Wednesday, January 22, 2014

YA Guy Interviews... CHRISTINE KOHLER (plus a giveaway)!

If you read YA Guy's review from last week, you'll know I'm totally in love with Christine Kohler's YA debut, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. For today's follow-up, Christine was nice enough to answer some questions of mine, and also to alert me to a couple giveaways of her book (see the links at the end).

YA Guy: You’ve published widely as a journalist, a picture story book author, poetry and more. What made you decide to publish a novel for Young Adults?

Christine Kohler: I’ve always written in multiple genres and markets. Some professors criticized me for not focusing on just one. Today experts call that “building a platform.” But editors published my work in those different genres and markets, so that encouraged me not to limit myself. I was an editor and copy editor for a Hearst daily for several years when I started writing novels. I think I did so for a couple of reasons. One, there were stories I wanted to tell that could only be told as fiction, and in the longer form. Two, it was a challenge to write and publish novels. I needed to keep challenging myself as a writer.

YAG: No Surrender Soldier is a historical novel, based on the true story of a Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, who spent nearly three decades hiding in the jungles of Guam. What drew you to this story?

CK: I worked as a political reporter and foreign correspondent for Gannet, covering the West Pacific. I had lived in Japan, Guam and Hawaii for nearly a decade. While living and traveling throughout Pacific-Asia I was able to visit WWII battle sites and study aspects of the war in the Pacific Theatre firsthand. The courage of people on all sides in the face of horrendous atrocities and deprivation moved me deeply. Researching and writing No Surrender Soldier came out of my effort to try to understand why people do what they do under extreme circumstances.

YAG: How much time did it take you to do the research for No Surrender Soldier?

CK: It’s hard to put a time on my research. When I was a journalist in the Pacific I never thought about writing a novel. Studying WWII just came from a reverence for the people who fought and my natural curiosity. (When I was growing up, my dad took me to Civil War battle sites and told me stories about that war. On my blog I also wrote about how my dad read to me war literature as a child. My dad had served in the US Navy during WWII when he was only 16 years old.) I had brought a Guam high school history book back to the U.S. Mainland when I moved back, and years later I picked it up and read it, along with other books about Shoichi Yokoi and WWII on Guam.

YAG: One of the things I loved about No Surrender Soldier was the relationship between the narrator, 15-year-old Kiko, and two men from the World War II era: his grandfather and the stranded Japanese soldier. Tell us something about those relationships. Why were they important to you? Why are they important to Kiko?

CK: When I wrote the first draft of No Surrender Soldier, the relationship between Kiko and his grandfather is as it stands now in the finished book. It never changed. I’m really not sure where Tatan bihu San Nicolas (Kiko’s grandfather) sprang from. But I do know why I understood his personality and dementia. When I was in graduate school, I did media relations for a long term care community that has one of the best Alzheimer’s units in the country. When I wrote my story I was just telling a story. But in hindsight, I guess it was the best choice to give Kiko a close relationship with a man--his tatan--who went through hell trying to protect his family--and failed--during the Japanese occupation of Guam.

All three men are stuck. The grandfather tests Kiko in a rite of passage, with his father’s blessing. However, because of the dementia worsening, there is also a changing of roles, from protector to dependent and from dependent to protector. Isamu Seto, the WWII soldier, is also stuck emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. That’s all I can say without giving away spoilers. But those who read No Surrender Soldier will be able to see why it is a classic coming-of-age novel and why the Kirkus reviewer wrote, “Both characters form new understandings when they encounter one another.”
YAG: Another thing I loved about your book was how seriously and respectfully you treated the beliefs of the Chamorro people of Guam--both indigenous beliefs and Christian beliefs. Can you tell us some more about your approach to faith in this novel?

CK: Ninety-eight percent of Guamanians are Roman Catholic. As you can tell from my story, Old World Catholicism is part of their everyday life, from celebrating village patron saints in processions and fiestas to coming-of-age rites. I can’t imagine anyone writing a book, fiction or nonfiction, about Guam--Chamorros in particular--and not including how Catholicism plays a part in their lives.

I would also like to add that Isamu Seto is a devout Buddhist with Shinto beliefs and practices. Seto’s faith is every bit as vibrant and crucial to his character, culture and survival as Kiko’s Christian faith is in No Surrender Soldier.

