Tag Archives: YA

The Impossible Knife of Memory, an SCBWI Book Review

You know what I did immediately after I promised not to read the PTSD novel?  I went ahead and read the PTSD novel.  Good thing school started recently, so I haven’t had time to blog.  We’ve all had a sufficient break from the depressing, unjust world, right?

Good!  Let’s dive back in.

Impossible Knife of Memory

Click the image to go to the Amazon page

Book: The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation:  Um… honestly?  Eh.  It’s just… you know, it’s good.  It’s okay.  I much prefer Speak.  You should read that one for sure.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Hayley is a high school student who classifies the whole world into either “zombies” or “freaks” in a way that seems like a forced quirk because it does very little to further the plot and her dad has PTSD in a bad way and she falls in love with a boy and she has to deal with her dad’s issues and her own issues.

Positive Feedback: Anderson is always successful at characterization in her own way.  There were some really solid emotional moments that gripped me and made me feel the characters’ pain.  As a fan of psychology, I was very interested in delving into this world of trauma and the psychological ramifications of same.  The material is handled with respect and has an appropriate weight to it.  It’s obviously not a lighthearted novel, and that’s good.  You can tell Anderson has a vested interest in representing trauma and related mental disorders accurately.

Constructive Criticism: Given my interest in psychology, I was kind of disappointed when the father’s PTSD kind of became a subplot rather than the main story.  In the end, I felt like I was reading yet another “F-the-World-Girl meets Quirky-Sexy-Boy” teen romance.  Even worse, the pacing of the romance  felt off to me.  There wasn’t a lot of chemistry between the two characters, and they fell for each other way too quickly in my opinion.  A large struggle many children go through is finding themselves parenting the parents.  That should have been the meat of this story, and I just wasn’t getting that.  This is weird, but I feel like Sarah Dessen would have written this book better.  If you want a book that touches on tough psychological issues and abusive relationships (I mean, you wouldn’t want that, but you know what I mean), then go pick up Dreamland.  Yeah… this book review just became a recommendation for another author and book.  I guess that pretty much sums it up.

I still have to read Caraval, but I don’t know when I’ll do that.  I have a baby, five classes to teach, and boxes to unpack.  But I will try my best!

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Character Bible Part 2 – Paxton

Five years on WordPress.  Wow.  Maybe one day I’ll do something with my life.

Anyway, at time of writing I don’t have any concept art for Paxton and I don’t know if I will by the time I post.  I’ve been dealing with a stomach bug for several days and it’s kind of been making creative endeavors difficult.  That being said, I will do my best to draw something by the time this post goes up or shortly after.

Paxton is the other protagonist for this book – meaning the narrative follows him when it isn’t following Joss – and he is human.  Here is what I wrote for his entry in the character bible document:

Name: Paxton (Fun fact: I named him this because “Pax” means peace and he is not peaceful!  Irony!)

Age in Earth Years: 18

Species: Human

Powers:
None LOL

Backstory:
Paxton lives in one of the old prisoner sectors with his mother.  His father mysteriously skipped off work one night when Paxton was six or seven.  The Enforcers later found him and killed him with no explanation, but Paxton continued to believe that his father didn’t just try to run and abandon the family.  He is right.  Paxton’s father discovered the truth – that the communications system on the planet works just fine.  The Overseer purposefully keeps it jammed in order to maintain control.

When Paxton comes of age, he knows he will be assigned a job like his mother.  Instead he decides to go over to the enemy’s side, becoming an Enforcer so he and his mother can have a better life.  A part of him also hopes he will learn more about his father’s arrest and death.  He eventually does learn this, right before joining the rebellion and sharing what he knows.

[This section omitted to prevent major spoilers.  I want to keep something a mystery.]

Appearance:
Black hair, olive skin, green eyes.  Tall and muscular.  Clean shaven.  Hard lines in his face.  Serious like Kocoum.

Kocoum is that one dude from Disney’s Pocahontas?  Yeah?  He’s too serious?  Alright moving on.

When I initially created Paxton, I didn’t want him to be the typical YA male hero.  Yes, he is full of angst, but I feel I did go in some interesting directions with him.  I made him ruthless and determined, so he ends up killing a woman on his first day as an Enforcer and then imprisoning one of his old neighbors.  I also made him bury all of his emotional problems somewhere deep inside of him, so he often finds an outlet in meaningless sex with his female coworkers.  I say “meaningless” for lack of a better word.  Basically he isn’t looking for a relationship with them.  He is having sex for sex’s sake.  Nothing wrong with that except when you’re using the sex as an outlet for your repressed emotions maybe.

Moving forward with the story, I’d like to keep this trend going.  I want to push him even more, have Paxton join the Enforcers because a part of him accepts that he wants power and security, and they are the ones who have it.  Yes they took his father, but they also don’t have to sleep with one eye open (usually), and they live in nice flats, and they get to eat food whenever they want.  So he believes the good outweighs the bad and throws himself into the work.  Until he gets in too deep.   And, of course, learning the truth about his father is kind of that breaking point that snaps him out of it.

My goal for him is to make him exist in a gray area for a while.  He’s not going to be an undoubtedly Good character, and he will have to redeem himself for a lot of misdeeds.  Paxton is a character who feels that the world is on his shoulders and he lives very much for himself because he thinks it’s the safest way to be.  Meeting the rebel group and Joss might change that for him, give him a different cause to fight for and a reason to redeem himself.

Oh, and since his dad is already dead, I am determined not to kill his mom (spoiler alert?).  I realize why heroes lose their parents so often now that I’m plotting out this story, because it would honestly be so much easier for Paxton to run away and join the rebellion if he didn’t have familial connections to worry about.  But I think I’ve come up with another way to make it work that doesn’t involve killing his mom.  Yay.

Okay so I sorta did some concept art, which you will see below.  It’s not as detailed as Joss’ for several reasons.

  1. I am better at drawing female figures than male.
  2. Along those lines, I couldn’t find a male reference that I liked to base my drawing off of, so I had to go from scratch despite not having any formal art training, which you will soon see.  Feel free to scoff at my inability to make proportions work.  I scoff at myself all the time.  Chances are I’m doing it right now.
  3. Humans are boring.  You know what they look like.

So I just kinda decided to sketch out some of the armor ideas I had?

Paxton 1Paxton 2Paxton 3

He looks straight out of Starship Troopers, huh?  I knew I’d gotten inspiration somewhere.

So those prongs on his arm come out of the standard-issue gauntlets.  They’re electrified when active, but they fold back into the gauntlet when not in use.  At the risk of drawing a face, I decided to give him a helmet with a visor.  Clever me.  And of course he’s got big, clompy space boots.  Gotta have the big, clompy space boots.  They have secret compartments and stuff.  He also has a standard-issue MWt-500 laser gun holstered at his hip.

And this is what he would look like if he were a butterfly with a suggestively open shirt!

Paxton Butterfly

That’s all I’ve got!  Tune in next time for an actual alien!

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Character Bible Part 1 – Joss

Now that you received some background on the story in the form of my last post, I can begin my character bible.  This is a YA Sci-Fi which, for lack of an actual title, is called Bamboo Pole.  It is called that because I had a dream about a girl who had a bamboo pole that she kept with her at all times.  She had a list of rules associated with it, something you’ll notice I tried to mimic in its first draft.  Anyway, I woke up and forgot everything except Girl+Bamboo Pole.

So the girl in question is Joss.  Here is what I typed up about Joss in the Word doc I made for the characters:

Name: Joss

Age in Earth Years: 18

Species: ????

Powers:
Basic telekinesis.  Mostly used to fly/hover, but can be used to deflect melee weapons.

Backstory:
Her mother was a refugee, fleeing from her oppressive homeland in a basic shuttle.  Unfortunately,  she flew too close to the prison planet, Burg.  The planet’s automated defense system shot the shuttle down, and she crash landed.  The mother survived with her newborn (Joss) for several days in the wild.  She had managed to guide the shuttle into a cave where it wouldn’t be immediately obvious.  Unfortunately she couldn’t make repairs and she was injured.  Eventually she was found by Enforcers, who took her into custody.  The baby they were going to kill when they heard reports of rebel activity in the area.  They decided to set up a trap using the baby, knowing that would lead to the baby’s death as well as a rebel or two.  The woman was taken away, to be executed.  They never found her shuttle.  The shuttle was recording the incident from inside the cave so Joss could eventually find it and learn the truth about her origins.

Joss is found as a baby by Kanid and Thea and is brought back to Rath’s* camp where she is raised to become a rebel.  She is profoundly deaf, but makes up her own sign language and proves to be very skilled with staffs for fighting.

Appearance:
Coppery skin and light brown hair with some golden strands that glow in the sunlight.  A little on the shorter side, but very sturdy.  Muscular.  She has pointed ears and orange eyes.

After drawing my best approximation of Joss, I realized two things.  1. Copper doesn’t come across too well in Photoshop Elements.  2. Copper skin and light brown hair tend to blend in to one another.

So I kinda gave her dirty blond hair, and you’ll have to imagine her skin is a little more coppery.

Joss

She was drawn with a bamboo pole because I still haven’t decided what her staff is going to look like.

When I think about Joss, I think about someone who  is mischievous and headstrong.  She is one of the main characters because she is an alien among aliens.  (The prison planet has many species of alien on it, but Joss’ species is not among them, hence the ????)  Her deafness does not prevent her from becoming a good fighter and friend.  She is intelligent enough to develop her own sign language, so that says something.

A couple notes: First, if you ever see a name with an asterisk by it, that means I want to change the name but haven’t come up with a suitable replacement yet.

Second, profound deafness is actually incredibly rare.  Usually Deaf people hear some sounds, but not enough to make out speech.  In this case, I’m taking artistic license to make Joss one of those rare people who hears nothing at all.  Also, she’s an alien in a fictional universe so… yeah.  She probably doesn’t follow human rules.

I think one of the main things I have to concentrate on with Joss is why the story follows her half the time, instead of one of the other characters.  Part of it is that she and Paxton both hold pieces to a puzzle that solves the rebels’ problems.  Her mother’s ship is transportation and proof that other species can still make contact with the prison world.  Paxton’s part you’ll find out next time.

But other than that, I don’t have a character arc for Joss right now.  She will struggle when her adoptive father gets captured, and when she finds out what happened to her mother.  However, that doesn’t create a character arc.  She needs to have flaws and weaknesses (besides a hearing disability) or something else about her that changes as the story progresses.

I will think on it more.  Safe to say this blog character bible idea is working, because I didn’t realize the aforementioned problem with Joss’ character development until I started typing out my thoughts on her.

Neat.

Next time – Paxton, a boring human.

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