I just finished reading Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy and was very glad to see a male protagonist who actually has emotional, vibrant, living breathing, what else can I say, organic relationships with other characters in the novel. It was reassuring that a piece of work written for Middle Grade could still have the capacity to move me.
Frankly, I don't resonate with adventure stories where the protagonist (male or female) simply zips around from hair-raising adventure to another without a moment of reflection or emotional recovery. While I understand that sometimes an adventure is just an adventure, those types of stories are not for me. I think a truly good story has to have, at its center, a heart.
In my novels, my male protagonist has some kind of visceral connection with other people, especially another male. In the time travel series, Andy's best friend is Roger; in book 3, All the Time in the World, Andy also finds a role model in Eric. In The Sculptured Rocks, Dan has his best friend, Tom, as well as a bully named Krenshaw. Later he meets the young farmer, Nate. In The Time of His Life, Andy meets Jake Hollis at the camp and of course, in The Promise of Living, Ryan and Dave are inseparable.
But to continue with Stead. She has the ability to sum up a whole slew of emotions by one simple sentence. When the protagonist starts 7th grade, a minor character, Jason, has the ability for him to reflect:
"I go back to thinking about Jason, who was my every-day-after-school friend until the end of sixth grade, when he went to sleepaway camp for seven weeks and then started sitting at the cool table in September like he'd been there all along."
Way to go, Ms. Stead! That says so much and you do it so extremely gracefully without a bit of self-pity.
Here's another sample: if you've read the book, you'll know the backstory. If you don't, no worries, nothing is spoiled:
"Bob draws Candy's blue dot, making a perfect circle and then coloring it in.
When he's done, she looks at it up close. "So what does this mean again?"
Bob tells her. "It means you're not alone. No matter what."
The book is filled with extremely tender moments, and they often took me by surprise. While Ms. Stead certainly doesn't need my Seal Of Approval given her recent success, I can't wait for her next book.