The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

I finished reading Sonia Gensler’s THE REVENANT last night and closed it with a sigh.  You know the feeling of finishing a book that’s just so good you worry that you won’t find another one you love as much for a long time?  It’s one of those books, and while I couldn’t put it down to make it last longer, I was so sad to be finished.


THE REVENANT is a delicious blend of historical fiction, mystery, and ghost story set at a Cherokee boarding school near the turn of the century.  When 17-year-old Willemina Hammond arrives to take a teaching position, it’s under false pretenses, but her phony identity soon becomes the least of her concerns when she’s assigned to the bedroom of a former student who might have been murdered.  The students are convinced her ghost haunts the school, and it seems to be growing ever more violent. As she struggles to carry out her role as teacher and gain the respect of her students, Willie is pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery until her very life is at stake.


There is so much to love in this story – characters who are complex and multi-faceted, especially the main character, Willie, who is at once strong, spirited, and flawed. Her coming-of-age through the trials of this ghost story/mystery is believable and poignant, and at the same time, the story sacrifices nothing in terms of its harrowing plot. I was turning pages as fast as I could at one point, then found myself going back to appreciate the gorgeous prose once I’d found out what happened.


The writing in this book reminds me of the very best of Jennifer Donnelly’s work – stunning and seemingly effortless.  In fact, I was bewildered when my cell phone rang while I was reading yesterday. It took me a minute to remember that I wasn’t actually curled up in the library of a 19th century boarding school.  I took the book with me when I went to rescue my husband, whose car had died, just in case there were any red lights along the way.


Teachers, give this one to Donnelly fans, for sure, but I think it will also appeal to your supernatural romance readers and will be a perfect transition for those who have read their fill of Twlight-esque titles and are looking for something more.


You won’t want to miss this book – due out in June from Knopf.

Winter NightLights: Spheres Polaires in Downtown Montreal

One of the things I love about living where I do is the proximity to Montreal, just a border crossing and an hour or so up the road. Sometimes it’s hard to explain…but the city is always full of unexpected magic.  Like this…

These giant blue spheres lighting up the Place des Arts esplanade are part of an interactive outdoor exhibit called Spheres Polaire. Billed as "light therapy," it’s an installation created by Bernard Duguay and Pierre Gangnon of Lucion Média for what seems to be the sole purpose of  lighting up a cold winter’s night with beauty and fun. The spheres not only light up; they’re equipped with motion sensors to generate images and sounds as you interact with them.

The Spheres Polaires remind me a little of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates in Central Park, an exhibit I didn’t get a chance to see in person. I love the feeling of joy and play that community-based art like this inspires.

Fair warning… it’s tough to pose for a photo silhouetted against one of these and not give in to the temptation of striking silly poses.

The exhibit will light up all the darkest days of Montreal’s winter, running through February 27th. 

Go see it if you can – it’s just awesome.

SHINE by Lauren Myracle

I picked up an ARC of this YA novel at NCTE last month – not sharing cover art here because I’m not sure it’s final yet, but oh…what a book.

Lauren Myracle’s SHINE opens with a newspaper report about an apparent hate crime — a gay teen is beaten and left to die, and his former best friend, the story’s narrator, takes it upon herself to look for answers and justice when the town sheriff isn’t doing enough.  This is a powerful page-turner that shines a painful light on the hopelessness and bigotry festering in one small town in rural America. From a reader’s point of view, I was hooked on this YA novel from the first page. It’s as compelling a mystery as I’ve ever read, and the last third of the book so had me turning pages so fast my family stopped reading their own books to stare.

From a writer’s perspective, the craft in this book was amazing. The first-person prose was poetic without ever feeling like an inauthentic voice, and the small-town dialect was pitch perfect — it never felt overdone like I’ve seen in some books set in the south. The characters were so real my heart ached for them, and the language was vivid and evocative. I’m gushing…and I’ll stop now. But I really loved this book. There is one thing that bothered me a little about the ending, but it’s on a personal level — not a writer’s craft issue — and that in itself will make great fodder for literature circles and book club discussions.

