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Living Backwards & Steering by Starlight

Living Backwards & Steering by Starlight

This fall I’m doing a work-study at Willow Street Yoga. In exchange for working two hours a week, I get one yoga class per week for free. Pretty sweet deal. Not only does this appeal to my frugal side, I also like meeting the people I practice with and feeling more connected to the yoga community.

One interesting thing that Willow Street offers is “Living Yoga” classes. According to their website, in these classes they “combine yoga and discussion, group coaching and self-work, to co-create empowered, expanded self-conception, and supportive, intentional community.”

As hippie-dippie as this sounds, it makes a lot of sense. Westerners tend to think of yoga as exercise, but yoga should also include mental and spiritual components. In fact, I remember reading somewhere that the physical yoga poses were originally created in order to help yogis sit longer in meditation.

This fall, one of the living yoga classes is reading Steering by Starlight by Martha Beck. I’m not taking the class, but I picked up the book at the library out of curiosity, and because I’m a fan of Beck’s memoir, Expecting Adam. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did like the first chapter, which was about starting at the end.

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In this chapter, Beck says to think about the things you want in life and think about how you will feel when you get them. Then imagine that you already have those things and try to live your life in that “feeling-state.” She calls this “living backwards.” She suggests you actively, vividly imagine that you have gotten the thing you want and then focus on that visualization for a full ten minutes – every day. She guaruntees that you will be amazed by the results.

It sounds hokey, I know, but when I applied the idea to something in my life, it started to make sense. I want to write books that get published by a major publishing house. I think that when this happens I will feel more confident in my writing (and stressing about it less means I will enjoy it more). I will also feel more confident and secure in my life decisions – that pursuing this difficult goal was the “right thing to do.”

So, according to Martha Beck, I should live my life as if I’ve already published books. Who says I can’t feel confident in my writing and confident in my life decisions right now? There’s nothing stopping me except for my own mind.

Beck says that some of her clients push back against this idea, saying things like:

“Well, if I just wanted to feel good by deluding myself, of course I could do it… Anyone can feel good. What I want is to get ahead.”

To this Beck says,

“If you agree that it is better to look good than to feel good, be my guest – stay miserable. But please bear in mind that as a miserable person, you’ll have a much harder time getting ahead.”

And it’s true. When I stress about my writing – Is this good enough? Why haven’t I been published yet? What must people think of me? – not only does it feel unpleasant, but it makes the writing more difficult as well.

Better to start at the end. I will publish books with a major house. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will, so there’s no need for me to stress or lack confidence. I can enjoy my writing and feel secure in my decisions, knowing that I will get what I want in the end. Delusional? Perhaps. But isn’t it a more pleasant way to live?

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Noose pose.  photo credit.

 

Ironically, when I went for my free yoga class the other day, the teacher talked about starting at the end, too. She showed us a deep twist called “noose pose” and explained that we were working towards a full bind with our arms.

“This is the someday pose,” she said. “You may not be there yet, and that’s okay. There are still a lot of interesting things to learn along the way.”

Beginning yoga students often feel bad about themselves when they can’t get into a certain pose. (And beginning writers often feel bad about themselves when they aren’t published.) But instead of feeling bad (because what’s the use in that?) you should hold firmly the knowledge that someday you will get there, and in that way you will have the confidence to enjoy yourself now and learn a thing or two as you work your way towards “the end.”

Review of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Review of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

As a woman, as a Virginian, and as a former high school math teacher, the topic of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures both excited and moved me. She tells the true story of the black, female mathematicians who, during the labor shortages of World War II, came to work at NASA’s Langely Field campus in Hampton, Virginia. These “human computers,” most of whom had previously worked as underpaid math teachers in segregated public schools, stayed on at NASA after the war ended and became an important part of America’s race into space.

Fascinating, right? Totally. Except I had some trouble actually getting through the book.

Largely this was due to my taste in books. I was hoping for a highly-personal narrative that closely followed the lives of these brilliant women. I was hoping, to be honest, for another The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (a highly-personal nonfiction book that I devoured in two days). But that is simply not what Hidden Figures is.

