“The Leftovers” a novel by Tom Perrotta
Laurie Garvey hadn’t been raised to believe in the Rapture. She hadn’t been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself.
What happens when neighbors, classmates, wives, husbands, children, celebrities simply vanish one day? October 14 to be exact. This Rapture-like event is dubbed the “Sudden Departure” The novel focuses on the small town of Mapleton and its residents who choose to either go on with their lives in this new world, or change the world or demonize those who were taken in an attempt to prove that it wasn’t the Rapture. It’s an amazing premise that Perrotta bring to life, making it seem entirely plausible.
What I learned: that any premise can be portrayed as plausible if you focus on the characters and their inner lives.
“In Zanesville” a novel by Jo Ann Beard
We can’t believe the house is on fire.
With that first line, this novel’s fourteen-year-old narrator hooked me. Set in a small Midwestern town in the 1970’s, “In Zanesville” explores that precarious moment in adolescence and friendship when everything tips and suddenly the balance of everything is in question. I loved how the novel is strung like a strand of beads, each scene beautiful and marred, funny and heartbreaking.
What I learned: That I absolutely love a good strong adolescent voice.
“Paper Covers Rock” a YA novel by Jenny Hubbard
When my dad gave me this journal two years ago and said “Fill it with your impressions,” I imagine he had a more idyllic portrait of boarding school life in mind.
After lying about details of an accident in which a fellow classmate dies, Alex seeks refuge in a journal inspired by “Moby Dick.” The first entry is titled “Call Me Is Male.” Glenn, also a witness to the accident and one of the more popular boys at boarding school, aligns himself with Alex, convinced that someone else was at the river that day. When the young female English teacher takes a special interest in Alex’s writing, recognizing his talent as well as the pain or guilt driving it, Glenn is sure that she knows more about the accident than she’s let on and is trying to trap the boys. The voice hooked me from the first sentence as well as the literary references and the story kept me turning the pages until I finished the book in about a day.
What I learned: That a unique structure adds depth to the story.
“Long drive Home” a novel by Will Allison
It’s hard for me to imagine the person you’ll be when you read this – probably on your way to college and a life of your own.
This story was hard to read because it hits at one of my big fears- those split-second decisions that people make that end in tragedy. Glen Bauer is driving his daughter home when he encounters a reckless driver. In an instant he decides to jerk the wheel, intending to scare him but what happens is much worse. In another impulsive act, Glen chooses to lie about what actually happened, to the police, his daughter, his wife. Woven throughout the story is a letter he writes to his daughter, for her to read when she is older, trying to tell the truth to her, a confession of sorts.
What I learned: That whatever emotion is buried within the character guides the plot since it guides his actions. So it’s essential as a writer to know what deep feelings your character harbors.
“Forgotten” a YA novel by Cat Patrick
Aren’t Fridays supposed to be good?
London Lane is a sixteen-year-old high school student whose memory is erased every night. She wakes up not knowing what happened the day before and relies on lists she makes before going to sleep, reminding her of what she wore to school, what homework she has and what social interactions she needs to be aware of. Not only does she not remember her past, but she has flashes of her future and those around her. Her mother and best friend are the only people who know her secret. London has set up a structure that works for her, but when a new boy starts at her school, things get complicated. Could not put this book down. Pretty sure I devoured it in one day. My kids think I’m crazy.
What I learned: how much I adore a quirky premise made plausible, in this case the idea of remembering the future but not the past.
“Displacement” a YA novel by Thalia Chaltas
Miracle Whip on white,
A crunchy tomato slab.
The desert’s veggie sandwich.
Eager to shed the life she left behind, Vera finds herself in a tiny, out of the way mining desert town with an eclectic group of neighbors. She finds a job, a house to live in but is unable to find peace as she realizes that her memories followed her out into the desert. Told in an amazing series of prose poems in Vera’s completely engaging voice, the story is both deeply felt and heartbreaking. Another one that I couldn’t put down. Read it in less than a day.
What I learned: Because of the prose poem structure, I noticed how every single word matters and how the breaking down of those sentences matters just as much.
“Jumping Off Swings” a YA novel by Jo Knowles
I can still feel a trace of his warm lips against mine as he slips away from me and fumbles for the door to his father’s van.
Ellie yearns for a real boyfriend, and each time she hooks up with a boy she is sure it will different. Well, this time it is different. Not the boy, but the consequence. She ends up pregnant. Told in alternating points of view between, Ellie; the boy, Josh; her best friend Corrine and Josh’s friend, Caleb we see how a teen pregnancy not only effects the two teens and their families but also their friends. It is a compelling look at teenage sexuality and pregnancy, one that compelled me to keep turning the pages.
What I learned: That such a universal story needs to be grounded in details of actual characters.
“Turn- The Journal of an Artist” by Anne Truitt
Our rented holiday cottage sits lightly on sand, from which harsh grasses stick up raggedly and prick our bare feet.
While working in a hospital in clinical psychology, Truitt enrolled in a night class to study sculpture. It was her first experience with visual art and it fit her. Instead of furthering her career in medicine, she pursued a life in art. Gutsy,yes? I picked up her first journal years, (perhaps even decades?) ago. In this journal she is coming to terms with old age and the limitations as well as freedom that it brings. Her children are grown and thus their relationship must grow as well. She details her days and the world and people around her with a careful eye, delving into the sensuousness of the world but also digging deeper into her own creative process. She reminds of a cross between May Sarton and Vivian Swift (minus the charming illustrations) both of whom I also highly recommend.
What I learned: That the tension required for creative work is similar no matter what the form. Writing of a sculpture in process: “”The large sculpture I am working on is at once strange to me because I do not know its heart, except as a tremble in my own, and familiar because it looks to me like mine. As I work on it, I scarcely dare breathe lest the tension between me and it will break.” I feel that same way with writing a new story, the difference is that it tends to scare me away whereas she seems to embrace it as an inevitable part of the process.