Four Letters by Lucy Hensinger follows 14-year-old Emily as she discovers letters that belonged to her great grandmother, Lucille. She reads them and while seeking out details of Lucille’s story, she learns a few things about herself as well. Her journey takes her both literally and figuratively to the place where Lucille lived. She traces her steps both in her real life trip to Boston and in her vivid dreams where she follows Lucille’s life. Emily becomes fascinated in her great-grandmothers story and can’t wait to see where her story takes her.
Four Letters has a nice flow and is easy to follow. It’s short enough that the length wouldn’t feel daunting to younger readers but at the same time is engaging enough to keep readers interested. The story doesn’t get weighed down with Emily’s problems or her great-grandmother’s tumultuous love life. Hensinger manages to keep things light throughout the book.
I liked the incorporation of real places in Boston and the surrounding areas. I have been to Boston before, and recognized the narrow streets and great big buildings with countless windows. I have also been to Salem to the House of Seven Gables and some of the museums there. Hensinger did a good job giving the reader a feel for those places and will likely inspire people to visit.
Emily is a character that many readers will identify with. She is a fiery, feisty redhead who has found her way into some trouble at home. She doesn’t always shy away from a fight. She takes a trip to see her grandmother and discovers bits and pieces of her ancestry and becomes enthralled with her great-grandmother’s story. That is probably a good and productive escape for her from the trouble she found herself in at home. I identify with the ancestry myself. I thirst for any knowledge I can acquire about my own family history. It is easy to get wrapped up in the search for family history.
If I have any complaint at all, it would be that I felt it lacked a big “aha” moment. There wasn’t a big plot climax for me. I feel like the build-up was great. I was interested to see what happened between Lucille and Opie. I followed along and felt like I was as anxious Emily to see why they didn’t end up together. I don’t feel like that really got resolved. I know Emily just sort of resigned to the fact that she was grateful that her great-grandparents ended up together, but I would have liked to know the details of what happened between them after becoming invested in the characters.
It was a good, well-written story with characters that young readers will enjoy. Any reader will enjoy touring Boston and Salem with Emily. I look forward to more stories about these characters.
Pages: 108 | ASIN: 1481733419
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Beguiled follows young Miriam as she struggles to follow her dreams through a turbulent time in history. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Initially, I had the idea to write a story of the kind of life my mother, born in 1910, might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not, so the story of Miriam Levine, 1st generation Russian-Jewish girl, is entirely fictional. There are a few biographical markers, e.g., Miriam’s Pop was active in the leftist-unionist organization called the Workmen’s Circle. My maternal grandfather was as well. Similarly, he was a cultured fellow, albeit not formally educated, and introduced my mother to cultural events from a young age. The character Miriam developed her aspirations to go on stage from the experiences her Pop exposed her to from a young age.
The story transformed itself immediately from anything biographical to an exciting adventure of Miriam and her girlfriends as they make their way through a difficult time in history punctuated by WWI, the “Spanish” flu, women’s getting the vote, the Roaring 20s, the relationship between young people and their immigrant parents, and the status of women.
Miriam is a well developed character that I grew attached to. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a young woman in the 1900’s?
Research, research, and more research helped me to describe a girl of the early 1900s. I read many books about the times, including novels of women of that period.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been a psychotherapist and life coach all my adult life, so am accustomed to hearing people’s stories and helping them to make sense of their lives. So, the emotions of a woman of this period seemed little different to me from my clients’ stories. Yes, women have approached the glass ceiling and many are in marriages that are fundamentally equal or mutually enhancing, but with the outing of many in the MeToo movement, it’s clear that women’s place has not appreciably changed vis a vis powerful men.
I liked how the politics and drama of the time was not front and center, but served as a backdrop to Miriam’s story. Did you do any research for this story to keep things accurate?
As stated above, I pored over many historical books of this period, as well as historical novels about the early 1900s. Having been in graduate school for a PhD back in the 1980s, I learned how to do research and to enjoy it. I was not, however, a big history buff, so my becoming absorbed in this research was a surprise to me. One funny thing: in one of my last drafts, I realized that NO character ever was described as smoking. So, I had to go back and add smoking Lucky Strikes, Camels, pipes, and cigars to many scenes.
WWI was certainly in the background only in Beguiled. Miriam and her friends barely seemed to register that there was a world war going on in Europe, until Miriam arrives home and discovers that her father’s Workmen’s Circle is having an important emergency meeting to discuss US entry into the War. Then a young German boy barges in to say that his family was beaten bloody right in their neighborhood, an unthinkable thing in their multi-ethnic close community.
Many people have suggested I write a sequel to Beguiled, but that would take me into the Depression of the 1930s and I don’t know if I want to go there, particularly since our country seems liable to get there itself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Beguiled was just released on May 1st 2018, so I’m devoting some time to publicizing it before embarking on my next story. But, I’ve had the idea of locating an appealing news story of a woman who lived in another era. I enjoy researching historical fiction and being an archaeologist in searching out details of a bygone period. In order to find this appealing person, I’ll need to immerse myself in the Boston Public Library’s newspapers from the last century or even before. There are also archives of women’s letters housed at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, where I’ve done research before. I look forward to being able to do this, once my initial marketing campaign is over.
Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.
Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’
Posted in Interviews
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The One Eyed Pug is a cute chapter book that helps kids deal with change and uncertainty. What was your inspiration for this lovely story?
Although this story is a work of fiction it’s actually based on the life and experiences of my lovely little pug and the incorrigible Chewy.
Do you have pets of your own? Were you able to use anything from your own experiences in life?
A good portion of this story is based on actual events that occurred with my pug and Boston terrier and was influenced by my experience as an animal lover and life long pet owner. Although I don’t proclaim to be on the level of the “dog whisperer” I do believe our pets communicate with us and if we are open to this possibility we come to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and that the relationship is reciprocal so eventually our pets also understand our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
I think this book did a great job of keeping kids interested and engaged. What do you find is the most challenging part about kids books?
I believe the most challenging part about writing kids books is learning how to show and not tell and utilize appropriate verbiage and action words. Also, learning how to develop content that is age appropriate knowing that reading level is individualized and that stories should be versatile and lend themselves to different types of readers ranging from reading aloud, early readers, independent readers, and even adult readers. The illustrations also play an important role in helping the reader to develop a greater connection with the characters. Determining the placement and type of illustrations was also a bit challenging and I worked very closely with my illustrator throughout the process. Since this was based on a true story I was also able to share actual photographs that certainly helped my talented illustrator to accurately depict the characters, especially the lovely little pug and Chewy, the Boston terrier.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
This has certainly been a banner year for me and I am thrilled to share that my picture book entitled “Same Inside Different Outside” is being released by Waldorf Publishers on September 15, 2017.
Currently, I’m working on another chapter book about the lovely little pug and Chewy, the Boston Terrier. The clue to what this next book will be about is at the end of “The One Eyed Pug”.
The One-Eyed Pug is based on a true story. Children and adults will fall in love with the lovely little pug, and eventually come to love the incorrigible Chewy, too! In this story, a little pug keeps hoping she will find her forever home but every time she thinks she has found it she has to move, or is adopted by a new family. Finally, she is adopted by the Barker family and believes she has finally found her forever home. Everything is perfect until the terrible horrible thing happens; a new puppy named Chewy comes to live with the family and makes the little pug’s life miserable. Then one day when the two puppies are playing and finally getting along Chewy accidently scratches the pug’s eye and she has to go to the hospital. What will happen the little pug? What will happen to Chewy? You will find out when you read this truly intriguing tale.
Posted in Interviews
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