Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

17-year-old Lola seems to have it all: an awesome best friend, a hot rocker boyfriend, and the coolest clothes. That is, until the dreaded Bell twins move back in next door. Cricket Bell is suddenly part of her life again, and her current relationship with Max seems to be developing some deep cracks. And what about the Marie Antoinette dress she’s making for the winter dance?

Stephanie Perkins’ sophomore novel is just as delightful and swoon-worthy as her 2010 Anna and the French Kiss, and readers who couldn’t get enough of Anna and Étienne St. Clair, will be thrilled that they make a reappearance that feels authentic and unforced.

Set against the backdrop of San Fransico, Perkins makes the city feel as dynamic as the characters themselves. You too will feel like you’re walking around the Castro district and living in an old Victorian just like Lola. One of the novel’s greatest strengths is how Perkins portrays Lola’s family. Lola has two gay dads, and by avoiding preaching about LGBTQ rights and presenting Lola’s family as perfectly normal, Perkins ends up makes a bigger statement. Additionally, unlike so many young adult fiction romances, Perkins’ characters are wonderfully realistic with legitimate shortcomings and quirks, and the love story unfolds in an incredibly lifelike manner.

It will be impossible to finish this novel without also falling in love with the boys and dreaming of creating outfits as awesome and daring as Lola’s. Move over Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins just might be the new queen of YA romance.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella’s Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

I finished The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler a few weeks ago, and I thought that I’d share my review with all of you this evening.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Josh and Emma had always been close friends until an incident the previous November, but when Josh gives Emma an AOL CD-ROM for her new computer their lives collide once again as they embark on an amazing digital adventure. Not only does Emma have access to the limited internet content of the late nineties, but she also discovers her Facebook profile fifteen years in the future. During a whirlwind week, Emma and Josh are faced with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to change their future through deliberate actions now or to let their lives unfold naturally.

While the perspective alters from Josh to Emma every other chapter (written by Asher and Mackler, respectively) the book reads fluently with no disruption in style. Also, by writing for their own gender, Asher and Mackler create a more realistic tone for the characters than you find in most YA novels. For those of us old enough, this book will bring back nostalgia of the nineties, the days when using the internet meant listening to the funky noises of a dial-up connection and websites could take (gasp!) over thirty seconds to load, while younger readers will wonder how we all managed to survive without cellphones and Youtube. But perhaps the book’s greatest strength is the way in which you, the reader, will find yourself pondering Josh and Emma’s dilemma long after you finish the final pages. Would you change your future if you could?

If you’d like, you can leave your answer to Josh and Emma’s dilemma in the comments. I’d love to hear what you all think.

Also, I’m looking for some fun ideas for challenges I can do in the coming weeks. I’ve got about eleven days before Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and my daily writing schedule has been getting a little monotonous. Any post ideas or things you’d like to see me complete? You can also ’em in the comments along with your answer to the first question.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella and Holden Caulfield

I am currently in a writing and talking time-out because I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye (for the millionth time) and can’t stop talking and writing like Holden Caulfield. Also, the book makes me cry a lot. Because there is nothing more upsetting than sitting on the edge of that cliff between childhood and adulthood. And sometimes, I want to be with Holden, running interference in that field of rye, stopping the children from falling over the edge. Grabbing their little bodies in bear hugs, trying to let them remain blissfully ignorant of all the hurt and badness in the world for just a little bit longer. But that would never work. We’re all supposed to fall over that edge at some point and tumble down the rocky cliff.

I think that the act of falling is both the scariest and the most important part of your life, that time when you know that you’re not a kid anymore, but you haven’t hit the ground and become an adult yet. You can see the ground rushing up underneath you, and your body is painfully tensing for impact because the closer you get, the more your blithe assumptions are shattered. It becomes suddenly apparent that adults aren’t these foreign, super-hero or villain characters. They’re just as human and fallible as everyone else. It’s like falling in love with a celebrity or someone else you hardly know and then discovering what they’re really like. And it’s such a crushing diappointment.

