Halloween skullI just finished the final book in Australian author John Marsden's amazing Tomorrow series. I've become very attached to main character Ellie and so immersed in the harrowing situations she and her friends have had to deal with since Australia was invaded in book one that I'm experiencing a good bit of withdrawal now.

This series is something I should've read ages back but somehow it slipped under my radar until YA author Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson recommended it to me months ago. So, thank you, Kathleen, and thanks, Marshal Zeringue, for having me over to Campaign for the American Reader where you can read some more of my thoughts on this mesmirizing series from the nineties.

Happy Halloween!
My Beating Teenage Heart
Years ago I used to have a bunch of movie review guides and in one of them (I can't remember who the reviews were written by in the specific book I'm thinking of but it definitely wasn't Roger Ebert and I don't believe it was Leonard Maltin either) the worst reviews earned a turkey rating so instead of any stars next to the movie title there was just a tiny turkey image.

turkeyAnyway, it happens that the Kirkus review of My Beating Teenage Heart is essentially a turkey review. Kirkus didn't go so far as to include a turkey icon but I'll do them the favour of adding it here. I'm guessing it's the same Kirkus reviewer who didn't like The Lighter Side of Life and Death because they both have an obvious fondness for ending on zingers.

Here's the last sentence of The Lighter Side of Life and Death review by Kirkus:

“For a summer novel focusing on love and lust, this barely causes the temperature to rise.”

And here are the closing words of their My Beating Teenage Heart review:

“Beats only with a dull pulse.”

BAM! KAPOW! ZOWIE! Take that hapless YA writer!

Now, we're all aware that it's par for the course that you'll be subjected to negative reviews sometimes if you're writing or performing so, although I would've much preferred a positive review, it's not the thumbs down in itself that particularly bothers me about the Kirkus review. No, it's that reviewer refers to one of the main characters, seventeen-year-old Breckon who feels responsible for the death of his little sister, as sulking and moping.

To me, moping suggests something like the following scenario — a kid who breaks his father's camera (an expensive piece of equipment that he was forbidden to use) is grounded and therefore not allowed to go to the local amusement park with his friends the next day. He's sure they're having an amazing time on the scrambler and tilt-a-whirl while he shuffles around the house, looking bored and feeling sorry for himself for missing out. Personally I'd consider that moping and sulking. What I don't feel qualifies as 'sulking' and 'moping' are grieving, suicidal thoughts and clinical depression, you know? There's a crucial distinction to be made there and while we're talking about fiction here, what does this review say to someone who is genuinely experiencing deep grief and/or suffering from depression? That real people don't ever feel this way and if they do their emotions are overwrought? And so those references to moping and sulking in the Kirkus review, they bother me a great deal.

Below are some real life stats and info about suicide, depression and complicated grief that I think it's extremely important to be aware of and take seriously.

Click any of the below to be taken to the original source of the information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the following signs that may signal that a depressed teen may be considering suicide:
If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is suicidal, get them professional help immediately. If you're a young person who is experiencing these feelings themselves or know someone who is please tell someone —a parent, teacher, counselor, someone who will be able to get help.

In Canada young people can call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. Other Canadian suicide hotline numbers are available here.
I'm having my own personal eighties week up here in Southern Ontario with a Howard Jones gig this past Tuesday and Duran Duran show tonight and believe me, the air around me is rife with nostalgia and excitement. I was an enormous fan of both musical acts when I was a teenager and that music still totally gets to me. I mean, I still feel wistful when I hear Duran Duran's Save A Prayer, charged up when I listen to New Moon on Monday and like I want to make peace with the whole world when Howard Jones sings Like to Get to Know You Well. My Simon Le Bon crush is recorded in my old school yearbook (in the form of a French poem) for everyone to see and Howard Jones has to be one of the most positive performers I've ever seen play live. That's as true now as it was when I saw him at the Kingswood Music Theatre and Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-eighties. He's infectiously warm, endearing and hopeful. How could you not love someone who sings about throwing off your mental chains?

