Hobbs, Valerie 1941–

views updated

Hobbs, Valerie 1941–

Personal

Born April 18, 1941, in Metuchen, NJ; daughter of Herbert Trevor Evans and Alise (a painter) Minney; married Gary Johnson, 1962 (divorced, 1973); married Jack Hobbs (a teacher), June 18, 1978; children: (first marriage) Juliet. Education: University of California, Santa Barbara, B.A., 1968, M.A., 1978. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Golf, hiking, travel, poker.

Addresses

Home and office—Santa Barbara, CA. Agent—Barbara Markowitz, 117 North Mansfield Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Writer. High school English teacher on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, 1971-74; University of California, Santa Barbara, lecturer in writing, 1981-2001, professor emeritus, beginning 2001. Speaker on writing topics at schools and seminars.

Member

PEN Center West, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, South Coast Writing Project.

Awards, Honors

Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, 1995, for How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?; Teen Choice

Award, International Reading Association, for Get It While It's Hot. Or Not; One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing inclusion, New York Public Library, 1999, for Carolina Crow Girl, and 2007, for Anything but Ordinary; Best Books of the Year selection, Bank Street College of Education, for Charlie's Run; PEN/Norma Klein Award for "emerging voice of literary merit in American children's literature," 1999; Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection, American Library Association, for Letting Go of Bobby James; or, How I Found Myself of Steam by Sally Jo Walker; named Judy Goddard Arizona Library Association Young Adult Author of the Year, 2003; Distinguished Book of the Year selection, Children's Literature Council of Southern California, and Henry Bergh Award, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, both for Defiance.

Writings

How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Get It While It's Hot. Or Not, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Carolina Crow Girl, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Charlie's Run, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Tender, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001.

Sonny's War, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Stefan's Story, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.

Letting Go of Bobby James; or, How I Found Myself of Steam by Sally Jo Walker, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.

Call It a Gift (adult fiction), University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2005.

Defiance, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.

Sheep, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2006.

Anything but Ordinary, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2007.

Work represented in anthologies, including California Childhoods, edited by Gary Soto, 1987. Contributor of stories to magazines, including Northeast Corridor, Chrysalis, American Fiction, New Renaissance, and Kansas Quarterly.

Sidelights

Valerie Hobbs did not set out to write novels for young adults, but ever since critics praised her 1995 coming-of-age story How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, she has been respected as an author of fiction for teens. At the rate of approximately one book per year, Hobbs crafts character-driven tales about young people on the verge of adulthood who are forced to make serious decisions about the direction their lives will take. Often her young protagonists are confronted with circumstances beyond their control: the death of a guardian or a boyfriend, parental divorce, or physical disability. How they deal with these challenges forms the core of Hobbs's works. Horn Book contributor Jeannine M. Chapman observed that in Hobbs's novels, "the confusion of adolescence is truthfully rendered," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer credited Hobbs with "a keen understanding of adolescent moods and concerns."

Hobbs keenly recalls the defining moment of her own young adulthood. When she was in high school, her parents relocated the family from New Jersey to California, separating her not only from friends and beloved activities, but also from the urban surroundings in which she had grown up. This experience provides the catalyst for Hobbs's debut novel, How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back? The story of a young woman with a love of both racing cars and the men who drive them, the book has drawn praise from critics for its original and sensitive portrait of a teenager struggling to find herself amidst a sea of contradictory influences. The title comes from an expression often used by the author's father; the plot comes from the incidents in her own childhood that probably prompted her father's question.

In How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, sixteen-year-old Bronwyn Lewis seeks to carve an unconventional life for herself. Growing up in the late 1950s, in a generation where young women her age chose role models like Doris Day and Donna Reed and looked forward to marriage and a future of domesticity, Bronwyn prefers to be behind the wheel of a dragster. Like her creator, the fictional Bronwyn has moved from urban New Jersey to rural California at age fifteen. Her interests and hobbies are different than those of the teens in her new town, and fitting in at her new high school has been almost impossible. The fact that her family is now poor and her out-of-work dad has already attempted suicide makes Bronwyn feel even more withdrawn. Finally, a friendship with Lanie, a pretty but poor young woman from the "wild side" of town, allows Bronwyn a way in to a peer group. She falls behind in school, dumps her interest in playing classical piano for rock ‘n’ roll, and starts dating, drinking, and hanging out with the drag-racing crowd. A sexual fling with the much older racer known as J.C. is interrupted by a budding love affair with the mature and far-more-suitable Will, but when Will leaves for his first year at West Point, Bronwyn returns to her old ways, with tragic consequences.

Calling Bronwyn "a believable and realistic voice," Joel Shoemaker praised How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back? in his review for School Library Journal, noting that the novel's "themes are subtly evoked and life's lessons are learned the hard way." Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin called the novel "an enticing coming-of-age story," asserting that Hobbs "manipulates the elements (including the sex) with energy, confidence, and surprise."

