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4 spicy & soft ginger cookies.
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.Romance?: Nope, not that kind of book.
I am not what you might call a very brave reader. This is probably why I primarily consume children’s literature. I might puff myself up with a defense that lists the many fine aspects of this particular type of writing and believe it too, but sometimes when you catch me in a weak moment I might confess that another reason I like reading books for kids is that the content is so very “safe” in comparison to books for adults. Disturbing elements are kept at a minimum. There’s always a undercurrent of hope running through the book, promising that maybe we don’t live in a cold, cruel, calculating universe that cares for us not one jot. Even so, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes have difficulty with books written for, oh say, 10-year-olds. I do. I’m not proud of it, but I do. So when I flipped to the back of Wolf Hollow mid-way through reading it, I want to tell you that I did so not because I wanted to spoil the ending for myself but because I honestly couldn’t turn another page until I knew precisely how everything was going to fall out. In her debut children’s book, Lauren Wolk dives head first into difficult material. A compelling author, the book is making the assumption that child readers will want to see what happens to its characters, even when the foreshadowing is so thick you’d need a knife to cut through it. Even when the ending may not be the happy one everyone expects. And you know what? The book might be right.
It is fair to say that if Betty Glengarry hadn’t moved to western Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1943 then Annabelle would not have needed to become a liar later. Betty looks the part of the blond, blue-eyed innocent, but that exterior hides a nasty spirit. Within days of her arrival she’s threatened Annabelle and said in no uncertain terms that unless she’s brought something special she’ll take it out on the girl’s little brothers. Annabelle is saved from Betty’s threats by Toby, a war veteran with issues of his own. That’s when Betty begins a more concentrated campaign of pain. Rocks are thrown. Accusations made. There’s an incident that comes close to beheading someone. And then, when things look particularly bad, Annabelle disappears. And so does Toby. Now Annabelle finds herself trying to figure out what is right, what is wrong, and whether lies can ever lead people to the truth.
Right off the bat I’m going to tell you that this is a spoiler-rific review. I’ve puzzled it over but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I’d be able to discuss what Wolk’s doing here without giving away large chunks o’ plot. So if you’re the kind of reader who prefers to be surprised, walk on.
All gone? Okay. Let’s get to it.
First and foremost, let’s talk about why this book was rough going for me. I understand that “Wolf Hollow” is going to be categorized and tagged as a “bully book” for years to come, and I get that. But Betty, the villain of the piece, isn’t your average mean girl. I hesitate to use the word “sadistic” but there’s this cold undercurrent to her that makes for a particularly chilling read. Now the interesting thing is that Annabelle has a stronger spine than, say, I would in her situation. Like any good baddie, Betty identifies the girl’s weak spot pretty quickly (Annabelle’s younger brothers) and exploits it as soon as she is able. Even so, Annabelle does a good job of holding her own. It’s when Betty escalates the threat (and I do mean escalates) that you begin to wonder why the younger girl is so adamant to keep her parents in the dark about everything. If there is any weak spot in the novel, it’s a weak spot that a lot of books for middle grade titles share. Like any good author, Wolk can’t have Annabelle tattle to her parents because otherwise the book’s momentum would take a nose dive. Fortunately this situation doesn’t last very long and when Annabelle does at last confide in her very loving parents Betty adds manipulation to her bag of tricks. It got to the point where I honestly had to flip to the back of the book to see what would happen to everyone and that is a move I NEVER do. But there’s something about Betty, man. I think it might have something to do with how good she is at playing to folks’ preexisting prejudices.
Originally author Lauren Wolk wrote this as a novel for adults. When it was adapted into a book for kids she didn’t dumb it down or change the language in a significant manner. This accounts for some of the lines you’ll encounter in the story that bear a stronger import than some books for kids. Upon finding the footsteps of Betty in the turf, Annabelle remarks that they “were deep and sharp and suggested that she was more freighted than she could possibly be.” Of Toby, “He smelled a lot like the woods in thaw or a dog that’s been out in the rain. Strong, but not really dirty.” Maybe best of all, when Annabelle must help her mother create a salve for Betty’s poison ivy, “Together, we began a brew to soothe the hurt I’d prayed for.”
