Archive | Young Adult (YA)

Young Adult Novels That Don’t Suck: Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory and Speak

Books by Laurie Halse Anderson

My purchases from Laurie Halse Anderson’s appearance at Georgia Center for the Book on January 17, 2014.

Novelist Laurie Halse Anderson has a theory–no, make that a strong conviction–about young adult book sales. When told by her publisher that they didn’t expect too many sales of her book Speak “because teenagers didn’t like to read,” Anderson countered, “It’s not that teens don’t want to read; they don’t want to read books that suck.” Fifteen years later, Speak is sporting a silver foil anniversary book cover and celebrating more than three million copies sold. Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux recently announced that the National Book Award finalist will be adapted into a graphic novel.

“The groundbreaking novel that changed everything,” Speak deals candidly with the topic of date rape. Anderson says the protagonist Melinda and what she goes through are based on her own experience of not telling what happened to her just before she entered ninth grade. And while Anderson’s subsequent young adult books deal with equally serious subjects like death and loss and eating disorders, the author wasn’t able to really mine her own personal history again until writing her latest YA novel.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of The Impossible Knife of Memory

Photo credit: Joyce Tenneson

For The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson revisited her own childhood experience of growing up with a parent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, better known by the acronym PTSD. Her father, who left high school shortly before graduation to enlist in the U.S. Army, buried the dead at the Dachau concentration camp at the end of World War II. Anderson says her father is 86 years old now and still wakes up screaming from what he saw during the war. When Anderson was in middle school, her father started drinking heavily, lost his job, and their family lost their home. She remembers being sad and confused because she loved her dad, but she never knew which dad she was going to encounter from day to day as he tried to numb his pain. 

In the last decade, as soldiers began returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anderson knew she wanted to write about PTSD as a legacy of war. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, she details PTSD’s effects on veterans and their families from a teen’s point of view. Protagonist Hayley worries about her father, Andy, who struggles with PTSD after returning from Iraq.

Anderson, a prolific writer whose body of work also includes children’s fiction, historical thrillers and nonfiction, says adolescent readers respond to books (presumably ones that don’t suck) in deeply profound ways. Their demand for books that accurately depict their lives and stimulate their imagination is responsible for what Anderson calls a “seismic shift” in the publishing of children’s and young adult books. As an example, Anderson says kids respond well to historical fiction because it creates new worlds for kids to explore, just like the Harry Potter series and other books in the fantasy genre.

I saw Anderson speak at the Decatur Library on a Friday night, thanks to the bookstore Little Shop of Stories and Georgia Center for the Book. She’s on tour right now to promote The Impossible Knife of Memory, which has garnered positive reviews from a number of publications, including the New York Times and Kirkus. I also look forward to reading Speak, a book my friend who teaches high school English recommends and uses in his classroom. Anderson is a wonderful speaker and offers teacher discussion guidelines for her books on her website, You can also follow her #lhatour adventures on Twitter.

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Atlanta Writer and Flight (Un)Attendant Hollis Gillespie Debuts Her First Novel, Unaccompanied Minor

Puppy Kissing BoothComedian W. C. Fields is credited with advising that one should never work with children or animals for fear of being upstaged. Hollis Gillespie, Atlanta author and humor columnist, proved she isn’t much of a rule-follower at last night’s launch party for her new book, Unaccompanied Minor. A sweet rescue puppy in a sweater sometimes trembled, oftentimes slept, on various human laps during Gillespie’s book talk. The pup, who was later displayed in a cardboard “Captain Beefheart’s Puppy Kissing Booth,” was there to commemorate the rescue dog featured in the novel and to raise money for local animal rescue.

As for the children part of Fields’s equation, teen and tween audience members flanked the author on all sides as she read an excerpt from the book. One precocious heckler challenged a few of Gillespie’s “Top Twenty Ways to Keep Your Young Ass from Gettin’ Killed.” After one such interjection, Gillespie quipped, “Somebody needs to put her on YouTube.”

