Reviews and Interviews:
authors and trade journals
Review by Gail Cleare, USA Today bestselling author
Diane Byington’s engaging debut novel tells the story of a rich emotional journey, set in Florida in the late 1960s. The coming-of-age tale follows Faye’s transformation from a lonely, bullied teenager to a strong, independent young woman. While discovering her strengths and talents, and training for the Boston Marathon despite the epilepsy she’s battled since childhood, Faye literally learns “who she is.” A chain of secrets unravel as the story progresses, each more shocking than the last. The intriguing plot is told beautifully, in crisp and compelling prose, painting a vivid picture of the deep South on the cusp of major social change. Each chapter is titled by the name of a Top 40 record from the era, pulling us deeper into the timeframe. This captivating read will be equally enjoyed by young adult readers, and their mothers and aunties who remember that period well, and witnessed the major changes it brought about for the role of women in society. — Gail Cleare, USA Today bestselling author
Review by Aimie K. Runyan, internationally bestselling author of Daughters of the Night Sky and Promised to the Crown.
“Who She Is” is a captivating, well-imagined story about some of the first women to run in the Boston Marathon. The characters are gritty and real, and the tumultuous late 1960s are depicted vibrantly. This is a tale that sheds light on exactly how much women have had to overcome in order to participate in such simple things as high school sports. A worthy, engrossing read.” ~ Aimie K. Runyan, internationally bestselling author of Daughters of the Night Sky and Promised to the Crown.
Review by Wendy Tokunaga, author of Midori by Moonlight and Postcards from Tokyo
“During the tumultuous 1960s, a young woman with a troubled family life and a passion for running taps into an inner strength she never knew she had in this poignant and moving story that will stay with you long after you’ve finishing reading.” – Wendy Tokunaga, author of Midori by Moonlight and Postcards from Tokyo
4/9/18 – The Midwest Review – Donovan’s Bookshelf
Faye Smith’s family works the Florida orange groves, the migrants are back in town for work, and Faye once again must face a new school. The opening paragraph deftly captures Faye’s ongoing and latest dilemma (“October 4, 1967. My first day at Valencia High started with a bloody nose. I had physical education class right after homeroom, and I wandered around the sprawling school, looking for the gym, for ten minutes.”), setting the stage for a predictable ‘new girl in town’ or migrant family story.
However, readers will discover something different in Who She Is, because Faye defies the limitations of her epilepsy to try a new sport, which she loves, and even crafts a plan to escape her family’s poverty until life shifts again, bringing into question her newfound identity and purpose in life.
That’s one pleasing aspect of Who She Is, which sets the stage for a semi-predictable course; then makes a complete about-face with digressions that are completely unexpected and satisfyingly different.
Within the backdrop of newfound dreams and hopes for her future lies a family secret and a hidden heritage. Faye’s brand new goals are challenged almost as soon as they are conceived. Realistic details depict a young girl’s life, from smoking a joint and a first kiss that progresses too quickly into something else to a landmark birthday when Faye drinks her first coffee and contemplates the freedoms a driver’s license will bring.
Other than the spells which overtake her, Faye seems to be a normal teen … or, is she? And if she is lying about some of her experiences, isn’t her mother doing the same? From her participation in a marathon to her goal of obtaining a college scholarship, Faye has her hands full; and readers are treated to a fast-paced, first-person narration of events.
Faye’s character and her concerns are nicely drawn, the twists of plot are unpredictable and different, and the story line is thoroughly engrossing. Teens and adults who choose this leisure read expecting another story of a migrant lifestyle or a new girl’s struggle with school will find much, much more taking place. Readers will appreciate Who She Is for its multifaceted approach to life and one girl’s discovery of who she really is (and can be) in the face of bullying, betrayal, and abandonment.
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite
5 Stars – Congratulations on your 5-star review!
Being a new girl in high school is hard enough, but being the new girl that arrives mid-term is even more difficult. Especially when this new girl has had many experiences as a new girl in high schools across the country. Her parents move a lot, being itinerant farm workers. And, with a drunken, drug doped father, who often gets in trouble flirting with other men’s wives, the moves are often a necessity of survival – his survival. Faye’s a strong girl, though, and when she hears about the track team looking for new runners, she immediately signs up. It doesn’t matter that it’s the 1960s and women just didn’t run in the 1960s. It doesn’t matter that her mother has convinced her that she has epilepsy and that the running might bring on another seizure. Faye loves to run. And she makes her first best friend in a long time, Francie, on the track. Francie loves to run, too, and she has big plans. Francie wants to run the Boston Marathon, even though women in the 1960s are still not allowed to register for this event. She convinces Faye to join her in the dream. But the dream becomes an obsession for Faye and, as she runs, her past starts to catch up to her and her life unravels in ways she never dreamed possible. It’s not very often a book grabs me in such a way that I can’t put it down until it’s finished. I hungered to unravel Faye’s mysterious past right to the very end. Diane Byington’s novel, Who She Is, spoke to me on so many levels. The author touched on the many sensitive issues of the 1960s: Viet Nam, the death of Martin Luther King, racism in the south, women’s rights and so much more. The character she created in Faye, both a victim and a survivor, was compassionately molded into a strong, powerful young lady who developed into a woman who overcame her mysterious childhood. Most of the story centers around this teenage girl, and the story would definitely fit well into the young adult categories as well. Not only is the main character trying to unravel the mysteries of her past, she is also struggling to fit in with her contemporaries. Faye is struggling to find her own sense of identity and become her own woman. Very much a coming-of-age story. The plot is well developed with extraordinary attention to detail, set in the 1960s before the age of computers and high tech. The events that haunted Faye as a teenager are certainly possible and very believable. A powerful story from beginning to end.