Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

This Scottish medieval setting with castles, knights, and bandits is a bullseye for my tastes. A slow-paced story, even if it is good, can be like walking in deep sand for me. My natural pace is to clip along like a sail boat over white-capped water. Fantasy is my go-to, not realistic fiction. A strong female character who is impulsive, determined, and athletic as Drest is in this story grabs my attention. There are some fantastical parts, but most of "The Mad Wolf's Daughter" stays grounded as a knight tale with a monarchy under threat. The plot builds tension that rewards the reader with some twists that had me turning around and rereading the book. At 260 pages this was easy. 

Twelve-year-old Drest is a strong "lass" and not your typical "maiden." Her five brothers and dad, legendary warriors, taught her to wield a sword and live by an honorable code. They also taught her to intimidate with name-calling such as "maggot-headed squid" or "grub-spotted barnacle". Name-calling doesn't work most of the time but does spice the story with humor. The men in Drest's family have a war-band and are captured by the Knights of Faintree in a battle that only she escapes. A wounded knight, Emerick, is left behind becoming her bargaining chip to free her family from a public hanging in five days. Drest sets off to save them and has adventures along the way discovering who she is and what she wants to be in life. She's tough. She's na├»ve. She's determined. 

Drest's strengths and shortcomings show a girl that is afraid and impulsive but overcomes it with courage, loyalty, and a strong moral compass. Emerick counters her impulsivity with negotiation making her think about her actions. He stresses that words are a great weapon, if not greater than a sword. Initially, Drest uses her sword to do the talking almost killing another boy and rushing at a man who could have wounded her with a hidden dagger. In both cases she was defending someone who was being treated unjustly and while her strong sense of justice when someone is being wronged is admirable, Emerick tries to drop a pebble in her constantly moving body that she doesn't need to plunge blade-first into every melee she stumbles across. Words have power too, he stresses. She uses words with her enemies later and grows to understand that while her brothers and fathers are "bloodthirsty warriors" she cannot kill another person. As her friend Tig claims, she is a warrior with a "good heart." Drest's shortcomings create a sympathetic versus judgmental character that makes her more authentic for me.

Minor characters are well-crafted not drifting from the overall story arc. The brothers are developed with Drest talking to them in her imagination. She envisions what they would say in different situations that comforts and helps her make decisions while maintaining a swift pacing. Jupp is not a one-dimensional villain. Emerick turns from enemy to friend. Tig is a funny sidekick that worships Drest for her kindness as well as her fighting skills. He has a pet raven, a symbol of Celtic goddesses and witches in myths. He says he's a witch although no special powers appear. Both Drest and Tig are trying to find their identity as they move from adolescence into adulthood.

The witch, Merewin, says that Drest saving her is "extraordinary"; however, we never find out why. Merewin is mysterious, magical, and unpredictable like a goddess from a Celtic myth. The yellow dust she has as a trap in her hut is not explained but it hurts Drest. Does the dust show Merewin as a witch with magical powers? Does it allow her to follow Drest? GPS dust? Just kidding. Then a stag shows up which is a Celtic symbol representing freedom or the pursuit of wisdom, etc. Stags were hunted and a common motif in medieval Scotland. The stag appearance foreshadows Merewin who is currently being hunted and marginalized by society or in this case used as a scapegoat for a death in the village since she is a healer. The name Merewin is close to King Arthur's advisor, Merlin. I kept trying to connect it with King Arthur but it seemed to be presenting an opposite advisor than in that story. Is she Drest's relative? My guess is she knows something about Drest's mother who is absent and no explanation given as to what happened to her. Perhaps a sequel will address? Merewin tries to give Drest advice but realizes Drest doesn't need it. She does look after her basic needs on her quest and gives warnings (that Drest ignores).

