Category Archives: YA/MG news

Happy Indie-pendence Day! Celebrate with a Free Book!

I’m celebrating the fabulousness of indie and small press books today along with the folks at The Indelibles’ blog.

Image  One indie YA worth checking out is IRENE ROSE’S CHARCOAL AND HOT CHOCOLATE 

  Image because it features the awesome couple you are about to meet below.  But first, a little about the book itself

College life is a breath of fresh air for 20 year old Ellie Baylor, a painfully shy but beautiful art major. She has her canvas and charcoal and that’s more than enough. Her choice to go to school far from home and the watchful eye of her strict parents seems like the perfect thing for smooth sailing into an easy life. But when River Daniels, a charming artist with eyes the color of hot chocolate, asks her to join him in a project for class, Ellie may get more than just an A. She might find out how to live.

So let’s meet Ellie and River.  I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with them recently, and here is what they had to say about life, love, and art:

(1) It’s always exciting to meet a young couple in love –and it took you guys long enough! What do you think was holding you back?

 Ellie – Well, for me, it was my parents. I mean, I was what you might call “sheltered.”
River – “Sheltered?” Understatement of the year.
Ellie- Oh hush. I’m not that sheltered.
River- Okay. (laughs) I just had to convince this beautiful girl that she could let me love her. (kisses Ellie)
Ellie- You’re pretty sweet. And a little cheesy. But yeah, I just had to come into my own. River helped me get there without losing me. I became me, I guess.

(2) Would you say you’re able to express some of your feelings better through your art than your words?

Ellie and River- Art. (both laugh)
River- Go ahead.
Ellie- For me, definitely art. I don’t have to talk then.
River- My canvas is definitely a place I’m not shy or awkward. I can get my point across without having to worry about saying the wrong thing in the wrong way.
Ellie- Damn. That was a good answer. What he said.

(3) How is your art similar to or different from one another’s?

Ellie- Um, I definitely am a hybrid. My drawings usually mean one thing much have real shapes in them. Realistic impressionism I guess you’d call it.
River- You made that up. There’s no such thing.
Ellie – I’m an artist. We create.
(both laugh and River kisses Ellie’s cheek)
River- First, she’s a drawer, I’m a painter as far as favorite medium. But yeah, I like to put the impression of something there. Ellie is much more literal with hidden meaning in her art.

(4) What drew you to each other? (Pun unintended!)

River- (blushes) Ellie is very attractive. (nervous laugh) But she was so quiet and shy but then she had this artwork that screamed at you. I had to unravel the mystery that was Ellie Baylor. Then once I got to know her, everything I found out about her made me fall in love with her. She’s bright, funny, a little weird about the 90’s TV and 80’s movies, but you know- quirks.
Ellie- Okay, Kerouac. I swear. You should see his copy of On The Road. Literally taped together, notes in the margins, highlighted. It’s ridiculous. And he works in a bookstore. They have new copies, you know?
(both laugh)
Ellie – I noticed River right away. He’s…well, look at him. (River blushes) But he’s so talented and nice. There was no way I could say no when he asked me to do the project with him. And he was always there for me. He’s genuine and I love that about him. He accepted my friends and my difficult family. And his family is great too.

(5) Do you guys have a song (as in “they’re playing our song”)?

Ellie- The song I think of when I think of River is “Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan.
River- See? 90’s.
Ellie- It’s just such a perfect representation of my feelings. I love him more than my favorite things even though where I’m at is chaos.
River – When I think of Ellie I think of “Home” by Phillip Phillips. That’s it in a nutshell.
Ellie- But do we have a song?
River – The theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
(both laugh)
Ellie- I was thinking “If You Leave”.
River- From Pretty in Pink? No way. No 80’s movie anthems. (laughs)
Ellie- “Kissing you” from R&J then.
River (kisses Ellie) That works for me.

Awwwwww.  These two are almost too cute together.  See how they finally got that way by entering to WIN A FREE E-COPY! Leave a comment below about why this book sounds awesome OR an artist you could see yourself crushin’ on (Dali! That mustache!) You have until July 10 to enter.

But if you can’t wait that long — and I don’t blame you — you can buy Charcoal and Hot Chocolate on Goodreads, at Amazon, and on your Nook. Also at Kobo!  And you can meet Irene Rose (aka Angi Black) on Twitter.

Grab a copy and check out the fireworks within!  Happy Indiependence Day and happy reading!


