Sykosa by Justin Ordoñez Book Review and Whirlwind Blog Tour

By Ruth on April 4, 2012 in blog tour, book, review
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SykosaSykosa by Justin Ordoñez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This young adult book was a read unlike anything I have ever read before, and if I have to rate just the story, I definitely think a 3.5 or a 4 is in order.  I think the author truly did capture the essence of young adulthood and many of the things that plague teenagers.  It’s all about fitting in, dating, sex, cliques, and so much more.  It is also about hiding things from your parents and wondering whether you are pretty or smart enough.  And will your friend be your friend today or tomorrow?

I think that the best feature of this book (and what kept me reading even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to) was the author’s use of the “blackness” which alluded to some horrible thing that Sykosa witnessed and has never gotten over.  It involves her friends, and even at the end of the story, I am not completely sure what happened, but I have a general idea.  And it is true that this incident colors and infects everything in Sykosa’s life.  She has never gotten over it and probably never will.  Only time can help her to move on from this incident.

I also enjoyed the fact that the author jumped around a lot in the story.  It was not told in chronological order, and it kept me guessing what I might discover next in Sykosa’s story.  Loose ends were tied up as we went back in time and then jumped ahead to the present to unravel even more of the story.  With the use of all of these devices, I found the story did not truly ever get boring.

My biggest complaint in the story was the prolific use of profanity.  I know I often mention this in my reviews, and sometimes I am not incredibly bothered.  Although I realize that a good share of teenagers use these various words on a regular basis, I do not relish continuing to read the “f-bomb” over and over again.  I would just start to get interest in the story, and there would be a page of (unnecessary) profanity.  It really did spoil the enjoyment of the story for me.

I also grew tired of everything being about sex.  I realize and appreciate that young people are often obsessed with sex, but maybe I am just out of touch (though I like to think that as an educator who works with this age children that I am not).  I have not witnessed everything being about sex.  But I guess I also do not hear discussion in the locker rooms and in the hallway, so maybe I just cannot judge.  I also cannot relate because I never dated in high school, and sex was never something I even focused on in school.  It was something that barely crossed my mind, but then, I was an unusual teenager.  I know that.

In short, this book is a good read that gives a peek into the “secret” lives of teenage girls.  However, be warned that there are a myriad of sexual references and profanity throughout, so it may not be something you would like for your impressionable teen to read.  I will admit that this is not one I would ever recommend to my daughter–even if she were old enough to read it.

I nearly forgot one of the most exciting things in the book.  It actually took place in the Seattle, Washington area!  I recognized so many of the places, and that is always nice.  Not many books happen around here, but I feel it is the best setting for a story!

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  I was not financially compensated in any way, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.

View all my reviews

Please enjoy this interview with Justin Ordoñez, author of the YA novel (for 18+ readers), Sykosa. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

1. Who or What is a Sykosa?

Sykosa is a sixteen year old junior in high school. She’s the main character of a novel I’ve written by the same name. For a quick rundown, she attends a prestigious preparatory academy, is part of the school’s coolest clique, “the Queens,” and she has started dating the boy she’s secretly been crushing on for a year, Tom. It’s taken a year to start dating him because A) there was this SUPER HUGE thing that happened during her sophomore year, and it delayed things and made being intimate with Tom difficult, and B) she kinda starts seeing stars around him and loses the ability to behave in any type of serious manner.

2. Why is Sykosa different from other novels?

It’s different because youth driven literature has become full of metaphors for danger that seem to have split into either science fiction or fantasy. (Before I go any further, I like both genres, so I’m not being a snob!) Sometimes, it feels like instead of dealing with real problems, it’s easier to have kids use magic. And instead of facing real contemporary issues, kids should fight aliens or something. These metaphors are meant to represent real life, but I fear they’ve slightly crossed over into a bit of denial about contemporary Americanism, which is a hard topic to write about since our country is in an identity crisis, and has been for about 11 years. Sykosa is an attempt to counter-act this trend. When I was young, I read books about young people that blew me away like One Fat Summer and The Outsiders. These books felt real, and it felt like I could slip into them at any moment. The writing was gritty, it was unapologetic, it was brilliant. I just don’t see many of those around, and I wanted to write one, and I wanted to write one with a female protagonist.

