Easton, Kelly 1960–

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Easton, Kelly 1960–

PERSONAL:

Born 1960, in Glendora, CA; married (divorced); married Michael Ruben (a therapist and social worker); children: (first marriage) Isabelle Easton Spivack, Isaac Easton Spivack; (second marriage) Mollie Ruben, Rebecca Ruben (stepchildren). Education: University of California, Irvine, B.A., 1985; University of California, San Diego, M.F.A., 1991.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Jamestown, RI. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Playwright, novelist, and educator. Kaiser Permanente, and Kaiser Permanente Hospice, San Diego, CA, consultant, 1990-93; University of North Carolina, Wilmington, lecturer in English and creative writing, 1993-2000; University of Rhode Island, Kingston, guest artist, 2000, and instructor in literature, 2007; Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI, adjunct professor of creative writing, 2002-04; Rhode Island College, Providence, adjunct professor in English, 2003; Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, assistant professor of writing, 2007—.

MEMBER:

Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators.

AWARDS, HONORS:

North Carolina Writers' Network Fiction Competition award, 1997, for "The Watcher of the Compound"; Robert Ruark Fiction Competition honorable mention, 1997, for "Sentences"; Sojourner Fiction Competition honorable mention, 1998, for "Air"; Golden Kite Honor Award, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, and American Library Association (ALA) Popular Paperbacks for Teens designation, all 2002, and Teen Readers Book-Sense Top Ten 76 List, 2003, all for The Life History of a Star; Julia Ward Howe Honor Award, Boston Authors' Club, 2003, and Great Reads for Middle Schoolers selection, ALA, both for Walking on Air; Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers selection, ALA, for Aftershock; Asian/Pacific American Literature Award, 2008, Rhode Island Middle School Book of the Year designation, Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, all for Hiroshima Dreams; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, 2008, for White Magic.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Life History of a Star, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.

Trouble at Betts Pets, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Canaries and Criminals, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Walking on Air, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Aftershock, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2006.

White Magic: Spells to Hold You, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Hiroshima Dreams, Dutton (New York, NY), 2007.

To Be Mona, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2008.

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aims, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2009.

PLAYS

The Modern Heart and Housing, produced at University of California—San Diego, 1990.

Self Defense, produced at University of California—San Diego, 1990.

Three Witches, produced in San Diego, CA, 1991.

Ordinary Objects, produced in New York, NY, 1991.

It Falls like a Stone, produced at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY), 1995.

OTHER

Contributor of short fiction to books, including Prairie Hearts: An Anthology of Women Writing about the Midwest, 1996, and What Are You Afraid Of? An Anthology about Phobias, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006. Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Paterson Literary Review, Kalliope, Sojourner, Blue Moon Review, Rio Grande Review, Washington Square, Iris, Connecticut Review, Frontiers, and Phoebe.

SIDELIGHTS:

Kelly Easton, a playwright, novelist, and educator, is the author of several award-winning books for young adults that address a range of sensitive issues. As Easton remarked in a TeensReadToo.com interview, "Mark Twain said that ‘Man is the only animal who blushes. Or needs to.’ I write about the things we need to blush about: war, how religion can be misused, the need for people to be bullies. But I also write about all the aspects of teen life: relationships, clothes, music, the body's constant changes, pressures to have sex without love, friendship without devotion. My characters are survivors in one way or another and they all have a sense of humor."

The personal is interwoven with the political in Easton's debut novel. The Life History of a Star is a fictional first-person narrative in the form of a journal written by fourteen-year-old Kristin Folger during the school year 1973-74. Her diaries are filled with references to contemporary political upheavals, including the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon, and the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, as well as television shows and popular music of the time. They are also a place where Kristin can express her mixed feelings about more personal issues, such as her developing body, the changes she sees in her friends, and the breakup of her parents' marriage. Most troubling of all is Kristin's brother David, who has lived like a ghost in the attic since his return from the Vietnam War. "The format makes this novel easy to read and it certainly allows readers to get to know Kristin, who comes through as very real teen," remarked Toni D. Moore in School Library Journal. "Anyone who reads this book will be able to identify with her," critic Lisa Marx likewise wrote in a review posted on Teenreads.com. By novel's end, Kristin's writing has helped her break through her own defenses, allowing her to grieve her losses and move on, observed Gillian Engberg in Booklist. The result is "an uneven but affecting first novel."