I shall restrain myself from describing to you fully how elated I was when I realized the correlation between Betty down in the well and the wolves that were trapped in the hollow so very long ago. Betty is a wolf. A duplicitous, scheming, nasty girl with a sadistic streak a mile wide. The kind of girl who would be more than willing to slit the throat of an innocent boy for sport. She’s a lone wolf, though she does find a mate/co-conspirator of sorts. Early in the book, Wolk foreshadows all of this. In a conversation with her grandfather, Annabelle asks if, when you raised it right, a wolf could become a dog. “A wolf is not a dog and never will be . . . no matter how you raise it.” Of course you might call Toby a lone wolf as well. He doesn’t seek out the company of other people and, like a wolf, he’s shot down for looking like a threat.
What Wolk manages to do is play with the reader’s desire for righteous justice. Sure Annabelle feels conflicted about Betty’s fate in the will but will young readers? There is no doubt in my mind that young readers in bookclubs everywhere will have a hard time feeling as bad for the antagonist’s fate as Annabelle does. Even at death’s door, the girl manages the twist the knife into Toby one last time. I can easily see kids in bookclub’s saying, “Sure, it must be awful to be impaled in a well for days on end . . . . buuuut . . . .” Wolk may have done too good a job delving deep into Betty’s dark side. It almost becomes a question of grace. We’re not even talking about forgiveness here. Can you just feel bad about what’s happened to the girl, even if it hasn’t changed her personality and even if she’s still awful? Wolk might have discussed after Betty’s death the details of her family situation, but she chooses not to. She isn’t making it easy for us. Betty lives and dies a terrible human being, yet oddly we’re the ones left with the consequences of that.
In talking with other people about the book, some have commented about what it a relief it was that Betty didn’t turn into a sweet little angel after her accident. This is true, but there is also no time. There will never be any redemption for Betty Glengarry. We don’t learn any specific details about her unhappy home life or what it was that turned her into the pint-sized monster she is. And her death comes in that quiet, unexpected way that so many deaths do come to us. Out of the blue and with a whisper. For all that she spent time in the well, she lies until her very last breath about how she got there. It’s like the novel Atonement with its young liar, but without the actual atoning.
Wolk says she wrote this book and based much of it on her own family’s stories. Her memories provided a great deal of the information because, as she says, even the simplest life on a Pennsylvanian farm can yield stories, all thanks to a child’s perspective. There will be people who compare it to To Kill a Mockingbird but to my mind it bears more in common with The Crucible. So much of the book examines how we judge as a society and how that judgment can grow out of hand (the fact that both this book and Miller’s play pivot on the false testimony of young girls is not insignificant). Now I’ll tell you the real reason I flipped to the back of the book early. With Wolf Hollow Wolk threatens child readers with injustice. As you read, there is a very great chance that Betty’s lies will carry the day and that she’ll never be held accountable for her actions. It doesn’t work out that way, though the ending isn’t what you’d call triumphant for Annabelle either. It’s all complicated, but it was that unknowing midway through the book that made me need to see where everything was going. In this book there are pieces to pick apart about lying, truth, the greater good, minority vs. majority opinions, the price of honesty and more. For that reason, I think it very likely it’ll find itself in good standing for a long time to come. A book unafraid to be uneasy.
On shelves now.
