Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A very roundabout review . . .

When I was in grade school my best friend was Elizabeth Holmes.  I might not have been her best friend, but I considered her mine.  I was not a kid who made a lot of friends.  Elizabeth and I wrote poetry, and traded first and second places back and forth in contests for several years.  Every year we ended up in the teachers lounge at school, as the winners of the local spelling bee, working on memorizing words in order to make regional or state champion.  Elizabeth usually went farther than I did.  She had more determination, even at that age.

 Fast-forward about thirty-five years.  I run into Elizabeth’s mother in our hometown when I’m visiting my father.  I screw my courage up (I hate asking questions to which I do not know the answers, because what if the answer is bad,) and ask her how Elizabeth is doing and where she is.  I get a phone number and an address in upstate New York.  I hate the phone, so I write. 

I tell her I was in the theater, and now I am running an Inn and cooking and that I started writing poetry again.
Not surprisingly, she is a professor.  It’s that concentration thing again.  And she writes poetry.  In fact, she has a book of poetry out.  I believe I overwhelm her with my eagerness to connect.  We don’t write again.  I buy her book of poetry.

Jump forward ten years.  I have several prize chapbooks and a book of poetry  published.  I look Elizabeth up on that amazing  new thing called the Internet.  She now has two books of poetry.

Elizabeth has married a professor of English.  I have married a professor of English.  Both of our professors are creative writers.
I write a sort of memoir of my time on the island.  Before and after this book I work on a series of middle readers for 8 to 12-year-olds.

It is 2014.  I am fifty-seven years old.  My first middle reader came out in April.  Elizabeth leaves a lovely note on my blog.  I look her up again.  She has published three middle readers.

I immediately buy her books and download them onto my Kindle.
Here’s my review for the first one:
Pretty Is by Elizabeth Holmes is one of a rare and rapidly vanishing species of middle reader, a well-rounded story told in an age-appropriate voice, a story with a plot and equally strong subplot. The characters are finely drawn and utterly believable, and there’s action, suspense, and even a moral that doesn’t sound preachy.  And yet, there are no vampires or werewolves, no epic battles, no fantasy worlds and no alternative dystopian futures.  How could it possibly interesting?

Erin and Monica are sisters, but they couldn’t be more different. Monica is one of those embarrassing older sisters who just doesn’t fit in. And Erin wants desperately to fit in, to be surrounded by a large group of friends. But the girls she used to be friends with are changing, and she’s feeling left out. And Erin knows that’s only going to get worse, as next year she will have to go to the same school with the embarrassing Monica, which will, she is sure, destroy any chance she has left of winning her old friends back. The summer starts out awfully, and goes downhill from there. No spoilers here, but through a series of events and misadventures Erin learns that not everyone has to be popular the same way, and even and older sister like Monica can turn out to be a pretty good friend when the chips are down.

Holmes captures perfectly the angst of that age, those girls on the cusp between adolescent and teen and feeling the pull of both worlds.

I don’t mean this to sound as if I have been in competition with Elizabeth Holmes my whole life.  What I’m trying to say is that I think it’s uncanny how two friends in elementary school can go such separate paths and yet windup somehow connecting at certain points all along the way.

She could always waterski better than me too.