Trouper (Scholastic 2013)
Winner of the Kentucky Bluegrass Award!
2013 Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California Distinguished Book
[Trouper has been] Selected as one of the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People of 2014!
Knowing real life does not always end happily ever after, makes looking for a silver lining all the more important. It also makes those moments when everything seems perfectly in place all the sweeter. A single decision can tip the scales.
So many depend, so much depends, on the myriad decisions each of us makes on a daily basis. With the pet population in shelters ever growing, a choice to adopt may mean the difference between life or death for one of the temporary residents. Using events from her own life, author Meg Kearney has created Trouper (Scholastic Press) with illustrations by Caldecott Honor Book winner, E. B. Lewis.
Back in the before time,
before I licked your nose
or sniffed your shoes,
before you bought my bed and bowl,
before the place you picked me out,
I ran with a mob of mutts.
Though free to roam, survival is hard for a group of dogs, living on the streets, scrounging for food in the garbage left by humans, and evading the rocks thrown by boys. When offered the choice of eating steak, they readily enter the back of a stranger's truck. Taken to a place with dogs, cages and dogs in cages, this canine company is separated. Eight plus one now receiving food and water are no longer running at will.
Day after day people walk along the row of cages. One by one the number nine drops until only one remains, Trouper. No one wants a dog with three legs.
Someone sees beyond the three legs. Someone sees the kind soul shining through those big eyes. Someone wants this last dog. It's a boy. A boy whose compassion far exceeds the meanness of those others.
Now he has his own bowl. Now he has his own bones. Now he has his own bed. Trouper can hardly believe his good fortune. The best thing of all is a game he and his boy play. It's a game called...
In 2005 Trooper (his given name) was moved from a shelter in Puerto Rico to live in New Hampshire with author, poet, Meg Kearney. Written in verse, narrated by Trouper, she imagines how life might have been for this dog; waiting for the right person to notice him. His voice describes each incident in accurate canine awareness. Here is another example.
We got water and kibble
from the lady who cared for us.
We got walks,
we could race
the way we used to.
Everything about the front jacket and cover beckons the reader to open this book. You don't know what the circumstances are yet, but it's easy to see the boy is with a forever friend. Rendered in watercolor, the artwork of E.B. Lewis is nearly photographic in capturing the essence of the subjects; each is rich with emotion.
Nearly all of the illustrations span two pages. The smaller vignettes and single page pictures convey loss of freedom, sadness, hopelessness, individual dog personalities, and love. Lewis' dogs are so lifelike you expect them to start barking any minute. My favorite illustration is of Trouper enjoying his first meal in his new home, bowls on mats, with his boy kneeling, chin resting in his hands as he watches his new pal. The play of sunlight streaming into the room, the angle used to portray the two friends, the placement of other items in the room, all combine to create a feeling of intimacy.
Trouper written by Meg Kearney with paintings by E.B. Lewis is a very special book; a labor of love about love. The blend of narrative and illustrations compliment and enhance one another to tell a story of a bond formed by an act of kindness. It's about the magic of second chances. This title is meant to be shared often.
Some of the reviews for Trouper from goodreads.com
Publisher's Weekly (November 2013)
The premise of Kearney’s (The Girl in the Mirror) story of canine adoption is moving in itself; that it’s based on her own rescue of a black Lab only amplifies its poignancy. An introductory note explains the story of the real Trouper, a Puerto Rican street dog rescued by the owners of an animal shelter, who arranged to have his mangled leg amputated and then put him up for adoption. The fictional Trouper (who already has only three legs) narrates his version of events in verse, telling his young owner about “the before time” when he “ran with a mob of mutts.” After a dogcatcher captures the strays and locks them in cages at the pound, Trouper’s pals are adopted one by one, until he is the only dog left (“My heart was a cold, starless night—/ until your face/ shone through the bars/ like a mini sun”). Caldecott Honor illustrator Lewis (Coming on Home Soon) used Kearney’s pet as a model for his lifelike watercolor portraits, which provide a sure sense of the dog’s indefatigable spirit. (Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Dwyer & O’Grady.)
Kirkus (October 2013)
Trouper, a three-legged stray dog, narrates the story of his life to his new owner in this compelling, beautifully illustrated book based on a true rescue story.
