I'm the author of the newer novels When I Found You (UK), Diary of a Witness, Chasing Windmills, The Day I Killed James, The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance, Love in the Present Tense, and Becoming Chloe. My older works are Funerals for Horses, Earthquake Weather, Pay it Forward (adapted into a movie starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment), Electric God, Walter's Purple Heart. Electric God, Love in the Present Tense and Chasing Windmills all have possible futures as films. Forthcoming is Jumpstart the World (Knopf '10), a Young Adult work on the subject of transgender. I'm also fairly well known in the UK (actually doing better there with my adult novels than in the US) and have a new adult novel due out from Transworld in 2010. Hopefully I'll have a US date for it soon as well.
And onto Vida's Top Ten Book Picks...
Number 1 on Vida’s list, without a doubt: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I like the book a lot, but Vida worships it, because of the way it’s written in letter format, and to a person we never see or meet. Vida relates to being so alone in the world, and the way the main character confides in this unseen person just breaks her heart, but in the most satisfying way possible. And of course it reminds her a little of her own journaling.
Second on her list would be Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. This is the one that came immediately to mind, but when I thought of the Stephen Chbosky book, I knew it came to mind first but as book number two. (Funny how I think and talk more like Vida as I do this exercise.) Vida likes the sense of quirky spiritual order in this one. It comforts her to see her inner knowing about the world reflected back in this way.
Number three is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Because the little boy who narrates it is so precocious and so vulnerable, all at the same time. And he has such a direct and heartbreaking experience with loss. Which Vida can feel. I guess I make it sound like she almost wants to have her heart broken, but it’s more like this: when your heart is broken, it feels good when something comes along to help you feel it. Otherwise it’s all just in there, trying to get out, which hurts more. And yes, I do realize I’m talking about hearts a lot. That’s part of how the whole heart thing works, I guess. It works on two levels.
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, for number four.
Closely followed by Love, Stargirl for number five. Or maybe even reverse the order on those two. And I’m not even sure I need to say why. I think anybody who has read these books knows they’re about being different. Granted, Vida is different in a less happy and fun way than Stargirl, but it’s still nice to get the message that being ordinary isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Since Vida never had a chance in hell at being ordinary. There was no point in even trying.
Number six has to go to Walter’s Purple Heart, by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Okay, I realize it may sound a little self-serving. But look at it this way. Vida is my character. So it’s not like she never heard of me when choosing her books. Vida likes this book because it presents a fictional view of what happens to us after we die. And since she spent all those years looking death in the face, Vida is quite drawn to reading about people who are gone, but not gone. Walter dies in the war but is still present in some ways. It underscores Vida’s theory that death is about where you are, not whether you are. And it places a huge value on every human life, even the ordinary ones. Which makes Vida happy.
Number seven, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Because it was written from the point of view of a dog. For Vida’s money, the whole thing could just have been about dogdom, and Stein could have skipped the bit about the false accusations against his owner. Maybe that’s not enough story for everybody, but in Vida’s mind, being a dog has an importance all its own. It’s enough.
Number eight, The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. Because it’s calm and lovely, and it makes sense. And, after reading it, she tends to think that life makes sense. Whereas, at other times, she often worries that it doesn't.
Number nine is Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss. Because Horton is an elephant who meant what he said and said what he meant. And Vida likes people who do that. Even if those people are elephants.
Finally, number ten is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Because it’s narrated by death. Someone Vida feels she knows. And because, even though it’s sad, and death claims many lives, and wins many battles, in the end, death has to stand in awe of the human spirit. Which means the human spirit wins out over death, even when someone dies. Vida always hoped that was true. And she still does, even now, when she gets to live.
Thanks to Catherine and Teen Book Scene!