I’ll follow you into the dark

This week’s trending topic in YA lit responds to Meghan Cox Gurdon’s “Darkness Too Visble”, an article in the Wall Street Journal that questions why it is “considered a good idea” that “contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity.”  And while I may not add anything new to the discussion, as a writer, academic, and mom I feel I have to weigh in.

Gurdon begins her essay with the story of Amy Freeman, who left the store empty-handed when she was confronted by shelf after shelf of “lurid and dramatic covers” at her local Barnes and Noble.  “`It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff'” she is quoted as saying, and Gurdon warns her readers that while we may foolishly think the YA we read as teens was dark, we were coddled by the literary equivalent of warm milk and a baby blanket compared to what’s out there today.  (And before I will get into the argument for and against this position, I would just like to say that if Ms. Freeman and others are wondering why so many dark books are featured at Barnes and Noble,here’s the answer:  that’s what Barnes and Noble buys. And as I have explained in previous posts, there is not a simple correlation between what B&N buys and what the public wants, so we can’t just say these books are in the stores and in publishing queues because that’s all the public will read).

I first reacted to this article by thinking Gurdon reminded me a lot of Marge Simpson, who advised her thoughtful, troubled daughter Lisa to smile even if she were feeling sad, because that’s how everyone can tell what a good mother you have.  Marge may not be the most enlightened parent, but like most of us, she wants what’s best for her children, and she thinks protecting them from the dark realities of the world as long as possible is a good step in that direction.  No doubt Gurdon and Freeman feel the same, and who can blame them?  We can respond to the ugliness of the world, a world in which “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings” occur just as in YA lit, by either pretending it does not exist and shielding our children from this grim reality.  Or we can acknowledge it and try to change it even as we equip our kids to deal with it.    

But Gurdon is not simply concerned about reality and protection; she makes a much more disturbing argument, I think, when she declares that reading such dark material “has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development, and tenderness of heart” and that what’s at stake here is “entertainment” that “does not merely gratify taste . . . but creates it.”  The “calculus”, as she puts it, seems to work like this:  A teen reads about vampires and violence and doesn’t necessarily want to run right out and be a vampire or commit mayhem, but s/he does develop a taste for books about vampirism and mayhem.  And any time you start arguing about — or worse, dictating — taste, you get into a dangerous area, rife with prejudice and elitism, certainly, at the very least, with subjectivity.

She attempts to historicize the YA genre, saying it was invented in 1967 by S.E. Hinton and grew in the late 1960s and 1970s, “mirroring the tumultuous times.”  I remember spending much of those tumultuous times in the children’s section of the Reading Public Library, where I witnessed a grey-haired, dainty librarian, who always sort of scared me, practically grab a book from a young adolescent’s hand and forbid her to read it, raging that it was “too bold”.  (The book was called Leo the Lioness.  I still remember the title and cover because I was intrigued, but too cowed to read it, I guess).  It was hard in those days to bridge the gap between children’s books and adult ones.  I thank God for Richard Peck and Judy Blume who showed me a world I could relate to, as opposed to the worlds presented by writers like Alexander Dumas, whose The Count of Monte Cristo we were assigned in 8th grade.  I think I am the only one in the class who actually read it  and if anyone out there from the Exeter Twp. Senior High School Class of 1983 wants to set me straight on that score, I’d appreciate it, because when I found out no one else read it I felt like the biggest dork. And feeling like a dork was a big  thing back then.  I’m not saying that Dumas has nothing to say.  Of course he does.  But he didn’t help me with the issues I dealt with everyday the way Blume and Peck did.  Reading about what kids did in those books did not make me want to run right out and do what they did.  Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret made me wonder why so many girls were dying to get their periods, but helped me understand that some saw this as a major marker in their lives, and  another whose title escapes me helped me understand why sometimes boys would awkwardly carry their books in front of their crotches.  Go Ask Alice, which Gurdon cites, certainly did not make me want to run off to San Francisco and take drugs and be raped by a jewelry shop owner’s creepy boyfriend.  In fact, it showed me that if you do drugs or get drunk, you get incapacitated and bad things can happen to you.  It also cured me of some of my generation’s romanticization of hippie culture.  These were entertaining reads and they taught me valuable lessons.  And when I read about troubled adolescents, in books like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, I saw a spectrum of mental illness that put my own depression in perspective.  To read about a girl who suffered from some of the same emotional issues as me did NOT make want to follow suit. It did not “normalize pathology”, as Gurdon warns.