Hobbs's second novel, Get It While It's Hot. Or Not, focuses on friendships and teen sexual relationships. Megan, Mia, Elaine, and Kit have been fast friends since eighth grade, but as they begin their junior year of high school they find themselves beset with problems. Kit is pregnant and confined to bed, and Megan is being pressured for sex by a boyfriend. Megan's response to her situation is to write a piece on sexual issues for the school newspaper, but the principal bars its publication. According to Marcia Mann in Voice of Youth Advocates, readers of Get It While It's Hot. Or Not "relate to Megan's struggle to define the boundaries of friendship and her responsibilities to her family and community." Janice M. Del Negro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, observed that young-adult readers would likely find the "friends, group dynamics and the contemporary themes appealing." In Horn Book Lauren Adams called Get It While It's Hot. Or Not "well paced and highly readable, taking on serious issues with humor and intelligence."

Both Carolina Crow Girl and Stefan's Story explore the lives of two unique individuals. Carolina, the heroine of Carolina Crow Girl, lives in an old school bus with her single mother and baby sister. When she saves a crow that has been abandoned by its mother, her enthusiasm for the fledgling leads to a friendship with Stefan Millington Crouch, a wealthy boy who is confined to a wheelchair. Stefan's family offers Carolina a chance to escape her poverty, but just as she realizes her crow will need its freedom, she rejects the offer and remains with her mother. Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson found Carolina Crow Girl to be "a deeply moving story with rich, complex characters," and a Publishers Weekly critic deemed it "sensitive in its explorations of friendships."

In a sequel, Stefan's Story, Stefan travels by himself to Oregon to attend Carolina's mother's wedding and finds that his feelings for Carolina are deepening from friendship into something more serious. For her part, Carolina is embroiled in a controversy that pits local logging interests against environmentalists and fishermen as preparations are made to cut down a local old-growth forest. Hobbs does not settle for easy answers in this novel, as Stefan confronts his disabilities and Carolina sees both sides of the logging dispute. According to Cindy Darling Codell in School Library Journal, the author "gives proper balance to the economic pressures of the issue." Writing for Booklist, Hazel Rochman commented of Stefan's Story that "the wonder of this story is the fusion of the small things with exciting action."

Hobbs explores the plight of urban runaways in Charlie's Run. Charlie, always a model son, decides to run away from home in protest of his parents' impending separation. He intends his absence to be short, but when he falls in with the volatile Doo, he finds himself in Los Angeles, living on the streets. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the novel as "an emotionally complex rendition of a familiar story," adding that Hobbs's "energetic, honest storytelling" moves the novel along. Connie Tyrrell Burns in School Library Journal likewise admired the "fast-moving plot, complex and appealing characters" in a book she characterized as "a sure winner," and a Horn Book critic deemed Charlie's Run "a compelling story, convincingly told."

Tender once again addresses the issues of lifestyle change and adjustment to a new household. Here Olivia Trager is uprooted when her beloved grandmother dies. Forced to move from Manhattan to rural California, Olivia must live with a father who abandoned her at birth. Gradually Olivia's fury gives way to acceptance, particularly after she begins to help her father with his deep-sea-diving expeditions. In School Library Journal correspondent Francisca Goldsmith liked Olivia's strength and personality, adding that the book draws readers in "immediately and inextricably." In her Booklist review of Tender, Debbie Carton found Hobbs's characters "wonderfully human and fully realized," commending the story for its "loving undertones that will linger."

Hobbs was a college student during the Vietnam War era, and her brother was drafted to serve in the conflict. Sonny's War draws upon personal experience as Hobbs crafts a tale of a teenager whose brother is in Southeast Asia while she participates in anti-war protests. She delves into the morally complex issues surrounding the Vietnam War as young Cory becomes disillusioned by the actions of a beloved schoolteacher who goes too far during a violent protest. The war's toll on individuals is also portrayed, as Cory's brother returns with wounds both physical and psychological. Miriam Lang Budin noted in School Library Journal that Sonny's War reveals "the ambiguities and tensions driving the nation and individual citizens during this difficult time." In her review for Horn Book, Martha V. Parravano called Sonny's War "a convincing, affecting novel," noting that the central character "is as real as real, completely believable in all her teenage vulnerability and sharp-eyed observation."

Letting Go of Bobby James; or, How I Found Myself of Steam by Sally Jo Walker concerns a newlywed sixteen-year-old who is abandoned in Florida by her abusive husband. Virtually penniless, Sally Jo—known as Jody—finds a job as a waitress in Jackson Beach, and she quickly bonds with her older coworkers, who become her surrogate family. When Bobby arrives in town, Jody must decide if reconciliation is the wisest course. "Hobbs handles tough subjects with a light hand," wrote Horn Book contributor Jennifer M. Brabander, and Booklist critic Ilene Cooper stated that the narrative "shines with Jody's simple, but never simplistic, insights." Letting Go of Bobby James "is an excellent tale of inspiration, self-reliance, and making lemonade of life's lemons," noted James Blasingame in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. "Hobbs carefully and gently handles adult issues in such a way that this novel would be appropriate reading for any young person old enough to understand Jody's plight."

