Interviewing Natalie Standiford

Natalie Standiford was kind enough to stop by and discuss The Only Girl in School (out January 26)!

If The Only Girl in School were a movie, which would it be?

That’s a tough one! I would like it to be its own movie.
You’ve written YA and middlegrade.  Is one easier/more rewarding, however you would phrase it?
I love them both, and in a way, they’re not different at all. Whatever I’m writing, I try to put myself inside the head of the narrator (or the main point-of-view character), and whatever the limits of that narrator’s understanding might be–whether she is ten, and only knows what a ten-year-old would know, or 17 and seeing her life through a filter of hormones–those are the limits of my story. I suppose the world is smaller in most middle grade books, and that can make writing it easier or harder, depending. Less information to juggle, but also less freedom and flexibility.
When a YA novel really connects with readers, they take that connection to heart, which is very rewarding. On the other hand, there is something about that age of 8-12 that is a sweet spot for reading. They get very excited about books. My most absorbing reading experiences happened at that age, so it’s thrilling to write for middle-grade readers too.
What was the inspiration for The Only Girl in School?  (Being the only girl in MIDDLE SCHOOL sounds like a major level of hell.)
That would be horrible! Luckily, this story is set in elementary school, not middle school (there is an incorrect plot summary floating around somewhere out there). Claire, the narrator, is in fifth grade. The inspiration for the story was one of those “What if …” scenarios, talking things over with my editor, David Levithan. The first step was figuring out how someone could realistically end up being the only girl in her school in the first place. I finally settled on having Claire live on a small fishing island in the Chesapeake, with such a tiny population that the demographic fluke of being the only girl would be believable. My brother lives part time on an island on the Eastern Shore and his son went to a small elementary school there, so that was the inspiration for the setting.
Then I had to think deeply about what it would mean to be the only girl. What does it mean to be a girl in the first place? Every girl or woman I know has had the experience of being overlooked or not taken seriously because she’s female, but Claire’s situation could apply to anyone of any gender who feels like an outsider, who is not being heard or seen or accepted for who they really are.
Can you share the first sentence/paragraph?
Claire is writing to her best friend, Bess, who has moved to California, leaving Claire alone as the only girl in the whole school. The book is told in letters and illustrated with drawings that Claire has ostensibly made on the wall of the girls’ bathroom (which she now has all to herself, of course). The drawings are actually by Nathan Durfee, the brilliant young artist who has done all my middle-grade covers (for The Only Girl in School, The Secret Tree, and Switched at Birthday). Anyway, here’s the first paragraph or so:
Yucky Gilbert Sits Next to Me

To: Bess Calhoun
San Francisco, California

From: Claire Warren, Foyes Island, Maryland

Dear Bess,
Here’s how I imagine your first day of school:

You hated it. The kids are mean. Your teacher is mean. And boring. It’s very strict with lots of dumb rules that make no sense, like No one is allowed to go to the bathroom without a buddy. Which means you can never go to the bathroom at school, ever, because there is no other girl IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE SCHOOL to be your bathroom buddy.

Oh, wait. That was MY first day.
If you could make one book mandatory, what would it be?
I’m not bossy that way (I AM bossy in other ways), but if forced to choose something I’ll decree that everyone must read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, because why not? It’s pure pleasure.
What are your five favorite books?  You can do authors, if that’s easier.
This is kind of random, but some books that I love are:
Stuart Little by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web is too sad for me!), Frederick by Leo Leonni, and Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik (They’re short so I’m allowing them to take up only one slot on my list)
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Emma by Jane Austen
That’s more than five but it’s hard even to stop there.
What 2016 releases are you excited for?
To be honest I have not been keeping up with what’s coming out next year. Maybe you can tell me what to look forward to?
(Me: stay tuned for the rest of this feature, but if you have suggestions for Natalie, leave them in the comments!)
Thanks, Natalie!


The Only Girl in School

The Only Girl in School is by Natalie Standiford and will be released January 26.  Click here to add it to your Goodreads.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the acclaimed author of The Secret Tree comes the story of a girl who finds herself a sudden outsider in the loneliest place in the world–middle school.

When Claire’s best friend moves away just before the start of fifth grade, Claire suddenly becomes the only girl in the entire elementary school. While the boys are resentful that she gets a bathroom all to herself, Claire soon sees the lonelier side of things–until a few incidents put her quite literally in the spotlight.”

Why I’m excited:

This book had me at “by Natalie Standiford.”  She’s been a must-buy author for me since I read How to Say Goodbye in Robot and I have loved every book of hers since.

I’m starting to really appreciate middlegrade more and this sounds absolutely amazing.  (It also sounds like a great birthday present for my goddaughter, and I very much enjoy giving her wonderful books to read.)

