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The Color of Absence: 12 Stories about Loss and Hope

The Color of Absence: 12 Stories about Loss and Hope

by James Howe

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"In adolescence we feel our losses as if for the first time, with a greater depth of pain and drama than we are aware of having experienced ever before," says James Howe in his introduction to this stunning collection of short stories in which some of today's most celebrated authors of fiction for young adults explore the many faces of loss - the common


"In adolescence we feel our losses as if for the first time, with a greater depth of pain and drama than we are aware of having experienced ever before," says James Howe in his introduction to this stunning collection of short stories in which some of today's most celebrated authors of fiction for young adults explore the many faces of loss - the common thread they share and the hope that is born through change.

You're Not a Winner Unless Your Picture's in the Paper • Avi
Red Seven • C.b. Christiansen
Enchanted Night • James Howe
Atomic Blue Pieces • Angela Johnson
Summer of Love • Annette Curtis Klause
The Tin Butterfly • Norma Fox Mazer
Season's End • Walter Dean Myers
Shoofly Pie • Naomi Shihab Nye
The Fire Pond • Michael J. rosen
What Are You Good At? • Roderick Townley
Chair • Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Rialto • Jacqueline Woodson and Chris Lynch

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Two short story collections address the emotional life of adolescents. The author of the Bunnicula books, James Howe, collects a dozen works (one of which he penned himself) in The Color of Absence: 12 Stories About Loss and Hope. Walter Dean Myers's "Season's End" covers much more than the close of baseball season; in "Shoofly Pie," Naomi Shihab Nye explores the way humor and sadness live side by side; and Jacqueline Woodson and Chris Lynch collaborate on "The Rialto," excerpted from a forthcoming novel. (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Conceived and published before September 11, 2001, this collection has already demonstrated its suitability to occasions of mass grief as well as to those times that are difficult at a more personal level. Howe, author of Bunnicula (1979) as well as the teen novel The Watcher (1997), and no stranger to loss and hope himself, invited a dozen well-known YA authors to contribute to this volume. Annette Curtis Klause uses her hallmark vampire theme to an effect that is both touching and humorous. Angela Johnson provides a credible narrative from the viewpoint of one brother grieving at the unexpected death of another. Virginia Euwer Wolff writes in the form of a dramatic dialogue, in which a teenaged boy recognizes and copes with his grandfather's loss of memory. Among the remaining tales, by Michael J. Rosen, Walter Dean Myers, Norma Fox Mazer, and others, one by Chris Lynch writing with Jacqueline Woodson stands out not only for its quality but for the experience of reading a piece authored in tandem by these individually prolific storytellers. Each story in the collection ends with a page about the author and what motivated him or her to create this particular story. Pair this with Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry collection, What Have You Lost (Greenwillow, 1999), for teens in search of introspective literature or to spark a group of creative writers. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, 238p.,
— Francisca Goldsmith
Noted children's author Howe gathers an impressive collection of short stories by well-known young adult authors including Avi, Norma Fox Mazer, and Walter Dean Myers. The anthology features twelve poignant tales about coping with grief and loss, ranging from the loss of a beloved parent to the bitter recognition that life is sometimes enormously unfair. Yet these are not bleak, hopeless stories of teen angst and despair but are stories of growth and hope. The writing styles vary intriguingly from the staccato, almost free verse rhythm of Angela Johnson's "Atomic Blue Pieces" to the dramatic dialogue of Virginia Euwer Wolff's Chair: A Story for Voices. Teens familiar with the popular vampire stories of Annette Curtis Klause will relish the narrator from Summer of Love, a jaded three-hundred-year-old vampire who unexpectedly is affected by the loss of a cherished stray cat. Enchanted Night by editor Howe is singularly impressive, touching upon two difficult adolescent issues—the death of a much loved yet overpowering parent and the struggle to establish one's own identity. The characters in each of these stories must face the anguish of loss, but the trauma of grief ultimately brings them new strength and maturity. Teens who enjoy inspirational fiction and devour the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series will find this short story collection appealing. Librarians searching for books to recommend to troubled or grieving teens will appreciate the addition of this well-written short story collection. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Simon & Schuster, 256p, $16. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Jan Chapman SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Children's Literature
A host of award-winning writers for young people, including Avi, James Howe and Naomi Shihab Nye, contributed stories to this fine collection dealing with the themes of grief and loss. In "Summer of Love," a vampire remembers what it is to love and lose when he befriends a little kitten. In "What Are You Good At," a boy comes to terms with his father who is dying of AIDS. Another story opens with a family burying Grandma in the backyard—it is not what you think. Keep a box of tissues handy, because in each story, loss is poignant and heartrending, whether caused by the death of a loved one, the pain of growing old, or the end of a relationship. Following each tale is a note from the author, which offers insight and background on the piece. Kudos to James Howe for assembling an array of impressive talent in this truly memorable compilation. 2001, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Howe invited 12 well-known YA authors to contribute pieces and added a story of his own to the mix, resulting in a finely crafted anthology. It starts out with a tremendously moving piece by Annette Curtis Klause, in which the vampire Simon (from her novel The Silver Kiss) braves entering a church in order to try to save his beloved cat during the Summer of Love. He realizes that loving Grimalkin and losing her was the most painful thing he could ever encounter, but that the experience has transformed him into a being with a sort of soul. Other stories vary widely and may serve to entice teens with different reading tastes-some may have a stronger emotional response to a story about the end of a relationship than to the loss of a grandparent, or vice versa. All of these selections share themes of hope, and show that what you endure makes you stronger, and that loss provides the opportunity to reassess and cherish personal relationships. A solid choice for all collections.-Susan Riley, Mount Kisco Public Library, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Some of today's most celebrated YA authors, including Avi, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson (writing with Chris Lynch), Annette Curtis Klause, Norma Fox Mazer, Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Howe himself, are represented in this generally fine though uneven anthology. Loss appears in various guises here, including deaths of parents, a grandparent, pets; loss of a career and friends; disappearance of a beloved sibling; the theft of a worthy-of-first-prize bicycle; and the possible end of a marriage. What all these stories share in common is their hopeful, life-affirming message that even painful losses help one to accept, change, and grow. Most memorable is Klause's "Summer of Love." Set in San Francisco in the summer of 1967, the story revisits Simon, vampire "hero" of this author's acclaimed novel The Silver Kiss (1991), and imagines him as the owner, for a short time, of a cat. Imagine his-and readers'-astonishment when he discovers his capacity to love and to experience crushing pain upon the animal's death. Most quirky but as moving is Wolff's "Chair: A Story for Voices," in which the slow deterioration of an old man's mind is achingly played out in a spare dialogue in three "acts" between Grandpa and Buddy, his devoted grandson. Surprisingly out of kilter, though, is Myers's slow-moving contribution about an adult baseball player's decision to quit the game and work through his marital problems. Teen readers will be less likely to relate to this one than to any of the others. Overall, this anthology should make readers think, feel, and nod in recognition. Here's good news for teachers, too: the stories serve as fine springboards for introspective student-writing andclassroom discussion. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Color of Absence

