Monday, November 11, 2013

"The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya"

Jane Kelley is the author of the middle-grade novels Nature Girl and The Girl Behind The Glass. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their daughter.

Kelley applied the Page 69 Test to her latest middle-grade novel, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Dr. Jones says you’re ready to start the second phase of chemo next Tuesday.” Mrs. Logan tried to sound like this was a good thing.

“The second phase?”

“They want to make sure they got it all.” Mrs. Logan smiled and squeezed Alya’s hand.

Alya lay back against the pillow. The fabric rubbed her tiny hairs the wrong way. They had just started to grow. They shouldn’t have bothered. They were only going to fall out again anyway. What was the point when the doctors would always say that Alya needed more and more treatments? What was the point of anything when everybody everywhere in the whole wide world was eventually going to die?
This sad passage is most definitely not representative of the novel. But it does do a good job of describing what Alya refers to elsewhere in the book as “the monster in the corner of her room.” Alya is only eleven years old, but being treated for leukemia has forced her to confront the possibility of her death. Is it any wonder that she struggles with despair?

This passage is the shadow, the dark line that gives depth to the rest of the colors in the book. And there are plenty of colors. First and foremost, there is Zeno. The book is half his––and he isn’t even mentioned on page 69. He’s an African grey parrot with a red tail. He thinks a little too well of himself. Well, he does speak 127 words, including a few in Greek. His owner was a professor of Greek Literature, so Zeno occasionally quotes the Greek philosopher Zeno. A lot of the humor in the story comes from Zeno’s mistakes. He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. For instance, he refers to a statue of an angel as a Parrot-Man.

Many other colors in the book are created by Zeno’s adventures. As he flies around Brooklyn, he is challenged by other birds. He has to escape from a cage. He has to find his way home through a storm. He has to learn the real meaning of “home.” But most importantly, he has to find his way back to Alya’s window. His brusque arrogance is exactly what she needs to snap her out of her despair.

Sometimes we all need that––even if we don’t have leukemia. If I read page 69, would I keep reading? No! Why would I want to feel depressed? And yet, I might be glad to confront these ideas in the safety of a story. In middle-grade novels, a girl’s hair always grows back. The parrots find their way home. And friends help each other forget that death is part of life.
Learn more about the book and author at Jane Kelley's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue