Sometimes it’s hard to discern what lies behind the favÃade of a young girl. Take Wren and Darra, the characters in Helen Frost’s intriguing new novel, Hidden. While they have never actually met, these girls share a secret that unites them—a secret that they’ve kept, individually, for years.
After reading just the first two pages of Frost’s novel-in-poems, young readers will be drawn into the vivid tale that unfolds, written alternately from Wren’s and Darra’s points of view. Their perspectives offer an inside look at how one moment in time, one unfortunate act, can both bind and alter many lives collectively.
“There were hidden elements of each girl’s life. The language itself works to bring the two stories together.”
Presenting those two perspectives was the challenge for Frost, who has cleverly woven such intricate details and dialogue into many of her past novels. And it’s a challenge she takes seriously. “It’s very important, and I try to get it right,” says Frost, an award-winning poet who won a 2004 Michael L. Printz Honor for her YA novel-in-verse, Keesha’s House.
As Hidden unfolds, Darra’s abusive unemployed father steals a minivan, not realizing young Wren is in the back. When Darra guesses that Wren is hiding in her family’s garage, she’s torn between helping the young girl she has never met (and seen only on TV news reports) and protecting her father.
The ensuing fear, confusion and uncertainty—experienced by both Wren and Darra—are vocalized through first-person accounts by the two eight-year-old girls. Wren’s insights, written in carefully crafted stanzas, make up the first third of the book. The second section illuminates Darra’s angst about the event, coupled with the blame she puts on Wren for her father’s eventual arrest. The denouement, which comes six years later when Wren and Darra unexpectedly meet at summer camp, brings all the memories, confusion, blame and turmoil to a head.
While some authors start with an event or a kernel of a plot for a novel, Frost instead allowed her compelling characters to take her in a direction she never expected to go.
“In this one, I really started with the characters,” Frost says during a call to her home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I had this idea that this family, Wren and her brother, were going to go to the Isle of Barra” (the setting in Frost’s 2006 book The Braid).
But soon, Wren’s character became quiet, withdrawn and overshadowed by her brother. Frost began to envision that something must have happened to Wren to spark her silence.
“It became a very different story,” Frost says. “After I started telling the story, Darra kind of poked her head in. She wasn’t there until six or seven versions of the story went by. I had to keep asking myself questions.”
While the story changed, one thing remained consistent: Frost’s impeccable talent for creating novels in the form of poetry. She says that after she wrote The Braid, where form also plays an important role, “I felt like anything was possible with language. Language itself helps tell the story.”
Language definitely helps to convey the story of Hidden, with each girl’s words captured in a different format. “There were hidden elements of each girl’s life,” Frost says. “The language itself works to bring the two stories together.”
To relay Wren’s experience, Frost says she worked hard “to put her poems in a structured form.” For Darra’s dialogue, she created an ingenious form specifically for this novel. The last words of the long lines, read vertically down the right side of the page, form sentences that elucidate Darra’s memories.
Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
While the form was intentional, the author says the words came organically—to create an authentic, natural-sounding dialogue. “[I] trust the DNA of the language. It creates tension and really interesting reverberations in the story. For kids reading it, I think they will think this is a really fun thing to discover.”
A native South Dakotan who was born fifth in a family of 10 children, Frost says she “grew up in a family that made me feel like I could do anything.” She received a degree in Elementary Education from Syracuse University, and it was there that she discovered poetry.
“I feel really lucky in the introduction to poetry I had. It has always been a part of my life,” says Frost, noting that the much-decorated poets Philip Booth and W.D. Snodgrass were among her teachers.
As her writing career progressed, “I was writing prose for children and poetry for adults,” she says, expressing amazement at how long it took her to meld those two worlds. “I realized that I had all those tools. I sometimes start my books in prose, but then I miss those tools. It’s like a really precise paintbrush. I want the structure, the sound of language.”
Frost has seen firsthand the impact of poetry on young readers. “I saw how much [children] loved poetry,” she says, recalling a time she once worked with a group of tween-age boys. “I remember putting out poems on a table . . . and a fistfight practically erupted. They were fighting over Shakespeare; I really saw a hunger for poetry.”
In addition to drawing on her background in poetry, Frost also infuses her writing with experiences from the many places she’s hung her hat over the years—from a progressive boarding school in Scotland to a one-teacher school in a tiny town in Alaska.
“I think I just grew up with a sense of adventure,” Frost says. “All these places came back when I became a full-time writer; I realized just how much I had to draw on.”
Next up for this talented author is Step Gently Out, a picture book collaboration with photographer Rick Lieder due out next year. She’s also starting a new novel-in-poems, and it’s likely there are even more ideas “hidden” somewhere in her imagination—but don’t worry, she’ll get them down eventually.
“The main thing is to keep from being distracted,” says Frost, a mother of two and grandmother of two. “I love writing, and I love children. To have those two things combined . . . it’s been a long journey to get to this point. It feels really lucky.”
From the award-winning Frost comes a wildly imaginative, thought-provoking novel in verse that centers on the unlikely friendship that arises between two teenage girls as a result of an accidental kidnapping. Darra Monson's father, an abusive, unemployed mechanic, steals a minivan, not knowing that 8-year-old Wren Abbott, daughter of the local school superintendent, lies hidden in the back. Told entirely from her perspective, Wren's unwitting capture and eventual escape comprise the first third of theÂ story before the narration switches to Darra, who relates how her father is caught and imprisoned, all the while blaming Wren for his arrest. Though from opposite sides of the tracks, Darra and Wren's paths cross again six years later at summer camp, where the 14-year-olds see each other for the first time. Slowly the two begin to unpack that uninvited trauma. After breaking the ice and overcoming Wren's nearly drowning Darra, the two begin to talk, and Frost's lyric narrative resolves movingly by alternating between the two protagonists. Frost's tale exhibits her trademark character development that probes the complexities of intimate relationships. Here Wren's touching statement, "I was a happy little girl / wearing a pink dress," eventually leads to Darra's private admission to Wren: "None of it was our fault." Both tender and insightful, this well-crafted, fast-paced tale should have wide teen appeal. (notes on form)Â (Poetry. 10-16)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Gr 6-9--An eight-year-old waits in the family's minivan while her mother goes into a convenience store. When she hears a gunshot, she scrambles to hide under a blanket in the back, and then someone rushes into the van and drives away without knowing she's there. This novel in verse is told in two first-person voices. Wren is the girl in the van, and Darra (also age eight) is the daughter of the man who robs the store and inadvertently kidnaps Wren. He drives home, and she's trapped in their garage for several days before she escapes. Darra is aware of her presence and tries to come up with a plan that won't implicate her father, but Wren is already gone. The book then jumps ahead six years, to the summer camp in Michigan where the two girls meet. This original blend of crime tale, psychological study, and friendship story is a page-turner that kids will love. There are a few plausibility issues, but there are many more strengths. Wren's captivity in the garage is truly suspenseful, and the various interactions of the kids at the sleepover camp are a study in shifting alliances. The book also touches on some deeper issues, like how you can love a parent who is sometimes abusive, and how sensitive kids can blame themselves for things that aren't really their fault. Smoothly written, this novel carries a message of healing and hope.--Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL[Page 116]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.