This is just a happy little reminder that my interview with Kirby Larson will be published here at Hope Is the Word one week from today on February 27! You have plenty of time to read Hattie Big Sky before then if you haven’t already.
If you’re interested in children’s and young adult literature, there’s a great new website you must check out! It is Kidlitosphere Central, and it is billed as “The Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” Hope Is the Word has recently been added as a member (yay!–small things in life make me so happy!). You can find everything from news in the world of children’s and YA lit to writing contests to scores of blog links there. Great stuff!
Synopsis: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery is the story of Valancy Stirling and how she takes charge of her own life. Always under the thumb of her controlling family, meek and mild Valancy is shocked to learn that she has only one year to live. As a result of this revelation, Valancy takes her life in hand and does things that shock and outrage her “proper” family. Along the way, she discovers love and friendship, two things she never had in her former small life.
My Thoughts: I really thought when I finished Jane of Lantern Hill earlier in the month that I was finished with the L.M. Montgomery Challenge. However, when I read Sarah’s review of The Blue Castle over at A Library Is a Hospital of the Mind, I began to reminisce about the book and decided I wanted to re-read it before January was over. That’s what I did, despite my towering TBR stack for the month of February, and I am so glad!
I think I like Valancy Stirling just as much as I like Anne, Pat, and Emily. In some ways, reading her story is much like reading about most of Montgomery’s other heroines: an oppressed girl finally finds her freedom through some magical turn of events that liberates her imagination and personality so that she can finally be who she really is. However, this story deals with more “adult” themes (‘though certainly these are tame by today’s standard): alcoholism, the sullying of a girl’s reputation, the illegitimate birth of a child, etc. I understand that Montgomery intended this novel for an adult audience. Certainly it would be entirely appropriate for any young adult reader, as well.
I really appreciate Valancy’s frank appraisal of her family after the scales are removed from her eyes (or maybe a better analogy would be after her tongue is loosened and she can finally speak the truth without fear). Valancy is sarcastic and truthful, and it is downright hilarious at times. Montgomery is a master at characterization, and although her characters are so extreme that at times they seem like caricatures (i.e. the snobbishly cold mother or grandmother, the outwardly-wicked-but-good-at-heart man, etc.), her descriptions and little vignettes make reading her books delightful. This is why I love Montgomery’s works.
Since I read Jane of Lantern Hill for the first time just a few weeks ago, it was still on my mind when I re-read The Blue Castle. There are many similarities between the two novels. I will not say what they are and ruin it for you if you haven’t read these fine stories; however, I can summarize these similarities by saying that some of the things that happen to Jane as a child are mirrored in the adult world of Valancy Stirling.
The Blue Castle is an entertaining and delightful book. Highly recommended!
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Length: 217 pages
Synopsis: This is the story of Jane Victoria Stuart who lives with her mother, her grandmother, her aunt, and a few servants at 60 Gay Street in Toronto. However, if ever a street was badly named, Gay Street is it. Jane’s grandmother makes life unpleasant for virtually everyone there, Jane especially. Jane learns that her father is alive after having believed him dead for the first ten years of her life, and even more surprising, he wants her to come for a visit. Jane goes to visit him on Prince Edward Island against her will, but once there, she finds a new life that she could never have even dreamt of back on Gay Street. The problem, of course, is how to get her mother and father to reconcile so that they can begin a new, happy life together. Because of her new-found courage birthed in her on PEI, Jane is up to the challenge, even if the challenge is personified in her grandmother.
My Thoughts: I concur with Jane when she thinks upon returning to Prince Edward Island for the second summer, it is “wonderful to be among happy people again” (171). Like all of L. M. Montgomery’s other works, this one does not disappoint. In some ways, because Jane herself is at first unfamiliar with PEI, I saw it through new eyes. Her homegoing to Lantern Hill after her first surprising summer there is reminiscent of Anne’s buggy ride to Green Gables. Really, Jane of Lantern Hill is a love song for PEI if it is nothing else. There are only two things about this book that sort of bug me, but by now I appreciate L.M. Montgomery for taking me out of the problems and stresses of modern life, so I do not expect her works to be realistic. However, for the sake of discussion, I will note these problematic areas here (warning: spoilers ahead). First is Jane’s remarkable ability to possess and care for Lantern Hill as only a seasoned homemaker could, even though she has been forbidden from cooking or doing any housekeeping chores throughout her childhood. Of course, that Jane is a born homemaker is established early on; later in the story, once she and her father have taken up residence at Lantern Hill and she begins to make it a home, her dad inquires how she knows how to do all the things she does. Her answer? ” ‘I think I’ve always known them’ ” (90). Truly, Jane’s domestic abilities would rival the most seasoned of housewives. Second is Jane’s choice of a home for her reunited family. I was disappointed by the fact that Jane chooses a new home in “the new Lakeside development on the banks of the Humber” (163). This just smacks of suburbia to me, and I can’t reconcile this with my visions of idyllic PEI and its inhabitants. Of course, this home is in Toronto, not PEI, so that is probably the difference. But still.
I’ve come to realize that one of the main reasons I always liked L.M. Montgomery’s fiction is her ability to incorporate so many little stories into the big story. I love the sense of community that is always a part of the larger story, and Jane of Lantern Hill is no different. Jane becomes a part of something when she moves to PEI that she had never experienced in Toronto, as evidenced by this exchange:
“You’re so nice you ought to have been born on P.E. Island, ” Ding Dong told [Jane].
