Friday, January 18, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (YA Fantasy Novel)

Angels. Demons. Teeth. Chimaera. Sketches. Love. Family. Pain. Wishes. War. 

I suspect that in the not too distant future we will be talking about the actors in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Right now we need to be satisfied to read this award winning novel by Laini Taylor. In 2011, it won awards for Publisher Weekly’s Best Children’s Book and School Library Journal Best Books of the year. It has also been on various best seller lists. The novel puts a fresh spin on the angel and demon myths.

Briefly, the novel starts out with a somewhat familiar theme. Karou leads a double life. In one world, she is a talented art student at a school in Prague, going through all the familiar emotions of a teenager. But, she also has a “family,” whom she can only visit by way of secret entrances. They are four chimeras, combinations of different species, and live elsewhere. She was raised by Brimstone, who looks vaguely like a demon. He gives her charms that allow her to manifest minor wishes. He often sends Karou on errands, all over her world, to collect different types of teeth. Her odd but familiar life is forever changed when she encounters an angel, who destroys all the entrances that allow her to be with her “family.” Why is she attracted to someone who should be her enemy? Who is she really and where did she come from? What does Brimstone do with the teeth he collects? What is the secret behind the wishes? Who are the real bad guys?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an enjoyable story, even for someone who is not a young adult. Taylor does a nice job of world building. The book smoothly takes us from a fairly familiar world to one that is rich in fantasy. The characters are multi-dimensional, having flaws and virtues. I look forward to reading the next book in this trilogy, Daughter of Blood and Starlight.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Maybe we can start again, in the new rich land – in California, where the fruit grows. We’ll start over.
But you can’t start. Only a baby can start. You and me – why, we’re all that’s been. The anger of the moment, the thousand pictures, that’s us. 
Wow. Novels like Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, are one of the reasons that I have set out to read the Pulitzer Prize winners. The novel is haunting and beautiful, tugging at the heart strings. It won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a film the same year.

Briefly, the story is set in the Depression, around the time of the Dust Bowl. Tom Joad returns home from prison after serving four years for killing a man. He meets Casy, who has given up his life as a preacher. Joad finds his family home in Oklahoma has been destroyed by the bank, which has foreclosed on the land and is using tractors to force a few last crops of cotton before the soil loses its life. Inspired by hand bills showing an idyllic scene, the Joad family sell most of their possessions and start off for California. As they make their way by truck, they soon find that thousands of other families are doing the same thing. Once in California, they become migrant workers, despised and feared by the wealthy land owners.

On one level, the novel is depressing as all hell. Steinbeck does an excellent job of conveying the powerlessness of the families. On the other hand, this is a magnificent novel. Steinbeck conveys the strength of the families and the migrant communities. He does a wonderful job comparing the warmth of original farmers and the disassociation of the banks and the wealthy land owners. This is also a timeless novel; I saw parallels between what the people were experiencing then and what many people have experienced in the latest recession. Once again, this is a classic that even adults out of school can appreciate and savor.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Yearling (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Flag had eased a loneliness that harassed him in the very heart of his family.
The Yearling, by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings, is a mega-classic. It was the winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It was made into a 1946 award winning film. It is a novel that generations of children and adults have read and remembered.

Briefly, the novel is set in the Florida backwoods at the end of the 1800’s. Jody’s parents work hard to make a living farming. At the beginning of the novel we see Jody in his full, preteen innocence. Jody asks for “somethin’ to pet and play with,” something to love. After his father kills a doe, Jody adopts the orphaned fawn. They are as close as any boy and dog could be. As the story progresses, we see Jody learning about the harshness of nature and man: illnesses, attacks, floods, deaths. By the end of the novel, Jody has become a young-adult.

Times have changed. Despite being in the Children’s section of my local public library, The Yearling feels like a young adult book to me, especially with its graphic scenes of violence. Even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was well written and had beautiful descriptions. I would encourage any adult who has not read The Yearling before to pick it up.