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Cynthia Voigt is the greatest YA writer ever

May 19, 2009

There.  I said it.  And I believe it too.

As some of you know, I homeschool my daughter, if by “homeschool” one means “I taught her for a while and realized there was little in her curriculum she couldn’t pick up on her own, so when I started grad school, she’s been working mainly independently for about four hours a day, including reading books of my choice.”  Among the books she’s read of my chosing have been 3 of the 4 Time Quartet books by Madeleine L’Engle, Z for Zachariah, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (I HATE you, stupid animated movie), The Phantom Tollbooth, and like almost everything by Cynthia Voigt.  Because she’s brilliant.

My daughter really digs Voigt, and I have to say I’m surprised.  I mean, I knew she loved the Bad Girls stuff, which I think I read the first of and then never again.  But “bad girls” seems like something my daughter would enjoy reading.  HomecomingIzzy, Willy-NillyJackaroo? Not so much.

But she DOES!  Even Jackaroo, which is fantasy, but not like the goofy fantasy she usually enjoys.  Even Homecoming, which is the story of the struggle of four children who have been abandoned by their parents.  Even Izzy, Willy-Nilly, which I REALLY wasn’t sure about, because it’s the story of a teenage girl who loses half her leg in a drunk driving accident.  My daughter, who thought that Bridge to Terabithia was an abomination because “kids shouldn’t die in books and movies” (maybe she should never watch My Girl?), LOVED Izzy.

And so do I.

See, I’m staying with my grandmother this week so that she’s not alone in the house while my mom’s on vacation.  So after my daughter finished Izzy, I thought I’d read it, since not being at home means I have a lot of free time.  (Ooh, I love it.  When I move, I should throw out everything I own so that all I do is sit around and/or get stuff done.)  The last couple of nights, I’ve been reading this book like…well, like devouring it, really.  I only stopped reading because I’ve been out of sorts for a while–allergies–and I need my rest.  I finished it up last night, and I do want to talk a little about it.  Not only the content, but the cover, and the font.  Or is it typeset?  Whichever.

First off, I picked this copy up…somewhere recently, and it’s not the same edition as mine.  It doesn’t have the same cover.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait!  I went to look up covers and I found the “new” one which is so stupid and fug, but ON THE BACK THEY SPELL THE MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME WRONG.  That is the wrongest thing EVER.  EVER EVER EVER.  How pathetic is the editing industry, really?  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to grad school for librarianship.  Obviously, my talents are needed elsewhere.

And okay, now seeing all the different covers for the book?  Let’s talk covers first.


Isobel Lingard is a turn-of-the-century…oh wait, no.  She’s a child of the ’80s.  What a terrible cover!  This picture is like, “Drunk CARRIAGE DRIVER, maybe.”


This is the latest Izzy, who obviously didn’t live in the ’80s and shouldn’t be making Michael Jackson references and sadly suffers from Jessica Simpson Syndrome, where every time someone takes a picture of her, she has to have her mouth open.  I like that the chair she’s in could be a wheelchair, but otherwise there is nothing pleasing about this.  Plus, it has the really really wrong last name on the back.


This is the cover on our new copy.  There’s the sense that Izzy’s fragmented, which is cool, and depressed, but…Izzy’s depression isn’t a lie-in-bed-and-woe-is-me-and-where’s-my-Picasso-made-mint-julep.  I’m not crazy about it.  Plus, it gets rid of the best thing about the book: Izzy’s humanity.


This is my Izzy, the cover of the book I know I had but for some reason can’t find now.  This Izzy is “just a girl.”    She has ’80s clothes and ’80s hair and Izzy’s big, big eyes.  I used to call these “Hila Coleman eyes” because they reminded me of the cover of Among Friends, which for some reason I thought was by Hila Coleman but is actually by Caroline Cooney.  Imagine my embarrassment a couple of years later when I realized I had the author wrong.  What a faux pas.

I also love that this Izzy’s legs are RIGHT out of the frame, which make you want to look down, to see what’s missing.  As you would in real life.

Also, I believe–but am not positive–that my new copy has far more of a description on the back than my old copy, and I find that really, really unnecessary.  One of the joys of Izzy, especially as an older re-reader, is discovering her and where her journey takes her.

But to get to typeset, I never really think about it much but it really changes the way you read.  The new copy of Izzy has a completely different typeset, wider and thinner than my original copy, and I was more inclined to read the book lightly.  I wasn’t crazy about that, but I see now how it works, and I think everyone should different editions of a favorite book to get that sense.  We think, as readers, that it’s the words alone that move us, but we’re so, so wrong.  There’s a lot more going on than what the author puts to page.

