PLATTSBURGH — Bonnie Shimko’s fourth published young-adult novel, “You Know What You Have to Do,” was a departure for the former educator and award-winning author.
She tapped into the dark side of her 15-year-old animal-loving protagonist, Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum, known as Maggie to her fellow outcasts, nerd-cubed Lester Pint and geeky-retainer-wearing Abigail Flute.
Maggie’s North Country realm includes her beloved basset hound, Maud; Roxie, her mother, who refuses to be called such; Lonnie Kraft, her incarcerated, red-headed jackass father; her free-funeral-for-family-man-trading stepfather, Harry Feigenbaum; and Dr. Scott, her shrink she’s crushing on.
What propels her into Scott’s Carson Street home/office is not typical teenage garbage, which her mother suspects, but a male voice in Maggie’s head that instructs her to kill bad people.
“You know what you have to do,” the voice tells her when she witnesses threatened or real cruelty. Maggie acts to protect Maud; Lester; and Patty-Ann Thurston, a woman with mental-health issues who pedals a blue tricycle and flashes a person to score a Pepsi. In the book, Maggie kills an abusive-alcoholic father/husband, a heartless animal killer and the town bully.
Though this tale of psychological horror is set in the fictitious Allenburg, Shimko laces her narrative with local references, including Arnie’s Restaurant, Clinton Correctional Facility and Planned Parenthood. She even throws in a “Jeezum Crow.”
Shimko wrote the novel about the girl with the vigilante voice in her head because she wanted to write something different from her other books, “The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye,” a 2011 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, and “Letters in the Attic,” winner of the Lambda Literary Award.
“The whole time I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about it being violent,” said Shimko, who lives in Plattsburgh. “The editor above my editor said, ‘What a neat idea.’ Usually, bad people kill good people. A good little girl, very likable and sweet, is killing bad people for a change.”
If Maggie doesn’t act on what the voice tells her, she gets horrible pains in her head. After she accomplishes the voice’s fatal edicts, she eventually comes undone in a way that lands her at the Brockman Psychiatric Hospital in Burlington, Vt.
But she is an efficient killer for a tall, skinny, strawberry-blonde-bespectacled girl who lunches at the losers’ table at school.
Yet Maggie’s twin realities are sprinkled with lighter moments. Along the way, she learns about her paternal-voice-hearing grandmother, that Lester’s unrequited love has a price, and that Abigail was not a true BFF.
Usually, Shimko knows how her stories will begin and end, but not this one.
“I just started writing, and the story came as I wrote. I didn’t have anything planned,” she said.
The book came out last month and is available on Amazon or locally at the Corner-Stone Bookshop in Plattsburgh.
“You Know What You Have to Do” is Shimko’s first audio book and is also available on Kindle.
“I think it would make a really good book-club book. I’m getting more feedback from adults reading it. The ending is open-ended. My editor (Melanie Kroupa) and I went around and around and around. We both liked Maggie so much, we didn’t want her to end up in prison or have awful things happening to her,” Shimko said.
Shimko’s book-in-progress is “Me and Bobby McGee,” after Janis Joplin’s posthumous 1971 hit.
“It’s about a girl in a foster-care system whose musical talent and obsession with Janis Joplin changes her life,” Shimko said.
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.orgTO BUY WHAT: "You Know What You Have To Do" by Bonnie Shimko LENGTH: 230 pages AVAILABLE: Corner-Stone Bookshop, 110 Margaret St., Plattsburgh; www.amazon.com; and www.bonnieshimko.net.