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Posts Tagged ‘The Ring

A story about a girl boxer? The idea didn’t grab me. Why would I want to read about tough girls beating each other up? A story about a middle-class teenager who is headed down a path of self-destruction? I still felt skeptical: it’s been done before in problem fiction and after school specials. After reading The Ring by Bobbie Pyron, I changed my mind on both accounts.

Fifteen-year-old Mardie at first seems like just another teen in trouble. Then we learn that Mardie lost her mom in an accident, hasn’t adjusted well to having a stepmom, and every time Mardie messes up her dad berates that she’s just like her mom. Like many teens, Mardie also isn’t all that popular. A fact that she handles about as badly as most unpopular teens! She tries in all the wrong ways to get accepted: She dates a popular guy who is also a playboy, cuts classes with the result of failing grades, is arrested for getting drunk, and has to appear before for judge for shoplifting. By this point, you’re probably thinking Mardie is just another teen with plenty of excuses for being in trouble and so this is yet another sob story pleading with us to understand her.

Not so. Her parents turn out to be not so bad. Her so-called perfect older brother has his own secrets. And even her friends are struggling with their own issues. Mardie is simply making some stupid choices, like many of us do when growing up. Then one day her step-mom takes Mardie to the gym, where she feels jazzed to see female boxers. I’m not. My reaction is like that of her dad: Boxing is too violent. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that to themselves. When told by sparring mates that to make it as a boxer she needs to put on weight, Mardie echoes another reaction of mine: No way, I’m going to look all big and beefy. Yet Pyron wins me over with Mardie’s choice, because it becomes apparent how perfectly boxing fits Mardie’s needs. The female boxers are strong and focused, not caring what anyone else thinks. Mardie thrives when she develops this kind of respect for herself. The female boxers also don’t reject her because of her delinquency record. They have all been dealt a few nasty blows and were less than perfect in their handling of them. Mardie also thrives with this kind of peer acceptance.

Mardie learns to channel her anger into discipline. Ah-ha! I bet you thought I was going to say “channel her frustrations into a punching bag”. But no, Mardie discovers that beating up a punching bag does nothing make her knuckles sore. She also learns that fighting is not enough; even the best boxers need to know when to walk away from bullies. Turns out, it’s the workouts, the practice, and the goals that help Mardie control her anger and boost her confidence. You see, sometimes bad choices are less about not knowing the right solutions and more about believing enough in yourself to care about the right ones. Her trainer Kitty’s mantra is: “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” Kitty helps Mardie and the other girls realize that boxing isn’t about beating people up. Holding their own against opponents requires them to make tough and deliberate choices: They have to show up to practice, listen to their trainer, and respect their competition. They also have to figure out that there’s more to life than just winning; sometimes getting into the ring is about doing one’s best. Pyron helped me see female boxers not as tough beefy girls but as teens struggling for a positive way to find their place in life.

By the end of the book I felt pretty strong sympathy for Mardie. She starts out as a teen in trouble, but turns into a teen with enough problems to make anyone turn to self-destructive behaviors. Hence, the shoplifting and Mardie’s day in court. Yet the judge doesn’t cut her any slack. Nor do her parents. Or for that matter her friends. And so in the end Mardie has to rethink some of her choices if she wants to make something of herself. Mardie makes me want to put on some boxing gloves. She also inspires me to want to improve, improve, and improve. For all these reasons, The Ring is a pretty nifty and different book.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Allison:You devoured books about animals as a kid. What are your favorite animal books, past and present?

Bobbie: The very first book I ever remember reading on my own was a very silly little book called Casey, the Utterly Impossible Horse. I still have a copy of it! I also read all the Misty of Chincoteague books by Marguerite Henry, Lassie Come-Home, The Incredible Journey, the Irish Red series, of course the Black Stallion books, and The Yearling. Those were all some of my favorites. I still read lots of animal books—both fiction and nonfiction. Some favorites are A Dog’s Story: the autobiography of a stray, by Ann M. Martin, Because of Winn-Dixie, Love that Dog, A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron, and The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell.

