Jessica Day George

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Future's So Bleak, I Gotta Wear . . . A Jumpsuit?

"Big Brother is watching you. . . "

We've all heard the phrase, but who among us knows where it comes from? And of those, who has actually read the book? That's right, Big Brother is not just a reality show about losers doing . . . something . . . (I don't actually watch much reality tv.) It comes from 1984, George Orwell's grim, grim vision of life in . . . 1984. His prediction: constant surveillance by the minions of dictator Big Brother. People wearing shapeless jumpsuits and ugly, clunky shoes, endless war, disgusting food, and children informing on their parents!

The reality of Britain in 1984 was . . . Duran Duran and hot pink stretch pants. Sometimes together! The food was no worse than usual in England, although this was around the time the McRib was invented, so perhaps he wasn't too far off there.

But should we really mock Orwell for thinking that within fifty years the world would be as bleak and horrible as he thought? No! For he joins countless other authors in that grand, grim genre: Dystopian Literature! Hooray for Dystopia! It's science fiction, only politically charged, full of cannibals, everyone's really badly dressed, and it's all frighteningly plausible! It's like science fiction's mean older brother, the one telling you that if you did discover a new planet, it wouldn't be full of buxom green women, but probably toxic slime. And by the way, why are so worried about another planet, when the one we've got is already going to pot?

Dystopian literature is rarely very cheery, yet it sucks us in all the same. Perhaps because it is, truly, the Final Frontier, for several reasons. One, because it's our future, like it or not, and two, because we'll all be dead. Get it? Final Frontier?! (These are the jokes, people!) I actually went through a phase in high school where I read it all: 1984, This Perfect Day, Brave New World . . . great stuff! Filled me angst, and that's what every teenage needs, really! Then I went off the dystopia for a while, until a couple of years ago when a new crop was written, and Lo, I found that I could not look away!

The Road

Have you read this book?! Cormac McCarthy, he of the pretty, pretty horses, wrote a book so simultaneously gripping and awful that it was like, like, well, it was like nothing else, all right? I loved the review in Entertainment Weekly, where she admitted that it had been over a month since she read it, and was just barely able to review it. Also, she knows exactly where the book is in her office at all times. Yes. It felt like that. My friend Kyle Bishop, Professor of Zombiology, finished it late at night, then woke up his baby son so that he could sit and rock him for a while. Yes. It felt like that, too. I also demanded that my husband go out and buy a lot of food storage the next day. And he, freaked out by my freaked outedness, did.

*Warning: The Road is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Anyone under the age of 18, pregnant women, or anyone who has a problem with cannibalism, should totally avoid that book.


Then I discovered that dystopian literature was alive and well, in the YA section.

What?! Never say it's true!

Oh, yes, it's so true! And again, I couldn't look away. Horrible, terrifying, and yet magnificent. You've heard of them, I'm sure. You've read them, even. The two that stick out in my mind are The Hunger Games and Life As We Knew It, by Suzanne Collins and Susan Beth Pfeffer, respectively.

Now, the fact that either of these authors had written books like these threw me for a loop. I mean, they're great authors, always have been. But they've never done something like this before.

Suzanne Collins I had known and loved for the past four years as the author of the Gregor the Overlander books, a superb middle-grade series about a boy who follows his baby sister through a heating duct in their laundry room, and discovers an underground world of peril and talking bats, among other things. In that series she introduced us to possibly the greatest non-human character EVER: Ripred the amoral outcast rat. He was sarcastic, cunning, dangerous, a gifted fighter, almost always out for number one . . . if he hadn't been a rat he would have oozed bad-boy sexiness. As it was . . . well, I did occasionally forget he was a rat! Alas, the Gregor series came to a close, albeit a very satisfying one, and I wondered what Suzanne would do next.

What she would do next was shock and astonish the world with her vision of a future where the dictatorship ruling North America keeps the populace down through the skillful use of . . . reality television. The concept behind The Hunger Games literally took my breath away. It was bold and crazy, and yet I could see it happening! It blended Greek myths, Roman gladiatorial competitions, and a host of other things from cultures around the world. It's seamless, flawless, horrible, and riveting! And there's a sequel! And then there will be one more! And I can't wait while at the same time I can't believe I want to go back for more punishment!

Life As We Knew It is a simpler story, in which a catastrophe causes the moon to move just slightly in its orbit, creating tidal waves, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The young narrator struggles with the sudden changes to her world, starting with irregular school schedules and ending with . . . well, just about everybody dying! It's not simply a page-turner, it's a keep-you-up-all-night-crying-and-reading-til-you-finish book. Prior to this, I had not read a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer since I was a wee lass, and the one I recall had been a gentle, sweet book about a timid young girl finding her courage.

A vastly different book, let me say.

