synthroid kidney


You are currently browsing articles tagged 2009.

I read a lot of books in my line of work. Most of them are unpublished, sure, but I still have to make time to keep up with the market. I read tons of ARCs (Advance Reader or Review Copies, sent by publishers to reviewers, bookstores and librarians before the book’s release date… I get them through bookseller friends or at industry events) and already-published books. I used to do a lot more in terms of book reviews on here, but now I think I’ll put together lists of my recent favorites a few times a year. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a quick and dirty last-minute Holiday Gift Guide with recommendations for some things I’ve read lately and loved.

Support the industry you want to work in by buying two copies of each of these… one for the favorite teen in your life and one as research for yourself, the writer!


flashburnoutcoverFLASH BURNOUT
by L.K. Madigan
Young Adult (336 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547194899

For Readers: You don’t need lil’ old me to recommend this book to you. It is a PW Flying Start, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and beloved by everyone. But I will anyway, because it is just that good. You will love Blake’s voice. The main character manages to be hilarious and poignant from one moment to the next, a feat that’s not easy to pull off. Author L.K. Madigan has crafted a story where you’ll be frequently put-off by Blake and his choices, but you’ll be rooting for him anyway, all while laughing your ass off. There are some sexual situations, so this might be a good fit for the older teen set.

For Writers: This is what I mean when I say “voice.” A lot of you are still confused on that subject, or you want to see it in action. Just read this.

buckfeverBUCK FEVER
by Cynthia Chapman Willis
Middle Grade (240 pages). Feiwel & Friends, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0312382971

For Readers: I feel like I have to include BUCK FEVER here because I don’t usually cover a lot of MG and I don’t usually cover a lot of boy MG especially. This book features an unlikely hero, a boy who isn’t one of those self-conscious nerd geniuses like the character in FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE (Read my review). He’s sensitive and shy and genuinely wants to make a difference in his world and to belong to his family, neither of which he’s been able to do very well so far. A sensitively-written novel that’ll appeal to both girls and boys, this MG pits its hero against a really big moral choice… and, in my opinion, that’s the heart and essence of middle-grade right there.

For Writers: If you’re writing more literary or more old-fashioned middle-grade, pick up BUCK FEVER because it puts to bed the myth that these kinds of books have to be slow and boring. There’s a lot going on and the pacing moves briskly. There’s also a great mix here of internal conflict, of the main character and his struggles to define himself and to live up to his father’s expectations, and external conflict, with a local hunting family and the deer that he’s supposed to kill. Yes, it’s a hunting book, and that will turn some people off, but it’s still worth a study.

by Adrienne Kress
Middle Grade (368 pages). Weinstein Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1602861091

For Readers: Hilarious hijinks ensue in Adrienne Kress’ second book. Middle-grade readers who want just the right touch of whimsy and don’t want to dip their feet into wizards and dragons will love the author’s unique take on fantasy/adventure. This will appeal to both boys and girls — a rare feat — and will leave readers clamoring for more. Good thing they’ll find it in Kress’ debut ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, which shares characters and plot with the follow-up. Well worth a read!

For Writers: This is another example of great voice. Kress’ work is a study in the self-conscious narrator. What do I mean by that? It’s a narrator who is very much a part of the story him- or herself. They break the fourth wall, make asides to the reader and otherwise participate. The narrator’s voice colors everything. Kress’ books are also great middle-grade adventure novels with pirates, theatre, quirks galore. They’re over-the-top and they’re romps but there’s also some serious craftsmanship going on. This style worked very well for Lemony Snicket and, if you want another hidden gem example, definitely pick up TIMOTHY.

by Natalie Standiford
Young Adult (288 pages). Scholastic Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0545107082

For Readers: I have made no secret of my burning love for this book. It slays me. If I had read it in my incarnation as a geeky, profoundly introspective 15- or 16-year-old, it would’ve changed my life. I think it has pretty much done that anyway. This book is truly for those special readers: the observers, the quirk-ridden, the deep thinkers, the lonely hearts, the painfully awkward. And that’s an amazing thing. I think this simultaneously heart-warming and heartbreaking story is one that will reach out of the pages and grab its readers, never to let them go.