While Unaccompanied Minor is Gillespie’s fourth book, it is her first foray into young adult fiction. The novel has already hijacked a glowing review from Kirkus. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Unaccompanied-Minor-Hollis-GillespieFourteen-year-old April May Manning spent her life on airplanes with her flight attendant parents. When her father dies in a crash, April’s mom marries a pilot who turns out to be an abusive jerk, and gets Mom confined to a psychiatric hospital. So April takes off, literally, living on airplanes, using her mother’s flight benefits, relying on the flight crews who know she’s been shuttling between divorcing parents for a year. Then, there’s a hijacking, but why is April’s “dad” on board? April flees to the cargo hold with another unaccompanied minor she’s met before, and they fight to thwart the hijackers, faking a fire, making weapons from things they find in luggage. At last, locked in the cockpit with a wounded police officer, the boy, and his service dog, April tries to remember everything her parents said to do in a crisis above the clouds. But she knows it won’t be enough.

Hollis-Gillespie-Unaccompanied-MinorThe story is well-informed by Gillespie’s experience as an international flight attendant. She confessed during her launch that she is a nervous flyer and that she and other flight attendants once temporarily misplaced an “unaccompanied minor,” the airline industry’s term for an underage passenger who is flying without an adult chaperone. Gillespie says she wrote large portions of her three memoirs–Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch, Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Trailer Trashed–during down time on transatlantic flights. She writes the back page column for Atlanta Magazine and offers a menu of classes at her Shocking Real Life Writing Academy. To learn more about Hollis Gillespie, visit her website at


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Blog Swap Part 2 – BooksYALove Guest Post: Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m swapping blog posts today with Katy Manck of BooksYALove. I provided her with a writeup of the new young adult novel Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy. Please visit Katy’s beautiful blog, read the guest post and let me know what you think in the Comments section.

Bonus Time

Below are a couple of photos from Terra Elan McVoy‘s book launch party for Criminal. These photos were taken at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia on May 10, 2013.

A chalkboard rendition of the powerful CRIMINAL book cover.

A chalkboard rendition of the CRIMINAL book cover.

Terra Elan McVoy signs copies of CRIMINAL.

Terra Elan McVoy signs copies of CRIMINAL.

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Recommended by Katy Manck of Books YA Love: Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall

Katy Manck of BooksYALoveAs part of my participation in the 2013 WordCount Blogathon, I’m “swapping” posts today with the doyenne of another website for book lovers. Katy Manck of BooksYALove is a retired academic / corporate / school librarian who finds joy in recommending young adult books beyond the bestsellers on her BooksYALove blog. She is treasurer of the International Association of School Librarianship and publicity chair for IASL’s free online international GiggleIT Project for student writers.

Below is Katy’s guest post about Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall.

Being left behind ain’t easy, leaving everything familiar behind ain’t easy… for this young black teen during World War II, there’s not a lot of easy at all.

We first meet Levi Battle in his Chicago neighborhood, where he lives in a tiny apartment with his aunt while his father is away at war, teaching black paratroopers how to Jump Into the Sky.

Levi’s jazz-singer mother left them when he was just a toddler; his father left for the Army a couple of years ago, but no one in the neighborhood really believes that he’s an officer in the Army-Air Corps.

Suddenly his aunt decides it’s time for the thirteen-year-old to go live with his father and sends him off with a sack of fried chicken and a one-way ticket to (Lord, help us) Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Yes, Levi is leaving the less-restrictive industrial north of 1945 – where Negros can own businesses and have jobs with almost-decent pay – for the Jim Crow South that his family fled 2 generations ago – where a colored man’s dime won’t buy a tin dipper of water if the white storekeeper says no.

This great young adult novel explores finding your place in the world, trying to make a difference in the face of prejudice and suspicion, working to become a family again after too much leaving and separation.

