Brooks, Martha 1944–

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Brooks, Martha 1944–

PERSONAL:

Born July 15, 1944, in Ninette, Manitoba, Canada; daughter of Alfred Leroy (a thoracic surgeon) and Theodis (a nurse) Paine; married Brian Brooks (an owner and operator of an advertising and public relations firm), August 26, 1967; children: Kirsten.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

CAREER:

Writer, 1972—; creative writing teacher in junior and senior high schools, through the Artist in the Schools program of the Manitoba Arts Council, beginning in early 1980s. Jazz singer and lyricist.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Vicky Metcalf Award for "A Boy and His Dog," 1988; shortlisting for Governor General's Award for Children's Literature, 1988, for Paradise Café, and Other Stories; Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book Award, 1991, for Paradise Café, and Other Stories; Chalmers Canadian Children's Play Award, 1991, for Andrew's Tree; Best Book of the Year selection, American Library Association, 1997, for Bone Dance; CLA Young Adult Book Award, and Canadian Library Association, 1998, for Bone Dance; Mr. Christie's Book Award, 1999, for Being with Henry; Best Book for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, for Two Moons in August; Best Book for Young Adults selection, and Best Books for Reluctant Reader selection, American Library Association, both for Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories; Governor General's Literary Award for children's text literature, Canada Council for the Arts, 2002, Young Adult Canadian Book Award and Los Angeles Times book award nomination, 2003, for True Confessions of a Heartless Girl; Canadian Library Association's Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2008, for Mistik Lake.

WRITINGS:

A Hill for Looking, Queenston House (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1982.

Paradise Café, and Other Stories (for young adults), Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1988, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.

Two Moons in August, Groundwood Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1991, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.

Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Moonlight Sonata (play), produced at Prairie Theater Exchange, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1994.

(With Maureen Hunter) I Met a Bully on the Hill, Scirocco Drama (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Andrew's Tree (play), Scirocco Drama (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Bone Dance (young adult novel), Orchard Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Being with Henry, Douglas & McIntyre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

Mistik Lake, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author, with Sandra Birdsell and David Gillies, of the play A Prairie Boy's Winter, for Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

SIDELIGHTS:

Martha Brooks's novels, short stories, and plays are taut dramas in which "each word is carefully chosen" to build "quietly eloquent sentences weaving a richly textured story," as reviewer Judy Sasges commented in Voice of Youth Advocates. Brooks's protagonists are often teenagers struggling to learn how to cope with life's difficulties, especially those associated with love and loss. Her best-known works include Paradise Café, and Other Stories, Two Moons in August, and Being with Henry.

The award-winning short story collection Paradise Café, and Other Stories was published in 1988. Various kinds of love are examined in the stories, including a boy's feelings for his aging dog, a girl's unrequited crush, and a teenager's attempt to make a match for her lonely father. Each of the stories in the collection "packs an emotional wallop," in the estimation of Dave Jenkinson, a contributor to St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. The brief length of the stories makes them ideal for use in the classroom, noted some reviewers. Gail Lennon, writing for Canadian Review of Materials, called Paradise Café, and Other Stories "among the best short story collections I have read in a long time," and recommended it particularly for use in a creative writing program, because of the stories' "excellent diction and use of figurative speech." Also enthusiastic was Betsy Hearne, who commented in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: "The cast is diverse, including French, Indian, and black characters. All share the pain and triumph of maturation with which young adult readers can identify."

Two Moons in August is a novel about two sisters in rural Manitoba, who in 1959 try to deal with their grief over the loss of their mother. Sidonie, who is approaching her sixteenth birthday, and her older sibling Bobbie feel distant from their father, who has thrown himself into his work at a local tuberculosis sanitorium in order to escape his sorrow. Sidonie finds a sympathetic companion in the neighbor's son, Kieran, and the two help each other to heal old wounds. Reviewing the book for School Library Journal, Ellen Ramsay described it as one of those "few but essential novels that are both intelligently written and appealing" to young adults. The characters, Ramsay stated, "are realistic individuals" who make their way to "credible insight and selfunderstanding." Commenting in Quill & Quire on the strength of Two Moons in August and Paradise Café, and Other Stories, Peter Carver remarked: "Martha Brooks conveys with great skill, the cross-currents of feeling and behaviour that swirl around teenagers as they come of age…. Brooks is an eloquent writer of young-adult fiction." The character of Sidonie reappeared in some of the stories collected in Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, which was praised by Annette Goldsmith in Quill & Quire as a "memorable collection."

