Blogs at Amazon

Young Adult

Light and Cathartic: Books to take on your next road trip

 Adi Alsaid, author of Let’s Get Lost and Never Always Sometimes, discusses his all-time favorite road trip novels.

NeveralwayssometimesTraveling and book-loving are not always compatible. The former calls for lightness and mobility, the latter begs for weight and stillness. Both, however, love that cinematic sigh. You know the one.

When you finish a chapter and look up from the page—however slightly changed by what you’ve just read—suddenly noticing the breeze and the faces of passersby, and it escapes your lungs before you can even think to call it a cliché. Or when you park the car and step outside and the world looks so much different than it did just a few hours ago when you started driving, and the varied beauties of the world and your ability to witness them just squeezes the sigh out of you.

My goal for this list is to tell you about the books that can cause that sigh and yet are compatible with the schedule and mobility of a road trip. Something you can read in a couple sittings while exploring the coffee shops in a new city, perhaps. Or something to read in the car, if you’re one of those blessed people who can (please don’t read while driving). Something light, yet cathartic.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan - For such a short book with such short chapters, this one packs an astounding emotional punch. Perfect if your road trip is taken with a significant other, or due to a breakup. Yes, it’s entirely applicable to both. Levithan masterfully gives heart and honesty to the highs and the lows of relationships.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton - It’s set in the real world, but it transports you to some other universe. Not at all about travel, this favorite of mine from 2014 is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, charming story. Read if you’re stuck on a family trip to somewhere commonplace and you want to escape to somewhere magical.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed - Strayed’s beautiful writing is possibly overshadowed here by her wise, down-to-earth voice. You want catharsis? Every bit of advice she offers people in this book comes with its own sigh of wonder and admiration. Easy to read a little at a time, and perfect to do so if you’re feeling a little lost (shameless self-plug).

Mosquitoland by David Arnold - Get a little meta and read a story about a road trip on your road trip. I just finished this one on a flight, and it definitely causes the aforementioned sigh. Riddled with humor, warmth and wisdom, this is a feel-good story about a complex character who does not feel so good. Read if you’re running both from something and steadfastly toward something else.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang - Another favorite from last year, and one I myself read while on a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle. Not the lightest of books, if we’re speaking subject matter, but it’s a book you want to keep devouring. Gorgeous writing, and emotionally powerful. Definitely a book to read in one sitting, in a new city, surrounded by strangers.

 Interested in teen and young adult books? Sign up for Teen Delivers, a bi-weekly email featuring the best in teen and YA each week - from booklists to deals and exclusive content from authors.

Summer Road Trip Playlist

Teen and Young Adult author Leila Sales shares her ultimate track list for summer travel. Her book, "This Song Will Save Your Life", is available now.

51Urn9haLgL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As the trainers at my gym who want me to spend more money keep shouting, summer is almost here! And with summertime comes many responsibilities—very few of which, it turns out, are getting “the perfect beach body.”

Some items on my pre-summer to-do list include stocking up on Lactaid pills so I can drink too many milkshakes; throwing away the twelve-foot inflatable backyard pool that I tried to set up last July but couldn’t figure out, so it’s been sitting there in a pathetic twelve-foot rubber heap ever since; and creating my summer road trip playlist. Let’s start with the playlist, because it’s the one that least requires leaving the house.


Making thematic playlists is one of life’s great joys. That’s part of why I wrote my most recent novel, This Song Will Save Your Life, about a teen DJ who becomes the star of the local indie rock nightclub. Music is her passion and salvation, an escape from her day life, when she’s mercilessly harassed and feels almost completely alienated. Music is the thing that makes her feel like she’s not alone, like her people are out there. I got to come up with lots of playlists for the book, and now I get to come up with another, because it is SUMMER ROAD TRIP TIME.

Summer road trip playlist:

Bang!” by the Raveonettes

The chorus goes, “Kids wanna bop / Out in the street /  Fu-fu-fun / All summer long.” That is some Beach Boys sentiment right there. I can’t think of a more summery statement.

Oh My God,” by Cults

This would be a terrible song choice if you were stuck in traffic, but I can’t think of anything better if you’re cruising down an open highway with all the windows down. Or maybe you’re in a convertible? This song sounds like you’re in a convertible.

One Kiss Don’t Make a Summer,” by Lucky Soul

Lucky Soul is a British girl group. They sound like the Supremes would if they were recording in the twenty-first century (and were from London).

