Short story features complex characters

It doesn't take a tome of 500 pages to tell a powerful, gripping and captivating story. Jessica Bell has managed to do this in less than 150 pages in her latest work, "The Book."

Bell, also an author of poetry and nonfiction, takes on a unique voice for one of the narrators of her book — a 5-year-old child — and she truly captivates this voice, taking the reader through the story of the girl's estranged parents and herself trying to figure out life.

The title comes from a book, which most would call a journal or diary, that Bonnie's parents started writing in before she was even born. John, her father, has the idea to write special messages to his daughter and to give "The Book" to her when she is older. Penny, her mother, is the one who actually writes in the book more, and eventually it becomes a diary for her mother more than a message for the daughter.

"The Book" is divided into three parts: "Love is the Beginning," "Love is a Weapon" and "Love is Tangible." In each part, Penny or John tell their side of the story and feelings through their writings in "The Book." Bonnie adds to it through her narration for the reader, and transcripts of Bonnie speaking to a psychiatrist, Dr. Wright, also are included.

All of these parts and various techniques work together to complete the story of Bonnie and her parents.

The reader learns that John and Penny don't stay together after Bonnie is born, and Penny starts a new relationship with Ted — who has a temper with a violent side. Bonnie explains to the reader what she sees going on in the lives of the adults around her, from her dad's new family to her mom's emotional side to "my Ted's" outbursts.

Bonnie sees the biggest problem as "The Book." She thinks it is what causes the difficulties in her life and the lives of her loved ones. She wants to destroy it and is just waiting for the chance to get it away from her mother and make everything better for everyone.

What Bell does so well in this short novel is take on the different voices of the characters — readers will be able to hear the child trying to figure out her world in Bonnie's narrative, while sympathizing with John and Penny, who aren't sure if they made the right choice to split. When Bell writes as John in "The Book," he has a distinct way of writing, which is different than Penny — this distinction and technique with voice are the marks of a good writer.

The ending is shocking and can be somewhat disturbing, but it's realistic, heartfelt and certainly satisfying after spending several hours getting to know the characters in "The Book."

Bell is a native Australian who lives in Athens, Greece. She also is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. She makes a living as an editor and writer for English language teaching publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She also runs the Homeric Writers' Retreat and Workshop in Ithaca, Greece, which is an annual weeklong workshop for writers with instruction from experts in the field.

"The Book" is a fast read but one that you might want to read again. The characters are complex, which makes the story memorable and a great one to discuss in a book club. If you haven't checked out anything Bell has written, start with "The Book."

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle-grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). Formerly of East Central Illinois, she lives in St. Louis with her family.

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