Allison: Are there musicians in your family? What experiences or research did you draw on to portray Abby’s dad as a country western singer?

Bobbie: I grew up in a very musical family. My mother studied opera at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, but she loved all kinds of music. My grandparents and uncles all played guitar and sang. I saw The Beatles in concert in Jacksonville, Florida when I was, like, eight years old! I learned to play guitar when I was sixteen and started singing and playing professionally at eighteen. Most of my college years I was singing in some kind of band or another—rock, folk, jazz, even Irish. I went to undergrad school at a small college in the mountain of North Carolina, an area steeped in the kind of music Abby’s dad liked to play. Those years in Western North Carolina and my years as a professional singer very much informed Abby’s father’s passion and experiences playing music. Even the names of some of the musicians in her dad’s band are names of musicians I played with in North Carolina.

Allison: How did you come up with the idea of giving Tam a coyote friend?

Bobbie: Well first of all, I have two shelties and another dog who is part coyote. So watching the relationship and how it grew between my sheltie, Teddy, and my coy-dog, Boo, was very much part of the inspiration behind the book. Also, shelties are not natural hunters—far from it! So I knew, in order to survive the wilderness, Tam would need to learn to hunt. A coyote friend seemed the perfect companion for that. It is not at all unheard of for coyotes and even foxes to become friends with dogs.

Allison: How much research was involved in writing A Dog’s Way Home?

Bobbie: Lots! Even though I know the western North Carolina mountains (and culture) very well, and I know dogs intimately, I still did lots of research. It was very important to me that I got all the flora and fauna placed where it really is on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I said a raven was perched in a certain kind of tree in the Virginia part of the Parkway, I wanted to make darned sure that type of tree would be there. Before I wrote the scene where the coyote kills the porcupine, I researched just how a coyote would kill a porcupine. And because I’d never been to Nashville, I flew out there and spent several days seeing what Abby would see when she moved there. It was also a great excuse to visit my cousin. I also did quite a lot of research on llamas, even though they didn’t play that big a part in the book. Can you tell I love research?

Allison: You own a feral street dog, a shelter dog, and a puppy mill dog. Any plans to write about dogs with these backgrounds? How involved are you with dog rescue organizations?

Bobbie: Boo, my feral street dog (who is also the coyote mix) and Teddy, my first rescued sheltie, both were the inspiration for A Dog’s Way Home, and my models as I wrote the book. So they played a huge part. I would like sometime to write a story about a puppy mill dog, its life before and after. And certainly, Sherlock would be my muse for that story. Puppy mills are such horrific places. I’m always distressed by 1) how few people even know what a puppy mill is and 2) what’s so bad about them! Perhaps if I ever write a sequel to A Dog’s Way Home, I’ll star a dog from a puppy mill like my sheltie, Sherlock.  As for rescue organizations I’m involved with, I’ve done volunteer work with Sheltie Rescue of Utah (where I adopted both my shelties) for many years. I also volunteer with a no-kill shelter here in Park City called Friends of Animals Utah. Usually once a week I go out to their amazing rescue and rehab facility and walk dogs for several hours. I’ve even been known to clean cat boxes out there and play with cats. Yes, me! I do, by the way, have two cats.

Allison: How did the loss of your dad at age 7 affect you?

Bobbie: Allison, that is such a great question and I’ve been thinking about it for days. First of all, when you lose a parent suddenly and completely like that (my father was killed by a drunk driver), you lose your childhood.  Period. You lose your innocence, your sense of the world being a safe and predictable place. My mother was not only devastated by the loss of my dad, but she was suddenly a single parent. So in that way, I lost my mother too. Obviously, it made for a very difficult childhood. I think that early experience very much influences my writing: all my books are, in one way or another, about loss. And not only loss, but more importantly I think, about how one goes forward from a devastating loss. How one builds a world in spite of loss. I think that’s something I’m still playing out over and over in my writing.