Merewin is connected more with the history of witchcraft in cultures and how women healers were unfairly blamed for village deaths. This feminist focus gives the story its own shape keeping it from drifting into myths and focused on the oral tradition of legends. Drest's adventures expose her to what defines her family's legend throughout the region. Some is good, bad, and exaggerated. Drest is creating her own legend with the reader as well as the community. She inspires with her sense of justice and teaches what it means to be brave and kind in bad situations. Even in the worst of circumstances she doesn't give up or succumb to fears. 

The overall story arc is well done. William Kenower writes in his book "Fearless Writing" about three narrative arcs: physical arc, emotional arc, and intentional arc. The physical arc can be a story that follows a formula of some sort. This story is the hero's journey: a girl embarks on a quest, has adventures and trials, is betrayed, fights for her life, and is changed by the journey. The emotional arc looks at characters motivations. Drest is motivated to rescue her family and then others as the journey proceeds. She thinks that she is a great warrior like her brothers but discovers she isn't "bloodthirsty". She realizes that she  doesn't have to embrace her family's legend but can make her own. The intentional arc is the reason behind telling the story. This probably has many answers but the one that stuck with me was Drest as a representation that girls can be strong and true to themselves as they find their own way in the world.

The repetition and emphasis on storytelling as a way of orally preserving history presses throughout Drest's tale. Tig tells stories about Drest the warrior maiden who rescues people. He repeats certain phrases and the author attempts to mimic some oral traditions. Tig is creating his own story on his quest and develops in confidence on the journey. Drest's dad and brothers tell stories of their battles around the camp fire but leave out the negative parts of the story. When Drest hears alternative tales of her quest it makes her question her brother and father's choices. She questions their choices and forces them to think about some of their actions. Drest asks Jupp his story. At the end, her Dad says they trained her better than he thought. She says, "Maybe you did, or maybe it was just me." She's writing her own story.

By continually pointing out this rich tradition of storytelling the author implies that she is carrying on the craft by sharing a story from her own imagination. She also acknowledges through the characters that legends don't always reflect the truth. They might try to represent history but oftentimes are partial truths. A listener or reader needs to think critically of legends. The best part of storytelling for me is the sharing of a story where I can enter into a character and see some truth about my life or better understand the world while having fun in an imaginary setting. I can chew on that kind of story.

5 Smileys

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1) by Philip Pullman

Philip Pulman explores the dangers of theocracies where religion is used to silence people that question the government instead of not single-mindedly following societal rules that infringe on freedoms. In all his novels, he celebrates intellectual curiosity and denounces demagoguery and tyranny in favor of tolerance and justice. While His Dark Materials trilogy explores daemons, an anthropomorphic animal that is connected to humans, this prequel assumes the reader knows about them, the altheiometer, and more. I recommend not reading this book first in the series not only because background knowledge is helpful, but because the content involves a stalker/ pedophile that is for a young adult versus middle-grade audience. It is well-written with tension, has great character development, a nasty villain, and some pacing issues.

In the trilogy, the Church viewed daemons as sin and the symbiotic relationship between daemons and humans is established through figurative language. The daemon is the human psyche and often acts as a foil or reveals character traits. For instance, Mrs. Coulter was charming and people were drawn to her but her golden monkey daemon was malicious showing her ruthlessness. The villain in this story is similar. He can be charming but his daemon is evil. The daemon symbolizes the how the inner psyche of a person never fully revealed to others. It's also taboo to touch another's daemon because it is too private. In this novel, Lyra's daemon is touched suggesting it is a learned trait. The daemons add insight and self-awareness to characters and readers. This novel focuses on the Church using school children to indoctrinate them to turn against those that speak against the government and gain power versus the daemon as a symbol of sin. The protagonist, Malcolm, is a bright, curious boy who helps the nuns protect Lyra as a baby.

The first part of the plot involves Malcolm uncovering the mystery of Lyra and those who want to take her. The second part involves a flood of biblical proportions and one long chase. While the second part has more action and magical elements, I liked the mystery of part 1 better. It's slower paced but Pullman pulls in more themes that I thought added depth such as the nuns that refuse to question the Church's dogmatic position even though they are good, reasonable people or the establishment of the League of St. Andrew's that mirrors the Nazi's indoctrination of youth. Part 2 has characters from the previous books and I couldn't remember them as I read the series over ten years ago and I thought they slowed the plot. I should have reread the trilogy. Pullman does use the symbol of the flood during Noah's time that cleansed the world of sin in part 2, but I thought the idea was undeveloped in terms of plot. He also uses the youth indoctrination in another scene but it felt repetitive and forcing the action.