For Writers: “Quirky” is such a cheap word now. Too many people think they have what it takes to write a truly quirky character and instead they emerge with a mish-mash of incomprehensible traits that don’t make a fleshed-out person. Natalie Standiford has created characters who are almost too real. Their interests, their passions, their needs are achingly authentic. They are truly quirky, without being cute or contrived about it. And they don’t harp on their quirks or their loneliness, like most other characters do. I don’t know exactly what lesson a writer can take from this book. I’ve taken so many, over several rereadings, that I really do urge you all to just read it and discover it for yourself.

by Barry Lyga
Young Adult (400 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547076645

For Readers: Kyra won’t be for everyone, but those who read her and resonate with her will carry her voice and her story for a very long time. Lyga’s angsty, fully-formed character has been waiting for a chance to tell her story and I can’t imagine a better one to showcase her side of things. Despite some very difficult and emotional moments throughout, the ending resonates will a rare, well-earned hope.

For Writers: Barry Lyga is a guy. But he writes an edgy teen girl with all the skill and conviction in the world. Many writers ask me if it’s okay to step so far outside yourself to find a character’s voice. Guy writers, especially, worry that they won’t get credibility writing from a girl’s POV. And I think that’s a valid concern, especially for men writing a first-person woman (I think women writing from a guy’s POV have it slightly easier in terms of criticism, as did L.K. Madigan in FLASH BURNOUT, above, but that’s another bucket of fish). If you are finding your current first-person protagonist is a stretch for you, pick up GOTH GIRL RISING and see how seamlessly the writer a) maintains the writing voice he’s well-known for, and b) slips on a whole new skin.


And for the love of goats, go buy these at your local independent bookstore or online at

For other books that I have loved this year, click on the “Highly Recommended” tag in my blog sidebar. You’ll see things I’ve reviewed and loved from earlier.

Disclosures: This list includes friends as well as ABLit clients. Books have either been purchased by me, obtained at BEA, passed along from friends, or sent to me by the author in ARC form.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently read Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR (Bloomsbury, September 29, 2009) and Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE (Delacorte, September 22, 2009) back to back. Both books are similar in that they blur the line of “reality” and leave the reader wondering what really “happened” and what didn’t. The reason for the gratuitous quotation marks (lest anyone accuse them of being unnecessary) is: this is fiction. Technically, none of it is real.

But even with fiction, the reader tends to assume that most things they read are true. Just like Micah says in LIAR, people expect truth, they need it. They want to believe. Similarly, readers want to believe a narrator, especially a first person one.

That’s what makes an intentionally unreliable narrator like LIAR’s Micah — who revels in the falsehoods she spins, sometimes with (dubious, perhaps) apology, oftentimes without — so challenging and so delicious. In the case of Cameron, from GOING BOVINE, his unreliability isn’t necessarily a choice, seeing as his brain is quickly deteriorating from the variant Creutzfeltd Jakob virus, or mad cow disease. Nonetheless, his view of the world is extremely skewed. Both narrators spend their arcs in the messy gray area between what might be happening in a realistic, linear plot and what they insist is the true story.

Two such similar books — that question truth and reality and how easily these things can be manipulated in a reader’s experience of fiction — coming out in the same month makes me think that we might be entering a new phase of postmodernism in YA literature. These books don’t just tell a story, they comment on the medium of the storytelling, on the life inside the story and outside of it, on reality itself, for both the characters and the reader. Postmodernism, in terms of literary criticism, refers to art that is self-conscious, self-referential. Metafiction, also at play here, means fiction that never lets the reader forget that they’re reading something somebody made up.

I think these books are an important bit of evolution, especially when I consider the young adults who will be reading them. The question of what reality is posed here is apt for teens growing up today, whose reality is augmented by technology, the Internet, social networking and virtual worlds that seem to nestle within each other like stacking dolls, among many other things. Reality has a different flavor, more layers of experience and a faster tempo right now than it ever has before, and YA is changing to reflect this.

