I’ve debated about doing an author spotlight on Carol, or just doing a book spotlight. I’m going to kind of make this both. While I will be focusing on the one novel, I am going to stray a bit from topic.
Carol (who I do know personally, so calling her by her first name is not pretentious) is a fantastic YA writer. [No, I will not only review YA. I do have the tendency to get into a groove of sorts and then have troubles breaking away from that groove. This is evidenced by my fascination to constantly listen to one album over and over again. But this is all beside the point.] Some of you might have heard of Carol in connection with the fabulously wrenching The Chosen One, a story of a young girl growing up in a polygamous cult. I actually bribed Carol into giving me an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) a couple months before it was published, and it was one of the few novels I literally could not put down. I think I even forgot to eat, instead devouring her words within a matter of hours. So my devotion to Carol is not because she is an amazing woman and teacher, but also because she is the most phenomenal writer.
In Miles From Ordinary, we are introduced to Lacey, a recent eighth-grade graduate who longs for normalcy. Her mother is ill, and Lacey only wants a little break from caring for her mother. Having managed to get her mother a job at the local Winn-Dixie, Lacey has volunteered her time at the local library, and could not be more thrilled. She dreams of the days to herself, not having to worry about her mother being haunted by dead Grandaddy, not having to wonder if her mom will stockpile more food, or close all the windows to keep the demons out. On the bus ride, Lacey meets Aaron, a boy from her class, and starts to wonder if just maybe she could have some friends this summer. When Lacey goes back to collect her mother from her job, she discovers that her mother quit after only an hour of work. Aaron and Lacey set out to find her mother, and with Aaron providing new perspective into her life, Lacey begins to see just how little she can do for her Momma.
Carol does tend to deal with some of the more difficult subjects, and that could make a few readers reluctant to pick up her novels. Do pick them up. Just because a novel is dark or emotional does not mean that it is inappropriate in any way (EW addressed this just a couple months ago). What Carol does so well, and has done through all of her books, is communicate hope. I do not think I have ever read another author more capable of expressing hope so delicately. It is never overdone or unrealistic, instead, it seeps out through the little things. In MFO, it is through Lacey’s desires to have a friend, a commodity she has never truly experienced because of her mother’s illness. Lacey’s wants seem so pure and innocent, and yet her doubts and fears mirror those of every other girl her age. Even though she faces some incredible challenges, she never loses hope that it will be better, that her Momma will get better with just a little help.
You see this same hope in Glimpse, a novel written in verse. But most of all, it radiates in The Chosen One, a much bolder novel than either Glimpse or Miles From Ordinary. Kyra, the main character, recognizes that something is wrong in her community, she knows she wants to change it, but there is a hesitation to do anything about it because she loves her many siblings, her mothers, and especially her father. She is one among many, but it is her hope for a better kind of life that leads her to her actions throughout the novel.
MFO also demonstrates another bit of Carol’s genius: narration. There are many writers who are very talented with dialogue (I have always felt my own was a little stilted), or those that are masters of the narration. What makes Carol so unique is that every bit of narration feels like it could be spoken to you by Lacey. It is hard to really master the character enough to keep the voice consistent – to make it really sound like they are telling you the story (especially if it is written in first-person). Because the narration is seamless with Lacey’s own dialogue, you lose yourself in the book, and it begins to feel as if Lacey herself is sitting next to you, telling you her sad story. This skill makes the book more real, more haunting, and provides a much deeper connection between the reader and the character. Although you might find Lacey’s Floridian drawl a bit much, it opens you up more than if the narration had been presented more off-hand.
I always get excited when Carol publishes a new book, because I always know I will enjoy it. I cannot wait to read her Damned Dystopian (or DD as she calls it. Maybe I have buttered her up enough with this post to get an ARC when the time comes?) Her characters hold onto you, grab at you, and demand your attention. Carol is the master of melancholy tinged with hope, and that is why her books resonate with her readers. She does not ever allow them to wallow in despair, as so many other authors would do. Instead, they always seem to pick themselves up and keep going, showing the teen readers the determination needed for life, whether or not your Momma still talks to your dead Grandaddy.