Six of Crows

Finished Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”

I don’t read very many paranormal books anymore, and this book was almost an impulse grab at BEA. (I had a linejump pass and two of my friends were obsessed with getting this book and one mentioned that it was compared to Ocean’s 11, and I was like, REALLY?!)

I mention that to make sure you know that I came very close to not reading this book at all.  That would’ve been a huge mistake on my part.

I love everything about this book (except for the fact that the sequel won’t be out until NEXT FALL.)  The world that Leigh Bardugo created is amazing.  (I didn’t read her earlier Grisha trilogy, but you don’t need to do that to love this book.  I do plan to go back and read them eventually, though, because if they’re anything like this, I am going to love them beyond all reason.)

There is so much tension in this book.  Part of it is romantic (I ship two different couples here and I have to believe they will each get it together) and most of it is just the question of whether these six people will be able to do what is essentially impossible.

Highly recommended.

How to Be Brave (review, excerpt and giveaway!)

How To Be Brave

Finished How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.  I’m happy to be offering a giveaway of this novel; to enter, please leave a comment!

Click here to see the trailer.


This is what it was like:

I didn’t want you to come. I didn’t want you there.

The day before school, the very first year,

we waited in line for my schedule.

They stared. Those in line around us—

the other girls and their moms,

the ones who were my year,

who were never my friends—

They saw how you were big, planetary, next to them.

Next to me.

The girl in pigtails, someone’s sister,

asked: Is there a baby inside?

Her mother, red now, whispered in her ear.


But the girl didn’t mind:

Oh, so she’s fat.


The other girls, the ones who were my year

who were never my friends—they laughed at you, quietly.

At me.


Her mother said she was sorry, so sorry,

And you said: It’s fine. It’s fine.

But it wasn’t.


You squeezed my hand, and then to the girl in pigtails,

you said: I am big, yes. But I am beautiful, too.

And so are you.


Her mother pulled her child away.

She left the line and let us go first.


I didn’t say: You shouldn’t have come.

I didn’t say: I don’t want you here.


But I also didn’t say: I love you.

Or: Thank you for being brave.


Later that night, I cried:

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to face them.

And every year after.


You’d look at me like I was that girl,

and you’d say, as though it were true:

You are possibility and change and beauty.

One day, you will have a life, a beautiful life.

You will shine.


I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see it,

not in myself,

not in you.


Now, it’s not like that anymore.

This is what it’s like:

It’s quiet in our house. Too quiet. Especially tonight. The day before my first day of senior year.

The A/C hums, the fridge hums, the traffic hums.

I’m standing at my closet door, those old knots churning inside my stomach again.

I don’t want to go tomorrow. I need to talk to her.

Instead, I’ve done what she always did for me the night before the first day of the school year. I’ve picked out three complete outfits, hung them on my closet door.

It’s a good start, I guess.

Outfit #1: Dark indigo skinny jeans (are they still considered skinny if they’re a size 16?), drapey black shirt, long gold chain necklace that Liss gave me, and cheap ballet flats that hurt my feet because they’re way too flat and I hate wearing shoes with no socks.

Outfit #2: Black leggings, dark blue drapey knee- length dress (draping is my thing), gold hoop earrings that belonged to my mom, and open-toed black sandals, but that would mean a last-minute half-assed pedicure tonight. A spedicure, if you will.

Outfit #3: A dress my mom bought for me two years ago. The Orange Dress. Well, really more like coral. With embroidered ribbons etched in angular lines that camouflage my flab. Knee-length (not too short/not too long). Three-quarter-length sleeves (to hide the sagging). It’s perfectly retro. And just so beautiful. Especially with this utterly uncomfortable pair of canary-colored peep-toe pumps that belonged to my mom.

I begged her for the dress. I made her pay the $125 for it. I knew my parents didn’t have the money, but I couldn’t help crying when I saw myself in the mirror. It fit (it’s a size 14), and I think she saw how pretty I felt because I did feel pretty for the first time, so she charged it.

But I’ve never worn it.

The day after, she went into the ER, her heart acting up again. She needed another emergency stent, which meant more dye through her kidneys, which meant dialysis a few weeks later, which meant the beginning of the end of everything.

I never put it on after that.

It’s just so bright. So unlike everything else I wear.

I could wear it tomorrow.

I could. And if she were here, she would tell me to.

I really need to talk to her.

It’s just so quiet in this house.

HOW TO BE BRAVE by E. Katherine Kottaras. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.

Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.”

I don’t know what it is but I am drawn to books about grief.  I also love books that focus on friendship and ones that focus on personal growth.  (I like character arcs, basically.)  And so a book that does all three? YES PLEASE.

