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Adele Griffin (1970-) - Sidelights

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Adele Griffin once told SATA: "One of my most treasured childhood memories is the excitement I felt going book shopping before summer vacation. I looked forward to our family's annual visit to New York City and trip to Brentano's, where I was allowed to purchase as many books as I wanted, a joyful extravagance. I knew what I liked: stories about princesses, tough heroines who, defying all odds, would rise from a garret or cottage adjacent to the requisite bog to become a mogul—usually of a department store. I did not like science fiction, fantasy, or books about boys.

"While my books are not science fiction or fantasy, I do like to write about both girls and boys. (Perhaps age and marriage have helped with that particular aversion.) The voices in my writing are those of the children I have listened to hear and have strained to remember, voices that speak from the secret world we too soon leave. My goal, as I continue my career, is to write books for all young people, even boys, who look forward to a trip to the library or bookstore with great joy, and who are companioned by the friendship of a favorite book."

Since the late 1990s Griffin has emerged as a novelist who explores teen behavior in all its variety, good and bad. Some of her novels, such as Overnight and Amandine, offer realistic portraits of manipulative, selfish young women and the friends they attract. Other books, including Dive and Hannah, Divided introduce unconventional young adults who must come to terms with their uniqueness. On the lighter side, Griffin's "Witch Twins" series wraps lessons on sibling rivalry and cooperation around stories of magic, spell-casting, and the supernatural. According to Ilene Cooper in Booklist, "Griffin elevates every genre she writes," whether it be fantasy or straight realistic fiction.

Griffin's well-received debut novel, Rainy Season, was lauded in a Publishers Weekly review as "ambitiously conceived and sharply observed." The story follows Lane Beck, a fearful twelve-year-old girl, and her belligerently bold younger brother Charlie through a single transformative day. The Beck family is living on an army base in the Panama Canal Zone in 1977, when resentment of American imperialism is at its peak. The story's setting is key mainly for its contribution of danger and suspense, but the history and politics relevant to the Canal Zone are also discussed in an author's note. Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis wrote that the Panama setting "adds a faint aura of decadence to the narrative." Janice M. Del Negro of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books maintained that the story's atmosphere is "strongly evoked but never intrusive," adding that "the politics are present but always in the background." In anticipation of a battle with the children on the opposite side of the Zone, the Beck children and their friends begin building a fort. Tensions escalating outside the family are paralleled by the strains existing within the family. Lane is prone to panic attacks, Charlie to bully-like behavior, and both children's problems are being deliberately ignored by their parents. Lane's concern for her brother forces her to break the family's pathological silence about the grief they feel over older sister Emily's death in a car accident. School Library Journal contributor Lucinda Lockwood commented favorably on Griffin's "evocative" writing and the author's ability to "capture the setting and the nuances of adolescent relationships." A Publishers Weekly critic commended the way Griffin "unfolds the events of the day and lets the reader make sense of them," revealing the nature of the tragedy "deep into her story without resorting to melodrama or otherwise manipulating the characterizations." Del Negro concluded that certain images in the work "will remain with readers long after the book is closed."

In an interview with Elizabeth Devereaux for Publishers Weekly, Griffin explained that Rainy Season was not an autobiographical novel. Griffin did, however, make frequent summer visits to Panama as a child, after her parents divorced and her father moved to Central America. She tackled the subjects of divorce and a girl's experience of life without her father in her next book, Split Just Right. Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis noted that the "sunny" tones of this novel "differ markedly from the somber, interior voice that characterized Griffin's first novel." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Janice M. Del Negro also commented on the "more relaxed, humorous tone" of Split Just Right, commending the "natural easy flow" with which Griffin portrays central protagonist Danny's interpersonal relationships.

A well-grounded fourteen-year-old who enjoys writing, Danny (otherwise known as Dandelion Finzimer) lives with her flamboyant, single, part-time waitress/actress/drama-teacher mother. With no memory of her father, Danny is unsure whether she should trust her mother's view of him and longs to learn about—or perhaps even meet—him. By way of a mix-up, Danny does get to meet her father, and in the process discovers much about her parents, her work as a burgeoning writer, and the line between fact and fiction. School Library Journal contributor Carol A. Edwards asserted that in this work, Griffin "takes one of the most tired plots in current fiction and gives it fresh zip." Booklist correspondent Ilene Cooper praised the book for successfully tackling "a number of interesting issues, including class distinction and family relationships."

