BEFORE I DIE: YOU WILL CRY

Debut of Jenny Downham (I know, I’m suuuupppper late to read this one)

Stars
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: Nope. It’s a stand alone.
Publisher: April, 29th, 2010 David Fickling Books
Author: Jenny Downham

Recommended Read?: It’s really powerful, really touching, and not for those who can’t take the death of a character.

FIRST IMPRESSION:
I could tell right away the story has a very strong voice and even though all my friends said they cried when they read it, I wasn’t going to. I knew what to expect. It was going to be okay.

THE PLOT:
We’ve all heard it before: dying person has a bucket list. But the way Downham goes about the list is so … painfully beautiful and real that you forget about all the other stories out there. Tessa’s tale is so engaging, so enduring, that it’s ridiculously hard to put the book down and even harder to stop thinking about once you’re done.

I’ve heard a lot of negativity about how obsessed Tessa is with sex at the start (one reviewer said something like “she’s just sixteen, come on!”). That’s ridiculous. She’s a teen — plenty of teens think about sex. Particularly sixteen-year-olds and her age really means nothing. She’s going to die, she’ll never get older, so how can you blame her for thinking about sex? If I were a dying and sixteen, I’d totally want to have sex before I was gone.

THE CHARACTERS:
TESSA the main character is so unique, so conflicted, so amazing that I fell in love with her myself. She faces such a difficult fate and goes through so many emotional situations, but she still keeps moving forward. I loved how she obsessed over numbers — counting days, things she saw, numbering her list, it was all so interesting.

ZOEY is the best friend, and I love her, too. My feelings for her were like a roller coster, one minute they were high in an ‘I-totally-love-this-girl’ way and then the next they were shooting down in an ‘I-hate-her-so-much’ fashion.

ADAM is the love interest, and a very special one at that. He has his own hard time dealing with his life, but he still can’t keep away from Tessa, even though he knows it can’t end well.

CAL is the little brother. Conflicted, adorable, and a magic lover — what’s not to like? Plus, I have a soft spot of little brothers (even though they’re all over the place in YA).

The characters were what really made the story a tragedy. Even though I knew it couldn’t end well, I couldn’t help but love each of them. Which really just made it harder in the end.

THE ROMANCE:
I loved this part of the story. How unexpected it was for them. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for star crossed lovers, and you really can’t get any more star crossed then a dying girl and a healthy boy. There was real tension in this subplot, real emotions, and really beautiful moments.

THE WRITING
The writing is amazing. Downham really paints a vivid picture of life for Tessa and doesn’t shy away from the gritty and horrible parts of her sickness and about life (like, #1 on Tessa’s list: sex). She focuses on everything around Tessa, bugs, birds, weird extra, little, things you’d never really think about and it just makes it all so real. The end of the book is where her talent really shines. The way she captures Tessa’s declining health is perfect. I wasn’t able to stop reading.

Usually, near the end of the book, I’ll glance at the page number a lot to know how many pages are left. That way I can sort of gage what will happen next (this subplot will be wrapping up, this question should be answered soon, etc) but with this book I wasn’t. I just focused on the words, turning the page, and hoping it wouldn’t end. I didn’t want Tesa to leave.

CONCLUSION:
I cried. By around page 280, there were tears in my eyes. They stayed until the end. I feel a tingle in my eyes when I think about the book. I can honestly only think of one other book that made me cry (LOVELY BONES) and it was just a few tears. This book … there were a lot more than just a few.

How to Write Irresistible Kidlit

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Cover of Writing Irresistible Kidlit by literary agent Mary Kole (http://kidlit.com)

Stars:
Genre: Writing Tips
Author: Mary Kole (Literary Agency) (Personal Website) (Kidlit.com)
Recommended? Yes. If you want to write YA or MG, I really, really, really recommend it.

I’ve read a lot of How To Become An Awesome writer type of books. I’ve also attended conferences, webnairs, and followed a lot of writer blogs, and out of all of those great tools and resources, kidlit.com has always been a favorite of mine. It’s run by literary agent Mary Kole. At my regional SCBWI conference, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar hosted by her and meet her briefly. It wasn’t the first time I heard about her book (she’d mentioned it on her website) but it’s where I finally got to order one. I really loved it, even though I’ve read all the archives of kidlit.com, I felt I learned plenty of new things or insights. The book is broken down into the important things you need to know when writing for the YA or MG marketplace.

It starts with an overview of the Kidlit Market then moves to describing the MG and YA reader’s mindset. I’d like to think I’m well educated with both, but Kole gave insights I hadn’t thought about. She then talks about the importance of a Big Idea in stories, the foundation of storytelling, how to make a great YA or MG character, how to structure plots, and she talks about advanced skills (such how imagery, voice, theme, author authority and authenticity.

In case you haven’t considered the traditional publishing route, the last chapter breaks down everything you need to know about it. The role of literary agents, the query letter, submitting your work, and a few more bonus tips and tricks. Again, I’m well versed in those areas but Kole brought a new point of view and a very interesting one since she’s a literary agent herself.

Reading this book was fun. It forced me to think about my own writing and gives exercises to help you find problems with my plot or characters. Editors, YA and MG authors, and other literary agents give bonus tips and insights throughout the book as well. Kole reinforces everything she says by showing examples from popular YA and MG books. She gives plenty of time to both sections of the kidlits.