JUVENTUD: Final Media Roundup of 2015

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As 2015 winds to a close and debut novels are drowned out in the literary-list madness of December, I thought I’d list the most recent accolades for Juventud here lest you think launch season is ending on a whimper and not a bang. Once again, the novel earns the spotlight at The Quivering Pen blog, where David Abrams has included it in his A Year of Reading Best Book Covers, along with works by Laura van den Berg, Lydia Davis, Lauren Groff, Rick Moody, Ann Tyler, Salmon Rushdie, and my favorite by Joe Meno.

In the book critic realm, several more thoughtful and praise-filled reviews have appeared. I am especially appreciative for this review of Juventud by Donna Miele for the Atticus Review. Miele says, “In the details of Mercedes’s family and social life Blakeslee offers an understanding of relationship and setting—or relationship as setting—that allows Juventud to transcend the trappings of both romance and thriller, though the story flirts with both genres. This is a novel that should generate a lot of discussion and response by future authors, to be pored over and remembered.” Book blogger Stefani Cox loved the novel and had much to say about it on her blog, including a shout-out to Curbside Splendor for publishing a diverse array of authors.

Last but not least, if you’re behind on your podcast listening and plan to spend your New Year’s Day pitching clutter instead of nursing a hangover, you may want to check out my story of how I came to Florida, performed at THE SWAMP at this year’s Miami Book Fair, and recorded by John King for The Drunken Odyssey podcast Episode 183 (which also features a terrific interview with Mary Karr). And finally, one of my favorite conversations about Juventud was with Sarah Werner for The Write Now podcast.  Why not listen in as you clean out those old files and chase away the New Year’s Eve fuzz with a shot or two of espresso? I can’t think of a more pleasant way to ring in 2016.

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The Jewish Book Council loves JUVENTUD ~ and other great reviews!

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Last week the Juventud fall book tour wrapped up at the Savannah Seersucker Reading Series, Miami Book Fair (which I’ve described to more than one friend as “Disney World for lit lovers”) and D.C.’s Kramerbooks, all events fully attended and followed by astute Q &As. Those who know me also know that I love speaking on panels and “in conversation” with other writers. Somehow, when I share the stage with fellow writers, the pressure is off and I can relax and focus more, and speak from the mind and heart about the novel. November was no exception, and I am so pleased that the fall tour ended on a high note. If you missed my take on Miami, you can read this lively, pre-book fair round-up by Ryan Rivas for Lit Hub.

Savannah’s local paper featured a nice write-up of the Seersucker reading series’s “Curbside Splendor episode,” which you may check out.

Meanwhile, though I may have lagged behind in blog-posting, the warm welcome of the novel into the world has not. The Jewish Book Council gave the novel a glowing review, saying, “Blakeslee’s poetic language and exquisite descriptive detail give Juventud a canvas on which to portray what it is like to grow up with daily peril and family secrets. Where is trust? The book provides a realistic history of the drug wars beyond headlines as it transports the reader to Colombia’s streets, cities, and farms. The characters’ intriguing discussions about social justice, good and evil, activism, love, forgiveness, and hope serve to strengthen and enhance the story’s essence.”

Book lovers at popular blog sites have had some nice things to say, too: “I found Juventud both enlightening and disturbing,” says reviewer Larry of It’s Either Sadness or Euphoria. “Blakeslee really captured Mercedes’ voice so well, and I felt she gave the character complexity so she was so much more than a pampered teenager who suddenly found a conscience. I also found that she had a deft hand when it came to evoking the dichotomy of Colombia’s beauty and the extreme poverty and violence affecting the country.”

Last but not least, the Orlando Weekly suggests Juventud for their holiday “shop local” guide. The Weekly has been unflagging in their support for the novel, for which I’m ever grateful.

An excerpt of JUVENTUD at Joyland, and the latest Interview at the Masters Review!

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Wondering what I’ve been reading at all these far-flung tour stops? Joyland literary magazine featured an exclusive excerpt from Juventud this week, which happens to be the scene I find myself reading the most often. It’s definitely one of my favorites in the novel, one that seems to spur thoughtful Q&A as it did last night with the attentive crowd who came out for my author talk at the West Hartford library. Students, library regulars, VCFA and Bread Loaf alums filled the house, and it was truly a joy to catch up at long last with friends old and new.

Also this week, my latest interview on Juventud is featured at the Masters Reviewhttps://mastersreview.com/interview-vanessa-blakeslee-on-her-debut-novel-juventud/. Hope you enjoy. Meanwhile, I’m off to catch a bus and then Amtrak, for tonight’s reading at the Dire Literary Series in Boston.

Smart takes on JUVENTUD in the latest reviews from The Rumpus and Ploughshares!

