Women in Horror Month: David Simms Interviews Lauren Oliver

And now, for Women in Horror Month,  reviewer David Simms interviews Lauren Oliver.   

Lauren  is the author of many YA novels, including theDelirium trilogy, Before I Fall,  and Panic (soon to be a movie). She has also written for adults (Rooms) and children( The Spindlers and Liesl & Po). Her newest book, the YA thriller Vanishing Girls, will be released in March of 2015.

Lauren enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, dancing, running, and making up weird songs. She divides her time between Brooklyn, upstate New York, and various hotel rooms.


Dave: In Vanishing Girls,  mental health is a major issue.  Thank you for delving into this. As a special education teacher/therapist for teens, I don’t see enough writers tackling it. Do you think it’s something teens (both sexes) need to be aware of?

Lauren: Well, yes, sure–I think everyone of almost every age should be educated about various kinds of mental illnesses and, more generally speaking, about the diversity of human experience. It’s funny, I never set out to write about mental health issues or about “difficult” topics; I simply write what I know. And I know people with mental health issues, and addiction disorders, etc. It’s part of the human condition.


Dave: Following this, most writers I’ve met, from the biggest in the world down to the scribblers and wishers, have demons they have battled. You really hit on some tough points for teens. Do you feel that embracing your past helps you as a writer and subsequently helps your readers?

Lauren: Yes, absolutely–writers are always on some level writing about their own experiences, things they’ve known, perceived, thought about, dreamed of. The same is true of me. I don’t consciously choose to broach difficult topics or to show teens struggling with difficult scenarios; that’s a reflection of my memories and also my understanding of the emotional content of adolescence, how tough and alienating it can be.


Dave: At a major conference recently, I listened to a panel of “adult” writers who are jumping into the YA fray. They were saying that they can knock out a YA novel in full within 6 weeks.  As a published YA author myself, I was frustrated to see YA treated dismissively. Your take?

Lauren: Well, I mean, I don’t know the context of that comment; YA books can be shorter than adult books, which obviously influences how long they take to write. But I would venture to wonder whether the books that authors brag about spending less time and attention on become successful efforts, whether they attract critical praise or the devotion and care of readers? I mean, anyone can write a kind of so-so book, for any audience, in any amount of time. Good books require attention and editing and long term care, for the most part. Then again, some writers are simply fast.


Dave: The sisters in Vanishing Girls display the fragility of sibling relationships and rivalry as well as family dynamics. Do you receive a lot of communication from readers who are seeking guidance?
Lauren: I’ve always received a lot of messages from people who empathize with my books and their main characters, yes. Some of them are seeking guidance and direction but most of them just want to reach out–they find the guidance, I think, in the books themselves.


Dave: The amusement park setting of Vanishing Girls is just great. Is this something straight out of your past?

Lauren: Ha, no. I wish! I was a lifeguard in high school. But I like amusement parks as much as the next girl.


Dave: What are your plans for your next book? Any issues you’d love to tackle or think need to be that haven’t been brought to the spotlight? Is there anything off limits to you?

Lauren: I don’t approach books by identifying issues I want to tackle, although all of my books do end up tackling some heavy issues because that has been my experience of the world and one of the purposes, I think, of writing books in the first place. My next standalone YA, Broken Things, will therefore deal with guilt and criminalization and also with the unhealthy dynamics that can sometimes develop between female friends–but the idea came to me not through its themes but because I became inspired by a real-life criminal case.


Dave:  In terms of research, planning, etc., what’s your favorite part of the writing process before sitting down to immerse yourself? What helps you write?
Lauren: Oh, the writing always comes first, the planning and research later, even though I know that sounds weird. I always “write my way in,” meaning that I just sit down for 15-20K words and feel my way through the language into the characters and the world. Then I sit down and think critically about an outline, about the central conflicts and antagonists, etc.


