When I was a kid. . .
My first dog was a German shepherd mix named Sally who came to us from the animal shelter. Her problem was that she loved chickens (live ones) and we had a lot of trouble keeping her off the neighbors farm. I wrote a short story about her that appears in the book Because Of Shoe, short stories about dogs edited by Ann Martin.
We had puppies and kittens every spring (people didn't spay or neuter their animals like we do now), and we were always looking for people to give them good homes.
When I was six, my father got me my first bike at the Salvation Army. It was a man's 28" Schwinn, much too big for me. But when he put me on the seat, I rode right off down the street.
Behind our house was a big hill and behind that, a huge corn field that we built forts in. Beyond that was an apple orchard and a pond that we skated on every winter. My dream was to be in the ice capades. My cousin, Linda, who was my age and lived with us on and off for years had the same dream. We both got shiny white Riddell skates for the Christmas we were ten. I loved them so much I wanted to sleep with them.
For one dollar, my father could buy us all double-dip ice cream cones at a nearby ice cream parlor. I always got fresh blackberry. I can still taste it!
I was the fastest runner in the sixth grade. Not the fastest girl, the fastest runner.
In sixth grade I was the class "artist", but really all I could draw was lady's faces. After we went to see The Mikado in New York City, I was asked to draw the face of the princess in the story. I drew the faces for my two friends who were given the handmaidens to draw, but when I tried to out do myself by drawing a prettier face on my character, I ruined the whole project by wearing a hole through it, trying to get my face to be the most beautiful. I think I learned a lesson there!
Valerie Hobbs did not set out to write novels for young adults, but ever since critics praised her 1995 coming-of-age story How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, she has been a respected author of fiction for teens. At the rate of approximately one book per year, Hobbs has crafted character-driven tales about young people on the verge of adulthood, forced to make serious decisions about the direction their lives will take. Often the young protagonists are confronted with circumstances beyond their control--the death of a guardian or a boyfriend, parental divorce, or physical disability. How they deal with these challenges forms the core of Hobbs's works. Horn Book contributor Jeannine M. Chapman observed that in Hobbs's novels, "the confusion of adolescence is truthfully rendered." A Publishers Weekly reviewer likewise credited Hobbs with "a keen understanding of adolescent moods and concerns."
Hobbs keenly recalls the defining moment of her own young adulthood. When she was in high school, her parents relocated the family from New Jersey to California, separating her not only from friends and beloved activities, but also from the urban surroundings in which she had grown up. This experience provides the catalyst for Hobbs's debut novel, How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back? The story of a young woman with a love of both racing cars and the men who drive them, the book has drawn praise from critics for its original and sensitive portrait of a teenager struggling to find herself amidst a sea of contradictory influences. The title comes from an expression often used by the author's father; the plot comes from the incidents in her own childhood that probably prompted her father's question.
In How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, sixteen-year-old Bronwyn Lewis seeks to carve an unconventional life for herself. Growing up in the late 1950s, in a generation where young women her age chose role models like Doris Day and Donna Reed and looked forward to marriage and a future spending hours in the kitchen, Bronwyn prefers to be behind the wheel of a dragster. Like her creator, Hobbs, the fictional Bronwyn has moved from urban New Jersey to rural California at age fifteen. Her interests and hobbies are different than those of the teens in her new town, and fitting in at her new high school has been almost impossible. The fact that her family is now poor and her out-of-work dad has already attempted suicide makes Bronwyn feel even more withdrawn. Finally, friendship with Lanie, a pretty but poor young woman from the "wild side" of town, allows Bronwyn a way in to a peer group. She falls behind in school, dumps her interest in playing classical piano for rock 'n' roll, and starts dating, drinking, and hanging out with the drag-racing crowd. A sexual fling with the much older racer known as J. C. is interrupted by a budding love affair with the mature and far more suitable Will, but when Will leaves for his first year at West Point, Bronwyn returns to her old ways, with tragic consequences.
Calling Bronwyn "a believable and realistic voice," Joel Shoemaker praised How Far Would You Have Gotten in his review in School Library Journal, noting that the novel's "themes are subtly evoked and life's lessons are learned the hard way." Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin called How Far Would You Have Gotten "an enticing coming-of-age story," asserting that Hobbs "manipulates the elements (including the sex) with energy, confidence, and surprise."
How Far Would You Have Gotten was not written with a young adult audience in mind, although the novel was later marketed for YA readers. Instead, Hobbs wanted to write down her personal recollections of her teen years, complete with her bout with personal tragedy and her own growing awareness of her maturing attitudes. "I think it was probably best that I didn't write [the novel] for young adults," Hobbs told Nathalie Op de Beeck in Publishers Weekly, "because I didn't know enough to pull punches. I just wanted to say it the way it is, the way people forget that it is. I always see those years as fraught with danger."
Hobbs's second novel, Get It while It's Hot. Or Not, focuses on friendships and teen sexual relationships. Megan, Mia, Elaine, and Kit have been fast friends since eighth grade, but as they begin their junior year of high school they find themselves beset with problems. Kit is pregnant and confined to bed, and Megan is being pressured for sex by a boyfriend. Megan's response to her situation is to write a piece on sexual issues for the school newspaper--but the principal bars its publication. According to Marcia Mann in Voice of Youth Advocates, readers of Get It while It's Hot. Or Not "relate to Megan's struggle to define the boundaries of friendship and her responsibilities to her family and community." Janice M. Del Negro in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books observed that young adult readers would likely find the "friends, group dynamics and the contemporary themes appealing." And Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams called the novel "well paced and highly readable, taking on serious issues with humor and intelligence."
