"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · young adult lit

one; two one-fourths; one third; and a half.

I read one book this weekend and started three; and Natalya and I are continuing Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy.

**

One:  The book read and finished in a sitting was Kazu Kibuishi‘s Copper (Graphix; 2010). The book is shelved in Children’s Non-Fiction Art section with their graphic novels and comics. Copper is a collection of Copper comics. And even as this is categorized as Children’s I really think Adults will connect just as easily, if not better, with the characters and their situations. After reading the “Introduction” I am even more convinced of this. Kibuishi writes:

The first Copper image and text was reflective of a time in my life when things weren’t working out so well: My parents needed financial assistance; I lost my graphic design job; I was kicked out of my apartment; and I was attacked by a crazy guy int the street who told me to go back to my “home country,” all in a span of two days.

[…]

What had begun as a somewhat dark comic strip series quickly became more optimistic, more hopeful. The boy, Copper, was at first an observer, but by the third comic he became an active participant in his world, making choices based on his hopes and fears. Fred the dog, was always there to question his best friend’s optimism, but Copper walked ahead with his ideals undeterred. In may ways the characters reflected my life at the time I wrote these strips, and as I look back at them I feel like i can see myself growing up. Drawing these comics gave me a sense of confidence in myself and helped me develop a sense of purpose in the work that I do.

“Clockwork” (72)

May be by week’s end (or the next) I will take one of the comics and explore it a bit here. 

“Waterfall” (39)

And added pleasure of Copper is the “Behind the Scenes” at the back. Kibuishi guides the reader through his process. He is thoughtful and friendly, encouraging, and provides details and helpful hints. The “Behind the Scenes” is fascinating and informative.from “Slowrider” (66)

We own the first two of the Amulet Series by Kibuishi (the third is yet to be released). He is a wonderful artist and storyteller. Needless to say, we look for anything with his name attached.  So check out the Flight and Flight Explorer Anthologies. (The Flight Explorer for the younger crowd.)

One-fourth A: What the Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick Press, 2008). Looked interesting, and right up Natalya’s alley. And the author wrote Wicked, etc. You may have heard of him? Natalya read it in a course of two days maybe. She enjoyed it, and put it in that “You should read this, too, Mom” stack. Still intrigued from when I’d first read the dust jacket in the Library aisle (Children’s Section) I started reading. I may write more on this later, but I find myself saying fairly often (and only a fourth of the way through) “What the dickens is going on here?” I’m sure that if I persevere I will discover the answers to my question. As it is, some parts are enjoyable, some I rub my eyes and remind myself I will be rewarded…Maguire is a popular author after all…

One-fourth B: is a guilty pleasure. I have my closet and so I will keep it closed; but it is a first book in a trilogy and I am eagerly getting through this one so I can get to my goal: the second book—which is out and checked out of the rapid-reads section so I have to wait or sit in a book store most of a day. I am a quarter the way through because I dragged Nate to the Library to pick it up in the afternoon and couldn’t get to until bedtime. I will probably return to this after I blog.

One-third: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge. Natalya and I have made it past the massacre, two volcanoes, and escaped the Ash Walker, thus far. We will meet the Reckoning tonight, hopefully.

Half: Jellicoe Road by Australian Author Melina Marchetta (Harper Teen, 2006). Good, and different. I picked this up last week because of all the positive things I’d heard about it. Anything Teen I prefer Fantasy or Sci-Fi, if that. Mostly, I like Juvenile works, and avoid the drama that is adolescence and all their suffocating conflicts: I guess I don’t care to relive those years: living through them in a different role with my daughter is —. Will write more about Jellicoe Road when I finish it, and consider it a bit.

**

This is the last full week of school here. And then a couple more days… and then summer (which equates to travel). I will tote some books and my laptop (if only for an excuse to curl up in a corner of someone else’s basement).

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

A take on Story (Lore)

5983694Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2009.

279 pages.

Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a charming read.  I have had a lot of excellent reads lately.  I am now almost anxious when I open another book knowing that at some point this streak of good fortune will end. It hasn’t ended with this book; though I did have some initial concern. I will blame this concern on just finishing (and still with the daughter) reading Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy. Really there is little to compare the two reads but for the use of Lore and Story.

