I was so blown away by Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up earlier in the month, I decided to invite Laurel on the blog for a guest post on researching the book, and repost my review.
MMGM is a feature hosted by author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week! - J
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: January 28th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via NetGalley
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Annie has never even met her grandmother before. In fact, she’s never had much family to speak of. So when she and her mother pull into the drive of her grandmother’s home in Baltimore, Annie can hardly contain her excitement!
But when she actually meets her grandma, the bitter old woman doesn’t seem like someone Annie could ever love, or miss. Until one magical, stormy night changes everything.
It’s impossible that Annie could have jumped back in time. . . right? But here she is in 1937— the year her grandmother was just her age!
Molly is an invalid. She lives by herself, on the top floor of a hotel. She seems a little lonely, but friendly and fun, nothing like the horrible old woman Annie just met.
Annie entices Molly down from her room, and together the two girls roam. They sneak around the grand hotel, and explore the brick streets of old Baltimore. Carnivals and taxis, midnight raids on the kitchen. The two grow closer.
But as Molly becomes bolder, and ventures further from the safety of her room, Annie begins to wonder how she’ll ever get back home. Maybe she’s changed the past a little too much. . .
Annie Jaffin has spent most of her life living in Atlanta, alone with her mother. But late one night, Annie and her mom drive to visit her sick and dying grandmother in Baltimore. When they arrive, Annie's surprised at both the hotel that her grandmother calls home, and the fact that her grandmother just isn't a nice woman.
But after a magical storm, Annie ends up in 1937 with her grandmother's younger self - Molly. Annie quickly learns that Molly has been confined to her room for over a year and a half due to her health, and doesn't have the friends, love or attention that she genuinely wants.
Through Annie's coaxing, Molly gradually begins finding the confidence in both her health, and her willingness to venture beyond her room. The girls get into scrapes, adventures, find new friends and form a strong, loving bond.
Snyder's tale of grandmother and granddaughter meeting due to a quirk of fate, is a magical one for many reasons, and not just because it involves time travel. (Though that's pretty awesome too!)
Through Annie's unexpected trip to the past to visit Molly, Snyder covers a wide range of topics, including why learning to get along with others is important, taking the risk to explore new things, feeling compassion for others, and the importance of love, friendship and companionship.
Snyder also does a fantastic job of showing how the life lessons and adventures experienced by the two girls are helping them change in their own ways, and how they're also being impacted by the world around them. 1937 was a dramatic time for Baltimore and the rest of the country, and Snyder never fails to thoughtfully insert real-world events to get the girls to think beyond themselves
Though Seven Stories Up is a relatively short book at 240 pages, this is also a book that is so thorough and rich, it felt like a novel twice that length - and that's definitely a compliment. I was so immersed in Annie and Molly's adventures, and their journey to getting to know themselves and each other, I was sad to see the story end.
Of special note: Snyder handles the concept of isolation and depression, in a way that is incredibly sensitive to the topic, but also informative and very age-appropriate.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate Snyder's thoughtfully-presented message that people are shaped by their circumstances, and it's always possible to change what may have originally seemed inevitable. Love and attention can genuinely help shape someone's life down a different path entirely
Laurel Snyder has written a rich, poignant tale about relationships, family and love that will make readers think and reflect upon the relationships in their own lives. Younger readers will also undoubtedly fall in love with Annie and Molly, and their madcap adventures.
I recommend this book for fans of historical MG, but also for educators and parents who are looking for a tale to read with their students and children. This is a tale that readers will want to share with the special people in their lives, and will also want to pass this on to others.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of Seven Stories Up from Random House via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
Guest post from author Laurel Snyder
Q: Seven Stories Up incorporates a lot of history - e.g. the hints of World War II; the Great Depression - just to name a few. Could you talk a little about your research process for the book?
Then I started scribbling, and WHOA! Seven Stories Up is coming out almost two years behind schedule, in large part because of all the research I didn’t realize I’d be doing.
When you write about the past, most of the research goes into puzzling out details your readers never even notice. How, exactly, did phones work in 1937? Had wall to wall carpet been invented yet? How much did a strip of pictures from a photo-booth cost? What kind of underpants did a ten year old wear? Every single detail has to be researched, so you find yourself stopping every sentence or two, to look something up.
At the same time, you don’t want to overburden your book with history lessons. You don’t want to say, “As the two girls bellied up to the Woolworth’s lunch counter—much like the ones that would be used in 1960, for lunch counter sit ins, during the civil rights movement.”
So you do all this work. You seek out all this information, just to be sure you aren’t getting it wrong, and then you attempt to erase the visible effort from the book. In the end, you hope you’re left with something that feels authentic, and doesn’t ignore the history of the era, but also doesn’t announce it.
In particular it was hard for me, as a Jewish author, to leave out the story of what was happening in Germany in 1937. But I couldn’t let my own Jewish perspective overtake the book I was writing. Molly would never have known what was happening in Europe. She was an isolated wealthy girl in America, barely aware of the bread lines a few streets away. She had no idea what Hitler was up to. Striking that balance was something I worked hard at. It’s often left to Annie—who has traveled back in time from 1987—to tell Molly about her own era. Figuring out what a 10 year old in 1987 would know about the world of 1937 (Anne Frank? Fred Astaire?) was yet another challenge.
But as much as it took a lot of work, the research was also unbelievably fun! I read a lot of great books, but also, I got to listen to music, and watch old movies. I got to delve into old photos, to create a sense of the age for myself. In fact, here’s a Pinterest page with some of the pictures I gazed at daily.
One thing I’m excited about now is sharing all of this with kids when I do school visits. Writing Seven Stories Up taught me how much I could enjoy history, and I’m excited to spread the word. History is in the details, and they can be absolutely fascinating. History can also start with just listening to our grandparents, or peering into our own family photo albums.
Which is really how this book began in the first place!