Marathon,” by Tennis

I refuse to listen to this song in the winter, but in the summer I won’t go a week without playing it.

Summertime,” by the Sundays

This one is particularly good for driving at night, like maybe on your way to a dilapidated neon motel in Dewey Beach, for example. Your windows should still be rolled down, though. It’s summer. Your windows should always be down.

My Friend Has a Swimming Pool,” by Mausi

This was going to be my theme song last summer, for when I got that inflatable pool set up. Now it’s mostly just an uncomfortable reminder of the state of my backyard.

The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count,” by the Divine Comedy

Easily the greatest paean to allergies of all time.

“Mint Car,” by the Cure

When the Cure’s depressed, there’s nobody more depressed. But by the same token, when the Cure’s happy, there’s nobody any happier. The happiness in this song is almost manically intense.

The Boys of Summer,” by Don Henley

A classic. Not to be played in July, clearly. Listen to it in early September, ideally while driving through an abandoned beach town. Slowly start to roll up your windows.


Katie McGarry's Cool Picks for Hot Summer Reads

Katie McGarry, author of Nowhere but Here, tells us the summer reads she’s most excited about.

NowherebuthereSummer! I love summer because summer means warm sun, lazy days and great books! Here are some new releases I’m excited about.

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller: With knockout books like Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine, Trish is one of my favorite authors. She has a knack for writing strong, emotional characters I can relate to and she always has a hero that can make me swoon. Plus The Devil You Know is full of suspense. This will be my “stuck inside on a rainy day” read!

Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally: Miranda made me cry with Breathe, Annie, Breathe and that’s not an easy task for an author to do as I don’t cry easily. So how does she follow it up? With Jesse’s Girl—a book that gave me butterflies and tingles and makes me want to read this story over and over again! I can see myself sitting on my front porch swing and reading this book multiple times.

Every Last Breath (The Dark Elements series) by Jennifer L. Armentrout: This is a “drop everything the moment the book arrives and read it next to the mailbox” read. Who will Layla choose—Zayne or Roth? I have to admit, I’m a huge Roth fan. I loved White Hot Kiss and Stone Cold Touch and I’m desperate to know how this series ends!

The Hotter You Burn (Original Heartbreakers) by Gena Showalter: Gena writes amazing romances and this is the type of book I can’t wait to read when I’m at the pool relaxing during vacation! Beck is a character I became curious about in The Closer You Come and I’m excited he’s receiving his own story. 

 Interested in teen and young adult books? Sign up for Teen Delivers, a bi-weekly email featuring the best in teen and YA each week - from booklists to deals and exclusive content from authors.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: From Written Word to Award-Winning Film

This is the funniest book you’ll ever read about death and was this year’s winner of the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and Sundance Grand Jury Prize. How did author Jesse Andrews get this book to the movies?

EarlStop me when this gets confusing: Greg Gaines, the teenage protagonist and narrator of my debut novel, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (now a movie, coming to theaters June 12), is himself a filmmaker. But he has retired, because he thinks his movies are terrible. So he’s telling his story in book form instead.

He doesn’t think the book is any good, either. And he definitely does not think it should ever be adapted into a movie.

“God only knows what would happen if you tried to convert this unstoppable barf-fest into a film,” he muses, toward the end. “There’s a chance you could consider it an act of terrorism.”

So it was with some trepidation that I, the actual author—a person who has a lot in common with Greg, way more than I would like—set off on the task of adapting my book into a screenplay. And indeed, the first draft of the script was not great.

“This first draft is great,” my producer, Dan Fogelman, cheerfully lied on our first Notes Call. We then went through the script page by page, for four hours, discussing in detail everything that needed to be changed, which was everything. “It’s a great first draft, though,” concluded Dan, who hung up and immediately shotgunned an entire bottle of Scotch.

After a ton of work, we got the script to the point where actual directors were interested in it. One of them was a profoundly talented, thoughtful, funny guy named Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

This is probably where I should describe the story in a bit more detail. Greg has only one friend, Earl, and their friendship consists of eating Greg’s dad’s weird food, watching Criterion Collection filmmakers like Kurosawa and Kubrick, and making violent/potty-mouthed take-offs of those movies, e.g., Eyes Wide Butt. The story begins when Greg’s mom forces him to hang out with Rachel, a classmate who has cancer. He resists the deepening of their friendship at every step. There is no romance, and Greg claims to have learned nothing from any of it.

