Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Girl Against the Universe: School/Library Giveaway

A huge thank you to everyone who entered this contest, spread the word, 
and shared their tips for me to connect with librarians and educational professionals. 
I really appreciate your thoughts. All winners should receive their books by Aug 31.

(Please forgive me for not typing out all of your titles)

Becky Greer
Jenefer Rosado
Susan Light

Amy Willard
Ellice Yager
Michelle Reid
Julie Clay
Hallie Fields
Jenny Yamamoto
Abigail Orozco
Julie Davis
Caron Ervin
Margie Rohrbach

I've been talking to my HarperTeen editor and to library personnel I know for the last few weeks about ways to introduce more teachers and librarians to GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE. Not only is the book receiving great reviews for being entertaining and avoiding/subverting overused YA tropes, it's also inspiring and empowering some of its early readers, especially those with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or those dealing with grief or loss. And multiple reviews have pointed out that the portrayal of therapy in the book might encourage kids who are struggling to ask for help.

"As I’m still going through my own healing process, I had a resounding thought while reading Maguire’s story: This is it. This is what I want my own healing to look like." 

"I think the shining star of this novel is how positively therapy is portrayed. Honestly I wish I had this book after my mom passed away because maybe I would have gotten the help that I needed to deal with my issues." 

But how to make it stand out in the eyes of teachers and librarians among a crowded spring/summer full of contemporary releases? This is an ongoing quest of mine, so if you have suggestions, please let me know! I can't really afford to buy advertising, and I've been told a postcard campaign might not be effective since it's so difficult to figure out which librarian buys books for which branch or department. But then yesterday one of the big book retailers marked down hardcovers to just $7.91. [Click here if you want to see if that price is still in effect.] That's cheaper than I can buy direct from my publishers, so I picked up a few extra copies and ...

I am giving away 10 hardcover copies of GATU to American schools and libraries :D

Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

"Readers will laugh, cry, and root for Maguire as she fights to reclaim her life with the help of a dynamic supporting cast. Girl Against the Universe is exactly the kind of book we need more of in YA."

"Stokes did a great job of fostering the friendships in this story. It could have been so easy to make one of these characters your typical mean girl, but it was entirely refreshing to see her not go that route."

To enter:
  • You must have a USA mailing address (Puerto Rico is included).
  • You must be a librarian, media specialist, library assistant, teacher, or someone else who works with groups of 12-24 year olds in an official capacity.
  • If you win a copy, it must kept in a way where it can be circulated to multiple readers, e.g. school/community library circulation, classroom library shelves, etc., and not donated or sold to a single person.
  • You must have a business address (I will be media mailing in early August) or be able to verify your position/affiliation if the book is to be sent to a private residence.
  • You must fill out this form by July 25th. Winners will be randomly selected by Aug 5th.

How do you know if you want a copy of GATU to share with your students? Here are a few facts about the book:

1. This is a book about mental illness. 
Main character Maguire is suffering from PTSD, specifically survivor's guilt. After being in multiple serious accidents where everyone but her was injured or killed, Maguire worries obsessively that she might be a "bad luck charm" to anyone who gets close. To help combat her anxiety, she has developed unhealthy coping mechanisms like isolating herself from people and obsessively checking her environment for hazards. The first four chapters of the book are Maguire beginning a course of cognitive behavioral therapy after yet another accident pushes her to her breaking point.

2. This is a funny and uplifting story. 
A lot of mental illness books are dark and gritty reads with depressing storylines and/or negative portrayals of therapy. Maguire's issues are treated seriously and respectfully, but the tone of the book remains hopeful throughout and Maguire receives a lot of support from her friends and family. The book's therapist is competent and helpful without doing all the work for her. There are places where she is suffering from panic attacks or engaging in compulsive behaviors that might feel all too real to readers with similar issues, but there are plenty of lighthearted funny moments to balance out the darker spots.

3. The romance does not magically cure the mental illness. 
Romantic love does not fix mental illness. Often, a new romantic relationship actually exacerbates a person's current struggles by adding additional stress and expectations. There is a romance in this book, but it begins as a friendship, and Maguire has no problem telling Jordy that she's not healthy enough to date anyone at first. Even after they later become involved, Jordy supports her as she works through her therapy challenges, but she is the one who drives her journey toward healing.

