Friday, March 27, 2009
Librarina caught my attention with a review of The Plague, by Joanne Dahme (due out in May). "When Nell’s parents succumb to the plague, she and her brother, George, fear what will become of them. As they follow the death cart to the graveyard, however, something miraculous happens. They cross paths with the king — who is struck by the fact that Nell looks nearly identical to his daughter, Princess Joan." Adventure follows.
Wild Things by Clay Carmichael (Front Street/Boyds Mills, $18.95, 9781590786277/1590786270, 248 pp., ages 9-11, May 2009)
It's hard to resist the voice of 11-year-old narrator Zoë, who stars in Carmichael's (Bear at the Beach) swiftly-paced first novel, alongside a supporting cast of eccentric characters nearly as wild as she. A feral black-and-white cat, for example, whose perspective unfolds through an occasional third-person narrative (and fills in some of the characters' background), suspects human beings just as much as Zoë does. Their reluctance to trust and their gradual softening (the feline for Zoë, and Zoë for her uncle) run in tandem. Despite her age, Zoë's had enough life experiences to fill the memoir she's started writing. Her mentally unstable mother went from man to man before finally taking her own life--which is how Zoë wound up with Uncle Henry Royster, the half-brother of the father she never met who's also deceased. The girl and her uncle's matching gap-toothed smiles and red hair attest to their common DNA; they also share a rather prickly independent-minded personality. But as time goes on, they grow quite fond of each other. Zoë, who always found refuge in the library, warms to Henry's book collection ("Next to animals, I loved books more than anything"), and she rethinks her initial impression of her fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Avery ("dumb as petunias"), when the woman starts leaving books for Zoë and gives her time and space in the back of the room during the school day. Carmichael portrays a small Southern town with its requisite busybodies and odd personalities as well as a history of social dynamics that stretches back at least a generation. A rundown cabin in the woods and a mysterious white deer with an evasive companion introduce additional intrigue that helps Zoë to discover who she is in the world, both literally and figuratively. At times, the third-person sections focused on the cat (whom Zoë names Mr. C'mere) feel intrusive, but the relationship between the cat and the heroine is so essential to Zoë's development that readers will likely overlook this narrative device. This cluster of quirky, winning characters will feel like a throng of old friends by story's end.--Jennifer M. Brown
Labels: Friday Finds