Plum–Ucci, Carol 1957-
Plum-Ucci, Carol 1957-
Born 1957, in NJ; married (marriage ended); children: two. Education: Purdue University, B.S. (communications); graduate study at Rutgers University.
Novelist. Miss America Organization, Atlantic City, NJ, former staff writer; Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, teaching assistant; Atlantic Cape Community College, Mays Landing, NJ, instructor in English composition, c. 2004.
Kneale Award in Journalism for excellence in feature writing, Purdue University, 1979; International Association of Business Communications Award of Excellence, 1992, for Miss America program book; Dalton Penn Award for special publications, 1996; Evergreen Award for Young-Adult Literature, Washington State Library Association, and Rhode Island Educational Media Association, and Rhode Island Teen Book Award, Michael L. Printz Honor Book silver medal, American Library Association (ALA), and One-Book New Jersey Young-Adult selection, all 2001, and Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist in young-adult mystery division, 2002, all for The Body of Christopher Creed; Michael L. Printz Award nomination, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults nomination, both 2002, both for What Happened to Lani Garver; ALA Best Book for Young Adults nomination, 2004, for The She; Edgar Allen Poe Award finalist, 2007, for The Night My Sister Went Missing.
The Body of Christopher Creed, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
What Happened to Lani Garver, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
The She, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2003.
The Night My Sister Went Missing, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.
Super Sports Star: Stephon Marbury, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 2002.
Celebrate Diwali, Enslow Publishers (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 2007.
Plum-Ucci's novels adapted for audiobook include The Body of Christopher Creed, read by Scott Shina, Recorded Books, 2002. The Body of Christopher Creed was optioned for film by Dreamworks, 2001.
Award-winning young-adult novelist Carol Plum-Ucci was working as a teaching assistant at Rutgers University when she wrote her first novel, The Body of Chris-topher Creed. In this, as well as more recent books such as What Happened to Lani Garver, The She, and The Night My Sister Went Missing, she introduces teen protagonists who, when tragedy strikes, are forced to revisit their past from an altered perspective. In Plum-Ucci's novels, supernatural elements often figure in the mystery, providing another reason for the author's popularity among adolescent readers. According to School Library Journal contributor Kim Harris, Plum-Ucci "knows her audience and provides her readers with enough twists, turns, and suspense to keep them absorbed."
Born in New Jersey in 1957, and raised in an apartment above her family business—a funeral parlor—Plum-Ucci grew up in an area full of history. In addition to the stories from her family's own multi-generational saga, she became familiar with several local legends, including one about the monstrous Jersey Devil, a half-man, half-beast creature that was said to roam the state's nearby Pine Barrens region.
After graduating from high school, Plum-Ucci earned a communications degree at Purdue University, then worked at several writing jobs, including as a staff writer for the Miss America Organization, headquartered in Atlantic City. She eventually enrolled at Rutgers University, where she has worked as a teaching assistant instructing freshman in basic composition while earning her master's degree in English.
Plum-Ucci decided to sit down and write her first novel after her marriage began disintegrating and her employment situation began to tarnish. Stress from her personal life may have fueled her writing, because within eighteen weeks she completed the manuscript for a complete novel. Her story was geared toward teen readers, a group that appeared far less daunting to her than an adult audience. Unlike many adults, Plum-Ucci had happy memories of her adolescent years. "I had been an awesome teen-ager," she recalled to Rutgers Focus contributor Caroline Yount. "It was a great time, and I figured I would rather converse with people of that carefree mind-set."
