Friday, November 16, 2007

Out of Order by Robin Stevenson

I read first time author Robin Stevenson's book, Out of Order, about a month ago but, a trip to Chicago, one to Vancouver, and my role as Canadian Children's Book Week coordinator on Vancouver Island have kept me too busy for reviews. Don't let the slightly old fashioned cover put you off. This is a realy good read.

Once you crack the spine, it isn't hard to related to fifteen year old Sophie, her new friends Zelia, and later Max. Having just moved to Victoria, Sophie is determined to shed her past and the extra pounds that she believes marked her as an easy target for bullying at her last school. The "new improved" Sophie meets a charismatic loner, Zelia and a fast friendship ensues. But, Sophie eventually finds herself more and more uncomfortable with Zelia's fast track to self-destruction. While Sophie remains blind to her own eating disorder, the "new" Sophie starts to show cracks. She turns to Max with whom she shares a love of horse-riding and who appears to be Zelia's opposite. Sophie desperately wants to let down her guard with Max, but is afraid of rejection. Max is hiding her own secrets; afraid of the label that her sexual preference might cost her.

Three girls; three different issues; three different approaches to coping with their world. It almost sounds like melodrama. And I admit that at times the balancing act was just a tad shaky. Somehow though, Stevenson keeps from tipping over the edge. Sophie and Zelia are particularly well drawn, and it's although it's easy although gut wrenching to follow their paths. I did have a little more trouble with Max, whose character is not as fully developed. For the most part though, these are kids that could live next door. As the mother of three daughters, one of whom hung out in the same spots as Sophie, Zelia and Max, I found Stevenson's characters maddeningly arrogant as well as achingly vulnerable. Having seen my fair share of teenage angst, I'd say Stevenson knows of what she writes, and I don't doubt that as her craft develops, she will be a writer we'll be hearing more from.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have been reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and have finally finished. Although I have friends who'd read it in a single sitting, it took me several weeks. The story is a compelling one but I found it difficult to read more than a few pages at time. The Book Thief is so rich in details that readers will find themselves drawn into Liesel Meminger's life as I did. It is such a difficult life that I simply could not bear to read it all at once. Life's brutality is introduced from the very start, when in 1939, Liesel, her mother, and her younger brother are traveling by train to Munich where Leisel and her brother are to be given into foster care. Liesel is the first to discover her brother's death on route. She and her mother are put off the train at the next stop with the dead child. A sad funeral in frigid temperatures with virtually no one in attendance is all that can be managed. Upon leaving, Liesel who cannot read as she hasn't had the opportunity to attend school with any regularity, picks up a book dropped by the gravedigger. This becomes one her greatest treasures, even though it is only a gravedigger's manual. There is a witness to Liesel's thievery, albeit an unobserved one; death himself. Thus begins Liesel's book thievery, and Death's narration of her life story. Death is very formal narrator and he is as governed by courtesy and decorum as he is by his role of collecting the souls of each deceased the moment of their demise. He is always on hand to gently and respectfully transporting each soul to eternity. Given the state of affairs in Germany at the time, Death is a constant presence.

I say that it took me some time to finish The Book Thief, but I must tell you that it was Zusak's brilliance which put me off. He is far too good a writer, skillfully bringing to life the harsh details of a daily existence that goes from gut-wrenching to heart-breaking and then back again. Blow after blow is dealt to this most resilient of children who loses her brother and then her mother almost immediately after. Once her brother is buried, that interrupted train trip is resumed, and Liesel is given into foster care. She is luckier than some though, since the Hubermanns take her in. Her foster father's gentleness acts as a counter balance to his wife Rosa's bad cooking and worse temper. Hans can't, however, temper the perilous times they live in; times when books are burned, brownshirts are given license to harass Jews, and party politics leaves the Hans Hubermann without work and the means to support his family. It is a time when bombs destroy neighborhoods and snatch all that is dear; Liesel's home, her foster parents and her friend Rudy Steiner.

Although Liesel lives a long life, it is death who has the last word.
"I am haunted by humans" Death writes. By the time you close the cover of The Book Thief, you too will be haunted; by Zusak's characters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

On-line Book Club sponsored by the BC Library

If you happen to be a teen in search of a great read or if you want to connect with and chat about books to other readers your age, visit the BC Library sponsored site TeenSCR . They provide categorized book lists and I'm thrilled that my novel, The Smell of Paint is one of the books suggested in the Weepers category. You can write reviews or just chat, and there are lots of other categories if tear-jerkers aren't your thing. Check them out.