Friday, August 19, 2011

Pain as a Style

Yesterday I was reading Leslie Connor's remarkable, award-winning middle-grade novel, Waiting for Normal, and I was astonished by its emotional richness and by the author's courage. 

Connor's impossible feat is to couch her story in a contemporary world of realistic pain, yet make it readable. Waiting for Normal is a wonder to read. That's practically a magic trick, given that the main character is dealing with a neglectful, manic-depressive mom, poverty, her parents' divorce, and the terminal cancer of a friend. That should make you want to slit your wrists, but the writing has such delicacy and such a strong heart that the every triumph over pain fills the reader with joy.

Writing intense pain believably, but in a way that a reader can withstand, is an art that few have mastered. The skill is not only appropriate to realistic contemporary settings, but can inform any genre. One could think of it as a compositional style. Lois Lowry's celebrated middle-grade novel, The Giver, is a good example of science fiction inlaid with real heartache. 

It is much trickier to write about pain for a middle-grade than a YA audience because of the need to protect the younger, less-worldly reader. I'd love to hear about other MG novels that you think succeed as being very painful but very hopeful.

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  1. Already the title 'Waiting for Normal' is a success in conveying the pain of a middle-grader. (Actually, I think it might fit any age group beyond, too.) Will check this book out soon.

    Here are the MG novels (straying into YA because of the heavier themes) I love which are both sad, horrifying and hopeful:

    * Notes from a Liar and Her Dog (Gennifer Choldenko)
    * When My Name Was Keoko (Linda Sue Park)
    * The Island on Bird Street (Uri Orlev)

    Though I think the readership of the last two books might really be more towards Age 10-14 range ...

  2. What about Stargirl, Flipped, and Firegirl? They all convey strong emotions at the middle grade level.

  3. Great suggestions! I'm not familiar with Uri Orlev's work.

  4. Hi Anne,

    (Please pardon the following marvel. Have made it a personal mission to introduce Uri Orlev to boards discussing good MG reads and authors, hehe ...)

    I wasn't familiar with Uri Orlev's work until I picked a novel out while doing research for books on the grandparent theme for my blog. I picked out 'The Song of the Whales' and it is THE BEST MG NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ.

    Island on Bird Street is also good, but it only got interesting half-way on. (Guess the war theme is a tad too heavy for me ...) =)