I read a lot. A LOT. Clients’ projects (three this week) and queries (15–20 every day) and requested full manuscripts (I try to read two a week), of course, but I try to keep up with recently published titles as well. Editors are generous people. Pretty much every lunch or coffee date or phone call with one of them results in a big fat package on my desk a few days later; editors are proud of the books they’ve worked on, and they know that the more I understand their taste, the likelier it is I’ll send them projects they want to buy.
Every so often I’ll read a book that knocks my socks off and makes me frantically flip to the acknowledgements to see who the author’s agent is so I can
seethe with envy admire her good taste. This week I signed a client who’d seen my tweet about loving a certain book and then queried me, essentially saying “Since you loved that book, you might like my project, too.” (Hey, it works for Amazon.) And oh my STARS, was she right. Her book is just absurdly fantastic, reminiscent and yet not at all derivative of that book I’d tweeted about.
So I thought I’d mention a few recent(-ish) books I loved in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read this post and recognize and elements of one of these titles in her own project…and send it to me immediately.
SOMETHING REALby Heather Demetrios (Henry Holt BFYR). I have a horror of reality shows. Many of them seem to feature humans at their stupidest, and networks have churned them out instead investing in scripted television drama and comedy, making a tough job market even tougher for actors. And I feel a bit sick to my stomach every time I read about those surveys that say kids today aspire to be famous rather than have actual careers. SOMETHING REAL shines an unflattering light on the reality TV industry and asks smart questions about celebrity—but it’s also a swoony romance and a fresh twist on the perennial conflict between parents and the teenagers craving independence from them. I’d really like to see another project that examines celebrity and the desire for it in a thoughtful, nuanced way.
JERSEY ANGELby Beth Ann Bauman (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House). It took me a while to finally pick this one up, even though its editor has reliably impeccable taste and one of my best friends blurbed it. (Sometimes I’m too contrary for my own good.) The cover image is beachy, and I’m not a beach person unless it’s a foggy day and I can wear one of those chunky wool fisherman’s sweaters. But I was spellbound when I did read it. You know how so many contemporary YA main characters are kind of wordy, nerdy smart kids? Don’t get me wrong, I love those; they’re the kind of kids I identified with at that age (and still do). But Angel isn’t like that at all: she’s not academically ambitious, she’s not riddled with Dawson’s Creek-esque angst, and her moral compass is a little unreliable. She’s promiscuous, but she’s in full control of her sexuality and crucially, she’s not punished for that. Angel didn’t remind me of anyone I’d ever met in a YA novel, and her voice just swept me away: soulful, unself-conscious, literary but never distant or overserious. I would love to find a project with a MC as atypical as Angel.
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith (St. Martin’s Griffin). Okay, this isn’t recent at all — it was first published in 1948. But I just reread it, parceling it out one chapter a night at bedtime, savoring the language. Every sentence Smith writes is intentional and finely crafted in a way that sends chills down my spine: the precision is just magnificent. There are other authors who do this well — Jane Gardam and A LONG WAY FROM VERONA comes to mind, Jo Walton (have you read AMONG OTHERS? You must), Barbara Trapido (FRANKIE AND STANKIE isn’t ever classified as YA, but it certainly could be), the divine Catherynne Valente. If you’re a fan of any of these authors, I think you’ll know what I mean (and if you can think of more writers in this vein, do say so in the comments). I love authors who can write this way.
And lastly, my current bedtime reading is DETROIT CITY IS THE PLACE TO BE by Mark Binelli (Metropolitan)— it’s nonfiction, and it’s about the decline of what was once one of America’s most thriving industrial cities. You’ve seen the photos, I’m sure, of decaying abandoned buildings in Detroit; how cities grow and collapse has always fascinated me, and this book is a smartly-written look at Detroit’s history as well as its devastated present. If you’re writing a YA or MG book set in contemporary Detroit, I will be sorely disappointed if I don’t get to take a look at it.
Does any of these books strike a chord with you? Submission guidelines are here; give them a once-over and then query me at hawnqueries at thebentagency.com.