12 Stories about Loss and Hope
By James Howe

Simon Pulse

Copyright © 2003 James Howe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0689856679

An excerpt from Summer of Love
Annette Curtis Klause

It was the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, the newspapers called it, and I wandered the streets of San Francisco with the most plentiful source of food around me since the day I'd died. Runaways from all over the country were lured here by the dream of freely offered sex, plentiful drugs, and rock 'n' roll on every corner; and layered over the gray, workaday city was a multicolored party that seemed to exist in a parallel world. I walked that world.

I was almost a happy man, if a three-hundred-year-old vampire could ever be called happy. This is what I call fast food, I thought. These children knew no fear. Strangers were their friends. All they needed was love. They slept in doorways, in the parks, and in "liberated houses" that held dozens. How easy it was to slip in next to a girl drunk on cheap wine and take my own wine from her rich, young veins. It was fortunate that the drugs they imbibed had no effect on me, else I'd have been staggering around half-blind all the time. But my unnatural body screened all chemicals out that didn't nurture it, and in these good times I pissed a red stream of waste maybe twice a week.

Love, love, love. How meaningless it was to me. My own loved ones were centuries dead, and I, forever trapped in-between, frozen in the form of a youth not yet twenty. What did I care of love? The ones I'd loved had always abandoned me or betrayed me. I wouldn't be what I am except for one I loved. Yet, in this city of love, I could go anywhere -- join in parties, hang out at those spontaneous park festivals called be-ins, wander nighttime concerts -- and all welcomed me. If I didn't tell my name, no one pressed me; if I lied, no one cared. I had friends everywhere, and still no one knew who I was. "Who's that pale dude?" I'd hear a boy say as I watched my menu sway to the music, the colored lights dancing on their faces. "What's the name of that cute blond?" a girl would whisper to her friend, winding her fingers in the layers of beads around her neck as if they were in my hair. But they never found out, not even when I sweet-talked one of those yearning girls out under the stars and lulled her into a sparkling silver trance of ecstasy, my fangs firmly planted in her neck. I was gentle with them, let there be no mistake in that, and I tried very hard to leave a drop of life in their veins so they would see the dawn, but I could not make friends with those I hunted -- the thought repelled me. I didn't take the pills they gave me, and I turned down the weed they offered in hand-rolled, smoldering cigarettes. "I prefer to drink," I'd explain if I had to.

But I loved the music. Wild and free, tunes went on and on, meandering out to the moon and beyond. I danced to the throbbing music by myself, arms waving, eyes closed, and pretended to be moved by life. I floated through the laughter, music, and excitement of the night in a dark bubble of my own making, and it was cold inside, very cold, but the less that was known of me, the safer I was. In my stolen bell-bottom jeans and flowered shirts, I looked just like them but I never would be, and I doubted that their precious, shallow love would save me if they knew.

In the day, I had to have my sleep, and in an alley behind a row of shabby Victorian houses, I'd found my den -- an abandoned garage with crumbled gingerbread trim. Perhaps it was a stable once. I covered the windows with old blankets I stole from revelers in the park, and stuffed the chinks in the wood with newspaper to keep out the damaging light. Under the floorboards beneath my bed I kept a suitcase with all that was valuable to me: a meager portion of my native soil, without which I could not sleep, and a painted portrait of those I once held dear. I curled above that suitcase every day, in a deep, sodden coma, too full of rich human blood to bother with the rats that shared my home.

It was there, one misty morning, groggy with the need to sleep off excess, that I found the cat.

It must have squeezed under the ill-fitting doors looking for shelter from the damp night air. Woken by my return, it crouched on my pile of blankets in a dusty corner behind a stack of old tires and stared warily at me.

"Lucky for you I've had my dinner, tabby," I said. "Now off with you."

It should have been scared, animals ran from me, but instead it hissed.

Somehow, the absurdity made me laugh.

My laughter made it crouch lower, and its ears flattened. It edged away, and I saw how skinny it was and weak. For a second I remembered crawling in the forest newly made, starving, and too stunned to know that blood was now my food. Just then, one of the occasional rats chose to make an ill-advised dash across the floor.

I don't know why I did it, curiosity perhaps, but I snatched the squealing rat up. I tore the creature open with my teeth and tossed it near the cat. The cat flinched but didn't run.

"Well, there you are, puss," I said. "Food with your lodging. What are you waiting for?"

Slowly it crept from the shadows and finally sniffed the corpse. I could see then it was female. It didn't take her long to recognize a meal, and she wolfed the rat meat down so fast, I feared she would vomit.

"Steady on," I warned. "I don't care to share my den with cat puke."

When she'd finished I flung the remnants under the door and stuffed the crack with an old coat. Ignoring the cat, I sank to my bed and took my crimson sleep.

The cat shot out the door the next evening as soon as it was opened, not surprising, as she had managed to spend the entire night without soiling the floor. I didn't expect to see her again.

I was wrong.

"Summer of Love" copyright © 2001 by Annette Curtis Klause


Excerpted from The Color of Absence by James Howe Copyright © 2003 by James Howe.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James Howe is the author of more than ninety books for young readers, including the modern classic Bunnicula and its highly popular sequels. In 2001, Howe published The Misfits, the story of four outcast seventh-graders who try to end name-calling in their school. The Misfits is now widely read and studied in middle schools throughout the country, and was the inspiration for the national movement known as No Name-Calling Week (NoNameCallingWeek.org), an event observed by thousands of middle and elementary schools annually. There are three companion novels to The Misfits: Totally Joe (2005), Addie on the Inside (2011), and Also Known as Elvis (2014). Howe’s many other books for children from preschool through teens frequently deal with the acceptance of difference and being true to oneself. Visit him online at JamesHowe.com.

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