Pfeffer, Susan Beth 1948-
Pfeffer, Susan Beth 1948-
Born February 17, 1948, in New York, NY; daughter of Leo (a lawyer and professor) and Freda (a secretary) Pfeffer. Education: New York University, B.A., 1969. Hobbies and other interests: Old movies, baseball, shopping for used books, working with Friends of the Library.
Home—Middletown, NY. Agent—Marilyn E. Marlow, Curtis Brown Agency, 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]
Children's book author.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, 1979, and Oklahoma Library Association Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award, 1980, both for Kid Power; South Carolina Library Association Young Adult Book Awards, 1983, for About David, and 1990, for The Year without Michael; Parents' Choice Award, 1983, for Courage, Dana; American Library Association (ALA) Best Books for Young Adults citation, 1993, for Family of Strangers; inclusion among 100 Best Books for Young Adults, 1969-1994, ALA Young Adult Services, for The Year without Michael; honorary doctorate from Mount St. Mary College; Andre Norton Award for Best Young-Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy nomination, Hal Clement Award nomination, Quill Award nomination, and nominations for five state awards, all 2007, all for Life as We Knew It.
Awful Evelina, illustrated by Diane Dawson, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1979.
Twin Surprises, illustrated by Abby Carter, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.
Twin Troubles, illustrated by Abby Carter, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.
FOR MIDDLE-GRADE READERS
Kid Power, illustrated by Leigh Grant, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1977.
Just Between Us, illustrated by Lorna Tomei, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1980.
What Do You Do When Your Mouth Won't Open?, illustrated by Lorna Tomei, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.
Courage, Dana, illustrated by Jenny Rutherford, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1983.
Truth or Dare, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
Kid Power Strikes Back, illustrated by Leigh Grant, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1984.
The Friendship Pact, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1986.
Rewind to Yesterday, illustrated by Andrew Glass, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.
(Self-illustrated) Dear Dad, Love Laurie, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
Future Forward, illustrated by Andrew Glass, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1989.
April Upstairs, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.
Darcy Downstairs, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.
Make Believe, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.
The Riddle Streak, illustrated by Michael Chesworth, Holt (New York, NY), 1993.
Sara Kate, Superkid, illustrated by Suzanne Hankins, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
Sara Kate Saves the World, illustrated by Tony DeLuna, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
The Trouble with Wishes, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
Just Morgan, Walck, 1970.
Better than All Right, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.
Rainbows and Fireworks, Walck, 1973.
The Beauty Queen, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.
Whatever Words You Want to Hear, Walck, 1974.
Marly the Kid, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Starring Peter and Leigh, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1978.
About David, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1980.
A Matter of Principle, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, 2002.
Starting with Melodie, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1982.
Fantasy Summer, Pacer, 1984.
Paperdolls, Dell (New York, NY), 1984.
Getting Even, Pacer, 1986.
The Year without Michael, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Turning Thirteen, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.
Head of the Class, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Most Precious Blood, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Family of Strangers, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
The Ring of Truth, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Twice Taken, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.
Nobody's Daughter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.
The Pizza Puzzle, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.
Justice for Emily (sequel to Nobody's Daughter), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Devil's Den, Walker (New York, NY), 1998.
Revenge of the Aztecs, Jamestown Publishers (Lincolnwood, IL), 2000.
Life as We Knew It, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2006.
"MAKE ME A STAR" NOVEL SERIES
Prime Time, Berkley (New York, NY), 1985.
Take Two and Rolling, Berkley (New York, NY), 1985.
Wanting It All, Berkley (New York, NY), 1985.
On the Move, Berkley (New York, NY), 1985.
Love Scenes, Berkley (New York, NY), 1986.
Hard Times High, Berkley (New York, NY), 1986.
"SEBASTIAN SISTERS" NOVEL SERIES
Evvie at Sixteen, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Thea at Sixteen, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Claire at Sixteen, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Sybil at Sixteen, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Meg at Sixteen, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
"PORTRAITS OF LITTLE WOMEN" NOVEL SERIES
Meg's Story, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Jo's Story, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Beth's Story, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Amy's Story, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Meg Makes a Friend, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Jo Makes a Friend, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Christmas Dreams: Four Stories, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Beth Makes a Friend, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Amy Makes a Friend, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
A Gift for Meg, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
A Gift for Jo, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
A Gift for Beth, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
A Gift for Amy, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Birthday Wishes: Four Stories, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Ghostly Tales: Four Stories, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2000.
You Can Write Children's Books in Your Spare Time, Mine Book Press, 1993.
Who Were They Really?: The True Stories behind Famous Characters, Milbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1999.