Source: Thanks to Penguin Random House for passing on the galley.Add a Comment
I read for the same reason that I ate or drank; because it was a real craving of nature. I wrote on the same principle as I spoke--out of the impulse and feelings of the mind; nor could I help it, for what came, came out, and there was the end of it. ~ Charlotte Bronte in a letter to Mr. Wordsworth, 1837
It is very edifying and profitable to create a world out of your own brains, and people it with inhabitants, who are so many Melchisedecs, and have no father nor mother but your own imagination. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1840
Some of my greatest difficulties lie in things that would appear to you comparatively trivial. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
Write to me often; very long letters. It will do both of us good. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
They wanted learning. They came for learning. They would learn. Where they had a distinct purpose to be achieved in intercourse with their fellows, they forgot themselves; at all other times they were miserably shy. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte and Emily going to Brussells
Any one who has studied her writings,—whether in print or in her letters; any one who has enjoyed the rare privilege of listening to her talk, must have noticed her singular felicity in the choice of words. She herself, in writing her books, was solicitous on this point. One set of words was the truthful mirror of her thoughts; no others, however apparently identical in meaning, would do. She had that strong practical regard for the simple holy truth of expression, which Mr. Trench has enforced, as a duty too often neglected. She would wait patiently searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her. It might be provincial, it might be derived from the Latin; so that it accurately represented her idea, she did not mind whence it came; but this care makes her style present the finish of a piece of mosaic. Each component part, however small, has been dropped into the right place. She never wrote down a sentence until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right order. Hence it comes that, in the scraps of paper covered with her pencil writing which I have seen, there will occasionally be a sentence scored out, but seldom, if ever, a word or an expression. She wrote on these bits of paper in a minute hand, holding each against a piece of board, such as is used in binding books, for a desk. This plan was necessary for one so short-sighted as she was; and, besides, it enabled her to use pencil and paper, as she sat near the fire in the twilight hours, or if (as was too often the case) she was wakeful for hours in the night. Her finished manuscripts were copied from these pencil scraps, in clear, legible, delicate traced writing, almost as easy to read as print. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte Bronte's writing habits
Even at the risk of appearing very exacting, I can't help saying that I should like a letter as long as your last, every time you write. Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of a very good thing to eat,—they set the appetite on edge, and don't satisfy it,—a letter leaves you more contented; and yet, after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don't think, when you are pinched for time and materials, that it is useless to write a few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have you to make a task of writing them. . . . ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If "Jane Eyre" has any solid worth in it, it ought to weather a gust of unfavourable wind. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If I ever DO write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I THINK, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' 'to finish more and be more subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master—which will have its own way—putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1848
Every one has a right to form his own conclusion respecting the merits and demerits of a book. I complain not of the judgment which the reviewer passes on "Jane Eyre." Opinions as to its tendency varied then, as they do now. While I write, I receive a letter from a clergyman in America in which he says: "We have in our sacred of sacreds a special shelf, highly adorned, as a place we delight to honour, of novels which we recognise as having had a good influence on character OUR character. Foremost is 'Jane Eyre.' ~ Elizabeth Gaskell on book reviews
I wish you did not think me a woman. I wish all reviewers believed 'Currer Bell' to be a man; they would be more just to him. You will, I know, keep measuring me by some standard of what you deem becoming to my sex; where I am not what you consider graceful, you will condemn me. All mouths will be open against that first chapter; and that first chapter is true as the Bible, nor is it exceptionable. Come what will, I cannot, when I write, think always of myself and of what is elegant and charming in femininity; it is not on those terms, or with such ideas, I ever took pen in hand: and if it is only on such terms my writing will be tolerated, I shall pass away from the public and trouble it no more. Out of obscurity I came, to obscurity I can easily return. Standing afar off, I now watch to see what will become of 'Shirley.' My expectations are very low, and my anticipations somewhat sad and bitter; still, I earnestly conjure you to say honestly what you think; flattery would be worse than vain; there is no consolation in flattery. As for condemnation I cannot, on reflection, see why I should much fear it; there is no one but myself to suffer therefrom, and both happiness and suffering in this life soon pass away. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1849
You say that you suspect I have formed a large circle of acquaintance by this time. No: I cannot say that I have. I doubt whether I possess either the wish or the power to do so. A few friends I should like to have, and these few I should like to know well. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
I have read Tennyson's 'In Memoriam,' or rather part of it; I closed the book when I had got about half way. It is beautiful; it is mournful; it is monotonous. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
It is my intention to write a few lines of remark on 'Wuthering Heights,' which, however, I propose to place apart as a brief preface before the tale. I am likewise compelling myself to read it over, for the first time of opening the book since my sister's death. Its power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed: the reader is scarcely ever permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure; every beam of sunshine is poured down through black bars of threatening cloud; every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of all this—nothing could make her conscious of it. And this makes me reflect,—perhaps I am too incapable of perceiving the faults and peculiarities of my own style. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
You charge me to write about myself. What can I say on that precious topic? My health is pretty good. My spirits are not always alike. Nothing happens to me. I hope and expect little in this world, and am thankful that I do not despond and suffer more. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1851
Even if it should turn out reasonably well, still I regard it as ruin to the prosperity of an ephemeral book like a novel, to be much talked of beforehand, as if it were something great. People are apt to conceive, or at least to profess, exaggerated expectation, such as no performance can realise; then ensue disappointment and the due revenge, detraction, and failure.~ Charlotte Bronte, 1852
When I whip out the old we’re-living-in-a-golden-age-of-picture-book-creation argument with colleagues and friends, they humor what I’m sure they consider to be my hyperbole. Suuuuuure we are, Betsy. Not prone to exaggeration or anything, are you? But honestly, I think I could make a case for it. Look at the picture books of the past. They were beautiful, intricately crafted, and many of them are memorable and pertinent to child readers today. What other art form for kids can say as much? You don’t exactly have five-year-olds mooning over Kukla, Fran and Ollie these days, right (sorry, mom)? But hand them Goodnight Moon and all is well. Now look at picture books today. We’re living in a visual learner’s world. The combination of relaxed picture books standards (example: comics and meta storytelling are a-okay!), publishers willing to try something new and weird, and a world where technology and visual learning plays a heavy hand in our day-to-day lives yields creative attempts hitherto unknown or impossible to author/illustrators as recently as ten years ago. And when I try to think of a picture that combines these elements (meta storytelling / new and weird / technology permeating everything we do) no book typifies all of this better or with as much panache as Robo-Sauce. Because if I leave you understanding one thing today it is this: This may well contain the craziest picture book construction from a major publisher I have EVER seen. No. Seriously. This is insane. Don’t say I didn’t warn you either.
