Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
This YA novel has been out for a few years, but I just picked it up a few days ago. It started out slow--intentionally, I'm sure of it. I was thinking, "Oh, no, not another one about rich white girls with boy and popularity struggles, not to mention the drinking, the smoking weed. And gaa, throw in a gratuitous car accident."
But by the middle, the top of my head had lifted off. By the end, I was crying, but also cheering.
She hoodwinked me with the opening! And if she hoodwinked me, she hoodwinked sooooo many YA readers whose attitudes and outlooks have to be improved by this oh-so-not-heavy-handed but incredibly compelling narrative.
And isn't that the point? To make the world a better place? While leaving some gorgeous lyrical prose?
I can't believe I missed this brilliant debut when it came out. I really have to start paying more attention to my daughter Annie Stone's recommendations.
Her most recent rec? All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.
I just put it on reserve today.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Last week I had the great privilege of meeting Kekla Magoon, a relatively new on the scene novelist who specializes in YA but oh-my-god it is so not only for young adults. I picked up a copy of her most recent novel. How It Went Down, and couldn't Put It Down.
Based on a shooting similar to that of Trayvon Martin, the novel has nineteen narrators, all characters directly and tangentially involved with a shooting in a not-so-nice Baltimore neighborhood. White man jumps out of car and shoots young black man who looks--to him--threatening, and maybe has a gun.
Or is it a Snickers bar in his hand?
Blood is spilled and a young life is lost.
Every voice in the novel is distinct and recognizable. Every scene is poignant. Every character is affected.
And it doesn't stop with them.
Last week, after getting to know Kekla just a little bit at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I met my son by the Boston Common to grab a quick dinner and catch up on one another's lives before I headed back home to the suburbs on the commuter rail. He had to duck out of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) meeting early to meet me because I had to catch that last train out.
For at least an hour, his head was still in the meeting. He was distracted. He hadn't wanted to leave. He wanted to participate in the discussion of open space protests. He's already marched several times. I felt guilty at taking him away from this important work.
Last week, while this issue was at the forefront of my consciousness, Yale police detained a young black man leaving the Yale library. NY Times' columnist Charles Blow's son is that college student.
My son is a student at Tufts. In his nearly four years there, never once did he leave the library in his ever present hoody to be accosted by a Tufts police officer. Is it fair to assume that because he's not a black college student he doesn't look threatening?
It's easy to understand why Kekla is so passionate about the issue, as is Charles Blow. As President Obama said years ago, that young man could have been his son out there.
It's less easy to understand why a "white" college senior takes time away from campus and studying to participate in BLM meetings and marches.
However, it's quite simple. My son has white man guilt. My son has a conscience. My son is angry, sad, outraged, and compelled to speak up.
Perhaps, with more young men like my son joining the movement, young men with lives as disparate as Mr. Blow's and Mr. Martin's will become more valued and respected. I would like to hope that the melding of both privileged and underprivileged white voices and both privileged and underprivileged black voices will make a difference.
This is our nation. We need all voices to speak. I am not a marcher by nature, but I am a writer. And I assure you this issue will be in my writing. I will not let this go on without my own form of protest.
Join us however you can. Otherwise, those voices we lose on the streets of Miami, New York, and all our communities, already tragically disrespected, neglected, and silenced by gunfire, will fade.
The voices in Kekla's brilliant novel cry loudly for all of us to step out of the silence.
See you there?