Although the circumstances of Trouper’s early life are hard, readers feel hope, since they know from the opening lines that he is describing “[b]ack in the before time, / … / before the place you picked me out.” They will be deeply moved by Trouper’s poetic, sensory language and his keen observation; the boys on the street throw stones at the dogs because they “thought the world was mean, / and so they had to be.” In contrast, it is a boy with gentle hands who adopts Trouper after he and his mob are brought to the shelter—but not before Trouper nearly despairs, stating, “My heart was a cold, starless night— // until your face / shone through the bars / like a mini sun.” Lewis’s evocative watercolors capture the stark setting and the scrappy dogs, especially dear, noble Trouper at both his lowest moment and during his rescue—his adoption—secure in the boy’s embrace. After he describes the pleasures of his new home, readers at last see dog and boy running, leaving “five footprints in the snow.”
Sure to tug the heartstrings, this is a lovely and satisfying tale. (Picture book. 4-8)
School Library Journal (October 2013)
K-Gr 2–Trouper, a tough three-legged dog, scavenges for food in the streets with a pack of other homeless mutts while “dodging the stones, thrown by boys, who thought the world was mean, and so they had to be.” One day, a dogcatcher captures them and takes them to the pound. Though people come and take all the other dogs, no one seems to want Trouper until a kind boy finally adopts him. Narrated in free verse from Trouper’s perspective, this tale’s voice rings authentically canine (if dogs could write stories, that is). Lewis’s characteristic watercolor illustrations laid out in full pages and spreads masterfully accompany Kearney’s apt tone, deftly depicting Trouper’s varied emotions, from his despondency at being left alone in the shelter to his exuberant joy when running with his new owner. A touching story of hope, friendship, and transcending appearances.
— Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY
International Reading Association, Reading Today Online (December 2013)
This picture book captures perfectly the universal desire for a home and someone to love. Even stray dogs long for a forever home and some comfort. Trouper is part of a large dog pack of various sizes and breeds. As they search for a meal, they cause disorder, and they endure cruelty from others. When a dogcatcher lures them into his truck, the pack ends up at a shelter. All of them are adopted except three-legged Trouper, whose lonely heart "was a cold, starless night" (unpaged) once his friends have left. Luckily for him, though, a tender-hearted boy adopts him and brings him home. The bond between the two is clear in the final illustrations.
The text is filled with beautiful language that pays tribute to a brave dog and a boy who sees beneath an imperfect surface into that dog's spirit, while the watercolor illustrations capture perfectly the dog's anxiety, loneliness, and joy at having found someone "who liked the way I lean on those I love" (unpaged). Not only will this book inspire some to add a dog to their family, but it may convert a few feline lovers into canine aficionados. This is a wonderful book for sharing aloud and evoking a sense of compassion in others.
—Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman
Praise for The Girl in the Mirror (Persea Books 2012)
VOYA (July 2012)
The way Lizzie tells it, her life took a 90-degree turn. When she was born, her birth mother went one way and she went another—into foster care. She has come to realize, however, that she is proud her family was formed by choice. Her parents have promised to help her solve the mystery of her birth mother, and together they agreed that they would take that step when Lizzie turns seventeen. But the day the letter from the adoption agency arrives, her life takes another drastic turn—her father dies. So Lizzie writes, chronicling her journey through pain, loss, and discovery in poems and poetic journal entries. Journaling can be a rather dull exercise in self-absorption, but this novel in journal entries is just the opposite: engaging from the first. The author has created a character with a compelling and honest voice whose day-to-day experiences ring true. As the beautifully crafted plot unfolds, Lizzie, in her grief, takes a wrong turn but then finds the strength to right herself. Most fascinating of all is the way Lizzie's intense personal narrative is so deftly expressed in various poetic forms, some formally rhyming and some free verse. She employs the ballad, the blues poem, the sonnet, and the pantoum, among others. Kearney explains Lizzie's choices in her "Guide To This Book's Poetics" at the end of the book. Affecting and intriguing, this novel stands with the best. — Marla K. Unruh, Reviewer
School Library Journal (July 2012)