And honestly, I love Georgia.  I love her so, so much.  She’s a plus-sized lady (and in high school, so God love her for that) and she doesn’t really focus on her weight.  She is okay with the fact that she has curves and she never really obsesses about it.  She wants to lose a few pounds but that’s to be healthier, not “prettier.”

At the same time, though, she has the same body issues that I’m pretty sure almost literally every woman ever has.  (One of her life list items is to go skinny dipping, which is fine until she realizes that will mean being naked in front of people.)

The only reason this book isn’t five stars is because, at 288 pages, I thought a few things seemed really rushed.  But those 288 pages were all wonderful and I cannot wait to read everything E. Katherine Kottaras ever writes, ever.

How to Be Brave sets out to make statements on dealing with grief and body image and self-acceptance and that time where you’re trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life AND dealing with crumbling friendships.  There is a lot going on and it would be so easy to let one (or many) of those balls drop.  That doesn’t happen in this case; everything is handled masterfully.  (So masterfully, in fact, even Olivia Pope couldn’t have handled it better.)

Highly recommended.

Sinful Longing

Finished Sinful Longing by Lauren Blakely.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

He’s the inked brother. The one you’re wondering about. The bad boy of the family.
Colin Sloan has a past. He’s done things he’s not proud of, but he’s living differently now. Making changes in his life. Working hard, working out harder, and trying to win over one woman. He’s utterly crazy about Elle Mariano, and though the sex is epic, their friends-with-benefits arrangement just isn’t cutting it anymore. He wants all of her, and is determined to prove he’s what she needs in her life.

Elle is fiery, loyal, and in major lust with Colin Sloan. He’s everything she craves in a man — smart, sexy, kind — and a rock star between the sheets. But his past hits too close to home for her, and the people she has to protect. There isn’t room in her life for a relationship with Colin. Especially when she’s forced to keep a secret that could tear his family apart…

SINFUL LONGING is the third book in the steamy, sexy, suspenseful New York Times Bestselling Sinful Nights series from Lauren Blakely, author of the wildly popular Seductive Nights series…This high-heat, high-stakes romance series follows the Sloan family as each sibling falls madly in love against the backdrop of sin, money, greed, passion, mystery and suspense...”

I haven’t read the first two books in this series, but it’s easy to follow anyway.  (I think it would’ve been better if I had, though, just because of the subplot with Colin’s father’s murder. I’m guessing I’d have a more complete picture if I had read the first two books.)  But the main plot with Colin and Elle? Yeah, that’s easy to love even with no background.

(I think these are more connected books than an actual series, though; it seems like each book focuses on a different member of Colin’s family.)

And I definitely do want to bingeread the first two books (maybe before the last one comes out?) but I’m not sure when that can happen.  I have to say, though, I am going to miss Colin and Elle.  (Colin probably makes a cameo but Elle probably doesn’t.)

Which reminds me, probably my favorite thing about Lauren Blakely’s books is the way that she writes these flawed characters who still fit together so perfectly.  Her books are just amazing, and if you haven’t read them by now, you really should.

This is basically everything I’ve come to expect from Lauren Blakely: hot sex, sweet scenes and now insane amounts of suspense (well, okay, that last one is new).

Highly recommended.

First & Then

Finished First & Then by Emma Mills.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.”

I try to read a variety of different books, but my favorite (at least for now) is contemporary YA and this book is a great example of why.  It’s sweet and fun, but also there’s a lot of emotional depth.

Devon is a high school senior.  She doesn’t know where she wants to go to college and she’s dealing with the fact that her cousin is now living with them (Foster’s dad is dead and his mom has substance abuse issues) and Foster is…we’ll go with quirky.

That’s enough to deal with but Devon also loves her best friend (the feelings are most definitely not requited) and there’s this new guy in school who is basically EVERYWHERE and that’s confusing too.

I love this book.  It made me care about football (sort of, almost) and it made me smile.  I love Dev and her family and especially Ezra.

(And all I want in the world is a Foster-centric sequel.)


Notorious RBG

Finished Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Khizhnik.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

You can’t spell truth without Ruth.
Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg can judge me.
The Ruth will set you free.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.”

I knew before I read this book that I liked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  But I wasn’t very familiar with her before she became a justice on the Supreme Court.  (Given her age and the fact that she was only the second female justice—and the fact that there have only been four—I knew she was a trailblazer, but I didn’t understand just how amazing her life has been.)

The book includes excerpts of opinions she’s written and has  a lot of pictures, but the real joy (for me) is in learning more about her personal life.  Her marriage to Marty GInsburg is an actual inspiration and if I could find a lady like Marty (or like Ruth, that’d be pretty awesome, too), I’d be incredibly lucky.  Their marriage was fantastic and I love the fact that they each didn’t seem to have an ego where the other was concerned.  Neither of them felt the need to be the one in charge.  (I also love the fact that Marty pitched in at home while Ruth was working.  It seems like that’s still rare now, so you can imagine how rare it was decades ago.)

