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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Sad News

Last Tuesday night, the marvelous Norma Howe passed away. I’d known Norma for decades, ever since an envelop came across my desk at Henry Holt. A manuscript came to me that, I later learned, had gone to 20 different editors — in fact it had been to Holt I believe, before I got there, so the manuscript and I had to go in circles before we met each other — which is a very Norma story. The book was The Adventures of Blue Avenger — a book that was smart, funny, caring, ahead of its time — just, in all ways, wonderful, and Norma. I got to publish it — as well as two more Blue books, and, most recently Angel in Vegas. Norma was always thinking about coincidence and mysteries — but she was the most clear eyed skeptic. She was a scientific rationalist with a twinkle in her eye. And then there was the matter of her age.

Norma was a grandmother many times over when I met her back in the 90s, but she always seemed younger than anyone else, and more in tune with young teenagers. She knew kids so well, so clearly, so lovingly, and with such wit. And that is why it is hard to think of her as not here. She didn’t change — she was the woman who didn’t smoke but, with her husband Bob, collected over 20,000 ash trays — because they were interesting. Who kept sacks of walnuts and almonds in her home, because they were good and she liked having them. She and Bob would share fractions of doughnuts every day — keeping to diets and feeding their love affair with doughnuts. They would travel the world — she loved Venice and Paris — and, in a way, Las Vegas. And then she would have a clever, loving, smart, idea for a new book — and we’d go on another writing adventure together.

She was great, her books are great — read them — and writing about you, Norma, makes you feel all the more here — it is hard to miss you but in a way I don’t — I see you.


  1. What a great tribute to an always-fascinating author. I must admit I’ve never even heard of ANGEL IN VEGAS. I was going to start a mini-rant here about one of my latest concerns — the fact that so many books are published these days that it’s impossible to keep up with everything…but I think I’ll put a cork in it and just savor the idea that there’s another Norma Howe novel out there still waiting to be read.

  2. Oh dear. I had no idea. I love the Blue Avenger books excessively and constantly recommend them to anyone looking for a really good YA novel– and had no idea you published them. Nobody else writes like that. I never met her, but I wish I had. I’m so sorry.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    Candlewick published it last year — Norma thinking about angels, fate, self-delusion, unreliable narrators — and the wonders of Vegas — with drawings by one of her talented sons.

  4. Marc Aronson says:


    Last I saw Norma, she told me that she had what seemed like a treatable but not serious form of cancer. But recently I learned that that was not so at all, and she went into a hospice about a month ago, with her family close at hand. We got to exchange some wonderful last thoughts via email and Bob. Norma was a rationalist with wit — to the end. When the time came she accepted what was coming, but made sure to be with those she loved — and greeting the world with her raised eyebrow and unique sense of humor. I miss her as I write this — but I think that is kind of what ghosts are — the way a peson is so vivid to you just after they die, you can’t let go because they are so real, so more alive in a way, as you hold on to that image, that vapor — stronger now, concentrated now, because just ahead it is gone: Norma’s lingering imprint. But that is what is great bout art — you have created soemthing that exists after you are gone — another way for people to experience your individual “take” on life, the world, the universe, fate, and angels in Vegas.

  5. Janet Thompson says:

    My 17-year-old chose not to swear in 5th grade after reading The Blue Avenger. He hasn’t swayed from that decision making him rather unique among his peers as was Blue. What great books, so enjoyable. I still giggle when I think of Blue’s efforts to save the school newspaper by purchasing a variety of condoms at the local drug store with his brother and girlfriend in tow. The humor is so fun, especially the banter between Blue and his little brother who says something like, “What are we going to call you, ‘The,'” when Blue first announces he’s changed his name to “The Blue Avenger.” Ms. Howe will certainly be missed, thank goodness we still have her books and they’re still circulating.

  6. Marc Aronson says:

    I’ll tell Bob — Norma’s husband — about your son, he’ll enjoy hearing about him, as Norma would have