Gr 9 Up—Lizzie McLane knows how lucky she is to be with her adoptive parents, but she's curious about her birth mother. Her family requests information about her, but when Lizzie's dad has a heart attack on his way to work, dying in the car, Lizzie's massive grief stalls her need to know about the woman who gave her up for adoption. At first, the 17-year-old can't even find solace in the writing and poetry that she adored. Her faithful friends are there for her, and her family tries to surround her with love even as they all grieve, but nothing brings her comfort. She tries to escape her sadness by drinking, partying, trying to get to "a place I call The World That Time Forgot," and wondering about her birth mother. Eventually poetry seems to help. Told through verse and journal entries, this novel chronicles Lizzie's journey of grief, her relationships, and her personal evolution. It's beautifully and lyrically written, making the teen's sorrow palpable, and the relationships and interactions feel real. Lizzie shows up first in The Secret of Me (Persea Bks., 2005), but this follow-up stands on its own. A section at the end explains the types of poetry included and the people, places, and agencies referenced in the book. — Melyssa Kenney, Parkville High School, Baltimore, MD
HORNBOOK MAGAZINE (July/August 2012 issue)
Lizzie McLane (The Secret of Me, 2005) is on the cusp of an exciting future: high school graduation is right around the corner, and she has just received a long-awaited letter from the adoption agency with information about her birth mother. But her adoptive father unexpectedly dies that same day, and everything else falls away. It is with this excruciating event that Kearney’s coming-of-age novel in poems and journal entries begins. Lizzie loses interest in (and control of) her life, engages in dangerous behavior, and lets her most important relationships deteriorate. Despite her poor decisions, however, she never comes off as an immature, rebellious teen. Her problems are rooted in real, understandable pain, and due to the immediacy and palpability of her hurt in the sometimes elegant, at other times biting poems, we don’t blame her for a thing. Lizzie is wise, insightful, creative, and impossible not to invest in as she spirals down and then rebounds; we, too, breathe a sigh of relief as she feels “something heavy inside / begin, very slowly, to lift.” The poetic forms employed vary greatly (all explained in the appended “Guide to This Book’s Poetics”), but the voice is clearly and distinctly Lizzie through them all. The poems and entries are each strong enough to stand alone but smoothly coalesce into a beautifully wrought story with memorable characters and true-to-life issues. — Katrina Hedeen
Publishers Weekly (June 2012)
"It was April first, a trick!/ Mom's voice said Dad was dead./ He couldn't walk through that door./ I thought it was a joke," says high school senior Lizzie McLane, first seen in The Secret of Me (2007), in this introspective novel in verse about grief and biological origins. Nothing could be more devastating for Lizzie than her adoptive father's fatal heart attack: with the support of her parents, Lizzie was going to seek out her birth mother. Now nothing feels important. It's only through writing journal entries and poems, which range from free verse to pantoums, that she slowly feels her way through the darkness. With grace and honesty, Lizzie shares the blurry aftermath of her father's death--the wake, the funeral, and graduation, followed by a summer of numbing her pain with alcohol. Kearney tenderly explores Lizzie's anger, sadness, and ambivalence about her identity as she grapples with whether to risk being hurt by the mother she never knew or to approach the future without first claiming her past. (Ages 14–up.)
Kirkus (March 2012)
Before Lizzie McLane can search for her birth mother, she first needs to find herself.
In The Secret of Me (2005), a novel in verse, 14-year-old Lizzie began a quest to discover her place within her adoptive family. Three years older in this stand-alone sequel, also told in verse and journal entries, the now-high-school senior has started the process of looking for her birth mother. Her introductory entry briefly recounts the history of the prior book and delivers a shocker: Her father passed away on the same day that a letter with non-identifying information about her birth mother arrived from the adoption agency. Lizzie’s deeply felt poems depict her sudden downward spiral. She mourns the loss of what was and what could have been, joins her older coworkers in late-night partying and drinking and tries to reconcile her feelings about her old boyfriend and a sensitive, guitar-playing romantic possibility. When her change in lifestyle results in losing close friends and a near rape, Lizzie realizes that she no longer recognizes the girl she sees in the mirror. Kearney, an adoptee herself, ends with information about adoption support groups and resources. She also offers a guide to many of the poems’ forms (ballads, pantoums, villanelles, etc.) and structures.
