I’m often amazed at how little history I know. Sure I’ve got a working knowledge of the big events. The big wars. The big men and women who shaped history. And yet, truth be told, those are usually not the events and people that most fascinate me. I’m drawn in by those who were forgotten. The quiet heros. The stories that didn’t get told. The people and events that didn’t make the history books. Christina Baker Kline has given us such a story with this month’s book club selection, ORPHAN TRAIN. And we are very thankful to her for doing so.
The generous folks at William Morrow publishers are giving away ten copies of ORPHAN TRAIN to our readers this month. (U.S. residents only) Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win. And as always we’ll be doing a Twitter chat with the author and discussing the book with our online book club at the end of the month. We’d love you to join us for both.
About the novel:
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.
Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer and editor. In addition to Orphan Train, her novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines and Sweet Water. She is Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University and an on-staff editor and writing coach at the social networking site SheWrites.com.
Note: I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Melissa since she acquired my forthcoming novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, for Doubleday last September. I know a bit about her editorial style but very little about her personal reading tastes. So I invited her to share some recommendations with us today: one novel she edited, and one she didn’t. Melissa has kindly offered to give a copy of PARLOR GAMES to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment on this post if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.
I have a weakness for unreliable narrators, so when Maryka Biaggio’s debut novel, PARLOR GAMES, first hit my inbox, I put it at the very top of my submission pile. Part Becky Sharp, part CATCH ME IF YOU CAN’S Frank Abagnale, this historical romp chronicles the life and times of May Dugas, a beautiful con-artist whose escapades spanned the Gilded Age and took her all around the world.
The novel is framed by a trial occurring in 1917 where an older May finds herself accused of extorting money from a friend—a charge that our alluring protagonist vehemently denies. Fearful that details revealed during this trial will be twisted to make her look like the bad guy, May entreats the reader to hear her version of events. She promises a truthful account, but it’s immediately clear that we’re dealing with a woman who knows how to spin a story, cover her tracks and get what she wants.
May takes on an intimate tone, drawing us into her confidences in such a way that readily explains why so many men (and some women) fell prey to her charms. I have to confess that it’s so fun to be in May’s orbit that it was only after one faintly disquieting revelation after another—about how she’s seduced and swindled, enchanted and entrapped—that I realized the full extent of her transgressions. She would certainly like us to believe that this is a tale of an innocent corrupted by an unfair world or that she did it all to support her beloved family, but regardless of whether or not the reader buys into these claims, it’s hard not to root for (or at the very least, respect) May as she traipses across countries, hearts and the law.
In a sense, it’s even harder to believe that this novel is based on a true story. As Maryka recently wrote in a blog for Huffington Post, we say that the truth is stranger than fiction so often that it’s become a bit cliché. And yet, it’s a cliché that I find myself constantly gravitating towards in my reading—both for work and for pleasure. Although very fine plots and characters in historical fiction have been the product of pure invention (after nailing the period detail of course), there is almost a voyeuristic appeal in reimagining a life already lived. Here, we see a glamorous existence lived just a step ahead of the law–until, that is, May’s past catches up with her.
The novel that I didn’t edit falls into a very different category, but features a style that could also justifiably be called unreliable—if only because it’s narrated by a child who bears witnesses to events that she can’t fully comprehend even as she faithfully recounts the sensory detail.
NoViolet Bulawayo’s WE NEED NEW NAMES (on-sale 5/21) opens in a Zimbabwe shantytown in 2008. 10-year-old Darling and her friends spend their days stealing guavas and playing games like “Find Bin Laden”—scenes that so perfectly capture the universal preoccupations of childhood. This coupled with the powerful, pretense-free narration by Darling exposes the distance between how these children see the world and the harsher reality that an adult reader can intuit.
Their homes have been destroyed and the schools shut down amidst political upheaval; deep, gnawing hunger and AIDS have become so ubiquitous that they’re hardly worthy of description but operate forcefully in the background. Luckily for Darling, her aunt lives in America, and the young girl has placed all her hopes in this sparkling country without fully realizing what she’ll sacrifice or the challenges she’ll face when she finally moves to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The book has two distinct parts, and although America stands in such stark contrast to life in Zimbabwe, the bigger gulf is between Darling’s expectations for America and what she experiences once she’s actually there. This is not to say her life in America is marked by tragedy or exploitation that sometimes accompanies this type of novel. Instead, humorous moments mingle with nuanced observations and Bulawayo shifts the tonal register so expertly as Darling navigates the pitfalls of both assimilation and adolescence that it’s an even more gripping read than if there were high-octane drama involved.
Questions of identity and alienation definitely loom large in this novel and there are scenes punctuated with violence and heartbreak, but the characters and plot never feel like part of a message while Darling’s point of view is pretty much pitch perfect to my ear. The only point where Bulawayo breaks this spell is in a powerful chorus-style narration that gives voice to not only those from her country and continent but the full-spectrum of immigration.
Following in the tradition of other novels of displacement, but with a beguiling rawness that’s uniquely its own, WE NEED NEW NAMES is a beautiful and haunting book that provides an intimate window into one young woman’s experiences, overturns preconceived notions and entertains in equal measure. It’s a book that will stay with me long after the last page.
Today’s post by Bonnie Grove of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove
I’ve finished writing a novel this week. A three-year journey of frustration and hope. As I combed through one last time before sending it off, I lingered over the pages that contained song lyrics. There are lyrics from eight songs in the manuscript. Snippets mostly, the apt verses that fit the moment in the book, except for one song I transcribed in its entirety. The songs had to be included in the manuscript because they add a dimension of emotional expression unattainable through any other method.
Music and novels are, for me, two sides of the same storytelling coin.
When I was a kid, I had bemoaned the fact that a soundtrack did not accompany real life the way it did in movies. It wasn’t until as an adult, I looked back and saw that I had created a soundtrack for my life after all. Summers were Chicago’s power ballads on a sandy beach holding hands with a boy I’d met two days ago. And The Beach Boys singing oldies but goodies while I learned to waterski and windsurf (I was terrible at both). Grade 11 was the soundtrack to Purple Rain as my friends and I acted out each song. (I was a drama geek.) The stories in those songs became my story.
How does that happen?
I think part of the answer is that storytelling is the creative connection between people and life. Both the novel, with its long view of unfolding events, and the song with its explosion of emotion capsuled in a few verses, weave themselves into our life journeys and help us express a prism of meaning and depth we cannot articulate on our own.
The lyrics from the eight songs I included in the manuscript add emotional depth and dimension to the story. A mother holding her child sings,
Baby mine, don’t you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
never to part, baby of mine
A fisherman faced with the daunting task of making an outsider understand how his life and livelihood have been wiped out sings,
They filled their dories twice a day
They fished their poor sweet lives away
They could not imagine then
No more fish, no fishermen.
The songs become something beyond language and usher us into the place of feeling and experiencing. Story weaves into story. A novel’s reach is extended by the songs ability to quickly touch the tender talon of longing, the ache in the bone, the explosion of hope.
I no longer bemoan the fact that life doesn’t come with a soundtrack. I’m convinced we create our own soundtrack thought the creative connection of storytelling both with the stories we read, and the music we listen to.
How about you? Which novels and/or songs have woven into the fabric of your life?
My husband and I play this game. It goes like this:
He says: “______ is awesome. One of the best movies ever.”
And I say: “The book was better.”
He says: “NO WAY that was a book. You totally made that up.”
And I say: “I read it when I was fifteen. The author’s name is ______. It won such-and-such award. There’s a REASON it was made into a movie. Because it’s CLASSIC.”
Then he says. “You’re so full of it. That’s why your eyes are brown.”
And then I pull up Amazon. And I win. Every time.
So, in his honor, I thought I’d introduce you, my reading friends to two movies that you may not know were books first.
For those who don’t believe me, the book summary from Amazon:
William Goldman’s modern fantasy classic is a simple, exceptional story about quests—for riches, revenge, power, and, of course, true love—that’s thrilling and timeless. Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.
Why I remember it: This line, “The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.” I still laugh when I think of it.
FLETCH by Gregory McDonald
Yes, Fletch. I’ll wait a minute as you stare at your screen, agape, while images of Chevy Chase and roller skates, and water buffalos scroll through your mind.
