{book} the giant slayer

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The Giant Slayer is not your usual juvenile fiction historical novel. Author Iain Lawrence chose the Polio-epidemic of 1940s-50sThen he goes and adds another layer where there be with manticores, gnomes, unicorns, and a swamp witch who has a wretched disposition to go with her frog-like qualities.

The spring of 1955 tests Laurie Valentine’s gifts as a storyteller. After her friend Dickie contracts polio and finds himself confined to an iron lung, Laurie visits him in the hospital. There she meets Carolyn and Chip, two other kids trapped inside the breathing machines. Laurie’s first impulse is to flee, but Dickie begs her to tell them a story. And so Laurie begins her tale of Collosso, a rampaging giant, and Jimmy, a tiny boy whose destiny is to become a slayer of giants.

As Laurie embellishes her tale with gnomes, unicorns, gryphons, and other fanciful creatures, Dickie comes to believe that he is a character in her story. Little by little Carolyn, Chip, and other kids who come to listen, recognize counterparts as well. Laurie’s tale is so powerful that when she’s prevented from continuing it, Dickie, Carolyn, and Chip take turns as narrators. Each helps bring the story of Collosso and Jimmy to an end—changing the lives of those in the polio ward in startling ways.—publisher’s comments.

And there you have it.

You learn early on that “Laurie Valentine had made up stories all her life. She lived in stories that she narrated constantly in her head” (34). She was a lonely (only) child whose father and nanny are very protective of her—so going out to play in the summers like most children was out. And not without good reason. Who knew better the risks of contracting Polio than a father who worked for the March of Dimes as a fund raiser?

Lawrence did his research, and it may deepen your interest to know that he spoke with a man who was in an iron lung as a child in a ward in a hospital like Dickie’s. It was not the atmosphere the author or I expected, and Lawrence’s faithfulness to his research makes for a delightful (though scary) foray into the time period.

Lawrence captures the pop culture and the language. Yes, he is keen that way. He would transport the reader completely, and not only into the spring of 1955. The story of the giant slayer would absorb the reader on another level and the author spends a great deal of the book in that story.

You get to know most of the “present day” characters when the narrator surfaces for breaks—and the breaks are when you suspend your belief the most—how Laurie’s voice doesn’t tire or fade or make corrections and has such a clear vision is the stuff of written lore.

I enjoyed the read, though it felt slower going than I had anticipated with 284 pages. The story takes some interesting turns and I can’t decide on that ending. The beginning and ending do create a sense of coming together that exists somewhat outside of the hospital (while obviously being influenced by the occurrences within). I really like how the other characters (namely Carolyn) that Laurie interacts with question her story as a coping-device and as being transparent and/or insulting.

The Giant Slayer would be a good choice for reading aloud to mixed audiences of gender and interests. Its a good excuse for a discussion on why we tell even tell stories at all.

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Recommended…for lovers of historical fiction, and adventures and myth; ages 8 & up, any gender.

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The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence

Delacorte Press, 2009.

Hardcover, 284 pages.

{borrowed from the Library}

good for Stainless Steel Droppings’ Once Upon a Time Challenge IV

11 Comments Add yours

  1. deslily says:

    hmmmm, well that’s got me wondering… i do love the cover art! now to wonder if it goes on the wish list lol good review!

    1. L says:

      I like the cover, too.. and was really hoping to see more of the illustrations inside. I should look into the illustrator… which reminds me. I’ve been meaning to add “cover illustrator” to the book information in my posts.

  2. This sounds just fascinating; I love the sounds of the way he has linked the realism with the magical elements. I’ve added this one to my TBR, though I might not get to it for this year’s un-challenge…

    1. L says:

      I think my TBR has reached its limit–for this year, anyway, too. the way he links realism w/ the magical is definitely a reason to read this one!

  3. lynnsbooks says:

    Firstly, I was totally in love with the cover so I was all ready to be pleased, but having read the review I’m not so certain you love it? So, I’m intrigued but I’m also doubtful. Good review though. I’ll wait and see if it grabs me (or vice versa!)
    Lynn:D

    1. L says:

      how perceptive. I am yet undecided on “love” but I do “appreciate” it, and while I couldn’t get passionate about the experience, I could still easily recommend it.

      I would love to know what you think about it if/when you read it–to know how it grabs you. 🙂

  4. Intriguing. Sounds like a powerful story-within-a-story novel!

  5. Kailana says:

    This sounds very different from the norm. I think I will have to check it out!

    1. L says:

      I think it is different from the norm, primarily in its (self-)acknowledgment of how story-devices work. When/If you do, would love your thoughts on it.

  6. jeremyfrantz says:

    Hmm… I thought this sounded really interesting and then when you said you weren’t sure about the ending, I was sure I should read it. It sounds like fun but even better because it makes you think and take time on it. I’m into that.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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