Friday, October 31, 2014

This Week at Book Riot



Here's a look at this week over at Book Riot . . .





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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest Post: Victoria Signorelli and Kathleen Willard of Gay YA


It's not often we do guest posts for people who aren't authors. But today's guest post, from Vee Signorelli and Kathleen Willard, is one I am so excited to share. If those names don't sound familiar to you, maybe their blog does. These two ladies -- teenagers -- run GayYA.org. This is an incredible resource of book reviews, book lists, and discussions about all things relating to LGBTQIA+ in YA, and it's one that I turn to regularly. If it's not on your reading radar already, it should be. 

Let me reiterate that the two minds behind this site, as well as its Tumblr and Twitter accounts, are teenagers. Their work and their insight into YA is keen and thoughtful, and I had to ask them to come talk about why they started the site, what they offer up on the site, books that have impacted them, and more. 

**

One night in May of 2011, Jessica Verday announced to the internet why she’d pulled out of the anthology Wicked Pretty Things: one of the editors said they would not include her piece unless she changed her m/m pairing to an m/f one. The internet exploded. A #YesGayYA hashtag formed on Twitter. Hundreds of blog posts went up. People came out of the woodwork to talk about similar experiences, and to promote LGBT YA. My older sister and I were both scrolling through our Twitter feeds the night of this announcement. We ushered each other over to read stories of characters being “straightened” by publishers/editors/agents who didn’t think they would sell, or someone explaining why they needed LGBT YA. We both saw the same thing: tons of people calling out for representation, with no way to reach publishers, agents, and editors, and nothing to connect them to each other. To this day, we don’t know who said it. But it was announced, “someone really needs to make a website on all of this stuff.” We looked at each other over the top of our computer screens.

“are you…”

“thinking…?”

“Yes!”

“SAME.”

We realized there was a huge demand for representation of the people, and no one organizing to talk about it past some hashtags on Twitter. We were only sixteen and twelve at the time, but it wasn’t even really a question in our minds: we knew how to do websites, and we knew social media.

We both identified as straight at the time (ha ha), and we really knew nothing about the LGBTQ community. To be honest, we were probably the least qualified people to do the job. But, we had the time and the passion and the knowledge of websites to be able to do it. We made many mistakes: calling a pairing of two bisexual guys “gay” when it should’ve been M/M, using “gay” as an umbrella term for the entire LGBTQIA+ community, and generally just being the most clueless people in the world. It was a learning curve, but once we realized we were not the ones who needed to do the speaking, we got out of the way.

We got some great posts on our site, and many wonderful and rich conversations going. We both enjoyed it, and put a good amount of time into it. But there was only so much effort two presumably straight teens could put into something like this— we were convinced that all LGBT lit was dreary and full of angst, and the words “the problem is, it’s just not good” were muttered frequently. We had no over-arcing vision for the site, and were really getting nothing out of it, except getting to talk to some authors who we were convinced wrote solely angst. So after about two years, we abandoned our site. It was partially due to issues at home, but the site had started to drag on us. If it had been something we were still incredibly passionate about, I don’t think we would’ve let it go.

It didn’t really look like it would ever get going again, especially after my sister headed off to college.

Then, this past winter when I turned sixteen, I went through a process of figuring out my own identity. It was an extremely hard time for me, as I had never heard of either non-binary genders or pansexuality and it took me a long time to realize that they fit me. During this time, I found such solace in books. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills really opened up the door to self discovery, because Gabe, the MC was trans and happy. I had the same thing with The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan which made me feel like however I identified would be accepted. And Far From You by Tess Sharpe, which made me feel OK about my attraction to girls. Eventually, I figured out what my identity was through tumblr (non-binary and pansexual), but I got the humanity and the ability to discard shame from books. I remember the first time I held in my hands a book that had me in it (which was Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff)-- a book that had a happy ending. Every time I was told that people like me didn’t exist, every time I started to believe that I would never be happy, I had something physical to cling to that proved to me I really was here, that I had a chance at a good life. 

