Wednesday, May 30, 2007

 

Being Careful

It’s awkward when you read a book by an author with whom you have some sort of connection and and find that you don’t like it. I can talk around Odori by Darcy Tamayose (Cormorant, 2007) by saying that it is richly written and illuminating on the subject of Okinawa as distinct from “Japan”; that the story teaches that no one understands rootedness like the transplanted; that there is so much for the senses here: tastes, smells, feelings of all sorts. But the fact is that this is a poetic (lyrical) novel and this is a genre I am not fond of. So I end up lamely returning to that o-so-useful phrase used by a friend’s mother: “It’s very nice—if you like that sort of thing.”

Also, odori is a kind of dance—another art form I can’t get into. Once an author starts getting lyrical about dance, I’m doomed.

I actually bought Enna Burning by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2004) on the strength of The Princess Academy—only to discover that it is a sequel/companion to The Goose Girl, which I haven’t read. Okay, Enna is a story of its own—but it has effectively ruined Goose Girl for me. I’ll read it anyway, because I love SH’s writing, but if I were a kid I’d be ticked off at the publisher’s disingenuousness (“other books of Bayern”) indeed!

At the same time I bought Geraldine McCaughrean’s Not the End of the World (HarperCollins 2004). My trust in this author is so complete, I even attempted the official sequel to Peter Pan because of her. Her success with that sequel is unquestionable: though I didn’t like it (skimmed through and just barely managed to finish it), neither have I ever liked Peter Pan; and Son said, “It’s surprisingly dark” to which I replied, “So is the original Peter Pan.” GM can’t change PP, a precious and vindictive character I have never found in the least attractive; but she does manage her way around the misogyny in a very interesting and liberating way.

And on that topic, End of the World: whose main character is Timna, Noah’s daughter, and whose subject is their mythical survival of the Flood. One of the reasons I love GM, I think, is that her mind seems to live in some of the same places mine does, furnished by Christian tradition and a habit of story. When she rearranges that furniture, as she does in this book, you’re liable to be barked on the mental shin. Now, bear in mind that this is just one aspect of the book: on the surface, it is an excellent, deeply-thought and humorous story about a family in extremis (knee deep in animal dung and soaked with mildew) with all its dysfunctions showing—something that any young person can get into. But what I really appreciate is its firm rejection of the notion that “one man’s head” can contain “the whole of God’s intentions”: “Some of them may…get mislaid. Bent out of shape. Misinterpreted.” There’s a whisper under there: Even 460-odd heads, when they are all men’s heads, can get it wrong.

Another must-have for all church libraries—especially for the youth section.

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (Penguin, 2005) tells the story of American Navajo Marine communications specialists during WWII. I appreciate JB’s plain style and thorough, humane coverage of his topic. Son enjoyed it. The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpugo (Egmont, 1993) is one of those letters from the foreign world of British (in this case, all-boys’) boarding schools. It’s an utterly mystifying world but awfully fertile for stories, a sort of hothouse of rumour, oppression, group fevers and secrecy. In this one, a boy becomes convinced that a new student is what he says he is: the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Incidentally, there is very little hint of this on the cover; the story is less of the “school boys vs townies” story than it purports to be.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

 

Cinderella Story

I can't remember if I mentioned Rover by Jackie French (HarperCollins, 2007): a child and her dog get captured by Vikings and end up on Freydis' voyage to Vinland. A good book.

This weekend did not get much time to read due to: good weather and wanting to do yard work rather than housework; then having to do housework anyway (on Sunday!!); then visiting guests; then more beautiful weather and yard work. These are not bad reasons not to read (except for the housework), especially when the "yard work" involves trying to figure out how to build a treehouse. (We've got lots of old lumber and the perfect old tree but no expertise, alas. And the anxious mother I am now is slowly taking precedence over my inner child--I want this thing to be somewhat safe!)

Nevertheless read (reread, it turned out) Adaline Falling Star by Mary Pope Osborne (Scholastic Inc, 2000); what a lovely story, with a great heroine: the putative daughter of Kit Carson and an Arapaho woman. At the same time I was reading The Cannibals by Iain Lawrence (Delacorte, 2005), a sequel to The Convicts which I enjoyed more than I thought I would; this one, too, is satisfying; and I love the blithe disdain the author shows for any kind of politically correction for the cannibals—really, for explaining away of the cruelty in the novels' world (England, etc, in the 1820s). The hero isn't particularly lovable, either--but he's pretty real.

But before that, read the very interesting The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl (Puffin, 1997). This is a sort of Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty story, in which Anna, the middle of three daughters, retreats into a sanctuary she builds in the walls of the old house in which she lives with her mother and sisters—from "shyness", but also because she is literally invisible to others (even her own family can hardly see her). She goes through adolescence alone and uneducated ("I, who was never ill, got sick; I was wounded in some mysterious way...I was turning into some sort of fat, hairy, bleeding monster with skin eruptions.") She begins to emerge again when, finished with the physical parts of adolescence ("I'm not a monster after all. I'm a woman.") she begins to experience the social-emotional ones: she falls in love. So there's a "prince" who "wakes" her: the waking comes from inside her (she soon realizes the "love" she feels has nothing whatsoever to do with its putative object) but it opens the way into her as well, and the friendship that develops because of it is what "rescues" her. There's a "ball" at which she appears resplendently dressed in a costume of her own, very clever, devising. There's envy of her sisters, there's a clueless mother--it's all there, in the most comically serious way. I was reading this when I met a sister for dinner downtown, and I promised I would mail it to her straightaway--in exchange for the page proofs of an international Cinderella mash-up by Paul Fleischman that she gave me.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

 

Advice For HP Unfans--Stay Tuned

Lion Boy: The Chase and Lion Boy: The Truth by Zizou Corder (Puffin, 2004, 2005): I was really wowed by the first book, looked for the continuation others in vain (at old small town library) then forgot about them. Read these two in succession and quickly—they are pretty delightful. The chameleon who speaks every language, including "computer", was the real hero.

