In honor of fifty years of YA novels

reading-1309980In honor of its fiftieth anniversary, I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton again after about twenty-five years. Hinton has been said to single-handedly jump started the YA publishing market.

I went through a period of reading YA novels. Most of Hinton’s–That Was Then, This Is Now; Rumble Fish–and tackled Paul Zindel’s books beginning with The Pigman. To my repertoire of YA novels, I read Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and many more.

Even as an adult, I’ve enjoyed YA fiction more than ever. As an adult, I’ve read classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler just to name a few. I have never thought YA novels were only for young adults.

YA fiction has ruled pop culture the last fifteen to twenty years: The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and The Harry Potter series are the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s an article by a young adult author about her writing experience. It’s hilarious:

A Crash Course in YA Taught Me How to Write.



What I read this past year

For some reason, I did not read as many books as I usually do during a year. Looking at my list, I was heavily influenced by books that came out as movies. Also, lots of books marketed to young adults. Overall, still a great year of reading for me. In case you are interested, here is what I read in 2014:

9780375842207_p0_v6_s260x420The Book Thief

World War II literature from the viewpoint of the German citizens. A mystery narrator tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl who has a difficult life in Germany as Hitler rises to power. Don’t worry, the mystery narrator is revealed. A sad story to read, but brilliantly told.



A mix of The Hunger Games and The Matrix. Fun to read if you don’t take it too seriously. Beatrice Prior’s lives in a dystopian Chicago world, where everyone in is divided into five factions. But what happened to everyone outside of this apocalyptic city?



The story from Divergent continues as Tris attempts to discover the truth about her whole life and her society. The answers to what exactly is going on are unpeeled like an onion. At this point, fans of this series have already figured out which camp they belong to: “I would be Euridite” or “I would be Dauntless.” The author, a mere 26 years old, incorporates Christian themes into this series.


The conclusion of the story began in Divergent. Some fans of this series became upset because this third installment of the series is told in a different manner than the previous two: the point-of-view switches between two of the characters, rather than just the main heroine of the series. At the end, it’s understood why the author did this, but it sent some readers out of their comfort zone. Besides that, a good conclusion to the series.

9780307887443_p0_v1_s260x420Ready Player One

Calling all nerds, dorks and geeks for this science fiction thriller that romps through 1980’s pop culture. Even if you weren’t a teen in the 80’s or were born yet, you’ll enjoy this SF romp through virtual reality. Probably my favorite book I read this year.



Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism

Describes the spiritual journey of a young man as he enters and leaves Calvinism in his Christian beliefs. I have worked for a church from a reformed tradition and a church from a non-denominational background. This book presented the differences in a concise and clear way. The author is fair and doesn’t slam anyone in the process. I just found out this book is a best seller in the Christian book market for 2014.

9780553588941_p0_v3_s260x420The Lies of Locke Lamora

If you think you’d like Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy setting, then you’d probably like this book. Lynch is a master of dialogue and description. Great character interaction. Probably could have been a little shorter, but overall a great treat for anyone who likes speculative fiction that slants toward fantasy. Definitely going to read the others in this series.

9780525478812_p0_v1_s260x420The Fault in Our Stars

Two teens with cancer fall in love and contemplate the time they may or may not have left. The author attempts to get into the mind of a teen girl who will probably die young. This is one of those books made into a movie and marketed to young adults, but anyone will enjoy it. Lots of good quotes.

9780553418361_p0_v2_s260x420Gone Girl

Lots of twists along this journey. It is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Enjoyable read, but the ending left me a little unsatisfied.



If you like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, you’ll probably like this. Surprised at how much I liked this book. Great protagonist. I kept thinking, “This reads like a Stephen King book” and later I found out the author is his son. By the way, the title is a license plate that is pronounced nosferatu, which is a word meaning vampire.


9781594632341_p0_v2_s260x420The Interestings

Examine the relationships of six people over several decades. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in this novel. While the author has a pleasant writing style, the story felt slow to me and I had a hard time caring about the characters. While some people may enjoy this story, I was not one of them.

9780310337973_p0_v4_s260x420Moment Maker

You can live your life or it will live you. Whitaker is a church worship leader and musician. He’s led worship at my church a few times so I thought I’d read his book. While not deep theologically, Moment Maker makes some good points and is entertaining.


