Valerie's Reviews > Meli's Way

Meli's Way by Meredith Sue Willis
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it was amazing

The transition from childhood to adulthood is no single event but a view into an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of physical, mental, and social changes. There is often a shattering moment, however, when the maturing child realizes her parents are flawed. Sometimes very flawed. The clear division of wrong and right blurs; mistakes are acknowledged as well as the possibility that they may be lived down, lived past. In Meli’s Way, Meredith Sue Willis focuses on one year in which change upends the previously quiet life of 14-year-old Melisaundre, and she must learn to accept her family and friends in all their complexity.
Meli chafes at the safe routines of her private school, where upper-crust girls strive for the next level. She cuts class to prowl the Chinese galleries at the museum, where an encounter with a charismatic young dancer leads her to bolt to an alternative school, manipulating her mother into a plan for an independent study project that will let her follow her obsession with ancient ceramics. The alternative school is just that – a place for students and teachers who don’t quite fit, for many reasons - and here Meli has to establish a genuine identity where she is no longer the “weird one.”
The reader feels she is in the hands of a master storyteller from the opening paragraph: “There’s an explosion at the end of this story, and a little bit of sex in the middle, but those things are just bumps in the road or maybe boulders in a river. They made me change direction, but I’m the river, not the rocks.” Meli’s voice is sure, though she often is not, as she has to create a self not in opposition to her classmates, her teachers, and her mother, but on her own.
Part of this is sexual, as Meli tests her new body and mind amid a constellation of boys and men – Ari, who grows from a nuisance into a protector in the space of a year; Tim, the teacher who sparks a disastrous crush; and a pair of men, young and older, during a summer visit to her father in Italy. As Meli bursts from her protective bubble, she encounters a world where all assumptions may be questioned – even her mother’s love.
Willis has a deep understanding of young people from her many years of teaching – and being taught. She has maintained an acute ear for teenage speech and teenage emotion. The dedication “to the teenagers I’ve taught over the years, and to the teenager in each of us,” gives insight into the author’s approach.
Willis started a very productive career with A Space Apart, followed by the Blair Morgan Trilogy of Higher Ground, Only Great Changes, and Trespassers, in which Blair matures from an Appalachian teenager to a VISTA worker to an activist during the Vietnam War. Since then, Willis has produced seven other novels, including a YA science fiction tale, The City Built of Starships. She’s also written three novels for children and four books about teaching writing, including Blazing Pencils, a guide for young writers
In Meli’s Way, she references elements of Blair Morgan’s story, as she nicely plays off the similarities and differences of two convulsive periods, the dramatic and sometimes violent activism of the late 1960s with the bloody terrorism that has marked the change to a new millennium.
An explosion climaxes the book, but that physical event, however horrendous, is ultimately less significant than the intimate discoveries that shape a child into a young woman, ready to face the future of Meli’s world.
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2015 – Started Reading
January 11, 2016 – Shelved
January 22, 2016 – Finished Reading

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