The night that I stayed up late to finish reading Joyce Hostetter's fourth book in the Bakers Mountain Stories series, DRIVE (Calkins Creek, 2018), I texted Joyce: "This is going to be a hard book to review. There are too many wonderful things to say about it. Somehow you're able to catch the heart of emotions so well. I'm still crying."
The funny thing is that I almost didn't read the book. I'd read several drafts and thought that I knew the story. Boy, was I wrong!
After all the brainstorming, outlining, and drafting that I'd read, Joyce added layers of characterization, sensory details, and plot points that deepened the story. Having read those earlier drafts, I look back and see how she added flesh to the bones of her story--and I got to see a book develop and grow.
One other interesting background note. When Joyce was brainstorming DRIVE, I had just given up writing Half-Truths from two points-of-view. I told Joyce of my struggles to make each character act and sound differently from the other. There's no mistake: Joyce pulls this feat off beautifully. This is a story of twin sisters vying to hold onto their sisterhood at a time when they're growing up and apart.
Mommy says Ida was born ten whole minutes ahead
and I spent the first years following after her,
doing what she did
and trying to be as good as she was.
Then, when Daddy came home from war
with hurts we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
the uncertainty hit Ida hardest of all.
She pulled back like a turtle inside its shell,
slowing down while I sped up.
I soon realized I liked running ahead,
hearing people cheer for me.
But sometimes, it was Ida they'd be bragging on,
And when they did,
I always felt that I was losing.
Life became a competition that one of us had to win.
And I was determined that the winner would be me. (p. 5)
Competition. This theme pervades the book as Ellie and Ida prepare to enter their first year of high school. As the reader meets the girls, we see how Ellie thinks she's not as good as Ida and aches for a normal family:
I wanted a father who didn't get frazzled over a bad dream or loud noises. And a mother who wasn't always aching over her husband. I didn't actually want another family; I just needed to not be embarrassed by the one I had. (p.28)Ida, who describes herself as the quiet one, avoids the spotlight and feels as if Ellie has the drive to succeed but she doesn't.
...I stared at the red velvet curtain on the stage and thought how I never got to pull it open and shut. It was the only job I ever wanted in any play we ever did. But thanks to being a twin, I almost always had to be out front, doing something cute with Ellie and feeling like a country bumpkin in the shadow of a movie star. (p.29)I loved seeing the sisters from each other's POV. This is Ida talking about their different reactions to their father:
Ellie wasn't scared of Daddy the way I was. She was more like Ann Fay. Bold. Always acting like there was no mountain so tall she couldn't climb it. No race so fast she couldn't win it. And no daddy so mean she couldn't charm him. (p.42)In this section, Ellie thinks about taking Latin in school.
Ida wouldn't want me to because then we wouldn't have all our classes together. But that also meant I wouldn't always be compared to her. I could have a class that was all my own. A hard one that she couldn't show me up in. (P.59)Ida feels lost and shy in their new school but Arnie, a fellow freshman, reaches out to her. Ellie who is used to being the strong twin, sees Ida with Arnie and suddenly realizes that Ida might not need her anymore. What's worse is that Ellie has a huge crush on Arnie. This conflict leads to more tension and misunderstanding between the sisters.
Throughout the book the word drive is used in a number of ways. One of the plot threads is Ellie's passion for racing and the Hickory Motor Speedway. Whereas Ida can't stand the noise and grit of the races, Ellie thrives on the excitement and exhilaration of watching the cars zoom around the track. Unfortunately, this love for a thrilling adventure leads to a devastating accident. Without a spoiler, let me simply say that Ida is the only one who can bring Ellie out of the no-man's land of her near-death injury.
Joyce interlaces history throughout this skillfully written story. The 1952 presidential election, the threat of communism, and the Korean conflict are all important backdrops to the drama taking place in the little town of Hickory.
But that's not what made me tear up. Forgiveness, love, character growth, individual accomplishments against high stakes--all of these made me root for both Ida and Ellie, as I'm sure you will too. Although written for the upper middle grade reader, adults will also resonate with the coming-of-age theme interwoven into DRIVE.
As I told Joyce, I'm a lot like Ellie. I think many of us will see a little bit of ourselves in the two sisters. And isn't that what a great book is about?
After Daddy came home from war
with wounds we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
I pulled back and let Ellie take the lead.
I didn't mind so much if she wanted to run on past
and steal the show from me.
I didn't need to be seen or heard the way she did.
Art was my voice.
But then in her race to be first
and I had to go around her--
to face scary unknowns
and accept good things that came my way.
I think we both learned
that life is not a race with one of us winning
and the other losing.
We can drive on our own separate tracks
And when we do
We'll each come out a winner. (p. 342)
GIVEAWAY and AN AUDIOBOOK WISH
Since so many of Joyce's fans read my blog, Boyds Mills Press kindly agreed to give away TWO copies of DRIVE. Leave me a comment by October 11 with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you want additional chances to win, share this on social media or follow my blog and I'll add your name twice to the hat--but make sure you tell me what you did.
And while I'm on the topic of Boyds Mills Press--who wants the Bakers Mountain Stories to be published in audio format? I think they'd be perfect! If you agree with me, please join me in tweeting @boydsmillspress.