Posts Tagged ‘male teen readers’

I wanted to be writing a “Book Thoughts” post today, but I haven’t quite finished The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X Stork.

Oh my. This is a book to savor. Gorgeous, evocative, and worrisome. Plus, I am dragging my heels (eyes?) a bit – I am worried about the ending. I’ve been worried about the ending for quite a while. So much that I am actually NOT reading the last page/chapter before I get there – which I have been known to do.

The other night we had a critique group meeting and one of my brilliant fellow critiquers made an off-hand remark that dialogue should reveal emotion more than plot. And that the action/story needed to be told outside of dialogue. It was in the midst of another important discussion and not long after we were booted from our spot, so I didn’t tackle her and force her to tell me more, but this comment has stuck with me the last few days.

Well, the dialogue in The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is brilliant.

Because so much of the story is based on the developing friendship between tough guy boxer Pancho and philosophical and frail D.Q., there are a lot of conversations between the two of them as they journey out into the world – and also inward, into their hearts and souls.

Book Description: When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be; and he is inexorably drawn to a decision: to honor his sister and her death, or embrace the way of the Death Warrior and choose life.

Nuanced in its characters and surprising in its plot developments–both soulful and funny–Pancho & D.Q. is a “buddy novel” of the highest kind: the story of a friendship that helps two young men become all they can be.

Some ways dialogue is used to enrich this story:

  • Early in their relationship, Pancho and D.Q. talk, except that each boy is talking about something different. There is a gap of disconnect between them.
  • While traveling in the car, Pancho sits in the back seat and listens to a conversation between D.Q. and Father Concha – there are few to no dialogue tags and yet we don’t need them. And, even though Pancho is mostly silent, he’s a part of the conversation through his inner thoughts.
  • What is NOT said between the two friends is often as important as what IS said.
  • Later in the book, when their friendship is more solid, there is a conversation between them as they lay in their beds in the dark. There are no fillers here – no action, no inner thoughts, no sensory reminders, just talk. As it would be in the dark. Intimate, straight conversation.

And any writer needs to read this post by Francisco X. Stork.

Dole out gentle mercy to yourself…

Sarah Wones Tomp


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The use of second person point of view narrative is unusual; and yet, I’ve recently read two books (Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones and Stolen by Lucy Christopher), using this technique. But not in the same manner. In fact, the intent and meaning behind the use of “You” is quite different in each of these books. I’m not entirely sure they are true representations of this point of view style.

Prior to reading these books, I’ve understood the second person point of view to imply that the reader is the “you” in the story. The logic behind this is shaky – and perhaps opens philosophical questions of reality and existence and meta-fiction and such. But neither of these books employs that perspective.

First, Blink and CautionFor a review, check out this one by Elizabeth Bluemle – I agree with her review, especially the part about Tim Wynne-Jones being a genius. He truly is one of the most amazing people – who also happens to be a writer – that I have ever known. I worked with him one tremendous semester at VCFA.

This is a complex and plot-driven novel — I’ve included the summary below — But I love the voice of the story. The narrative switches between the two self-named main characters, Blink and Caution. Caution’s story is told in the more traditional, but very intimate third person point of view. Blink is the “you” in his part of the story.

For me, this perspective was incredibly effective at showing Blink’s fragile psyche. Having been forced on the streets after prolonged abuse at the hands of his step-father, I’d say he is suffering from PTSD except that he hasn’t really gotten to the POST part yet. He isn’t yet strong enough to have his own voice.

From his POV:

You slip the money out of the wallet and shove it into your pocket. You close the wallet and lay it down, just so, beside the loaded toothbrush. Then you breathe a bit, like you’re remembering how. You pick up the wallet again and take out the picture of the girl with the lake behind her, so much lake it might be an ocean. You’re greedy son. Who can blame you? There is so much you want…

Blink is desperately lonely and scared. He doesn’t have anyone to tell his story to – so he has to tell himself. As the story goes on, it’s as if he is coaching himself. Telling himself to keep going – despite the fear and desperation and the ever-present threat of Captain Panic blowing everything.

I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

For those of you wondering what I am babbling on about, here’s the summary from goodreads: Boy, did Blink get off on the wrong floor. All he wanted was to steal some breakfast for his empty belly, but instead he stumbled upon a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an “abducted” CEO, giving Blink a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now Blink is on the run, but it’s OK as long as he’s smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold. Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run, from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a nightmare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the train station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naïve, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel. Charged with suspense and intrigue, this taut novel trails two deeply compelling characters as they forge a blackmail scheme that is foolhardy at best, disastrous at worst – along with a fated, tender partnership that will offer them each a rare chance for redemption.

Highly recommended.

Tomorrow, Stolen by Lucy Christopher.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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One more post about YA books for boys…

Here’s an article about kids and e-readers. I wonder if e-readers may be a way to get even more boys reading. A lot of boys like gadgets and are comfortable with electronic devices – and they won’t be embarrassed by certain covers.

I love looking at book covers. And book shapes. And fonts. And colors. It is the thing I like least about my Kindle – that every book “looks” the same on the screen. It makes me realize how the book design influences my perception of a book. It matters to me. I always miss the physicality of holding the actual book. And I absolutely can not imagine – or don’t want to imagine – a time when I can’t stroll through bookstores and see and hold books I’ve never heard of before.

But, perhaps some covers for some boys are a huge deterrent.

Here’s an example of crazy-making with covers:

Why would this

ever be replaced with this

unless you were deliberately trying to drive boys away?

Hannah Moskowitz, author of Break, with this cover – a book with a very cool premise, interesting guy characters, a book I would recommend to the boys I know –

discussed the cover for her new book, Invincible Summer on her blog last summer.

I have not read her new book. But the cover discussion focused on the idealization of the girl in the photograph. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me – photo-shopped perfection is all too common in our society. But she says that teen boys are her intended audience. Hmmm… from my experience it would be the very rare boy indeed who would be caught with this cover. Not happening.

There’s a reason for the whole judging a book by its cover thing…

Yes, of course boys look at and think about girls in a sexual way, but there is  no way they want to carry a book like this. Perhaps that’s another societal issue to pursue, but for now it is what it is.

If books written for teen males are already outnumbered by those with a more intrinsic feminine appeal why for the love of  the -ito food group would you make them look like chick-lit?

But maybe they can read in secret on an e-reader?

Sarah Wones Tomp


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Well, obviously, there is no one answer to this question.

For this particular post I am thinking of the boys I know – my sons, my husband, students I’ve taught, my brothers, my friends that are boys, my crushes,  actual boyfriends – in other words, all the boys I have studied for years, trying to understand.

I’ve put a lot of time, thought and energy into trying to understand the males I know!

I certainly don’t know everything. But I’m pretty sure I know some things… and when it comes to books that appeal to the boys I’m thinking of –  I know it takes more than a male protagonist to carry the story. And actually, a male protagonist is not always crucial.

During one of my struggles in figuring out the story for my YA WIP, featuring a teen male main character, my husband happened to mention a book that was being passed around some of the men he was working with. Wild at Heart by John Eldredge – discusses the plight of the male soul. Although the focus of the book is on Christian males, what interested me was my hubby’s quicky run-down of some of the psychology presented.

So, regardless of your religious beliefs, consider the idea that

Boys/Men need:

  • Adventure and risk
  • A battle to fight
  • A beauty to rescue

It’s amazing how many excellent books for teen boys include these elements in a variety of situations and with mixed results and success for the main character. I’m not even counting fantasy or science fiction.

Just pulling books from my bookshelf I found these examples of contemporary teen fiction with male protagonists having their own particular style of adventures and fighting battles while attempting to rescue someone special.  (In no particular order):

  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
  • Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
  • The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Flash Burnout by LK Madigan
  • In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork
  • Exit Strategy by Ryan Potter
  • Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena
  • Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

There must be something to these needs being basic and elemental for a man’s psyche. I offer this as one more evaluation tool in your own writing. Especially if you,  like me, are not an insider to the gender.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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