Roundtable: Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Current Mood: impressed
Current Song: To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts by Matt Nathanson
The readergirlz book selection for April 2008 is Shark Girl, a verse novel by Kelly Bingham about a young woman whose life changes after she loses an arm. Little Willow, Miss Erin, and Lorie Ann Grover gathered around a virtual roundtable to discuss the book.
Little Willow: I'm fond of saying that Shark Girl is 95% verse novel but 100% heart.
Miss Erin: When I finished reading it, I felt that the story wouldn't have been as good if it'd been told using prose. For certain "tough subjects," verse novel seem to make the story feel starker, more real, more close somehow. Does anyone else feel the same way?
Lorie Ann Grover: Verse is the perfect format to carry intense emotion about hard subjects. Shark Girl definitely deals with these. Verse allows readers to jump in and out of the poems. We have a chance to consider and recover and move forward. It's not as daunting as, say, an entire prose chapter on amputation.
LW: Lorie Ann, you've written multiple verse novels. For you, what's the most difficult part of the writing process? The easiest?
Lorie Ann: I'm actually writing in both prose and verse now, and I don't find either is easier or harder to write. What I do find is each has its own benefits. Prose carries far more details; verse provides the punch because of its visual impact and structure. I love them both! The work in verse is to pare down to the essentials. The work in prose is to tell enough to create a real sense of place. I guess those are my goals.
LW: I write poetry from time to time, but more often, they are lyrics. I write songs, and they tend to appear complete with lyrics, melodies, and harmonies, all at once.
Erin: I write poems - free verse, mostly. I'd love to write a novel in verse one day.
LW: Write it, Erin!
Lorie Ann: Jumping in here. I don't write much stand alone poetry anymore. I just have so many novels I'm rewriting! Although standalone poems will eek out of me into board books. I love the format so much.
Erin: I adore verse novels. My favorites are Make Lemonade by Virginia Wolff and Loose Threads and On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover. My favorite poet is Emily Dickinson. I have a book of her complete poetry collection.
LW: Emily is my favorite poet as well.
Erin: What's your favorite poem by Emily?
LW: I have always favored one of her most famous pieces, #288 - I'm Nobody! Who are you? I discovered #953 - A Door just opened on a street just a few years ago and like that quite a lot as well.
Erin: It changes all the time for me, but at the moment I really love poem #704.
LW: My favorite poem/passage from Shark Girl is this:
Their heads lean toward each other.
Their whispers reach my ears.
The two girls over there
fingering their notebooks,
If they would lift their tinted eyelashes
they would notice I'm staring back.
But they don't.
So I turn in my chair,
placing my shoulder out of their sight.
Erin: Here's my favorite passage:
You know the part in Cinderella
when everyone goes to the ball
and she sits at home, crying?
It wasn't because her gown was ripped.
It was because she knew
she was an idiot
she could grab a prince.
Lorie Ann: I love Ghost, printed in light gray before the book begins. Here's the last portion:
a prickle crawls across my cheek,
and that right hand tries to
rise from the grave,
moved to scratch.
The fingers, palm.
wrist, and arm
that I remember,
don't know enough
Erin: Oh yes, that one gives me chills!
LW: After Jane loses her arm, she has to learn how to write and draw with her other hand.
Erin: I was rooting so hard for her! I knew that she could get back to it. Her determination and bravery was inspiring.
Lorie Ann: It was a huge undertaking but so important for her soul and felt purpose. I loved the support she received from family and friends to just try.
LW: Does this book make you reluctant to swim in the ocean?
Erin: Not really. I guess I don't want fear of something that may never happen to keep me from enjoying something as amazing and wonderful as the ocean. What is meant to be will be.
Lorie Ann: Yes! But JAWS did that back in the seventies, I guess. Growing up in Miami, sharks were always on our mind. Sections of beaches get closed because of shark sightings in shallow water. (Lorie Ann shivers) It's a reality. I always think about it when I go in. And then the gators are in the fresh water. We used to swim in a sulphur pond with the gators. We got out whenever they came to our side of the pond. Water equals predators (sharks, gators, water mocassins, man o'war jellyfish, eels. Maybe that's why I love the Pacific Northwest beaches. You hardly ever go in.
LW: Don't tell Maureen Johnson about the jellyfish! My favorite sea creatures are otters. When I was a kid, I had a friend who loved sharks almost as much as she loved cats. What are your general feelings about sharks?
Erin: As long as I'm seeing them behind glass, I'm okay with them!
Lorie Ann: Scary, scary beasties that freak me out! Was I happy when my daughter fed the sharks by walking on a plank with no rails above the middle of their huge tank? She dropped chunks of fish to them? (She was job shadowing Marine Biologists.) Yikes! Although, most of my nightmares have orcas in them...
LW: Sadly, there are people who judge others based on their appearance. Have you ever felt as if you were judged on your looks, or on your abilities or disabilities?
Erin: Well, as an actor, I am constantly being judged by my abilities. It's tough, when I don't get a role, not to take it personally sometimes.
Lorie Ann: I'm usually quickly judged on my height. I'm perceived as haughty rather than shy.
LW: Any closing thoughts?
Lorie Ann: Thanks, Kelly, for writing a book to encourage readers to redefine themselves after life changing events. Thanks for inspiring us!
"Big picture, Jane," he says.
"You could have died.
Instead, you are here. You have time to find out why.
You have your whole life to discover
If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out previous roundtable discussions, which include three friends giving A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian a try and the postergirlz for readergirlz considering Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.
Related Posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Kelly Bingham
Book Review: Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Booklist: Verse Novels