Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.
Please give it up for Erin, everyone!
One of the great, great things about being a writer is hearing from readers. My notes are generally of two kinds. I hear from very young readers, who mostly tell me they like cats, and from grown-ups, who mostly tell me I made them cry. So far, I have made people cry:
On airplanes: “I read it on an international flight. Then I had to hide under a blanket for half an hour. #worthit.”
On intercity buses: “The driver keeps asking me if I’m okay.”
And most deliciously, in the carpool line at a junior high. “My children were HUMILIATED. THANK YOU.”
I never quite know what to say to these people. “I’m sorry”? “You’re welcome”? Sarah Rees Brennan, who is an expert at making people cry, says I should laugh maniacally until people back away.
But I get that it is a compliment, to tell authors that you cry. And I get that we want books that make us cry. I do, anyway. Just not necessarily in front of dozens of strangers.
This is why I am proposing a new literary award. It is to be called the SNOT award. Given to STORIES NOT to be read ON TRANSIT, the SNOT shall honor and mark books that will make you ugly-cry while on a crowded cross-town bus.
The SNOT sticker will be gold and embossed, and will stand as both a ringing endorsement and a useful warning.
Here are some initial nominees:
The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson
Mark Twain had a beloved daughter Susy, who died. Of receiving the news, he wrote this: “It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live. There is but one reasonable explanation of it. The intellect is stunned by the shock and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their full import is mercifully lacking.”
That’s where Lennie, the narrator in The Sky Is Everywhere, starts out. Her sister has died, but she, surprisingly, keeps living. The world, surprisingly, keeps turning. How do you get back into the world? Should you, perhaps, have sex with your late sister’s boyfriend? Should you find a love of your own? If you do find happiness, is it a betrayal of grief? Or can joy and grief work side by side, like a pair of wings?
Oh, this book is so beautiful. You have to go read it.
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Lauren Oliver had a smash hit with her Delirium series, but this is the book before that, and if you want a weepie, pick it up. This one hits all my personal buttons — particularly the ones labeled memory, regret, and second chances — but even if you have buttons in different places, this one’s a stunner.
There’s this girl named Sam, see, and she’s got nothing more on her mind than this awful thing called Cupid Day, where the high school students deliver roses to each other and everyone can count how many roses you get and pick apart whether the note your boyfriend sent you is sufficiently romantic and all that. Teenaged me would have shriveled at the thought of a day like that, but Sam’s thriving on it. She’s got an armful of roses, clothes that match her best friends’ clothes, and a party to get to. And then the car she’s in rolls over, and she dies.
And then she wakes up, and it’s Cupid Day again.
How do you live your last day? Can you change yourself? Can you save yourself? Or do you perhaps need the courage to let go?
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
So Connor’s mom has cancer. Not that Connor or anyone in his life will say that out loud. She’s just had chemo — not that anyone will say that either — and she’s lying in the house, sick and weak and afraid to say the big “C” words, just in case they are like the devil, and come when you say their name. Connor, and let’s cut him slack because he’s just a kid, is down with the denial strategy. But then … there’s this cemetery behind the house, because of course there is, and in the cemetery is a yew tree, and at night the yew tree walks. Walks right up to Connor’s window and calls his name.
This book is creepy and funny and touching and above all brave — it’s about looking the monster right in the face and calling it by name.
I do want to say that these books are not just one-awful-thing-after-another, they are not descriptions of loss, merely. They are not cruel to their readers, in the way Old Yeller is cruel. They are about sweetness, and meaning, and love, and friendship, and courage. And in the end it’s always courage that gets me. Sad I can always handle without breaking out the hankies. But beauty and bravery break the heart. And oh, for the beauty and bravery of books like these.
PS: I am avoiding mentioning this year’s obvious SNOT front-runners, not because they are not amazingly gorgeous, but because they don’t seem to need the attention: The Fault in Our Stars (the car-egging scene!) and Code Name Verity (Kiss me, Hardy!). Bonus nods to Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz and Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King. Special SNOT Junior Award, for picture books that will make you cry during library story-time, dangnabit: City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems (text) and Jon J. Muth (illustration) — What happened to the frog, mommy? What happened???? — and my personal all time favorite Amos and Boris, by William Steig.
And what about you guys? Which book would you nominate for a Snot Award?