Let's talk about the villain. He's a convicted sex offender, pedophile and stalks women; however, his first impression is likable and smart. His daemon is evil and Malcolm's progression from innocent boy protecting a child to being forced to do the unthinkable was disturbing. Writer's mention creating memorable villains and while this character achieves that goal, it was too extreme for me. You'll have to decide for yourself.

4 Smileys

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

Books about feral children make for an interesting look at the nature of being human and language development. What defines a person when he or she isn't socialized and raised by animals? "Peter Pan" by JM Barrie, remains in an adolescent state. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George, involves the girl Julie who lives with wolves and learns to communicate with them. "Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling is still on my endless book list. Karen Hesse's story is about Mila, a feral child discovered by humans as a teen, who has lived with dolphins since she was four years old and been imprinted by their behavior. When the Coast Guard finds her as a teen, she is taken to a research facility and studied with another girl, Shay, who is a feral child but from being isolated from other humans by her mother. Mila finds assimilating with humans difficult socially. The audiobook's narration was average.

The structure of the story begins with Mila communicating in simple language reflecting the second language learner. Her syntax lacks the use of pronouns and prepositions as she tells her experience of living in a government research facility. She is happy at first but misses her dolphin family. As she learns the language her thoughts and speech gain more fluency and figurative language. Ethical questions are raised as Mila feels trapped by the government that requires doctors to keep her locked in her room for her "own safety".

The complexity of ideas progresses as Mila meets Shay, another feral child at the facility, who was locked up in a room with no contact with the outside world. Shay rarely speaks but Mila understands that bonding occurs through touch. She touches Shay and connects with her at first making her laugh when Mila speaks dolphin. Later Shay withdraws into herself and no longer connects with Mila foreshadowing Mila's withdrawal from humans as well. Mila has imprinted with dolphins and trying to connect with humans becomes impossible when she realizes she is not free to do as she wishes. The adults lock her in a room at night and she is feared because she is different. The researchers try to social the two to human behaviors but they cannot adapt. Mila ends up feeling just as trapped and isolated as Shay.

Doors are a symbol throughout representing freedom from societal rules and behavior. Some doors are open and others shut. Toward the end, Mila can only see them shut. Social behavior for Mila reflects dolphin behavior of freely accepting people with doors being open. Mila is marginalized and feared because of her differences. The janitor is afraid of her and she is rejected by Shay who shuts herself off from all humans. The government locks Mila's door and is impersonal to her as a human with rights. The dolphins have socialized Mila to the idea that she can swim anywhere in the ocean and creatures are acceptable unless they are predators. Human boundaries and prejudice she cannot deal with because she knows there is an alternative for her. She connects with her doctor's son, Justin, but cannot accept him completely because he isn't a dolphin. She doesn't identify with humans and cannot adapt to human behavior like Shay.

Music shows a different type of communication for Mila. She listens to it and learns to play an instrument with deep passion. The music relieves Mila's stress and gives emotional satisfaction as it is a reminder of her dolphin family and how sea creatures communicate with sounds. Again, music reflects how much Mila was imprinted regarding social behaviors by dolphins and not humans. She cannot assimilate with the family she lives with and becomes a tragic character in the end.