It’s true. The summary from Amazon:
He’s taking more than a little flack from his editor. She doesn’t appreciate his style. Or the expense account items he’s racking up. Or his definition of the word deadline. Or the divorce lawyers who keep showing up at the office.
So when multimillionaire Alan Stanwyk offers Fletch the job of a lifetime, which could be worth a fortune, he’s intrigued and decides to do a little investigation. What he discovers is that the proposition is anything but what it seems.
We’ve got a copy of Lisa’s debut novel, PASTOR’S WIVES, up for grabs today. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win!
If you’d told me five years ago I’d publish a novel and shoot a TV pilot in the same month, I would have laughed.
If you’d told me they’d both be about faith, I’d have laughed so hard I’d have the hiccups for hours.
No one I know would describe me as religious. I was raised Catholic and practiced into my 30s, but Catholics—we’re private about our faith. Forget the yells and bells of more expressive denominations; we barely manage to mumble the liturgy in Mass. We don’t thumb the Bible on the subway. We don’t praise Jesus in polite conversation. We’re outed once a year by that smudge of ash on our foreheads.
In 2008, my mother died. She died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, each step of which my siblings and I witnessed in ever heightening despair. Nine months later, our father died of a broken heart.
My parents were the root of my faith. My father was a former Catholic priest who removed the collar to marry my mother, who had in turn converted from Buddhism. They taught me all I knew of faith and love. They remained devout till their last. As I sat weeping by her bedside at the hospital, my mother said to me: “Remember this. You are not alone. You always have Him.”
When they died, I felt forsaken.
I quit my job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and my career in journalism. Inspired by an article I had written for Time, I began Pastors’ Wives, a novel about three women whose lives were defined and dictated by faith, married as they were to pastors at a Southern evangelical megachurch. I imagined their dreams and frustrations, their trials and triumphs.
After the novel sold to Penguin/Plume, I wrote a TV pilot inspired by my father called The Ordained. It’s about a priest who becomes a lawyer in order to protect his family, a New York political dynasty. It was bought by CBS last fall, and we just wrapped shooting in April. We’ll find out in mid-May if it will be picked up for series.
We writers have the great privilege of writing through our issues. My crisis of faith led me to write stories that, in their recording, led me to a kind of peace.
But I’d gladly trade that for just one more sunset at the Jersey shore, joking and laughing with my family, holding my parents’ hands.
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. Her father was a Roman Catholic priest from Philadelphia, sent by his religious order to a provincial city in southern Japan where he met Cullen’s mother—she converted, he left the priesthood to marry her.
Lisa Cullen was a foreign correspondent and staff writer for Time magazine, covering social trends, news, arts and business in the U.S. and Asia. Her first book, Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, was about the year she spent crashing funerals and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. She now writes novels and develops television pilots. Pastors’ Wives is her first novel, and Lisa recently sold a pilot about a former priest who becomes a lawyer to CBS. Production on the first episode of The Ordained is now in production. Cullen lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.
Learn more about Lisa Takeuchi Cullen and Pastors’ Wives at www.lisacullen.com. Readers can also friend Lisa on Facebook, become a fan on Lisa’s Facebook author page (LisaTakeuchiCullen), or follow her on Twitter (@LisaCullen).
Today’s post by author Maria Goodin |
The older I get, the more time appears to speed up. I talk to people about ‘last summer’ only to remember the event I’m describing occurred two years ago. I forget to organize dentist appointments, convinced that I only went for a check up the other week. Even little things like shopping lists throw me into confusion; didn’t I just go shopping yesterday? If so then why do we have no food in the house?
Nothing makes time go faster for me than writing. I’m not one of these people who can scribble a few lines here and there, on the bus, in the bath, whilst stirring cheese sauce on the hob. I need hours in front of me. Three of them at least. It takes me half an hour to read through what I have previously written in order to get in the creative frame of mind, and that’s before I even start writing. But once I get going the concept of time is lost to me.
I wrote my first novel over the course of a year, only writing perhaps two or three days a month whenever the weekend allowed it, but on the days I wrote I would sit down first thing in the morning and could still be there at ten o’clock at night. Eating was a nuisance and only something I remembered to do once my stomach was rumbling. An aching back or a dead leg would eventually remind me that I had been sitting in the same position for hours. The increasing gloom would force me to acknowledge that somehow morning had turned into afternoon had turned into evening. I would finally emerge from my writing cocoon stiff, sore, thirsty, red-eyed from hours in front of the screen and a little confused about where the day had gone.
