Born 1957, in NJ; married (marriage ended); children: two. Education: Purdue University, B.S.; graduate study at Rutgers University.
Former staff writer, Miss America Organization, Atlantic City, NJ; Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, teaching assistant; Atlantic Cape Community College, Mays Landing, NJ, instructor in English composition, c. 2004.
Kneale Award in Journalism for excellence in feature writing; Michael L. Printz Honor Book silver medal, American Library Association, One Book New Jersey Young Adult selection, and Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist in young-adult mystery division, all 2002, all for The Body of Christopher Creed.
The Body of Christopher Creed, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Super Sports Star, Stephon Marbury, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 2002.
What Happened to Lani Garver, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
The She, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.
The Body of Christopher Creed was optioned for film by DreamWorks, and was released as an audiobook, Recorded Books, 2002.
Carol Plum-Ucci was working as a teaching assistant at Rutgers University when she wrote her first young-adult mystery novel, The Body of Christopher
Creed. In addition to her first widely-praised novel, she has gone on to pen several more books in which teen protagonists are forced to revisit their past from an altered perspective, and where supernatural elements often figure in the mystery. According to School Library Journal contributor Kim Harris in a review of the author's fiction debut, Plum-Ucci "knows her audience and provides her readers with enough twists, turns, and suspense to keep them absorbed."
Born in New Jersey in 1957, and raised in an apartment above her family business—a funeral parlor—in Brigantine, New Jersey, Plum-Ucci grew up in an area ripe with history: both her family's own multi-generational saga and several local legends, including one about the monstrous Jersey Devil, a half-man, half-beast creature said to roam the state's nearby Pine Barrens region.
After graduating from high school, Plum-Ucci got her communications degree from Purdue University, then worked at several writing jobs, including as a staff writer for the Miss America Organization, headquartered in Atlantic City. She eventually enrolled at Rutgers University, where she has worked as a teaching assistant instructing freshman in basic composition while earning her master's degree in English.
Pens Debut in Five Months
Plum-Ucci decided to sit down and write her first novel after her marriage was disintegrating and her employment situation was not looking much brighter. The stress from her personal life may have fueled her writing, because within eighteen weeks she found she had finished the manuscript for a complete novel. "I hadn't been a grown-up for very long, and I hadn't been very good at any of it," she admitted to Rutgers Focus contributor Caroline Yount. Writing for a teen audience seemed far less daunting than trying to write for adults, because, unlike many adults, she had so many happy memories of her adolescent years. "I had been an awesome teen-ager," Plum-Ucci told Yount, adding: "It was a great time, and I figured I would rather converse with people of that carefree mind-set."
Plum-Ucci's debut novel, The Body of Christopher Creed, is set in the author's native South Jersey and focuses on sixteen-year-old Smithville High School junior Torey Adams, who narrates the tale. Popular with the right crowd, and a star of the school football team, Torey begins to have doubts about what the "right crowd" is all about after a geeky classmate named Chris Creed suddenly disappears. While Torey's fellow students quickly transform Christopher's disappearance into fodder for jokes and gossip, the event causes Torey to question his responsibility for the unhappiness that caused his classmate to leave without a trace. The class scapegoat, Chris had served as the brunt of jokes from Torey and his friends for years. An e-mail sent by Creed to the school's principal that mentions Torey and some of his cliquish friends by name provides the curious teen with the only clue to Creed's disappearance. "I know that people wish I were dead and at this moment in time I see no alternative but to accommodate them," the letter reads. ". . . I only wish to be gone." With fears that Chris might be dead, Torey sets to work to solve the mystery of his disappearance, and he is joined by Chris's concerned neighbor, Ali. Along with Ali comes Ali's boyfriend, Bo, a teen who has wholeheartedly embraced the juvenile delinquent lifestyle. Unfortunately, their sleuthing around Chris's house and the Indian burial ground near Torey's home brings on charges of trespassing, and the teens soon find suspicion falling on them before the mystery of Chris's disappearance is solved.
Because of the novel's ending, which finds its lead character gaining in compassion and tolerance of people's differences, many critics praised PlumUcci's debut, and The Body of Christopher Creed also won an award from the American Library Association. In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer called the book a "well-crafted" novel that focuses on a timely topic: "the effect teenage intolerance can have on misfits." School Library Journal reviewer Jane P. Fenn also enjoyed the novel, citing the author's "fine feel for teen speech and thought."
The Body of Christopher Creed resonated with many readers, as well as with its own author, who had based her book on a boy she knew as a child, as well as the teasing he received. Teased throughout elementary school, that boy eventually injured himself and was pulled out of high school; nobody ever heard from him again. Years later, Plum-Ucci was still haunted by memories of this boy, and wondered at the effects of his torment at the hands of his fellow students. "When you're an adult you start to regret things from your childhood," she admitted to interviewer Candace Braun of the Princeton, New Jersey, Town Topics. "At 35 years old, I began to ask myself: Why didn't I just help him up when he was knocked down?" She realized that such incidents resonate throughout one's life: that one harsh put-down can change someone's future.
New Success with Lani Garver
In Plum-Ucci's 2002 novel, What Happened to Lani Garver, readers are introduced to sixteen-year-old Clair McKenzie, a popular high school student cheerleader living in a tightly-knit fishing community, whose friendly demeanor hides a host of worries. Are her fainting spells a sign that her leukemia has returned? Will her alcoholic mother ever get her act together? And will Claire ever get a grip on her relationship with food? Enter Lani Garver, an androgynous new student who shows up on Hackett Island one day and causes a stir among the students at Coastal Regional High School. The streetwise Lani, who turns out to be a boy, sparks a blaze of gossip over the possibility that he is gay and attracts attention due to his pale, effeminate appearance alongside most of the burly, hardworking fishermen's sons who live on Hackett Island.
