by Dave Amaditz &
Welcome to May’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.
This month we're pleased to highlight debut author E. M. Kokie's novel, Personal Effects.
1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?
Dave - To me, this passage catches Matt at one of his lowest points. He thinks he's finally worked out a way to reconnect with parts of his brother's life he never knew, but... well, let Matt describe what happened, as he'll do a better job than I.
I thought I was coming here on a mission, one last thing I could do for T.J., maybe the most important thing anyone could do for him. And I planned and plotted and drove and skulked and it all worked... except for the part where I got everything totally 100 percent wrong.
Marcy - On the road trip back home from delivering a special letter, Matt makes a stop at McConnells Mill State Park (which is actually one of my favorite places to take a day trip from Pittsburgh). He replays the last camping trip he and his brother T.J. took and realizes that he had everything all wrong when his brother tried to have a heart-to-heart talk with him in front of the campfire. This realization shows how his character has grown.
But maybe he was trying to figure out if he could tell me or if he should tell me, or how. Maybe he was already getting ready to leave for good, leave me behind, and didn’t know how to tell me that. Whatever it was, I didn’t ask because I figured, ultimately, whatever was in his head was about death. It never occurred to me it could be about life.
2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?
Dave - Matt has been reading through stacks of letters and searching through tons of pictures that were part of his brother's "personal effects." They're helping him to reconnect with the part of his brother's life that he didn't know. He's borrowed his friend’s car and drove hundreds of miles to meet the girl, Celia, who has written most of the letters and is in many of the pictures, the girl who he thinks might be his brother's wife.
The front door opens, and a tall guy in a suit shuffles through, juggling some kind of briefcase, two cloth bags, and some other stuff.
"Hi," he says when he looks up and sees me standing there. "You must be Matt, right?"
Oh. Celia's brother. A little older than in the pictures, and with the start of a scruffy beard, and glasses, but definitely him.
"Oh, uh, hi," I carefully put the picture back where it was, adjusting it until it's exactly like I found it. "I was just looking at the pictures."
I think she has some albums set aside to look through with you," he says, staring at the pictures on the table. "Some pictures of your brother."
I want to say something, but nothing seems right, with the twisting sick feeling in my stomach and the itching desire to see the pictures she's put aside right now.
"So, you're Celia's brother, right?" I take a large sip of my soda and push my hand out to shake hello.
"Uh, no. I'm Will. Celia's husband."
Marcy - I’m usually a pretty perceptive reader. I always seem to see the next surprise coming at me. I. Did. Not. See. This. Coming. Oh my gosh, this cliffhanger ending blew me away and forced me to stay up way past my bedtime to see what happened next. I will not ruin this for those readers who have not read the book yet. Go get a copy of the book!
“So, you’re Celia’s brother, right?” I take a large sip of my soda and push my hand out to shake hello.
“Uh, no. I’m Will. Celia’s husband.”
3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?
Dave - Shauna is my favorite secondary character. She's known Matt for years and knows everything he's been through, yet chooses to stand by him despite all of his problems and how others think of him. She's risking so much of herself to help Matt make connections with his brother's friends, by lending him her car. The following example will give you an idea of how much she cares for him.
She shakes free and wraps her arms around her middle. "Look, whatever happens, or... whatever you decide to do, just call me, OK? Every day? Because I'm going to worry, and probably be grounded, and it's going to suck and..." Her hard eyes scare me. "Just promise, OK?"
Marcy – Oh, Shauna – a girl after my own heart. She’s sweet and adorable but can be oh-so-tough and forceful when she gets upset. She’s been Matt’s best buddy since they were kids. Matt wants to become more than friends but would never jeopardize their friendship. She wants to join Matt on his road trip, but he won’t allow her to come. She’s so mad at him, but doesn’t break her promise of allowing him to use her car. Then, she throws him an envelope with cash in it.
“It’s only what I had on hand from my birthday and babysitting, so not that much, but there’s no way you’d make it back with what you have.”
4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
Dave - So much of the story is tension-packed because of the relationship between Matt and Dad. I chose this passage because it shows that even with all the turmoil in his life, Matt is still on many levels able to function like a normal teenage kid.
I trade her one of the sodas for a steaming plate. Before digging in, I wait for her to sit. But she puts her soda down so she can pull her sweatshirt from around her waist and tug ittarget over her head. COUGAR SOCCER blazes across her chest in brand-spanking-new gold letters. I remind myself not to stare. It's new - the sweatshirt, not her chest. Her chest has been tormenting me for years. Last week, all the rising-senior soccer players got their "senior sweatshirts" in one of those very-important-to-them ceremony things. She's been wearing it whenever it's the least bit cool enough and being very careful not to get it dirty. Shauna already has senior fever: excited and going through all the rituals of junior year to be ready. The way things are going, I may never be as senior. Her teammates think I'm a loser. They're not the only ones.
Marcy - The reader doesn’t have a clear picture of Mom’s story until near the end. One of my favorite paragraphs relates to Matt coming to terms with his mother’s leaving him at such a young age.
How do you grieve for someone who kissed you good-bye one morning when you were five years old and then left while you were at preschool, so that you came home to an empty house and never saw her again? Do you even grieve when you spend the next year and a half confused and scared and sometimes worried that she might come back?
5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?
Dave - This line comes from Matt , and I think it could've been used as my favorite scene relating to character growth, as he is finally able to stand up to his father and say what he thinks.
"Dad... I'm not T. J. And I'm not you." I don't know who I am yet. "can't you see that? And just let me... let me have a couple years to... figure it out? Figure out..."
Marcy –Matt has just discovered that he has no idea who his brother really was and can either face the truth or live in denial.
“If you want to hear about who your brother really was, come on back, or call. But if you ever take a swing at me again, I’ll break your arm.”
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