Both Lin and Hardinge’s books weave a culture’s folklore into their stories until the book itself becomes a story of legendary proportion themselves. Lore and “reality” become fused by pages end. Hardinge borrows ideas from various cultures, but her original story dictates how things meld and re-form. Lin draws from her Chinese heritage, as well as her American one. Lin writes in her “Author’s Note”, “The Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books […] I had read and imagined seemed to come alive again. But the stories continued to deviate, tinged with my Asian-American sensibilities.” Lin does the same.

The end products are different, different goals, etc. Where my concern resided was in the seamless experience in the movement of Hardinge’s interwoven work as compared to the rough beginnings of Lin’s. Part of the seamed experience of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is in the transition from A, going along, to B, here is ____’s story, and back to A. I could say that it is merely a visual adjustment. When B occurs there is a title for the story (centered) flanked by twin circular pictures/symbols. This kind of visual differentiation to the formatting is not unusual but rare enough to distract. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, and easily enough to adjust to by the end of the book. However, the bumps were not merely visual. The events leading up to the B, “A”, felt like “I need to lay some foundations, settle the reader into the setting, and get to B, because that is infinitely more interesting at this point.” A into B is “and now I am going to tell you a story.” The pacing was off to a difficult start in the transitions between layers/lines.

True, Lin is not creating some new and unfamiliar Island Culture. She can set the landscape, the characters, and the situation and mood with as much simplicity as she dare. And I do appreciate the spare and simple of this nevertheless complex book. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is constant. It is rhythmic and simple and quiet. It is lovely. And if you experience the unevenness at the beginning it fades, or we adjust. I think, however, it fades. The book is intent on interweaving that flawless connection and eliminating that invisible (and man-devised) line between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary.’ By the pages end, this is achieved, and the Lore is less “told” (B) than experienced. And the Stories (B) become younger. Characters are repetitive, connections are made and strengthened, a beautifully crafted story told by Lin. I only wish and wonder how it could have felt as comfortable at the beginning. May be it wasn’t supposed to; we needed the two wooden pieces (A & B) in order to more fully imagine the transformational powers of a story and its place in everyday life. I’m just glad I didn’t set the book down too early.

Like The Lost Conspiracy, there is the observation that aspects of traditional story are true. They not only share a Truth, but may have actually occurred in some fashion. Each traditional story would impart something of value and importance to the listener. This is not News; but how each story explores the idea is lovely. Where Hardinge goes for subtlety (she is writing a mystery after all), Lin is straightforward. The straightforward approach of Lin is a refreshingly unapologetic. Minli is open and brave and carried along by Faith. She knows there are clues to her quest in the Stories, and they guide her almost intuitively.  She has chosen to believe in possibility.  Even though she is not flat/simple, Minli’s arrival to the conclusion is anticipated. The transitions are transparent; as are her Mother’s, Ma.

Ma more than any one character is the unexpected treasure of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Ma is the life most remarkably transformed by Story. It may be that because I am an adult, I find her existence in this book a surprise; a fantastic one.  Ma is embittered by her existence. She is not someone most would call “fortunate of circumstance.” Sure, she has a lovely daughter and a loving, hard-working husband; but what does that matter. She lives in a small hovel, has little food, rough worn clothes, no money, works all day for what little she has…and there is no prospect of change.  But Ma is not left in the village. The story returns to Minli’s parents (who’d returned to the village after an attempt to pursue their daughter) throughout her adventure away.

As Minli becomes more and more a character of Lore, the parents solidify the story in Reality. Keeping the parents is a brilliant move to keep Minli from a Wonderland or Oz. The story is real, and magical, and thus possible. If the stories are possible don’t the Truths the Stories are sharing seem just as possible—especially when things are and feel as dire as the beginning situations are?

“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a magical book that explores the power of story. It is about sacrifice, friendship, faith, the transformation of a journey, and the joys of home. More than anything, it is about thankfulness — about learning that one’s fortune does not need to be changed; that fortune is more than gold and jewels.”  A Year of Reading (blog).

The end of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is hopeful. Realizations are met and happiness and contentment find their way into the home. Ma finally has a story she would tell, and it is her own. It is wonderful (252-4), healing. Minli has discovered that “one’s fortune does not need to be changed,” and that she should be thankful, and find joy in the everyday.

