August 30th, 2007

Fringe, contemplative, swing

Radar Recommendations: Swollen by Melissa Lion

From the back cover of Swollen by Melissa Lion:

I run to feel my heart beat hard against my ribs, to feel strong, tough and free. I run from school and the good girls, the bad girls, all the labels. Once, just days before he died of a swollen heart, I ran from the most popular boy in school. And then, the day he died, a new boy arrived. A boy I would run to if he would let me, and maybe he will.

This is the story. It's about love. No matter how hard I try, it's never quite right. But I keep trying. I keep running anyway.

And then, the first line:

I ran.

And then, from the second page:

I was a middle girl. In everything I did.

Samantha Pallas is that middle girl. She is a part of her high school's cross-country team, which is the best team in school. but there are always girls in front of her, leading the pack, winning the races. She watches her classmates succeed in athletics, in school, in life, as she struggles to find her footing. She yearns to be seen, yet is content to get lost in the quiet. Often, she gets lost with a quiet boy, but even then, it is just for a short time, for an eyeblink, then never seen again, for the duration of a heartbeat, never long enough to have that heart fill with love.

Owen, Sam's classmate who died unexpectedly, was also a runner. Farouk, the boy who arrives at their school the day the tragedy is announced at assembly, doubts that Owen died of heart failure.

When Sam's friend Chloe expresses sadness at Sam's being an only child, Sam is quick to correct her: "I'm an only, not a lonely." She won't be an only child much longer: her father's girlfriend, who lives with them, is pregnant.

Sam feels detached from different situations on different levels. She worries that she may disappear altogether, yet she is not without hope, without some happiness.

Swollen has something in common with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: I can open the book up to almost any page and find a quote that I love.

And so I waited in the library and touched the spines of the books I should have read long ago to make myself smart, to keep up with him. - Page 161

I have recommended Melissa Lion's novels to my customers many times. I would really love if someone would reading this blog would take me up on this recommendation. Swollen was an amazing debut novel and Upstream was an amazing sophomore release. Both made it onto my Best Books of 2005 list. Both blew me away.

If you like novels by Sarah Dessen - especially The Truth about Forever - then you must read Swollen by Melissa Lion immediately.

This is the first of three entries I posted regarding Swollen and Melissa Lion. I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Lion at length about her writing career. Read the interview. She then shared something that really struck me, and that she has permitted me to reprint here. A million thanks, Melissa.

Read an excerpt of Swollen at the Random House website. Note that this excerpt is from Chapter One, but the book opens with a brief, powerful untitled prologue, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.

Visit Melissa Lion's website.


Today is the fourth day of Recommendations Under the Radar, a week-long literature project. Radar Recommendations was dreamed up by Colleen of Chasing Ray, and many blogs are participating in an effort to attract new readers to stories that are worthy of more attention and discussion. Here's my schedule.

Thursday Round-Up
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Friends for Life and Life Without Friends by Ellen Emerson White
Shaken & Stirred: The Changeover and Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy
Big A, little a: A interview with Helen Dunmore
Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Treasures of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Finding Wonderland: Lucy the Giant by Sherry L. Smith
Miss Erin: Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye by Kaza Kingsley
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker
Bildungsroman: Swollen by Melissa Lion, Interview: Melissa Lion, and Author Spotlight: Melissa Lion
Fuse #8: The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade
Chasing Ray: Juniper, Genetian and Rosemary by Pamela Dean
Lectitans: Who Pppplugged Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Writing and Ruminating: Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown
Semicolon: Overlooked Christian fiction
Fringe, contemplative, swing

Interview: Melissa Lion

To date, Melissa Lion has released two novels, Swollen and Upstream. Each is narrated by a teenage girl with a boyish nickname who is troubled by a recent loss. In Swollen, Samantha (Sam) feels as thought she's a middle girl in everything that she does - middle of the pack during cross-country meets, not the best nor the worst student in school, known but overlooked by many of her classmates. In Upstream, all eyes are on Martha (Marty) as she deals with her boyfriend's death. Lion's novels deal with choices, consequences and circumstances. Though each story features a protagonist who feels weighed down by a secret burden, the books are appropriately serious without being too heavy. Readers will not sink; they will think.

One day earlier this summer, Melissa Lion's ears burned. She contacted me without having the faintest idea that I was planning to feature her novel Swollen during the week of Radar Recommendations. I was so glad to hear from her. We had a delightful chat in which I heaped praise upon her and she shared a story with me. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, we had this interview.

One of my favorite pieces of dialogue in Swollen appears on page 130:

"You could fill a book with the things you haven't seen." (Farouk)
"Books are already filled with them," I said, "And posters and television shows." (Sam)

What is something you've seen in your mind's eye while reading or writing that you've never seen in real life?

I just wrote half a YA novel from the point of view of Sasquatch. I'm not writing the second half because it was roundly voted down by my publisher, my agent, my partner and several friends. It's a bit of what was I thinking?

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Related Posts: Book Review: Swollen by Melissa Lion, Author Spotlight: Melissa Lion

Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell, knowing

Author Spotlight: Melissa Lion

At the close of a recent interview, an author shared something personal with me about one of her novels. I asked if I could relate the story here at Bildungsroman, and she granted me permission. Here now, in her own (italicized) words, is Melissa Lion.

I want to say one more thing, I'm not sure how this will fit in to your story, or if it will at all, but I was in San Diego this weekend and I took my best friend to Mount Soledad. He'd never been there despite growing up in San Diego. It was night and we took the exact route Sam takes with Farouk. It was quiet and late and I was holding my breath. We looked at the cross, at the city below us and I felt the presence of my characters. I felt Sam's heartache and desire for Farouk. I felt so still, listening for them.

We drove back down and I told my friend that this was where they were heading downhill and where I expected the stop sign, there was none. I had gotten it wrong. I told my friend that there was supposed to be a stop sign at the bottom of the hill and that Farouk would run it, that Sam's hand was pressed to the dashboard.

He said, "What happens?"

"The chapter ends," I said.

I'm in the process of saying goodbye to Southern California for good and I'm excited, but sad at the same time. I'm ready to go, but I will miss my characters. I will miss who I was in high school. That girl still lives in San Diego. She's still running after Farouk, after her father, after who she wants to be.

You may wonder why my best friend hasn't read my book. I wonder that too. I wonder why I had to buy him a copy of it two weeks ago. It's a mystery.

How can I follow that? I can't. I can simply share with you my favorite quotes from novels. These lines echo in my mind.

Swollen by Melissa Lion

"You could fill a book with the things you haven't seen." (Farouk)
"Books are already filled with them," I said, "And posters and television shows." (Sam) - Page 130

I counted in fours because if I stopped, the tears in my eyes would spill over. - Page 138

And so I waited in the library and touched the spines of the books I should have read long ago to make myself smart, to keep up with him. - Page 161

I turned the light off and listened in the silence for the voices of people I had loved within these walls. - Page 181

Upstream by Melissa Lion

And here are the things I know: Time will never be what my watch says. Time passes too fast when you just want it to stop, and time passes too slow when all you wish for is a lifetime in a minute. It'll just never be what it really is, hands moving on a clock. - Page 41

"Seriously, it takes a lot to shock me. I lived in San Francisco for nearly ten years. I grew up in L.A. Do you love girls and not boys? I'm cool with that. Did someone hit you? I'll hit him back. Does he love someone else? Well, that girl's a s___ with bad shoes." - Katherine to Martha (Marty), Page 55

She misses someone. Maybe someone in her old life. Someone I'll never know. - Page 77

And there are things I understand without needing to know. There are times in this life when the person you miss most is the person you used to be. - Page 77

I put down my pencil and rub my eyes. I want to believe that if I rub them hard enough, Dottie will disappear and come back in with a different thing to tell me. She will tell me that Sean proposed or that she finally got an A in a class and not what she is about to tell me and make my worst fears come true. - Page 91

Related Posts: Book Review: Swollen by Melissa Lion, Interview: Melissa Lion, Booklist: Strong Young Women in Teen Fiction