Jump Into the Sky by Shelley PearsallRead my full recommendation of Shelley Pearsall’s Jump Into the Sky here and journey with Levi to find the “Triple Nickles” of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion as they fight for the right to defend their country.

Be sure to visit the Triple Nickles’ website for more about this historic paratrooper battalion, and look for Tanya Stone’s new nonfiction book about the 555th Courage Has No Color when you visit your local library or independent bookstore to get Jump Into the Sky in hardcover, paperback or audiobook.

Have things gotten any easier for young people today, with all the leaving and being left?

Katy Manck, MLS

Recommending young adult books beyond bestsellers

Follow Katy on Twitter: @BooksYALove

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Want to Bring Some of the Best YA Authors to Your Hometown? Enter YA2U.

Bringing YA to YouHave you ever wished that a big young adult (YA) book tour would make a stop in your hometown? Well, here’s your chance for that wish to come true. YA2U is a contest featuring five award-winning and best-selling authors who want you to tell them where they should visit in an exclusive tour stop.

Beginning today and ending February 15, these authors are collecting votes. Any city in the continental United States, or any Canadian city that has an international airport, qualifies as a potential tour stop for an exclusive visit from all five authors, including an author panel and book signing. Entering is super easy–and if you help spread the word about the contest, you can also enter to win a signed copy of all of their books (TEN signed books in total). The book contest is open internationally.

The authors in the program are:

YA2U Book CoversTo participate, just go to the YA2U website and let them know what city you want them to visit. While you’re there, help spread the word about the contest for a chance to win all of their books–TEN signed books in total.

Obviously, I’m partial to Atlanta, GA and would love to see the YA2U tour come here. Creative Loafing published a great arts and entertainment feature about the burgeoning literary scene in Atlanta. And we’re home to the nation’s largest independent book festival and the world’s busiest international airport. Just sayin’.

Thanks to YA2U for listing Southern Spines as one of their book blogs to check out on the contest home page! Remember, the contest ends on February 15.

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YA and Children’s Books for Under the Tree by Terra Elan McVoy

Terra Elan McVoy

Photo Credit: Robin Henson

When I met Terra Elan McVoy for lunch last week, she came bearing bittersweet news: she has resigned her position as program director for the Decatur Book Festival (DBF). Terra has been a driving force behind the success of the nation’s largest independent book festival for the past two years, and I know she will be sorely missed by that organization. Fortunately, Terra will be helping the new program director fill her mighty, mighty shoes, and will be devoting the rest of her time to writing. Yes, that’s the sweet part of her announcement: Terra is making the leap to full-time writer status.

I can only imagine the wonderful things in store for us now, since as a “part-time” writer, Terra has already published four well-received YA novels: Pure, After the Kiss, The Summer of Firsts and Lasts and Being Friends with Boys. Simon Pulse will release her fifth novel, Criminal, in May 2013. And in her copious free time, Terra leads children’s book group discussions in bookstores and schools, and teaches creative writing to both children and adults.

I also asked Terra to call upon her experience as a bookseller and voracious reader to help me put together a stockingful of books for our Southern Spines visitors who may be shopping for children or young adult readers this holiday season. She delivers the goods below:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

I wish I could give this book to about every 14-year-old girl I know. You’d think a story about a bunch of beauty pageant contestants crashed on a desert island would turn into an over-the-top, campy romp, but in the hands of bestselling author Libba Bray, it’s is that and more. I like to call it the Quintessential Book On What It Feels Like For A Girl, and by that I mean all girls. Girls of every kind and streak and background and sexual orientation and everything. Even the grown-up ones.

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace #1 by Alexander Gordon Smith

Teenage guy fans of the Hunger Games trilogy will enjoy this super-creepy prison escape novel that reminded me somewhat of the old video game, Metal Gear Solid. A wrongly accused hero, a prison buried a mile under the surface, bad guys in gas masks and an elaborate escape, plus more books in the series—what’s not to love?

