Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Destiny Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Historically, the romance novel has had a bad rap. I've seen a few English teachers use the genre for target practice; a bullseye of their derision. My mom used to hide her Danielle Steele book behind a handmade quilted cloth cover sheepishly showing me the cover when I'd ask what book she was reading. Her eyebrows arched in surprise when I said that this billion dollar industry is the most popular genre in modern literature. When I worked at a public library the book with the highest circulation was a romance novel. The genre is written by women for women and typically features a protagonist who gains unconditional love against all odds while being true to herself which allows her to shape her own destiny to some extent. Destiny Rewritten is a clever mix of the romance novel, pop culture, classical literature, and poetry. Toss in sub characters who like the military, spy novels, and ecology and you have a potpourri of interests for many readers.

Eleven-year-old Emily recounts her mom's purchase of an Emily Dickinson book on the day she was born writing inside, "Emily Dickinson is one of the great poets. The same will be said of you one day." Emily discusses with her best friend, Wavey, how this inscription is her destiny. The problem is Emily doesn't like poetry and is distressed that her destiny is not her passion in life. Emily wants to be a romance writer like Danielle Steele. Yep, you read that correctly... she wants to be a romance writer. She writes funny letters to the famous Ms. Steele that recap what is going on in her life, her turmoil over the concept of fate, and asking her advice on issues she's dealing with in her life.

Emily doesn't know her dad or even his name. Her mom never married and is a strong believer in Fate, meaning a person cannot change his or her destiny. Emily's not so sure and begins to experiment with making changes in her life to test her hypothesis. When Emily asks her mom for the bazillionth time the name of her dad, her mom says it is written in her Emily Dickinson book. A series of mishaps causes the book to be lost and Emily goes on a quest to find it. She learns not only what she wants to do with herself, but she tries to bend destiny to her will. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Emily's mom is a literature professor so when Emily has the courage to tell her she wants to be a romance novelist, her mom's reaction is typical of an English teacher who would not think highly of that genre, making the episode particularly ironic and funny. "I suppose there's the classics," she finally said. "Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice." Her mom is portrayed as a grown-up who was once a hippie student from Berkeley in the 1960's, a free spirit who doesn't discipline her daughter much or even help her much on her quest to recover the book. This is critical to the plot so that Emily can go searching for the book on her own and have adventures. A couple of spots felt forced to me and somewhat unbelievable, such as the scene with Ginger helping the kids, but overall the plot works quite well.

This story is great for younger readers with its short 2-3 page chapters and clever letters to Danielle Steele that recount what has happened in Emily's adventure. This reinforces reading skills for students who are learning to read for meaning and who don't always follow the plot the first time around. Adult readers will laugh at the humor in the letters. Poetry is sprinkled throughout the pages to be used for discussions ranging from haiku, sonnets, free verse, to Dickinson's use of CAPS in the middle of her verses.  A subplot involving the cutting down of trees and the ensuing protest at Berkeley's campus (of course) makes for a rounded plot that ties in with the rich history of students protests at this university and points out that destiny doesn't always have a happy ending (like a romance); that sometimes Fate can't be changed regardless of what is done to try and change it.

Another subplot that ties in with the romance novel theme is the two adults, Emily's mom and dad, who have been separated, though still in love, by obstacles that have kept them apart for decade; in addition to the budding romance of Emily with her friend, Connor Kelly. The innocence of the two becoming interested in each other also supports the romance genre. They go from tongue-tied adolescents, to him offering her a ring (a plastic one from a Cheerio box), to her saying, "But I couldn't stop thinking how my conversation with Connor was sort of almost exactly like the ending of a romance novel, where two people made plans in their own secret way that no on else could possible understand."

Dontcha love that line, "sort of almost exactly...?" It sounds just like a kid. Fitzmaurice does a great job with character development. The characters distinct voices make them engaging and easy to visualize. Emily is compulsively organized along with her aunt whom she lives with and they both finds it calms them and makes them feel in control of their lives. Mortie, the younger cousin and son of her aunt, loves the military and spy novels. He finds a stray dog and names him, Samuel Morse, and talks like a soldier or how he thinks a soldier would talk. "I didn't know that was your special book. You've never shown it to me!" He scanned the street. "You want me to start a recon mission? Just give the order."  Cecily Ann would normally be teased for her odd behaviors such as wearing red rain boots while spouting poetry all day long, but the kids think she is brilliant and admire her. Emily is particularly kind  and threads of kindness can be traced in all the characters adding to the feel-good tone and happy ending.

Wavey and Emily have several terrific conversations where they use their imaginations and refer to pop culture. The clever technique is first shown when the two girls notice the teacher always asks the boys to lift the heavy boxes and the girls to pour water into the beakers for science class. Students notice so much in class such as if the teacher is calling on only boys or girls or being fair. This dialogue added an authenticity between the girls and is a good reminder of the importance of avoiding stereotypes and inequities in classrooms. The entertaining dialogue has the two girls talking about Princess Leia in the movie, Star Wars, who is always waiting to be rescued by the men. They banter about the men saving her and fighting off the enemy while Princess Leia paints her fingernails and drinks coffee. More comic relief comes from ensuing dialogues between the girls about The Little House on the Prairie books and television series and the good-looking Connor. A terrific book and one my mother wouldn't have to mask with a cloth. Give it a go!

4 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment