I read the book The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner. Gianna is a delightful character—she’s an artist, a runner, and a bit disorganized. Sometimes she has a hard time focusing on things she has to do for school, like the all-consuming leaf collection project for science. However, she is always busy with important and “genius” work—like splatter painting her room and painting other pictures inspired by the masters. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, as does her beloved Nonna, her mother’s mother, who lives with them.
I love the way the author helped us get to know Gianna, Zig, Ian, Mr. and Mrs. Zales, Nonna, Ruby, and even the evil principal, Mr. Randolph, and Gianna’s arch rival, Bianca. The characters just live normal lives for a few weeks during one autumn in Vermont, but they come alive on the pages.
I learned an important lesson about writing from reading this book. I don’t have to write wild, fantastic tales about future dystopias to write a good story. The last three times I’ve done NaNoWriMo, that’s what I attempted (the crazy sci-fi stuff ). This book didn’t need an outrageous plot line because characters were so well-developed. I couldn’t stop reading The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. because I cared about the people, particularly Gianna and her grandmother, Nonna. I wanted to see what happened next in their relationships, which were never hokey.
I think there is a second reason I learned about writing from this book. Last summer, I participated in the Teachers Write Summer Writing Camp. Kate Messner and a host of other published authors guided us through writing exercises. I felt like I got to know Kate over the summer as I participated in the activities and read her inspiring comments on my and other teachers’ work. Now when I read her books, I’m reminded of the summer writing camp, and I can hear her teaching me about writing through her stories.
Here is one of the passages that made me cry when I read it. Because her father was called away for an emergency, Gianna finds herself at the doctor’s office with her Nonna, who is being tested for Alzheimer’s disease.
“How long have you had a living will?”
Nonna takes a deep breath. “Your mother helped me get it together a few months ago.”
Now I can’t stop the tears. “Mom knows too? And it was months ago? How come nobody told me?”
“Because you should be creating your art and running through the mud and catching leaves,“ she says.
“Well, I’m not, am I? I’m here in this stupid office listening to him ask you stupid questions, and my leaf project isn’t done, and Mom is off at some meeting with a bunch of ladies while we talk about what happens when you…” I can’t say the word. I can’t. I start sobbing just thinking about what it will be like to lose Nonna.
“I’m not going anywhere just yet.” She gets off the examination table and bends down to hug me. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through this with me today.” She holds me for a long time.
I would recommend to any young reader this sweet book about Gianna.