Allison: Your life took many twists and turns before you finally realized your dream from age nine to become a published author. Which did you find more difficult: writing, revising, or finding a publisher?

Bobbie: You’re right, my life did take a lot of twists and turns! I trained dogs, worked as a rock climbing instructor, was a professional singer, got degrees in psychology and anthropology, got a masters in Library Science, and have worked for 25+ years as a librarian. But through it all, always in the back of my mind I wanted, wanted, wanted to be a writer. It just took a while for my life to settle down (physically and emotionally) enough for me to explore that. What was the hardest? By far, finding a publisher! I have control over the writing and revising, but finding a publisher (or agent to get me to a publisher) was like getting an audience with The Great and Powerful Oz! Getting past those “gatekeepers” takes a lot of time and persistence, and developing a bit of a thick skin—something not natural for me.

Allison: You’ve said that on your bulletin board you have a photograph of a young Russian boy who was the inspiration for one of your (as yet) unpublished novels. What’s that book about?

Bobbie: First of all, I’m very excited to say that novel will be published in 2012 by Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)! The book is tentatively titled Mercy’s Bone. It’s based on the true story of Ivan Mishukov, a four-year-old boy abandoned on the streets of Moscow not long after the fall of the Soviet Union (mid 1990s). Like tens of thousands of other children and teens in the cities of Russia at that time, he was left to fend for himself and survive as best he could. Many of these children fell prey to drugs and vodka, gangs, disease, and the winters. Ivan survived for two years by living with a pack of feral street dogs. My book is a fictionalized account of those years, and what came after. Talk about research! I researched that book off and on for a good five years.

Allison: On your blog, you emphasize stories, through a post called Fido and Friend in Five, about other authors and their dogs. How did you come up with that idea?

Bobbie: I have to give credit where credit is due. I am not entirely comfortable blogging, but my editor for A Dog’s Way Home, Molly O’Neill, really felt I should. My main objection to blogging was I didn’t feel comfortable just talking about myself all the time—“look how well my book is doing”, “look how clever I am”, “look what I ate for lunch today.” She came up with the idea of interviewing other authors about their dogs. Thus, Fido and Friend in Five was born! I have been truly amazed and humbled by the authors who have gladly agreed to take time out to be on my blog—authors such as Kathi Appelt, Gary Schmidt, Lisa Yee, Barbara O’Connor, Patricia Maclachlan, W. Bruce Cameron, Kathy Erskine, just to name a very few. It’s really been a lot of fun. I think dog people–no matter how many awards they’ve won–just love to talk about their dogs!

Allison: What’s next?

Bobbie: As I said, my next book, Mercy’s Bone, will be out in 2012. I have another, much lighter novel, I’m working on right now set in my home state of Florida.  A much-needed, warmer change after writing a book set in Russia! And as always, I have lots of ideas and voices rattling around in my head.

Eager to read A Dog’s Way Home? You can win your own copy by commenting on this interview or on my review from yesterday. All entrants will have their names entered into a draw. When you post, please include your email so I can contact you if you’re a winner.

When my signed hardcover copy of A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron first arrived, I felt as if it were Christmas. In being about eleven-year-old Abby and her champion sheltie Tam after they’re separated by a car accident, it’s like a modern-day Lassie Come Home. However, A Dog’s Way Home also distinguishes itself from other classic lost dog stories by being told through alternating viewpoints. In this riveting tale of over 300 pages, Pyron treats readers to an intense love story with complex relationships and probing themes.

What is so special about lost dog stories? At their heart is the bond of love between the main character and their furry four-legged companion. Another way of putting that is how Abby’s dad tells her everyone has a North Star which centers them, gives them meaning, and that they must follow. For Abby, her dog Tam is her North Star. By the same token, Abby is Tam’s girl. She is who he dreams of, listens to, and loves most in the world. Imagine now, if the two are separated. No amount of miles or hardship is going to deter either from finding one another. This fact alone makes for a story that will make you chew your nails, cry, scream, as well as clap your hands, beam, and sing.