4. In fact, nothing magically cures the mental illness.
Maguire is told by her therapist early on that mental health is fluid, that no matter what they accomplish together, she's still going to have good days and bad days At the end of the book, she's still in therapy and has formed alliances with friends and family members that will continue to help her grow. However, she is still in charge of her healing process, and although she recognizes the progress she's made, she knows there's still a lot more work to be done.


Maybe you already got GATU, or maybe you're looking for something edgier and higher concept to entice your reluctant readers. I'm going to throw in three free paperbacks of my 2015 thriller LIARS, INC. This book received a starred review from Kirkus and has actually created new readers. Multiple teens have sent me emails to say they hated books but were forced to read one in school. When they picked up LIARS, they didn't want to put it down. All of these kids asked for recommendations for more books and I was happy to oblige. 

LIARS is great choice for older teens or at-risk youth who are tired of boys in books all being rich, smart, gorgeous, and successful. Protagonist Max Cantrell lives on the streets for a year before being adopted by a loving, lower-income family. He a regular guy--that kid in the hoodie who sometimes falls asleep in the back of class. But all that changes when a business selling lies and alibis leads to Max being implicated in his best friend's murder.

Oh, and since you're here, if you like giveaways, you might be interested in entering the Goodreads giveaway for my next release, VICARIOUS! I'll be doing some international giveaways for that book starting in my July newsletter, which you can subscribe to by clicking on the "mailing list" tab.

Friday, June 17, 2016

GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE: Read the original beginning

A lot of you know that I made massive revisions to GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE during the editing phase, including researching and writing the entire therapy arc and psychologist sessions, which are based on actual cognitive behavioral therapy. The submission draft of the book was lighter in tone. Maguire wasn't struggling quite as much at the beginning of the story, and although her journey to attempt to overcome her fear of being a bad luck charm went through largely the same task-oriented trajectory, it wasn't until the end of the book that she realized she needed the help of a professional therapist. You can read more about the specific revision strategies I incorporated over at Forever 17 Books.

Image by Rebecca from Australia

I thought it would be fun to share the original beginning to the story. If you were one of my #LoyalLiars street team members then you might have already read this. Either way, if you've read the novel you'll recognize about 40% of these paragraphs from the final book. This is pretty common for me--to cut entire chapters but excerpt out certain passages that I think are particularly meaningful and fit them in elsewhere. Check it out:


Chapter 1 (Deleted)

I didn’t blame myself for the first accident, or even the second one. After the third one, I did what any rational twelve-year-old would do—I went to a fortuneteller.
            Her eyes got wide as she flipped over the tarot cards one at a time. I don’t remember exactly what she dealt, but there were a lot of swords and everything was upside-down.
            “Grave, very grave,” she muttered. She grasped my hand and examined my palm, shaking her head in dismay. “You are surrounded by darkness.”
            “I’ve been in a couple of accidents. People…got hurt,” I stammered.
            “But this reading…” She sighed dramatically and gestured to the five cards laid out in a cross formation. “It says the worst is yet to come.”
            After that, the bad dreams started. Four years later, they’re still haunting me.
            There are two in particular that I have on a regular basis. One is about the car wreck, about plunging through the guardrail and down the side of the mountain. It starts off just like I remember the moments before the accident: me and my brother fighting in the backseat, my dad and uncle laughing at us. But then instead of telling my brother to shut up, I tell him he’s going to die. I tell them they’re all going to die. And then I reach for the steering wheel. When the ambulance arrives, I’m covered with everyone else’s blood, just sitting cross-legged in the carnage. Smiling.
            The other recurring dream is of a cemetery and three coffins placed side-by-side. The pallbearers come back with a fourth coffin and everyone at the funeral turns and tries to stuff me in it. I’m screaming and kicking, but no one seems to notice or care. They just pin my body to the shiny satin interior until they can slam the cover shut.
            Tonight I have the first dream.
            I wake with a crushing sense of dread wrapped around my middle, the shrill cry of the ambulance siren fading away as light begins to filter through my rapidly blinking eyelashes. With trembling fingers, I slip a battered red notebook out of the top drawer of my nightstand and record what I remember. I call it my luck notebook, but it’s more a ledger of unfortunate happenings and bad dreams. Nightmares can be a hint of things to come, so on dream days I have to be extra careful.
            Setting the notebook aside, I lift a hand to my throat to make sure my mystic knot amulet is still in place. The mystic knot is a Buddhist symbol of luck that I bought online. It’s supposed to bring positive energy to every aspect of your life. Believe me, I need all the positive energy I can get. I wear my mystic knot 24-7—when I’m sleeping, when I’m showering, even in gym class.
            Especially in gym class—high school gym can be dangerous.
            As a bonus, the amulet is made of iron, which is said to repel evil faeries who cause bad luck. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as faeries, but bad luck has to come from somewhere, right? Better safe than sorry.
            I knock three times on my wooden nightstand and then dab a bit of jasmine perfume from a tiny heart-shaped vial on each of my wrists. The manufacturers of the perfume claim it’s made with water from a special Himalayan stream and has been blessed by Nepali monks.
            Just one more ritual to complete before I slide out of bed—my daily positive affirmation. I know it sounds cheesy, but a lot of people swear starting your day with a positive thought makes a difference and I’m in no position to ignore stuff that works just because I feel lame doing it. Most people say something like: “Today is going to be a great day.” I try to keep things a little more realistic, like: today isn’t going to be as bad as that day at Celia Bittendorf’s sleepover party when everyone but me started throwing up all over the place and Celia told her parents I poisoned the cake and then her mom called my mom and I got picked up at midnight and everyone at school avoided me for the rest of the year.
            Okay, maybe that’s a little long.
            “Today is not going to suck,” I mutter.
            Stretching both arms high in the air, I yawn mightily and finally get out of bed. Standing in front of my dresser mirror, I recite a Chinese good luck prayer eight times. (Eight is a lucky number in Chinese). Then I make a half-hearted attempt to finger-comb my hair and twist it back into a bun. That part’s not about luck; it’s just about keeping my hair from taking over my face. I’ve got one of those manes that everyone likes to ooh and ahh over, but no one really wants for their own. Thick black hair that hangs to the middle of my back in corkscrew curls and sticks out a couple of feet from my head if I don’t tame it down and tie it back. Kind of like that old school guitarist, Slash, only I’m a lot smaller than he is, so my hair looks even bigger.
            I tromp down the hall and into the kitchen in my pajamas. My mother is at the counter, cutting up a mango, the baby monitor tucked in her front pocket. I watch her for a moment, listening to the whisper of the knife blade as the slices pile up on the cutting board. If I had to describe Mom in one word, it would be control. Controlled knife. Controlled expression. Pressed pantsuit. Hair cut short enough to never be unruly. Everyone needs to feel in control; we just go about it in different ways. For Mom it’s clothes and hair, a second husband with a stable job, a battery of tests early in her pregnancy to make sure my new half-brother Jacob would be born healthy. For me it’s a notebook full of data, a series of good luck rituals, and a predictable routine that I can plan for.
