Not despite the hurdles--because of them

YA novelist Jo Knowles wins a second Crystal Kite Award


MANCHESTER, N.H., Aug. 28, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Not despite the hurdles—because of them.

A second Crystal Kite Award adds to the momentum of Jo Knowles's unexpected career as a Young Adult novelist.

She thought it would be easy. It turned out to be very hard, actually, but then she hasn't given herself any breaks in her choice of subject matter.

In 1992 Jo Knowles entered a Master's program at Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature. She intended it as preparation for a career as an editor in the children's publishing industry, or else as a librarian. And for her Master's thesis, she thought it might be easy to write a Young Adult novel—or at least easier than the scholarly paper that would have been required instead.

"I was so wrong," she said last week in an interview on the website Author Turf. "But it was the best learning experience I could have asked for. Hard. But extremely rewarding."

It kept on being hard while she continued writing in that genre. Ten years passed before she broke into print, but now it's also rewarding in the most literal sense of the word. This month Knowles won her second Crystal Kite Member Choice Award from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for her novel "See You at Harry's" (Candlewick Press, 2012).

Winners are chosen by vote among SCBWI members, and Knowles' previous Crystal Kite was for "Pearl" (Holt, 2011).  "See You at Harry's" is her fourth novel in print, and this second Kite adds to the raft of awards her books have garnered: a New York Times Editor's Choice and Notable Book of 2012, Amazon's Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, an International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an American Library Association Notable of 2012, the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults.

A number of those awards—and more, actually—belong to the now much-honored "See You at Harry's," a novel that also continues Knowles' penchant for tackling tough subject matter.

"Acutely aware of the challenges teenagers must face, Jo Knowles has, in the past six years, written several acclaimed young adult novels tackling some of the more grueling hurdles, including teen pregnancy and abuse," wrote Claire Messud in the New York Times last year. "Her new book, 'See You at Harry's,' offers, on the one hand, a deft and delicate handling of commonplace traumas—how to negotiate bullying on the school bus, what it means for everyone in a family when a teenager comes to terms with his sexuality—and on the other, the enormous and mercifully rare drama of a child's accidental death."

Messud wondered in her review if that might be a lot of trauma to fit into a novel geared to a middle-school audience, and if the shift in scale, from the commonplace in the book's first half to the enormous in the second, might be problematic.

For Knowles, however, all these "grueling hurdles," large or small, packed tight or strung between books, are also the troubling questions that draw her to the keyboard in the first place. These are questions she finds best answered when opened up in different people's lives and dramatized to their logical ends—as in a novel.

"I write about things I want to understand more fully, which usually involves approaching them from a different angle or point of view," she said. "Most often my stories come from a place of unrest in my own heart. Writing helps me make sense of those things, and ultimately helps me find peace."

This second Crystal Kite suggests that Knowles is making very good sense. Her fifth novel appears next month from the Candlewick Press, and the advance reviews for "Living With Jackie Chan," all starred, are providing more acclaim. "Especially well-crafted," said Publisher's Weekly of this sequel to a previous novel, "Jumping Off Swings" (Candlewick, 2009).  From Kirkus Reviews: "Knowles's knack for developing relationships and creating authentic and memorable characters is truly superior, and the story positively brims with intelligence, sensitivity, and humor."

Diane Les Becquets, director of the MFA writing program at Southern New Hampshire University and herself the author of three YA novels, says that Knowles herself brims with these qualities.

"We have a very strong Young Adult track in our program," said Les Becquets, "and having a faculty member who is so warm, accomplished, and personable—and who's so good at making sense of the special challenges of YA fiction—well, we're very glad Jo made that thesis choice at Simmons."

And about that shift in the scale of trauma in "See You at Harry's?" Reviewer Claire Messud let the final arbiter on that be her own ten-year-old daughter. "And let it be said that my daughter reads far more books of this ilk than I do; indeed, she represents their target audience," wrote Messud. "Her considerable pleasure    in reading 'See You at Harry's' is what counts."

A photo accompanying this release is available at: