How to Write a Novel: A Novel by Melanie Sumner
After her father’s death in Alaska, Aristotle “Aris” Thibodeau, her mother Diane, and her brother Max move to small town Kanuga, Georgia, where Diane performs the bare minimum as an English professor and throws herself into Simple Living (purging and organizing the whole house, much to the dismay of her children when they find their treasured possessions thrown away.) Odd little brother Max annoys Aris with his insistence they play Pokemon and by reading her personal text messages, but it’s his meltdowns and behavior disorder that put extra stress on the small family.
Funny, quirky Aris (who draws comparisons to Scout Finch and Holden Caulfield), spins what would first be perceived as a sad and heavy story. At 12.5 years old, she generally comes across as a mini-adult who informs the readers that “since there’s no man in the house, Diane and I have our hands full co-parenting Max.” But just when you begin to forget Aris’ age, her comments such as “just the thought of picking up my room or factoring a trinomial makes me really, really tired,” will make you remember that despite her maturity, she is still a young teen. Plus she throws in a few text messages, emoticons, and random “OMGs” for good measure.
Watching her mother falter at online dating and aware of the constant drain to the family finances with her brother’s therapy, Aris devises a plan to write a bestseller. By following the instructions in the book, Write a Novel in Thirty Days!, her plan is to “knock one out, make a wad of cash, and get famous.” Her naive logic propels the story and the re-writing of her life to her terms for her novel is often-times hilarious. For example, why won’t her mom take an interest in their handyman neighbor, Penn MacGuffin? And, when will everyone realize that it is her ghost dad that is causing all of the house’s lightbulbs to explode? But after reading her mother’s journals, she discovers a dark family secret and decides to take justice into her own hands. Her small adventure goes the way of her novel, which is to say, not as planned.
Although the protagonist is a young teen, this would not be classified as a cute tween or YA novel. The characters are all complex and lovingly dysfunctional and it is difficult not to admire the uniqueness, or as the book’s editor lovingly describes “the three-legged-doggedness” of Thibodeaux family. The combination of characters, writing style and the book’s literary layout merge to form what is sure to be a bestselling hit about writing a bestseller.
Other works by Melanie Sumner include The Ghost of Milagro Creek, The School of Beauty and Charm, and a short story collection Polite Society. How to Write a Novel: A Novel was featured on this year’s Los Angeles Times Summer Book List and Melanie Sumner will be at the Decatur Book Festival September 4-6. For more information on Melanie Sumner or to read an excerpt of the novel, visit her website Melanie-Sumner.com