Cover Reveal: NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy!

Today we are so pleased to host the cover reveal of Michelle Levy's debut novel, NOT AFTER EVERYTHING

Hello, fellow YA lovers! I’m Michelle Levy, debut author of Not After Everything, an edgy contemporary novel coming from Dial/Penguin on August 4, 2015. I’m so excited to finally be able to share my cover with the world!

Not After Everything

A gritty but hopeful love story about two struggling teens—
great for fans of
The Spectacular Now, Willow, and  Eleanor and Park

Tyler has a football scholarship to Stanford, a hot girlfriend, and a reliable army of friends to party with. Then his mom kills herself. And Tyler lets it all go. Now he needs to dodge what his dad is offering (verbal tirades and abuse) and earn what his dad isn’t (money). Tyler finds a job that crashes him into Jordyn, his former childhood friend turned angry-loner goth-girl. She brings Tyler an unexpected reprieve from the never-ending pity party his life has become. How could he not fall for her? But with his dad more brutally unpredictable than ever, Tyler knows he can’t risk bringing Jordyn too deeply into the chaos. So when violence rocks his world again, will it be Jordyn who shows him the way to a hopeful future? Or after everything, will Tyler have to find it in himself?

And now . . . without further ado . . . the cover:

My thoughts? I absolutely love it! I love the font. I love the colors. I love the simplicity of the design, how it’s unlike anything  I can think of. I love how it’s just the two of them against a vast nothingness, which I think perfectly represents how isolated Tyler and Jordyn feel from the world and how they are enough support for each other. But my favorite part of the whole thing is the crumpled paper. I don’t know if you know of the trick some parents and teachers use to explain hurt feelings to little kids which goes something like this: You give the child a paper heart and tell them to crumple it up, and then you tell them to smooth it back out. See how it will never be the way it was before you crumpled it? That’s how someone’s heart feels when you hurt their feelings—the wounds heal but the person will be forever changed. Well, this reminds me of that lesson and I think it’s quite brilliant. Jessie Sayward Bright really hit it out of the park with this cover design.

Thanks, YA Highway, for celebrating this very exciting moment with me!

If you like the sound of Not After Everything, be sure to add it to your Goodreads list!

Michelle Levy hails from Denver, Colorado and now lives in Los Angeles, California, where she works as a casting director for film and television, casting such projects as Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Bruce Almighty, Vampire Academy and more. Not After Everything is her debut novel. Visit Michelle online at, on twitter @m_levy, on Facebook at michelle.levy.142, and on Pinterest at michellelevy13.

Pumpkin Carving Contest 2014!

Hello, Halloween!

Get out your carving tools and grab a template (or make one of your own) --  
it's time to carve some pumpkins!

Complicit - Stephanie Kuehn, Watch the Sky - Kirsten Hubbard, Four - Veronica Roth

Carve, paint, decorate, or otherwise create a book-related pumpkin, then share your creation in the comments here by midnight on Nov 1. We'll feature all the entries on YA Highway and our Tumblr, and one entry will be chosen at random to win a spooky book prize pack!

Every Last Promise - Kristin Halbrook, Tangled Webs - Lee Bross, I Heart Band - Michelle Schusterman

- Non-US winners can choose from The Book Depository. 
- Tweets and posts about the contest are not required but are always appreciated.
- Covers above belong to current and former Highwayers, but there are lots more to choose from.
- Need more help? Check out our past contests, or scroll through patterns from  2011, 2012, and 2013.

Can't wait to see your creations!

Road Trip Wednesday

This week's topic: Which book cover are you going to carve into a pumpkin this year

Participate via comments, your own blog, tumblr, twitter (hashtag #roadtripwednesday), wherever you'd like!

Interview with Amy Reed, author of DAMAGED!!!

Happy Monday, everybody!

Today on the blog we are pleased to welcome back a YA Highway favorite, the incredible Amy Reed. We've had the opportunity to feature Amy before with her novels OVER YOU and CLEAN, both of which are awesome. In the most recent interview, Amy mentioned that her next project had a slight paranormal element. That project is finally here...let's hear it for DAMAGED!!!

The description, via Goodreads:

Part ghost story, part epic roadtrip, and part reluctant love story, DAMAGED offers readers another piercing, poignant story full of emotional truth from author Amy Reed.