But I also ran into a lot of difficulty: because most people don’t even know people like me exist, I can count on one hand the books that have non-binary people in them. And I had the resources to be able to find them. I understood more than ever the importance of not only queer YA, but the service I had an opportunity to provide through GayYA.org.

I realized that there were a lot of teens out there like me, looking for themselves in books. And I realized I had a chance to really help them out. So, this March, I decided to start it back up. For the first time since we began, I had a vision and purpose.

Kathleen:

I never “figured out” that I was gay, as so many people do later in life. I knew from the beginning. I thought girls were the bomb. I had a substantial crush on Daphne from Scooby Doo. I also thought that something was horribly wrong with me--that I was wrong, and needed to be fixed--because I did not know that queer people existed.

Representation is pretty important to me.

I don’t know exactly when I figured out that there is a word for what I am, but it hit me somewhere around age nine, watching Willow and Tara become a couple in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

At age eleven, I came out to my parents, and while they were really surprised, they also really didn’t care who I fell in love with as long as I was happy. The notion that Gay is OK grew and grew in my mind; it cautiously morphed into pride, then bloomed into lesbian feminist rants, and the rest is history.

Flash forward six years and picture an angst-ridden teen riding the bus with a cup of coffee in her hand, wearing enough black clothing and red lipstick and false confidence to be mistaken for a widow spider, while simultaneously searching her person for her bus pass. That’s me.

I have known Vee and Maria, the founders of Gay YA, for years and years; I witnessed the growth of Maria’s first fansite, an homage to Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely Series, and the birth of Gay YA.

Early this spring, Vee decided to singlehandedly reboot Gay YA after a dormant period. One day, as I was presumably sipping on tea and V was working on Gay YA’s Tumblr, she said, “What have I done?! I have so much to do!” And I said, “I can do that for you if you want.” She handed me the laptop. This happened several times with several tasks over a period of several months.

In early summer, I said: “Have I become your co-conspirator?”

And she said: “Yeah, if you wanna be.”

I did.

Helping to run Gay YA started out as a cool hobby to promote something very close to my heart; it has become something much bigger and a little bit scary. After running our social media and receiving positive feedback, I realized that I have stumbled backwards into the opportunity to support--even help?!--queer youth just like me, who are looking for themselves on the page.

Vee

Very frequently, my parents will ask me with a twinge of hope in their voices if I’ve ever rethought getting into this-- they still think I’m a straight girl. “No,” I respond with a smile. “Not at all.”

Although my workload is huge and overwhelming and growing every day, re-booting this site has lead to some of the most amazing experiences in my life. I live in Minnesota, which is secretly one of the coolest states in the country (especially in a literary sense). I’ve gotten to meet some of my favorite authors, usually through events at the Loft Literary Center, or Addendum Books. Though it still terrifies me to go up and squeak at them, I now have something I can say. We’ve even gotten to interview some of our favorite authors (like Francesca Lia Block!!).

And we’ve been able to make a difference for teens and adults looking for representation. The last few years have been HUGE for queer YA books— the representation is out there! It’s just hard to find. And we have been able to collect a thorough knowledge of all the titles, and are able to recommend exactly what people are looking for. We’re far from becoming the exhaustive resource that I have my eye set on, but we’re getting closer by the day. 

Kathleen

In the last few months, we have been spectators to the site’s explosion (in a good way).  There has been an influx of posts, followers, questions, and general publicity to the point that that between the two of us, it is a daily struggle to keep everything running smoothly.  Part of the struggle is financial: we each contribute 2-10 hours to the site on any given day (in addition to keeping up with a high school education), for which we are not paid.  For me, this is in addition to a part-time job; for Vee, it means giving up having a job at all. Our operating costs add up to approximately $100/month, which is a LOT when you’re taking from one part-time job and a $40 allowance.

I recently added a donation button to the site-- anything is greatly appreciated: 50 cents to $50. 

Although something like 50 cents seems like nothing, it really helps us a lot. 

Vee

We have a number of new things happening with our site. We are currently are accepting (until the end of October) applications to become a regular contributor to our site

We’re also looking to gather a small group of dedicated volunteers to help us with some small but essential tasks, so we can continue tackling the big picture things. We’re completely strung out with everything we’ve got going on now, because it all just sort of happened, and had no grasp on the amount of work it would all take. We have a lot of cool project ideas running around our heads, but no time to enact them, because of all the day-to-day emergencies we have to keep up with. Volunteer help is essential to keeping this community and project moving forward. See here for more information!

I’ve had the opportunity of working with Nita Tyndall on GayYA’s Masterlist Project. We’ve made a wiki and are cultivating a three pronged project to help people looking for queer YA find exactly what they’re looking for. It’s entirely community driven, and we’d love it if you joined us!

We just started up our first book club, and we’re reading Pantomime by Laura Lam. Check out the schedule and how you can participate!

We also have continual opportunities for authors, teens, and everyone else. And if you have an idea for something you’d like to work on with us, or have a question, comments, or anything else, my email is always open at victoria@gayya.org.

We’re really looking forward to expanding this website in new and awesome ways, and we hope that you’ll join us!




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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Loop by Karen Akins

Bree Bennis attends a school for Shifters, those who were born with the ability to travel backwards in time. Her goal at the book’s opening is to travel to the 21st century, complete her midterm, and carry out a little side project that will earn her the money to ensure her sick mother is able to get the care she needs. It should be doable, except that Bree runs into a bratty kid named Finn and accidentally takes him hostage while trying to complete her tasks. Oops.

She eventually escapes the 21st century and goes back to her home time, the 23rd century, knowing she’ll have to return to the 21st to somehow convince Finn not to talk about her little visit. Only when she does return, she lands three years later, and Finn is no longer a bratty kid. He’s her age, he’s pretty hot, and he claims to have been in a relationship with her for some time. It doesn’t take long to figure out he means a future version of Bree. Of course, he can’t tell her about her own future, for fear of disrupting the timeline. (Picture River Song saying “Spoilers” to the Doctor here.) In true Bree fashion, in trying to extricate herself from this situation, she accidentally brings Finn along with her to the 23rd century, something that shouldn’t even be possible. Oops again.

Now Bree must unravel not only how to return Finn to his own time without anyone the wiser, but also how exactly he came to know future Bree so well, and what it all has to do with the strange things going on in her boarding school.

Karen Akins’ debut Loop really embraces how fun time travel can be. This is a time travel book for readers who love time travel. Do you have certain websites bookmarked whose sole purpose is to speculate on the possibility of time travel? This book is for you. This is a true speculative novel, one that continuously asks what if. What if we could time travel? What would the rules be? What would the consequences be? For readers who love those kinds of questions, this is a gem. For readers who get headaches thinking about it, it might be best to pick up a different book.

It’s not just the time travel that makes this book so much fun. Bree and Finn have great snarky chemistry, and there’s a slew of futuristic 23rd century technology that is fascinating to read about. The 23rd century feels real, chock full of fun little details and new slang terms. The plot itself is fast-paced and complicated, but makes sense in the end, as good time travel books should. Often when I read a book with multiple moving plot parts, I’m a little hesitant to reach the end; I’ve been burned with unresolved subplots and details left dangling before (seemingly unintentionally). This is especially true for time travel stories, which can be more complicated than most. Trust in Akins – it all comes together in a satisfying way.

St. Martin's Press is giving away a finished copy of Loop to one lucky reader (US residents only). Enter using the form below. The giveaway closes November 14.





