Johnston, Julie 1941-
JOHNSTON, Julie 1941-
PERSONAL: Born January 21, 1941, in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada; daughter of J. A. B. (a lawyer) and Sarah Mae (a homemaker; maiden name, Patterson) Dulmage; married Basil W. Johnston (an orthopedic surgeon), 1963; children: Leslie, Lauren, Andrea, Melissa. Education: University of Toronto, diploma (physical and occupational therapy), 1963; Trent University, B.A. (honors English), 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Old wooden boats, vegetable gardening, bicycling, hiking, traveling, reading, stonemasonry.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Tundra Books, P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, NY 12901. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Occupational therapist at a school for mentally handicapped children, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada, 1963-65; Rehabilitation Centre, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, occupational therapist, 1965-69. Writer, 1980—. Peterborough Board of Education, Continuing Education Department, creative writing instructor, 1988-89.
MEMBER: Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP), Canadian Children's Book Centre, Writer's Union of Canada, PEN Canada.
AWARDS, HONORS: Runner-up, Chatelaine Fiction Contest, 1979, for the short story "Canadian Content"; first prize, Solange Karsh Award, Birks Gold Medal, and cash prize, Canadian Playwriting Competition, Ottawa Little Theatre, 1979, for There's Going to Be a Frost; Kawartha Region Best Play award, 1980, for There's Going to Be a Frost and co-winner for best play, 1984, for Lucid Intervals; Canadian Library Association Young Adult Honour Book, 1993, shortlisting for Mister Christie's Book Award, 1993, National Chapter of Canada Independent Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) Violet Downey Book Award, 1993, Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature, 1992, School Library Journal Best Book, 1994, New York Public Library's 1994 Books for the Teen Age list selection, Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Award nomination, 1994, and American Library Association notable book selection, all for Hero of Lesser Causes; Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature, 1994, and Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award, 1995, both for Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me; CLA Young Adult Book Award, Canadian Library Association, 1995, for Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me; honorary doctor of letters, Trent University, 1996; nominated for Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature and Geoffrey Bilson Award, both for The Only Outcast, both 1998; shortlisted for Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2001, the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature, 2001, the Ruth Schwartz Award, 2002, Mister Christie's Book Award, 2002, and the Silver Birch Award, 2002, for In Spite of Killer Bees; shortlisting for Vicky Metcalf Award, 2003, for her body of work.
There's Going to Be a Frost (one-act play), first produced at the Sears Drama Festival, 1980.
Lucid Intervals (one-act play), first produced at the Sears Drama Festival, 1984.
Hero of Lesser Causes (young adult novel; also see below), Lester Publishing, 1992, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me (young adult novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994, Lester Publishing (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
The Only Outcast, Tundra Books (Plattsburgh, NY), 1998.
(Editor) Love Ya Like a Sister: A Story of Friendship: From the Journals of Katie Ouriou, Tundra Books (Plattsburgh, NY), 1999.
In Spite of Killer Bees (young adult novel), Tundra Books (Plattsburgh, NY), 2001.
Contributor of the novella The Window Seat to Women's Weekly Omnibus, 1984, and the story "Mirrors" to the anthology The Blue Jean Collection, Thistledown Press, 1992. Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Women's Weekly Buzz, Chatelaine, Woman and Home, and Matrix; contributor of nonfiction to periodicals, including Wine Tidings, Homemakers, Doctor's Review, and Canadian Author and Bookman. Johnston's works have been translated into French.
ADAPTATIONS: Johnston adapted her novel Hero of Lesser Causes as a screenplay, commissioned by Roy Krost Productions, 1994.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Historical fiction based on the early life of Susanna Moodie.
SIDELIGHTS: Julie Johnston won praise for her first novel for young adults, Hero of Lesser Causes, which reviewer Deborah Stevenson described in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books as a "touching and funny story of sibling maturation." Set in Canada in 1946, the book begins as twelve-year-old Keely sees her brother Patrick paralyzed by polio after swimming in a public pool. Keely and her brother, just a year apart in age, are close friends, and Keely cannot imagine her life without him. Yet Patrick seems a different person as he becomes more and more bitter about his disease. Patrick's frustration and depression moves Keely to concoct wild plans to cheer and heal him. One of these plans is to find the fiance of Patrick's nurse, who is missing and presumed dead in World War II. Despite her efforts, Patrick's emotional condition grows increasingly serious. Finally, after an attempted suicide, Patrick begins to understand that his life is worth living, and he responds to Keely's optimism.
Hero of Lesser Causes was well received. A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the book was "a fine first novel," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the book "accelerates into a spectacular novel, balancing coming-of-age angst with the grief from a sudden, devastating affliction." Cindy Darling Codell praised the book in School Library Journal as being "wonderfully simple, yet layered with meaning." Nancy Vasilakis, a reviewer for Horn Book, appreciated the "unique period details" which "create a strong sense of the place and the time without slowing down the action." Hero of Lesser Causes earned Johnston Canada's prestigious Governor General's Literary Award in 1992.