Dave: As a psychologist and therapist/teacher, I often ask other professionals how their childhood impacted career choices and how they go about helping the next generation. Teens today face many new issues and new slants on the ones we grappled with. What role do you believe teachers/guidance counselors have today?
Lauren: That’s a tremendously difficult question for me to answer. I can’t imagine the kind of pressures kids are facing today, but I can venture to guess that they would need the influence of guidance, care, and attention now more than ever, and in particular that they would find great value in face-to-face communication and conversation.


Dave:  Do you meet your readers mostly via social media, school/library/bookstore visits, or at conventions?

Lauren: All of the above!


Dave: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and who gave it?

Lauren: My dad–he taught me to write every day.


Dave: What/who are your influences, past and present? When did you know you had to write for a living?

Lauren: I’ve always known I had to write, but I never at any point thought it had to be “for a living” (either then or now!). At a certain point I started writing novels, and at a certain point after that I decided to try and get them published, and at a certain point after that they did get published. But the publishing is only incidentally related to my great love of writing, in a way, which is an intrinsic part of who I am. As for influences, there are simply too many to list.


Dave: Monster Librarian is spotlighting women authors next month (and should EVERY month). I see more females reading in my schools than males, yet while when I was growing up, the trend appeared to be reversed. Why do you think this might be happening?

Lauren: That’s very surprising, actually–when I was a kid, I felt the girls read more than the boys, but then again, that is likely because my sample was quite skewed. In any case, I’m thrilled to hear that girls as well as boys are reading and hope that the continued efflorescence of fabulous literature for teens and children will just encourage more and more kids to read.


Thank you, Lauren, for answering our questions!

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Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

41YXLUVOGlL._SL250_Young adult fiction has been getting darker and more realistic with each year.  Lauren Oliver has been at the helm for much of it, beginning with Before I Fall and followed by the immensely successful Delirium series.  While dystopian YA has been the main thrust of the genre for years, culminating with The Hunger Games and Divergent, teens also have been clamoring for something more personal.

Oliver has delivered both over the past the few years and with Vanishing Girls, has hit it out of the park with an unsettling, dark tale that will resonate with the reader long after the book is closed.  She knows teens well, how they speak, act, and think.  It shows on the page in a brisk read that will fly by.

The book begins with notes from a therapist which immediately suggests things will not be as they appear. Sisters Dara and Nick have always been close, sharing their worlds. Nick is the quieter, reserved sibling, while Dara’s wild side tends to be well explored  They are competing for a common love interest: Parker, the boy next door, who lends a natural tension to the story.  A car accident shreds their relationship and much more when Dara is left facially disfigured, and shuns her sister.  What ensues is a jump down the rabbit hole, in which the reader is twisted and turned through phases of reality. The characters are more complex than those typically found in YA fiction, and face issues that teens do face, ignoring any sugarcoating.

Nick takes a job at a local amusement park, which brings her into another world,  showing what happens behind the bright lights, and after the midway and rides shut down. Just as the reader might think the story is becoming a romance, the dark sets in, as a young girl goes missing.  As Nick delves into the mystery of the missing girl, Dara disappears.

Oliver builds suspense steadily, and keeps the plot unpredictable, drawing on the complexity of the characters. The ending is satisfying and completely worth the wait. Oliver has crafted a near perfect thriller, and her writing improves with each subsequent book.

Recommended for middle school and high school libraries, for mature teens and older,Vanishing Girls, in addition to being a great thriller, can be an excellent learning experience about mental illness for many and show others that they’re not dealing with the issues alone.

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Review: Robot God Akamatsu by James Biggie, illustrated by Frankie B. Washington

41tHHM0z4xL._SL250_Robot God Akamatsu is the first volume of a YA graphic novel series. Back in the days of Atlantis, humanity was protected by the titular Robot God Akamatsu and the three pilots who operated the robot god from a space station orbiting the Earth. To engage the Robot God, they would invoke the term Deus Ex Machina, which translates literally to “god from the machine”.

In the present day, Akamatsu is recovered and brought back online in time to fight his brother, URU. URU is the lord of Kaiju (sea monsters) and is currently exiled to a place called the Abbation plane. Now that Akamatsu has been awoken, URU plots to use the Robot God’s power source to bring URU and his horde of monstrous warriors to Earth. For once, the action all occurs around the city of Boston, and New York City is spared destruction.