And this is where her argument gets ugly for me.  She looks back on Judy Blume’s young lovers in Forever as “losing their virginity in scenes of earnest practicality”, so teen sex in and of itself is not pathological or vulgar to her.  But Lauren Myracle*, whom Gurdon scathingly notes was hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “`this generation’s Judy Blume'” is “grotesque” for telling a story of meth use, the savage almost-murder of a gay young man, sexual assault, and “`bag hags'”, “heterosexuals who engage in gay sex for drugs.”  While acknowledging that Myracle’s work is “not unusually profane”, Gurdon laments that any adult objecting to depictions such as these will be shunned; “let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks `censorship’!” she wails.

Do the characters and practices in Myracle’s book have real-life counterparts?  Yes.  Should all kids be reading about it?  That depends on their age and maturity level — and that is exactly what makes the issue of monitoring YA books so complicated, because it is up to individuals, parents and readers, to decide what is acceptable.  And if we decide that kids should not read about rape, or violence, or murder, or drug addiction, or cutting, or anything else that’s  unseemly because we believe these are not  the real problems of most “real” kids, that is somewhat erroneous and certainly places those kids who do deal with these issues in the category of being not real, or not worth acknowledging as such.

Myracle’s series of books in textspeak (TYTL, TTFN, and L8R G8R  ) have earned a lot of flak from angry parents, one of whom referred to her as “Satan”.   They are ingenious in their use of texting as both a frame and a language for the story and present real characters engaged in real discussions about the things that are of real importance to them.  When I read the first one, I’ll admit to being a little shocked by the reference to female ejaculation in the first pages.  Will I recommend it to my eleven-year-old?  No.  But she loves the Love Ya Bunches and Twelve series.  And if she reads TTYL and gets to that part in a few years, I hope she’ll ask me about it, much as I cringe at the thought of having to explain it.  Because as so many people have said so many times before, it’s not like these kids aren’t getting sex and depravity and profanity everywhere else.  Gurdon is right to note that the language in media and YA novels has taken a turn toward  the profane. But if such language is disturbing to adults, I don’t think it is to kids.  And maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s okay that so-called “bad words” have lost their shock value.  Kids know not to use them in most social situations.  But they also know an F-bomb is not destructive if no one notices or cares that it’s been dropped.

As everyone knows, we live in a media-drenched world.  Right now any kid flipping through the cable channels will see discussions about Congressman Weiner’s weiner and whether he texted a photo of it (encased in tighty whities) to a girl with a Twitter account.  They’ll see communities devastated by tornadoes and talk shows in which people loudly reveal the sorts of things no one would have admitted in private let alone shouted from a public forum.  Is it right, is it good, is it healthy?  Probably not.  But I would argue that YA writers deal with these issues in much more sophisticated and sensitive forms.  They provide a space where a younger reader can examine these issues vicariously, and maybe find a way to deal with it in the real world, as so many readers of Laurie Halse Anderson’s books like Speak and Wintergirls can attest.

This is why I think Suzanne Collins’ “hyper-violent, best-selling Hunger Games trilogy” is wonderful, and maybe even necessary.  It’s a dystopian look at a world that is not that far removed from ours.  It’s a response to reality tv and a growing class divide, one couched in a page-turner of a story that might make readers question how far removed shows like Fear Factor and Survivor are from televising human hunting parties in which only one teen can survive. Or how far-fetched it would be to imagine a world in which the few rich people in the nation see everyone else as their minions to toy with until they cease to entertain.  We watch Charlie Sheen rant about being a warlock and find that entertaining without once thinking, “Someone should get that guy to a hospital.”  We watch women compete for the privilege of receiving televised liposuction and nose jobs so they will be worthy of marrying someone.  Now, that’s dark.

In a tweet response to the WSJ, Libba Bray says it all so much better than I do:

Books are, at their heart, dangerous. Yes, dangerous.

Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots.

They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make

us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down the

barricades of “them” & widen the circle of “us”.  And when

one feels alone–say, because of a terrible burden of a

secret, something that creates pain and isolation, books

can heal, connect. That’s what good books do. That’s what

hard books do. And we need them in the world.”

  • maybe it all started here.
    For a good timeline of “edgy” teen books, check out  the site for the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, The School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
* Full disclosure:  I had the pleasure of teaching with Lauren Myracle at Colorado State University and she is a lovely person. There is nothing satanic about her at all.