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I received Hidden Figures for review from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours

 

The book does follow four women in particular: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. We learn about their personal lives as well as their careers and contributions to NASA. But it is done in a much more distant way than The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; instead of staying close to these women’s stories, the book often spans way out to address the wider historical context. For example:

So far, Hampton Roads had avoided the strife that had befallen Detroit, Mobile, and Los Angeles, where tensions between whites and blacks (and in Los Angeles, between Mexican, Negro, and Filipino zoot-suited youths and the white servicemen who attacked them) boiled over into violent confrontations…

…Negro resistance to this injustice had been a constant ever since the first ship carried enslaved Africans to Old Point Comfort on Hampton’s shores in 1609. The war, however, and the rhetoric that accompanied it created an urgency in the black community to call in the long overdue debt their country owed them.

 

Margot Lee Shetterly AP Photo by Aran Shetterly

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampon, VA where she knew many of the women in Hidden Figures.

 

Also, unlike The Immortal Life, Shetterly, as the author, stays firmly behind the scenes (except for in the Prologue which, as it happens, was one of my favorite parts).  But all of this is not to say that Hidden Figures is bad or unreadable. The opposite, in fact.  It is a beautiful-written and expertly-researched book about a fascinating topic. It is the perfect book for people who love history and/or love reading nonfiction (especially if they enjoy nonfiction books about history). It’s not, however, the best choice for people like me who prefer novels, or at least nonfiction books that read like narrative fiction.

While this book wasn’t quite for me, I’m so glad it was written. I was happy to learn about these women, who proved you can be black and female and a top-notch mathematician (something, that, unfortunately, is still not as common as it should be.)  This is an important story that  most people knew nothing about until now.

What I’m greatly looking forward to is the motion picture; that’s right, Hidden Figures is going to be a movie! I’m guessing the film will likely focus on (and likely embellish) the narrative threads woven throughout the book and will provide me with the strong, personal story I tend to need when digesting my history.  The movie is due out this January.  It stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson and features Octavia SpencerJanelle MonáeKevin CostnerKirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons.

 

 

 

The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas on Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas on Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

Meagan & Eva’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf Presents…

THE GRAHAM CRACKER PLOT, by Shelley Tougas

Published by Roaring Brook Press, September 2014

suggested age range:  8 – 12 years

 

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SUMMARY:

Daisy Bauer doesn’t have much.  She doesn’t have a nice place to live or especially responsible parents (her mom is on vacation with her new boyfriend, and her dad is in jail).  What Daisy does have is hope, a vivid imagination, and an after-school friend named Graham.  When Daisy and Graham are left at their trailer park on their own, they hatch a plan to bust Daisy’s dad out of jail and escape to Canada to start a new life.

TOPICS AND THEMES:  Touches on a number of hot-button issues:  poverty, alcoholic parents, neglect, parent in prison, mental illness, and a brief mention of drugs.      

So what did we think?  

Eva:  This book is so fun and funny!  The story is made up of letters that Daisy is writing to Judge Henry in an effort to explain herself, so even though we don’t know at the beginning what Daisy did exactly, we know it was something bad enough to land her in major trouble with the law.   Daisy’s voice throughout is great; she explains her world with humor, and the story deals with difficult topics in a light-hearted and middle school appropriate way:  

The Chemist is my dad, but he’s not the kind of dad who lives in your house.  He doesn’t drive me to school or fold socks or put away dishes.  My parents were never married, so he didn’t learn that stuff.

The Chemist’s the kind of dad who buys presents and lets you watch zombie movies and gives you ice cream even though you already had cookies.  Mom was like that, too, back when she’d put booze in a travel mug and pretend it was coffee.  But now, she’s all, “Eat your peas and do your homework and that’s enough TV for one day.”  

Meagan:  I agree that Daisy’s voice is memorable and a very strong part of this book.  Shelley Tougas writes Daisy’s socio-economic status into her voice subtly and in a way that is driven by Daisy’s character.  Daisy is a fast-talking, no-filter kind of person to begin with, and her lack of mature adult role models shows up in her word choice and topic choice.  

Eva:  Not only is Daisy’s voice great, I love the humorous (and realistic) banter between Daisy and her friend, Graham.  For example:   

“I’m definitely the brains of this operation.” (Daisy said.)