Contributor of short stories to Sixteen, Visions, and Connections. Contributor of one-act play to Center Stage, edited by Ronald R. Gallo, and an essay to Vital Signs 1, edited by James L. Collins.
The Year without Michael was adapted as an audiobook, 1998. Life as We Knew It was adapted as an audiobook, read by Emily Bauer, Listening Library, 2006.
A chronicler of adolescent middle-class America, Susan Beth Pfeffer has created an impressive list of publications for young adults that include the novels The Year without Michael, The Pizza Puzzle, Devil's Den, and Life as We Knew It. Her themes run the gamut, from serious emotional problems resulting from suicidal thoughts or divorce and typical teen fantasies of modeling or acting to historical fiction and science fiction that addresses an apocalyptic future. Pfeffer's protagonists deal with issues ranging from censorship to speaking in public, and they meet challenges with spunk and not a small degree of humor. Skilled at realistically depicting emotional states, Pfeffer concentrates on story rather than scene; on realistic dialogue rather than characterization. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Pfeffer's body of work shows her to be "a natural storyteller with an acute ear."
Raised in a well-off family, Pfeffer grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and her family vacationed at a summer house in the Catskill Mountains. Her childhood experiences inform her writing, especially her focus on young people growing up in the suburbs. Pfeffer decided she wanted to be a writer at age six when her father, a law professor, was writing a book on constitutional law. When the published book was dedicated to her, she felt huge pride in seeing her name on the title page. Pfeffer began writing that same year, crafting a story about the love between an Oreo cookie and a pair of scissors. "I know I defined myself as a writer at least by third grade," she later recalled, "because it was in third grade that I used a semicolon in a book report and felt it was an important occasion, my first semicolon."
Pfeffer started on her career course while she was finishing up her degree in radio and television at New York University. During a writing course, she used chapters of a juvenile book she was working on as class assignments, writing five pages a day, and by mid-year she had a completed manuscript. Helped by a professor with finding a publisher, Pfeffer became a professional author at age twenty with the young-adult novel Just Morgan. The story of an orphaned girl, Just Morgan delighted Robin Davies, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "there's lots of fast, fresh, often very funny dialogue in this … funny, worthwhile novel." Encouraged by such positive critical praise, there was no turning back for Pfeffer, and in the dozens of books she has written since she has earned the luxury of being a full-time writer.
The award-winning middle-grade novel Kid Power was born of Pfeffer's wish that an enterprising neighborhood kid would take on the onerous job of mowing her lawn; it focuses on just that sort of girl. In her other books for middle-grade readers, such as Just between Us, Darcy Downstairs, and What Do You Do When Your Mouth Won't Open?, Pfeffer has turned other personal foibles—such as not being able to keep a secret, or a fear of public speaking—to her advantage. The main character in Sara Kate Saves the World finds that superpowers are a boon in her battle with a school bully, while third-grader Kate finds the opportunity to have a wish granted is more of a burden than a joy in The Trouble with Wishes. According to several reviewers, Pfeffer's light and breezy texts make such chapter books attractive and accessible to young readers, and Susan Dove Lempke praised the author's "skilled use of point of view and humor" in her Booklist review of The Trouble with Wishes.
In her books for older readers, Pfeffer tackles more serious issues. Told in diary form, About David focuses on a boy who kills his parents and then takes his own life. According to John Lansingh Bennett in a review for Best Sellers, the grim story also provides "a measure of empathy, some slight understanding of grief and how it passes, a touch of humanity, to its teen readers." In Devil's Den seventh-grader Joey Browne comes to terms with his feelings of abandonment while helping his caring stepfather caretake the grave site of a forgotten Civil War soldier. With The Year without Michael Pfeffer addresses the tragedy of missing children through the story of the Chapman family: the missing son, Michael, the parents who are stumbling along through a strained marriage, and sixteen-year-old daughter Jody, who is trying to keep it all together. Like life, the novel is somewhat unsettling in that the reader does not find out what happened to Michael in the end. As Elinor Lenz wrote in her New York Times Book Review in The Year without Michael, Pfeffer presents "a sensitive and probing view of a contemporary family in agony," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed the book "heart-breaking." About David has been incorporated by some school districts into suicide prevention programs.
Complicated and unexpected characters people the pages of Pfeffer's novels, as do families in crisis. One such dysfunctional family takes center stage in Family of Strangers, a story of drug addiction, attempted suicide, and the curative power of psychiatry. Told in a blend of journal entries, letters, and imaginary dialogues, the book provides a "narrative that is engaging, though often painful to read," according to Jacqueline C. Rose in Kliatt. In Twice Taken Pfeffer revisits the theme of missing children she explored in The Year without Michael, this time through the perspective of an abducted child whose father took her from her mother eleven years before. Despite the novel's serious theme, Pfeffer avoids becoming maudlin; as Margaret Cole noted in School Library Journal, the book's "lively narration, peppered with wry, insightful wit, and the story's balanced resolution make it enjoyable reading if not a strong literary achievement."
