Dorothy's List: 'The Boy On Cinnamon Street'

Jan 6, 2014

Phoebe Stone's The Boy on Cinnamon Street has been called a modern-day love story. The protagonist, Louise, has a secret admirer who leaves her anonymous notes and messages.

When Brattleboro Area Middle School Librarian Marry Linney got together with the seventh and eighth graders in her BAMS Book Bunch, she wanted to know if that rang true for these students of the digital age.

The group talked about how texting has affected romance, and they distilled a Shakespearean sonnet down to texting lingo. They also discussed fairy tale conventions, and how elements of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Thumbelina are woven into The Boy on Cinnamon Street.

The Book Bunch also had lots of questions for the author. So Dorothy’s List put those questions to Phoebe Stone. Here’s some of what she had to say, starting with a question about the loss of her father as a young girl.

Isaac Freitas-Egan: I read the author’s note about how something similar to what happened to Louise in the book happened to you. I was just wondering if you had relatives that helped you out of it like the grandparents in the story.

Phoebe Stone: My Mother was wonderful, actually. I had had the most beautiful life before it happened … We lived at Vassar College. My father was a professor. We had a cozy, intellectual, loving family and then this happened … And it really turned my world up-side-down. I had a complete opposite experience. I wasn’t particularly equipped to handle it. But my mother was amazingly strong and supportive.

And we ended up going to live in Goshen, in our summer house, on the mountain here in Vermont. Because we had to leave Vassar and leave everything behind. And we lived in a summer house in the winter. And we had to bring in wood. We had no real heat, we had to run a wood stove for heat. And it was an incredibly difficult lifestyle. Very hard. I chopped through layers of snow to get the wood, I remember. And to get to the bus in the morning, you had to shovel a huge, long path through the snow up on the mountain.

But I think what happened was we were alone a lot up there, my sisters and myself and my mother. And we ended up having to turn to our imaginations – to reading and to writing all the time. And I think that we spent so much of our time writing and reading and painting that it seemed like a lonely and a difficult experience. But that’s what we turned to for our inner strength and for our entertainment. And I think, perhaps I didn’t have grandparents as Louise had, but I had this belief in writing and reading and art that sort of carried us through.

BAMS Librarian Mary Linney had a question about Phoebe’s mother, well-known poet Ruth Stone.

Mary Linney: How was she influenced by her mother and her mother’s writing? I’m just curious what impact her mother’s writing had on her … Did she ever give her any words of wisdom and if so, did she follow it?

Phoebe Stone: Yes, my mother showed us where the river of inspiration was. She took my hand and put it in the water … She shared what she knew and it was part of our life. And she was wonderful … And besides, to grow up with hearing those wonderful, powerful written word – my mother’s poetry, which is so beautiful. It’s such a gift to someone who might be a writer. I mean, my ear was trained by her writing. And that’s something you don’t get easily. It takes years of studying and going to school, and so on to catch up with that. And I had that early on. I was very lucky.

Lucy Congleton: I was wondering about when Louise’s grandma said that her mother was one of the people who aren’t supposed to be in this world. It could mean a lot of things, but I wanted to know what the author thought about that and why she wrote it and what she meant by it.

Phoebe Stone: Sometimes it seems that some people find life so terribly difficult. And it is difficult. It’s wonderful and challenging and beautiful and full of joy, and it’s a hard and its painful and its scary. It’s both things. And some of us are equipped to handle both things beautifully. And some people love the challenge of all the difficulties and daily aggravations … And the joy, I mean the joy is so intense. And you know, we wouldn’t experience the great joy of life if we didn’t have the other side, the sadness too. Because we wouldn’t even know what joy was without the opposite. But some people can’t handle that kind of intensity and some people just prefer not to do it.

Emilia Dick Fior Del Farbo: While you were writing, did you sit down and say, "I want to write a love story and I want to incorporate some of my own personal experiences in it"? Or did it just kind of come out like that?

Phoebe Stone: When I begin writing a book, I never know where I’m going. And I liken it to walking in the woods, and sort of stumbling along finding my way and hoping, as I go along, that eventually the path that I took will lead me to the end … But it’s interesting how much of my life ends up in the story. Not directly, not ever directly, but indirectly. I sort of use my own experiences. It gives the book much more personal energy for me … I care about the characters terribly, and care about the story because it’s closely related to my story.

Liam McNeill: How did you come up with Henderson? I mean, he’s such an intricate and complex character. Is it like a childhood friend or someone that you know now?

Phoebe Stone: I really like Henderson too. Sometimes I meet kids at book signings, or in school or so on. And I met a boy at one book signing. He was quite a tall boy and he told me he was writing a Greek tragedy. And he was marvelous, marvelous intelligent boy. I think he may have influenced my thinking about Henderson.

Martin Sipowicz: Is your husband Henderson? Or is your husband like the Henderson in this book? Is he quirky? Is he like him?

Phoebe Stone: Yes, he is partly Henderson. But really and truly, Grandma and Grandpa are me and David, my husband, in a way … And, of course they’re a little bit older than we are but David calls me baby doll, and Grandpa calls Grandma baby doll. And I kind of wanted to poke fun of us a little bit, so I thought it would be amusing to portray us through a 13-year-old girl’s eyes.

Marjorie Shriver: Why did you make Henderson and Reni siblings and why was he not just a random person?

Phoebe Stone: Henderson is definitely the catalyst for the whole story. He sets everything in motion. And I think it’s when he actually goes on E-bay and buys a little meteorite – a piece of the universe, like a little falling star – he kind of sets the whole book in motion. And I have to say, to me that’s sort of what the theme of the whole book is. It’s about how your inner being is so beautifully interwoven and connected to the outer universe. And that little so-called falling star that Henderson buys sort of sets the whole evolution of Louise finding herself and finally confronting the trauma and blasting thought to the other side and waking up in a way. And it’s all because of Henderson and that little E-bay falling star that he bought.

Olivia Howe: If you could re-write this book, would you choose to focus on the crush part or the serious part?

Phoebe Stone: For me I couldn’t separate the two at this point because they seem so inter-related, really. Because, the truth of the matter is, when you close off your feelings and block off your emotions because of a trauma, you can’t feel anything. And you can’t love anyone, unless you can break through to your feelings, experience what it is that’s blocking off your feelings, and open up. And that’s when you can love someone and fall in love. Until then, it wouldn’t be possible. So I don’t know that I could separate the two of them. I like, too, to play in between light and heavy. I didn’t want to just do a heavy book. I wanted a book with humor and I wanted a book with a little magic and lightness and romance. So I tried to weave them together.

About The Book

Seventh grader Louise Terrace isn't the girl she used to be.

She used to be a star gymnast, but she sold her balance beam in a yard sale. She used to live with her mom in a house on Cinnamon Street, in North Pottsboro. Now she lives with her grandparents in a condo in South Pottsboro. She doesn't even want to be Louise Terrace anymore. She says she's changed her name to Thumbelina.

With her world falling apart around her, Louise has managed to shut out her memories and shut down her emotions. But when a secret admirer starts leaving her messages, the walls Louise has built start to crack as she struggles to understand some new emotions.

The Boy on Cinnamon Street is one of four books by Vermont authors on the current Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award list.

Next on Dorothy’s List

Join us during Vermont Edition Monday, March 3 at noon and 7 p.m. when we feature Sy Montgomery’s biography Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. Dorothy's List is sponsored by the VPR Journalism Fund.