After Kinsey’s best friend Camille dies in a car accident during which Kinsey was driving, Kinsey
shuts down, deciding that numbness is far better than mourning. All she wants during the last few weeks of high school is to be left alone, but Camille’s mysterious boyfriend, Hunter–who was also in the car that night–has different ideas.

Despite all of Kinsey’s efforts, she can’t outrun Camille, who begins haunting her dreams. Sleep deprived and on the verge of losing it, Kinsey runs away with Hunter to San Francisco. As they drive across the country, trying to escape both the ghost of Camille and their own deep fears, Kinsey questions all she once believed about her friendship with Camille. Hunter, meanwhile, falls into a spiral of alcoholism, anger, and self-loathing. Ultimately, Kinsey and Hunter must come to terms with what they’ve lost and accept that they can’t outrun pain.  

Aaah, how awesome is that description, seriously?! We were lucky enough to get an interview with Amy, where she dishes on writing paranormal, her plans for future stories, the writing process with DAMAGED, and how sharing her experiences with addiction and recovery have affected her writing and her life.

1) There is a ghostly/borderline paranormal aspect to DAMAGED that wasn't present in your previous books. Did anything specific inspire you to explore that area of the cosmos, or was it something that just felt 'right' for the story itself?

"I always want to try something new with each book, so I’m always looking for a way to challenge myself with structure or POV or a new kind of story element. I think what inspired me to try this particular direction was Courtney Summers’ novel THIS IS NOT A TEST. Courtney is, in my opinion, one of the best contemporary YA authors around. Then she up and wrote this great book about the zombie apocalypse! The best part about it was that is still read like contemporary YA; it was still very much based on character and story. I thought, hey, maybe I can play around with genre, too. I immediately thought of one of my all-time favorite books, DREAM BOY, by Jim Grimsley, which is so many different books at once—ghost story, gay coming-of-age, Southern Gothic, love story, horror, literary fiction, YA. It was liberating to think that maybe I didn’t have to fit into one category."

2) Do you currently have any plans for other ghostly stories?

"Not at the moment, but I plan to always push myself to try new things, so it’s very possible I will revisit paranormal elements. More than possible, actually. Quite probable."

3) This book takes a painfully close-up look at the intense emotions that revolve around grief, guilt, and past demons. Was there any part of Kinsey's story that was particularly difficult to write?

"I think the hardest stuff for me to write were the parts with Kinsey’s mother. It broke my heart how unreliable and cruel she could be, how Kinsey had to fend for herself in so many ways. Kinsey overcompensated for her mother’s erratic emotional state by creating a false sense of control, which led to a debilitating perfectionism that I very much related to. I think their relationship was extra painful for me to write because I’m a mother now myself, and I was incredibly angry at Kinsey’s mother for being so selfish, for not taking care of her baby. But in the end, I had to find some compassion for her. She was very sick, very narcissistic, but was capable of some tenderness."

4) You were recently featured on Nova Ren Suma's incredible 'The Book of Your Heart' series, where you opened up about your past experiences with addiction and talked about how those experiences have affected your writing. Was there something that sparked your willingness to share your inspiring story?

"When Nova invited me to write the post, I knew I was going to have to open up about the backstory of one of my books. I’ve always felt slightly uneasy with how guarded I’ve been about my own experience around addiction, but it had seemed necessary for quite a while. It wasn’t something I hid, but I never explicitly stated it. I had a day job in publishing, where I interacted daily with coworkers who knew of my writing career. My history with addiction wasn’t something I wanted to share in that professional environment, so I kept it private, though I think anyone who was looking could figure it out by piecing together clues from my books and interviews. Since having my daughter and moving to the other side of the country, I’m no longer a part of that professional world. I’m blessed to be able to write and mother and pretty much choose how I spend my time and whom I spend it with.

Being in recovery is one of the most defining things about myself, one of the things I am most proud of, and I guess I finally felt free to put it out in the open. I think it also helped that I had just received a letter from a reader who asked if I was in recovery, thanking me for telling her story and inspiring her to stay sober. I’ve received many such letters over the years, and they are the greatest part of this job. I realized it could help even more if readers knew I was writing from experience, that I actually knew what they were going through, that I wasn’t just some condescending adult trying to moralize something I knew nothing about. I wanted them to know I was someone they could trust. And most of the time, the best way to do that is to just be honest."

