Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Plume. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
This week is a special edition of Imprint Friday. Here's what happened. I reached for the book I had scheduled for today--a novel published by one of the imprints I feature regularly each week--but Sharon Short's debut novel My One Square Inch of Alaska caught my eye, and once I started reading I was lost, the other book temporarily forgotten.
As always, let me start with the publisher's summary:
A pair of siblings escapes—along with a Siberian Husky—the strictures of their 1950s industrial Ohio town on the adventure of a lifetime.I am so taken with this beautiful novel, I hardly know how to talk about it. As a consequence, I'm afraid this post is a bit disjointed. I want to talk about the setting, the characters, and Short's writing style.
Talented high-school senior Donna Lane yearns to leave her Midwestern home in pursuit of a career in design, but she feels obligated to stay and care for her helpless father and her younger brother, Will. In fragile health and obsessed with the television show Sergeant Striker and the Alaskan Wild, Will’s dearest companion is a mute Siberian Husky named Trusty. The arrival of two outsiders inspires Donna to consider her dreams anew. Then Will falls sick, and Donna packs up their yellow convertible—with Will, Trusty, and a road atlas—and sets off for the Alaskan Territory. A portrait of a singular American moment, My One Square Inch of Alaska is a moving tale of exploration and love—human and canine—that dares to believe the impossible.
The story takes place in 1953, when students still had duck-and-cover drills in school and people talked about building bomb shelters in their backyards. Organized labor fought with management for safety in factories, advertising companies were just venturing into the new medium of television, and McCarthyism was beginning to shake Washington. Although My One Square Inch of Alaska doesn't dwell on these issues, Short manages to work in signaling details in such a way that we are fully immersed in the time period. There is no doubt that we have been carried back a half a century through time.
But most impressive are Short's characters, from Donna and Will to the most minor of people we meet for only one page. Each individual stands out clearly, enriching the story and making it difficult to remember that we're reading fiction. Of course, Donna, burdened too young with too many responsibilities, wins our support and our empathy (she'd never want our pity) as she tries to do what's best for her family while still holding on to a little piece of her self. Young Will wins our hearts with his unwavering enthusiasm for all things Alaska and his determination to hold on to his dream, even as he accepts what his future will bring.
Short's characters are complex and conflicted. Their troubles are everyday problems that any one of us could face. Sometimes we agree with their decisions, and sometimes we don't understand why they don't see the situation the way we do--just as it is with our friends and family. Short doesn't give Donna quirky neighbors, only realistic ones, making it easy for us to form strong connections with them.
Finally, I'd like to talk about Short's writing style. Some authors draw me in because of the poetry of their words, but with Short, it is the honesty of her writing. The truth and authenticity of Donna's memories of the pivotal year of her life simply bowled me over. That's not to say there isn't poetry in My One Square Inch of Alaska but that the novel is more down to earth, more personal than that. Donna tells her story in the way any of us would when finally opening up to a person we trust. Be prepared because once you start listening to what Donna has to say, you'll be glued to your seat until she's finished her tale.
Many books have made my eyes well up, but only a few have ever left me sobbing. My One Square Inch of Alaska is a strongly emotional experience. Thank you Sharon Short for telling me about Donna and Will, I will be thinking about them for a long time.
Plume is a don't-miss imprint of Penguin USA. Since 1970, the paperback imprint has published many best-selling authors, including Toni Morrison, Kelley Armstrong, and Dorothy Allison. The imprint is also known for its outstanding original fiction, such as work by Sarah Jio and Jennifer Niven.
Buy My One Square Inch of Alaska at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Penguin USA / Plume, 2013 (anniversary edition)
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