Thursday, April 17, 2014

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

When I stand in front of a class with a stack of 15 books my book talk is similar to an auction chant, "Here's a book 'bout a girl locked in a room. That's right, locked in a room. She's rescued by her granddaughter who's traveled back in time. Imagine that, grandma as a teen. Who wants to read this book? Do I see a taker? Adventures in a hotel. Explorations in dumbwaiters. Flights down fire escapes. Travels in laundry chutes. Again who wants to read this book? Do I see a hand? One hand up, do I see two, will ya give me two? Two hands, now three, will ya give me three? Going, going, gone! Sold, to the first person that raised her hand." Just kidding. I have never tried that before. Might be a good way to mix things up in the routine. Either way I will chant about "Seven Stories Up" in my next booktalk.

Annie Jaffin travels with her mom to visit her estranged grandma in a Baltimore hotel where she grew up. The grandma is hostile and mean making 12-year-old Annie wonder what happened to her in life to make her such a nasty, rotten egg. A strange storm hits in the night and Annie wakes up 50 years earlier in 1937 where she meets her grandmother, Mary Moran, a young girl who is locked in a room because she has asthma and her parents are afraid she'll die if she's around others. Mary, who goes by the name "Molly", wishes so hard for a friend that Annie magically appears there although Molly doesn't know Annie is her granddaughter. Annie knows that Molly will live to be old and talks her into escaping the "Lonely Room." The two have fun adventures that capture childhood and friendship and how small or large decisions can have consequences as to how a person will grow into an adult.

I have a folder labeled, "Great starts," to a novel. I added this book's beginning to that folder. The first pages hooked me with the tension and great description of setting and character. "You're supposed to cry when your grandma is dying. You're supposed to be really sad. But as Mom and I sped through the dark streets of Baltimore, I couldn't stop bouncing in my seat. At last I stuck my head out the window and leaned into the muggy night. My hair whipped around. The sharp rush of air felt good on my face." I was immediately drawn to the liveliness and energy of Annie that could not be contained. She sounds like a puppy who gets to go for a car ride and life is just too much fun to be sad. Annie's mom is mysterious about her past and Annie doesn't really know her grandma. Her character is such that she is brave and inquisitive, making her actions consistent throughout the entire story, which is necessary in the development of her relationship with Molly.

One of the best things about reading children's books is it reminds me of the fun kid-things I used to do such as playing games like "Jinx" that Annie and Molly play. The two also play hand-slapping games and have fun exploring the hotel.The laundry chute and dumbwaiter escape from the "Lonely Room" is great fun and the late night run for food that they dubbed, "Sneakypies," was something I know my best friend and I would have acted out if this book was written in the 1970s. The "Sneakypie" connection in the future at the end with the restaurant was a nice touch as well. I particularly liked it when the girls make a list of what they want to do for the next day that leads them into a pretend game of dreaming big. Annie says she wants to travel to Egypt. Molly says she wants to fly. They add famous people and pizza to the list. It is imaginative and shows how children don't set boundaries on themselves like adults do. When Annie adds to the list that she wants to save someone's life, meaning she wants to save her grandma from a lifetime of unhappiness, she is revealing the overall story arc. Every action points to Annie trying to help her grandma.

While the book references "Eloise" who lived in a grand hotel and the magic of the wardrobe in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," it is mostly patterned after "The Secret Garden." Mary Lennox in "The Secret Garden" was spoiled and unlikable to people. She is so lonely and isolated that her only friend is a maidservant. Molly in "Seven Stories" is also unlikable and mean toward her nurse at first before becoming friends. The relationship between Molly and her nurse felt rushed to me because Annie is telling it from her point of view. Molly's point of view would have given me a feel for what she was thinking and feeling. As is, Molly's bossy attitude toward her nurse changed because of Annie's scolding and it happened quickly. I kept expecting Molly to be more nasty and self-centered. She is more likable than the characters in "The Secret Garden."

Molly in "Seven Stories Up" has asthma and is so sick the parents think she will die. Colin in "the Secret Garden," suffers from some spine problem that isn't explained and confined to a bedroom just like Molly is in this novel. Colin is the most ill-tempered character of all having spectacular temper-tantrums. Molly is not as cranky as either Colin or Mary in "The Secret Garden," being more desperate for a friend to play with on a daily basis. Colin believes the garden can heal him because it has Magic. Molly believes a bottle of Magic potion will heal her from her asthma. While the garden was a symbol of rebirth for the two kids who lost their parents in "The Secret Garden", Molly's rebirth occurs from being saved by Annie who gives her the courage to stand up to her dad and not be locked in a room. Annie will turn Molly from the future unhappy grandma into a person who is not stunted by fear and loneliness. This message actually reminds me of  the Chronicles of Narnia where unhappy humans are portrayed as people that do not reach their potential; hence, they never find happiness in life and are stunted in their growth as individuals.

An interesting note by the author in the back explains how she had a grandma who owned a hotel and was a very unhappy person. While the story is not about the grandma it is the author's fantasy of changing her relative into a person that led a full life full of joy and happiness. This reminds me of "The Hundred Dresses" where the author wrote it to change how she reacted to a girl being bullied when she was little. In that book, she stands up for the girl and rights a wrong. Life can be full of regrets and disappointments. Books help readers and authors cope with life. Another book that is patterned after "The Secret Garden" is "The Humming Room" by Ellen Potter that readers might like. "Seven Stories Up" is a great addition to any library. Going, going, gone! Sold, to the "girl chewing her thumbnail."

4 Smileys

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