Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love at First Sight (or, You Had Me at "Dang It")

Within pages, I fell in love with the character of Jed Reston in Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It's sort of ironic, really, since a key theme of the book is how unreliable those "love at first sight" feelings are as the basis of a relationship. But as I was reading the chapter in which Jed is introduced into the story, I had this warm, happy, sort of giddy feeling - I just knew he was a character I would truly love.

That doesn't happen very often. That's not to say I don't love other characters, but usually it's more of a "come to love" type of reaction.  The character will be introduced and then as the story develops, I learn more about his/her personality and grow to be fond, or even (mildly) obsessed, with him/her. This time, though, it was sort of instanteous. How did Haddix manage it? By showing Jed in action. He's careless in his appearance and clumsy, but when that's balanced with his self-deprecating comments, it comes off as charming rather than oafish. His dialogue is a mix of the formal "speak" of the nobility (with which he is obviously uncomfortable) and his sincere, honest observations. His interaction with Ella foreshadows what we will later learn is his honorable character.  In none of this does Haddix give us a narrated description of Jed.  It's a textbook case of why showing works better than telling. We are allowed to draw our own conclusions about him -- and I bet 95 percent of the people who read the book have a reaction similiar to mine.  Well, maybe not the giddy part.

"About the faith--," Jed began.
I began giggling again and calmed myself only to start again. And again. I was a fountain of hilarity, shooting out bursts of laughter every time Jed tried to speak. At last he gave up and laughed too.

It's been a while since a chapter ending left me with a smile the way this one did.

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