As I write this, and once again it's taking me days, I realize that Lois Lowry's The Giver could be put in this category too. And so could Devil On My Back by Monica Hughes. This was a book I got from a school book fair, Lo, many years ago, and it may be out of print. But if you can find a copy, it's soooo worth it! It's about a futuristic society where everyone is divided into classes depending on whether or not they can tolerate the computer memory packs they plug into their brains. But is it really as wonderful as it's supposed to be? And why are there always a perfectly balanced number of lords, workers, and slaves? Will spoiled young Tomi find out? Does he want to? Ba ba BUM!

Good stuff, people!

So, to sum up: Big Brother is watching you!

No, sorry. What I meant to say is: sometimes its good to read something a bit shocking. Something that, much as I hate this phrase: Really makes you think. Even something that makes you a little bit bummed out. Because, Hey, maybe you can't afford those cool shoes you saw yesterday, but at least you're not crouched in a bomb shelter, wearing a baggy canvas jumpsuit and hiding from cannibals!

Well, I'm not anyway. . . I don't know what you guys do for fun. . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Newberys I Have Known and Loved. . . .

It's awards season all over the place! Avatar just got a Golden Globe for Best Movie Drama, Oscar nominations are imminent, and the American Library Association just announced the winners of the Newbery and Printz awards, among others. So exciting! The winner of the Newbery Award this year was Rebecca Stead's book, When You Reach Me, and the winner of the Printz was Libba Bray's Going Bovine. For a complete list of the award-winning books for this year and years past, go to

Now, I know that some of you are thinking, Oh, no! I hate those books! *whine whine* I recently had a friend say that her sons call the Newbery sticker the "Death Mark", and I will be the first to admit that some of these books are not my favorite. In particular, there seem to be books that were picked because they would be good for the children, morally improving and all that. Also, some of the older books have titles like Queer Person and The Old Tobacco Shop, and there seems to be a strange fondness for goats. . . .

But let's not talk about those! Let's talk about the good ones.

Like The Hero and the Crown.

Many of you know my relationship with this book, and are rolling your eyes, saying, Yes, Jessica, we know about you and that book. We get it, she's a redhead, too! But I just have to say it one. More. Time.

I love this book, which won the Newbery in 1985, and inspired me to become a writer myself. It and its companion book, The Blue Sword, which was an honor book in 1983, were my comfort books from the time I was eleven on. I would read them, or parts of them, whenever I was sad or sick. I recently had a friend read Hero for the first time, and he said, Yeah, it was fine. I told him we were no longer on speaking terms. (I have since recanted, but honestly, he has no taste.)

Some of the books are for very young children, like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. And you can pretty much bet that if there was a horse in it, I loved it. (Marguerite Henry, I adore thee!) But there are a few books on this list that I think have not only stood the test of time, but are great for any age of reader. Some of them are being forgotten, like Jane Langton's heartbreaking and wondrous The Fledgling, while others remain constant classics, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

So, since this post has taken three days to write because of my children and the general busyness of life in general, I will finally post this list of my favorite Newbery books, from oldest to newest. I would like to mention the Printz Awards as well . . . but in the interest of time, let me just say: Skellig. How I Live Now. Read them or we are not on speaking terms.

And now, the Newberys!

The Cat Who Went to Heaven
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison
The Wheel on the School
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
A Wrinkle in Time
The Black Cauldron
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The High King
The Tombs of Atuan
The Headless Cupid
Figgs and Phantoms
Abel's Island
Bridge to Terabithia
Ramona and her Father
The Westing Game
The Fledgeling
A Ring of Endless Light
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Dear Mr. Henshaw
The Wish Giver
Sarah, Plain and Tall
The Whipping Boy
Joyful Noise
Maniac Magee
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Nothing But the Truth
The Giver
Catherine, Called Birdy
The View From Saturday
The Thief
Out of the Dust
Ella Enchanted
A Long Way From Chicago
A Year Down Yonder
Because of Winn-Dixie
The House of the Scorpion
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
Princess Academy
Hattie Big Sky
The Graveyard Book

I'd like to discuss each one, but sadly, I must pick up Boy from preschool right now.

Go forth, and read! Post your favorite Newbery in the comments!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Best of the Year- Now with a Chair!

I like books. I really, really do. And every year I read a lot of books. Usually more than a hundred, and I think my top year was 2006, when I read 152 books. And I love to recommend books, too. So every year I list my favorite books from the year before, broken up into categories so that I don't have to pick just ten total. Also, please note that these weren't necessarily published in 2009, that's just when I read them.

