January 27th, 2008

Fringe, contemplative, swing

Interview: Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart has written poetry, memoirs, and more. Her most recent works, Undercover and House of Dance, are novels for teens. We discussed the difficulties of putting pen to paper and sharing personal stories with the world.

You have noted that some real-life experiences inspired characters and events in your novels. Is it harder to imagine the lives of others or to immortalize those you've known?

Perhaps the hardest thing is to find fluency between the known and the imagined - to move seamlessly between what has been lived and what has been projected. When you draw from real life for the purposes of fiction, you have to be willing to discard details that have mattered deeply, to blur edges of the truth, to shape newly. You have to be willing to get lost, to not know. When you imagine you have to take another kind of risk, the could-it-actually-happen-like-this-feel-like-this risk. You're high on a tightrope, the entire book through.

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Visit Beth Kephart's blog. (...where she flatters me!)

Read my review of Undercover.

Read my review of House of Dance.

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    Steady Pull by Jonatha Brooke with Michael Franti
  • Tags
Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell, knowing

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Imagine looking in the mirror and doubting the reflection. That looks like you, certainly, but you aren't that age, not yet. What happened to you? Why can't you remember? When will you remember?

In one misstep, Naomi lost years' worth of memories. After hitting her head on the steps after school, she wakes up in an ambulance, more aware of the pain than what actually happened. Sitting with her is a boy she doesn't recognize.

Soon, she won't recognize herself.

Further examination shows that she can't remember the past four years of her life. She knows who she is - who she was - but as she has no recollection of more recent events, she must rely on her family members and friends to fill in the blanks. She is shocked to learn what has happened to her family and uncomfortable around her boyfriend Ace and her best friend Will. She is strangely drawn to James, the boy who found her and rode with her to the hospital, who wasn't her friend before the accident.

Like memory itself, the book has many layers. Naomi knows she is lucky to be alive, but she is unsure how to live that life. She feels like a stranger in her own home. She feels like a stranger in her own body. As others - especially her father and Will - share their memories of her WITH her, Naomi wonders if her own memories, should ever resurface, will compare to these stories. She wants to get back to herself, but who is she now compared to who she was then?

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin is a memorable story, no pun intended. Naomi's physical, mental, and emotional recovery are all vital, as are yearbooks, photographs, mix tapes, and a coin toss. The reader learns about the narrator as she learns about herself, making for a rather singular reading experience. With its intriguing plot and engrossing writing, I consider this to be one of the best books of 2007.

Three Favorite Quotes
I wasn't comfortable with how much Will saw. He made me feel transparent when I was still opaque to myself.
"There are all sorts of things I could tell you," he said, "if you ever wanted to know them."
It's when you don't need something that you tend to lose it.

Three Times a Lady

The book is split into three sections:

I was . . .

I am . . .

I will . . .

Think about that.

Read my interview with the author.
wings, believe

Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

After what her parents call "the accident," sixth-grader and previously good student Abby was expelled from her previous school. Left with three choices (the county alternative school, private school, or being homeschooled), she ends up at St. Catherine's, a private Catholic school. Her family isn't very religious, but beggars can't be choosers. She has to go somewhere, so there she goes.

Abby refuses to talk to anyone about the incident. This is partially because she's a private person, and partially because she thinks she doesn't have anyone to talk to about it. She likes being angry, claiming that the emotion gives her energy and power. Meanwhile, her parents would rather not discuss anything upsetting, so whenever Abby's expulsion comes up in what little conversation they have, they dance around the subject.

Like the incidents in Just Listen by Sarah Dessen or Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, "the accident" (and the truth behind it) is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the book. Similar to the revelation in Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak, this isn't just about what happened to Abby or how she reacted, but when she choses to talk about it and the person she chooses to be her confidant.

Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is about acceptance, survival, and forgiveness. It is also about trust and about belief - in yourself, in the truth, in other people. It is possible to have a strong sense of faith without necessarily being religious. Thanks to her new friend Chris, his mother, and newfound faith in herself, Abby finds her way and proves that she is a survivor.

This book was chosen as a finalist in the Middle Grade category of the 2007 Cybils Awards. I also placed it on my Best Books of 2007 list. I encourage kids and adults alike to read this book, then talk about what caused Abby's expulsion and what to do if something similar happens to them.

Further Reading

If you have any concerns about the possible content, what with my comparing it to Speak, Just Listen, and Sweethearts, please note that this book is for a younger audience than the aforementioned titles. In other words, you have nothing to worry about. I think it's perfect for middle schoolers, the readers for which it is intended. I recommend it to older kids and adults too. Read it for yourself.

I read the scene with Abby setting up the Christmas Village as her mother passes through at least three times. I just kept re-reading that page and a half and thinking, "That's it, that's exactly it - that's how these people live every day."

Abby and Chris came right off of the page and into the theatre of my mind.

Speaking of which, the play they performed in the book was based on another of Bradley's books, Ruthie's Gift. After finishing Leap of Faith, I tracked down Ruthie's Gift and its companion One-of-a-Kind Mallie, two stories about life in the 1940s.