Monday, November 28, 2011

Sundial – A Book Review and Interview

Usually when I talk books on this blog I am reviewing cookbooks – specifically gluten-free or allergen-free cookbooks – but when I heard that Carolyn Fruzzetti and Meghan Pearsall had written a young adult novel with a heroine who has food allergies I was intrigued.

While noone in my household fits the young adult genre at this stage, I am a big fan of suspense novels and Sundialdoesn’t disappoint. It’s a fast-paced thriller with some teenage drama thrown in along the way. And – despite being filled with espionage and serious subject matter – it’s “clean” and totally appropriate for young readers. This is definitely one I would recommend considering for your gift list!

I interviewed Carolyn and Meghan, and here’s what they had to say:

Colette: The first part of the book is primarily about what I would call normal teenage stuff – school, sports, boys, parties – and we get just a glimpse of what makes Whitney so special. The second half is full of some very heavy topics including cold war, terrorism, nuclear war, and corrupt government agencies. Why those topics?

Carolyn and Meghan: We researched what worked as compelling young adult fiction and used that as our foundation. Since Sundialis the first book in a series, character development and relationship building at the onset was critical. Granted, not everyone is from the wealthy Washington, D.C. suburbs but the characters have the same basic issues as most teens – school sports, friends, dating and parties. We wanted teens to be able to identify with these characters on a basic level and entice them with clues that much more is about to happen because in Sundial nothing is exactly as it appears.

As the characters expand their horizons about themselves and the world at large, the plot does the same: it evolves from a privileged high school world to a darker and more complicated world. The nuclear meltdown, terrorism and corrupt government agencies were relevant in 1988 and are still relevant today. The teen readers of today are our future. This book is full of complex and higher concepts because we believe teens want intelligent material and this book provokes thought and discussion on several issues.

Colette: I love that the hero in the story is a female. We have too few stories with females who save the day. Can you tell us more about how you developed the Whitney character?

Carolyn and Meghan: The simplest answer to that is Whitney is a character I would want as my friend. She is able to save the day because of her qualities as a person and the skills she develops within herself. Her competency is not from a wand or superpower – she earns it.

We also did not want her look to someone else to “save” her. We can all self-rescue and each person is responsible for his/her personal safety. Whitney has a plan for herself and her life. She is our idea of a real heroine and someone we thought teen girls could use as a role model.

Colette: When I first learned of this book it was the connection to food allergies that intrigued me. I was surprised at barely a mention of food allergies until the last third of the book, but as it turns out the food allergies are a strength that comes in handy for the lead characters. I found that so interesting because my food-allergic son talks about his immune system as being highly evolved – exactly the way you position it in the book. What triggered that idea for you?

Carolyn and Meghan: For us, it was important for food allergy to be a pivotal part of the plot but not to use it to define the characters. Instead, we defined our characters by their actions, dialogue and choices. Reid makes several mistakes concerning his food allergy like real teens do in real life and then has to correct his actions. These create teachable moments without lecturing or boring our teen audience because we know they are smart enough to learn from it. Better to have a “friend” in a book make a mistake that you learn from than to learn the hard way and do it to yourself! Several teens in food allergy support groups we have spoken to agree that this resonates with them more than other forms of communication. This is good because currently the age group of 12-21 has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest reaction fatality rate. It is our hope that Sundial will make a difference in those dire statistics and it will become an obvious tool to help educate and empower those with food allergy.

We would also like to point out that keeping food allergy as a strength to save the world makes the plot interesting and acceptable to ALL teens. One of our goals is to raise food allergy awareness and to do that we need to reach not only food allergic teens but their friends. So far, non-food allergic teens love it just as much as food allergic teens. That is our version of REAL success – achieving awareness to an entire peer group!

Meghan’s daughter has a life-threatening peanut allergy and as she considered the skills food allergy parents must try and instill in their children, she realized they are actually the same skills the military teaches their special forces: situational awareness, preparedness, communication, mental toughness, vigilance, risk assessment, etc. They are the ultimate survivor skills. This idea merged with the thought that perhaps food allergy is an evolution (not a detriment). It has been a fun and empowering premise and we hope it reshapes the media image of those with food allergy. As a food allergy parent, this is the kind of book she would want her high school daughter to read so she wrote it.

Colette: I found the book very easy to read and fast-paced. While it starts out like your run-of-the-mill teen romance novel, it’s really a suspense thriller. I liked that you didn’t get too explicit with the romantic scenes, and I loved the way the story line played out. That said, I was a little disappointed in the ending – I like to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed when a novel ends. Clearly this ending is in anticipation of the next novel in the series. Can you give us any hints on what’s to come?

Carolyn and Meghan: Thank you! Sundialis designed to be accessible to everyone so it is free of profanity or explicit adult content. We wanted it to be edgy and exciting but not inappropriate in any way. Yes, the tension and suspense of the romance and action make for quite a thrilling cliffhanger! Hopefully, we won’t leave you hanging for too much longer as the sequel is almost half-finished and the entire plot is sketched out.

In book two, Whitney and Reid have even bigger obstacles to face and a rockier ride. On the food allergy front, readers will learn more of what actually happens before Whitney is hospitalized in Sundial, how to consider food and drink at high school parties and how to be properly prepared ahead of time when traveling outside the country with food allergies (to name a few). There are so many food allergy issues we wanted to subtly weave into the plot that we knew this had to be a series!


VintageMom said...

Sounds like an interesting book!

Just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you in my latest post... and you are the latest recipient of the Triple Cute Blog Award!

Cheers! Lisa

Colette said...

Lisa, thanks so much for the recognition! All my followers may want to pop over there to check your fabulous list of blogs!