Rottman, S. L.
S. L. Rottman
Born July 12, 1970, in Albany, GA; married Arthur E. Wickberg (in the United States Air Force); children: Arthur "Paul." Education: Colorado State University, B.A. (English, with teacher certification for secondary education), 1992. Hobbies and other interests: White-water rafting, swimming, downhill skiing, watching sit-coms.
Agent—c/o Peachtree Publishers, Ltd., 494 Armour Circle NE, Atlanta, GA 30324-4088.
Writer and educator. Widefield School District #3, Colorado Springs, CO, English teacher, 1993-96, 1998—; Deer Creek Schools, Edmond, OK, English teacher, 1996-98.
Oklahoma Book Award, young adult/children's category, 1998, Books for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, 1998, Best Books for Young Adults, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA), 1999, all for Hero; Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, YALSA, 1999, and International Reading Association Young Adult Choice, 2000, both for Rough Waters; Best Book for Young Adults, ALA, 2000, for Head above Water, and 2003, for Stetson; Nevada Young Readers' Award, 2001, for Hero.
Hero, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1997.
Rough Waters, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1998.
Head above Water, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1999.
Stetson, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Shadow of a Doubt, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2003.
Work in Progress
A young adult novel about skiing; a children's book.
The author of several award-winning novels for young adults, S. L. Rottman was initially inspired to write novels, as she told Pamela Sissi Carroll in the ALAN Review, by the negative response her students always gave to reading assignments in or out of class. "It amazed me the number of students who wouldn't read—at all," Rottman recalled. "So I set out with the goal of writing something that would capture my students' interest, but still have some literary merit to it. I hope one day to reach that goal." Many reviewers and critics would affirm that Rottman has, in fact, already reached that goal. In novels such as Hero, Rough Waters, Head above Water, Stetson, and Shadow of a Doubt she explores difficult issues such as alcoholism, abuse, the death of parents, the effects of Down syndrome on family dynamics, and missing siblings. "What I try to do in my writing," Rottman explained to Carroll, "is to take what I know or have experienced, and twist it so it would be interesting or exciting to the readers." Rottman's technique has worked, earning her several state reading awards as well as American Library Association honors such as Best Book for Young Adults and Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers citations.
The Product of a Functional Family
While many of Rottman's male and female protagonists are the products of dysfunctional families, Rottman herself had a much more conventional upbringing. She grew up in "a very ordinary suburb area" in Georgia, as she told Carroll, with one younger sister and parents who are still married. Rottman further commented to Carroll that if she were to write about her real life in her books, then such novels would probably "be favorites with people who suffer insomnia." An early and avid reader, Rottman also started writing at an early age. She once commented: "The first story I remember writing (that I liked) was when I was in the sixth grade. I continued to write for my own enjoyment through high school, and received a creative writing scholarship from Colorado State University for a short story." Graduating from Colorado State in 1992, Rottman taught junior high English in southern Colorado from 1993 to 1996, as well as coaching swimming. Then she moved to Oklahoma with her Air Force husband, and taught in that state until 1998. It was while she was at her first teaching position that she decided to put together a readable and meaningful novel that would reach even reluctant readers such as her students. She had plenty of material at hand with these students; in fact, her first fictional protagonist was a composite of five students from her first year of teaching. Increasingly, also, she used her students as "guinea pigs" for her writing, as she commented to Carroll, giving extra-credit points to student evaluations of her writings as a way of including her students in the creative process.
Starting with her 1997 first novel, Hero, Rottman has worn a number of hats in her busy life, yet she still has found the time to create a number of well-regarded young adult titles. Hero garnered considerable attention as a moving account of a young man's transformation from a troublemaking outsider to a teen who has learned to give and receive help from others. "Hero had me laughing out loud on page three and nearly crying several times thereafter," wrote Cynthia L. Blinn in a Voice of Youth Advocates review. The novel centers on Sean, a fifteen year old who has learned to mistrust all adults based on his experience with his own parents: his alcoholic mother is both physically and emotionally abusive, while his father's presence is known only through a monthly support check. "Sean is a likable loner—tough as nails—with a survivor's sense of humor," remarked a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "and his message is a powerful one for adolescents."
During a week's suspension from school for fighting, Sean breaks curfew for a fourth time and is sentenced to a week of community service on World War II veteran Dave Hassler's farm. There he learns that hard work has its rewards in increased self-confidence. Mr. Hassler helps Sean express and work through his feelings of abandonment and neglect by having him help birth a foal that bonds with Sean after being abandoned by its mother. The author also resolves Sean's conflict with a school bully, reintroduces him to his father, and arranges for the admission of Sean's abusive mother into a hospital, though some reviewers contended that Rottman avoids an easy ending. "Through Sean, [Rottman] gives readers a convincing and difficult protagonist and a fresh perspective on what it means to be a hero," observed Carolyn Lehman in School Library Journal. John Peters, writing in Booklist, also had praise for this first novel, calling it "a strong debut, with clearly laid-out issues and conflicts."
Rottman next drew upon her own enjoyment of the sport of rafting by asking herself what such an experience must by like for someone with no desire to be on the river. The result, the novel Rough Waters, features fifteen-year-old Scott and his older brother, Gregg, who are both reeling from the deaths of their parents in an automobile accident. Sent to live with their crusty Uncle Rocky in Colorado, the brothers are pressured into helping out with their uncle's white-water-rafting business. Scott tries to make the best of things while working through his grief, but brother Greg drifts farther and farther away emotionally. It takes a crisis on the river to finally bring the family back together.
