m not sure it added anything new to the series.


Then I caved and reread The Call, and the sequel which just came out, The Invasion, by Peadar ó Guilín. i read The Call last year, and I hated it viscerally. The writing was terrible, the characters’ motivations made no sense, and it was just bad. But I was intrigued by the premise for the sequel, so I got both books from the library and plowed through them. I still disliked the first book, but the second book was pretty creative, and putting them together they make a not-completely-terrible duology. I still wouldn’t recommend them, though.


I finally started the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I read the first three books this month: The Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters, and The Titan’s Curse. I’ve been meaning to read these books for a while, and I am so glad that I finally did. My sole regret is that I haven’t read them until now, because where have these books been all my life?! They are so much fun. This is a middle grade series about the children of the Greek gods going on adventures to avert wars and rescue friends. They are good fun, but also serious in all the right places. Basically everything I want in an upper middle grade novel. Also, kind of unrelated, but it’s really interesting to be reading this series and the Underland series simultaneously, because there are some very interesting similarities in the plot structure, and Gregor and Percy have some similar characteristics as protagonists.


And finally I continued my rereading of the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. This month, I read books 6 through 8, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, and the Hostile Hospital. Honestly, these books are starting to wear on me. I’m glad that the orphans have more agency now and are actively trying to solve the mystery themselves, but the mystery is moving so slowly, and the adults are just the worst. I’m hoping things pick up in the last five books.


And that’s it for May. If you’ve read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts. Happy reading everybody!


“Polaris in the Dark” to be Published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

I’ve been sitting on this for about a month now, because there wasn’t a contract and I didn’t want to jinx it. But it’s really happening, so I am super excited to tell you all that my short story “Polaris in the Dark” will be published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology! It’s an anthology of science fiction stories about diverse characters aimed at middle grade readers. My story is about a blind girl indentured on the train that runs around the rings of Saturn… until she escapes. This isn’t the first story I’ve written about a blind character, but it is my first ever science fiction story, which is really cool. I had a lot of fun inventing gadgets that I actually want in the real world. Also it’s my first professional sale, so yay! If you’re interested, you can vote for the cover of the anthology here. I’ll keep you all posted as the anthology develops.

Writing for Kids

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working on a short story for this contest. Stories have to be for a middle grade audience, so ages eight to twelve, and a friend who was also working on a story for this contest asked me for some advice on how to write for kids, since I do it so well. My first response was “I don’t know. I just do.” It’s when I try to write for adults that I flail like a fish out of water. Trust me, it never goes well.


But then I started seriously thinking about it. I’ve already said I prefer to read young adult and middle grade books over adult books, so I’m more well-read in that category, which I think is the first step to writing anything. But what else do I take into account when I’m writing for kids? I’m not a kid anymore—I’m still working on that adult thing, but I’m certainly not eight years old anymore—and while I can remember some things from being eight years old, those memories are colored by other experiences. So, okay, I write for kids pretty naturally, but I still wasn’t sure exactly how I do it.



So, to answer my friend’s question and to satisfy my own curiosity—this is something I should know about myself, right?—I reread some of my favorite middle grade books and some new ones too. It couldn’t hurt my own writing, particularly for this contest, to think about it. I thought about not only why I enjoyed these books but what the writers did when they were writing them. And I came up with several constants.


First of all, kids aren’t dumb just because they’re kids. In fact, children can be quite intelligent and perceptive, but they’re logic isn’t always the same as an adult’s, and it’s totally possible that they will come to the wrong conclusion about something, which is, of course, excellent plot fodder.


So kids aren’t dumb or inherently more simple than adults, and the best middle grade and young adult stories I’ve read take this into account. Things are not overly simplistic. In fact, often they’re quite complicated, with multiple problems the character needs to face and no clear solutions. And just like the stories, the characters can’t be simple either. Kids are complicated, filled with all sorts of emotions and desires. And kids can be mean too, or make bad decisions, sometimes because of peer pressure, other times not. Again, excellent plot fodder.


For example, let’s look at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, one of my favorite books in the series. Harry is thirteen years old, and this is the last book in the series intended for a middle grade audience. In the beginning, Harry loses his temper with Aunt Marge and runs away, convinced that he is going to be arrested for his illegal use of magic and will now have to live as an outlaw. He has a good reason to believe this might be the case, but it’s still not the best decision he could have made given the circumstances. Then, there are all the different plot lines: Sirius Black is coming after Harry and is connected with the murder of Harry’s parents, Harry is struggling to fend off the dementors, Professor Trelawney is constantly predicting Harry’s death, Malfoy is trying to get Hagrid fired and Buckbeak executed, Harry is desperate to beat Malfoy for the Quidditch Cup, Crookshanks keeps trying to eat Scabbers, Hermione has a secret, Lupin keeps getting ill… I could keep going. And all of these plots come together seamlessly in the climax. And that’s not to mention all the tension and emotion tied up in all this. And this is a book for middle schoolers!


Prisoner of Azkaban is fun to read. And so when I’m writing fiction for kids, the most important thing is that I’m having fun, that there’s this sense of elation and hope that pushes the story forward—especially when the story is tense or sad, especially when the characters struggle and fail and struggle some more. This is what I love about writing for kids, that there are complexities and bad decisions and struggles, but there is always hope.