Thank you so much for stopping by, Amy. DAMAGED is remarkable, and we can't wait to read your future work as well.

Amy Reed is the author of the edgy, contemporary YA novels BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, CRAZY, and OVER YOU. Her new book DAMAGED released October 14, 2014. Find out more at 

You can also find Amy on Facebook and Twitter (@amyreedfiction.)

Field Trip Friday: October 24, 2014

Hi friends! Because of some life and health stuff going on (don't worry, I'm okay), I just can't get this week's links compiled into their usual categories and summaries. I know, between the Hale controversy, the Percy Jackson pearl-clutching, several kick-ass articles about YA, and the launch of We Need Diverse Books' Indiegogo campaign, this is a terrible week for me to drop the ball, and I'm sorry!

I do, however, have a slightly less convenient way to share this week's links. They're not organized, but you can scroll through my bookmarks on Delicious and get an idea of the week's news. You can also check out the YA Highway "Scenic Route" on Tumblr for news and links (along with a lot of other things).

I'll be back next week with the regular round up!

The Landscape of YA Lit: A State of the Union

Image courtesy of
With all the YA books hats I wear, from writer to reader to agent to YA Highwayer, I think about the state and landscape of YA lit pretty much all the time. Even so, there are moments that make me take a step back and reflect even more deeply than usual.

This happened recently, as I closed the final page of the wonderful The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. I adore this book, but I was left questioning why it was marketed as YA. It’s an Allende-style epic magical realism, spanning several generations of women within one family, following their stories through love and heartbreak and life and aging. It’s not really until the last quarter or so of the book that we see a narrator in the late teens take over the story.

So…why YA? That's the section I found it in at my library, it's placed in the YA section at the bookstore, and Goodreads readers tagged the book as Young Adult more than another other category. Is this a good example of the crossover YA that I’ve been seeing so much interest in recently? Just One Year by Gayle Forman might fit in the crossover category, with protagonists out of high school, while Kimberly McCreight's 2013 novel, Reconstructing Amelia, told in alternating voices of a mother and her teenage daughter, is another book with noted "crossover" appeal. Is this the new direction of YA? How else is the landscape of YA evolving?

I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by brilliant minds with interests in YA lit as deep as mine. Whenever I’ve come into contact with them, whether over lunch or drinks or social media, I’ve asked their thoughts about YA—where it’s been, where it is now and where it’s headed. A few notable themes emerge. One is the state—or lack thereof—of trends.

Often enough, colleagues who are looking to represent or buy YA mention that there is no one “hot thing” they’re looking for. They want something different, something they’ve never seen before. And because they haven’t seen it, they don’t know quite what “it” is. But one thing is a constant: the bar for quality writing is very high in YA and new projects have to exceed that bar.

My own agent, Suzie Townsend, says, “We've run through a lot of the trends. Now, everyone I talk to is looking for projects that don't necessarily fit a certain type. They want something they haven't seen before--or at least something that feels unique and stand out. They're looking for projects with a great voice and great writing. Commercial concepts are still important, but they don't have to fit into a certain trend.”

Sarah Barley, now senior editor at Flatiron Books and formerly editor at HarperCollins Children’s/HarperTeen and Henry Holt, agrees:

“There is no next “big thing” (that I can predict) in the way that there was during the Twilight craze, so what editors want are authentic, indelible voices—and fresh stories. There are an incredible number of fabulous books of every ilk—there are no taboos in YA—coming out right now that set the bar very high. All kinds of readers are coming to YA now, so everyone’s paying a lot more attention! Above most everything else, I want to read and experience something new when I open up a new manuscript from an agent (or new novel in a bookstore). I try not to focus too terribly much on the trends, since trends can come and go quickly. We can spend a lot of time guessing what’ll take off next and make a big bet on it, but when all’s said and done, readers want books for voices that speak to them. “

Which brings me to the next theme that, maybe, shouldn't even be a theme, because it should have been there the whole time: diverse voices.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign is hitting its stride, just last week announcing an award named after the late Walter Dean Myers and a host of future funding opportunities for diverse authors. Readers have always wanted to see themselves reflected in the stories they read and voices that speak to them, but the pickings haven’t always been good. WNDB and the Children’s Book Council: Diversity work to promote and encourage diverse voices in YA lit. Publishing professionals are paying attention, and many agent and editor wishlists include a desire for diverse books, whether that diversity comes from race, class, sexuality, ethnicity and/or (dis)ability.