Fans of Helen Frost will admire the attention to both poetics and story. (Poetry. 14 & up)
Book List /booklistonline (March 2012)
At the heart of this YA novel is high-school-senior Lizzie’s search for her birth mother or, rather, the adopted teen’s conflicts about whether she really wants to search. Why did her birth mother give her away? Told in journal entries and many poetic forms––from villanelles and blues poems to free verse (all explained in detailed notes at the back)—this may be best for writers’ groups. Those who have not read the first book about Lizzie, The Secret of Me (2007), may sometimes find it hard to keep track of the huge cast of all her friends, family, boyfriends, and workmates. What will grab readers is Lizzie’s personal voice, the universal drama of coming-of-age, her grief at the death of her beloved father, and, especially, the tense confusion of her search. A powerful what-if poem captures her dread about meeting her birth mother: “What if she doesn’t like me? . . . What if she’s married and I’m her Big Secret?”
— Hazel Rochman
The Pirate Tree: Social Justice & Children's Literature (April 2012)
On the same day adoptee and aspiring poet Lizzie McLaine receives non-identifying information about her birth mother, her father dies of a heart attack setting her on a grief-fueled downward spiral. Without her father and in the face of her mom’s heartbreak, Lizzie reflects on her divided loyalties. She has, or had a great set of parents. Now she has one good mom. Now she doesn’t feel it would be right to search for her birth mother. Even though, she faces the girl in the mirror with so many questions. Who does she look like? Why did her birth mother give her away? Mother’s Day comes and Lizzie writes a poem entitled “Mother’s Day Poem/Decide Not to Give Mom.” In it, she asks, “what’s a mother’s love when given away…” But Lizzie’s grief over her dad’s death is as palpable and even more real than the woman who gave her birth. In her poem, “Without,” Lizzie laments, “Without his arm around my shoulder without his voice without kisses on my forehead without laughter at the dinner table” as she counts all the ways she misses her dad.
Lizzie numbs herself with alcohol and isolates herself from old friends, looking for people who can help her forget her own grief and confusion. At first, drinking works, but then, sadness returns and she writes, “For a little while I’d forgotten all my sadness—/the lemonade had brought on a kind of forgetfulness./Now there is that empty space/again, which nothing/can fill….”
In planning this novel, a sequel to The Secret of Me, a novel in verse that explores what it feels like to be adopted, author Meg Kearney says, “When an adoptee sets out to search, she has to be completely ready for anything….by delaying Lizzie’s search I was able to explore further her relationship with her adoptive parents. Her need to know who her birth parents are feels extremely urgent until she’s faced with the loss of her father. I think that’s when she comes to understand what her parents had been insisting all of her life—that she’s not their ‘adopted daughter,’ she is their daughter, period. And her father is her father, her mother her mother. There are two people somewhere out there in the world who gave birth to her, but she realizes they are not, and never will be, her parents.”
If Lizzie’s heart is to heal, she realizes she must take responsibility for her feelings rather than bury them. She must look abandonment squarely in the face to recover her own spirit and rise above her losses. In the process, she claims her love for her parents even as she recognizes her birth parents are out there in the world. This novel, told in the strongest poetic forms, looks at the complex issues of adoption but it is relatable to all young adults who face the death of a parent or even those who wonder how they will become who they hope to become.
Kearney, who teaches in the Solstice MFA in Writing Program at Pine Manor College, includes end matter on poetry and poetic form which will certainly encourage young adult readers caught up in Lizzie’s story to pick up their own pens and try their hands at their own writing.
I love The Girl in the Mirror. It has honesty to the core; it is wonderfully written (narrow with news, fulsome with emotion). Its observations of others and the narrator herself strike me as simple with honesty and the truth of the situation in which Lizzie finds herself. The form strikes me as true—poetry and commentary, both intense and personal.
— Paula Fox, author of Desperate Characters and The Slave Dancer
Lizzie returns, now 17 going on 18. Her father, whose heart was a cause for concern in The Secret of Me, has died shortly before the novel opens and Lizzie is devastated. We sense the terror this child has of losing parents because her sense of loss of her birthparents is still a profound stone around her neck. Lizzie plummets into a nightmare world of alcohol and denial, surviving by writing poems and journaling so vividly that she brings us right along with her. The series of poems around her father’s funeral and the series of poems about her graduation party are stunning in every sense of the word. There is an honesty, a darkness, a steel fragility in these beautifully crafted words. I suspect there are few readers who would not be swept into the tornado of Lizzie’s destructive grief. Kearney fully engages the reader in this very fine coming-of-age novel.
