Tag Archives: Ally Condie

Road Trip Wednesday — Groundhog Day

This week’s RTW prompt over at YA Highway: “In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray has to relive the same day over and over. What books would you pick to read over and over for the rest of your life?”

Ooh, what a fun question. I think I’ve already made my eternal devotion to HP pretty clear, so let’s just consider those seven books givens. Other than them…

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, & Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)

Also fairly obvious choices, given both my personal fan-girling and that of the entire YA universe, but I couldn’t leave them out. They’re intense, juicy, keep-you-up-all-night reads; I only finished Mockingjay a week or so ago and I’m already looking forward to revisiting the whole trio. TEAM PEETA FOREVER.

Matched (Ally Condie)

Another one I wanted to dive into again as soon as I’d reached the last page. A seamless blend of compelling plot and gorgeous language, Condie’s debut is a true treat of a book from start to finish. I cannot wait for the sequel!

The Tiger In The Well and The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)

My favorite installments in Pullman’s Sally Lockhart and His Dark Materials series, respectively — the former primarily because of the swooniest intellectual romance ever committed to paper (Daniel Goldberg, will you marry me?) and the latter primarily because, well, it’s The Golden Compass! (I try to pretend the movie adaptation never happened.) Pullman was one of the first authors I remember being directly inspired by. Not only is he an astonishingly inventive and gripping writer, he is a champion of strong female characters, and for that especially I will always love him.

Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

I can’t even count how many times I’ve reread this book, and every time I revisit it I find something new to relate to, chuckle at, or be moved by. The reigning queen of YA “issue” books, Anderson makes powerful points without ever getting preachy.

Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings (Megan McCafferty)

I was a faithful reader of McCafferty’s whole Jessica Darling series, but the first two books will always be my favorites. Like Speak, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gone back to these books — sometimes just for a few happy-making pages, sometimes to devour them in their entirety all over again. They’re funny and poignant and endlessly re-readable.

What are your picks?



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The YA Way — Unusual Names

Writerly fact: I am moderately obsessed with names. If I hear one in a movie or TV show that strikes me as beautiful or unusual or otherwise worthwhile, I recite it in my head like a one-item grocery list until I can write it down. I read baby naming websites for fun. I sometimes create new characters simply to have a good excuse to use a name that’s been nagging at me. So when I read this post over at Tracey (with an e!) Neithercott’s blog, I was delightedly prompted into sharing my own thoughts on names — specifically, those of the less typical variety. Why do so many YA authors seem to gravitate towards unusual names?

image found at tildewill.wordpress.com

Some name choices are symbolic. Remus Lupin, a werewolf, is inarguably lupine. Sirius Black is capable of turning into a dog (a black one, naturally); Sirius, astronomically speaking, is a star prominent in the Canis Major constellation. To keep with HP, the fact that Voldemort’s name is unusual goes beyond metaphoric wordplay into even deeper character symbolism. The Artist Formerly Known As Tom Riddle chooses his new name specifically to avoid the commonplace; he is in fact quite blatantly disgusted at the thought of sharing a name with anyone else. He is intent on fashioning himself as peerless, wholly unique, and selects a moniker accordingly.

Speaking of unique, it seems quite probable that a drive to stand out in the crowd is behind some authorial naming choices. No one is going to confuse Scout with another plucky young heroine, for example, or forget which magical creature Aslan is. Ally Condie writes about this struggle for originality — her heroine Cassia was originally named Calla, but so was the MC in another of her publisher’s forthcoming books. One Calla is memorable; two are more easily muddled. One unique Cassia, coming right up! (Her love interests, Xander and Ky, are also unlikely to run into many nomenclature doppelgangers.)

This can become interesting when relatively ordinary names take on literarily iconic status. How long before someone else can write about a Bella or a Harry without everyone’s minds immediately going to their fictional predecessors?

Unlike those two, some characters simply wouldn’t sound right with “regular” names. Would eccentric, fantastical Xenophilius Lovegood make sense as Joe Turner? Could Kristin Cashore’s determined, flame-haired heroine be called anything but Fire?

