Tag Archives: David Arnold

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, by David Arnold

Noah HypnotikNoah and the Rosa-Haas twins have been best friends forever. It got a little complicated when Alan told Noah that he was gay, and then Noah fell in love with Valeria, but now all that is behind them, and they all work to maintain what Alan calls “the delicate triangle.” It’s the summer before their senior year, and the three plan to go on to local colleges in Illinois so that they can stay close.

Noah is conflicted. He may not even want to go to college. Lately, all he’s been doing is writing his summer assignment, “A Concise History of Me,” which is becoming less concise by the day, and obsessing over his Strange Fascinations. His fascinations include an abandoned photograph dropped by a local rock star, an old man in the neighborhood with a goiter, a novel by his favorite author, and an online video called the Fading Girl. In the video, a woman took a photo of herself in the same place every day for forty years. She fades. We fade.

Since he would never do so on his own, Val convinces him to go to a party in a huge home, where he makes the mistake of tasting a cherry Hurricane and deciding that it is really quite nice, which leads to another and another. This is how he finds himself explaining to a lovely girl that yes, he wears the exact same pants and David Bowie t-shirt every day because it is much more efficient to do so— plus, Bowie. When she backs away, he exclaims that no, no, he has ten sets of the same pants and t-shirts, so he does wash them in between. When this does not convince her of his sanity, he wanders off and ends up in the library, where he meets Circuit Lovelock.

Circuit and Noah have a deep and meaningful conversation in which they deplore the shallow and meaningless conversations one normally has at parties. In the end, Circuit convinces Noah that he needs a change in direction, which he can give him at his house. Despite his misgivings, and under the influence of cherry Hurricanes, Noah walks through the neighborhood with him, passing the old man with his collie, Abraham, on his front porch. At Circuit’s house, things get weird, and Noah gets up abruptly and leaves, passing the old man with his Labrador, Abraham. Wait….

Suddenly, the world has changed. Not a lot, but subtly. His mother has a scar on her cheek he doesn’t remember. Val and Alan are going out of state to college. His parents watch Seinfeld instead of Friends every night. What is going on? The only one who hasn’t changed is his little sister, Penny. She is still obsessed with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and walks around quoting Audrey Hepburn.

While the reader is working hard to untangle the clues and help Noah back to his former life, Arnold treats us to continual streams of what he calls “the minutiae”: loads of delicious details, some true, some imagined, that create Noah’s world and consciousness. He weaves it all together so convincingly that he had me looking up Mila Henry, Noah’s favorite author, so that I could read some of her books. No go; she’s a fictitious character. As in every David Arnold title, it’s not just the plot that pulls the reader along. It’s the quirky but lovable characters and his distinctive writing style that make his novels such immersive and unforgettable experiences. The language is frequently foul in the style of an uncensored sixteen-year-old boy.

Just as I swore that I would not read another young adult novel anytime soon, Penguin Random House sent out an email about this third novel by one of my favorite YA authors. I had to get my hands on it, and I was not disappointed. Noah’s library chat with Circuit was so delightful that I wish I could quote parts of it, but since I read an advance reader copy, that is verboten. So, I will paraphrase one part where Noah relates a conversation between Alan and another boy about a band. One loved it and one hated it. When Circuit asked Noah what he thought, he said that he thought it was just okay, which is apparently no longer acceptable. Not having a strong opinion about something is now “a lost art.” One must either love or hate everything, and he just doesn’t. Exactly. And that was the moment that I decided to have a strong opinion about this book. I loved it.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which I begged from my book distributor. It will be published in May, 2018. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold

Kids of AppetiteImagine how difficult relationships would be if your face were a total blank. Your friends would never know if you were surprised, hurt, thrilled, or angry. True, you would make a great poker player, but most of life is not a game.

Victor Benucci has Moebius Syndrome, a condition that causes facial paralysis, and although his emotions since his father’s death two years ago have been tumultuous, most people wouldn’t know it. Vic feels that his mother should understand, at least, and so he is cut to the heart when her new boyfriend announces their engagement. Vic runs out the door, grabbing the urn containing his father’s ashes, and without planning it, he falls in with the gang of misfits that he has always admired from afar. The object of his greatest admiration is the beautiful Madeline, devotee of The Outsiders, who has yellow hair that is long on one side and shaved on the other, revealing a scar she doesn’t discuss. The gang also includes little Coco, who struggles to control her foul mouth, and the selectively mute Nzuzi, whose brother Baz acts as a young adult guardian for the group.

