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February 14, 2014

Book Notes - Laurel Snyder "Seven Stories Up"

Seven Stories Up

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Seven Stories Up is another outstanding children's book from Laurel Snyder. This middle-grade novel combines magical realism and time travel to tell a touching story of friendship and family that all ages will enjoy.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Laurel Snyder's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Seven Stories Up:

Seven Stories Up is a companion to my last novel for kids, Bigger than a Bread Box. The main character of that book was Rebecca. This is the story of her mother, Annie, and the magical adventure she has a generation earlier, on a stormy night in 1987.

In a lot of ways, Bigger than a Bread Box was a book about all the things we can't change in our lives. About how even magic can't give us control over other people, or the world. About how we can only really be responsible for ourselves.

This book is another kind of story entirely. It's about how sometimes—with or without magic—we do have the power to alter someone else's life dramatically. To change the world, and even the fabric of history.

"After Hours," Velvet Underground

Seven Stories Up is set in both 1987 and 1937. It's a time travel story about a girl named Annie, who falls back in history and meets her own very lonely grandmother, Molly, in a particularly hard summer.

This song represents neither of their decades, but there's something about it… and it rang in my head the whole time I was writing.

"Oh, someday I know someone will look into my eyes, and say Hello you're my very special one."

Seven Stories Up is about a kid who desperately needs a very special one. About how different her life is in the reality where she finds it.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Judy Garland

In addition to being friendless, Molly is in quarantine. She's an asthmatic, and her parents have isolated her on the top floor of the very grand Hotel Calvert, in what she calls her "Lonely Room." She spends a lot of time staring out her window, past the fire escape, into the streets of Baltimore.

The Wizard of Oz came out just a few years after this story takes place, so Molly wouldn't have known the song. But I think it would have resonated with her, deeply. 

"If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow…"

Molly has no idea how to fly.

"The Night They Invented Champagne," Leslie Caron

In the first draft of the book, there was a scene in which Annie and Molly—exploring the Hotel Calvert— discovered a glass of wine in a dumbwaiter, and drank it.

However, it was suggested to me that 12 year olds today are not encouraged to drink adult beverages, and so I took the scene out (along with a waterfront brothel scene—but that's another story).

I understood why we needed to make the cut, precisely because the scene wasn't a cautionary tale. Because they had fun with their Cabernet. But the tone of the scene was this song, a childhood favorite of mine. Wine! The joy of discovery!

Now that song is a ghost in the book, for me. It lingers.

"Brand New Key," Melanie

In one scene, Molly and Annie get into hot water when Molly attempts to roller skate for the first time inside a Woolworths.

I think some part of my brain borrowed that moment from the wonderful classic "Roller Skates," by Ruth Sawyer. But once the scene was in the book, this song was there too. Every time I tweaked it, I listened to this song.

"God Bless the Child," Billie Holiday

In the second draft of this book, I had a great idea! I wanted to include historical cameos in Seven Stories Up—important figures like HL Mencken, Thurgood Marshall, and other notable Baltimoreans.

I knew Billie Holiday had lived in Baltimore as a kid, and I had an image in my head, of her sitting on a stoop, singing, as Molly and Annie ran past. But when I did my research, I discovered she wouldn't have been in town in 1937, so I had to cut the scene…

Still, Holiday's voice permeated the book.

"Streets of Baltimore," Gram Parsons

Whenever I'm home in Baltimore, this song gets stuck in my head, and last summer, when I went back for the Baltimore Book Festival (highly recommended) I had a magical night, walking the streets of Mt Vernon, where the book is largely set.

"She said the prettiest place on earth was Baltimore that night."

From the boats on the harbor to the gray brick streets, Annie falls in love with Baltimore in 1937, and she carries that love back to 1987 with her.

She'll never be the same. Trust me.

"Take My Breath Away," Berlin

Both girls in this book have asthma. Hence, this song. Although the lyrics have almost nothing in common with the book.

But in a related story, I danced my own first slow dance to this song in 1987. With Billy, who made me feel like I was having an asthma attack.

"They Can't Take That Away from Me," Fred Astaire

"We may never ever meet again…"

This song is very definitely the theme of the book. It plays on the radio in the Lonely Room. It echoes through the ballroom of the Hotel Calvert. It was a huge hit in 1937, and Fred Astaire was the Justin Bieber of his age.

Also, it's haunting. For me, who was once a lonely girl herself.

"…the way you've changed my life… no, no… they can't take that away from me."

People can't always stay with us, physically, in this world. But sometimes we manage to carry them with us all the same. And that feeling—the security of knowing we're loved—changes us.

I'll call that the alchemy of friendship. It's what the book is really about. On the inside.

Laurel Snyder and Seven Stories Up links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Bigger than a Bread Box
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Penny Dreadful

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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