To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer, 304 pp, RL 5
Originally reviewed on February 4, 2019
To Night Owl from Dogfish by
Review Copy from Dial Books for young Readers
To Night Owl from Dogfish is one of my favorite kind of novels - epistolary. What begins as a bit of an aggressive communication from Bett Devlin to Avery Bloom blossoms (pun intended) into a meaningful friendship. Over the course of the novel, told mostly in emails between the twelve-year-old girls, but with occasional communications from other adults in their lives, the girls - and readers - learn a lot about friendship, love, family and the complexities of all three.
Reading her dad's emails, Bett Devlin learns that her dad is going spend the summer riding motorcycles across China with his new love, Sam Bloom, father of twelve-year-old Avery. Both girls have been raised, almost exclusively, by their fathers and have very close relationships with them. Bett is especially upset to learn that while the dads are in China, they plan to send their daughters to the same summer camp so that they can bond. The girls are united in their refusal to become friends and decide not to speak to each other at camp (although emails are still an option). Of course this doesn't work and it is delightful to see them gradually open up to each other, find value in each other and come to regard each other.
Where To Night Owl from Dogfish really excels is in the adults orbiting around the girls and the difficult relationships they navigate, often mirroring the relationship of Bett and Avery. What I love most about this book is the honest, thoughtful, appropriately narrow at times, view of adult lives and relationships that Goldberg and Wolitzer give readers. There are so many books for young readers about navigating friendships it is refreshing to read about a kid's book that honestly shows how adult relationships and choices affect kids. Readers will learn what it takes to be friends with someone who is very different from you and also what it is like when the adults in your life have relationships, both failed and successful.
For an epistolary review of this epistolary novel, click HERE. Read on for a short interview with the authors!
What are the constraints - and freedoms - of writing an epistolary novel?
Is it similar to writing a first person narrative?
HGS: We wrote the first draft of this book by each taking a character and sending email back and forth. Later we rewrote each other’s character and now it’s all a big mix of both of our writing. But what was wonderful about writing this novel was that the email/letter format was incredibly liberating. I believe for me it might be the most natural way to write because it's first person, it's light, and it's conversational.
MW: I agree. It was exciting if nerve-wracking to wait by the laptop or phone to find out what would happen next in our book. I haven’t had that experience as a novelist before.
HGS: Right? We didn't have an outline. We just had characters and an idea for a story.
And then we took off.
MW: But there were challenges, definitely. What was the hardest thing for you?
HGS: I think figuring out how to tell real action--things that were happening right in the moment--that was hard. We had to always write after the event had happened.
I think we did the most work on those sections of the book. Do you agree?
MW: Yes, I do. We always had to figure out how to keep those parts dramatic, but I think we worked it out.
Writing this book—like any book—was hard. But the whole process of writing and shaping this book was also joyful.
HGS: I agree. It was a celebration of our friendship.
MW: It was. I feel very un-jaded about it. And now publishing the novel and
going on tour together will be an extension of what the book is about.
HGS: Someone asked me recently if we fought about things when we were writing and I said that we've
never fought about anything. I guess we're really on the same page. Isn't that true?
MW: It is absolutely true. I feel that if one of us felt so strongly about something,
the other one would have deferred to her, because we trust each other.
And that kind of strong feeling would probably come because the thought
behind it was a good one. And also, I think both of us would rather laugh than argue.
HGS: And there can never be too much laughter!