Anyway, the funniest thing about the Howard Jones show (which was superb!) is that I've never seen so many people from a single demographic gathered in one place. Never. Literally ninety-nine percent of the people there were men and women I could've gone to high school with. The age range looked like it stretched from about three years younger than me to three years older and that—well it was kind of a shock. How did I get to be this old? Like, I must have fallen through a time portal or something because it doesn't seem possible. I know it's been a long time since high school (so long that it's highly possible I did go to high school with some of those folks at the show and just didn't recognize them) but I feel basically like the same person I was in university.

I guess maybe you always do because I could tell Howard Jones felt like the same person too. That's one of the things I love about seeing these fabulous acts that debuted in the eighties; they show those of us who grew up in the 80s and the bands/artists that played the songs that were the soundtrack to our lives that we're all still around doing our thing. So, hey, if in another twenty-plus years these guys are still touring I intend to still be in the audience, singing along to the songs I know by heart (even all those years later because, like Depeche Mode sang, I Just Can't Get Enough) and I'm guessing many of the people who I could've gone to high school with will be there too.

Eighties forever!

Update (October 28)

Now I can say I sang Happy Birthday to Simon Le Bon! Loved Duran Duran's mix of Wild Boys and Relax at the ACC last night. So great to see the band and audience having so much fun throughout the night.

I want to thank Marshal Zeringue for having me over to the My Book, the Movie blog where I got to assemble my dream cast (and director!) for a movie version of My Beating Teenage Heart. Thanks for indulging my Hollywood dreams, Marshal! The only cast hint I'm offering is the below photo (guess who?) so you'll have to jump over there to check out the list in its entirety.

My Beating Teenage Heart movie casring

I also want to thank Monica Kulling,creator of one of my favourite fictional pooches (the dapper Mister Dash of Merci, Mister Dash) for pointing me towards a fantastic new review of My Beating Teenage Heart in CM Magazine. I'm positively glowing after reading this review. I bet I'll still be lighting up the room when I switch off my bedside lamp to go to sleep later tonight.
Jamie Hubley and Mitchell WilsonWhen I saw the text and photo at the top of yesterday's Toronto Star something inside me broke. It's happened again. We lost a young person that should've had years and years left to shine and we lost them not to accident or disease, not to something that couldn't have been helped. We lost fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley, just like we lost eleven-year-old Mitchell Wilson and countless others before him, because he was relentlessly tormented by his peers to the degree that not living another day seemed like a better option.

There's a Japanese proverb that goes, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” This seems to be truer in our schools than it is almost anywhere else in our society. Schools should not be something that have to be survived, places where our young people have to twist themselves out of shape to avoid standing out.

Jamie Hubley was a kid I would've liked and one my fifteen-year-old self would've liked—a young man who loved music and singing, who preferred figure skating to hockey and who tried to make his school a better, more accepting place by starting a rainbow club. One of Jamie's friends had this to say about him, "It's hard to describe him in one sentence. I couldn't even describe him in a novel. He was so colourful. My favourite thing about him was how he would put his problems aside for others -- put everybody else first and then worry about himself later."

Jamie was the only open gay guy at his Ottawa high school. Imagine the kind of guts that takes, especially at just fifteen. By all accounts, Jamie had guts, heart and talent in spades. The world needs more of all of these things and I'm sad for Jamie and sad for all of us who are left in a place that is a dimmer in his absence.

It's hard for me not to hate the bullies who in seventh grade tried to stuff batteries down Jamie's throat on the school bus because he was a figure skater, hard for me not to hate the kids who tore down his rainbow alliance posters and the people who called him "fag." But I know hate isn't the answer. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

So if you see these horrible things happening at your school, or wherever you may be, don't let hate accumulate, unchallenged. I know there are situations where it may not feel safe to challenge the haters then and there. But you can tell someone afterwards. A teacher, a parent, a guidance counsellor, someone. And you can tell the person you saw or heard being bullied that you don't share the bullies' feelings. Anyone being bullied needs to know that they're not alone. Anyone bullying others (either emotionally or physically) needs to know it will not be tolerated. You need to stop. Right now. It's not funny and it's not okay. It doesn't make you a more powerful person. It diminishes you and when we let it continue it diminishes all of us.

