Month: September 2013

30 Sep 2013

seven things about venice before i forget them

I did not want to go to Venice. Nope. I barely wanted to go to Rome, or to Europe. Then again, after a year of preparation and looming dread, I didn’t particularly want to get married. I mean, I wanted to BE married, I just didn’t want to GET married. This also sums up my attitude toward travel. I want to HAVE traveled, I just don’t want to get off the couch long enough to actually go through with it.

So I deferred honeymoon planning to The Boy. This was supposed to reduce the overall household wedding stress by division of labor, but I’m sure you guys know me well enough to know that it didn’t exactly work so well. First of all, I am an anal retentive freak and anyone who has to speak to me for more than 15 minutes deserves a medal. Second of all, at some point I told The Boy that I didn’t want to plan anything involving this honeymoon, that he should make all decisions in our best interests, but I also reserve the right to be pissed if things go wrong. Darling wife, love forever, etc.

I agreed to Rome and one other Italian city. The Boy insisted on Venice. I wasn’t keen on navigating European rail or dragging luggage on and off boats on my supposedly relaxing honeymoon, but Venice is sinking.

So we arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon, slept and ate pizza and drank wine for two nights. The next morning we carried our luggage down to the Termini station to board a high speed train. Four hours later, we arrived in Venice.

It was lovely and I forgot all of my anal retentive fears immediately upon arrival.

Just kidding. It was 90 degrees, neither of us could figure out where the proper water bus would pick us up or even how to purchase a ticket, and I probably did a lot of passive aggressive scowling at my dear husband for foisting all of these first world problems upon me.

Happy, happy newlyweds.


My mood improved significantly after we sat down for our first proper Italian meal. Wine. Bread. Spaghetti Bolognese for me and some seafood pasta for him. We were seated outside, the restaurant tucked away on a narrow side street. Supposedly Venice is known for having the worst food in Italy – chefs of any repute prefer to practice their craft without the practical limitations of acquiring fresh and fancy ingredients off the mainland – but my American taste buds were regularly impressed.

The sun went down and so did the wine and then it felt like vacation.

So what did we do in Venice?

Well, we hit as many of the touristy destinations as we could. We rode the vaporetto. We ate the same panini 4 or 5 times. We lounged around our BnB. We attempted to watch the fireworks at Festa del Redentore, but I got too grumpy. We chased Venitian kitty cats through the streets, trying to figure out where they lived.

But if you’re going to count the minutes, we probably spent 95% of our time in Venice getting lost, and getting un-lost.

Getting around in Venice is as close to an impossible task as you can get. You can get a map… but the names of the streets are so long and the streets themselves so short that even if the map-maker decided to label that particular street, what’s on paper won’t match what’s posted. And the canals. Oh, the canals. Each canal has a few bridges that cross over, but maybe a dozen streets that SHOULD have a bridge to cross over. So you detour around, looking for a bridge, and in the process lose your path.

You have no idea where you are. You do not speak the language. You are supposed to be having a relaxing, harmonious honeymoon with the one you love, not bicker over which way you should turn at an intersection… if you can call a giant square-ish open space with a toy store, a bar, and yet another ancient church an intersection.

Bring your patience to Venice. Instill in your heart a deep faith that you will find your way home, that you will not spend the night sleeping in someone’s boat. Follow the never-ending flow of tourists – they are generally on the easiest path to somewhere recognizable. And look closely at those churches – they’re large, they’re always on the map, and they will guide you home.


After experiencing the wonder that was the Italian Hotel Breakfast in Rome, we were dismayed to remember we did not opt in to the breakfast portion of our bed and breakfast stay. So began the hunt for the elusive cup of coffee.

For a country that is known for coffee delicioso, BOY did we have a tough time figuring out where to get some. Maybe our American, Starbucks-accustomed expectations were too high. The guide books and websites assured us that any local bar became a de facto coffee shop in the morning, that you could order a pastry and an espresso and take your breakfast standing at the bar, European style. But The Boy and I were either too timid or too lazy – or both. By the time we’d slept off the previous night’s vino della casa, dressed, and hit the streets, the bars seemed to be serving food-food, and the standers-at-the-bar drinking cocktails.