3. Why did you chose cross-gender writing?

Toward the end of the my high school education, I was allowed to split my school day from my normal, traditional education and a newer style, self-directed educational program. I took an English class where my English teacher, someone who I’m still friends with to this day, gave me only one assignment for an entire semester, and it was, “Perform a deep self-evaluation of yourself and your writing and come up with one goal for what you’re going to improve on.” At the time, I was seriously into writing, and had taken to writing a few books per year, but most of them were in the first person, and they were just me talking about myself. The issue was that I had been in a serious car accident the year prior and I had injured a friend in it. (He fully recovered, but never forgave me). I had tried to write a first person story about myself many times since the accident, but I was constantly failing because I was dealing with some lingering self-loathing and guilt. As a way to get away from it, I decided I wanted to work on a story I had been thinking about for a while, but that I never started writing for one super scary reason.

The main character was a teenage girl.

Odd as it might sound, I was intimidated by the fact that the main character was a woman. So I faced my fear and said my goal would be to write women better, and I proceeded to work with several teachers and several female students to help me craft a female character that was realistic, yet met my vision of her as well. This challenge stuck with me into my adult life, and it eventually found its ultimate form in Sykosa.

4. How will I know I’m a fan of Sykosa?

I’m glad you asked! Sykosa.com has tons of stuff to help you determine if this book is right for you. Below you’ll see some humorous diagrams I’ve made, but at the website you can read an excerpt of the book, watch the book trailer, read character profiles and really get a solid understanding of Sykosa’s world.

5. What kind of stuff influenced you to write Sykosa?

The primary motivators for Sykosa were Buffy The Vampire Slayer and It by Stephen King. It so happened, in 2001, I moved in with a woman I was dating. She was a fan of Buffy, so I had to watch it and became a fan myself. While most people were probably drawn to the vampire killing, it was the last thing I was interested in. I thought Whedon created an interesting cast of personalities and analyzing them was something I enjoyed. At the time, I was reading It. What I liked about It was the small town, insular feel to the novel, and how the inhabitants of this town were able to show a “front” of values, but were secretly hiding and allowing evil to proliferate all around them. From these two things came Sykosa, a girl who does not have any super powers, nor does she kill any vampires, but she did have a traumatic event happen in her life, and she’s struggling to deal with it, and its made no easier by the fact that her small, insular parochial school has decided to ignore the incident.

6. What is your most favorite and least favorite part of Sykosa?

The most favorite part is easy. It’s Sykosa’s best friend Niko, who just gets my blood pumping every time I have to write her. I love Sykosa, she’s definitely the main character and the story would never work without her, but I could sing Niko’s praises all day and all night. She’s such an interesting young woman and to see how she’s developed over the years as I’ve written the story has been a real treat. When someone first reads Sykosa and then decides to talk to me about it, I’m secretly waiting to hear them mention Niko. It’s never the first thing they say, it’s never the last, it’s always sandwiched somewhere in the middle, “By the way, this Niko—I love her!”

My least favorite part… Wow, that’s hard to answer, isn’t it? In the middle of the book, there’s a section called an Interlude, which is a story structure that Stephen King used in It, and that I borrowed as an homage to it. There’s a section where Sykosa, Niko and her mother are driving in a car together. I swear, I rewrote it fifty times—maybe more—and it’s never read right to me. It just never has.

7. What kind of writing schedule do you keep?

Let’s put it this way: I recently heard a story that there are “cat writers” and “ox writers.” I’m an ox writer. I put in the time, every day, whether I’m feeling it or not, whether its terrible or not, even if I know I’ll just end up deleting it, I push through it and I do it anyway, and somewhere along the way, it ends up coming together as a story.

