Coming in November, Altitude: Final Book of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy

(Design by Bob Lanphear; hands photo by Heather Harrison; hands themselves: Anah-Kate Drahn) Thanks, all!

“To thine own self be true…” Yeah, right.

I banked toward the warehouses, skimming the trees. Gotta find some way to USE my power…Reaching the first ratty rooftop, I hovered, quivering. If I could get Vivian back to the sky… put our powers together—What’s THAT?

Not a seagull. This sound was coming from the alley below. A quiet wail—kittens crying. Was that rusty blue shipping container there before? I landed behind the gnarliest warehouse and peeked into the alley. From street level, the giant rusty container towered above me. The kitten-cries were definitely coming from inside. Maybe someone dumped a pregnant cat in there. The box was hinged at one end—a pair of doors belted with a big ol’ rusty chain and padlock. Why lock a cat in?

 “Kitty-kitty-kitty?” I called. “You in there? Poor thing!”

Two syllables floated from the stinking metal monster. A word I recognized from my Mandarin Terms a Traveler Should Know: “Bāng wǒ.” Help.

After a summer of betrayal and heartbreak and an epically rotten year, 16 year-old Jocelyn (The Flying) Burgowski is fleeing family and friends on Dalby Island for school on the mainland. What good is flying if it wrecks relationships? The guy she fell for almost destroyed her power. Now, discovering the ugly underbelly of mainland life, has Joss stumbled upon a fellow Flyer—only to bring her down? Confronting the dual forces of magic and maturity, Joss must face the question: what does “to thine own self be true” really mean?

#Hashtags #makeme #crazy #howboutyou

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#tryingwaytoohardtobe #cool

#notfullyconvinced #Icanpullitoff


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Coming soon to a book launch near you…excuse me, #booklaunch #book #launch

#justpleasereadmy #books #flyingburgowski #headwinds #altitude


#theycontainzero #hashtags

PS–check out my Goodreads page to win a free copy of The Flying Burgowski or Headwinds, Oct. 10-Nov. 11




Transparent, Transgender, Transcend: Remember Adolescence? Maybe We Should

“I went through so much more with puberty than any normal kid would go through by trying to understand myself and who I was. It’s not anything someone should have to face. It was scary.” So says Victor Lopez, a female-to-male transgender 17 year-old highlighted in a story on transgender teens I just read by Natalie Pattillo on

My thought? “Normal” puberty was hard enough! Being a girl, dealing with cramps, with period accidents, worrying about making it to the bathroom in time, worrying about stains…

Now imagine that the onset of each period felt like a betrayal. You feel like a boy. To yourself, you’ve always been a boy. Now your body says otherwise, and to deal with that fact, you have to make the choice: Girls’ bathroom, where I feel like an intruder, but at least have some privacy? Or boys’ bathroom, where I feel I belong but risk being bullied or beaten?

This is one of the basic struggles of transgender kids. The article quotes Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, the medical director at the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles:

“Unfortunately, many gender nonconforming and transgender youth will make the decision not to use restroom facilities at all during the day, which will leave them at risk for urinary tract infections and other medical consequences.”


Sorry to be so graphic, but it’s this kind of super-basic, I-can-relate dilemma that enabled me to think about this issue. I admit that I’ve had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of transgender kids. Growing up, a family friend transitioned from male to female, but that person was middle-aged. Kids switching genders? Really? Aren’t they just looking for attention? 

The mom of one such kid addresses that thought directly in the article:

She says she has encountered skeptical people who believe teens like Jordan are seeking attention or just going through a phase. She asks them why anyone would seek out “what society puts any gay, lesbian or transgender person through.” For gender-nonconforming young people like her son, she says, it’s terrifying to hear about suicide rates, bigotry and murders of transgender people.

That mom is right. Why WOULD anyone seek out that struggle?  How could that be any fun? When I think about it, the only empathetic response to transgender kids is…empathy.  Adolescence is hard enough. Therefore my heart goes out to all those kids, their families, their friends. Hang in there.

Virtual Book Club, Anyone? The Goldfinch, Canada, and A Tale for the Time Being: Teenagers Adrift in an Adult Sea

This is NOT a book review. It’s an invitation.

By strange coincidence, each of the last three books I’ve read this summer has featured a teenager whose life is wrenched awry by the actions of adults. These are NOT “young adult” novels by any stretch. They are a reminder that young adults can be a microcosm of the human spirit: fate vs. self-determination, culture vs. character, all within the confines of a body whose only constant is change.

Book #1 is the most well-known: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. As I was wolfing it down during a trip, it seemed like everyone I met was reading it too. Problem is, no one who lives close to me has read it, and once I finished it, I was dying to talk about it! So I engaged in a mini-virtual book club with a friend via email, which was so rewarding, I thought of enlarging it to the blogosphere.

Read the book? Post a discussion question, or an observation. Anyone else who’s read it can take it from there.

The Goldfinch is a mind-blowing book, and it will probably be made into a movie. But don’t wait for that. Read it soon. (Not wanting to buy the hardback, not willing to wait for the long library list to dwindle, I snarfed it up on Kindle.) Favorite supporting character: Boris, the Russian teen with the Australian accent and the heart that refuses to harden, no matter what it’s exposed to.


