Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Authors to Fall In Love With: Laurie Halse Anderson

There are good authors.  There are great authors.  And there are authors you fall in love with.  For me, Laurie Halse Anderson is of the third category.  I've read six of her books, and every one was an eye-opening, thought-provoking experience.  Anderson has written many pre-teen books and a handful of picture books, but her tough teen fiction novels are what I love to read.  She probes deeply into even the most frightening, most unexplored teen issues, and encourages the reader to think about topics that we may sometimes prefer not to think about, because they can be sad and scary.  It's so good to read teen fiction that is completely opposite to the cliched, boy-meets-girl or character-discovers-self variety.  Anderson does romance, self-discovery, and the other myriad themes she deals with, in a completely nuanced, exciting way.
Here are a few books to get your Laurie Halse Anderson lovefest going:
1. Speak: Arguably Anderson's most famous book, Speak tells the story of Melinda's rape and how it shatters her life. As a ninth grader, Melinda is outcasted at her high school, with fail grades and no friends.  Her only respite is art class, but even that is a small comfort.  She doesn't want to tell anyone what happened to her the previous summer, but when she does, the truth is what finally sets her free.  The wonderfully poetic style of Speak alone would have made it a good read, but the clincher is the beautiful metaphor and imagery sprinkled just so in Melinda's narration.
2. Wintergirls: I'm not going to lie:  Wintergirls was terrifying.  But isn't that the point of difficult reads?  This book turned my perception of eating disorders upside down.  Lia, who is anorexic, and her best friend Cassie, who is bulimic, are descending into the deathly territory of eating disorders.  When Cassie dies, Lia begins to make a slow and painful recovery--all while being relentlessly haunted by Cassie's spirit.  There were moment during my reading of Wintergirls where I was very scared, but I have all the more respect for an author that can tackle the issue of eating disorders without being judgmental or avoiding the tough stuff.
3. Catalyst: Main character Kate is a high school senior and overachiever for whom things don't seem to be going right.  Her nemesis is living in her house, she has her heart set on MIT, the only college she applied to, but has yet to hear back, and more and more it feels like Kate's obsessive managing of her life isn't working.  Catalyst was interesting because it showed me that every person's life has more to it than you might assume-- or, in other words, there's no such thing as perfection.
4. Prom: Compared to her other books, I first thought that Prom seemed pretty lighthearted, and even a little cliched.  No such thing--it was a hilarious book filled with lovable characters that had a few tough topics mixed in, including the scary thought of life after high school for so-called "average kid" Ash, who knows she isn't going to college, and the perseverance of community through even the toughest setbacks.

Further reading:
Twisted, a more adult novel about suicide
The three books in the Seeds of America historical fiction series, including the amazing Chains
The Impossible Knife of Memory (her newest book, which I have yet to read but looks amazing)

Have you read Laurie Halse Anderson?  What did you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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