When I was a kid, I had two theories about the world, and I don’t know which was more insane. I thought that some people were born adults, that was the way they always were, and when they talked of their childhood, it was all a lie and they were just preprogrammed to say it. And if that wasn’t it, I was convinced that I was the only real being in the world and everyone else was made up. Now, I know that the first one can’t possibly be true because as of now I’m pretty much what I had formerly deemed a preprogrammed adult, and I sure as heck wasn’t born yesterday. It took me eighteen years and close to five months to get to this point. All of those things in my childhood when I was running through the rye really did happen. But I’m still not sure about the second. It’s downright selfish and I don’t think about it a lot, but if it is true, then this is one heck of an interesting dream or experiment.

What really gets me about the book, though, is just how much Holden is hurting because he knows he’s falling, and he’s petrified. That scene where Phoebe asks him what he really likes and all he can truthfully say is her and Allie kills me. It just kills me. But it’s a book, and I can’t run screaming through the streets of New York City looking for Holden so that I can tell him that it’s alright and that I understand. But even if I could do that, I don’t think he’d accept my help–he just doesn’t seem like the type. But I want to. I want to so much that it makes me crazy.

I get hung up on that scene where he’s playing checkers with Jane and she starts crying, so he goes over and sits next to her on the glider and starts kissing her anywhere on her face but her mouth. And I think that that’s one of the best parts of the novel because it’s so impossibly kind and good. Holden’s just comforting her the best way he knows how, but he never ends up getting that from anybody in return. I find myself rereading it over and over and crying. And the hand-holding with Jane–that gets me too. But everything in that book makes me cry: from the descriptions of the Museum of Natural History to his memories of James Castle and the turtleneck sweater.

I can’t even put into words how much this book affects me and how much I care for Holden. It just makes me all achy in my solar plexus*. But what I really mean to say is that I love Holden, and I want to comfort him so badly, and I can’t, and that hurts.

I don’t really know how all of this reads or if it actually makes sense. I just know that I’m also falling and as much as I’m scared, I’m fascinated with the whole process. I could spend my whole life thinking about that fall, and in many ways, I want to. I’m trying desperately to write a novel about it, and I want to keep writing story after story of people falling. A million bildungsromans.

And I don’t ever want to forget about this falling, the way that it seems most people do or deny how difficult it is. Because right now, that seems like the biggest problem with adults. They get too focussed on their patterns of living, of going to work, fixing dinners, raising children, to really think–and I mean think–about growing older. Not in the way that their hair is turning grey and their eyesight is degrading, but what’s going on inside their heads and what happened and changed in there when they were younger.

* And I know that solar plexus sounds all weird and scientific, but I can never make myself say gut or stomach because those both aren’t even remotely true. And I hate it when people say stomach when they’re referring to their abdomen. If they’re going to be inaccurate, they should at least say small intestine, because that thing takes up an awful lot of space.

In other news, there is someone in a SUV in front of my neighbors’ house, waiting for their daughter to run outside and honking, never mind the fact that it’s one a.m. Apparently, the people in the car have forgotten the concept of ringing a doorbell or using their cellphone to alert them that they have arrived. There are so many families with young children on this block that really do not need to be woken up. And whoever is driving that car has obviously never before tried to put a crying two-year-old back to bed.

You can also find me lurking about on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

Ella’s Shocking Discovery

Today, I discovered something shocking: Not everyone likes The Great Gatsby.

To be clear: Some part of me always knew that this was true. Not every person likes every book. But the knowledge that someone would vehemently dislike what I deem to be the masterpiece to end all masterpieces is very difficult to comprehend.

This should not have made me cry.

Or sulk in my room for the next hour.

But it did.

Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be a better day.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Reviews The Name of the Star

It’s 2011, not 1888, but Jack the Ripper is loose in London, and once again he’s impossible to catch. Murdering women and this time also men right in front of the watchful eyes of the CCTV cameras, he’s recreating each of the six murders down to the exact dismembering of the bodies. And just like in 1888, he has the attention of the entire world.

Enter Rory, a seventeen-year-old girl from Louisiana attending Westford, a London boarding school. One night Rory catches a glimpse of a creepy man walking away from the scene of the fourth murder, the man the police believe to be their prime suspect. But there’s a catch—only Rory was able to see him, not even her roommate who was with her at the time or the CCTV camera pointed directly at the crime.

