Darlene Joy Ryan

Darlene RyanPhoto: sofiekelly.com
Darlene Ryan
Photo: sofiekelly.com

Darlene Joy (Arsenault) Ryan (novelist, non-fiction writer, copywriter, journalist, poet, and editor) was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her father, John Arsenault, worked as a mechanic and driving instructor in the Canadian Army, and died when she was young. Her mother, Dorothy, looked after children.

Ryan spent her childhood outside of Saint John and attended Saint John High School. She excelled in math and science and, despite her interest in writing, went on to study forestry at the University of New Brunswick in 1976. She later switched to biology because she “discovered [she] had allergies to a lot of different trees” (Email interview). During her time at UNB, she worked in the Herbarium, as a maid at Keddy's Motel, and as a lab instructor; she also won the N. Myles Brown Science Scholarship. After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in 1980, she worked as a disk jockey for one year, during which time she decided not to pursue a master's degree in biology. Instead, she entered the Bachelor of Education program at St. Thomas University in 1981. She graduated the following year, but decided not to become a teacher, despite having enjoyed her internship teaching hearing impaired students at Albert Street Middle School in Fredericton (Email interview). In 1982, she worked as a fitness instructor and started writing radio commercials for CFNB, a radio station based in Fredericton. She married Patrick Ryan in 1984.

Between 1997 and 2002, Ryan began writing newspaper articles for The New Brunswick Reader, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, First Draft, and MochaSofa.com. In 1998, she adopted a daughter from China. Ryan kept a journal about this experience and wrote the article “To China With Love,” which was published the same year in The New Brunswick Reader. Her decision to adopt after believing for most of her life that she did not want children led to the authorship of her first book, a memoir entitled A Mother's Adoption Journey, which was published in 2001. In that book, Ryan gives detailed information on domestic and international adoption in Canada, and advice on adjusting to life as a new parent. At the end of each chapter, she includes excerpts from her journal, which speak to the topics covered in each chapter. For instance, in the chapter “Life With Your Child,” she writes, “If this is your first child, you'll get used to the idea of being someone's parent. You'll begin to relax.” Then, in a journal excerpt at the end that describes her daughter's crying fit, she writes:

I think the honey-moon is over. That easy-going, even tempered baby disappeared while I was cooking supper and the mother-ship beamed down a foul, crabby little person who wanted to be carried everywhere right now.

She sat in the middle of the kitchen floor and screamed, her face red and blotchy and her small fists clenched. I tried to explain that I had to get supper, but I don't think babies care about logic—especially in a language they don't understand.

While she was screeching, I suddenly realized that I'm the mommy. I didn't feel fear or panic. It was mostly a sense of confusion .... How did this happen? I know that's kind of strange since I've been trying to make this happen for almost two years and I've just spent two weeks in a communist country ten thousand miles away, pissing off pretty much everyone I met. Mostly what hit me was the realization that I have actually managed to pull this off. (116, 122)

In 2004, Ryan, who had been entering literary contests since childhood, submitted a manuscript to the Two-and-Under Story Contest, part of the Born to Read program run by UNB’s Early Childhood Care Centre. Her entry won, and the story Kisses, Kisses, Kisses was published as a children's picture book by the Centre. The book was well-received and praised for “produc[ing] vivid images that delight the senses” (Kitts, Kisses 21).

Although Kisses was her first work aimed at a young audience, Ryan is best known for her fiction aimed at teens. Her first young adult novel, Rules For Life, was published in 2004. It centers on the efforts of sixteen-year-old Isabelle to keep the spirit of her dead mother alive by following her numerous rules. These rules control everything, from the way Isabelle thinks and interacts with those around her, to her minutest private actions. These rules are referenced early in the novel when she comments:

I thought about pitching the Sophisticuts and swiping my dad's razor. It was his fault I was doing this anyway. But Rule #23 got in the way: A woman should have her own razor and her own bank account. (14)

In the two years that have passed since her mother's death, Isabelle's family members have changed: her brother, Jason, has become a recovering drug addict, and her father has remarried a woman named Anne, who Isabelle barely knows. After several misfortunes change Isabelle's life, her mother's rules can no longer help guide her. With the help and support of her boyfriend, Anne, and Mrs. Mac (an elderly woman whom she befriends after interviewing her for a class project), Isabelle learns that she must adopt her own beliefs.

