Quiet YA novels are among the most underrated.
Even as somebody who writes quiet, contemporary YA novels, it can be extremely difficult to discover them, since they largely go under the Twitter radar. But then you have a bit of serendipity — you find the book in “recommended” list, or else you stumble upon it randomly at a book sale or in Barnes & Noble, and you know, from a glance of the cover, from scanning the synopsis, that this is definitely a book you need to read.
I’ve had other of Jessi Kirby’s books on my TBR for quite a while, but I’d never heard of Moonglass, which happens to be her debut. Thank you, Thriftbooks, for kicking it my way.
The synopsis, courtesy of GoodReads:
Anna’s life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It’s bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love — a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.
While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide means that nothing — not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna’s mother’s death — stays buried forever.
There’s a lot about this book that clicked with me.
Starting with the setting: I grew up in Southern California, fairly close to the beach, but not close enough to ever be a native. And being part of a poor family, we only got to go maybe once or twice a year, but that was enough to sell my heart to the sea. So I felt a definite familiarity with Crystal Cove and the other beach cities, even if I didn’t belong to that specific and wonderful culture of those who live on the water; whose lives revolve around it.
I feel such a kinship to it that my first novel, Somehow You’re Sitting Here, was set on the California shore, albeit a little further to the South. Crystal Cove is about 35 miles from where I grew up; I’m almost sure I’ve visited there at least once. It feels more like home.
But I think my favorite thing about this story is the protagonist, Anna. The only daughter of a lifeguard who has her life upended when her father decides to move her back to the place where her parents fell in love; a place that’s so heavy with the memory of her late mother that it’s difficult for her to function.
For one, almost everybody, from her English teacher to random strangers on the street, seem to know her mother, seem to have some relationship, some kinship, some piece of the puzzle to her mysterious — not that mysterious for the reader, but definitely to Anna — death.
Add in an overprotective father who plays his cards close to his chest, and you can almost understand some of her attitude and frustration.
While there is no magical drama or anything mythical or great or grand that happens, Moonglass shows healing, hope, and serendipity, and is all the more powerful than that. The stakes are not high in an absolute sense, but Anna’s troubles are real, as are the discoveries she makes, the experiences she has, and the resolution that comes into her life.
It is a gentle story, and all the better for that. As much as I love high stakes, high emotion, and high grief, it is nice to find the calm side of the ocean, every once in a while.
If you would like to check out “Moonglass” and support me, click the picture below to buy the book on Amazon.
Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.
He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.
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