Every art form has a moment when it begins to fold in on itself and comment on the established tropes, the form, the function of its ancestry. I think this point has arrived for YA — at least for the rich and extremely meaty incarnation of the genre that has developed into a market powerhouse over the last ten to fifteen years. More so than before, this fall and books like LIAR and GOING BOVINE seem to be leading the charge. I’ll be very curious to see if more and more boundary-bending, metafictional YA starts to emerge. Also, I can’t wait until reactions from teen readers pour in. I want to know whether or not these stories will resonate with a generation that gets more and more postmodern, that seems to press against it like a plane nosing the sound barrier, with every passing every nanosecond.

Tags: , , ,

There’s a fairly strong consensus out there that some editors are moving away from rhyming picture books right now. One reason for this, as I see it, is that picture books in general are evolving. They’re being acquired by younger editors, they’re being purchased by cooler parents, they’re becoming modern and… if I dare say… maybe even hip. Not all picture books, of course, because lists and houses have room for the traditional, beautiful picture book reminiscent of the good old days of yore. But there’s definitely been innovation, and that’s crucial to remember when you sit down to write yours.

Rhyming picture books — especially those written in rhyming couplets — take us back to more traditional picture book legacy. That’s not bad, per se, but with all the new styles and ideas hitting the shelves, the more traditional is becoming a more difficult sell. Here are some other reasons rhyming picture books are becoming less attractive to some agents and editors:

  1. They’re old hat. See above.
  2. Not everyone can write brilliant rhyme. And, in this market, it has to be brilliant, fresh, unique, imaginative, unexpected… No lazy or conventional rhyme will cut it.
  3. There also has to be a reason for the rhyme. Too many times, I feel like a manuscript’s rhyme is forced or dictates the story… that the author is making decisions based on which words would fit into their scheme, not based on which words would make the best possible storytelling sense.

If you’re considering writing a rhyming picture book, ask yourself this question: Why does it need to rhyme? If you answer: “Because that’s how a picture book goes” or “Because that reminds me of the books I read as a kid/to my children/to my grandchildren,” then that might not be reason enough.

One of the most compelling reasons to rhyme, in my opinion, is if you are an author who relishes playing with the language. It’s also a good thing if the rhyme is an integral part of the story. I read a book a little while ago that blew my mind with its dizzying, sprawling, complicated rhyme. If there was no rhyme in this book, there’d be no book! If you’re up to the challenge of writing truly astounding rhyming picture books in the current climate, definitely add BUBBLE TROUBLE (Clarion, 2009, by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Polly Dunbar) to your bookshelf.

Tags: , ,

by Kate Messner
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Walker Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0802798428

Gianna must collect and identify 25 leaves for a school project but life keeps getting in the way… In a small, understated book that delivers a multi-faceted plot with a gloriously well-developed character in Gianna Z, Kate Messner gives us an impressive middle grade debut.

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. joins some of my recent favorite middle grades like VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review) and WHEN YOU REACH ME (Read my review) as a book where family, identity and friendship mingle in a completely truthful way. Gianna wants to forge her own path at school, where a bully and academic setbacks frustrate her, but she also longs to define and deepen the relationships that mean the most to her: those with her family. As a character, she embodies the balance that’s so important in middle grade literature.

For Readers: Gianna will resonate with readers because she’s flawed — and that’s exactly why we love her! For the life of her, she can’t seem to concentrate on her project. She loses her temper. She can’t always hold her tongue. She’s not afraid to make mistakes, but she does suffer the consequences. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is all about one girl defining what’s important in her life… a process readers young and old can relate to on a fundamental level.

For Writers: Middle grade — when done right, as this is — features characters in a very turbulent time in their lives. They want to define themselves by their choices and their social status at school… but they might not be ready to leave the embrace of their family just yet. They need to strike out as individuals… but want reassurance that they’re on the right path. They like their independence… as long as there’s a shoulder to cry on. They have deep friendships with members of the opposite sex… that sometimes blossom into something more. Middle school is hormonal, enlightening, impossible and exhilarating. Writers who understand these nuances are in high demand.

Disclosure: Kate Messner is an ABLit client.

Tags: , , , ,

by Allen Zadoff
Young Adult, 320 pages.
Egmont USA (2009)
ISBN: 978-1606840047

Andrew Zansky can’t stand the label on his Levi’s jeans because it exposes his 48 waist size for the world to see. At the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, Andy can’t help feeling like something needs to change. He wants more (and not just lasagna) from his life. When an opportunity to play varsity football comes along, he can’t believe his luck. But will his new identity among the jocks change more than his size-48 outside?

