Meli's Way Page and Reviews
Meli's Way is Meredith Sue Willis's young adult novel about fourteen-year-old Melisandre Rossi lives in New York City with her mother. Meli, a self-identified weird teenager, far prefers exploring the museum to attending classes at her upscale private academy. At her new school, Meli must navigate the tricky social world of her peers, adjust to a curriculum that views all of Manhattan as the classroom, and make sense of her intensifying emotions toward a teacher. Then Meli faces a terrible crisis: one of the darkest aspects of the wider world comes rushing in.
"Deftly crafted and inherently absorbing read from beginning to end...very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as school and community library YA Fiction collections."
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ISBN 978-1-932727-15-9 • Original Paperback • US $15.95
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September 23, 2016 By This review is from: Meli's Way (Kindle Edition) Meli's Way takes us into the mind of a 15 years old girl navigating the confusing times of adolescence in post 9/11 NYC.
Smart and wise beyond her years in some matters, awkward in her interactions with her peers, and judgmental of her mother's shortcomings, Meli struggles to understand her feelings and the world around her in this engaging and well written novel that will leave you smiling. (5 star Amazon Review)
The transition from childhood to adulthood is no single event but a view into an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of physical, mental, and social changes. There is often a shattering moment, however, when the maturing child realizes her parents are flawed. Sometimes very flawed. The clear division of wrong and right blurs; mistakes are acknowledged as well as the possibility that they may be lived down, lived past. In Meli’s Way, Meredith Sue Willis focuses on one year in which change upends the previously quiet life of 14-year-old Melisaundre, and she must learn to accept her family and friends in all their complexity. Meli chafes at the safe routines of her private school, where upper-crust girls strive for the next level. She cuts class to prowl the Chinese galleries at the museum, where an encounter with a charismatic young dancer leads her to bolt to an alternative school, manipulating her mother into a plan for an independent study project that will let her follow her obsession with ancient ceramics. The alternative school is just that – a place for students and teachers who don’t quite fit, for many reasons - and here Meli has to establish a genuine identity where she is no longer the “weird one.”
The reader feels she is in the hands of a master storyteller from the opening paragraph: “There’s an explosion at the end of this story, and a little bit of sex in the middle, but those things are just bumps in the road or maybe boulders in a river. They made me change direction, but I’m the river, not the rocks.” Meli’s voice is sure, though she often is not, as she has to create a self not in opposition to her classmates, her teachers, and her mother, but on her own. Part of this is sexual, as Meli tests her new body and mind amid a constellation of boys and men – Ari, who grows from a nuisance into a protector in the space of a year; Tim, the teacher who sparks a disastrous crush; and a pair of men, young and older, during a summer visit to her father in Italy. As Meli bursts from her protective bubble, she encounters a world where all assumptions may be questioned – even her mother’s love. Willis has a deep understanding of young people from her many years of teaching – and being taught. She has maintained an acute ear for teenage speech and teenage emotion.
The dedication “to the teenagers I’ve taught over the years, and to the teenager in each of us,” gives insight into the author’s approach. Willis started a very productive career with A Space Apart, followed by the Blair Morgan Trilogy of Higher Ground, Only Great Changes, and Trespassers, in which Blair matures from an Appalachian teenager to a VISTA worker to an activist during the Vietnam War. Since then, Willis has produced seven other novels, including a YA science fiction tale, The City Built of Starships. She’s also written three novels for children and four books about teaching writing, includingBlazing Pencils, a guide for young writers In Meli’s Way, she references elements of Blair Morgan’s story, as she nicely plays off the similarities and differences of two convulsive periods, the dramatic and sometimes violent activism of the late 1960s with the bloody terrorism that has marked the change to a new millennium. An explosion climaxes the book, but that physical event, however horrendous, is ultimately lessvsignificant than the intimate discoveries that shape a child into a young woman, ready to face the future of Meli’s world.
