Book Review of Urban fiction Novel The Middle Step by Denise Pattiz Bogard
Welcome back to another Write On Purpose book review. I review well-written books, highlighting what makes each good from the reader’s perspective and what writing skills and techniques make it an irresistible read. Thus, each review serves both writers and readers.
I will honestly say that I don’t read a whole lot of mundane books. By that I mean books set in the real world in ordinary times. I read a lot of fantasy, suspense, cozy mystery, thrillers and the like. I generally like to try on new realities better than delving into the gritty underbelly of this one.
That said, I also like to read a variety of genres, and I make it a point to read a few each year that are far outside my norm. I can always gain insights into life, try out new authors, glean new perspectives, and hopefully learn something from the writing that helps me hone my own craft.
So before I share my review along with a few hints for authors, here is more about the book., starting with the help wanted ad that opens it:
A woman to live with and care for four teenage girls in a residential home, to serve as foster mom and guide the girls through the academic and emotional challenges of high school. Master’s in Social Work preferred.”
– Excerpt from The Middle Step by Denise Pattiz Bogard
The Middle Step by Denise Pattiz Bogard
The Middle Step is set in an inner city community just outside of St. Louis. It’s a place where religion and race and poverty and lack of education all converge. The headlines don’t often describe how these things can cause life to be difficult for the youth trying to grow up among such strife. Denise Pattiz Bogard tells a wonderful fiction story about what life is like inside the confining borders of the inner city.
What made this book a worthy read?Not an Easy Read
This may sound like a slam, but it is not. The writing is perfectly accessible. It isn’t at all convoluted, and you won’t need a dictionary to read it.
It’s a hard topic, full of the pain of broken homes, poverty, and dim prospects for the future. The high school girls who find themselves in the group home have never had it easy.
Great sense of place
When you read a book and can feel the roach crawling, smell the fire of the burning house across the street and see the decay and desolation of inner city life, that’s because the author has put you right into the scene. That’s sense of place.
If you’re an author who has difficulty making your reader lose themselves in your scenes, reading this book will help you.
Excellent story arc
Story arc is a fancy word we writerly folk use to talk about the pacing and progress of a story. The hero is supposed to start out on a quest, go through countless trials and tribulations (called the Road of Trials in Hero’s Journey speak), and eventually come to a new place.
Along the way, the hero, Lisa Harris in this book, must deal with forces trying to top her in her tracks, antagonists keeping her from her goal, and challenging people. She also rallies resources and has helpful forces.
The Middle Step is 327 pages, so there’s room to let the story unfold. It’s easy for an author to get bogged down in details or rush through uncomfortable aspects of the story.
There were times I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading, but Bogard’s excellent writing and storytelling kept me going all the way through the pain, hopelessness, bad choices, and hardships of this inner-city tale.
If you are an author struggling with story arc, this book can help you take time to let the characters develop.
I’ve wanted to throw some books against a wall because the author makes the protagonist’s change too pat and simplistic. Not so in The Middle Step.
Lisa Harris throws herself from a life of suburban affluence into inner city poverty. On the verge of divorce and fleeing her own tormented past, she is ill-prepared to be a source of emotional support and guidance to the troubled girls who live in a broken-down group home.
She makes countless mistakes throughout her own journey, and she must face her past, her critical family and more along the way. Bogard made the journey feel real.
If you are an author struggling with character development, you’ll learn a lot reading this book.
Buy The Middle Step
About Denise Pattiz Bogard
THE MIDDLE STEP tells the story of a middle-aged white suburban woman who impulsively accepts a job to be a foster mother to four at-risk teenage girls, who have been pulled from their homes. Almost immediately, Lisa Harris discovers how little she knows about urban poverty and living with children of a different race, religion, culture and background. Doggedly Lisa stays on, struggling to create a “family” with girls who have known only trouble and sadness in their lives.
The novel is set in North St. Louis and explores the intersection of race, poverty and family– a topic more important and more timely than ever.
While it is a work of literary fiction, the novel draws on Denise Pattiz Bogard’s personal passion and on her experiences of the past 15 years as a writing and English teacher in a Title One charter middle and high school in downtown St. Louis, Lift For Life Academy.
Denise has been writing professionally for more than 30 years and has had her award-winning fiction and non-fiction published in, among others, The Oklahoma Literary Review, Newsweek, Lady’s Circle, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Teacher Magazine. Two of her essays have been anthologized in Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women’s Encounters with Health Care in America (Penultimate Press, 2008) and Winter Harvest (Brodsky Library Press). THE MIDDLE STEP is her first novel.
Denise earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and her BS in journalism and history from Indiana University. She is the founder of St. Louis Writers Workshop and coordinated the writing program at Lift For Life Academy charter middle and high school in downtown St. Louis. Previously, Denise worked as an adjunct professor at Webster University, as a reporter and as a co-founding partner of a full-service public relations agency.
A Few More Success Tips for Authors and Publishers
Here are a few shortfalls that interfere with author success.
The cover isn’t eye-catching in my opinion. A cover is the first thing readers see, and this one didn’t pull me into the book.
The publisher’s website needs lots and lots of help. I tried to go to the Denise Bogard page, and it links to something about a writer’s conference. The bookshelf page is password protected, and when I put the book title into a search box, it didn’t even come up. Boo-HISS!!!
Bogard has an author page but doesn’t have social networks or a blog hooked up to it. This is one way readers can connect with you beyond Amazon. All you need to do is go to AuthorCentral.com and beef up your profile. Authors can add a blog feed, Twitter, videos and more. This is prime web real estate that helps build the author’s credibility.
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Ronda Del Boccio
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About Ronda Del Boccio
Ronda Del Boccio is an award-winning and best selling author of both fiction and nonfiction. She tells transformational tales and helps visionary authors turn their dreams and imaginings into published books. See and order Ronda’s books on Amazon.
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