It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
I thought of putting these two unique novels together as they both highlight that sense of magical realism that is quite rare in contemporary novels – at least not done in such a commendable level by these two authors.
Written by: Laura Ruby
Published by: Balzer + Bray: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
Book given to me as a gift by my husband.
Two gorgeous brothers (one so daintily handsome with a heretofore-unrecognized medical condition, the other built like a house but with a fragile, easily-wounded heart), a staggeringly-beautiful but battered woman, an ugly young girl who can tame bees – all these unforgettable characters are found in a small town where there are no secrets, with cornstalks that have gaps leading somewhere else but here.
This is a strange novel imbued with magical realism, heartbreak, sense of abandonment, unlikely saviours, and the relentless search for truth and beauty – whatever form it takes. Initially, I didn’t know what to make of the story. While I gamely suspended my disbelief to see where the story will lead me, a part of me was also hoping that the grisly twists in my head (borne out of reading too many novels, I suppose) would lead the story somewhere off the too-disturbing paths, and I was relieved to find that there was a villain I could rightfully hate instead of one of those misunderstood-bad-guys whom the reader should magnanimously understand and empathize with.
I also especially loved the relationship between beautiful Roza and her Babcia in Poland (I took a photo of the page and edited using an iPhone app):
And boy, did Roza have an adventure in the United States as an exchange student – more than she (or her Babcia) bargained for, in fact. There is also the very intriguing Charlie Valentine who may have been drawn from a fairy tale or a long-forgotten myth who holds the key to accessing those in-between places that slip through your fingers if you are not looking:
Charlie further explained the existence of such a space in our world to Finn who felt its truth more than anyone. Whether the boy finds the girl – or who the boy is for which girl, I shall leave for you to discover. :
While most of the people from my book club did not like the magical realism aspect of the novel, I find myself not minding too much. In fact, I liked the fact that it wasn’t too real, or too logical, or even the fact that it had to make sense. I was comfortable in that ambiguous state of just settling in the gap in between.
A Song For Ella Grey
Written by: David Almond
Published by: Hodder Children’s Books, 2014
Review copy given by Pansing Books.
I reviewed this novel a year ago – but seeing how much love it’s getting recently, I thought I might as well resurrect that post. Plus, this is a good novel to pair with Bone Gap as they both deal with such exquisite themes of love, loss, youth, beauty, and myths and make-believe.
If I were to encapsulate in brief what this entire novel is all about, I would say that this is a modern, hipster retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. But that will not be doing this novel justice.
There is a surreal, magical-realism quality to the novel that appealed to me. The entire novel was spoken through the voice of Claire, Ella Grey’s best friend, and how she sees the world. I like how she questioned everything that has happened, leading the reader to wonder whether everything was merely a figment of her imagination, if Ella Grey even existed, or if it was her way of making sense of Ella Grey’s death that made her re-imagine events in the way that she did. I also love this particular quote from the book which I shared with my book club kids – because it talks about what it’s like to be young, carefree, mad. I love how the youth’s fearless sense of invulnerability is captured – of daring death and defying the devil. This is a recurrent motif in the entire novel – seen in the book’s endpapers and the musical notes from The Magpie song where the lines “Devil, Devil, I defy thee” were taken.
The power of music and how it is portrayed here was not particularly surprising given the original Orpheus and Eurydice tale. While not technically a rockstar, David Almond’s Orpheus here is a wanderer who sings the songs of the ages, ancient in its melody, entrancing in its mysterious, inexplicable beauty that even slithering snakes and fluttering leaves stay still to listen to his voice. Clearly this Orpheus is not of this world. This is how Claire described Orpheus’ music the first time she heard him play:
For those who are familiar with the original Orpheus-Eurydice story, you would know that Orpheus traveled to the Underworld to find Eurydice to bring her back to the land of the living through his music. The way that it was retold here in Almond’s multi-layered novel is brilliant – the pages black, the typography a scratching scrawl that reflect the rough edges of the afterlife:
I also loved how he shared the power of words:
This novel, as per David Almond’s trademark style, is heartbreaking. Almond has mastered the art of funneling his pain into a raw yet disciplined verse. He has whittled his misery into clear crisp lines that are polished and gleaming, that it leaves the reader gasping for breath, but also marveling at his craftsmanship, in the exquisiteness of his delivery. He leads you to the dark side, but does not leave you there. He just wants company, is all. He befriends the darkness and makes it his, and then when you gasp for air, you are all the more grateful for it. He leaves you with your eyes open to the amazement of what is in this world, and what is, quite possibly, out there.
I also found this haunting video of The Magpie, resonating throughout the novel, with its endpapers, and the song played by Claire and her tribe as they sing around the bonfire at the beach – blazing youth, death nothing but a joke, oblivious to everything but the dance. Watch “The Magpie” as performed in an eerie, haunting way by The Bluebirds. Enjoy.
It is with a measure of pride that I say I have already finished reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – my first adult fiction this 2016!
Woohoo! I hope to review this book after my book club (GatheringReaders at NIE) discusses it in February.
I also finished reading this novel-in-verse: Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott. Hopefully, I can feature it during our current reading theme.
This week, I hope to finish reading Two Brothers by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba – a graphic novel that one of my comic-geek friends loaned to me during the weekend.
I also hope to begin reading Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.