Meli Rossi, Meredith Sue Willis' young heroine may not conquer the dark side in the same way katniss everdeen does. She never displays the physical prowess or intellectual strategies that katniss employs in order to survive. But Meli's inner struggle to become whole is just as potent. Asking similar questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? And whom do I trust? Meli learns how to love her mother and accept her mother's past and ultimately recognize that power can work for you as well as against you.
Willis gracefully enters the complex lives of a multi-cultural polyglot of teens, each of whom struggles for self-acceptance and acceptance by others. When tragedy strikes, Willis brings the story full circle. Not only do the disparate characters form a whole, but Meli also finds her place in her family and in a sometimes frightening world. Willis clearly knows this countercultural teen world well and fearlessly deals with various characters: pregnant girl, a Muslim female student who wears a hijab, a Jewish student who suffers from various insecurities, a bi-racial girl who lives in a tiny apartment in Meli's building. She creates real situations: none of the characters seem as if they're simply stereotypical sticks there to make statements. She breathes air into them, and they live. We care about them almost as much as we do about Meli.
Marilyn Levy, author of Run for Your Life, Checkpoints, and many other books
Tired of her upscale private academy in New York City, fourteen-year-old Meli Rossi transfers to Ciudad City School of the Future, which provides an individualized curriculum, an opportunity to make real friends, and insights into her mother's unconventional background in the 1960s. Meli is a self-identified weird teenager who prefers exploring a museum to attending classes at school wanted the transfer so that she could study ancient Chinese ceramics and make friends even weirder than she is. But home life with her mother gets ever so much more complicated, as does her social life with her peers. Ultimately Meli must face one of the darkest aspects of the wider world she now finds herself living in. "Meli's Way" is a deftly crafted and inherently absorbing read from beginning to end, making it very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as school and community library YA Fiction collections.
Meli's Way by Meredith Sue Willis is a short and engaging book right from the start. It was a lot more interesting than I expected and is filled with lots of interesting parts. I really enjoyed how the book followed a long Meli's life as a teen and her experiences leading up to the terrorist attack. Although I read the back cover of the book and was aware than a terrorist attack would occur, I still never really expected it to happen; it was a very engaging plot twist to the story. The book was very simply written in a way that was easy to understand and to the point. I also enjoyed how Meli is a little quirky with many different aspects to her personality, and when she started to enjoy volleyball and made lots of new friends at her new school shows the development of her character and her as a teen which is relatable. I thought it was interesting how the majority of the book showed her emotions and thoughts as she went through the process of adjusting to new teachers and different types of people (including pregnant teens giving birth in the girls' bathroom) after transferring from such a prestigious school. Right before the terrorist attack occurred I especially liked how Meli notices the terrorist and points out how he looks different than everybody else; her unique intelligent personality notices that the man in the hood was different and she pays attention to close enough detail to notice that he was grinning. Throughout the entire story I really liked who her character developed into and how her development was shown through new experiences of love, travel, and friends.
Elli Bass Junior, Arroyo Grande High School, California
"The Life of Meli" is well written with a very surprising plot which keeps the reader on their toes. The plot shifts frequently and never slows down. A lot of cultures were represented which was refreshing. The ideas presented were surface-level and a tad clichéd but well developed.
Mary Waterman Junior, Arroyo Grande High School, California
I enjoyed Meli's Way because it was quite unlike any other book I had read. The story was quite entertaining and multi-faceted. It handled a variety of serious subjects; including terrorism, war, and religion, and managed to do so very tactfully by having the characters of the book discus it amongst each other, showing multiple valid viewpoints. While many books simply dismiss terrorists as faceless evils or as simple plot devices, this book tries to show how people aren't evil, they just become misguided and lose their own morals. However the dialogue and narration did feel a bit awkward and unnatural at times and most of the characters seemed fairly one dimensional with little development throughout the book. Still, overall I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone who's looking for a quick but entertaining read.
