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March 11, 2009

Book Notes - Emily Wing Smith ("The Way He Lived")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Told in six distinct narrative voices, The Way He Lived tells the story of a sixteen year-old boy who dies tragically during a scouting trip. With each narrator's story, the boy's identity takes further shape, and Emily Wing Smith's storytelling talent shines in this young adult book that all ages will appreciate.

Bookslut wrote of the book:

"Smith manages to inject sorrow, confusion and no small amount of wry humor in this unique novel and frame a portrait of Joel that will resonate deeply with readers. This is careful writing that the author makes looks easy; teens will certainly embrace it as the sort of honesty that adult authors often forget they are looking for and, more importantly, completely capable of understanding."

In her own words, here is Emily Wing Smith's Book Notes essay for her debut young adult novel, The Way He Lived:

Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy"

Tabbatha, the first narrator in The Way He Lived, is a blogger, and as such occasionally adds song titles to her posts. One of the first titles she chooses is "Crazy", because it encapsulates everything about her life—who she thinks she is, and what is happening around her.

Besides the fact that this song is directly mentioned it the book, it's on my playlist for other reasons. "Crazy" has such a unique beat that it's easy to pay less attention to the words. Once, when I was really listening to the song, a phrase jumped out at me: "Your emotions haven't let go in so much space."

That's how Tabbatha feels, and all the characters in the novel, to some extent. During intense periods of grief, it so often feels like we have nothing left inside—like we're just full of empty space. But when we're teetering on the edge of sanity, our emotions, even if they disguise themselves, are the last things to "let go."

Avril Lavigne - "I'm With You"

So, there has to be at least one angsty anthem on this playlist. The Way He Lived is basically an ode to angst! "I'm With You" would play in my head when I was writing scenes in Claire's story. Like most of the songs on this playlist, however, it relates to all my characters. Each of them is searching for something, "trying to figure out this life." This song was trendy for a reason—how universal is it to feel all alone with no one there to guide you to a safe landing spot? You have to lean on whatever—or whoever—you can.

Billy Joel -" Only the Good Die Young"

This is another song referenced in the book. Claire counts her problems like beads on a rosary, an idea she hears about in this song: "You didn't count on me/You counted on your rosary."

But in a larger sense, I think many of my characters are "dying young," living in a world where they rely on their culture or their traditions to bring them relief—but nothing does. Joel is the character who actually dies young. The book is about the other characters realizing that doesn't mean they have to die young, too.

John Mayer - "Daughters"

I think this is a great song, with its simple melody and lyrics. I thought of it particularly when I was writing about Norah. Although very few of the scenes in her story deal directly with her absent father, I felt his presence in every word I wrote. I felt like I was the one coming up with the words: "Now I'm starting to see/…it's got nothing to do with me." So much of Norah's life doesn't have to do with the people in it as much as the people who aren't in it, especially her father. Norah's "just like a maze where all of the walls continually change," bouncing between the dutiful good girl she appears to be and the real woman she is inside.

Oasis - "Champagne Supernova"

So, the lyrics of this song don't really have anything to do with my book—after all, the refrain is "Where were you while we were getting high?" No one gets high in my book! But the composition of "Champagne Supernova" has always felt like the perfect background music for The Way He Lived, from the rhythmic sound effects at the beginning to the intense pounding of the chorus. The different music styles used in the song remind me of the way different narrative forms are used in the book—all the different pieces coalesce into one greater whole.

Better Than Ezra - "At the Stars"

If any song encapsulates The Way He Lived, it's this one. I love this song! First off, my opinion is that this is the absolute perfect teen song. When I hear the lyrics, I can feel my eighteen-year-old self riding down an empty frontage road with my friends at three in the morning. I, like the person mentioned in the song, am "screaming out the window at the stars/ Please don't take me home!"

Adolescence is, to me, the stage in life when you're thrown from childhood into the adult world. The characters are dealing with being thrown and still landing on their feet. Maybe that's why I always heard the bridge to this song in my head while I was writing. "Here we are/foreign to their world /straight and composed/your sermons I can do without/and I finally found/that everybody loves to love you/when you're far away."

Emily Wing Smith and The Way He Lived links:

the author's website
the author's book tour events
the publisher's page for the book
video trailer for the book

Bookslut review
Maw Books Blog review
Publishers Weekly reviews
Readingjunky's Reading Roost review
Salt Lake City Weekly review
Teens Read Too review

The 5 Randoms interview with the author
The Flux Blog interview with the author
Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book
Interactive Reader interview with the author
LibraryThing page for the author
LibraryThing page for the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2009 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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