Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver

This month I’m celebrating YA fiction with posts, prompts, and guest bloggers all dealing with the genre I write. I had a tough time picking a book to highlight, and then I remembered Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver.

As a child, I was first introduced to the story through the 1974 movie that was made from the novel. I only saw the last quarter of it, but I was drawn to the story about four siblings trying to hold their family together in the North Carolina mountains after their widowed father dies. I know what attracted me was the setting and people looking and speaking like my relatives. Appalachian stories have always snagged my attention, especially when I was a kid because it often seemed to me that everyone lived in cities, and that environment was alien to me.

At my first library job, I found the novel and read it. The story is told from the POV of fourteen-year-old Mary Call. She takes over her family when her father dies because her eighteen-year-old sister Devola is “cloudy-headed”. Her biggest help comes from her brother Romey, who is twelve. They also have to look after their five-year-old sister.

A Heroine You Can Root For

One thing I love about the novel is the character of Mary Call. She is an inferno of determination. Following their father’s instructions, Mary Call and Romey bury him in an unmarked grave in the mountains and then try to keep up the pretense that he’s alive they won’t get separated. But Mary Call also comes across as a realistic fourteen-year-old, who doesn’t understand much of the adult world. The kids’ lives go from bad to worse before Mary Call realizes that she can’t keep the promises she made to her father, but she hangs on as long as she can, like the loyal daugher she is.

A Setting You Can Live In

Another great quality of the novel is the setting. I feel like I’m experiencing life in the Appalachian mountains. To make money, the kids resort to wildcrafting, the science and art of collecting wild plants for medicine, as their mother had done. So the setting is more than just a backdrop to signal the poverty the kids lives in.

If you get a chance to see the movie version of Where the Lilies Bloom, you won’t regret it. It’s an excellent adaptation of a book, sticking closely to the novel and capturing its tone. According to Wikipedia, it was filmed in North Carolina and local residents were used in small parts. I love it when a movie uses authentic locations. Several years ago, the History Channel made about the Hatfield and McCoy feud, which took place in West Virginia and Kentucky. They filmed it in Romania. Huh?

If you’d like to read about another one of my favorite YA novels, click here for my review of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

What are your favorite YA novels?

Writing Tip — Favorite Book: The Outsiders

OutsidersThe Outsiders was the one Young Adult (YA) novel I read as a young adult and actually liked. By the time I was twelve, I was reading adult books, mostly mysteries from the Golden Age of Detective fiction and action-adventure novels by Alistair MacLean. I only discovered the novel when the movie aired on TV when I was sixteen. I wrote about that two years ago when it was the fiftieth anniversary of The Outsiders.

Today I am writing about the things that made me fall in love with the novel, qualities I try to remember when writing my YA fiction.

Kids on Their Own

I think one of the reasons I switched to adult fiction is that I got sick of books with teen characters, who make huge mistakes — dumb ones in my opinion — and then get corrected by adults. I had enough of that going on in reality. In The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis, the main character, lives with his twenty-year-old brother because their parents recently died in a car accident. He has to work out the problems in his life for himself or with the help of his brothers or friends. I found the absence of adult figures, except for a few key scenes, greatly appealing.

First-Person Narration

Ponyboy tells his story in first-person. His narration is so personal that I felt like he was sitting beside me, talking to me as a friend. Author S. E. Hinton threw in all kinds of extra detail that didn’t directly affect the plot but made Ponyboy, his brothers, and the friends of his gang seem real. Such as the Curtis brothers like chocolate cake for breakfast, Ponyboy hates most guys with green eyes, and he loves to smoke but also runs track.

I still enjoy reading YA fiction because so many authors use first-person. I don’t find it nearly as often in adult fiction of any genre. Many times the third-person narration keeps the characters at a distance from me.

Characters Described in Depth

Ms. Hinton introduces Ponyboy and the other main characters in the first chapter with detailed descriptions. Today her style is considered poor writing. But I loved it then and still do. In a few pages, Ms. Hinton allowed me to imagine those characters vividly.

Sodapop Curtis –” . . . he has a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time.”

Dallas Winston — “He had an elfish face, with high cheekbones and a pointed chine, small, sharp animal teeth, and ears like a lynx.”

Johnny Cade — “He was the gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother.”

What’s your favorite YA novel? Do you still love it as an adult?

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