"Lani has led the life of a vagabond poet," Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy reviewer Daren Crovitz explained of one of Plum-Ucci's most interesting fictional characters; before coming to Hackett Island he spent his time "drifting from city to city, befriending the poor and the disadvantaged, and the opportunities he offers Claire are more than just a vision of life beyond a provincial high school crowd." Helped by Lani to seek the medical attention she needs and come to terms with her bulimia, Claire also begins to wonder if Lani is in fact an angelic spirit who has come to help her. Meanwhile, her shallow friends decide that Lani's artsy tolerance is a threat to their way of life and they decide to break his influence by breaking his spirit.
While many critics enjoyed the author's second fictional outing, several noted that the plot of What Happened to Lani Garver, with its magical and New-Age elements, strays slightly too far into fantasy. In Booklist, for example, Ilene Cooper said that while certain of Plum-Ucci's plot elements are "intriguing," readers are forced to "wade through a lot of extraneous scenes and situations to get at the good stuff." Calling What Happened to Lani Garver a "taut, provocative" novel, a Publishers Weekly contributor enjoyed the book far more, noting that the author fashions an ending that "crackles with suspense." What Happened to Lani Garver "is an involving, dramatic tale that will quickly draw readers in," maintained Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick, adding that Plum-Ucci's "message about tolerance" adds intrigue. Lyn Bryant had particular praise for PlumUcci's ability to blend "outstanding writing, strong characterization, and riveting plot development."
A Tale of Nautical Horror
The supernatural takes center stage in Plum-Ucci's third work of YA fiction, The She. In this story, eight-year-old Evan Barrett and his older brother, Emmett, are left suddenly orphaned after both their parents mysteriously disappear during a storm at sea. They decide to leave their home town to escape the sad memories, but Evan is forced to return years later when another tragedy occurs and questions begin to surface regarding Mr. and Mrs. Barrett's deaths. Despite the frantic Mayday sent by their father on the ship-to-shore radio, their was no wreckage ever found, and the Barretts' bodies were never recovered. And also, Evan wonders, who made the loud, inhuman shrieks he heard on those final transmissions? The circumstances surrounding both accidents rekindle an old legend of "the She," a long-forgotten deep-sea monster who, in a bitter, jealous rage, was said to drag entire ships down into the watery depths. Could the She have been responsible for Evan's parents' death? Now age seventeen, Evan begins to delve into his own family's past while helping Gray Shailey, a troubled but horribly spoiled fellow student suffering from psychiatric trauma, cope with a similar tragic loss. When Gray shares with Evan that she too heard horrible shrieks before the drowning of her friends, the pair team up to uncover the mysteries that threaten to overshadow both their lives.
While noting that The She is a slower-paced read than Plum-Ucci's first books, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the novel nonetheless "succeeds largely by shape-shifting, one moment resembling a mournful dirge, the next a supernatural thriller, the next a tightly woven mystery." Also commenting on the novel's diverse elements, a Kirkus contributor noted that Plum-Ucci "manages to keep readers balanced on a see-saw between rationality and the powers of the dark" in her 2003 "seagoing thriller." And in Booklist, Ilene Cooper maintained that the novel's "many plot elements" are successfully woven together into a "serpentine story . . . [that] will grip readers." Citing PlumUcci's characteristic blurring of the boundaries between reality and fiction, Hillias J. Martin praised The She in a review for School Library Journal, noting that "plot, character development, and action sequences all seamlessly gel into an intriguing and structurally sound mystery novel."
If you enjoy the works of Carol Plum-Ucci
If you enjoy the works of Carol Plum-Ucci, you may also want to check out the following books:
David Klass, You Don't Know Me, 2001.
Alex Flinn, Breaking Point, 2002.
Gail Giles, Shattering Glass, 2002.
Pleased with her fiction-writing successes, PlumUcci plans to continue with her writing for young adults. As she noted to Braun, her advice to young writers is to "Keep it fun. If it's not fun, why are we doing it?"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Plum-Ucci, Carol, The Body of Christopher Creed, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Booklist, August, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of WhatHappened to Lani Garver, p. 1947; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The She, p. 239.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, October, 2004, Daren Crovitz, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 193.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of WhatHappened to Lani Garver, p. 1318; September 15, 2003, review of The She, p. 1180.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 13; March, 2003, Jean Palmer, review of The Body of Christopher Creed (audio version), p. 58; September, 2003, Michele Winship, review of The She, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, May 22, 2000, review of The Body of Christopher Creed, p. 94; August 19, 2002, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 91; November 17, 2003, review of The She, p. 66.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Kim Harris, review of The Body of Christopher Creed, p. 109; October, 2002, Lynn Bryant, review of What Happened toLani Garver, p. 170; May, 2003, Jane P. Fenn, review of The Body of Christopher Creed (audio version), p. 79; October, 2003, Hillias J. Martin, review of The She, p. 175.
Voice of Youth Advocates, May, 2002, Teri S. Lesesne, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 391.
Author Chats,http://www.authorchats.com/ (November 1, 2001), "Chat with Carol Plum-Ucci."
Rutgers Focus Online,http://www.rutgers.edu/focus/ (April 6, 2001), Caroline Yount, "Writing Her Way to the Top."
Town Topic Online,http://www.towntopics.com/ (June 23, 2004), Candace Braun, "One Book New Jersey Author Is Inspired by Her Childhood."*