Epistolary novels

During one of our “what are you reading” conversions here at work, I commented that the last three books I read were all written in varying degrees as correspondences between characters.  Coworker Ryan informed me this is referred to as epistolary fiction.  Not being able to simply take Ryan’s word for it, I needed to look it up only to find that I’ve read numerous current and classic novels incorporating this style. Being somewhat of a reluctant reader, I had no idea this was a fairly popular genre.  I guess I hadn’t noticed it before until these three books all in a row exemplified this form of writing.

Since I’m all about expanding my vocabulary, I now need to practice using my new word.  So I’d like to share with you three teen epistolary novels that I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading.

The summer between high school graduation and first year of college is a pivotal time in most teens’ life.   Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando  alternates between two soon to be college roommates as they maneuver through their transitional summer.  The epistolary format did a nice job of illustrating how easily email messages can be misinterpreted.

Their email exchange starts out as simple as deciding who’s bringing the microwave for their dorm room but grows into much more.  Despite their differences – east coast vs. west coast, large close-knit family vs. absent father & distant mother, the roomies are able to find common ground.  Each is able to open up to the other while sharing thoughts on their changing roles with their families, friends and romances. (9780316217491  2013.  gr. 9-12)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple is written as a series of letters, emails, reports, in true epistolary style. This very funny book pokes fun at suburban housewives, Microsoft employees, Seattle’s cultural elite, and just about everything else.  Bee, an intelligent 15 year old is able to persevere and shine despite starting out with serious health issues as well as having to deal with her wacky mother, Bernadette.  One of the funniest email correspondences is between Bernadette and her online personal assistant based in India, who handles everything from Bernadette’s local shopping to vacation planning.  Who in their right mind would think this is a good idea?
I had the added pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and would rate it as one of my favorites.  Actress Kathleen Wihoite did the narration. She was amazingly expressive, adding to the overall enjoyment of this entertaining novel. (9780316204279  2013. gr. 11 – adult)

Zoe, a teen from the UK decides to write to a Texas prisoner on death row, because she thinks they have something in common.  Both are responsible for the death of a loved one.  Zoe’s guilt compels her to share her story to the one person she thinks can understand her.

In Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher the series of letters are all one way, from Zoe to the inmate.  She admits from the start that she is a murderer. Over time and multiple letters written while hidden away in a backyard shed, Zoe reveals her back story.  She tells of her relationship with two boys and her attraction to each of them for different reasons.

The letter writing format works well for developing the characters, unfolding the details with a few unexpected twists, as well as keeping the reader guessing throughout. (9780316246767  2013.  gr. 9-12)

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