“More like the butt of this operation,” he said.  

Meagan:  Speaking of butts, as a writer, my favorite line in the whole book is: “My butt was cold.”  It’s a totally unnecessary thing to mention, she’s just telling it like it is, AND it gives away that Daisy has not had a model of a more formal, respectful way of speaking that one might use with an authority figure such as a judge.  To me, that one line exemplifies the author’s brilliance in bringing Daisy’s voice to life.

Eva:  Daisy is also a great example of an active protagonist.  She is not just an observer.  She makes bold (often misguided) decisions that propel the plot forward.  At the beginning of the story, she throws a tantrum and gets banned from visiting her father in prison.  Not only is this realistic for a kid in her situation, it shows us her emotions and it sets the rest of the story in motion.  

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Meagan:  Another notable element of this book is the story-framing device. As mentioned, the story is told as a series of letters Daisy writes to Judge Henry.  It gives a strong, authentic-to-the-character reason for the story to be told and adds an extra layer of humor because you’re constantly thinking I can’t believe she’s telling the judge about the sound of someone peeing or dog barf or whatever.  Initially I didn’t think much of the letter format.  It seems to me like this sort of thing has been done before.  But on the other hand, it works, it supports the story, and I don’t think any kid readers would be bothered by it.  

Eva:  The book also manages to be hugely visual.  There is a part where Daisy and Graham accidentally trash a stranger’s house, and I could see it all playing out in my head like a movie:  the dog’s muddy footprints on the white comforter, the refrigerator tumbling over onto the kitchen floor…  Tougas isn’t afraid to make things go from bad to worse and beyond!  It’s a great example for writers who tend to be too cautious or “quiet” in their storytelling.  

Meagan:  Yes, she does a great job with her action scenes, like the house-trashing incident you mentioned.  Writing action scenes can be a real challenge.  At least it is for me.  I remember when I first started trying to write action, I wondered what really made a scene “actiony.”   I certainly don’t claim to have mastered it, but my working hypothesis is something like this:  a character makes a plan to do something difficult and midway through something goes wrong and they have to change course and make a new plan on the fly.  I know there’s more to it than that, but I do find that to be a useful definition to work from.  So, by that definition, the entire book of The Graham Cracker Plot is practically one big action scene, and that IS kind of how it feels to read it.

Eva:  That’s a really good observation.  Maybe that’s why I could so easily see this book as a kids’ comedy-adventure movie.  It’s a series of hilarious mishaps and plans going awry.  

The only concern I had was about the character of Ashley, who is mentally-impaired.  Sometimes she seemed like nothing but a plot device, and I wonder if her character was perhaps not handled in the most sensitive way.  But otherwise, I was impressed with the book, and it seems like you were, too.  It was action-packed and a lot of fun.

 

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Eva & Meagan

 

THIS BOOK REMINDS US OF:

Meagan:  I distinctly remember the books Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson making a big impression on me because they were about kids from disadvantaged backgrounds (one who is homeless, the other in foster care).  Learning to love characters with lives that are very different from your own is one of the ways that reading can really enlarge your world as a kid (and as an adult).

Eva:  I had a similar thought.  While reading The Graham Cracker Plot, I thought of a book I LOVED in middle school:  Silver by Norma Fox Mazer.  Although it has a totally different tone (much more somber), it was about a girl who lived in a trailer park and had to deal with difficult issues.  I remember thinking it was refreshing to read about a character who didn’t have a lot of money.  

In the same way, I think Daisy is a great character because certain kids can identify with her and her situation, and other kids, by reading Daisy’s story, can learn to sympathize with kids who are in difficult situations.  

 

THIS BOOK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF:

  • Active protagonist
  • Character/narrator voice
  • Story framing device
  • Humor
  • Dealing with difficult topics in an age-appropriate way
  • Contemporary middle grade fiction

 

FINAL TAKE-AWAYS:  

Eva:  If The Graham Cracker Plot were a movie, it would be a family-friendly  comedy-adventure.  I think kids will love it.  I really enjoyed the voice and the action-filled plot.

Meagan:   I’ll put this on my writer’s reference shelf as an example of brilliantly crafted character voice.

