Monday, January 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday -- Season of Secrets: An Open Letter to Arthur A. Levine

Dear Arthur A. Levine,

It happened again. Specifically, it happened on page 73 of the ARC of a book you published, Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, pub date Jan 1, 2011, for ages 8 to 12).

You already know what the book's about, Arthur, but give me a minute so I can have an excuse for a blog post bring my readers up to date. The book takes place in England. Molly and her older sister Hannah are grieving, each in their own way, since their mother's death. Dad can't cope and has sent them to a small village up north to live with Grandma and Grandpa. Molly, the narrator, tells us they're only staying there until Dad gets things "sorted out."

Molly's an imaginative girl who would live in a book if she could.  One rainy night she runs outside looking for Hannah and sees something incredible: a man being chased by huge dogs and huntsmen on horses.  And the lead hunter has horns growing out of his head. The hunters disappear and Molly tries to help the hunted man. He's injured and seems confused.

When Molly runs back to her grandparents' house and babbles about the man, Grandma goes outside with her, but there's nothing there. They all assume she's letting her imagination run wild.  

Later, Molly's teacher takes the class to a church to do grave rubbings, and Molly sees a statue that's exactly like the hunted man.  Her teacher tells her the legend of the Green Man, linked to the cycle of death and rebirth.  Also called the Oak King, he and the Holly King, the man with horns, fight for dominance of the seasons.

Molly befriends the Green Man, but no one else can see him. The grass around him is greener, and saplings and vines spring up, even though it's autumn.  He makes a flower grow in his hand. If he can bring things to life, can he bring back Molly's mother?

Arthur, I love the book. Don't get me wrong.  I found Sally Nicholls' first book, Ways to Live Forever, touching and beautifully written.  This book is too.  The atmosphere the author created here reminds me of The Dark is Rising, a modern classic also set in Britain.  Could there be some truth to the idea of an Oak King and a Holly King fighting it out every solstice?  It's fascinating to think about.

So what's my problem with page 73?  Well, to be honest, I'm a little upset. It happened in Tangerine.  And now it happened again in Season of Secrets.  A character, in this case, Molly's mother, died of an aneurysm.  Yes, I know people die of brain aneurysms and abdominal aortic aneurysms all the time. Thousands of them.  I know.  Louise Fitzhugh (author of Harriet the Spy) died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at the age of 46. 

Molly says (and I'm quoting the ARC here, so I hope that's okay) "An aneurysm is...where the wall of one of your blood vessels gets damaged, so blood flows into the wall and makes a balloon, which gets bigger and bigger until it explodes inside you and you die."

But not always! You don't always die!

And I'm living proof. Yes, Arthur, I'm a survivor of a ruptured brain aneurysm. And the simple truth, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, is that only about 40% of people with ruptures die. That's less than half.  And with continued research, that statistic should continue to go down.

Is the book still worth buying and reading?  Oh yes, of course.  See that little label down there that says Gem of the Week?  That means I highly recommend the book.  It's lovely and luminous.  The writing is  poetic.  The details are perfect.  Except for that aneurysm thing.

Next time, Arthur.  Next time, you'll know.  Right?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is brought to you by the letter M and Shannon Whitney Messenger, who started it.  Click on over to From the Mixed-up Files to see what she's featuring this week.


  1. Did you actually send it?

    Being written in the perspective of a kid, her comment makes sense. She wouldn't have done the research. For her to spout off statistics would have been unrealistic. Her mom was the only person she's known who's had aneurysm, and she died. So it would be a natural asummption for the girl to make that everyone dies from an aneurysm. ;)

  2. I can imagine this is frustrating for you to encounter in book after book!

  3. Stina, thanks. You raise a good point (and no, I didn't send it -- it's an open letter, but I don't expect him to ever read it -- I have 67 followers). Molly herself doesn't know the statistics surrounding aneurysms. But authors and editors should. What bothers me is the way the information is presented as if one always dies from this particular illness. As if there is no other possibility. The simple inclusion of the word "sometimes" on page 73 would have made me much happier. What I failed to mention in the post is that I'm impressed that the book doesn't make light of aneurysms.

    I get frustrated (you're right, Katharine, and thanks for the comment) because EVERY book I read in which aneurysms are mentioned, either the character dies or it's used as a joke (as in Twilight, for instance).

    All I'm trying to do here is raise awareness. Molly's mother could easily have spent weeks in the hospital and rehab and maybe been in a wheelchair or had memory or vision problems afterward. Most of us go through at least some of that.

    I long for the day someone actually publishes a children's book (I'm writing one, but it'll take me years) in which there is a SURVIVOR of a ruptured aneurysm. Then perhaps people will realize it's an illness that's actually possible to survive. I'm not a ghost, although I've had people look at me that way.


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