Debut YA novelist Allen Zadoff wrestled with some very conventional high school tropes — loser makes his way through the popularity ranks, the unattainable girl starts paying attention — and came up with a hilarious, completely unique voice to carry this familiar story in a new way. Zadoff, who has made no secret of his own struggles with weight (he is the author of HUNGRY, an adult memoir) gives us an unforgettable character in Andy, and a great title for Egmont USA’s inaugural list!

For Readers: FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE has been getting lots of great press recently because it gives center stage to a complicated, funny and completely relatable plus-size character who is — drum roll please — a dude. And the book portrays the problems that a larger kid faces in an honest, sarcastic and ultimately triumphant way. Even though it’s always good to see body diversity in books, readers of every shape will flock to Andy because his insecurities and quirks are unique yet universal. Plus… it’s a hilarious read that actually had me slapping my knee. It hits shelves on September 8th, so pick up a copy at your local indie!

For Writers: As if writers don’t already have a lot to consider when crafting a character! Well, I’m here to add another ingredient to the mix: physicality. Andy’s physicality is central to FOOD, GIRLS because his is, partly, anyway, a story about being a fat kid. However, every character has a body and, unless you’re writing paranormal, they’re usually tethered to that body and aware of it 24/7. When crafting a person out of thin air, when creating a character who, by definition, doesn’t exist, it’s easy to forget that they’re supposed to be meat and bone, complete with all the various aches, pains, embarrassments, rumbles, heft and weight that flesh entails. Read FOOD, GIRLS and see how grounded Andy is in his particular mass. Then see if you can’t add a similar sense of physical reality to your character’s life.

Tags: , , ,

by Michelle Zink
Young Adult, 352 pages.
Little, Brown Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0316027427

Shortly after her father’s death, Lia Milthorpe finds herself the centerpiece of an ancient prophecy. She also discovers she’s in direct opposition to her twin sister, Alice, at a time when she feels most alone in the world.

Lia must find secret clues her father left behind, figure out her role in the prophecy and stop Alice from unleashing dangerous evil that threatens the world as they know it.

An 1890’s historical novel, set in the Gothic landscape of upstate New York where the sun never seems to shine, PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS is a chilling glimpse of evil, of other dimensions and of the dark side of human nature.

The writing here is very atmospheric and evokes a dark, somber mood of dread that keeps the tensions high. As Lia and her friends and family get more and more enmeshed in the mythology of the Prophecy of the Sisters, the world around them gets even more creepy.

The various clues they uncover and the mythology Zink creates kept me interested in the story, as did the tension between Lia, who sees the good in human nature, and Alice, who has joined the dark side, as it were.

My only complaint about the story is that the entirety of the narrative is spent on characters doing research, hunting for clues and getting ready for the epic battle of good v. evil that we know is coming up in a subsequent book. If anything, this felt like prequel and preparation, not the main event. Still, it is a warm-up that I’m glad to have, and I’m sure that the other books in the trilogy will deliver the action so tantalizingly promised here.

PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS officially comes out August 1st but is already available on Amazon and at many stores. Links: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon

For Readers: Fans of paranormal, Victorian or dark fantasy will love this book. It brings up a lot of questions about what it means to be part of a prophecy and to be responsible for the fate of the world. Usually, this kind of plot lands on the shoulders of some fantasy kick-ass action hero or heroine. Lia’s quiet, introspective character being saddled with this kind of responsibility is a new twist on a well-worn plot, and will win fans who’ll see themselves in the main character.

For Writers: There are a lot of prophecy books out there. If you’re writing one, I’d highly recommend picking up PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS because it delves deeply into the psychological impact that this prophecy has on the main character. A lot of heroes get slapped with a prophecy and then dive into it without looking back. How Lia handles her new role in the war between evil and good, as well as how this prophecy changes her family dynamic, is very realistic and human. Well done and well worth a thorough read.

You’ll also be smart to check out how Zink creates an entire mythology for the workings of this prophecy. The world she imagines is very thorough, with some great rules, and even encompasses seven Otherworlds! This aspect of the novel is airtight, very specific and totally believable.

