Monday, October 29, 2007


Not many debuts get a starred review from Kirkus, but NO CASTLES HERE (USA, UK, Canada) by A.C.E. Bauer is one of them.

AUGIE BORETSKI KNOWS how to get by. If you're a skinny white kid in the destitute city of Camden, New Jersey, you keep your head down, avoid the drug dealers and thugs, and try your best to be invisible. Augie used to be good at that, but suddenly his life is changing. . . . First, Augie accidentally steals a strange book of fairy tales. Then his mom makes him join the Big Brothers program and the chorus. And two bullies try to beat him up every day because of it. Just when it seems like things can't get any worse, an ice storm wrecks Augie's school. The city plans to close the school, abandoning one more building to the drug addicts. But Augie has a plan. For the first time in his life, Augie Boretski is not going down without a fight.

A.C.E Bauer is part of the Class of 2K7 website, a unique site devoted to children's authors who debuted in 2007. I've been frightfully neglectful of this site, but no more; the debuts for the rest of the year are on my calendar. I am eagerly awaiting the 2K8 site, which I know is in the planning stages from my correspondence with another author. Anyway, A.C.E's 2K7 profile page is here. She also has a blog, which she calls an unblog.

Random House has an online excerpt. I found a short review at Books4Ever, and an article at WTNH. Plus, the author has an interview (with each question in separate posts) at 2K7.


Scifiwritir said...

The book sounds good but I'm wondering about a blurb like "Skinny white kids keep their heads down." I wish they'd change the blurb because black folks in the hood are surely gonna wonder about the implicit stereotyping going on here. It's somewhat offensive. Honestly, skinny white kids in the hood generally DON'T keep their heads down. By kindergarten every kid --white or black-- is part of the neighborhood and they all get along. I live in the hood and white kids and black kids in the hood --places like Camden, for instance-- and I know that. Generally they all get along quite well and white kids don't walk around in fear. They are usually always included as part of the neighborhood. It makes me wonder if the author knows about living in black neighborhoods. And actually, it's generally the black kid in a white neighborhood who walks around holding his head down. Not the other way around. Black folks tend to be pretty inclusive when it comes to neighborhood kids. -C

Tia said...

Good points! Now that you bring it up, I'm a bit surprised that they wrote the blurb that way.

Your post reminded me of a friend of mine who grew up in Boston. He was bussed to Lexington during the 70s. The experience was generally positive for him, but he did get accused of a crime once, because he was the only black kid around.

Moondancer said...

I have to be honest here, I'm torn. I do think the blurb could have been worded better, but I also see some connection to what she seems to be expressing from our experiences in Milwaukee.

I'm raising a skinny boy (don't know where he got the skinny genetics from), who even though he is part Indian, with his blond hair and blue eyes is considered white by most people he deals with. Image and the visual is everything around here. Yeah, he loves everyone. it's just his nature. He wants to be friends to anybody, no matter the color of his or their skin. Does he get victimised for it? You bet.

Part of it is he's just different from most of the other kids. As the only non black kid in our neighborhood, that's only a minor difference most times. He isn't as aggressive as most of the other boys.

Maybe that's why he hangs with girls more. He's very gentle natured, even though he tries so hard to fit in with the boys, often he doesn't. As the only non black kid on the bus, he has been a target for years. Is that the reason they pick on him, maybe. They do not allow parents to ride the bus here, so I can't know for certain.

It was never like this when he was younger. When he was 4,5,6, the kids didn't care. he always had someone to play with. At school the kids seem to segregate themselves and often he's frustrated as he became more excluded as he grew older. My son is an amazing kid, he kept trying, and little by little seemed to break some of the race barriers the older kids put up. But not all kids are that stubborn/persistent.

I hope my son and daughter will never walk with their heads down. That shows a lack of self pride as well as targets you as a victim to predators that do exist (no mater their color). Bullies are real. Being small and skinny does often mean you have two choices. You lean to fight, or to hide. I was small, and I chose to fight. My son will not defend himself, however he will defend his friends. Again, my son is spacial, he has the support of his family and a four year old sister who has been known to go feral on some bully to defend him (shakes head). Not all kids are that lucky.

Moon (JMI, though perhaps a wee but wordy, I am on a writing binge today...two more days!!!!!!)

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Moon, I love you but you are a noble soul and like many minority writers you bend over backwards to give some folks the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I'm a triffle too paranoid but questions i'd ask the author:

Has she ever been to Camden? By the way she obsessively names the city streets I can only guess that she's never been there at all but did a lot of so-called "research" and added it to horrible gang stories she found in the media.

Where the heck did she get the idea she has of Camden? Who says it's destitute? Compared to where?
Many cities, destitute or not, have plexiglass bullet-proof cages. Many cities, destitute or not, don't have them.

Has she ever met any skinny white kid from an inner city?

Are there white folks in these Camden gangs she's created?

If the oppression of the white race and white flight is not the subtext of the book, why didn't she just make Augie a black character?

Why does she have Augie kid "accidentally steal" a book? Can't the kid return it? Or do only white kids accidentally steal?

A blurb is an advertisement. And blurbs advertise to a certain kind of person. And it uses certain sound bytes to attract the attention of certain readers.

Here, the implicit assumption going on --one which the author, the publisher, and Kirkus seem to believe-- is that only white skinny kids actually would read this book because only white kids read.