5 Smileys

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan

This action-packed story continues as the god Apollo learns what it means to be mortal and live as a human. The gods don't make friends or understand the idea of sacrifice. As Apollo goes through suffering and meets heroes that become friends he changes from self-absorbed narcissism to listening to his conscience and feeling guilty. Don't worry, he hasn't completely changed - he's still snarky and hides from danger now and then. When he sees the gods destroying the ecosystem he thinks of the time he was a god and didn't care about the earth being wrecked. Now he does care as he's living the nightmare, "I hate being mortal" he says. Apollo's character arc becomes more clear by the end of the book. The hero's journey for Apollo shows him being transformed by losing his powers and being mortal to learning what it means to sacrifice for others. When Apollo sees his hero friend giving his life to save others it hints that the god might truly change into a compassionate and good person. He slowly is the finality of death for mortals.

Apollo as the mortal, Lester Papadopoulos, is anything but godly with his acne skin and soft body. His 12-year-old companion, Meg, controls him through a curse and marches to her own beat picking her nose and wearing bright-colored clothes like a neon sign. This odd couple is endearing and currently continuing their mission to free five Oracles that have been side-lined by evil emperors trying to control Earth. Once Apollo succeeds he will be restored to Olympus as a god with all his powers returned. As time passes he turns more mortal and is losing most of his godly powers. The humor and tone are in the vein of other Riordan books. The introduction of new characters, such as the seven dryads who sound and move like a well-oiled Roman military legion even though they are few in number is a gas. "All Hail Meg!" is their mantra. Riordan's voice for the characters is distinct and well-done.

When the poets wrote about Odysseus, Greek narratives switched from immortal gods to mortal men showing heroes that suffered pain and death but lived life to the fullest creating legends of themselves passed on through generations. Riordan captures this switch in Apollo, an immortal god made mortal and pokes fun at the dysfunctional, self-centered stories about the Greek gods. Apollo is a modern hero in a tragi-comedy learning what it is like to be a human and heroic taught by semi-divine teens and mythical creatures. When he sacrifices himself not once but twice for his friends, he ends up being more human in this book than the previous ones. While before he only cared deeply for Meg, he is now learning to care for others.

4 smileys

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Don't be fooled by the slow start, nameless characters, nameless towns, and seemingly simple start to this story. The horror sets in quickly and the symbolism, imagery, and structure make this tale as complex as the reader wants in interpreting a myriad of themes. It will haunt you. It might give you nightmares. It is not for everyone, but it is brilliant.

Imagine a world going extinct. No sun. No blue oceans. No animals. No plants. No crops. No culture. Imagine an apocalyptic journey by two people through ashes of collapsed cities, civilization, and forests looking for warmer weather in the south. Two people, a man and his son, choosing not to eat other humans or dogs, but who are starving. Two scavengers hunting through towns and homes long stripped of food or petrol, yet looking for scraps to live on. A man whose sole mission is to protect his son in a world where other humans are the only source of food after what appears to be a nuclear war. The man carries a gun with three bullets. He has had it for ten years. One for himself, his wife, and his son. His son was born in the world as it is and it is the only reality he knows. The wife lost hope and rather than choose survival she killed herself with obsidian. The man found hope in the son and could not kill him and they've been surviving in fear and isolation.

The man's character arc shows someone who lives only for his son but learns to hope for a better future - one embodied in the compassion of his son. He kills others to protect his son and seeks revenge on those who rob them or hurt them. In the beginning, he just walks away from those in need but as the story progresses the boy's protests have him sharing food or clothing with others. We see the boy's compassion wearing down the man's despair to glimmers of caring for others rather than pouring all of it into his son. The man is a Prometheus figure and the line "carrying the fire" is repeated throughout showing his impossible task of surviving in a destroyed world.

Prometheus was a Titan who created humans with Athena and gave them the gift of fire and metalwork. The stories vary with Zeus punishing Prometheus by sending Pandora to him and she released suffering on humanity through Pandora's box or in Hesiod's version, Zeus punishing Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and having an eagle eat his regenerating liver each day. Prometheus is a trickster who rebels against the restrictions put on him by Zeus. He is a blessing and a curse just like the man is a blessing to the boy in that he keeps him alive and a curse because he has no hope for a future and in others. He wants the boy to shoot himself if he dies or is captured by other humans. The end shows the man's turn around on believing the boy can find good in life or a community of moral people. The boy is literally the fire as the story suggests he will bring social and moral progress in an impossible situation just like Prometheus did when he gave humans fire.