— Karen Hesse, 2010 MacArthur Fellow, author of Out of the Dust
Meg Kearney has crafted an exquisite novel about a girl caught in an emotional storm of grief and yearning. Told through Lizzie's pitch-perfect poems and journal entries, The Girl in the Mirror is inventive, heartbreaking, and transforming."
— Laban Carrick Hill, author of Dave the Potter
Meg Kearney is a deft magician —sensitively weaving scenes and histories, lively conversation and internal reckoning, into a warm world of relationships. Her poems in The Girl in the Mirror feel comfortably vernacular, while embodying a surprising number of poetic forms. It's amazing what Kearney does with presences and absences—people who aren't quite there anymore remain potently everywhere—as Lizzie's life unfolds. This book is a generous gift.
— Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Habibi and There Is No Long Distance Now: Stories (forthcoming)
Young Adult Reader Reviews: Australia (YARR-A, March 2012)
Lizzie McLane, now in her college years, has finally found her feet after a difficult period of time in her high school years... until the day the letter about her birth mother arrives; the day her adoptive father dies. Flung into grief, and worry, and depression, Lizzie turns to alcohol and the wrong friends. Her day-by-day struggles to stay on top of life are expressed in this book of journal entries and poems.
Although the book only covers a very small amount of time in Lizzie’s life, it seems to stretch and detail every small event that occurs to Lizzie, both good and bad. This is a deep, emotional, and, in some ways, spiritual, retelling of an adopted girl’s story; definitely a novel that a lot of adolescents can connect with. It is quite unusual as a young adult novel to be written in verse, but it more than works. I would definitely recommend this book over and over again to any young adult. I give it a full five stars!
— Ronja, age 15, Canberra, Australia
Flamingnet Student Book Reviewer (February, 2012)
Lizzie McLane, schoolgirl, adoptee, and poet, is ready to head off to college. But, she is also not ready to stop searching for her birth mother....yet. But, on the day Lizzie finally has a breakthrough, her adoptive father dies, throwing her into a serious funk. Confused, and not sure where to turn, Lizzie gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. And with alcohol. Will Lizzie (and her poems) remain triumphant? Or will Lizzie dig herself a hole she can't get out of? Full of drama, twists, and turns, The Girl in the Mirror, is a must read.
The Girl in the Mirror was enticing, and really, truly honest, giving you an inside look at the heart of a adopted teenage girl. The poems in this book were truly amazing, and the writing was so vibrant, I had to just stop and think about. Lizzie is a true heroine, and you cheer for her till the very end. Between relationship and best friend dramas, this book just kept me guessing. I, as a lover of poetry, truly enjoyed this book and its unique writing style. A must read for Ellen Hopkins fans, The Girl in the Mirror, is a true roller coaster ride.
—Reviewer Age:13, Reviewer City, State and Country: Silver Spring, Maryland USA (JWel1111)
» A finalist for the Patterson Poetry Prize.
» A finalist for Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year.
» Winner of the 2009 LL Winship/PEN New England Award for Poetry.
"What I love about Home By Now is the variety and mixtures of tone. Beyond the delicious music and the vividness of scene in this collection, there is a distinctly surprising grasp of voice. These pieces give more than they promise. At times, within the same poem, I found myself moved in complicated ways: being saddened, for example, by the tenderness of an elegy, but feeling roughed up by the same poem. Meg Kearney’s poems begin innocently enough, but there’s a shadow growing behind each line. There’s a kind of quiet take-no-prisoners toughness here, but something big-hearted, too. These poems have real teeth, but you’re already bleeding before you feel the bite.”
— Citation by judge Tim Seibles
You have a wonderful, personal, feisty voice that unifies the book & makes the poems sound like no one else’s. The amazing thing is not that there are a number of terrific poems in there, it’s that there’s no dead weight. I love to pick up a book of poems, open to any page, & just read. That’s the way I always start a book, & if the stuff is interesting I go to the end & then start at the beginning & get back to where I started. With your book it didn’t matter where I started; the book is that unified. I thank you and congratulate you.
