Saturday, May 21, 2005

Just read: Raising Hope by Katie Willard

I just read a truly enjoyable novel about family and friendship, Raising Hope by first-time author Katie Willard.

The premise: Bobby Teller's wife dies in childbirth and he leaves his one-week-old daughter in the care of his sister Ruth and his former lover Sara Lynn. Ruth, tough-talking and scrappy, must learn to get along with wealthy, well-educated, well-mannered Sara Lynn, her childhood nemesis, for the sake of little Hope. So Ruth and Hope move into the Hoffman mansion with Sara Lynn and her widowed mother, Aimee, and become a happy, surprisingly functional family.

Raising Hope is (mostly) set during Hope's twelfth year of life, when Hope is impatiently waiting for her breasts and her period to make an appearance, nurturing a secret crush on her tennis instructor, and wondering where her long-gone father is. The novel is told from the perspectives of the four women in the Hoffman/Teller household: Hope, Sara Lynn, Ruth, and Aimee all get chapters of their own, so we readers get the pleasure of exploring the world and their relationships through their four very different perspectives.

Raising Hope is very definitely geared towards women (I guess "women's fiction" would be an accurate generic label) -- it's a novel that celebrates the bonds between women, be they biological or social, based on family ties or friendship. It is an aptly titled novel, not only because the character of Hope is the unifying force in the narrative, but also because the novel is hopeful about life, love, and relationships. Raising Hope shows us how life hurts, but also how it sparkles, amazes, dazzles. Most definitely recommended.

[I also hope Katie Willard writes a sequel -- I really want to know what else life holds for these four women!]

For more information:

  • Visit Katie Willard's website, and read an interesting Q&A:

The characters in RAISING HOPE meet life head on and grow into people fuller and stronger than they ever imagined they could be. I think if we are open to life, we have so much potential to grow into and beyond our best selves.
Q: The family of Hope, Sara Lynn, Ruth and Mamie is all female. The men in your book are either absent, dead, or, like the two boyfriends, Sam and Jack, playing minor roles. That's interesting and probably significant. What was your idea behind taking men out of the picture, so to speak?

A: As a feminist, I consciously celebrate women. I love women: we are mysterious and complicated in our bodies and our souls. Men are fine (especially my husband, who is very, very fine), but I'm just not as interested in what makes them tick. I also think men have plenty of opportunities to voice who they are; my book unapologetically is not one of them.
RAISING HOPE is a gentle book, and, yes, it does reflect my sensibilities. There isn't anything "offensive" or "shocking" in it because there wasn't a need for that kind of material in this particular story. That's not to say that shocking material won't show up in another book, but I'd bet against it. I write stories I want to read, and I just don't enjoy reading about excessive violence or meanness. Writing a novel is a huge commitment of time and energy, and I want to spend my resources on characters and situations that touch my emotions but ultimately make me happy. There's enough ugliness in this world that I don't feel the need to add to it.

I wrote Raising Hope because it was a way for me to talk about the complexity, pain, and deep, deep love between mothers and daughters. Writing a novel had been my lifelong crazy dream, an idea I'd pooh-poohed as a silly fantasy until I became a mother, grew into being a woman, and learned a thing or two about what really matters. It took motherhood to show me that life is short and precious and I'd better start living it. It took motherhood to show me that I could fail and fail and fail and learn from those failures to make something worthwhile. It took motherhood to show me that being fully present in my life was the biggest gift I could give my daughter, myself, and my writing. Most of all, it took motherhood to show me that the wildest, most wonderful dreams do come true. I should know. They come true for me every day when I look into the sparkly eyes of a little girl with wiggly front teeth.

  • Hometown newspaper coverage: "Hopes are High for First Novel":
    "I have always loved fiction and I have written on and off through my life just for fun, and just for me," said Willard, who remembers writing short stories and poems from the time she learned to read at the age of four.

    But when her daughter was about to enter kindergarten in the fall of 2002, a bittersweet time of letting go, Willard, 37, felt compelled to put her hopes for her child, and the life lessons she wanted to pass on, into a written legacy.

    "I wanted to tell her about grabbing life with both hands and going forward, and that the curveballs life throws you can lead to places you never expected," said Willard whose own life has taken some unexpected twists.

    Willard's words of wisdom were woven into a novel, "Raising Hope," written for Zoe, now 8. Willard's debut novel is about the love between three generations of mothers and daughters, and how self-fulfillment often comes during life's detours.

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