Friday, March 27, 2015

"When Reason Breaks"

Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for the Hartford Courant and a researcher for the Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. She is also a founding member of Latin@s in Kid Lit and a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. She lives in Plainville, CT, with her young daughter and rescue mutt.

She applied the Page 69 Test to When Reason Breaks, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
(Ms. Diaz) asked Emily to read aloud. She seemed startled to be called upon but didn't protest. She read:

I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose -
More numerous of Windows -
Superior - for Doors -

"You were supposed to go easy on us. This is making my head hurt," said Kevin.

"Good," responded Ms. Diaz. "That means you're thinking. Now, who can tell me what's going on in the first stanza?"

No hands went up. Elizabeth stared at the lines of poetry, rereading them several times. She then started to write and draw in her notebook.

"What do you notice about the poem? Let's start there."

Tommy tentatively raised his hand. Ms Diaz nodded at him.

"She uses capitalization in unusual ways."

"Good. That's a start." Ms. Diaz underlined the capitalized words.

"Should we be underlining these?" asked Kevin.

"Yes," she said. "Now, what does the capitalization do for these words?"

"Gives them importance," said Tommy.

Abby smiled admiringly at Tommy. Elizabeth noticed when she peeked from behind her hair-curtain.
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?
In some ways...This is a school-based story, so there are several important scenes that happen in Ms. Diaz's classroom. Also, Emily Dickinson's life and poetry heavily influence the story, so it's fitting that they are addressing one of her poems on page 69. Through the analysis of a few of Dickinson's poems, the main characters--Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis--discover that they have more in common with Dickinson and with each other than they first thought. Interestingly, many of the characters are named on this one page: Emily, Elizabeth, Ms. Diaz, Tommy, Kevin, and Abby, so the reader would get an immediate glimpse of the major players by previewing this page.

Would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?
I hope so! A reader skimming this page would be inclined to read on if he or she is interested in a story that includes diverse characters, a positive and important teacher-student relationship, and teen girls who are struggling with depression and whose personal problems are laid bare as they grow more familiar with themselves, each other, and the life and work of Emily Dickinson. I think a reader would get a sense of this when skimming page 69 and would continue reading if this kind of contemporary young adult story appeals to them.
Visit Cindy L. Rodriguez's website.

--Marshal Zeringue