Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Book Review Club - The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister

The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister
By Charlotte Agell
middle grade
(151 pp with some b/w illustration)

I won the advance arc for this book on Sarah Laurence's website and eagerly awaited its arrival. My youngest daughter is a serious Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, Flat Stanley, Geronimo Stilton, you-name-the-series-she'll-read-it kind of kid. I wondered if India would fit the bill.

She more than lived up to my expectations. One of my pet peeves with series books these days is the flatness to the characters. This is not to say they don't have their own quirks, but rather, that they all seem to come from the same amorphous, fictitious middle America neighborhood. It's a great marketing ploy, but gets a little boring after a while, at least for me.

Which is what drew me into this book immediately. India is a adopted from China. Her parents are divorced. Her dad is gay and in a relationship with another man. Her mom is a self-sufficient artist (that really sealed the deal). India lives in a real place, Wolfgang, Maine. It is not middle America. It is a little town with a forest where you can get lost! There is so much texture to this story and its characters. The adventures India has are regular kid adventures. She has a boy who is her friend but not her boyfriend, Colby. He has a crush on a girl India cannot stand. India and Colby sleep out in a field to watch for UFOs. India spends time with her elderly neighbor next door. And all around these adventures is the enticing flavors of real setting, modern day family, and real life.

Go India!

Add to that the gentle illustrations with which Agell enlivens the pages, and it's a winning combination. I cannot wait to read more.

For more adventurous tales, hop over to our fearless leader, Barrie Summy's blog!

On a tangentially related note, I got to see the inside illustrations for my upcoming picture book, ROPE 'EM, that comes out in March 2011 with Kane Miller. Gorgeous (author swoons).

I'm in love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Paradise for Sinners

Somewhere between July and August I think I went from venal to mortal sins regarding the regularity with which I have been posting. I have my excuses...but don't all sinners?

So I was kinda surprised when they still let me into paradise. The Hawaiian version. 

I frantically wrote for two weeks straight, literally day and night, to get that d*@# Master's Thesis rough draft finished so that I could take the long-planned family vacation with my family and not face a mutiny when they found me up in the middle of the night working on the d*@# thesis. It was self-preservation. Really.

So it was with a clean writing slate that I boarded American Airlines Flight 7 for the tropical paradise on earth known as Maui. For two weeks, I did not have to think about scene, setting, objective correlative, plotting (except maybe what I was plotting to do that very day with my kids and husband in that particularly gorgeous setting and the emotions it would evoke). It was glorious. Heaven on earth. Granted, there were times when the blackened coals of the underneath emerged to char my toes, but that's why man invented shoes, right?

I did not want to leave. Ever. Which is probably why I keep setting books in Hawaii. I can't help it. I am drawn to the climate and atmosphere of the South Pacific like a homing pigeon. It is just so...other. So...relaxing. My youngest made the wise point that if I moved there, though, it wouldn't be special anymore. Good point. Routine would set in.

Still, I'd be willing risk it to see if I could ever reach a saturation point living full time in paradise. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Now if I could just write that sinfully successful novel that will get me there!

Until then, here's to dreaming about sand, sun, and the next big wave. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Book Review Club - A Step from Heaven

A Step from Heaven
An Na
middle grade - young adult

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last posting.

I have a really good excuse! Honest.

I'm bogged down in MFA thesis writing. I have to hand in the rough draft on Friday, which means I've had a whole 2.5 weeks to research and write it out. Stress. Where would I be without you?

Still, I wouldn't miss The Book Review Club for anything so I've surfaced for a few short, glorious moments to commune with the outside world...and remind myself, there is an outside world.

Here we go.

A Step from Heaven is the story of a Korean girl, Yung Ju, and her family as they move from Korea to the United States. The story follows the trials the move presents for all of the family members. The father becomes increasingly abusive, until Yung Ju is faced with either turning him in to save her mother's life (as well as her own), or turning a blind eye yet again.

Gripping stuff.

From a craft angle, I really enjoyed the vignette format An Na used to tell her story. The piece begins with Yung Ju and her father at the ocean. He is teaching her to swim. It is an endearing moment. The father is not just a brute, but he loves his daughter. Also, the scene highlights water, which is an underlying current throughout the book.

By telling the story in vignettes, the effect is very aquatic. The vignettes lap against the reader's mind like small waves. Building. Building. Ever building. Until the climax of the story when Yung Ju saves her mother and with one phone call, sweeps her entire family onto a new, healthier emotional trajectory.

The one issue I had with the piece is that, since it begins when Yung Ju is four, she refers to everyone in her family with their Korean titles, i.e. Mother is Uhmma, Grandmother is Halmoni, and Father is Apa. It might just be me, but it took me a chapter to figure out who each of the titles refers to. In the end, I caught on, but it caused me a great deal of initial confusion, as well as raised the question, if I plan to tell a story in first person, with a non-native English speaker, and want to stay true to character, how do I bring in the names of the people closest to my character without confusing my reader? It's a tough question. This approach did not feel satisfactory for me, but at the same time, I am hard pressed to come up with a better one, other than to abandon the foreign names and use ones in English. Tough call.

Nevertheless, this is a phenomenal read. The writing is tight. The flow even. The climb to the climax excellent. The characters well-rounded. And it is fairly quick. So, if you are looking for a short, craft-packed, well-written piece, look no further. A Step from Heaven is your piece.

For other great reads, check out our fearless leader, Barrie Summy's, blog!

Now back to that nagging thesis. Ugh.