Thursday, February 21, 2008

Memoir: Three Little Words

Ashley Rhodes-Courter lived in fourteen different foster homes in nine years. Her memoir chronicles her childhood spent as a victim of a badly broken foster care system, yet she sees herself as more of a survivor and advocate rather than a victim.

Ashley’s story begins with her earliest memories (based in part on stories told to her by her family). Her mother was only seventeen when Ashley was born. They lived for awhile with her mother’s sister, then with a boyfriend and a new baby brother. When Ashley was just three years old, and her brother Luke still a baby, police removed them from their house, and the progression of foster parents began.

Ashley and Luke were bounced from one foster home to another, sometimes together, sometimes apart. She stayed in some homes for years and in others for just a day or two. For years, no one explained to her why this had happened, where her mother was, or what she could expect in the future. Some of her foster parents were caring, kind people; others were indifferent, crowding too many children into small homes. One foster mother was as evil as any fairytale stepmother, mentally and physically abusing Ashley and the other fourteen children in her care.

Fortunately, Ashley was an intelligent and resilient child and eventually escaped the foster care system that was responsible for so much pain in her life. She is now a college-educated twenty-two year old who is a vocal advocate for adoption and foster care reform. Simon & Schuster published Three Little Words within their teen division, but the memoir is fascinating and compelling for readers of any age. From the adorable picture of Ashley dressed as an angel on the cover to the acknowledgements, notes, and photos at the end of the book, I could scarcely put it down.

P.S. The three little words aren't the ones you're thinking of!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Young Adult Fiction: Click

I just read the recently released young adult novel, Click, by David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Margo Lanagan, Gregory Maguire, Ruth Ozeki, Linda Sue Park, and Tim Wynne-Jones. Yes, you read that correctly; this novel has 10 authors!

The concept behind Click was to start with ten bestselling, award-winning writers. Each one wrote a single chapter in the novel. As you can imagine, each chapter has its own unique style, but it works. The end result is a novel that tells a story, but with many surprising twists and turns. It’s part character-study, part mystery, part teen angst, part comedy, with a bit of science fiction thrown in.

The novel opens with two siblings, Maggie, middle school-age, and Jason, a high school senior, struggling in their own ways with the recent death of their Grandpa “Gee”. Gee was a famous photographer who traveled all over the world, and he left each of his grandchildren with a puzzling gift: an old camera and a box of photos for Jason and a handmade box of seashells for Maggie.

The story unfolds as Maggie and Jason each come to terms with Gee’s death and their own changing lives, while they try to make sense of what Gee has left them. Within the format of the book’s changing authors, some chapters deal with one child or the other, some address Gee’s past, and some are actually about the subjects of certain photos that Gee left to Jason. The threads are all gradually woven together, as Maggie and Jason each find their own path to the adults they will become.

More character driven than action-oriented, this book will probably appeal to teens and young adults (and grown-ups, too!). Though the changing authors and various story threads might be distracting to some readers, I thought the editing process was effective, producing a book that tells a full story from different perspectives.

Click was a quick and pleasant read for me, and I enjoyed sampling the writings of ten different authors (I had only read one of them before). In fact, the book has inspired me to check out other offerings from some of these writers. As an added bonus, all proceeds from Click are being donated to Amnesty International.