How is A Dog’s Way Home different from other dog stories? In those tales which I have read, the point of view remains solely from that of the dog. Pryon instead takes readers inside the emotions of both Abby and her Tam, which heightens the story’s emotional punch. When her parents fail to live up to their promise to return to the crash location, Abby skips school and hops on a bus to find her dog. When her parents find her, Abby doesn’t give up but instead runs up a bill making phone calls to parks and shelters. During all this time, Tam is equally driven to find Abby. He encounters bears, bobcats, porcupines, frostbite, traps, and gunshots. None of this discourage him. On the flip side, when a coyote befriends him, an elderly lady nurses him back to health, and a shelter captures him with intention of adopting him out, Tam also doesn’t let those comforts hinder him from his goal of returning to his girl.

Pryon also reveals to readers the actions of both Abby and Tam. As such, we learn how far and how close the two sometimes are from one another, which intensifies the suspense. For instance, when Tam wriggles loose of both his crate and collar to escape from drowning, he then travels the miles back to the scene of the accident where he waits for Abby’s return. Unfortunately, her parents are dealing with a broken-down vehicle and injuries, and so the family fails to immediately return to look for him. When they finally do take the trip back, Tam has been driven from the spot by hunger. Later, when Tam’s microchip is found and a shelter worker tries to call the family, every message goes straight to an answering machine because the family has moved due to a new job. By the time anyone presses the playback, Tam has once again taken to the road to find Abby. So close and yet so far!

Through my critic’s eye, Pyron seems at times to be trying too hard with her sentimental style to manipulate my emotions: “There is no more pitiful thing in the whole world….” At times, I also felt irritated that Tam is yelled at or shot at by practically every stranger he met for apparently looking like a fox. (Other readers also wondered about this detail, but shelties can apparently resemble foxes: More Sheltie Fans.) After the family moves to Tennessee so that Abby’s father can become a country star, I even felt taken aback by some of Abby’s reactions: How small was her hometown that she didn’t know anything about lockers or cell phones? On the flip side, how could a small-town girl suddenly find herself an academic star in a trendier and bigger school but not know about Newbury awards and classics? Finally, when Abby criticisms her new classmates’ obsessions with hair styles, cell phones, and dates, I started to wonder whether she was herself a snob.

Just like author Bobbie Pyron, I grew up reading dog stories. Until A Dog’s Way Home, few dog stories had made me wonder about the complexities involved with a missing dog. (Other readers had a similar reaction: Why I Write Part 2) Yes, Abby’s parents do put their jobs ahead of a search for Tam, but isn’t this how life normally has to be? No, the vet who treats Tam doesn’t bother to check for a microchip, but what would you do if an abused dog showed up on your doorstep? A Dog’s Way Home hit my heart hard, because of Pyron risked portraying the truth of life’s messiness.

Eager to read A Dog’s Way Home? You can win your own copy by commenting on this review or on my interview tomorrow with Bobbie. All entrants will have their names entered into a draw. When you post, please include your email so I can contact you if you’re a winner.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

Welcome to triple-header week!

Ever wondered if the literary world needs another dog story? Check out my review of A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron to find out the answer. Want a different opinion? Virtual Author Book Tours has arranged for twelve bloggers including myself to serve as hosts for Bobbie Pyron’s online tour. You can find a list of blogger hosts on the right hand side of Allison’s Book Bag, along with descriptions of what each will offer.

I’ll also be featuring an interview with Bobbie Pyron and a giveaway of A Dog’s Way Home. To receive your own copy, comment on either my review or interview.

Thanks to the graciousness of Bobbie Pyron in offering a copy of her first novel to tour hosts, I’ll post my thoughts of her book The Ring to wrap up the week. I had intended to keep that review to less than 500 words, I ended up with too much to say. 

Librarian: What’s your favorite place in the whole world? For Bobbie Pyron and for me, the library would be among our top choices. When she was a child, her family moved around a lot. As Bobbie Pyron did not make friends easily, books became her friend. As soon as they family moved into a new town, unpacked their car and their few belongings, she headed to the public library. Books became even more important to her when she lost her dad suddenly before the age of seven. On her blog, she shares: “There I knew just how the books would be arranged on the shelves and how the place would smell, no matter if we were in Destin, Florida or Dawson, Georgia. When I walked through that front door of whatever library it was and smelled that musty, sweet bookish smell, I knew I was home. As a child, libraries–both public and school–provided a secure place for me, no matter where I was. And books helped me make sense of the world and not feel so alone.”  Today Bobbie Pyron is a librarian, a career she has held for over twenty-five years.

Author: By the time Bobbie Pyron was nine, she knew she wanted to be an author when she grew up. She tried writing a book about a brother and sister who run away from home to live with wild ponies. By page thirty-two, she gave up because her hand hurt from writing. That’s when she discovered writing is hard! What do you think about writing?

Before Bobbie Pyron realized her childhood dream of age to become an author, her career life took many twists and turns. First, she went to college and obtained degrees in psychology and anthropology. For a time, she was even a singer in a rock and roll band. Then, she went back to college and got a degree to work as a librarian. What twists and turns have you taken to find your dream job?

As a cute side note, Bobbie Pyron’s mom loved the ocean more than anything. When she was pregnant with Bobbie Pyron, she would walk down to the beach every day to swim in the ocean, look for seashells, and lie in the sun. As her belly grew bigger and bigger, Bobbie Pyron’s father dug a deeper and deeper hole so that she could lie on her stomach. When she went into labor with Bobbie Pyron, she was swimming in the ocean. Bobbie Pyron thinks this is why she has always wanted to be a mermaid–or a frog. For a short time in second grade, Bobbie Pyron even thought being a frog would be a wonderful thing to be when she grew up.

Reader: What do you like to read about more than anything in the whole world? If you ask Bobbie Pyron, she would probably tell you animals. Growing up, everyone in her family loved them. Her family always had a dog. They also made frequent trips to the zoo, where her favorite animal were the giraffes. As for animal books, the first book she read on her own was Casey, the Utterly Impossible Horse by Anita Feagles. She still has a copy of that book! In fourth grade, she even read A Season of Ponies so many times, the school librarian had to start a brand new check out card just for her. Although she once wanted to be a cowgirl when she grew, today Bobbie Pyron is a librarian and author.

Animal Lover: On her blog, you’ll find that Bobbie Pyron maintains her interest in animals. She owns three dogs and two cats. Her posts also emphasize dog stories. Her editor for A Dog’s Way Home wanted her to blog after the release of the book, but Bobbie Pyron didn’t find blogging comfortable. While brainstorming for ideas on how to focus the blog, they came up with the idea of interviewing other authors about their dogs. Her blog has featured prominent authors Gary Schmidt, Patricia MacLachlan, Barbara O’Connor, and Anita Silvey. Bobbie Pyron has also posted her own Fido and Five about her sheltie that inspired A Dog’s Way Home.

After losing her Sheltie of seventeen-years, Bobbie Pyron contacted a friend at a no-kill animal rescue and told her she was looking for another sheltie. When her friend emailed her, she said they’d just pulled a sheltie mix from a “kill shelter.” When Bobbie Pyron saw the photo, she laughed: The dog looked more like a fox with a blue merle coat. When the Pyrons visited the sheltie, the dog threw itself into Mr. Pyron’s lap, belly up, and gazed into his eyes with pure adoration. Since they were adopting her just days before Halloween, he named her Boo.

When Bobbie Pyron ’s vet first saw their new dog, he asked, “Where’d you get that coy-dog?” Boo was part coyote! Of the Pryon’s three dogs, Boo is the most sensitive to pack dynamics. She loves her family including the Pyron cats and is unhappy when they are apart. Boo is also terrified of fireworks but will charge a bull moose. She loves her toys with abandon, along with certain people. Boo was the model for Tam’s coyote friend in A Dog’s Way Home. You can read more about the Boo at this post: Celebrating National Dog Week with Boo.

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