I know this was posted a few months ago, but I just thought I should share it. Now there are possible spoilers in this review, so tread carefully.
I am pleased to welcome author Jenny Torres Sanchez to my blog. She has written The Downside of Being Charlie and Death, Dickenson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, both books that I love and enjoyed. I pretty much give both of these 5 star ratings. I reviewed the latter, but did not review the former. I hope you all enjoy this interview and will consider purchasing her books. They’re great reads.
1. Tell us about both of your books, The Downside of Being Charlie, and Death, Dickinson, and The Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.
Both books deal with characters going through a difficult time in their lives. In The Downside of Being Charlie, Charlie is a teen boy dealing with his very dysfunctional family (mainly, his mother who runs away). He also battles with his weight and self image and is trying to understand the girl who he is in love with but who may or may not love him back. In Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, Frenchie is dealing with the aftermath of her high school crush’s suicide. They spent the last night of his life together and Frenchie doesn’t understand why he chose to spend it with her. The summer after her senior year, she should be looking forward to the rest of her life, instead, she’s trying to figure out why Andy ended his.
2. Both of these books deal with some pretty heavy topics. In The Downside of Being Charlie, Charlie’s mother is absent all the time and appears to be struggling with her own demons. Charlie is also struggling with his inner demons, especially when it comes to food. What made you want to deal with such heavy topics in The Downside of Being Charlie? As for The Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, Frenchie is reliving the moments she spent with Andy right up to the point of his suicide. You could have put the book in Andy’s perspective, and we would have received a very intimate look into his psyche, especially understanding what made him choose suicide, so what made you decide to put it in Frenchie’s perspective instead?
I don’t initially set out to write books with heavy topics, but my characters show up and I can tell they have problems. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss teens and think their lives are easy and not so complicated, but lots of teens go through really heavy things. I want teens who are going through those or similar types of issues to see themselves in these characters and know that while sometimes they might feel alone, they’re not. There are a lot of people struggling. And there’s not always a clear solution. Sometimes the only solution is to struggle on for awhile and know that eventually, things can get better.
I wrote suicide from Frenchie’s perspective because I think the effects of suicide are far reaching. Andy wasn’t Frenchie’s best friend. He wasn’t her boyfriend. She hardly even knew him actually. But his suicide hit her really hard and left her reeling. I think this happens to a lot of people. Suicide takes so many people from this world and it seems like the people around them end up in this place where they keep trying to understand, keep looking for clues and answers, even if they weren’t particularly close to the person. I wanted to explore that place, that person’s story. I think it’s a story worth telling.
3. Do you see yourself always writing books that deal with heavy topics? (I myself set out to write about heavy topics)
It’s hard to say a definite yes, because I really do want to write whatever stories come to me. Sometimes they may have heavy topics, sometimes they might not. But it does seem like I’m drawn to exploring stories with darker themes, so for the most part, I think that will always be a part of my writing. Sheesh, that seems like a longwinded way of saying, “Yeah, probably.”
4. How long did it take you to write both of these books, from draft to publishable material? (This is how long it takes me, too)
About 1 year and a half on both.
5. What was the publishing process for you like? How long did you have to query before landing a bite?
I received a request for the full manuscript to the first query I ever wrote. And when I received that email, I kind of cried like a baby. It was silly, because it was just a request, but to me it was like angels were singing and trumpets were playing somewhere in a golden sky just for me. Seriously, I cried. But I guess it was because I figured, if I can get this request, I can get more. And if I can get more, then I think I can actually do this.
That agent ultimately passed, but the request gave me so much hope. Three months and several queries later, I was offered representation by the amazing Kerry Sparks (seriously, she is wonderful).
6. What is it that you love about young adult literature? Will you always write young adult literature?
I guess I just really like that point of view. It’s that point between childhood and adulthood that has it’s own unique flavor; there is wonderment, there is angst, there is confusion and fear, and all just makes for such a unique and interesting perspective. I love it.
7. Are you currently working on anything right now? If so, are you able to tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on something and it’s actually pretty different than Charlie and Frenchie, but I can’t reveal too much. There is dysfunction, though. And darkness. It’s been challenging, but I think it’s made me a better writer, so that’s pretty cool!
