Book recommendations and reviews (mostly YA), original writing (short stories, flash fiction, maybe some poetry), and other ideas of mine. Follow on Instagram: @readingwritingandme and Twitter: @readwriteandme and Facebook: @readingwritingandme. Also subscribe to our email updates by clicking the subscribe button above.
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Into YA with Nikki Barthelmess
Today, the wonderful Nikki Barthelmess is here to chat about her new novel, The Quiet You Carry, which comes out on March 5. If you haven't heard about theThe Quiet You Carry, I recommend you check out my review of it to provide a little context for the interview.
1. In the unfolding of Victoria’s story, you expertly point out points in the foster system where its flaws and procedural issues lead to it being just as hard and ruthless as it’s portrayed in movies and television, but you also humanize it beautifully, showing the good intentions beneath the struggle. Was it important for you to show the softer side of the system with Connie’s evolution and the relationships between the foster sisters? Is there a change to the system that you think would allow people like Connie to make her realizations sooner and make transitions like Victoria’s less traumatic?
I think, in general, most people aren’t all good or all bad. Even those we consider villains, tend to see themselves as doing the right thing, or at least trying to. So, in that regard, even though I would hope I wouldn’t act the way Connie does when she first meets Victoria, I understand why she is the way she is, if that makes sense. In the same vein, it seems from Victoria’s perspective that her case worker is being negligent or doesn’t care about what happens to her. But from Mindy’s perspective, she’s doing the best she can, juggling the impossible caseload of foster kids she has to work with.
As far as changing the system to make entering and experiencing foster care less traumatic for kids like Victoria and her foster sisters, I could take all day answering that question. But for starters, I think it’s important for people working in child welfare to remember how much the kids who are in their care have already suffered, and for them to treat these kids with kindness, dignity, and respect.
2. Though your story differs from Victoria’s, you have talked about being in the foster system yourself. When did you decide you wanted to write a book about a girl in foster care? Did you ever have a hard time with the subject matter being so personal?
When I first started writing fiction, I had no desire to write a story about someone in foster care. I thought if I wanted to do that, maybe I’d write a memoir someday. But then I started to learn about how important it is for people from marginalized communities to see themselves represented in fiction. For many years I had noticed there being a lot of stigma and misconceptions surrounding people who grew up in foster care, and I wanted to do something about that.
I think the reason I didn’t want to write a story about a foster kid, initially, was that I knew it would be really hard for me. Writing this book forced me to sit with some pretty traumatic memories. As you mentioned, Victoria’s story isn’t based on mine, but there are similarities. Victoria’s emotions, from feeling abused and abandoned to wanting to protect her abuser as well as being ashamed of things that weren’t her fault, are all feelings I had. At times, it was painful reliving those.
3. As a debut author, you’re still close to the time you spent querying. What was that process like for you? Do you have any advice for currently querying writers?
I realize now that the rejection that comes with querying is a good thing— it means the agent isn’t the best fit for your work, and you want your agent to love your writing since they’ll have to read it so much and may even spend years helping you revise and trying to sell it. Finding an agent, for me, didn’t take as long as did to find the right fit for a publisher, as the first book I wrote didn’t make it past the submission stage. So even when you get an agent to work with you, there can still be more rejection to come!
My advice for querying writers is to get your writing as good as it can be, through working with critique partners and revising. After that, you should spend as much time as you possibly can researching agents and trying to find one that would be the best fit for you and you writing. That way, you’re only querying agents who are likely to give you a chance, and you’re not wasting either of your time. Remember, this process may take a while but if you want to be an author, try to get used to it, because finding an agent is only the beginning.
4. Your author bio also mentions that you are a journalist as well as a novelist. Are you equally drawn to both? Do you think your journalism background helped prepare you to write the novel, or do you feel they’re separate entities?
I have been a journalist since graduating from college in 2011, but I am transitioning to focusing mostly on my fiction, at least for now. Although they are completely different jobs, I do think my journalism background helped me become an author because I was used to working with an editor and taking constructive criticism. And I’ve had to work on deadline before, so I know how to write even when I’m not feeling inspired to do so.