“It’s a very moving script,” Alfonso told me.

“Ha ha!” I agreed, assuming this was some hilarious deadpan joke.

But Alfonso saw something there. And I got to ride shotgun and watch while he made a beautiful, funny movie out of this strange story—out of these awkward characters and the connections they make that are so flawed, that are not nearly enough and yet way too much at the same time. I got to continually reshape and refine the script with Alfonso and the producers and watch incredible actors figure out how to deliver my weird dialogue. I even got to see film crews in my old high school and my childhood home. They turned my old bedroom into Greg’s bedroom.

(“I remember when you used to do that in there,” said my mom, about a scene in which Greg’s mom enters his bedroom and catches him looking at questionable pictures. My mom was getting kind of teary, recalling it. Being the mom of a boy must be the weirdest emotional experience there is.)

Production was hard work. But it was also full of funny, generous, brilliant people, and every day it felt like we were on to something good. And a few months later, we were showing the film at Sundance, and we got a standing ovation at our premiere. We all walked out onstage—Alfonso, Dan, producers, cast, crew, me—and squinted into the lights and wrapped our heads around the idea that maybe we had succeeded in making the thing we were hoping to make.

Kind of stupidly, I was wondering what Greg would have thought if he had been there with us.

Then I realized that he would have hated it.

Greg is a moron. I’m glad he’s not real.

He’s not me. I swear.


Laura Rose Wagner's Life Changing Move

Laura Rose Wagner, author of Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, contemplates how her life has changed through her experiences in Haiti and by founding a creative writing group for young people there.

Hold Tight Dont Let GoThis is an interesting question, because I'm resistant to the quasi-religious notion that living in Haiti, or any poor and unjust place, is somehow redemptive or salvational to the middle-class white foreigner who chooses to be there. I did not find peace or God or meaning, and even if I had, it would not be very interesting. The suffering is not about me. The injustice is not about me.  

All that said, the experience of the earthquake [in 2010] and the immediate aftermath affected my beliefs about human nature. The quake was a horrible event – an incalculable setback for Haiti, and a terrible personal loss for so many people – but it was also a moment in which we saw what individuals and a society are truly made of. Ordinary people responded to the disaster with extraordinary decency and heroism. Most people who were, like me, trapped in collapsed buildings and buried in rubble, or otherwise injured, were saved by ordinary people. An undeniable courage and selflessness shone through that night and the days that followed. For maybe two days, it was as though there was no social class in Haiti. People stopped being afraid of each other, and shared whatever they had, and stayed with one another in the streets. There was instinctive kindness and effortless solidarity. For a brief, terrible moment, the walls came down – both literally and figuratively.  

Naturally, predictably, one of the dominant narratives of the international media right after the earthquake was of "looting," disorder, and violence, which is the standard racist story North Americans expect to hear when law and order "break down" in poor places populated by people of color. But that's not what I saw.     

Working with a group of young Haitian writers from 2010 to 2012 was a huge honor and a revelation. Creole is a beautiful, lyrical, playful, and evocative language even in everyday situations. There are so many examples, I can't even decide which one to give, but just to give you an idea: The word "tchouboum" means a deep, dark abyss, a hopeless, irretrievable place. And doesn't the word just sound like what it means? So if Creole is so poetic in everyday situations, it is all the more inexpressibly lovely and powerful when used to write texts, stories, and plays. I learned a lot about Creole by working with the writers, particularly the expressions and language of young people in Port-au-Prince's poor neighborhoods. And obviously I learned a lot about how they conceptualize their own experiences. There was one young man who wrote this fantastic poem called "Ghetto" about the ways people in Cité Soleil share, collaborate, and enjoy life together, even as people outside their community wrongly assume they're all criminals. There were a lot of critiques of NGOs and the international community. There was a lot of nostalgia for a beautiful, verdant, prosperous Haiti that those young people have never themselves known. The fact that a group of young people from those marginalized areas of Port-au-Prince cared as much as they did about creative expression flies in the face of what a lot of people might believe about human needs – that creativity can be a priority, even as basic, bare life remains uncertain.

A lot of people might ask, "Why write poetry when life is precarious? Why write poetry when you're hungry?" The short answer is that expression matters. Community matters. Being heard matters. Being human matters. It is not enough to merely remain alive.

Interested in teen and young adult books? Sign up for Teen Delivers, a bi-weekly email featuring the best in teen and YA each week - from booklists to deals and exclusive content from authors.