Published as The Body of Christopher Creed, Plum-Ucci's award-winning debut novel is set in the author's native South Jersey and is narrated by sixteen-year-old Smithville High School junior Torey Adams. Popular with the right crowd, and a star of the school football team, Torey begins to have doubts about what the "right crowd" is all about after a geeky classmate named Christopher Creed suddenly disappears. While Torey's fellow students quickly transform the unpopular young man's disappearance into fodder for jokes and gossip, the event causes Torey to question his responsibility for the unhappiness that caused his classmate to leave without a trace. The class scapegoat, Chris had served as the brunt of jokes from Torey and his friends for years. An e-mail sent by Creed to the school's principal that mentions Torey and some of his cliquish friends by name provides the curious teen with the only clue to Creed's disappearance. Fearing that Chris might be dead, Torey sets to work to solve the mystery of the teen's disappearance, joined by fellow teens Ali and Ali's boyfriend Bo. When their sleuthing brings on charges of trespassing, the three teens soon find suspicion falling on them while the mystery of Chris's disappearance remains unsolved.
The Body of Christopher Creed resonated with many readers and critics, as well as with its own author, who had based her book on a boy she knew as a child, as well as the teasing he received. Teased throughout elementary school, that boy eventually injured himself and was pulled out of high school; nobody ever heard from him again. Years later, Plum-Ucci was still haunted by memories of this boy, and wondered at the effects of his torment at the hands of his fellow students. Reviewing The Body of Christopher Creed for Publishers Weekly, a critic praised the book as a "well-crafted" novel that focuses on a timely topic: "the effect teenage intolerance can have on misfits." School Library Journal reviewer Jane P. Fenn also enjoyed the novel, citing Plum-Ucci's "fine feel for teen speech and thought."
In What Happened to Lani Garver readers are introduced to sixteen-year-old Clair McKenzie, a popular
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high-school cheerleader living in the tightly knit fishing community of Hackett Island. Clair's friendly demeanor hides a host of worries, among which are concern over her alcoholic mother, her own eating disorder, and nagging concerns that her fainting spells might signal that her leukemia has returned, Enter Lani Garver, an androgynous new student who causes a stir among the students at Coastal Regional High School. The street-wise Lani, who turns out to be a boy, sparks a blaze of gossip in school over the possibility that he is gay. Within the greater island community, he attracts attention because his pale, effeminate appearance stands out alongside most of the burly, hardworking fishermen's sons who live on the island. Encouraged by Lani to seek needed medical attention and deal with her bulimia, Claire also begins to wonder if Lani is in fact an angelic spirit sent by God to help her. Meanwhile her shallow friends decide that the newcomer's artsy tolerance is a threat to their way of life and they decide to break Lani's influence by breaking his spirit.
While many critics enjoyed the author's second fictional outing, some critics commented that What Happened to Lani Garver contains magical and New-Age elements that nudge the novel into fantasy. In Booklist, for example, Ilene Cooper wrote that while certain of Plum-Ucci's plot elements are "intriguing," readers are forced to "wade through a lot of extraneous scenes and situations to get at the good stuff." Calling What Happened to Lani Garver a "taut, provocative" novel, a Publishers Weekly contributor enjoyed the book far more, noting that the author fashions an ending that "crackles with suspense." What Happened to Lani Garver "is an involving, dramatic tale that will quickly draw readers in," maintained Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick, the critic adding that Plum-Ucci's "message about tolerance" adds intrigue. Reviewing the novel for School Library Journal, Lynn Bryant had particular praise for the author's ability to blend "outstanding writing, strong characterization, and riveting plot development."
The supernatural takes center stage in Plum-Ucci's third work of YA fiction, The She. In this story, eight-year-old Evan Barrett and his older brother, Emmett, are left orphaned after both their parents mysteriously disappear during a storm at sea. Although the boys decide to leave their home town to escape the sad memories, Evan is forced to return years later when a similar tragedy occurs and questions link it to his parents' fate. Now seventeen, he is able to review the facts regarding his parents' dissappearance from a more mature perspective: Despite the frantic Mayday sent by their father on the ship-to-shore radio, no wreckage was ever found, and no bodies were ever recovered. Pondering the mystery, Evan also wonders who made the loud, inhuman shrieks he heard on the final radio transmission. The circumstances surrounding both incidents rekindle a local legend about "the She," a deep-sea monster who, in a bitter, jealous rage, was said to drag entire ships down into the watery depths. Could the She have been re-
sponsible for Evan's parents' death? As Evan begins to delve into his family's past, he also helps Gray Shailey, a troubled but horribly spoiled teen suffering from psychiatric trauma, to cope with a similar tragic loss. When Gray shares with Evan that she also heard horrible shrieks prior to her friends' drowning, the pair team up to uncover the mysteries that threaten to overshadow both their lives.
