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Friday, 6 June 2014

Author Event: Meeting Simone Elkeles

Back in March I got to meet Simone Elkeles. One of my most favourite authors. What a treat!

I took the train into London and arrived at Bloomsbury's gorgeous offices in Bedford Square. Simone was over here for just a few days to work with the marketing team and her editor on the UK publication of Wild Cards.

The book will be published here under the name of Better Than Perfect and here is the cover. Do you like? It reminds me of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

I began by asking Simone how much of a challenge it was to start writing a new series after the success of Perfect Chemistry and she said it was difficult but that she was ready for a change. She loved the Fuentes brothers as much as her many fans but she also needed a fresh writing project.

Better Than Perfect is the first novel in a new series. The first book told in a split narrative between Ashtyn and Derek. Simone said she was tapping into her own feelings of loss and regret when she was writing Derek. He lost his mum and Simone was open about losing her dad and wanting just one more chance to speak with him. I'm sure they'll be young people reading the book and understanding all of Derek's emotions.

In Ashtyn she was living a dream. She always wanted to try out for the American Football team when she was in high school but she never did because her friends wouldn't. She said it comes down to fear. I asked if she wanted to help break down barriers for young women in sport and she said she did. She says she's a guys’ girl and has many male friends. Like Ashtyn, she's always trying to one up guys.

Simone thinks Wild Cards will be a four book series but she also hinted that she might write another Perfect Chemistry novel in the middle. Great news for all her fans. Especially me.

I asked Simone if she had any burning writing ambitions still to fulfil and she said she'd like to write about a character with a serious mental health issue. She said it would be hard to write and hard to read. I can't help but agree. As readers, we want to like characters and if they exhibit unusual and dangerous behaviours we may find it hard to relate to them. But I also think that such a book needs to be written. Mental illness is still not spoken about enough. People are still not open about it and all the statistics say that one in four of us will suffer with some sort of mental illness in our lifetime. If it isn't us, it will be a member of our families. Reading about it will certainly help develop more awareness and also help people learn how to deal with it.

One of the things that struck me about Simone was how much she cares about her fans. Simone said she always writes for herself and not the reader. But now she's a YA mega star she has hundreds or thousands of fans and she often gets to know some of the really well. She spoke about Amber, a girl close to her heart who recently passed away. Simone wears her name on a bracelet and talked about visiting Amber during her medical treatments. I can't imagine Simone would have ever expected this sort of relationship to develop when she wrote her first book but she is a very generous person with her time and money. She's a 21st century philanthropist. She said she embraces it all.

She even embraced the skittles challenge set by the Bloomsbury team. Ashtyn is allergic to the purple dye in skittles so she picks those ones out. Simone is super talented with a pair of chopsticks but me, not so much!  

After the challenge we celebrated Simone joining Bloomsbury UK with cake and fizz. What a fantastic day! Thanks Bloomsbury.

Better Than Perfect is out as an ebook today!

Review: Better Than Perfect

Author: Simone Elkeles

Release date: ebook 6th June 2014
Genre: Contemporary Teen Romance
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Better Than Perfect is the first novel in the Wild Cards series. It’s a love story and a coming-of-age story. Set in Fremont, Chicago. The story is told from alternating viewpoints: Ashtyn and Derek.

Ashtyn is a girl in a guys’ world. She plays American Football and at the beginning of the novel the team vote her in as captain. For her it’s an honour and a complete surprise. But her boyfriend, also on the team, is not impressed. She doesn’t understand why he starts to freeze her out and gets phone calls from his ex. Ashtyn’s life takes another unexpected turn when she finds a teenage boy in her garden shed.

That boy –nearly-a-man is Derek. His story begins at school where he is promptly expelled for a prank. His life is turned upside down when his step-mother declares they are moving to Chicago to be near her family. Derek’s dad is not around as he’s in the Armed Forces. Luckily, it’s the beginning of the summer and he has it all before him to work out what to do. Ashtyn and Derek don’t have the best of introductions but soon they are falling for each other.

This is another great read from Simone Elkeles. But it’s different from Perfect Chemistry and the Paradise duo. This is not so much about a culture clash. It’s more about impressions and expectations. Ashtyn is a great heroine. It is kind of amazing that women and men don’t play sport together in the twenty-first century. We haven’t come as far as we would like to think. At my own school, we have one girl who plays football (soccer) on the boys’ team and she is incredibly talented. But goodness, it took a lot of persuasion to get her to do it.

Derek is a funny guy. I loved the humour in this book. It was light, sweet and entertaining. Derek loves a good prank but he’s on a journey of his own. He’s carrying some guilt around his shoulders and he needs to forgive himself for something in his past. What they expect of each other is not what they get and there is a really enjoyable romance in this novel.

Better Than Perfect is a charming, funny teen romance. I recommend it!

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo

Monday, 2 June 2014

Review: The Outsiders

Author: S. E. Hinton

Release date: This edition 6th March 2003, first published 1967
Genre: Realism, Coming-of-age story
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Puffin

The Outsiders is a timeless story of growing up, of boys becoming men, of social divide and the crossing of boundaries. It’s a short book but perhaps because of that every word has a purpose.

Ponyboy is a Greaser like his two brothers Soda and Darry. Ponyboy’s the youngest of the group and he loves the cinema and reading. He’s a little softer than the other Greasers but he’d never admit it to them. The Greasers are rivals with the Socs. The Greasers are working class. The Socs are middle class rich kids. The Socs drive by the Greasers and when they find one on their own they beat them up real good – like they did with Ponyboy’s friend Johnny. There is a dangerous current brewing between the Socs and the Greasers and it won’t end well.

This is a story about brotherhood and friendship. It’s about being part of a loyal band of young men and how for some this is the only family they have. It’s also about the choice between being a villain or a hero. We’re not talking capes here. We’re talking about how you treat others, how you sacrifice yourself for someone else.

I feel like I’m trying to explain this book too much. It really isn’t complicated. It’s a story of how circumstances can run away with you and how suddenly life can be extinguished. It’s sad but it is also glorious because to have the loyalty of a band of brothers can help make a boy become a man.

I enjoyed The Outsiders so much. It’s as relevant now as it was when it was first published. Read it.

Source: Borrowed from the school library