My ARC is headed up to the high school tomorrow, for one of my former 7th graders, now a freshman, who still visits for book suggestions from time to time.  She’s going to love it.  This one’s probably best for 8th grade and older, though I do think some of my more mature 7th grade readers will appreciate it. Teachers & librarians, read it first (you’ll want to anyway) and decide. Due out from Amulet in April.

Last SUGAR AND ICE event of 2010 (and it’s a special one!)

Our local newspaper featured my new book, SUGAR AND ICE, in this morning’s edition.  The reviewer wrote, "Kate Messner plucked the best of the North Country and plunked it between the pages of her new novel, Sugar and Ice, published by Walker & Company."  I love that line because setting is important to me, and I’m so happy that people who share Claire’s landscape are recognizing those details and smiling.  The full article is here.

And the timing is good…because I’m doing my last 2010 event for SUGAR AND ICE this afternoon…at the Skating Club of the Adirondacks Holiday Extravaganza!

Our local skating club kids have been working hard on their routines, choreographed to holiday music that’s had me singing along all week. They’re cheerful, talented, and awesome — and they skate today at 4:30 at the Plattsburgh State Field House.  I’m doing a fundraiser book signing before and after the show; all proceeds go to the skating club.  If you’re planning to come, admission is $4 for adults, $2 for kids, or $10 for a family, and that includes the show, refreshments, and public skating with free skate rentals after the show.

This signing is a special one for me because much of SUGAR AND ICE was written in the bleachers of this rink while my daughter skated.  These were the kids who read my drafts, corrected me when my characters planted their toe picks at the wrong time, and shared their thoughts on the early cover sketches to make sure our cover skater rang true to skaters themselves. They are fantastic people as well as talented skaters…and I’m so excited for their show today!

Skyping with Author Lindsey Leavitt (and an offer for teachers!)

My creative writing students took a break from their novel-drafting this week for a terrific opportunity to chat with author Lindsey Leavitt.  You probably know her name from her first book, PRINCESS FOR HIRE.  But did you know she has a new book coming out from Bloomsbury this March? 

It’s called SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, and it’s about a girl dealing with her dad’s MS diagnosis by following her counselor’s suggestion to choose and write about a focus object.  She chooses the head of the boy who sits in front of her in biology class, and then…well, you know how it is… you start writing about the back of somebody’s head and one thing leads to another.  This book is the most wonderful mix of family tenderness, first love, friend drama, and laugh-out-loud humor.  (I actually snorted during silent reading time yesterday. Snorted!)

Our tiny writing class enjoyed a read-aloud of the first few chapters and then connected with Lindsey via Skype yesterday after school to talk about writing. 

Lindsey shared the inspiration behind the book as well as her secrets about planning (what is this thing you call planning?), titles (she got to keep her original title, something that I have yet to accomplish with a book), and even rejection. 

Right there on camera, she unrolled this long string of rejections that came before her first published book and really inspired the kids to be persistent with their dreams. Her enthusiasm and sense of humor made this a great way to end our day.

And I love the way Lindsey explains how to write a book.  "You just sit down and you write it. And that sounds like the easiest thing, but really it’s the hardest thing sometimes, but that’s what you do. You sit down and you write."

Here’s a
special offer for teachers & librarians, from Lindsey…

For the 2010-2011 school year, Lindsey is offering a FREE ARC of SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, along with a FREE 20 minute book chat to schools, libraries, or book clubs. The group does not need to have read the entire book, but they should read three or more chapters so that they’re familiar with the story. Signed bookmarks and bookplates are available to those who read the book.
Click here for the contact page from her website.

One last note from Kate:

I’ll post a more in-depth review closer to the pub date, but I really love this book, and this is a great opportunity for middle school & high school teachers. SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD is funny & wonderful, with lots of opportunities for classroom writing spin-offs, too.  Probably best for grades 7 and up.

SUGAR AND ICE Skype-with-your-class offer and Blog Tour Links

Because a December book launch means snowy roads, busy schedules, and holiday craziness, I’m only doing a  handful of in-person book signings for SUGAR AND ICE, but I have been doing some virtual travels.  It’s been great fun to share a sneak preview of SUGAR AND ICE and tell some of the writing and revision stories behind it in Skype visits with classrooms.

