Monday, May 25, 2009

Sharon Dogar and Falling

At the end of April we welcomed Sharon Dogar to Mostly Books to coincide with the launch of her latest book 'Falling'.
For the first time, we hosted an event jointly with the Oxford Children's Book Group - part of the Federation of Children's Book Groups - and thanks must go to the lovely Moira Da Costa, who worked very hard to publicise the event, and brought plenty of members to the shop on the evening to listen to Sharon.
'Falling' is Sharon's second book - her first was the critically-acclaimed 'Waves', shortlisted for the Branford Boase award in 2008. (BTW, if you've never heard of the Branford Boase award, it's worth going here and looking at why the award was set up, and what its aims are. In the increasingly cluttered universe of book awards, the BBA stands out in terms of its integrity, and for the unique way it aims to recognise and reward not just an excellent first-time novel for children, but the role of the editor in selecting and nuturing the writer). Unusually for me, I not only had read 'Waves' the previous year, but I managed to read 'Falling' before the event. We had actually read and discussed 'Waves' in my bookgroup last year - all the bookgroups did a children's book around that time - and although it's fair to say that I was probably not the author's number one choice of reader when she wrote the book (teen romance set against the Cornish surfing scene, paraphrasing and pigeonholing dreadfully) I was - quite unexpectedly - caught up and moved by the end of the book. 'Falling' is an entirely different beast. It came to me after two other staff members had read it, and everyone I spoke to cited its difficult themes. I started reading it with the sole intention of getting it read before the event, not really expecting to be as swept up by the book as I was. It is a powerful read, but more than that, it is an example of the author showing complete mastery over her characters. As readers, we are drawn into the book with our prejudices, and then gently but inexorably forced to abandon these by the time we reach the thrilling - and entirely unexpected - conclusion. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with one of the central characters, a viscious racist whose thoughts and words are at times extremely uncomfortable to read. By the end of the book, you not only understand him, you are rooting for him to pull through (at least I was). The book is not primarily about the challenging themes of knife crime, self-harming, racism and intolerance that feature in the book. It is - IMHO - a book about the power of tolerance, respect and love, and their ability to heal the brutal, and unchangeable, acts of the past. Truth may be the daughter of time, but healing and reconcilation are its grandaughters. We have been very fortunate in April to have had - with Sharon Dogar and Julie Hearn - two extremely gifted children's authors writing powerful books about difficult themes, and it would be wonderful to think that 'Falling' and 'Rowan The Strange' might be duking it out on the Carnegie shortlist next year...
My thanks for Sharon for giving such an amazing reading on the night - including a chapter from a new, and as yet unpublished third novel, just completed. Thanks to her publisher for making the awful journey up to Mostly Books from the East End, to Moira and members of the Oxford Children's Book Group for coming along and making it such a memorable evening.

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