Exclusive Excerpt: "The Last Good Day of the Year"

This powerful thriller from Jessica Warman, acclaimed author of "Between" and "Beautiful Lies," is an arresting page-turner that questions whether the potential for evil lurks within us all. "The Last Good Day of the Year" is on sale now. 

ThelastgooddayoftheyearTen years ago, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor Remy watched helplessly as Sam's little sister was kidnapped. Later, Remy and Sam identified the man and he was sent to prison. Now, Sam's shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. But as long-buried memories begin to surface, she and Remy wonder—could they have been wrong about what they saw?


From the moment I came unfrozen after Turtle was carried off into the cold night, I cried without stopping. Even when I was silent and otherwise seemed calm, the tears continued, and there didn’t seem to be any point in trying to hold them back— not that I wanted to. None of it felt real. It was like we all had been actors in a pleasant but uneventful long- running play—Childhood: Not a Musical— but to night we’d somehow wandered onto the wrong stage and picked up the wrong scripts. To night, the part of Terrified Mother Who Cannot Stop Screaming will be played by Sharon Myers. This is a big change for Ms. Myers, whose previous role as Pretty Suburban House wife did not require much screaming.

While our fathers searched, Susan Mitchell walked down the street to retrieve Gretchen from Abby Tickle’s house. My mother stayed by the front door and prayed the Rosary, which I’d never seen her do until that night. Remy and I sat at the kitchen table with a friendly cop— he told us to call him Officer Bert— who took notes on a small yellow legal pad as we talked.

“The man you saw tonight— can you tell me what he looked like?”

“He looked like Santa Claus, except he was skinny. I already told you.” Beside me, Remy nodded in silent agreement. I thought he’d been asleep while it happened, but now he insisted he’d been faking.

“Okay, we know that. But other than his costume, did you see what he looked like?”

“Oh. Well, yeah.” My voice was soft and hesitant. All I wanted was for my sister to come home. I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. You have to understand that my world was so small and safe back then; the idea that someone whom Turtle knew and trusted would hurt my sister seemed impossible. “He looked like Steven.”

Officer Bert stopped taking notes and put down his pen. “Who’s Steven?”

“Gretchen’s boyfriend.”

“And who’s Gretchen?”

“My big sister.”

“I see.” A single strand of tinsel, probably from what ever party he’d been called away from, clung to the front of Officer Bert’s sweater. “Did he only look like Steven, or was it actually him?”

“It was him.”

Exclusive Excerpt: There Will Be Lies

From Nick Lake, Printz-winning author of In Darkness, comes an emotionally charged thriller that deftly exposes the lies we tell others—and the lies we tell ourselves. There Will Be Lies is available now on Kindle.

TherewillbeliesSummation: Shelby Jane Cooper’s sheltered life consists of weekly Ice Cream for Dinner Nights, hitting baseballs, and checking out “the Boy” at the library. But a sudden car accident forces her to confront the harsh truth: everything she knows about herself might just be a lie.


I go out onto the sidewalk, and walk to the spot where the cab will pick me up. I glance at my watch— it’s about four minutes before she’s due to arrive, and she always arrives when she’s due.

I stand there for a moment, holding the book. I don’t know how I’m going to explain it to Mom. I guess I’ll just say it’s from the library and hope she doesn’t look inside and see that it doesn’t have a stamp.

I look at my watch again. Three more minutes, and then Mom will be there to take me home.

But no.

That doesn’t happen.

What happens instead is:

A car, which is actually a Humvee, and as it will turn out is being driven by a driver considerably under the influence, bounces up onto the sidewalk, takes out a trash can, slows just enough not to kill me instantly, then collides with my body hard enough to throw me ten feet through the air.

Lying there, on the concrete, I don’t feel any pain at first. I am on my side and there is a warm trickling feeling all over my leg which doesn’t seem to forebode anything good, though I can’t just now remember how I got to this position.

I am facing the library, or at least the gap between the library and the next building, which I think is a software company. In the cool dark shadow between the buildings, I see two eyes, gleaming.

A coyote steps out and toward me, right there in the dusk. I’ve never seen one before— I know people do at night, especially in North Scottsdale, but he’s my first. I sense that it’s a he.

He, the coyote, comes closer and sniffs at me. He’s beautiful—this wild thing, here in low- rise suburbia. Like walking into a bedroom and seeing a tree growing in there. His fur is red like sunset, his eyes are shining and telling me something that I don’t know how to read, but there’s a kind of light of intelligence in them.