This is a very fun graphic novel. I would like to see Biggie and Washington create further installments in the epic battle of Akamatsu and URU. This is recommended for readers of comic books, and lovers of Kaiju and classic robot sci-fi. If you enjoyed Pacific Rim, this is the graphic novel for you. Recommended.

Contains: Comic book mayhem

Reviewed by Benjamin Franz

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Review: The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

In The Book of Dead Days, Marcus Sedgwick introduces us to Boy, a teenage orphan who is the servant and apprentice to a stage magician named Valerian. Valerian is on a quest to find a book that will help him get out of a deal he made with supernatural forces to give up his life in return for material wealth. When the manager of the theater they perform at is murdered, Willow, also an orphan, joins them on their journey in order to escape the prison where they are all being held as suspects.  Sedgwick does a really good job of painting a picture of the bleak city where the story takes place. A feeling of gloom pervades the story, and there is an unmistakable feeling of mystery surrounding Valerian’s quest.

Unfortunately for the reader, however, Sedgwick establishes story threads that have importance to the plot, but he fails to follow through, leaving loose ends that include a serial killer left on the loose, and the mystery of the identity of Boy’s parents.  Sedgwick is also vague when it comes to explaining the relationships and history between characters, leaving the reader with more than one “Huh?” moment.   Ultimately, the reader feels unsatisfied by the dangling plot threads and unexplained relationships. Although this book has a sequel, it still needed to satisfy on its own. The sequel to this book is The Dark Flight Down. Contains: violence and murder.

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Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gris Grimly

Four of Poe’s classic tales are presented here. In The Black Cat, a man blames his black cat for his descent into murder and madness, The Masque of the Red Death is a tale about nobles who hole up in a castle in an attempt to escape the disease that is ravaging the countryside. Hop-Frog is a story about a diminutive jester ordered to entertain a cruel king, and The Fall of the House of Usher, tells of a visitor’s journey and arrival at to a cursed family’s mansion .

These tales  have been brought to life with  vivid illustrations by Gris Grimly.  These vary from the dark and disturbing to the light and whimsical. Although Poe’s tales can be found in a variety of books and formats, this book stands out. Grimly’s art may attract teens who might be intimidated by the traditional presentaion of Poe’s work. Grimly’s illustrations have the feel of a touch of madness to them and complement Poe’s tales perfectly, providing  a great hook for reluctant readers.

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Review: Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac retells a tale from the Mohawk Indians about a man who was so hungry he ate his own flesh, leaving nothing but a skeleton, and then ate the rest of his family with the exception of a young niece. In Bruchac’s story, Molly’s parents mysteriously disappear one evening without a trace. Molly is convinced that they will come back and maintains the illusion of going through her school day until social services finds her living at home alone and takes her into protective custody. Molly is then introduced to a long lost uncle that she has never met or heard of, who is supposed to take care of her.

Her “uncle’ acts strangely and locks Molly in her room every night…. could this long lost uncle be the skeleton man? Skeleton Man is a great book for younger teens. Bruchac does a fantastic job of building suspense through out the book and teasing the reader with the idea that Molly’s “uncle” is really the skeleton man out of Mohawk tradition. Recommended for school libraries for upper elementary and junior high school level reading and public libraries. Contains: descritpion of cannibalism.

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Review: Clay by David Almond

In Clay, David Almond introduces us to David, an altar boy who occasionally drinks a little extra communion wine and smokes stolen cigarettes with his friend Geordie.  David’s life changes when he befriends Stephen Rose,  a new arrival in town, at the request of the local priest. Stephen turns out to be a gifted sculptor.  As his friendship with Stephen grows, David learns that Stephen has the ability to mesmerize people and that he had been kicked out of his school for playing with the dark arts. Stephen shows David that together they have the ability to animate some of Stephen’s clay sculptures.

