Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading is Wonderful

I had heard my mother and father discussing me one night when they thought that I was asleep. My mother told my father that she didn't think it was normal for me to be happy without friends. -from Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.

Last fall, I spent $3.00 at the local library book sale and walked away with a treasure stack of children's books, one of them being an early edition of Jennifer, Hecate,...Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. I'd been aware of this book for years, and was always intrigued not only because of its fine author, but also that a book could be published with such a clumsy, yet endearing sort of title. What I discovered between its covers was a beautifully written story about two lonely ten year old girls who find friendship in the most unusual way.

I don't know that a child reading this would necessarily see the sadness that underlies the narrative. Reading it as an adult though, I couldn't help but feel for the main character who is obviously desperate for a friend (desperate enough to do whatever the girl says, including eating raw hot dogs every day for a week). As one who writes about outsiders quite a bit, I can tell you the trick to creating a lonely character is making them someone the reader would want to befriend. Konigsburg does a fantastic job at this. Elizabeth is easily the one character in the book you'd want to get to know, to the point where you wish you could step into the story and tell her so.

-The rest of that week seemed to have a month's worth of days, but Saturday came. It was a golden day full of smells of autumn. I told my parents that I'd skip going grocery shopping with them. I told them that I had some work to do at the library. No argument. I was usually a nag for them to take to the A&P. I wasn't very popular at the A&P either. Once I had rammed the cart into a big mountain of cracker boxes. Avalanche! I told the manager that I'd pick them all up, and I did. I arranged them very artistically; the aisle was blocked for forty-five minutes. I hadn't been very popular at the A&P since.-

Perhaps what struck me most about this book is that Elizabeth felt like a girl who would grow up to be like one of the characters from my books. She's a budding Lacie (from Perfect World) or Hannah (from Zombie Blondes). A girl who, if anyone took the time to know her, would discover she has a lot to offer. From the vantage of experience, to see her younger and know this is going to happen kind of breaks your heart. Yet, the story is hopeful. She doesn't end up alone. Two like souls find each other.

Also like some of my books, I've seen a ton of reviews from readers decrying this book for being "boring". This really gets me more than anything else. An intimate character portrait is not boring! This is one thing a book can do that no other medium can. If you read solely for plot, I suggest you watch TV, you're time will be better served. Plot is what TV does best. It gives you tons of plot. A book that gives you intimate time with a character is a treasure. This is one of those books.

I laughed. I cried. I loved it.

-"Have you ever thought that most people wear their socks on their feet, not on their hands?"

I shook my head, "Yes."

She said, "Will you repeat after me: socks are for feet: mittens are for hands."

I said, "Socks are for feet; mittens are for hands."

She said, "Say it again."

I said, "Socks are for feet; mittens are for hands."

She said, "Now please tell me, where are your mittens?"

I said, "In my sock drawer."-

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