The summer before his senior year, Cullen Witter’s sleepy Arkansas hometown implodes with changes. His cousin dies of a drug overdose. An extinct woodpecker is spotted by a smarmy nature enthusiast. And Cullen’s sensitive, insightful younger brother goes missing.
Woven through this summer tale of loss and love is another seemingly unrelated story about a missionary just returned from Ethiopia, his jaded college roommate and a girl who returns to Cullen’s town following a failed marriage. These threads loop together forming a story as unexpected as the sighting of a bird thought long-dead.
I found Cullen’s character to be alternately charming and obnoxious. His relationships with his family members and best friend were sweet and warming. Outside those treasured few he cared about, he seemed frustrated and judgmental. Protagonists should, of course, have flaws, but I was disappointed that he didn’t seem to grow beyond those in any sense. Cullen’s brother was probably my favorite character. He added brief insights into the things going on around him in this simple, organic way.
The parts of the story about the missionary and his experience were really interesting and always turned in a direction I wouldn’t have predicted. I liked the way Whaley would take familiar story elements (a Christian missionary, a small southern town) and spin them into something unexpected. This is a novel with some dark moments but also some real mystical beauty. This is, above all, a story about finding hope in the most unlikely places.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used moderately. Main character frequently refers to people on his nerves as an “ass-hat.” While at first this seemed different and maybe a bit clever, it was kind of overdone.
Sexual Content Brief references to sex. Cullen spends the night at a girl’s house and has sex with her – the event isn’t described. He does offer a short description of an intense sexual exchange with a girl along a riverbank.
Spiritual Content A bright-eyed missionary becomes frustrated when it turns out the bulk of his work is providing food for the needy rather than collecting salvation prayers. His partner tries to reassure him of the importance of feeding the hungry.
After coming upon a passage from the book of Enoch in the Ethiopian Orthodox bible, a seminary student believes angels would teach humans how to be like God if they hadn’t been stopped by the angel Gabriel.
Violence A young man dies by suicide by jumping from a bell tower. No details of the act or immediate aftermath. A kidnapped boy is held hostage by a violent, unpredictable man. Very few details of actual violence on the boy.
At the opening of the story, Cullen’s cousin dies of a drug overdose. He identifies his cousin’s body. Brief details given.
This is a weekly theme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and my first time participating. Though my reading list seems to only grow longer the more I read, here are the ten books I most look forward to reading next.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley This has been on my list for awhile. A blogger I enjoy and an author I admire both recommended it. I can’t wait to see for myself.
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare I can’t tell if I’ll be embarrassed for my infatuation with this series in ten years. At present I am hooked on the romance and snappy dialog Clare consistently delivers.
Shadows by Robin McKinley As a long-time fan of McKinley’s books, I was delighted to see this one hit shelves. Her stories always suck me in and let me forget things like responsible bed time.
Unthinkable by Nancy Werlin When I saw that there was a story about the beginning of the curse featured in Werlin’s amazing novel Impossible, I had to have it. I’m so excited to delve back into that story world.
It’s Addicting by Laura L. Smith I’ve fallen in love with the four girls this series follows after reading the first two books. I’m looking forward to finding out how things turn out for each of them.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly I’ve read A Northern Light (and highly recommend it) as well as Revolution (which I didn’t care for as much.) When I heard the buzz about this novel, I couldn’t wait to see what Donnelly, who has written such strong and serious prose, would bring to the underwater world of mermaids.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine I’ve seen this book on several big you-must-read-these-books lists. Reading the description (a young girl with aspbergers loses her brother and mentor to a school shooting which leaves her family devastated) it’s easy to see that this one has potential to pack a big punch. I love angsty YA but it’s impossible to beat a story that adds to that mix the need to re-examine how I see the world. I think this novel has the potential to do just that.
Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart I can’t remember where I heard about this book. There’s little review information on amazon.com at present, which either means it’s an undiscovered gem or a brilliant idea that isn’t executed well. The story follows three girls involved with a cell phone. One from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the mineral to make the cell phone was mined, one from China, where the chips in the phones are manufactured and one from North America who owns a cell phone. I’m curious. I’ll bite.
