Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blurbs – May 2010 – Gathering Blue, Off The Road, Clockwork.

Blurbs is a short column on all the new little things I have read, watched or thought about that I feel do not warrant an entire standalone post. Today we have three books.

Gathering Blue – Lois Lowry6a00cdf7eaee19094f0109815e25a1000d-500pi

Gathering Blue is a companion novel to The Giver (required reading as far as I am concerned). It tells a different story in a different place. The world of Gathering Blue is dissimilar to that of The Giver. It is a crude dystopia, whereas The Giver is an advanced one.

Posey Sessions has recently ribbed me about not reading stories with female protagonists. As I thought about it, I was not able to refute her. . . much. So I picked up Gathering Blue with an “I’ll show her” mindset. I was determined to slog through this femme fest of a book and hold it up in triumph, trumpeting “I told you so.” What happened next surprised me, and I think her as well.

I LOVED Gathering Blue. The story hooked me from the opening page and never let up. The setting was spectacular, I hated the grimy little village, it was disturbing and scary. Lowry writes of a tensioned filled backwoods nook, where archaic rules are used like weapons in a dog eat dog struggle for survival. Kira, a flawed girl who should have been killed, is left to carve out a life after the death of her mother. I was turned off initially when the story becomes too good to be true. But things in Kira’s life are not what they seem. Lowry masterfully unfolds the truth behind the village and its guardians, until in the final moment the readers uneasy feeling explodes into terror; and all the hope held for Kira and her place in this world turns into revulsion.

I also loved the character of Matt. For him this damned world is a playground that he exploits. Matt is the dystopian Tom Sawyer. I am excited to begin Messenger, in which Matty is the main character.

Off The Road – Nina Bawden

n25072Off the Road was my first audio book in about 2 years, I decided to take audio books on my Ipod to be entertained while camping. Off the Road turned into my workout “music.” While walking each day I turned on to the story of little Tom as he follows Gandhi, his grandfather ,off the road into an entirely different society.

First off I enjoyed Off the Road. It was a fun read with some flaws. The characters are well written and interesting. I found myself wrapped up in their lives and their world. Gandhi was the perfect vehicle to drive the story. His appeal, and Tom’s love and concern for him are universal. I often thought of the affection I have for my own Grandfather, and how in Tom’s shoes I would have made the same choices, and felt the same emotions.

The flaws lie in the world Bawden has created. I do not like an author to hold the readers hand and point out everything to them along the way, so much of reading is imagination. But, there is a point where a book can be too ambiguous or nuanced. Off the Road was that for me. There was a lot of depth in the story, and at times it was very poignant, the problem was in the thread, so much was left to the reader to formulate on their own. A task that I feel may be difficult for a young reader. Also, the story does not move very much. There are moments of enlightenment for young Tom, and some of them are powerful. But the narrative is lacking, and when the conflict arises it feels almost too little too late, or like it is lifted from another story altogether.

Another major disappointment in the story, for me, was the lack of danger. The three main “bad guys” in the story are like toothless lions. The dropouts are mostly comic relief, they steal a little food and not much else, and even when they get scary for a moment, Bawden actually introduces us to them, and they are more mischievous than scary. The Rangers are soft hearted protectors of a peaceful society, who never really threaten Tom. And the Inside is the least of worries. It felt to me like the inside was a comfortable world that one got to experience for a while, and the outside was a sort of retirement village. The threat vanished in the end for good.

I enjoyed following the enlightenment of a selfish little boy, but I felt like the ties between his experiences on the outside and his eventual epiphanies were too nuanced to be very effective. For all of its weak points Off the Road was a nostalgic look at the love of a boy for his grandfather. That was the story within the story that I very much enjoyed.

Clockwork – Philip Pullman

51M0SCR70ALClockwork was a dark and dreary children's tale. It surprised me, having never been exposed to Pullman before (yeah I am the last person in the world who has not read His Dark Materials) how dismal and bleak the story really was. Reading it as an adult I was a bit shocked that this passed for children’s fare. The two stories in the book wove together in a seamless fashion. And The tale of the little Prince was magnificently creepy. Clockwork was an intricate story with the feel of a campfire tale.

It was a quick, light read, that felt like something a lot more substantial. But, I could not help feeling that it was something I had read before; a variation on a familiar theme. Pullman did it better, and perhaps he did it for the sake of a young audience, but it felt like it tread familiar “scary story” territory.

I picked up the book again and read it to my six year old niece. She sat attentive to the tale, but often stopped me to ask “when will it get scary?” Perhaps this speaks to the desensitizing of our children, or perhaps six years old is too young to grasp the full darkness and evil of moving corpses, murderous statues, and human experimentation.

Taking it for what it was Clockwork was infinitely readable, and a great way to pass a spare hour. My only complaints were the rehashed feeling of the tale (“Im a real boy!”) and a weak connection between previous statements and the final payoff.


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