October 24th, 2007

working cat

on the road still

Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough last night (I think it had to do with the state of the hotel room where I was staying--not going there right now) to finish Martha Brooks' MISTIK LAKE. Now I can add my voice to the others praising this novel. I have long been a fan of this author. Her story collection, THE LEAVING AND OTHER STORIES, is perfection. MISTIK LAKE is a novel that spans three generations of women in one family, a family often marked by tragedy but also marked by their strong women, young and old. Odella is 17 and is wondering about some of the family secrets suddenly coming to light. Somehow these secrets seem connected to Mistik Lake. It was the place where Odella's mother managed to walk away from a tragic accident that killed some of her friends. It is the place her Auntie Gloria avoids when she can. And now it is the place that connects her to Jimmy Tomasson.

As the title suggests, the lake is the source of great sorrow and tremendous happiness as well. What is the hallmark of Brooks' work is her ability to find the heart of the story. David Booth in READING DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE makes a wonderful observation when he reminds us that reading has to be about the heart of the story or it does not matter to kids or to us. This book has so much heart and that is exemplified in Odella's ability to deal with loss and still seek her own happiness. Wow.
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reading ladders

another one so soon?

Middle grade novels are a tricky thing. The audience is quirky at best. I can say that having survived it with 3 granddaughters now. A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT is one of those rare beasts: a middle grade novel that is a perfect blend of humor and sharp observation and a little bit of the pain that age brings. Zoe is ten, soon to be eleven. She wants more than anything to have a piano and learn to play. She even fancies that she will be a prodigy if only given the chance to play. Her father, the recipient of MANY certificates from Living Room University (and one of the sources of the wit in this book) buys her instead an organ, a Perfectone D-60. Along with the organ comes lessons from one Mabelline Person (pronounced Per- SOHN, thank you) who enters Zoe in an organ competition.

There are several subplots that reflect perfectly the life of so many of our tweens: best friends who are no longer best friends, boys who might be boyfriends or just friends who are boys, pesky neighbor boys who might actually become friends, mothers who are embarrassing, and a father who is a few bubbles off plumb. Urban manages to keep all these stories in line so they never overshadow Zoe. One of the ways this feat is pulled off is with the structure of the novel, more a series of quick snapshots or vignettes. Since the story is "chopped" in this way, there is never a sense of losing one's way as a reader. A remarkable feat, indeed.

And now it is time to throw myself in bed and try to recharge for another 6 hour seminar tomorrow, the third one in as many days and as many cities.