Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley

Poised at the Edge Author Interview

Justina Chen Headley


Congratulations on your third extraordinary YA novel NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL.  It’s a richly woven, theme-driven, thought provoking piece of work.  The story’s protagonist Terra Cooper can check a lot of the boxes in today’s oppressively rigid standards of “true beauty.”  She’s got the cascading flaxen hair, the long lean legs, the perfect six-pack abs; but that’s not what makes people stare.  People tend to gape unabashedly at her unfortunate birth mark.  Terra has a large port wine stain on her face.  What inspired you to write about this subject? 

For a long time—as a woman, a writer, and a mother—I’ve wanted to tackle our society’s super narrow definition of beauty, but I wasn’t sure what the entry point to a story would or should be.  It wasn’t until I was telling an acquaintance of mine what a great mothering job she was doing because her son is well-adjusted, popular, confident—and has a port wine stain on his cheek.  She stopped me in the middle of my accolades and said, “That’s because he’s a boy.”  With that one comment, my story was born and Terra sprang to life in my imagination like Athena from Zeus, fully-formed.


When you first began writing the story did you plan how Terra was going to handle her situation (or how her family, friends, boyfriends and peers would?)   Or did her character lead you as you began writing? 

Even before I began writing North of Beautiful, I knew precisely how the story was going to end down to the very last line.  But the murky middle?  That revealed itself as I wrote with Terra leading the way.   She kept making choices that made me uncomfortable—her relationship with her first boyfriend, her deception with her second—but it was Terra’s story.  And her decisions were real and made sense and, most important of all, they helped her grow.


NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL is a highly educational book on so many levels.  One subject of particular interest to me was geocaching.  Will please explain this pastime for the benefit of the uninitiated?

Think of geocaching as high tech treasure hunting.  Armed with a GPS device and specific coordinates for latitude and longitude, you search for caches filled with goodies.  There are literally thousands and thousands of caches around the world—even in Antarctica, on the Great Wall, probably in your neighborhood.  What can I say?  Embrace your inner geek.


 There are so many supporting characters that add richness (in both positive and negative ways) to Terra’s life.  Probably the most significant supporting character is Jacob, her unexpected love interest.  Even though at the beginning of the story Terra starts with a different boyfriend she ends up bonding with Jacob.  Jacob is truly empathetic toward Terra.  He’s also been the recipient of endless unsolicited stares, as an adopted Chinese boy, with a repaired cleft lip, and an uber-white family.   Where did the inspiration for this wise beyond his years character come from? 

I’ve been lucky to have incredible men in my life.  Two inspired Jacob:  one is a guy who was one of my best friends in college, and the other someone I met when I was researching a novel early in my writing career.


Terra’s fractured family members all have fascinating personalities and serious issues.  They all play a huge role in why Terra is the way she is.  Are any of these characters inspired by real people? Was it difficult to write a character like Terra’s father (I found myself seriously wishing he would drop dead?) 

Let’s just say that of all my books, North of Beautiful is probably the most autobiographical.  But I also want to get it out there:  people can change for the better.  And people do change to be their personal best.  Take heart because it does happen. I’ve seen it.


Unlike many other YA novels NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL has adult characters who are well defined and interesting.  Both Terra’s mom Lois and Jacob’s mom Norah are well-developed and have very interesting stories of their own.  Have you ever considered writing an adult novel?

Yes!  A number of my readers have asked me for a novel told from a woman’s POV.  While my main love is YA, I do have an idea for an adult novel.


Along with writing you like to do philanthropic work.  Can you please tell us what you (and the readrgirlz) have been up to on that front?

To celebrate North of Beautiful, I’m hosting the Find Beauty Challenge where I’m asking people to tell me what they find to be truly beautiful. For every uploaded video, I’m giving $10 to Global Medical Outreach, which sends surgeons to third worlds to help kids with cleft lips.  You can find all the info on

Then with readergirlz, we’re gearing up to host our second annual Operation TBD (Teen Book Drop), working with Guys Lit Wire, YALSA, and publishers to drop thousands of free YA novels into pediatric hospitals around the country.  Teen patients need the solace of story; we’re giving it to them! 

The video url:



Are you willing to tell us a little about your next project?

I’m not working on two…one is a YA fantasy, the other is another YA contemporary.




Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: NEED

Poised at the Edge Book Review
Carrie Jones

Zara White has a very peculiar obsession with phobias. She can tell you the name of everything from the fear of noises or voices (phonophobia) to the fear of eating (sitophobia.) But what she can’t tell you is how she can snap out of the depression that began when her beloved stepfather dropped dead of a heart attack. In fact, her depression is so over the top that her mother is exiling her to frozen, remote, small town in Maine to live with her stepfather’s mother.
Zara is convinced her mother is doing this simply because she just can’t handle her right now. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Maine couldn’t be more different from Zara’s home town of Charleston. The kids at her new high school are not entirely easy to get along with. The only two really nice kids begin spouting off about their belief in Pixies….not exactly normal. But the presence of a mysterious stalker who’s been seen both in Charleston and Bedford, Maine (leaving a mysterious powdery gold trail behind him) is making Zara’s new friends tales seem almost viable.
Also the there’s Nick, a mysterious boy who seems disconnected, as if he’s got some serious secrets. He seems aloof, angry, yet protective over Zara. Protection is something she really needs when people begin going missing in Bedford, Maine. Could Devyn and Issie’s stories about vicious pixie’s and blood sacrifice possibly true? How does Zara tie in to it?
Carrie Jones writes colorful paranormal suspense with as much care and grace as her realistic teen fictions. Fans of Stephanie Meyer and Holly Black may rejoice at this well plotted, mystic creature filled extravaganza. The cover art is stunning, and the story, deliciously satisfying!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: FADE

