Last fall PW spoke with a 16-year-old boy in suburban Boston to get a better sense of “What Makes a Teenage Book Blogger Tick?”. Now pseudonymous female blogger Khy, a 17-year-old high school senior who thrives on a steady diet of YA, talks about maintaining a blog, Frenetic Reader, for the past four years, and reading at least one or two books a week. And, yes, that’s physical books, not e-books. Khy doesn’t have an e-reader, and she describes reading on her laptop as “disastrous,” because the Internet is too distracting.
You’ve been keeping this blog for almost the entire time you were in high school, and you’ve kept a pretty consistent approach to what you wanted the blog to focus on: YA fiction. What made you decide to start the blog?
When I was 13, I wanted two things. One, to marry Alex Turner, the singer of indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys; and two, to finish middle school quickly in hopes that I would encounter more exciting and passionate people in high school. Because my aspirations were so limited and the size of my middle school hindered my chances of friendship and activity, I spent most of my time alone, reading anything I could get my hands on. I ran out of new reading material so quickly that I turned to the Internet for suggestions; eventually, I stumbled upon a network of blogs devoted to books, in which they critically reviewed titles, interviewed authors, or discussed other literary topics. I figured that if those people could write about what they were reading, there was no reason I couldn’t. I soon set up a blog of my own, assumed a pseudonym because every Internet lesson told me to do so, gave my blog a name I have come to affectionately detest, and began one immensely fun and influential journey.
How has your reading changed over the four years since you began the blog?
My reading is similar in the sense that I still read YA fiction pretty exclusively, but it’s changed in that now I read more of what I want. For a while I got so many review books that I read those instead of things I bought myself. I did find some great things I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise that way, but mostly I read books I wasn’t overly enthused about. Now, though, I read more of what I want, which is mainly contemporary and historical fiction, with some sci-fi/dystopia thrown in every so often. I’ve pretty much given up on paranormal.
You follow a lot of blogs and Goodreads, too. How do you find out about books to review and to include in your “Waiting on Wednesday” feature about what to read next?
I follow an obscene amount of blogs and spend far too much time on Goodreads, so I see new book covers and news all the time. Twitter is also helpful in finding out about new releases I may not have heard of before publication, since there’s always a stream of people talking about different titles.
On your blog you have a note to publishers and authors not to send you “adult” books. Why do you keep coming back to YA? Where do adult books fit into your own reading, if not your reviewing?
I think YA has stayed appealing for me mainly because I still relate to it. There’s also always plenty of new, different material coming out, so it’s not like it gets boring either. I know all about YA books but nothing about adult books, so trying to pick one book to read first would overwhelm me.
Clearly you don’t always like the books you review. You called Go Ask Alice a bad book and wrote that The Probability of Miracles is “great in theory but made me feel so little that I, sadly, don’t really have a personal opinion on it.” How do you decide what to review? Do you finish all the books you start? Do you review all the books you finish?
I do actually finish all the books I begin. Much of the time they never manage to capture my full attention, but I guess I just always hold out hope that they will. Sometimes I’ll skip a book if it’s been too long since I read it or I don’t have much of substance to say. But that happens pretty rarely. I write reviews for most of the books I read. Otherwise I will forget all of what I thought about them. I read so many things that information gets blurred pretty fast, and I like to keep a record of what I thought in case I need to refer back to it for some strange reason.
I know you value story highly, but you also enjoy character-driven books. What do you look for in a book? Are there things you wish publishers would look for in choosing books to publish?
I’m not sure I set out looking for anything but a compelling story and well-drawn characters, because the books I love the most are the ones that have a certain indefinable quality that just fills me with excitement, thought, and love. However, factors that appear most in my favorite books are characters with a unique, often humorous, voice, and books that manage to be both sad and funny. I just want publishers to publish books that don’t suck.
Covers can be so key in YA. Do you ever pick up books simply because of their covers? Do you have any pet peeves about cover images or colors?
I don’t really pick up books based on their covers, mainly because I hear about so many books before they’re released that I already know the premises behind the covers. I do really love looking at covers though, and have plenty of complaints about them. I am not fond of the “pretty, faceless girl in a dress” trend that seems to be happening right now because even though those covers are often lovely to look at, they just don’t stand out in any way. I prefer more artsy or simple covers, like those for Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev or Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves.
Most writing teachers tell their students that to become a writer you have to become a reader. Would you like to become a YA author, too? Have you already begun?
Goodness, no. When I was 12 until a few months after I turned 14 I tried writing novels, and I do not regret giving up that hobby in the slightest. My fiction writing is truly dismal, and I’m too critical of my own work to ever reach the point where I would feel comfortable with having one of my stories published.
Your blog entries often elicit comments. What are your favorite comments? Have you become friends with any authors or others because of your blogging?
My favorite comments in general are ones that respond to specific sentences or things I’ve written rather than just vague statements like “great review!” (though those are always nice to receive, too). I also like when people disagree thoughtfully because they give me something to think about.
I’ve made so many friends because of blogging, and I love each and every one of them. Actually, I think I talk to my blogging friends almost more than my “real life” friends because there are so many online platforms we use to keep up with each other – Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and all that jazz. The best friends I’ve made are my fellow YA bloggers, but there are a few authors I really love chatting with, too – Sarah Ockler, Cindy Pon, and Alexandra Bracken.
Now that you’re about to graduate from high school, do you plan to continue the blog?
I do! I’m really looking forward to catching up on all the books I’ve been meaning to read after school ends. I’m not sure if I’ll have time to keep up very well in college, since I have no idea what college will be like. (I don’t even know where I’m going yet!) But I can’t really see myself stopping completely at any time. I think I’ll always have a blog in some form or another – maybe it won’t be YA-lit specific, but I like discussing books and writing too much to ever quit completely.