22 January

How Fairytales Help Us Navigate the World by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Between Before & After by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, we are pleased to share this special piece from her on fairytales.

When I was little, my mother read me fairytales. I remember Andrew Lang’s books, The Tall Book of Fairytales, and a peculiar story about a girl who jumped rope and could skip through a key hole and light as a feather on dandelion thistle. It took me years to track down Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep, again. My father told a different kind of story. Especially when he was drinking. He told stories of surviving alone on the streets of Brooklyn as a ten year old flu orphan, about stealing food from Wallabout Market and hoping for the kindness of strangers. These were the stories that haunted his life.

It took me years to see the connection between the two types of stories I grew up with, and it was a fairytale, specifically Hansel and Gretel, that helped make that link. As I wrote my YA historical novel Between Before and After, I realized that the theme of survival and eventual redemption in my novel was intimately tied to Hansel and Gretel, and in a risky move, I wove a retelling of the fairytale between the chapters.

In Fairytales, the woods are dark and dangerous places where anything might happen. There are many tales of children lost, abandoned, or sent into the woods at the request of a parent or evil stepmother.  Author and fairytale expert Terri Windling put it this way in her blog post Into the Woods,10: Wild Children: “The heroism of such children lies … in the ability to survive and transform their fate — and to outwit those who would do them harm without losing their lives, their souls, or their humanity in the process.” No one leaves the mythic woods unchanged. This is a truth I wanted to capture in my own novel.

Between Before and Afteris a mother daughter dual narrative set in 1919 Brooklyn, New York and 1955 San Jose, California.  In researching my novel I discovered that in late 1800’s New York, up to 30,000 abandoned or orphaned children filled overflowing orphanages or lived on the streets. This vast number of orphans was due in part to the overwhelming number of destitute immigrants living in crowded tenements. By 1900 there were 16 million Irish immigrants alone. During these years, childbirth was still the number one cause of female mortality, leaving impoverished fathers with young children.

Then the Spanish flu arrived with its scythe and black cloak.

Many children became half-orphans, abandoned by one parent after the other died. For these children, the streets of our cities were the woods of the grimmest fairytales, dark, full of predators and danger.

Against all odds many of these immigrant children survived their sojourn through the woods without losing their humanity. Many, of course, did not. Surviving childhood is not always easy nor is it guaranteed. And that’s what the fairytales have warned us about all along.

This is my family’s story, but it’s the story of thousands of children who have had to follow breadcrumbs on perilous journeys to find their way home.

What is it about fairy tales that compels us, that resonates with the themes in our own lives?

JRR Tolkein in his magnificent essay “On Fairy Stories” talks of the eucastic turn or happy ending.  The fairy story “denies universal defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy. Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” While fairy tales acknowledge and warn us of the existence of evil, they never pretend that evil is good or that despair has the final word. Fairy tales persist because in their themes, they tell us truths about the world.

  • The world is not a safe place: Myth reminds us that world is not a predictable and safe place. Fairies leave changelings, labyrinths hide monsters, shapeshifters cast spells. The mythic world is never tame.
  • There is no easy way out of the maze: when Theseus finds his way to the heart of the maze, he still must battle the minotaur, birds eat breadcrumbs, dragons swoop in, and we must travel through the dangers.
  • We often fear the wrong things: We fear outside enemies, but it’s our own greed, jealousy and hubris that most often cause our downfall.
  • We are all more than meets the eye: The reluctant hero discovers strengths she never knew she possessed.
  • We can fight dragons and win: As G.K. Chesterton says, “Fairy stories are more than true, not because they tell us there are dragons, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated.”
  • All stories are about transformation: no one leaves the woods unchanged. Without change there is no story.

Children still struggle in the woods today. Some are still locked in the witch’s house by parents’ addictions, cruelty, or dire circumstances. There is still a need for tales of hope, stories that say circumstances no matter how dark need not define you.

Find out more: www.maureenmcquerry.com







14 January

A Special Note From Laurie Boyle Crompton

Pretty in Punxsutawneyhas such a clear premise it really was fun to write. Which isn’t to say it was easyto write. I love new challenges and keeping Andie’s story moving despite the repetitiveness of her days was certainly something I worked hard on. Sometimes, I felt like I was caught in my own repeating loop as I needed to start and restart chapters until I figured out Andie’s next move. Fortunately, I loved spending time with her! And I believe readers will too!

One of my favorite things about Andie is the way she handles being an outsider. Even before she gets caught in her time loop, she is forced to find her way in a brand-new town. She manages to turn her love of film into a new friendship at the movie theater and she’s brave enough to get close to her crush. When the first day of school rolls around she’s actually in a strong position for a successful start! Of course, things don’t go quite as expected.

Once Andie starts repeating her first day over and over she becomes even more of an outsider. She isn’t able to build new friendships because every morning her classmates all forget that she even existed. I admire Andie’s spirit and love the way that even when she is the most frustrated, she never loses her sense of humor. She is completely stuck and feels utterly helpless, but still finds ways to laugh at her own inner-dialogue. She is never truly alone because she is a good companion to herself!

I think we have all felt like outsiders at one time or another. Sometimes we even experience this within our own families. No matter how well people know us, or have similar views or shared histories, we are each unique and this leads to sometimes feeling alone. That sense of awkwardness at feeling like an outsider is something that is completely universal. Not that it makes it any easier when you feel like everyone is watching you as you sit alone at the cafeteria!

And speaking of sitting alone in the cafeteria, I love to point out to teens that they have a little trick called ‘scroll on your phone and pretend you’re talking to your actual friends’ anytime you happen to feel a bit overly awkward and alone. When I was in school, we had no choice but to allow the awkwardness to wash over our whole being as we felt the entire room staring and whispering about us. Of course, it only feltas if everyone was watching us sit in a puddle of awkward. Mostly everyone was more worried about how awkward and lonely theyseemed too.

We may not have had cellphones, but fortunately, books have always made for great companions. And I may not have had many friends, but I was never alone when I had a book with me. And so, I always had a book in my schoolbag! Which pretty much led me on this path of becoming an author and hopefully helping other teens who may feel like they are complete outsiders to feel a little bit less alone. And in order to combat that pesky awkward moment or two when you might feel like you look like a lonely loser, may I suggest carrying a copy of Pretty in Punxsutawneyas a perfect companion!

It’s okay to read it more than once. Just as Andie learned, sometimes repetition can be a good thing!

-Laurie Boyle Crompton

07 January

New Year, New Trends

With the new year, the young adult literature space is likely to be seeing new trends and also a solidification of some previous trends. As we kick off 2019, we think back to what worked so well in 2018—what we read obsessively, what we binged on television, and what got us talking with our friends about our current reads and the books in our TBR piles.

One trend that we hope never goes away is the importance of #OwnVoices novels and the diversity they bring to readers. Books that are issue-driven and socially conscious that start difficult conversations about relevant topics like The Hate U Givewill always have a space on our shelves. Feel-good books that are lighter with clever and fun romances like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Beforewill always make us swoon. Diverse characters in YA literature are spanning the genres, and we are absolutely loving it.

In 2018 there was a groundswell of YA authors who responded to real-life teen activism in their books. Inspired by teens who express frustration at the current political climate and their deep desire to affect change in a difference direction, 2018 saw many books, both fiction and nonfiction, about issues that teens care about deeply from gun control, climate change, and racism. Immigration has become a mainstay in the news, and accordingly, many YA books tackled the topic in new and creative ways. We are so proud of the YA community for the attention that is being paid to diverse voices, which positions YA literature to respond to events and emotions that are happening across the world. As readers, we are always on the lookout for authors from diverse backgrounds who tell stories that reflect the world that we live in and who use their own experiences to inform their stories.

The last year also saw a rise in YA thrillers, which might be thanks to very bingeable shows, podcasts, and adult books turned movie blockbusters. It seems natural that young adults who are enjoying these high-stakes television shows and movies and engrossed by these types of podcasts would look for something in the YA space. And it makes sense that authors would be inspired by these titles in their own thriller stories. Deep down we all love a fast-paced story with an unreliable narrator that keeps us turning the pages with dread as we wait for that final dramatic twist!

Fantasy, too, is a trend that ended strong in 2018, and we predict it will keep up its momentum this year. Fresh takes on classics myths and stories that show the genre in a new way are particularly in demand, and you have to look no further than your local bookstore to see the creative ways that traditional fantasy tropes have been reinvented. From high fantasy to contemporary fantasy and magical realism, one aspect of this genre that we love is the prevalence of female protagonists who are constantly defining and redefining the meaning of strength. In light of the #MeToo movement, we love that YA fantasy shows such a variety of ways that girls can be strong and save the world.

Ultimately trends are cyclical and there is no concrete way to predict what might really take off in 2019. One thing that seems certain though is that authors will continue to write for an audience who is craving engagement and response to current events through a variety of genres, and YA readers are eager to jump in.

At BLINK, we are working to make sure we supply readers like you with books you’ll want to read. As we get into 2019, BLINK is pleased to release new #OwnVoices, fantasy, thrillers, historical fiction, and contemporary books for your enjoyment. Remember, your next great read is only a blink away!