The Name of the Star will send tingles up your spine as you uncover the reasons for why only Rory can see the Ripper and keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow her attempts to catch him. But the book is more than just your average YA thriller. Sure, it’s got suspense and plenty of action, but it’s also a story of friendship in light of troubling times. Despite branching out into a new genre, Johnson retains her humorous and witty style that her fans adore. She will make you laugh out-loud with her descriptions of Rory’s family back home, her negligee-wearing grandmother and uncle who freezes jars of peanut butter and yogurt, and you’ll wish you had friends as loyal and fun as Rory’s new British ones. This book is impossible to put down and a must for the spooky Halloween season.

Warning: Do not read this thriller at night or you’ll find yourself unable to sleep for hours as every creak in the house sounds like the Ripper’s footfalls coming and closer to your bed.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Declares Her Love for the Night

Oh for goodness sakes am I tired. My eyelids burn, my head is heavy, and I want nothing more than to lean over, bury my head in the pillows, and just sleep. For hours and hours and hours. But it’s not exactly an option.

It is night, and I hate to waste it sleeping. These dark hours are my favorite. It’s as if I am the only one alive in the world, and I can do whatever I want without anyone ever seeing or knowing. I do my best writing after midnight, and I’ve grown accustomed to the clock showing one, two, even three in the morning before I drift off. But the exhaustion is worth it just to have those quiet hours where it’s only me and the crickets chirping.

Perhaps it’s because bad things never happen in the middle of the night, and you don’t have to deal with all of the sucky parts of the day. You’re running away from them, but this time it’s okay. You can’t be expected to fix an argument or stop being so depressed because everyone’s asleep and every place is closed. So it’s okay to pretend that everything is alright and that you’re gonna be okay.

And the cats are always up. They climb up on my bed. All three of them. Rolley fur-balls, nuzzling their wet noses and mouths against my hand and settling down in the most inconvenient places, forcing me to contort my body in order to share the bed. But I don’t mind. I think they might be the best companions in the world. But people are still pretty good, too.

Sometimes, you don’t have to share the darkness alone. Sometimes, there’s someone there with you to talk to and say things you never would if it were light out. The night makes life feel a little more safe to let down all of those barriers. I love talking on the phone, leaning halfway off my bed, seeing how close I can get my head to the floor before I overbalance and have to grab at the sheets to avoid falling. I love talking to people at sleep-overs until the wee hours and when they fall asleep in the middle of an answer, leaving me wondering how lucky I am to have friends like them.

But most of all, I love how not so many people like the night as much as I do. It’s my time, all for me, and it’s rare that I ever have to share it. I get to be horribly selfish with absolutely no consequences.

But as much as I’d like to, I can’t stay up until all hours tonight. I really ought to go to bed. Because tomorrow morning, I’m going on an adventure.

I’m taking my self to MoMA and to a book launch for Maureen Johnson’s In the Name of the Star. I might go my favorite book store and to nerdfighter MJ party. Maybe I’ll take some pictures to share. I’ll write in a park and make up stories while I’m riding on the subway. It’ll be amazing.

But when I come home, it’ll be dark again, and I’ll have these wonderful hours just to be, exactly the way I like it.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

I Have a Confession to Make: I Sleep With Books

Hello. I’m Ella, I’m seventeen, and I sleep with books.

It’s kind of a problem, you know, such hard rectangles do not make very good pillows, and they are often wont to leave curious red marks on your face and body when you lie on them for too long. Beds are made for people and animals, not things. Besides, wouldn’t it be so much better, if you didn’t have to worry about rolling over into a face full of paper?

Ah, but you don’t know what lovely bed-mates books make. They don’t snore or kick*, and they don’t hog the covers. They stay where you want them until you decide to move them, and they don’t wake up really early in the morning and leave you all alone**. They don’t even get annoyed when the cats sleep on top of them! And whenever you wake up or can’t sleep, they’re there, ready to do your bidding without complaint until you drift off again.

Right now, I’ve got four books neatly piled next to the pillows and three cats curled up on the bed. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fit, but we’ll make it work. We always do.

*About five years ago, Pippa and I had to share a bed at an hotel over Thanksgiving, and I woke up in the morning to discover that she had put her pillow on top of my bottom and was sleeping on it. I kid you not.

