Of Course YA Books Can Be Complex
TODAY ON DIVE
"To use just one example, Stacey Donovan's Dive neatly dismantles the argument that fiction for teens can't also be serious, messy, thought- provoking literature."
JUNE 6 2014
YESTERDAY ON DIVE
by Stacey Donovan
"…Remarkable for its faithfulness to and evocation of the concerns and especially the intensity of adolescence…"
Publishers Weekly, Flying Starts
"…She has created a work of richly crafted prose that faithfully portrays the voice of adolescence…Ms. Donovan’s characters have an affair, and like everything else in the book, it is depicted poetically: “ My hands ache with joy, wanting to linger around her lips, my arms ache from holding her so tightly, my chest aches, as if I am underwater, as if I have dived into a pool and rise, laggardly, unbreathing, to the surface...”
The New York Times
"…Donovan’s writing is deep and resonant. There is an underlying tension that becomes all but palpable. When beauty of language and thoughtfulness of prose combine, as they rarely do, there is a danger that the plot, movement and meaning will bog down in the author’s self-consciousness. One of the writers who has successfully and deftly woven all of these elements together into great prose is Toni Morrison. Donovan has a ways to go before reaching Morrison’s realm, but she is off to a great start. Rarely have I read a more moving and telling description of the heady brew of grief and love that can spawn great passion and insight…"
The Boston Book Review
"…A masterfully descriptive psychological novel…Donovan’s first-person narration resounds with an almost stream-of-consciousness truthfulness, yet it is full of clarity and a strange beauty".
School Library Journal
"…Donovan’s first novel is painfully realistic and wonderfully realized. V is a marvelous first-person narrator, detailing her life and the lives around her with honesty, not smugness. She’s witty, introspective, smart, and totally confused about everything in her life. In this tale of adolescent angst, just about everything rings true…The scenes with V and her family will conjure flashbacks for adult and adolescent readers alike…"
When the protagonist of Stacey Donovan’s Dive (Dutton, Aug.) falls in love, it is, as for many teenagers, a source of both wonder and confusion. In the case of V (short for Virginia), however, the confusion packs an extra punch, for she is in love with another girl.
It was a similar sort of confusion in Donovan’s own teenage experience that led her to tell V’s story, in a first-person narrative, remarkable for its faithfulness to and evocation of the concerns and especially the intensity of adolescence.
“I remember what I felt like when I was 15 and hoped I could reach somebody else who was 15,” Donovan explains. “Obviously I’m talking about the relationship between the girls. When I was 15 I fell in love and at the same time felt terrible, I never understood what the problem was – I still don’t understand it – but I have come to see that in the world there is a supposed difference (between gay and heterosexual love).”
Donovan had a second, very personal source of inspiration: her uncle, the late John Donovan, who wrote the first YA novel to include a homosexual episode, and to whose memory Dive is dedicated. Stacey was 10 when I’ll Get There. It better Be Worth the Trip was published, in 1969. “When I read I’ll Get There, there was something so familiar about it, although I couldn’t say at the time what it was,” she recalls. “I could find answers – without knowing what the questions were – in his work.”
Donovan has been writing ever since, from short fiction and poetry to non-fiction. After college, graduate school and a “very unsatisfactory” copywriting career, she left New York City for Montauk, on Long Island; soon thereafter she began what became Dive. At about that time she enrolled in a writing class taught by M. E. Kerr, welcoming the chance to meet other writers (“Montauk is very desolate in the winter,” she notes).
Donovan found a home for her novel through a serendipitous phone conversation between Paula Quint, a colleague of her uncle’s on the Children’s Book Council, and Dutton’s Donna Brooks, a college professor of hers. “My name came up,” Donovan recalls, “and Donna said to tell me if I had anything she’d be interested in seeing it.” Brooks was the fourth editor to read the manuscript; she bought it, thus beginning an editorial relationship Donovan praises highly.
“The attention word-by-word was amazing: I learned an incredible amount,” she says of the process. Much of the work, she explains, involved a sort of reversal of the editorial maxim “show, don’t tell”: “I seemed to write backwards, so that Donna had to say, ‘Stop showing me,’ and get me to bring the meaning up to the surface so the reader could follow it.”