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith This one is next on my reading list. Even a lover of angsty novels needs a little romance now and then to break things up. I’m eager to visit the places the story travels – San Fransisco, Prague – and to relive those early moments of falling in love through each character.
On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers From the author who wrote the award-winning Monster comes a story about a group of futuristic teens who commit to sabotage the stranglehold eight companies have on the world government. I’ve read this style of story before and been left disappointed, but I’m totally intrigued. If anyone can make this a powerful, memorable story, it’s gotta be Myers, right?
Several months ago a friend recommended two fantastic novels for my reading and reviewing pleasure: Glass Girl and its sequel Perfect Glass. These novels follow Meg’s journey through the terrible grief of losing a sibling and the discovery of a healing love in the wild, heart-of-gold cowboy Henry. As I read, I devoured not only the marvelous tale but the emotional trek of each character through the sorrows and joys of loss and love. Today, Laura Anderson Kurk answers my burning questions about her creative process, reading recommendations and more!
A story is often inspired by a question. What question inspired you to write Glass Girl and Perfect Glass?
This is a great way to look at story genesis! In 2010, when I first began working on Glass Girl, our country was seeing a rash of school shootings—in middle schools, high schools, and on college campuses. The questions that occupied a lot of my thinking at the time were – What did the siblings of school shooting victims feel like as the surviving child? What did this kind of loss do to their place in the family and the formation of their personhood?
I read an interview of Craig Scott years ago that stuck with me. Craig’s sister, Rachel, was the first victim in the Columbine shooting. Craig, who was in the library at the time the shots began, was in agony because he and Rachel were separated and he didn’t know if she was safe. I saw how the media surrounded the Scott family, but naturally focused the most on Rachel’s parents. I worried about Craig, although the Scott family is tremendous and he had plenty of support. It did make me wonder about survivor guilt in this new, horrible phenomenon of school violence. This was, to some degree, an unprecedented psychological turn that this country faced. Children were dealing with the violent deaths of their friends and siblings in the halls of the places they had felt most safe. Children faced their own post-traumatic stress disorders because they’d had to cower under desks and in bathroom stalls to survive. These were issues faced by families in war torn countries, not here. These were not skills we taught kids; although now, unfortunately, my own children know exactly what to do in the event of gunfire on their campuses. This … I feel this deeply in my bones as a loss we’ve all suffered.
In the sequel, Perfect Glass, I had some clear questions in mind, too – What happens to “perfect” all-American kids when they suddenly face adversity in an international setting? What happens when we are stripped of all the crutches we’d leaned on? How does calamity sharpen and focus us more than anything else? What does loving the “unlovable” look like?
You create the most amazing and realistic characters. Jo Russell, the artist Meg cares for in Perfect Glass really struck a chord with me. What inspired you to include her in the story?
My favorite people on the planet are fine artists. My dearest friend, Mara Schasteen, is a critically-acclaimed painter. Mara’s uncanny ability to see the world clearly has always pulled on me like the moon draws the tides. Jo’s vocabulary and sense of wonder came from Mara and other artists in my life. Her cantankerous nature, though, came from a collection of older people I’ve known and loved through the years.
I wanted Meg to meet someone who was hard to love, but who would offer the greatest reward if her shell could be softened and opened. Meg needed to meet someone who could show what a life deeply lived would look like. Meg and her mom both lived deep, subterranean lives and sometimes couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Jo revealed the forest and taught Meg so much about the power found in letting go and seeing profound connections in redeeming relationships. She was Meg’s perfect glass (or mirror) in the way the Nicaraguan orphans were Henry’s.
Can you tell us about an author or novel you think deserves a greater spotlight?
One fairly recent YA that stole my breath was John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. It had great critical success in 2012, winning the Printz Award, but I think it deserves a far larger audience. The protagonist, Cullen, is one of my all-time favorite characters. Whaley has a great sense of what makes a teenager tick and I bow to his genius in that. I just bought Whaley’s second novel, Noggin.
