Monday, August 20, 2012

Kicking off Contemporary YA Appreciation Week: Siobhan Dowd

Hello, fellow book lovers!
We know that we've been really quiet these last few weeks (months, even?), but we're still alive and kicking, and hopefully, we'll revive this blog, starting with this week. We're going to take the focus away from our usual Paranormal Fantasy fare, and reconnect with the, shall we say, simpler stories. Contemporary YA is certainly not a genre to be ignored, and I can't think of a better author to kick things off with than Siobhan Dowd.
I found Siobhan Dowd's works last summer, and those that I have read have been heartbreakingly beautiful, so much so that I consider her one of the few contemporary YA authors you have got to read if you consider yourself a fan. She only published four books, sadly. Her early death deprived readers of one of the best talents I have ever seen, and I think it's high time more people knew about her. So, I will give you my two reviews of her books, "A Swift Pure Cry" and "Solace of the Road". Also, "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness was based on one of her ideas -it's a truly gorgeous picture book, which I believe will make you reconsider your thoughts on the so-called "cancer books".
So, without further ado, my reviews (cross-posted from GR).
A Swift Pure Cry:
How can I describe "A Swift Pure Cry"? Certainly not in terms that are often applied to books.
Ephemere.
Fragile.
Elegant.
Claustrophobic.
Beautiful.
This is the story of Shell, short for Michelle, a 16-year old girl who, in 1984, deals with the aftermath of her mother's death and the consequences of her father's drinking/religious awakening. She finds comfort in the friendship of a young pastor, Father Rose, not realizing that their interactions spike a scandal which rocks the community.
Reading the synopsis, I thought of lifetime movies and melodrama and angst (which shows just how much I know). It sets a backdrop for the reader - a devastated, poor family in an even more devastated, poor time, a dead mother, a drunk father, an eldest daughter who has to step up to the role of a caregiver and housekeeper much too soon.
What I didn't expect was how personal the narrative felt. Shell's life is confined to the routine, from which she rarely finds reprieve. It's claustrophobic, stiffling, and very, very scary, seeing her fear, frustration, desperation, and feeling them for yourself. It's also full of vibrancy and color and hope, and that's why it's so wonderful when the ending reflects the positive, and not the negative.
Solace of the Road:
Holly, the protagonist of "Solace of the Road", goes on a journey. She's been in foster care for years, ever since her Mum had to disappear off to Ireland, but has always dreamt of joining her one day. After her friends from the home start moving on, and tensions begin to arise in her new foster family, she decides that it's high time she goes through with her plans. She dons a wig, leaves a flippant note and takes off.
As Solace, a slim-slam glamour girl, Holly is able to do a lot of things she has never dared to do - bluff, lie, drink, shoplift. She travels along the A40, from London through Oxford to the shores and even gets on a ferry to Ireland. But the further she goes, the more problems she encounters, and the cracks begin to emerge in Solace's perfect image.
"Solace of the Road" isn't a hard book to get into. Unlike most YA books nowadays, it doesn't need bombastic opening sequences and crazy conspiracies to hook the readers. While on the surface this is a journey story, the intention is only internal - for the most part, it's Holly and Solace, marching on together, exploring the innermost depths of their heart.
Holly is not an easy person to love. She does not want to be loved. Her only desire is to be together with her Mum again, and go back to the kind of sweet reality she had as a little girl. The grown-up reader would easily see the problem with that and shake their head with sadness at her tragedy... Except there is nothing tragic about Holly. In spite of the hardships, in spite of the pain, in spite of the fact that her very world is burned to a cinder by the end of her journey, she has a kind of an internal power that drives her forward and makes her shine. She doesn't slow down and she doesn't look back, just moves forward, fighting and fighting even when there seems to be nothing left to fight for.
Holly is glorious. I have no other way of describing her.
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Siobhan Dowd's books are available on Amazon, both in the US and the UK (I think). A percentage of the proceeds goes to the Siobhan Dowd Trust, whose purpose is to make books available to those who have no access to them.
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What do we have next? Stay tuned, because tomorrow we'll have the pleasure of welcoming a debut author, whom I consider one of the rising new superstars of contemporary YA.

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