May 4, 2013

Young-adult novel taps into dark side

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.”

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