Griffin's next book, Sons of Liberty, again adopts the more serious tone of her first novel. Through seventh-grader Rock Kindle, Griffin seriously examines the complicated issues faced by members of a dysfunctional family. Rock has always looked up to his father, and in imitation of his father's behavior, has become a bully. Rock's older brother, Cliff, has lost patience with their father's warped sense of militancy, which prescribes regular doses of humiliation and such bizarre punishments as waking the boys up in the middle of the night to do chores and calisthenics. When the family shatters, no longer able to stand the strain, Rock is forced to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his newly discovered sense of self. In a starred review, a Publishers Weekly critic praised Griffin's use of "pointedly jarring dialogue" and her "keen ear for adolescent jargon." Horn Book reviewer Kitty Flynn credited the development of Rock's character with providing "the tension in what could have been a superficial treatment of the issues."

With The Other Shepards, Griffin created a supernatural teen romance about a girl named Holland and her obsessive-compulsive sister Geneva. The two are passing their adolescent years in a world that is haunted by the memory of three older siblings who died before the two sisters were even born. In the guise of Annie, a mural painter, the spirit of the older sister breathes color into the Shepard family. A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that Griffin "spins a taut story of two girls . . . who must confront the unknown in order to liberate themselves. . . . Griffin's story offers a resounding affirmation that fears are to be faced, not denied, and life is to be lived, not mourned." In a Booklist review, Ilene Cooper lauded the way Griffin "paints Annie so carefully she seems as real as a kiss from a first boyfriend, and what can be more real than that?" Cooper concluded her positive assessment of The Other Shepards by asserting: "Carefully crafted both in plot and language, this book shows the heights that popular literature can scale."

Dive explores the difference between family ties forged by biology and those crafted from circumstance. When his irresponsible mother deserts the family, eleven-year-old Ben elects to stay with his well-grounded stepfather, Lyle. Ben's brother, Dustin, is more inclined to engage in daring behavior, so Dustin chafes under Lyle's rules. The brothers must sort out their problematic relationship after Dustin suffers a serious injury in a diving accident. Nancy Vasilakis in Horn Book called Dive "a wrenching tale of a young man struggling to find his voice in an unpredictable world."

In 2001 Griffin launched her "Witch Twins" series, introducing ten-year-old twins Claire and Luna. Although they look alike, Claire and Luna are distinct individuals with unique personalities. They must keep their magic a secret from most of their family members, with the exception of Grandy, the grandmother from whom they have inherited their witchy talents. The action in Witch Twins revolves around Claire and Luna's attempts to break up their father's impending marriage to a woman named Fluffy. "Griffin's modern tale bursts with everyday enchantment," noted Catherine T. Quattlebaum in her School Library Journal review of the book. The critic also lauded the work for its "breezy mixture of otherworldly witchcraft and ordinary activities." The twins attend summer camp in Witch Twins at Camp Bliss, once again proving their independence by pursuing different courses from the moment they arrive. Claire must overcome a rival to win the coveted "Camp Bliss Girl" trophy, and Luna cannot find the magic dust given to her by her grandmother. In School Library Journal, Debbie Whitbeck observed that in this sequel, Griffin "keeps the characters true to their personalities introduced in the first novel." Diane Foote in Booklist liked the "satisfying and convincing happy ending."

In their third adventure, Witch Twins and Melody Malady, the girls get an opportunity to meet their idol, film and television star Melody Malady. Tension erupts when Melody becomes friends with Claire, leaving Luna in the company of Melody's brainy but quiet sister, Dolores. Through a series of adventures, both sets of siblings learn to appreciate their family ties. "Fans of the series will enjoy this offering," maintained Linda B. Zeilstra in School Library Journal

Griffin tackles the difficult subject of teen friendships in two realistic novels, Amandine and Overnight. Both books frankly confront the way some teenaged girls seek to manipulate their peers and to exert power. Delia, the insecure narrator of Amandine, is drawn into an obsessive friendship with dramatic, artistic Amandine. When Amandine's behavior toward another girl takes a dangerous turn, Delia tries to break away. Only then does she discover the full force of Amandine's wrath. According to Anita L. Burkam in Horn Book, "Amandine's controlling nature and Delia's weak complicity are believably and subtly developed." Ilene Cooper in Booklist felt that Griffin "takes well-worn stereotypes . . . and . . . makes them seem much more: more real, more vulnerable, more scary." School Library Journal contributor Alison Follos called Amandine "a powerful story with real characters."

