Friday, January 19, 2018

Benjamin Ludwig and the Story of Ginny Moon (Ludwig at Boswell on January 23, 7 pm)

It started with a staff rec, as these things so often do. Here is Kay Wosewick talking about the novel Ginny Moon: "Ginny Moon has been adopted as a young teen after nine years with her drug-addled mother and several bad years in foster homes. While she has settled into a fairly comfortable routine with her new parents and with other special needs kids at school, she constantly obsesses about the whereabouts of Baby Doll, who Ginny claims she took care of when she lived with her birth mom. Since no one could locate Baby Doll after Ginny was taken from her mom, her adoptive parents don’t take her obsession with Baby Doll seriously until they are expecting a baby. Serious concerns about the safety of the new baby escalate while Ginny grows more determined to find Baby Doll, and soon Ginny is on the verge of being sent to a home for special needs girls. The author draws equally sympathetic portraits of the distraught parents and the confused daughter, and in the end both move forward as a family in a satisfying, believable way. Great for adults and teens too."

Benjamin Ludwig's debut had great advance buzz. Look at these quotes.

Adriana Trigiani, who visited Milwaukee for a Boswell/Books and* Co. event for her last book: "Fresh, funny, heartbreaking and real, you will love this novel. Sometimes an author comes along who captures the moment in its complexity and fierce detail, illuminating the world in a way that changes readers’ perceptions and opens our hearts to understanding. Ginny Moon brings you inside the experience of autism, revealing the experience of it, not only what it must be like from the outside, but how it must feel from within. Benjamin Ludwig paints in every color with ferocity and ultimately, joy. I was galvanized by this read. You will be too. This is a book to savor and share with everyone you know. I did and I will."

Margot Livesey, who also visited Boswell for her last book: "If I could ask Ginny Moon (editor's note - the person, not the book) one question - and she only does allow one question at a time - it would be what does it feel like to be the heroine of a compulsively readable novel? Benjamin Ludwig does such a wonderful job of conjuring Ginny onto the page and of making us turn those pages at breathless speed. Ginny Moon is a sparkling debut.”

And Rebecca Makkai, who not only visited for her last book, but is also (we're hoping!) coming for her forthcoming novel, The Great Believers: "Ginny Moon had me wrapped around her little finger from the first page, and I’d have stayed under her spell for a book twice as long; it made me late for many appointments, and I was never sorry. This is a thrilling, often hilarious story, as heart-pounding as it is big-hearted." (so no italics, because I think we're talking about the character)

And maybe just one more from Graeme Simsion, who, wait for it, came to Milwaukee for his last book too, a Boswell-Shorewood Public Library cosponsored event: “Ginny Moon is a brilliant debut. In asking us to identify with a developmentally delayed, autistic teenage girl and her peculiar obsession, Ben Ludwig set himself an Olympic degree of difficulty, but he succeeds with the extraordinary Ginny Moon. I was unable to put the book down as I willed her to overcome the obstacles within and around her. Ben Ludwig is a fine observer of human dynamics, and his sometimes dark sense of humor means that the emotional journey, challenging as it is, never becomes wearing. I was mightily impressed - this novel has all the elements for critical and popular success!”

There are others, but it looks like Graeme's quote had the most mileage for publishers, especially on the international front.

As you can see, all kinds of author have lent their name to praising this first novel. Aside from the dialogue, it's all from the voice of Ginny, a adopted kid on the spectrum who keeps running away from her forever home in the hopes that she can go back to her birth mother, not so much because she's attached to the mom, but because she feels like she needs to take care of Baby Doll. Several reviewers have compared the book to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I don't want folks to think it is a carbon copy - Ginny Moon is its own animal, and definitely has more of an American vibe.

The first thing that happened when we were offered this event is that Jane and I both read the book. I started immediately trying to pitch the book to social services organizations, particularly such as the Autism Society, Autism Speaks, and Special Olympics. The publisher highlighted in the author bio that Ludwig was inspired to tell this story from talking with fellow parents when they went to Special Olympics basketball games. I hoped to have a cosponsor but alas, my outreach was for naught - I knew I was working on a shorter time frame than normal, but how could I say no to this story?

After Jane read the book, we discussed it some more and she convinced me that while this has a special needs character, it's more of an adoption story, and she gave me a list of more organizations that would be interested in it. It's fun to have a book you can outreach to in so many directions. We of course added the book to our winter-spring book club flyer, and also made some pitches to area schools, as Ginny Moon has been often named a great YA crossover title. It was named one of School Library Journal's Best adult books for teens for 2017. Hey, maybe it will get a Printz Award!

I'm excited to say that Jenny was able to connect with Elmbrook and Ludwig will be talking to students at Brookfield Central. It's hard to place authors at high schools, despite how rewarding the experience can see. This past week we had Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings (Zenith) at Milwaukee High School of the Arts and after the authors spoke, students shared their own creative writing. While I can't say we would have been able to place Colson Whitehead at an area school (folks asked!) we do have Omar El Akkad coming to Nicolet in February. Contact if you're a high school administrator or teacher and are interested in this program.

There is some interesting backstory to the publishing of this novel. For one thing, before publication the book was titled The Original Ginny Moon, and you can still see traces of that title on the internet. If you read the book, you'll understand what that title means, but I think the publisher correctly figured out that folks who did not read the book were confused by the title. So they shortened it. And I also think that this book was one of the first titles with the Park Row imprint instead of Mira, which was what Harlequin used for books that weren't genre. Now I think Mira is for books that are romance adjacent and Park Row is more for, well I don't like to use the word literary because I think it's a little judgmental and loaded, but let's say, they are books that are review-adjacent.

As regular readers know, I am always fascinated by cover changes between hardcover and paperback and I think in this case, this paperback jacket image is entirely appropriate for this book. A type-heavy and somewhat quirky design for the hardcover gives way for a photograph that indicates to me that at least someone on the art team knew what the book was about. That's not always the case!

Ginny Moon got some nice reviews, such as a write-up in The New York Times Book Review. Yes, we're aware it was part of The Shortlist, but do you understand how much cause for celebration it is when a book from an imprint of Harlequin gets a review? Here's Jan Stuart: "Ludwig’s novel recalls Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (editor's note: as we mentioned before!) in the singular way it filters domestic tensions through the hyper-alert yet skewed viewpoint of a special-needs child. His narrative wheels go flat whenever he uses Ginny’s scrupulously direct psychiatrist as a messenger to relay transpired events, but he displays an acute sensitivity to his protagonist’s deliberate thought processes. He also succeeds in locating a plangent, unpatronizing humor in Ginny’s literalness and deadpan certitude. ('When you hide a dead cat you should never put it under your mattress.') And that’s no small miracle."

Here's a video of Becky Anderson (of Anderson's) interviewing Ludwig.

 I can see this book offering a great discussion and it's really a particularly good choice for folks involved with social services. But most of all, we'd love for you to see Benjamin Ludwig in person and here him talk more about the story, how he was led to write it and the impact it's had on readers. Join us at Boswell Tuesday, January 23, 7 pm. This is event is free and open to the public and it's ok if you already bought a copy of the book. Come meet the author and get it signed!

* Officially this should be with an ampersand, but ampersand's are very difficult to maintain when you're jumping in and out of HTML code. And that fact would be interesting-to-the-blog-adjacent.

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