Anything written by Barbara Kingsolver is bound to be good. I got my hands on Unsheltered (2018) because it was waiting to be reshelved on the library cart. Glory! What serendipity!
I used to read fiction just for the story. Now that I’ve got two middle grade novels in print, and one more in the wings, I read differently.
Take, for example, the way writers include exposition. I recently finished two novels in which the information was provided so awkwardly that it was irritating. One book about the Reconstruction era became more of a history text toward the end. The other novel had some character carrying on with facts to the point of boredom.
Kingsolver, of course, does exposition beautifully. I’m only in the beginning third of the novel, but I’m so impressed. The protagonist, Willa, has a conversation with the curator of the town’s archives that gives us the history of Vineland, New Jersey. There’s humor and voice, and the personalities of both speakers are revealed.
While reading Unsheltered, I get the impression that the author crafted and revised each sentence meticulously.
Another feat of expertise is Kingsolver’s inclusion of historic characters. On a whim, I googled Mary Treat, the biologist in the story. Surprise! Mary Treat was a real person, one of the first published female scientists, who corresponded with Charles Darwin, among other illustrious biologists and thinkers. I love that our first encounter with this historic personage is seeing her flat out on the ground, apparently observing some creature of interest.
In this book, the plot moves from present day to Mary Treat’s era, and keeps the reader involved in both parallel stories. I already adore Mary Treat, and the character of Willa has my heartfelt compassion.
How does Kingsolver do this? There’s much to learn from such an accomplished writer.