Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

I’m a sucker for YA novels that are inspired by fairy tales or folklore or mythology. Give me an old tale with a new twist and I’m there. And tales that deviate from the standard Disney princess category? Even cooler. The Fire Wish by Amber Lough involves a world of jinni and princesses and mistaken identity and it is awesome! Here are a few of my reasons why you should read The Fire Wish.

1. Najwa
Najwa’s a jinn training to be a spy–basically all worlds that are already awesome. But I also love how Najwa is sensitive and thoughtful, even when she swaps bodies with a human and has to conceal her identity to protect herself, the jinni universe, and the humans around her.

2. Zayele
In a novel with two points of view, you’d think it would be easy to forget which narrator is which. But as much as I loved Najwa, I also loved reading Zayele’s chapters. Even though she’s the human side of the story, Zayele is bold and fierce and strong, and has a deep love for her family. She makes mistakes and acts desperately at times, but her flaws round her out nicely as a character.

3. Rahela
And speaking of Zayele’s family, Rahela was a character I didn’t expect much from but I ended up loving her, too! She joins Zayele on her journey to the palace in Baghdad, and becomes a source of comfort and friendship for Najwa. Friend characters in YA without any personality irk me, and it was so refreshing to see Rahela come to life as her own character, with her own quiet strength.

4. I wish…
When you think ‘jinni,’ you probably think wishes, right? I love how Amber weaved in the classic combination of jinni and wishes into a source of mythic power and magic for this different race of people. (I love their origin story!)

5. Romance
I like my folktale adaptations with a healthy dose of romance, and The Fire Wish delivers with not one, but two adorable love interests. Swoons, guys.

6. Family
Okay, so I like complicated family situations in novels. But it was so heartwarming/heartbreaking to read about Zayele’s devotion to and guilt for her younger brother, Yashar. Also loved seeing both Zayele and Najwa’s complicated relationships with their respective parents, and what kind of expectations are placed on them as daughters. Even though there’s so much awesomeness from magic and worldbuilding here, it’s so nice to see the grounding of things like family and all that implies.

7. Cultures and history
While I love fairy tale retellings, many of them are based on European stories. It’s so refreshing to see a novel based on Middle Eastern mythology. Beyond that, Amber weaves in cultural history and social norms for characters like Zayele–she wears a hijab, prays to Allah, and generally feels like a Middle Eastern girl growing up near Baghdad centuries ago. Similarly, also cool to see a handsome prince character who isn’t white. These kinds of things matter to teen readers who don’t usually get to see characters like themselves in novels, much less exciting novels about magic and spies.

8. Page-turning
And speaking of exciting novels, this is one I couldn’t put down–danger at every turn, mistaken identity, war brewing, villains plotting, new love threatened!

9. Writing
In a novel with magic and spies and war, you’d think the writing would be adequate at best. Not so! Amber’s writing is so well crafted and lovely and connects so well with all her characters without losing any of that aforementioned action and excitement. (Seriously, Amber, are you a jinn?) I kept reading and thinking, “Oh, man, what a perfect way to put that.”

10. Amber Lough, Made of Awesome
Amber Lough is a fellow Fourteenery member, and I’m constantly in awe of her intelligence and kindness and talent and strength. She’s a master of languages, has served in the military, and writes awesome books. Keep an eye on her, folks.

The Fire Wish is now available, so go check it out at your local bookstore!

Links Galore

Lots of links for your perusal:

Friends, Enemies, Adventures, and More: the Boston Teen Author Festival Is Tomorrow!

The 3rd annual Boston Teen Author Festival is tomorrow! Make sure to come by the Cambridge Public Library tomorrow for lots of writing/reading/YA goodness. I’ll be there along with over twenty other YA authors, talking about writing for teens and lots of different craft points. The general schedule:

Writing Workshop: 9:45-10:30
Doors Open: 10:45
Introduction: 11:15 
Meet the Authors!: 11:30-12:15
Panel Session One: 12:30 -1:15
Lunch Break: 1:15-2:00 (Lunch isn’t provided but you’re in Cambridge which means lots of tasty lunch spots around)
Panel Session Two: 2:00-2:45
Signing: 3:00-4:00

What better way to spend your Saturday than getting to share in a day of YA awesomeness? Hope to see you there!

Links Galore

So many links!

Quote of the Day

“Why do you write for children?” My immediate response to this question is, “I don’t.” … If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words.–Madeleine L’Engle

Defending Ellie: Unlikeable Teen Girl Characters

My latest post is up at the Ploughshares blog, and this month I’m talking about judging characters by how likeable or relatable they are.

“Likeablity” is a big issue for YA writers and readers. Teen characters, especially teen girl characters, are easily judged for being ‘annoying’ or ‘bitchy’ or for making bad choices–which is how teens and people in general are in real life. We make bad choices, we complain, we say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that’s part of what makes us human. Even more importantly, it’s a place from which we can grow and learn from these mistakes. YA is all about growing and learning and becoming the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Why should that always be ‘likeable?’

In the post, I include a reference to The Whale and teen character Ellie, one of the most unlikeable and most pained teen characters I’ve seen. Although The Whale is decidedly not YA, when I saw the play and heard audience reaction to how unlikeable and seemingly irredeemable Ellie is, I really wanted to have the opportunity to defend her. She’s a mean person who does/says some awful things, but all of her cruelty comes from a place of sadness and anger and grief and isolation. I hope more readers and viewers can take the opportunity to asses characters like Ellie (again, especially teen girl characters) and understand what makes them mean or annoying or frustrating.

Check out the whole post, and share your thoughts on likeability, relatability, and readability.