8. Now tell us anything and everything about yourself, including your love for red swedish fish.
Anything and everything? Ha, okay, well, obviously I love reading and writing. I love photography, painting, going to art museums, and music. I love hearing bands I’ve never heard before, though I cling to the music I grew up with. I am a very, very slow reader and an even slower writer. I want to like tea for some reason, but I actually don’t. But I still buy it anyway. My standard coffee (which I do like) order is an Americano. If given enough time, I will freak myself out when I’m home alone (because I think ghosts or aliens or something is out to get me). By given enough time, I mean, oh anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. Which is completely contradictory the fact that I do actually enjoy being alone. I’m afraid of the dark. I run fight or flight mode and recite the alphabet when I’m scared. I don’t enjoy the outdoors unless it is NOT super sunny or hot out, which means I mostly stay indoors since I live in Florida. I’m married to someone who actually knows all this about me and still loves me. We have three amazing kids, the youngest whom we actually named after Frenchie (yeah, no joke). Oh, and I like to eat Swedish Fish until I feel sick and can hardly stand to look at them. Then I eat them some more.
9. Anything else you want people to know?
Ha, I think the above pretty much covers it! Thanks so much for these great questions. 😀
***Links and Bio***
Elysian Fields, a place cut off from the rest of the world due to a virus known as the Living Rot, is meant to be a paradise for Cheyenne and the others who have been kidnapped and brought to the small subdivision. But that’s just it. They were kidnapped and are now forced to play parts that Teo Richardson, the one who brought them to Elysian Fields, wants them to play. And if they don’t play the parts in a way that pleases him, they will no longer remain in Elysian Fields.
The Dollhouse Asylum is reminiscent of Lucy Christopher’s Stolen–only much, much creepier. Cheyenne, and the others she was brought with, have been bestowed with new names that–Cheyenne’s being Persephone–“reflect the most tragic romances ever told” (back cover of The Doll House Asylum). But there is something sinister with these tragic romances that makes The Dollhouse Asylum fairly unique among the YA genre.
At first, Cheyenne was a character for me that was hard to like because it was obvious that there was something off about Teo right up front because of the mere fact that he had to kidnap people in order to bring them to Elysian Fields. She was obsessed with Teo in unhealthy ways, but I suspect Mary Gray didn’t want us to sympathize with Cheyenne’s affections, as she doesn’t write Teo in a way that makes him likeable at all, not even in the beginning. Cheyenne’s affections seemed almost Stockholm Syndrome-like, but she soon loses any and all feelings she had for Teo when he does something unforgivable. This is when Cheyenne starts planning to escape Elysian Fields, knowing it is not the paradise Teo made it out to be.
Then there is the Living Rot, which are your basic zombies. Teo brought Cheyenne and everyone else to Elysian Fields to help them escape the scourge of the Living Rot, and even showed them footage of the Living Rot overtaking their world. Immediately I knew there was something off about Teo’s supposed desire to protect them from the Living Rot, and I suspect Mrs. Gray wants us to know this because it makes Teo that much more sinister. And it does. To question whether or not the Living Rot may or may not be real casts Teo in a vicious light that makes any and all background story to try and justify why he is the way he is obsolete.
As for the pacing, it starts out slow initially. What Teo does at first to determine who gets to stay in Elysian Fields and who leaves is to have his inhabitants hold parties. These inhabitants are divided off into couples to match their tragic romances: Romeo and Juliet, for example. If their soiree doesn’t meet Teo’s satisfaction, they are gone. The pacing picks up after the first party, and this is when Cheyenne, and the readers, realize what a monster Teo truly is.
Teo himself is a well-crafted antagonist. Mary Gray does an excellent job of creating the perfect psychopath. Teo is obsessed with numbers, Originally there are eight couples at Elysian Fields, but he wants to bring that number down to seven. Then, eventually, he wants to bring that number down to three. He is also into literature, art, and math, all subjects that point to his incredible intelligence. Being the typical psychopath, it is impossible for him to feel empathy or sympathy. Any atrocities he commits he laughs at, and Cheyenne has no choice but to pretend the atrocities don’t bother her in order to protect herself and receive an elusive vaccine that Teo says will protect them all from the Living Rot.
