When your life changes overnight

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Maanalaiset (Undergrounders)

One morning when Metuli wakes up, her whole life has turned upside down. Sanna Isto takes the reader to an adventure of her life in the intriguing sceneries and underground tunnels of the bastion of Suomenlinna.

Maanalaiset by Sanna Isto in Read, Write and Publish

Author: Sanna Isto
Illustrations: Sami Saramäki
Publisher: WSOY, Finland 2016
Category: Middle grade, magic realism/fantasy
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 4/5

Metuli is a shy and careful girl just about to enter her teen years. She has a best friend Ama, loving parents and an irritating big sister Monna. Life is peaceful on the bastion island of Suomenlinna, right in front of the capital city of Helsinki, in Finland. But Metuli’s life is turned around one night, when she has the strangest dream ever. As the morning comes, nothing is as it used to be.

Metuli finds out that she has turned into an odd creature, an armadillo of sorts. And she’s not alone, there’s a whole group of these weird human-like armadillos living underground, in the vast tunnels of Suomenlinna island. They call themselves erwins after the first human who exchanged places with an armadillo in the early 18th century, Erwin Bamberg. When the bartering with humans was about to get out of hand, erwins forbid it. Until the night when Lisko (Lizard), an infamous hooligan erwin, snapped his teeth in Metuli’s leg and they exchanged bodies.

Metuli has to face a completely different life from what she’s used to and find the courage to fight against Lisko and his accomplices in order to stop them from exchanging bodies with Metuli’s best friend Ama or her sister Monna.

Sanna Isto has written a beautiful and gripping fantasy, situated on the island of Suomenlinna – a place full of intriguing history. Some of that history is integrated in the story too. Isto’s description of Suomenlinna brings the island alive even to those who have never visited it, and to those who have, it’s a tour of familiar places.

The adventure of Metuli is a fantastical metaphor of the process of growing up – the changes that sometimes, indeed, take place overnight – in a girl’s life. The story builds up quite slow in the beginning, but as it takes speed, there’s no stopping it. After many a twist and turn, Metuli with her old friend Ama and a new friend Limppu (Loaf, an erwin) creates a plan to beat her adversary, Lisko. But the decisive steps depend on Metuli alone – she has to muster her courage and decide what kind of life she really wants.

At the moment this book is only available in Finnish. It would be really nice to see it translated into English!

Susan

 

“Amazing adventure in the underground world of secrets

Can a nightmare turn into reality? Metuli, a girl living in Suomenlinna, wakes up one morning as an odd creature and even her own family doesn’t recognize her anymore. Gradually Metuli finds out what kind of barter has been made with her and who are the creatures living in the underground tunnels of the island. But doesn’t even her best friend recognize her under the strange skin she’s now wearing?

In this touching adventure Metuli has to face the intriguing past of the bastion island and herself. Maanalaiset/Undergrounders poses the challenging question of who we really are deep down.”

 

 

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Naturals – when teens hunt criminals

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Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Naturals – Killer Instinct

A thriller with a serial killer and teens profiling criminals. This novel asks a lot from the reader – to accept a world as much a fantasy land as in the Harry Potters, only this time it’s seemingly “normal”. Jennifer Lynn Barnes has created a story, which grabs the reader from the page one and never lets go.

Naturals in Read, Write and Publish

 

There’s a twist after twist after twist and in between some criminal profiling, investigation technique and – of course – a love triangle. The five Naturals – Cassie, Dean, Michael, Lia and Sloane – all have their skills, which stem from their past. Despite all the psychology based story building, the characters are loyal to the tradition of thrillers – quite simple and straight forward. The plot plays the main part in this novel and it does it well.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is without a doubt at home creating devious plots, just like her criminal masterminds. The Naturals is part two in a series of three novels so far. This was the first novel I read in the series, but hopping in in the middle of the series was ok – it’s very easy to get on board of what’s happening. The series tells the tale of five teenagers helping FBI agents solve hideous crimes. The teens are there because of their special skills or talents: they’re expert profilers, readers of emotions, lie detectors or interpreters of statistics.

They have their skills thanks to their past experiences – each one more horrendous than the other. Instead of long-term therapy, they’re in FBI’s employment. How that’s going to work, we’ll probably see in the future novels.

While reading this book, I had the revelation of the beautiful advantage a YA novel presents for the author. Teenagers are in a kind of in-between state. It’s a border phase where everything is still possible and there’s no need to make definite decisions. This makes it possible to put five teens in a house together with an old major and an FBI agent and let them solve murders without no tangible connection to real world and their future lives.

Susan

 

“Cassie, Michael, Lia, Dean and Sloane are the Naturals – a secret FBI program for crime-solving teens.

A young girl has been murdered, her body displayed on the front lawn of her college campus. The killing is vicious, and terrifyingly familiar: someone is imitating one of the country’s most infamous serial killers – Dean’s father.

