When literary agents say they are looking for “voice-driven” writing (of any genre), I imagine they are looking for someone like Pamela Ribbon.
Because I’ve been so immersed in the world of creative nonfiction and memoir for the last few years, my fiction reading is rather anemic. However, I wanted to read something different while recovering from oral surgery and I enjoy reading Ribbon’s blog at Pamie.com, so I started with her third (and, at the time, most recent) book Going in Circles.
And promptly fell in love. Within two weeks, I’d read Going in Circles, plus her earlier books Why Moms Are Weird and Why Girls Are Weird. So if it’s not obvious already, I approached her new book You Take It from Here (out July 3) as a fan.
The premise is that Danielle’s best friend Smidge is dying of cancer and wants Danielle to take over her life when she dies, to become “Smidge 2.0.” The book description declares it “in the spirit of Beaches and Steel Magnolias,” so I was a little skeptical, like maybe it would be too sweet or feel like something I read when I a teenager longing to leave Texas.
But then I read the first line: “Jenny, I’ve got this hunch that if you’re reading this, your other hand is currently holding a lit match.” I was hooked. The book is essentially a (very) long letter to Smidge’s daughter, explaining and commenting on Smidge’s request and its aftermath. If Danielle thinks Jenny is going to burn this letter, then I have to know what happens. The novel follows the two women after Smidge makes her request and it’s an interesting ride, one you should read in the novel, not in a review. (Yes, you should read this book.)
Ribbon’s writing is so smart and unafraid that her characters feel like people I’ve known and loved—and hated, but couldn’t help but love. (As Smidge would say, “I hatechoo.”) Smidge is a force of nature and it’s heartbreaking that she’s facing terminal cancer, but Ribbon doesn’t make her a martyr or an angel. (In fact, a Southern belle of a devil could be an appropriate description at times.) And Danielle is also a smart ass who’s tough and goofy, yet deeply wounded by the parents who left her. It’s easy to understand why these two women became family and why Danielle would even consider fulfilling Smidge’s request that she become “Smidge 2.0.”
Ribbon’s book is a rare book in that it’s genuinely sassy, smart and heartfelt, that sounds real people, and is fun—and is not consumed with finding a husband/wife, having a baby, or shopping and losing weight.
You Take It from Here is the perfect summer read: entertaining enough that it feels at home next to the pool, and compelling enough that you risk sunburn because you can’t quit reading. (Okay, I got sunburned because I couldn’t put down the book.)
Thanks to Rare Bird Lit for a preview copy of this book.