Monday, October 18, 2010

Release Day! Book Review, Swag Giveaway and Author Interview: HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler. Two winners for this!

Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publisher: Graphia/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: ARC
ISBN: 978-0-547-34124-8
Price: $8.99; Pages: 180
Release Date: October 18, 2010

Perhaps one can decipher what this book is about from its title: Hunger.  Indeed it does touch on that—the experience of hunger on a personal level, but it also takes the reader on an exploration of hunger on a wider scale—in an interesting and very original way.  Let me explain.
When you’re anorexic, you’re hungry—very. And at its core, that is what this book is about, but it is so much more. Seventeen-year-old Lisabeth Lewis is anorexic. Each day she struggles to hide her eating disorder and fake out her family and friends that nothing is wrong, even as the evidence is clear: she continues to disappear as she gets thinner. She’s acting very weird around food and everyone is afraid of what is happening to her. They reach out, hoping she’ll respond to their concern, their offers of help, but Lisabeth is only interested in listening to one voice: the Thin voice. It’s a constant reminder of what she’s eating, what she shouldn’t be eating and how much work she’s going to have to do to burn of those “excess” calories. That is until she meets Death…and War, and let’s not forget Pestilence. You see, Lisabeth becomes Famine, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse—literally.
Since she’s starving herself and contemplating suicide, Death (quite a sexy version, I might add) decides to make use of her natural inclinations and put her to good use. Combining Lisabeth’s most salient features: hunger, starvation and ultimately death, being appointed Famine is an ideal job for her—whether she likes it or not.

Jackie Morse Kessler does a fine job of taking a critical issue that has been explored in writing no small number of times, and putting a new and thought provoking spin on it. It was sheer genius to combine the eating disorder anorexia with the ultimate entity signifying lack of food, nourishment and all that that entails: famine.
Now the story transforms and encompasses not only a pertinent issue, but there’s a supernatural spin on the tale that does not detract from it, but in fact adds to it. It nudges the reader to see hunger on a bigger playing field; to compare and contrast hunger on the personal, micro level via an eating disorder, versus hunger on the macro level—people who are starving in famine drenched countries.
If this reader had any complaint, it was the wish for the book to be longer. It is only 180 pages and it would have been nice to see the Horseman characters explored in greater depth, but not a page was wasted and much was packed into it’s thin spin.
Happily, Ms. Kessler is not done with the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse yet. She will be exploring self-mutilation as her next protagonist, Missy, becomes War in her next novel entitled Rage due to release in April 2011. I await it with much anticipation.
Jackie and I communicated a few times and she was kind enough to allow me an interview. I wanted to know more about the woman who wrote such an interesting and original story. Here it is...

1) How did you begin your career as a writer? Did you start as a hobby or did you always know you wanted to write?

JK: My passion for writing began when I was in college, when I took every creative writing workshop I could. That’s when I started writing my Great American Novel (which remains unpublished). For many years, writing was just a hobby and getting published just a vague dream. In 2003, I got serious about writing, and I took all year to revise my first book. In February 2004, I started querying agents.

2) Tell us about your journey getting an agent. Did it take a long time or occur fairly quickly?

JK: By January 2005, I’d queried agents for a year and scored triple-digit rejection letters. My favorite was my own query letter, mailed back to me, with a stamped “NO” on it. (When I say “favorite,” that really means the one that made me feel like I’d gotten a root canal without Novocain.) My husband convinced me to write a new book, something completely different. So I did, and five months later I was querying again. This time, I scored 40 rejection letters, but most of them were extremely complementary and said that they loved the voice of the first-person narrator. In August 2005, I started a third book, this one taking certain elements from the first failed book and the voice from the second failed book to create a funny, sexy magical chick-lit/urban fantasy novel for adults. This book got me five offers of literary representation, and then a week after I signed with an agent, I had a pre-emptive deal for three books.

3) Do you write full time? If so, did you experience any anxiety plunging into the world of writing?

JK: I have a full-time job, along with the writing (and the promotion that goes along with the writing). But I definitely experience writing-related anxiety! **laughs** There is so much change in the publishing industry right now, and no one can say how things are going to look over the next three, five, 10 years. It can be a little nerve-wracking. (Oh, look: a new gray hair!)

4) You're a mom. How do you balance writing with your family responsibilities? Take us into a day of your writing world.

JK: Most of my writing happens late at night, once the kids are in bed, or during weekends, when my husband will take the kids out to run errands and whatnot. There are times, though, when I stop what I’m doing because OMG AN IDEA! For example, when I was writing my third book for adults, there was one morning when I was making breakfast for the kids when I suddenly knew how the book had to end. I literally ran out of the kitchen to go upstairs to my home office and write the last scene while it was fresh. And that scene, with very little polish, is what made it to the final copy. (My kids, luckily, didn’t have school that day. Whoops. Definitely didn’t win the Mother of the Year award that day...)

