master writer #2–laura manivong, escaping the tiger
Posted by Lisha Cauthen
Last Friday I started a blog-series in which I look at kidlit books whose authors have mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.
This week it’s Laura Manivong’s Escaping the Tiger:
Straddling the Middle-Grade /Young Adult market, Escaping the Tiger tells the story of one family’s escape from communist Laos. 12-year-old Vonlai, his sister Dalah and his parents risk their lives to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. There, they discover life in a refugee camp is anything but pleasant. They will have to conquer hunger, violence, boredom and despair in their quest to build a future where they can be free.
LAURA MANIVONG’S SUPERPOWER
She makes you feel as if you are physically present in her setting.
Maybe you’ve been in a refugee camp in southeast Asia, but I haven’t. After reading Escaping the Tiger, however, I feel like I visited there for a very long time.
1. A great way to establish setting, especially in an exotic locale, is to USE DESCRIPTIONS THAT ARE ROOTED IN THE CULTURE WHICH YOU ARE DESCRIBING. Laura does this here, where Pah tells Vonlai on the night of their escape how quietly he must walk on the way from their house to the Mekong River.
“Walk like a tiger hunting a meal. Understand?”
Notice that Laura isn’t even describing “the setting”, per se, but this one line lets you visualize an entire jungle, and Vonlai walking silently through it. As a bonus, the ferocious image of a tiger lets you feel the anxiety of carrying this order out successfully. It means life or death.
2. Laura has the distinct advantage of being married to Troy Manivong, who escaped from Laos and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand as a young man. She had access to USE DETAILS SO SPECIFIC ONLY SOMEONE WHO HAD BEEN THERE WOULD KNOW THEM.
“His bike that had a rolled towel wired and taped on for a seat.”
Even novels that are pure fiction contain details so well thought-out they appear to be true.
3. An effective way to draw in your readers is to SHOW HOW THE SETTING AFFECTS YOUR CHARACTERS. Laura doesn’t describe the weather or living conditions anywhere in this passage:
“Inside the building, Vonlai tried to sit upright on the bench that lined the wall. Pah and Meh filled out paper-work. Dalah slouched over her own lap, her face buried behind a wall of hair that should have been washed a week ago. An oscillating fan pushed a blanket of air toward them every few seconds….
Vonlai swept palmfuls of sweat from behind his knees…
Vonlai rubbed a hand across his leg. A streak of clean skin appeared and a muddy drip of sweat fell from his hand.”
I would like a bubble bath and loofah sponge immediately, please. Ick.
Of course Laura Manivong has a lot of tricks in her bag. Pick up Escaping the Tiger to learn from her, my candidate to you as Setting-the-Reader-In-The-Book Master.
Did you know Escaping the Tiger started out as a Picture Book? What does Laura’s Manivong-family think of the book? Watch a mini-interview:
About Lisha CauthenLisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.
Posted on April 23, 2010, in writing and tagged book report, children's authors, children's writing, childrens' literature, escaping the tiger, kidlit, Laos, laura manivong, master writer, master writers, middle grade lit, refugee camp, revising, setting, superpower, Thailand, writing, writing tool, YA lit, YA literature. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.