Saturday, December 5, 2020

"The Ballad of Ami Miles"

Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she's pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them.

Alley applied the Page 69 Test to The Ballad of Ami Miles, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I saw a couple of towels folded on a shelf above the toilet and thought I might be able to at least wrap a towel around myself before I looked, but they were too far to reach without stepping into the room. The mirror was old and cloudy around the edges, but I could still see better than I wanted to. Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I locked eyes with my own self in the mirror. They were just about the only part of myself I was used to seeing in my little round pocket mirror, so that part was kind of comforting and familiar. I thought that maybe if I could just keep looking myself in the eye, I could find the courage to step out and look at the rest of me. And sure enough, I started to feel calmer. Keeping my eyes on their reflection, I slowly stepped into the bathroom.

When I was a few steps away from the mirror, I stopped. The towels were within reach now, but I was feeling braver. I let my eyes focus on my whole face and then outward just a little more to take in my hair. I had pulled it back into a thick braid at some point, but it was escaping in wisps and curls like it always did. Like it wanted to be free. So I pulled the long tail of the braid over my shoulder and untied the end, then worked my fingers through it until it was loose and wild around my shoulders and down my back. I pulled it all around me like a cape, and then I let my eyes drop so that I was looking, finally, at all of myself.

I saw a girl whose face and neck were freckled and brownish from the sun but whose body was pale and blank in comparison. Now, I know I didn’t need a mirror to look down at my undressed self, but I never really had. I was taught that vanity is a sin and the body is the devil’s trap. The only time I wasn’t covered from neck to ankle and wrist in a loose muslin dress was when I was bathing and changing clothes, and that was a quick, no-nonsense business. Even standing in that bathroom so far from Heavenly Shepherd, I felt like I was doing something shameful and wrong. I felt afraid. But another, newer feeling was also fighting its way out: I felt bold.
I had never heard of the Page 69 Test, but when I opened my book to page 69 I really had to laugh. As it turns out, this really is a fairly good test for my book, but also? It's about my protagonist seeing herself naked in a mirror for the first time ever!

Ami has been raised by her grandparents according to strict rules and a pretty harsh interpretation of religious values. In her world, pride is a sin, and for that reason mirrors are forbidden. Ami has secretly kept a small round mirror compact that she found as a child, so she has seen a tiny circle of her own face in the little mirror, and that's all. When she arrives at Lake Point in search of her mother, she's given a room in the repurposed guest lodge and gently encouraged to bathe after her long trek through the wilderness to get there. Her room has the kind of attached bath you would expect in the former guest lodge of a state park, and she's startled to find a large mirror above the sink. At first afraid, she decides to be bold and take a look at herself there in that strange place, far from home but also far from the overbearing adults who have always been right there watching,
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My Book, The Movie: The Ballad of Ami Miles.

--Marshal Zeringue