Mel Barnes, a bookseller for the indie bookstore, University Books, and co-mastermind behind the Novels, News and Notes blog, says:

“It feels as though we are currently in one of the best positions we can be in to reach a wide variety of readers, pre-teens, teens and adults with the books that are marketed in the YA category. It is nearly impossible not to find at least a handful of books for every reader. Not only are there amazing diverse books for all sorts of readers but we also have books written around a variety of topics. There is definitely something for everyone right now. I love that I can find mysteries, horror, historical, future, current time and yes even my favorite, books about bands! It feels as though we are headed in the direction of being FAR MORE open minded towards the differences between all of us and I'm excited to see more book covers with teens of all shapes, sizes and color. We seem to be shifting from the 'pretty white girl in a dress' on a cover to real teens that are easier to connect to for teens, and adults remembering their own teen years.”

And what about those crossover YAs like Ava Lavender? Is it a reflection of how many readers of YA are in their 20s and 30s (despite the regularity of fodder articles bemoaning the range of ages of YA readership)? Or is it simply a natural evolution as the talent pool of YA authors grows and is challenged to be better and more innovative? What about the younger end of YA? Are fun, escapist novels suffering under the current sophistication of YA lit?

“...There's really a hole in the market between sophisticated middle grade and older YA, so what are the kids to do? But, no one's buying it now. I would agree that right now that kind of book isn't easy, unless the writing is super-sparkling and unusual,” says Sarah Barley.

Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of Ballads of Suburbia, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and an upcoming memoir about her own teenage years. She also is a contributing writer for Rookie Magazine and teaches YA writing at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Her take on the YA landscape? No matter what, it has to be authentic and hard-hitting:

“I’d actually say that its core, YA is still the same. Readers are still reading and writers are still writing fearless, honest books that speak to all aspects of the teenage experience—that’s why YA is and will continue to be an important part of the literary landscape. The trendy genre does seem to change every couple of years—two years ago, dystopian was the bestseller, now it seems that contemporary is getting it’s time to shine. I can’t say what will be next, though I hope it’s YA memoir since that is what I’m writing… But seriously, the advice I give my students is to write honestly, fearlessly, and from the heart because that’s what readers will always want.”

Perhaps contemporary is getting its moment to shine, but the various YA bestseller lists and the deals currently being made and reported to outlets like Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace show that readers, agents and editors are picking up a wide variety of books. In just October, every kind of contemporary, from darker "issue" books to ones whose focus is decidedly more romantic--and everything in between--grace the Deals page of Publishers Marketplace. But they're not alone. Fantasy, mystery, scifi, adventure, thriller, horror, short story collections and historical have also been announced in numbers that challenge the contemporary projects. These are, really, the cornerstone genres of any age group.

So perhaps what we're seeing is proof of the idea that trends are mostly over. There will likely always be a sway in one direction or another, following pop culture trends, bestsellers in other reading age groups (see the mildly grown interest in YA thrillers after the success of Gillian Flynn, for example), or maybe in the wake of a particular, unexpected breakout hit in YA, itself. But overall, I think every genre and topic has its place in YA right now, as long as it's unique and exceptionally written. Yes, even those much-maligned paranormal stories.

Martha Brockenbrough, author of Devine Intervention and the upcoming The Game of Love and Death loves the current landscape of YA.

"The landscape of YA continues to dazzle me," Martha says. "When you think about the books that have had a huge effect on popular culture for almost twenty years now, it’s young adult (with a healthy dose of middle grade). And it’s been all sorts of books that have resonated with readers of all ages. The bottom line: People know what we’re doing. And they’re becoming sophisticated enough to want things that are distinct."

Writing what's distinct can be tough, but it's a sign of a healthy and innovative category of books.

"Part of the deluge of excellent books is because the category has been so successful," Martha continues. "The market is saturated, and agents and editors can afford to be choosy. And while this feels like a double-edged sword when you have a manuscript that maybe would have sold five years ago but won’t today, it’s ultimately a good thing for everyone. A book should be better than what’s currently on the shelves to sell. It should be better than something that sold five years ago. Otherwise, it’s just cannibalizing backlist, which doesn’t serve authors or publishers. Just as athletes have gotten faster and more skilled over the decades, writers can, too. We shouldn’t settle for anything less from ourselves, or anything less for our readers. So if you find yourself saying, “Oh, my book won’t sell because today’s market is all about contemporary realistic,” take a deep breath. If your book does what no other book has done, if it adds something new to the conversation, if it stands out in some way that excites readers, then it will find a home. It’s going to take a lot of work, sweat, and smarts for you to do it. But you can, and you will!"

Honest and fearless. Innovative and different. Crossing all genres, and crossing over into different age groups. YA is broad and fierce, diverse and full of quality, and in my opinion the landscape is only going to get more and more beautiful. As writers, it means we have to up our game. A lot. As readers, it means we have some real gems to read now, and to look forward to.

And that's a state of the YA-Union I like.

~Kristin H.

Long Haul Projects

I took this photo last time I flew home from Europe. I had just spent at least twelve hours flying from London to Singapore, and then twenty crazed minutes dashing across Singapore Airport for my connecting flight home to Auckland, which would take another ten hours or so. My brain was a bleary blur and as my plane took off from Singapore, I snapped a photo of the harbour, silvery in the early morning light. It was so cloudy I couldn't see where the sea ended and the sky began.

It seems like a mad, mad thing, to fly from New Zealand to the other side of the world and back again, and when I'm halfway through I always wonder why I bother. Why anyone bothers. But if you come from a small country surrounded by ocean and you long to see all the famous, far away places, like London and Paris and Rome and Barcelona and New York and Montreal, you do it, even though the restlessness and the exhaustion will both hit you at the same time and you'll want to crawl out of your own skin, even though it seems like the journey will kill you long before it ends. Because you know there's no way you'll ever see those places in person otherwise, and they are worth every moment of the ordeal to reach them.

Some writers finish things quickly. I'm not one of those writers. At least, not at the moment. Things might change in the future, but for now, every project I embark on is a long haul flight from beginning to end. And I'm okay with that, because I have to be. If my choice is between travelling a long way to see a place I've always longed to see or never experiencing it in person, I’ll travel. And if the choice is between taking years to finish one novel or never finishing one, then I'll take years, because the destination is worth it.

At least, I spend a lot of time telling myself it is.

I've been working on the same novel for a long time, and I'm nowhere near done with it. I am near the end of the current draft though, and when I get to the end, I get to take a rest, because I figure I deserve one. I might not be home yet, but there's still the gap between flights. The moment when I get to wander through an unfamiliar airport, leaden but joyous, because it's been so long since I walked across any kind of open space.

Maybe I'll work on a new idea when I'm done with this draft, one that's still shiny and fresh. Or maybe I'll do nothing at all with the freedom except sleep and read books and play Sims 3. Either way, I've been looking forward to it for ages. It's impossible to be in the air for so long and not look forward to touching the ground again, even if it's just for a short while.

I spent the last few weeks feeling like I wanted nothing more than to be off this plane. I've been working on this novel so long that sometimes – ok, a lot of the time – all I can see is everything that's wrong with it. And then I feel like I’m trapped in a box with six hours of flying behind me and six hours ahead of me and no result to show for it, and my brain gets antsy and starts posing drastic solutions. Change the entire plot! Abandon it and write a different novel! Quit writing entirely! Empty the dishwasher, then browse the internet forever! Find a parachute! Escape escape escape!

And then I have to remind myself of what I'm meant to be doing and drag myself over to my computer to do it, even though I can hardly even remember where I'm flying to anymore, let alone why I thought it would be a good idea to fly there.

The other day I sat down to write after weeks of restlessness. I was writing a climactic scene, one I'd been waiting to write for a long time, but I couldn't feel anything other than weary. Still, I had a few hours, which is a rare thing in my life at the moment, and I knew I needed to use them. So I sat down, ignored the internet, found appropriate music, and started typing, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. And as I wrote, for the first time in a long while, I became more and more excited. Excited by the scene as it built up and up. Excited by this story, drawing increasingly quickly towards the end I planned out all those months ago. Excited by the scene flowing out of my head and onto the page.

And I knew I'd reach the end of the draft soon, even if I wasn't quite there yet. But I could feel the roar of the plane’s engines, the feeling of bursting through the sky, and suddenly, the journey stopped being maddening. I might not have typed the last words and stepped off the plane, but in that moment, it didn’t matter.

The sky can be worth it too.