We all know that kid who thinks pretending to be a robot is the most fun you can have. When the hero of this story tries it though he just ends up annoying his family. That’s when the narrator starts talking to him directly. What if there was a recipe for turning yourself into a REAL robot? Would you make it? Would you take it? You BET you would! But once the boy starts destroying things in true mechanical fashion (I bet you were unaware that robots were capable of creating tornadoes, weren’t you?), it’s pretty lonely. The narrator attempts to impart a bit of a lesson here about how to appreciate your family/dog/life but when it hands over the antidote the robot destroys it on sight. Why? Because it’s just created a Robo-Sauce Launcher with which to turn its family, its dog, the entire world, and even the very book you are reading into robots! How do you turn a normal picture book into a robot? Behold the pull out cover that wraps around the book. Once you put it on and open the other cover, the text and images inside are entirely robotized. Robo-Domination is near. It may, however, involve some pretty keen cardboard box suits.
So you’re probably wondering what I meant when I said that the book has a cover that turns into a robot book. Honestly, I tried to figure out how I would verbally explain this. In the end I decided to do something I’d never done before. For the first time ever, I’m including a video as part of my review. Behold the explanation of the book’s one-of-a-kind feature:
These days the idea that a narrator would speak directly to the characters in a book is par for the course. Breaking down the fourth wall has grown, how do you say, passé. We almost expect all our books to be interactive in some way. If Press Here made the idea of treating a book like an app palatable then it stands to reason that competing books would have to up the ante, as it were. In fact, I guess if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I think I’ve kind of been waiting for Robo-Sauce for a long time. Intrusive narrators, characters you have to yell at, books you shake, they’re commonplace. Into this jaded publishing scene stepped Rubin and Salmieri. They’re New York Times bestsellers in their own right ( Dragons Love Tacos) so they’re not exactly newbies to the field. They’ve proven their selling power. But by what witchcraft they convinced Penguin to include a shiny pull out cover and to print a fifth of the book upside down, I know not. All I can be certain of is that this is a book of the moment. It is indicative of something far greater than itself. Either it will spark a new trend in picture books as a whole or it will be remembered as an interesting novelty piece that typified a changing era.
Let’s look at the book itself then. In terms of the text, I’m a fan. The narrator’s intrusive voice allows the reader to take on the role of adult scold. Kids love it when you yell at a book’s characters for being too silly in some way and this story allows you to do precisely that. Admittedly, I do wish that Rubin had pushed the narrator-trying-to-teach-a-lesson aspect a little farther. If the lesson it was trying to impart was a bit clearer than just the standard “love your family” shtick then it could have had more of a punch. Imagine if, instead, the book was trying to teach the boy about rejecting technology or something like that. Any picture book that could wink slyly at the current crop of drop-the-iPhone-pick-up-a-book titles currently en vogue would be doing the world a service. I’m not saying I disagree with their message. They’re just all rather samey samey and it would be nice to see someone poke a little fun at them (while still, by the end, reinforcing the same message).
As for Salmieri’s art, the limited color palette is very interesting. You’ve your Day-Glo orange, black, white, brown, and pale pink (didn’t see that one coming). Other colors make the occasional cameo but the bulk of the book is pretty limited. It allows the orange to shine (or, in the case of the robot cover, the limited palette allows for something particularly shiny). And check out that subtle breaking down of visual stereotypes! Black dad and white mom. A sister that enjoys playing with trucks. I am ON BOARD with all this.
