Book Event: Oregon Book Awards

IMG_8760Last week, the Oregon Book Awards sponsored by Oregon Literary Arts doled out checks and drink tickets to the winners. This year I knew one of the nominees and had read three of the books nominated, two of which, won their awards. The three books I read were The Last to Die – a young adult novel by Kelly Garrett, The Fish Market – nonfiction book by Lee Van Der Voo (she subbed on my co-ed soccer team a few years ago!) and Strange the

IMG_8757Dreamer – a young adult novel by Laini Taylor. The latter two won in their category. I highly recommend all three books depending on your mood. Each one was well-written and immersive. After sitting through the list of nominees and reading their book descriptions, I have a few more books to add to my “to read” list.

This year, I truly felt part of the writing community. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more involved in readings, workshops, and writerly events. What that means is, I recognize or have had interactions with many of the writers in the Oregon community. I’ve also put myself out there to meet new people. It’s fun to see some of them out in the world and getting nominated for awards, receiving fellowships (Yay, Jacob Aiello!), or enjoying an event.

The night started out with vegan gluten-free pizza with two friends (Erin and Erica) who I met through a writing workshop at The Attic Institue. We’ve been friends now for a few years. We met up with Kelly and her husband to celebrate her accomplishment as a nominee for the Oregon Book awards. I was a little off that night due to getting hit by a car as a pedestrian in a crosswalk two days before, but I wanted to be there. The whole getting hit by a car story is one for another day, or maybe I’ll turn it into a short story or a scene in my next novel! I’m doing okay after a few days of limping, a bandaged hand, and some emotional trauma that is ongoing. I don’t recommend this experience. My advice: wear a fluorescent jumpsuit at all times and be aware of your surroundings at all times!

Anyway, we ate and headed to the event where we sat up in the balcony. A few minutes after I sat down, I looked to my left and noticed I was sitting next to another writer, Mo Daviau, who I had recently met at a happy hour I hosted! She also wrote a fantastic book called Every Anxious Wave about a wormhole that allows people to go back in time to see their favorite band play. There’s more to it than that, but check it out. It’s a small community once you start putting yourself out there and meeting others around town. On our way out, I saw my friend Hillary an awesome librarian (and someone who is always smiling) who said she and her staff chose the adult novel, American War by Omar El Akkad, and highly recommends it. I’ve already added that to my reading list.

What’s on your reading list?

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Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked this up randomly at the library. So glad I did. An unexpected gem! Review to come.

Review

I picked up Heidi Durrow’s, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010), while browsing the fiction section at the local branch of my neighborhood library. Generally I put books that I know I want to read on hold there and then go pick them up. It has become exceptionally rare for me to simply browse the bookshelves at the library and try something based on the cover or inside flaps.

Honestly, I don’t know what made me pick it up. Was it the cover that boasted “winner of The Bellwether Prize in Fiction?” I don’t even know what the Bellwether prize is or what criterion is used to determine the winner. Or was it the favorable blurbs on the back of the book that includes a quote from a fiction teacher that I recently took a class with? Or was it the simple description on the inside cover about a bi-racial girl of Danish and Black heritage that gripped me? Probably all of those things. I also liked that it was a debut novel about society’s idea of race, class and beauty as the back cover pointed out. Of course, it was much more than that.

Since I live in Portland (I’m going on fourteen years) I felt a kinship with the story in a way that I didn’t expect to. Durrow paints a picture of familiar places around town in a way that I hadn’t seen them before. Since I didn’t group up here, it gave me a glimpse at what it would have been like to be a teenager here. We are taken to the Salvation Army where one of the characters works and then to a familiar park I’ve visited many times. It surprised me to feel such a close connection to the setting of a novel. I felt that it gave me more insight than the average reader because I already knew the setting and the type of culture that the narrator was surrounded by.

Another surprise was the slow and eventual realization that the main character, Rachel, a young girl and the most central character of the novel, had arrived in Portland from Chicago because of a tragic accident. Durrow does an expert job of slowly revealing what those events were and how they left her without a mother or a father to care for her. I’m not giving anything away by saying this. The haunting tale of a past that follows her throughout her life, in both tangible and intangible ways, carries the reader through this novel. Durrow shows us Rachel’s growth over time with all types of growing pains. She meets a boy and he reminds her of the Danish heritage her mother gave her. She speaks Dutch with his mother at a dinner she is invited to. But the boy also reminds her that she is black and that he has never slept with a “black girl” before. She’s a smart girl trying to figure out her complicated place in the world. There is a lot going on in this book. It has a layered effect that is only enhanced by the multiple points of view this story is told from. Each point of view reveals more and more layers of the story.

Durrow is precise when it comes to shifting character perspectives and voices. I was worried that I would eventually feel lost, but I didn’t. Not once. I wanted the novel to go on a bit longer, but it was mainly because I liked the characters so much, not because she didn’t do a good job of letting us figure out the rest of the story. I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful debut novel. I think she balanced plot (the action in the book), story (the emotional lives of the characters), and characterization perfectly.

I’ve always loved learning about people and their experiences⎯different ways of doing things, of being in the world and coping. This story made me want to sit down and talk with every single one of her characters and hear more of their stories. That’s a good sign from a book I randomly picked up at the library. A fantastic book.

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