Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reading Like a Writer: Character in Maggie Stiefvater's LINGER

Fangirl moment: I attended KidlitCon in Minneapolis this past October, and to my great delight Maggie Stiefvater was the keynote speaker. I’d read Shiver and loved it; I bought Linger at the conference. Maggie is unpretentious and supremely smart, and her keynote was inspiring. I knew she was a good writer. After reading Linger, I’m convinced she’s an exceptional writer.
Linger (aside from being a rollicking good story, with a plot that grabs and won’t let go) is a study in character. The story is told in alternating points of view, each from the first person. Stiefvater labels each change of POV; but her characters are so richly conceived that I really didn’t need labels, I knew just who was speaking. How does she do it? By understanding what makes each character tick. By giving them such unique personalities that their voices resonate through language, recollection, and action.
The story (and I’m not giving anything away here) is the love story of Grace and Sam, and their relationship is central to the action. Grace is gentle and giving. Sam is gentle and lost. Sam is a poet:
Without Grace, I was a nocturnal animal. I stalked ants in the kitchen, waiting by the insufficient light of the recessed bulbs with a glass and a piece of paper so that I could transport them outside.
Grace is the “good” girl captured by love:
Could you outgrow your parents?
But it is Stiefvater’s secondary characters who steal the show. With Isabel, Stiefvater has created a character both sure of herself and vulnerable, yet unwilling to let her vulnerability show. She’s the ultimate cool teen:
I sighed. I didn’t know if I wanted to know. It seemed to me that knowing would be more work than not knowing. But it wasn’t like we could really put the genie back in the lamp now that it was out, could we?
Snide, snarky, quick, Isabel falls for her perfect alter ego Cole, who has been there and done it all:
I looked down at him, and suddenly anger bubbled up through me. It shouldn’t have affected him this badly. It was just a damned bathroom. It was he who was making me this cruel – I hadn’t done anything to him except shown him a damned tub. I wasn’t that person he thought I was.
Oh, but Cole is the way Sam thinks he is - damaged, yes, but not truly cruel, and this is what he must learn - with Isabel's help. And Isabel must learn to trust, and what better teacher than Cole?
Isabel: It seemed like he always sprang honesty on me when I least expected it.
Cole: I felt like I had been a balloon getting larger and larger, waiting to pop, and she had come in and burst herself first.
The story may be Grace’s and Sam’s, a Romeo and Juliet thwarted love story - and, by the way, ever so much more than a werewolf story – but the interplay of these two damaged souls, Isabel and Cole, is what kept me reading. I can’t wait for Stiefvater’s third book, Forever.

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