Saturday, November 15, 2014

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Words and Their Meanings is a young adult, debut novel that adults will appreciate as much as teens.  Anna’s Uncle Joe died after a brief illness. A college student only a few years older than Anna, he was raised as her brother, her confidant, and her best friend and Anna can’t cope with the loss in this smart, inventive, insightful tale. Anna’s first-person rendering of her grief makes for a “littmus lozenge” of a story.  If you read Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, you’ll recall that Littmus Lozenges were a special candy that tasted both sweet and sad. They tasted of melancholy and made people recall happiness and sorrow. Words and Their Meanings is a wonder of a story that, like an enchanted “littmus lozenge” confection, inhabits the reader and creates a magical place where joy and grief can both abide.

Anna’s family and friends worry about her and she’s promised that on Joe’s one-year “deadaversary” she’ll stop her peculiar mourning. Does that mean that she’ll quit practicing her invention of “coffin yoga” which means that every day she lies still as if she were dead while concentrating on her morbid thoughts? Will she stop writing unsettling quotes from rocker Patti Smith on her arm?  Will she start writing her own words again? Or will her parents have to take more drastic measures than her current therapy?  

Anna has no desire to reconnect with the world.  She’s always been acknowledged as an amazing writer and she’s lived for her writing but since Joe died, she can’t even consider putting words on paper.  And that’s a real problem because words – and their meanings – were her life. Then a strange note indicates that Joe may have had secrets he’d kept from her and Anna’s grandfather has an accident and Anna must think beyond herself.  That, of course, becomes the right time to give in to romance - again allowing Anna to see the world and its meaning through someone else’s eyes.

This could have been a gloomy tale but it’s a lively, yet intentionally thoughtful, story of Anna’s growth and it’s told in realistic, adolescent language. There’s no dumbing down, just the truth as a word-loving teen would speak it. One reason everything works is that Bassett uses ingenious, yet fitting, devices to relate information.  Anna’s grandfather’s origami paper cranes tell secrets and allow the reader to watch Anna unfold them.

Another wonderful aspect of this novel is that the characters in it reflect the real world especially the setting, a place similar to the author’s hometown.  At the Words and Their Meanings launch, I asked Bassett about her populating the novel with teens of different races and backgrounds not just the upper middle class white teens seen in most YA novels.  She said that since she’d grown up in Saginaw, Michigan, she was writing what she knew.  It shows in her writing and it enriches the book. Buy this book because it’s a great read and will give thoughtful teens and adults much to ponder.  As a bonus, buy this book because it reflects the real America not the “white washed” pretend America often seen in young adult and children’s literature.    

Summing it Up:  Words and Their Meanings will appeal to teens that think, adults that love good writing combined with a strong story, and readers of every age that appreciate a strong voice. 

Note: This paperback original is the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite teen.

Rating: 5 stars   
Category: Book Club, Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet
Publication date: September 11, 2014
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