In my continuing series about Middle Grade fiction, here is my report on this week's books and what I learned from them as it relates to my own novel writing adventure.
This week's books:
Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger
Overall impression: I had the opportunity to meet Shannon Messenger at a local bookstore event, and that always makes it more fun to read the book. I'd have liked it either way, though. It's a fast paced tale about a girl who doesn't quite fit in at home, because as it turns out, she is not quite human. A mystery unfolds as she says goodbye to her human family and hello to her new life. I always fall for stories about kids who discover there is something different/special about them. This tale didn't disappoint. I loved it, and so did my 8 year old daughter. The story ends with many mysteries yet unsolved, suggesting it will be the first in a series.
What I liked: Shannon Messenger cooks up a great cast of supporting characters, each with distinctive and memorable personalities. I particularly loved Elwin the Doctor, her friends Dex and Fitz (whose rivalry suggests fireworks to come and maybe even a little romance triangle), and Tiergan the Telepathy Mentor.
What I learned: There was a heartbreakingly sad scene early in the book that was almost too much for me. I won't say what it was, to avoid spoiling anything, but it involved Sophie having to say goodbye to her old life in order to embrace her new one. They say you have to tear a character down in order to build them back up, and that scene took this principle to the max. My first thought was that the scene was almost too much, and might be overwhelming for this middle grade audience. But then it occurred to me that I might be infusing the scene with more emotion and meaning because I am a mother. The scene broke my heart to the point where I almost couldn't go on. (Kudos to Ms. Messenger for creating a scene that reached me so deeply.) I suspect that the scene wouldn't be quite as devastating to a younger reader. My own daughter found it powerful, but not debilitating, so I think it might be just me. But, in reflecting on that moment as it relates to my book, I think I'd like to have Sam, my character, have more time for success and happiness (the "rise" in Kole's description of the emotional plot arc from Writing Irresistaible Kitlit), before tragedy strikes. Perhaps I am naive in this... time will tell.
The bottom line: A great story, with huge potential as a series. Great job Shannon Messenger!
Here is a link to the StorySnoops review of Keeper.
Find Keeper on Amazon.
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint
Overall impression: This is a charming folktale about a young girl who gets into trouble and encounters a wide variety of magical talking creatures and mysterious figures who eventually help her untangle the mess she got herself into. It's sweet and mythical, and reminds me of old fashioned fairy tales and old Native American legends.
What I liked: Charles de Lint creates some unique and very creative creatures to confound and assist Lillian, the protagonist, along her journey. Lillian has some wonderful "save the cat" moments early on and throughout, making her very likable.
What I learned: Once again, our main character is literally brought beyond the brink of death, and then resurrected during the course of this tale. It encourages me to think bigger about my plot and to raise the stakes on Sam. An adventure is more exciting when the stakes are life and death. This book manages to accomplish it without introducing violence or frightening conflict. Somehow the tale still feels gentle and whimsical, even while her very life and that of those she loves is at stake. That makes this very appropriate for the younger or more sensitive portion of the Middle Grade audience. Well done, Mr. de Lint!
Find The Cats of Tanglewood Forest on Amazon.