Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Lisa Moore’s Flannery (2016)

Lisa Moore builds folks from the ink up: she is standout at characterization.

Groundwood Books, 2016

Groundwood Books, 2016

One of the elements that makes her characters so convincing is the echo effect, the reverberations off seemingly extraneous details (in images, in descriptions, in settings) to construct multi-faceted individuals.

Readers who have come to admire this quality in her previous novels (she is one of my MRE authors), might have thought this quality would be lost in her writing for younger readers.

Fiction targeting young adult readers is often described as ‘compelling’ or ‘enticing’, less often as ‘complex’ or ‘layered’; and, yet, Flannery manages to tick all those boxes

The bulk of the story is solidly rooted in the present, when Flannery Malone is sixteen years old, living with her mother, Miranda, and her younger brother, Felix, and waiting for the next chapter of her life, when she will finally be living with the love of her life, Tyrone.

For the most part, the story moves chronologically, but occasionally the ribbon of time loops or spirals and readers are afforded a glimpse at a younger Flannery. These scenes work to build character as well, and readers become increasingly attached to her as the pages turn.

“You are nine years old, almost ten, but you know what contractions are because ever since you can remember you’ve had to know things most kids don’t.”

Her self-sufficiency and determination are appealing (both qualities evident in Miranda’s character as well, although there are more differences than similarities between these two), but her grit and astute perspective on the world are remarkable.

“We girls were sitting in the dark, watching an animated film of a gazillion sperms with dark crooked eyebrows and grimaces of effort and strain, snarled lips with teeth showing, all of them in a race of wiggling tails, trying  to get to the egg, who was batting her long eyelashes, awaiting the lucky dude’s arrival.
Is that all they could have the egg do? Sit there and wait? Why wasn’t she charging around too, gnashing her teeth?”

The description of the filmstrip sounds so familiar that readers will feel certain they’ve watched it, but many other descriptions are just as vivid.

“The sun was so low that its reflection was a perfect bright red circle on the water’s surface and as the boat swing around, the circle was smashed into a thousand pieces that skittered away from each other and then floated back together, making the perfect circle again.”

And, just as word choice and phrasing are important in descriptive passages (which also serve the cause of characterization), Flannery herself chooses her words deliberately.

“I was flabbergasted. That’s the word. It’s a word that shows up in the old yellowed Agatha Christie novels you find at your friends’ summercabins. There are British people in those novels with big green lawns and rock walls and there are little old ladies who murder people with arsenic or by stabbing their straight through the forehead with an ice pick, and portly butlers with double chins and cooks with bright red faces and rectors, whatever they are. Those are the kinds of people who get flabbergasted.”

Not everyone is as creative. Flannery’s suitor has to borrow from a master to flatter:  “And your freckles are like cinnamon. (Now he’s really hamming it up.) Shall I compare you to an October’s day in Newfoundland? He says.”

And not every image is of beauty, but some are (and the novel’s setting does play a significant role: Flannery is a Newfoundlander). So maybe “gobs of peanut butter and bread [are] tumbling around in Marty’s mouth like clothes in a dryer” or maybe the “sky was flamingo-feathered”.

Underneath it all, however, are not just a string of events in a teenaged-girl’s life, but some big ideas.

“Not believing in something requires a lot of effort. It is easier to believe. Once I have accepted that something is true, I have a hard time losing faith in it.”

Flannery is grappling with important questions, like the difference between knowing and knowing (and the way in which you can know and not know at the same time), what qualities are nice-to-have and which are essentials for success (whether choosing a scent or a mate), and what to do with her faltering long-term friendship with Amber (the girls’ friendship is an outstanding element of the story, complicated and credible).

In short, if Lisa Moore’s Flannery is the first in a string of YA novels, I will be spending more time reading in that department.

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