Under the Radar: Authors Who don’t always get the “BUZZ”

by

Rachel Seigel

Every season there are always a handful of books that get all of the media and/or awards attention. They are the books that everybody knows about and gets excited about, or the “buzz books” as they are often called. Believe it or not, these hot-listed books only make up a small percentage of the new books that are out there, and there are always a few who may not be nominated for awards but are fabulous writers who deserve some attention.

As I’m sure you all do, I have a few favourites whose books I seek out as soon as they release. One such author is Gabrielle Zevin, who’s new “Birthright” series is dystopian fiction at its best. The first book, called All These Things I’ve Done, is set in a crime-ridden New York City in 2083, where chocolate has been outlawed. 16-year-old Anya Blanchine, daughter of the city’s most notorious (and deceased) crime boss tries to maintain a normal life that consists of going to school, caring for her siblings and her dying grandmother, avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend, and trying to avoid falling in love with the new Assistant D.A’s son. But when her ex is accidentally poisoned by the illegal chocolate that her family manufactures, she is unwillingly thrust into the spotlight, and getting out won’t be easy.

This is Gabrielle Zevin’s third novel for Young Adults, and it’s brilliantly-written. Each of her three YA novels are different in subject and theme, but they immediately grab you and leave you thinking about it long after you finish reading. What I like most about her is that her books are intellectual but completely accessible to teens. Her characters are well-developed, her books intelligently written, and really interesting to read. Book 1 of the series is releasing in paperback this summer, and book 2, titled Because It Is My Blood is releasing from Farrar Straux Giroux (a division of Macmillan) this fall. While Gabrielle does have a following of readers, she tends to slip under the radar, and I think she’s completely underrated.

Another of my favourite authors, and someone who hopefully will win an award one day is Jordan Sonnenblick. His most recent novel, Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, is a pitch-perfect examination of how you regroup and make a comeback when everything seems to fall apart. Peter Friedman, star pitcher, and soon-to-be high school freshman, is looking forward to being on the high school varsity baseball team with his best friend in the fall. But when a freak injury ends his pitching career, Peter feels like he’s losing his grip. To make things worse, his wedding-photographer grandfather has just handed him thousands of dollars of photography equipment, and is acting increasingly strange, but his mother either can’t or won’t acknowledge it. Freshman year ends up being a year of soul-searching and self-discovery, and at the end, Peter has learned a lot about himself and those around him.

Jordan is a former eighth-grade English teacher, and his pitch-perfect understanding of teenage boys is evident in each of his books. (He’s written four other novels for young adults, as well as a series of funny middle-grade novels.) They cover serious topics (like coping with a sibling’s serious illness, living in remission from that illness, and reinventing yourself when you’ve moved for the umpteenth time and are starting at yet another new school) in a sensitive and funny manner. In all of his novels, there are completely sobering moments, but also laugh-out-loud funny moments, and his male characters are completely authentic. They are awkward, sometimes bumbling, desperate to be cool boys. They are don’t know how to talk to girls boys. Completely likeable and sweet (mostly) but often clueless and oblivious. We don’t have nearly enough books of substance being written for teenage boys (especially young teens) and it’s refreshing to find one who writes boys as they are and not some exaggerated, wise-cracking, one dimensional version of a boy.

The third and final author I’d like to highlight is middle-grade author Wendy Mass. She’s published fourteen books for young people (including a teen version of It’s a Wonderful Life set in a mall), but my absolute favourite of her novels is Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. 12-year-old Jeremy Fink is as cautious as they come. He seldom ventures too far from his New York City apartment, he refuses to get on the subway, always eats the same thing (and refuses to try new foods) and generally avoids new and unfamiliar experiences. In contrast, his best friend and neighbour Lizzie Muldon is the polar opposite. She’s outgoing, daring, and completely fearless (to the point of recklessness), and she lives life like it’s one great adventure. One month before his 13th birthday a mysterious package arrives for Jeremy. It’s from his father, who died five years before. The package is a Chinese Lock box that professes to contain the meaning of life. There’s just one problem- it’s missing the key. The friends set a goal to find the keys by the end of the summer (and Jeremy’s birthday) so that they can open the box. Their quest leads them to meet new people and a number of new experiences- all of which combine to teach Jeremy the true meaning of life.

Like Jordan Sonnenblick, Wendy Mass really understands kids and what makes them tick. Her characters are quirky, yet realistic, average kids, and their experiences mirror those of all kids. Her characters are the kinds of kids that you want to be friends with them, and middle-school readers wholly relate to them. The books are about everyday experiences such as new experiences, making new friends, and the general trials and tribulations of growing up. I also love that many of her books feature boys and girls who are or become really good friends at an age when remaining friends with the opposite sex can be challenging. Wendy Mass has won/been nominated for numerous State Awards and though her books often appear on school reading lists, she has to be discovered. Her books are sensitively written, entertaining and extremely insightful without being preachy. Think of this as a sort of kids’ version of Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close. I actually saw a lot of parallels, and I suspect you will too. The book has also been recently made into a movie, which beautifully captured the book’s message about learning to appreciate all of life’s little moments.

I could certainly fill up another post with my favourite under-the-radar authors, but instead I’ll turn this over to you- are there any authors (Adult/kids/YA) who you absolutely adore but don’t seem to get the buzz they deserve? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Rachel Seigel is the Children’s/Young Adult Book Buyer at wholesaler S&B Books in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

        

26 Responses to Under the Radar: Authors Who don’t always get the “BUZZ”

  1. Julie
    Julie Jun 13 2012 at 5:50 am #

    Wow, Rachel, each of these books sounds wonderful!!! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing them with us.

  2. Jordan Sonnenblick Jun 13 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Hey, Rachel, thanks so much for the kudos, and for ranking me “up there” with Gabrielle Zevin and Wendy Mass. Wow! That’s impressive company; I admire their work greatly.

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 13 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Jordan! Thanks for reading my post! You are among my favourite authors, and it’s my pleasure to recommend your books!

  3. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Jun 13 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Rachel, this was such a fantastic post. I’d be interested in hearing more of your picks in the future! (Plus it’s always nice to give deserving authors a little push!)

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 13 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Thanks Erin! A new season always reminds me of how many talented authors slip under the radar! πŸ™‚

  4. Amy Jun 13 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Just finished my first Jordan Sonnenblick last night–Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. Wow. Moving right on to After Ever After. Thank you for reminding readers of the fantastic literature that may, unfortunately, get lost in the commotion of the buzz.

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 13 2012 at 11:52 am #

      You’ll love” After Ever After”! I did! I remember hoping so desperately for a happy ending to “Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie”. I was way too invested in the characters for it not to end well! πŸ˜‰

  5. Megan Duff Jun 13 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Patrick Ness, Patrick Ness, Patrick Ness!

    The Chaos Walking Trilogy is right up there for me with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It is so original and exciting and by the end of it I was sobbing like a baby. I have NEVER cried that hard over a book but Monsters of Men just brought everything together and tore it apart and I just never wanted to read another book. IT WAS THAT GOOD.

    It was originally published in the UK which is why I don’t think that a lot of people in the US have read it. But they need to!

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 13 2012 at 11:49 am #

      I love the Chaos Walking trilogy. It’s one of my favourite series too! He definitely has gotten lots of recognition in the UK, but I agree that he should be known and promoted here too!

  6. Whitney Jun 13 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    It’s so great to see Jordan Sonnenblick get attention! πŸ™‚ I’ve been following his books ever since I discovered “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” back in 2004. It’s a book that quickly made it into my Top 10 of favorite books and broke my heart all at the same time. It’s was beautiful, wonderfully written, and made me go and hug my little brother after I finished the last page (he was not amused, high school sophomore that he was back them). Honestly I’m amazed that more people don’t know about him and that he hasn’t been getting all kinds of awards for his beautiful and insightful work. Here’s hoping that one is coming his way!

  7. Penn Jun 13 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    I cried while reading Mass’s A Mango Shaped Space. I’m actually surprised she’s not more discovered.

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 14 2012 at 9:34 am #

      “Mango Shaped Space” was the first novel of hers that I read too, and I was so impressed! She’s amazing!

  8. Lauren Jun 15 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Those are all great recommendations! I really want to read “Curveball..” now. While all of the post-apocolyptic books came out (well, I suppose they still are), I think “Enclave” kind of fell under the radar. It was shadowed by “Divergent” and “Matched” and “Delirium,” which were all great, but I really enjoyed “Enclave,” too!

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 15 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      I think even within a popular genre, there are always a few really amazing books that don’t get the attention they should. I love discovering hidden gems! πŸ™‚

  9. Lori T. Jun 15 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    I agree that Gabrielle’s ALL THESE THINGS I’VE DONE is phenomenal! I loved the uniqueness of this novel, and am so happy it’s a trilogy! I’ll be marking the sequel’s release on my calendar! I haven’t read the others yet, but CURVEBALL sounds like a great read for the HS library where I work!

    As for underrated authors…the first that comes to mind is perhaps Lish McBride. I LOVED her novel, HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER. I laughed so hard, and got creeped out at certain parts. It’s a brilliant read that I’m constantly recommending.

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 15 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      I’ve heard good things about Hold Me Closer… I believe the sequel is coming out this fall, and I’ll have to make a point of reading them now! πŸ™‚ Definitely check out Curveball! It’s a wonderful read!

  10. Megan Duff Jun 17 2012 at 11:21 am #

    This post inspired me to write this little ditty πŸ˜€ http://myfaultline.blogspot.com/2012/06/hipster-book-list.html

  11. Jeanne Ryan Jun 18 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    These books sound amazing. I’m especially eager to read All These Things I’ve Done. Glad you’re helping get these authors on folks’ radars. PR/marketing seems to be a feast or famine thing in this industry. Hope these authors get more of it.

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 23 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Sadly, it really is a top-20 kind of market these days. So many authors slip under the radar!

  12. Petra Jun 23 2012 at 6:50 am #

    I know/love All These Things I’ve Done and can’t wait to continue the series, but I didn’t know the others. Thanks for the recommendations.

  13. Kelly Jun 23 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Thanks for this–I read Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere several years ago and it was FABULOUS! She’s awesome…I also loved All These Things I’ve Done. I’m happy you are giving her some recognition…

    Oh, and Wendy Mass is also wonderful. I’m a teacher, and the librarian at my school and I have recommended her books to my elementary GT students on more than one occasion!

  14. Kelly Jun 23 2012 at 11:42 am #

    By the way–I am pea-green with jealousy over your job…it is the coolest. πŸ™‚

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 25 2012 at 8:58 am #

      Thanks Kelly! I really enjoy most aspects of my job. (Data entry is never fun) And great to know that Wendy Mass has a teacher seal of approval! πŸ™‚

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