Friday, May 20, 2011

An Invisible Kid, a Witch, and Tina Fey

What do these three have in common? Not much unless you count the fact that they are all the subject of my reading this past week. I finished reading Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements last weekend and Chime by Franny Billingsley on Monday. I'm sure a wiser person than I could come up with some kind of connection between the three but best I can come up with is that I've enjoyed each one.

Things Not Seen is about a teenage boy who wakes one morning to discover that he's invisible. Yes, you have to suspend disbelief (or is it suspend belief?)but the author takes pains to make it believable and, more importantly, to delve into what the ramifications of such an occurrence would be. This is a great "thinking" book for teens! It begs the, "What would you do?" question and I think teens can really see themselves in the main character Bobby. This is a great read! And I love how Clements' uses the sci-fi details to make the book believable and to reveal his character's struggles. In effect, the fiction serves as a backdrop for the issues all teens can relate to: feeling invisible, fear, helplessness, and alienation.

Chime deals with a different teen struggle-- learning to love oneself. The story is about a teenage girl named Briony who claims she is a witch and should be hanged for her crimes. She then goes back to tell us her story of how it all began. I had trouble locking in on the setting for this book when I first started reading it. I thought maybe it was the Salem witch trials but it turns out it is set outside London in a swamp (are there swamps in England?) in the early twentieth century. It has elements of fantasy, a slow-to-develop but believable romance, and language reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. Briony is convinced that she is responsible for the terrible things that have happened to her family and that the only way to atone for her past evil deeds and prevent future accidents is through reminding herself that she is no good. I'm curious to know what teen girls make of this and I wonder if they see how destructive such negative self-speak is for Briony and consequently for themselves. Overall I found the book satisfying because there is reconciliation and redemption in the end.

I like to vary things up a bit by reading some adult fiction (no, not racy reads, just books that are not specifically geared towards kids). This week I'm reading Bossy Pants. Though this book is meant for adults I'm so glad she has an adolescent boy's sense of humor! Yes, Tina Fey is smart and witty but when it comes right down to it, she loves to talk about bodies and awkward, embarrassing moments. I've been laughing hard through every chapter!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Help

I'm always surprised when I hear an author speak. Does anyone ever feel that way, too? I guess I get so wrapped up in the way in which a writer writes that I think that he or she must talk, think, and act the way their characters do. Or I think that authors must be more than human to really get people. Well, anyway, once again I was struck by the prosaic reality that authors are just people when I attended an author reading/ book signing by Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. I loved this book! I was sad when it ended because I had really come to love some of the characters! So I suppose it was inevitable that I would build up the author in my mind as some sort of otherworldly creature. Ms. Stockett was amazingly down to earth (she complimented me on my dress!!), funny in a wry sort of way, and very humble. She has written an amazing book about a subject that many of us find difficult to talk about, namely race relations, yet she said last night that she did not write this book to teach a lesson (she said she did not feel qualified do so) and she seemed amazed that people would actually want to read it let alone like it! I found it very interesting that she was inspired to write this story out of a need to comfort herself while struggling through the uncertainty of September 11th (she was living in New York when the Trade Center towers were struck). She said everyone had an instinctive need to call their loved ones but most were unable to do so because phone lines and Internet connections were disabled. One of the people Stockett wanted to talk to couldn't be reached even if communications were up and running because this person was no longer living. Demetrie had raised Stockett and her siblings and took care of the family's home until she died when Stockett was 16. The closeness that Stockett felt with this tiny black woman who grew up in the Depression-era South, got Stockett wondering what was it like to be black in Mississippi and work for a white family. This wondering led to her first book which turned out to be a bestseller!
Authors are just people. Obviously. But authors like Stockett have a super ability to wonder and ask and then sit with an idea until something wonderful is born. I can't wait to see what she will bring into the world next!