T(w)een Trends: To Be Real?

In a previous post, I mentioned the debate concerning Barnes and Noble’s new categorization of teen books.   I only scratched the surface of  the consequences of this categorization for writers and readers, and those consequences can be disheartening.

In her November 8th post on her excellent blog, www., Mary Kole addressed the question asked by many of her subscribers (many established and fledgling YA writers) “Is Contemporary YA a Difficult Market?”.  As an agent for the Andrea Brown Agency, Mary Kole knows her stuff, and for those toiling away at contemporary realistic YA fiction, the news was not overly optimistic.

She notes the trend we’ve all witnessed since the Harry Potter-powered resurgence of YA lit over a decade ago — that paranormal and fantasy continue to rule the shelves right now — though she sees dystopian fiction gaining a strong foothold as well recently.  (When I attended the annual regional conference for the New England chapters of the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Editors, many echoed that after the success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, dystopian fiction was the Next Big Thing in publishing).  Kole writes that she has “heard countless editors discuss how difficult it is to get a straight `contemporary/realistic’ story through their acquisitions committees”.  But she feels that there’s hope for such narratives if there is a romantic element to them, as “romance is a huge hook” as romance just may be, after all, the “number one thing” teens of both genders are interested in.  She concludes that any narrative that is going to pass muster with an agent, editor, or acquisitions board has got to have a “really strong hook” right now — a unique voice, a new twist, a compelling story.

But before we struggling YA writers raise arms against shortsighted editors, there’s another piece to this paranormal stranglehood on the market, and that’s the fact that so much of what is acquired and published by any publishing house is based on the dictates of a market controlled by a  few megasellers (ie. Amazon and Barnes and Noble).  As one successful YA writer told me, as long as a handful of people get to decide what sells and where, in these megachains that have taken over for independent booksellers, and those few sellers like paranormal or dystopian fiction or stories about striped talking dogs, then what’s going to be widely sold is paranormal or dystopian fiction or stories about striped talking dogs.

This doesn’t mean that you should shred your realistic, gritty contemporary teen novel and start writing about ghosts or wizards or vampires if that’s not your thing.  One of Kole’s readers commented that they see a “renewed interest” in contemporary YA fiction among readers, an idea seconded by others, including a librarian who gauges these things.  Hopefully, the buyers and marketers at the behemoth chains will notice this.

Until then, it is better for all of us to take the advice of the venerable YA writer Ellen Hopkins:  “Write the story that speaks to you.  Don’t worry about the market, because once you do that, you’re always behind.”  So keep writing what you want to write because you really want to write.  And with a little luck, talent, perseverance, and that holy grail of a hook, you’ll be on the shelves of a bookstore some time (or the warehouse shelves of Amazon, wherever they may be).  Best of luck to all of you out there with contemporary teen novels burning to be told.  I know plenty of us would like to read them.

Find your Bookmate and more YA news

There’s a lot of talk on the blogosphere right now about Barnes and Noble’s new shelving of teen fiction by individual genres –into categories such as “Teen Paranormal Romance” — in an effort, they say, to lead readers more directly to what they want.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea and makes sense from a marketing perspective.  Still, for me, half the thrill of book shopping –as a t(w)een reader and even now — was stumbling on something while browsing the shelves, something I didn’t know existed and didn’t know I would want to read — but was so glad I did when the last page was reluctantly turned.  Shoppers are obviously still free to do that if they don’t feel constrained by generic labels, but those labels are always tricky and, often, quite faulty.  Some books are far easier to categorize than others; it’s fairly obvious where a book like Twilight would go, but what about From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?  I would hate to have missed that one, and for an author, having one’s book shelved in the wrong place can cost readers who would otherwise be drawn to her/his work.

But if you DO know what you like to read — or at least the five books that have influenced you the most — check out Scholastic’s social networking site  Post the five books that influenced you the most and find out who your bookmates are.  For instance, mine include Taylor Swift (we both loved Charlotte’s Web in our formative years) and  Daniel Radcliffe, who counts Mikhail Bulgakov’s  The Master and Margarita as among his faves — which I guess would make us book buddies with Mick Jagger, who is said to have written “Sympathy for the Devil” under the influence.  My daughter was happy to discover a book soulmate in, apparently, all four Jonas Brothers in their mutual love of Lemony Snicket (though the Holy Bible ranked number one for the JoBros).  Check it out, make your profile, and who knows?  Maybe Eli Manning has been you book soulmate all along.  Check out my profile!