The man indulges the boy's compassion for others and later embraces it as the boy embodies hope for him. The other repeated line throughout is "Papa are they good guys?" or "Bad guys?" The moral progression of what defines good and bad shows two people choosing to not murder those who hurt them or eat other people even when they are starving. The man refers to the boy with god-like, religious references and tells a man they meet, "What if I tell you he's a god?" This man goes by the false name, Ely, like the prophet Eli in the Bible. His prophecy is that humanity will die out along with the gods. Like the man, he has no hope for a future. In flashbacks, the man dreams of his wife and how the two planned on committing suicide after their world blew up after the unnamed cataclysmic event. He struggles with suicidal thoughts throughout the story but finds he can face each day and its harshness because of his son. For him the world is "shrinking ...into oblivion" but the moral goodness of the boy always touches him. The symbol of fire progresses from offering the two security and protection to a moral identity to the possibility of a community of "good guys".

The style has no quotations, fragmented sentences, and no names. The structure suggests that the present has no definition but can be defined in a new way. The man can't redefine the world because he has memories of the past, but the child only knows the current reality and is a symbol of a new birth in a destroyed world. Perhaps the boy, and those born into it like him, can redefine and a new world. The lack of quotations suggests the author redefining writing conventions and breaking with past traditions just as this new society no longer follows old traditions. In the end, the boy says the man is not telling him stories or doing homework anymore also suggesting that a new order might emerge from the boy who represents fire and new possibilities. The fragmented sentences reflect the trauma the two characters go through on a daily basis. The existing world is so chaotic and violent that they can only have a dialogue in short sentences. The shock and fear on a daily basis are traumatic. Without any names being assigned to people, except Papa and Ely and the boy, the world can be redefined into a new community. For such a bleak setting and novel, hope is suggested. This hellish road trip is a quick read and worth the effort.

5 Smileys

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet #1) by Roshani Chokshi

Saving the world and fighting a demon sounds easier than dealing with school and friends for Aru Shah. Her constant push to try and fit in has meant exaggerations and lies to classmates. When a trio of 7th graders show up at the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture where she lives with her mother to see if she is in Paris for the holidays, she has to do some quick lying again; however, her classmates ain't buying it. The bullies are convinced that Aru doesn't belong at their elite prep school where fancy cars and exotic trips are the norm. Her world involves taking care of herself while mom is off on trips and giving museum tours for fun.

When the classmates dare Aru to light a cursed antiquity lamp she ends up awakening the Sleeper... oops. She thinks of her mom's warning to not light the lamp, like those “generic warnings parents gave to kids, like 'Don’t go outside without sunscreen or you’ll burn!' Or, as the woman who ran the local Hindu temple’s summer day camp liked to remind Aru: 'Don’t go outside without sunscreen or you’ll get darker and won’t find a husband!' Until it happened, who cared? Aru had never gotten sunburned, and she really didn’t need to find a husband at age twelve." She didn't really believe her mom and had no clue she'd have to battle a demon. Great dialogue, fast pacing, funny gods and hysterical characters make this a winner for fans of Rick Riordan's books. Roshani Chokshi's uses familiar fantasy tropes and much of the humor is a parody of hero narratives while following the monomyth. A laugh-aloud middle-grade adventure using Indian mythology.

After lighting the lamp everyone freezes and a guardian who helps Aru on her quest comes in the form of a snarky pigeon. The author is poking fun at several fantasy tropes. Here the guardian is in a frail body and frustrated that he has to mentor a young girl. Aru is the reincarnated soul of one of the Pandava brothers from the Indian epic poem, Mahabharata; however, she lacks the wisdom and athleticism found in the poem's male heroes. Aru thinks of the pigeon as a “rat with wings” and is not impressed by him either. Meanwhile, the pigeon knocks her for being a kid hero and sees the world ending versus her saving it. When she looks at her frozen mom and classmates asking if they would be stuck that way, the pigeon answers: “It’s temporary,” said the bird. “Provided you aren’t riddled with ineptitude.” “In-ep-tee-tood? Is that French?” The bird knocked its head against the wooden banister. “The universe has a cruel sense of humor,” it moaned. Aru may be green when it comes to quests but she proves her bravery as the plot moves forward.

