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“The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door” is a Fun and Inspiring Read

In Books, Uncategorized on March 19, 2013 at 12:51 am

During a night of cold- or flu-induced insomnia, I read the last 22 chapters of the young adult novel The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door. I had to know just what was the nature of Celia’s revenge against the mean girls of her school, Sandy and Mandy. I had to know if the handsome new boy, Drake, was going to stay in town. If so, would he, despite his growing popularity, maintain his friendship with the outcast Celia? I had to know if the advice of Buddy Strong’s over-exclamation marked book Dream It! Do It! was going to help Drake come out of the closet to the boy he loved or if it would backfire. I had to know what Sandy and Mandy had done in 8th grade to warrant Celia spending her spare time plotting revenge when she wasn’t writing poetry.

No, this is not the kind of reading I’m usually engrossed in, but this is a book I’ve been waiting to read for two years.

Karen Finneyfrock, the book’s author, is someone I know through the Seattle Poetry Slam. I believe we both became involved in slam and performance poetry around the same time in the mid-‘90s, but she became much more directly involved and active. She was the slam’s host once upon a time, and I believe she has been on Seattle’s poetry slam team at least twice. She’s got a great book of poems titled Ceremony for the Choking Ghost and at the release party for that book she read from her, then, upcoming new novel. If I remember correctly, it was then titled Celia the Dark and Weird.

The reading painted a picture of Karen’s 9th grade heroes and villains. Celia had turned 14 and had also turned Dark, which meant her clothing and her attitude became grim and black. Celia was bright, well-read, and too smart, in intelligence and mouth, for her small-town high school. She was an outsider trying to survive the next four years as best she could. I think I would have been, or would have wanted to be, friends with her if we went to the same school. The friends I had in high school were all outsiders. The only thing we had in common was that we didn’t have anything in common with anyone else. I immediately wanted to see what would happen to this girl. And when her friend Drake, a closeted gay teen, was seen walking arm in arm with Celia’s arch-nemesis, Sandy Firestone, I had to know what was up.

Two years later, the book is out. It had already been sold to Penguin, but it had to go through some more revisions, including a title change, as well as the regular benchmarks of the publication process. It has been worth the wait.

The entire read was enjoyable, even though it was difficult at first to get Karen’s voice out of my head and substitute some generic 14-year-old voice when reading Celia’s narration of her tale. Once I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy. Celia has a very distinctive voice, as does everyone, even Celia’s cousin who only appears via email.

The characters and situations all felt real to me and while simply drawn were not two dimensional. I was immediately sympathetic to Celia’s situation although her smart attitude and stubbornness got in her way at times. Drake was friendly and amusing, but he also seemed oblivious about a lot of what was going on around him. These flaws helped flesh out the characters and made them seem more human instead of being mere wish-fulfillment avatars for the readers.

I also enjoyed learning something about the nature of bullying between girls by reading this novel. The book’s main villain, Sandy, perpetrated her evil in the form of image and body “advice” to girls in need of Sandy’s unwarranted help. This wasn’t merely short-sighted or insensitive of Sandy. It was subtle, intentional, and malicious. By contrast, boy bullies are usually more simple and direct with overt name-calling and physical intimidation. As a result, boys don’t often notice or understand when girls are bullying other girls. However, the segments where Sandy perpetuates her villainy are so well written that I got it immediately and definitely wanted horrible things to happen to Sandy.

However, the thing that was most exciting to me about this novel was how inspiring it was. There has been a book I’ve wanted to write about high school since I graduated high school. And yet, all the events of the book wouldn’t quite gel. I knew the tone of it and I knew what I wanted it to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it. After finishing Karen’s book in a literal fever, it came to me all the elements that needed to be in my book, who the major characters would be, what each of their stories would be. I’ve got it all written down and feel motivated to start fleshing it out.

So, thanks, Karen, for not only writing such an entertaining young adult novel, but also for giving me some inspiration and insight on how try and make one of my own.