The Keys to the Kingdom Series by Garth Nix

This is a bit of a sleeper series for the tween set, but it’s worth trying to hunt down. I read the first book, Mister Monday, back in my days as an editorial assistant in New York, and was mesmerized. But then I had to agonizingly wait through years until Nix finished each of the seven books. Lucky for you, they’re all available now, and in my opinion, Nix’s world is just as rich and complex as Rowling’s. Arthur as unwilling hero is particularly relatable and memorable, but the imaginative bad guys, not to mention the intricacy of each world, are what set this action-and-magic-packed series apart.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

There’s a reason why I was so enthusiastic to have Colin and Carson at the AJC Decatur Book Festival in 2011, and it didn’t have anything to do with the Decemberists. Instead it was this terrific, collaborative adventure book—a contemporary classic that’s great for both kids (8 and up I’d say) and adults. Wildwood reminded me so much of my favorite books as a child (the Oz books, Neverending Story), but also felt fun and fresh. This is a wonderful book to share with your family!

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Speaking of classics, this is one you should revisit. The book group I run at Little Shop of Stories, Kids & Companions, read Heidi this year, because I hadn’t done so since I think I was in fifth grade. Which meant I hadn’t remembered how rich this story is, or how wonderful Heidi herself is as a character. Before Ramona, before Judy Moody or Allie Finkle, there was a strong, loving, determined little girl named Heidi, and you’re going to want to get to know (or re-know) her.

Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

I think of this as Frog and Toad meets . . . well, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. On the surface, this is a silly picture book composed of several short little stories about Cowboy and his friend Octopus. But under the surface (as are all things Scieszka) it’s also a straight-up sweet book about friendship, sharing, and being nice. (Though the kind that really makes you giggle.)

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and Jon J. Muth

If you buy only one Christmas picture book for your family this year, make it this one. Muth is famous for his gorgeous watercolor illustrations, and his rendition of Santa, the North Pole, and even the reindeer are full of the gorgeous personality that fans of his would expect. What I love most about this book, however, is that it’s really about Advent, and how even Santa has to wait for a special star to shine in the sky, before the magic of Christmas has really arrived.

We’ve only a week left until Christmas, so run down to Little Shop of Stories or another independent bookstore today to get these books. You may also order them from Amazon using the shelf below, which also includes links for easy ordering of Terra’s books. To learn more about Terra Elan McVoy, visit her author page at or Twitter followers can find her @TerraMcVoy.

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Q&A with Jennifer Echols, Author of Such a Rush

Southern Spines: Jennifer Echols

Photo Credit: Mark Oxley, Studio 16

Jennifer Echols was born in Atlanta and grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama—a setting that has inspired many of her books. Her nine romantic novels for young adults have been published in seven languages and have won the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Aspen Gold Readers’ Choice Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her novel Going Too Far was a finalist in the RITA and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. Simon & Schuster will debut Jennifer’s adult romance novels in 2013, with many more of her teen novels scheduled for the next few years. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and her son.

Jennifer constantly flexes the best tool a writer has (next to craft): life experience. She learned to water ski at an impressive five years old, and once had slimy, yucky Bryozoa smeared on her. To find out how waterskiing and Bryozoa (mossy lake organisms) could be interesting, check out The Boys Next Door and Endless Summer for a YA summer reading getaway: a small southern lake town, a stubbornly-wild girl dealing with a couple of boys next door and hot summers.

More life experience: Jennifer was the first female drum major of her high school’s marching band. This shows up in her YA romantic comedy Major Crush.

And in 2012’s Such a Rush, Jennifer interviewed her dad and brother, both pilots and aviation lovers, for background on flying, plane crashes and everything in between. Southern Spines contributor Samantha Sessoms has more in this Q&A with Jennifer Echols:

SS: How important was the setting of Such a Rush?