Back at the Naturals HQ, the crew are dealing with a FBI agent who is determined to keep them out of trouble. But Dean knows too much about his father’s crimes not to get involved, and his fellow Naturals won’t let him face this alone.

But as bodies mount up, the Naturals find themselves in a deadly dangerous race against time…”

 

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Let it snow

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Let it snow

Snow, Christmas and romance. The perfect combo, don’t you think? Let it snow plays its cards to full. John Green presents the reader with the “best mates into lovers” recipe, Maureen Johnson goes for the “meet your soulmate when you least expect it” formula and Lauren Myracle tells about the difficulty of transitioning from the want of being loved to loving someone.

Let it snow in Read, Write and Publish by Susan Wilander

The themes are old and well worn, but the execution is sweet and fits perfectly in a Christmas story. After all, this is the kind of book you’ll start reading seeing the happy end in your mind. No wonder there’s a movie coming – this is a sure-fire December blockbuster.

Maureen Johnson: The Jubilee Express

In the first story Jubilee thinks she has the perfect boyfriend until life throws her into a snowy chaos and her boyfriend couldn’t care less. Even then it is hard to admit the facts a gorgeous outsider called Stuart so eagerly presents to her… Especially as his mother seems to be overly enthusiastic to get his son dating again.

Maureen Johnson combines humour, incredulous incidents and romance in a way that sucks the reader into the world she’s created. However, to me as a person grown and lived most of my life in the northern coldness, the main characters’ habit of wrapping plastic bags as a cover for snowstorm is somewhat absurd. That would effectively freeze them to death – especially after getting themselves soaking wet in below freezing temperatures…

John Green: A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle

John Green presents a trio so familiar to his style: two boys and a girl, who’s really one of the boys. It’s clear from the beginning where this story is going. Maybe Green’s talent as a writer becomes even more evident in the fact that this doesn’t reduce the appeal of the story one little bit? Tobin and the Duke find the courage to tell each other about their feelings after a crazy run-around in the snowstorm.

Lauren Myracle: The Patron Saint of Pigs

Addie seems to have a completely different problem from the previous stories. She’s ended her relationship with Jeb due to her own mishap after a pointless argument. Addie’s life seems to revolve around her own navel, until an unexpected Christmas Angel pushes her to face her problems in a completely new way. Addie learns something about herself and when she finally gets a chance to patch things up with Jeb, she’s better prepared.

Gabriel the-teacup-pig has a large part in the last story – a nice touch after the not-so-perfect boyfriend Noah in the first story hangs up with Jubilee in order to carry a huge ham to Christmas smorgasbord…

Susan

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Halloween – the Time of Ghost Stories

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Today is the night of all nights – at least when it comes to enjoying a bit of horror. I decided to give a taste of a good old time ghost story with a bunch of modern illustrations by me (trying out my new Wacom together with Inkscape and Scribus.

Myra’s Well – A Tale of All-Hallow-E’en is a story by George Francis Dawson, originally published in 1883 in the USA. I have edited and illustrated this Halloween edition of 2016 for your enjoyment. May the chills be with you!

Download the story of Myra’s Well here in PDF

Myra's Well Edited and Illustrated by Susan Wilander

 

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Casting for Your Novel – Teenagers

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Rosalind Wiseman: Queen bees & Wannabees

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence
2002

Not quite a teenager anymore? Me neither, so I wanted to get a bit of fresh perspective for my writing regarding that age group. I happened to stumble upon Wiseman’s book about the real life of teens and it was a fascinating read. The book is directed to concerned parents to help them help their daughters through adolescence, but it works fine as a fiction writer’s guide to the subject.

Queen bees and wannabees: casting for you novel

 

Not only is Wiseman spot on in so many of her characterizations, her book is excellent inspiration for writers! However, it is also quite chilling to remember she’s talking about real people and real lives. Wiseman paints a picture of the US high schools as battle grounds of several different clans, no mercy asked, no given. Is it really that hard to be young and a girl?

I have to admit, that some of the things she describes seem a bit far out. I guess my Finnish teen universe was not quite as elaborately class or status oriented as the US counterpart. But I can completely relate to one thing: girls can be utterly cruel and devious to each other. Sometimes sweet and supportive too. Just like any of us. But the latter happens seldom, Wiseman warns. There’s even a word for the twisted form of friendships girls can create: frenemies.

Is your teen character real and relatable?

For a YA fiction writer Wiseman’s book is excellent reading. It takes you back to your teenage feelings and gives a plethora of authentic opinions and views by the youth she quotes. One thing that all too often irritates me in YA fiction is the unrealistic teen characters. Either they appear to be light years more mature than their peers in the real world or – this applies especially to male characters – they’re straight out of daydreams.