I also really like what Cath Crowley does. She’s writing YA in Australia and I’m a big fan of her spare style. She tries to write about those tender, quiet moments in a girl’s life, and I think more readers of contemporary YA should grab her books. Grafitti Moon is my favorite of hers. A Little Wanting Song is fantastic, as well.
I was surprised, too, about the lackluster sales of Sara Zarr’s latest The Lucy Variations. I loved this book! I love all of Zarr’s but that one was really special. I hated that it sort of got shelved and wasn’t read by a large audience.
Both novels take place in Wyoming, and PerfectGlass adds a small town in Nicaragua as a setting. What made you choose these particular settings for the backdrop of Meg and Henry’s stories?
I first set Glass Girl in Colorado. I realized, as I read through the first draft, that I wanted a place where independence, “toughness,” and self-reliance were even MORE celebrated. I pushed it north into Wyoming and am so glad I did that. I have since grown to love that state for its quirkiness and unique understanding of how to make one’s own way in life. Moving Henry to an orphanage in Nicaragua happened when I heard the very true and heartbreaking story of Programa Amor. This government closure of privately run orphanages really happened, and it affected some dear friends of mine who were directors of a home for children there. They watched as their children were taken from them and then they spent months trying to locate them again. I felt like this was a story that needed telling, and that Henry’s character (which had been so perfect when seen through Meg’s eyes in the first book) needed to taste a bit hardship so we could see what he was made of. Turns out, Henry struggles like the rest of us to overcome failings, but what makes him great is that he sees things through and is loyal to the end. Things didn’t work out like he wanted them to, but he surprised himself with his acceptance of that.
What do you most hope that readers take away from your novel?
I want readers to see that there’s good even in the darkest, most difficult moments of life. That those valleys make the mountaintops more special. I want them to know – really know – that we all struggle with the ugly parts of our lives but that help is all around. I want them to see the beauty in the people who’ve been placed in their lives—even those deemed unlovable by the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from those who’ve walked before. Or from those who are marginalized by a shallow society. Always hope. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Speak up when you need help. Make friends everywhere.
What’s next for you? Is there another novel in the works? Do Meg and Henry have another adventure, or are you moving on to something new? Can you tell us a little about it?
I think Meg and Henry are fully launched into their life together. I really hadn’t even planned on writing a sequel to Glass Girl, but I had so many questions about what came next that I became consumed with it myself and before long, I had another book written. As it turned out, Perfect Glass became my favorite of the two books, so I’m awfully glad I stuck with the story.
My next project will be a standalone YA contemporary. I can’t say too much because I’m always afraid I’ll jinx my own creative processes, but it deals with a subculture that hasn’t seen a great deal of discussion in recent years. The tagline is something like – A daughter who believes she’s finer than her origins learns that living on the surface is impossible when the boy who holds her heart is underground. Going back to your first question – in this book, I’m asking myself this—Do “place” and “belonging” shape identity, and who are we if we hate the place and never belonged?
Thanks so much for inviting me to chat! I’m honored that you read and enjoyed my books and I’m grateful for all you do for YA readers!
Laura Anderson Kurk writes unconventional, bittersweet stories for young adults. Her first novel, Glass Girl, is Meg Kavanagh’s story of coming back from the precipice after losing her brother, and it begins the love story of Henry and Meg. Perfect Glass, the sequel to Glass Girl, is an emotional story about the antagonistic effect of long-distance on a relationship, and how Henry and Meg find each other again.
Laura lives in College Station, Texas with her family. For more information about Laura or her books, visit her at laurakurk.com or connect with her on Twitter (@laurakurk).
Get Your Copy of Glass Girl and Perfect Glass
Both Glass Girl and Perfect Glass are available right now on Amazon.com for $2.99. Also check out this free ebook containing sample chapters of several YA novels from great indie authors, including Laura Anderson Kurk.