For my digital booktalk for Three Black Swans, click here.
Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, I loved this author. Caroline B. Cooney has written many novels for young adults and has written across several genres: mysteries, disasters, supernatural thrillers, historical fiction, etc.
First of all, her most recent book: Three Black Swans
This book is primarily a mystery, although it also discusses themes of identity, family, and trust. Unlike most novels aimed at a young adult audience, romantic relationships are almost nonexistent in this story. However, as the book is targeted at females, relationships are still a fundamental part of the plot.
The three main characters of this novel are all sixteen-year-old girls, all of whom are different and multi-dimensional. Also integral to the story are several adult characters, whom Cooney treats with respect and whom are introduced to the reader as complex in their own right. She offers portions of the narrative from their perspectives, giving further insight into the plot and characters than would be perceivable from the vantage point of the main characters alone without resorting to long explanatory monologues. Many of Cooney’s young adult books have their chapters divided into short parts centred on different characters of varying ages. However, her target audience remains adolescents, who may be encouraged to sympathize more with adults after reading something in their perspective.
The three girls are Missy Vianello, Claire Linnahan, and Genevieve Candler; the first two live in Connecticut, while Genevieve lives in New York. Missy and Claire are first cousins, only children, and best friends. Although they are the same age, they are in different grades and do not attend the same school. Missy is assigned a project wherein she has to create a believable hoax, so she films a YouTube video with her cousin, claiming that Claire is her long-lost twin. Meanwhile, Genevieve (who has never heard of Missy or Claire) sees the video, and all three girls embark on separate quests to solve the mystery of who they are.
(2007) This is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the point of view of a teenage girl in Macbeth’s household. I have not yet read it, but Cooney’s other historical books (The Ransom of Mercy Carter and Goddess of Yesterday come immediately to mind) are excellent reads, and her storytelling style complements the original story, which is often required high school reading.
(1989) This is probably Cooney’s most famous book. Along with its three sequels (What Happened to Janie? (1993), The Voice on the Radio (1996), and What Janie Found (2000)), it tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who discovers her own face on a milk carton as a “missing child”. The mystery to solve her identity and come to terms with herself is the driving force behind this novel. This series would have been very different if not written in the late 1980s/early 1990s. However, it is still a good story, and I don’t think young readers will be put off by the lack of modern technology.
(2005) This is a supernatural/time-travel romance series involving the Victorian era, ancient Egypt, and modern times. For All Time is the last book in the series, which also includes Out of Time (1995), Both Sides of Time (1996), and Prisoner of Time (1998). The third book is a stand-alone story within the same universe, while the other three function as a trilogy about a young woman who ends up falling in love with a Victorian-era man. What is good about this series is that it is quite accurate historically, and yet doesn’t bog the reader down with details. Like most historical teen novels, the story is paramount and some details are fuzzy, particularly because it is a time-travel story. The problem with time-travel is that the “fish-out-of-water” element is so important that either the past, present, or both can feel caricatured. It is an unfortunate consequence of the genre. Suspending our disbelief, however, the stories are fun and Cooney’s characters are especially well-developed.
More of my favourites:
The Terrorist (1997) – set in London, England — an American boy is killed by a bomb blast in a subway; his sister comes to terms with his death and tries to figure out who killed him, which is made difficult by the fact that she is in an international school [This book is a great way to introduce various conflicts in the Middle East to young adult readers.]
Hush Little Baby (1999) – a mystery involving an abandoned baby, kidnapping, romance, and a road trip that could turn deadly
The Ransom of Mercy Carter (2001) – set in 1704 and beyond, this book is a straight-up historical novel about Mercy Carter, whose frontier town is attacked by French-backed Amerindians; she is captured and taken to what is now Quebec to live among the Abenaki
Goddess of Yesterday (2002) – a retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Cassandra (the Princess of Troy who was cursed with the ability to see the future but never be believed)
Flight #116 is Down – a plane crashes in the woods behind a rural mansion; the daughter of the house is initially alone in having to deal with the disaster, which luckily does not include all on board dying instantaneously. This story is told from multiple perspectives, like a film, and features many characters, some more sympathetic than others.
Mummy! – a mummy from a museum is stolen and rumours of it coming back to life are rampant
911 Emergency Call – similar to Flight #116, this story is told from multiple perspectives and features many characters of varying ages; it centres around two young adult hospital volunteers
Flash Fire – set in suburban Los Angeles, this story also features multiple perspectives and many intersecting plots; Cooney devotes a lot of time to characters of various ages, including adults and children, but her main characters are a teenage girl and two teenage boys who have to escape from their hillside suburb when a forest fire burns out of control
Most of these books are still in print or circulating in libraries. They are fun reads and great for travelling.