As the novel opens, a murder has been committed, and the story is told in depositions and flashbacks from Vic and Mad’s alternate viewpoints. Soon after being taken in by the gang, Vic finds a note in his father’s urn, poetically telling his mom how to dispose of his ashes. The whole gang takes part in figuring out the clues that name places that were significant in Vic’s parents’ love story, but are nearly indecipherable to anyone else.

As the reader unravels the murder investigation, the road-trip mission of disposing of Vic’s father’s remains, and the back-stories and growing relationships of the unlikely group of teens, she will begin to see the tapestry of suffering, compassion, and love that wove them together. Interestingly, Baz is openly religious, which is rare in teen literature. The faith of Zuz and Baz, who endured terrible pain in their war-torn home country, adds a thoughtful layer to this already complex novel. In spite of all the complexity, however, this is a highly readable story with compelling characters and a core of pure love.

Besides the foul language, this is a beautiful novel for all teens and adults. It will make you think. Highly recommended.

I stood in line for a galley of this book in May (See my BEA geek-out story from May 23rd!), but I held onto the review for a while, since it will not be available until September 20th. However, I can personally attest that you can put a hold on it at the library where we live now, and it is available to pre-order, as well.

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Disclaimer: I read a signed galley of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Book Expo 2016

 

BEA vendor hall

Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug

Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel

Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg

David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

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The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

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Mosquitoland, by David Arnold

MosquitolandMary Iris Malone liked her old psychiatrist better. This new one wants her to take medication, and her father is thrilled to have someone finally agree with him. He is determined to have everything go smoothly and normally now that he left Mim’s mom in Ohio and moved to Mississippi with Mim and his new wife, Kathy. Now Mim hasn’t heard from her mother in a while, and when she is called to the office at school, she overhears her stepmother telling the principal that Mim’s mother will beat this disease, that she’s a fighter. What disease? Mim turns around before they see her and walks right out of school, finds the coffee can where Kathy keeps her cash, and takes off on a Greyhound bus to see her mom while she’s still alive.

Told in Mim’s inimitable voice and punctuated by letters to an unknown person named Isabel, this road trip story packs in a cast of colorful characters and wild situations. Equipped with a tricky epiglottis, Mim has to work to keep her lunch down, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whose shoes are in front of her. During the trip, she decides not to take her medication, so the reader is continually aware that everything Mim sees may be filtered through schizophrenia. Mim is precocious and well-read, with a vocabulary both prodigious and foul, a great storyteller who often ends a depressing tale with “…’twas ever thus.” Her journey is peppered with creepy old men, great old ladies, a homeless boy (“Hey, hey. I’m Walt.”), and a devastatingly handsome young guy, to name a few. All of these people work to help or hinder Mim’s desperate journey to reach her mother before it’s too late.

When I read the description of this debut novel, I didn’t think it would interest me, but I bought it for the library because of all the starred reviews. I read it only because I knew it would be a Printz contender next year. By about page two, I fell in love with it. This is a brilliant novel, and Mim is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Her voice is sterling: so tough, and yet terribly vulnerable. Smart, witty teens are one reason that my job is so gratifying, and I resent it when people say that the teen characters in some YA novels are unrealistic. I know too many great kids to believe them. Teens have little control over their own lives, and Mim is someone who has fought against the choices adults have made in her life—either ignorant choices for her or self-centered choices for themselves—with her natural intelligence and humor. Sometimes, she is afraid to trust the right people because so many have let her down before, and yet her heart is wide open to the inner beauty of the innocence she sees in Walt, another character who is just… well, I have tears in my eyes just remembering him.

I highly recommend Mosquitoland, with the caveat that the language can be rough and the situations are sometimes those that should be expected of a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone. Older teens and adults. Kudos to David Arnold on an incredible debut. May he write many, many more.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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