Once again reviewers responded warmly to Rottman's writing. Reviewing Rough Waters in Booklist, Roger Leslie felt that, "driven mostly by dialogue, the plot moves briskly," encompassing subjects form drug abuse, puppy love, and illegal activities. Elisabeth Palmer Abarbanel, writing in School Library Journal, commented that the novel's narrator, Scott, is a "well-developed character with intelligence and independence and just a touch of rebellion." Abarbanel went on to conclude that with the "thrill of the rapids, realistic family dynamics, a little romance, and likable characters, this book is a great read."
Strong Female and Male Protagonists
Returning to Colorado, Rottman left teaching and coaching for a time as she and her family moved to a small Air Force base too far from schools to make classroom teaching practical. She decided to use her coaching experience to explore the world of high school athletics in her next book, Head above Water. Her first book to feature a female protagonist, this third novel faced initial difficulties simply because of its lead character. Rottman's agent did not want to handle a manuscript with a female protagonist, simply because books with male protagonists sell better—while girls will read books with either female or male protagonists, boys will most only read books with a male lead. Rottman stuck to her guns and to her female protagonist, Skye Johnson, a high school junior, in order to examine the life of the female athlete. "Boys have the more visible, big fan-drawing, professional potential sports than girls do," Rottman explained to Carroll, "and the female high school athlete has been ignored in literature for far too long."
In Head above Water Skye finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. She is training hard to qualify for the state championships, as she desperately needs a swimming scholarship to be able to attend college. Grades are also important in this mix, so between sports and academics she has little time for anything else. However, family responsibilities also loom: Skye's mother has to work two jobs to support the family, making Skye de facto caretaker of her older brother, Sunny, who has Down syndrome. Another emotional pull comes from her new boyfriend, Mike, who is beginning to make increased demands on her time. Stretched too thin, Skye makes a bad decision: her mom wants Skye to teach Sunny to swim, but she puts her brother in a swimming class instead, so she can have more time with Mike. But Mike is no friend: he tries to have sex with her—even resorting to force—and rebuffed, he spreads malicious rumors about Skye. Slowly she comes to see that Sunny is her real friend.
Honored in several state reading awards, Head above Water was also honored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers and as a Best Book for Young Adults. Critical response was also positive. Cynthia Lee Vallar, writing in Book Report, felt that brother Sunny is "realistically portrayed, and the story adeptly demonstrates how Down syndrome affects the entire family." Vallar went on to note that girls "will identify with the issues and constraints Skye confronts." Paula Rohrlick, reviewing the title forKliatt, called Head above Water an "involving and often suspenseful read." And Joanne K. Cercere, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that the book is "a realistic portrayal of dating and of a teenager with Down syndrome."
Rottman's fourth book, Stetson, once again features a male protagonist. Seventeen-year-old Stetson comes face to face with the sister he never knew he had, and once the shock wears off, both try to make some sense of their lives. As Delia Fritz noted in School Library Journal, Stetson "is living on the edge." With his mother long gone and his alcoholic father spending all the family money at the bars, Stetson is reduced to placing bets at school simply to get food money. On the verge of being expelled, he comes back home from school one day to discover a fourteen-year-old girl waiting for him. She tells Stetson that she is his sister. When his mother left, she was pregnant; now the mother has just died and the girl has come "home." Suddenly Stetson not only has himself to look after but also a younger sister to shield from their abusive father. Again, Rottman tells her story mostly through dialogue, making for a quick read. Rohrlick, writing in Kliatt, described the novel as the story of a "clever, sensitive teen nobly striving to overcome a lousy parent and a bad environment." For Carroll, Rottman "convincingly tells this story of family disputes, cars, bars, and troubled, troublesome teenagers from the male's perspective. It is a book that will appeal to male and female readers." In the end, Rottman "leaves readers with the hope that her protagonist will be able to succeed on his own but also with the nagging feeling that he just may psych himself out of his success," wrote Fritz. Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews found that "although Stetson's life is full of obstacles, his road ahead leads out of town and toward a new life, giving readers hope for eking out their own futures."
"Hope is important for teen readers," Rottman told Carroll, "but most of them see a very different reality in their day-to-day lives. The trick is finding the balance between supplying enough hope and still making the story 'real.'"
If you enjoy the works of S. L. Rottman, you might want to check out the following books:
S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders, 1967.
Elaine Marie Alphin, Counterfeit Son, 2000.
Alden R. Carter, Up Country, 1989.
Biographical and Critical Sources
ALAN Review, spring-summer, 2003, Pamela Sissi Carroll, "An Interview with Author, Teacher, Mom, Coach (Whew!) S. L. Rottman," pp. 15-17, review of Stetson, p. 18.
Booklist, December 1, 1997, John Peters, review of Hero, p. 638; May 1, 1998, Roger Leslie, review of Rough Waters, p. 1513; March 15, 1999, review of Hero, p. 1302; November 15, 1999, Michael Cart, review of Head above Water, p. 615.
Book Report, November-December, 1999, Cynthia Lee Vallar, review of Head above Water, p. 65.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1998, p. 175.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1997, review of Hero, p. 1462; February 15, 2002, review of Stetson, p. 264.
Kliatt, March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Stetson, p. 12; July, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Head above Water, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, August 18, 1997, review of Hero, p. 93; October 18, 1999, review of Head above Water, p. 84.
School Library Journal, December, 1997, Carolyn Lehman, review of Hero, p. 130; August, 1998, Elisabeth Palmer Abarbanel, review of Rough Waters, p. 164; December, 1999, Joanne K. Cercere, review of Head above Water, p. 140; April, 2002, Delia Fritz, review of Stetson, p. 156.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1997, Cynthia L. Blinn, review of Hero, p. 320.
Peachtree Publishers Web Site,http://www.peachtreeonline.com/ (September 27, 2003).*