YAG: I’m always interested when female authors choose to write from a male POV (and vice versa). What was involved in the creation of the character of Kiko? How did you decide a teenage boy was the right person to tell this story?

CK: From the first draft, Kiko was the main character. I never hesitated or waffled on this. It is Kiko’s story I needed to tell. What was a difficult decision, though, was to finally switch his voice from third to first person. I knew I had to nail the male voice and the Chamorro pidgin English authentically. That was the only scary part.

In my defense of being a woman writing a nearly all male cast, and a strong coming-of-age male book, one, I grew up as my dad’s “boy.” I’m the eldest from my parents’ first marriages, and have four brothers, four to seven years younger than me, from my parents’ second marriages. I lived with my dad, not my mother. So I grew up working on cars, fishing, dredging the lake, helping with fixing plumbing and electrical and fiber-glassing the boat, and building in the workshop. It’s no wonder I didn’t think anything about going into a male-dominated profession like journalism.

Secondly, a lot of male authors write novels with female protagonists and a lot of women authors write novels with male protagonists. What is gender different, though, is that women who write books with male protagonists often hide their gender using initials. Had I known at the beginning of my writing career that I would end up writing middle grade and young adult novels with strong male protagonists and themes, then I possibly would have used my childhood nickname, Chris. But I couldn’t have known. I believe teen guys are smart enough to care more about the story than the gender of the storyteller. After all, it didn’t stop them from reading a certain male protagonist book written by a female author who went by her initials J.K.!

YAG: Thanks, Christine! Readers, if you want to check out NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, you can find it on Amazon here or enter to win a copy on Goodreads here. There's also a giveaway going on at the OneFourKidLit blog, here. Both giveaways last until the end of January.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... NO SURRENDER SOLDIER by Christine Kohler

In 1972 Guam, fifteen-year-old Kiko would prefer to spend his time playing baseball, hanging out with his friend Tomas, and working up the nerve to ask out beautiful Daphne. But Kiko is dealing with serious family problems: his grandfather’s descent into dementia, his older brother’s tour of duty in Vietnam, and the rumors he starts to hear about his mother being raped during the Japanese occupation of Guam. When Kiko discovers a “straggler”--a Japanese soldier who never surrendered at war’s end--hiding in the jungle near his home, his anger comes to a head and he contemplates taking revenge on the man who symbolizes his family’s suffering.

Based on the strange but true tale of a Japanese soldier who hid out in the jungles of Guam for nearly three decades, Christine Kohler’s debut as a YA novelist is a real treat, a coming-of-age story told with skill and sensitivity. I really identified with the young male protagonist, and loved how Kohler wove his story together with the incredible story of the Japanese straggler’s life. I also appreciated how vividly Kohler described the customs in Kiko’s world: slaughtering a pig with his grandfather and participating in a saint-day festival become elaborate rituals that bind Kiko to his family and community. Like the best historical fiction, No Surrender Soldier isn’t only set in history but about history: how the past shapes us, clutches us, sometimes maims us. All three principal male characters in this novel--Kiko, his grandfather, and the Japanese straggler--are haunted by history in some way, fighting to escape traumatic pasts. The following passage powerfully illustrates Kiko’s struggle to come to grips with the reality and aftermath of war:

When the reporters wrote of war, it was those happy-ending stories that named people’s names in them. The kind of stories kids clipped and took to school for show-and-tell when they were little because they were proud their tatan and nana bihu [grandfathers and grandmothers] were heroes.

But not bad stuff. Not stories about murders, and people getting their heads chopped off, and people with body parts blown up by grenades the Japanese threw at unarmed [citizens]. Those people were all dead. No one reported their names. Not the textbooks, not the newspapers. Not unless they came out alive or a hero.

The blending of family history with world history--and the choice of a boy on the verge of adulthood to bring these historical strands together--make this novel emotionally resonant and morally satisfying. I'm thrilled to discover this new voice in YA fiction, and I look forward to more stories of conflict and courage from her!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

YA Guy Reviews… Two Books from 2013!