2940014544085_p0_v2_s260x420Wool (Omnibus)

Dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting in which Earth’s survivors like in a giant silo and history is a big mystery. The author took five novellas and put them all into one volume. I didn’t realize this at first, so the book overall seems disjointed because the protagonist keeps changing every hundred pages. Once I realized it was five short novels in one volume, it didn’t matter. Good read for SF readers and it’s gaining popularity.

9780803741713_p0_v2_s260x420The Book With No Pictures

Children’s book that turns the reader into a comedian for kids. I read this book to a first grade class and they loved it. It is hilarious. The author, B.J. Novak, is an actor known for his role as the intern in the sit-com The Office. Fun book and helps children to start seeing the value in word choice.

9781613181577_p0_v1_s260x420Princess Pain

Marina is a cold-hearted courier of contraband who likes to play rough. Her life as a loner is just fine until the delivery of a flash drive with stolen weapons technology ends her alias and makes her the target of a power-hungry militia leader who wants her alive, and his sultry assassin lover who wants her dead. I admit that I read this book because I designed the cover, but it ended up being a story with all my favorite guilty pleasures: science-fiction, action, violence and space opera.

I accidentally wrote a Halloween children’s book endorsing drug abuse and/or alcohol abuse. Oops.

This is the cover the the notorious children's book I wrote
This is the cover the the notorious children’s book I wrote

Back in the day I use to make a little extra money writing children’s books. The publishing company printed these books–cheaply printed–by the millions. That is not hyperbole. They could be found in stores like K-mart, Target, Walmart and the like. I would always go to the children’s book section, and, if my books were hidden behind other books, I would rearrange them so mine were displayed in front of the others. Good times.

And, no, I do not receive residuals for the millions of books that sold. I mean, seriously, have you seen my checking account? My only option was to sign a contract and get paid a flat fee which has long been spent. That’s fine with me.

Anyway, I’m proud of my children’s book collection. You can see them on my Goodread’s Author page. However, there is one book that bothered me: A Special Witches’ Brew. My editor gave me the plot: write a Halloween book about a little girl witch who creates “Happy Brew” juice and gives it to all the neighborhood kids to enjoy. So I did.

Now when I wrote A Special Witches’ Brew, I did not think about the implications of “Happy Brew” being a metaphor for some kind of narcotic drug or alcoholic substance.

Those of you who know me can testify that I grew up in a home where alcoholic beverages were nowhere to be found. Even today I rarely imbibe. Alcohol and drug use has never been a part of my everyday life. Also, those of you who have known me over the years know that I do stupid stuff like this all the time. I believe that is why I never made the connection that my children’s book glamorized drugs.

Several years later, when I revisited some of my children’s books for the first time in a long while, it popped into my head: “Holy macaroni. A Special Witches’ Brew sounds like a freaking drug trip! What have I done?” Now, I know I’m making light of the situation, but please know that I take the issue of drug and alcohol addiction seriously. However, I couldn’t help snickering because I named the little girl witch’s cat Boswell–the name of my close friend’s cat in real life. In the story, Boswell is the first to try the Happy Juice and he starts floating in air and purring uncontrollably as if in a trance. I mean, c’mon. I unintentionally wrote a kid’s story about my friend’s cat tripping out on drugs. That’s funny.

I will say I noticed all the copies of A Special Witches’ Brew mysteriously vanished from the shelves while all the other books I had published stayed around for years. I’m guessing that the publishing company pulled all the copies after they became aware of the drug-related figurative language. I don’t know. I think a few used copies are available on I hoped no one noticed and the whole thing had been swept under the rug.

Well, as late as last year, I found a review of A Special Witches’ Brew on the blog of a young mother.

In her review, she says, “I’m even willing to give the author a sly nod and the benefit of the doubt because there is no way he wrote this book unaware of the allusion the phrase ‘Happy Brew’ draws in one’s mind.” Hey, I totally understand why she came to this conclusion. All I can say, however, is that I was naive and it got through my editor and whoever else worked at the publishing house. Oh, well.

You can read the entire review here. It’s hilarious and after you read her summary of my story, you’ll also probably wonder what I was thinking when I wrote my only children’s book laced with drug and alcohol metaphors.