Pfeffer takes a leap into an unstable future in Life as We Knew It, a novel that combines coming-of-age themes with an apocalyptic future. In the story, Earth's moon is knocked out of its orbit by a meteor, causing drastic changes in the planet. Although sixteen-year-old Miranda questions her mom's panicked stockpiling of food and other supplies, as news of earthquakes, volcanoes, and atmospheric disturbances soon filters in she realizes that her family is better off than many of their neighbors. As the world is plunged into perpetual winter, the family's lack of electricity and the discomfort of living in a single room, huddled around a wood stove are replaced by more significant worries. By designing her book as Miranda's diary, Pfeffer brings to life the unfolding catastrophe from a teen's perspective and makes the girl's growing acceptance of pain and death that much more visceral. "Each page is filled with events both wearying and terrifying," noted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, the critic adding that Pfeffer's text is "infused with honest emotions." As a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, the teen's "undying love for her family and heightened appreciation of simple pleasures will likely provoke discussion and inspire gratitude" for the comforts they enjoy, while John Peters explained in his School Library Journal review that Life as We Knew It will leave readers "stunned and thoughtful."
Pfeffer turns to the past in several of her books for young readers, both novels such as Nobody's Daughter and the short-story collection Ghostly Tales: Four Stories. Taking place in 1913 in a New England mill town, Nobody's Daughter introduces Emily, an eleven-year-old orphan living in the Austen Home for Orphaned Girls. With the help of a caring librarian and several close friends, Emily copes with the prejudice that exists against the poor and determines to remain hopeful despite her daunting circumstances. Dubbing the book "a wrenching story," a Publishers Weekly contributor called Nobody's Daughter a "compassionate exploration of what happens to those who fall between the cracks." A sequel, Justice for Emily, finds Emily determined to bring three well-to-do girls to justice when she witnesses their involvement in a tragic accident that left another girl dead. Reviewing the novel for Booklist, Lauren Peterson noted that Pfeffer's heroine shows "dignity in the face of … bullying," adding that Emily's bravery in "stand[ing] up for the truth will arouse empathy and admiration" in young readers.
In addition to her stand-alone novels for children and older teens, Pfeffer has also won fans for her novel series "Sebastian Sisters," "Make Me a Star," and "Portraits of Little Women," the last based on the beloved books by nineteenth-century novelist Louisa May Alcott. While the "Portraits of Little Women" books focus, in turn, on sisters Meg, Beth, Jo, and Amy, each of Pfeffer's "Sebastian Sisters" books feature a different daughter of the Sebastian clan as they reach age sixteen, and the series concludes with an historical look at the mother's sixteenth year. The "Sebastian Sisters" series gave Pfeffer the opportunity to stick with one subject for six years. "Writing those five books was like living with a whole other family, but a family that had to do what I wanted them to—enormous fun to write," she recalled in her Something about the Author Autobiography Series essay. In School Library Journal, Merilyn S. Burrington called the Sebastians "some of the most complicated, intriguing people in contemporary [young adult] literature."
A fast writer, Pfeffer typically writes a chapter a day when her book is fully researched and thought out. On several occasions, she has written a book in two weeks, which leaves time for speaking to young readers and presenting workshops for budding writers. "I think everybody has a creative mind," she told an interviewer in Authors and Artists for Young Adults. "I tell people to start with a situation that appeals to them, and they can get that anywhere—from their favorite novel or TV show or fairy tale or just something that has been eating away at them for a long time. Then you ask, ‘Who would be in that situation, what would their ages be, how did they get in this situation,’ and so on. That leads in to the plot, what is going to happen. Then I teach people how to outline, which is remarkably easy." "What I love best about being a writer," she added, "is that people actually pay me for making up stories."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 12, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 11, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 17, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Best Sellers, November, 1980, John Lansingh Bennett, review of About David, p. 303.
Booklist, September 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Sara Kate Saves the World, p. 78; May 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Trouble with Wishes, p. 1507; October 1, 1996, Chris Sher- man, review of The Pizza Puzzle, p. 352; January 1, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of Justice for Emily, p. 862; May 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Devil's Den, p. 1627; December 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Who Were They Really?: The True Stories behind Famous Characters, p. 781; September 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of Life as We Knew It, p. 127.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1980, review of Just between Us, p. 180; January, 1995, review of Sara Kate, Superkid, p. 174; June, 1996, review of The Trouble with Wishes, p. 349; May, 1998, review of Devil's Den, p. 335.