If you need or want to know more about “Notorious RBG,” this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.


Finished Traffick by Ellen Hopkins.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Five teens victimized by sex trafficking try to find their way to a new life in this riveting companion to the New York Times bestselling Tricks from Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank.

In her bestselling novel, Tricks, Ellen Hopkins introduced us to five memorable characters tackling these enormous questions: Eden, the preacher’s daughter who turns tricks in Vegas and is helped into a child prostitution rescue; Seth, the gay farm boy disowned by his father who finds himself without money or resources other than his own body; Whitney, the privileged kid coaxed into the life by a pimp and whose dreams are ruined in a heroin haze; Ginger, who runs away from home with her girlfriend and is arrested for soliciting an undercover cop; and Cody, whose gambling habit forces him into the life, but who is shot and left for dead.

And now, in Traffick, these five are faced with the toughest question of all: Is there a way out? How these five teenagers face the aftermath of their decisions and experiences is the soul of this story that exposes the dark, ferocious underbelly of the child trafficking trade. Heartwrenching and hopeful, Traffick takes us on five separate but intertwined journeys through the painful challenges of recovery, rehabilitation, and renewal to forgiveness and love. All the way home.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Ellen Hopkins for years and her books pretty much always break my heart.  This one is no exception.  It’s a sequel to her book Tricks and it’s not a spoiler to say that just because the teens have escaped from prostitution, it doesn’t mean that their lives are any easier.

Between them, their difficulties range from medical problems, drug withdrawal and self-esteem issues, but there are a lot more difficulties below the surface.  It’s a lot to overcome—especially for a few of the teens, who don’t even really have support systems.

Still, they are determined to survive.  Their resilience and drive is actually inspiring (and I know that word tends to inspire eyerolls, but seriously, these are amazing teens).  As with all her books, this is a must-read.

Highly recommended.

The Sound of Letting Go

Finished The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For sixteen years, Daisy has been good. A good daughter, helping out with her autistic younger brother uncomplainingly. A good friend, even when her best friend makes her feel like a third wheel. When her parents announce they’re sending her brother to an institution—without consulting her—Daisy’s furious, and decides the best way to be a good sister is to start being bad. She quits jazz band and orchestra, slacks in school, and falls for bad-boy Dave.

But one person won’t let Daisy forget who she used to be: Irish exchange student and brilliant musician Cal. Does she want the bad boy or the prodigy? Should she side with her parents or protect her brother? How can she know when to hold on and when—and how—to let go?”

I really enjoyed this novel.  Daisy has always been the good child—really, the easy child—since her little brother has autism.  And her brother is mostly non-verbal and has a tendency to become aggressive (harming himself and others) so her parents really rely on her as another caregiver for him.  (As a result, she’s basically the third adult in the house, as opposed to one of the two children.)

When her parents decide to institutionalize her brother, she freaks out.  It’s not even that she necessarily thinks it’s a bad idea—it’s that she hates the fact that they’re asking her opinion.  (I think it’s that she doesn’t want to be at all responsible for Steven being sent away.  She wants the decision to be entirely out of her hands…which it should be, really, since she’s just a kid.)

And now that she DOES have more freedom—no more babysitting three nights a week—she starts to behave like a normal teenager.  She stays out late and starts dating a “bad boy” who she’s known essentially her whole life.

Even when I didn’t really agree with her choices, it’s impossible not to root for Daisy.  This is a fantastic novel and I can’t wait to read Stasia Ward Kehoe’s next book. Recommended.

Straight Outta Compton & Southpaw

I don’t know if either Straight Outta Compton or Southpaw will be nominated for Academy Awards or be the AFI best of the year, but if not they should be.

(Probably both are more likely for screenplay nods and maybe supporting actor [Compton] and best actor [Southpaw] than director or picture nods).

I’m hoping Southpaw, especially, gets a screenplay nod because it’s written by Kurt Sutter, who did Sons of Anarchy.

Straight Outta Compton was better than I was expecting.  I thought it would be a fun music biopic (with the stunt casting of O’Shea Jackson Jr. playing his father, who we all know better as Ice Cube), but instead, it was really good.  (And incidentally, I want O’Shea Jackson to get a supporting actor nod, please and thank you.)

I remember when NWA was popular, but I never really listened to their music (I was pretty young and have never been a huge fan of rap) and even that didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

It’s a solid movie and a great cast.

And oh God, Southpaw.  My friend Philip came over and we watched it Monday night and it is not an exaggeration that this movie is absolutely shattering.

I don’t want to ruin everything but it’s better to watch this movie with tissues.

I hope Jake Gyllenhaal gets a Best Actor nomination; he inhabited this role like nobody’s business.