Teresa Toten is the author of the acclaimed Blondes series, as well as The Game, The Onlyhouse, among other books. Teresa has twice been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Born in Zagreb, Croatia, but left for Canada on that same day, she lives in Toronto.
Deep, understated, and wise, this engaging YA novel, winner of the Governor General's Award in Canada, is about more than the tough issue of teens dealing with obsessive-compulsive order. It also has romance, and a whodunit element that will keep readers guessing. Perfect for readers who love "Eleanor & Park" as well as "All the Bright Places."
Adam Spencer Ross is almost fifteen, and he's got his hands full confronting the everyday problems that come with having divorced parents and a stepsibling. Add to that his obsessive-compulsive disorder and it's just about impossible for him to imagine ever falling in love. Adam's life changes, however, the instant he meets Robyn Plummer: he is hopelessly, desperately drawn to her. But is it possible to have a normal relationship when your life is anything but?
Filled with moments of deep emotion and unexpected humor, "The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B" explores the complexities of living with OCD and offers the prospect of hope, happiness, and healing.
1. Adam, along with the other kids of Room 13B, suffers from severe OCD. Why did you choose to focus on mental illness rather than physical illness?
I was both moved and inspired by the brilliant young people in my life who are struggling with anxiety disorders, OCD and other mental health issues. I’m also lucky enough to get a lot of letters from my readers and many of them have brought me to my knees with their outpouring of pain. All of that swirled around in my head for years until Adam was born.
2. Everyone in Room 13B becomes obsessed with superheroes after adopting their favorites as a form of pseudonym. Adam, especially, becomes enthralled by the idea of being Batman. Why did you choose to include this? And also, who’s your favorite superhero? (Mine’s Batman!)
I confess to being a former superhero comic addict. I knew that some therapists use the technique of alter egos in group therapy and voila, my superheroes came to the rescue as the perfect vehicle. I devoured all the comics, but I way preferred the Marvel franchise over DC, EXCEPT for my favorite super hero—who else but The Batman?!
3. How much research into mental illness did you have to do?
Unlikely Hero took over a year of research before I wrote a word. I read a great deal, interviewed many sufferers, spoke to therapists, sat in on group therapies and attended an International conference on OCD. I also had the book fact-checked by a renowned specialist in OCD and a priest who is also a practicing therapist. It was a two for the price of one deal with the priest since there’s also a lot of Catholic stuff in the book!
4. Adam’s mother and stepbrother also suffer from some form of mental illness. What was your reasoning behind having so many family members coping with different variations of the disease?
One in every five people suffer from some kind of mental disorder in their lifetime and over 25% of the teen population struggle with anxiety disorders!. Pretty much every family is affected in some way. And many of those issues (especially anxiety or OCD disorders) have a very strong genetic component. I wanted to shed some light on that and in a way, normalize it. Hey, it happens, a lot. Adam’s family are loving, caring and decent people who are also challenged by mental illness. The key word is “illness.” It’s an illness like any other illness, like diabetes, or high blood pressure. Sometimes it’s treatable, curable, or just manageable. There may be setbacks or new treatments. What we have to do is finally destroy the stigma and secrecy that still sticks to this particular illness.
5. Are any of your characters’ experiences based off of people you know in real life?
Absolutely. I “stole” directly from many of the teens I know and even from some of the adults. So many people were hugely open and generous with their “secrets” with me.
6. Adam loves to play a game called Warmachine. I’m only vaguely familiar with it, but can you tell us a little about how it works? Why did you choose to have him play this kind of tabletop game rather than a sport or video game?
Okay, I “stole” that too. A wonderful young man introduced me to this tabletop warrior game. You have to make your figurines and it can and does get massively elaborate. I spent endless hours pouring over YouTube sites of collectors and players and warriors. I kind of think that I would have liked to play it with Adam and Ben to tell you the truth.
7. If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see cast?
It would need a young and totally undiscovered cast that would go on to awesome Hollywood careers, but Denzel Washington would play the ever patient Jamaican psychiatrist.
8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
God, I wish I could plot. Twenty years of writing and. . .I just can’t do it. The rebellious, whiney, kid in me gives up all semblance of any outline by chapter 3.
9. Coffee or tea?
Espresso coffee and lots of it!
10. Favorite movie? Show? Band?
Favorite of the past year: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Favorite show of all time: The Wire
Favorite Band: Depends on what I’m writing (I’m not kidding) for Unlikely Hero I listened to a lot of jazz.
A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by "A Thousand and One Nights"
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she's falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
Why we can't wait: Okay, Arabian Nights isn't as common in fairy tale retellings as stories like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, but it's definitely one of our favorites. The Wrath and the Dawn sounds like something that's going to blow our minds and keep us guessing until the last page. Plus, that cover! SO MUCH LOVE!
Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.
To the humans she lives among, she's just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she's learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny. Mentored by her mother and her Zar "sisters,"
Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all.
Why we can't wait: GENIES. Why do we need another reason?