I had some difficulty with the end ending. I will call this the ‘Job Conflict.’ [And, yes, I know this is a Children’s Book.]  The story would say that as long as you have X, that is all that is important, and one should find X fulfilling and life-affirming. And yet, at book’s end, blessings are abundant in the form of a material redemption. Perhaps the material is the concrete/metaphorical expression of all the riches gained spiritually, or within the abstract (immaterial) senses. However, it is hard to see the Joy that was found when the causes of hardship have since been removed. Or is the lesson:  the hardships will find removal once the internal balance is restored? Maybe like any good legendary tale worth telling, there are more than a few possibilities; possibilities housed in the perspectives of the listener deciding what is ‘real’ and what is ‘whimsy.’

**

a few links to recommendations:

The Shelf Elf (interview with Lin)

Welcome to my Tweendom

Book Nut

A Year of Reading

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · Tales · wondermous

a Find

6293900The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

HarperCollins, 2009.

Ages 10 & Up.

576 pages.

The Lost Conspiracy:  576 pages are daunting for me. But for Frances Hardinge, the attempt is worth it. I figured I would try to divide up the book by chapter or page number, determined to get through and make time on it. I don’t why I would think this way because Frances Hardinge is a brilliant storyteller. I love Fly By Night. By love, I mean, this book sits in the top ten, if not five, best juvenile fiction books I’ve ever read. So yes, I read The Lost Conspiracy based on interruption (the screaming and house-burning sort). I did not want to put the book down. Knowing I had an early day filled with long hours surrounded by small people the next day, I still stayed up late to finish the book. There is not one dull page amongst the 576.

I am sure I may have mentioned this somewhere before, but there are two things that Hardinge is exceptional with: her diction, and her characterization. Everything lives in her books; nothing is inanimate; and thus, nothing is impossible. Hardinge’s imagination is limitless on the page, and this is exciting for the reader.

The Lost Conspiracy is recommended for 10 & up and I agree. Hardinge is timeless, and her adventures, though exciting and imaginative, provoke thought and contain criticism from which the older reader will benefit. There are also the dark aspects. Genocide has taken place on Gullstruck Island, and promises to return. There is mob violence of a horrible sort (by horrible I mean the extermination of a village with characters you come to know and care about). The Ashwalkers…

Revenge is a major theme, and valuable discussion point. Most important for the young reader (and old), however, is the idea that the small and invisible can make all the difference in a fracturing world.

The Prelude reveals a delicious taste of the magic and power of the Lost, and their value to the island of Gullstruck.

Like all Lost, he had been born with his senses loosely tethered to his body, like a hook on a fishing line. He could let them out, then reel them in and remember all the places his mind had visited meanwhile. Most Lost could move their senses independently, like snails’ eyes on stalks. Indeed, a gifted Lost might feel the grass under their knees, taste the peach in your hand, overhear a conversation in the next village, and smell cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and flit around a shipwreck ten miles out to sea.

[…]

Lost minds occupied with the business of the island, keeping it functioning. Scrying for bandits in the jungles, tracing missing children on the rises, spotting sharks in the deeps, reading important trade notices and messages long-distances. (1-2)

I think I found a new super-power for all those icebreaker games. I would be a Lost. In contrast, the Prelude’s closing two paragraphs allude to the unnoticed; not Lost and ever present; the underestimated.

[Her name] was designed to sound like the settling of dust, a name that was meant to go unnoticed. She was as anonymous as dust, and Skein gave her not the slightest though.

Neither would you. In fact, you have already met her, or somebody very like her, and you cannot remember her at all. (5)

Perhaps her power will be just as transformational, and important. And certainly, if she has a power at all, we can identify with it more, and perhaps find the inspiration to be as courageous as she will prove to be.

Hardinge creates into being the most spectacular heroines.

**

The Living compete with the Dead, and the Present and Future conflict with the Past. And the use of story contains a value that is means to survival (and not just cultural). The Lost Conspiracy looks at story and its place to teach lessons and relay messages (subtexts); “The story had been a poem hiding a truth, like those tales with secret directions concealed in them” (510).

Those things that may occur on the grander scale (between volcanoes or governments/peoples) effect those on the smaller or singular; but the small and singular (Hathin) can, too, effect things on a grand scale, and the courage she finds to do so (or the desperation) is monumental to the story and its listener.

**

Like Fly By Night, there is the exploration of the Name creating meaning for the character and possibly effecting paths. For some characters, their Name is grounded in their ancestry (the Superior of Jealousy); and there are the Lace with their names born of nature sounds–Whish, Larsh, Arilou (an owl-sound), or Hathin (dust). That Hathin (a major character) comes from a name that reflects ubiquity and invisibility is important to her role and her abilities throughout; but she is not limited by her name; and possibly not even her body; “When that other spirit takes over your body and makes everyone obey you.” […] “You know, when your voice changes, and your personality changes, and the little worried crinkles in your forehead disappear, and you’re suddenly eight feet tall—“ (483-4).

