October 17, 2009

First Time Can be the Charm...

One of my sisters is obsessed with birth order. She thinks it's the most significant determinant of our paths in life. Of course, she's the oldest, the first. According to research, "firsts" are goal-setting, high achieving perfectionists. I'm wondering if birth order attributes apply to first novels, too. I've read some high-achieving "firsts" lately, picking them on the basis of blogs I read and some that I've just happened upon. I feel like I get something extra when I read a good first novel. Beyond a satisfying read, I also receive a subliminal inspirational message. Yes, it can be done. People write first books all the time...you can, too.

All of the books below do their authors proud. They're not "perfect", but all are engaging and highly readable. With each of them I've found myself rereading intriguing sentences and studying plots, characterizations and techniques for escalating conflict. The imperfections seem to come in the endings, a rush to wrap things up too quickly and a reliance on convenient justifications. These aren't fatal flaws because of the strong and compelling storytelling throughout.

What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau. I was introduced to this author by a series of interviews with her at Through the Toolbooth. Resau has published several other books, but Moon was her first. I found her interview intriguing and her subject matter a bit out of the ordinary so I placed a hold at my library. The book came in a few days and I soon was immersed in the mystical Mexican world of Clara and her abuelita, Helena. I was reminded a little bit of Isabel Allende and her brand of magical realism, but I found this book more engrossing than Allende's young adult books. I liked her style so much that I immediately read her second novel, Red Glass.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander. I read about this book in an author interview in the October issue of the SCBWI magazine. Jill's path to publication included fortuitous encounters at SCBWI conferences, and of course good writing and hard work. Her contemporary novel is chock full of intriguing, multi-dimensional characters: a marshmallow of a parade princess, a cajun fisherman, cowboys, and a strong but wounded mother and daughter duo. There is also a fabulous chicken named Charles Dickens. To be honest, my current obsession with chickens is what drew me in, but I found myself eager to stay for the rest of the story.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helpler. I purchased this book at my school's Scholastic Book Fair. My selection was based on superficial impressions--clever cover art, cute title and a quick read of a few pages...plus a need to support the PTA. I thought I'd found a light read, a perfect antidote for a session of insomnia. but it was much more than that. The Cupcake Queen tells a traditional YA story (divorcing parents, relocation, search for self) but Hepler's writing and characterizations make it unique and cliche-free.

What these books had in common for me as a reader is that I got more than I bargained for with each of them. They had more weight (and in some case much less froth) than I'd anticipated, and my "take-aways" were more substantial, too. I'd read all of them again... for the story, the technique and the pleasure of savoring successful "firsts."


Patty P said...

Sold! You got me. What great reviews. Can I borrow the last two!!! I'm in a novel dry spell.

Maggie said...

Oui! The lending library is open por vous. (Just read my favorite Paris blog...guess that explains my feeble attempt at French.) Au revoir--M.