Elysian Fields is also a very dark place. While the interior of the houses give off this façade of grandeur, Elysian fields is surrounded by a forest of thick trees–and a barbwire fence. Cheyenne also manages to run into a snake at the beginning of the book, one that seems to be purposely placed. Elysian Fields alone had me questioning the validity of the Living Rot. Yes, one could suspect the fence was to keep the Living Rot out, but after Teo’s first atrocity, one has to question the ultimate purpose of the fence.
The one thing that I disliked in this novel was the overall development of the relationship between Cheyenne and Teo’s brother, Marcus. There doesn’t seem to be enough of these two for me to feel any true attachment to their relationship. I did want Cheyenne and Marcus to end up together since there is so much darkness in this book, but I don’t feel like they were developed enough as a couple. With how many times they sneak out and go to the fence, one would think there would be more sneaking out and seeing one another in order to develop some more intimacy between the two. I understand this is risky, but throughout the book, I felt that Teo wasn’t keeping an eye on them that much to make certain they weren’t doing anything that would anger him. But this facet of the book in no way ruins the book for me.
I give The Dollhouse Asylum a 4.5 stars out of 5.
One awesome thing about being a blogger is receiving free books, especially books that are awesome reads. I received this book in particular from Running Press Kids and managed to read it in a few hours. It was as good as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and left a tight-hearted feeling in me because it touched me on so many levels that I feltl abused by this paperback.
Frenchie Garcia harbored a secret crush on Andy Cooper, who committed suicide in Frenchie’s senior year of high school. She was the last to see him before he took his own life. Unable to come to grips with his death, she grieves deeply and is often mistaken as morose and moody. To deal with her grief, she seeks comfort at the grave of Emily Dickinson–not the poet, but simply Emily Dickinson, her imaginary friend. She soon decides the only way to come to terms with Andy’s death is to re-trace her steps and relive the night she was with Andy to find out why he chose to be with her and no one else.
Suicide has always been a subject that immediately taps into my empathy because I know all too well what it feels like to be on the brink of wanting to end one’s own life. Sanchez is incredibly sensitive with the topic and knows how to weave a story that makes readers connect with both Andy and Frenchie. I especially connected with Andy because I kept wondering throughout the entire book what made him decide to end his own life. However, the answer isn’t in the pages because it ultimately doesn’t matter why he chose to. There are hints that he was depressed, but like most depressed people, Andy didn’t show that he was.
Frenchie is a very dark character. She’s generally dour, doesn’t like to get out much, but she’s also grieving and is simply acting as any grieving teen would. But it’s easy to connect with her if one has experienced grief before. It’s painful and saps the best of you, leaving you with the worst of yourself. Frenchie’s grief is very personal because no one but her knows that she is grieving. When her friends try to get Frenchie out of her shell, they often don’t realize they are worsening matters because they don’t see the grief she is experiencing.
The pacing of the book is even and steady, and the book takes place in three parts. The first part is simply the beginning of the book, with Frenchie living her life and not touching too much upon Andy Cooper until the second part, where Frenchie decides to relive her moments with Andy Cooper; instead of Andy, she relives them with a boy named Colin, someone she met at a club who seems to be interested in the dark aspects of her. The third part of the book is where Frenchie begins to accept that Andy is no longer alive.
What I find most appealing about this book is how Sanchez kept it from turning into the classic romantic tragedy–which there is nothing wrong with, but it’s a book about grief. Since Frenchie chose to take Colin along for the ride of trying to relive her moments with Andy, I worried the focus would be pulled away from her and Andy and would be put on her and Colin. But Sanchez does no such thing. She keeps the focus on Frenchie and Andy to really convey her grief and give readers a small glimpse into Andy’s psyche to help them understand why he may have ended his life. There is a subtle hint at the end that Frenchie may want something more with Colin, but Sanchez manages to keep the focus away from that in order to keep the book heavily centered on grief. She is honest and open and does not water the subject down. Fans of John Green will definitely appreciate this book.
Overall, I grant this book a 5/5 because it takes such sensitive topics as grief and suicide and effectively portrays them realistically without dumbing either subject down. It also doesn’t focus on the why of Andy’s suicide so much as it simply focuses on Frenchie’s desire to know why he chose to spend his last night with her. I appreciated this aspect of the book because it doesn’t matter why a person commits suicide. It simply matters that the person did commit suicide and what we as human beings can do to help those suffering in silence who desperately need help.