Even when I am on vacation, I cannot abide by booze before coffee. After who knows how many hours of stumbling, uncaffeinated through the streets, we finally found Caffe del Doge, which was exactly what we needed. Perhaps it would have been more European to stand in a darkened bar and knock back a shot of espresso to start our day, but I absolutely loved Caffe del Doge. It was just like the American coffeeshops I’ve grown accustomed to – there were tables, a large menu, folks who spoke English – but just substitute all the shitty caramel frappa-pumpkin-lattes with delicious and creative Italian coffee options.

The boy stuck to Americanos, espresso served with a little individual pitcher of hot water, while I tried a few things on the menu. Iced coffee with star anise was a favorite, but that shot of espresso with a giant pile of whipped cream wasn’t too shabby.

Let it also be known that I absolutely drank more black coffee in Italy than I’ve drank in my entire life. Desperate times, desperate measures. I lived to tell the tale.

Murano is a cute little group of islands off Venice proper. After riding the water bus over and watching a glass-blowing demonstration, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about Murano and talking about glass.

We bought a few souvenirs, but I am pretty sure that we didn’t succeed in buying any actual Murano glass. The best I could gather was that if it was real Murano glass, we couldn’t afford it.

That did not stop us from spending far, far too long playing the Is this real Murano glass? Is that real Murano glass? game. The Boy?  This is favorite game. Me? I don’t like to talk to strangers and I get exhausted when I’m on my feet for too long. I bought my overpriced little baubles and moved on with my day. The Boy haggled and debated and argued until the vaporetto was about to pull away and leave him stranded.


Speaking of souvenirs… they vex me. I don’t want to get ripped off on junky nonsense. I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on anything (ever). I don’t want to pack an extra suitcase so I can acquire things. I don’t want to spend my vacation shopping.

However, I appreciate keeping items in your home that remind you of the places you’ve been. A few trips ago, we decided that until we feel financially comfortable enough to spend big bucks while traveling we will settle with buying nice postcards and framing them. REALLY nice postcards, you know, the artsy ones that cost like, 3 whole dollars. We were probably having an afternoon of Should we buy this? Should we buy that? when we came up with this scheme – I’m not sure that committing to hanging up random postcards is the best decor decision, but it was something that our stingy asses could agree on.

Anyway, we found a nice postcard of the Rialto bridge in Venice proper, so once we landed on Burano – The Most Adorable Place on the Planet – we did a little postcard shopping.

And by “we did a little postcard shopping,” I mean, he did some postcard shopping while I wandered down an adorable street and took photos of front doors and tried to find some cold coffee.

The Boy came back with a postcard. “I asked the woman if she had any postcards of Murano,” he told me, “but she said that Murano was too ugly.”

Venetian Island Feuds? Apparently a thing.

We spent four days and three nights in Venice. I got un-jetlagged. I adjusted to being in another country, drinking black coffee, and being on vacation. I started to feel adjusted, vaguely at home.

I did all that in Venice.

In our corner of Cannaregio, we regularly walked by a store with a maroon awning. We knew to take the alley to the right of the storefront, that we would be almost back to our bed and breakfast.

The second day in Venice, we popped inside the store with the maroon awning and it was a store filled entirely with wine and chocolate. So we came by every afternoon for the rest of our stay in Venice.

Even better? The wine was 3 euro for a liter. What romantic luck for the stingiest honeymooners alive.


Thanks everyone for indulging my summer ramblings about my summer ramblings. Glamor and glitz officially over. Now back to my regularly scheduled American adventures, such as  The Boy Takes 45 Minutes to Buy Vitamins at CVS,  Jessica Falls Down While Reading on the T, and We Have a Futon On Our Back Porch.

28 Sep 2013

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards 2013

Hey! The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were just announced!

…umm… back in May. When I was completely strung out on wedding shit.

However, that doesn’t mean they are not worth celebrating. Especially when two of my favorite YA books of the year appeared on the fiction list! I will be attending the awards ceremony again this year, which is always great fun. Hobnobbing around the old alma mater, children’s lit celeb spotting, wine sipping and cheese noshing. And the acceptance speeches, oh, they are the stuff that sparks up the soul. People with considerable talents, choosing to pursue excellence in children’s literature through writing, through art, through teaching, reading, and reviewing. It’s a celebration of what we all are trying to achieve with our work. It is fun.

I am even more excited to get to attend the one-day colloquium on Saturday. I haven’t been for a few years, but I still remember some of the interesting bits of discussion.

