Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Another Day

Another Day Another Day by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started and finished this book tonight, if that tells you how much I got into it! I loved Every Day, and it was one of my favorite books by David Levithan, along with Love is the Higher Law. I was even more swept up with this one! I could really relate to Rhiannon's character because I've been in her emotional place, both more recently and as a teenager. She wants so badly to connect to people, but isn't sure how to go about it, and A teaches her how to truly open herself up. I was so intensely involved with the book that the last lines made me cry! In short, it was beautiful. To the scholar in me, it brought up so many important issues about embodiment, sexuality, and gender as a social construction. On a personal level, it made me think a lot about why we fall in love with the people we do and why some of us stay in relationships that only drag us down. I was glad that Rhiannon started to realize that she deserved better. David Levithan really knows characters; he reminds me of Joss Whedon that way. I am a bit of a Levithan fangirl, which is why I follow him around at book events the way some teenagers follow rock stars around at concerts. :) But seriously, I felt like Rhiannon was the kind of person who could be my friend and that A was the kind of person whom I could fall for. It sounds a little corny, but this book helped me to entertain the idea that true love exists, and I really needed that. Also, it reminded me of the value of friendship and staying true to oneself. I appreciated the balance between realism and optimism, and Levithan's books always leave me feeling better about the world. Seriously, friends, read this book! You'll be glad that you did. It made me feel reconnected to the world and optimistic. :) Well done, David Levithan, and I look forward to hearing you speak again.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a very enjoyable read, and the world building was amazing! I felt like I was there in the middle of the fairy tale/fantasy world with Agnieszka and her loved ones. Now, I want to know more about the Polish fairy tale it was based on! It was refreshing to read a YA novel with a plot not entirely based on romance, and the end had great twists to it. It's like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones with Girl Power. I don't want to say too much more and give it away, but…read it, please!

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Writing: My Six Word Memoir

Makes waves, reaches stars and sunsets
(My own six word memoir)

In honor of my student teachers, past and present, who inspire me with their cool lesson plans, including six word memoirs

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why I Love Female Comic and YA Heroines

Right now, in preparation for my comprehensive exams and the Dragoncon YA literature panels, I am reading voraciously. I am an avid reader to begin with, but between my theoretical framework course this semester and my comps essays, I am going to be reading even more obsessively than usual. I know, that's scary, right? Friends and family, be warned ahead of time that you might have to drag me out of my cove and take me out for a glass of wine occasionally. I know I have often been the one to initiate social activities in the past, but I can feel that tide starting to shift a bit for the next two years….

That said, my reason for being obsessed with these comic and YA lit. stories about females with supernatural/magical powers is not only academic, but not personal.  For instance, I am currently reading the amazing novel Uprooted by Naomi Novik. The author has an interest in Polish fairy tales, and the academic in me wants to know which ones influenced the writing of this novel. The personal side of me completely relates to the protagonist, Agnieskza. At the start of the book, she thinks she is plain and ordinary compared to Kasia, her best friend. She is sure that the mysterious wizard known as "the Dragon" is going to choose Kasia, since she is beautiful and stands out in the crowd. But then, surprise, the wizard chooses Agnieskza, and I won't give any more away because I want you to read the book, but….her life completely turns around, and she becomes much better at asserting herself and taking charge. She also discovers that she has capabilities that she was not at all aware of.

I can relate to this character because first of all, I do not feel that I stand out in a crowd nearly as much as some members of my family. I do not have straight, perfect blond hair, I am not super thin, and I am not as academic inclined as either one of my parents, my sister, or my cousin. I am more charismatic once people get to know me, but I am not initially a charismatic powerhouse, and some members of my family are, or were while they were still alive. On the surface, I am pretty ordinary compared to the rest of my family, and I was definitely a plain Jane as a child. But then, two very pivotal moments in my life changed my self-perception.