— Philip Levine, on Home By Now
rave: Home By Now by Meg Kearney
This is so long overdue, as I have been meaning to share and encourage you to pick up a copy of Meg Kearney’s Home By Now (Four Way Books, 2009) for a long, long time. Belated or not, this is still a book I highly recommend for its cleverness, insightfulness, and pure joy of language.
Without a doubt, Kearney’s collection has earned–well deserved I might add–incredible praise and laughter for her metaphorical poem “First Blow Job.” I had the pleasure of hearing the poet read at a recent event and hearing the matter-of-factness in her voice sealed the sweetness of this humorous perspective for me. Here’s a quick taste (no pun intended):
Suddenly I knew what it was to be my uncle’s Labrador retriever,
young pup paddling furiously back across the pond with the prized
duck in her mouth, doing the best she could to keep her nose in the air
so she could breathe. She was learning not to bite …
I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t yet read the full poem, but you must believe the metaphor plays out so magically, so cleverly, that it’s probably the most known and loved piece from this collection.
Yet it’s important to note that Kearney’s collection is not made up of light, easy humor. In fact, there is much weight and heart–and disheartening moments–within this book, that the sheer complexity and variety of Home By Now alone make it a standout recommendation. To prove the 180-degree turns you’ll stumble upon, here’s a poem to consider:
September 12, 2001: View of Downtown
Manhattan From My Bedroom Window
The amputee insists
her legs are still
She feels them
when the smoke clears
they will be
Long lines that linger, short lines with emotional punch, persona and voice that capture your breath and make you crave more… Home By Now is a fascinating collection that gives so much in 60+ pages, in such an accessible style that’s zeroed in on language and emotion, it’s impossible not to recommend. Trust me, you’ll fall in love. Actually, don’t just take my word for it. Home By Now was the Winner of the 2009 LL Winship/PEN New England Award for Poetry, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and a finalist for Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year. Not bad. Now go check it out.
— Lori A. May, author
Meg Kearney’s first book, An Unkindness of Ravens, garnered BOA’s A. Poulin Jr. New Poet’s Award. It’s not surprising that her new collection, Home By Now, continues her practice of unforced, gracefully adept poems that are equally deserving of recognition. In a literary world where poems may become obtuse in order to reflect a fragmented universe, these pieces are refreshingly direct without being simplistic. Kearney’s poems do address an unstable world, but they do so in lines laced with a compassionate, if arching eye. Her empathy, wry wit, and exquisitely subtle craft make this collection an authentically rewarding read.
Her themes are rich and warmly varied, including family lost and found—particularly as it relates to adoption (Kearney was adopted)—and home poems that depict a place that cradles the interior being as well as the physical body. As she explores the death of a father, she voices the challenge of caretaking while honoring the work of care. In “Socks,” she writes of a bedpan scene, “We close our eyes— / Dad, then me. Oh, he pants, it’s so damn cold / as I tell myself, I am not the first / daughter to do this.” After the death, her lines become elegiac of family as much as father, “All night / we eat nothing but / orchids and lilies. My mother / cannot cry.” Even in persona poems, the voice feels personal. Her Magdalene women live in a coarse world inundated with threat and loss where against all odds, they find a damaged kinship. In a section titled, “A Grasshopper Walks into a Bar,” her world-weary speaker is sometimes bartender, sometimes the gal who lingers at the bar. Kearney’s adeptness at depicting these persons without falling into familiar language will leave readers wishing for more lines like, “It’s Friday night and you’ve got a full bar, three deep / and every seat taken, the five Miller brothers filling / the corner by the jukebox, singing along to ‘Take / it Easy’ and waving for another round of ponies.” Finally, in her final title section, Kearney’s lyricism rises as she writes as an adoptee of country life. Metaphorically complex, these poems, which frequently feature animals and birds, allude to other homes, urban and significant. Of a hawk flying into a window, she writes “He’s still warm when we carry / him to the woods. We don’t // speak of suicide flights / into buildings…”
In all of these poems, Kearney’s talent is refreshingly understated, her craft is subtle, her voice clear and empathetic. These are poems that draw you in with a highly skilled diction, but keep you there with human experience that matters.