Bone Dance tells the story of Alexandra, a young woman who inherits a cabin on the lake from her father. While there, she meets a young man who shares her Native Canadian heritage. Both are haunted by their pasts, and through their conflicts and the ensuing resolutions with each other, they bring themselves to peace. "Each character in Bone Dance is beautifully drawn, intelligent, and completely believable," wrote Sasges in a Voice of Youth Advocates review. It is "a fine novel that will leave readers embracing nature and honouring the spirits of the ancestors," observed Cheryl Archer in Canadian Review of Materials.

Being with Henry again illuminates "a poignant relationship," this time between a teen runaway and an eighty-year-old widower, related a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Laker, the teenaged character, leaves home after a heated exchange with his verbally abusive stepfather. Homeless and desperate, he is offered work and a place to stay by Henry. Their uneasy friendship is complicated by Henry's daughter, who mistrusts Laker. An important plot device is provided by Laker's journal, which contains his dreams. "Brook's incorporation of psychological elements into the narrative adds to the final intensity of the book as Laker discovers the meaning of his dreams, meshes them with reality, and, in the process, finds help in an old friend to bridge the gaps in his life," reported Janet Hilbun in School Library Journal. A Horn Book reviewer concluded that Being with Henry proved Brooks to be "a master at conveying the complexity of human relationships."

In True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, a novel geared toward young adult readers, Brooks tells the story of three women, each of a different generation, whose lives interconnect through a café in the small town of Pembina Lake. Seventeen-year-old Noreen, on the run and pregnant, shows up at the café, which is run by Lydia. Years earlier, Lydia too had arrived at the same café, young and a single mother with a small son, desperately in need of someone to give her a break. At the time, she and her son were helped by Dolores, who at seventy-six is now the elder sage of the novel. In an effort to pay forward the hospitality and assistance she once received from Dolores, Lydia offers to help Noreen. Lydia soon discovers that Noreen is sufficiently troubled that it is often difficult to help her or to believe her worth the effort; Noreen repeatedly gets into trouble, and at one point comes close to killing Lydia's dog. Brooks reveals each of the characters' points of view in turn, along with enough background to give readers a clear understanding of each of their motivations. One contributor for Kirkus Reviews commented that "Brooks … has a masterful hand at description, drawing a vivid picture of the town, its lake, and the prairie around it." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked of the book that "the conclusion may be choppy, but the novel develops with enough drama to keep readers engrossed."

Brooks's next work for young adult readers is Mistik Lake. Seventeen-year-old Odella is aware that her mother, Sally, has some sort of secret that has been eating away at her as long as Odella can remember, a secret that seems to take a little more of her each day. When she herself was a teenager, Sally was in a car accident on the then-frozen Mistik Lake, one in which no one else survived. Sally has never been able to recover from the emotional pain and guilt of the event, turning to drinking, isolating herself from her family, and eventually leaving them to run away with another man. Sally dies far from home, and Odella, upon learning of her mother's passing, must deal with her grief and issues on her own. The book is set in Winnipeg, Canada, but Odella and her family are of Icelandic heritage, and it is to Iceland that Sally disappears, providing the book with rich and diverse cultural details as a backdrop from the emotional story. In a review for Resource Links, Margaret Mackey noted that "readers as well as heroine may feel a bit buffeted by the quantity of life-changing revelations in the final section of the book." Gillian Engberg, writing for Booklist, declared that "Brooks's affecting novel explores the weighty legacy of family secrets and cultural heritage." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews commented: "Brooks once again immerses readers in a fully realized fictional world and leaves them potentially wiser for the experience."

Brooks once told CA: "During my career I have been influenced and mentored by many gifted people: by edi- tors, dramaturges, professors, and colleagues. Ultimately, though—writing being the lonely journey of discovery that it is—I have been and will always be my own best teacher.

"Judith Viorst prefaces her wise book, Necessary Losses, with this quote from [French novelist] Colette: ‘It is the image in the mind that binds us to our lost treasures, but it is the loss that shapes the image.’ For me as an artist there is truth in what some other writers have said about theme: that once a writer has found her subject she will write about it for the rest of her life. Finding my subject, that of initiation in the face of love and loss, has allowed me a real freedom—a faith that while I'm out there exploring the lives of my teenage characters, the core idea will always be back at the source helping to sustain the work as a whole.

"As a playwright, novelist, and writer of short fiction—who happens to write from a teenage point of view—I don't have a specific audience in mind as I create (neither adult nor young adult). I write fiction which is about that particular time in life when the senses are sharp and life is bewildering and pain and love have very blurry borders. What is important is that I try to be true to the characters I invent—listening to them, letting them tell their stories, and respecting the lives they live on the page as they face the realities of love, death, family turmoil, exploitation, addiction. I always keep in mind, though, the aspects of healing and hope because life is full of possibilities.

"I tend to plot novels and plays ahead of time, but the short story is a different sort of animal. It seems that writing one requires a certain amount of dazzling risky footwork—rather like going across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope at midnight with no safety net to catch you if you fall. How a story, for instance, like ‘A Boy and His Dog’ begins to be born is usually with a first line. ‘My dog is old and he farts a lot.’ I woke up one night with that line running through my head. It was a pretty funny line. It also contained conflict, a necessary ingredient. It was sad, suggesting the theme, again, of love and loss. Within the first paragraph I had the voice of Buddy telling about his dog, Alphonse. The end result is of a boy despairing over the unfairness of the death of Alphonse: ‘It's so unfair that I'm fourteen going on fifteen and he's thirteen going on ninety-four.’

"The ages of my teenage characters always seem to be a little behind the actual age of my daughter. She has given me insights not only through watching her grow, but through the wise things she says. The characters in Paradise Café, and Other Stories are mostly in their early teens. The characters in Two Moons in August and a new collection of short stories (the book I am currently working on) are between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. My daughter is very honest and is not afraid to tell me what works and what doesn't work. What makes her advice so valuable is that she is invariably right.

"I grew up … with only a handful of other kids whose parents lived and worked on the lushly treed premises of a romantic looking, Tudor-style rural hospital community—a tuberculosis sanatorium in southwestern Manitoba, Canada (the setting for A Hill for Looking, and as well—in fictionalized form—for Only a Paper Moon). Tuberculosis in the 1950s was still a disease as serious as cancer or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is today. Children who grow up to be artists very often have unusual beginnings, so these were mine—surrounded by people who were fighting to cure, or be cured of, a life-threatening disease. I, too, was not well. I suffered from recurring bouts with pneumonia as a child. All of these things made me an early and keen observer of human behavior; I had an ‘old’ way of looking at the world before I reached adulthood. I learned very early that failure, adversity, and unfairness are all part of living, and because of this I was able to deal quite well with disappointment while at the same time not giving up hope. I had a head start on hanging in there when, during the first ten years of writing, not a single publisher wanted my work. I'm glad I didn't give up. I love writing. It is extremely hard, joyful work and I can't imagine doing anything else."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1993, review of Two Moons in August, p. 1342; August, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 2039; April 1, 1995, reviews of Travel-ing on into the Light, and Other Stories, pp. 1399, 1415; October 1, 1997, review of Bone Dance, p. 330; March 15, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 1214; September 15, 1998, Sally Estes, review of Bone Dance, p. 220; April 1, 2000, Randy Meyer, review of Being with Henry, p. 1450; October 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of Mistik Lake, p. 57.

