Not long ago, I stumbled across new author Connie Hullander’s website, read her short story, If Something Happens To Him, and was quite honestly blown away. On the strength of those two thousand or so words, I waited impatiently for her new book, Snowstorm, to be released. I didn’t even care that it was geared for young adult readers. A really good writer can transcend the boundaries of genres and markets, and I thought Connie might just fit that bill.
On the first page of Snowstorm, we meet our teenaged protagonist, Carly Blackstone, as she’s being processed into a mental hospital as its newest patient. She’s scared, she’s angry, she’s on the combative edge of defensive and she’s only there because some jaded judge railroaded her for no better reason than a drunk and disorderly charge. Granted, it’s a pretty impressive drunk and disorderly charge involving a trashed bar, nudity and an apron, but that doesn’t make her nuts, does it?
Well, no, it doesn’t. And yes, it does. And maybe just a little bit of everything in between.
What I love most about Connie Hullander as an author is that she has a very intuitive and pragmatic perception of the human condition. She gets what makes people tick, and she also gets what happens to that tick when someone is—for lack of a better metaphor—dropped from a significant height, or dunked in the deep end, or simply over-wound until the spring snaps. Connie understands that there is no black and white when it comes to the human spirit, but rather that every person exists in a kaleidoscope of grays. For Carly and the other kids in the facility, those kaleidoscopes are ever-changing, ever spinning, sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly.
Because life is both beautiful and ugly.
Carly, who is not just our heroine but also our narrator, is an absolute gem. She’s smart, she has a scathing wit and her view of the world is perfectly appropriate for her age and experience. That’s important to me: that Carly is never more wise or insightful than she should be. Other YA authors should take note. Sure, Carly is tough and smart, but she’s heartbreakingly vulnerable too. She has no super powers and no fairy godmother. All she has is a gritty perseverance and the personality flaw of too often getting in her own way. From my perspective as a mom, I went through the book wanting to give Carly a big hug, but also wanting to give her space, because there was always such a fine line between what she needed and what she seemed able to accept. I can’t compliment a character more than to say that she was real enough to leave me not just emotionally engaged, but conflicted on her behalf.
Maybe that’s the key word here. Connie Hullander keeps it REAL. In every way. Her settings are appropriate, her dialogue is nicely tuned, every character’s motivations are logically laid out, and even her second-tier characters are so on target that I swear I’ve seen them walking the halls at the local high school. In fact, she is so adept in the way she weaves layer upon layer and creating depth throughout the story, that the very few scenes that might have blipped on my “whoops, that’s over-the-top” radar were both believable and absolutely justified.
The only real question mark I had in my mind when I agreed to review Snowstorm was how an author who is comfortable and competent in a short story format would do with novel length. That question was certainly answered. Snowstorm started out as a page turner, never lost momentum and ended in a way that left me completely satisfied.
Snowstorm, in short, is a book that should please readers of all ages, and it’s crafted so well that I could easily see it being used in a classroom alongside of the known classic coming of age novels. As for Connie Hullander, I hope we’ll be seeing much more of her work in the future.