8. What’s the coolest story you have from writing Sykosa?

Sykosa is interesting in the sense that it took me a long time to finish it. The first couple years I was writing it, I was really just writing stories about the characters, feeling everyone out, figuring out how they fit together, but there was no plot holding it together or pushing anything forward. In 2003, I seriously debated quitting, as it had been the hardest piece of writing I had ever taken on, and to be honest, I was somewhat used to overcoming challenges easily and without a lot of adversity. And while I usually worked on the book on my bus ride to and from work, this one beautiful, sunny day, I decided not to. I sat on the bus and kept the binder of writing closed on my lap. When the bus stopped at Pioneer Square, a homeless black woman sat next to me. She noticed the book, then said to me, “So you’re writing a novel?” I couldn’t tell how she knew that, but I said, “Yes, I am.” She asked me what it was about, but I’m terrible at talking about my work, so I gave her the gist, “teenage girl” “high school” “likes her boyfriend” etc, etc. The conversation lasted one stop, when the bus opened its doors, the woman reached out with her hand, put it on my own (which was clinging to the book like I was protecting it or something) and she said, “Justin, I want you to know, God blesses this book. He blesses it, and you can’t quit.”

I had never mentioned to her that I was quitting it.

I started working on it after she left the bus, and I never spoke or saw her again.

True story.

9. Do you have any tips for people who are struggling with writing or want to take it up?

I do. First off, keep struggling. It’s a worthwhile struggle. There’s a lot of be gained from writing. And for those who want to take it up and for those who are already writing, I can’t stress this enough: Draft. And by the I mean, write in drafts, don’t sit in a chair and challenge yourself to make it perfect now, write it perfect now, but instead write in drafts. If something only gets 5% better, that’s fine, cause it’s just one draft of what will be many, and eventually, that 5%, that 3%, that 7%—it adds up and you end up with a really good story. But, if you try to knock it out of the park every time you step up to the plate, you’ll swing the bat a whole lot, and you’ll be tired and exhausted when you’re done, but you won’t have a ton to show for it. That’s when most people quit. They think, “I can’t do this” or, “I don’t have the talent.” They don’t understand they’re doing it wrong, that’s all.

10. When you’re not writing, you’re…

Singing karaoke. I go once a week with some close friends of mine. It’s a fantastic release, also you get feedback from an audience, which you sometimes miss from writing, and you can forget how exciting it is to share your work with others. My favorite song to sing right now is Gaga’s “You and I.” Gaga has got a great voice that she can make raspy if she needs to, and I’ve got a voice that can match the raspier songs, so I think I do her proud. Otherwise I’m singing the Killers, Kings of Leon, Oasis or Lauryn Hill.

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Sykosa eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Sykosa for just 99 cents
  2. Fill-out the simple form on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event
  4. BONUS: Leave a comment on this post*

Leave a comment, win $100:

One random tour commenter will win a $100 Amazon gift card. Just leave a comment on this post, and you’ll be entered to win. For a full list of participating blogs, check out the official tour page. You can enter on just my blog or on all of them. Get out there and network!

About the book: YA fiction for the 18+ crowd. Sykosa is a sixteen-year-old girl trying to reclaim her identity after an act of violence shatters her life and the lives of her friends. Set at her best friend’s cottage, for what will be a weekend of unsupervised badness, Sykosa will have to finally confront the major players and issues from this event, as well as decide if she wants to lose her virginity to Tom, her first boyfriend, and the boy who saved her from danger. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Sykosa is Justin Ordoñez’s life’s work. He hopes to one day settle down with a nerdy, somewhat introverted woman and own 1 to 4 dogs. Visit Justin on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.



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3 Comments

  1. Justin Ordonez April 5, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to read and write such an insightful review of Sykosa. I appreciate your comments about how the timeline was not in chronological order. That was actually one of the hardest challenges in writing Sykosa, and oh so many a draft did die to its cause. I never anticipated it being so complicated to execute. I’m also glad that you recognized a lot of the Seattle area locations! It is soooooooo beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest, people don’t understand. I usually hate flying, but coming home to Seattle on a fight is one of my favorite things because you get a bird’s eye view of the area from the airplane. Once again, thanks for your review, and all the best to your blog in the future.

    Best,
    Justin

  2. ruthhill74 April 5, 2012 Reply

    It is always a pleasure to give thoughtful reviews when I know how much they are appreciated. I know this book was a great deal of work, and I greatly appreciate that. The Pacific Northwest is my home, and I am partial to it!

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