Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Kate DiCamillo

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Great writing - DiCamillo really knows her audience, but she also writes bedtime stories, perfect for reading aloud and good reading for the adult, not just the child. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are fantastic, and there are full page color plates throughout.
Cons: None. It might be nice if there were more color plates, but not necessary.

Synopsis: Vain and heartless, porcelain rabbit Edward Tulane falls overboard on an ocean cruise with the little girl who loves him and through a series of miracles and mishaps, learns to care for others.

My take:
DiCamillo has really quite outdone herself with this one. It's bound to become a classic. It's easily read aloud, with DiCamillo's trademark short chapters and easy language, and Edward is very well-developed; children should have no problem identifying with him as he becomes more real. The story moves very well and will hold young readers' interest. I read the whole thing through in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half - I just did not want to put it down. DiCamillo makes excellent use of language, capturing a time when little girls had porcelain rabbit toys with real rabbit fur ears and tales and complete wardrobes with pocket watches but still making the book's voice easily accessible to younger readers. It flows well and makes excellent bedtime reading.

The story isn't just about a rabbit's journey, however. It's about love and learning to love. It's also about loss, as throughout his journey, Edward is separated from each of the persons he learns to love, until once again he is reunited with the little girl who loves him so well at the book's beginning. All the characters are very well-written and whole, not just characters who serve as foils for the main character. One wants to know more about them and how they fare - I wished they could all be reunited with Edward. There's more than a bit of melancholy in the tale, as Edward learns to love and each person he learns to love is in turn lost to him, but it's a marvelous kind of melancholy, building always to a happy ending. The epilogue made me cry, but it made me cry in a great way, as Edward lives happily ever after with the girl he has learned to love with all his heart and soul.

I can't sing the praises of this book highly enough. It was nominated for a Quills Award and won a Boston Globe Horn Book Award, but I find it shocking and appalling for it not to be a Newbery Winner. It really should be. If you can get it in hard cover, it's well worth the price.

edward tulane book cover

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Snarklet: Blood & Chocolate

Annette Curtis Klause

Let's see...the main character and narrator (for whom we are meant to cheer) is mean-spirited and nasty, nearly every character in the book behaves like a rapaciously sex-starved porn star locked permanently in his/her 40's, and the "happy ending" to this whole sordid tale of werewolves living among us is statutory rape.

Gee, and me without any popcorn.

Stay tuned for the full snark. When I have time, it will flow. Freely.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger

Scale of 1-10: 8
Pros: Strong, well-developed characters; makes beautiful use of language without getting too purple or verbose
Cons: A tad long, sometimes hard to follow

Synopsis: Time-traveling Henry DeTamble meets his wife-to-be, Clare Abshire, when he is 28 and she is 20. She meets him when she is 6 and he is 36. She lives life linearly, he lives it as a jumbled mishmash of random hops and jumps throughout his also somewhat linear life. At its heart, this is a book about true love, but it's also about destiny.

My take:
I really enjoyed Niffenegger's story, though I did find it a tad long. The prose is beautiful, and only every once in a while fails to fit the telling - once or twice, I thought it was a bit too mature for the narrator's age at the time. Generally, though, it fits well and is descriptive without bogging down the reader in too much detail. The tale is told in chunks, from both Henry and Clare's points of view, now in the present, now in the past, always preceeded by date and the ages of both Henry and Clare during each vignette. That helps, but while the leaps back in time mostly follow chronological order, they don't always, so every once in a while, it get confusing. Likewise, every now and again, Niffenegger retells one of the jumps to the past in the present, and that can also be confusing. Mostly, it isn't, as she has been very careful to cover with enough detail for the reader to follow and remember, but every once in a while, I had to page back to remind myself what happened the first time, from the other character's point of view (generally, one character tells the story the first time, and then when it happens "again" in the present, the other character will tell his/her side of things).

I thought Niffenegger handled the subject of time travel really well, avoiding inconsistencies nicely and offering a reasonable explanation for the lack of effect Henry has on the future when he's traveling through the past. Which is where the destiny part of the telling comes into play. Perhaps part of the success in Niffenegger's explanation is a lack of detail; she does not bog herself down in lengthy explanations of how or why things happen and whether or not they can be changed. We get Henry's explanation of the facts as he sees them, and as they are as pragmatic as they are sketchy, I find myself willing to accept Niffenegger's version of time travel without real question.

My only real nits with the book were having to page back sometimes to remind myself what had happened before, and some of the scenes really only needed one telling, as Henry was the only character in them, from different times in his life. In addition, there is one very dramatic part of the book where Henry materializes in his own apartment while he, Clare, and some friends are all having dinner, but Niffenegger never explained why it happened or what was going on with the time-traveling Henry. I found that really aggravating, as the scene was really dramatic. I mean if you're going to drop a convulsing time-traveler into the middle of a dinner party, destroying a china cabinet (or something that sounded like a china cabinet) in the process, you might want to drop me a clue somewhere down the line telling me why the character was convulsing and what happened to him when he made it back to his own time, all sliced up from the broken glass and crockery he landed in. As well, since at no other point in the book does Henry displace solid objects when he "lands" in another time, I don't understand why he did then, either. Perhaps he only tripped and fell and knocked over the cabinet, but since Niffenegger never tells that part of the story from the time-traveling Henry's point of view, we'll never know. It really irked me that she never bothered to explain that scene. She also failed to adequately explain why when Henry travels to the future, he seems to avoid contact with Clare. That doesn't really make any sense to me, given the characters' love, and one or two sentences from Henry in the future would have sufficed to explain it. I find that a bit lazy on Niffenegger's part. Aside from those small things, however, I definitely enjoyed the book and am very glad I read it.

To Squee or Not to Squee...

Good books, bad books, they're all here. And by all, I mean what Literary Snark's little band of readers felt like reading and writing about. To see what we liked, click a tag in the list. To see what we hated, click snark. To see what we really, really loved, click squee. Comments welcome - what is a book that doesn't spark conversation?