Monday, December 29, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

This young adult novel tackles the slippery nature of coincidence. While researching a non-fiction book about coincidences, a disabled girl's father he mysteriously disappears.

Laureth, a blind teenager, leads an unofficial investigation into her father's disappearance. Her mother refuses to help her and seems on the verge of splitting up with her father. 

Readers can immediately identify with Laureth, not because of her blindness, but because they recognize her plight. She is in real trouble--the starting point for any great narrative.

Convinced someone on the Internet has her Dad's notebook and may know his whereabouts, she books a plane to New York. She has told no one and her only guide to the seeing world is her seven-year-old brother. 

She had no idea where her father may be staying; she has no idea where she and her brother will stay. She only goes on a hunch that her father is in trouble and needs her help. 

Wearing dark glasses, she must also keep up the pretense that she is not blind. She needs to be seen as the one caring for her brother instead of the other way around or someone may call authorities or notify her mother in England.

Every encounter--from navigating the airport to New York's public transportation--carries the risk that Laureth will be uncovered as a blind, and, thus, invisible person.  Laureth's ability to find her way in New York and find her father proves the title. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Portrait of a Lady

Thoughts on Henry James' Portrait of a Lady.

One of the best lines in Henry James' novel, Portrait of a Lady, is the line he gives to Ralph Touchett. 
Portrait of a Lady, Dawson Dawson-Watson

Ralph's a detached observer but a social scientist, too, in his own way. In Henry James' world, if someone is sick and wealthy, they have the privileged position to quietly observe.

Ralph, as everyone knows, sets up a grand experiment. He uses his cousin, Isabelle, whom he adores as a subject. 

James gives Ralph Touchett the line, "I call people rich if they can satisfy their imagination." 

In the novel, Ralph wants to make Isabelle rich to see if that will allow her the freedom to follow her dreams.

But you don't really need to be rich to satisfy your imagination and he seems to forget that. 

If you are a poor and starving artist, but have enough for art supplies, you can be rich.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
In one of the best novels of 2014, Rebecca Rasmussen describes both the joy and the loneliness of the Minnesota wilderness.
Eveline, joins her German husband, Emil, in a hardscrabble existence in Evergreen. Unbeknownst to her, Emil doesn't own the cabin they relocate to. When his father becomes sick, Emil goes to Germany, leaving Eveline and Hux on their own.

When a land surveyor comes through the Evergreen area, he cruelly takes advantage of her. She later makes a fateful choice that will effect her young son, Hux, and her husband who is still abroad.

The story also focuses upon Hux's sister Naamah, and their relationship. 

Hux locates his half-sister in a logging camp, years after she has left Hopewell, an orphanage, that has left her emotionally and physically scarred. 

Hux, who is a taxidermist and barely scraping by, tries to help Naamah heal; he tries to return a small piece of the childhood that was stolen from her. 

This is a heart-breaking story with many warm and humorous moments. 

Readers who like Evergreen may also like Orphan Train by Christina Kline, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, and Bloodroot by Amy Greene.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Boxtrolls by Elizabeth Kimmell

The Boxtrolls is a wonderful children's story that, among other things, show kids how awful it is to stereotype and scapegoat others. 

Boxtrolls starts with a  scenario that sounds a lot like many other dystopias. The above ground society, the Cheese Bits, are terrified of the underground society, the Boxtrolls. 

The Boxtrolls literally live underground; They eat insects and use odds and ends from the world above them to make things like a music maker. A manhole is a portal to and from worlds.

Because they are terrified of the Boxtrolls, the Cheese bits and their secret police, the Red Hats, hunt the Boxtrolls as monsters. The White Hats, who govern the Cheese bits, support the Boxtrolls hunts. One of the Cheese bit, a baby, was kidnapped and killed by the Boxtrolls. But was the Trubshaw baby really taken?

Eggs doesn't think so. He knows the Boxtrolls aren't monsters. Eggs knows this because he lives with them, They are his friends who assure him his peach skin is fine even though theirs is green or grey.

Eggs feels ok about his appearance until a girl who lives above ground, Winne Portley-Rind, calls him a name he never heard before, "boy."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

American Innovations: Stories by Rivka Galchen.

Readers who like stories about odd characters who find themselves in strange situations, will love this new collection by Rivka Galchen. 

As strange as the characters are, though, it's easy to relate to them.Who hasn't felt what this character in "The Lost Order" feels so keenly?

"But one day I woke up and heard myself saying, I am a fork being used to eat cereal. I am not a spoon. I am a fork. And I can't help people eat cereal any longer."

After a strange caller angrily denounces her for a missing Chinese take-out order, the narrator of "The Lost Order," comes to some startling conclusions about her marriage and herself.

"The Region of Unlikeness," is about another lost soul who befriends two eccentric intellectuals at a coffee shop. She is secretly attracted to one of them and repelled by the other. 

"American Innovations" bravely tackles magical realism, body image, and deformity.

"Wild Berry Blue," is a wonderful coming-of-age story about a girl who has a crush on an ex-junkie who works at her favorite McDonalds.

In one story, "Once Upon an Empire," a likable but possibly deranged narrator, loses all of her belongings. No one steals them; instead, in a magical realism way, they become mobile and literally walk away from her apartment.

She finds them in a dumpster but is reluctant to identify them to the police. 

Less successful stories included in this collection are "Dean of the Arts" or "The Late Novels of Gene Hackman." 

Galchen's collection was long-listed for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize.