Following a devastating senior year, things are looking up for eighteen-year-old Sabine Reyes. She has been accepted to a prestigious art school on a full scholarship, including an allowance for housing. Still traumatized from the events of her senior year, which left her homeless, she becomes alarmed when her professor, a noted artist, is brutally critical of her artwork. Nothing she does meets his approval and she is fearful that failure in this class will result in the loss of her scholarship. Vulnerable, and under intense pressure, she is manipulated by someone she trusts, and engages in unethical activity she at first rationalizes and later realizes is wrong.
Set in contemporary Pasadena and surrounding areas, Linka’s book explores Sabine’s last year of high school and how the events of that year impacted her later actions and decisions. This gradual build up, intertwined with Sabine’s current life of school, work, friendships, and loves, dramatically increases the story’s intensity. Readers helplessly witness Sabine’s entanglement in a criminal world and the staggering consequences she faces when exposed.
Linka’s love of art is clearly evident in the story and provides fascinating backdrops and insights. Yet, this story is also shaped by Linka’s growing concern over homelessness, especially among college students. In Sabine, Linka has created an innocent and fragile young woman who has experienced hardships unimaginable by most of her peers. Due to society’s negative impression of the homeless, Sabine lives in fear that her friends and classmates will find out about her earlier homeless experience. Yet this very hardship enables Sabine to treat the story’s homeless characters with dignity and respect. One such character, inspired by the author’s chance encounter with an older homeless woman, becomes the subject of a powerful work painted by Sabine.
I recommend this complex and gripping story, infused with the beauty of art and the ugliness of deceit and betrayal.
Review by Dornel Cerro
Support a local independent bookstore by ordering your copy of What I Want You to Seehere.
(St. Martin’s Griffin; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
Review and Interview by Ronna Mandel
Avie Reveare is an average teen in a not-so-average world. Like most teens, she loves music, hanging out with her friends, and is especially close with her best friend Dayla, and a childhood pal, Yates, whom she may or may not be falling for (also typical of a teen).
The time is now and Avie is living a well-off life in Pasadena, California. However, this being dystopian fiction, author Linka has had to create a believable America unlike our present one. This one is still reeling from the aftermath of Scarpanol, a synthetic hormone that was used in beef and ended up killing fifty million women ten years earlier. The end result – young girls are a protected commodity, contracted for marriage often by the highest bidder.
Females have been losing their rights since the Scarpanol tragedy and the Paternalist movement, which threatens to control them entirely, is causing many teenaged girls to flee to Canada. When Avie’s father accepts a marriage contract offer for his daughter from Jes Hawkins, a massively rich Paternalist running for governor and one of the sleaziest characters I’ve seen in print recently, she realizes she too must make a run for the border. Readers soon learn that escaping the clutches of a wealthy, well-connected wannabe politician, is a lot easier in theory than in reality. Avie, with the help of Yates, is forced to go underground, but in doing will she rise to the occasion, get involved in a cause she’s tried to avoid or succumb to the emotional and physical consequences of escaping her forthcoming marriage?
With A Girl Called Fearless, Linka’s created a page turner for teens that will pull them into her world immediately and keep them reading because they’ll care about Avie and what happens to her; the urgency of her situation tenable. Teen vernacular is captured perfectly, and Linka’s use of song lyrics and the anger behind them is also employed successfully in the storyline.
“Better Learn My Name”
By Survival Instincts
I’ve got a hundred names,
But it all comes out the same
I’m someone’s prize possession
Not a person. An obsession
Is it the end of the world as Avie knows it or can something good come from all the malice boiling just below the surface of everyday dystopian life? I recommend getting this YA novel as a gift this holiday season for that teen who might otherwise be attached to a cell phone for the next two weeks.
Q & A With Catherine Linka:
What is your book about?
A Girl Called Fearless and its sequel, A Girl Undone, are about Avie, a junior at a girl’s school in Pasadena who comes home from school one day and finds that her dad has “Contracted” her to marry a man twice her age who she’s never met. The book is set in Los Angeles today, but assumes that ten years ago, synthetic hormones in beef killed most adult women in the US, so teenage girls have become the most valuable and protected commodity in the country. Avie must choose whether to get married or run for freedom in Canada.