Tags: , , , ,

by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult, 400 pages.
Scholastic Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-0545123266

“Once bitten, twice shy” does not apply to Grace. Ever since an amber-eyed wolf rescued her from his pack, she has been combing the woods for him, reveling in his silent gaze every winter.

What Grace doesn’t know is that her wolf has a name, Sam, and a human body, but only after the temperature rises past a certain degree. She also doesn’t know much she will love him. Or that this year is his last as a human before the cold wins out and he becomes a wolf forever.

Can their love thaw him for good? Better yet, how could Grace have survived her own wolf bite without turning were? Does that mean there’s a cure?

Edward who? SHIVER is poised to usher in the Age of Werewolf and dominate the glut of vampire and faerie books on the shelves. The only difference between this novel and some of the paranormal romance out there is that it’s actually good. Well-written, haunting, imagined so well and so completely that the world, the love, the wolves, and Grace’s self-deprecating and funny voice are all achingly real.

Maggie Stiefvater (author of LAMENT and the upcoming BALLAD) delivers a love story full of obsession, danger, high stakes and simple, nuzzle-your-face-in-the-hollows-of-his-neck bliss. That’s pretty much the epitome of how any great romance feels, and she captures all angles, from the stupid fights to the hope, against, in this case, some pretty long odds, that love is enough to overcome any obstacles.

And, unlike some romances out there, the two characters aren’t drawn together by inexplicable invisible magnets. There is a very real and visceral explanation for Grace and Sam’s love, and it dovetails with the rest of the book both emotionally and plot-wise, which is so refreshing.

Overall, a well-written, raw and powerful love story that just so happens to have tons of fierce werewolf action and mythology. Seriously: what more could you possibly ask for?

SHIVER officially comes out August 1st but lots of stores and Amazon are selling it early. Here are some links: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: Read it. Now. Before all your friends start talking about it and you feel left out. There’s something here for everyone. Paranormal action, heart-melting romance, high school drama. It’ll take a couple hours to get through and you won’t be able to stop. For me, that’s the mark of an excellent story.

For Writers: SHIVER will take paranormal romance to a more serious and realistic level. Some of the specimens out there now have been following some old cliche that throws two unlikely but insanely hot partners together and goodness forbid anything wrench them apart, even if they have very little in common. This convention goes out the window here. The characters have great motivation to be together, the love between them feels very real (both the good and the bad of it) and they take the notion of sacrifice to an entirely new level. If you’re writing teen or paranormal romance, just know that the bar has been raised, and then go buy the book that’s raising it.

This novel is also written in very compelling alternating POV chapters, so if you’re working with two or more narrators, especially if one is a guy and one is a girl, check it out and see how Maggie does it. It really is very well-crafted.

Disclosure: Maggie is an ABLit client.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

by Rebecca Stead
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0385737425

“There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days.”

Miranda thinks she has her life as a latchkey kid figured out: her frazzled mom is dating Richard, Sal is her best friend, the crazy man in the street sleeps under the mailbox, the spare key is tucked into the fire hose.

Then a series of mysterious letters, written by someone who knows the future, shake up her world and things begin to change.

A WRINKLE IN TIME is lauded in the acknowledgments for WHEN YOU REACH ME and that is no accident. L’Engle’s classic has influenced this book thematically and plot-wise. Both books, you see, happen to feature time travel.

At first, that really surprised me about WHEN YOU REACH ME. Rebecca Stead has created a very convincing real world full of authentic, idiosyncratic characters, spare description and witty, engaging writing. The extra twist of time travel was unexpected but fascinating. By the time the climax comes together — with two of the same person, one from the present, one from the future, colliding in a gripping scene — I was riveted.

Best of all, this book reminds me of LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review), my favorite middle grade book of the year. Surprise, surprise, both are from Wendy Lamb’s imprint. Bravo! WHEN YOU REACH ME adds another quiet, unassuming but completely engaging and heartfelt book to an already amazing list.