In my novel my central character, Meg, tries to slow down time. In the face of her mother’s terminal illness she tries to stretch out those final days, doing as little as possible so that their time together feels longer. But she is forced to accept that she is fighting a losing battle. Time is like sand, slipping through her fingers. It’s a cruel fact of life that the moments you would chose to cling to forever are the ones that rush past you at high speed. How is it that time goes so slowly when you having a quiet day at the office or waiting for a train on a cold platform, yet that holiday you had been looking forward to is over in the blink of an eye, and surely your child can’t be going to school already.
One reader said my novel made them think about what’s important in life. If that’s the case, then I deem that a great achievement. You can’t stop life’s precious moments in their tracks, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is simply to acknowledge how precious those moments really are.
Maria Goodin is the author of From the Kitchen of Half Truth. She trained to be a teacher and therapist before working as a counselor. Based on her award-winning short story, From the Kitchen of Half Truth was inspired by her interest in psychological defenses. Maria lives in Hertfordshire, England with her husband, son and cat. This is her first novel.
Spring has sprung and around these parts we’re more apt to fill our baskets with books, not flowers! So we thought we’d share some sweet stories you might want to tuck in a book basket yourself. Look for these books releasing in April and May!
When the concierge of The Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building, invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings of Downton Abbey, four very different people find themselves connecting with the addictive drama, and—even more unexpectedly—with each other…
Samantha Davis married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money—for herself and for her orphaned brother and sister. She never expected her marriage to be complicated by love and compromised by a shattering family betrayal.
Claire Walker is now an empty nester and struggling author who left her home in the suburbs for the old world charm of The Alexander, and for a new and productive life. But she soon wonders if clinging to old dreams can be more destructive than having no dreams at all.
And then there’s Brooke MacKenzie, a woman in constant battle with her faithless ex-husband. She’s just starting to realize that it’s time to take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that her life is not the fairy tale she thought it would be.
For Samantha, Claire, Brooke—and Edward, who arranges the weekly gatherings—it will be a season of surprises as they forge a bond that will sustain them through some of life’s hardest moments—all of it reflected in the unfolding drama, comedy, and convergent lives of Downton Abbey.
In this luminous prequel to her beloved Cobbled Court Quilt series, New York Times bestselling author, Marie Bostwick, takes readers into the heart of a small Texas town and the soul of a woman who discovers her destiny there.
Welcome to Too Much — where the women are strong and the men are handsome but shiftless. Ever since Mary Dell and her twin sister Lydia Dale were children, their Aunt Velvet has warned them away from local boys. But it’s well known that the females in Mary Dell’s family share two traits – superior sewing skills and a fatal weakness for men.
While Lydia Dale grows up petite and pretty, Mary Dell just keeps growing. Tall, smart, and sassy, she is determined to one day turn her love of sewing into a business. Meanwhile, she’ll settle for raising babies with her new husband, Donny. But that dream proves illusive too, until finally, Mary Dell gets the son she always wanted — a child as different as he is wonderful. As Mary Dell is forced to reconsider what truly matters, she begins to piece together a life that, like the colorful quilts she creates, will prove vibrant, rich, and absolutely unforgettable.
Tess Delaney makes a living restoring stolen treasures to their rightful owners. People like Annelise Winther, who refuses to sell her long-gone mother’s beloved necklace—despite Tess’s advice. To Annelise, the jewel’s value is in its memories.
But Tess’s own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. So Tess is shocked when she discovers the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. And that she has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel.
The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she’s never heard of.
Against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep. A place where falling in love is not only possible, but inevitable.
And in a season filled with new experiences, Tess begins to see the truth in something Annelise once told her: if you don’t believe memories are worth more than money, then perhaps you’ve not made the right kind of memories.
On New Year’s Eve, Fran and Will Parrish host a dinner party, serving their friends a gourmet feast. The night is such a success that the group decides to form a monthly dinner party club. But what starts as an excuse to enjoy the company of fellow foodies ends up having lasting repercussions on each member of the Table for Seven Dinner Party Club.
