(Note: this is part of my "If I were a librarian" fantasy in which I would always have ideas for the next great book to hand to a reader.)
I read Anne Frank's diary several times as a preteen, but Sharon Dogar offers something new here with a book that imagines what life in the annex--and after--might have been like for Peter van Pels. I loved how Dogar showed the evolution of their relationship, especially how she got inside what it might have been like to be forced together in a way, to know that this might be the only chance at love. Apparently there has been some fuss about Dogar sexualizing Anne Frank, but I think that objection has more to do with what people don't want to think about teens--and their own children--than to do with any inconsistencies between Dogar's portrayal and the Anne of the diaries. For more, please read my post, "Teens are (sexual) people, too."
Still, the most powerful part of Annexed for me comes in Part II, which imagines Peter's experience in the camps. The narration is choked with numb despair, but it is beautiful and gripping.
Finally, a word about shyness: I appreciated how Dogar captured Peter's personality and worldview, how she gave him a powerful, distinct voice in spite of his difficulty expressing himself to others. The narrative pulses with his will--and his right--to live.
A minor issue: The only gripe I had was with the chapter headings (e.g. "Peter Dreams of Lisa," "Peter Is in Love with Anne"). They seemed unnecessary and intrusive, but perhaps that wouldn't be the case in a paper book rather than in audio; the reader's eyes might fly right past these markers. Speaking of: I listened to Annexed on audiobook, and it's wonderfully produced with a large cast. Usually I don't like "performed" audiobooks, but here it works.
Why ANNEXED is a good pairing for NO CRYSTAL STAIR, which I reviewed here: NO CRYSTAL STAIR also draws on real-life documents to tell a story of struggle, although it's a quieter, less dramatic narrative (the life story of influential Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux). Readers who are fascinated by fiction inspired by real events will love NO CRYSTAL STAIR, which draws on and weaves in actual documents from Michaux's life. This weaving of fact and fiction is more subtle in Annexed, but the dynamic is similar.
Like most writers I've worked with in workshops and writing groups, I tend to think too much about when I'm going to tell my readers something. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, how long can we go without telling our juicy bits?
Of course, you don't want to be coy with your reader or make her feel tricked, led-on, or otherwise done wrong. Nor do you want to build up a reveal so much that--no matter how big a deal it is--it leaves the reader thinking, "is that all?"
But! Neither do you want to toss away all your character's secrets and complications in the first chapters of your book. As Noah Lukeman writes in The Plot Thickens, "storytelling is not about giving away information but about withholding it."
Ilsa Bick's Drowning Instinct is a recent example of just the right level of restraint--she manages to keep us hanging on to find out the specific details of the tragedy that opens the book. That restraint ups the tension and anticipation in the book.
Of course, it helps that Bick weaves together many threads in the plot. In fact, that's a second point about this whole withholding idea: it works best when you're working between several plot lines or at least dimensions of a story. In Bick's, for example, in addition to the big secret, we have unanswered questions for at least fifty pages at a time for a number of plot threads. These additional layers of mystery, which are peeled back befor the "big reveal" keep our eyes trained on the novel's striptease. The result is suspense, lots of it.
I'd like to have some of that. So I'm working on my layers...
Carolrhoda Lab and my fab editor Andrew Karre have been hugely generous in offering heaps of titles for the Authors for Henryville auction. Check out these amazing offerings! Bid in the comments for each listing between now and 9 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday (3/17).
Autographed Carolrhoda titles: The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston, The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff, and Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick--all of which are autographed by their fabulous (and award-winning!) authors.
BFYA Books: YALSA's Best Fiction for YA list is a go-to resource for teachers, librarians, and readers all over the country. Both Brooklyn, Burning (Steve Brezenoff) and What Can't Wait (Ashley Hope Pérez) made the list. Bid, read, and find out why. Psst! This copy of Brooklyn, Burning is autographed!
"You'll Never See It Coming" pack: Like a twist? Get ready!! The Knife and the Butterfly, Drowning Instinct, and Ultraviolet (all from Carolrhoda Lab) will keep you guessing until the last page.
Novels of Transformation pack: Transformations can take many forms, as you will see from this trio of novels: Everything I Was by Corinne Demas, In Trouble by Ellen Levine, and What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Pérez!
Unlikely Journeys pack: Road trips and more! Explore three unlikely journeys with these wonderful (and diverse) novels from Carolrhoda Lab: Catch & Releaseby Blythe Woolston, No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, and Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby.
Elizabeth Atkinson - Emma Freke Audiobook: Elizabeth Atkinson's middle-grade novel, I Emma Freke on audiobook--this is begging for listening on a family road trip or just for fun!
Barbara Shoup: Get your hands on two novels by award-winning Indiana author Barbara Shoup, courtesy of the fabulous Andrew Karre, former editor at Flux. Here's Everything You Want and Wish You Were Here.