To a lot of readers—myself included—Judy Blundell appeared to burst onto the YA scene with What I Saw and How I Lied, her National Book Award-winning, coming-of-age noir mystery. What many of us were unaware of at the time was that What I Saw and How I Lied wasn’t Judy Blundell’s first foray into the YA world: She’d been writing for years under the pseudonym Jude Watson.
See more of Bookshelves of Doom's picks for great teen-to-adult crossover books.
Yes, that’s right: Judy Blundell is the author of the bestselling Jedi Apprentice books. And it should be noted that her excellent writing earned Jedi Apprentice—a paperback series strictly published for and marketed to the middle grade audience—an unusual popularity among adult readers. (Though, to be fair, that whole Star Wars thing may have given it a push.)
For the last three years, I’ve used What I Saw and How I Lied as a lure. It’s one of my go-to Gateway Titles in bringing adult readers over to the YA section, and it’s been completely dependable—it keeps my success rates high and the adult readers coming back. It speaks to the sadly predictable nature of genre bias (and to smart marketing on the part of Blundell and Scholastic) that I’m grateful I didn’t know about her alter ego in 2008. That knowledge would have made hand-selling What I Saw and How I Lied to adult readers—who can get skittish just standing in the YA section, let alone being seen holding a book by someone other than Banville or Franzen or Updike—even more difficult. Instead of a pitch extolling the virtues of an up-and-coming as-yet-unknown debut author, it would have gone something like:
Library patron: Hmm. I don’t know. Has she written anything else?
Me: Oh, sure! She’s a best-selling middle grade author!
Patron: Oh? Would I know the titles?
Me: Umm...probably not.
Patron, readying her encyclopedic knowledge of the New York Review of Books: Try me.
Me: Errr...Jedi Apprentice?…No wait, come back! Seriously, it’s so great! Why won’t you... (Raising voice) You do know that library books are free, right?
Sad, but be honest: You know it’s true.
I especially take great joy in Blundell’s writing because she doesn’t fall into either of the most common (and most irritating) historical fiction world-building traps: Her characters aren’t modern-day characters simply wearing vintage styles and using vintage appliances (Hello, Young Repairman Jack!), and they aren’t modern-day characters who just sling the slang (Hello, Vixen!). No, Judy Blundell’s characters live and breathe their era. From their first sentences, the voices of her heroines are so completely convincing that it’s easy to forget that they are her creations, let alone that they were written in the modern day.
Her new book, Strings Attached, just came out, and while it isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor—the narration and dialogue are still top-notch, but the larger cast disallows the nuanced portrayals of her previous book, and the storyline is more simple blockbuster than beautiful, slow cinema—and it’s ultimately less satisfying, but it’s still a fantastically engrossing, entertaining read.
It’s about family and family secrets; gangsters and Communists; the desire and desperation of attempting to break into showbiz; and a stormy, passionate, maybe-not-such-a-good-idea love affair. Even if it never quite reached the heights of What I Saw and How I Lied, I’ll have absolutely no qualms about recommending Strings Attached. It is, at times, atmospheric and claustrophobic, genuinely funny and genuinely tragic, and it brings New York City in 1950 to blazing Technicolor life.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.