Here is a small space to discuss independent bookstores, Indie Next List selections, Indie bestsellers . . . and, most essentially, the stories that permeate our literary lives.

As (1) an employee of an independent bookstore,--namely Beehive Books; check out our blog here--(2) a self-proclaimed localvore, and (3) a lifelong reader, I believe that independents are vitally important to their surroundings, that their significance extends far beyond the volumes they vend.

Bookstores--especially the funky, idiosyncratic, locally supportive (indie)pendent ones--are community catalysts.

They are messy, organic, lovely homes for books, yes. But they also house, and inspire, the words we speak to one another about such books; they so naturally invite conversation, interaction, dialogue, relationship. The trenchant Elaine Showalter says that "What keeps literature alive, meaningful to read, and exciting to teach isn't unstinting approval or unanimous admiration, but rousing argument and robust dispute." Written words are beautified by the spoken words that surround them. The most beautiful library, or collection, is one that pulses with the dialogue of its readers--and independent bookstores are one of the purest examples of this truth.

And here is where I'd extoll the virtues of the independent book business itself. But as I am only a humble but fierce admirer/apprentice (and a dangerously longwinded one, at that), I'll now refer you instead to IndieBound--your online connection to independents everywhere. Read their concise answer to the question "Why Shop Indie?" and join their community, if you wish.

In my small nook of the indie world, I offer reviews of notable books in the independent community. I focus on current Next List selections and indie bestsellers, but I'm always open to books that find me in my literary life--whether a customer at Beehive recommends an obscure title; a co-worker passes me a childhood favorite, or a small press sends us a fresh gem. I'm always on the lookout for ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), and I have a penchant for children's literature, especially middle readers, so you'll see some of those here, too. That said, my readership will only grow richer through yours--all comments, debates, and reading suggestions are more than welcome. Let's create our own unique nook in the indie book community!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Indies Choice: Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution

In honor of the recent 2011 BEA (BookExpo America) conference, I'd like to showcase this year's Indies Choice Award winners. This annual indie honorific is closely tied to the previous year's Next Lists (i.e., each 2011 Book of the Year nominee is pulled from a 2010 Next List). All titles are exclusively selected, both initially and in the final voting stage, by ABA member booksellers. The Indies Choice Awards are unique in their celebration of both distinguished books in the independent community, and its organizations, including ABA and IndieBound.

Access this BTW (Bookselling This Week) article to view the four winning titles in each category (Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Adult Debut, and Young Adult). You can also read some of the award-winning authors' comments from the BEA Celebration of Bookselling & Author Awards Luncheon here.

I was particularly delighted to see Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution receive the Young Adult award. This is a seamlessly constructed novel, expertly researched and wonderfully human. Fusing both contemporary and historical fiction, Donnelly presents two heroines: Andi, the novel's protagonist, a musically gifted, brilliant and hurting Brooklynite, and Alex, a resilient daughter of the French Revolution. Suffering under the weight of her younger brother Truman's death, her mother's subsequent instability, and her father's distance, Andi is in danger of failing her senior year at St. Anselm's, an elite private school in New York. Against her will, she accompanies her father, a renowned geneticist, to Paris, where she writes her senior thesis as he conducts research on the alleged heart of Louis-Charles, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's wretched son.

While in France, Andi discovers Alex's diary, a treasure the reader is privileged to peruse with her. Embedded in Andi's first person narration, Alex's story of dedication to the young Louis proves her an equally riveting protagonist in her own story. Also, despite the temporal separation between Andi and Alex, their coming-of-age emotions connect gracefully, for Donnelly establishes the parallel between Andi's mourning of Truman and Alex's compassion for Louis-Charles in a straightforward yet unforced manner.

From its beginning chapters, Revolution is unflinching its portrayal of difficult subjects such as suicide, depression, and--in Alex's world--mass human suffering. In essence, this is a novel of stunning emotional scope. Reading this intensely human book, I could only imagine what a feat it must have been to compose. Two genres, two primary characters, two writing styles. A deep knowledge of music and an immense amount of research into the French Revolution. And, above all, a candid, questioning, and compassionate look at suffering, cruelty, loss, love.

To learn more about the writer who accomplished all this one novel, check out Jennifer Donnelly's website. Here you'll find wonderful writing advice, insight into Revolution's genesis, and even Andi's playlist.

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