Oh, and you might notice that my new favorite author will be in attendance. Yes. Yes. Yes. I will need to recruit a close friend to keep me from fangirling out; the fancy outfits, the spirit of celebration, the wine (the wine), oh, it can be a dangerous atmosphere for keeping one’s cool. I’ll try to stick to the signed books and admiration from a distance. I’ll try real hard.

Picturebook Award

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean

Picturebook Honors

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeiser, illus. by Suzy Lee

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold


Fiction Award

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (yay, rah!)

Fiction Honors

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (yay yay, rah rah!)


Nonfiction Award

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd

Nonfiction Honors

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building  by Christy Hale

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney


27 Sep 2013

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Introverted Cath isn’t the most well-adjusted, outgoing teen in Nebraska, but she knows where she stands. With her mother gone and her father a little flighty, Cath keeps an eye on things at home. Her twin sister Wren is her best friend. And the rest of her life and livelihood is Simon Snow – specifically, her life is Carry On, Simon the epic, episodic work of fan fiction Cath writes for an audience of thousands of Simon fans around the world.

College upsets everything. Cath worries about her father and his empty nest. Wren has a new roommate and a new weekend partying habit, while Cath’s roommate is older and eyes Cath’s Simon Snow posters suspiciously. Cath’s creative writing class isn’t what she hoped it would be, and she either has time for schoolwork or updating Carry On, Simon, but not both. It’s awful. But she has to deal with it. Or drop out. Or fall in love. Or not.

There are a lot of conversations you could have about Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

– You could talk about whether or not Fangirl is YA, or whether or not any book set in college could be considered YA.

– You could talk about if a character’s Internet-Life can be adequately and richly portrayed with prose, and whether or not Rowell did Cath’s fandom any justice.

– Rowell includes excerpts from Cath’s fan fiction as well as from Simon books themselves – you could talk about fiction within fiction… or more accurately, fiction-based-on-other-fiction all within fiction. Yikes.

– You could talk about “slice of life” fiction. Is it boring? Is it realistic? Is it an artistic form or a mark of authorial laziness? I

– If you are an introverted English major who somehow survived college feeling a little beaten and bruised – come on, I know most of you probably are – then you could talk about how Rowell must have been spying on you in your dorm room, subsisting on the cereal bars stashed in your dresser drawers rather than think of stepping into the school cafeteria.

I could write a blog post on any of those topics, but I believe I would need an entire post for each question. Maybe more. I know this blog has taken some strange turns over the years, but I’m not about to start a Rainbow Rowell Literary Analysis Only blog. Or, A Dramatic Retelling of My College Experience blog for that matter.

However, I would like to propose a theory to you, my few and amazing readers: the more discussion a book raises, the better the book. The more questions you have, the better the book. The more different angles you can come at a book, the better the book.

Obviously, this is not a hard and fast rule, but think about it next time you finish a book. Does the ending wrap itself up in a bow? Can you see where the plot is leading you at every turn? Do you understand every narrative decision the author made? Do you agree with every narrative decision the author made?

It’s nice to read a tidy book, but a tidy book is usually a safe book. Rowell’s narration is pitch perfect and yes, there is a fairly traditional romance plot, but I would argue that this is not a safe book. It’s a book you can critique. A book you can dissect. It’s a book you can love, but makes you think about why you love it.

I should also mention: I loved it. Loved it hard. Didn’t want it to end. It’s been years since I’ve added an author to my Must Read List, but welcome aboard, Ms. Rowell.

27 Sep 2013

Uncle Stephen

I first read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft on a summer break, home from college. I read most of it sitting on the family room couch while the TV was on. I remember sitting down to watch said TV, then finding myself opening the book without intending to, beguiled away from television.

This happens to me with certain books, usually memoirs that have easy prose and an intimate narration. There might not be a dramatic plot enticing me to read on, but just seeing the book on the couch is enough to get me to read a few pages, even if I sat down with less than literary intentions.

Inspired by Ashley‘s video on her favorite writing books, I just finished a re-read. Still beguiling. The snippets of King’s childhood and early adulthood read like you are peeking into his life through small but very clean windows – you can see everything quite clearly. The second half – the craft portion – isn’t revolutionary. Calm assurances. Jokes. Reminders. Do this thing, this writing thing, with care. Tell stories and take stories seriously.

