of note: A good friend introduced me to her friend Nicole Walters via Facebook fairly recently. Nicole is publishing her first middle-grade novel and Leah knew N and I would very likely be interested in a story involving a strong female protagonist and Greek mythology. Nicole generously allowed me to read Charis in return for a free and unbiased reading and that is what follows, that is always what follows.
published via BookTrope
ARC via e-reader
In many respects, 13-year-old Charis Parks is your typical girl: She goes to school, has friends, a crush, and is bright and sassy. In popular story, she is not so typical: One parent is white, the other is not, and the two adults have an easy affection between them and they attend to their children, too. Charis’ elder brother, though teasing, is kind and loving, and the depiction is mutual. Then there is that thing with her unusual birthmark which points to a destiny upon which the future of our world hinges.
When Pandora’s Jar was opened those many, many fateful years ago, Hope did not fly eagerly outward into the world with the demons of chaos and instead was trapped inside when the lid was replaced. Pandora and the Jar were lost and with its return comes the one who was born to open it. It is up to Charis to release Hope and thus counteract the terrible curse the Jar has wrought on humankind.
The nefariously cast Hades has plans of his own for the Jar. He also has some very creepy henchwomen, the Erinyes Sisters. They are deliciously menacing figures, who are, at turns, also quite humorous. I adored them. Hermes, Athena, and Nike are determined to thwart Hades and see the Jar opened and Hope restored. Persuading the Fates and Charis to their cause, it is a race to recover the Jar. They have five days—the time span of the novel.
“I’m no damsel.”~Charis
Charis is someone portrayed as heroic without requiring a predestined quest to save the world to define her as such. Walters does not write a prophesied figure who needs a lot of convincing and employs excessive angst in the matter of destiny. It’s lovely. Now, that isn’t to say Charis does not have an occasional doubt, nor does it mean she doesn’t cry. She cries frequently—a nice (unusual) trait in a young hero. A key personality trait for this hero is her curiosity. A curious mind is one that is taken with observing, questioning, and confronting the world. This is one of the traits belonging to world-changers and hope-bringers. It is beautiful to see it celebrated rather than criticized or hated—especially in a female figure.
Having a nearly 13-year-old girl, I know the age hosts the courageous and the articulate. I am also well acquainted with Charis’ repetitive use of “What tha?” Walters renders the middle-schooler and her world marvelously; though I did question every one’s ability to express themselves so well, but reluctance is an enemy of time when pacing and book-length is of import to middle-grade (one of the reasons I love reading it).
Where Rick Riordan comparisons will be inescapable, Walters favors a fluid writing style over amping up the adrenaline to compel her audience. This isn’t to say she does not provide great action. However, I do prefer the dark tension of that opening sequence to the cross-cutting effect found later in the novel. Of course, Riordan is not only about the ticking clock, so how does Walters do with the Greek myth in present day story? She is smart with it. One of the most enjoyable aspects to the novel is how Walters knows when to elaborate, and which details require prose or witty conversation or dramatic exchanges. She successfully contrives reasons and venues in which to share the myths that fuel the context and conflict in the story.
Gabe is a sweetie and the since-childhood-best-friend who is not Charis’ crush. The downplay of this romantic interest is handled rather deftly without eliminating possibility. And Gabe should add interest for male readers, who should enjoy the lovely insight into a powerful girl regardless. My only catch is how easily Gabe is maneuvered into a full-fledged side-kick role. And in some regards, Charis appear too clean; the plot points too well-finessed for an older audience. It has a very straightforward villain-hero dynamic; strong enough a dynamic at times to brush aside what the stakes truly are. The stumbling blocks placed in the way of recovering the Jar are unsurprising and not terribly threatening; then, perhaps the Reader is meant to be lulled by the “of courses” before that unanticipated ending.
Charis is a delight; and that smooth clean delivery is one of the reasons why. I do have to say I am more taken with the characters than the adventure itself, but such is where I found myself the most charmed. The writing in the mirror, the young eyes looking out upon the world and being affected by it. I worried a little that the premise is too juvenile in point of view: the sense that the world is worse than it ever was and more in need of hope than it ever has been. And then I recall the audience that Walters ever keeps in mind. It is just right. A darkling world in need of the hero pursuing a solution that will break its curse. The young (and old) should be so empowered. I am, just as the novel is, drawn to the pursuit of Hope and the longing for it to be just as part of the consciousness of our world as those other inmates of Pandora’s Jar. Charis already provides a positive image for which to strive: a loving home and friends and a fierce and articulate young lady activated for the good of mankind.
There is a thoughtfulness to the writing that is quiet beneath the smooth entertainment of the reading experience. I love that in a storytelling. Nicole Walters is a debut author to watch, one who has written herself very nicely into the middle-grade set with this smart and entertaining read.
recommendations: girls & boys; ages 8-13; for those who like good female protagonists, positive family portrayals, seeing the mean girl get her comeuppance, and both the grotesque and glorious figures of Greek mythology.
of note: There were notations for illustrations which I cannot comment upon, except to say that they promise to be a nice addition and I am curious about them. Too, have you noticed how lame most self-published covers tend to be? I was so pleased when this cover popped-up in my message box! I asked after the artist/designer and he is Nicole’s brother. Nice.
meets w/ the once upon a time challenge.