We’ve seen a lot of strong girl characters like Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. How does Avie compare?
I wanted to write about a girl who’s not a superhero-style character. Avie’s a typical teenage girl suddenly thrust into a situation that tests her to the max. She doesn’t think of herself as “Fearless” even though her friend Yates likes to call her that. I felt it was important to show young readers that many of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we are pushed to our absolute limits. At the end of book one, Avie says, “I am fearless,” because she has survived.
Authors tend to put themselves into their characters. How are you and Avie related?
Well, I’m obviously not a sixteen-year-old girl, but Avie and I share a strong sense of what is fair and just. Avie’s been insulated from what is happening in the world around her until she is Contracted to marry a man who is running for Governor of California. As she starts to see how the Paternalist politicians are manipulating men’s and women’s lives, she feels she has to act somehow. She can’t sit back and do nothing. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing, either.
What has surprised you about the reaction to A Girl Called Fearless?
One thing I never anticipated was getting emails from readers as young as eleven and as old as eighty-five. Younger readers seem to enjoy the story’s action and adventure, while older readers see the historic and political parallels between Avie’s America and the real world. And I never expected guys to read the book or enjoy it. Never! I’ve also been surprised that both grandmas and teens have thanked me for showing Avie choosing to wait instead of having sex.
We heard there’s a possible TV series?
Yes, the books have been optioned and a series is in development. It’s fascinating–and a tiny bit scary– to see how a book is taken from the page to the screen, because the author has very little control. But the lead screenwriters are geniuses, so my fingers are crossed things will come out well.
What was your biggest challenge when writing the first novel- was it creating a believable epidemic, believable characters or something else altogether?
The biggest challenge was initially the book felt like two books–before Avie leaves Los Angeles and after. I united the halves by making the businessman that Avie is Contracted to marry into a candidate for Governor of California from the Paternalist Party. This strengthened the political theme and heightened the stakes.
You sure seemed to have had fun writing the role of Avie’s skeevy intended, Jes Hawkins – was he one of the easiest to write?
I adore writing villains. They can have big, bold personalities, and it’s much easier to create a villain who possesses positive character traits than it is to write a hero and give him enough flaws to make him believable.
In addition to Avie and Yates, there are so many interesting characters in your novel – her teacher, Ms. A, a priest, Father Gabe, her gynecologist, Mrs. Prandip and her underground connection Maggie. For me though, my particular favorites were those living in the rebel enclave of Salvation. Were you inspired by anyone or anything in real life when you conceived of this community?
When I wrote Salvation, I wanted to give voice to a part of America that values self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, religion, and freedom from government control. I was inspired by stories of frontier settlers, but I also read books and blogs written by survivalists who wanted to be off the grid.
Without a plot spoiler, can you give us a tease about what we can expect in the sequel,A Girl Undone?
Avie faces some tough decisions. At the end of A Girl Called Fearless, she makes a promise, but keeping that promise puts her life at risk. The first book was about Avie discovering her inner strength. A Girl Undone is about choosing between what is best for her and what’s best for the country.
Despite the publishing industry saying that they’ve moved on to other genres, dystopian-themed stories remain extremely popular with teens. To what to you attribute this? What’s the appeal?
I think the publishing industry gets bored with genres faster than readers do, but that said, I believe “dystopian” stories are popular because they are high-stakes action/adventure stories. In many ways, they are monster stories where the monster is government or technology out of control.
How do you differentiate sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian fiction for parents who want to know what types of books their kids are reading?
When people think of fantasy, they often think of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings where magic inhabits an Earth-like world. The conflict is often between those who practice good magic and those who use magic for evil.
Sci-fi differentiates itself from fantasy by offering a world transformed by advanced scientific technology, and the action often takes place away from planet Earth. Dystopian is usually set on Earth in the future, and involves a catastrophic event or technology fail that dramatically changed the society or government. The themes of both usually involve survival, or freedom from totalitarian control.
What is your current WIP?
Right now I’m reviewing the typeset pages of A Girl Undone that are due next week. I am also working with my publisher on how to make available a novella I wrote about Sparrow, a character from A Girl Called Fearless. We are considering putting it on Wattpad where readers could try it out for free.
Disclosure: I happen to know Catherine Linka who has reviewed many books for GRWR, however this did not influence my opinion about her novel.
Meet Catherine Linka on her Thank You Sciba Book Tour.
In appreciation for the support of indie booksellers this year,
she can be found signing her debut novel, A Girl Called Fearless,
and hand selling children’s and YA books at the following stores.
She’s the best at helping you find the perfect gift!
Be sure to pick up several copies of her book.
12/18 Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA
12/19 Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, La Canada, CA
Steve Light’s charming and clever counting book, Have You Seen My Dragon?, takes us all over Manhattan soaking up the sights and counting various things found there. Light’s latest book was a recommended read by book buyer and author Catherine Linka and now I’m sharing her tip with you.
And speaking of tips, Light’s book includes numerous modes of transportation kids want to see in a busy city: taxis, subway cars, bikes, boats and buses, all for the counting – there are 16 subway cars and 17 taxis in case you were wondering! Whatever item is being counted is highlighted by being the only color on an otherwise detailed black and white page. What a marvelous way to grab kids’ attention and pull them back in again and again to search and savor every lovingly drawn line.
I’m a former New Yorker so I especially appreciated this free ride to my hometown. As readers we wind our way all around the Big Apple with a little lad who is searching for his pet dragon. The beauty of this picture book is how Light has created a captivating counting story using inviting pen-and-ink illustrations that yield beautiful surprises as young readers seek and find the cheeky dragon. All the while your child may be looking out for the hidden-in-plain sight dragon, you’ll be noticing humorous little gems that Light’s illustrated to keep you on your toes. Take the monkey, for example, just under the dragon fountain. He’s reaching for the zookeeper’s keys!
From Central Park to China Town, with patches of pinks and reds and purples scattered throughout the pages, there is simply so much to see and enjoy in Have You Seen My Dragon? I have no doubt you’ll agree that this picture book has everything youngsters want in a picture book and then some. Enjoy your trip!
This fall, there are several new novels for young readers that offer the flavor and feel of classics. I read these books before they were published, looking forward to the day when I could hand them to readers and say, “I think you’ll love this.” Pick these up for holiday gifts for readers aged 8-13.
This reminds me a bit of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Beautifully written, with a lush and dramatic setting “Below.” Liza realizes that her little brother’s soul was stolen in his sleep by Spindlers, spider-like creatures, so she goes Below to get it back. Liza must befriend Mirabella, a tricky rat, to find her brother and the evil queen who holds his soul. Great read aloud with action and themes of friendship and family. For independent readers 9+.
Inspired by THE SECRET GARDEN, this was a huge hit with our Advance Reader Club of 5th and 6th graders. Roo loses her parents and goes to live with her reclusive uncle in what was once a Children’s Hospital on an island in the Saint Lawrence river. There’s a mystery inside the walls of this old building and Roo sets out to uncover it. (9+)
Summer and her little sister, Bird, wake up to find their parents have disappeared into the woods. Searching the woods for their mom and dad, Bird follows a birdsong to a strange and wintery land where the birds await the return of the missing swan queen. While THE SPINDLERS is dramatic, SUMMER AND BIRD is dreamlike. Read it before bed. 9+.
A great story for kids who befriend someone who may not be honest with them. Two boys, neighbors in a NYC apartment building, team up to spy on a resident they suspect of a crime. By the author of the Newbery-award winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME. Perfect for mother-daughter book clubs. (9+) NOTE: Read the GRWR review of this book by middle grade author Kristen Kittscher by clicking here.
For fans of Kate DiCamillo or Deb Wiles. A beautifully written story about a girl trying to keep her siblings together when their guardian gets sick. Strong themes of family loyalty, leadership, challenge of honesty. Pride, the eldest girl is a terrific lead character. This funny and sweet story is perfect for mother-daughter book clubs. (9+)
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events.