5. The Quiet You Carry debuts in less than a week. For readers who will likely be anxious for more of your work, are there any projects you can talk about that are lined up for the future?
I’m working on something that hasn’t been announced yet, but it will be soon. So stay tuned!
You can find Nikki online on Twitter (@nikkigrey_), Instagram (@nikkibarthelmess), and her website, nikkibarthelmess.com.
The History of Jane Doe by Micheal Belanger (2018) Overview: Ray knows the entire history of his hometown, Burgerville, Connecticut. He also knows lots of different tidbits about the world as well. But, for his first written account of history, the story must center on loss, why, and fleeting moments of happiness. He has to tell the story of his first girlfriend, hidden by the anonymity of the name Jane Doe. Told in Before and After chapters, Ray explores the highs and lows he had in his fleeting relationship with Jane and his recovery from crushing loss. Overall: 4.5 Characters: 5 Jane is coping with clinical depression that probably stems from a combination of family history and past trauma. She goes between trying to hide her scars and struggles and exposing them, tiny piece by piece to the people she loves.
Ray is fascinated by Jane and the way she looks at the world and the town he's lived in all his life with fresh eyes.
His friend, Simon, is dorky and not quite all together b…
This year's best of 2018 list has tons of new categories to fit all of the amazing books I read this year. I've had the chance to read so many advanced books and recent releases, so most of what I read were books that came out in 2018. I mostly choose contemporary, so I've started with my favorite debut as well as the best books in other genres I've ventured into. After that, I have smaller categories in the contemporary genre. I hope you find new books to love and give to your friends and family for the holidays. If you're interested in learning more about the books on the list, click their titles to go to my reviews. Let me know if these are some of your favorites in the comments, and tell me your favorite books! Best In Genre
Top Debut Nothing Left To Burn by Heather EzellNothing Left To Burn gave me the craziest book hangover. I was so immersed in the story, and I couldn't stop reading to do anything that I actually needed to be doing. There is a toxic relat…
Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett (417 pages) Overview: Glamping should not include getting stranded in the middle of the woods with your ex-best friend. But life doesn't always go as it's supposed to. When Zorie agrees to go with her friend Regan and her crew on a summer camping trip, she doesn't know Lennon will be there, and she's certainly not expecting the group to abandon the two of them in the middle of the California wilderness, forced to complete a multi day track back to civilization. It turns out, though, that an adventure in the woods might be just what they need. Overall: 4.5 Characters: 5 I thought that all of the characters, including the adults, were given dimension. I loved the parental dynamic between Lennon and his moms as well as Zorie's relationship with her step mom who never considered Zorie less than her own daughter.
Lennon and Zorie are also awesome characters. Zorie has to battle her intense anxiety and relinquish control while she's stuck in…
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers (326 pages) Overview: Sloane wanted to end her life. And then the apocalypse came. Her focus suddenly turns to survival because that's what she's supposed to do. She finds a group of other teens from her school, and they survive in the infected city for seven days before finding shelter in the high school. With all the doors barricaded and the necessities provided, suddenly, there's room to think, reflect, and feel again, and their safe haven quickly turns into a cage. Overall: 5 Characters: 5 This cast has blown me away. Courtney Summers in general has done that with every aspect of the novel, but the characters are all so detailed and unique and flawed and emotional and broken. It makes for the perfect novel.