I won’t be the last parent/librarian/squishy human to hold this book in my hands and wonder what the heck to do with it. What I do know is that it’s a lot of fun. Totally original. And it has a bunch of robots in it causing massive amounts of destruction. All told, I’d say that’s a win. So domo arigato, Misters Rubin and Salmieri. Domo arigato a whole bunch.
On shelves October 20th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough. Penguin Press. 2015. Library copy.
It's About: A look at the 1970s -- where a handful of groups believed that violent revolution was necessary. Bombings, robberies, murders followed.
The Good: Let's just say -- yes, it's complicated. Days of Rage starts with the groups of the 1960s that gave birth to the Weathermen / the Weather Underground, and then how the beliefs, rhetoric, and actions of different groups influenced others, in both theory and action. It ends in the early 1980s.
Days of Rage doesn't include all groups that engaged in robberies and violence in the name of perceived greater good. It concentrates on a handful, including the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the FALN. Depending on the group and the time, the reasons varied from racial injustice, the Vietnam War, Puerto Rican independence, corporate greed, -- the list goes on.
It's a fascinating look at the time, the actions, and the people. It covers many groups and many people -- there are going to be people or things that the reader will want to know more about. And for some of that, there are books and articles. For others? Not so much, because there are still things that are secret, unknown, with the keepers of the secrets unwilling to talk -- or dead. Days of Rage concentrates on these particular groups in part because of the links between them, either in overlapping participants or shared knowledge. Such as sharing safe bomb making techniques.
Days of Rage tries to explain why people - usually young adults - turned to violence. I say "tries" because while at times I understood, or came close to it, at other times -- no. I think it would be almost impossible to really explain it. While I was fascinated, at the end, it just seemed that a lot of people had gotten away with a lot of criminal activity because people romanticized violence. Because going underground was cool and sexy. And that the death and violence was viewed, even now, by those sharing their stories, as somewhat justified.
Actually, by the end, I was angry and disgusted with most of those talked about in this book. I would recommend this, absolutely -- because it does examine, and try to explain, why people do turn to violence and support those who engage in it. It's a great look at group dynamics, and control, and how and why such things happened. Days of Rage does not excuse what was done: I was thankful that one of the final chapters included the now-grown child of one of the victims of a bombing, someone giving voice to the horror and destruction that was done in the name of political beliefs. It's a voice that I think is still not heard by the some of those who engaged in or supported these groups... and it's one of the reasons I recommend this book.
And of course my thoughts turned to how these groups and their actions were and are presented in TV and films and books.
I can think of at least one YA book: Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer (1984), about a teenage boy whose parents are fugitive radicals.
River Phoenix starred in a 1988 film, Running on Empty, also about the teenage son of radicals on the run.
And yes, one of the parts of Days of Rage I found especially interesting was how as the people grew older, they became parents, and how that did, or didn't, influence what their parents did -- how the children were used as cover, or how someone could drive a getaway car and worry about making it home in time to pick up her toddler from daycare. While I respect the privacy of those now adult children, I do wonder what happened to them when parents were arrested.
The Big Fix was made in 1978, and I haven't watched it in decades, but the murder mystery involves former and underground radicals. And I also want to rewatch The Big Chill(1983) because it shows a group of people who were politically active but did not turn violent, and I want to see just how that is discussed, if at all.
As you can see, most of what I'm thinking of actually works made at the time these groups were still active; or within the ten years following, so that even if not active, people were still in hiding.
I'm sure I'm missing some -- I know the story of Kathleen Soliah/Sarah Jane Olson still finds its way into TV shows (suburban mom's criminal past is discovered!)
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Penguin. 2015. Reviewed from audiobook borrowed from library. Narrated by Ariana Delawari.
The Plot: A retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. Shahrzad is a young woman whose best friend, Shiva, was the latest bride, and victim, of Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan.
Khalid marries a young woman -- and the next day she is killed. And he moves on to marry another. And another dies.
Shahrzad's best friend was one of those brides. Her murder devastated the family. Shahrzad is determined to find out what happened to her friend, and why. So she does the unthinkable: she volunteers as bride.
And begins a desperate plan to survive, telling a story each night, to be continued only if she is allowed to live.