Shannon Thompson’s ‘Minutes Before Sunset’ is a story of Eric Wellborn, a shade destined to win a harrowing battle for the survival of his kind. However, when he meets an abandoned shade who possesses more power than he thought possible, he questions everything he thought he knew.
Then there is Jessica Taylor, who moves to Hayworth and longs to find her adoptive parents. Of course, she must maintain good grades, and Eric Wellborn doesn’t help her cause with his indifference. But she is determined to crack Eric’s cocky exterior, even if that means revealing what she’s trying to hide.
Keep in mind there are two point-of-views in this novel: Eric’s and Jessica’s. Both are equally intriguing, and, if you’re observant, you’ll figure out early on the significance of both POVs, which will leave you dying to keep turning the page. I finished the novel within two days and would have finished sooner, but I have little time for reading anymore, so it’s great that I finished this book as soon as I did. It’s been a while since I’ve read such a book that made me want to keep turning the pages.
At first, the plot seems simplistic: Eric is destined to win a war outlined in a prophecy in order to save his kind. Prophecies in themselves aren’t original, but what’s fascinating is that Ms. Thompson writes Eric in such a way that makes readers question how he can win such a war when he himself does not seem strong. What is even more fascinating is that there is more to the prophecy than even Eric, a first descendant (take this to mean someone important, powerful), is allowed to know. His character development is sharp too. He goes from being a cocky, indifferent boy, to someone who shows what he has been hiding all along. He makes sacrifices, even at the cost of his own life.
Then there is Jessica’s POV. Hers is a fascinating one because as a reader, you might question why her POV exists at all. But if you’re observant, you’ll quickly realize the connection between her chapter’s and Eric’s, and, as I’ve stated above, you’ll want to keep reading just to see how things play out. It’s one of those ‘reader knows, but character doesn’t’ kind of things, and those can be fun.
What I most enjoyed about the book were the descriptions, especially of the shades. Ms. Thompson did a stellar job of describing the shades and their powers. I could imagine shadows dripping, light sparkling and exploding, traces of light and shadows fanning out in iridescent strands; shadows pluming; and light bursting. The entire book is a chiaroscuro, and it is so easy to imagine the world of the shades. Eyes, especially, are an enormous motif in this book because shade eye colors differ from human eye colors: They can be a brilliant, almost unnatural blue, or a purple color. They are the windows to people who are otherwise trapped within themselves.
Overall, I give this book a 4.5 out of 5, just because some of the descriptions were repeated more than they should have been, like eye or hair color. Fans of paranormal or paranormal romance in general will enjoy this book. You can buy it on Amazon and Smashwords. You can also find Shannon Thompson here.
In issue 10 of The Corner Club Press, I will delve deeper into Mrs. Thompson’s book through a literary analysis, especially over how dark and light interweave to create a chiaroscuro art piece.
As a writer, I do know how to separate my writer’s side from my reader’s side. I mean, I will analyze the book and how it goes about telling the story, but I don’t let myself get hung up on the little stuff because the average reader doesn’t care, so why should I? In my own writing I get hung up on the little stuff, but I feel like we writers get so hung up on the little stuff that I often wonder why that is. Is it because it’s been pounded into our heads to obsess over the little stuff, or are we trying to appease the experts, wanting them to say we’re great writers because passive voice is nonexistent in our books (or something else readers really don’t care about)?
I’m here to say your average reader doesn’t care about that one time you used passive voice. Or even the five other times. They’re only going to start caring when it becomes obvious you’ve used it too much. You might have your reader who is also a writer or a reader who is a grammar Nazi, but I’ve never respected the latter and the former is probably why we obsess so much over the small stuff.
Readers also don’t care about ‘said bookisms’ or adverbs as much as we think they do. They only care if it’s used too much. But if you have one instance where you use an adverb instead of a stronger verb, your reader isn’t going to care. Only you will. And perhaps your editor. I just got back into AbsoluteWrite, and it kind of reminded me why I stopped: Because these writers are downright snobs, so obsessed with pounding out every grammatical detail that we forget the story is so much more important. It’s probably why I retreated to YALITCHAT, because we’re more concerned with the story and the reader than we are with the small stuff. If you’re on AbsoluteWrite, don’t take my above statement to mean you. It’s just my general experience. I feel like you can’t mention that you got published without some of these users scrutinizing you and the company who accepted you. That hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it.