FINAL FINAL NOTE:  

Shelley Tougas has a new middle-grade book coming out in October:  A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids.  Be sure to check back soon for my interview with the author.  

 

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Come back soon for more Middle Grade Bookshelf posts!

 

Ode to the Metaphor: A Guest Post by Justine Polomski

Ode to the Metaphor:  A Guest Post by Justine Polomski

It’s back to school time again, folks.  Remember those tired old essay topics from English classes of yore?  Write about the person you admire most, tell about your summer vacation, describe a time you overcame an obstacle…  Well, my cousin Justine, a sophomore at Clemson University, got one such assignment for her speech class; the topic was “I believe…”  Normally that would be a big old yawn, right?  But Justine did something creative with it, and I decided to share.

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Sixteen-year-old Eva and baby Justine.

 

I Believe in Metaphors

by Justine Polomski

I believe in metaphors.

With over one million words in the English language, people should be able to find a few of them to convey anything and everything they want to say. Every word has a meaning, but what if that meaning is not accurate enough? Not true enough? Not powerful enough for your thoughts?

I’ve concluded that individual words with their messy, misguided interpretations cannot articulate every fact, figure, and feeling of the human experience. Life is not as clear-cut and literal as the words we use to describe it, so I believe in metaphors.

People think in thoughts, not in words. Words are just a commonly used tool to translate our abstract thoughts from one mind to the other. But things definitely get lost in translation; just ask anyone ever. If we could take our thoughts as they come and place them directly into another’s mind, everyone would be understood perfectly, and there would be no teenagers making punk music about how no one understands them. But because no one will ever be able to fully comprehend another person’s abstract thought, metaphors are what help us come as close as possible where words may fail.

A metaphor is a direct comparison of two things that have absolutely no business being together. As communicators, we hold the power to draw these unexpected connection lines just because it makes sense to us.

For example, we use metaphor to convey feelings because people have more emotions than words can accommodate. There’s happy and there’s sad, but there’s also millions of unnamed ones: “I feel blue”, “I’m walking on air’’, or just pointing at a half-smushed panini on the road and saying, “My life right now”. I believe in metaphors.

Some metaphors have become so widely used, they are now just clichés: judging a book by it’s cover, the elephant in the room, a slippery slope, a red flag, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”, whatever that means.

Even society itself uses metaphors all the time to explain its own complexities: the circle of life, time is money, America the melting pot, the glass ceiling, the iron cage. Would we be able to fully comprehend these ideas we live by without metaphor?

In everyday speech, any meaningful insult is always a metaphor in one way or another. And calling someone “low-hanging fruit” or “an actual bag of trash” delivers a heavier blow than any slew of negative adjectives ever could.

Maybe you love something or someone so much more than just a word. So you use a metaphor to let them become something beyond a person. For example, “You are my rock”, “You are my world”, “And Juliet is the sun.” -William Shakespeare.

Or maybe you are trying to explain your love life as “skinny love”, or as a long, convoluted, extended metaphor about stagnant ponds.

Words can be weak, and talking is hard, but getting figurative can sometimes be the only way to go. I believe using any means to say what you mean. I’m Justine and I believe in metaphors.

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Justine Polomski

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Name Your Characters?

How Do You Name Your Characters?

I’m pregnant with my first child, and in only a few weeks my husband and I will find out whether it’s a girl or boy. I can’t wait. I think knowing the sex will make the whole thing feel more real to me, and I’m tired of referring to my unborn child as “it.”

Besides, it will help us narrow down the name choices!

My husband and I have a girl name we’re pretty happy with, but we haven’t been able to agree on a boy name. I went through the entire boy section of a baby name book and made a list of forty different names I like or would at least be okay with. Paul vetoed every single one of them. Of course, I vetoed all of his suggestions, too.

Paul is one hundred percent against my favorite boy name, Milo. He says it reminds him of Miley Cyrus. I say it’s like Milo from the Descendents, but he doesn’t care about eighties punk bands nearly as much as I do.

It makes me sad that we won’t name our son Milo, but at least it’s not my only naming opportunity. I’m a writer, so I get to name people all the time!

