Best-selling children’s author James Howe had written many books, but suddenly he was stuck. Really stuck.
Howe was determined to write a book about Addie Carle, one of the main characters in The Misfits, his 2001 novel about four middle school friends. He had already written one sequel, Totally Joe, about a gay seventh-grader in the group. But he had spent two unsuccessful years trying to capture the voice of the strong-willed and extremely outspoken Addie.
“Her voice can be kind of off-putting,” Howe admits during a call to his home in Yonkers, New York. “I had tried so many different approaches, and nothing was working.”
Finally, a letter from an eighth-grade fan put Howe on the right path. The girl wrote: “Addie’s got such a strong personality, but sometimes I think readers don’t actually know what her soft side is.”
Howe realized he had been ignoring Addie’s soft side, and decided to explore what he calls her “inside voice.” He also decided that the best way to explore this part of Addie’s personality would be to write his novel in poetry. This presented yet another hurdle, since Howe had never written a book in poetry. He enjoyed the writing, but soon realized that all of his new poems needed to form a narrative whole.
A letter from a young fan helped Howe discover the softer side of an outspoken character.
“At one point my dining room table was covered with all of these printed-out poems,” Howe remembers. “I was rearranging and physically trying to find where the story was. So it took a good two years to get the shape of the book.”
If all of this sounds like a giant puzzle, Howe isn’t fazed. “I like to draw, and I love to do collage,” he says. “And I used to direct theater. I think there are connections in all of these things. I like taking pieces and making something out of them.”
The result was certainly worth waiting for. Addie on the Inside is immensely readable, with an active and conversational tone.
What did Howe end up learning about Addie, who was, as he puts it, “such a tough nut to crack?”
“I learned that she’s much more tender than I thought she was,” Howe says. “And I learned more about where her outside voice came from, and how connected it is to her own insecurities. I also learned, and this was a surprise, that she did have some desire to be popular and be cool.”
Howe is best known as the author of books for younger children, having gotten his start in 1979 with a beloved series about a vampire bunny named Bunnicula. A struggling actor and director at the time, he began writing for children by accident.
“I was doing what a lot of actors do and staying up too late and watching movies on TV,” Howe recalls. “It was watching all those bad vampire movies in the ’70s that led to the idea of Bunnicula. I can’t say that it’s my proudest moment when I tell young children how I got the idea for still my most popular book.”
He and his wife Deborah co-wrote the first book, but sadly she died of cancer before their book was published. Ever since, Howe has had an intriguing literary and life journey, having now embarked on what he calls “almost a second career” writing for middle school students and young adults.
Howe eventually remarried and became a father to Zoey, now 23. His editor at the time remarked that Howe would probably begin writing board books for his daughter. Instead, Howe felt compelled to head in the opposite direction. “These very powerful feelings that come with being a parent were pushing me to write work that was more personal and deep,” he says, “for older readers.”
Zoey’s eventual complaints about middle school social dynamics prompted him to write The Misfits. Another important event helped trigger Howe’s writing for middle school students. When Zoey was in the fifth grade, he divorced his second wife and admitted he was gay. Howe has now been with his partner for 10 years, and they plan to marry in September.
One of Howe’s immediate reactions upon coming out was anger. “I thought, I cannot believe I have put so much energy and have lived with this inner turmoil for so long and feared all of this rejection,” he says. “I wanted to write a book in which there’s a kid who’s growing up and gay and feels fine about who he is.”
The publication of Totally Joe ended up sparking a few controveries about its gay protagonist. “I was referred to as the openly gay author of The Misfits,” Howe recalls. “After years of being in the closet, that was actually pretty thrilling.”
Howe is especially gratified that The Misfits inspired an annual event called No-Name-Calling Week, which began in 2004.
“It’s gotten big,” Howe says. “There’s a curriculum for it. It’s -really taken off and it makes me feel very good.”Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
In this companion novel, Howe explores the interior life of the most outspoken member of the "Gang of Five" fromÂ The MisfitsÂ andÂ Totally JoeÂ (2001, 2005).
Told entirely in verse, the story follows 13-year-old Addie's struggles to define herself according to her own terms. Through her poems, Addie reflects on her life and life in general: her first boyfriend, what it means to be accepted and her endeavors to promote equality. Addie is at her most fragile when she examines her relationship with her boyfriend and the cruel behavior of her former best friend. Her forthright observations address serious topics with a maturity beyond her age. She contemplates the tragedy of teen suicide in "What If" and decries the practice of forced marriages in "What We Don't Know," stating "...And their mothers / have no power to change how it goes. They too / have been beaten and raped, sold and traded like / disposable goods, owned by men, while the only thing / they own is their misery..." Addie's voice gains confidence when she takes on the role of an advocate, as when she reveals her reasons for forming the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at school in "No One is Free When Others Are Oppressed (A Button on My Backpack)." Bolstered by the sage advice of her grandmother, Addie charts a steady course through her turbulent seventh-grade year.
Readers will agree when, in the triumphant finalÂ poem, an assured Addie proclaims: "I am a girl who knows enough / to know this life is mine." (author's note)Â (Verse novel. 11-14)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Written in narrative verse that has the rhythm and punch of spoken-word poetry, this companion to The Misfits and Totally Joe intimately conveys the internal conflicts of seventh-grader Addie, whose outspokenness makes her a target for ridicule at school. As bold and confident as she may appear, Addie is filled with worries both external ("I worry how in the world/ the world will ever be okay. Then/ I turn off my alarm/ and get on with the day") and internal, particularly regarding her relationships with her boyfriend, DuShawn, and her catty former friend, Becca. Addie's attempts to organize a Day of Silence don't go as planned, but she gains support in unexpected places and, as someone seldom at a loss for words, she finds her self-imposed quiet revelatory. Howe's artfully crafted lines show Addie's intelligence and wit, and his imagery evokes the aura of sadness surrounding "this purgatory of/ the middle school years/ when so many things/ that never mattered before/ and will never matter again/ matter." Readers will empathize with Addie's anguish and admire her courage to keep fighting. Ages 10-14. (July)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 6-8--This companion to The Misfits (2001) and Totally Joe (2005, both S & S) focuses on Addie Carle, an outspoken, intelligent girl who is worried about injustice and "how in the world, the world will ever be okay." She always speaks her mind, which doesn't endear her to her fellow classmates and leads to gossip and ridicule. She is an earnest protagonist who doesn't see any other way to be. But seventh grade is becoming a turning point in her life. Her first boyfriend likes her for who she is but is eventually overwhelmed by her; a childhood friend returns and is now part of the popular group; she realizes that adults also have inner lives and emotions; and she loses a beloved pet. She wonders if she should pay more attention to what she wears or says, but questions whether wearing the "in" shoes would really change anything. Then when Addie participates in the National Day of Silence in support of GLBT teens, she begins to notice the students who are always silent ("while I talk and talk and the loud ones shout and shove") and is surprised when she discovers that she can be quiet for a change. And she finds support from a surprising source. Howe completely captures what it is like to be a 13-year-old girl--the ups and downs, the emotional tightrope, the push/pull between childhood and growing up, and the power of gossip and school cliques. Addie negotiates the corridors of middle school with thoughtful determination; she's a young woman with a lot to say. Add this fine novel to the growing list of novels in verse.--Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA[Page 107]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.