In my career, the three books that have had the greatest critical and commercial success were Kid Power, Life As We Knew It, and The Year Without Michael.
My guess is if you're here, you're familiar with Life As We Knew It. And I'll write about Kid Power some other time. But now I'm going to tell you about The Year Without Michael.
There are certain themes I return to regularly and certain structures I always enjoy. Michael is an example of both of them. Its plot, a family torn apart when their young teenage son Michael disappears, is in its own way quite similar to Life As We Knew It. Its structure, third person, episodic, with dates rather than chapters, is the same as The Dead And The Gone.
I chose to write Michael because I wanted to explore how it felt to live through a situation without resolution. At the time, someone I knew was fighting cancer, a life of illness, treatment, remission, illness, treatment, remission, then illness again. I also knew someone who had suffered severe brain damage. In both cases, these were people I cared about, but both of them were loved by people I loved. In both cases, it was wrong to give up hope, but in some ways hope was more difficult than acceptance. Since I didn't want to write anything too specifically about these people, I chose to explore the dilemma by writing about a missing person.
The Year Without Michael is told from the point of view of sixteen year old Jody, Michael's older sister. In this era before cellphones and the Internet, Jody is plunged into a world of uncertainty. Her parents are devastated, her younger sister is acting out, and yet Jody has to cope with everyday life, school, friends, family.
The book worked. It got my only starred School Library Journal review, and a great New York Times review (here's the plant my publisher sent me in celebration).
There were so many fine things said, my publisher printed a bunch of them as part of a publicity brochure.
The Year Without Michael was my second book to win the South Carolina Young Readers Award (About David was my first). It was my only book to be optioned for an After School Special. A Tony Award winning playwright was hired to do the adaptation, but it never got made (an episodic book about a family with a missing child didn't really lend itself to an hour long format for kids).
While I was going through my Michael file, I discovered a letter Robert Cormier had written to my editor.
Thanks for sending along Susan Beth Pfeffer's novel, The Year Without Michael. It's a wonderful book on an important topic. Her style--- that staccato prose and crackling dialogue--- is mesmerizing. I read it in one sitting. Pfeffer breaks your heart but she somehow manages to put it together again although the edges remain jagged. A beautiful job.
Several years after its publication, the American Library Association Young Adult Services (YALSA) named The Year Without Michael one of the 100 Best Books For Young Adults, published in a 25 year period.
I'm very pleased that The Year Without Michael is now available on e-book formats, including Amazon and Nook.