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Titles similar to This Is All
Nineteen-year-old Cordelia Kenn records the story of her life for the daughter with whom she is pregnant, planning to present it to the girl on her sixteenth birthday. The form Cordelia chooses for her tale is unusual: she is writing—or constructing—a pillow book (à la the tenth-century Japanese Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon), in which she not only records a narrative but also jots down poetry, ideas, observations, lists (she’s a compulsive list-maker), musings, and more. Cordelia is such an acute observer and has such a lively, inquiring mind that, ultimately, her pillow book becomes six books. Each one has its own structure and narrative strategy. Book two, for example, is actually two stories—one fills the left-hand pages; the second, the right-hand pages. Readers must choose the order in which to read them. Some will complain about this; others will complain about the novel’s great length. But the curious, the patient, and the adventurous will treasure the novel’s challenges and savor its great rewards.
Arguably, the book offers the most complete character study in all of young-adult literature, showing readers the life, mind, and soul of a teenage girl, while also giving readers full-dress portraits of her baby’s father, her friends, her family, and—most satisfyingly—her English teacher and mentor, Julie. Cordelia records not only her love for these people but also for Shakespeare, for poetry, for words. Usparingly honest and candid, she never flinches from exploring the physical realities of her body or from recounting the sexually explicit details of her affair with an older man and her terrifying ordeal when she is kidnapped and threatened with rape. Cordelia records it all, because she wants to understand it all; she wants to know everything about herself, and her way of understanding is writing. Thus, she explores the why of things as well as the what and the how. In so doing, she’s by turns captivating and maddening, for she loves to analyze and to discover ambiguities.
And so her story challenges—but it will grow richer and larger with each reading. Ultimately, this ambitious and multilayered novel is more than a mere pièce de résistance; it is the masterpiece of one of young-adult literature’s greatest living writers.
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