The first was that at age 15, I had reconstructive jaw surgery. The surgery got rid of my rather large and excessive overbite, along with braces, and while I still didn't look like a beauty queen, I wasn't "ugly" either. I no longer felt the desire to wear an invisibility cloak. I was actually okay with letting people see me, in addition to hearing me. Friends who knew me before and after say they saw a change not only in my face, but also in my personality. It's sad that someone has to have reconstructive jaw surgery to feel normal, but that's what it took for me.

Then, in my early thirties, I…drumroll…went back for my Ph.D.! Honestly, there was a time in my life when I didn't think I would do this. I didn't think I was cut out for a Ph.D. program. Although I think I always had the potential for it, I don't think I was mature enough for it in my twenties. Some people are, and some aren't. I don't think I was. My time table is different from other people in my family who obtained Ph.D.'s, but I think we all did it at the right time for us and learned of some of our unrecognized potential.

So yes, I relate to Kamala Khan because she never thought that she, as a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey, would become the next Ms. Marvel. But she did, and she's becoming an even more awesome and bad ass superhero as the series evolves:

I think my mom and otter women of her generation would identify with Wonder Woman, the first big superhero who had her own comic. I give mad props to the women who were among the first female doctors, lawyers, professors, and educated women in general out there:

Women closer to my age tend to identify with Buffy and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would say I am Willow, the academic girl who evolves into a powerful witch. Others are Buffy, the girl with a rebellious streak who is sometimes misunderstood, but actually does really good things for people.  

And yet others will identify with the heroine Echo in another awesome book I just read, The Girl at Midnight. Echo, like many of these other female protagonists, realizes she is way more powerful than she realized: 

For me, getting a Ph.D. has helped me to realize research and writing potential that I never thought I had. I do need to credit the great mentors I've had at UGA, in all of my degrees, for helping me tap into it. Also, I had to learn to believe in myself. So, once at fifteen, and another time at around 33, I shape shifted, or changed into another version of myself that was better. I am not going to say "I became who I really was" because I'm beginning to believe that our identities are constantly in flux and that we should continue to grow and change throughout our lives.  

Everyone's story is different, and everyone's unforeseen potential is different. But if you have someone in your life who perceives himself or herself as ordinary, but actually has great potential, I hope he/she takes heart from some of these superhero stories. They remind us that we all have great gifts to contribute to the world, if we use them right.   

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Interpretive Autoethnography

Interpretive Autoethnography Interpretive Autoethnography by Norman K. Denzin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so interesting and helped me to better understand auto ethnography, a methodology I have used in my writing and that I hope to incorporate into my dissertation. I am interested in critical and interpretivist lines of thought, so this book helped me to better understand the theory and the practice behind autoethnography. The book also does an excellent job of explaining how performance-based ethnography and autoethnography should be evaluated differently from other forms of research and also why they are such important contributions to humanities and social science research. Also, it was accessible.

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Review: Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book really, really impressed me! It made me think, and it will make me think for days about issues that face women, particularly African-American women, in this country. I'm so glad I read it. I believe it will help me with my comprehensive exams and with my dissertation. Melissa V. Harris-Perry is an active Unitarian Universalist, and I currently attend the UU Fellowship in Athens, so I am interested to learn more about her life story and her work. I appreciate her emphasis on activism and thoughtful examination of gender, religious, and political issues in this book. I was amazed with this book!

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

My Writing "Awakeners": The Most Inspirational Children's and YA Author Events I Have Attended, So Far!

Recently, I read Kate Bolick's new book Spinster, in which she describes several women writers who have inspired her to live bravely, creatively, and unconventionally. Fortunately, I have met numerous YA writers who have inspired me to continue to study this wonderful genre, to write myself, and to embrace my creative spirit. I definitely encourage my fellow YA lit. lovers to attend some of these wonderful events and bookshops, and to bring your kids, if you have them. And I just could not narrow my favorite YA events down to ten, so I did eleven. I'm sure before too long, I'll be able to up them to 20. :) I hope you enjoy reading about them! Please feel free to comment below if you want more information about any of the events or the venues I describe.

1. David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell at Avid Bookshop: November 2013

David and Rainbow did a theatrical reading at this event, as they were kind enough to visit Athens after YALLFest. This event brought great energy to Avid Bookshop and to Athens. I believe it helped put our small, but noteworthy college town on the map in the literary world.  

Me with David, who brings me to tears nearly every time he reads his amazing books aloud. In particular, I recommend Two Boys Kissing, Love is the Higher Law, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (which he co-wrote with Rachel Cohn), and Every Day. I am super excited that the sequel to Every Day will be out soon. 
Rainbow Rowell is definitely one of my awakeners. She writes about the nerdy, late bloomer girls like me, who are creative and lovable in spite of, or maybe because of, our quirks. Someone needs to tell our story, and she does it so well. I can't wait until Carry On comes out soon. 

2. John Green at Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA: October 20, 2008

Little Shop of Stories in Decatur does an amazing job with their author events, and the John Green event was no exception! The events feel both homey and high energy every time I go, which is a great balance.

And yes, as some of you have seen this iPod picture before. It's when I got to have a brief conversation with John Green's editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. I was pretty star struck. :) 

3. Stephanie Perkins and Terra Elan McVoy at Decatur Book Festival
These two great women writers were on a panel one year at the Decatur Book festival, and it was so very fitting! Both women write books that remind me that women can be both sensitive and strong. Plus, I see a lot of myself in their protagonists, particularly Charlotte in Being Friends with Boys and Isla from Isla and the Happily Ever After. Plus, Terra and Stephanie are both brilliant and creative, and also extremely kind and benevolent people. In a world where some people are competitive and only look out for their own interests, it is refreshing to be around two great writers who genuinely care about others. So yes, I look up to them, even though I am not that far apart from either of them in numerical age. Also, I took a two-month creative writing class with Terra in 2009, which was a great learning experience for me. 

4. The ALAN Workshop at NCTE, 2014
         This conference was special to me in part because my friend Michelle Falter and I got to present a breakout session about using graphic novels to teach social justice issues. Also, I met several amazing authors!

Me with E. Lockhart, who signed my copy of We Were Liars, which we read for Avid Bookshop's YA for Not So YA book club. My favorite books by E. Lockhart are actually Fly on the Wall  and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which by the way, Terra Elan McVoy recommended to me at Little Shop of Stories, and I am ever so glad she did). 

Libba Bray made such a brilliant keynote speech at ALAN last fall, which inspired the proposal my colleagues and I will do at NCTE this year! So far, I have only read A Great and Terrible Beauty, which I loved, and The Diviners, but I plan to read Going Bovine soon for our Avid Bookshop YA book club.

Me with M.T. Anderson, who wrote the amazing Sci-Fi/Dystopian novel Feed. I hope to re-read it again sometime, as I think its message is very timely. 

5. Leigh Bardugo and Stephanie Perkins: Dragoncon YA Literature Track, 2014

One of the many things I love about the Young Adult literature track at Dragoncon is that they offer book club discussions. Last year, we discussed The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, which was super fun. Leigh Bardugo has lived a fascinating life, as she has also been a make-up artist in LA. I hope one day I am as interesting as she is. 

It was also delightful to meet Stephanie Perkins another time. I thought it was cool that she came to Dragoncon and was a part of the realistic fiction panel. I have met her a few times, and each time, I feel like she understand where I am coming from and writes autograph messages that I need to see. :) 

6. YALLFest 2014

I saw many great authors at YALLFest and got to meet very few of them, just because it was so crowded. That being said, it was a super fun trip to Charleston to take with my dear friends Meghan and Michelle from my Ph.D. program. All of the panels were very inspiring, and…I got to meet one f my awakeners, Sarah Dessen! Her family is from North Carolina, like mine, and she's from an academic family, like me. Also, her characters just…speak to me, and I get them. I have not read Saint Anything yet, but I look forward to it. 

7. Will Walton at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA: May 26, 2015

Speaking of kind and benevolent human beings, Will Walton is definitely one of them. He was one of the first new friends I made in Athens when I moved back in August 2013. He was also the one who first invited me to Avid's YA book club, which has been a great outlet for me during my graduate studies. Also, he wrote this great book called Anything Could Happen, which is a coming-of-age novel about a boy in a small southern town who gradually comes out to his family and friends. The story is heartwarming rather than depressing, which we need more of in the YA world. :) Will's book launch event in May 2015 was…magical. There's just no other way to describe it. I was so excited to see our Athens community come together in the spirit of celebrating Will's accomplishments.

8. Laurie Halse Andersen at Clarke Central High School

I have had the privilege of meeting Laurie Halse Anderson a few times now, and I think she's a remarkable woman. I love how she has the courage to write about "tough stuff," such as mental health issues, which are definitely prevalent in the lives of characters in The Impossible Knife of Memory. This gathering at Clarke Central High School was special because the Athens community really came together, and she wrote me a nice personal message about hoping to see me at NCTE. :) 

9. ALAN Workshop 2012 

I went to this event a year before I started applying to Ph.D. programs and while I was working toward a MAPW certificate in creative writing at Kennesaw State University. I loved how the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres were so well represented that year, along with female writers. Unbeknownst to me, this event foreshadowed my future desires to study comics and strong female protagonists in Dystopian and Fantasy YA literature. 

Shannon Hale 

Kristin Cashore 

Rae Carson 

Marissa Meyer 

Scott Westerfeld 

Barry Lyga…How I loved The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl 

10. ALAN Workshop 2007 

This was the first time I met Laurie Halse Anderson. I learned about Fever 1793, which I later taught to my gifted middle school students. They loved it! 

What an honor it was to meet Christopher Paul Curtis. He is from Flint, Michigan, which is where I was born and spent the first 13 years of my life. He writes amazing books for kids. My middle school students used to love The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Bud Not Buddy, and I loved teaching those books. Elijah of Buxton was one of our reading bowl books in 2009/2010, and I was excited.  

11. The GCBA Children's Conference 2014 
            This really is an awesome conference, and I hope Georgia educators, librarians, and scholars of children's literature will continue to attend it and support it. In 2013-2014, I helped promote and organize the conference as part of my assistantship at UGA. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it to have a chance to meet these amazing children's authors.  

Me with Jenni Holm, author of the Babymouse series. I saw her at NCTE in November 2014, where she and Matt Holm did a panel on comics/graphic novels with Raina Telegeimer. I was so honored that she remembered me. 

Jodi Moore, 2013 Georgia Picture Storybook Award for When a Dragon Moves In (illustrated by Howard McWilliam). She's such a wonderful person, and I'm so lucky I got to meet her.  

I am lucky to have met each of these authors and felt a kinship to each of them. I hope that one day, when some things in my life are a little bit different, I will fulfill my dream of writing a middle grades or YA novel. For the time being, I will enjoy reading these books and meeting the authors. Also, I am blessed enough to get to study these books and write articles about them as part of my job, and I look forward to seeing where these adventures will take me.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: The Girl at Midnight

The Girl at Midnight The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so good, especially toward the end! I really got caught up in all of the plot twists. It's like a YA Lord of the Rings, with a feminist twist. I LOVED IT!

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Dragoncon Comics and YA Costumes: In Anticipation of Labor Day Weekend!

Since I have a passion for strong female protagonists in YA literature and comics, I will be revisiting some of these costumes from the past again this year at Dragoncon. Also, I have a couple of possibilities in store for this year…spoiler alert! As usual, I am waiting until the last minute to decide for sure. :) Therefore, I would love to hear input from interested parties.

One day, when I am no longer a Ph.D. student and graduate assistant, I am going to commission someone to make me an awesome Arwen costume and a dress to play Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones. Yes, she can be "witchy" at times, but she keeps Geoffrey somewhat in line. Sometimes, I think that is my role in people's lives, whether or not they like it. The difference between Margaery and me is that my intentions are good, although maybe misguided at times, and Margaery does so more for her own gain. At any rate, those costumes are on hold for now. I also would love to do Kayleigh from Firefly, especially in a dress for the Mighty Fine Shin Dig. In a couple of years, hopefully I will be more financially stable and able to do these more high maintenance costumes.

For now, though, I will go for some oldies, but goodies. I think some of them are quite timely:


See, this costume was so fun that it made an appearance at LeeAnn's Halloween party about a month and a half later! Besides Christmas, Dragoncon and Halloween are my favorite holidays. They gave me a chance to be myself, but to explore a duality, or another side of myself. Only so many people know this about me, but when I was barely 15 years old, I had facially reconstructive jaw surgery and got a new face. It was both amazing and sad to see how differently people treated me as a result. I'm told that I became another version of myself, a girl who had her footing, had lost it and become invisible, and then took her invisibility cloak off to show her personality to the world once again. Part of why I love Dystopian, Fantasy, and superhero comic stories is that I can relate to characters who have dualities and who can shape shift. Spoiler alert, I might explore some of these ideas from an autoethnographic lens in my dissertation. :) For now…I think the Supergirl costume will be timely, as the TV show will come out soon and it looks AWESOME! Supergirl doesn't always know where she fits, like me, but we both have a way of finding people who care about us and who can show us the way.  

2. Wonder Woman 

Again, this costume is timely with the New-52 publications of Wonder Woman and with my March publication in SIGNAL Journal of my article Female Representation in Comics. Also, to complete the next phases of my Ph.D., comprehensive exam essays, I will have to be a Wonder Woman, although I believe I can do it! Three years ago, I never would have believed in myself enough to do a Ph.D. I've had to grow and stretch myself a lot these past few years, and it's still a process, but I've been able to accomplish things that I never thought I could, given my spatial learning disability and ADHD symptoms. Wonder woman too has to overcome obstacles, but she stays strong.

3. Hermione

I started dressing as Hermione in 2005, when I first went to Dragoncon, and the costume just kind of stuck. I think I pretty much am Hermione, and people tell me I look enough like her to pull it off, so…there you go. In 2013, I lost my wand and Griffindor Scarf due to some unanticipated drama that went on, so I had to wear my cousin Cindy's Ravenclaw tie instead of my normal scarf:

 I have contemplated getting a Ravenclaw scarf, because the TRUE Harry Potter sorting hat test put me in RAVENCLAW! However, Hermione is indeed a Griffindor, so at least for this costume, I plan to stick with this scarf. Oh, and by the way, my friend Matt makes a pretty wicked Professor Snape:

Okay, so writing this post is making me want to pack my costume back this weekend, which I shall probably do. However, a few costumes for this year are also under consideration:

1. Katniss from The Hunger Games: Um, I think my reasons for wanting to be her are pretty obvious. :) I pulled her off for Halloween one year, but I would up the costume a bit if I dressed like her for Dragoncon. The trick would be, how to pull this costume off without getting too hot:

Just so we're clear, my friend Whit is a gnome in this picture, not an elf. And my friend Ryan is…some kind of scary Ravenclaw wizard guy, LOL! This was us in Halloween 2012.   By the way, Ryan is also the one who introduced me to Dragoncon oh, so long ago, back in 2005! And ever since, I've been going, nerding out, and recycling the costumes for Halloween.

2. Captain Janeway from Star Trek: I'll do it if I can find a black skirt that can keep me from being too hot in the costume, at least temperature wise, hahaha!