The book doesn't seem to want to attract skinny black or non-white kids. There's a subtext of white flight going on here.

The blurb doesn't read: "Augie THINKS that because he's a white skinny kid yadda yadda." The blurb is in a kind of omniscient POV that assumes the reader of the blurb and the writer of the blurb (and the author) all share the same TRUE viewpoint.

This Augie character, simply BECAUSE of his fear of black kids is kinda perpetuating the alienation himself. And let's be totally honest here. This is Camden, NJ. How is he the only white kid in Camden NJ? The blurb exaggerates white fear in that Augie seemingly has noooo other white kid or companion to deal with.

I'd read the book to see if Augie has a foil, some other skinny white kid who has no problem connecting to everyone else in the story.

But the book doesn't seem to be inviting black folks to read it.

Moondancer said...

Those are all fair questions. I myself would be interested in seeing what A.C.E. has to say about them. I know what a research junkie I am. I think its sooo important. I can't tell ya'll how many badly researched novels I have read with sterotyped Indians in them, even nowadays. I can completely understand the concern.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Totally comprehend. I freak out when folks get stuff wrong. You ought to see the way I gag when some movie person decides to make autism a kind of mystical illness.

And as for the hood, I think life in the hood is wonderful...very homey. All groups getting along. Arabs, blacks, hispanics, whites...everyone getting along. All the hispanic guys calling all the older women mami. All the black guys calling all the women Sister or Moms. All the Arab, Chinese, Hispanic, and black shopkeepers calling everyone Mom, Dear, Sweetie. Kids of all colors riding down the street on their bikes together. I don't live in Camden but if it's a hood, it's probably a lot like my town.

Tia said...

In the author's interview, she answers a question on setting:

Here it is.

Keep in mind that the author probably did not write the cover blurb.

Moondancer said...

Thanks Tia for the link.

As far as the blurb, I know a lot of authors, some with small presses and some in the larger NY houses, and all of them write thier blurbs, and then the blurbs are approved by the publisher and PR dept. Just my expeience.

Moondancer said...

Carol I so want to live in your neighborhood. We are a very industrial area, and people are just not as friendly as they were when I was growing up, I miss that.


CaroleMcDonnell said...

Yep, Tia. Authors often do write their own blurb generally. And then the marketing person tweaks it and/or approves it. And then back to the blurb writer again...until all is approved.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

20 years ago? A long time ago to be judging a city as dangerous and evil.

20 years ago? As a law student. A former law students from a middle class family is remembering her four months 20 years ago when she worked with innercity folks. Is she kidding? I suspect if I came from a world which could afford to send me to law school and entered even the most normal city and ONLY worked with the seedy side of the population I'd have weird ideas about a town too. Camden is one large town. And she met all the baddies for four months. Twenty years ago. Nah, it doesn't work for me.

CaroleMcDonnell said...


You'd like my town, i think. We have issues, mind you. It's been interesting since the influx of hispanics but everyone's learning to get along.

That's another thing I wonder about when the author writes about Camden. Does she have a world with Hispanic people? Many formerly African-American cities and working class towns now have a large Hispanic population. Some towns are even more hispanic than african-american. Twenty years ago our town was 60% black. Now we're about 30% black and 30% Hispanic and 40% white. Honestly, I don't trust anyone writing about a town they haven't seen in 20 years...and one they saw only for 4 months in a limited capacity.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

It's funny...many people live in these mythic past...and don't realize that the hispanic influx has changed the make-up of many formerly primarily African-American cities. Actually some folks still live in the mythic future. They write about future cities as if only blacks and whites will exist in them. Okay, they might have the odd Chinese person or the odd Native American but they don't seriously think about how the multicultural changes will affect cities. I suddenly realized I had to really changed a lot of the ethnicities of the folks in Daughters of Men because I was in some stupid old-fashioned mindset that didn't acknowledge cultural changes happening in urban areas.

Frankly i don't like the subtext of urban warfare in the blurb. White flight. Etc. And again, the blurb seems to say that she herself sees the world that way...not the main character. Perhsps the blurb is just badly written but one would think they would care about such things.

Moondancer said...

I admit that 20 years is a bit much. I can only hope she did some current research before withing such a deep setting in a real place. I'll say I have set storys in places I have never been, but I did visual research (pics, maps), talked to people who lived there, and one thing I did everytime was get a current census (or one for the year the story is set it). The cultural makeup of a town is a HUGE factor in how the town runs day to day.

Tia said...

Wow. Maybe I ought to try to get a review copy. Or at least try to find someone to do a guest review. We'll never really know unless we read it, after all!

Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

Chiming in as a friend of the author: Reading it is a good idea -- I suspect the book is a bit different than you think.
I agree that the implicit stereotyping of the original blurb is offensive, and am glad to see the author didn't write that, and in fact lobbied to have it changed.
I didn't write the blurb on my book; my editor did. I had a chance to put in my opinion, but every publisher does things differently.
I sympathize with the author. I hate being misunderstood; I can imagine this is a bit unsettling to her.
But even though this post raises a controversial issue, I'm so glad to see Bauer's book mentioned and discussed. It's hard to earn a star rating by Kirkus. That's an impressive debut. :)

Tia said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ruth! I hope you saw the followup post here. And I'm glad to hear about another author's point of view on blurbs.

I looked at your website . . . a writer and illustrator? Very impressive! I have a daughter that is getting very close to the right age! :)