Dear diary - 6 stories told in letters, emails and journals

Published on: 29 Mawrth 2017

Author Jack Cheng talks to us about his favourite epistolary novels - and why this style works for them so well.

Here's a good word for you to learn, if you don't know it already: 'epistolary'. Rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn't it?

It's got a lot of syllables but it means something quite simple: stories told with the clever use of diary entries, letters, journals, emails or other forms of correspondence.

Author Jack Cheng has just written book called See You in the Cosmos, which includes the podcast transcripts of his main character.

With that in mind, Jack seemed the perfect person to ask about his favourite epistolary stories for kids and teens.

Here are the six that made the cut…

1. Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank, Puffin

With the unforgettable first line, 'I hope to tell you everything that I could never tell anyone until now', Anne immediately draws us into her life, and makes us her best friend most trusted confidante.

Diary is a book that shows how even in the most confined of spaces, in the most chaotic of times, humanity find ways to reach its full and boundless expression - in this case, through the mind and emotions of a girl on her way to becoming a woman.

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Jeff Kinney, Puffin

Laugh out loud, even for adult readers (this one included), Kinney's novel is a set of trickster yarns for a new generation. In older myths and fairy tales, protagonist Greg Heffley might've been a too-clever hare or fox - a prankster often falling victim to his own pranks.

But Wimpy Kid also pokes fun at traditional morality tales by having Greg come into his own, unexpected ways of learning how to be a good friend and person.

3. A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius

Stacey Matson, Andersen Press

Sometimes it can take a while for me to settle into an epistolary novel, especially one with as diverse a range of formats - homework prompts, emails, journal entries, teachers' notes, etc - as this one. But I was hooked from the beginning by Arthur Bean's ambition and creativity.

Even as he, following the death of his mother, struggles to write the Great American Short Story, Arthur proves that he's very much already a brilliant writer; he just needs an unlikely friend to help him find his way.

4. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Tom Angleberger, Abrams

I would've loved this book as a ten-year-old. It nails its portrayal of the dynamics of sixth-grade social circles, and the characters very cleverly interact with the storytelling device itself - the dossier Tommy has created to get to the bottom of whether Origami Yoda is an actual Force-wielding guru.

The solution to the mystery comes with a beautifully Star Wars-ian insight as well - that the best gurus are mirrors reflecting back to us what we know deep down is true and right. And sometimes those mirrors are made of folded paper, with crinkled green ears, sitting atop the finger of the kid who everyone thinks is a weirdo.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie, Andersen Press

Great for those graduating from the Wimpy Kid series, Alexie's poignant novel is similarly interspersed with the protagonist's sketchbook drawings (done thoughtfully by illustrator Ellen Forney). But the stakes for Junior couldn't be higher: he is surrounded by poverty, alcoholism, and disillusion.

His experiences of leaving reservation life to attend a predominantly white school read to me as a kind of immigrant story, and in this way we see how the native peoples have been made to be strangers in their own homeland. We see Junior wrestling with both societal and personal traumas, and doing it with tremendous heart, hope, and humor.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chobosky, Simon & Schuster

This book has a special place in my heart. Charlie is someone you immediately want to help and protect. There are things he doesn't see that he doesn't know he doesn't see, and the combination of his naivety and how deeply he feels for the people in his life make us want to be there for him.

That we want tell Charlie everything's going to be OK speaks not only to the remarkable voice Chobosky has created, but also to the power and meaning embedded in those two words that open each chapter: 'Dear friend.' And in the two that signal its close: 'Love always.'

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