Fran and Will face the possibility that their comfortable marriage may not be as infallible as they once thought. Audrey has to figure out how to move on and start a new life after the untimely death of her young husband. Perfectionist Jaime suspects that her husband, Mark, might be having an affair. Coop, a flirtatious bachelor who never commits to a third date, is blindsided when he falls in love for the first time. Leland, a widower, is a wise counselor and firm believer that bacon makes everything taste better.
Over the course of a year, against a backdrop of mouthwatering meals, relationships are forged, marriages are tested, and the members of the Table for Seven Dinner Party Club find their lives forever changed.
From The Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin
Meg May doesn’t know what’s true. And she needs to find out.
Imaginative and free-spirited, Meg’s mother created a life out of stories. Outlandish stories, really, the kind you can’t possibly believe—unless your mother won’t tell you anything else about your past. After all, how do you argue with someone who tells you that a spaghetti plant sprouted on your first birthday, that you used to take hot dogs for a walk, or that your father died in a tragic pastry-mixing accident?
But as charming as those stories are, they aren’t enough for Meg anymore. When her mother becomes ill, Meg decides she has to know the truth. As the two spend one last summer together, Meg can’t convince her mother to reveal a thing about who they used to be—or who they are now.
A delicious debut, full of warmth and quirky humor, From the Kitchen of Half Truth explores the stories we tell ourselves and others in order to create the lives we want.
Dear Libby, It occurs to me that you and your two children have been living with your mother for—Dear Lord!—two whole years, and I’m writing to see if you’d like to be rescued.
The letter comes out of the blue, and just in time for Libby Moran, who—after the sudden death of her husband, Danny—went to stay with her hypercritical mother. Now her crazy Aunt Jean has offered Libby an escape: a job and a place to live on her farm in the Texas Hill Country. Before she can talk herself out of it, Libby is packing the minivan, grabbing the kids, and hitting the road.
Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm is both more wonderful and more mysterious than Libby could have imagined. Beyond the animals and the strenuous work, there is quiet—deep, country quiet. But there is also a shaggy, gruff (though purportedly handsome, under all that hair) farm manager with a tragic home life, a formerly famous feed-store clerk who claims she can contact Danny “on the other side,” and the eccentric aunt Libby never really knew but who turns out to be exactly what she’s been looking for. And despite everything she’s lost, Libby soon realizes how much more she’s found. She hasn’t just traded one kind of crazy for another: She may actually have found the place to bring her little family—and herself—back to life.
Sometimes an author share the music they listened to while writing the book. But Patti chose to share the songs that are actually in AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Have a few spare minutes this morning? We’d encourage you to listen to what she calls a “wildly eclectic” playlist. Nothing will help you discover the mood of this novel like the music found within.
You can hear all the songs right here on Spotify. Or you can search for them one by one. Here’s the list:
“I’ll Be Seeing You” (Fain and Kahal) by
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (Meatloaf)
“Brown Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)
“L’Amour” Carla Bruni
“Danny Boy” (Irish Traditional by Celtic Thunder)
“Cotton Eyed Joe” (Starsound Orchestra)
“He’s Mine” (Rodney Atkins)
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Michael Buble’)
“Let It Snow” (Diana Krall)
One of our goals at She Reads is to provide you with a broad range of book recommendations from a wide variety of readers. So today we have the pleasure of hearing from Melissa Carpenter, a middle school teacher in North Carolina. Like many women around the country she has a passion for Young Adult fiction. And we think this novel is one you’ll really respond to–and one that you’ll want to share with your teen readers.
The Young Adult genre is not just for teens anymore. Increasingly, YA authors are reaching an adult readership, especially among women in their 20’s-40’s. There are lots of theories out there as to why this is happening, and they’re all interesting, but my firm belief is that it comes down to great writing and excellence in story-telling.
Sara Zarr is one of those authors whose books reach both teenage and adult audiences. She touches my heart with her words in a way that is unforgettable. This is especially evident in her most recent YA title, How to Save a Life.
