The BackstoryWhat do you do if you write a book based on a story in "your own backyard" because of an editor's advice (BLUE, Boyds Mills Press, 2006. The polio epidemic in Hickory, NC) and then the main character keeps talking to you and you want to know what happens next? (COMFORT Calkins Creek, 2009. Anne Fay deals with the effects of polio and her father's return from WWII.)
If your name is Joyce Hostetter and these first two books are award winners, your publisher then asks you to write a prequel to these books starting with the letter "A." And if you're as great a writer as Joyce is, then you imagine the world before BLUE and write Junior Bledsoe's story and name it AIM.
I've been privileged to be a part of AIM's development from the time that Joyce asked her Facebook friends for suggestions on a book title beginning with "A." (I think she might have already had a title in mind, but it was fun hearing everyone's thoughts.) She bounced story ideas off of me and I read several drafts. Since I have learned so much from Joyce ("less is more when crafting dialogue, internalization and action"); I was honored that Joyce incorporated some of my suggestions into her book.
As I've done previously, this review uses craft principles I've learned from another writer. This time, I'm drawing from Jillian Sullivan's presentation of The Hero's Journey at Highlights Summer Camp.
In less than 50 words Joyce brings the reader into the world of Junior Bledsoe: a world full of unmet desires and tension. In this powerful first chapter, many of Junior's conflicts are foreshadowed. At fourteen, he longs to show his father what he is capable of doing, ("Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever get to show him what I could do."); feels the sting of not being as close to him as Ann Fay is with her father who "go together like biscuits and gravy"; reads in the paper about America preparing to go to war; and hears his father poke fun of him for wanting to stay in school. "After the first day, quit. Least you can say you went to high school."Hand me that wrench," Pop wiggled his grease-covered fingers.I gave it to him, but I wanted real bad to get my hands on his repair job. "I could do this if I had me half a chance," I said. (p. 7)
His father's last words as he drives off in the car come back to haunt Junior later:
"Find yourself a job and take care of your momma." He climbed in the car. "I'll be back before you can say, 'Yankee Doodle Dandy.'" Then he drove off and left me to put the tools away.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy," I said. And he wasn't even out of the driveway yet. (p. 14)
Junior's father never returns.
Jillian Sullivan talked about the reluctant hero--the character who is forced on a journey when one way of life ends and another begins. This is an appropriate description of Junior. AIM narrates the grief and anger-filled year of his life when he searches to find out who he is and where he is headed.
Jillian pointed out that surpassed desires and conflicts can trigger a hero's journey. In Junior's case, his quest to discover himself is prompted by his father's death. But in the process desires and conflicts emerge and he is presented with choices.
"Choices are made when the character must decide what he will give up in order to move on," Jillian said. "Each of these decisions and choices represents a death to self so that by the end, the character must overcome his ego to make a courageous decision."
For Junior Bledsoe, choices assault him on a variety of levels. How he will respond to sharing his bedroom with his cantankerous grandfather? What will he do when faced with the temptation to skip school or steal a car? What will he have to give up to earn self-respect? Can he be different than the generations of men who've gone before him?
Jillian said that heroes often cross several thresholds as they overcome trials, confront their own egos, and ultimately make a courageous decision. In this beautiful coming of age story, there is one scene in AIM that I will never forget. In a moment of introspection, Junior crosses one of these mini-thresholds. He has just tried working at the cotton mill and found it much harder than he'd imagined. He comes home and pulls off his shoes and socks because he wants to feel dirt on the bottom of his feet.
Eleanor was already bawling and I knew there was gardening to do. There wouldn't be time for going into the woods. I tended the animals, and on the way back to the house I plopped myself down onto a sweet potato crate under Pop's oak tree. I hadn't managed to rake up the acorns last fall, and one of them had sprouted into a small tree not four feet away.
It was only six inches high, but it had four perfect leaves and was doing its best to become a real tree. Any other time I would've pulled up a sprout like that. Today, though, I didn't have the heart to destroy it. After all, what if the big oak tree was hit by lightening one day? The seedling would be there to replace it. (p. 239)
Even now, I get teary-eyed over that marvelous piece of introspection and characterization.
What are you waiting for?
If you haven't read BLUE and COMFORT, what are you waiting for? AIM's (Calkins Creek, 2016) pub date is TOMORROW and you can order it here or here. You can download an educators guide for all three books here.
Last February I shared Joyce's cover reveal and began the giveaway for this ARC. I will add your name to the list of those vying to get their hands on this book if you leave a comment along with your email address, if I don't have it. I already have a long list of contenders, but there's good news--I have TWO ARCs to give away! I'll pick the winners on October 6.
This review was originally published on LitChat.
|Besides being good friends and critique partners,|
Joyce and I co-publish Talking Story. (To sign up, see article in the sidebar)
This was part of a "photo shoot" this summer when we
were getting pictures for the newsletter.
Photo by Linda Phillips
This review was originally published on LitChat.