**It always freaks me out when I wake up and discover that whomever was in my bed when I fell asleep isn’t there anymore. In those first groggy moments of wakefulness, I become panicked that they’ve been abducted or abandoned me for good. Thankfully, the kidnappers tend to leave them in the kitchen, and the abandoners always seem to end up there, too. It must be the hip place to be at six a.m. I hear it’s got coffee and yogurt.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Being Horribly Selfish

I spent a good portion of today reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I picked up an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) a few days ago from my local bookstore because they wanted me to write a review for the store before the book comes out on September, 27th. And let me tell you, it is good. Like really, really good. It’s meal-skipping and sleep-depriving good. I don’t want to put it down.

I have suddenly found myself in desperate need of that teal feathered mask. Also, I need more teeth--my baby teeth and my few sharks' teeth just aren't cutting it--which is a reference you would get if you purchased the book, and you totally should. It's awesome.

A few minutes ago I opened up Laini Taylor’s blog, something I do a few times a day*, and read a few comments on one of her posts I had previously commented on. While I was doing this, my phone buzzed. I picked it up and saw that Stephanie Perkins, one of my favorite YA writers, had tweeted:

And I panicked. Disappointment washed over me like I had the desk under the emergency shower in AP Bio and someone had pulled down the lever, drenching me in cold water. I love this book, and I do desperately hope that Daughter of Smoke and Bone does make Laini Taylor very popular, but I want this to be my special thing and mine only. I don’t want to have to share her with other people.

I’m just going to have to settle for pouting and feeling smug that I got here first. And, you know, running around with the book held high over my head, demanding that anyone who will listen to me should read this book.

*I’ve been following her blog for years now.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

These Words Are Calm and Brown, the Color of Coffee Mixed With Milk

My dress smells like coffee, the way that all clothing and hair does when it stays inside of a coffee shop too long. Pippa and I sat for hours at a small table next to the window and an outlet as I wrote a incredibly long email to Sadie, and she annotated a book on the Founding Fathers. When she mentioned Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s duel, I laughed and tried to get her more enthusiastic about it. But twenty pages of dense academic writing can be boring if you’re not a history lover, so I just posted links to her Facebook wall in a half-joking manner. I doubt she’ll read any of the articles about the duel or Aaron Burr’s treason, but it felt nice to try to share something I feel so passionate about.

But I wasn’t thinking about Aaron Burr and the way that his name begins and ends with double letters or Alexander Hamilton and the fact that he wasn’t born in the United States when I first noticed the coffee smell that had infused my clothes and hair. I was just lying on my back, diagonal across the bed, staring at the ceiling. I had read the previews of Laini Taylor’s and Maureen Johnson’s new books earlier in the day, and I was hungry for more. Hungry in a way that made my neck hurt and my fingers tingle, because I wanted to grab those books and hole up in a corner of the house and just read. Read and read and read. But I couldn’t. They don’t come out until the end of September.

So I just lay there and thought about the way that the coffee smell was so close to that of cigarettes after you’ve been around somebody whose been chain smoking. The way that my clothing used to smell on Thanksgiving. Only the coffee doesn’t make me choke or give me headaches, or make me screw up my eyes and hold my breath as I move to someplace in the house that isn’t quite so full of smoke. But even though I hate, hate, hate cigarettes, I always associated the smell with love and smooth mashed potatoes and online poker and horse racing where you use fake money instead of credit cards and cold wind that turns my cheeks red when I run across the fairgrounds to play on the swings.

Coffee just smells like work.

So I closed my eyes, pulled my hair roughly out of its ponytail, draped the ends across my face, and just lay back. Because I needed some sort of good idea. Something to write that was proper fiction or at least something to turn into blog post. But nothing was coming. My mind was just blank and lethargic, the way it always is after I stay up too late for too many nights without taking any naps.

And I wished that I could have people to hang out with so that I didn’t have to write so many darn letters. Because I’m scared of this quote from a John Green novel, An Abundance of Katherines: “You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.”

But I didn’t cry because crying means admitting how lonely and jealous I sometimes am when all I want to be is happy and excited for everyone gone at college. I just opened my computer and wrote all of this down in some jumbled sort of mess because it sounded nice inside my head. It was calm and pale brown, like coffee mixed with milk after the swirling of the white against the dark brown has stopped, and it’s just one smooth color. And the words needed to find a home.

