Born in Tempe, AZ; married Tom McNeal (a writer), 1993; children: two. Education: Brigham Young University, B.A.; Syracuse University, M.A.
Has taught middle-school and high-school English in Salt Lake City, UT; former journalist and writer.
(With husband, Tom McNeal) California Book Award for juvenile literature, 1999, for Crooked; (with Tom McNeal) PEN award, 2003, for Zipped.
WITH HUSBAND, TOM MCNEAL
The Dog Who Lost His Bob (juvenile fiction), illustrated by John Sandford, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1996.
Crooked (young-adult novel), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Zipped (young-adult novel), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Crushed (young-adult novel), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
The Decoding of Lana Morris (young-adult novel), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Short stories included in anthology The Bigger the Better, the Tighter the Sweater. Contributor to periodicals, including San Diego Reader.
Laura McNeal has written several young-adult novels with her husband, Tom McNeal, who is also the author of the award-winning novel Goodnight, Nebraska. In their novel Crooked, the title of which is a reference to the protagonist's nose, Clara Wilson loses her best friend and her mother, who walks out and leaves her with her father. Clara becomes friends with Amos MacKenzie, whose own father is ill and whose mother has found religion. Amos intervenes when hoodlums Charles and Eddie Tripp attempt an act of vandalism and is beaten by them with a baseball bat, thereby becoming a hero. Clara becomes infatuated with the dangerous Eddie, who competes with Amos for her affection. Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams wrote of Clara and Amos: "The strands of their stories are cleverly intertwined in this well-plotted and engaging novel." "The book's strength lies in the interactions between Clara and Amos and their relationships with their respective families," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Set in the same town as Crooked, Zipped introduces Mick Nichols, a teen whose mom left him and his father years earlier. Mike has a wonderful relationship with his young stepmother, Nora, until he discovers e-mails indicating that she is having an affair. Mick cares for classmate Lisa, who is romantically interested in a Mormon missionary, and he also has a friendship with a somewhat older female college student. When Mick learns the identity of Nora's lover, he attempts to punish the young man through an act of vandalism, but he eventually learns that the adults in his life, as well as his peers, are experiencing complex problems of their own. The title of the McNeals' story refers to the way in which all the elements of the story are connected. School Library Journal critic Miranda Doyle wrote of Crooked: "Mick's father and stepmother are fully fleshed out characters, not stereotypes." "Themes of good and evil and the gray zone in between, of betrayal, of forgiveness, of love, of tolerance, abound," added Claire Rosser appreciatively in Kliatt.
Praised by a Publishers Weekly critic as "engaging and complex," Crushed finds Audrey Reed transferring from her exclusive private school to Jemison High. Here the pampered teen begins a romance with Wickham Hill, a smooth-talking and confident classmate who convinces Audrey to help him cheat on a test. Clyde Mumsford is a shy boy who also likes Audrey and whose mother is dying at home. Other adults in this story suffer setbacks, as well, including Audrey's father, whose failing business leads to their loss of the family home. One character whose identity is not revealed until the end of the story is the editor of a gossip newspaper that reveals the secrets of the characters, including the indiscretion of a teacher. The story addresses the issues of cliques, bullying, and betrayal. Rosser noted in another Kliatt review that Crushed is similar to previous young-adult books by the McNeals in that "the adults are characters the reader gets to know and care about as well." "Readers will sympathize with these individuals, some of whom mature, and some of whom do not," attested Karen Hoth in a School Library Journal review of the novel.
In a break from their usual fare, the McNeals inject an element of fantasy into The Decoding of Lana Morris. Placed into the foster system as a consequence of her mother's drug addiction, sixteen-year-old Lana moves to small-town Nebraska to live with the Winters, a childless couple. The Winters have opened their home to other foster children, and Lana is distressed to finds herself sharing a home with several special-needs children. Although she soon builds friendships with her fellow fosters, her foster mother shows herself to be cold and unlovable, and Lana longs to escape. When a friend takes her to a quirky thrift store in town, she buys an old drawing kit, and when she uses it she realizes that everything she draws on the old paper actually happens—but not always in expected ways. Realizing that there can be unforeseen consequences to wishes, the lonely teen must now reexamine her desires and her motivations in the light of this new power. While noting that the novel attempts to address a large number of issues, a Kirkus Reviews writer concluded that the McNeals' "writing is lovely and the characters are real people who elicit genuine feelings from readers." "If the reader can suspend disbelief," The Decoding of Lana Morris "is a good story about finding [one's] self and the essential sweetness of life among the dross that surrounds it," concluded Myrna Marler in Kliatt. Citing the "distinct and thoughtfully crafted voices" in The Decoding of Lana Morris, Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Marla K. Unruh wrote that the McNeals' story "reveal[s] zany teen humor, adolescent longings, adult treachery, and youthful belief that wrongs should be righted."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Dog Who Lost His Bob, p. 144; October 15, 1999, Debbie Carton, review of Crooked, p. 429; January 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Crushed, p. 84; April 1, 2007, Jennifer Hubert, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 41.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 2006, Deborah Stevenson, review of Crushed, p. 275; July-August, 2007, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 478.
Horn Book, November, 1999, Lauren Adams, review of Crooked, p. 743; January 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Crushed, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of Zipped, p. 312; December 15, 2005, review of Crushed, p. 1325; April 15, 2007, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris.
Kliatt, January, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of Zipped, p. 15; January, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of Crushed, p. 10; May, 2007, Myrna Marler, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, January 17, 2000, review of Crooked, p. 57; February 10, 2003, review of Zipped, p. 188; February 6, 2006, review of Crushed, p. 71; May 7, 2007, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 61.
School Library Journal, February, 2003, Miranda Doyle, review of Zipped, p. 142; January, 2006, Karen Hoth, review of Crushed, p. 138; June, 2007, Geri Diorio, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 154.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2006, Lois Parker-Hennion, review of Crushed, p. 488; August, 2007, Marla K. Unruh, review of The Decoding of Lana Morris, p. 260.
Tom and Laura McNeal Home Page,http://mcnealbooks.com (October 20, 2008).