5) How did you come up with the idea of using the Horseman of the Apocalypse in HUNGER and your next release, RAGE? Are you going to write books utilizing all four Horsemen? How would you classify HUNGER and RAGE? "Issue" books or paranormals?

JK: The Horsemen have appeared in other books before — if you haven’t read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s GOOD OMENS, stop what you’re doing and go get a copy. Fabulous book! I was also heavily influenced by both Marvel and Archie comics. Back in the 1980s, Marvel had a brief appearance of a supervillain called Famine, an anorexic teenage mutant with the power to destroy food. I loved the idea, but I wanted the character to be less about battling superheroes and more about battling her own eating disorder. And there was one issue of Archie comics that had Betty exercising like crazy and eating “like a bird,” as her mom put it, all because she felt like she had a “blob for a body.” Um, have you seen Betty? Not blobby. At all. But this mindset is frighteningly normal. We live in a society in which even supermodels get Photoshopped because, apparently, they’re not perfect enough as they are. That’s extremely messed up.

For 10 years, I wanted to write the story of an anorexic girl who becomes the new Famine, of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a story that took a hard-hitting look at eating disorders. I used to be bulimic, so it was extremely important to me that the story not shy away from the reality of eating disorders: what they do the the body and mind, and how they destroy relationships. I’m very glad my agent convinced me to finally write the book.

She’s also the reason why I wrote RAGE. As soon as I handed in HUNGER, she asked me, “Which Horseman are you writing about next?” After I thought it through, I decided to tell the story of a teen girl who self-injures, who becomes the new avatar of War.

I’m currently writing the third book, LOSS, which is about a bullied teenage boy who is tricked into becoming Pestilence. And then there will be the fourth book, BREATH, which is Death’s story.

I’d classify the Riders’ Quartet as issue-oriented magical realism.

6) Does using the Horsemen of the Apocalypse connect to your religious beliefs in any way?

JK: Many years ago, I wrapped my arms around the notion of not spelling “God” as “G-d,” despite what I learned in Hebrew school. I decided that it was okay for me to write outside of what I’d been taught, and for me to imagine beyond doctrine. I suppose I see religious teachings and beliefs as guidelines, even templates, that I can use for a foundation, or even just a starting point. In The Riders’ Quartet, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ultimately, symbolize how we choose to destroy ourselves—and how we can save ourselves as well.

7) When you got your book deal for HUNGER, was it for just this book or had it already been decided you would write connecting books?

JK: The contract was just for HUNGER.

8) How do you conduct your research?

JK: Mostly, I find interesting things online and I read. A lot. I’ll also watch certain shows and videos. For HUNGER, there was an episode of Intervention that was extremely helpful. And for RAGE, I watched a number of soccer matches on YouTube (the protagonist plays varsity soccer). I also read various books and articles (online, when possible). One thing about doing so much online research: it’s very easy to get distracted, and suddenly two hours have gone by, all in the name of getting enough information for maybe one line of text in the story. Whoops!

9) How frequently do you plan to release a book? Are there any other projects you can tell us about?

JK: The actual release dates aren’t up to me; the publisher comes up with those dates. I do have other projects that I’m interested in after The Riders’ Quartet is complete, including a middle-grade novel. Right now, though, it’s all about writing LOSS and BREATH.

Thanks so much Jackie for taking the time to answer these questions and letting readers get to know you better!

JK: Thank you, June!

Hunger has an awesome cover. Jackie was gracious enough to send me posters of it. I gave my students a couple and posted one up in my office. I'm going to give two of them away to two followers of my blog. It is 7.5 x 11 inches in size. It's pretty eye catching and elicits a lot of questions, giving me a great opportunity to talk about this great book.  As an added bonus, I'm also going to include some  mystery swag from two other popular YA series. If you're interested, become a follower if you're not already and leave a comment. Tell me if you've ever known someone with an eating disorder and why you would like the poster. Don't forget to include your email in your comment so you can be contacted if you're one of the winners. That is all.

The giveaway ends Thursday, Oct 21, 2010. The two winners will be selected randomly using



  1. I absolutely adored this book, and also Rage, the next one! I love the background information on how the concept came about.

  2. I am a follower but I wanted to comment to. My best friend was anorexic all through high school. It was probably some of the darkest times in our relationship because I could not get her to understand that she had a disease and needed help. I teach 8th grade and see my students struggling with trying to fit in and doing stupid things to do that. I would love to have a poster for my classroom. Can't wait to read it too! Great interview and thoughts :)

  3. Oh junk... forgot my email!


  4. I had a friend in hs that had an eating disorder. She ended up leaving school for awhile to get treatment.

    I'd like the poster because I LOVE the cover of this book!

    foltzfantasticbooks at

  5. Is it too late to enter? Well if its not, my camp counselor used to be anorexic. I'd like the poster because I love book posters! And I love the cover, its so pretty!


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