Grist by Heather Waldorf was nominated for the Cybils award for Young Adult Fiction, and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy from Red Deer Press. Sixteen year old Charlie (Charlena, aka Char, aka Charlie-girl) lives with her dad, Mike, and a few scattered memories of the mother who died of cancer when Charlie was four. Charlie has always wanted to be a writer, but as the summer after Junior Year approaches, she's in a major funk. Her dad is dating a woman she can't relate to, and her best friend Sam, who she is secretly in love with, has moved to Australia for a year with his family. Sam has also started mentioning someone named Elizabeth in his emails, and Charlie is determinedly freezing him out. All in all, Charlie's creative juices are flat out dried up, and neither Mike now Charlie's writing teacher can talk her out of it.
What Charlie needs is a change of scenery. When her grandmother invites her to spend the summer up on Lake Ringrose, where her mom grew up, she accepts, and finds her life changed forever. She meets the charismatic and dangerous Kerry, who has troubles of his own. Despite her best efforts, she succumbs to his charm. And that's where things get really complicated, and downright emotionally devastating. But that, Charlie's writing teacher tells her, is all grist for writing stories.
I enjoyed the characterization in Grist. Charlie feels real to me, and I empathize with her pain. I like Kerry a lot, too. He has had some tough breaks, but he's doing the best that he can. And despite hellacious parenting, he knows where he wants to be in the world. Pretty impressive at eighteen. Although absent for much of the text, Charlie's dad, Mike, is also a strong character. He has his flaws, but his love for and support of his daughter are boundless.
As for the plot, I must admit that I saw where things were going fairly early on (though I'm not sure it would have been obvious to a less suspicious mind). And I found some of the passages about Charlie's writer's block a bit tutorial-ish (here are the important things about being a writer, etc.). Despite these points, I read on eagerly, because I cared about what was going to happen to Charlie. And at the end, I wanted more. I wanted to know how Charlie's was going to continue to relate to both Sam and Kerry, and whether a certain parent and child would ever reconcile. I wanted to know how next year's boat race on Lake Ringrose was going to turn out. In short, I didn't want it to end. And that's the best endorsement I can give you.
SIDE NOTE: I do have a question after reading this book. What is it with the "falling in love with the life-long best friend" thing? I've read about this recently in Monsoon Summer (complete with the summer apart, and the important discussions by letter), How to be Popular, Shug, and I know that I'm missing at least one. Is this something that really happens all the time? I was never close friends with any boys when I was little, so I can't speak from any personal experience. I suppose that if one were already close friends with someone of the opposite gender, it would make sense to fall for the person once hormones hit. Don't get me wrong. I think that Heather Waldorf handles this situation beautifully. Charlie's anger and frustration are believable, without being over the top. And it's certainly not the author's fault that several other recent novels, presumably written in parallel, display a similar dynamic. I'm just a tiny bit baffled by this trend, that's all, and I'm choosing to vent about it here.
Author: Heather Waldorf
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Original Publication Date: September 30, 2006
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Sheryl McFarlane's Book Blog
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