Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“The Cats of Tanglewood Forest” by Charles De Lint with illustrations by Charles Vess

Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy

Lillian lives on a farm with her aunt, and she enjoys wandering the nearby forest, looking for fairies. One day she decides to follow a deer and ends up lost in the woods. While she lies under a tree to rest, a snake bites her. As the venom sinks in, Lillian knows she is dying. The world fades away, and cats of the forest surround her and decide to use their magic to save her by turning her into a kitten. What follows is a tale of Lillian trying to set her world right again through the help of magical creatures including a possum woman, a friendly fox, and some mean bear people. Along the way she learns the importance of considering consequences and remembering the past.

This book is filled with folktale-like characters and events, such as magic spells, potions, talking animals, and people who are part animal. The author uses language that suits the folktale medium as well. I don’t know that this will necessarily appeal to young readers, but I suppose it could. I found the story dragged a bit, especially in the middle, and I didn’t like how it occurred in a non-linear fashion. I also wanted the cats to be a more central part of the story since they are in the title. The story is really about Lillian, not the cats, so I found the title misleading. The book is interesting as a look at folktales and magic, but not enough to be really good.

Bibliographic Information:
De Lint, Charles. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

“The Sea of Tranquility” by Katja Millay

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction

My lungs feel okay, but my stomach is teetering. I’ve been out of commission for a little while lately, so hopefully I can tap myself out easily tonight. With every step, I stomp out the shit in my head until it’s all but gone. It will come back in the daylight, when I’m replenished enough to think, but for now it’s away and for now that’s enough.

Teenager Nastya Kashnikov has left her old life behind and started over, living in a new town with her aunt, who she rarely sees. Every night Nastya runs. She runs hard and fast, pounding out the memories of what happened. The day that changed everything. The day that changed her from a pearls and skirt-wearing piano prodigy to a speechless, angry, mystery of a person dressed in black. She runs until she throws up, then runs some more. But one night she finds herself outside a house she’s never seen before. The garage door is open and inside is a boy from her new school: Josh Bennett. At school he keeps to himself like she does and no one ever bothers him. It’s like he has a force field around him, but she doesn’t know why. And he doesn’t know anything about her. But how can anyone get to know a girl who doesn’t speak?

Author Katja Millay presents Nastya and Josh’s story in dual perspective, which works well because we can see how each truly reacts to the other. Even though we are in Nastya’s head a lot of the time, we don’t know the details of what happened to her until just before Josh does. The author teases the incident so slowly that we spend much of the book playing detective, trying to guess at what life-shattering incident befell her. This drawing out created a lot of tension when reading the book, but it was a good tension because it kept me reading. Millay has created characters that seem very real in the way they react to being damaged in life, and I wanted them to be happy and healed. Of course that isn’t easy, but it’s good to watch them grow throughout the text.  I felt the other characters supported the story well and were very nuanced. The author provided each of them with his or her own problems and not just as flat stand-ins for family and friends. Teen and adult readers should enjoy this book as they watch young lives grow through darkness and light.

Bibliographic Information:
Millay, Katja. The Sea of Tranquility. New York: Atria Books, 2013.