A gem of a novel
Im a fan of books where girls do unusual, empowering things. So said author Ellen Dreyer in a recent discussion of her debut novel, The Glow Stone. Aimed primarily at adolescents, the book combines Jewish ritual, adventure, suspense, and the supernatural, all in the context of a family tragedy.
Although a first-time novelist, Dreyer is hardly new to the literary world. I began my career as a childrens book editor, she said, and I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write. Actually, Ive been writing since I was a kid.
While I was an editor I began to write and edit classroom books. Ive had more than 30 books published, but these are not the kind that you would see in a bookstore; they are sent directly to schools.
For Dreyer, who lives in Maplewood with her husband and their five-year-old son, the creation of the book was hardly a linear process. The Glow Stone began as an image in a dream. I saw the figure of a girl huddled alone, inside a cave. It took me quite some time around seven years to figure out the other characters and elements of the story.
While not a memoir, The Glow Stone does contain a number of autobiographical elements. The books heroine, 15-year-old Phoebe Bernstein, is a passionate collector of rocks and minerals; Dreyer recalls that as a child, I used to love to go to the gems and minerals exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Phoebe also explores an underground cave, something Dreyer has done several times: I couldnt have written the book without having done some actual caving. Going down into the darkness definitely conjures up memories, some long-buried. Dreyer added that the experience of caving is in some ways similar to that of writing a book: You have to go deep inside yourself, often feeling around in the dark, to find out what it is you want to say.
As Phoebe finds her way out of the cave, she begins to recover from the trauma caused by the suicide of her beloved uncle, Bradford. Similarly, the experience of writing The Glow Stone was cathartic for Dreyer, who has memories of family members battling depression.
Dreyers childhood memories of Jewish rituals are also reflected in the book: There is a provocative scene involving the lighting of a yahrtzeit candle and, later, a poignant one at Bradfords unveiling.
After writing such a serious work, Dreyer said, she felt the need for a change of pace: My next book, which is still a work in progress, is also for young adults, but its very different. Its set in Iowa in the late 1960s, and it features a farm girl who wants more than her lot in life. Unlike The Glow Stone, it is humorous.
Returning to The Glow Stone, Dreyer concluded, Although its clearly not a cheery story, I hope that kids reading it find the ending redemptive. It can be incredibly hard to deal with challenges such as mental or emotional disorders either their own or those of family members so I really want young readers to take away a sense of empowerment from the book.
The Glow Stone (2006) is published by Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta. For additional information about the author, visit her Web site.
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