Trouble at Betts Pets centers on a homeless woman, a community garden, and the creeping gentrification of an old urban neighborhood. Aaron Betts, the novel's fifth-grade narrator, is a responsible twelve-year-old who works in his parents' pet store, and worries about the changes in his neighborhood as much as he frets over his assignment to a stuck-up rich girl for math tutoring. Then, when the survival of the family pet store is threatened by a thief, Aaron leaps into action to solve the mystery. "The protagonist is likable and believable, and shows quite a bit of moral fiber throughout the book," asserted Sharon R. Pearce in School Library Journal. While a contributor to Publishers Weekly felt that Easton had attempted too many subplots to resolve any of them satisfactorily, this critic also praised the author for "moments of delicious sarcasm, insight and verve." For Booklist reviewer Kathy Broderick, however, Easton's novel "teaches the children—and readers—about life, friendship, and loyalty."

In Canaries and Criminals, a sequel to Trouble at Betts Pets, Aaron finds himself at the center of a bizarre mystery. After he takes possession of a turtle with a map painted on its shell, Aaron receives a threatening note delivered via homing pigeon. When he refuses to divulge the creature's whereabouts, Aaron is kidnapped by a group of ex-convicts looking for a stash of money. "It's all handled with a light touch," noted a contributor in Kirkus Reviews, and Tina Zubak, writing in School Library Journal, remarked that the "fast-paced novel will appeal to kids who like funny stories tempered with sensitivity."

Set in 1931, Walking on Air concerns twelve-year-old June, the daughter of a embittered traveling preacher who forces her to perform as a tightrope-walker to at- tract crowds to his revival meetings. When her father is sent to jail for several months, June enjoys some semblance of a normal life with her frail mother and the family's mute assistant, Rhett. "Well researched Depression-era details heighten the desperation of June's dysfunctional, secret-ridden family and their transient, hand-to-mouth existence," noted a contributor in Publishers Weekly. "Easton's writing is smooth, filled with rich descriptions and images," observed School Library Journal reviewer Lauralyn Persson, and Booklist critic Linda Perkins described June as "an engaging, compassionate character whose spirited account both amuses and inspires."

The traumatized survivor of a horrific car accident embarks on a cross-country odyssey in Aftershock. After his parents are killed in a crash in rural Idaho, seventeen-year-old Adam begins making his way back to Rhode Island, obtaining help from strangers despite his inability to talk. According to Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman, Easton's "contemporary road adventure is told with terse drama," and School Library Journal critic Vicki Reutter noted that "readers will be caught up in the teen's predicament."

In White Magic: Spells to Hold You, fifteen-year-old Vermont transplant Chrissie finds it difficult to adjust to life in fast-paced Los Angeles. Then she meets Yvonne and Karen, two classmates who practice witchcraft and invite her to join their coven. "Easton's book takes an adult view on teenage life that is surprisingly poignant and absorbing," remarked Cara Chancellor in Kliatt, and Heather Booth, writing in Booklist, stated of White Magic that the "search for belonging and friendship will capture teens."

Hiroshima Dreams focuses on the relationship between Lin, a shy but talented musician, and her Japanese grandmother, who witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. The pair shares the gift of "second sight," and as Lin matures, she comes to appreciate her multiracial background. "Easton's prose throughout is heartfelt and insightful," Marilyn Taniguchi remarked in School Library Journal, and Kliatt reviewer Claire Rooser observed that Lin's "voice as she tells the story is filled with wonder."

