Weaver asks 'What if?': Local author encourages teens to read
Bemidji author Will Weaver said he is about to round out a dozen books written to encourage teenagers to read.
"Memory Boy" is the fictional story of a Twin Cities suburban family, the Newells - parents Arthur and Natalie and teen-aged siblings Miles and Sarah - and their response to a natural disaster that brings the Upper Midwest to a post-apocalypse situation.
Mount St. Helens exploded in 1980 and blanketed parts of the Pacific Northwest with ash. Weaver's story takes place in the summer of 2008 after Mount Rainier and several other volcanoes in the Cascade Range have followed the same pattern. In the story, the ash covers a much wider area resulting in the breakdown of services and civility in cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"That's kind of my fiction process: what if?" Weaver said.
Miles, although not a great reader or student in general, is a clever mechanic. After completing a "living history" assignment with Mr. Kurz, a crusty old guy who had spent years as a survivalist in a cabin on the Mississippi River near Bemidji, Miles can remember much of the woods lore the old man told him. That's one of Miles' talents, a verbatim visual and aural memory.
The family decides to get out of the city and spend the summer, or as long as it takes for normalcy to return, in their cabin near Nisswa. Because fuel for cars is unavailable, Miles builds a pedal vehicle from the family's bicycles and they head north. Danger, adventure and a need for the family members to draw together and practice survival skills follow.
Weaver said he played on the culture clash of suburban/urban mentality and rural attitudes. He developed an on-the-road story and gave all the characters depth and chances to grow.
"In many young adult novels, the parents are simpletons, or they're gone," he said.
In this story the parents become more real to each other and their children as their ordeal progresses.
Weaver said he set "Memory Boy" in Minnesota because he lives here and knows the territory. But youngsters in other parts of the country respond to the tensions, conflicts and adventure of "Memory Boy," too, he said.
"It's one of those books that has legs," Weaver said. "I've been to a lot of schools, and this book lends itself to projects, like mapping, for instance."
Pine River High School students actually built a copy of the vehicle Miles designed - the Ali Princess.
Weaver said he chose "Ali" as an exotic, fantastic name, such as from the "Arabian Nights."
"But it's within realism because you can see what they did in Pine River: they built it," he said.
At a midpoint in the story, the family acquires a milk goat, which becomes Miles' sister Sarah's responsibility.
Weaver is now in the final editing of a sequel to "Memory Boy," titled "Goat Girl," the adventures from the sister's point of view.
"It's been fun visiting schools and hearing young people's ideas for sequels," he said.
"Goat Girl" should be available in late 2010 or early 2011, he said. Meanwhile, Weaver has one more "Motor Novel" novel to write. Then he said he plans to return to writing adult material. One direction he said is a memoire based on hunting experiences.