Donovan, now 35, still lives on Long Island, supporting herself with various physical jobs – “I’ve done everything but roofing and fishing,” she says – and working on her third novel (the second is with Brooks). Through it all she is motivated, she stresses, by the possibility of finding, through language, a way out of what writer Shirley Hazzard has called “the soul of incoherence” – in the most basic terms, writing “to try to make sense of being alive.”
The New York Times
Voice of Adolescence, Hurt by Tragedy, as Heard in a First Novel
By Liza N. Burby
At 15, “everything happens so quickly and with such intensity.”
Two factors become apparent when reading Stacey Donovan’s “Dive,” her first novel for young adults. She has created of work of richly crafted prose that faithfully portrays the voice of adolescence, and it is a blessing that adolescence has to be lived through only once.
“Could one more thing happen to this poor girl?” Ms. Donovan asked at the house of a friend in Amagansett. She was referring to 15-year-old Virginia, or V, the main character of the book, which Dutton’s Children’s Books published in December. Puffin is releasing the paperback this summer.
In the first few chapters V’s dog is hit by a car; her best friend, Eileen, stops speaking to her; her father contracts a fatal illness that is a metaphor for AIDS, and her mother’s alcoholism worsens.
To top it all off, her obnoxious 17-year-old brother, Edward, is taking illegal drugs, and her 8-year-old sister, Baby Teeth, so named because she has not lost any, and has been wandering into neighbor’s houses instead of coming home.
Understandably, V feels that her life is out of control and that either she is crazy or everybody else is.
Ms. Donovan said she had “piled on the tragedy” to convey the melodrama of adolescence. “When I was a teenager everything was so crucial, so urgent,” she said. “Life is very tragic when you are 15. And everything happens so quickly and with such intensity.”
V’s problems mount with such force that a reader feels like a person caught under a wave at a beach, struggling to come up for air. Just when one thinks that no more can be borne, the person is released by the wave, regains breath and goes back for more.
Into this soap opera walks Jane. V is instantly attracted, and they fall in love. The relationship is full of the awe and turmoil of first love, and Ms. Donovan treated it lyrically and gently. She drew from her experiences.
“It’s not autobiographical,” Ms. Donovan, 35, said. “But the way Freud said that dreams are wish fulfillment, I think, sometimes, so is fiction.”
She laughed frequently. Her personality became evident as she continually brushed her hair from her forehead and once leaped to rescue an insect crawling on the sofa.
“I had hoped that something like that would happen when I was 15,” she said. “I did fall in love, with my best friend. It was difficult. We certainly had not been groomed for it in any way. I don’t remember hearing anything about homosexuals. There were no role models, no examples. It was clear that it was definitely not O.K.”
She grew up and attended high school in Syosset, New York. “It was a very quiet, simple, easy town,” she recalled. “There were no problems. It didn’t prepare me for anything. It was all so easy except for stuff like feelings, because I was from that kind of house where nobody said anything. And I lived in one of those neighborhoods where it mattered what everything looked like and what you did for a living, and all that to this day makes no sense to me at all.
“I think that’s why writing became so important to me. All that stuff on the surface was driving me crazy because of the way I felt inside. I always worked on my interior by writing, because I didn’t find a lot of meaning outside.”
Ms. Donovan started attending the State University at Purchase in 1977. After graduating she became a copywriter in Manhattan for advertising agencies, working on projects like video packaging. Ms. Donovan described the period as miserable, “because I didn’t like going to work every day and having a boss.”
She wrote poetry and short stories in her spare time and attended writers’ workshops.
In 1989 she went to Montauk for the summer and decided to stay.
“I thought it was so quiet out here and that if I wanted to write this was a good place to hide out,” she recalled. “I couldn’t do it in New York, because I was running as fast as I could like everybody else, and here there was nothing else to do, especially in the winter.”
She joined a writing group in Springs led by M. E. Kerr, a writer of 30 books for young adults and middle-grade readers. “M.E. Kerr said, ‘I’m going to write a novel this summer, so what about you?’ ” Ms. Donovan recalled. “ ‘That would make me feel better about working.’ My first reaction was, ‘Are you crazy?’ Then I thought, ‘Why not?’ I had just turned 30, and I thought either I will do this now or I never will.”
She moved to a small cottage in Amagansett and has supported herself by writing and by physical labor, “everything but roofing and fishing.” She does that for six months, she said, in between writing, and in the winter, when the season slows, she has more time to be creative.