Rules For Life was favourably reviewed. Ryan was praised for her “fine eye for detail,” her believable characters, and her realistic portrayals (Hegerat 38). The book was acclaimed for its accessibility and for having an “opener [that] may be the most startling and skilfully wrought in contemporary teen fiction” (Hegerat 38; “Fredericton Writer”). However, these same reviews also criticized Ryan for the “too virtuous” Rafe (Isabelle's boyfriend) and her “choppy” event sequences (Hegerat 38; “Fredericton Writer”).

Ryan’s second young adult novel, Saving Grace, was published in 2000. It concerns a fifteen-year-old girl, Evie, who regrets her decision to put her child up for adoption. Believing only she can mother her infant, Evie steals her baby, Grace (who she renames Brianna), from her adoptive parents and tricks her ex-boyfriend (the baby's biological father) into driving them to Montreal. Eventually betrayed by her boyfriend and challenged by Grace's illness, Evie must come to terms with the fact that she does not know as much as she thinks she does about parenting. She is faced with choosing between being a mother (by keeping Grace) or acting motherly (by getting her baby medical attention).

Ryan’s third young adult novel, Responsible, was published in 2007. Unlike the previous novels that focus on female characters, this novel tells the story of Kevin, a teenage boy who has just moved and entered a new school. He joins a bully group that terrorizes a fellow classmate, Erin, because she spurned the group’s leader, Nick. The violence against Erin escalates into a physical confrontation in which the boys plan to shave her head, but end up going much further. Kevin finally chooses to defend Erin, but he must deal with the consequences from both Nick and his gang, and Erin and their classmates.

In Ryan’s latest young adult novel, Five Minutes More (2009), the teenaged D'Arcy grieves and attempts to understand her father's suicide. After his death, she becomes distant from her friends, family, and classmates. She turns to alcohol and bad company, but becomes close to Seth, her math tutor, who eventually tries to commit suicide himself.

Like her earlier work, Saving Grace, Responsible, and Five Minutes More were well-received. They were praised for their well-rounded characters, convincing detail, and realistic settings (Reilly 44; Heinrich; Latta; Mills 37; Ketcheson). Two reviewers, however, thought that Saving Grace and Responsible had endings that were too realistic and thus unsatisfying (Reilly 44; Mills 37).

If Darlene Ryan has been productive in her writing career, she has been equally ambitious when writing as her alter ago, Sofie Kelly. Under this pseudonym, Ryan has begun the Magical Cats series, which currently has two installments, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat and Sleight of Paw, both published in 2011. The series introduces Kathleen Paulson, a librarian, and her two magical cats, Owen and Hercules, who can become invisible and walk through walls. She and the cats solve mysteries in their town of Mayville Heights.

Ryan has received several awards for her writing. In 2006, she received the Dr. Marilyn Trenholme-Counsell Early Literacy Award; in the past, she has also been nominated for the Stellar Book and Ann Conor Brimer awards. Her novels have appeared on the lists of the Young Adult Library Services Association Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, and the Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice List. Her literary influences include Kevin Major, Janet McNaught, and Lynn Veil.

Ryan has two young adult novels planned for release in 2012 under her own name: Cut's Like a Knife and Pieces of Me. As Sofie Kelly, she will also publish a third Magical Cats novel, Copycat Killing, in 2012. She is currently working on the fourth novel in that series and is drafting a volume of poetry and collage. Ryan continues to live in Fredericton with her husband and adopted daughter.

Cynthia Bouzanne, Spring 2011
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Davidson, Karen, Darlene Ryan, and Patricia Tingley. Baby's Garden. Ed. Darlene Ryan. Fredericton, NB: Early Childhood Care Centre, 2008.

Kelly, Sofie [Darlene Ryan]. Cat Trick. New York: Signet, 2013.

---. Copycat Killing. New York: Obsidian, 2012.

---. Curiosity Thrilled the Cat. New York: Obsidian, 2011.

---. Sleight of Paw. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Ryan, Darlene. “Building a Career.” Poe's Deadly Daughters. 29 Jan. 2008. 23 June 2020

---. “Could You Be a Stay at Home Dad?” MochaSofa. Canadian Living

---. Cuts Like a Knife. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2012.