When Aru links up with another reincarnated soul it comes in the form of Mini, a slightly neurotic girl obsessed with germs, Oreo cookies, and death. When Mini shoves an Oreo cookie into Boo's mouth he says, “What ambrosia is this?” He smacked his beak. “Gimme more.”Mini quotes dictionaries and medical books and can't believe she was chosen for the quest instead of her brother. She diagnoses Aru when she talks back to Time explaining that Aru has “Type One Insufferable-ness.” Her character arc progresses from a kid who shrinks at danger to one accepting the inevitable task of saving the world. When Mini first meets Aru, she asks, “I hope you don’t have a bee allergy. I only have one EpiPen. But I guess we could share? I’ll stab you, you stab me?” The pigeon getting a double-dose of inept heroines does a face-plant asking "whyGodwhyme." The heroes embrace the poster-boy or girl image of a superhero from Aru yelling Batman sayings, wearingSpider-man pajamas, asking Boo for capes, to elbow-bumping instead of fist-bumping with Mini. Germs on the fist, Mini points out, and Aru thinks capes are like blankies that bring comfort to superheroes.

Spoiler alert - okay... I might be telling too much of the story at this point. You could maybe read the next paragraph.

On their quest, they search for "celestial" weapons to help them save the world. They dream of magnificent, heroic swords to wield and instead get a bouncy ball and compact. Mini bangs her compact on the ground hoping it will start working during one scene where they are facing the enemy. When the weapons do activate the heroines have no control over them. They also remind characters throughout that they are heroines, not heroes. They are told that heroines are demanding and brave while the heroes let their magical sidekicks do all the work. Part of Aru's character arc is realizing that being overlooked and not considered worthy opponents could be used to her advantage. Their physical weaknesses are a strength. Plus, she's funny as she thinks stuff such as “And it stood to reason that if you were even a little bit divine, you should not have a unibrow.” She also learns that heroes doubt themselves. At the climax, she discovers that the definition of heroism was fighting for the people she cared about in the world.

Spoiler... I think. The next paragraph might be okay too.  Can you tell I don't quite recognize if I'm spoiling it for the reader?

While the author uses Indian culture and mythology, I kept thinking of Western folktales as well. There was an east-west blend for me. Parts reminded me of the Phantom Tollbooth ...perhaps because they end up in a tollbooth. Actually, the puns, word plays, and wit are what reminded me of it. From Polly Esther to the "-allys" it is pretty funny. Or the scene where the dead speak sentences backward because they can no longer go forward. Their third test is to get the celestial keys and one of the trials is to take a bite out of adulthood which Aru does literally when she finds a book titled, “Adulthood”. I like the imagery of a young protagonist that is coming-of-age taking a bite out of adulthood literally and figuratively. Great chapter headings such as “#1 on Mini’s Top Ten Ways I Don't Want to Die List: Death by Halitosis" add to the humor along with pop culture references such as Johnny Cash. Aru wants to nickname the bird "Sue", short for Sabula, but he says he is male. She asks if he's heard Johnny Cash's song, "A Boy Named Sue" which is about a boy named, Sue, who goes to kill his dad for naming him a girl's name only to find out that the dad said he named him that to make him tough. She settles on "Boo" for a nickname.

Okay, stop! Now I am definitely spoiling the story. If you have a great memory you might not want to read on.