I don’t believe this is a coincidence, though. Wiser-than-their-years characters most probably appeal to many readers. However, if you as a writer want to create somewhat realistic characters or characters that resonate with young readers, perhaps it would be a good idea to get familiar with the actual think sets and logic your audience shares?

And where’s the book about preteens’ behaviour patterns?

Another pet peeve of mine are child characters that are completely wrong for their age. And I know it is really difficult to get them right. Most often children in literature appear too childish, too innocent and far too clueless. It is as if writers would like to present children through an ideal instead of a real, living thing.

A wonderful child character is Flavia de Luce, a shrewd detective girl aged 12 by Alan Bradley. With my experience of two daughters it’s very easy to relate to this girl’s witty cynicism and discerning observations of the life around her. Another beautifully built character in her preteens is Mia, from Kerstin Gier’s Book of Dream’s trilogy.

Who’s going to write a guide on the real preteens? Wiseman touches a bit this age group, as she includes 12 year olds in some of her examples. But what about 7 to 11 year olds? The problem is, that in that age group the level of maturity varies enormously between individuals. Where some 9 year olds play with dolls, others listen to the latest pop music and spend their time in WhatsApp. And even the same individual may do one thing today and the other on the next day. So, how do you present a character of this age group – especially if she’s just a side character with not that much presence in the novel?

Need a cast of stereotypes?

Here’s a big bunch of them. Wiseman’s categories of reputations are something straight out of an high school comedy. They are not as apparent in literature, but some elements of them are visible in many characters in YA fiction. Even if these would be simplistic used as such in a story, the reputations can give ideas for the group dynamics in a novel cast or elements of a character’s behaviour.

In-Your-Face Angry Girl: She’s not afraid to dress differently and be ”bitchy”. She is dramatic, interested in zines, has no patience for popularity and people in the popular cliques. She seems cynical, but is in reality easily hurt and feels like the world is against her.

Quiet, Morose Girl/Loner: She’s an observer and poet, expressing herself in journals. She’s withdrawn, depressed, sullen and prone to wearing all black.

Big Girl/Tomboy: She’s often physically bigger than other students. She’s reluctant to join groups, is quiet and feels out of place. She’s rumoured of being gay.

Jock: She excels in sports and looks masculine. She’s often see as asexual. Come’s across as tough and unemotional.

Social Climber: She’s the chameleon. She changes herself constantly to fit in with girls she emulates. She’s afraid to express her own thoughts. She is easily manipulated by more powerful girls.

Teacher’s Pet: The reputation that won’t go away. Girl’s don’t trust her and for the most part teatchers don’t like her either. The Pet often makes things much worse for herself by becoming the rules enforcer when the teacher isn’t there.

Perfect Girl: Everyone wants to be her. Meanwhile she feels like a fraud and thinks that at any moment someone will call her bluff.

Boyfriend Stealer: Some girls think this girl is cool as long as boys aren’t around. She acts ditzy around boys even if she’s smart. Other girls don’t trust her.

Tease: A girl is called a tease for the most arbitrary of reasons: for wearing stylish clothes, even ones that aren’t tight, for not making out with boys and being pretty.

Lesbian/Butch/Dike: Often closely associated with the Big Girl/Tomboy regardless of actual sexual orientation. A masculine appearance can earn this reputation, but some girls adopt a ”butch” look, because it’s comfortable for them or they want to desexualise themselves.

Square: She could be a genuinely happy kid, but she also might be covering.

Actual Happy Person: There actually genuinely happy girls, although Wiseman reminds us that she rarely sees them.

The Über-Rep: The Slut: This is obviously the worst reputation and it has actually two origins: acting like a slut or being a slut.

Seems a bit grim, doesn’t it? But as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction…

Susan

Wiseman has written a book about boys (or guys) too: Ringleaders and Sidekicks.

My daughter used to be so wonderful. Now I can barely stand her and she won’t tell me anything. How can I find out what’s going on?

There’s a clique in my daughter’s calss that’s making her life miserable. She doesn’t seem to want to go to school anymore. Her own supposed friends are turning on her and she’s too afraid to do anything. What can I do?

Your daughter’s friendships are the key to surviving adolescence – as well as the biggest threat to her happiness and well-being. In her groundbreaking book Rosalind Wiseman cracks the ”girl code”. Wiseman has spent a decade listening to girls talk about the powerful impact that girl cliques have on what they wear, how they respond to boys and how they feel about themselves. Here, quoting dozens of teenage girls, she reveals her findings and teaches parents how to understand the secret world of cliques with its various roles: Queen Bees, Wannabees, Messengers, Bankers and Targets. She also explains how to infiltrate ”Girl World” to analyse teasing and gossip; boys and sex; alcohol and drugs and more so you can help your daughter to take control of her situation.

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