—Anne-Marie Oomen, Foreword Magazine (December 2009)
Publisher’s Weekly (November 2009)
Fluent and easy to like, serious in its take on the American life course, this second collection of poems for adults from Kearney (she's also the author of young adult verse) looks hard at the troubles and changes of Kearney's own experience, as an adopted child, as the daughter of an ailing father, as a sometime New Yorker who relocated after 9/11 to northern New England. The first—and perhaps the most verbally brilliant—poems depict the ups and downs of her teens: “When I got my head stuck between the porch rails/ I didn't know enough yet to hate my body, but I knew/ a thing or two about smoking my father's cigars.” Later she portrays herself as a grownup adrift (“Rum & Coke & a New Apartment”). In the city, “The bike-shop bag goes scrish-scrish/ against your leg as you head home,” even as, in Wyoming, “your father's hand trembles, reaching/ for the water glass”; in New Hampshire, “we're street-smart and wary/ enough not to let our Lab run the woods/ at night alone.” Defiance mixed with caution drives her conversational lines. Kearney (An Unkindness of Ravens) neither finds, nor seeks, great innovations; instead, she presents her life as representative, an occasion for tangents, for sadness, and for joie de vivre. (Nov.)
THE SECRET OF ME Earns a Star From KIRKUS REVIEWS
"A sincere, at times poignant, novel-in-verse reads like a memoir and tells the story of a teenager who wishes to explore her identity as an adopted child. Lizzie (age 14) expresses her deepest and most personal thoughts about being adopted with her three best friends. But she longs to share her secret identity with her new boyfriend and to probe openly her biological background, even though her siblings (also adopted) view doing so as an act of disloyalty to their devoted adoptive parents. Kearney exploits poetry and its variety of forms uniquely to access and express Lizzie's innermost hopes and desires and how they affect the choices she makes. A real balance of personal exploration as an adoptee and new teenage emotions creates a powerful blend in a warm character ready to connect and sustain that bond to readers. Not only will adolescents feel expertly sensitized to issues of adoption, they will get a good dose of real poetry with unique and inspiring language so often sacrificed for story in this genre. Substantive backmatter (afterword, guide to the poetics, reprints of poems Lizzie loves, recommended links and bibliography) makes this a first-rate offering."
The Brattleboro Reformer, “The Bookshelf”— review written by Elena Eames
Brattleboro, VT, February 9, 2006
[Note: “The Bookshelf” features book reviews written by elementary school students in Brattleboro, Vermont, who have participated in the BEEP Literary Club, organized by Flo Nester, coordinator of the Brattleboro Elementary Enrichment Program. The students meet monthly to share book reviews they have written.]
In this welcoming and amazing novel, The Secret of Me, author Meg Kearney crafts a heartfelt story. Written in verse, this book tells how Lizzie McLane, an innocent teenager, winds her way through life with many unanswered questions about her adoption.
Two of Lizzie’s friends are adopted, as well as her older brother and sister. Confiding in these four, she finds it hard to let others in on her family’s well-kept secret. Lizzie’s family avoids talking about adoption, which troubles her, because her friend’s families are more open-minded when it comes to talking to their children about this subject.
Many authors write books about adoption; however, I found this book to really stand out. It was deep and emotional, explaining the never-ending questioning and emptiness that consumed Lizzie. This novel was very poetic and the writing flowed evenly.
Though I will never fully know what it’s like to be adopted, the book opened up and let me into the life of an adopted teen. It really made me think about and wonder what life must be like not knowing your birth mother and birth father. It proved to be one of the few books I have read that I cannot relate to on a personal level, but I still find to be much more than enjoyable.
If you are in sixth grade or above and are looking for a powerful book that you can jump right into, I would highly recommend this one to you.
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), April 2006 — The magazine serving those who serve young adults” - review by Susan Allen
On rare occasions one reads a book that is just plain touching, pulling the reader in and allowing one to feel what the character feels. Here is such a book. In poetic form, it is written in the voice of a fourteen-year-old Lizzie, who journals her feelings about being adopted. Lizzie’s siblings are also adopted, and instead of “when you were born” tales, McLane family members recount their “phone call” stories. Outside the family, however, the fact that the children are adopted is never mentioned. Lizzie gets into trouble with her older siblings when she voices questions about her birthmother. She is seen as being disloyal. Among Lizzie’s tight group of friends are two other girls who are adopted. They talk about their shared secret. Do they tell their other friends? Did the boyfriend break up with one of them because he was told that she was adopted? Should they search for their birth parents? Lizzie presents all these feelings and decisions.
