Tuesday, April 29, 2014

YA Guy Presents... YA! for Nature with Kat Ross, author of SOME FINE DAY

Welcome to YA! for Nature, an occasional series exploring environmental issues in Young Adult literature. Today, we've got Kat Ross, author of the science fiction debut SOME FINE DAY, talking about hypercanes and climate change. And at the end of the post, you'll find a great giveaway! So read on....

YA Guy: Welcome to the blog, Kat! Can you tell us about yourself and your debut, Some Fine Day?

Kat Ross: Thanks, YA Guy! Well, the story revolves around a girl who’s lived her entire life underground because Earth’s surface is ravaged by continent-sized storms called hypercanes. I didn’t make that up, by the way! A meteorologist at MIT named Kerry Emanual coined the term back in 1994. He hypothesized that such storms could be possible if the seas got really, really warm. We’re talking wind speeds of over 500 mph. Seriously.

Anyway, I won’t give too much away, but there’s plenty of lousy weather, a dash of romance, scary mutants, despicable bad guys, and krav maga fight scenes. In other words, something for everyone…

YAG: Sounds like a great book! I notice on your Twitter page you call yourself a “climate geek.” I’d love to hear the history behind that!

KR: Ah, yes. I don’t want to exaggerate. I’m not a total policy/science wonk. But I’ve followed the debate as a journalist and editor since the mid-2000s. I was in Rio two years ago when the ultra-hyped U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development went down in flames. Over the last decade, I’ve watched the predictions of very smart scientists get worse and worse, and in many cases morph from being predictions (as in something that will happen in the future) to data (as in something that is happening right now). You only have to look at Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan to go, hmmmm. Something is wrong here.

YAG: So it's safe to say that your interest in climate change plays into Some Fine Day!

KR: To be honest, there’s so much terrifying stuff in scientific journals right now that I didn’t have to look very far for a white-knuckle plot. But I did know I wanted climate change to be a big part of the story. It’s just…epic. It’s different from most other challenges humanity is facing in the sense that it affects every corner of the globe and it’s basically irreversible. A lot of that carbon will stay up there for thousands of years. And I can’t help wondering, what if the worst case scenarios come true? I’m just naturally optimistic like that.

YAG: Do you think we as a nation and a world have made any significant steps in addressing the threat of climate change?  What more can or should we do?

KR: Yeah, that’s a big one. President Obama put out a climate action plan to cut CO2 by 17 percent by 2020, and he’s cracking down on new power plant emissions, which is good. Scientists say we need to keep warming under two degrees by 2020 to avoid catastrophic impacts--that’s the magic number. Unfortunately, it’s looking pretty unlikely this will happen. A lot of countries are backsliding on their promises. One of the biggest things governments need to do is a real no-brainer: stop subsidizing fossil fuels. The U.S. alone hands out between $14 and $52 billion to the oil and gas industry per year. Basically they’re being rewarded for trashing the planet.

YAG: Last question. You and I are fiction writers, not politicians or pundits. What’s the role, if any, of fiction in calling attention to environmental issues and problems?

KR: Oh, I so agree with that! Writing something preachy or "message-oriented" is--and should be--a death knell. If I want soapbox opinions or boatloads of data, I’ll go to a news site. When I read fiction, I want to be entertained. I want great characters. I want detestable villains, and plot twists that make sense but totally blindside me. I want to feel like I’m in a world that’s more vivid than my own, that I’m tasting, smelling, feeling everything along with the characters. I want humor and I want heartbreak.

But as the author, you can aim for all that and you still get a million choices. Setting is a huge one. So mine happens to be set in a future time where the seas have risen 60 meters and a lot of species are extinct and life is pretty rough. If someone reads my book and it makes them worry or even get mad at the politicians who are sitting on their asses, that’s sure okay by me too.

YAG: Thanks for being on the blog, Kat! Readers, if you want to learn more about Kat and Some Fine Day, here’s where to go:

Kat’s website: http://katrossbooks.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18666113-some-fine-day

And for a chance to win one of three e-ARCs of Kat's SOME FINE DAY, check out the Rafflecopter giveaway below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

YA Guy Takes a Trip Down Memory Loss Lane

Querry Genn, the narrator of YA Guy's debut novel Survival Colony 9, is a fourteen-year-old boy who suffers from traumatic memory loss. Recovering his lost past is made even more critical by the fact that he and his colony are fleeing from the monstrous Skaldi, identity-stealing creatures that appeared on the planet after war turned it into a desert. In this world, where most of humanity's cultural memory has been wiped away--and where knowledge of the Skaldi is essential to evading them--a boy without memory poses a grave risk to himself and his people.

Querry's memory loss was always a part of the story, from the day I first dreamed it up. The mechanism and implications of this plot element changed as I drafted and revised, but the key element remained the same.

And there's a reason for that. YA is all about identity. (Or not all about it, but you get what I mean.) Teen readers are testing who they are, trying new identities, discovering the value and limitations in what others have told them to be. So it makes sense to have a teen narrator who quite literally doesn't know who he is.

