Grant, Cynthia D. 1950-
GRANT, Cynthia D. 1950-
PERSONAL: Born November 23, 1950, in Brockton, MA; daughter of Robert C. and Jacqueline (Ford) Grant; married Daniel Heatley (divorced); married Eric Neel, 1988; children: (first marriage) Morgan; (second marriage) Forest.
ADDRESSES: Home—Box 95, Cloverdale, CA 95425.
CAREER: Writer, 1974—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodward Park School book award, 1981, for Joshua Fortune; Best Book of the Year, Michigan Library Association Young-Adult Caucus, 1990, PEN/Norma Klein award, 1991, and Detroit Public Library Author Day Award, 1992, all for Phoenix Rising; or, How to Survive Your Life; several of Grant's books have been selected as American Library Association's Best Book for Young Adults.
Joshua Fortune, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
Summer Home, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1981.
Big Time, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Hard Love, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Kumquat May, I'll Always Love You, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Phoenix Rising; or, How to Survive Your Life, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Keep Laughing, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.
Shadow Man, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
Uncle Vampire, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.
Mary Wolf, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1995.
The White Horse, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
The Cannibals: Starring Tiffany Sprat, As Told to Cynthia D. Grant, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Cynthia D. Grant has won admiration for her highly perceptive treatment of adolescent struggles, convincing young characters, and unsparing truthfulness. Her novels, which include Shadow Man, The White Horse, and Keep Laughing, often deal directly with painful loss—through death, divorce, neglect, or the bittersweet process of growing-up itself—and her teen protagonists rely on the support of imperfect families and friends. Humor also finds its way into many of her novels, none more fully than Grant's 2002 novel The Cannibals: Starring Tiffany Sprat, As Told to Cynthia D. Grant, a purported diary of a California cheerleader whose views on life, love, and high school bring new meaning to the word "superficial."
Born in 1950, Grant grew up in Palo Alto, California, and still makes her home in that state. "One reason I write for teenagers is those years remain so vivid in my mind," she once told CA. "Junior high and high school were difficult times. The kids were so mean to each other! If you stuck out in any way, by being especially smart, or handicapped, or saddled with a hideous home permanent, you were picked on until you bled to death of a thousand tiny cuts. Kids who were picked on took it out on smaller kids. Hurt people hurt people—and themselves. Is this a system?"
In her books for young readers, Grant lets teens know that their adolescent angst is shared by many others, that their loneliness, fear, and uncertainties are universal. Many of her characters are misfits of one sort or another. In Summer Home, Grant introduces readers to Baby Boris Schmaltzman, a lumpish, friendless fifteen-year-old bully. Popular Gabriel McCloud in Shadow Man is an alcoholic high-school drop-out, burdened by a dysfunctional family. Kumquat May, I'll Always Love You finds Livvy abandoned by her mother and trying to keep up appearances while finishing high school, while grief-stricken Jesse is tormented by bad dreams until she finds solace in the diary of her dead sister in Phoenix Rising; or, How to Survive Your Life.
Grant's 1992 young adult novel Shadow Man begins as its main character, high-school dropout Gabe Mc-Cloud, wraps his pickup truck around a tree and is killed. As the plot develops, interior monologues by the survivors, in addition to excerpts from Gabe's high school journal, show readers a bright student, the victim of an abusive family background, who might have overcome the consequences of his past had he been given the chance. Gary Young noted in a Booklist review that, despite the novel's tragic core, Gabe's suicide is transformative to those he leaves behind, changing the "mood from sadness to strength." Dubbing the book "impressive," Books for Keeps contributor Robert Dunbar went on to praise Grant for her poignant treatment of a small-town tragedy, adding that she imbues her work with "a powerful and distinctive imagination."
Uncle Vampire confronts a difficult topic in a unique way, as Grant's young teen protagonist equates the devastation caused by sexual abuse with the ravages of the undead. Sixteen-year-old Carolyn was once a good student and an energetic friend; however, when her mother's unemployed brother comes to live with the family, her grades begin to slump and she starts to withdraw from friends and family—except for her twin, Honey, who knows Carolyn's secret. Praising the novel for retaining its suspense until the final pages, Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Beverly Youree commented that Uncle Vampire "is a terrific novel about a very serious and all too prevalent problem." "Grant's plot and character development are flawless," added Horn Book contributor Maeve Visser Knoth; "she never loses the limited perspective of a young woman struggling with a terrifying and damaging situation." In Book Report, contributor Sherry York praised Grant's fiction for its "surprising but optimistic" conclusion, as well as for the author's inclusion of suggestions for teens in need of aid in dealing with abusive situations.
Despite her family's misfortune—her father is chronically unemployed and her mother is a childish dreamer who hides from reality and responsibility—the mature teen protagonist of Mary Wolf has something that many of Grant's protagonists go without: a close family. However, love is not enough, and Mary soon finds that the responsibility for the welfare of her four siblings rests solely on her young shoulders. After living a peripatetic life in an RV for two years, the Wolfs link up with a squatter's camp and engage in petty thievery to make ends meet. When the youngest child becomes sick, Mary's despairing father succumbs to mental illness. In a story that quickly becomes tragic, "Grant establishes the desperation of lives ruled by nightmare," explained a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Mary Wolf ends in a manner that "is disturbing but not sensationalized," continued Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis, explaining that the family's "story is so sad precisely because it is so convincing." Praising the book as a "stunning family drama," Booklist reviewer Anne O'Malley called the novel "a riveting look at poverty and homelessness, told from the heart."