Children's Book Review Service, July, 1973; August, 1974; October, 1974; October, 1977; August, 1979; May, 1983; winter supplement, 1985.
English Journal, January, 1972, John W. Conner, review of Just Morgan, p. 138.
Horn Book, December, 1980, Mary M. Burns, review of About David, p. 649; August, 1982, Karen M. Klockner, review of A Matter of Principle, p. 416; August, 1984; March-April, 1988, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Year without Michael, p. 204; May-June, 1992, Maeve Visser-Knoth, review of Family of Strangers, p. 345; November-December, 2006, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Life as We Knew It, p. 723.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, Susan Beth Pfeffer, review of Life as We Knew It, p. 963.
Kliatt, March, 1994, Jacqueline C. Rose, review of Family of Strangers, p. 11.
New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1970, Robin Davies, review of Just Morgan, pp. 16, 18; November 8, 1987, Elinor Lenz, review of The Year without Michael, p. 38; May 15, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of The Ring of Truth, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, September 23, 1974, review of Whatever Words You Want to Hear, p. 155; January 8 1988, review of The Year without Michael, p. 45; July 5, 1991, review of Most Precious Blood, p. 66; February 10, 1992, review of Family of Strangers, p. 82; April 12, 1993, review of Ring of Truth, p. 64; September 20, 1993, review of Make Believe, p. 73; January 2, 1995, review of Nobody's Daughter, p. 77; June 3, 1996, review of Twice Taken, p. 85; June 24, 1996, review of The Pizza Puzzle, p. 61; January 6, 1997, review of Justice for Emily, p. 74; November 24, 1997, review of Amy's Story, p. 75; March 2, 1998, reviews of Devil's Den, p. 69, and Justice for Emily, p. 70; September 28, 1998, review of Christmas Dreams: Four Stories, p. 64; October 16, 2006, review of Life as We Knew It, p. 53.
School Library Journal, February, 1980, Sandra S. Ridenour, review of Kid Power, p. 32; May, 1981, Nordhielm Wooldridge, review of What Do You Do When Your Mouth Won't Open?, p. 68; March, 1983, Susan Rosenkoetter, review of Starting with Melodie, p. 196; October, 1984, review of Truth or Dare, p. 160; November, 1984, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Fantasy Summer, p. 136; October, 1985, Constance Allen, review of Prime Time, p. 186; October, 1986, review of The Friendship Pact, p. 181; November, 1986, Kathleen D. Whalin, review of Getting Even, p. 107; June 26, 1987, review of The Year without Michael, p. 74; October, 1988, Carolyn Noah, review of Rewind to Yesterday, p. 147; November, 1988, Libby K. White, review of Thea at Sixteen, p. 130; June, 1989, Anne Connor, review of Future Forward, p. 108; September, 1989, Merilyn S. Burrington, review of Sybil at Sixteen, p. 276; August, 1990, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of Meg at Sixteen, p. 164; September, 1991, Bonnie L. Raasch, review of Most Precious Blood, p. 283; April, 1993, Alice Casey Smith, review of The Ring of Truth, p. 143; December, 1993, Nancy P. Reeder, review of Make Believe, p. 116; June, 1994, Margaret Cole, review of Twice Taken, p. 152; December, 1994, Christina Dorr, review of Sara Kate, Superkid, pp. 79-80; June, 1996, Christina Dorr, review of The Trouble with Wishes, p. 107; February, 1997, Sally Margolis, review of Justice for Emily, p. 104; January, 1998, review of Jo's Story, p. 90; June, 1998, Carolyn Noah, review of Devil's Den, p. 151; December, 1999, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of Who Were They Really?, p. 158; October, 2006, John Peters, review of Life as We Knew It, p. 166.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1984, review of Fantasy Summer, p. 198; February, 1985, review of Paper Dolls, p. 330; August, 1988, review of Evvie at Sixteen, p. 134; June, 1989, review of Claire at Sixteen, p. 105; April, 1990, review of Meg at Sixteen, p. 33; June, 1991, review of Meg at Sixteen, p. 141; June, 1992, review of Family of Strangers, p. 99; February, 1994; June, 1994, Donna Houser, review of Twice Taken, pp. 89-90; August, 1996, review of The Pizza Puzzle, p. 160; August, 2002, review of A Matter of Principle, p. 176.
SciFi.com,http://www.scifi.com/ (March 19, 2007), John Joseph Adams, review of Life as We Knew It.
Susan Beth Pfeffer Blog Site,http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/ (June 4, 2007).