Maybe this is one of my many low-brow habits, but I like nonfiction that feels like a friend. Like family, even. Books that speak of the things that are dear to my heart. Books that speak with the authority of one who’s spent time in the trenches, an author who isn’t afraid to talk about the painful, crummy bits, but also about the rest. How running connects us with our bodies and the bodies of our ancestors. How self-care can change the way you see your life and the rest of the world. How vulnerability can crack your soul open and let good things flow in. How in a society where pleasure is easy to grasp, the pursuit of happiness is still an ideal worth holding.

I am now wishing that I had a copy of On Writing to add to my read and re-read and re-read shelf.  And also wishing that Stephen King could be my uncle, sending me encouraging emails, reminding me not to take myself too seriously, sending me a new copy of  The Elements of Style for Christmas.


24 Sep 2013

what to listen to next

Earlier this week I told The Boy a few revealing stories about my childhood; some tales of my early childhood nerd-hood that I was sure I’d told him at some point in the past 9.75 years but apparently not. One such story was The Tale of Child Jessica and her Lifelong Audiobook Habit. This is one of those stories where the title gives away the plot, but not all of the embarrassing details. Like how I listened to the same Blossom Family book so many times that I could pop any single cassette tape into my clock radio and just pick up the story from wherever. Or the one Christmas Eve when I went to bed, knowing that sleep would be difficult, so I put in a tape of There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom – a comforting favorite – and told myself that I should fall asleep before the end of the tape. It worked, and I delighted in the discovery of a magical childhood insomnia cure.

The Boy’s response to my nerdy confession:

“You are telling me this like you don’t still do this. Like, every night.”


Embarrassing, but the boy is correct. Or at least correct most of the time. I do still suffer from sleep anxiety and go through stages where I decide the best way to sleep is with an audiobook in my headphones. All the better if it’s something familiar. Enter Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings, both of which I read in July, both of which I re-listened to August in September, often while falling asleep. I’ve also enjoyed Jim Dale’s soothing tones reading me various Harry Potter books in the past few years, but Game of Throne is my current sleep aid of choice.

But sometimes you want to listen to A Storm of Swords and so does everyone else at your library. Of course. Moving myself up the holds list is frowned upon at my library, and also makes me feel slimy.

Also, maybe I should give George R. R. Martin a rest and listen to something else. Something that isn’t 28 discs long. If I apply the same gusto I’ve applied to GoT listening, I could probably finish TWO audio books by the time my Storm of Swords holds come in.

This has been another episode of Jessica Rambles Too Much About Something That Is Really Not Important Just Read a Damn Book Already, Fool And Now Here are Some Book Covers.

Dead End in Norvelt. Have you ever had a book haunt you? I’ve been trying to read this book for… ugh. I can’t talk about it. I just need to read it. I thought I had the audio all ready to go on my computer, but then I looked yesterday and Disc One was missing. Disc One. Of course. I almost decided on Morgan Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour instead, since it WAS on my computer. This choice also meets the re-read criteria for easy sleep listening.

When I finished Clash of Kings yesterday, though, I was not AT my house. Enter the Overdrive Audiobook. The last time I attempted this feat I had a Mac with an iPod and MAN that whole check-out/download/oops-that’s-a-WMA-file-you-dumb-ass thing was pretty frustrating. Not so much with an iPhone and the Overdrive App! Even the browsing was improved – it was really quick to browse YA and children’s and limit by what was available. I snagged a handful, including DC Pierson’s Crap Kingdom. Hey, remember when DC Pierson was on EVERY SINGLE PODCAST earlier this year promoting this book? Well, apparently that’s enough to at least get me to download the audio for free 6 months later. Or, I could be wholesome and productive and read a NBA longlist nom, Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away.

Or I could just pop in a random disc of Clash of Kings… you know… just so I can sleep…


23 Sep 2013

oh the nonfiction we will read

Nominations do not open until October, but I already have Cybils on the brain. Last year, I did that thing that stupid newbies always do…. you know, the thing when you think you have plennnttttyyyy of time to complete A Really Ginormous Task so you’re just going to start by doing a little, you know, a few Xs and Ys a week, ease into it, blah blah blah. That’s bullshit. Worst idea ever. Come November, you’re little “ease into it” phase will warp into a blistering, blathering frenzy where you aren’t really sure how in the world you will finish your Really Ginormous Task, even if there wasn’t such a thing as Thanksgiving or Housekeeping or Other Various Tasks that Keep Food on Your Table.

