Little, Brown sends me books from time to time, because they know I spend all my money on books, and because they worry that I will not be able to afford the necessary caffeine that will allow me to turn a draft in on time. Or they just do it to be nice.
So I read this particular book yesterday, dreamed about it all night, and woke up in the morning still thinking about it. Before even my breakfast, I had to email my editor and say, where did you find this person? Who has such a brain? What is the deal with Ann Dee Ellis?
I have never met Ann Dee Ellis, but apparently she is from Utah, and I am beginning to wonder why there are so many gifted YA writers from Utah. Anybody? (Though I spend most of the summer & holidays visiting my parents in Park City, I'm not sure that counts.) I read about her book online. I read her LiveJournal.
I have been gone doing very important things like playing in the
sandbox, sitting in a whale swimming pool, and pouring cornstarch on
In a world that trends towards the formulaic, this particular brain is not. Originality is always controversial, but as a reader, I value it immensely.
EVERYTHING IS FINE is about depression, and a home where nothing is fine. It's particularly interesting to me because, to the extent that you can regionalize literature, I would not imagine Salt Lake City to be widely known as home to many narratives of depression. That would be someplace grittier, like New York, right? Or famously phony, like LA? Maybe seedier, like Vegas? Salt Lake, to me, is a chipper place, full of friendly folks and fry sauce and fresh limeade and blonde wedge cuts and well-kept flower gardens with little curbs around them. They seem, well, happy. (If you are from Salt Lake, please take that as a compliment.)
Perhaps it's that stranger in a strange land feel that contributes to the sometimes shattering, always brave eccentricity of Ellis' characters. Adolescent Mazzy, left behind to care for her mother, has a voice that is liberating and beautifully crazy and dazzlingly different. Sort of like modern music that follows a complex rhythm, and demands to be listened to on its own terms. Mazzy, to me, reads like a cross between a Sara Zarr character and Ramona the Pest (maybe more like Ramona the Brave) — trapped in an Ellen Hopkins world.
I know, right?
Mazzy kills flies with super karate chops and puts oranges in her shirt and invites her crush over for microwaved marshmallows that harden until she has to throw out the plate. She considers saying "Whatever, booby," to the social services worker, does her princess wave to her neighbors, and hopes her neighbor with the big hairy mole doesn't have a baby with a big hairy mole. At the same time, she struggles with guilt, loss, abandonment, and the overwhelming responsibility of caring for her incapacitated mother.
Unforgiving humor. Plucky devestation. Profound irreverence. See what I mean?
What is the deal with Ann Dee Ellis?
Anyways, my editor promised to send me her debut novel, THIS IS WHAT I DID. I may not be able to wait that long. For more about Ann Dee Ellis, visit www.anndeeellis.com. Where you can read lines like this:
Okay. I love you. I love morning glory. I love snaps, the firework
kinds. I love squirt parks. I love chocolate chips and peanut butter.
and again, I love you.