Many of Suzanne Collins’s characters remind me of Cashore’s naming choices. Both authors have a knack for names that are almost exclusively unusual and very often outright made-up, yet still (for lack of a better word) functional. They make sense in the context of their fictional worlds — not necessarily because of symbolism or relevant character traits, but due to a more nebulous, difficult-to-define feel. Cashore’s Katsa, Po, Faun, Roen, and Bitterblue (my personal favorite) don’t sound anachronistically contemporary, but neither are they alienatingly genre-based like some fantastical mouthfuls I’ve come across. They’re poetic, and exactly the right amount of otherworldly. Collins’s Katniss, Peeta, Cinna, Haymitch, and Finnick are odd, to be sure, but I can’t imagine any other names working as well. They have a bit of bite, a slight discordance or strangeness, that’s perfect for the edgy, violent universe they inhabit.

Do you love bizarre names in YA, or do you find yourself put off by them? What are some of your favorite YA monikers?


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Cover Lover — MATCHED

All right, this cover may be an obvious choice — it’s been pretty much universally lusted over — but I adore it too much not to use it for my inaugural CL post. So here is the stunning cover of Ally Condie’s MATCHED (photo by Samantha Aide; jacket design by Theresa M. Evangelista):

Sigh. Isn’t it dreamy? So simple, yet so lovely and evocative. I know there are many who dislike the use of cover models, as seeing a particular face on a book can interfere with the joy of imagining a character for yourself. MATCHED’s cover neatly sidesteps that potential pitfall by only showing us the barest glimpse of Cassia’s face. Not only does this allow the reader to invent their own detailed image of Cassia, it makes the girl on the cover universal. She is certainly intended to be Cassia, but she could also symbolize any one of the countless other young women trapped by the Society.

I love that the color of the dress isn’t arbitrary; Cassia does wear a green dress in the book, and it in fact becomes a rather significant bit of imagery. Green is also important in another context, along with red and blue, which made me very excited to see this as the beginning of the sequel’s cover:

I will be thrilled to bits if the last cover is red! There’s something so satisfying about seeing all the books in a series lined up, thematically similar yet each unique. Candy for the literary soul.


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The Week In Review — Hungry Hype

Book hype always makes me nervous, especially if I’m behind the times on something epically popular. How could anything possibly live up to months of build-up — months of gushing reviews, enticing excerpts, speculation-laden movie deals? How could a late-to-the-party reader be anything but disappointed?

If anything in the literary world has ever known hype, it is Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES series. Everything I’d read or heard about the trilogy suggested it was more addictive than peanut butter M&Ms. Reviewers used descriptors like “jarring,” “violent,” and “pulse-pounding.” YA bloggers agonized over release dates. Authors like Megan Whalen Turner, John Green, and Stephen King oohed and ahhed. Booksellers reported swarms of demographic-defying Collins fans.

So what took me so long? I adore dystopian. I’m all about kickass female characters. I’m even, trite as it’s recently become, a complete sucker for a good love triangle.

But I’m also wary of hype, which as it turns out can create a vicious little cycle. The longer I put off plunging into the series, the more spectacular things I heard about it. The more spectacular things I heard about it, the more I worried it would be a let-down. The more I worried it would be a let-down…you get the idea.

A few days ago, I finished Ally Condie’s magnificent MATCHED and found myself craving more dystopian. “Get over it,” I told myself. “Enough is enough.” So, at long last, I picked up THE HUNGER GAMES.

Within minutes, I was apologizing out loud to an inanimate object for ever having doubted it.

Within hours, I was racing through the final pages of Book 1 and then racing to my favorite local bookstore to snag 2 and 3. But egads! CATCHING FIRE’s spot on the shelf was woefully bare. Clutching MOCKINGJAY to my chest, I returned home to endure 24 hours of literary waiting, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since the countdown to HP 7. Finally, blessedly, the bookstore called with those magic words —

“We’re holding your book for you at the front desk.”

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