While noting that The She is a slower-paced read than Plum-Ucci's first books, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the award-winning novel nonetheless "succeeds largely by shape-shifting, one moment resembling a mournful dirge, the next a supernatural thriller, the next a tightly woven mystery." Also commenting on the novel's diverse elements, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Plum-Ucci "manages to keep readers balanced on a see-saw between rationality and the powers of the dark" in her "seagoing thriller." In Booklist, Cooper maintained that the novel's "many plot elements" are successfully woven together into a "serpentine story … [that] will grip readers." Citing Plum-Ucci's characteristic blurring of the boundaries between reality and fiction, Hillias J. Martin praised The She in a review for School Library Journal, writing that "plot, character development, and action sequences all seamlessly gel into an intriguing and structurally sound mystery novel."
Taking place during the course of a single night, The Night My Sister Went Missing is characteristic Plum-Ucci with its focus on the power of peer pressure and a missing teen. The novel transports readers to the barrier islands off the New Jersey coast, where seventeen-year-old Kurt Carmody joins a nighttime gathering of local teens on an abandoned dock near his home. One of the teens, spoiled and wealthy Stacy Kearney, has brought a pistol, and when a single shot rings out, Kurt's younger sister Casey disappears. Kurt soon finds himself down at the local police station with the rest of his friends, as police begin the search for Casey's body and perhaps her murderer. Waiting there while his parents fly back from their West coast visit, the distraught teen overhears the interrogation of his friends, as rumors fly, secrets are exposed, and hidden animosities are revealed. "There's no doubt Plum-Ucci can tell a heck of a story," Cooper stated in her Booklist review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, the critic going on to add that readers will "race to the ending and won't guess it until they get there." While praising the author's ability to create suspense in "classic crime-fiction style," School Library Journal contributor Riva Pollard maintained that "it is Kurt's emotional growth that forms the heart of the story." Teen readers "will identify with the … harsh peer criticism," concluded Daniel Cockrell in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and will "feel compassion for Kurt, who might be the primary suspect" in his sister's disappearance.
Pleased with her fiction-writing successes, Plum-Ucci plans to continue with her writing for young adults. As she noted to Braun, her advice to young writers is to "Keep it fun. If it's not fun, why are we doing it?"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 1947; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The She, p. 239; October 15, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, p. 41.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2003, Elizabeth Bush, review of The She, p. 121; January, 2007, Karen Coats, review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, p. 225.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, October, 2004, Daren Crovitz, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 193; November, 2006, Daniel Cockrell, review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, p. 244.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 1318; September 15, 2003, review of The She, p. 1180; October 15, 2006, review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, p. 1077.
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Kliatt, September, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 13; September, 2003, Michele Winship, review of The She, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, May 22, 2000, review of The Body of Christopher Creed, p. 94; August 19, 2002, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 91; November 17, 2003, review of The She, p. 66.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Kim Harris, review of The Body of Christopher Creed, p. 109; October, 2002, Lynn Bryant, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 170; October, 2003, Hillias J. Martin, review of The She, p. 175; November, 2006, Riva Pollard, review of The Night My Sister Went Missing, p. 148.
Voice of Youth Advocates, May, 2002, Teri S. Lesesne, review of What Happened to Lani Garver, p. 391.
Carol Plum-Ucci Home Page,http://carolplumucci.com (November 15, 2007).
Rutgers Focus Online,http://www.rutgers.edu/focus/ (April 6, 2001), Caroline Yount, "Writing Her Way to the Top."