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grounded by kate klise

Maybe life was like one big “Swap Line.” In addition to trading things with other people, you swapped feelings with yourself during tough times.

Kate Klise’s Grounded was an absolute delight.

I find, quite often, that my favorite books for kids are ones where at some point I kind of half-gasp and push the book away from my face and go, “Gosh, this is for kids?” I did this often in the later books in the Harry Potter series and at Lemony Snicket’s works and it’s a good feeling. It means that the book is striking me in some way and if it’s striking me then it’s probably striking kids and what kids often need is a good striking? Puns! But, no, really what I mean is: if I am reacting to this book in a significant way, then kids probably are and those experiences are wonderfully vital to our youth and development. I’ve talked before about how important Judy Blume’s Deenie was to me as a kid and that fearless truth is part of what shaped me into the person I am now.

Grounded struck me often and with great strength because it deals with death in an incredibly candid way. Daralynn faces at twelve the kind of loss most people find unimaginable and she does so with great grace and an acute and appropriate uncertainty about her own feelings. She fears forgetting her father and siblings, she watches her mother unravel, she rebels in what small ways she can because she feels trapped not only by her mother’s new short leash, but also by the weight of her grief. She stands firm when she believes it necessary and she breaks rules out of both curiosity and a desperation for truth. She’s twelve, she feels and behaves twelve, and it’s wonderful to experience.

I was also wildly impressed with Klise’s style and it’s a harder thing to articulate. There’s like, this point that I reach when I am trying to describe how much I like someone’s writing and I just devolve into vague hand gestures o explain it. Klise’s style is very [holds hands together as in prayer] [spreads them in a widening arc outward] [flattens hands out palm down and continues arc at shoulder level until arms are extended parallel to the floor at sides] gently expansive, especially when it comes to placemaking and I really love the way she sort of [holds right index finger and thumb about an inch apart] picks these very specific words and phrases them [slowly turns hand in a circle as though the invisible thing is being rotated] in such a precise way and it’s just such a joy to read.

There are several places where I think the writing is really flawless, in particular when Klise combines emotion and setting. At the beginning of chapter twenty she writes, “The night was black with a little toenail clipping of a moon hanging all alone in the sky. It looked how I felt.” Not only is that a perfect description, it’s a particularly well-suited visual for kids and it gives them such an easy way to understand Daralynn’s isolation. Magical. I also just generally love her attention to the senses — the descriptions of grosser things are particularly great, the different descriptions of bodies and death and the grains of ash that Daralynn spreads with Aunt Josie are very memorable — and her perfect balance of detail. I get frustrated with worldbuilding often — it’s why I’ve never finished a Tolkien — and Klise walks that perfect line of distinct, evocative details that make up Daralynn’s world and letting the reader fill in and shade it. Seriously, wonderful.

Grounded was a real treat and I know I will most definitely be visiting Klise’s collection of books again soon.