Our House by Pam Conrad (Scholastic Inc, 1995; illustrated by Brian Selznick, 2005); love the Brian. Stories from Levittown.

Factory Girl by Barbara Greenwood (Kids Can 2007): definitely high time for this book. Got it for daughter and ended up reading it from cover to cover. Well done fiction/nonfiction blend about child labour (in Canada/America) in the early 20th century.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Bagram Ibatoulline, ill (Candlewick, 2006): sort of The Velveteen Rabbit meets Elizabeth (a magnificent picture book about a girl who leaves her dear doll behind when she and her family escape Nazi Germany). I smiled over the Coda at the end: fuel for my expected argument in favour of using this term in another project.

This book...it's got huge adult appeal, like The Velveteen Rabbit—only adults know what a long journey life is, how many lucky and unlucky twists it holds. I suspected this right from the first look and read it only because I felt I should read something by this author. I found nothing new in it; it's all old, old themes and expressions of those themes.

But.

Those themes are old and keep coming back because they express truths. Children will take to the book if a) they have loved a doll or stuffed animal deeply, or b) the book is read aloud and the reader takes his or her time, enjoying individual words and sentences. The story is simple and deep; there are parables in it—for example, about the many shades and complexity of love, which the world is so quick to reduce to simple black and white, and judges accordingly. And the art is quite, quite excellent.

After that came Almost Eden by Anita Horrocks (Tundra, 2006). I've seen this book referred to so often that I felt I should read it at last. It was quite funny and I could sympathize with some of the small religious community stuff the main character goes through. Even though the novel was set earlier than my own childhood, I still recognize turns of phrase: "what's the diff" and "I don't give a care." That was rather startling.

The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter (Groundwood, 2005): another "read because I should" which I ended up enjoying quite a lot. Yes, it's another novel in verse (why is it that novel set in dry dusty prairie places call for this form?); at least that makes for a quick read. A girl's father leaves right after a farming accident; her mother copes by hiring on a patient from the nearby mental hospital to run the farm. The girl, injured in the accident, learns as she heals: about her father, about her community, about herself. It ended with some unfinished business—that took restraint on the author's (editor's?) part and I appreciated it.

Finally, thanks to a sister I can finally give some more reasons for my dislike of the HP books. They are expressed in an essay on the HP "phenomenon" in Sticks and Stones by Jack Zipes (Routledge, 2001), which I photocopied and will lend to anyone who asks.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

 

Help!

I have such a HUGE pile of books to read;...what am I doing at the keyboard?

I finally got ahold of Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko (Puffin, 2001), recommended to me by the same head-scratch-provoking sister who sent me to CancerVixen. Notes is the story of a girl who has been, in the words of the carefully interfering teacher who helps move things along, "painted into a corner" by her family's assignment of roles. Is this what your unhappiness felt like, Sister? A very good book, anyway.

Witness by Karen Hesse (Scholastic Inc, 2001) is another novel in verse; although, it is set up like a play, in five acts. Several different voices tell the story of a Vermont town visited seductively, violently but fortunately briefly by the KKK. I don't know why Hesse had the youngest narrator speak so queerly--like Opal in Only Opal. Was she trying to convey that kind of self-sufficient, wise-innocent interior? I think so--but in the context, it seemed odd.

Finally, Grace (Eventually); Thoughts On Faith by Anne Lamott (Riverhead/Penguin, 2007). Vintage Anne. Gets a bit much from time to time, as usual (except in, maybe, Travelling Mercies) but full of useful perception.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

 

Bird People

A sister recommended CancerVixen, a graphic novel by Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Knopff, 2006). As I have said before, love graphic novels, so I went for it. It was fine, but this is the second time this particular sister has caused me to scratch my head in perplexity. The first time was over Sex and the (in the? can't remember) City. "Good writing," she said of that; and good writing/drawing can equally be said of this; but still, the goings-on of this class of women simply cannot move me. I'm sure many women are empowered by them; I am equally bewildered and irritated by such women. (And incidentally, MAM is one of my least favourite New Yorker cartoonists.) They are birds: they don't know where their home is, they don't know where their soul is, like the song says (and it is just part of the whole picture for me, the weird transformation of that songwriter from girl-with-guitar to singing sex machine); so, is there a part of this sister that is homeless and soulless and longs to flit from tree to tree eating, mating and crying, "I'm pretty, look at me!"?

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie and Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic Inc, dates to come) are both good, but Drums is better. Son, who hate things "moving", was totally won over by the narrating voice, that of an eighth-grade boy who drums in a school jazz band and is trying to keep it together while his little brother endures treatment for cancer. Notes features another boy, also a musician (and, it turns out, in the same school as the character in Drums) who befriends an old guy as part of his court-ordered community service. The ending is satisfying, but in a rather rosy way. Still, and again, the voice wins you over.

Not so Rex Zero by Tim Wynne-Jones , which was too tweely English for me (Groundwood, 2006). I wonder if Son would feel that way?

Finally, Lush by Natasha Friend (Scholastic, 2006). A portrait of an alcoholic('s) family, and the best illustration of enablement I've ever seen. I liked the book.

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