This week’s passage of the week comes from Kristin L. Gray’s debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge. It’s a book about so many things — grief and goldfish, dogs and deadlines, best friends and books, honesty and runaway hens — and there are so many things to love about it.

The thing I love most of all, however, is Vilonia’s voice. It is absolutely bursting with spirit, and her approach to language — both in her narration and her own writing — is playful, quirky, and oh-so-very inventive.

Importantly, though, Kristin is true to Vilonia as a character. No matter how clever the metaphor or turn of phrase, you’re never once jolted out of the story, never made to feel like you’re listening to Kristin as opposed to Vilonia. This is, in large part, because Kristin has made Vilonia so thoroughly multidimensional and sympathetic — so very real. Thanks to this, every sentence Vilonia narrates, speaks, or writes adds depth to her as a character, and further clarifies how she sees and feels about her world and the people around her.

Kristin’s book is a lesson in voice, especially the ways in which developing a strong, clear one can enhance every aspect of your story. Read the book for that, as well as for the countless other wonderful things about it — and then stick around for the award-winning pound cake.

. . .

VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE, by Kristin L. Gray (pp. 28-30)


Leon sped by me to wait with the guys from the sixth-grade track team. If only they knew how silly they looked, huddled together like ducks in matching pants. I zipped by unnoticed, or so I thought, until one of them quacked, “Hey, Vilonia.” I stopped. Rory Willoughby, one of the Willoughby twins, with hair so wavy even the ocean was jealous, ran toward me. I bit my lip. Maybe he was going to ask me to prom. It was only five years away.

“Hey,” I said, not noticing one bit that his cute freckles had migrated across the bridge of his nose and his eyes were now greener than a four-leaf clover.

He grinned. A row of metal flashed across his teeth, and my legs became spaghetti. “Thanks for rescuing Eleanor.”

“Thanks for being so perfect.”

“What?” He tilted his head.

“Perky!” I died faster than an armadillo crossing the highway. “Thanks for being so perky. Most people aren’t morning material.”

“Yeah. Well, thanks again.” He smiled. I turned away and squinted through the raindrops, happy to see the bus’s headlights peeping through the fog.

“Gotta run,” I said.

“I’d sit toward the front of the bus if I were you,” he said, and took off.

“Hey, Vilonia!” Ava Claire waved and shuffled up the walk next to me in full rain gear. Her dark cheeks flushed pink from the brisk morning air. “What was that about?”

“I’m not exactly sure.” I shrugged and pointed to the rosy tulle poking out beneath her daisy raincoat. “Really, AC? It’s raining, in case you missed it.”

“In case you missed it, it’s Career Day in Mr. Manning’s class. Anyway, weather doesn’t stop me. I’ve got rain boots.”

And she did. She probably had a matching umbrella in her backpack too.

Ava Claire was all ruffles and totes and sparkly dance shoes — everything I wasn’t. I’d played softball since I could swing a bat, but Ava Claire wasn’t interested the minute she laid her brown eyes on those “ugly spiked shoes.” She’d rather twirl onstage in scratchy sequins under one-thousand-watt lights. Yeah, we went together like toothpaste and orange juice, but if anyone tried picking on either one of us, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.

. . .

Want to learn more about Kristin and her work? Visit her here and follow her on Twitter at @kristinlgray.

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