In Johnston's next book, Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me, the author gave readers Sara Moone, a fifteen-year-old girl who has lived in foster homes since birth. Sara is hardened by her experiences and waits impatiently for the day she will turn sixteen so she can strike out on her own. She speaks little to her latest "family," a farm couple with two other foster children in their care; but, in a metaphor that continues throughout the book, she pours out her feelings into a computer that does not have the capacity to print. "With a wry eye, keen pacing, and a wonderfully nimble narrative, the author of Hero of Lesser Causes stirs up something saucy and fresh," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Christy Tyson, a reviewer for Voice of Youth Advocates, affirmed: "Johnston has created a powerful examination of a young woman who must give up years of hard-won survival techniques in order to choose involvement with other people. Sara is a frequently unlikable but completely real character that young adult readers will understand, respect, and ultimately admire as she begins to re-contact her feelings for other people." And Carolyn Noah stated in School Library Journal that "this novel speaks volumes about the complexity of relationships and human affection."
Johnston's 1998 effort, The Only Outcast, also won acclaim from critics. In it she uses the actual short diary entries of a sixteen-year-old boy, written in 1904, as a framework for the novel. She fleshes out the character and story of the protagonist, Fred Dickinson, with her own novelization of his experiences at a summer cabin near a Canadian lake. Fred has the usual teenage angst, such as a crush on a sophisticated older girl who has accidentally seen him naked, but he must also deal with a stutter, the recent loss of his mother, and a harsh father. As a reviewer for the Horn Bookmagazine reported, however, "Johnston adeptly lets [Fred] grow from liking himself not at all to a quiet self-confidence and assertiveness." The year following The Only Outcast, Johnston again published a book involving a diary. This time she served as the editor of Love Ya Like a Sister: A Story of Friendship: From the Journals of Katie Ouriou. Ouriou was a Canadian teenager who died from leukemia before she turned seventeen.
Johnston again received Canadian literary award nominations for her 2001 young adult novel, In Spite of Killer Bees. Its story centers on fourteen-year-old Aggie, who lives with her older sisters since her father's death. Her mother abandoned the family long ago. When word arrives that Aggie's grandfather has died, leaving the family homestead to the girls, they travel to the small town in Ontario where it is located. Aggie's sisters have dreams of selling it and escaping into independent, adult lives, but the stipulations of their grandfather's will do not allow for such an easy out. Eventually, the family comes to realize that their grandfather's house and his town is exactly where they all belong—together. As Joan Marshall, reviewing In Spite of Killer Bees in Resource Links, put it, the novel's "satisfying ending sneaks up on the reader the way it sneaks up on Aggie." Martha V. Parravano in Horn Book concluded that In Spite of Killer Bees is "a signature Julie Johnston story: complex, subtle, and engaging."
"I once made a wish that I could be a busy writer, so busy with writing and writing concerns that I wouldn't have time to agonize over trifles or analyse the state of my mental health," Johnston confided in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. "Most of my wish came true. My time is almost completely taken up with writing, traveling to do readings, to give speeches, and to take part in workshops."
Explaining her approach to writing, Johnston once commented: "Fiction is about developing characters who never existed but might have, and allowing them to do things that never happened but could have. It's making up the truth. What I enjoy most about writing fiction is burrowing so deeply into these characters that I am in tune with how they think, how they sound, and how they see the world. The only way I can do this is to explore every facet of myself and use bits for every character—good, bad, or ridiculous. Creating a character is like going on an archeological dig of the soul. Truth is what I'm digging for; the trick is in recognizing it. When I agonize over my own flaws and failures, or rejoice in chunks of good fortune, I find myself storing it all away in some closet in my mind to use as a hand-me-down for a future character. While I'm grubbing around under the surface of things I sometimes find the one true passion that rules a character's life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 41, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Rae, Arlene Perly, Everybody's Favourite: Canadians Talk about Books That Changed Their Lives, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Something about the Author, Autobiography Series, Volume 24, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Booklist, July, 1993, p. 1966; May 15, 1994, p. 1678.
Book World, December 23, 2001, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, p. 15.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1993, p. 254; May, 1994, p. 290.
Canadian Children's Literature, number 77, 1995, pp. 33-38; spring, 1997, review of The Only Outcast, p. 47.
Children's Book News, spring, 1992, p. 17.
CM: Canadian Materials for Schools and Libraries, October, 1992, p. 272.
Emergency Librarian, March, 1993, p. 14.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 6, 2001, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, p. D22.
Horn Book, August, 1993, p. 457; September-October, 1994, pp. 599, 626; January, 1999, review of The Only Outcast, p. 65; January-February, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, pp. 78-79.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1993, p. 663; May 15, 1994, p. 700.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 1996, pp. 8, 10.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1993, p. 89; July 12, 1993, p. 24; April 18, 1994, p. 64; April 5, 1999, review of Love Ya Like a Sister: A Story of Friendship: From the Journals of Katie Ouriou, p. 242.
Quill and Quire, April, 1992, p. 31; May, 1994, p. 37; February, 1999, review of The Only Outcast, p. 43; October, 2001, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, p. 42.
Resource Links, December, 2001, Joan Marshall, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, pp.38-39.
School Library Journal, June, 1993, p. 107; July, 1994, p. 119; January, 1999, review of The Only Outcast, p. 128; May, 1999, review of Love Ya Like a Sister p. 141; December, 2001, Susan Geye, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, p. 138.
Toronto Star, December 22, 1992; March 16, 2003, Deirdre Baker, "Delicious, Subversive."
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1994, pp. 146-47; February, 1999, review of The Only Outcast, p. 435; December, 2001, review of In Spite of Killer Bees, p. 360.
CANSCAIP,http://www.canscaip.org/ (August 12, 2003).
Tundra Books,http://www.tundrabooks.com/ (August 12, 2003).