WHEN YOU REACH ME came out July 14th. Here are links if you want to buy: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: This book will be a hit with smart kids, teens and (cough cough) kidlit-lovin’ adults. It is a blazing-fast read. No joke, I polished it off in, like, three minutes and wanted to read it again. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, Stead has paid her tribute to L’Engle and, at the same time, has created an emotional, intelligent and intricate story that could easily become its own modern classic.

For Writers: WHEN YOU REACH ME is a perfect example of my favorite “genre.” I put that in quotes lest all the MFA and PhD students in the world  jump down my throat, for it isn’t really a genre, per se, but a term from literary criticism. For me, though, “magical realism” is the only way to describe this book. Magical realism is our world with a twist, a little magical quirk, like time travel. The people are like us, the world is our own and easily recognizable, but something is a little off and the characters must react to it.

For me, that term aptly fills the gray area between genres like sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal (that usually feature a world not quite our own) and what you’d call “contemporary” or “literary” fiction (that feature no crazy anything). If it isn’t a genre you’ve tried writing, then do. It is so much fun and such a treat (as long as you’re clear when you set the rules of the magic and stick to them, of course).

Also, I’m pretty much a stickler about the use of the 2nd person in fiction (more on this later) but Stead has used it here to great effect and as a surefire way to keep tension and stakes sky high. Definitely check it out to learn more about that.

Tags: , , , , ,

by April Henry
Your Adult, 224 pages.
Putnam Juvenile (2009)
ISBN: 978-0399246456

Ellie is caught between her love for her aging activist parents and her hot new boyfriend Coyote, a member of the radical MEDs or Mother Earth Defenders. To save her parents from drug charges brought on by the FBI, she has to infiltrate the MEDs and alert the authorities if they ever target a human victim. In the ultimate high-stakes adventure, she has to figure out her ideals, define her friends and expose her enemies before they wipe her from the face of the planet they’re so feverishly protecting.

April Henry is very good at suspense. Go figure: many of her previous books have been mysteries and thrillers. Now she tries on a romance with a very interesting subject matter. The teens in this book belong to a group of Hummer dealership-torching, tree-sitting, corporation-hating idealists whose convictions and passions blur the line between justice and domestic terrorism, at least in the eyes of the FBI.

When Ellie is given her assignment — to rat on a dangerous and powerful organization or see her parents locked up for growing weed — the stakes jump sky high and don’t come back down until the explosive climax.

What really struck me about this book is how Ellie’s character changes and shifts over time. As she gets more and more caught up in Coyote and her MEDs activities, her outlook on the world evolves in a completely honest way. It is clear throughout that she is trying to establish her own ideology and, just like the other members of the group, takes it either too far or not far enough at times.

TORCHED was a very enjoyable, fast-paced read that delved deep into the kind of notorious organization that makes international headlines for more than just its Arbor Day tree planting picnics. Henry tackles a timely, newsy topic with such believable insider knowledge, I could swear she is an FBI plant herself.

Released in March, TORCHED is a look at all sides of activism, from the most hopeful and altruistic facets, to the darkest and most desperate. Pick up a copy today! Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: Everyone has looked at the world and wanted to change it: to do more, see more done or take drastic action. No matter the cause. The people in TORCHED act on these impulses and go overboard, putting themselves and others in extreme danger. But Henry doesn’t make any judgments, she lets the characters grapple with their personal philosophies for better or worse. For any teens passionate about social issues or politically aware, this is a really interesting and in-depth take on one girl’s experience with environmental extremism. This book isn’t just for hippies or Greenpeace supporters, however. It’s a book for anyone who has known moments of frustration and powerlessness against huge obstacles, and for anyone who has had to make the difficult decision to do what is right, whatever that murky word might mean to them.

For Writers: Short of climbing a rope and living in a tree for a few nights, I have no idea how Henry got such intimate knowledge about what life up there would’ve been like for Ellie and Coyote. There are many sharply observed and realistic moments in this book and I’m impressed by this author’s research. She also — and this is key — writes about social issues without getting preachy or mounting a soapbox. Many books with a political or social justice theme tend to represent things as black or white. There are characters like this here, but Coyote, Ellie and her parents are testament to the fact that life is always shades of gray. Kudos to Henry for writing a well-researched, thoughtful book that opens up a person’s opinion and understanding of activism. So many other others would tackle this charged subject and accomplish the opposite effect.

