Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork was a deeply moving story told through the alternate viewpoints of a brother and sister, who are involved in exposing the disappearance of beautiful girls in Juarez, and who now must disappear themselves, because their lives are in danger. My heart broke for their mother, but I have hope that they will be reunited. The boy, Emiliano, has to make many difficult choices. I love characters like this who do the right thing eventually, but struggle throughout. It took me a few chapters to get used to third-person present tense narrative, but the story is so compelling, it was no longer a distraction. He's an author I've followed closely since he published Marcelo in the Real World because at the heart of each of his books is a moral dilemma.
Mr. Stork also read my book! It is so wonderful when an author you admire reads your work. He said, "Bound is a realistic, honest, portrayal of a young woman's struggle to overcome physical, emotional and social burdens. Her journey toward the growth that is found at the heart of those burdens is one we should all make. A courageous book about courage."
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr was such a joy to read. I think the lessons of music can be applied to writing. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is about Lucy, a concert pianist before the age of 14, but who is now trying to live a more typical life (as if there's any such thing) going to school, having friends, etc. This is another family story, with the weight of expectations weighing down its young characters, but I found the parents strangely absent, both physically and emotionally. It's the grandfather who has the big personality. Lucy's return to the piano via the younger brother's piano teacher is a road to healing. I don't typically go for stories about the rich and famous, but Zarr is an amazing storyteller, her characters unique and flawed, and it's always satisfying to accompany them on their journey.
I don't often talk about book design but I really liked how scenes were separated by quarter notes, flashbacks in the Intermezzo, and the different sections of the book labelled: Tempo Rubato, Free Cadenza, Con Brio Con Fusco, Da Capo.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a book that focuses on four characters out of the thousands of refugees who are desperate to board the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. I didn't know this piece of WWII history in which Poles, Prussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Germans evacuated because the Russian troops were advancing. The Russians torpedoed the Wilhelm Gustloff and over 9,000 people perished. I must admit that I'd have preferred a nonfiction book over the fictionalized version. Jumping back and forth from these four characters' viewpoints (the chapters are really, really short so you don't inhabit any one character for more than 2 minutes) was disorienting. Perhaps that was the author's intent. Yet, Ruta is an amazing storyteller because I kept reading in spite of my annoyance. She quotes Primo Levi at the beginning: "We the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth, are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared." She exhorts us to think about how we remember history and to not let the truth disappear when the survivors are gone. I knew Ruta from the Blueboard and still remember when she sold her first book, which remains a favorite: Between Shades of Gray.
Second Nature: A Love Story was compared to Bound in a review, so I had to check it out, especially since it's written by one of my favorite writers, Jacquelyn Mitchard. I was immediately drawn into Sicily Coyne's story. Burned and left without a face at the age of 13, in the same fire that cost her father his life, the story continues with Sicily engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart, only to discover a terrible secret. She walks away from the marriage and agrees to a face transplant (still in its infancy) to begin a new life. She embraces it fully and with it come consequences that force her to make even more difficult choices. I loved how Sicily's life meshes with those of the Cappadoras (I knew them from The Deep End of the Ocean), how detailed all the medical descriptions are. They never feel forced because Sicily is an artist, specializing in drawing the human body in all its glory. I've always loved the intersection between art and science and this book delivers. It also brings many ethical questions to mind, including the entire medical transplant industry. What I found extraordinary was the beauty of the statistically impossible. Miracles, really.
What all these four authors have in common is...me. If you like their writing, you will enjoy mine. If you like mine, you will enjoy theirs. When I was in queryland, I often used both Francisco Stork's and Sara Zarr's books as comp. titles. I think it really helps to know where your book fits with others.
A friend and I were discussing what constitutes a YA book. He felt that Bound is for adults. It's true enough that adults can enjoy it and get tremendous satisfaction. However, the story is solely from Rebecca's point of view and she's still not grown up. It's a very different matter when you have a character like Scout looking back at events from long ago as Harper Lee does in To Kill a Mockingbird. So, it's the sensibility that makes one book YA and another adult. That said, I knew that Bound would have a crossover appeal to adults. I think the best stories don't have an age limit or barrier. I'm still reading beautiful picture books.