So yeah, Cybils on the brain. But my brain might just have to run in circles for another week because it doesn’t seem that 2013 was the best year for YA nonfiction. Last year Bomb was on everyone’s minds, Titanic got a little buzz, and I read the Temple Grandin bio back in January. Russell Freedman had a new book, Dorreen Rappaport and Marc Aronson, too.

It doesn’t help that while last year we read middle grade AND YA titles and this year we will split. Once it comes time to select a short list this division will prove immensely helpful, I think; it is almost impossible to compare a book written for a 4th grade audience to a book written for a high school audience. Right now, though, as I mine through old School Library Journals and Booklists, I have no stinkin’ idea how this division will be made. So much juvenile nonfiction hits that 5th through 8th grade audience, or 6th through 9th, or 5th and up. This will make for an interesting reading period, definitely, but for now, I am flummoxed.

I did manage to find a handful of teen nonfiction to put on hold, in a desperate attempt to get even a week’s leg up on that Really Ginormous Task. I suspect that most of these will get nominations. If they don’t, I’m happy to have read even one extra book to help broaden my knowledge of this year’s nonfiction offerings.

That last line was a bald-faced lie. Oh, please just repeat that back to me at the end of November and watch me weep openly at the prospect of reading one more unmandated nonfiction book. Please.


Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to their Teen Selves ed. by Miranda Keanneally and E. Kristin Anderson

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Code Name Pauline by Pearl Witherington Cornioley

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains by Heidi E. Stemple and Jane Yolen

Rapture Practice by Aaaron Hartzler

Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller



21 Sep 2013

three kinds of realism

I spent a little time knee-deep in my Goodreads account this week, taking a gander at what I’ve read so far at 2013. I know I decided to read more YA, but really, I’ve read a TON of YA this year. Way more YA than any other genres. Pat on the back. Not everything I’ve read has been great – which is probably why I still feel like I need to read more YA – but not too shabby.

So in the interest of better selecting titles to fill the last few months of the year, I took a look at what stuck out to me from what I’ve already read. I made a list of The Bulk of My Reading: the YA contemporary realism titles that didn’t make me roll my eyes.

Then, I started to sort.

This highly scientific organization effort revealed that my most recent tastes in realism fall in one of the following three categories:

Realism in which the protagonist learns life lessons while pursuing romance.

This category should surprise nobody. I was surprised, however, that so many of the books I didn’t think were life-lessony-romances were definitely life-lessony-romances. The romances may not have the structure of a romance (see this rambly review of the lastest Dessen for more on that) and they may not all end well, but for the most part, these books are largely about love and growing up.

Humorous, voice-heavy realism in which the progatonist learns life lessons while pursuing romance

See above, except these books are just much lighter in tone; even the stories that deal with heavier issues (depression, sexuality, violence) do so with more humor than the books in category one. Also, the narrators here are much voicier than those above.

Realism not otherwise specified

The miscellaneous ends. The works of realism that were doing something entirely different, something that just didn’t fit in the other two categories. Should I be reading more of these? I think yes. This list includes my all time fave Frankie and has the best book covers.

20 Sep 2013

working for the weekend

I’ve been living in Boston for more than four years now. Unbelievable, but true. Four years is a long time. Longer than I lived in my college town. Definitely longer than we planned on staying here. Four years is long enough to forget you are living in a city, but also render the suburbs a bit foreign. I have, occasionally, marveled over a particularly large parking lot. But most of the time city-dwelling doesn’t seem impressive. Wake up, commute, work, come home, cook, chat, sleep. Same human condition, smaller parking lots.

It’s been four years, but I don’t think I’d call myself “settled’ in this place. No. I think most of my city-dwelling friends feel the same sense of drifty impermanence about their Boston lives – it’s fine for now, but life could take you somewhere else. Of course, when pressed, most of us can’t pin down where that somewhere else will be, which worries me. Are we, the drifty, childless twenty-somethings who couldn’t possibly live in Boston forever all going to end up living in Boston forever? Even though we all want to leave, are we all stuck, already?