 

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The cover for the 1982 Descendents album, Milo Goes to College

 

Naming characters is a very interesting task, and I’m not sure I’m very good at it. Sometimes the name comes to me with the character as a fully formed package. But, more often than not, I have an idea for a character and then I have to figure out an appropriate name. I end up spending way too much time looking at baby name websites… not for my actual baby, mind you, but to find names for my characters.

I know I should put in a placeholder name and continue writing. Come back and decide on actual names for the characters later. But names are powerful and informative. (Like the Ursula LeGuin quote, “Who knows a man’s name, holds that man’s life in his keeping.”) Character names can often reveal age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and hint at a person’s childhood, their background. A character named Tatiana Baptiste is going to be an entirely different person than Sarah Miller. Often the name can inform the character.

But since I don’t like to disrupt the flow of my writing, I will sometimes pull from an internal list of stock names when I have a minor character who needs a quick name. A country farmer? I’ll name him Bill. A cute guy at school? Travis will do. A bitchy cheerleader?  Jessica.

Where I’ve been getting into trouble lately is that my internal list of stock names doesn’t quite work for the middle grade contemporary novel I’m currently writing. Because while the kids in my day were named Travis and Jessica, now middle schoolers are named Jack and Emma and Mateo and Mohammad. Names change with the times. If I’m writing a middle grade novel set in the present, I’m probably not going to name my characters Sally or Ethel either.

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What’s in a name?  A lot, actually.

 

And I haven’t even touched on the trouble of coming up with last names. Sometimes I try to think of my character’s background to help with the naming process. Is he Irish? His last name shall be O’Conner! Is she Indian? How about Patel! But I worry that’s too obvious. In the cultural mixing pot that is our world, last names aren’t so obvious anymore. I know a child who has a very German-sounding last name even though he’s half Mexican, and another child with a Taiwanese last name who is more Scottish in heritage than Asian. As for my own baby, he/she will have an Italian last name but be less than one-fourth Italian.

What I’m saying is, coming up with names is complicated. I’ve tried various online name generators, but I’ve been less than pleased with the results. At Name Generator , you put in a first name and get a random last name. When I tried it three times in a row I got: John Saetren, John Raposo, and John Wasowksa. I guess those are actual last names.

Fake Name Generator is a little better because you can choose an age range and the country of origin. But, when I searched for a twelve-year-old American girl name, the first option it gave me was Vicky P. Rickards, which I’m not crazy about.

Maybe the most fun one is the Character Name Generator. You can put in  ethnicity and the decade of the character’s birth, and not only do you get a name, you get a Myer’s Briggs type with a full personality description. When I asked for a Hispanic-American girl born in the 1990’s, I got Veronica Menendez, an ISTP.

And when all else fails, I go to my naming fall-back:  a nice stroll through the cemetery.  It’s a great way to pick up last names, at least.

What about you guys?  How do you name your characters?

I definitely don’t have it figured out, but I’m glad that, while I’ll only get the chance to name one or two babies (probably), I will have hundreds of characters in my lifetime who I get to name.  Don’t be surprised if I name one of them Milo.

 

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Baby on Board!  ETA:  February 4, 2017

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead on Eva & Meagan’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead  on Eva & Meagan’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf

This post is the first of my new monthly feature, Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf.  To learn more about this feature — what it is and why we’re doing it — read here.

Meagan & Eva’s Middle-Grade Bookshelf Presents…

GOODBYE STRANGER, by Rebecca Stead

Published by Wendy Lamb Books, August 2015

A NYT Editors’ Choice and NYT Notable Children’s Books of 2015

suggested age range:  10 and up

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SUMMARY:

When Bridge was a kid she got hit by a car.  She spent a long time in the hospital and she nearly died.  Now she’s in middle school and wondering whether she’s alive for a reason — whether anyone is alive for a reason — or if life is just one big accident.  At least she’s still part of a “set” with her best friends:  Em (with her “curvy new curves”) and Tab (who is “kind of a know-it-all”).  In seventh grade, Bridge and her friends face big decisions, big mistakes, first crushes, and new identities.  And the strange new teens they are in the process of becoming must say goodbye to the no-longer-familiar kids they once were.

