Most of us did have braces as kids, and were any of us able to pick up audio signals? Too bad we weren’t struck by lightning. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Thank you Jaimie Engle for the (signed, eeek!) copy of funny-dark YA fantasy METAL MOUTH. All opinions are my own.
When fourteen-year-old Mahlorie gets struck by lighting after leaving a disastrous house party, she’s able to hear a voice in her head thanks to her metal braces. Not a voice telling her to preach on the subway about the end of the world, but the voice of a kind teenage boy named Dyson.
Mahlorie is misunderstood by her appearance-obsessed parents and popularity-obsessed BFF Shai (shallow but believable, and Engle nails the “love them but wonder what planet they’re from” feelings many teenagers have toward their loved ones). Homeschooled Dyson, wheelchair-bound since the car crash that left a titanium plate in his skull, is lonely and glad for a new friend.
Romantic feelings develop between the two quickly, and they agree to meet. But when Dyson keeps having trouble leaving his house and asking Mahlorie to come find him, she learns the truth about her new love interest: He’s been in a coma for three years.
While METAL MOUTH has an intriguing concept and snappy writing style, it’s not a light read: This heartwarming/bittersweet story deals with some pretty serious themes that may trigger some readers:
- Sexual Assault – Mahlorie gets a forced kiss from a gross drunk bro, and immediately delivers a knee “where it counts”. The adults completely dismiss drunk bro’s actions in favor of reaming out Mahlorie for running out in a thunderstorm (OK, dumb move, but still…)
- Substance Abuse/DUI – Mahlorie’s babysitter usually gets black-out drunk, which is how she’s able to sneak out. There is plenty of underage drinking and driving, which despite Mahlorie’s disdain for both, underpins most of the major plot points – Mahlorie running outside and getting struck by lightning, Shai getting into an accident and coma, Dyson’s death.
METAL MOUTH is not a morality tale per se, but Engle pulls no punches with the severe consequences of alcohol abuse and irresponsible Florida drivers.
- Euthanasia/Death – *Spoiler alert* Hesitated to include this, but Dyson’s parents ultimately make the decision to take him off life support at the end. METAL MOUTH ends before Mahlorie has time to process his death, but I did appreciate Engle’s mention of Dyson’s mom’s grief and closure.
To be clear, Mahlorie’s strained mother-daughter relationship and her friendship with Shai are on a path to improving at the end, part because of Mahlorie and part because Shai and her mom learn to relate to her differently. It’s exactly how relationships improve in life, and I appreciate kids seeing that.
METAL MOUTH is available now from Cutting-Edge Storytelling.
Jaimie was kind enough to join me for an interview, and here goes!
KLU: First question, what’s Dr. Ant Killer’s real name?
JME: This is a great question. As a writer, I am my first reader, which is kind of weird to think about. In saying that, there are certain things that are not revealed to me, one of which is the actual name of Mahlorie’s dentist. I think characters, like people, give you a glimpse of who they are but only a few show you everything.
KLU: If/when you had braces, did they ever help you pick up radio or TV signals?
JME: If I had braces (which I never did) I would feel cheated if they DIDN’T pick up TV signals. I mean, I could have been the first person to actually stream! Could you imagine???
KLU: Where’d you get the idea for METAL MOUTH? Where’s the oddest place you’ve gotten inspiration for a book?
JME: For METAL MOUTH, I literally woke up laughing out loud about a girl who can hear a boy in her head after a near death experience. I couldn’t imagine going through high school like this. I mean, it’s hard enough to have ME in my head, let alone a boy I don’t know.
KLU: All writing is taking digs at society (Or is it just me? It’s no secret I hate terrible drivers) but what inspired the “don’t drink and drive” message?
JME: Mahlorie is a lot like I was in high school. On the outside, she seemed one way, but inside it was a struggle for self-identity. A lot of my friends drank, and I didn’t get it (still don’t, honestly) so I always felt like an outsider looking in. When I wrote METAL MOUTH, my son was in high school. He and his friends came over several times after leaving a party where there was drinking. I think people don’t realize the affects their decisions have on others, and something like drinking and driving (or texting and driving) can change your life and the lives of others. It’s a relevant social issue, happening in high schools today, and something that felt genuine to the story.
KLU: How did you make the transition from kids/life/day job to becoming a full-time author, and what advice would you give to someone looking to forge this path?
JME: I actually have a full-time job as the Communications Director of our Real Estate Association. I took the job to pay for my kid’s college room and board. It means that I have to be very structured with my mornings (for writing) and my evenings (for editing) to be able to do events (on the weekends). Luckily, my job is very flexible and I’m able to take off for school visits or work remotely from the road. I’m very selective with where I spend my time and with whom. I say no to most things that don’t promote my career or support my family. Life’s too short to waste! I have big dreams that need a lot of hard work to achieve.
KLU: What’s your favorite book of your own that you’ve written?
JME: My favorite book is DREADLANDS: WOLF MOON, about shifters and Norse mythology, the first in a series of classic monster retellings in a Viking world. My favorite story is my novella, THE DREDGE, that will one day be a full novel. It was awarded honorable mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award in 2016 and I was truly shocked for the honor.
KLU: What’s your favorite craft book/trick of the trade/secret to being a productive writer?
JME: Best craft book by far is ON WRITING by Stephen King. Best secret to productivity is to write in the morning, when life is pretty much the same every day. The rest of the day has its
ups, downs, and weird speed bumps that interfere with writing plans. But the morning, for me, is the same every day.
KLU: What’s a trend you’re excited about in kidlit?
JME: I’ve noticed a trend in sold books that have a sci-fi feel to them by following daily deals on Publisher’s Marketplace. I’m seeing less real-life stories being published, which is good for me because I write speculative.
KLU: What book are you reading now?
JME: I’m reading THE MIRACULOUS by Jess Redman, who I met at a Librarian Convention a few months prior to her debut novel released this summer. I’m also listening to IT by Stephen King, a 44-hour audiobook that is as scary as the novel and movie.
KLU: What book are you working on now?
JME: I just signed a five book publishing deal with INtense Publications. You can also say that I am co-writing the screenplay for On the Run by Scott Stevens which will be delivered to Dwayne The Rock Johnson to hopefully read and produce.
I’m also about to publish my non-fiction craft book called “Write a Book that Doesn’t Suck: A No BS Guide to Writing Kick A*S Fiction” and I couldn’t be more excited to share that with writers!
More about me, my books, my cosplay, and events at my website: www.theWRITEengle.com. I can’t thank you enough, Kelly, for the opportunity to share with your followers, and am so happy that you enjoyed METAL MOUTH!