Maybe we’re already stuck, but we sure do not acknowledge it. In fact, the folks I know live like they might leave any day. Or at least, they weekend like they might leave any day. There’s probably a metaphor for life somewhere in there, but all I know is that my friends are wont to turn down my more austere weekend plans because they are going to the Vineyard. Or up to Vermont, or over to Connecticut, taking the bus down to New York, apple picking with their cousins, hiking with their friends from college, [insert any other adorable twenty-something-in-New-England activity here]. I made some posturing a year ago that I would like to join the weekending yuppie fun (please note the “because of course we’re leaving” tone, and yet, we remain), but I think two weeks after I wrote that post, our car died. Then a few weeks later, a tree branch smashed our windshield. We’ve been car-less ever since, and it’s difficult to have yuppie-fun in New England without wheels.

We finally crossed one off the list, though; last weekend our friends invited us out to Cape Cod for the weekend. And while visiting the Cape might have been on my Yuppie-Fun-I-Promise-We’re-Moving bucket list, it is definitely the preferred destination for any and all permanent Bostonians. And I can 100% see why: it was like driving into a beautiful green suburb, where every house has beach chairs and a deck, a pool and a hot tub. And if you take a turn and drive a few miles to the north or south, then you are on the beach. The kitschy dive brunch places and neighborhood bars are well-populated and clean. There’s a Starbucks AND a Dunkin Donuts. All the neighbors wave when you drive by. Your dad has a boat. It’s a wonderland.

Sometimes I feel like Boston is eating me alive. This is probably largely due to reasons that would preclude me from ever owning a place on the Cape, but maybe that’s how everyone survives here. You have a beautiful Cape house to escape to, where it’s always vacation, where your weekday worries aren’t. I suppose it’s different if you’re not staying in a gorgeous rental home free of charge, drinking margaritas in a hot tub with your friends like a spoiled rich teenager, but I definitely see the appeal.

Let me summarize the logical flow of this post as such:

City Living is Rough, therefore we 20-something yuppies pretend like we aren’t going to stay here even though we can’t figure out where else we’d want to go. While engaging in such I’m-basically-just-a-tourist type weekending behavior, I discovered that City Living is probably better if you have a Beach House.

Important addendum: teacher salary + librarian salary / City Living = you are never, ever going to have a Beach House, so you better hope your dear sweet friends don’t move to Australia and leave you without the comforts of a delightful rent-free weekend on the Cape.

19 Sep 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

This is not a proper book review. A collection of random thoughts. But aren’t most of my book reviews really just collections of thoughts with a few sentences of obligatory summary? Aren’t all book reviews just collections of thoughts with a few sentences of summary? Or, more likely, many sentences of summary and maybe one thought? But I’m not here to tell you what I think about book reviews and how nobody knows how to do it. I am here to talk to you about the latest installment of the Sarah Dessen oeuvre: The Moon and More.

Okay, fine, here’s your obligatory summary:

Colby is a beach town, a tourist town, but Emaline is Colby, born and bred. She lives with her mom, her stepdad, her stepsisters, helps run the family beach rental agency, and has a cute long-term boyfriend. Things were getting better with her birth dad – the tourist who knocked up her mom when she was still a teenager – but things get weird when he backs out on helping pay for her Columbia tuition, and weirder when he shows up in Colby with Emaline’s half brother for an extended stay. And things get weird with the boyfriend when an exuberant film student rents a beach house and catches Emaline’s attention.

Ms. Dessen is a writer of contemporary romance, yes. Her stories are hefty enough to make you feel like you’re not reading a romance, but there’s usually at least a bit of a swoon factor.

The Moon and More has a nice love triangle, but I would argue very little swoon. And on purpose. Trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that Emaline is too pragmatic to really fall head over heels and that’s okay. I like that. Not every YA protagonist needs to be susceptible to romance – especially female ones.

So if there’s not swoon, is this still a romance? Not technically, but it’s still a book about romance. Personally, I think I like books about romance more than romances. There’s always a bit of a conceit in a teen romance that irks me, the conceit that if only these two Love Interests can get together then they will live Happily Ever After. Forever. It’s not spoken, but isn’t that the conceit of all romances?

Yes, folks do marry their high school sweethearts, but not often. And is that really the only love story worth telling? Is every teen romance a How I Met Your Mother (in high school) story? I like romance, yes, and I will swoon when called upon to swoon, but I’m more interested in other kinds of literary romance, which I think Dessen does well with in The Moon and More.

Related, I really liked Theo as almost an anti-romantic-hero. Again, conceptual spoilers ahoy, but most male love interests in teen romances start out a little flawed (or at least the heroine interprets the boy as flawed) and as their romance progresses, those flaws fade away, or the heroine sees them as strengths, or she comes to love them. Theo starts out perfect but by the end of the summer, Emaline sees the major flaws his perfect facade has been hiding. I’m making this sound like Theo is a murderer or a domestic abuser or something. He’s not. He’s just not so swoon-worthy, as most boyfriends are. Their romance takes a different shape.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of YA I gravitate toward, and I will write more about that soon. The Moon and More could be classified as a Last Summer Before College Where Big Decisions Are Made book. I read a lot of these, intentionally or not. I think it’s a popular choice for YA authors for a lot of reasons. It gets their characters out of school. It lets the author write about an almost-adult while still sticking to YA literary conventions. There’s the count-down to fall to ramp up tension and lots of built-in conflicts. It allows for a lot of Pondering of Big Ideas (another Dessen fave).

Dessen has written other Last Summer Before College books (This Lullaby, Along for the Ride) but this one felt different to me. My hypothesis? Most Last Summer Before College books do not actually rely on the narrator going anywhere in particular; it’s the leaving that’s important, not the destination. College represents a vague adulthood, and before the protagonist can be an adult she best attend to some emotional issues otherwise her adulthood will be spoiled. The romance overlay implies that unless the protagonist learns to be vulnerable/open your heart/give people a chance/learn to love, then her future could very well be lonely and loveless. This is an unspoken proposition that makes me uncomfortable, and also, I don’t find it as interesting.

In The Moon and More, Dessen does the Last Summer Before College a little more justice. Emaline’s destination isn’t just a vague place far away – it’s a big part of the plot and ties in with her fraught relationship with her family and her hometown. The book is largely about the difference between moving far and staying close to home, and what that means to your identity. The focus on What’s Next might take focus away from Emaline’s emotional arc (which I think led some readers to call her boring and unrelatable), and definitely reduces the swoon factor, but I like the way the book feels like it’s leaning forwards instead of holding back. I could say something about nostalgia in teen novels here and how this book explores nostalgia while also escaping its claws, but my thoughts, they ramble.

In rough conclusion, I can see where Dessen is going here. The Moon and More might not have the tightest plot, the most likeable characters, or have that swoon that you were hoping for, but I can see where she’s going with her characters and I hope she keeps it up.


18 Sep 2013

on not writing

I used to write fiction.

I mean, I used to write pretty bad fiction, but it was fiction nonetheless. You know, imaginary people doing imaginary things.

I haven’t written anything significant in a few years. Probably more than a few years. I could give you all the reasons why I stopped, what led me to this sad place, but I think, at the end of the day, I don’t write because I can’t pin myself down. I have limited hours in the day, and I’m doing a crummy job of giving myself the physical and mental space to get any complex thinking done.

Also, when I do manage to get myself in a chair and in front of that awful Blank Word Document, the ideas don’t come. I can’t remember how it all works – the characters, the settings. Everything my brain imagines seem thin and sad. Flimsy. I force myself to follow a trail, just so I can put some black words on that white screen, but nothing sticks, nothing lights a fire in me, nothing seems worth the sustained effort to just sit in front of the white screen. I find something else to do instead.

This is probably not a unique problem. This is probably the problem of every failed writer, every person who slowly abandoned a dream. I’d like to think I have more perseverance than an everyperson – I do a lot of bizarre things that most people would find undesirable and unpleasant. I have that capacity. I don’t know. I feel like getting older, people take on a subconscious task – the task of making living comfortable. Streamline their interests. Get those eight hours of sleep. Buying nicer furniture, a second set of bedsheets, a car, a boat, a private jet. I’m not opposed to nice things, to conveniences and luxuries, but I also catch myself devoting more time and money on such pursuits than maybe I should. Maybe I should divert some of my time, my money, and my attention back to that writing thing that I seem to want to still do despite all evidence that I can’t do it. Maybe I need to stop hiding inside my comfortable lifestyle and make sacrifices. Maybe I need to stop thinking about minutes and hours, about efficiency and time management and start thinking about showing up and daily practice and putting down words. About having faith that the ideas will come. About doing what needs to be done.

I’m not writing but I’m always trying to write. Sometimes that feels like a good thing and sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Maybe next time I stop here to write about writing I’ll have a different tune to sing. Maybe my dishes will be dirty in the sink, my eyelids heavy at work after late nights spent with words, my creative cup full to the brim. That’s still where I’m hoping to go.