But let me tell you about the other two books! (And maybe The Goldfinch will be out in paper by the time you’re done with them.) 

Richard Ford’s Canada is probably the hardest read, in that it takes time. The deliberate pace is, in fact, part of the book’s theme–but you won’t know that until you’ve read it. I’ll borrow the words of a reviewer here to give you a quick idea of it:

“Canada, Richard Ford’s long-awaited new novel, is not one to be rushed. While the plot sounds sensational — robbery, murders, a flight across the Canadian border — Ford’s laconic, measured prose forces the reader to slow the pace and savor the story. This is a novel about actions, intentions, and consequences as well as about belonging, introspection, and the solitary nature of life. Powerful and atmospheric, Canada will excite and gratify Ford’s fans and introduce newcomers to a masterful American writer.”  –Tova Beiser, Brown University Bookstore, as cited on

Favorite supporting character: Canada itself. Yes, the country. Read the book, then we can talk about that.


The third book is probably the fastest and most page-turning read: Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. It features two narrators: Ruth, the middle-aged author who finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach of her remote island in western Canada, and Nao, the sixteen year-old Japanese girl who…of course…wrote that diary. Best supporting character: Nao’s 104 year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, with whom Nao communicates by texting. This book also messes with the whole relationship between author, reader and story. Mind-blowing. But I’ve used that term already, huh.


So…have you read any of these? If so, please chime in! If not, click over to, or rush to your favorite local bookstore to get one, or all three.  Read fast, THEN chime in. I’ll wait.



Going to the Dark Side: Why I Miss Working With–gasp!–Teenagers

“Wow, you’re brave.”

That’s the most common reaction I used to hear when I told strangers that I taught high school.

I knew the images they were reacting to: sensationalized news bits about school shootings or violently defiant juvies. Welcome Back Kotter sweathogs. Or maybe just the mouthiness or sullenness or SOMETHING-ness of their own kids at home.

“I could never deal with that.”

My standard response, laughing: “Oh, the kids are fine. It’s the parents that you should be scared of.”

Kidding–sort of.

It has been three years and ten months since I left the other Wing’s World, my classroom in Tacoma (Room 1603), and I. Miss. Kids.

Has rosy nostalgia clouded up my memory, blotting out all the frustrations with ____, who was obviously brilliant but only ever turned in one piece of writing (about ComiCon, which his mom pulled him out of school for a week to attend)? Or ____, the cheerleader who helped me understand the finer points of what it means to be a Mean Girl? (The secret is in the curl of the lips when saying apparently sweet things.) Or ___, who was such an uncontrollable chatterbox I made him sit at MY desk just to get him far enough away from any potential gossip-mate? (He tried texting.)

(Oh, and don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten their names. I not only remember those, I remember where they sat in my room, and what their handwriting looked like.)

So…is nostalgia distorting my memories of my old career? Of course! Isn’t that nostalgia’s job? Who would do anything hard if the positive memories afterward didn’t outweigh the pain? (Tempted to use the childbirth parallel here…)

I’m riding that wave of nostalgia for real this week, because I GET TO WORK WITH TEENS AGAIN! Well, “work” is an overstatement. And only for a few days.

Next week is the official Launch Party for my YA novel, The Flying Burgowski. And since it’s a book about teenagers, I figured, why not spice up the Author Reading with…teenagers? So I invited four of Lopez Island’s finest young actors (whose work I’ve seen in our Community Shakespeare performances–but that’s another post) to join me in a dramatic reading. We got together twice last week for a read-through. I’m still a little giddy. Call it a contact high from all that open-endedness that teens emanate.

It’s not “energy.” Most normal teenagers, before noon, have less energy than your average banana slug. What draws me to that age group is their sense of possibility. They are walking intersections–the kind with a gazillion roads crossing over each other, some with turns so sharp they appear to be going the opposite way from what the sign indicates. Sullenness might be quiet superiority. Cheeriness might be fear. Inappropriateness might be hope. (Of course it could also just be inappropriateness. Teens are teens!)

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

You may, at this point, be wanting to ask the obvious question: Gretchen, if you like teens so much, and there’s a high school on your island, why don’t you go teach there? Or at least sub? Or tutor?

It’s a damn good question, although one my husband hates to hear. (He once famously told me, “I’d be more excited to see you without essays than without clothes!”) 

My answer is: When we moved here, I promised myself writing time, which does NOT fit with a full-time teaching job. (Believe me, I tried it.) As for subbing or tutoring: I know myself too well. I am #1, really bad at being peripheral–I like to be in the middle of things, if not running them. And #2, I’m horribly susceptible to being needed. So if any kid came to me saying, “I HATE history–Mr. So-and-so is BORING! Why don’t YOU be our teacher?” Ohhh…I’d be toast.

So I’ll make do with four kids reading aloud the various parts from Chapter Five of my novel. But inside, I’ll be soaking up those possibilities.

What do you think of my teenager metaphor? Do you have one of your own? (I mean metaphors, not teens–but you can share about that too.)