Finally, content.  Izzy’s the best book ever.  There’s so much going on here–and my daughter and I spent a half-hour discussing it this morning, so I can say for sure that we were taking completely different things away from the book even when I was the same age–and we’re certainly taking different things away now.  Some books, like The Vampire Diaries, do not grow better with age, but Izzy does because it’s so layered, and the characters are complicated and real.

Dicey, though I love her dearly and she is one of my favorite characters of all time, does not have the sense of realness that Izzy does.  Izzy, who’s fifteen, has moved past a year of being a moody teen into her “I’m so mature, I think I’m a real adult, or at least getting there” stage.  (I LOVED that stage.  My classmates suddenly stopped being jerks like 60% of the time, which was about 58% more than usual.)  She is pleased to be asked to a party that will be filled with upperclassmen, even though she’s not crazy about the guy who does the asking.  The point is to get to the party, though, so she goes.  Unfortunately, he drinks a lot, and no one stops Izzy from getting in the car with him.  The car hits a tree, and Izzy loses half her leg.

This is only the first chapter of the story, and what follows is a process–oh, not of healing, but of getting there.  Izzy doesn’t have any easy answers, because there aren’t any.  She doesn’t feel one way or another; she feels all ways, all the time.  Her good days are followed by nights of sobbing for reasons she can only begin to understand.  She gains a keen insight into people, including herself, when she’s forced to watch life from the outside.  Her insightfulness, however, is never too far beyond her years, and she misses things that only an adult reader would pick up.

This is why I love Voigt.  I love coming back to a book and seeing characters in whole new ways.  My daughter, as I did when I was younger, saw Izzy’s little sister, Francie, as a big pain, but as a parent I see Francie as a desperate attention-seeker, the obvious result of a spoiled youngest child, who is always grasping to gain an audience from those she believed had it first and whose time has passed.  Izzy’s mom, I thought when I was younger, was so great–but now I see a woman who does the “right” things but not necessarily the right things.  For example, it takes Rosamunde bringing food to the hospital for Izzy’s mother to realize she should’ve done that a long time ago.  She focuses completely on making life at home more comfortable for Izzy, while neglecting Izzy in the hospital.

Everyone in this book is so–I was going to say complex, but that’s not true.  Some of them are very simple, but they’re simple in a real way, like “good people,” as Rosamunde says.

My daughter, as I did, loves Rosamunde, because she says what she wants.

I don’t think I realized HOW poor Rosamunde’s family was, or what a snob Izzy’s mother can be.  I don’t think I understood how well-written the twins are, when they’re only on the page a couple of times, and how the whole world unfolds in front of me, and how easily I can see where they all go:

-Tony does peak in high school but he’s a good man all his life.

-Rosamunde eventually does go out with Jack and it’s rather disastrous and Jack doesn’t understand why.

-Izzy finds the love she thinks she can’t have as “a cripple” and it’s awkward at first but eventually wonderful.

-Francie makes a bit of a mess with her life but it never gets too bad, and she eventually, as everyone assumes, settles, although she’s always a drama queen.

I sort of want to re-read Jackaroo now, but I also brought a copy of Many Waters for her to read next, so I may knock that out before she can.  Mmm, Biblical.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jillian permalink
    May 21, 2009 2:11 pm

    Oh man, I love Jackaroo. I had totally forgotten about it and then when I read the title, it all came flooding back.

    • bookslide permalink*
      May 22, 2009 4:51 pm


      I decided against rereading it because I wanted to reread Many Waters before handing it over for homeschoolin’ fun, but I’m going to get there, I think. It’s not my usual kind of book but it’s Voigt. She did do another two books (or more) set in the same world, I believe. Have you read those?

      • Jillian permalink
        May 24, 2009 6:16 pm

        I read the next one which is about her(?) daughter (or at least near descendant) and one of the lords and they go on crazy adventures and become slaves. I don’t think I’ve read any others. But not since I was mid-teens at the latest.

      • bookslide permalink*
        May 24, 2009 7:59 pm

        Is that On Fortune’s Wheel or Elske? I really can’t even remember. Probably On Fortune’s Wheel.

      • Jillian permalink
        May 25, 2009 8:22 am

        It is On Fortune’s Wheel. I don’t think I’ve ever read Elske.

      • bookslide permalink*
        May 25, 2009 6:40 pm

        I remember Elske being kinda boring, tbh.


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