So Monday I stalked Cecil Castellucci, who everyone apparently calls "Ceci." What's funny is that I first pegged her for one of her own fans. I was waiting for her to read at the live author's stage or whatever they were calling it (probably not that, because it begs the question, where's the dead author's stage?), and I saw this pipsqueak woman with hair died in chunks of black and whitish blue, big shoes that made tromping noises, and a black messenger bag that looked like it weighed as much as she did. I was like, Oh, that is so obviously what I would expect a Cecil Castellucci fan to look like. And then it turned out to be Cecil Castellucci.And then to add to the fact that I've been badmouthing her new book Beige, stalking her at ALA, and sporting a copy of The Plain Janes like it's a brand-name handbag, I volunteered to help her with her spontaneous reader's theater performance of The Plain Janes. I played "arty" or "main Jane." In my defense, I am a huge fan of Boy Proof and, now The Plain Janes, so it's not like I don't support her. I just also like to spy on her and hold her work to really high standards.
For those who aren't stalking Cecil, The Plain Janes is the first in a new series of graphic novels for young women--they're obvious "quick picks" with characters that will appeal to the kind of girls who let me sit at their lunch table in high school: highlighters for nail polish, Kool Ade for hair dye, black ribbons for chokers, and Tae Kwon Do masters for boyfriends. Those kind of girls. I read the entire first installment while in line to get True to the Game signed by Teri Woods. (She wrote, for the future patrons of my imaginary library, who I obviously think are theives: "Please stop stealing the books out the library. Please, OK. Believe. Teri Woods.")
Anyway, the point of this post is that I like to listen to authors read their work because then I can decide whether I would invite them to speak at my school. Which is like window shopping, becuase I don't have a school. But I would definitely invite Cecil Castellucci to my imaginary school.
I would maybe invite Carolyn Mackler, because her book The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things has universal girl appeal. I think it's the frank treatment of the relationship between Virginia and Froggy: he comes over after school to feel her up but doesn't acknowledge her in public, which she accepts because her weight makes her think she's not worthy of a more attentive boyfriend. However, Mackler was very young Mom, which is cool, but I wanted her to have more street appeal. She's the kind of person who skips over the bad words in her own novel.
I don't think I would invite Nick Hornby, even though he has a non-American accent, because I have my doubts about the appeal of Slam, his foray into YA lit. Don't get me wrong: it's a funny and totally relateable topic: teenage fatherhood. But it's also a nightmare. I mean, the part Hornby read on Monday included commentary on the way diapers smell. It's not exactly escapist literature, and I don't know how many teenage boys are scanning the shelves for a naturalistic portrait of young parenthood. (If you can call a Tony Hawk poster that transports the main character into the future "naturalistic.")
I didn't get to hear Catherine Gilbert Murdock speak/read, so I can't say if I would invite her or not. But if I had read The Off Season before I attended the conference, (instead I read 78% of it last night between 12 and 3 a.m.), I would have dropped everything and been there. Because it's one of the best books I've read this year--better than Dairy Queen. I would kill to know if Murdock had the sequel planned when she wrote the first one. Because all the issues you care about at the end of book 1 (will D.J. and Brian stay together even though they play on rival football teams? Will Amber and D.J. ever be comfortable around each other again now that Amber has confessed her crush?) seem monumentally unimportant by the end of book 2.
Because Murdock doesn't just resolve the conflicts in the first book: she rotates your perspective so that you see the conflicts from a totally different angle. You do a 180. And it's cathartic the way books about abandoned horses were cathartic when I was in third grade. Murdock makes you care about the fate of every member of this family of football-loving Wisconsin cattle farmers. And despite the fact that it's set in just the kind of setting that usually renders a book unsaleable to my urban audience (farms), I think I could get them to read it, because this girl is a brilliant athlete and there's something universal about the sports team experience. Much as I hate to admit it.
So to bring this full-circle, The Off Season is the kind of book that makes me feel OK about not really praising Beige. Because it's really important to have genuine praise leftover for the likes of Catherine Gilbert Murdock.