The afterword tells about the author’s struggle with the knowledge of her adoption as she grew up. A section tells about the types of poetics that Lizzie uses. There are recommendations for poetry collections and books on poetry and several selections of poems by other poets that are mentioned by Lizzie as her favorites. This tenderly written books is definitely for the adopted teen but can be enjoyed by all others. It can be used within classroom poetry units with great success.
“Walking into this book is like walking into the world of people you've always known but now get a chance to be close to. Meg Kearney has written a collection of poems that tell an amazing story of loss, love, growing up, and forgiving. This book speaks to anyone who has ever asked the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who will I become?’”
“In this tender, wonderfully written story of Lizzie McLane, a vulnerable teenager seeking the strength to speak the secret of her life, Meg Kearney draws the reader into a world that is both real and revelatory, a world of food and friends, candles and kisses and questions. After reading this novel, no one will ever again wonder why adoptees of all ages long so fiercely to know their biological parentage.”
—NORMA FOX MAZER
“Wonderfully written, often funny, always alive and honest, this brave book is about the agony of being different, of keeping the secret of yourself—and it speaks to the outsider and the searcher in all of us.”
“The Secret of Me is lovely and insightful, moving and thought-provoking, and a joy to read. This is a book for anyone touched by adoption and anyone who loves poetry. I couldn’t put it down, and I’m very glad I didn’t.”
—ADAM PERTMAN, author of Adoption Nation
and Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Reaction to An Unkindness of Ravens
“This is one of the best books BOA Editions has published in a long time. Meg Kearney is a true find, and her poems are a reminder that the strongest poetry always arrives when the first-person speaker is dominant. The confident tone, the surprise of each moment, and the stories woven around deep imagery give Kearney’s work an unforgettable twist.”
—THE BLOOMSBURY REVIEW, March/April 2002
In An Unkindness of Ravens, BOA’s smart new selection for the A. Poulin Jr. New Poets series, readers will discover a worldly but tender female persona. Here is a modern Magdalene: complicated, tired, self-aware. Though she’s still young enough to fall in love, she’s lived longer than most, and is acutely aware of all the selves that make up her complex view of the world. Some of these selves are pure and know more than the speaker. “I notice for the first / time the girl not eating cake, not / smiling in her black and gray though it must // have been yellow or red hat. I can’t recall / her name, but wonder what she knew. / How, how did she know?” (“On Second Thought”) But the best among an amazing first collection are in the voice of the melancholy but life-wise woman who appears in bars, on the street, in rancid bedrooms, searching and longing for a place to be: “She cannot enter the house. No one has come out to greet her, / to say she is forgiven, to say / there will be roast lamb, dancing – “ (“The Prodigal Mother”) Though any one of these poems will stand alone, read as a whole, a deeply emotional narrative of a lost family surfaces. The poems of the third section, “Adoptive Measures,” explore both the persona of a mother who gives up her child and the “surrendered” daughter growing into the invented memory of both mother and daughter who longs to fill in the blanks of a life and make whole all the empty parts. “I search faces / on the street, at the supermarket, Laundromat; I try / not to be rude; I stroke my chin – Do I have your nose? / Would you turn your head?” (“What It’s Like”) Having explored the forgotten child, fallen woman, lost mother and daughter, Kearney’s speaker resolves in her voice of quiet love, “You turned as if to ask, What / is the sound of an oyster-shell sunrise? So / I turned into a pearl, hid myself in your hands.” (“Falling in Love at the Aquarium”) The mother-daughter poems are some of the most haunting of their kind and the Raven section is mythical in the modern sense. Here is a voice to keep close in the night, full of lush darkness but also heartening stars.”
—Anne-Marie Oomen, Foreword Magazine (February 2002)
“A debut book from a New York City-based poet who dips into the messy mix of memory and desire without squeamishness…”
—Sarah Goodyear, TimeOut, New York (March 2002)