Which explains why amnesia, total or partial, is such a common element in YA literature. Consider a few of the books that feature forgetful narrators/main characters:

The Maze Runner. In James Dashner's coming-to-a-theater-near-you blockbuster, Thomas wakes up in an elevator that deposits him in a sheltered Glade surrounded by an impenetrable Maze. His past has been erased, and he must try to piece together who he is and where he belongs. Sounds a little bit like high school, no?

Tabula Rasa. That term literally means "blank slate" (or "blank tablet"), and it comes from John Locke's now-exploded theory that human beings are born with empty minds upon which sensory impressions gradually impose the building-blocks of cognition. It's also the title of Kristen Lippert-Martin's 2014 debut, which features a narrator, Sarah (also known as Angel), who finds herself in a secret facility where doctors extract memories from patients' brains. At novel's start, she knows next to nothing about herself--which is a real problem, considering commandos have stormed the facility intent on killing her. In light of recent news stories, this sounds, tragically, exactly like high school.

The Program. Suzanne Young's novel is set in a near-future society where teen suicide has become an epidemic, and where the only cure is a memory-modification program called, simply, the Program. The narrator starts the novel with memories intact--but about one-third of the way through, she and her boyfriend are subjected to the Program, causing them to lose all memory of each other. A romance as well as a critical examination of today's mental-health system for young people, the book follows the sundered couple as they struggle to regain their sense of themselves as individuals and as a team.

Glitch. Memory loss isn't the central plot device in Heather Anastasiu's sci-fi thriller (first in a trilogy), but it plays a key role. When the novel's narrator, Zoe, seeks to escape from a society that controls its citizens through virtual-reality implants, she's taken in by the renegade Adrien--only to lose her memory of him immediately thereafter. In a Matrix-like world where the line between reality and fantasy is never clear, can Zoe recover a life (and a love) beyond the sanctioned illusions of her society?

Arclight. In Josin McQuein's post-apocalyptic novel, humanity has retreated to a small circle of light--the Arclight--within a world of darkness dominated by mysterious creatures known as the Fade. So far as she knows, narrator Marina is the first human being to be rescued from the Dark--but so far as she knows isn't very far, as she suffers from memory loss so severe she can't recall anything about her past. She's convinced the Fade are at the heart of her lost identity--but the Fade aren't discussed in her society, and no one is allowed to venture beyond the Arclight to confront them.

I could go on (but you wouldn't want me to do that, would you?). The point is, when I decided to make my narrator memory-impaired, I joined a robust tradition of YA novels. As a means of exploring issues of identity, memory loss is a powerful tool--and in all the above novels, the science fictional elements make it possible to play with the idea of memory loss without straining credulity. In fact, at their best, the mechanism of memory loss (and recovery) becomes the very crux of these novels, the point at which individual identity and social expectations meet and wrestle with each other.

I've only scratched the surface of memory-loss YA, so I'd love to hear some more titles, especially those that aren't in the sci-fi realm. So leave a comment--I promise I won't forget you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... Island Literature!

It’s not summertime yet, but YA Guy’s been reading lots of island literature.

Of the many debuts I’ve read in 2014, four have had island settings: Christine Kohler’s No Surrender Soldier (Guam), John Dixon’s Phoenix Island (the titular island, a military boot camp for troubled teens), Austin Aslan’s The Islands at the End of the World (Hawaii), and most recently, Lynne Matson’s Nil (an island in a parallel dimension from which teens have exactly one year to escape).

All of these books have been awesome. I’ve reviewed Kohler’s book here, Dixon’s here, Aslan’s here, and I’m reviewing Nil right now.

I totally loved Nil. At first I feared the premise might be too Maze Runner-y: trapped teens form their own society while fighting to return home. But Matson plays Nil from a totally different angle, focusing on love, romance, and what I can only call metaphysics. The island becomes a metaphor for the randomness and chaos of the real world, while at the same time it allows a newfound spirituality to blossom in these teens wrenched from familiar surroundings and thrust into hostile, alien ground. Here’s heroine Charley, who falls for hunky Thad though both know their odds of outliving the island are slim:

“Luck is personal; we all have our own. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but it’s yours, and it follows you wherever you go--even to Nil. And luck can change, because as my nana always insisted, luck was a state of mind.

Chance, on the other hand, is different. Chance is a coin toss, chance is probability. My charts had increased Thad’s chances, but it hadn’t changed his luck.

And I couldn’t understand why.

As we left the meadow, I pondered luck and chance, labyrinths and personal journeys, island mazes and carvings and the eternal question: Why are we here?”

In light of this speech and others like it in Matson’s wonderfully realized tale, it becomes apparent why island stories are so popular among YAs. Teens frequently feel as if they’ve been cast away on an island where life is a struggle for survival against senseless rules someone else imposed on them. Or they feel as if they themselves are the island, isolated and unapproachable, misunderstood by everyone on the continent. Finding your soulmate on that island, as Charley finds Thad in one of the most powerful and tender (not to mention sexy) love stories I’ve read in YA, can seem like the only thing that gives life meaning. And the thought of losing that sense of cosmic rightness, as Charley and Thad fear losing each other, can seem like, literally, the end of the world.

So if you’re looking for a good island read, I’d recommend Nil. Or any of the other books named in this post. They’ll transport you, amaze you, ravish you--and at the same time, make you remember what it feels like to come home.