Vera Dietz Delivers

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a great book, and I am not just saying that because (1) I know the writer and she will be giving an interview on this very site on November 2, or (2) because it takes place in the town I grew up in, or as A. S. King reminds me, a “fictionalized” version of that town.  (For example, in the “real” town, the streets, when lit at night and viewed from a mountain road, spell the word SHIT, which for disaffected teens like me and Vera was an apt metaphor for a place we wanted to vacate.  But, like Vera, I have come to appreciate the place more.  I mean, we’re a southeastern Pennsylvania town with a neon Pagoda perched above us!  How cool is that?).

As the title alerts us, much of this book is about the things we ignore and shouldn’t.  Vera has been told to ignore a lot in her seventeen years, particularly the domestic violence taking place next door, where her best friend and first love Charlie Kahn lives.  When the story takes place, Charlie has died and Vera wrestles with guilt over his death and what might have been if she hadn’t ignored his final messages to her after their friendship grew estranged, if she or her father had called the police just once when they heard Mr. Kahn breaking Mrs. Kahn’s arm, if she could have kept Charlie alive somehow.

It’s about Vera doing her very best to be ignored by her classmates because:

  • she is a smart girl irritated with the idiots around her who can’t identify Florida on a map but who doesn’t want to look smart enough to be noticed,
  • her mom was a stripper who left her when she was twelve,
  • her best friend has taken up with some awful people who throw dog crap at her,
  • and that best friend has died and reappears in multiples, replicated like tissue paper images of himself, and wants her to forgive him and clear his name.

Flying under the radar seems like a good idea.  In fact, it seems like the only way to survive.

The story follows, with flashbacks, Vera as she grapples with all of this and finds a way to make peace with her town, with herself, with her family, and with Charlie, all under the watchful eye of the Pagoda, who has seen more than it could ever tell and thus acquired, despite its ersatz tackiness, a kind of brutal wisdom.  The book has been described by some reviewers as “harrowing”, and it’s that, for sure, but there is also a great deal of hope, redemption, and love here.  It presents a very real world and the very real problems of young adults, especially those inherited, legacies of violence, alcoholism, poverty, and pain.  But it also shows how all of this can be overcome and, in the end, a kind of peace, even justice, can be found.

So far, this second YA offering from A. S. King — her first is The Dust of 100 Dogs — has garnered 3 starred reviews (Kirkus, PW and Booklist) and a highlighted review from VOYA.  Expect to hear more about this book!

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 12, 2010

iJump the Shark

Guppy is just a symptom.  Plus, read on for exciting news about a great YA author!

Most mainstream news sources are in agreement:  Nick’s Dan Schneider-created hit iCarly just keeps getting bigger (and, according to some logic, better).  It first aired in September of 2007 and is now, according to, phenomenally popular; in fact, “On cable, iCarly is outnumbered [in viewers, presumably] only by sports and Jersey Shore.”  And while I would still choose to  watch Carly, Spencer, Sam, and Freddie any day rather than Snookie and her cohorts skanking it up down the shore, I think a little of the magic has been lost despite — or because of — its popularity.  Yes, the show has spawned its own Silly Bandz and the spaghetti taco craze has been acknowledged by the New York Times, but I contend that the fresh anarchic tween spirit of the early seasons has been replaced by a sort of narcissistic nastiness, a refreshing lack of which once marked this show as a standout, especially among Schneider productions (see past posts on VICTORiOUS and others).

