According to my quarterly plan for this blog, I’m supposed to post an article about writing description. I have that post almost done, so you’ll see that next week. I’m really excited about it. But you know how you create this great plan and then life throws you a curveball? Yep.
Back in December I requested this book Chirp by Kate Messner. What is Ironic is that I later learned that Kate Messner’s book, Breakout, was on the Texas Lone Star Award List this year! My principal, at my request, just bought our 6th grade class 30 copies of Breakout for our book clubs. We are all so excited about this book too! More on this book later. It will get a whole post of its own, I’m sure.
My request to read the Chirp ARC was finally approved this past weekend. The book will be released February 4th, So I need to hustle and get this book review written!
I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m 50% done with the book as I write this paragraph and so far it is excellent! I highlighted some passages to talk about in this post. Messner is really good at ramping up the stakes and building tension. (1/29 Update: I finished it! Awesome Story!)
First I’ll tell you about the book itself.
By Kate Messner
Middle Grade Book
This book has layers of plot lines, and I love it!
First, Mia and her family just moved to live near her grandmother, who owns a cricket farm. Yes, a cricket farm. To make food with them. Barbecue crickets. Maple crickets. and more! Mia and her grandmother are really close, so when she learns that Gram’s farm is in danger of closing down due to sabotage and lack of funding, Mia knows she has to do something.
Layer one: Who is sabotaging the farm? Mia and two friends go all Nancy Drew to investigate and gather clues.
Layer two: How are they going to raise an impossible amount of money to keep the farm going? Mia has ideas to drum up some business for the farm, but she’s not sure if it will work.
Layer three: Mia is recovering from a very bad broken arm. She was a gymnast until she broke the arm. Now, she can’t even look at the equipment without feeling horrible. Can she ever recover mentally from this? She has a secret she’s keeping from everyone. How is she going to find the courage to tell someone? Who can she trust with this secret?
How was the Story?
I just finished reading it. Messner is a masterful writer. I adore this book! I was a fun story but it involves a very serious topic. She handled this very well. She handled it in a way that is appropriate for middle school children. (See below the spoiler warning if you want to know more about this.)
I enjoyed the way this author wove several different storylines together with one very important theme.
What Can We Learn from Messner?
My biggest takeaway from her writing was her ability to ratchet up the tension or the stakes at the end of each chapter. This makes it very hard to put the book down at a chapter break.
Here are a few examples from the beginning of the book (so I won’t spoil anything too big!)
“Mishap? No.” Gram pointed her broom at the birds. “This is sabotage.”End of Chapter 1
AGH! How does she know that someone is sabotaging her farm? Who is sabotaging her farm? The way this is phrased and placed is important to creating the tension. You want readers to be asking questions like this that further the plot (not questions because they are confused).
Additionally, readers, especially voracious readers are known for doing a little skimming, especially when they really get into the story and can’t wait to get to see what happens. (guilty here! Who else is in this camp?) When these readers skim, they often read first and last sentences of a paragraph, so it is important to place information strategically like this as the last sentence of the chapter.
End of Chapter 3
“We’re out of options here. It’s either come up with new investors or shut down the farm.”
Here the stakes went way up! The farm her Gram loves is in danger of being shut down. I know she’s going to try to help save the farm, so how is she going to do that? Will she succeed?
Maybe Mia didn’t have a robot in progress, or a completely coded app, or two boxes of recycled jewelry ready to go. But she had some ideas. And that was a start.End of chapter 4
This is the moment in which the book really grabbed my attention. Before this moment, I was reading a story with some pretty good stakes, but I’ve seen that all before. Now we have a character that was being proactive. 16% of the way into the story we are at the tipping point from reaction to proactive. Often that doesn’t happen until midpoint in the story. This is one of many reasons I love this story.
This book contains reference to sexual harassment and abuse.
Keep reading for more writing advice that includes spoilers!
First, Kate Messner did a beautiful job of weaving the theme through all the various plot lines. (in addition to the above mentioned build up of tension and stakes) Not only did she emphasize the theme in each plot line but she used different plot lines to explore different aspects of the topic.
- While Mia is working on her business plan, she learns that her friend Anna left one group because a boy kept looking at her in a creepy way and wouldn’t stop.
- Mia learned that several adult women in her family had been harassed at work and she begins to wonder if all women experience this sometime in their life.
- The author even drew parallels between the gym coach who was loved by all and the saboteur who was also loved by all. This is an angle I didn’t expect.
Second, Messner did a great job of confronting the difficult topic of sexual abuse in a way that is appropriate for middle school students. She did not go into specific details and description of the incident, just the feeling associated with it. It gets the point across without being overly graphic. She sends a message to readers in a subtle, non-preachy way.
I loved the scene when Mia finally tells her mom. She says she was afraid her mom wouldn’t believe her. Mom says she’d always believe her. Then Mia points out that she didn’t believe her or her grandma about the sabotage. That opened her mom’s eyes to her POV. It validates the fears that kids have about opening up, but then goes on to show readers that adults do take this kind of thing seriously and will investigate. It also shows they have the power to make the situation better for others by stopping the harasser or assaulter.
- Look at your current WIP. THEME Are your plot lines all tied into a single theme or life lesson? If so, excellent! If not, how can you run the same theme through the plot lines in various ways or emphasizing different aspects of the theme?
- TENSION Look at where you end each chapter of your WIP novel. Do you end in a place that leaves readers wanting to know more about what is coming? Look at your last sentence. Is that last line powerful? Does it bring up more questions? How can you adjust your chapters to ratchet up the tension or the stake?