Expectations of another and far grander sort apply to Hathin’s elder sister Arilou. By Arilou not fulfilling hers, expectations know to take a leave of absence for the rest of the book. Assumptions should not be made, and the devil is in the perceptions. Nothing is as it seems, and sometimes, as in Hathin’s case, this is a good thing.

The Lost Conspiracy creates an incredible landscape. I am often guilty of skimming past settings, especially of the natural sort, when reading novels. Hardinge makes everything interesting. That she can do this and often use Lore to do it is even better.

And in the third cave of the dead you had to hand over your mouth….

Row upon row of ghostly teeth, many the height of a man, jutted from the floor, tapered from the ceiling. Stalagmites, stalactites. The cave was agape with them, and beyond their bite was nothing but a dark throat. (86)

On Gullstruck Island there are volcanoes and geysers and mountains and coastal shores and caves and woods. They all have names and personalities and meaning. She uses this method to move the story forward, and in fact, they become not merely atmosphere or source of conflict but another layer, another character.

Carefully Therrot […] lifted out a slippery lump of the soap. He stooped near a convenient little water-filled crater in the shadow of a bush.

“Present for you, Lord Crackgem,” he muttered. “You don’t mind, do you?”

The water in the crater seethed as he dropped in the soap. As he stepped back to the barrow and stooped for some more, Hathin saw the foaming increase and the water start to fountain.

“Therrot!”

He turned in time to see the fountain become a wild, white plume, and to cover his face with his arms as the wind changed, lashing him with boiling spray and scalding steam. The two revengers grabbed at the barrow, and they slithered and tumbled their way down the slope to escape the geyser’s fury, stopping just short of the treacherous plain.

“He minds,” whispered Hathin. (306-7).

“Lord Crackgem has a soft spot for those with weak minds.”

“She drifted into sleep, but the breath of Lord Crackgem seemed to have drugged her dreams into madness.” (332)

**

Gullstruck has its native populations and its Imperialists who come to dominate the landscape (and its peoples). As the book is set years later, we are caught up on the history and the consequences of this invading culture and its peoples as the story moves along. As there are plenty familiar, we understand things without necessitating explanation. However, this does not remove the horrors. Hardinge would offer hope at the end, but there is no erasure of what was done. The book takes time at the end for tears to come, and it takes a deep breath and plunges you into an exhilarating end. I wish I could spoil it for you. Those last paragraphs are fantastic! Yes, first sentences are key but the last are as well, and The Lost Conspiracy will not disappoint.

The cultures living and interacting on the island are colorful. The Lace come across a bit horrific and terrifying. Their perpetual smiles with plated teeth sound daunting. And their history though starting as friendly becomes a bit frightening. But they are as human as their neighbors, and they have reasons and logic behind their existence as well. Throughout the book, Hathin peels back the layers of her culture, demystifying here, endearing us there. It is clear with whom the book sides and how ridiculous the Cavalcaste invaders really are; their superiority is ever a question. Not to say the storyteller lacks compassion.

However familiar some cultures and events sound (even woven together) the author does issue this statement:

A Note from the Author:

Neither the tribes of Gullstruck nor the Cavalcaste are designed to resemble or comment upon specific real-world races. Here and there I have worked in elements taken from various different cultures because they suited the story, but the world of Gullstruck is basically fantastical. (copyright page)

Still, if a class were studying Imperialism and Colonization; this would be an interesting read; a “safe” realm for exploration.

**

There is a murder conspiracy going on. Hathin and company need to figure out what is going on at risk of their survival. The events are well-conceived. Nothing is spare in this book. Nothing and no one is superfluous. Hardinge has a fairly large cast to play with, and she maintains consistency and focus.

Hathin and Arilou’s relationship is a fascination of the story and it plays out well. The relationship feels honest, and though painful at moments (many) there is beauty there. Other relationships develop throughout the story but the sisters’ is central.

I really am trying to think of something critical (possibly negative) to say about this book. I’d hate for my “gushing” to be seen as disingenuous or star-struck. Maybe I will find something by the time I finish with the book as the evening read aloud (bedtime story) with the daughter. As it is, now, I like this book on the level of entertainment and deeper thought. I can’t even argue against its page length.