I feel like many writers don’t look at their manuscripts with readers in mind. I feel like they think about the writers who are readers when going through and polishing everything. “Will this reader get on to me about this adverbs, or this passive voice, or this split infinitive (which, by the way, has no strong basis for why it can be used)?” We forget that when we go through, we have to think about the pure reader. The reader who only wants a good story, not a book that showcases examples of flawless grammar.
Does this mean we should eschew some of the small stuff? No way! That would be an insult to our readers. It’s like ballet dancers eschewing their technique because the average audience knows nothing on ballet. They might not care if you bend your knee on a pirouette, but we know a straightened knee is far more beautiful, and we want to give that type if beauty to audience members who shelled out a fortune on the tickets. You want to give your audience the best performance possible, and the best performance does include a highly-polished manuscript. But don’t be upset if you find you missed a piece of passive voice you meant to be active. Or that you even found a typo. The fact is, if the errors aren’t too much, your average reader will look at the story and nothing more–unless they are writers who are readers. These guys will tear apart self-published books for little reason other than being petty and trying to prove why the stigma exists. But they are not true reviewers in my mind.
Because I am a writer who naturally creates psychologically tortured characters, I decided I’d do a book review over a novel that came out in 2011 that I think does a good job of portraying a struggling teen with bipolar disorder.
Taylor is placed in a group home for teens struggling with mental illnesses, hers being bipolar disorder. There she meets a few other teens coping with their own illnesses who, Taylor soon discovers, do not take the program at Saint Jude too seriously, as they involve themselves in quirky antics that only serve to anger “Big Daddy,” the therapist and director. Soon “Big Daddy” leaves his position when something tragic happens, and Dalton replaces him. Dalton uses unconventional techniques to force the teens to face their own issues–and the tragic losses that occurred at Saint Jude.
This book attracted my attention because I was searching for a young adult book with a protagonist who suffered from bipolar disorder. I was tired of reading YA books that merely alluded to bipolar disorder because, of course, books like that never touch upon the intricacies this illness contains. Needless to say, Saint Jude did a marvelous job of expressing bipolar disorder, including a small manic episode Taylor has that ends in short-term hospitalization.
Taylor herself is an interesting character, not because of her illness, but because she does not fall into the woe-is-me trap that can happen when writing about a character with mental illness. Instead she accepts she struggles with bipolar and simply wants to move on with her life–if only she can get out of Saint Jude. The other teen characters are solid as well. Princess (her nickname) supposedly struggles with an anxiety disorder, but the other characters view her as spoiled because her anxiety occurs when she does not get her way. Reno struggles with depression and becomes Taylor’s main support. Blaine is schizophrenic and is not ashamed to admit that he has this illness. Isaac loses touch with reality every so often and has undergone several ECT treatments, a last resort method when meds fail. “Big Daddy” is the coddling sort of therapist that doesn’t make the teens own up to their own actions. Dalton is just the opposite: a no-nonsense therapist who does expect the teens to accept full responsibility for their actions.
However, while the characters are strong, the plot falls apart at the end and leaves me as a reader feeling both hopeless and disappointed because not everything seems tied off. The ending also felt rushed, as if the author tired of her own story. I felt hopeless at the end because as someone struggling with mental illness herself, it was rather discouraging (SPOILER) to find that none of the teens discover true happiness as an adult. I understand there are people struggling with mental illness who never get better, but the fact that none of the teens seem to get better leaves me with the feeling that the author is trying to point out that happiness is not possible for someone dealing with a mental illness. And while I enjoyed Dalton’s no-nonsense approach, his doom-and-gloom view of the world left an acrid taste in my mouth that made me wonder why anyone in the book is fighting at all when Dalton’s worldview makes fighting seem hopeless–even worse considering that he consistently shares this view with sensitive teens who do not need this.
Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of five. If you’re looking for a book with strong characters, this book is perfect. But if you’re someone struggling with mental illness and looking for a little bit of hope, this book is not for you.