I've posted before about my love for Ellen Emerson White's writing. So, when Colleen at Chasing Ray came up with the idea for Recommendations From Under The Radar, the first and only author I considered was EEW. EEW began publishing in the mid 1980s, and most of her YA work is (sadly) out of print, and, accordingly, is overlooked. Over the past decade, most of what she has published has been picture books and children's books; but, she returns to books for older readers with a new book coming out in October. So I thought, what better time to explain why I love EEW's books? And, over the next week, I'll be reviewing several of her books, including some of the YA titles I mention below.
EEW's first book, Friends for Life*, was published in 1983. I was 17; and found out about her book from an essay she wrote that appeared in Seventeen. EEW wrote about writing, and why she wrote, and about being published while in college. I was impressed enough by the essay that I tore the article out of the magazine and kept it for years. (I went looking for it in connection with this post, but couldn't find it; even Ebsco doesn't go back to the early 1980s, so I cannot get a copy that way.)
I also paid a visit to the local bookstore. This was the early 1980s. Most teen sections were slim pickings; back then, there was a certain "I hope nobody notices me looking here at books that are much too young for me"ness about teen sections. Especially when one was 17 (or was it before my birthday? Was I still 16?)
So I bought the paperback of Friends for Life. And fell hard for Ellen Emerson White.
Why? The dialogue and the humor. Her characters think and talk like I do; sometimes, they think and talk the way I wish I did. I'm not always that quick or that funny.
Her characters are sometimes sarcastic; they are also honest and vulnerable. Over and over, I believe her characters to be real; fully formed; I would recognize them on the street. They are flawed, they are funny, they are a mix of good and bad. They are complex.
Of course, dialogue and characters alone aren't enough to make a book, and a writer, great.
EEW has great plots, all starting with a wonderful "what if ... " premise.
What if.... your best friend was murdered? But no one believed it?
What if.... your mother ran for President? And won?
What if.... your boyfriend killed someone?
What if... you were a nurse in Vietnam, and when you returned home no-one understood what you had gone thru?
EEW takes these situations, adds action, and believable characters doing believable things.
Dialogue. Real to life characters. Humor. Interesting plots.
EEW is up there with Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen.
Why, you may be asking yourself, have I not heard of her before?
Let's go back to when she was first published: the early 1980s. The YA/teen book world was not what it is now; both in terms of respect for the authors and the book, and in advertising and marketing. As I recall, most of EEW's early books came out in paperback first, which means that they get pretty beat up which means they are weeded which means it can be hard to find them in the library. And, as I mentioned above, back in the early 1980s teen sections were practically non-existent and were viewed as strictly an under 14 area. These were also the days before the Internet. Before big book tours for teen authors. In addition, EEW was, and is, a private person.
Another reason EEW is still under the radar is she has used different names for different books. Her fabulous Echo Company books,** about a teenager drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in the late 1960s, were published under the name Zack Emerson. Her picture books are published under Nicholas Edwards.
Plus, EEW suffered from bad timing. Just as the YA/teen book world exploded, EEW's YA titles had gone out of print and she wasn't writing YA anymore. Instead, there were picture books (Santa Paws) and Dear America books (Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady; Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, Hawaii, 1889; The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty: United States Marine Corps Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968;** and Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: The Diary of Molly Mackenzie Flaherty, 1968**).
Some of the books I'll be talking about over the next several days are out of print. It is worth it to track them down via Interlibrary Loan or used book stores. Plus, since here latest book, Long May She Reign, is due out in October and involves characters from other series, I am hoping that if her new book does well, we will see these titles being reissued; I am hoping that we will see more EEW books. And I am hoping that finally Ellen Emerson White gets the same type of recognition as Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen.
* Will be reviewed Thursday.
** Will be reviewed Friday.
Today's Under the Radar Books:
Big A, little a: Ingo by Helen Dunmore
Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Changeling and The Velvet Room both by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Bildungsroman: Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen
Finding Wonderland: A Door Near Here by Heather Quarles
Miss Erin: Girl With a Pen and Princess of Orange, both by Elisabeth Kyle
Fuse Number 8: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry
Bookshelves of Doom: The Olivia Kidney series by Ellen Potter
Chicken Spaghetti:The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe by Betsey Osborne
Writing and Ruminating: Jazz ABC by Wynton Marsalis
The YA YA YAs: Massive by Julia Bell
Image supplied by Little Willow.