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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Few Cybils Reads - Part III

The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman
Rowan Rose has grown up relatively happy in her small town where not much happens. Then a few of the king’s men, visiting for unknown reasons, are found dead in what appear to be brutal animal attacks; at the same time, another young girl, Fiona Eira, moves to the town with her stepmother and her stepmother’s new husband. Fiona has a connection to Rowan beyond what she is told. When Rowan’s best friend falls in love with Fiona, it sets in motion a violent chain of events that will change Rowan’s life forever.

This one was on my radar long before the Cybils got underway. The cover is eerily beautiful and the story is a re-working of a few different fairy tales, though in a more suggestive than literal way. Even without the nod to Snow White via the title, the story feels very much like a fairy tale, albeit much closer to the darker original versions than the more lighthearted Disney versions. And despite the fairy tale aspect, the story – and the way everything unfolds – is unique. Templeman creates an atmospheric mood with her writing. It’s not horrifying, per se, but it is somewhat chilling, buoyed by the fact that she does not shy away from describing some of the more grotesque things that happen. The story is a little rough around the edges at points, but overall thoroughly engrossing. I look forward to what Templeman does next.

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn
Marni is half-human, half-dragon. Her mother, once a princess of the kingdom, ran away to live in the magical woods and took up with a dragon who could change into the shape of a man. Marni was the result. Her mother then left the dragon, taking Marni with her. When the woods start to encroach upon the kingdom, Marni’s uncle, the prince, hunts down her mother, thinking her the cause – the dragon trying to reclaim her. In order to save Marni’s life, Marni’s grandfather – the king – abdicates to his son, but not before Marni’s mother is killed.

Now a young woman, Marni constantly feels the pull of the woods, though she knows its danger. She lives with her grandfather, and when he dies, she journeys to the castle, hoping the king will take her in, despite his propensity to murder her family members. Still, the woods call to her, and they soon start to move in on the town once again. It’s only a matter of time before Marni answers the call.

Hahn’s writing, much like Templeman’s, is dreamlike. She uses her words to paint a picture for you, and it’s easy to feel sucked into the rich settings of her book. I’ve read reviews that call her writing poetic, and that’s a fair assessment. But what I often find missing from a book of poetic writing is a strong plot, and that’s the situation here. It doesn’t feel like much happens. In fact, just when it appears that something exciting might happen, the thread of that particular plot point kind of fades away. You could call the story “character-driven,” or you could simply say it doesn’t have much substance. I tend to go with the latter. Best for readers who don’t mind lovely language at the expense of plot.

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca
This is a standard modern-day disease story that focuses on a very specific regional area – teenage Lil’s hometown in New Jersey. The pandemic of the title is a flu-like disease that spreads rapidly across the globe. Unlike most flus, this one is most fatal to younger adults, who soon start dying, leaving the old and the young (including people Lil’s age) without caretakers.

Ventresca doesn’t really do anything new with the idea, but she does throw in some details that keep interest up throughout the book. Both of Lil’s parents are out of town when the worst of the pandemic hits, meaning she has to handle everything that happens mostly on her own. This includes the care of an infant whose parents have both died. She gets together with other teenagers to organize assistance for those who can’t help themselves. She has to learn how to get food for herself and contend with looters. She also has to deal with a teacher who sexually assaulted her several months before and now has greater access to her due to the breakdown of the town’s governance. It’s certainly not a bad story, and would be fine for those eager for more along the lines of Amber Kizer’s A Matter of Days – both are relatively gentle books where the stakes never seem very high (even when they should). Ventresca’s writing is a bit amateurish, weakening what could have been a devastating story and keeping it from being entirely satisfying.




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Monday, October 27, 2014

October Debut YA Novels



Ready for another round-up of debut YA novels? As always, debut is defined as first published novel, rather than an author's first YA novel or their first novel under a pen name. All of these books are available this month, and all descriptions come from WorldCat, unless otherwise noted. 

If I've missed any from traditional publishers, let me know in the comments. 




Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke: Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status. When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time. While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story. And maybe even find herself a happily ever after. (Description from Goodreads) 

Stray by Elissa Sussman: Princess Aislynn's magical ability is powerful and uncontrollable, so she is "redirected" into the order of Fairy Godmothers, where her heart is removed and stored in a hidden cabinet, and she must spend the rest of her life devoted to serving another royal family--but her growing friendship with a palace gardener causes Aislynn to question the vows she has taken, and the motives of those who would prevent her from "straying" from the path.

Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell: When seventeen-year-old Lucy Aimes moves to New Orleans and meets Alex, a boy who behaves as if they've known each other forever, she becomes caught up in a centuries-old vendetta. 





Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch: Orphaned Meira, a fierce chakram-wielding warrior from the Kingdom of Winter, must struggle to free her people from the tyranny of an opposing kingdom while also protecting her own destiny.

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis: A futuristic retelling of Snow White in which seventeen-year-old Essie, a master at repairing robots and drones on the frozen mining planet Thanda, is pulled into a war by handsome and mysterious Dane after his shuttle crash-lands near her home.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer: Having learned to be a master con artist from her father, Julep Dupree pays expenses at her exclusive high school by fixing things for fellow students, but she will need their help when her father disappears.





Beware The Wild by Natalie C. Parker: A teenaged girl and her boyfriend must find her older brother after he wanders into their town's swamp and a mysterious girl appears in his place.

Compulsion by Martina Boone: After the death of her disfigured, shut-in mother, Barrie Watson moves to her aunt's South Carolina plantation, which is guarded by an ancient spirit who cursed one of the island's three founding families and gave the others magical gifts that become compulsions.

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips: While growing up in the 1960s, Laura uses art to cope with her mother's mental illness.



 



Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy's pregnancy, friend Sebastian's coming out, her father's meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Lailah by Nikki Kelly: While struggling to understand her own identity, Lailah is torn between an injured vampire and a rogue angel who appears in her dreams.

Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah: When Claire Graham returns to Amble, Ohio, to search for her missing younger sister, Ella, she must keep her wolf hallucinations at bay and face the mystery of what really happened two years ago, and whether it is happening again now.





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Friday, October 24, 2014

This Week at Book Riot


Here's a roundup of my writing over at Book Riot this week . . .


  • If you're curious about the YA titles coming out between now and the end of the year, as well as a peek at 10 books coming out next spring worth getting on your radar now, then I've got the reading guide for you




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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinetero

Sometimes, you read the book you didn't know you needed to read when you read it. Enter Isabel Quintero's Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.

Mexican American Gabi is a senior this year, and the book picks up in the months leading up to her final year in high school. It jumps in immediately, as this is a diary-style novel, and we're quickly introduced to Gabi's best friend Cindy and Sebastian. Cindy just discovered she's pregnant and Sebastian, who Gabi has known to be gay for a while, just came out to his family. Those two revelations set off the string of events to follow -- Cindy's pregnancy, as Gabi is by her side through the entirety of it and Sebastian's coming out, as Gabi helps him find a stable place to live after he's kicked out of his own home.

But this isn't the story of what happens to Gabi's friends.

Gabi's own home life is imperfect, as is her love life. Her father is an addict, and he's more unreliable than he is reliable and stable. Gabi's upset and hurting by it, but because it's such a normal part of her life, she depicts it as such.

She's interested in a number of boys, but she has no idea whether they're interested, and she certainly has no idea how to kiss them, were that opportunity to arise. But as the months roll on, we see Gabi test out relationships with a number of guys throughout, and she offers her keen insight into what she did or did not like about each one . . . and whether her final choice was the right one for her. There is keen, positive depictions of sexuality and Gabi's understanding of her limits, as well as discussion of consent. Her aunt taught her the phrase "eyes open, legs closed," which is a theme that runs throughout her diary, but it's a phrase in which he can't always agree -- especially as more unravels about Cindy's pregnancy and the pregnancy of another of Gabi's classmates. Oh, and there's the surprise pregnancy her mother has, too.