Brady Goodell Junior, Arroyo Grande High School, California
Meli’s Way is a delightful novel featuring a clear-thinking fourteen-year who persuades her mother to allow her to change schools. Meli’s former private school shapes students towards a conventional expectations and values, but when Meli meets Gray, a self-styled “dancer” who attends the alternative public high school Ciudad City School of the Future, Meli realizes that she too may have an unscripted identity that might be uncovered and developed in a less scripted school. A new set of sharply drawn friends and teachers at the new school—including Tim, the sweet male teacher who becomes the sensible and unrequited object of Meli’s burgeoning romantic interests—raise moral and personal questions for the curious and observant Meli as she sleuths down answers. In the course of this, Meli discovers her own values and—through an accident of classroom study and perspicacious follow-up—her mother’s surprising hidden history. This deeply satisfying book, written in lucid and entertaining prose, is suitable to both adult and young adult readers.
Carole Rosenthal, 5 star Amazon review
Contemporary, entertaining, instructive, and satisfying! One of the tough things a teen-ager begins to negotiate is realizing what their parents are like as people, complete with their histories and failures. Along with discovering her own place in the universe, Meli, a New York girl who lives with her single mom, discovers the disturbing secrets her mother has kept. A new school, new friends, sex, the world of erupting violence we live in now: Meli's got a lot to negotiate and in this novel, we follow her sturdy voice with page-turning interest.
Suzanne McConnell, 5 star Amazon review
Meli, heroine of Meredith Sue Willis's young adult novel, is a sophisticated and witty young Manhattanite. (She's so witty she knows she must sometimes avoid being witty and thereby a New York cliché). She reminds me a bit of the little girl in one of the short films that make up Woody Allen's New York Stories; her parents are successful, well-to-do, and mostly absent, and she is left, with the help of staff and money, to raise herself in the dizzying rush of the city. Meli, though, has a significantly deeper inner life than can be glimpsed in the Allen film.
Her great passion, for example, is Chinese porcelain and in times of trouble she goes into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to gaze at the collection there, sometimes to imagine herself curled up inside one of the immense silent vases. They provide a kind of stability and peace that is not always present in other parts of her life: "What I love most in the Museum up there on the Chinese vase balcony is their graceful giant shapes and splendid colors that haven’t dimmed in eight hundred years. This is what makes me a weird kid. Sometimes if I stand in front of them very quietly, concentrating, there will be a little shudder in the air, and then I’ll be inside, in this perfect place, and whatever problem I have makes a shift, and I either have a solution or it isn’t a problem anymore."
Time spent with the vases--or sitting inside the walk-in finch cage in her apartment--gives Meli the strength to nurture her mother, a woman who loves her daughter but who is busy, vain and needy. Meli's father--who lives in Italy with a new family--isn't much in the picture and it often falls to Meli to prop up her mother who is "anxious about everything, finances, her looks, her love life." Sometimes, Meli says, "she asks me if she’s been a good mother. And sometimes she goes on and on about how lovely my hair is, my skin, how lucky I am that I got the Mediterranean complexion, it doesn’t age the way Northern European skin like hers does. Blah blah blah."
Meli, thus, emotionally medicated by visits to the ancient and serene vases, has her life fairly well under control. But the defenses she has so thoughtfully constructed are about to come undone when she changes schools, leaving her pretentious, uptight prep school for a no-holds-barred experimental school. She does it because she thinks it will give her more time to visit the vases, that she will be able to comfort herself with even more isolated serenity. What she finds is the opposite, a wacky new world where engagement is mandatory, an environment so insistent and even compelling that she can no longer remain inside her quiet shell. In her former school, the obsession was with status and getting into the right college.
What Meli finds at Ciudad City School is rather different and would seem all wrong for a girl who doesn't "like things all overturned. I like things to go on very calmly so I can concentrate on the vases." But here everything appears to be overturned and up in the air as a matter of preference. Life, the school seems to teach, is messy. For most of their students, even their backgrounds are mixed up.
