Jenn writes the kinds of books I don’t ever see myself writing. Realistic YA, yes, but even within that genre, she goes with topics that are ones I don’t think I could/would write about. In The Secret Year, Colt and Julia had a secret year together, but the book opens by announcing Julia’s death to the reader. We only learn about that year in the context of Colt’s loss of anything that could have come after. I haven’t read far enough into Try Not to Breathe to give away any spoilers, but here’s the first line from the jacket blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Ryan is fresh out of a mental hospital and trying to figure out how to reboot his life after a suicide attempt.”
Hard stuff. Stuff I often choose not to read, let alone explore in my own writing.
And, yet, when it’s Jenn writing, I’ll pick up the book, and I’ll turn to page one, and I’ll start reading. Even with that blurb.
Well, I got The Secret Year, because I’d been reading Jenn’s blog. I still read it; it’s one of the most consistently intelligent discussions of writing and reading that I’ve found out there on the Internet. I bought The Secret Year half because I’m always curious about books by people I “know” online, and also because I knew that Jennifer could write. Good, tight writing–whether it’s in a blog, a comment, or a book–carries a lot of weight for me, has a lot to do with what books I choose off the shelf.
Why did I get Try Not to Breathe? Suicide. Again, not something I easily or casually read about. Not an escape-read, not something I can figure will make me laugh out loud, not something for a quick, light afternoon of reading.
I got Try Not to Breathe because I’d read The Secret Year. Because I trust Jenn.
I trust her to:
- Develop her characters into distinct individuals, not simply stereotypes of people who have “this kind” of experience.
- Write a story that, while it may have its roots in a starting moment, abig, starting moment, goes far beyond that moment in exploration.
- Give me things in her characters that I like and that I don’t like, and to do it in a way that the writing terms “heroic traits” and “flaws” are too simplistic.
- Never toss a word, paragraph, or scene at me that relies on my automatic reaction–she doesn’t rest her writing on the plain fact death or suicide, doesn’t go for the shock-value of just putting that into the book.
- Push herself past truisms and stereotypes.
- Explore both characters and character dynamics (which is, ultimately, what I am ALWAYS reading for).
I know Jenn will write a story about people who seriously interest me, who–by just a few pages in–I care about. I’m only 33 pages into Try Not to Breathe. I’m sure bad things are coming. Probably very bad things. But for these people, in this story, because of this writer–I’ll keep reading.
Trust. It’s a biggie.