Book Review: “M OR F?” by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts

by Wendy M. McDonald

MorF.pngFrom the back cover: When Frannie is desperate to get the attention of her crush, her fabulous (and gay) best friend Marcus suggests that Frannie chat with him online. Too bad Frannie’s terrified. She won’t type a word without Marcus’s help. 

In the chat room, Marcus and Jeffrey hit it off. But the more Marcus writes, the more he’s convinced that Jeffrey is falling for him, not Frannie. Whose romance is this anyway?

If you’re already familiar with the basic plot of a Cyrano de Bergerac story, set your expectations aside. Yes, M or F? hits all the right beats, but Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts add several of their own. Continue reading

“Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

cd.pngNeal Shusterman’s novel Challenger Deep is a reality-bending study of one teenage boy’s struggle with mental illness. By studying Shusterman’s novel, writers can explore the use of an unreliable narrator, consider the complexity of managing two different plot lines, and examine the methods Shusterman employs to write accurately and sensitively about mental health.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Challenger Deep. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Shusterman’s methods. Continue reading

“Well, That Was Awkward” by Rachel Vail: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey


Rachel Vail puts a modern middle-grade twist on the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac in Well, That Was Awkward. Using text messages, Vail’s protagonist helps her best friend respond to a new love. Vail adds tension by giving her protagonist budding feelings for her friend’s new love interest, including a classic nasty mean girl antagonist, and providing parent drama. By studying Vail’s novel, writers can explore the opportunities presented by updating classic tales, the use of text messaging in middle grade novels, the effect of setting on story, and the balance of plot and subplot. Continue reading

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey


Angie Thomas’s YA novel The Hate U Give is a stark and raw platform for discussions on racism, prejudice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also, just as simply, a wonderfully crafted novel rich in character, setting, and excellent story telling. Through Starr, Thomas offers a voice to readers living the reality of violence, drugs, and racism while simultaneously offering a window into that life for readers whose experiences are very different. Thomas blends the harshest moments of her main character’s reality—the police shooting of her friend, intimidation by a local drug lord, and gang violence—seamlessly with the universal teenage experiences of friendship drama, first loves, and the push/pull of independence from home and parents. This juxtaposition paints a picture often not represented, or sometimes misrepresented, on book shelves. Continue reading

“Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan: A Discussion Guide for Writers

by Kelly Carey


Pam Muñoz Ryan’s middle-grade novel Echo weaves three historical fiction stories together with a flick of fairy tale magic. A witch’s curse and a magic harmonica travel from Nazi Germany to Depression-era Pennsylvania and to Southern California amidst World War II before colliding in New York City. Writers can use Ryan’s novel as a mentor text for exploring the tools and pacing needed to bring different story threads together, evaluating the balance between story and history in a historical fiction novel, and examining how endings affect a reader’s experience.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Echo.  As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Ryan’s methods. Continue reading

Book Clubs—Not Just for Adults or Bookworms! A 7-Year Kids’ Book Club Veteran Shares Her Best Tips

by Wendy M. McDonald

IN 2010, AS MY DAUGHTERS finished first grade, I realized there was a huge difference in their reading abilities. Hermione was a voracious, confident reader, but Luna clung to Picture1.pngher step-one readers. Witnessing her twin zip through the Geronimo Stilton series and anything else she could find, Luna felt jealous and more than a little hopeless. She had
a collection of books she wanted to read, but was too afraid to try. The letters were too tiny. There were few—or no—illustrations. The long blocks of text may as well have been Mt. Everest.

I decided that not being able to read at grade level—yet—was no reason for Luna not to enjoy the stories that interested her. I would read to her, and she could read ahead whenever she wanted. But wouldn’t it be even better if a bunch of Luna’s friends read (or heard) the same book and I got the kids together to talk about it, just like a regular book club?

If you’d like to start your own kids’ or teens’ book club, I offer these tips based on what I’ve learned during my seven years leading a successful group. Continue reading

“Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon: A Discussion Guide For Writers

Everything Everything.pngDiscussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

IN NICOLA YOON’S YA NOVEL Everything, Everything, a teenage girl is trapped in her sterile room by a rare disease that makes her allergic to the world outside. Writers can use Yoon’s novel as a mentor text for exploring the use of I-messaging as dialogue, evaluating the characteristics that move a novel from MG to YA, and examining how character, plot, and pacing create tension.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Everything, Everything. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Yoon’s methods.

These discussion questions were inspired by the KidLit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting!

Discussion Questions:
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