The White Horse focuses on a homeless teen who, like several other Grant protagonists, has a knack for expressing herself through writing. A budding poet, Raina writes verse for school assignments that revolves around her problems with her heroin-addled boyfriend, her lack of a place to live, and her eventual pregnancy. Through her school work, the student gains a confidante, forty-something writing teacher, Ms. Johnson. For her own part, single and childless Ms. Johnson finds a sense of purpose through her friendship with the young teen, and she gains confidence in her ability to teach as she helps show Raina the means to gain stability in her life. "Realistic dialogue … and vivid descriptions make this book heartbreakingly believable," noted Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Colleen Harris, adding that in The White Horse, Grant has penned a novel that "makes for compelling reading." In a Booklist review of The White Horse, Shelle Rosenfeld noted that Grant's book—"brutal, heartbreaking, occasionally shocking, yet beautifully written"—provides readers with an insight into lives of those people who slip through the cracks of modern society, while a Publishers Weekly contributor called the 1998 novel "an understated and deeply poignant portrayal of a troubled teen."
In addition to "problem" fiction, Grant has authored several novels in which humor is a major ingredient. In Kumquat May, I'll Always Love You, humor and pathos are equally mixed as abandoned teen Livvy, living alone after her mother's disappearance, goes to sometimes funny lengths to make people believe her mother still lives there. One of the schemes Livvy employs is buying her mother's Harlequin romances and favorite lipsticks. A contributor to the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books noted: "The plot is preposterous but rendered totally entertaining by a humorous sense of itself: a witty style … and plenty of quirky caricatures to lift the underlying sadness of Livvy's loss of family."
In a change of pace for Grant, the 2002 novel The Cannibals is a comic send-up of the life of a stereotypical, flaky, airheaded teen. Blonde cheerleader Tiffany Spratt, who cares more about the state of her hair than the state of the world, videotapes and narrates in hyperbolic fashion the events of her terribly un-fun senior year at high school, sure that her film will one day be viewed by millions. From Tiffany's superficial crush on a cute new student to the daily spats among the carefully coiffed members of the top school clique to Tiffany's energetic efforts to allow in-school filming of a movie she is certain will make her a star, The Cannibals "points the finger at … a culture of consumption," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Reflecting the personality of its teen narrator, the novel's narrative "is air-headed, vacuous, and relentlessly upbeat," commented Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Janice M. Del Negro. Calling the book "a hoot" despite its heavy satire, Cindy Darling Codell added in her School Library Journal review that The Cannibals effectively "razzes lots of different social agendas."
Grant once told CA: "As a child, I was in love with the magic of words; their power to create worlds on paper. Childhood is a vivid time of intensely held emotions and experiences. Now I write what I feel strongly about."
In Grant's 1989 novel Phoenix Rising; or, How to Survive Your Life, one of the characters, a teen writer, says: "I'd like to be able to make readers laugh and cry; to reach across the page and say, Hey, we're alive! I want to show the courage of fathers and mothers who bring forth babies who brave the maze of childhood; learning to crawl, standing up, oops, falling, starting over, getting up, going on, finding love, losing hope, enduring pain and disappointment; believing that happiness is just around the corner, if we don't give up, if we keep moving forward—There is so much I want to say." As Grant explained: "She speaks for me."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artist for Young Adults, Volume 23, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Grant, Cynthia D., Phoenix Rising; or, How to Survive Your Life, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, November 1, 1992, Gary Young, review of Shadow Man, p. 504; August, 1983, p. 1457; March 15, 1994, p. 1358; October 15, 1994, p. 413; October 1, 1995, Anne O'Malley, review of Mary Wolf, p. 303; March 15, 1996, p. 1282; October 15, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The White Horse, p. 413; October 1, 2002, Anne O'Malley, review of The Cannibals: Starring Tiffany Spratt, As Told to Cynthia D. Grant, p. 313.
Book Report, March-April, 1996, Carol Fox, review of Mary Wolf, p. 35; November, 1999, Sherry York, review of Uncle Vampire, p. 30.
Books for Keeps, May, 1996, David Bennett, review of Shadow Man, p. 17; July, 1999, Robert Dunbar, review of Shadow Man, p. 25.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1982, p. 148; September, 1986, review of Kumquat May, I'll Always Love You, p. 7; February, 1989, p. 147; December, 1998, Deborah Stevenson, review of The White Horse, p. 132; December, 2002, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Cannibals, p. 157.
Horn Book, December, 1980, p. 641; July-August, 1989, p. 488; January, 1994, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Uncle Vampire, p. 73; March-April, 1996, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Mary Wolf, p. 206.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1992, p. 1375; September 15, 1995, p. 1351.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1986, p. 95; February 10, 1989, p. 73; October 11, 1991, p. 64; November 1, 1991, p. 1402; October 12, 1992, p. 80; October 16, 1995, review of Mary Wolf, p. 62; November 2, 1998, review of The White Horse, p. 84; August 26, 2002, review of The Cannibals, p. 70.
School Library Journal, September, 1981, p. 125; April, 1982, p. 82; October, 1983, p. 168; February, 1989, p. 100; October, 1992, p. 140; November, 1993, p. 122; December, 1998, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of The White Horse, p. 124; September, 2002, Cindy Darling Codell, review of The Cannibals, p. 225.
Times Educational Supplement, March 26, 1999, Adèle Geras, review of Uncle Vampire and Shadow Man, p. 23.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1982, p. 34; August-October, 1986, pp. 142, 144; December, 1992, p. 278; February, 1994, Beverly Youree, review of Uncle Vampire, p. 381; December, 1995, p. 300; December, 1998, Colleen Harris, review of The White Horse, p. 355.*