Though I’m itching to start reading the books on my 2014 list, there are a bunch of novels from 2013 I didn’t get to last year. Chances are I’ll never get to all of them, but I’ve just finished up two that seemed to have a lot in common: Matthew Quick’s FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK and Meg Medina’s YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS. Both are contemporary stories of troubled teens whose lives are affected by bullying, violence, and perceived difference. So before turning to my 2014 reviews, I thought I’d officially wrap up 2013 with a dual review of these two fine novels.

At the start of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, the narrator brings a WWII-era Nazi handgun to school, planning to kill his former best friend and then himself. At the start of Yaqui Delgado, the narrator learns that a classmate at her new school harbors a grudge against her and plans to, well, kick her ass.

From there, both books develop into sensitive, often painful, sometimes funny examinations of contemporary teen life.

Of the two, I slightly favored Quick’s novel. I loved the angry, world-weary voice of Leonard himself, and I loved the narrative device whereby Leonard’s big day is broken up by imagined letters from his future friends and family. I loved Leonard’s strangely poignant (or poignantly strange) habit of following random grownups to work, hoping to find someone whose adult life isn’t as miserable as he feels his teen life is. I loved the language of the text, as in this snippet from one of the future letters:

I know that you really just want everything to end--that you can’t see anything good in your future, that the world looks dark and terrible, and maybe you’re right--the world can definitely be a dreadful place.

I know you’re just barely holding it together. But please hold on a little longer. For us. For yourself. You are going to absolutely love Outpost 37. You’re going to be the keeper of the light.

I wasn't crazy about the story’s resolution, which seemed both overly neat and overly ambiguous. As my wife, a social worker who’s worked with suicidal teens, pointed out, there’s a lot more to teen suicide than this book managed to capture, and maybe the impossibility of capturing it all led to the semi-collapse at the end. Nonetheless, I found Quick’s novel daring, affecting, and ultimately life-affirming.

I didn't connect quite so strongly with Yaqui Delgado, perhaps simply because the dynamics of female bullying aren't as close to my own experience. But I loved the novel's narrator, Piddy, whose entire life begins to collapse around her when the bullying begins. Coupled with her burgeoning sexuality and her contentious relationship with her mother, the targeting by Yaqui and her gang quickly erodes Piddy's sense of self, as the following passage so beautifully illustrates:

Last year? I can barely remember it. That was when I could sleep at night, dreaming of my elephants and the Sahara. I could feel the rhythm of old salsa records in my bones. I could laugh with Mitzi and plan what we would wear. Augustin Sanchez was my mystery father, someone I wanted to know about. Now I can't lift my eyes or walk the way I want. I have no friends. Not even my own father wanted to get to know me. If there is a way to get that smiling girl back, I don't see it.

Bullying is particularly vicious and destructive among teens because their identities are in such a state of fragility and flux to begin with, and Medina's book captures the experience with compassion and unsparing detail.

The year always ends with me wishing I could read more books than I possibly can. But I'm happy I ended 2013 with these two terrific novels.

Now, on to 2014!

Friday, January 3, 2014

YA Guy Hosts... Vincent Morrone's VISION OF SHADOWS Blog Tour!

Today I'm hosting the blog tour for Vincent Morrone's YA paranormal romance VISION OF SHADOWS!

Given my interest in gender issues, I asked Vincent how it came to pass that he'd chosen to write this novel from a female POV. Here's what he told me:

Some people might find it strange that I decided to write a novel from the POV of a teenage girl named Bristol Blackburn. After all, I am not now, nor have I ever been a teenage girl, with or without psychic powers. (Okay, I may have dressed up as a cheerleader or a nun, but that was for Halloween, I swear!)

I knew that it would be a challenge, but it was one that I was eager for. The voice of Bristol was simply calling out to me. Her story needed to be told. Besides, every writer has to be able to get into the heads of characters with different POVs, whether they be male, female, androgynous or some other such creature that we’ve made up.

So I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. I’ve had plenty of experiences with women and girls. Between my mom, my sister, many of my close friends from high school, and my wife and two daughters, I’ve been around women and girls all my life.

Plus, I wanted to write a female character who was strong, despite her insecurities. And do so without making her act like a guy. Bristol’s character may have supernatural abilities, but she’s very human.

In the end, I don’t want people to read Vision of Shadows thinking this guy did a good job creating a female character. I want them to just fall in love with the person who really is telling the story.


