What I read:
Promise. Betrayal. Confession. Revenge. Tabitha and her four best friends all wear purity rings, symbols of the virginity-until-marriage pledge they made years ago. Now Tab is fifteen, and her ring has come to mean so much more. It’s a symbol of who she is and what she believes—a reminder of her promises to herself, and her bond to her friends. But when Tab meets a boy whose kisses make her knees go weak, everything suddenly seems a lot more complicated. Tab’s best friend, Morgan, is far from supportive, and for the first time, Tabitha is forced to keep secrets from the one person with whom she’s always shared everything. When one of those secrets breaks to the surface, Tab finds herself at the center of an unthinkable betrayal that splits her friends apart. As Tab’s entire world comes crashing down around her, she’s forced to re-examine her friendships, her faith, and what exactly it means to be pure.
“I love this book. Like, love it love it. My heart expanded when I read it—yours will too!” —Lauren Myracle, bestselling author of ttyl and ttfn
What I envy:
There is a lot to love about this book from the well-drawn characters to the complicated intersection of friendship, church, family and sex.
As a writer, I think what impressed me most was how skillfully McVoy captures the complications of high school life. Before I had read anything by her, I had watched Terra Elan McVoy discuss her writing process with her editor, Anica Mrose Rissi, in this video. Her editor says, “Can we give away part of your writers’ secret? She doesn’t, sort of, just write it as it comes. I mean, When you read a scene set in a school, she’s written out everybody’s class schedule, where the different rooms are, who passes who in the hallway at what time…”
Sheesh, I thought. That sounds complicated.
But I have to admit it struck me as a good idea.
In many books, television shows, movies, etc for teens the details of life in high school, to me, seem oversimplified. Not the emotional details, but the practical ones. I’m guilty of this kind of simplification in my own writing. It’s easier to give a protagonist three or four well-defined levels to her social circle—best friend, friends, aquaintences and a possible enemy or love interest—than it is to account for the many varying degrees of friendship that most teens experience because they spend eight-plus hours a day surrounded by a constant stream of peers. I know that each character I introduce means a unique character arc. That makes it challenging to let my MC know and opine about as many people as she realisitically would in high school.
But Tabitha, the protagonist in PURE, has a social circle as layered as the proverbial onion. Her primary circle alone consists of five girls. Each of these characters is drawn clearly and Tabitha shares a unique level of closeness—and annoyance—with each of them. Tabitha reflects early on, “Priah’s overenthusiasm about pretty much anything that happens to me or Morgan is sometimes borederline annoying.” In this way, like most teenagers, she is acutely aware of the power dynamics in each of the twosomes within this five-person friendship, even as each relationship grows, shrinks or changes as a result of the plot.
There are host of other characters who appear only a few times throughout the book but who are clearly part of the fabric of Tabitha’s high school life: girls she is sort-of friendly with, a boy who has a crush on her friend, teachers, friends’ boyfriends, friends’ parents. McVoy manages to bring a record number of characters to life though Tabitha’s eyes.
The other high school details are also realistically complicated. Tabitha’s schedule rotates so she has different classes at different times on different days; the hallways she walks feel chaotic, crowded and exciting; and her love interest comes from another school, further complicating her life with a brand new social circle.
The book is not actually about any of this chaos, but it adds a layer of reality and authority and authenticity to the story about Tabitha learning to think for herself. McVoy manages all of theses details in a way that does not weigh down the narration or pacing. I aspire to be able to do the same.
What do you think? Do most stories simplify the details of high school? How can writers work to get it right?
Leave a comment below to enter to win a paperback copy of PURE by Terra Elan McVoy—UNITED STATES ONLY. Winner will be chosen at random on Saturday, August 24th, 2013.
The way I read has dramatically changed since I started taking the whole-writing-thing seriously. My writerly friends and I are always looking for recommendations so that we can read books that achieve the practical, emotional, or character note that we’re going for. So, I decided to start blogging about reading as a YA writer. And since we are completely out of bookshelf space in our tiny apartment, I decided to start giving away the books too!