Arnoia, Spain, where the author edited her novel.
On her website–charlottebowyerwriter.com—Charlotte Bowyer quotes Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda,
‘And love is love is love is love
is love is love is love is love,
Cannot be killed or swept aside.’
Miranda read his sonnet, from which these lines are taken, as he accepted the first of more than a score of 2016 Tony awards for his play, “Hamilton.” Miranda, who is not gay, wrote the poem in response to the shooting at gay club Pulse in Orlando, Florida.
Charlotte Bowyer, who is also not gay, has written a ground-breaking Young Adult novel that speaks for the LGBT community in its two main characters, Asa and Avery.
On 2 April 2016 Charlotte Bowyer’s young adult fantasy novel, His Frozen Fingertips, arrived in the queue of manuscripts submitted to Koehler Books. I was working as an acquisitions editor at the time and was making my usual pass through the new listings. I am not a fan of young adult fiction. With the exception of the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, I am not a reader of fantasy. His Frozen Fingertips looked like a challenge, something that would require an open mind and a good bit of hard work. I asked to have it assigned to me.
I made tea and settled in for what I anticipated would be a chore but an excellent opportunity to build more variety into my list of the genres with which I can legitimately claim I have experience.
I opened the Advance Reader’s Copy of His Frozen Fingertips and read:
“HE WAS NOT NEGLECTED.
Nor was he a child.
Seventeen, in Asa Hounslow’s opinion, was old enough to do whatever he pleased.
Therefore, he could not be a child.
And neglected? When had his parents ever shown him neglect? He hadn’t seen them for five years.
Asa’s hands were wrapped around a mug of hot water, steam curling over the rim. He rested his elbows on the table and sipped at his drink.
‘I don’t see how this is my problem.’
The healer caught Asa’s eyes and let her gaze drop back to the table. Papers covered it, diagrams and sketches of magical shapes that seemed to shift imperceptibly in the flickering candlelight. Her hands ran over a pot filled with spiked crystals: red, blue, and golden green. They hummed softly as she stroked the sharp tips.” (3)
I read it again, and I saw, in this short passage: the careful choice and effective repetition of vocabulary; a sophisticated, but not contrived, variety of sentence structures; a fine sense of irony; and, the promise of fairly complex character development. It didn’t hurt that the dangling bait of the plot made this look like a page-turner.
I had stumbled upon a very good writer.
Early on the morning of 5 April, I sent Charlotte Bowyer an email expressing interest in talking with her about her book. Before noon, Eastern Standard Time, Charlotte had typed her response, which was signed,
Charlotte Bowyer (16 years-old)”
Here was a manuscript that, by any standards, was unusually well-written. Written by a sixteen-year-old (I have since learned that Charlotte actually wrote the novel when she was fifteen), it was remarkable.
I have only spoken with Charlotte once, on Google Hang-Outs, and that was a year ago before she had signed a publishing contract. That day, Charlotte, her mother, John Koehler, and I gathered close to our computer screens and, after a few struggles with the technology, sat back to begin a nearly hour-long conversation.
Charlotte is poised, articulate, witty, charming, and very pretty.
She is a feminist.
She is an advocate for LGBT rights.
She is a teenager.
She is an author.
Her mother, Barbara Bowyer, is an attorney, and I discerned behind her informality the eye of a mother, trained in the law, guarding her sixteen-year-old daughter’s territory. Like her daughter, Barbara is attractive and charming, a real pleasure to talk to, and one of those people you would like to get to know better. Mother and daughter both impressed me, and I came away from the hour thinking that, if nothing else, I had spent the time getting acquainted with two interesting people.
On the back cover of her book, Charlotte’s short “Author Bio” tells us that she is “a firm believer in freedom of expression and diversity.” a “feminist,” and that “she believes in the blurring of labels to encompass all types of relationships, and the human right to love indiscriminately.”
From the time we meet the two main characters of His Frozen Fingertips–Asa on his way home from the encounter with the healer, Avery sleeping in the road–their relationship is described in delicate but clearly physical language. They are aware of one another; we are aware of them.
“Asa paused. He recognised that voice. Creeping forwards, he placed careful hands on the boy’s body, feeling him tense at the uninvited touch. His fingers sensed solid muscle under the skin, warm, vital, strong. He moved towards his head when he abruptly stood up, shaking Asa off with an incredulous laugh.
‘Sorry,’ Asa exhaled. ‘Sorry. You sounded familiar, and I didn’t quite know how to ask you—’
‘Ask me what?’He could feel the boy’s breath in the cold air.
‘Your name,’ Asa mumbled, embarrassed.
‘Why don’t you just ask then?’ the stranger proposed.
‘Well, what is your name?’