---. “Editing 101.” Poe's Deadly Daughters. 2 Aug. 2008

---. Email interview. 12, 17, 25 Feb. 2012 and 7 Mar. 2012.

---. “Exercising Body and Mind.” The New Brunswick Reader 30 Mar. 2002: 9.

---. Five Minutes More. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2009.

---. “Food for Thought.” The New Brunswick Reader 3 Jan. 1998: 23.

---. “The Frain Legacy.” Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology. Ed. Ramona DeFelice Long. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press, 2011.

---. Homepage. Darlene Ryan: Young Adult Novelist and Non-Fiction Writer. DreamForge Media. 23 June 2020

---. Kisses, Kisses, Kisses. Illus. Peter Manchester. Ed. Pam Whitty. Fredericton, NB: Early Childhood Care Centre, U of New Brunswick, 2004.

---. A Mother's Adoption Journey. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2001.

---. “No Shushes Please.” The New Brunswick Reader 23 Feb. 2002: 9.

--- “Non-Invasive Therapy.” Rev. of A Safe Place, by Jennifer Pike. The New Brunswick Reader 28 Mar. 1998: 26.

---. Pieces of Me. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2012.

---. “Pilot Helps Your Dreams Take Off.” The New Brunswick Reader 23 Mar. 2002: 9.

---. Responsible. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2007.

---. Rules For Life. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2004.

---. Saving Grace. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 2006.

---. “Stay-at-Home Dads Have No Regrets.” The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 15 June 2002: B1.

---. “To China With Love.” The New Brunswick Reader 9 Jan. 1999: 6-10.

---. “Writing With a Conscience Named Judy.” Poe's Deadly Daughters 27 Jan. 2007

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Canton, Jeffrey. “Rules For Life.” Rev. of Rules For Life, by Darlene Ryan. Quill & Quire 71.2 (Feb. 2005): 34-5.

“Fredericton Writer Darlene Ryan's Opener May Be One of the Most Startling and Skillfully Wrought in Contemporary Teen Fiction. As in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, All Flows from It.” The Canadian Press [Toronto, ON] 21 Dec. 2004.

Hegerat, Elisabeth. Rev. of Rules For Life, by Darlene Ryan. Resource Links 10.4 (Apr. 2005): 38.

Heinrich, Saache. “Saving Grace.” Rev. of Saving Grace, by Darlene Ryan. CM: An Electronic Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People 13.10 (4 Jan. 2007): n.p.

In't Veld, Allison. “Five Minutes More.” Rev of Five Minutes More, by Darlene Ryan. The Bookmark 50.2 (Spring 2010): 37.

Ketcheson, Ann. “Five Minutes More.” Rev of Five Minutes More, by Darlene Ryan. CM: An Electronic Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People 15.13 (Feb. 2009): n.p.

Killeen, Angela. “Five Minutes More.” Rev. of Five Minutes More, by Darlene Ryan. Resource Links 14.4 (April 2009): 38-9.

Kitts, Wendy. “Darlene Ryan: Full-Time Mother, Full-Time Writer.” The New Brunswick Reader 29 May 2004: 11.

---. “Kisses, Kisses, Kissses.” Rev. of Kisses, Kisses, Kisses, by Darlene Ryan. The New Brunswick Reader 29 May 2004: 21.

---. “Maritime Books for Youngsters Make Great Gifts.” The New Brunswick Reader 11 Dec. 2004: 21.

Latta, Ruth. “Responsible.” Rev. of Responsible, by Darlene Ryan. CM: An Electronic Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People 14.5 (Oct. 2007): n.p.

Mills, Phillip. “Responsible.” Rev. of Responsible, by Darlene Ryan. Resource Links 13.3 (Feb. 2008): 37.

Reilly, Laura. “Saving Grace.” Rev. of Saving Grace, by Darlene Ryan. Resource Links 12.3 (Feb. 2004): 44.

Sawyer, Peter. “Awards for Literacy in N.B. Inspire Hope.” Times and Transcript [Moncton, NB] 16 Sept. 2006: D6.

“Top Ten Quick Picks.” Booklist 106.13 (Mar. 2010): 14.

Worden, Marv. “Rules For Life.” Rev. of Rules For Life, by Darlene Ryan. The Bookmark 47.2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 82-3.