Defiance centers on Toby Steiner, an eleven-year-old cancer survivor hoping to spend a carefree summer in the country. When Toby discovers a new lump in his side, he dreads the thought of returning to the hospital and decides not to tell his parents. Instead, he finds solace in his newfound friendship with elderly neighbor Pearl Rhodes Richardson, a celebrated poet who is nearly blind. "Without morbidity, Hobbs ranges between tart and poignant, sorrowful rage and hope," Deirdre F. Baker stated in Horn Book, and School Library Journal contributor Marie Orlando observed that in Defiance the author "keeps the focus on Toby's conflicted feelings, ultimately celebrating the source of strength he and Pearl become to one another."

In Sheep, a work for younger readers, a border collie drifts from one home to another after a fire destroys the California ranch where he has learned to herd. "The classic foundling story is beautifully told in the dog's simple, first-person voice," remarked Rochman in Booklist. A pair of social misfits are the focus of Anything but Ordinary, a critically acclaimed young-adult novel. Best friends throughout high school, New Jersey teenagers Winifred Owens and Bernie Federman make plans to attend the same college, but Bernie's life falls apart after his mother dies unexpectedly. Winifred eventually heads to school in California and undergoes a remarkable personal transformation. When Bernie arrives on campus, he is startled by her new look and attitude. Anything but Ordinary "captures the headiness of college life, the thrill of intellectual discovery, and the ups and downs of first love," noted Kathleen Isaacs in Booklist, and a Publishers Weekly critic stated that Hobbs "covers the years with smooth pacing, always keeping her protagonists front and center."

In an interview with Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA), Hobbs said she writes about growing up under pressure because she wants young adults to know that they are not alone in their troubles. "I think I write to share some feelings I've had and some feelings I think a lot of people have, so when they read them there might be a moment of recognition when they say ‘I'm not the only one who feels this way,’ or ‘I'm OK, and I can get through this,’" she said. "I remember the teenage years being very stressful and thinking I was the only one going through certain things. When I talk to teenagers now, they seem to feel that way, too. I think it gives you courage to see that somebody else went through similar situations and made it to the other side. I realize that's a part of why I write—to share common feelings."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

PERIODICALS

ALAN Review, winter, 2004, Jim Blasingame, "Caring about the Topic: An Interview with Valerie Hobbs."

Booklist, October 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 304; February 15, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Carolina Crow Girl, p. 1070; August, 2001, Debbie Carton, review of Tender, p. 2107; November 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Sonny's War, p. 484; September 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Stefan's Story, p. 236; July, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Letting Go of Bobby James; or How I Found Myself of Steam, p. 1834; August, 2005, Michael Cart, review of Defiance, p. 2028; February 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Sheep, p. 50; April 15, 2007, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Anything but Ordinary, p. 38.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1996, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Get It While It's Hot. Or Not, p. 99.

Horn Book, December, 1996, Lauren Adams, review of Get It While It's Hot, p. 744; March, 2000, review of Charlie's Run, p. 195; September, 2001, Jeannine M. Chapman, review of Tender, p. 584; November-December, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of Sonny's War, p. 760; September-October, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Letting Go of Bobby James; or How I Found My Self of Steam, p. 586; September-October, 2005, Deirdre F. Baker, review of Defiance, p. 580.

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, October, 2004, James Blasingame, review of Letting Go of Bobby James, or How I Found My Self of Steam, p. 170, and interview with Hobbs, p. 176.

Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1995, Nathalie Op de Beeck, "Flying Starts: Three Children's Novelists Talk about Their Fall '95 Debuts," pp. 28-30; March 15, 1999, review of Carolina Crow Girl, p. 60; February 7, 2000, review of Charlie's Run, p. 86; August 27, 2001, review of Tender, p. 86; July 19, 2004, review of Letting Go of Bobby James; or How I Found My Self of Steam, p. 163; April 24, 2006, review of Sheep, p. 61; February 12, 2007, review of Anything but Ordinary, p. 87.

School Library Journal, October, 1995, Joel Shoemaker, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 155; March, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Charlie's Run, p. 238; September, 2001, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Tender, p. 225; November, 2002, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Sonny's War, p. 168; August, 2003, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Stefan's Story, p. 160; September, 2004, Roxanne Myers Spencer, review of Letting Go of Bobby James; or How I Found My Self of Steam, p. 208; September, 2005, Marie Orlando, review of Defiance, p. 205; March, 2006, Lee Bock, review of Sheep, p. 192; March, 2007, Jennifer Barnes, review of Anything but Ordinary, p. 212.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1995, C. Allen Nichols, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 302; December, 1996, Marcia Mann, review of Get It While It's Hot, p. 270.

ONLINE

Valerie Hobbs Home Page,http://www.valeriehobbs.com (August 10, 2008).

Macmillan Web site,http://us.macmillan.com/ (August 10, 2008), "Valerie Hobbs."