Frances O'Roark Dowell Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Female. Education: Wake Forest University, B.A.; University of Massachusetts, M.F.A.
Worked variously as paralegal, college English instructor, and arts administrator. Former editor and copublisher of Dream/Girl (arts magazine for girls).
Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel, 2001, and William Allen White Award, 2003, both for Dovey Coe.
Dovey Coe, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.
Where I'd Like to Be, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
The Secret Language of Girls, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Chicken Boy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Poetry East, Shenandoah, and New Delta Review.
Frances O'Roark Dowell's novels for young adult readers explore issues of growing up, family and friend relationships, and overcoming adversity. Reviewing her novels, which include Dovey Coe and The Secret Language of Girls, critics have praised her well-developed and believable protagonists. While Dowell's subjects range from the ordinary to the dramatic, the female protagonists at the center of her stories are girls to whom teen readers can relate.
Dowell's acclaimed debut novel Dovey Coe features a spunky young heroine who is outspoken, assertive, and protective of her family. Dovey does not like Parnell, her older sister's suitor, particularly the way he disrespects her family, and she is not afraid to say so. When Parnell takes her dog one night and threatens to kill it, Dovey tries to save her pet by attacking Parnell and is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, both her dog and Parnell are dead, and Dovey must face a courtroom battle to prove her innocence. Betsy Fraser, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the novel "maintains a very fast pace, and Dovey is an original character," adding, "The background and characters are carefully developed and appealing." Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn added that "Dowell has created a memorable character in Dovey, quick-witted and honest to a fault."
In an interview for DreamGirl online, Dowell answered questions about the inspiration behind Dovey Coe. "The reasons I wanted to set a book in the past is because I'm very interested in folklore and folkways—the ways people lived before we had so many time-saving devices and big grocery stores and all of our modern conveniences. I had been reading a lot of books about life in the Blue Ridge mountains in earlier times, and I thought it would be fun to write a book using some of the knowledge I'd picked up." As for critics who draw comparisons between Dovey Coe and Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Dowell commented, "It's a little embarrassing, to be honest. . . . Don't get me wrong, I like my own book a lot, but nothing will ever truly compare to To Kill a Mockingbird. There are similarities, it's true. Both Scout, the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dovey are tomboys, they're both outspoken and honest, and they're both loyal to the people they love." Where I'd Like to Be is set in a home where orphaned children await foster homes. The protagonist is a girl named Maddie who makes the best of her bad situation and has a strong sense of herself. When a new girl, Murphy, arrives, Maddie is captivated by the girl's story as well as her imaginative personality. Dowell creates a cast of diverse children who create a family among themselves as they dream of becoming part of a permanent family. In Booklist, Linda Perkins wrote that Maddie's "voice and views are consistently those of a perceptive eleven-year-old," and added that the novel provides "ample discussion possibilities." The characters in the novel were particularly impressive to Faith Brautigam of School Library Journal, who commented that "the foster children's backgrounds are believable, diverse, and engaging," creating "unique and memorable characters." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews also praised Dowell's characterizations, concluding: "The talky pie-in-the-sky resolution mars the tightness of the narrative that precedes it, but taken as a whole, this is a lovely, quietly bittersweet tale of friendship and family." And a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed Where I'd Like to Be "a celebration of friendship and the powers of the imagination."
The way teenage girls grow apart from their friends is the subject of The Secret Language of Girls. Kate and Marilyn have been friends since childhood, but as they enter the sixth grade, their paths diverge. While Marilyn gains access to the popular crowd, becomes a cheerleader, and is increasingly preoccupied by make-up and boys, Kate worries about her father's health and shies away from being noticed by her peers. In the end, the two girls find that their different lifestyles have not forced them as far apart as they thought. Martha P. Parravano, reviewing the novel for Horn Book, observed that "Dowell's development of this familiar situation is refreshingly nonjudgmental," and noted that the thoughtful tone of the novel is balanced by "supersonic pacing—a perspective that swings freely between Kate and Marylin, and vivid characterization." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as a "perceptive slice-of-life novel" that will leave readers feeling "encouraged by the author's honest and sympathetic approach." B. Allison Gray of School Library Journal maintained that The Secret Language of Girls will ring true to young readers because of "excellent characterization, an accurate portrayal of the painful and often cruel machinations of preteens, and evocative dialogue."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 2000, review of Dovey Coe, p. 1537; May 15, 2003, Linda Perkins, review of Where I'd Like to Be, pp. 1660-1661.
Horn Book, July-August, 2004, Martha P. Parravano, review of The Secret Language of Girls, p. 450.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Where I'd Like to Be, p. 382.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 2003, review of Where I'd Like to Be, p. 73; May 31, 2004, review of The Secret Language of Girls, p. 74.
School Library Journal, May, 2000, review of Dovey Coe, p. 171; April, 2003, Faith Brautigam, review of Where I'd Like to Be, p. 158; May, 2004, B. Allison Gray, review of The Secret Language of Girls, p. 146.
DreamGirl Online, http://www.dgarts.com/ (February 2, 2005), interview with Dowell.
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