Her friend Gray, for example, likes people to think she's Jamaican "but actually she’s half African-American and half Philippine, adopted when she was an infant into a secular Jewish family." Her parents broke up when she was about six and now she lives with her mother and some roommates. "The thing she likes best about our condo," Meli says, "is that I have my own bathroom."
Then there's Ari, who explains of the school: “Just about everyone comes from a spectacularly dysfunctional family. Like my mom decided that Judaism isn’t fair to women, and she left the family to try Buddhism, which she is still practicing, but she lives at home half the time now. She’s thinking about becoming a Buddhist nun." But despite this, or maybe because it, the teachers at Ciudad City manage to turn the place into something that feel less like a school and more like a family--a big, warm, bickering family where everything eventually comes out in the wash.
At first Meli views it all like the snob she's been in training to be: "The lesson turned out to be about comma splices and run-on sentences, which I had pretty much mastered in fifth grade, but at least Deborah took care of it fast. She set the stopwatch that hung around her neck for five minutes, and when the buzzer went off, closed the grammar book and started talking about sex. Later, when I thought about it, I was amazed at myself, talking about sex with a bunch of strangers who probably do badly on their standardized tests and quit school and become my mother’s manicurist except none of them were Asian." But slowly Meli is integrated into the community and in the atmosphere of openness she discovers that she really isn't a snob, and that there is a great deal of confusing and fascinating life taking place beyond the porcelain shelf in the Met.
There must be, of course, "a little bit of sex" in the book, as Meli is careful to warn at the outset. The sex is mostly kissing, a complicated procedure, especially if you are trying to mouth breathe so as not to smell the boy's awful cologne. But do you really want to open your mouth with his mouth right there? Meli closes her mouth and just holds her breath: "This is disgusting, I thought. But at the same time it was interesting, especially since I’d never kissed anyone except some girls at Cranfort once when we were nine. "
And--thanks to the openness and exploration promoted by Ciudad City--Meli will stumble upon a well-kept secret, and discover that even her mother was once rather different than the person Meli thinks she understands so well. By the story's end, we see that that we have learned about about the power of friendship, community, accepting yourself and others, even your mother. For, as Meli valuably learns, parents were once people who lived complex, sometimes troubling lives that had nothing at all to do with you.
Diane Simmons, 5 Star Amazon Review
If Meli's Way is in your stack of young adult books to read, move it to the top! If it's not in the stack, put it there. This is one of the best young adult novels I've read in a long time, one that would be an especially good choice for gifted high-school students (because of the issues the plot raises, like having intellectual interests that others don't share). The story is rich in humor, realism, and drama; and the terrorist attack that is the climax of the plot is convincing and sad in its resonance with the aftermath of the attack of 9/11.. The main character, Meli, is winning in her prickliness, social awkwardness, and defensiveness. A lot of the fun of this story is in "watching" her ability to let her defenses down and yield to feelings for others grow as she makes friends at the charmingly off-beat Ciudad City School of the Future
Edwina Pendarvis, 5 star Amazon Review
Several years ago when I was contemplating writing a young adult novel myself, I read widely in the genre but found nothing like Meredith Sue Willis’s new young adult novel Meli’s Way. I think it’s a masterpiece: a profound exploration of the technology-driven, terrorist-threatened, family-fragmented world in which young people today come of age.
The book is an up-to-this-moment contemporary depiction of a young high school student in New York City finding her way with very little guidance (but a lot of love) from her single parent mom with a mysterious past. It’s fast-paced with meaningful action but also ample time for Meli (short for Melisandre), who’s somewhat nerdy and independent but completely herself, to reflect on whether she’s losing or finding her “moral compass.” For much of the story, it’s a bit of both. Willis immerses her reader in Meli’s compelling journey that is as entertaining as it is deeply satisfying.