Book Report, May-June, 1992, June B. Rice, review of Two Moons in August, p. 42; January-February, 1994, Ann Gieseler Bryan, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 50; January, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 50; October 1, 1997, John Peters, review of Bone Dance, p. 330.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1990, Betsy Hearne, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, pp. 79-80; February, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 149; December, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 122; January, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 155.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 477; 1996, review of I Met a Bully on the Hill, p. 496; 1997, review of Bone Dance, p. 504, review of Andrew's Tree, p. 535; 1999, review of Being with Henry, p. 486.

Canadian Children's Literature, winter, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 81; summer, 1999, review of Bone Dance, p. 109.

Canadian Review of Materials, March, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 89; October 17, 1997, Cheryl Archer, review of Bone Dance; March, 1989, Gail Lennon, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories.

Canadian Theatre Review, spring, 1996, Shannon Hengen, review of I Met a Bully on the Hill, p. 61.

Children's Book News, fall, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories; winter, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 28.

Children's Book Review Service, March, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 93; winter, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 68.

Children's Bookwatch, February, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 3; March, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 3.

Emergency Librarian, March, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 18; September, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 36; January, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 45; March, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 18; March, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 27.

English Journal, September, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 119; November, 1995, Alleen Pace Nilsen, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 98.

Five Owls, March, 1992, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 84.

Horn Book, March-April, 1992, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Two Moons in August, p. 208; November, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 761; January-February, 1995, Nancy Vasilaki, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 62; spring, 1995, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 86; November-December, 1997, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Bone Dance, p. 677; May, 2000, review of Being with Henry, p. 309.

Horn Book Guide, fall, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 273; spring, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 84.

Hungry Mind Review, spring, 1992, reviews of Two Moons in August and Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. C18.

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, December, 1995, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 342; May, 1998, Ronald Jobe, review of Bone Dance, p. 700; April, 1999, Denise Sumara, review of Bone Dance, p. 593.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 1405; October 1, 1997, review of Bone Dance, p. 1529; February 15, 2003, review of True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, p. 300; September 1, 2007, review of Mistik Lake.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 1994, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 22; September, 1996, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 22; September, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 6; November, 1999, review of Bone Dance, p. 16.

Maclean's, November 10, 1997, John Bemrose, "Deft Handling of Thorny Issues," p. 70.

Magpies, September, 1992, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 37; July, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 37; November, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly, April 5, 1993, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 80; October 31, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 64; May 27, 1996, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 81; September 15, 1997, review of Bone Dance, p. 78; July 6, 1998, review of Two Moons in August, p. 63; August 2, 1999, review of Bone Dance, p. 87; April 3, 2000, review of Being with Henry, p. 82; February 17, 2003, review of True Confessions of a Heartless Girl, p. 76.

Quill & Quire, November, 1991, Peter Carver, review of Two Moons in August, pp. 24-25; October, 1994, Annette Goldsmith, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 38; November, 1997, Teresa Toten, review of Bone Dance, p. 44; February, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 42; December, 1999, review of Being with Henry, p. 36.

Resource Links, December, 1997, review of Bone Dance, p. 87; October 1, 2007, Margaret Mackey, review of Mistik Lake, p. 26.

School Library Journal, March, 1992, Ellen Ramsay, review of Two Moons in August, p. 256; August, 1994, Lucinda Lockwood, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 168; December, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 22; November, 1997, Janet Hilbun, review of Bone Dance, p. 114; August, 1998, review of Two Moons in August, p. 27; May, 2000, Janet Hilbun, review of Being with Henry, p. 170.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1991, Cynthia L. Beatty, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. 350; February, 1992, review of Two Moons in August, p. 369; October, 1994, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 204; December, 1997, Judy Sasges, review of Bone Dance, pp. 313-314; April, 1998, review of Bone Dance, p. 36.

Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1992, review of Paradise Café, and Other Stories, p. S6; February, 1995, Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Traveling on into the Light, and Other Stories, p. 98.

ONLINE

Secondary English,http://www.secondaryenglish.com/ (September 10, 2001), David Ferguson, review of Being with Henry.