Because we get Gabi unfiltered, we see the pregnancies through her eyes without any glossing over. We know what it was like to be in the delivery room with Cindy and we know what it's like when someone has to go to an abortion clinic and all of the steps and secrecy involved in that.

One of the biggest challenges Gabi faces in the story is that she's torn between going away to college and remaining at home with her family. She's stuck in that space between pursuing her own dreams as an American girl and the traditional role she has in staying home and helping with the family, as children in Mexican families often do. She applies to schools, including some big name universities, and ultimately gets accepted to her dream school. The wrestling she does about her future is complicated and thoughtfully approached, but it's made even more challenging when she does something at school that gets her in trouble. Huge trouble.

And it's here where Quintero's good debut novel becomes an outstanding novel.

Although this is a diary of Gabi's life, it's a deep exploration of sexuality and more specifically, it's also an exploration of "dude culture." That is, why do we allow "boys to be boys" but we don't offer protection to girls from boys? Or more accurately, why do we allow "boys to be boys" anyway? What does it say when boys are allowed to do what they want to and it's permitted, where a girl has to suffer the consequences not just of her own actions but of the things acted upon her? Gabi won't stand for it, and she keeps turning her mind back to that phrase "eyes open, legs closed." It becomes almost a tool of power for her when she begins working through the anger and frustration she has, even though that wasn't the intended purpose for her aunt telling it to her.

Gabi is also a fat girl. But she's not just a fat girl in a YA novel. She's a fat girl in a YA novel who loves to eat, who loves to talk about eating, and yet, she's brutally honest about what being fat means in her life. She's regularly teased and she's given a lot of grief at home about it, and she herself admits to wishing she could be thinner. Trying on clothes is a pain, among other things. But what Quintero does not do in this book is make Gabi any less of a full, exceptionally-realized, dream-seeking main character. Her fat does not hold her back. It becomes a thing she talks about in a way that is another part of who she is, even if it's something she feels like other people judge her much more harshly for than she does. Gabi's body is not the whole story. Gabi's body does not make her unable to live her life to the fullest. It does not make her unattractive to boys. It does not isolate her from her friends. It does not make her depressed or sullen or fearful of food. Her body is just that: her body. This is an amazing and affirming message to see in a book, and I think it will resonate deeply with readers.

This is a story that also includes positive female friendship, positive male-female friendship, laugh-out-loud moments of awkward interactions with boys, and really heart-warming scenes. There are some really tough parts to read, as Gabi's family does suffer a major blow, but those are tempered with moments that make you cheer for Gabi, too. The diary format for Gabi, A Girl in Pieces was the absolute right choice for telling the story because it allowed both immediacy and distance from events (Gabi has to reflect on what happens after the fact, when she's writing, rather than in the immediacy as it's happening) and because it is exceedingly rare to see a "year in the life" diary of a character of color. Gabi owns every bit of this story.

Gabi is an empowered teen girl from the start, but it's not something she entirely realized. It's through this year she comes to discover that about herself -- and those moments of getting it are rich for the reader.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces has garnered five starred reviews so far from the trade journals, but I have seen virtually no discussion of this book and I think that may be because this is from a smaller press. But this is a book with huge teen appeal that I hope people pick up, give a chance, and then talk about. Quintero's writing style and story telling reminded me a lot of Amy Spalding. Fans of Sara Zarr, Susan Vaught, or Siobhan Vivian's novels will do well with this book, too. Readers looking for serious books that are infused with good moments of humor and honesty, as well as depictions of awkward teen relationships, dynamic families, the challenges of pursuing your own interests while also respecting and being part of a host of cultural traditions, and great female leads will find a lot to enjoy here.



Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is available now. Review copy from the publisher.




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