3. Willow from Buffy: I know, I know, I do not look like her at all! But I think I AM her in many ways, with a bit of Cordelia mixed in. And plus there's a Buffy Horror Picture Show this year that I REALLY want to go to!! I'll confess that I'm only on Season 1 of Angel and Season 2 of Buffy because unlike most of my peers, I did NOT watch these shows in high school and college! But I'm catching up, and I'm in love with the Whedonverse, which is no surprise after my Firefly obsession. And I love how Willow is dating a band guy who is also a werewolf. That's totally me, haha!!

And, as a side note, I will be dressed as my nerdy, quirky, hopefully still lovable self. I usually make a stop over to the Decatur Book Festival too, but that's worthy of its own post. :) At Dragoncon, as myself, I am able to meet awesome people, such as KELLY SUE DECONNICK!

One year, in 2007, I got to meet Matthew Lewis (Neville) and James & Oliver Phelps (The Weasley Twins) from the Harry Potter movies, which was awesome, and their autographed pictures still hang up in my house, along with Jayne Cobb from Firefly, Astrid from Fringe, and the psychologist/Jimminy Cricket from Once Upon a Time. Who knows who I will meet this year…I am not sure I can ever top my cousin Cindy having a drink with Nathan Fillion, but I will try! I look forward to seeing what this year at Dragoncon has in store for me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Indie Bookshop Adventure: From Athens to SanFran

An Indie Bookshop Adventure in Athens, Georgia, and San Francisco, California...that was my project for my QUAL 8410 Summer Semester course! I have done interviews for years, but this was the first time since my undergraduate years at UGA that I have had to TRANSCRIBE THEM! It is quite a task, my friends, particularly when you are transcribing an interview with multiple parties. But the lovely employees and friends of Avid Bookshop made this project fun for me. I learned so much about the importance of layout, location, customer service, and strong leadership in maintaining the success of independent bookshops. I also learned that bookshops can be sites of both education and activism, research interests that I hope I can continue to pursue in my dissertation and other writing/research endeavors.  Here are just a couple of snapshots I took of the lovely Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA:

The folks at Avid work very hard and are so passionate about what they do. Many of them are writers and/or artists themselves, so they can relate to my triumphs and challenges. They have a great selection, so please pay them a visit next time you are in town! They have an amazing selection of YA books, children's books, graphic novels, and books related to feminism, all of which are close to my heart.  

In San Francisco, I visited a few indie bookshops that are worth checking out if you are in the area: 
1. Modern Times, in the Mission Neighborhood: It has a great selection of academic books, history books, books written in Spanish, and books about Native American culture. 

2. Borderlands, which is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy bookshop off of Valencia Street. Apparently, this place has struggled in the past. However, they have a great selection of Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels, including YA. Also, I bought Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman there, so they carry a handful of popular fiction as well. They have a wonderful cafe next door that is conducive to getting work done.  

3. Dog Eared Books: I got the second book in Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis's Wildwood Chronicles for seven bucks here! It was a used book, but nonetheless, this place has great deals! It is right down the street from Borderlands off of Valencia Street, so check it out! 

4. Booksmith in Haight Ashbury: How can you not go to Haight Ashbury while you're in San Francisco! While you're there, you might as well visit this fabulous bookshop, which has a great selection of comics and graphic novels and Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels in particular. They do appreciate alternative ways of being and thinking, after all. Their YA selection is also solid, and the whole place is laid out beautifully: 

5. 826 Valencia: This is actually a non-profit organization with a pirate store...that sells books! Their organization has a wonderful vision, which is to teach writing to at-risk adolescent students. Therefore, this one in particular is close to my heart. The kids put together creative writing anthologies about identity, their changing neighborhood (Mission area), and other issues related to being an adolescent. Please come here! It's a wonderful place.  

Whether you're in Athens, San Francisco, or anywhere else, Indie bookshops have a world of imagination and creativity to offer! In a world of technology that I too love, these places are worth holding onto, so we need to support them. I hope to one day make it back to Portland, Oregon, so I can visit the HUGE bookshop known as Powell's. :) For now, I will enjoy the ones closer to me, including Avid and Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia. My hats off to the employees of all of these places for your hard work and dedication.