The River not the Rocks
Meli tells us right up front what to expect: “There’s an explosion at the end of this story, and a little bit of sex in the middle . . .” Then she reassures us: “ . . . but those things are just bumps in the road or maybe boulders in a river. They made me change direction, but I’m the river, not the rocks.” As attention-getters go, that’s one of the most powerful I’ve ever read—and accurate. Librarians, teachers and other adults need not worry about the novel’s being too graphically sexual. While Willis hits a couple of serious social taboos head-on, she does so, in my opinion, tastefully and responsibly; the result—for Meli and perhaps for the young reader as well—is a leap forward in intellectual and emotional maturity.
The first outstanding quality I noticed was how ultra-modern Meli’s Way is in its treatment of food, parenting, divorce, multiculturalism, therapy and marriage; for example, when Meli calls herself “illegitimate,” her mom dismisses it with a wave of her hand, saying that means nothing these days. While Mom frets over many things about her daughter—such as education, fashion and friends—she gives not even short shrift to such an outmoded concept. It’s Willis’s way of signaling that her book has much bigger sushi to swallow than such archaic societal shibboleths. As we’ll see, there’s no dearth of real issues to examine here.
Comparisons and contrasts abound: the elite, private Cranfort School Meli has been attending versus the public Ciudad (“See You Dad”) School of the Future to which she transfers; Cranfort’s neurotic American “whitegirls” versus the colorfully diverse charter school students; natural versus artificial beauty; Meli’s affluence versus her new friend Gray Jacobs’ relative poverty; New York, where most of the action takes place, versus Italy, site of her summer visit to her father (and a life-changing experience); and finally: activism versus terrorism. Multiple cultural and religious communities, from Baptist to Buddhist, Jewish to Muslim, rub against each other, sometimes creating sparks. Willis’s cast of interesting characters—with not a stereotype among them—fully embodies these cultural contrasts, delineating themes such as deception versus truth; isolation versus community; types of families; and the different meanings of love, while giving her readers plenty to reward their attention.
Like secrets: from anonymous phone callers (who’s “the dragon?”) to Meli’s mother’s buried past (which eventually comes to light). Like issues: the kids of Ciudad are not sheltered by faculty in the school’s open, questioning atmosphere, where everything gets discussed: sex, pregnancy and personal responsibility; war and nonviolence; types of love; and the presence of evil. There is no preaching, but there’s often passion and humor; for example, I smiled when Meli’s admiring classmate Ari adopts Ayn Rand’s Objectivism over the summer. But Ari provides more than humor; sometimes annoying, Meli’s loquacious but lovable wannabe boyfriend is a necessary catalyst to break through Meli’s hard shell of introversion.
Epiphanies & Revelations
Speaking of breakthroughs, Meli gets more than she bargained for by changing schools; in fact, her experiences at Ciudad shatter one stereotype after another for her, such as the traditional split between jocks and nerds. In one memorably moving scene, Meli reluctantly joins a volleyball game and in the process “is baptized by blood” into the community and, by implication, the human race. More importantly, her relationship with Tim, her social studies teacher and advisor, is the source of her greatest epiphanies, providing dramatic surprises and revelations galore. The result, as our heroine predicted at the beginning, is an explosion in more ways than one: a shattering climax that changes Meli’s world (and perhaps the reader’s) forever.
My Hand the Animal
Willis’s writing is concrete and credible. I found the protagonist’s voice believably precocious. Meli’s metaphors often delight and stun, for example, “my hand was like this little tan brown animal stuck to the end of my arm, doing what it wanted, not what I wanted,” and “his voice was rich and bubbly like sauce cooking slowly.” But it’s the insights at the heart of this novel that provide its lasting value. Far beyond mere entertainment, Meli’s Way reveals Willis’s deep understanding of young people; it provides knowledge based on her characters’ (and perhaps her own) experience that could take readers to another level of maturity. At the very least, they will be given plenty of nutritious, non-fattening food for thought. Copies can be obtained for $15.95 at www.montemayorpress.com.