And I'm not saying that you're guaranteed to like them, too, or that I won't like you if you don't read them, I'm just saying, "Here, this is what I liked!" Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

Picture Books

1. Princess Hyacinth, Florence Parry Heide, Lane Smith
2. Naked Mole Rate Gets Dressed, Mo Willems
3. Llama Llama Mad at Mama, Anna Dewdney
4. Crazy Hair, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
5. The Queen of Style, Mark and Caralyn Buehner
6. Elephants Cannot Dance! (and all the Elephant & Piggie books), Mo Willems
7. The Dangerous Alphabet, Neil Gaiman, Gris Grimly
8. Blueberry Girl, Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess
9. Mary Had A Little Lamp, Jack Lechner
10. The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School Laurie Halse Anderson

Middle Grade

1. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
2. A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Linda Urban
3. Kenny and the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi
4. Silksinger, Laini Taylor
5. Savvy, Ingrid Law
6. House of Many Ways, Diana Wynne Jones
7. The Ice Dragon, George R. R. Martin
8. The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry
9. Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf, Jennifer L. Holm
10.Starcross, Philip Reeve

Young Adult

1. Lips Touch, Laini Taylor, Jim DiBartolo
2. Dreamhunter, Dreamquake, Elizabeth Knox
3. Once Was Lost, Sara Zarr
4. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
5. The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
6. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
7. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
8. The Loser's Guide to Life and Love, A. E. Cannon
9. Ice, Sarah Beth Durst
10.The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams


These are just my favorites, in no particular order.

The Arrival, Shaun Tan
Stitches, David Small
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, Neil Gaiman
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, Howard Tayler


1. The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson
2. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
3. The Hamish MacBeth mysteries, M. C. Beaton
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
5. Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexie
6. The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
7. Any Given Day, Dennis Lehane
8. The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson
9. Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik
10. Diaries: 1969-1979, Michael Palin

*Please note, younger readers: These are ADULT books and some of them are not for the faint of heart or young of age!

And now, because you've all been so good, I'm going to give you a peek at my innermost sanctum. I'm sure you're all thinking, What is her DEAL with the chair?! Well, dear readers, here's the thing: I have written most of my books sitting on a kitchen chair at the kitchen table. Now, finally, I have purchased myself this fine and worthy item, and have been lounging in it as often as I can, finding it very comfy but also very conducive to writing. At last I feel like I have a real, comfortable Writing Spot.

Ta da!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Dawn of a New Age

Those of you who have seen "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" are now thinking, "An age of lacy, pink, intimate things!"

Unfortunately, no.

It is 2010, and behold, there is new life on the moons of Jupiter and monoliths being planted on other worlds and . . . wait! Curse you, Arthur C. Clarke!

All right, I'll stop talking about movies.

And get down to brass tacks: New Year's Resolutions. They say you shouldn't make them, because you're just setting yourself up for failure. But who are "they?" "They" sound remarkably depressed and depressing. Let us ignore "them" and make some resolutions. I'm feeling awfully resolutiony.

In 2010 I want to:

Read over 150 books (I got to 149 last year. So close!)

Finish the book I'm currently working on, and get at least 2/3 of the way through another.

Lose 7 pounds.

Learn to play mah jong.

Go to the movies at least once a month.

Blog every week, and start including pictures in the blog.

Take a trip to a supersecret, supercool location where I will do loads of research and begin writing a supersecret, supercool book.

Oh, that last one is just a big TEASE isn't it? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! But it's so true: Mr. Man and I are planning a Very Special Vacation which will include a guided tour of a number of castles and other Ancient Sytes of Ye Intereste, followed by several days of lounging around so that I can begin my Supersecret Book on site, for Maximum Ambience.

Also, I'd really like to take the kiddies to Disneyland again. Just for a day or two. Ride the Thunder Mountain Railroad, eat a giant smoked turkey leg. Perhaps it should be a family tradition: every September when there is NO ONE THERE, we go to Disneyland. (Seriously, no one was there. It. Was. Awesome.)

I was going to start off this blog right, by including a picture, but Baby Girl is asleep in the Chamber I Wished to Photograph, so I will not. We were up all night with the little moppet, as she has stomach flu for the first time ever, and threw up every five minutes from 2 am to about 7:30. Not. That. Awesome. Now she is asleep in my bed, so I cannot photograph the Chair. I recently used my ill-gotten gains (aka, "royalties") to purchase new furniture for my bedroom. Part of this furniture includes a freakin' awesome chair and ottoman which has already cradled me comfortably for the longest writing stint I've managed since November. I wished to show you all the Chair, but since you would also get a good luck at the Bed, which contains a sick, sleeping child and has sheets in dire need of washing after last night, I shall forbear.

Perhaps next Monday.

When I keep to my resolution to blog every week, by presenting to you my favorite books of 2009! (Cue cheers, cue crashing of cymbals!)

But here, as just a small taste of "Best of" list goodness, are my Top Five favorite movies of 2009:

1. Star Trek
2. Avatar
3. Up
4. Sherlock Holmes
5. The Princess and the Frog

What are your resolutions?