First of all, I want to go all fangirl on you because you had Ruta Sepetys in the CBC studio last week and I went with a couple teachers and some students from HVHS to hear her speak at the library on Thursday night. Writers are rock stars in my book and any personal interaction you get to have with them is so squee-worthy.
I haven’t read her other books, but I did read Between Shades of Gray with my grade nine class this year and I have to say it was a remarkable experience. Even students – mostly boys – who weren’t readers enjoyed that book and in fact read way ahead of the class. So, you know there’s something good going on when that happens. I know, too, that one of my colleagues at St. Mac’s said they’d walk through the halls during the 20 minutes they’d set aside for the school to read and there was silence…and they mentioned how gratifying it was to hear students talking about the book in the halls at lunch and break. That is solid-gold to teachers. Her talk at the library was lovely and she is so warm. She took pics with our kids (in the photo below she is on the far left), selfies even, and answered their questions. She was terrific.
Okay – with that out of the way, let’s talk about the books.
I want to talk about books of a type – you know how a book will hit it big and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of similar books on the market. So, for example, everyone was talking about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and I jumped on that bandwagon and I liked the book – didn’t LOVE the book. But then all of a sudden there were all these books with unreliable narrators and so I thought I would talk about a couple of those today.
Still Mine – Amy Stuart
Stuart is a Canadian writer and this is her first book. It’s the story of Clare O’Dey, a woman on the run from her abusive husband, Jason, who ends up making a deal with the man he’s sent to find her. In exchange for her freedom, she has to go to this tiny mining town – I’m going to say it’s Northern BC or Alberta – and find a woman called Shayna who has gone missing. Clare finds herself wholly invested in the search for Shayna and it makes a weird sort of sense because Shayna’s past is as messed up as Jason’s. The town, Blackmore, is peopled with all sorts of damaged and dangerous characters including Shayna’s ex-husband, the town’s drug dealer and even Shayna’s parents.
The Widow – Fiona Barton
It’s the story of Glen and Jean Taylor, a pretty average 30-something couple in England whose lives are totally upended when Glenn is accused of kidnapping a little girl named Bella. When the novel opens Glenn is dead – hit by a car – and Jean has decided to tell her story to the press. Although we also spend a little time with Bella’s mother and the police detectives who are investigating the case and the reporter, it’s really Jean’s story – whether you believe her or not – that ties everything together. I should warn listeners that the subject matter of The Widow might be objectionable to some – it deals with online pornography. However, there is nothing graphic here – I promise. Just a lot of skeezy characters.
Finally, just to balance it out a YA book with a character you can trust.
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
This is a beautiful novel that marries prose and poetry – a technique Hubbard used in her novel Paper Cover Rock, which I also highly recommend. In this book, sixteen-year-old Emily Beam has been whisked away from her home to attend The Amherst School for Girls. The reasons for this abrupt change have to do with a tragedy which occurred back home and that tragedy is revealed through flashbacks and through the poems Emily writes. Ad We Stay won quite a few awards and is, imho, deserving of them. This is a quiet novel that treats its subject matter and its characters with care and respect. Plus – there’s Emily Dickinson, so come on.