The Good: OK, so you know the general basics of A Thousand and One Nights, both the story of the storyteller and also the stories she tell.
I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, and was also very frustrated with it.
I've been reading a lot of regency romances and many of them are about marriages of convenience. And on one delightful, romantic level, that is what The Wrath and the Dawn is about, a young couple who don't know each other who find themselves falling in love with each other. This part of the story gave me all the feelings. Shahrzad has a childhood sweetheart, Tariq. Khalid has had many, many, wives -- and it turns out that he has also had a pretty terrible childhood with an emotionally abusive father. (More on that later). Yet despite her heart belonging to another, and his emotional walls, they find themselves falling in love with each other.
Before I go further, one of the things I really liked about this romance is that at the start Shahrzad is in love with someone else, a boy she's loved since was a young girl. And he loves her. This is a complex look at emotions, at growing up, at changing, at loving more than one person. It isn't a "love triangle," it's about how love isn't simple.
The Wrath and the Dawn is set in the far past, but it's not exactly clear when. It also is a fantasy, but it's not obvious, not at first. As the book goes on, it seems like some people have some magic; that magic exists; that curses may be real; but even by the end of the book, it's not strong magic, if that makes sense. It's magical potential, still being explored.
It wasn't until I was almost done with The Wrath and the Dawn that I realized it's not a standalone book. There's a sequel coming, next May.
And now to my frustrations -- and it has to do with all those dead wives. So we now entering spoiler town. Stop, now, if you are sensitive about spoilers and prefer to discover a book by yourself.
Those dead wives, all young girls, bothered me a lot. They are the reason Shahrzad has thrown herself into danger, without much of any plan. We see how Shiva's death devastated family and friends; we here of riots because of the endless deaths. But here is the thing: deaths. No, murders. Deliberate killings. The "reason" given is a curse placed about Khalid.
BUT. BUT. As I read, I felt very little sympathy for the dead from Khalid and those around him; I felt as if the soldiers surrounding Khalid who knew about the curse felt that the payment of murdered girls was somehow acceptable. Basically, "kill the girls are something terrible will happen" and the response was "oh, OK, but our biggest worry is how will Khalid bear the burden of those dead girls?"
No, the biggest worry should be those girls, individually and collectively.
About half way through my rage about those girls was such that I wished to know more about them as individuals and thought, oh, if only Khalid and the others saw them as people, as real, then, well. That would change things. And then I found out that Khalid did see them, know them, that way, and yet the killings went on and I didn't feel any better, my disgust wasn't lessened, to know that Khalid mourned them individually and felt really, really, really, really bad about it.
Then, after that, I fantasized about the revenge I wished upon those who supported the killings, who helped the deaths take place. Except then I found out that the curse itself was the revenge for a death, and I saw how revenge killing isn't an answer.
And I liked this about The Wrath and the Dawn, that what I wanted to happen was shown to not be an answer.
What is the answer? These girls are dead, and by the end of this book while I saw forgiveness in Shahrzad, while I saw that revenge and feeling really bad weren't answers, I wasn't given any answers. I loved this book so much it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015, and I'll eagerly read the sequel. But I'll be doing so wanting to know not just what happens next for the characters and the plot, but wondering whether it's possible in world created here for these young women to have any type of justice. I fear this world is so patriarchal that the reality of that world is that of no justice. I fear that class matters so much that the importance of the male ruler over non-royal women means that there can be no justice for them.
I wonder if forgiveness means there can be no justice.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
|©the enchanted easel 2014|
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©the enchanted easel 2014
©the enchanted easel 2014
Brown Girl Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, published by the Penguin Books. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.
Cats here, cats there,How is he ever to choose just ONE cat from so many?! Especially since as he picks up or pets each one he sees, he finds it to be the prettiest cat. He can't bring himself to leave any of the cats behind. But it isn't practical to bring home hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of cats. You can probably guess what his wife's response will be! Surely, they can't keep them all. For better or worse, he lets the cats decide amongst themselves. One scrawny cat remains, but, it may be the best one of all.
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
The reverso, a form I created, is made up of two poems. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it means something completely different. When you flip the poem, sometimes the same narrator has a different point of view. Other times, there is another narrator all together.The poems:
These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.
To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.
Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.
Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.
Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.
Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.
And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:
- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”
- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”
- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”
Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let’s face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.
On shelves April 21st.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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