Author: Rachel Coker
Title: Interrupted: Life Beyond Words
Publisher: Zondervan

Interrupted: Life Beyond Words reintroduces a classic question in literary criticism: to what extent does the author matter when considering the quality of a piece of writing? Here’s the skinny on Interrupted author Rachel Coker: she’s a 16-year old whose debut novel possesses a maturity of emotional perceptiveness and writing quality which far surpasses her years. While most of her peers are content to pound out text messages on the latest smart phone, and the ambitious ones scribble out angst-ridden poems in their journals, Coker’s actually planned, plotted, and successfully published a Young Adult historical fiction novel set against the contentious backdrop of World War II.

For all of that, Coker deserves the highest admiration. But, perhaps a more challenging task is to take Interrupted on its own terms, setting aside Coker’s remarkable personal story. In that regard, Interrupted is a relatively safe place to start a career, a traditional coming-of-age tale made slightly more original by its historical setting and the thematic nods to Emily Dickinson. It’s the story of Alcyone Everly, a 14-year old girl whose safe and sheltered existence is shattered when her mother dies and she’s taken in by Beatrice Lovell in a Maine estate.

After Everly arrives in Maine, she becomes re-introduced to Sam Carroll, a native of her hometown in Tennessee. Sparks fly between the two, but Everly is stymied by her inner bitterness over the loss of her mother and frustration with Lovell’s efforts to become a mother figure in her life. Everly retreats into her writing, where her love of classic literature and self-expression proves to be an impediment to making valuable connections in her new life.

The emotional landscape of Interrupted is tactfully rendered and maturely handled. Coker takes great care to sculpt a believable protagonist in Everly, and walks her through a solid character arc, moving from devotion to her mother to a place of independence by novel’s end. That said, the plot is fairly thin. The inner coming-of-age struggles Everly faces compose the bulk of the conflict, and they’re not very dramatic. And much about Interrupted is a bit too genteel, from the idyllic Maine setting to Everly’s interpersonal conflicts with the other main characters. Everly never seems in real danger, either physically or psychologically, which takes the edge off the story’s stakes.

While this is technically historical fiction, the historical backdrop plays a minor role in Everly’s story. Until the story’s latter third, when Everly’s love interest is shipped off to war, it’s hard to get a sense of the time period, or why Coker chose it. In a sense, it’s the same story as could be told against a contemporary backdrop.

One neat element Coker includes which deserves mention is the homage she pays to poet Emily Dickinson. Each chapter of Interrupted opens with a short excerpt from a Dickinson poem which relates thematically to the chapter’s content. It’s refreshing to see such a young literary voice connect so fully with one of the greats, and potentially introduce Dickinson to a new generation of readers. In addition, one can feel Dickinson’s presence in the character of Everly, who is content to stay cloistered when the world is too scary. People are messy, Interrupted admits, but when you let yourself get messy, the joys are worth it.

In her publication debut, Coker displays a remarkable amount of poise and polish, and while Interrupted isn’t the flashiest or trendiest piece of YA fiction, it might show something more valuable: a young voice with potential staying power in today’s here-today-gone-tomorrow marketplace.