When my kids and I first discovered iCarly, we loved it.  I thought it was one of the best written shows on television (all television, not just tween-0riented tv).  The three main characters, Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove), her semi-delinquent friend Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy), and tech nerd Fredward “Freddie” Benson were well-drawn and believable, and the actors playing them have great comic timing.  Middle-school-and then high-school-aged Carly lives with her older brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor, who worked with Cosgrove before on Drake and Josh) because their father is serving the country on a submarine somewhere.  No mention is ever made of their mother, which is curious, unless you consider the underlying misogyny and motherphobia of many Schneider productions.  Spencer, a law school dropout with no visible means of support, manages to keep himself and his sister in a funky three-story condo, makes sculptures out of found objects –and they often blow up or catch on fire — and encourages the three in their production of their own web comedy show, the eponymous iCarly.  All of these details explain the popularity of the show — a lack of parents, seemingly inexhaustible financial and media resources, creative free reign over one’s life and one’s increasingly popular web show?  What’s a kid not to like?  And I liked it because Carly, Sam, Freddie and their friends were not easily classifiable in the pantheon of standard t(w)een tv cliches.  They are not the most popular kids at school nor the “freaks” looking to fit in.  They are intelligent but not necessarily booksmart (though Carly gets mostly As, which Spencer commemorated in a sculpture made of found As).  They are attractive but not preternaturally beautiful, and they do not suffer traumas that are hastily resolved in the space of 30 to 60 minutes (can I get a holla for Brandon Walsh’s gambling addiction?  Anyone?  Anyone?).  If they are smartasses and skeptical of authority, as all true tweens are, it is because most of the authority figures around them are buffoons.  When they do meet someone worthy of their respect, like Principal Franklin, they generally treat him with respect, especially by tween tv standards.  These things were all true of the first seasons and made the show a standout in the world of t(w)een tv.

And then it slowly started to change.

We all know the telltale signs of shark-jumping, beginning with the introduction of an ungainly character from out of left field (think The Flinstones‘ Great Gazoo, the Bradys’ cousin Oliver, or the execrable Scrappy Doo).  But Noah Munck’s increased role as the shirtless Gibby only enhanced the show’s gentle wackiness in episodes such as the one in which the gang helped him try to impress a girl at a dinner date at the Cheesecake Warehouse (home of salads and slices of cheesecake that dwarf their consumers).  The would-be girlfriend flees, but Gibby ends up dancing, gloriously shirtless, on the table, determined to just be himself.  He is joined on that table by one of the rare appearances (before Groovy Smoothie entrepreneur T-Bo) of a black person, a young girl who “like[s] [Gibby’s] moves.”  I know that “Be Yourself” is a stock message in kids’ shows, but it may be needed now more than ever as kids are deciding at an alarming rate that being themselves, particularly if that means being gay, just isn’t worth it — and can even prove deadly, if not simply soul crushing.  But the beauty of the iCarlys, as their arch rival Neville calls them, was that they accepted themselves and their friends for who they are.  Freddie may have an overbearing mother who insists he wear Cloud Block for skin protection and feeds him cucumber slices as snacks but he’s also smart and funny and even Sam accepts him, despite her constant ridicule of him.  And Sam, in turn, is accepted despite her juvenile police record, disturbing love all forms of meat (she carries baggies of ribs, both beef and pork, in her bag)  and her tendency to solve interpersonal problems by flying at her enemies and wailing on them with her fists and feet.

All of that has changed in the past season, during which the popular show has focused too often on the popularity of the iCarlys and their growing disdain for all people un-iCarly.  For example, in the episode “iPsycho”, the gang reluctantly takes pity on a fan who invites them to appear at her birthday party because otherwise no one else will come.  She locks them in her basement because they present her only chance at social interaction besides her chicken.  In other words, she represents the hopeless dweeb who can never hope to be as cool as the iCarlys and she richly deserves it when she is TKOd by Gibby, who has brought along his shirtless but uncharismatic little brother, Guppy (played by Noah Munck’s real brother!).  Last night’s episode, “iDo”, raises the stakes even higher in the game of cool versus uncool.  When fans invite the gang to their wedding — the groom pays for their flights, including Spencer’s — they do little but complain about having to go to Wisconsin, home of cheese with beef in it, which you would think would be right up Sam’s alley.  They sneer at everything, even the hapless groom whose bride-t0-be falls for Spencer at first sight, and they engage in self-involved complaining about fishsticks without tartar sauce and Sam’s insult about the flatness of Spencer’s butt when they should just walk away from the wedding they have derailed.  But they can’t as the episode is essentially a setup so the once sweet-but-not-sticky Carly can sing the song the erstwhile groom wrote for his beloved, which is actually the next single off Miranda Cosgrove’s album — she is embarking on her first concert tour imminently.

