Beth Hautala

Children's Author

 

A Good Flaw is Hard to Find

I love reading. Every part of it. The smell of the pages. The look of black words against white paper. The way I am so easily and utterly lost in a well-written story. Reading might very well be my favorite thing. 

Well, that and eating, and my kids and my husband, and coffee, chocolate, and writing of course . . .

Anyway.

I picked up three new books this week. 

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (Newberry Honor, 2010)

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vandepool (2011 Newberry)

Five Flavors of Dumb, by Antony John

I only purchased these three books, though I had a PILE of great take-home options after a couple of hours browsing the stacks. And by pile I mean I almost-had-to-dig-my-way-out. But I decided on these three for very specific reasons, though, I didn't know it at the time. Sitting reflectively in front of the fireplace this afternoon has made me aware of them. I'll start at the bottom and work up:

Reason #3: These are timeless stories.

Edna O' Brien said it this way:

"I get very impatient about plays and books with induced political themes. They last at the most five, ten, fifteen years. Emily Dickinson poems are about solitude and the corridors of the mind. They last forever. I don’t know whether I will last or not last. All I know is that I want to write about something that has no fashion and that does not pander to any period or to a journalistic point of view. I want to write about something that would apply to any time because it’s a state of the soul."

Reason #2: The writing is superb. 

It's good. Beautiful. And the story is different from all the others out there because the authors knew how to handle words—all the twists of phrase, the dialogue, the prose. The first two books (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Moon Over Manifest) are both written for a middle grade audience (7-12 year olds, though the stories are hardly limited to that interest level), while Five Flavors of Dumb is Young Adult. The intended audience, in my opinion, makes the blend of believable story and beautiful writing even more important than in adult fiction. Kids are perceptive. —More perceptive than adults most of the time. They know when their chains are being jerked. They know when a story is trying to "sell" something. They know when they are being "preached" at. No kid will read a book like that, and no adult should either—not in fiction at least. All three of these books will, and have-already, landed on shelves read, re-read, and dog-eared to perfection. Glory be.

Reason #1: The characters are flawed.

I mean that as highest praise. They are real, believable, and intensely human characters. And I love them all dearly.

As a reader, I love being entertained, I even like being educated, but I adore being swept up into the lives of new characters. There is nothing like being bewitched by their courage, charmed by their wit, frustrated by their poor choices, crushed over their losses, and delighted by their discoveries. 

My life is full. And that's not an exaggeration. —Full time Mom. Full time small business-owner. Full time writer. I get up at 5:30am and go to bed by 1am. I don't have time for perfect, flawless, unbelievable characters. My time is too precious to spend it wrapped up in their un-tainted lives. I need depth, and reality, and in small ways and great, flights toward glory. 

Why?

Because I need to believe other people, even fictional ones, live a life that resembles mine—messy, sometimes trite and petty, but always full of possibility. A good author knows, as  Joyce Carol Oates has said, "that writing is full of lives we might have led. A writer imagines what could have happened, not what really happened."  

And this includes all of those beautiful flaws.