My name is Stacey Heather Lee and I write young adult books. I’ve dreamed of writing books for a living since I was nine, when I penned my first children’s novel. For four years, I labored to type it on the family Smith Corona (that’s a typewriter, kids). Each time I made a typo, I would retype the whole page. By the time I finished, my fingers flew at 120 wpm. The book became a bestseller amongst my stuffed animals, and baby, I was on my way!
But before I could write for the un-stuffed crowd, I had to make several stops in the real world. Hi Mom and Dad! I studied, got degrees, and earned paychecks. In my spare time, I continued writing. Several years later, I got a wonderful agent, and now I write even when I’m sleeping. I hope you will enjoy browsing my website. All are welcome, stuffing and all.
I am a fourth generation Chinese-American. A native of southern California, I graduated from UCLA then got my law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in Silicon Valley for several years, I finally took up the pen because I wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. I play classical piano, raise my two children together with my supportive husband, and write YA fiction.
A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of CODE NAME VERITY.
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.
Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
This debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.
1. UNDER A PAINTED SKY is the closest I’ve come to a YA western since BLOOD RED ROAD. What about the Wild West made you choose this time period?
My mother's side came during the late 19th century, and I thought it would be interesting to examine what the US 'looked' like at this time. The first great wave of Chinese immigration occurred during the California gold rush, which coincided with the westward expansion & "frontier" days.
2. There’s a heavy emphasis on the effects of race and gender in the 1800s, particularly so for Annamae who is an African American slave, and Samantha who is Chinese-American. How important was it to you for the girls’ to maintain their identities while disguising themselves as boys?
Their races add another thread of tension to their journey. Any black person traveling alone would raise questions as to whether they were freemen or slaves. But Annamae makes a point of saying she didn't want to be white. She has a 'let's get this done' kind of personality that won't let something like race stop her. As for Sammy, seeing a Chinese person on the Oregon Trail was just plain odd. But Sammy's identity is an important part of who she is, and part of the reason she is so desperate to find her mother's jade bracelet. She doesn't want to lose that connection between herself, and her family, which necessarily includes her cultural identity.
3. What was the most important message you wanted to convey about diversity throughout the novel?
I love this question, because I honestly wasn't trying to convey anything about diversity. I only wanted to paint a realistic picture of 1849 America, and that includes people of all different nationalities and cultures. The US has been a pretty diverse place from the start. Look at the Native Americans. Also, Mexicans. Mexico owned a good chunk of the US back in the 19th century.
4. Set in 1849, UNDER A PAINTED SKY delves pretty deeply into the risks of living on the frontier. Cholera, wild mustangs, thunderstorms, and even bandits threaten the lives of your characters at some point. How much research did you do to accurately portray life on the Oregon Trail?
I did a fair bit of research, starting with the children's section of the library, and moving up to the adult's section for a deeper look into life in America at this time. I read pioneer diaries, I also visited a slew of museums, and spent some time in Gold country, California, talking to experts on the California Trail (a main trail fork from the Oregon Trail).
5. Samatha’s violin is her most prized possession and music in general plays a huge role throughout the book, almost becoming a character in and of itself. What role does music play in your own life and what was your inspiration for making Samantha so musically inclined?
Back in the 19th century, music was how people entertained themselves. After dinner, they'd retire to the drawing room and listen to someone play the piano. I really wanted Sammy to be able to bring something to the table, a way to be useful, and maybe even endear herself to the cowboys (and one in particular). Given her classical education, it made sense for her to learn music, though it was unusual for her to play the violin, which was considered a man's instrument because of its suggestive female form. I'd played the piano competitively until I was 18, so had a good handle on how to write this angle of Sammy. Now I'm more of a listener than an entertainer, though it's something I want to take up again one day!
6. Family is one of the more emphasized themes throughout the novel, playing a large part in everyone’s individual stories. Annamae is searching for the last of her family, Samantha has lost hers completely, and the boys have developed their own, unconventional, family. What was the significance of showcasing so many different forms of family?
For Chinese people, family is hugely important (as it is in my own life). It was important in Sammy's journey for her to understand that even though she's lost her family, she can still create a family for herself. For the others, showing where they came from in a family sense is key to understanding who they are, as is showing who they've chosen to be friends with.
7. What was your biggest inspiration for writing UNDER A PAINTED SKY?
My parents! (See 6, above). While my mom's side were the ones who came during the 19th century, my dad also inspired me. He came to the US in the fifties when he was eleven, with only his thirteen year old brother for company. Dad loves a good western because in the fifties, the western movie was at its heyday. I always picture him as a bit of cowboy himself.
8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Pantser, much to my shame. I could probably save myself a lot of time by becoming a plotter.
9. Coffee or tea?
Both. I love both.
10. Favorite movie? TV show? Band?
The Empire Strikes back; Castle; does solo artist count? I'm a Beyonce fan.
Are you ready to get weird?
Andrew Smith is coming to Books Inc. Palo Alto on March 11th and we're giving away a package of ARCs!
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