Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American Blonde, Becoming Clementine, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books—The Ice Master, Ada Blackjack, and The Aqua-Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Niven about what she was reading. Her reply:
I need to start by saying that, as a rule, I’m not a huge fan of dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction. But I’m reading two books right now that have world-ending settings, and I cannot read them fast enough. Station Eleven (by Emily St. John Mandel) was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist, something that isn’t usually part of my criteria when choosing what to read. What hooked my interest was that the story is about artists at the end of the world. In this case, a nomadic group of musicians and actors—the Traveling Symphony—who roam the country in the wake of civilization’s ruin performing Shakespeare. That’s all I needed to know, but the novel is so much more than that. Mandel’s writing is taut and lovely, and the story builds in this very steady, slow-burning way, which has me hypnotized. There’s mystery to it as well, and I find the whole thing horrific and beautiful at the same time, kind of brutally lovely, like the best of the Brontë sisters.

The other title I’m reading is Vivian Apple at the End of the World, a YA novel from Katie Coyle. This one is about a terrified America that’s been largely taken over by an evangelical church and a charismatic minister/cult leader. It’s also about a seventeen-year-old girl who finds herself orphaned after the Rapture (the only signs of her mom and dad are two holes in the roof above their bed). With her best friend and a mysterious boy, Vivian sets off across America in search of clues to her parents’ disappearance. The book is bright, quirky, and unnerving. While a lighter read than Station Eleven, it packs a punch just the same.

I should probably mention the third book on my nightstand—Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I’m not reading it cover to cover right now, but it’s a wonderfully cheery, laugh-out-loud thing to spot-read whenever the doom and gloom of the other two—gripping as they are— gets to be too much.
Visit Jennifer Niven's website.

--Marshal Zeringue