Overnight, published in 2003, "once again penetrates the cruelty inherent in female cliques," to quote a Publishers Weekly critic. Griffin introduces readers to the "Lucky Seven," a tightly-knit group of girls who gather for a sleepover on Friday the Thirteenth. Certain rifts have developed amongst the girls, and these conflicts become noticeable when one of their number, Gray, disappears during the party. The group's leader, Martha, is ready to assert her control, even if it means putting Gray's life in jeopardy. B. Allison Gray in School Library Journal deemed the novel an "insightful version of the universal story of ostracism and manipulation among preteens." The Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Griffin "expertly captures the pettiness of the Lucky Seven."

One of Griffin's most popular books is the novel Hannah, Divided. Set in Depression-era Pennsylvania, the story centers on Hannah, a farm girl who also happens to be a math genius and an obsessive-compulsive. Hannah loves living on a farm, helping her family with the chores and attending a one-room school with children she has known all her life. But her love of math just will not go away, and with the help of a wealthy Philadelphia patron, Hannah travels to the big city to try to win a scholarship. Once there, she is torn between her homesickness and her burning desire to work with numbers, even in an alien place full of automobiles, loud music, and strangers. "This portrait of a child struggling with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder is sensitive and convincing," declared Barbara Scotto in School Library Journal. Scotto also found Hannah, Divided to be "a novel well worth savoring." A Publishers Weekly critic gave the book a starred review, particularly praising the way Griffin "makes inventive use of a third-person narration to demonstrate Hannah's computer-like brain and quirky personality." In her starred Booklist review of the work, Ilene Cooper concluded: "In other hands, this might have been a problem novel. Here it is a celebration."

In her 1996 Publishers Weekly interview, Griffin admitted, "I have no life. . . . I leave work, go to the gym, come home and have dinner, and I write, every night. I talk to my mother, and then I go to bed. . . . I don't even have a plant." Much has changed since those days. Griffin is now a full-time writer with numerous awards and commendations for her work—and she is married. Offering an outlook on her writing future, Griffin said in 1996: "I don't think I want to do this my whole life, but right now, while I still feel so passionate about putting all my spare time into writing, I'll do it." In a more recent interview with the Embracing the Child Web site, she said: "Writing is not something that just came naturally to me. There was lots of practicing—still is. So my advice would be not to feel embarrassed about playing other people's songs before you find your own style."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1 and 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of The Other Shepards, pp. 1702-1703; September 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sons of Liberty, p. 235; August, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Other Shepards, p. 1999; April 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Witch Twins, p. 1552; September 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Amandine, p. 226; July, 2002, Diane Foote, review of Witch Twins at Camp Bliss, p. 1844; October 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Hannah, Divided, p. 323; September 15, 2003, Karin Snelson, review of Witch Twins and Melody Malady, p. 236.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Rainy Season, p. 207; September, 1997, Janice Del Negro, review of Split Just Right, p. 11.

Horn Book, March-April, 1997, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Rainy Season, p. 198; July-August, 1997, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Split Just Right, p. 455; January-February, 1998, Kitty Flynn, review of Sons of Liberty, p. 72; November, 1999, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Dive, p. 739; September, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of Witch Twins, p. 583; November-December, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of Amandine, p. 748.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 13, 2003, Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy, "A Transplanted Savant Finds She Has Much to Learn off the Farm," p. J11.

Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1996, review of Rainy Season, p. 84; December 16, 1996, Elizabeth Devereaux, "Flying Starts: Six First-Time Children's Book Authors Talk about Their Fall," p. 32; September 8, 1997, review of Sons of Liberty, p. 77; September 21, 1998, review of The Other Shepards, p. 86; July 2, 2001, review of Witch Twins, p. 76; August 20, 2001, review of Amandine, p. 81; August 26, 2002, review of Hannah, Divided, p. 69; December 16, 2002, review of Overnight, p. 68.

San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1999, Susan Faust, "Haunting Novel Is Not Your Average Ghost Story," p. 9.

School Library Journal, November, 1996, Lucinda Lockwood, review of Rainy Season, pp. 104-105; June, 1997, Carol A. Edwards, review of Split Just Right, p. 117; July, 2001, Catherine T. Quattlebaum, review of Witch Twins, p. 82; November, 2001, Alison Follos, review of Amandine, p. 158; June, 2002, Debbie Whitbeck, review of Witch Twins at Camp Bliss, p. 96; December, 2002, Barbara Scotto, review of Hannah, Divided, p. 138; February, 2003, B. Allison Gray, review of Overnight, p. 141; July, 2003, Linda B. Zeilstra, review of Witch Twins and Melody Malady, p. 96.

ONLINE

Embracing the Child, http://www.embracingthechild.org/ (November, 2002), "An Interview with Adele Griffin" and synopses of the author's books.*

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