In How to Save a Life, we get to see both sides of a very emotional adoption story. Zarr tells this story through alternating viewpoints from two intriguing and vulnerable teenage girls. One is Mandy, a teenage girl in the beyond difficult position of being pregnant, without her family’s support, and determined to give her baby a life better than the one she has lived so far. The other is Jill, a seventeen year-old that has just experienced the death of her father and discovers that her mom is “replacing” one lost family member with the adoption of another, who happens to be Mandy’s baby. The girls are flawed and heartbreakingly honest in the tough journeys that ultimately end up in a beautiful, graceful place where you’ll find yourself identifying with them even if you’ve never been in their positions.
The teen pregnancy and adoption storyline is hugely relevant for so many teenagers and their families, and while the subject of teen pregnancy might seem like a high school only topic to some, Zarr is able to handle this topic without sensationalizing it. I’d be perfectly comfortable with having this title in my middle school classroom, which is at a pretty conservative school. On the flip side, this book is written so well that older teen and adult readers will feel like it was written just for them.
How to Save a Life is, overall, a compelling story of love and compassion that simply must be read. The story of this family will stick with you long past the final page.
Sara Zarr’s next book, The Lucy Variations, hits bookstores on May 7th. From what I’ve read so far, it promises to be another emotional and inspirational read. I can’t wait!
Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of five novels for young adults, including The Lucy Variations, to be published in May 2013. She’s a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. Her books have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, the Guardian, the International Reading Association, the New York Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library, and have been translated into many languages. In 2010, she served as a judge for the National Book Award. She has written essays and creative nonfiction for Image, Hunger Mountain online, and Response as well as for several anthologies, and has been a regular contributor to Image‘s daily Good Letters blog on faith, life, and culture. As of summer 2013, she’s a member of the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Born in Cleveland and raised in San Francisco, she currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband.
Question for you: what is the best Young Adult novel you’ve read lately?
We’re giving away a copy of Kim’s novel, THE WISDOM OF HAIR, today. Leave a comment on this post to be entered.
My life reads a little like a fairy tale, but not like you think. I had two older sisters who were thirteen months apart, not quite Irish twins but close enough that they cannon balled into the gene pool and got all the good chromosomes. Or at least the ones that are considered important 0-21 years old. They were great students in all their subjects, even math, and great test takers, turning in eye-popping scores on their SATs.
Meanwhile, I was sitting on the end of my bed every report card period with my sweet Mom, who in a very loving, non-threatening, and mostly bewildered kind of way, wondered out loud, “Why can’t you be like your sisters?”
Fast forward enough years to make me blush and WALLAH! I’ve written a book called The Wisdom of Hair that a real publisher paid good money for and people can actually buy. This has absolutely nothing to do with my earlier whining, I just like to say it.
ANYHOW, my point in said whining is that I was extremely ADHD and didn’t know it until my kids were diagnosed about fifteen years after the last time my mom sat me down. For that.
In The Wisdom of Hair, Sarah Jane Farquhar is protagonist Zora Adams’ best friend. Sarah Jane is a hair progeny who enrolls in beauty school but knows she’ll never be able to pass the written state exam because can’t remember anything she reads. Unless of course she’s highly interested in it.
Zora refuses to accept the fact that Sarah Jane is so talented but can’t pass a test to save her soul, so she figures out a way to make Sara Jane’s ADHDness work for her.
Sara Jane made a D+ on the next test. Both of us were proud, like she had just won the Nobel Prize for hair. I’d figured out a way to help her memorize facts she thought she could never remember, like the names of frontal facial muscles, by turning anatomy into a trashy romance. One muscle was the heroine, another the hero, and nerves and sinus cavities were the villains. Smaller, less significant muscles were the servants or animals. I swear, if Mrs. Cathcart had written that test the way Sara Jane learned it, I know she would have made an A+.
Although it didn’t seem so great growing up, and nobody had a clue as to what my “problem” actually was, aside from getting the storytelling gift from my grand pa, being ADHD is probably the best thing I could have gotten out of the gene pool. It makes me laser focused on my story, and when the rest of the world is paying attention to the stuff they’re supposed to be noticing, I’m seeing things they over look. Things that make my writing richer.
The day of my daddy’s funeral, I cut my bangs until they were the length of those little paintbrushes that come with dime-store watercolor sets. I was nine years old.
People asked me why I did it, but I was too young then to know I was changing my hair because I wanted to change my life.”
In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.
With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn’t save Mama, but maybe she can save him
As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life—except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately… forgiveness.