Poised at the Edge Book Review
Lisa McMann

Janie has an unusual gift (although some might consider it a curse.) She has the ability to enter people’s dreams. It happens when anyone falls asleep in the near vicinity of her. She learns to use her capability to help people solve problems. She also uses her dream catching to help undercover law enforcement. Now, with the help of her fellow undercover boyfriend Cabel, Janie is going to take down a very unsavory group of high school teachers who drug and molest their unsuspecting students.
FADE is the sequel to WAKE, the story that introduces us to Janie, her abilities, and her circumstances. We see Janie living with a thoroughly irresponsible, chronically alcoholic mother. Janie is forced to work just to keep food on the table and clothes on her back. She also has little or no basic supervision. What she really wants to do is go to college, but that seems like an almost impossible dream.
In WAKE Janie meets Cabel, a rough around the edges boy, who comes from equally unfortunate circumstances. He’s impressed with her abilities and introduces her to undercover law enforcement. But in FADE he has a hard time dealing with Janie having to put herself in jeopardy to bust a nefarious group of pedophiles.
The criminals are not the only source of danger for Janie. As she begins to master and control her abilities, she finds that they are taking a serious physical toll on her. Now she’s faced with a difficult choice. Should she follow her path in the name of the greater good, or should she isolate herself in an attempt to stay safe?
FADE is written in a unique third person present style. It seems simplistic, yet it tells the story at an urgent, real time pace. It’s a fast fun read for teens and adults who enjoy suspense, drama, and strong characters. I’m looking forward to the third book in the series, because I’m still intrigued by Janie and her gifts. One aspect of FADE I enjoyed was the dream presence of Mrs. Stubin a now deceased, elderly dream catcher, who educates Janie about her abilities both in the dream realm and in a journal. As readers we learn about dream catching right along with Janie.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review: ETERNAL

Poised at the Edge Book Review
Cynthia Leitich Smith

In her mortal life Miranda was always pretty introverted and shy. Even though she was a wannabe theater geek, auditions were totally mortifying. What could possibly transform a retiring wallflower into the belle of the ball? How about a bite from undead royalty? When Miranda finds herself elevated and adopted by the King of the Mantle of Dracul she’s immersed into a decadent world of infinite wealth and luxury. But the dark gift comes with a heavy price.
Who can possibly save her from eternal damnation? Salvation (or an attempt at it anyway) comes in the form of her super-hot, recently demoted, Guardian Angel. Zachary has had his wings clipped for revealing himself, in all of his glory, while trying to save Miranda from the grasp of the menacing Dracul. Now, clumsy in his new human form, he lands a job as Princess Miranda’s personal assistant (all the undead have human PAs. It’s status symbol in the Eternal world.)
ETERNAL, which is written in alternating points of view (both Miranda and Zachary’s) reveals in exquisite detail the cutthroat antics of the self-indulgent Eternal aristocracy. Cynthia Leitich Smith borrows both from classic vampire lore, and her own unique darkly witty imagination, to create a dangerous love story that parallels Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine and all those other literary star-crossed lovers. Wholly original, and delightfully morbid, fans of TANTALIZE will eat this one up!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book Review: DUST OF 100 DOGS

Poised at the Edge Book Review
A.S. King

The story begins with Emer Morrisey a swash-buckling; take no prisoners, pirate, dying on a Caribbean, with the love of her life only a few feet away. Before she breathes her last breath a mysterious pirate blows a dusty powder all over her, cursing her to the life of one hundred dogs. So she does. Over three hundred and sixty five years she lives the lives of a hundred dogs. With each of her lives she acquires all sorts of knowledge and memories. Including the memories of her pirate life, including the hidden treasure, which lies buried near where she and her beloved died.
Now, done with her lives as many dogs, Emer is reborn as a modern girl named Saffron Adams. Saffron, who is considered a genius, because all of her past life knowledge, has only one thing on her mind She wants to escape the confines of her uneducated demanding parents, and go find the treasure she buried on that Caribbean beach all those years ago. Her parents are very greedy about Saffron’s perceived genius. They want her to go medical school and support them forever.
Emer, with her bold fury, lives inside of Saffron, pushing her toward independence and escape. DUST OF 100 DOGS is a fascinating, highly original action novel that weaves brilliantly written historical passages with more standard modern teen ones. Written non-linearly we see Emer as an innocent child living Ireland during the merciless attacks of Oliver Cromwell. She sees her parents and brother murdered before being taken away by her sadistic uncle, who also hid during the attack. She so miserable living with her uncle’s family that she forgoes speaking for several years. Right after she meets her true love her uncle sells her to wealthy old man in Paris. Thus begins the hardships that end with Emer’s eventual transformation to pirate.
This adventure story is both engrossing and totally unpredictable. While the structure is fairly experimental, it totally works. A.S. King’s stunning debut is part history lesson, part dog training manual, part modern coming of age story. It dazzles with its risky originality and its shameless girl-power. Emer/Saffron is powerful, intelligent, willful protagonist that the sisterhood just has to love!