Worthy of Study

We can learn a lot about writing great books by reading great books, right? I read over 20 novels last year, mostly YA, but a few MG too. There were many I liked, but not enough to label a crush.  

Then there were those that really stuck with me. Personally, I know I’ve got more than a crush when, after I’ve finish the book to find out how it all ends, I want to STUDY it. Not in a general way, but in line with a specific question I have. It is usually because the author has done a particular thing so very well.

So here are my top picks from 2011 (not necessarily that were published in 2011, but that I read in 2011 J) and why you might want to pull them apart and study them. English class, anyone?

If you want help with Plot:

THE REVENANT, by Sonia Gensler—The time period and historical setting real stuck with me. That and the creepy haunting of the main character, Willie. The narrative feels very confident, all the loose ends are tied up at the end, and Gensler does a good job of making Wille’s story-worth problem (she’s a runaway hiding her identity) intersect with and affect her ability to solve the story’s surface problem (the haunting of a Cherokee girl’s school). The story begins in just the right place with an inciting incident that intrigues and reveals just enough about the character to keep us reading. The narrative makes and keeps its promises too, with plenty of satisfactory surprises thrown in. I think you’ll love it.

If you are considering how to handle Multiple Points of View:

ENTER THREE WITCHES, by Caroline B. Cooney—Actually, I was a bit put-off at first by the multiple narrators, but once I figured out who each “speaker” was, I found Cooney’s handling to be quite intriguing. This is because even with the varying viewpoints, the narrative still feels like Mary’s (the main protagonist) story because the others only relate information that agrees or disagrees with what Mary thinks or says. They also allow us to look at Mary through their eyes, which gives us a broader picture of her than we might have had if the POV had been restricted to Mary only. Lastly, each sequence and p.o.v. change moves the story forward with almost cinematic effect. The reader doesn’t have to redo points of time from one p.o.v. to the next, the narrative just keep moving ahead as though we have changed cameras. Plus the book is a retelling of MACBETH, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.

 If you are looking for a vivid and compelling use of Setting:

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, by Beth Revis—A spaceship? I mean, can there be a cooler setting choice for a murder mystery? Revis does an excellent job, not only of painting the setting for us so we feel we are walking around inside the ship, but of showing us how the setting affects the main character, Amy. I feel just as pressed in and trapped as she does. I wonder if there is any hope that she will ever get off that ship, just as she does. I feel the ship hurtling through the black expanse of space even now, months and months after reading it. If you are developing a setting that is essential to the narrative arch of your story (which in my opinion, should always be the case), pay attention to all the places where Amy is not only acting within her environment, but thinking about her environment. I think that is precisely why the setting feels so real.

If you want to understand how to create memorable Character:

LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, by Deb Wiles—I will never forget Ruby, her poignancy, her flesh-and-blood feel, the way she speaks and thinks. This is up there with Gilly Hopkins, and Anne Shirley, and Ramona Quimby. Wiles gives us Ruby in layers – images, quirks both verbal and physical, descriptions, actions, reactions, emotions. Study this one, and you will be glad to have spent time with this dear, dear girl.

And as a bonus:

BLACK PEARLS, by Louise Hawes—every short story is incredibly well-done. Just wait until you read the retelling of Cinderella from the Prince’s point of view, or the one about Snow White. But my absolutely favorite is “Naked,” from the rhyme “Ride a cock horse to Coventry Cross.” A perfect treatment of a relationship gone wrong and the nobility that can rise from the cracks in the human heart. I cried. And then promised to study it several times over. I am so glad I did.

Have you read anything recently that you want to tear apart and study and put back together again? Feel free to share your recommended reads from 2011!

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