Easton once commented: "I fell in love with books after reading the ‘Oz’ series by L. Frank Baum, and knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life. The other thing that I wanted to be was a composer and a musician. My family was quite poor, though, and I knew I wouldn't be able to afford the necessary training. The only training you really need to be a writer is to read read read, and then to practice. It's a very democratic profession that way. I was eight or nine when I read Baum's imaginative series, but didn't get around to writing seriously until I was thirty. By then I had been an actor, a dancer, a police dispatcher, a waitress, and a student. My favorite children's book is Holes. I also love the works of Zilpha Keatly Snyder and Roald Dahl. All of these books have in common a strong feeling for humanity and a concern for how individuals can discover and express themselves when the odds are against them. These are the subjects about which I write.

"My happiest moments, as a writer, are when ideas flow, and also when children write to me and have enjoyed my books. The most common question children ask me is if I ever owned a pet store because the narrator of Trouble at Betts Pets does. I haven't owned a pet store, but as a child I wished I did. And I remembered how much I wanted a pet raccoon, and my mother, wisely, wouldn't let me have one. Raccoons do not make good pets. They're mean and mischievous. Now, I have two dogs and a turtle.

"Right now, I live on an island. It feels an ideal metaphor for being a writer. That is, you are so much on your own, but an island is rich with life, and abundant with plants, animals, stones, shells, even people. And writing is so much about just floating in your own mind. I often get ideas when I'm walking around the island or swimming in the ocean or bicycling. I also read a great deal, which is the most important thing a writer can do. I teach in universities, and enjoy how smart and talented the students are. Aside from that, I love to cook and eat, and above all, to play with my kids."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Life History of a Star, p. 1545; September 1, 2002, Kathy Broderick, review of Trouble at Betts Pets, p. 123; April 1, 2004, Linda Perkins, review of Walking on Air, p. 1360; December 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Aftershock, p. 41; September 15, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Hiroshima Dreams, p. 59; June 1, 2007, Heather Booth, review of White Magic: Spells to Hold You, p. 64.

Childhood Education, spring, 2002, Sylvia Loh, review of The Life History of a Star, p. 173.

Horn Book, September-October, 2007, Elissa Gershowitz, review of White Magic, p. 572.

Jamestown Press (Jamestown, RI), October 19, 2006, Sam Bari, "Author Kelly Easton Writes Another Winner."

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2003, review of Canaries and Criminals, p. 1173; November 1, 2006, review of Aftershock, p. 1122; July 15, 2007, review of White Magic; September 15, 2007, review of Hiroshima Dreams.

Kliatt, March, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Walking on Air, p. 9; July, 2007, Cara Chancellor, review of White Magic, p. 12; September, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of Hiroshima Dreams, p. 10.

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 2007, "White Magic: Her New Friends Are All Witches—But in a Good Way."

Publishers Weekly, March 19, 2001, review of The Life History of a Star, p. 101; April 15, 2002, review of Trouble at Betts Pets, p. 65; May 10, 2004, review of Walking on Air, p. 60; August 27, 2007, review of White Magic, p. 90.

School Library Journal, July, 2001, Toni D. Moore, review of The Life History of a Star, p. 106; April, 2002, Sharon R. Pearce, review of Trouble at Betts Pets, p. 146; April, 2004, Tina Zubak, review of Canaries and Criminals, p. 152; July, 2004, Lauralyn Persson, review of Walking on Air, p. 104; December, 2006, Vicki Reutter, review of Aftershock, p. 138; December, 2007, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Hiroshima Dreams, p. 126; December, 2007, Ginny Collier, review of White Magic, p. 126.

ONLINE

Teenreads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (August 31, 2002), Lisa Marx, review of The Life History of a Star.

Teensreadtoo.com, http://www.teensreadtoo.com/ (August 5, 2008), interview with Easton.

Washington Parent Online, http://www.washingtonparent.com/ (August 31, 2002), review of The Life History of a Star.