Even more disturbing is the subplot, which like most of the subplots lately, is, to use an iCarly term, full of chiz.  Gibby and Guppy discover a five-dollar bill in a tree and get a frail old lady to help them retrieve it.  She collapses on the sidewalk, face down, as Gibby gloats over his new found riches.  When he finally recognizes the dead or at east severely injured woman (she does croak at the end, “Aren’t we going for coffee?” so she might survive the fall), Gibby tells Guppy he saw nothing and they hightail it out of there.  I am all for dark humor, particularly if it involves poking fun at the elderly, but this seems more mean spirited than funny, especially in the context of the recent Scientific American study that found today’s college students to be significantly less empathetic than their counterparts of decades past.  Elementary and middle schoolers and other fans of the show are hardly likely to be any more compassionate, especially if we look at the evolution (or devolution) of sensitivity on iCarly from 2007 to the present as symptomatic of this general lack of concern for others.

Nonetheless, compared to other tween shows, iCarly is still superior, and by its own standards, certain episodes are still genuinely funny, especially when Jerry Trainor is given more to do than mug for the camera and throw himself on the floor or over a piece of furniture in the hope of gaining some traction in the laugh department.  The cast is still likable and talented, though as the show’s writers acknowledge, lines are being written now less for the characters and more for the actors themselves, who are no longer anonymous tweens themselves but busy and successful young Hollywood stars.  For this reason, fans were relieved and a bit surprised, perhaps, that Miranda Cosgrove signed on for more episodes, despite her other pursuits which involve movie offers (she’s a voice in Despicable Me), concert tours, and perusing college catalogues (she likes USC but may go to New York for a change of pace).  The legion of fans grows, and no doubt will continue to grow, especially with the upcoming episode “iStart a Fan War”, based on fan responses on blogs and the iCarly wiki, in which it may or may not be revealed (again) whether Freddie’s love is really Carly or Sam — the Creddie and Seddie fans are somewhat evenly split on this and are “flipping out” on the blogs at  Jack Black will guest star on this one, adding even more cool cred to the show.  (For Jack Black fans with younger kids or a high tolerance for preschool funkadelics, check him out on Nick Jr.’s Yo Gabba Gabba.  It will blow your mind.)

Still, even a guest star like recent Emmy winner Jane Lynch couldn’t save the “iSam’s Mom” episode for me.  Jane Lynch as Pam Puckett, Sam’s oft-discussed trampy mom, who once drove her car into the school while picking up Sam because she didn’t want to rest her eyes after Lasik surgery, who once packed Sam Cheezwiz for lunch, for which  Sam was grateful she had even thought to pack anything?  Seems like a winner, especially since Lynch plays the uber bully Sue Sylvester  on Glee, a character whose sharp tongue could lacerate Sam and her tween friends into ribbons.  But Sue Sylvester’s character, unlike the ones on iCarly lately, has more than one dimension. She’s mean, to be sure, but we are learning this season that her meanness is rooted in despair, that she cannot believe in God, for instance, because she cannot believe in a God who would allow her sister with Down’s syndrome to have been treated so abysmally by the kids around her.  One can only wonder what the once affable Gibby would do with a woman like Sue’s sister and some money stuck in a tree.

It’s entirely possible that as a middle-aged mom I am too out of touch with what’s truly funny and that I write a blog that might as well, like Marge Simpson, demand that Itchy and Scratchy get along together and share a nice glass of lemonade.  But I also live in a world in which kids who feel bullied and tormented and undervalued commit suicide — two of them did so in the past year in my part of New England alone, one of them famously and one not so famously (and as the Worcester, MA  paper pointed out, it is no wonder that the famous case was the suicide of a pretty white girl, the less publicized the suicide of a gay black male).  It would be absurd to lay the blame for such tragedy on iCarly or any other tv show, especially since iCarly is not irredeemable.  But it is fair to say that what kids watch affects how they expect to be treated and how they expect to treat others.  Maybe we don’t need Itchy and Scratchy sharing lemonade, but we could use something between that saccarine portrayal of friendship and delighting in the crushing of the unpopular or the death by falling of helpful old ladies enticed by coffee and the promise of friendship.  Something like iCarly used to offer.

And now, for the big YA news!

A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz hits the stores today.  It’s been praised by critics and writers like the venerable Ellen Hopkins and is her second novel for YA readers — her first, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was released in 2008   and nominated for a Spring 2009 Children’s Indie Next List Pick for Teens.

In a future post (soon!) the fabulous A. S. King will provide a video chat about her work AND demonstrate exactly how many Oreos she can stuff in her face in three minutes.  You won’t want to miss it!

Kid Lit Con 2010 Announced

The 2010 Kid Lit Conference will be held October 23 in Minneapolis. Check out Ann Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog for details at