Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

One of the joys of summer is that I can finally start reading in that stack of "to-be-read" books that keeps getting taller and taller. My thesis-in-progress is about a young girl who is dealing with grief and lots of change in her life.

Two of the books I read this week are about characters that also are dealing with grief and lots of personal change in their lives. I didn't realize this when I picked these books out of the pile.

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Mitch's parents are getting a divorce and he is mad at the world. He and his Mom go to live with his grandparents on Bird Lake. He spends most of his time being angry and wanting his life to be normal again. Then Spencer and his family arrive at Bird Lake. Spencer's family is returning to Bird Lake after many years because this is where Spencer's older brother drowned. It has taken a long time for his parents to feel like they can try to return. Both of these boys are dealing with their own issues, but they become friends.

As I writer, I loved to see how Henkes developed the psyche of these two boys and showed so many details. His use of setting and emotions really helped me to see how a writer can portray grief and emotions through the physical place and objects around them.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
This book is by a Virginia author. I had heard so many good things about it. I knew it was about a girl with Asperger's syndrome, but I didn't realize that it also was about this girl dealing with the loss of her brother who was killed in a school shooting. Like Erskine, I was touched by the Virginia Tech shootings. It was 30 minutes from where I live and I was terrified that something so horrible could happen so close to home. Erskine shows how Caitlin, the main character, deals with the loss of her brother and helps her dad also deal with his grief. Erskine portrays the grief honestly and uniquely as seen through the eyes of a child with Asperger's. There are no quick answers, but Caitlin and her dad began to heal.

As a writer, I was deeply touched by the emotions of this book. I loved how Erskine developed the relationship between Caitlin and her brother. We get to know Devon, the brother, after his death, through Caitlin's memories. Erskin weaves this in piece by piece in little details each time. Once again, like Henkes novel, we see how physical objects also hold great emotional weight.

Both of these novels I intended to read for pure pleasure. I had no idea they would help me see how different writers can approach the same subject. And they gave me momentum for pushing on with my own novel with a character in grief.


Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

Hi! I found your blog purely by accident, and I'm so glad that I did. Good posts. I am "janpriddyoregon" and I don't blog much about the writing. The blog is my writing just now, but like you I'm a teacher and writer.


M.F. Atkins said...

Thanks for reading, Jan! I'll check out your blog too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marcie (You know you got me interested in Vinnie Ream!)
It's JG (in Tallahasse) here.
I hope part of your summer reading will be a search for my picture book biography.
Title: She Sang Promise
It's a p.b. bio illustrated by Lisa Desimini
From National Geographic Children's Books
My website is

Jan Godown _(JG) Annino
jgaoffice at gmail dot com