More about Vision of Shadows

Vision of Shadows is published by Entranced Publishing. This blog tour runs from 30 December till 19 January, and you can view the whole tour schedule on Vincent Morrone's website.

Vision of Shadows (Vision #1)
by Vincent Morrone

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal Romance
Release Date: December 30, 2013


Is Bristol Blackburn about to meet the love of her life...or her killer?

After the death of her parents, Bristol Blackburn's life is thrown into chaos and she's forced to move to Spirit, a small town where shadows are stirring. As she learns to navigate her new school and figures out how to keep her psychic abilities secret from her family, Bristol comes face to face with the boy who makes a regular appearance in her dreams: the gorgeous, possibly deadly, Payne McKnight. Soon she’ll find out if Payne will be the love of her life, or the end of it--and she has no idea which possibility scares her more.

And that's not even the worst of it. Strange shadows are haunting her dreams, and they're up to something that could put Bristol and the lives of everyone she loves in jeopardy.

You can buy Vision of Shadows on Amazon.

You can add Vision of Shadows to your to-read list on Goodreads

You can find more about Vision of Shadows on the Entranced Publishing website.

Want to chat with Bristol, the main character of this series? Well, she has her own Twitter account.

Vision of Secrets (Vision #0.5)

by Vincent Morrone

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal Romance
Release Date: December 2, 2013


Bristol understands secrets. She's got plenty of her own, ranging from the annoying ghost that keeps showing up and attempting to sing Copacabana (badly), to the visions of a terrifying future that is getting closer each day.

Bristol knows secrets can kill. She's getting flashes of a boy racked with guilt over his secret. And a girl whose prank might lead to someone's death.

Vision of Secrets is a free prequel that introduces you to Bristol Blackburn before the explosive events in Vision of Shadows and lets you see how a young girl deals with her Visions of Secrets!

You can add Vision of Secrets to your to-read list on Goodreads

You can download Vision of Secrets for free from smashwords

About the Author:

Born and raised in Brooklyn NY, Vincent Morrone now resides in Upstate NY with his wife. (Although he can still speak fluent Brooklynese.) His twin daughters remain not only his biggest fans, but usually are the first to read all of his work. Their home is run and operated for the comfort and convenience of their dogs.

Vincent has been writing fiction, poetry and song lyrics for as long as he can remember, most of which involve magical misfits, paranormal prodigies and even on occasion superheroes and their sidekicks.

As they say in Brooklyn: Yo, you got something to say to Vincent?

Check out where you can learn about Vincent and leave him a comment. You can also connect with Vincent on Twitter and Facebook

You can find and contact Vincent Morrone here:

- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads

Vincent also participates in a group blog called YA Rush, which consists of YA and NA Entranced authors. You can find YA Rush here:

- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Pinterest

There is a tour-wide giveaway for the blog tour of Vision of Shadows. Here is what you can win:

- 1 Vision of Shadows Pen
- 1 Vision of Shadows Calender
- 1 Vision of Shadows Pen & calender
- 1 Vision of Shadows Pen and calender in a Vision of Shadows canvas bag
- 1 Vision of Shadows Pen, calender in Vision of Shadows canvas bag and an e-copy Vision of Shadows

Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

YA Guy Resolves... To Read Lots of Great Books in 2014!

In 2013, YA Guy read fifty-four books. All but two were YA (one was a Middle Grade novel about Jim Thorpe, the other a literary novel about English department adjuncts). I'm counting Huck Finn, which I re-read for a class I was teaching, as YA. That was a pretty good year's worth of reading.

But time marches on, and the cavalcade of intriguing YA waits for no person. (And I can mix metaphors with the best of them.) So to keep me on track and to pique the interest of other readers, I've listed below twenty-five 2014 YA novels I hope to read. Many (though not all) of these books are debuts, which I've decided to focus on since my own debut comes out in 2014. If all goes according to plan, I'll not only be able to read these novels (and more) but to review at least some of them on the blog.

So here we go, in order according to release date... YA Guy's 2014 Wish List!

Sarah J. Schmitt, Replay (no release date yet)

And just in case anyone forgot....

Joshua David Bellin, Survival Colony Nine (September 23)

Yes, it looks like 2014 is going to be another great year for reading!