Breakfast with Neruda by Laura Moe (May 2016)
“This debut is … flecked with an endearing blend of idealism, empathy, and quirk.”— Booklist
“Moe uses lyrical language to introduce teenagers whose problems go beyond bullying or unrequited love. She treats Michael’s unusual home situation with realistic grace, while the relationship between the two teenagers is organic and interesting. A summer long punishment becomes a sensitive, thoughtful novel.”—Kirkus Reviews
Michael Flynn is just trying to get through his community service after he made the dumb decision to try to blow up his friend’s car with fireworks–the same friend who stole Michael’s girl. Being expelled and losing his best buddy and his girlfriend are the least of his problems: Michael has learned to hide everything, from his sick hoarder mother to the fact that he’s stuck living in a 1982 Ford LTD station wagon he calls the Blue Whale.
Then one day, during mandatory community service, he meets Shelly, a girl with a past, who’s also special enough to unmask Michael’s deepest secrets. Can he manage to be worthy of her love, a guy living in a car, unable to return to his chaotic and fit-to-be-condemned home? Shelly won’t give up, and tries to peel back the layers of garbage and pain to reveal Michael’s immense heart.
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This book is one of those moving pieces of literature you hope is adopted into the curriculum of middle and high schools across the country. So often kids like Michael and Shelly are labeled as trouble makers and cast aside, written off as though they have no chance of success, and it’s a vicious cycle. Breakfast With Neruda gives us their side of the story, and how many times there might be a lot more going on in these so-called deviants lives than we imagine. With clarity and pathos, Laura Moe paints a hopeful picture with brief instances of a light trying to break through, amidst great struggle on the journey these kids face to find who they really are, or want to be. I highly recommend this and will definitely be adding it to my daughter’s home library for when she’s older. (She’s 3 so I doubt she’d really let me read it to her just yet, we’ll try tackling Pooh bear first.)
A high school teacher and librarian, Laura Moe is a published poet (in journals included Mischief, Caprice, and Other Poetic Devices), but her great love is fiction. This is her first novel.
- Often we ask what someone’s favorite book is, but I’d like to know what book really stuck with you as a kid (or teen?) I was a voracious reader as a kid, but two books that stand out from my early ten reading years are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Catcher in the Rye. Both books have compelling narrators and great story lines.
- What are your thoughts on the current trends in gender roles in YA fiction? Gender roles are changing in real life, and I like that YA lit reflects that with strong female characters like Katniss Everdeen and Hazel Grace Lancaster: young women who discover their own strengths and don’t shrink back when faced with life altering challenges. I think an unexplored topic is transgender. I’d love to see someone deal with that topic sensitively for teens.
- Do you think that realistic fiction can still be an escape from reality or that it’s purely meant to help us understand the real world? It can do both. Fiction writers create new worlds within the realm of pages, and stories can delight and transcend, yet within that fictional world lies an ocean of truth that enables teens to understand themselves and their peers. The teen years are such a vulnerable time, and young readers benefit by seeing aspects of themselves in novels. Stories also help readers understand the differences between us. It may be called fiction, but there are layers of truth within.
- Where is the weirdest place you have ever worked on your writing? When I was working on an earlier draft of Breakfast With Neruda we had a major power outages in much of Ohio after a vicious summer storm, and for nearly two weeks much of our city was without electricity. In the aftermath of the storm we also suffered a heat wave. My friend Elizabeth and I started loitering around the food court at the local mall to cool off and borrow their electricity so we could charge our laptops and write.
- What message do you most hope readers to take away from Breakfast with Neruda? I saw a great quote in a nonfiction book called Just Mercyby Bryan Stevenson. In it, the author says, “we are all broken by something.” In Michael’s case his brokenness is more obvious given his poverty, but with Shelly her damage less apparent until she opens up and trusts Michael.
- Ok, I have to ask- do you have a favorite Neruda passage to share? There are so many wonderful Neruda passages. I love his description of watermelon as “the green whale of summer,” and “the month of June trembled like a butterfly.” My favorite Neruda poem is from 100 Love Sonnets, “Sonnet 89,” which begins with When I die, I want your hands on my eyes; I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me once more….Like Shelly, this poem often makes me cry.
- If you were creating your dream cast, who would play Michael Flynn and why? I recently watched a movie called Ashby, where the teen character played by Nat Wolff befriends a former CIA assassin. As I watched I realized Nat embodied my vision of Michael. In some ways the character was mature beyond his years, yet still prone to making bad decisions.