I think: of course, it’s not a dog, Mark’s tattoo. It’s a coyote. I don’t know why I thought it was a dog.

I stare at the coyote. There’s a crackle about him, almost a halo, like his life is running at a voltage different from other living creatures. Like he’s magic. I could really believe that. Then I believe it even more, because the coyote speaks directly into my head, or that’s what it feels like.

There will be two lies, it says. Then there will be the truth. And that will be the hardest of all.

There’s something weird about the way the coyote says this, like the words are somehow inside my head,

echoing, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s like grasping a slick frog—it squirts out of my hands.

Then something startles him and he backs away, turns skittishly, almost falling over, and runs back into the shadow where he disappears.

And it’s like he was never there, and I feel bummed about that. This is all wrong, anyway, I think, remembering the book in the library, the open one. You’re meant to see the coyote BEFORE the horrible

thing happens to you. Not after.

I roll a bit and look up and see the moon, pale in the still- light sky, looking down on me like a parent looking down at a sick child.

This is— I think.

And then blackness.

Interested in teen and young adult books? Sign up for Teen Delivers, a bi-weekly email featuring the best in teen and YA each week - from booklists to deals and exclusive content from authors. 

Lex Dubois' Favorite Reads for Right Now

Vivi Barnes, author of Paper or Plastic, has asked her main character Lex to give a highlight of some of her favorite books on the shelves today:

Coverimage040615Hey there—Lex Dubois here. I’m working at SmartMart for the summer, and except for the nutty customers and the disgusting Code B (which I won’t even tell you about—you’re welcome), it’s not too bad of a place to work. Especially when I can hide in the book section and lose myself for a bit. My boss Noah caught me reading once, but being the sweet guy he is (sigh), he suggested I start a book review column for the store’s employee newsletter. So hit the vending machine and take your break—here are a few of the books I recommend.    

Excerpted from the February edition of SmartMart Today newsletter:

Pick up a store ad and newspaper just inside the entrance of SmartMart—not only are there some great coupons, but, as in the thrilling Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano, you never know what secret messages you’ll find in the personal ads. High school junior Nearly never knew her penchant for the personal ads would lead to clues to a serial killer’s trail—and if she doesn’t put the clues together soon, she’ll be next. Nothing is what it seems in this story—especially the one behind it all!

To be enjoyed with some gumbo and beignets (aisle six), Beware The Wild by Natalie Parker will pull you right in with its page-turning gothic mystery set deep in the Louisiana swamps. Sterling’s brother Phin disappears, and it’s up to Sterling to figure out what happened to him—and why no one remembers her brother, only a strange girl who wandered out from the swamp. Eerily beautiful—the story is one of my favorites this year!

Pick up some roses (floral department)—you’ll want these while reading Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this love story has a twist—Nyx must seduce and destroy the evil lord Ignifex, thereby ridding the kingdom of the curse he put on it. What she doesn’t expect is to fall in love with him. With Greek mythology woven throughout, this book will hook you page after gorgeous page.

Stop in the makeup section (aisle 10) and create a whole new you as you read Trust Me, I’m Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer. Young con artist Julep Dupree runs petty scams to help fund her dreams of Yale. But when her father disappears and Julep suspects foul play, she has to maneuver around stalkers, secrets and child services to find him. A fantastic tale full of intrigue, humor and a touch of romance—you’ll love it!

Then there’s The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset. Besides having a title that makes me want to add “shoplifting” to the end of it (stupid lipstick), I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a high-stakes fantasy—full of faeries, ogres, and romance! Selkie Stewart thinks she’s a normal teen growing up in Boston, but she soon finds out she’s a princess—half ogre, half faerie, and on the run from her mother. Not to be missed, this story will leave you breathless!

There you have it—my shopping list of must-read books this season. Now back to work before Mr. Hanson puts me on bathroom detail—again.

 Interested in teen and young adult books? Sign up for Teen Delivers, a bi-weekly email featuring the best in teen and YA each week - from booklists to deals and exclusive content from authors.  

Debut Novelist Melinda Salisbury on Becoming an Author

Melinda Salisbury, debut author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, on writing a story about a girl discovering who she is against all odds, and how her own personal dream of becoming an author is now a reality.  