JE: The setting truly makes the book. The heroine lives in a trailer park next to the airport. She’s only two miles from the beach, but she has no way to get there. Becoming a pilot and flying over the town is the way she gains perspective on where things actually lie in the town, and where she stands in relation to the rest of the world.

SS: That is quite the contrast. Heaven Beach, SC definitely has built-in tension for Leah! Did you grow up in a rural area, or a larger city? How, if at all, did the location influence your writing of the South?

JE: I was born in Atlanta and grew up in Alexander City, AL, on beautiful Lake Martin. There were no private schools and no neighborhood schools, so everybody went to school together. I had the privilege of sharing my childhood with people whose home lives were very different from my upper-middle-class one, and I think that still helps me get into the minds of my characters.

Southern Spines: Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

Echols’s most recent YA book, Such a Rush, tells the story of a young daredevil pilot, Leah Jones, who finds escape in the skies over Heaven Beach, SC.

SS: What other Southern writers or books set in the South have inspired you?

JE: My grandmother wrote lush stories about growing up as the daughter of a Methodist minister in Birmingham during the Depression and the cholera epidemic. She also wrote about the Civil Rights Movement in tiny Tallahassee, AL, where she lived as an adult. She submitted one story to The New Yorker, was rejected, and never sent out anything again. Soon after that, To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and she always joked that Harper Lee stole her story. I grew up knowing that I could be a writer if I wanted, because if my grandmother could do it, so could I. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t. But I also knew I couldn’t give up. I would get rejected, but I couldn’t take no for an answer.

SS: That’s amazing. Cherish those stories! (and we’ll silently be pea green with envy that you get to read them, Jennifer) What does it mean to you to be a Southern writer?

JE: With so many negative examples of Southerners in pop culture right now, I just try to tell the South as it is–with its downsides, but also its beauty, humor and many brilliant and extraordinary people.

SS: Speaking of some of the negatives, what do you think is the biggest misconception about Southern literature?

JE: I was annoyed recently by a cartoon-like depiction of a Southerner in a mega-best-selling book written by a Northerner. I’m afraid people may think all Southern books are peopled with drawling half-wits, but Southerners ourselves largely aren’t guilty of perpetuating those stereotypes. Our characters are complex, like the real people we know.

SS: Now, for fun: What’s your favorite comfort food?

JE: Black-eyed peas. I’m not a good cook, like my mom before me and her mom before her. All we can make is dessert. But I was taught to cook a few Southern dishes by my mother-in-law, who is from Thailand.

SS: And because here at Southern Spines we must feed our iPod regularly: Which artist, or genre of music, is your favorite?

JE: I love all sorts of music. In fact, my next YA novel, Dirty Little Secret, is about bluegrass musicians in Nashville. My dad plays banjo and practiced incessantly when I was growing up, which I credit with my ability to tune anything out while writing. As a former marching band geek, I love any music with brass in it, like jazz and funk. You can’t get better than the Commodores from Tuskegee, AL, who played at my ex-boyfriend’s brother’s prom. But right now my favorite genre is alt rock, especially Incubus, the Foo Fighters and Paramore.

SS: Any last words on the world of Heaven Beach, SC for your readers?

JE: I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Learn more about Jennifer Echols and her YA books (and upcoming Adult debut!) at her author site: She tweets at: @jenniferechols.

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The YA Fairytale Continues: Q&A with Jackson Pearce, Author of Fathomless

Southern Spines Interviews YA Author Jackson PearceJackson Pearce is a busy woman. At the top of this month, she’s turning in her latest manuscript and launching her latest YA novel from her Fairytale Reimaginings Series, Fathomless. You can also find her on the Local Prose stage at this year’s Decatur Book Festival. So I was more than grateful that Jackson took the time to answer five questions for Southern Spines YA readers.

SS: What draws you to the YA genre of writing?

