Writing last week’s blog about Valentine’s Day picture books and this week’s blog helped me clarify some of my thinking. The author Gary Schmidt (see post of 9/27/12 “Books I Wish I’d Written”) has said that the writer’s job should be to help a child become more human. Picture books are part of building and reinforcing the ties that hold us together. They deal with love in a simple and innocent context.
As a child grows into adolescence and the transition to making his own decisions and judgements, the world is more complex with fewer safeguards. The literature for adolescents, to stay true to this mission of helping human growth, has to venture beyond the “I love you. You love me.” message of early childhood. These books have to provide maps to the dangers and still find a way to reinforce the ties of love.
At the Whittier Bookfaire (see below), I am so pleased to be introducing Laura McNeal, a terrific writer of five novels for young adults. Laura and her husband Tom have collaborated on all but one.
The first three are a trio of books sharing the same setting. The first and the third share a few of the minor characters. The protagonists change from book to book, but commonalities exist including good kids stretching limits and looking for romance (hormones), adults looking for romance, teens treating each other poorly, adults treating each other poorly, betrayers, manipulators (predators) and people doing the best they can under the circumstances. Our heros and heroines make some questionable decisions (the slippery slopes) on their path to maturity.
The books are cautionary, but never preachy. A friend of mine who works with adolescents near the edges of the bell curve is upset about YA books where some situations, such as manipulation, hypocrisy, or date rape, are somehow presented as acceptable. Not so with the McNeals’ books. They are satisfying on more than one level.
The first, CROOKED, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1999, winner of a California Book Award for Juvenile Literature, opens with, “Before everything stopped being normal, the thing that Clara Wilson worried about most was her nose.” That’s all I’m going to tell you except, if sleep is important, don’t read the ending late at night.
ZIPPED, published in 2003 also by Knopf, also goes between the points of view of male and female protagonists. Did I mention that’s a strength of these books?—the male and female perspectives with misunderstood communications floating back and forth.
Writers, note the opening sentence. “It wasn’t a normal Thursday, but all day long it had seemed like one, so when the final bell rang, Mike Nicols did what he normally did.”
CRUSHED, Knopf, 2006, again balances female, male perspectives and unbalances the lives of the characters with betrayals, bullies, and slippery slopes. Good wrap-up to this atypical trilogy. And while you certainly don’t need to read these three in the order written, for some reason, I liked ZIPPED better when I read it after CROOKED rather than before.
THE DECODING OF LANA MORRIS, Knopf, 2007, uses a tiny bit of magic in an otherwise realistic book about a teen in a less-than-ideal foster home. That little seasoning with magic gives this book a beautiful touch. I really love this story. It still has adults and teens treating each other poorly, good kids, predators, hormones, and slippery slopes.
Finally, DARK WATER is Laura McNeal’s solo work, Knopf, 2010. This has a Romeo and Juliet or South Pacific theme set in Fallbrook, California during one of our horrible wildfires and is another good read.
I can’t wait to meet Laura McNeal in person. And her husband, Tom McNeal, author of GOODNIGHT, NEBRASKA and TO BE SUNG UNDERWATER will also be a speaker.
The Bookfaire, taking place at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College on Sat., 3/23/13, is a wonderful event for book lovers. Last year was my first time, and I had an absolute blast! (Keep in mind, this is a “blast” in bookworm terms). Especially wonderful is the opportunity to hear and interact with the authors.
For more information about the speakers, times, tickets and prices, go to www.shannoncenter.org
I can’t wait. I’m already picking out books to buy and get signed. If you do get the opportunity to attend Bookfaire, please say hello. I’d love to meet you.