Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert is one of those books. If you read my blog, you know that Stephanie and I are friends, and we have the same editor, Jennifer Heddle. But I have a lot of writer friends, and while most of them thrill and entertain me with their stories, and I will happily plug their books on my blog when I get special enjoyment from them, this is a whole other realm of awe.
Ballads tells the stories of several teenage characters growing up outside Chicago in the 1990s, but the book centers around Kara, an intelligent, ordinary girl who escapes the pain of parental alienation, friendship betrayals, and abusive romances in ways that are sadly all too common.
Yet the telling of the stories is anything but ordinary. Ballads opens with Kara returning to her Oak Park home at age 22, fearing that the toxic environment she left behind will pull her back in. We learn that she left the area when she was 16 so she could survive and make something of herself after a heroin overdose. She encounters the man who helped her down that near-fatal path and left her to die.
How did she get here? Kara's story is told in flashback, interspersed with a series of "ballads," first-person pieces scribbled in a notebook that gets passed from friend to friend. In each of the stories I recognized little pieces of myself--not so much because I grew up in the suburbs, but because I'd once been a confused young woman figuring out who I was and where I belonged (still working on that one sometimes).
It takes a lot of guts to tangle with hard emotions such as grief, guilt, and anger to the extent needed to produce great fiction. It's easier to skim the surface or make a funny. Stephanie's book has given me the courage as a writer to dig deeper, punch harder, peel away more protective layers, even as the very thought of doing so brings tears to my eyes.
Anyway, I was lucky to receive an early ARC of Ballads, but now the world has the privilege of experiencing this book, too, because today is the release day!
Stephanie is holding a cyber-launch party (which started last Monday, her thirtieth birthday), featuring a month's worth of authors sharing their own personal ballads. Here's a little promo for it that shows some of the folks stopping by:
I (or possibly Shane) will be appearing there some time in the next month, and Stephanie will come 'round here on the same day for an interview, at which point I'll tell you more about this fantastic book. But you should definitely stop by her blog each day to check out all the great authors, artists and musicians. And win stuff!
Today Stephanie told her own ballad of how she came to write this incredible book. Oh, and you can also see her very first "vlog," her ballad of a birthday tattoo, along with a live reading from her book. She is incredibly sweet and real, as a writer and a person, so go check them out!
P.S.: I'm uploading photos from ALA and RWA one by one to my Twitpic page, and after I turn in my book next Friday I'll do a little montage here on the blog. Stories, I got stories!