JP: I really have no idea, to be honest. I love, love, love writing YA, but I love it the same way I love the color blue and Fruit Rollups–I just do. The coming of age experience is so timeless, amazing, beautiful and ugly…I think part of my love, at least, is how rewarding I find tapping in to that.

SS: At what point did you decide to go beyond Sisters Red and incorporate the Reynolds family members into other Fairytale Reimaginings? Or did you map it out as a series all along?

JP: I didn’t map out the series, but I had loose ideas as to where the different books would go. The Reynolds family was always meant to be the connection between the stories, though I didn’t necessarily know which brother/sister would play what part.

SS: What impact has growing up in the Southeastern U.S. had on your writing?

JP: I adore the South; it’s where my family has been for ages and ages. I feel like the South often gets a bad rap– we’re seen as uneducated, uncultured, and unsophisticated. That’s not the case at all. Truth is, the South has a rich, complex cultural heritage full of summers and superstitions and larger than life characters. It’s difficult, sometimes, being proud to be Southern– I suspect it’s a little like being proud to be German after World War II; there’s so much to be ashamed of lumped on top of the good. But…I am proud of that good. I love where I live, I love where I’m from, and I love how it’s shaped who I am.

Southern Spines: Fathomless Book CoverSS: Fathomless is a reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. How does this fairytale set the backdrop for us to meet Silas and Samuel’s sister, Celia?

JP: Silas and Samuel have three sisters, triplets– Celia, Anne, and Jane. Anne can know the future, Jane can know the present (and thus read minds), and Celia can know the past. When Celia meets Lo, a girl who lives underwater and can’t remember her own past, Celia’s power is useful for the first time in her life.

SS: You are an active video blogger (whose work was recently shown on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart!) and host a live online show on Tuesday nights. What is your purpose? Is this just a form of creative expression, an extension of your work, an opportunity to connect with your audience, or a remedy for boredom?

JP: I vlog and do liveshows just for fun, honestly. It’s a form of expression outside of my books, it’s a way to interact with fans, and yep, sometimes it’s just from boredom. I sometimes use videos and shows as a platform to discuss controversial topics, and sometimes use them to discuss cutting mangoes. Just depends on the day!

If you’re in the Atlanta area, Jackson’s release party for Fathomless takes place Saturday, September 8th at the Barnes & Noble in Alpharetta, Ga. You can learn more about the party and other Jackson happenings at her website,

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Big Apple Girl Writes Southern Debs and Ballgowns: An Interview with Jen Calonita, Author of Belles

Why would I interview a New Yorker who writes about Hollywood for a website about the South? Because Jen Calonita is just like the rest of us: daydreaming about life in a coastal North Carolina town where boys named Dawson or Pacey are just a canoe ride away. Dawson’s Creek reverie aside, Jen’s latest series of books takes place in the fictional Southern beach town of Emerald Cove.

Jen was a former Senior Entertainment Editor for Teen People, where she interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Zac Efron. It was her work in the entertainment world that inspired her first series of YA books, Secrets of My Hollywood Life, about a teen starlet who grows weary of the fame game, but loves being an actress. Jen has also published two standalone novels: Sleepaway Girls and Reality Check.

Southern Spines: Belles by Jen CalonitaThat brings us to Jen’s series of books set in the South. Belles came out last year and is available in paperback this month. The next book in the series, Winter White, arrives on book shelves in October. Our Southern Spines readers have a chance to win both books. Contest details follow this interview with Jen.

SS: How important was it for the setting to be like another character in your book?

JC: SO important! I like to say that the town of Emerald Cove is like one of the main characters in this story because Izzie’s life changes so much when she comes in contact with this town. I spent a lot of time researching coastal towns in the South and also visiting small towns along the coast (from Sag Harbor on Long Island to Stone Harbor in New Jersey) to get a feel for what I wanted both Emerald Cove and Harborside to look like. I loved the idea of towns on the water with picturesque streets with small boutique shops, great restaurants and bakeries that the girls could hang out in. I wanted you to feel like everything the girls needed was right there waiting for them. I would absolutely love to live somewhere like Emerald Cove–if I could afford it!

SS: I’d love to live somewhere like Emerald Cove too; it sounds so relaxing and comfy. Okay, next question: Why did the South serve as the perfect backdrop or landscape for your writing?

JC: I have always had a fantasy of living down South and still talk about moving somewhere like North Carolina. Maybe I’ve romanticized that notion a bit through my research, but I just love how my friends who live there, or who have gone to school there, talk about the strong values, ties to family, and the excellent weather. I would not mind having a longer season at the beach!

SS: Very true. The South and its traditions will put a spell on you! On that note: What Southern themes were beneficial to your writing; were there any that proved difficult?

JC: Particularly in Winter White, which follows Mira and Izzie as they go through cotillion, I had a hard time figuring out exactly when one does cotillion or goes to a debutante ball. It seems like it differs depending on town and state! I spoke to many former debs, and read a lot about the cotillion and debutante process, and everyone had a different answer for me. Some did cotillion in eighth grade and became a debutante at sixteen. Others did cotillion in sixth grade and became a debutante in college! I always worry about being true in my writing, but what I took away from every interview was how much was involved in making your cotillion and debut. It’s not just about the white dress (although Mira sometimes wishes it was). There is etiquette classes involved and dance lessons and a way of life that Izzie must make peace with. I think both she and Mira learn a lot about themselves through the process. I finally decided that I could have a little fun with the tradition and allow the girls to do cotillion sophomore year–and my favorite part about their cotillion is the secret society of former debs who put them through a few paces before the girls can make their debuts!

SS: Secret societies and cotillion; how fascinating! You are being romanced by the South. Have any Southern writers or books set in the South inspired you as a writer?

JC: Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides was one of my favorite books for the longest time. I also loved Beach Music. The way Conroy introduces a setting and a place–you just want to drink it in. I think that was the first time I really fell for the South–even though that book has so many hard issues and themes! My aunt turned me on to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, which was great. I also loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Such strong themes of friendship and loyalty and respect. I could not put that book down!

SS: And now a little about you: Did you grow up in a rural area, or a larger city? How, if at all, did this influence your writing of the South?

Southern Spines: Author Jen Calonita

Photo Credit: Rick Delucia

JC: I am a New Yorker, born and raised. I have always lived in the suburbs of Long Island, but worked for ten years in Manhattan. I always thought there was no place better than home until I went to college in Boston, Massachusetts and loved the New England lifestyle too. That’s when I realized that maybe I could live somewhere else in this lifetime and the more research I’ve done on the South, the more I think the South could be it!

SS: Just for fun: What’s your favorite comfort food?

JC: Oh, there are so many things! I love shepherd’s pie on a cold day. I’ve never said no to mashed potatoes or chicken noodle soup. Don’t even get me started on desserts. I’m not a huge pie person, but key lime is my personal favorite.

SS: More fun! Which artist, or genre of music, is your favorite?

JC: My iPod is filled with so many different artists from Flo Rida to Michael Buble! I always like Taylor Swift though and her new single, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” is brilliant!

SS: And lastly, do you have any last words on the world of Belles for your readers?

JC: For those who have read Belles, I think you will get a real kick out of this next chapter in Mira and Izzie’s lives together. Watching Mira, who is the perfect Southern belle, and Izzie, who is the anti-Belle, both go through cotillion is so much fun. I love all the fun dares the girls have to do to get ready for their cotillion experience, especially the one involving Lady Gaga!

Learn more about Jen Calonita and her YA books at her author website:

The Belles Contest: Jen and her publisher have generously offered to send the first two books in the Belles series to one lucky Southern Spines reader! Leave a comment below to enter the contest once. Tweet about this blog post (and leave a second comment below showing us your tweet), and you’ll get another chance to win. One winner will be selected at random. Good luck!
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