Sep 8, 2011

Review - Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson (+Interview & Giveaway)

Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson
September 13th, 2011 from Milkweed Editions

Fifteen-year-old Calli has just about everything she could want in life—two loving moms, a good-looking boyfriend, and a best friend who has always been there for support. An only child, Calli is excited when her parents announce that they want to be foster parents. Unfortunately, being a foster sister to Cherish is not at all what Calli expected. First Cherish steals Calli’s boyfriend, then begins to pit Calli’s moms against one another, and she even steals Calli’s iPod. Tired of being pushed around and determined to get even, Calli steals one of Cherish’s necklaces. But this plan for revenge goes horribly awry, and Cherish ends up in juvenile detention.

Isolating herself from her moms, her boyfriend, and even her best friend, Calli wrestles with her guilt and tries to figure out a way to undo the damage she’s caused. When her moms are asked to take on another foster child, Calli sees an opportunity to make amends for her past mistakes.

Funny, moving, and emotionally rich, Calli is a portrait of an endearing young woman caught between adolescence and adulthood, striving to do the right thing even when all of her options seem wrong.

Being a foster sister to Cherish isn't exactly going to Calli's plan. There doesn't seem to be much lovey-dovey bonding time when you're too busy searching for your stolen stuff in your foster sister's room. To make matters worse, Cherish is a liar and master manipulator. She regularly pits Calli's moms (yes plural) against her, and now she has her sights on her boyfriend Dub. Calli takes matters into her own hands, and soon their small family begins to crumble. Calli and Cherish both learn that sometimes saying your sorry just isn't enough.

I must say, I loved the opening chapter of this book! Here is a snipet:

A girl rushes to the tallest guy in the tenth grade and reaches up to draper her thin, muscular arms around his neck. The girl's shirt rises up while her baggy khakis slide down over her narrow hips, revealing the strings of her red underwear.

The guy keep his hands tucked in his pockets as the girl tilts her head slightly. She leans in to kiss him.

She kisses him.

Cherish kisses Dub.

My foster sister, Cherish, kisses my boyfriend, Dub.
Oh. My. God. He's not stopping her.
See what I mean? What a great opener, and we already start to form opinions of Cherish. Anderson gives us a dynamic group of characters. Calli struggles with fitting in and dodging crappy comments about the fact that she has two mothers - one of which is chronically ill from Lupus. Her mothers are patient, kind, and they put the girls first. Their relationship is believable and (thankfully) missing all those stereotypes of lesbian couples. Calli's foster sister hasn't been living with the family for long, and slowly but surely we learn a little about Cherish's past. Not exactly rosie, but it is hard to like her when she twists words and basically torments Calli. I didn't like Cherich at all in the beginning, but by the end of the book we learn why Cherish acts the way she does and my heart went out to her. 

CALLI is a heartwarming story that will will remind you of what defines family.

4 Stars

I am excited to have author Jessica Lee Anderson at the blog today! #cheers

You studied writing at Roehampton University in London, England. How did you end up over there and how do you think your studies differed compared to American universities?
I studied writing at Hollins University and had an opportunity to attend CLISS, Children’s Literature International Summer School, at Roehampton University as part of my studies. This was a brief session, so I probably can’t do the second part of the question justice, but I will say that it was an enriching, multicultural experience. In addition to learning from international scholars, authors, and attendees, I had a chance to soak in some literary sights, such as Platform 9 ¾ at the Kings Cross Station, the gardens that inspired THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett, as well as Bateman’s, the former home of Rudyard Kipling.

CALLI is your 5th book, what initially drew you to write this story? Where did the idea originate?
I read THE WINDOW by Michael Dorris a long time ago, and this story made me think about what life as a foster child is like as well as their family members. When my husband and I considered becoming foster parents years later, the story of CALLI started to take shape.

What drew you to write two mothers for Calli? Would this story have worked with a "normal" mother and father?
Someone I’m very close to remarked how he hadn’t read any books that featured families like his, and this inspired Calli having two moms instead of something more traditional. Some folks take issue with Calli having two moms, but for Calli, the real conflict centers around how her world changes when her foster sister moves in. “Family” isn’t always defined by blood, and while the story would most likely work if Calli had a “normal” mother and father, it would seem very different.

Calli and Cherish, her foster sister, are almost like oil and water. In the end we found out why (so moving). Did you always know that CALLI wouldn't end wrapped up in a package with a neat little bow on top?
When I start a novel, I usually have an idea of what will happen at the end, but this novel took many drafts to develop and work things out. I wanted the ending to be realistic, so I knew things wouldn’t be wrapped up neatly with a bow on top.

What was your research about Foster Care like? Did you listen to testimonials?
The research was heartbreaking and inspiring! Yes, I listened to testimonials of foster parents, foster children, and I also received much information from Louisiana’s Department of Children & Family Services.

I vote that we have a book from Cherish's point of view. Any clue when to expect that on my desk? ;)
I’d love to write this story! Considering how long it took me to write CALLI, let’s set a deadline for three years. ;)

You are part of, I think, one of the best literary communities in zee world - Austin, TX! How has this weird little town shaped you as a writer?
I completely agree! I love Austin—there is such a creative vibe and an incredible amount of support. Way to go, Literary Lonestars! Austin is home to great bookstores like BookPeople and The Book Spot, events like The Texas Book Festival, as well as fun, funky places to write such as Genuine Joe’s, Mozart’s, and Spider House Café. The Austin SCBWI chapter keeps me inspired with excellent conferences, meetings, etc., and I’ve been fortunate to develop friendships with many writers who also keep me inspired and provide feedback. A while back, P.J. Hoover, Jo Whittemore, and I branded together to form The Texas Sweethearts, and this supportive marketing group has grown to become The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels to include talented members K.A. Holt, Don Tate, Jeanette Larson, and Emma Virján. Did I mention how much I love Austin? 

I agree! There is something very special about Austin and we are lucky to have many writers like you! 

What are you working on now?
A Texas Bigfoot story! Everdil Jackson thinks she can repair her parent’s broken relationship and grow closer to her friends by proving Bigfoot’s existence after an unexpected encounter. Everdil ends up proving more than she bargained for, including her inner strength and ability to adapt.

Thank you!!

Jessica is kind enough to offer a signed copy of Calli for one lucky winner!

*giveaway closed*