            My stepdad, Tom, has his head buried in a newspaper. He’s an engineer of some sort. Chemical? Mechanical? Honestly, I don’t know, but then I’ve never made much of an effort to ask. Don’t get me wrong--he’s not a wicked stepfather or anything. He’s basically cool. It’s just even after five years of him being my stepfather, it still feels like betraying my real dad to get too close to him.
            I spoon some oatmeal into my favorite bowl with the painted white elephants around the rim and take my usual seat across from my half-sister Ellen. When my mom and Tom aren’t looking, I toss a little salt over my left shoulder. Ellen catches me and giggles. “Maguire,” she says in her high-pitched voice, mangling my name just slightly so it sounds like Mack Wire.
            “Shh.” I raise a finger to my lips. Her bright blue eyes sparkle. She’s only four. She’ll play along.
            Casually, I let my hand drop to my chair where I knock three times. My rituals probably seem excessive, and I guess they are. But you’d be excessive too if people’s lives were at stake. You know how some people are magnets for trouble? I take that to a whole new level—I not only attract bad luck, I somehow reflect it onto the people around me.
            Yep, I’m a bad luck charm.
            It sounds a lot cuter than it is.
            I was nine when the car accident happened. My dad, Uncle Kieran, my brother, and I were heading home from a day of hiking at a state park outside of San Luis Obispo, where I grew up. A scenic road. A hot summer day. The perfect setting for a Sunday drive.
             Or, as it turned out, a horror story.
            Connor and I were fighting about this boy who lived down the street when I saw the giant truck heading right at us. The driver must have lost control of his rig as he navigated the twisting mountain road, veering dangerously into our lane.
            Dad tried to swerve onto the shoulder at the last second, but we were driving along the side of a hill and there was just a few feet of concrete and a flimsy guardrail. The back of the truck clipped us and sent us straight through the guardrail and down the incline. We flipped end over end and landed in a rocky ravine. Dad, Uncle Kieran, and Connor were dead before the paramedics could get to us.
            I didn’t even get hurt.
            I was still in the ER when the newspaper people found me. They called me the miracle kid. I’ll never forget how they buzzed around me, asking prying questions about what I remembered and why I thought I got spared. I had just lost three members of my family, and these people wanted to talk about the luck of the Irish.
            My mom tried to shield me from the reporters but eventually gave up and posed with me for a few pictures so they would go away. She said focusing on how I was alive would help everyone cope with losing my dad and uncle, two of the town’s most decorated firefighters. It didn’t help me cope. All I could think was that I should have been nicer to Connor. He was just teasing me. How is it something that feels so crucial one moment can seem completely trivial after the fact? If I had known, I would have spent my brother’s last few seconds on earth telling him how much I loved him instead of telling him I wished he would shut his mouth for good.
            The driver of the truck died too, so we never found out for sure why he had lost control.
            I never thought much about control before that day.
            Two years later, when I was eleven, a rollercoaster I was riding careened off the tracks and crashed to the ground at a nearby amusement park. That accident wasn’t quite as serious—at least no one died—but every single passenger in our car had broken bones, except for me. Again, I was completely unharmed. No one called me a miracle kid that time, but the crazy lady who begs for change in front of the AM/PM called me a witch.
            We moved after that.
            There were other things too, like the previously mentioned slumber party disaster. That’s what sent me off to the fortuneteller and caused me to start keeping track of everything in my luck notebook. But then three months ago, the house next door to us accidentally burned to the ground from a candle I left lit on my windowsill. You wouldn’t think a brick house could go up like a box of matches from one teensy dollar store votive, but it did. The firefighters said they’d never seen anything like it.
            We moved again.
            Mom said it was because Tom got transferred, but I’m pretty sure it was because of me.
            That’s how we ended up in Pacific Point, a suburb of San Diego where tan, blond people seem to outnumber everyone else three to one. It’s only my second day of junior year and already three people have asked me if I’m a foreign exchange student.
            “Maguire, don’t forget you have tennis tryouts after school,” my mom says with entirely too much enthusiasm. She fiddles with a piece of hair at the nape of her neck.
            “Got it,” I say through a mouthful of oatmeal. As if I could forget. The problem with tennis tryouts is that they’re outside of my normal safe routine: walk to school, sit through classes, walk home. How can I hope to control the situation if I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen?
            Tom takes his plate and mug to the sink and rinses them thoroughly. “I hope the new racquet works out for you.” He slides his now clean-enough-to-eat-off dishes into the dishwasher.
            “I’m sure it’ll be great.” I force a smile.
            He and my mom bought me this top of the line graphite-titanium-moon rock-bulletproof two-hundred dollar racquet. I appreciate the gesture, but unless it’s going to play for me there’s no guarantee I’ll make the team. And unless it’s magical, there’s no guarantee something bad won’t happen.
