of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author
or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or
an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on
only in the rich legacy of their books.. See the archive
for focus pieces from previous months.
Most teens and adults would probably agree that adolescence is no bed of roses, neither for the adolescents themselves nor for those who have to live and work with them. On the one hand, young adults crave normalcy, wanting to fit in with their peers and blend in with the crowd; on the other hand, the process of discovering one's identity and place in the world prompts a lot of individual self-expression and introspection about one's own uniqueness. In other words, young adults are faced with the thorny dilemma of wanting to be like everyone else yet wanting also to be wildly distinctive (and wanting others to recognize this distinction). No one understands this particular quagmire of adolescence so well as the quirky (to understate it) heroines of young adult author Patrice Kindl.
Admittedly, Kindl's heroines are not realistic in the technical sense of the word: Owl is a socially inept teenaged wereowl, Anna is an agoraphobic who's retreated (literally) into the woodwork for the past seven of her fourteen years, and Alexandria is a spirited goose girl/princess who's been blessed/cursed with exquisite beauty and the abilities to shed gold dust and diamond tears. However, the novelty of Kindl's characters and their situations serves to make her stories all the more riveting, and, as with any good fantasy, the circumstantial differences from everyday life only highlight and sharpen readers' sense of their own lives while simultaneously allowing them to escape (albeit temporarily) reality.
While Kindl's heroines are obviously odd, their peculiarities do not alienate the more earthbound adolescents who read about them. After all, who can better relate to personal weirdness than teens in the midst of mental, physical, and emotional upheaval? Kindl's narrators, despite their seeming abnormalities, are definitely authentic adolescents in spirit--Owl is desperately in love with her science teacher and clueless about interacting with her classmates, Anna is both awed by and afraid of the changes her body undergoes as she enters puberty while in hiding, and Alexandria finds her beauty more a burden than a benefit in the face of romantic wooing and royal intrigue. Sure, these young women may be more than a little unusual, but they are also likeable, smart, witty, touching, and honest. They speak so intimately and matter-of-factly about their personal shortcomings and bizarre circumstances that they not only make their unbelievable situations credible, but they also offer reassurance to teen readers struggling with their own faults and circumstantial oddities.
Clearly Kindl is a master of characterization. She also happens to have an incredible ease with pacing, plot, and, most of all, language. Her writing is by turns highly descriptive ("I could see the hairs growing from Nellie's nose mole. I had braided them for her last night and I perceived that the braid was coming undone"--Goose Chase), wryly funny ("Hungry as I was I could not be guilty of such a violation of proper conduct as to eat my hostess's pet"--Owl in Love), and quietly poignant ("Sometimes I thought I would probably die, and then again sometimes I thought that I probably wouldn't, and that almost frightened me more. Because, you see, if I wasn't dying that meant I was changing, changing beyond any hope of recall"--The Woman in the Wall).
Yes, the teen years can be a rocky road. Thank goodness Kindl has managed to shed a little light on the labyrinth of adolescence while simultaneously entertaining the readers who join her highly original heroines on their fantastical but entirely believable journeys toward adulthood.
--Jeannette Hulick, Reviewer and Editorial Assistant
Patrice Kindl's Website: http://www.patricekindl.com/