Ed Davis, Ed Davis Blog
As a man now in middle age, how I wish I might be able to go back in time with what I now know of young girls', young women's, emerging sense of self and sexuality, in all its complex yearnings, which all comes through with power and profound empathy in Sue Willis's new novel, Meli's Way. The book is a tour de force of coming of age in New York City as Meli makes her way between the world of a privileged school to a diverse charter school meeting all the strange specimens of adult and teenage life that a great city offers along the way. If other readers begin to call her the female Holden Caufield of the 21st century, I wouldn't object, but it wouldn't be quite right. Meli dearly wants to fit in, wants to find her way and especially the way to understanding her mom -- spoiler alert -- who herself experienced a kind of lostness in the 1960s that led her to SDS-style excesses that all these years she has been keeping from Meli. Meli's way is also Meli's journey to those secrets and to her own hard-earned self knowledge. You're entirely in the mind of this girl, but it's very fascinating, and those of us who are no longer teens are in the process illuminated by her light.
Meredith Sue Willis has crafted another wonderful book. This is a must read. It is very creative and, as always with her books, well-written.
Deanna Edens, 5 star Amazon review
Meli Rossi is no ordinary fifteen-year-old. From her opening line, “There’s an explosion at the end of this story, and a little bit of sex in the middle,” we are drawn in by her voice. She’s smart, independent, impulsive, and determined to get her way. When she decides to transfer out of her privileged private school into crunchy alternative Ciudad City School of the Future, nothing can stop her.
She’s obsessed by Chinese vases of the Song and Ming dynasties, an unusual passion for a teenager. She likes them better than people. Some of Meredith Sue Willis’s most beautiful prose describes Meli’s imaginative journeys inside the vases to escape the pressures of the outside world: “This is how I manage Patient. I slip inside one of my vases or bowls on the balcony at the Museum overlooking the Great Hall. I suppose in real life they would be a little dusty inside but in my imagination everything is pristine and perfect. When I’m there, I have all the time in the world, so cool and clear.”
For all her toughness, we also see Meli’s vulnerability. She’s worried about her mother’s hidden past and its repercussions on Meli in post 9/11 New York. She’s worried about changes in her home-life, as her beloved housekeeper contemplates marriage. Sex is all around her, and it’s threatening. And despite her proclamation that sex doesn’t interest her, she is becoming increasingly aware of her own yearnings, both physical and emotional.
Accompanying Meli on her journey is a cast of idiosyncratic and vividly drawn characters—her over-achieving, emotionally needy mother, her haughty and opinionated housekeeper, the hapless boy who woos her, and the diverse students and eccentric teachers of Ciudad City School, where Meli finally finds her place. A most satisfying conclusion for those of us who travel with her!
Having grown up in the seventies when I was Mel's age, and having a daughter Meli's age during the time of 9-11, I felt this book is current to our time. Although it is a young adult book, I found it to be a page turner, that can easily spark serious discussion within families. Meredith's first sentence is one of the most finely crafted, and intriguing I have read in a long time. It drew me in and kept me reading until I found out what happened to these interesting characters.
As a mom and social worker, I think it shows the developmental stages teens go through with a fresh pair of eyes. Meredith Sue Willis draws you in from the very first sentence, and will keep the reader holding on non-stop to the surprising twist of an ending.
Here's the first line:
"There's an explosion at the end of this story, and a little bit of sex in the middle, but those things are just bumps in the road or maybe boulders in a river."
To find out what happens next, you can purchase the book.
Cathy Weiss, Editor, Armored Oxfords
Young adult literature is changing, as well it should. Meli's Way is a good example: Gifted girl. Fractured family. New school. Pregnant classmates. Handsome teacher. First stirring of love. Meredith Sue Willis seems to have channeled a teen's spirit for this story of a lonely and independent teen. The story is well told and teen angst and modern issues are handled openly and honestly. This teachable novel will find its way into classrooms and on to 'best books" lists.
Phyllis Moore, 5 star Amazon Review
ISBN 978-1-932727-15-9 • Original Paperback • US
$15.95 • 8.5" x 5.5" • 178 pages
P. O. Box 546, Montpelier, VT 05675