IMPORTANT TOPICS AND THEMES:  Goodbye Stranger touches lightly on the topic of sexting, but it’s in a middle-school appropriate way.  The book also deals with friendship, divorce of grandparents, first crushes, and growing up.  

 

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Eva & Meagan

So, what did we think?  

Meagan:  Overall, I loved this book.  The author has painted a painfully true picture of what it’s like to be in middle school.  The concrete details and well as the emotional details all feel super-realistic.

 

Eva:  I totally agree.  The book worked so well because it was true-to life:  specific yet universal.  The characters were fully-formed (and quirky).  The dialogue was spot-on for middle school.  The book was definitely character-driven, but even though it wasn’t a race-to-the-climax plot, I was never bored.  And speaking of character, I LOVE that Bridge decides her “thing” is going to be wearing cat ears every day:   

The cat ears were black, on a black headband.  Not exactly the color of her hair, but close.  Checking her reflection in the back of her cereal spoon, she thought they looked surprisingly natural.

I was so impressed at how Stead kept me engaged without a traditional plot.  And yet, there WAS some tension-building in the main plot as well as a triumphant and satisfying ending that I don’t always find in character-driven novels.

 

Meagan:  Right, it’s not what anyone would call a plot-driven, but the everything-is-high-stakes setting of middle school helps this work and still feel about as engaging as a more plot-driven story.  To me it sometimes seems pretty daunting to think about writing “literary” (vs. plot-driven) work for kids, but Rebecca Stead has clearly figured out how to do it.  I read another of her books, When You Reach Me, a while back.  It was great (and a Newberry winner). This is possibly even better, in my opinion.

 

Eva:  Yes, I remember reading When You Reach Me and enjoying it, but I might say Goodbye Stranger is more memorable, if not better.  Overall, I was very impressed.  The only thing I DIDN’T love about the book were the short sections that were written in second person.  For example:    

You paint your toenails.  You don’t steal nail polish, though.  Vinny calls you chicken:  all of her polish comes from the six-dollar manicure place…

The reader doesn’t find out until the end who these sections are about, and I have to say I found the mystery a bit confusing and unnecessary.

 

Meagan:   I actually liked those sections.  I thought they created a fun mystery for the reader to puzzle over, simply by withholding information (the identify of one of the narrators), but giving you enough detail that you could eventually figure it out.

 

Eva:  It was a gutsy move on Stead’s part to use second person, and I wonder about her decision to include this certain character’s story.  The sections DID add a layer of mystery, but I didn’t think the mystery was needed because there were so many other interesting storylines.  

Come to think of it, there were a lot of B plots in this novel, and I wonder about Stead’s decision to include them all — they certainly weren’t all necessary to the larger story.  And yet, they totally worked (except for the second person one, in my opinion).  It’s interesting to me how she so deftly crafted the novel with so many storylines.

 

Meagan:  What did you think of the title?  I normally don’t think much about titles, but this one stood out to me.  I think for a young readership, it does a good job of pointing to the book’s deep theme, without coming right out and saying what the theme is.  The transition from child to teenager is so huge that “goodbye” is not a bad way of describing it, and “stranger” is just about right for describing the person you are/were on the other side of the teen/child divide.

 

Eva:  I’m kind of dumb sometimes, so it took me a while to figure out how the title related to the book.  But once I got it, I loved it.  I remember being a kid and thinking how weird it was that I was going to become an adult who would essentially be a stranger to my kid self.  I’m not sure that middle school kids would get all the themes on their own, but this would be a great book to discuss with a group of kids.

 

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The Middle Grade Bookshelf

 

THIS BOOK REMINDS US OF:

A Judy Blume book because it goes through the realistic, day-to-day life of specific characters and touches on a hot button issue.    

In this case, the hot button issue is sexting.  It’s addressed in a serious, yet middle-school appropriate way (not too graphic). Still, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book under sixth grade unless the reader’s parent is ready to talk about this topic and feels their child is ready as well.  

