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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Dear James Frey...

I have never read your work. I make a point of never paying first hand for books written by noted liars. So when I heard that you were writing YA novels under the pen name of Pittacus Lore, entitled “I Am Number Four” I was intrigued but not enough to put money down for the privilege. When I later discovered that not only had the movie rights already been purchased for the at the time unreleased book, but they were already making the $60million film, my cynicism fell from “glass half empty” to “glass empty and smashed across the floor.” Call me old fashioned but I can’t help but think there’s something incredibly artificial and greedy about churning out a book specifically to make a movie of it so you can see the Benjamins roll in. I disliked it when Thomas Harris did it for Hannibal Lecter and I dislike it in a genre I hold close to my heart.

Maureen Johnson posted this Wall Street Journal article on twitter and it’s safe to say you have not gone up in my estimation. Your business Full Fathom Five, created specifically to be a quick, effective conveyor belt of ideas for books solely to be sold to the film market feels incredibly disingenuous to me, not to mention working specifically in the field of multiple book series to milk the cash cow even further. I guess some people would call you a savvy businessman, especially since you employ many writers, pay them next to nothing, then get them to do the legwork. 28 writers working on 27 series? I can feel the creative integrity drain out of me just thinking about it.

But here’s what really got to me about this article, aside from one of your colleagues pitching a YA series idea and insisting that the heroine’s parents be dead (because parentless children have it so good and nobody’s ever read about that before). Your entire attitude to this venture is that of a man obsessed with nothing but monetary gain. The ideas you pitch are derivative but not without promise, yet you seem concerned only with how commercial you can make them instead of how interesting, intriguing or challenging your ideas can be. Teenagers aren’t stupid, they don’t deserve to be talked down to by businessmen in factories churning out stuff they are told they should like because it’s ‘bad-ass.’ You say that “the book world is less accepting of radical ideas” right after a mention of Dreamworks’ marketing team wanting you to create a saleable logo for your Pittacus Lore books. Here’s the truth – the publishing world has been accepting of radical ideas long before you were ever born. It’s how books like Lolita got published. There is a place in our world for low-brow trash and I happily indulge in it myself from time to time, but is there a place for buillshit? Not so much. Your books will probably sell well and the movies will probably make a lot of money too (I notice that there is interest in another movie of one of your company’s yet to be released books starring Jaden Smith) Literature is not something that can be churned out, packaged and dolled up in explosions, and if you seriously think that teenagers deserve nothing but the same old crap then I feel sorry for you.

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Review: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis.

“Across the Universe”

Author: Beth Revis.

Publisher: Razorbill.

Pages: 396.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): Seventeen year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Cover impressions: Admit it, that cover’s gorgeous. As many who frequent this blog and read my reviews know, I’m a little cynical when it comes to YA these days. I still really enjoy reading it and writing it (well, trying to write it) but after the project and general disappointment of the genre’s ways of business, quality of material and the like I was feeling somewhat jaded. While some things were grabbing my attention, nothing was really screaming out to me, telling me I had to read this or suffer the consequences. I don’t exactly fangirl over a lot of YA these days so you definitely know that when I say I loved this book I really mean it. I managed to get an advanced reader copy of the book from work (thank you, Waterstones!) and, while I’m something of a sci-fi novel novice, I was intrigued enough by the blurb to give it a go.

Set sometime in the future, Amy agrees to join her parents on a space-ship heading towards a new planet for humans to inhabit, which involves being frozen from 300 years. The very first chapter opens with Amy’s decision to go through the horrific process of being frozen and it’s highly gripping stuff. She awakes 50 years too early thanks to some sabotage and finds herself on the Godspeed, under the care of Elder, the boy who will become leader of the ship one day. Unable to be re-frozen to join her parents for the remainder of their trip, Amy is left being the freak on a ship where something just isn’t right and strange goings on are afoot. I don’t want to go into things too much because the real joy in this book was discovering the fascinating but closed in and claustrophobic world Amy is forced to live in. After generations of space travel in a mini-city inside a vast space-ship where the stars are a myth and individuality is frowned upon, the Godspeed is a cold place where everything seems fake and following the one man in charge, the enigmatic Eldest, is accepted without thought. What really grabbed me about this world was Revis’s attention to detail; while the ship itself is of the most sophisticated technology, the people are simple and dress like Medieval peasants, simple things like reproduction must be heavily monitored for fear of incest and even the air they breathe is artificial and recycled over the generations. Some of the best descriptive scenes come from Amy’s time in the freezer, which perfectly encapsulate every claustrophobic fear and thoughts of loneliness one could have in that situation. It’s highly unsettling stuff. In fact, there is a deeply unsettling current running through the entire novel, which I found fascinating.

At first I was worried that the characters of Amy and Elder, whom the narrative switches between, wouldn’t grab my attention. They seemed more like devices than characters, but luckily Revis proved me wrong and I found myself really interested and invested in them both. I could understand every decision they made – Amy is lonely, a complete fish out of water unused to this new world where everything she knew as normal just doesn’t exist anymore and people view her as a non-essential entity, and Elder is a boy with huge responsibilities on his shoulders, fascinated by this new and unique girl and battling with conflicting emotions over what is and is not the right thing to do for those he is responsible for. Consequences exist and terrible things will happen if they are not dealt with. I applaud Revis for not shying away from the difficult moments in the story. I was worried for a while that she would mess up a sensitive element in the story but she really pulled through with it. Revis handles issues like race, identity and sex in an interesting way and subverted a lot of my expectations.

While the book is marketing itself on its romance (the ARC is calling this Titanic crossed with Avatar which is a bit unfair since it’s a lot more interesting and unique than Dances with Smurfs) I really don’t think this book is a romance. I don’t think what Amy and Elder share really even comes close to romance. It’s more about fascination and discovery than love; actually, the whole story is about discovery and what it means to be human, which is a whole lot more interesting than teen love, even teen love on a shape-ship! She did keep the interactions between Elder and Amy fresh and threw a few curveballs at the reader which I appreciated. I can honestly say I didn’t find a thing in this book predictable.

Revis has managed to craft a really interesting, gripping story that throws a lot of questions at the reader about how you would handle things if you were in Amy and Elder’s positions. While I don’t think the book is perfect – the switches in narrative was an interesting choice I found very readable, I didn’t think Amy and Elder’s voices were distinct enough, especially in the beginning, and the mystery feels a bit rushed towards the end – I can only really nitpick. Everything feels very well thought out and, while it stands tall on its own, I heartily look forward to the remaining books in the trilogy. I am not a fan of the hype machine, especially in a genre where so much of it feels forced, but I’m calling it now; this will be big and it certainly deserves to be.


Across the Universe comes out in UK in March 2011, and in USA January 2011.

I have 4 books on my TBR list - "The Eternal Ones" by Kirsten Miller, "The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner, "Knife" by R.J. Anderson and "Pirates!" by Celia Rees. Whst would you like me to read next? General twitter consensus is on "Knife" but I'm open to more suggestions.

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