Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MG Book Review: A Mango-Shaped Space

A few years ago I decided to dabble in writing for children, and have since completed both a middle-grade and YA novel. While studying the marketplace for the submission process, I’ve discovered numerous new authors and books, and I’m not ashamed to say I often use my 10-year-old daughter Mia as a test subject for books I think look interesting (the girl devours books, so it’s not like I have to twist her arm or anything). I think I can take credit for turning her onto author Wendy Mass. We were browsing the book selection at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore one afternoon and I found a paperback called 11 Birthdays that I thought she might like. My daughter hedged at first because she was sort of in a reading rut and wasn’t interested in checking out a new author, but the book was only 50 cents so she finally agreed.

Can I just say she is now obsessed with all things Wendy Mass? I truly believe that because of this author Mia is now more interested in novels featuring magical realism and fantasy. She’s read the entire Willow Falls series, Rebecca’s Stead’s When You Reach Me,  The Lightning Thief, and she even finished up the classic A Wrinkle inTime a few weeks ago. I am officially one proud writer mama.

Mia first read about A Mango-Shaped Space when researching other Wendy Mass novels and tracked it down at our local library. Once she finished it, she couldn’t stop discussing the main character’s synesthesia (what?) and begged me to read it so we could talk about it.  I finally agreed after she kept leaving it on my desk. 

I’ve been to writing workshops and listened to agents and editors talk about the importance of a compelling hook. Well, let me tell you, this book has all that and more. The fact that the main character's name is Mia probably didn't hurt, either.

A Mango-Shaped Space
Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. Forced to reveal her condition, she must look to herself to develop an understanding and appreciation of her gift in this coming-of-age novel.

I had honestly never heard of synesthesia before, and it makes for a great storyline. The reader is hooked from the first paragraph of the prologue, and you feel compassion for the main character, Mia, who feels she has to hide her special gift to avoid being teased and called a freak by her classmates. Not only that, but she has a very special cat, Mango, who also struggles with a physical ailment, which strengthens their bond. Because she is struggling in school, Mia eventually comes clean about the fact that all the letters and numbers she sees are associated with specific colors and is relieved when she learns there is a name behind it. With the help of her parents, she begins working with an expert in the field of synesthesia and joins an online support group.

The book has all the hallmarks of a great middle-grade story—conflict with a best friend, a love interest or two, misunderstood siblings, and sadly, dealing with the loss of a pet. A Mango-Shaped Space really touched me as a parent and caused me to shed a tear or two by the end. I simply could not put it down.

Have you read any worthwhile middle-grade novels recently? I’d love to hear what others are reading!

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Introvert's Look at Interviews

This past weekend, I sat back and thought about my career as a freelance writer up to this point. I started really getting more contract work in 2005, starting with articles and profiles for a local newspaper and then moving on to a national parenting website. Now I write mostly for websites and regional magazines. These articles require me to do a lot of interviews, which is kind of funny when you think about it, because I consider myself a pretty serious introvert. I get nervous anytime I have to pick up the phone and call a source or meet someone in person for an interview. I try to be prepared ahead of time, but it still doesn't erase the "stage fright" I get before each interview.

Luckily, my anxiety (usually) manages to pass and I can honestly say I enjoy meeting the new people I am assigned to write about--because I've met some truly amazing people and shared some really great stories. 

Today I offer a few tips on the art of perfecting the interview at WOW! Women on Writing's blog, The Muffin, where I often get to interview authors like Molly Harper, which is almost like not even working. Almost. I hope you'll stop by and check it out!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Everybody's Talking About Sisterhood and The Moon Sisters

Because I am an only child, sisterhood is something I've always longed for and struggled to find. There are days when I'm struggling and wish I had a sister or even a brother that I could pick up the phone and call. It is only within the past few years that I've realized I have had many "sisters" throughout my lifetime--I just didn't see them for what they were at the time.

The girls who took me under their wings and invited me into their homes every time I moved into a new school as a child were my sisters. Some of my fondest childhood memories are sleepovers with my girlfriends, when we stayed up all night spilling our secrets and gorged ourselves on squirty cheese and saltine crackers, chips and salsa and Cheerwine soda. (And to those girls, I also have to say a big "thank you" for putting up with my need to sing Debbie Gibson songs endlessly. I know there are times you probably wanted to throttle me.)

Girl trip to New York in 2005.

If I've been friends with you for more than 20 years, I consider you a sister.
There's another friend I consider a sister who shares my love of all things 80s, including the movies and music from that time period. I can't see the movie "Say Anything" without instantly imagining us cruising along in her mother's Mustang convertible blasting the soundtrack to that movie. As we grew older, some of us fell out of touch over the years, but thanks to social media, we are now able to keep up with each other's lives and continue to reach out and provide comfort and support to one another. Their love and friendship have meant more to me than they'll ever know, and I'll always be grateful for the surrogate sisters I've had in my lifetime.

Sisterhood in The Moon Sisters

In The Moon Sisters, her second novel, Therese Walsh wanted to write about one sister’s quest to find will-o’-the-wisp light, which was her mother’s unfulfilled dream. Also called “foolish fires”, these lights are sometimes seen over wetlands and are thought to lead those who follow them to treasure. Despite the promise, they are never captured and sometimes lead to injury or even death for adventurers who follow them. The metaphor of that fire – that some dreams and goals are impossible to reach, and that hope itself may not be innately good – eventually rooted its way into deeper meaning as the Moon sisters tried to come to terms with real-world dreams and hopes, and with each other, in their strange new world. 

Olivia and Jazz Moon are polar opposites: one a dreamy synesthete, able to see sounds and smell sights and the other controlling and reality driven. What will happen when they are plunged into 24/7 togetherness and control is not an option? Will they ever be able to see the world through the other’s eyes and confront the things they fear the most? Death. Suicide. The loss of faith and hope. Will they ultimately believe that life is worth living, despite the lack of promise? The writing of The Moon Sisters was a five year journey and at times author Therese Walsh felt like it was her own “foolish fire." But remember, some fires are worth the chase!

You can check out Jodi Webb's review of The Moon Sisters at the WOW! Women on Writing blog. To  learn more about Therese Walsh, visit her website.

Want the chance to win a free book? As a bonus, anyone who comments on this post or any of the other blogs participating in "Everybody's Talking About Sisterhood" will be entered in a drawing for the opportunity to win a copy of The Moon Sisters. A complete list of participating blogs can be found here. You can enter dozens of times if you like!