Both Carolina Crow Girl and Stefan's Story explore the lives of two unique individuals. Carolina, the heroine of Carolina Crow Girl, lives in an old school bus with her single mother and baby sister. When Carolina saves a crow that has been abandoned by its mother, her enthusiasm for the fledgling leads to friendship with Stefan Millington Crouch, a wealthy boy who is confined to a wheelchair. Stefan's family offers Carolina a chance to escape her poverty, but just as she realizes her crow will need its freedom, she rejects the offer and remains with her mother. Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson found Carolina Crow Girl to be "a deeply moving story with rich, complex characters," and a Publishers Weekly critic deemed it "sensitive in its explorations of friendships."
In Stefan's Story, Stefan travels by himself to Oregon to attend Carolina's mother's wedding and finds that his feelings for Carolina are deepening from friendship into something more serious. For her part, Carolina is embroiled in a controversy that pits local logging interests against environmentalists and fishermen as preparations are made to cut down an old-growth forest. Hobbs does not settle for easy answers in this novel, as Stefan confronts his disabilities and Carolina sees both sides of the logging dispute. According to Cindy Darling Codell in School Library Journal, the author "gives proper balance to the economic pressures of the issue." Writing for Booklist, Hazel Rochman commented, "The wonder of this story is the fusion of the small things with exciting action."
Hobbs explores the plight of urban runaways in Charlie's Run. Charlie, always a model son, decides to run away from home in protest of his parents' impending separation. He intends his absence to be short, but when he falls in with the volatile Doo, he finds himself in Los Angeles, living on the streets. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the novel as "an emotionally complex rendition of a familiar story," adding that Hobbs's "energetic, honest storytelling" moves the story along. Connie Tyrrell Burns in School Library Journal likewise admired the "fast-moving plot, complex and appealing characters" in a book she characterized as "a sure winner." A Horn Book critic noted that Charlie's Run "is a compelling story, convincingly told."
Tender once again addresses the issues of lifestyle change and adjustment to a new household. Olivia Trager is uprooted when her beloved grandmother dies. Forced to move from Manhattan to rural California, Olivia must live with a father who abandoned her at birth. Gradually Olivia's fury gives way to acceptance, particularly after she begins to help her father with his deep-sea diving expeditions. School Library Journal correspondent Francisca Goldsmith liked Olivia's strength and personality, adding that the book draws readers in "immediately and inextricably." In her Booklist review, Debbie Carton found Hobbs's characters "wonderfully human and fully realized," commending the story for its "loving undertones that will linger."
Hobbs was a college student during the Vietnam War era, and her brother was drafted to serve in the conflict. Sonny's War once again draws upon some personal experience as Hobbs crafts a tale of a teenager whose brother is in Southeast Asia while she participates in antiwar protests. Once again Hobbs delves into the morally complex issues surrounding the Vietnam War, as young Cory becomes disillusioned by the actions of a beloved schoolteacher who goes too far during a violent protest. The war's toll on individuals is also portrayed, as Cory's brother returns with wounds both physical and psychological. Miriam Lang Budin noted in School Library Journal that the novel reveals "the ambiguities and tensions driving the nation and individual citizens during this difficult time." In her starred review for Horn Book, Martha V. Parravano called Sonny's War "a convincing, affecting novel," noting that the central character "is as real as real, completely believable in all her teenage vulnerability and sharp-eyed observation."
In an interview with Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA), Hobbs said she writes about growing up under pressure because she wants young adults to know that they are not alone in their troubles. "I think I write to share some feelings I've had and some feelings I think a lot of people have, so when they read them there might be a moment of recognition when they say 'I'm not the only one who feels this way,' or 'I'm OK, and I can get through this,'" she said. "I remember the teenage years being very stressful and thinking I was the only one going through certain things. When I talk to teenagers now, they seem to feel that way, too. I think it gives you courage to see that somebody else went through similar situations and made it to the other side. I realize that's a part of why I write--to share common feelings."
For many years Hobbs taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while also writing her books. More recently she has cut down on her teaching duties in order to have more time to work on novels. She also enjoys meeting students at seminars and school visits. In her interview, Hobbs told AAYA: "We haven't really wanted to think about what teenagers really know and what they really think about. It is a natural tendency to want to protect them from a lot of things, but they are adults now. Everything is so out in the open; there isn't anything that they don't know and don't talk about. To not have it in literature seems hypocritical to say the least."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:BOOKS
· Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
· Booklist, October 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 304; February 15, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Carolina Crow Girl, p. 1070; August, 2001, Debbie Carton, review of Tender, p. 2107; November 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Sonny's War, p. 484; September 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Stefan's Story.
· Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1996, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Get It While It's Hot. Or Not, p. 99.
· Horn Book, December, 1996, Lauren Adams, review of Get It While It's Hot. Or Not, p. 744; March, 2000, review of Charlie's Run, p. 195; September, 2001, Jeannine M. Chapman, review of Tender, p. 584; November-December, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of Sonny's War, p. 760.
· Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1995, Nathalie Op de Beeck, "Flying Starts: Three Children's Novelists Talk about Their Fall '95 Debuts, " pp. 28-30; March 15, 1999, review of Carolina Crow Girl, p. 60; February 7, 2000, review of Charlie's Run, p. 86; August 27, 2001, review of Tender, p. 86.
· School Library Journal, October, 1995, Joel Shoemaker, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 155; March, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Charlie's Run, p. 238; September, 2001, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Tender, p. 225; November, 2002, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Sonny's War, p. 168; August, 2003, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Stefan's Story, p. 160.
· Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1995, C. Allen Nichols, review of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back?, p. 302; December, 1996, Marcia Mann, review of Get It While It's Hot, Or Not, p. 270.
--Suzanne Fisher StaplesA Kirkus and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year