“I was,” said Jane triumphantly. (92)
It had been about five years or so since I last read a L.M. Montgomery book, and that is too long. How I have gone so long without a refreshing breeze from PEI, I don’t know. This has been rectified now, and I think that it won’t be another five years before I make this journey again. Carrie at Reading to Know is hosting this L.M. Montgomery Challenge. Won’t you consider joining?
As I mentioned in my Bookish Year in Review, this year has marked a return to reading for me. I have read some thirty-seven books this year, not to mention the countless books I’ve read aloud to my children. By many readers’ standards, this is a rather paltry total, I know. However, when I consider the fact that in the two or three years prior to 2008, I probably did not read this many books all together, I think this is a pretty good start. There have been a few standouts among those I’ve enjoyed. These are my favorites of the year (click on the title link to read my full review):
1. Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is one of those that was not on my TBR list, so it was a pleasant surprise to me. I adore what the librarian at my first real job called “pioneery stories,” and this one has a very strong female heroine, to boot. This book is very deserving of its Newbery honor. I never got around to reading the Newbery Medal winner from 2007, Penny from Heaven, but if it beat out Hattie Big Sky and Rules, it must be one more book.
2. The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman caused me to analyze the birth order of everyone I conversed with for a good month. Fascinating and entertaining!
3. A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner renewed, if briefly, my confidence in the genre of Christian fiction. I appreciated so much about this book: its literariness (if that isn’t a word, it should be); its many, many allusions to works of literature; its introspective protagonist; and its hopeful theme. This reminds me that I want to read more of Jamie Langston Turner’s works.
4. I read The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean for the now-defunct but soon-to-be-resurrected Biblically Literate Book Club (‘though I’m not sure that’s still its title) over at Semicolon. I found this book to be suspenseful and unusual, which is a great combination for someone who sometimes gets tired of the same-old, same-old.
5. Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is one of those books I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I usually do not “get” novels written in the form of poetry, even free verse. This one works, though, and works well.
6. This book, The Veritas Conflict by Shaunti Feldhahn, is the second from the genre of Christian fiction that I have in my Best Books of 2008 list, so I’m sort of contradicting what I’ve said before about Christian fiction. However, I enjoyed this book because it reminded me a lot of Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkess, both of which I read and re-read as a teenager. This is an entertaining, engaging novel, not fine literature.
7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak reminded me of the best parts of my graduate education in library science: reading new literature (children’s and young adult) that sparked new ideas for teaching and discussion. This book is unusual in a lot of ways (it is narrated by death, after all), but it did take me back to the familiar territory of World War II. Highly recommended.
8. It is not an understatement to say that Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry opened up a new world of literature to me. Berry’s writings really resound in my heart and remind me of what is important. I am a convert, for sure. This was my favorite for the entire year.
9. Devotions for Sacred Parenting by Gary L. Thomas is a gem of a parenting book: it focuses on the real, true, nitty-gritty, spiritual aspect of parenting. That seems like an oxymoron, but it’s not. I’ve learned in my four-and-a-half years of parenthood that it is God’s greatest schoolroom for me. Thomas writes about it with beauty and grace, and not a few allusions to other works of literature. I have more of Thomas’s works waiting on my TBR bookshelf.
10. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is a story of hope and redemption in a nation without hope. Beautifully written and thoughtful, it reminded me a little of Wendell Berry’s works (‘though certainly the setting is much more tragic). I’m eager to watch the movie of this one and see how it compares.
Well, there they are. All of these authors are new to me, so I am glad to add them to my list of favorites and look forward to reading more of their works in the future. Have you read any of these authors, and if so, can you recommend other specific titles?
Edited to add: 11. How could I forget Peace like a River by Leif Enger? Oh my. This is an unusual, delightful book with a surprise ending that I’m really glad I read.
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Length: 552 p.
Synopsis: The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a child in World War II-era Germany, who, after being abandoned by her mother to a foster family, finally finds her place in her disintegrating world thanks to her loving Papa; her best friend/partner in crime/next door neighbor/would-be boyfriend, Rudy Steiner; a Jew named Max who hides in her family’s basement; and most importantly, her words. The most interesting thing about this book, and the thing that makes it so unforgettable, is the fact that it is narrated by Death. By the end of the novel, Death becomes almost an object of pity because he has come to sympathize so with the humans who are at his mercy because of the destruction of that madman, Hitler, and the war.
My Thoughts: This is a book that really stuck with me. In fact, when I finally finished it late one night this past week, I commented to my husband, Steady Eddie, that I wished I had not finished it when I did because it stayed on my mind so much that I could not go to sleep for a while. I am no stranger to World War II and Holocaust fiction, but something about this book made it extremely poignant and compelling. Zusak does excellent job of creating characters that are realistic, but in the end, almost every one of them has become beloved by the reader. That is no small feat, especially when a character like Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother, is considered. She rails against Liesel, curses her (and anyone else within hearing distance) in both English and German, and even beats her with a wooden spoon. In the end, though, this is what Death has to say about her:
Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving [. . .] She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching. And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl. (532)
The story itself is fairly complex, but the humanity of it reaches deep. This is a coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist comes of age at one of the worst times and in one of the worst places in history. It’s a story about the amazing power of words. Something about Zusak’s style reminds of E.L. Konigsburg’s. While I would not recommend this novel to just any teen (or adult, for that matter) due to the violence, profanity, and serious themes contained therein, I do think it’s a worthwhile read. Zusak has written a unique book in The Book Thief, one deserving of the 2007 Printz Honor it received.