I Am In Love With the Impossible Miracle of the Universe

The day that I spent close to eight hours in the airport, I purchased The Year of Living Biblically from the airport bookstore. I’ve been reading it off and on since then, so one day when we were at the beach, I grabbed the book and headed down to the beach to read. My parents had just carried our kayak down, so while they swam the long distance to the buoy and back, I perched on the green hull and read the final fifty pages.

My parents are the two black dots on the left next to the buoy.

And when I finished, I slowly closed the book, dug my feet a little deeper into the sand and stared out across the beach in silence, letting people’s shouting, conversations, and the crashing of the waves becoming a dull buzzing in the background.

I slowed my breathing down and reached out for that periwinkle calm feeling that descends on me whenever I write or pray. I didn’t grab at it with needy fingers the way I am now as I desperately try to write blog posts for the coming days without power or the internet. I merely turned my hands palms up in my lap and waited. And it came with its softness and gentle weight, settling down over my shoulders and in the pit of my stomach.

Pressing my palms and fingers lightly together, I looked straight out over the water, let out a slow breath through my lips, and said, “Hello, God? Are you here, somewhere around me? I want to talk to you.”

I don’t pray very much. It’s more like a three to four times a week kind of thing for me, and it only ever happens when I’m really, really happy, really, really scared, or at church. Normally, I rush it, almost as if He wouldn’t hear it if I took more than a few minutes. But even if I’m trying to jam it all in in the minute of silence during Prayers of the People or in the few minutes following communion, I always ask permission. I know I never need it–God is always there, listening–but if I’m going to do something so terribly important, I want to make sure that we’re both entirely ready.

I waited a moment just feeling the pressure between my two hands and then said, “Hi, God. It’s me, Ella. I know that sounds just like the title of the Judy Blume novel about a girl named Margaret, but it sounds like such a nice opening to begin talking to you.”

And so I prayed, sitting there silently, trying to thank God for all that He has done for me. The clouds drifted slowly across the sky, and I thanked him for my friends, for my family, and I kept going until I was waxing poetic about the grains of sand clinging to my legs.

All of a sudden, the sky seemed to get a little brighter and the sun just a little bit warmer, but it wasn’t in a you-should-put-on-some-more-sunscreen sort of way–it felt like the miracle of the world was embracing me a little more tightly and that God was responding to my thanksgivings.

I don’t know how much I believe in the literal stories of the Bible sometimes, but I do know that some things are sacred, that there is some tremendous force of good and power that has given us the miracle of life, and that we must give thanks.

Out of all the ways that the particles from the Big Bang could have arranged themselves, this is the way they came to be. And from this arrangement, I had been chosen, also by chance, to be born. For a brief moment in time, I will have consciousness and experience this miracle; I will have the opportunity to experience the infinite good of the world. There will be other people from the same origins as me to interact with and there will be other animals with consciousness, and plants, and rocks, and all other sorts of inorganic materials, so much to explore and consider. It doesn’t matter how this was all created–it is a gift, and I will give thanks.

A little while later I stopped my prayers and examined my hands, still lightly held together. I traced the lines of the veins on the back of my hands and noticed for what felt like both the millionth and the first time, how I could watch the thin bones in my hand move as I wiggled my fingers. Beautiful, I thought, What a miracle.

If I were less self-conscious, I would have climbed up on the kayak and yelled, “I am in love with everything, dead and alive and about to be born! I am in love with this impossible miracle! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” But I didn’t, because people would have stared, and I probably would have frightened them. So instead, I did it in my mind. My voice rang out all the way across the ocean, and it was heard by all. And we all gave thanks together, a perfect harmony of thank you in an infinite number of languages to the air around us that would be heard across the universe and into the ears of God, wherever he may be.

Then, I stood up, carrying my book in my right hand and walked across the sand to the landing at the bottom of our street, up the stairs, and past the five houses between us and the sea to the back door, where I carefully brushed the sand off my legs and feet and walked into the house.

Back at the house everyone was moving around with the same speed they were before. Pippa and Jeanne were fixing themselves tall glasses of cold Gatorade, and my mother and my grandmother had started to fix dinner. There was a constant hubbub of noise and everyone seemed to in a hurry. Such a stark difference to what I had just experienced. I stood in the back hall for a moment, embracing my periwinkle feeling of calm before throwing it all off and diving back into reality.

“Did you get the yellow type of Gatorade, Mom?” I asked as I opened the refrigerator door to look for the bottle. “The red one tastes icky.”