None of us can afford to be bystanders. People's lives are at stake.

Meet Jamie Hubley. He was what one of his idols, Katy Perry, would've undoubtedly called a "firework". I won't let myself hate the people that made Jamie feel less than that but I will forever hate that we are without his light.

Late September/early October was a busy period as I tried to finish up line edits for book 5 but as you can see below I still took a little time out to read, wander and snap a few photos. This late September day at the beach spent reading Water Balloon was so gorgeous that I didn't want to go home.

Reading Water Balloon (by Audrey Vernick) on the beach in late September

Don't be fooled, these are inedible (though scrumptious looking!). In fact, they're soaps. It seems a bit unfair that something you can't eat would look this appetizing, doesn't it?

Flowers and sunny lake views seem especially precious in autumn.

Cupcakes, of course, are precious at any time of year. I had to go on the run from a wasp who wanted to steal this coconut iced one from me (and I fear wasps but I wasn't about to abandon my gorgeous cupcake on a rock by the lake).

Canadian Thanksgiving veggies courtesy of my aunt.

Thanksgiving veggies, October 9

A Thanksgiving decoration I stumbled on in town.

Thanksgiving decoration

Fudge galore in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Fudge in Niagara-on-the-lake

Me, hanging out with a polar bear in Niagara-on-the-lake's Christmas shop, October 11th.

C.K. and Polar Bear in Niagara-on-the-lake's Christmas shop

The temperature that day in Niagara-on-the-lake was a stunning 22 degrees Celsius and we made sure to stroll by the lake. Ahhhhh.

Gazebo view, Niagara-on-the-lake

I so wanted to take this little guy from the Christmas shop home with me if only my apartment weren't so small. I'm sure someone else will snap him up soon.

Cuteness in the Niagara-on-the-lake Christimas shop

And here are a few more photos from that day in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Wherever you're reading this from I hope the season has been as kind to you!
With line edits, Canadian Thanksgiving baking and feasting and a day trip to Niagara-on-the-lake all freshly behind me I feel like I have some big-time catching up to do on the blog. I want to start by thanking the fabulous Audrey Vernick (author of Water Balloon and Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten) for having me over to her bloggy home to talk about My Beating Teenage Heart and other bookish stuff. She's also giving away a copy of the book so if you think you'd like to read it, jog on over to her blog for a chance to win. Don't miss the photos of her adorable new puppy Hootie while you're there!

But that's not all, I'm giving away a copy of Audrey's exceptionally loveable new book, Water Balloon, along with My Beating Teenage Heart swag and Bronxwood (by Coe Booth) via The Secret Life blog and there's only one day left to enter. One day! Yikes.
water balloon, bronxwood, my beating teenage heart

Photos snapped during the last few weeks to follow!

So I'm in the middle of line edits for book 5 but I couldn't let another day go by without announcing some very exciting news—My Beating Teenage Heart is Amazon's Best Book of the month in Young Adult for October. See it on the right side of the page there? Wow. I'm so excited to see it up there with The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), The Death Cure (James Dashner) and How to Save a Life (Sara Zarr). Pinch me!

Away by Teri HallI also want to point you in the direction of a wonderful review for the book up at Mabel's Fables. This stunning review by Shanti makes me very proud indeed. I noticed a fabulous review of Teri Hall's Away (the sequel to The Line) posted there too. Having loved The Line I'm really excited to read this sequel. Hopefully soon after those line edits are done! With a deadline two days after Canadian Thanksgiving (October 10th), though, I'm going to have to pause book-work on the weekend to bake a couple pear pies. My stomach is getting grumbly at the thought.

I'll also be pausing to vote in Thursday's provincial election, of course, and I'm hoping a whole lot of Ontarians are as worried about what a Conservative hat trick would do to this place as I am.
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