 

THIS BOOK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF:

  • Realistic contemporary middle-grade
  • Close 3rd person voice
  • Use of second person voice
  • Fully-formed characters
  • Character-driven plot
  • Weaving of main plot with several B plots
  • A difficult topic handled in an age-appropriate way (sexting)

 

FINAL TAKE-AWAYS:  

Eva:  John Hodgeman once said “specificity is the soul of narrative.”  This is a specific story about very specific characters, and yet it feels universal and totally relatable.  I really enjoyed it.

Meagan:  As a writer, I could imagine coming back to this book for a closer read if I decided to tackle a contemporary, realistic fiction project (especially if I hoped for it to be more on the “literary” side).  Stead has done that so well here, I think there’s a lot I could learn from as a writer if I were to reread this and study the way she develops her characters and plot events.

 

A New Monthly Feature: Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

A New Monthly Feature:  Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf

I am excited to announce a new monthly (or potentially bi-monthly) feature on In the Garden of Eva!

As many of you know, I am an aspiring novelist. And though I never quite intended it, nearly every time I write a novel these days, it comes out as middle grade. For now, I’m just going with it!

My friend Meagan Boyd is also an aspiring middle grade author. We have a mini writing group in which we give each other feedback and discuss books we’ve read… And naturally we read a lot of middle grade books.  Hence, the idea for Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf was born.

At first, it was going to be a podcast. (And it might be someday!) But Meagan has a toddler, I’m about to have a baby, and neither of us is particularly savvy in the technology department. So instead of figuring out a new medium, we decided to use the tried-and-true blog format for now.

Below is more info about this new feature.  And you can look forward to reading our first full-length post tomorrow, in which we will examine Rebecca’s Stead’s Goodbye Stranger.

 

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Eva and Meagan with a few of our favorite MG books!

 

MEAGAN & EVA’S MIDDLE GRADE BOOKSHELF

 

Who Are Meagan & Eva?

Two aspiring novelists currently writing middle-grade books and hoping to get them published. We are also both former teachers and graduates of The College of William & Mary (which is how we met). Meagan has a degree in English, and I have an MFA in Fiction Writing.

 

What Is a Middle-Grade Book?

A book written for the 8-12 age range. Think Harry Potter, Charlotte’s Web, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Except those books are old news. If you’re interested in writing (or reading) middle grade fiction, you should be checking out new stuff!  And Eva & Meagan’s Middle Grade Bookshelf will help you decide what new MG novels to read.

 

What Is This Bookshelf Exactly?

In an attempt to learn how to write middle grade fiction, Meagan and I have been reading A LOT of (relatively) recent MG books. We then discuss what we notice from a writer’s perspective. For example: “this book has an interesting point of view” or “this book is a great example of a character-driven plot.”

We wanted to share what we’ve been noticing and learning with other middle grade writers (both aspiring and established).  I think this will also be helpful for parents and teachers looking for books for their kids/students. Our hope is to create a resource of sorts; writers can use our posts as a way to find books they’d like to read as well as books that are good examples of whatever area of craft they are working on.

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What Will I Find in Each Bookshelf Post?

Each Middle Grade Bookshelf post will discuss one book and include following:

  • A brief summary
  • A list of important topics and themes in the story
  • Our thoughts and comments (but no spoilers!)
  • A few short excerpts to give you a taste of the writing style
  • What “classic” children’s book(s) the novel reminded us of
  • The areas of writing craft that this novel is a good (or interesting) example of
  • News and resources for MG writers
  • Our final take-aways on the book overall

 

Meagan & Eva’s Bios:

Meagan Boyd studied English and Theatre as an undergraduate at The College of William & Mary and has her M.Ed. in Elementary Education from The George Washington University.  A former fourth grade teacher, Meagan is now a full-time mom of a toddler and an aspiring novelist.  She loves middle grade books with a passion she can never quite muster for a adult books.  Some of her favorites are A Wrinkle in TimeCoraline, and Ender’s Game.

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Meagan Boyd

 

Eva Langston received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in many journals and anthologies.  She is the Features Editor for Compose Journal and the leader of an adult writing workshop about YA and middle grade fiction.  A former math teacher for students with learning disabilities, she now tutors part-time.  Two of her favorite middle grade books are  Holes by Louis Sachar and Blubber by Judy Blume.

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Eva Langston

 

Come back soon to read our first full-length feature!