Tags: ,

by Suzanne LaFleur
Middle Grade, 272 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0385737746

At the beginning of LOVE, AUBREY, we don’t know what kind of tragedy has rocked Aubrey’s world, we just know she’s utterly alone. As we watch her buy herself a beta fish and putter around her empty house, it emerges that her father and sister died in a car accident and her mother fled from the grief of losing them and the guilt of being behind the wheel. Grandma comes to pick up the pieces and moves Aubrey to Vermont. The two women, young and old, united by tragedy, try to put the pieces of their lives back together while searching for Aubrey’s mother.

Once they find her, it becomes clear that her pain is too raw and she simply isn’t ready to be a mother yet. Aubrey must begin the slow and complicated process of making friends, grappling with her memories and reimagining what home and family mean in this new life of hers.

If only most adults had the strength and grace of this eleven year-old character. Aubrey is so hurt — on many more levels than she’ll ever admit, even to the reader, who knows most of her secret heart — but her wisdom shines brilliantly from these pages. Through writing letters, first to her beta fish, then to her dead sister’s imaginary friend, then to her dad and finally to her mother, she expresses just how strong she’s become, how strong, in fact, she’s always been. These letters cap off chapters in the perfect balance of narrative and the character’s own self-expression.

LaFleur’s writing is a thing of beauty and simplicity. Through Aubrey’s crystal-clear voice, she expresses longing, love, pain and hope with the lightest touch. The reader is always deeply involved in Aubrey’s emotions but never told about them outright. We just know Aubrey so well from the first page that everything she does makes total, resonant, brutally honest emotional sense. When her mother doesn’t come home for Christmas, we know her rage and grief, even if we’ve never experienced her circumstances.

This is the whole point of fiction, the very essence of creating a character who lives and breathes. For such a short, quiet book, LaFleur manages not only startling character development but a fleshed-out plot. Memories, emotions, flickers of new life and tortured pangs of the old combine seamlessly as Aubrey does chores to keep her mind off her grief, goes to a new school, visits with a guidance counselor, rediscovers her relationship with her mom and finally chooses her real home, at least for now.

The tagline of the book is: “She will make you cry. She will make you smile. Aubrey will stay with you forever.” I can’t put it any better than that. In this age of high-concept paranormal adventures, barbed-wire edgy and unrealistic, cookie-cutter romance, sometimes I wonder where all the small, literary books of amazing emotional depth and power are. LOVE, AUBREY is the book I’ve been waiting for (Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY (review) and Carol Lynch Williams’ THE CHOSEN ONE (review) also come to mind). It fills me with utter joy that such a talented writer and such a passionate editor found each other and created this unassuming, completely take-your-breath-away masterpiece.

LOVE, AUBREY comes out on June 9th, 2009. If you’ve forgotten the glorious ache of feeling your entire register of human emotions, read it as soon as you can. You’ll be so glad you did. I didn’t even know how much I needed Aubrey in my life. Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: This book will appeal to middle grade readers as well as, um, everyone on the planet. Buy this for the kids in your life and tell them to pass it on to siblings, parents, grandparents. I’m serious. Everybody needs to read this book and its appeal is so broad, so human, that it will charm and touch each person who comes in contact with it. Of all my recent reads, this one is most likely to stand the test of time. It is a modern classic in my head already and it hasn’t even come out! Yes, I know I’m gushing, but I’m totally allowed.

For Writers: It isn’t often that writers achieve the ultimate goal of transparency, as LaFleur does here. There are some writers, of course, who thrive on their trademark voice, who use it everywhere as an indelible stamp. LaFleur has a style, sure, but as a writer, she completely disappears into Aubrey’s voice, she spins her words without once interrupting the “fictive dream” to call attention to a flourish of writing, a clever joke, an important moment. Most writers, whether consciously or not, just can’t quite get themselves out of their own writing. Not LaFleur. What you see here is all Aubrey, all the time. Please read it. If it doesn’t change your writing, and I’m not sure it will because its lessons are very subtle and complex, it will change the way you see character and it will redefine your boundaries of how deeply into a fictional soul you can go.

Tags: , , , ,

« Older entries