A frequent question writers get is this: What author has most influenced your writing? The answer, at least for me, is hard to pinpoint. Many authors have influenced my writing in countless ways: Christopher Paul Curtis’s writing inspires me to flesh out a spot-on voice; Karen Hesse’s spare yet powerful prose inspires me seek out the perfect words; Kate DiCamillo’s metaphoric and magical works inspire me to write with depth and purpose. And the list could go on. There are tens of authors I deeply admire and who make me want to be a better writer.
But recently, Rachele Alpine, fellow member of The Lucky 13s and author of the upcoming YA novel CANARY, put a spin on the above question. She instead asked, “What book has most influenced your writing?” For me, the answer to that question is much simpler. It is, without a doubt, JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson.
JACOB HAVE I LOVED is a true masterpiece, beginning as a middle grade and ending well into YA territory, following Sara Louise Bradshaw from age thirteen up through adulthood. Louise isn’t perfect. In fact, she can be her own worst enemy. And that’s why I connected so much with her story. I have felt the way Louise feels. I have messed up, made mistakes, and thrown one too many pity parties for myself. But that’s okay. Louise’s story shows that it’s never too late to grow up, to take responsibility for your own life and your own fate, and to find contentment and forgiveness.
Katherine Paterson masterfully portrays both World War II history and the story’s Chesapeake Bay setting through Louise’s first person narrative. The first person point-of-view also allows Louise’s emotions to leap off the page and into your soul. Perhaps this is why JACOB’s ending made me cry like no other book’s ever has. Seriously, if someone had shown up at my front door the moment I finished this book, they’d have thought either I was having a nervous breakdown or that someone had just died. Yes. I cried that much.
I pondered the story, the setting, the writing, and the emotions I’d felt as a reader long after I’d closed the cover. I gleaned much from this book in terms of lessons for my own writing, and what I learned greatly influenced the choices I made while writing EVERY DAY AFTER. I chose to let Lizzie tell her own story through first person narrative. I allowed her to be far-from-perfect—truly flawed—and to fill her story with all the emotion she wanted—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Like Louise, Lizzie isn’t perfect, her life isn’t perfect, and she doesn’t get a perfect fairy-tale ending, but isn’t that real life?
I’m not delusional (at least I don’t think I am), so I am in no way, shape, or form saying that I wrote EVERY DAY AFTER anywhere close to as skillfully as Katherine Paterson wrote JACOB HAVE I LOVED. But I am saying that this book taught me invaluable lessons about writing well and writing truth. It gave me innumerable things to aspire to. It still does. I hope, with all my heart, it will do the same for you.
To win JACOB HAVE I LOVED, just one title in a massive giveaway the Lucky 13s are holding to celebrate the six month mark until the dawn of 2013, head over to the Lucky 13s blog and enter. Then check out other Luckies’ blogs where they too will answer Rachele’s FAQ with a twist!