‘Averett,’ he said. ‘But my friends call me Avery.’” (5-6)
Avery has walked many miles to pay a visit to Asa. It doesn’t take him long to see that Asa has completely forgotten–or at the best, mixed up the dates for the visit. It is an uncomfortable moment. Somehow, with the resilience of young boys, they manage to start a conversation and head down the road together.
We discover that the boys are from the same village and have known each other–how well is not clear, but well enough that they have exchanged letters in which Avery’s visit was planned. They make their way back to Asa’s apartment, and it is here, as Asa scrambles to put together a meal and they shuffle awkwardly around the problem of sleeping arrangements, that the boys begin to suspect that the evil sorcerer, Erebus, is on the move for his annual spring attack.
As if that weren’t enough . . .
As soon as Avery leaves the room for a minute, Asa pulls out the note the sorcerer wrote–and sealed–for Asa’s parents. He opens it, and reads that he is suffering from a terminal heart disease for which there is no treatment. The only thing that can be done is to keep him comfortable for a few months.
Within the hour, a mysterious person, smelling vaguely of violets, has delivered a curious scroll. Asa toys with it before getting out his letter opener to break the seal. He is invited to the Royal Palace where he will be given the details of his assignment–nothing less than “to lead the way to a time of peace.” The boys are stunned. Avery assumes his friend can’t go on such a quest because of his illness. Asa insists that he will go–because, with his illness, there’s really nothing to lose.
Asa, of course, refuses to abandon this chance for an adventure, and Avery swears to go with him.
And we have stepped onto an unfamiliar path with two very interesting characters.
Of this photograph, and of mountains, the author writes,
“This was taken in Scotland, the rugged terrain being more like how I imagined my mountains to look. Mountains play a key role in my novel due to the physical and mental obstacle that they present to the characters. Not only are they hard to physically climb but most hikers will know that fifty percent of the effort is mental, which means that success in climbing a mountain is an act of skilI and self-belief – qualities necessary for heroes.”
And mountains and heroes we certainly have in this novel. But underneath plot, even deeper than themes, making both possible, is the fine touch of a good writer. Before the end of Chapter One, Bowyers once again shows us what she can do. A quick introduction to intriguing characters is a necessary skill, but what is required of a writer is the development of those characters. The reader must begin almost at once to see them, hear them, understand them.
In this small exchange, just after the ominous ringing of the village bell warns of disaster, she defines Asa and Avery with clear lines. Any attentive reader will smile at what will become recognizable as the attitudes these boys bring to every twist and turn of the plot.
“’I don’t trust it,’ Avery argued. ‘Erebus hasn’t done anything for years now. Asa, what if this year he—’
‘Oh, please be quiet, Avery!’ Asa snapped. ‘If he kills us, then we are dead. We won’t even know that he has done it.’” (8)
The temptation is great to tell just a bit more of this wonderful story, but more to the point, I think, is to offer another example of the range that this very young writer already has. In this scene, later in the novel, the boys have heard an ominous growling in the forest, and Asa reaches for a sword. There is much serious description of their trials, but Bowyer knows just when to drop into something much more comfy with her splendid choice of the phrase, “a sharp poky thing.”
“Asa’s hand snaked to the gleaming blade hanging unused in its scabbard. He had no idea what he was to do with it, but felt better for having a sharp poky thing than not.” (112)
Yet she can turn around not too many pages later and write a description so lyrical it almost brings you to tears.
“Avery soon fell into an easy rest, his hand growing slack in Asa’s. Yet Asa found that he was unable to do so. He felt the chill of the wind on his back, the scratchiness of the blades of grass below his body, and the bleak loneliness of their situation as he did his friend’s callused palm. The night grew darker and stiller. No moon rose to light the sky, and the stars were so far away.” (180)
At no point in His Frozen Fingertips do Asa and Avery become stereotypes, nor are they ever one-dimensional cut-outs serving only to make a social or political point. Asa and Avery are real, are people we know, are two young boys on an adventure, facing hardships, forging a friendship. They also happen to be gay.
Charlotte Bowyer has strong opinions and there is no doubt that she wants to express them in this novel, but at no point does she sacrifice her characters, her story, or her integrity as a writer to a political agenda.
I asked her, just before the publishing of this review, what she would most like her readers to take away from His Frozen Fingertips.
“I’d like readers to take a sense of hope from my book, since it is about defying the odds and learning to believe in your abilities. Without hope the quest would never have started, for that reason I think it is the most important theme in the novel.”
I believe they will take away hope and a good deal more.
This is the first novel of a fifteen-year-old writer, at the very beginning of her writing life.
Did I mention it’s a page-turner?
Brava, Charlotte Bowyer!
Order His Frozen Fingertips from
You can find Charlotte on her website, charlottebowyerwriter.com, or on one of her many social media sites.