Review Roundup: YA
Another grab bag of bits and pieces of reviews. These are books intended, I think, for a teen, or tween readership. I read them and enjoyed them at twice the age of the target audience, so I can confirm they work for other age groups. How’s that for science?
The Winter Place
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
How’s this for a great first line? “Tess was sitting on the front stoop of her house, kissing a boy, when the knight rode up.”? And the best part about it is that there’s a plausible, real-world context for the knight (Tess’s dad is in the SCA). But not so much for the rest of the wondrous events, in this mythic, dreamy, modern fantasy novel.
There are strong elements of modern fairy tale: Tess and her younger brother Axel live in a rural, almost woodland cottage, raised by their father (an absentminded professor who jousts at a nearby RenFaire). Their mother died so long ago, she’s basically half-dream and half-memory in their lives. But when their father is killed in a freak accident, Tess and her brother are uprooted from everything they know, and taken to live with their grandparents, reluctant guardians in Finland. Where there is a mysterious stranger who might have answers about their mother. Or might lead them to a mythic monster who’s out to kill them both. Using Tess’s skeptical eye as the narrative voice works particularly well to allow for descriptive worldbuilding, as the events of the novel take stranger and spookier turns, fueled by Scandinavian mythology and its imagery. Especially when set against Axel’s willing imagination (or are the things he sees hallucinations?) The fusion of dream-logic and Scandinavian mythical imagery made me enjoy this as a unique fantasy.
One Half from the East
(e-galley from Edelweiss)
I loved this story. It was a fascinating look at culture and family structure in a village in Afghanistan. Brief summary. Obayda is the youngest of four sisters, whose father is still recovering from losing his leg. She lives in the very sex-segregated small village that her family moved to, after Her mother decides that Obayda will become Obayd, living and being treated as a son, to help bring the family luck. Obayda/Obayd is a kid navigating a huge, sudden role change, from living as a girl/daughter to living as a boy, getting the choicest meats, being expected to run and play, and go to different classes. Finally, a friendship with another bacha posh, helps make sense of it all. The story is told entirely through Obayda/Obayd’s eyes, and first-person perspective. That strong narrative voice absolutely makes the story work, anchored in the unique take on the culture that comes from being part of both worlds. And from being, above everything else, a kid: curious, loyal to family, forming friendships, dreaming, hoping. That perspective, and the immediacy of voice, really makes the story work, because you get such an interior view of events and feelings. I think, reading more stories like this, that capture experience and personality, would go a long way to realize the goals of reading more diversely to learn about world experiences.
Fear the Drowning Deep
Sarah Glenn Marsh
(e-galley from Edelweiss)
A spooky, atmospheric fantasy, using folklore and the setting of the Isle of Man to tell a unique tale. There are romantic elements, and coming-of-age elements, and historical fiction, as well as supernatural and mysterious aspects. So, in other words, right in my sweet spot. (And, possibly, thematically linked to The Winter Place, for a reading experience.)
Bridey, the main character, is navigating family relationships, how to choose her apprenticeship and town identity, and maybe first love, in a way that’s focal to the plot. But it’s not just coming-of-age, there’s a spooky, atmospheric mystery going on in the town. And mythic elements, drawn, I gather, from the legends and history of the Isle of Man. I enjoyed a glimpse into the folklore as much as I enjoyed the way the story used the mythic elements. The descriptions of Bridey’s home life, and her work with Morag, and the descriptions of her father’s boat made this feel like it could be set any time from fifty years ago to two hundred years ago, which added to the feeling of being a fairy tale. I think I remember a passing mention that it was meant to be set around World War I, but it had a more arcane atmosphere. Good stuff, would recommend, especially for teens who enjoy spooky supernatural romance. Unlike some examples of the supernatural romance genre, the heroine shows courage, agency, and has her own set of skills, rather than subsuming herself in the boy.