At Gemma, we’re sometimes asked: What’s the secret to a successful HiLo title? Is there a formula for books that engage and inspire adults who are learning to read?

Our reply? There’s no secret and no formula. The success of our books relies on the skill, creativity and commitment of our talented authors.

In this series, we dive into the Gemma Open Door bookshelf to explore the astonishing range of influences our authors have drawn on when writing their books for us.

Poetry: Charles Coe, Spin Cycles

“How beautiful.

The late afternoon sun has turned windows in the buildings along the Charles River into golden mirrors.” Charles Coe, Spin Cycles

Charles Coe’s HiLo novel, Spin Cycles, is a gritty depiction of the life of a man surviving on the streets of Boston. The narrator is a math prodigy and MIT dropout, but his struggles with mental illness have left him homeless. Coe describes his hard, often dangerous life in detail. Yet into this harsh reality come surprising moments of beauty that give comfort and help the narrator find the strength to go on.

It’s these golden moments in Spin Cycles that reveal most clearly the poetic skill of its author. With four acclaimed collections of verse to his name, Coe brings a distinct lyric sensibility to his novel for Gemma. His writing is characterized by precise word choices, a crisp economy of style and an excellent ear for natural language rhythms, all qualities that make Spin Cycles a good choice for teaching adult learners.

But Coe’s poetic gifts shine brightest in the moments when the narrator breaks through his confusion and is able to see unexpected beauty in his world: rowers sculling on the river, pigeons in flight and, above all, the clean clothes spinning steadily in the dryers of a laundromat.

It’s at these moments of poetry that life seems survivable to the narrator and the prose comes to life. “Maybe in spite of everything,” he thinks, “I can find a way to live in this world, to receive whatever it offers.”

Coe uses his poetic skill to reveal both the distressing realities of homelessness and the beauty of being alive even in the most difficult circumstances. His story ends on a final note of hope. “How beautiful,” thinks the narrator, bringing the story to a perfect circle, like the clean clothes tumbling in the dryer.

Spin Cycles, Charles Coe, Gemma Open Door, Adult Literacy, ESOL