            The oatmeal begins to congeal in my stomach when I start brainstorming about possible accidents that could occur during something as seemingly benign as tennis tryouts.
            As you can imagine, once I accepted the fact I was bad luck, I tended to shy away from group activities. And groups. And activities. I traded dance lessons and the church soccer team for running—something I could do all alone. I also started spending a lot of time in my room, tucked under my covers reading books. There’s only so much damage a book can do, and I wasn’t worried about hurting myself. The worst is yet to come. Accidentally hurting yourself is way better than hurting other people.
            I also started researching ways to combat bad luck. Gran told me this story about evil faeries, about a man who wished for something bad to happen to his neighbor. Apparently he didn’t really mean it, but his words invited the faeries into his life and they never left. Sure, Gran’s tale was probably complete fiction, but what if it wasn’t?
            So I started out reading about primrose and iron and how to keep the faeries away. Gradually, I widened my search to cultures outside of my own, learning about herbs and chants and new age-y things like yoga and positive affirmations. I even spent one whole summer trying to de-curse myself with all-natural tonics and spells purchased on the internet. I tried whatever I could do without a lot of explanation to my mother. And anything I decided might have some positive benefit, I incorporated into a daily routine. I had plenty of time to knock on wood and repeat good luck chants since I’d quit doing much else besides going to school.
            Sure, I got lonely for a while. But getting invited to slumber parties just wasn’t worth the stress of wondering if I might accidentally burn down the house with my flat iron or be the only survivor of a freak sleepover massacre. And loneliness is just like everything else—if you endure it long enough, you get used to it.
            But when we moved to Pacific Point, my mom finally decided I was spending too much time with my head in a book and told me that this school needed to be different. I needed to get involved or she was going to choose an activity for me.
            Rule #1: Never let your mom choose for you.
            I imagine myself on the flag twirling squad like Mom in her high school. Someone would probably get impaled. At least tennis racquets are round, and presumably non-lethal.
            “I can’t wait to hear all about it,” my mom says. She fusses with Ellen’s hair while my sister drinks the leftover pink milk at the bottom of her cereal bowl one spoonful at a time. “I hope that practicing you’ve been doing pays off for you.”
            She’s talking about me going to the park and hitting the tennis ball against the wall of the racquetball courts. I used to hit around with my brother when we were kids, but I’ve never had any lessons or anything so I spent the last few days practicing as best I can. I have no idea how good everyone else will be and I don’t want to be completely humiliated at tryouts.
            “And you said if I make the team I can take your car to the away matches, right?” After the accident, I developed a huge phobia of riding in cars. It took months of sedatives just to be able to ride with Mom. There’s no way I’d survive being a passenger on a bus full of kids.
            My mom and Tom exchange a glance but he doesn’t say anything. “I don’t see why not,” my mom says. “I won’t be going back to work for a while.” She’s on maternity leave from her job as a physical therapy assistant.
            “If I don’t make the team, can I have points for effort and then go back to my usual routine?” I ask hopefully.
            “No,” Mom says firmly. “Trust me, honey. These are the best years of your life. You’ll thank me for this someday.”
            “If these are the best years then someone needs to just kill me now,” I mumble. She doesn’t know what high school is like these days—people obsessing about extracurriculars and AP classes and padding their college applications. It’s all about what you have and where you’re going. No one seems to notice who you actually are. And is it me, or is my mom the only mom in the history of ever who told her kid to spend less time reading and more time being social? Doesn’t she know the chances of me getting drunk, pregnant, and/or arrested are much lower if I never leave my room?
            A mix of wailing and static bursts from the baby monitor.
            “And that’s my cue,” Tom says jokingly, pretending like he’s racing for the door.
            My mom smiles. “I’ll get him. You go ahead.”
            “If you’re sure.” Tom kisses my mom, ruffles Ellen’s hair, and gives me a wave. “Knock ‘em dead, Champ,” he says. Grabbing his keys from the table, he heads off to work.

            I slide my chair back from the table and mutter something about finishing getting ready. “Dead” is not a word I want associated with today.

Graphic by Emilie from Canada

If you want to read more deleted scenes, you can check out Maguire and Jordy practicing tennis at the local tennis club, or Maguire and Jordy's sister trying to hide Maguire from Jordy's mom. I have over 100 pages of cut scenes from GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE and I will be sharing more of them in the future, both on this blog and over at my Wattpad account.

BONUS: Are you a fan of dark, action-packed stories? Click here to read the beginning of my twisty mystery VICARIOUS, releasing August 16, 2016 from Tor Teen.