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Two extraordinarily thoughtful reviews of Juventud were published this weekend, each one honing in on the “youth” aspect of the book in unique ways. Here, from the Ploughshares review of Juventud: ‘In the beginning of the novel, Mercedes describes a young boy who has been displaced by the conflict. He holds a sign stating, “Ayuda. Somos desplazados.” Help. We are displaced. This moment serves two purposes: the boy’s sign reflects Mercedes’ emotional state during a time of violent sociopolitical upheaval, and also holds Mercedes—and Juventud’s readers—responsible for serving those ravaged by conflict.’

And I was elated to mull over the final paragraph of this review of Juventud at The Rumpus: “The novel’s title brings to mind Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal play This Is Our Youth. Though Lonergan’s teenage characters live and work and play on the Upper West Side of New York City, they suffer seemingly similar plights as Mercedes—particularly Warren, one of the nineteen-year-old soul-searching protagonists, whose dad engages in successful but murky business dealings. As Warren describes him: “But my father is not a criminal. He’s just in business with criminals.” Though we never meet Warren’s father, we learn about his fate, particularly at the end of play in Warren’s closing monologue: “but when he was at the height of his powers, he totally lost control of his own daughter, and she ended up getting beaten to death by some guy from the world next door to us.” Like Mercedes and many young people,  Warren’s sister was drawn to worlds unlike her own, and she becomes a sort of cautionary tale about the cost of rebellion. Mercedes, on the other hand, is a strong agent of her own fate, who leaves casualties in her wake. Blakeslee does not deliver a neat ending; instead, she provides a story worthy of deep philosophical discussion and debate.”

Seeing these latest reviews in dialogue with each other is affirming beyond measure, and writing a thoughtful critique takes diligence and effort. I’m grateful for both of these essays being out in the world, and to have Lonergan’s work brought to my attention. Juventud appears to be finding itself in fine company, indeed!

JUVENTUD earns the spotlight at Washington Independent Review of Books ~ plus my “Table of Contents” menu at Real Pants

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Tremendously excited to see this thoughtful review of Juventud at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Reviewer Patricia Ann McNair says,

“Because Juventud is at its best a love story between Mercedes and Manuel, Blakeslee has to navigate the language of romance and sex as well as that of history and politics. When these things work together, the writing is at its most interesting: “We made love on the couch, where countless volunteers had bickered over ideas and spilled Cokes and cried for their captive relatives; the cushions stung my knees.”

There is another love story here, too, the one between Mercedes and her father, Diego, the most complex and compelling character in these pages. Diego’s love for his daughter both protects and damages her, despite his best intentions. This is the relationship that most matters in Mercedes’ story, the one that drives the novel forward. It is potentially the most rewarding, as well.”

In addition, I had a great fun inventing a Juventud-themed menu at Real Pants for their “Table of Contents” series.

Hard to believe, now that I’m back behind the register at Bookmark It in Orlando, that just a couple of weeks ago I was running from one Northern city in the height of autumnal bloom to another. If you haven’t made it yet to a launch event, you may get a glimpse here of my Sunday Salon NYC reading on Oct. 18th in the East Village (Jimmy’s 43). We sold out once again that night, a wonderful precedent that I very much hope will continue!

Happy pub date to JUVENTUD, and high praise from Publisher’s Weekly!

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Publisher’s Weekly loves Juventud! Here’s what they have to say: “What begins as running away from tragedy and betrayal turns into seeking out the reconciliation of one’s past. This tale of self-discovery and intense first love is spiced with bursts of action and curious twists. It will engage readers who have a soft spot for entertaining storytelling and a familiarity with Colombian social history.”

After a month on the road of speaking to audiences and signing copies, today’s *official* pub date feels somewhat surreal. For a taste of what it’s like to be “in conversation with” the novel, check out this wonderful interview from earlier this month with my longtime friend, fiction writer Robin Rozanski, who teaches at The Loft, for their blog: The Loft Interview with Vanessa Blakeslee. Robin and I have been fast friends since I first walked into Pat Rushin’s contemporary fiction class back in August 2002, and enjoyed a wonderful sojourn in the Czech Republic back in 2005 as participants in the Prague Summer Program.

Tonight, if you’re in the Orlando area, I’ll be presenting Juventud and talking about the novel drafting process as a guest of the UCF MFA program’s GWA series. The campus bookstore will have copies for sale/signing. The event is free and open to the public.

JUVENTUD playlist at Largehearted Boy, and the latest Q&A with Deborah Kalb

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I wrote about the music that inspired Juventud for Largehearted Boy (read the list and check out the songs here: Juventud playlist on Spotify). From classical guitar to Shakira’s pop hits, salsa to Mark Piszczek’s “Dangerous Times,” these are the tunes I turned to again and again.

Also this week, a conversation about Juventud with Deborah Kalb for her excellent blog, who interviewed me last year for Train Shots. Read our latest chat here: Book Q&A with Vanessa Blakeslee

Finally, today, at long last, I return to Florida for a (brief!) breather and then the first book launch events in my home state, beginning next week. I’ll be speaking to the GWA at UCF, 7:00 pm, HPA Room 126. Free and open to the public. The UCF Barnes & Noble will be there with books for sale, and of course, I’ll be signing afterward.

 

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