The legend of Shukra is the author using her own creative powers that mixes folktales. Aru and Mini must cross the Bridge of Forgetting that is guarded by Shukra, a man cursed for killing his wife out of vanity. He is surrounded by mirrors as protection against memory-stealing snowflakes and anyone that wants to cross must give him all their memories or fall into the "fires of hell and be forced into the next life". He is a metaphor for the choices people make in life. He does not want to break the mirrors because bad karma will follow him into the next life. As he begins to steal Mini and Aru's memories, Aru goes after him but is cursed in the process. He reminded me of Marley in "A Christmas Carol" who forged long chains through greed. Shakru's "chains" are his mirrors and vanity led to him murdering his wife. He discusses being robbed of the past, present, and future. He's talking about karma but I kept thinking of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. It's the same idea. The mirrors also reminded me of the Snow Queen and shards of glass that cursed the children in the story. Here, Shakru curses Aru as he moves on to reincarnation.

Aru's character arc involves coming to terms with her lies that are good and bad. She tells Mini the truth for the first time when she is exposed for not telling Mini she lit the lamp in the first place. Aru realizes that she lies to imagine “the world as it could be and not as it was.” She pulls out Adulthood coin upon this realization showing her growing up and coming-of-age. When Mini rejects her in anger at lighting the lamp, Aru reacts with courage and anger. She doesn’t roll over. She thinks about stories and how they are told: "The truth of  a story depends on who is telling it." She can write her own narrative. 

In another trial at the Palace of Illusions, Aru must escape her fears of being abandoned by her mother and being alone. She thinks, “People are a lot like magical pockets. They’re far bigger on the inside than they appear to be on the outside.” The Palace is alive and creates an illusion where Aru thinks she will die. She has to look at herself to escape the illusion, a metaphor for having to realize that her illusions and lies stem from fears. I think. The idea isn't really hashed out enough. I do find the Palace represents childhood and what is left behind when becoming an adult. It cries and tries to keep Mini and Aru kids by giving them everything they wish for and playing with them such as riding bikes and eating ice cream. A child's imagination dims over time and that is worth crying over. The Palace gives the two girls a tile to remind them of it and "home". The tile can be a metaphor for adults who hold on to their imaginations and memories of childhood can be storytellers in society. The Palace says “It is better, perhaps, to be thought of as a fiction than to be discarded from memory completely.” Again, the ideas are not completely fleshed out and it is up the reader to put their own interpretation on the plot. I felt teased by many of the metaphors but thought some of the thoughts came up short. A fun and funny book.

4 Smileys

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

I listened to the audiobook and didn't realize this was written in a southern dialect.  No problems here understanding Little Charlie's southern accent by an excellent narrator.  Little Charlie is from a poor white sharecropper family in the 1800s and at 6 feet two inches he is anything but little. The nuanced characters come alive making this tale hard to put down. Little Charlie is a flawed character that changes from his experience into a better person. The exploration of prejudice, racism, violence, and heroic behavior guarantees spirited discussions.

Twelve-year-old Charlie Bobo's father dies in a freak accident, leaving Charlie and his mother vulnerable to being taken advantage of by those that want their land. Sure enough, they become victims of the evil Capt'n Buck, an overseer of the landowner who is notorious for his violence against slaves and tenants. Charlie is conscripted by Capt'n Buck to find a family of runaway slaves in Canada claiming he has to pay off his father's debt. Capt'n Buck is a nasty piece of work whose claims at borrowing money to their father sounds fishy from the get-go. Little Charlie's mother is so frightened by Capt'n Buck that she tries to shoot him when he comes to collect the money. As Capt'n Buck and Little Charlie journey north, Little Charlie has new experiences that lead him to make moral decisions regarding following the crowd or listening to his conscience.

Charlie is a flawed character. He's racist at the beginning and less so by the end and he represents a white Southern upbringing, but as his mom says, he has a good heart and the reader is left with the hope he'll grow into a decent human being. He makes mistakes along the way, refers to blacks as "darkies", and is jealous of the educated and more polished runaway black boy going to school that he's been sent to catch. Little Charlie's jealousy leads to errors in judgment and the reader is able to really get inside his head thanks to some great writing. The history of Canada and protection certain towns provided for runaway slaves is fascinating. Make sure to read or listen to the author's notes.

5 Smileys