Sloane has recently had her sister leave without her, even though the plan was for them to escape their abusive father together. Without Lily, she feels her life has no point, but when it's seriously threatened, something co…
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (306 pages) Buy At Your Local Bookstore* Overview: It's just one elevator ride. Just one elevator ride to the rest of Will's life. Eight floors takes so long when you're headed to kill someone. Even in revenge. Even for justice. Even when your brother was just murdered. It's even longer when every stop brings someone who's left your life back in. There's so much to learn before Will hits the lobby. Overall: 4 Characters: 4 Because of the atmosphere and the point of the story, we don't get super into the characters. They each represent a stop on a horrible cycle. It starts with Buck, Will's older brother, Shawn's, older brother figure. When Buck got killed, Shawn had to avenge his death, which got him killed. He also meets his Uncle Mark, an aspiring filmmaker who's death lead to Will's father's death because of the Rules. Each character doesn't exist to explore themselves or have their own motives- they…
You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman (March 5) Overview: Ariel has to be perfect. His whole identity rests on him getting the best grades, being first chair, being valedictorian, and, the culmination of all of his hard work... getting into Harvard. But the second chair violinist with nearly the same GPA also wants a spot in that freshman class, so Ariel has to work even harder than anyone could imagine to guarantee that it's his. But only a few weeks into senior year, Ariel starts to fall apart, and he's left to wonder if his well being or his pride is more important. Overall: 4.5 Characters: 5 There will be a lot of people who read this book and blame Ariel for being absent from his friendships, pulling away from his family, and sacrificing his physical well being for a goal that isn't even assured to him. All his effort and missed life could be for nothing. But those who say that don't understand how broken the education system is, particularly in America. They cl…
I've seen a lot of different conversations taking place on Twitter that all come back to a central theme. The YA space is controlled by adults. For the most part, they are the ones with the purchasing power, they have jobs in the industry, they are in a better position to amplify their voices about how they feel about different books and the category as a whole. I've been thinking about these conversations as a whole, and it really does come back to the intended audience not owning the space and what that means for the category and the conversations around it.
As a teen who's heavily involved in the YA community, I sometimes feel awkward reading all the different, slightly varied takes from adults. Some make blanket statements for themselves and some work with teens and try to be a conduit to add them to the conversation. Very rarely do I come across a real teen who gets an amplified voice in the conversation (definitely go check out Vicky Who Reads on Twitter because, as…
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (375 pages) Overview: Willowdean "Dumplin'" is fat. It's something that she's come to accept about herself even after years of fad diets enforced by her mother and bullying at school. Aunt Lucy certainly helped with her self acceptance, and in cultivating her love of Dolly Parton, but Will is left rudderless after Lucy has a sudden heart attack. To reclaim a bit of confidence she'd lost, Will signs up for the Clover City Pageant. Though she's not the typical beauty queen, Will and her group of friends get to put their own stamp on her mother's beloved pageant. Overall: 4 Characters: 4 I like Willowdean. She lives in the place most of us do on the fine line between insecure and confident. Murphy does a great job building a crew of characters around Willowdean. It was fun to revisit the cast after I'd read Puddin', Murphy's forthcoming companion novel.
Plot: 4 While this book is mainly billed as being about a beaut…
The Dead Queen's Club by Hannah Capin (January 29) Overview: For fans of European history, specifically Henry VIII and his many wives, this is a treat. Modernized and set in high school, this version is the tale of all of Henry's living ex-girlfriends banding together to find the real reason behind the death of two of his former girlfriends, Anna Boleyn and Katie Howard. Narrated by Annie, better known as Cleves, the reader falls for Henry's charm but also sees the cracks growing in his perfect facade. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Cleves has a authoritative voice that I very much enjoyed. She's outspoken and uncompromising as she makes a place for herself in her new school senior year. Even though she marches to the beat of her own drum, she's found a place for herself among the cheerleaders who genuinely love how unique she is; but it helps that she's already friends with Henry, football star who practically owns the school.
The other characters have their places a…
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus (327 pages) Overview: Ellery and Ezra have moved to Echo Ridge right when the beloved science teacher is killed in a hit and run. They come across the body on their drive into town which sets the tone for their time in Echo Ridge. It seems that the killer of the homecoming queen from five years ago has returned with a slew of threats against the new court. And then, Brooke, one of the princesses, goes missing. Echo Ridge goes from a rich, suburban New England town to the sight of a possible serial killer, and true crime fanatic, Ellery, is going to solve it the mystery. Overall: 4 Characters: 4 Ellery and Ezra aren't super memorable. They're fine. Likable enough, but nothing stands out to make them special. Ezra is reduced to a minor, minor character, even though he's originally painted as important and Ellery is your classic new girl in town, true crime fanatic. I just can't find anything that stands out about her as much as I w…