With “Dive,” Ms. Donovan has fulfilled a dream inspired by an uncle, John Donovan.
She was 10 in 1969, when he published the first young adult novel to include a homosexual episode, “I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip.”
“In it the two boys take a few slugs from one of the mother’s bottles and end up kissing.” Ms. Donovan said. “That’s all they do, and it was a big whoop-di-do.”
“My uncle used to bring piles of books over to the house for me to read, starting with “The Ugly Duckling.” He was a friend of mine. I liked him, and as I got older we became much more friendly. I looked up to him. Here was somebody who was a real person who had written something. He had done it, and so I wanted to. So I wrote as a kid. His stuff was very frank and forthright, and I liked that and I wanted to live that way and write that way, too.”
He died three years ago, but he read the first draft of her novel. She said his reaction was, “‘When you publish this book, you will have to decide how much it means to you if the people in your family choose to stop speaking to you.’”
“I was surprised,” she said, “and I hadn’t thought about it. People started telling me to read ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ Well, nobody in my family is speaking to me, I can’t say why.”
She said she had learned that one problem with writing a novel is that everyone believes that the first book is about the author. “Friends would say, ‘I really love the way you…’ And they were talking about Virginia. I would tell them that V is a character, not me. But because they knew me they had decided this was me. Writers have always had this problem. That’s why a lot of people recommend waiting until the principals are dead.”
“Dive,” told in the first person, does not focus on homophobia, and Ms. Donovan is surprised that there might be questions about the absence.
She said teenagers did not react as negatively to homosexuality as an earlier generation. “About 15 to 20 years ago, by the end of a book like this one of the characters had to be carted off to some institution or someone would hang them, or there was some evil moral point to it,” she said.
Ms. Donovan’s characters have an affair, and like everything else in her book, it is depicted poetically. “My hands ache with joy,” V said. “wanting to linger around her lips, my arms ache from holding her so tightly, my chest aches, as if I am underwater, as if I have dived into a pool and rise, laggardly, unbreathing, to the surface.”
“It was that relationship that led at least one publisher to reject the work,” Ms. Donovan said.
But although struggling would-be novelists might think her flip, Ms. Donovan said, selling the novel was easy.
“It’s just luck,” she said.
“Dive” was rejected three times.
Then, a colleague of John Donovan mentioned the manuscript to Donna Brooks of Dutton. Ms. Brooks, a former professor of Ms. Donovan had once read her unpublished novel for adults, “Outhouse,” and had kept in touch with her. Ms. Brooks read the manuscript and soon after published it.
Ms. Donovan writes five hours a day. She is writing poetry and rewriting a second novel, which she described as completely different from the first. She also participates in a writing group.
Ms. Donovan plans to continue to write for young adults, an unexplored audience. The standard reading level of young-adults’ fiction is 12 to 16, with an emphasis on 12, she said, adding:
“This leaves out the 16- and 17-year-old readers who aren’t quite finishing what everyone says they are reading, like Stephan King. But then this reflects society, too. There doesn’t seem to be too much room between childhood and adolescence in this culture.
“I did want this story of V’s experience to go to that age group. There weren’t any books on the topic when I was a kid and went to the card catalogue.” She laughed. “They still had those. There were no books for me, and it was very lonely. Also, writing for teen-agers is an easier voice for me.”
That is evident in her novel, as the voice of every teen-ager speaks through V: “Is there something wrong with me? I thought I was a regular person. It feels like I don’t know anymore. What it really feels like is that I’m finding out I never knew anything before.”
Ms. Donovan laughed shyly. “People have asked me how I made this voice so real,” she said. “Maybe I should be embarrassed, but things haven’t changed very much for me. That voice still exists in me.”
SOME NOTES FROM CLIENTS
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Di Moda Public Relations
Just returned to the civilization of Aspen and saw the piece. Thank you for doing such a lovely job. The babies were all so happy to see their names in print and Simon is secretly pleased that the Ruffie-mobile was a part of my story. Thanks again for taking the time and care to write a story I am proud of! (I know not to end a sentence with a preposition but it seems a bit antiquated to say "to write a story of which I am proud"---) In any event thank you and I hope you get a positive response from your readers.