If you’re a teacher or librarian who would like to schedule a free 20-minute behind-the-scenes SUGAR AND ICE lunchtime chat with your students to talk about writing, research, & revision, just drop me an email at kmessner at and we’ll find a date.  No need to read the book ahead of time – I’ll share a short excerpt with kids before we talk about writing. I’m making these special SUGAR AND ICE chats available through January & then going back to my usual policy of free Skype chats after a class or book club has read one of my books.

A few people have also asked that I share the full list of guest blog posts and interviews I’ve done this month as a reference for teachers, since there’s a lot here about the writing life, research, revision, and even a little math!  Here’s the rundown so far:

Writing About Fibonacci with Greg Pincus at Gotta Book
Parent-Kid Relationships in MG/YA Literature with Laura Pauling
A Sense of Place in Writing with Janni Lee Simner
Research & the idea that sparked SUGAR AND ICE with Jen Petro Roy at Stacked Books
Student Athletes & Literary Role Models with Carol Rasco at Reading is Fundamental
An Interview at The Reading Zone
Balancing Life and Figure Skating with IceMom
A Look inside My Writing Room at Jennifer Bertman’s Creative Spaces
Advice for Reluctant Writers at Jo Knowles’ blog
Interview with Jill at the O.W.L. for YA blog
Winter Inspiration with Terry Lynn Johnson
For parents who write: Including kids in research & writing with Mary Ann Scheuer at Great Kid Books
Researching skating, bees, and maple season for SUGAR AND ICE with Samantha Clark at Day by Day Writer
SUGAR ON SNOW SUGAR AND ICE: A Revision Story with Sherrie Peterson
A Letter to My Younger Self with Anna Staniszewski

A sweet & snowy afternoon in Lake Placid

Lake Placid was all lit up for the Holiday Stroll this weekend.

But the window of The Bookstore Plus was my favorite!

Inside, the store was crowded with holiday shoppers. (I am up there at my table somewhere!)

Having a book launch event at a great indie is like showing up at a friend’s house for a party.  Owners Marc & Sarah greeted us with hugs, hot cider, brownies baked by their adorable daughter Norah, and a big stack of pre-ordered books waiting to be signed.

That’s me with Bookstore Plus co-owner Marc Galvin.

If you ordered a book to be signed, it’s in this pile…and will soon be in the mail…and thank you! It was so much fun to sign books for far-away friends and made it feel like you were there, too. 

I have one more SUGAR AND ICE book signing in 2010…at the Skating Club of the Adirondacks Holiday Extravaganza Saturday, December 18th at the Plattsburgh State Field House.  The figure skating show starts at 4:30, with refreshments & public skating with free skate rentals to follow, and I’ll be signing books as a fund raiser for the skating club before and after the show.

Lake Champlain Ice Fog, Signing Books, and Signing Skates

The temperature here dropped below ten degrees Thursday night, so I woke up Friday to the first real ice fog of the year over Lake Champlain. I stood and watched the sky change for so long, I was almost late for school. But I think I could have used these photos as my excuse…

Doesn’t this look all the world like a tornado or waterspout?  I can’t offer a scientific explanation, but it sure looked cool

School (yes, I did manage to make it on time) brought a day of Colonial America research & diary writing with my 7th graders and a lunch hour Skype chat with Alison Follos’ 6th graders at North Country School in Lake Placid.  They’d read the first chapter of SUGAR AND ICE and were excited to ask questions.

After dinner, it was off to visit the kids at the North Country Skating Club in Rouses Point, where I signed lots of books, and autographed my first skate!

Here I am with Miranda.  I told her she needs to read Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME, partly because the main character shares her name but mostly because it is amazing.

This afternoon, it’s off to Lake Placid for the official SUGAR AND ICE book launch at The Bookstore Plus from 3-5.  It’s part of the village’s Holiday Stroll, so Main Street will be all decked out for the holidays.  Can’t wait!