I never imagined I’d be an author. Not a real one, with a proper book with a cover, and an ISBN number, and a copyright warning inside. It seemed like the kind of thing you get to do if you study at Oxford or Cambridge, or if you have a favorite aunt who writes. I didn’t realize for the longest time that you could go to a normal school, have a normal life, and become an author.

And yet here I am.

As publication day approaches, lots of people are asking me how I feel—am I excited? Am I nervous? If I’m honest, I’m petrified. To me it feels unreal that this story (that began life as an idea I had whilst singing in the shower, of all places) will soon be in people’s hands. It’s simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, that this tale, that started so small, has come so far. I never imagined it, not even in my wildest dreams. Who could?

When I began writing The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I knew that the world I was creating was a treacherous, merciless place to live, and I had no intention of toning it down or making it more palatable. Because to me, the most horrifying thing about Twylla’s life isn’t the world around her but how trapped inside it she is by things she cannot control, nor change—by her gender, her heritage, her abilities. I wanted to write a story about what it means to have very few choices, and little control over your life, and what a colossal undertaking it would be to try to overcome that, if it were even possible. I wanted to write about a girl discovering against all odds who she is, and what her hopes and desires are, in a world that’s never considered she may be anything more than what it chooses for her. I wanted to write about the importance of small rebellions and how sometimes bravery isn’t just rushing at a dragon with a sword, but facing up to the truth, and working alongside it.

And I did. I wrote that story, and in a short time people will be able to read it. So how does it feel to be a debut author? It feels as though I’ve woken up in time to see the sunrise, and made myself the perfect cup of tea to watch it with. It feels like I’ve looked up in time to see a shooting star, or a baby deer stand up for the first time. It feels like suddenly missing a friend so fiercely it ached, only to pick up the phone to call them at the exact moment they were calling you. Without using endless clichés, it’s impossible to explain how it feels, because it feels impossible to begin with. It feels like exactly what it is—a dream coming true. And I’m so happy and proud to be here.

Guest Post by Jennifer Nielsen, Author of "The Ascendance Trilogy"

Jennifer Nielsen, author of The Ascendance Trilogy and new series, Mark of the Thief, shares insight on writing her characters and how her readers identify with their heroic traits.

I love fan letters from young readers, and one of the most common phrases I get is, “I’m just like Sage”—the hero in The False Prince.

My reply to them? “Oh, for the sake of your sweet mother, I hope not.”

Sage would have been a difficult boy to raise. He is defiant, sarcastic, reckless, and brilliant enough to stay three steps ahead of everyone around him. He doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, and can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

Of course, he also would have been an amazing boy to raise. He is compassionate, quick-witted, perceptive, and a natural leader. He does not suffer fools but will fight to the end for anyone he cares about.

So maybe he’s got something for young readers to emulate after all.

I always believe it’s a fantastic thing when a reader can identify traits in a heroic character and say, “That’s me, too.” Or, if it’s not, to believe that they could have those traits, one day.

In fact, several research studies have shown that children tend to read themselves into a story, to make themselves part of the adventure they are reading. Consequently, one of the great advantages of giving children books with heroic characters is that over time, they tend to become more like the characters they admire most.

Those are the characters I love to write. Boys and girls who stand out for their strength, integrity, and willingness to run in to life’s battles when everyone else backs out. Characters worth admiring, even if they are flawed, and even when life doesn’t go the way they want.

My next series, Mark of the Thief, features a boy named Nicolas Calva, who is a mining slave in Ancient Rome. When Nic steals an amulet belonging to the Gods, he is suddenly in possession of a magic he does not understand and cannot control. Now the Empire is after him.

Nic has some similarities to Sage. Because he remembers the taste of freedom before coming to the mines, Nic bristles at his new life of whips and chains, and often pays the price for his disobedience. He has a fierce love for his younger sister and fights hard to protect her. And he puts himself in jeopardy to do what he believes is right.

But I think he has his differences too. Although he is smart, Nic has little experience in the world and even less education about it. He feels the differences in the social classes of Rome, and well understands that he is below virtually anyone he meets. And Nic does not consider himself a warrior. If he could figure a peaceful way out of his predicament, he would choose that route and never look back.

I hope readers will grow to love Nic and maybe look up to him as a hero. Because the more I write of his story, the more I admire his clever ability to squeeze through troubles he should never have survived.

And this time, if I get fan letters from readers claiming to be like Nic, I will tell them, “Oh, for your own sake, I hope you are.”

However, I will also tell them that if they ever come across a magical amulet, it might be best just to leave it alone.