David and Stephen build a huge clay figure, and bring it to life, but David becomes afraid and runs off.  David finds out the next morning that the neighborhood bully, who has given David a hard time,  has been found dead.  The rest of the day clay creature follows David around waiting for his command.  When David tries to put the clay automaton down he sparks a confrontation with Stephen, resulting in Stephen escaping and the end of their creation.  The story is character driven, and Almond does a great job of developing David into a sympathetic and tormented character.  Some of the dialogue, however, may be difficult to read or understand.

Potential readers should be aware that , although the title and cover art suggest otherwise, the clay creature appears only toward the last half of the story and isn’t really the focus or even the source of the terror in the book for David.  Stephen Rose who goes from being an awkward new kid to a manipulative destructive evildoer, is the true monster.  An interesting take on the creation of a golem, Clay ends up being a solid story.  Recommended addition. to YA collections.

Contains:  some kissing and a description of a murder.

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Review: Ghosts of Albion: Initiation, by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden

Ghosts of Albion: Initiation introduces us to the Victorian world of William and Tamara Swift. The siblings have abruptly discovered they have inherited their grandfather’s responsibilities as magical protectors of Albion, the soul of England, when he is killed in front of them by were-beasts. Aided by the ghosts of Bodicea, Lord Byron, and Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, William and Tamara must defeat supernatural enemies and protect the people they care about. 

Ghosts of Albion was developed by Benson and Golden as an online animated show created for the BBC. Initiation consists of the scripts for the first episode, “Legacy,” the third episode, “Embers,” and a short piece, “Illusions,” that provides some backstory on Nigel Townsend, a crucial character in both episodes. On paper the dialogue seems a little over the top, but it works in the context of the show. The brother/sister relationship, witty banter, ghostly characters, and a creative take on horror and fantasy conventions (zombie monkeys?) make Initiationan engaging and entertaining stand-alone read and an intriguing introduction to the show. Contains: violence, murder, demonic possession.
The episodes of the show may be watched at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ghosts/

Entry by Francesca the Librarian

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Review: Devil’s Footsteps by E.E. Richardson

When Bryan was ten, his older brother, Adam, disappeared, taken by the Dark Man. At fifteen, Bryan meets Stephen, who has seen the Dark Man, and Jake, who has had his best friend taken by the Dark Man. The three boys go on a quest to uncover the secret of the Dark Man and find a way to stop him. Devil’s Footsteps is plain old fashioned creepy supernatural horror. Richardson writes a brilliantly crafted tale that invokes a shudder when you read it. The Dark Man in the story is able to use the children’s fears against them which leads to some truly twisted scenes. This is a book is for those looking for something truly unnerving and scary to read. There is no romance subplot, and it really isn’t a buddy book. It goes for the creepy factor and it delivers.

I recommend this book as a fine addition to any teen horror section. Contains: some gore and horror situations.

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Review: The Hollow: Mischief by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore

hollowmischieThird in the series, the continuing saga of siblings Aimee and Shane Lancaster, descendants of Ichabod Crane, who is responsible for the many demons, spirits, and creatures that haunt Sleepy Hollow.  Aimee and Shane feel a duty to track down and stop these critters that their ancestor has unleashed upon the town.  In this installment, vandalism has run rampant, causing a great amount of damage and a few fatalities.  The blame for these events has been laid at the feet of Mark Hyde, one of Shane and Aimee’s friends and it is up to them to uncover what is causing the mayhem and stop it.

This book is as focused on Mark Hyde as it is on the mischief going on in Sleepy Hollow and the attempts to stop it.  There also is the continuing development of the relationship between Shane and his sister’s friend Stasia.  This book turns into one part horror book and one part teen romance.  For this series you really need to read the books in order to understand the relationships between the characters.  A complaint that I have about this book in particular is that Golden and Gilmore throw in characters just to kill them off: if the authors had fleshed the characters out enough so the reader could care about them, it would have made a much more engaging story.

The book that follows this is The Hollow: Enemies.   

Contains: murder by supernatural creatures.

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