Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta: Down Under Down-to-Upper

The Piper's Son
Melina Marchetta (ARC - Official release March 2011).
Candlewick: Boston. ISBN 978-0-7636-4758-2

In this follow up to Saving Francesca, five years have passed since Thomas Mackee became friends with Frankie Spinelli and the other girls from St. Sebastians. Following the tragic death of his uncle in the London terrorist attacks and subsequent implosion of his family, Tom has grown apart from the group in a downward spiral of self-medication and self-loathing. Kicked out of his apartment, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt Georgie, equally distraught over the death of her brother and fighting her own demons. Tom can’t forget his feelings for one of the girls in particular, or forgive himself for how he left things with her. But just as Tom starts to get back on his feet, working in a pub and playing music with his old friends, his alcoholic father returns and moves into Georgie’s too, and Tom and Georgie are forced to face some of their demons and try to move forward. This beautifully written story is much more adult than Marchetta’s earlier works, if only because our protagonists themselves are adults. Her themes of love, friendship, forgiveness, and recovery are prevalent but don’t feel forced. She has crafted a gorgeously tangible tragicomic world with realistically troubled but inherently lovable characters. Best for older teens and adults. Can be read as a stand-alone, but having read Saving Francesca makes the change in Tom all the more poignant.
And now I gush: This book is bloody brilliant. I mean, pretty much everything Melina Marchetta has written falls into the bloody brilliant family. But my gosh. It is gorgeous, filled with comedy, rage, fear, heartbreak, and ultimately love at the heart of it all. This story doesn’t feel phony or even plotted, nor do the personal tragedies large (London terrorist attack, Vietnam, cheating, out of wedlock kids) and small feel contrived as plot devices to make us emote. Rather, it’s as though these characters are really out there, wandering the streets of Sydney, pulling pints at the pub, playing music, taking their kids to the park, going grocery shopping. It makes my heart sing, and makes me want to call up my friends and tell them how wonderful they are, and then get them to read this book so we can talk about it. You might say I loved it, and you might be right. Fans of some of Marchetta’s earlier stuff will enjoy a squee-worthy shout out to a certain other book. I totally did a reading triple take, and then proceeded to giggle for about ten minutes. Loved it! There really isn’t much else to say, except please keep writing, Melina Marchetta. I will keep reading for as long as you keep writing. And then I will keep foisting your books off on others in the hopes that they will love your books as much as I do. It’s a win win for both of us! Also, if you come to Boston to promote this book, my fangirl heart may not survive the excitement. BUT DO IT ANYWAYS. I cannot wait to make this book a member of my super cool First Editions Shelf. March 2011, you cannot come soon enough!

* As an afterthought three days after writing this, I'd like to give some serious kudos to Melina Marchetta for what she's done here. As much as I love revisiting old characters, I'd rather revisit said old characters in a completely new context. Sure, it felt lovely that we get to know that Frankie & family are great, the girls are all doing well, and that the boys minus Trombal are not so great. Sad face. BUT. Well played on not rehashing every little thing, constructing a completely new story, showing that theirs is a friendship that lasts the test of time, and giving us even more closure. The only thing remaining unsorted is Jimmy Hallier. What's up with him? DO I SMELL A SEQUEL TO THE SEQUEL (pleaseohpleaseohplease?)??

Case of the terribles: the universe called to say happy birthday.

Naturally, I picked up. Friday was my birthday. The universe was all about my birthday, thoughtfully scheduling the Harry Potter 7 release for my special special day. But then. BUT THEN. As I was tidying up the library, about to head out to go see my magical high school dropout friends, I came across a folded up note which quite possibly could be called the best thing I've ever found abandoned in a library ever. I should preface by saying I was really sad when I stopped working in a children's room mostly because I thought my days of finding weird yet wonderful notes from the weird yet wonderful minds of children were over. But no. The teens have stepped up the game and the wit. Behold, the best thing I've ever found in a library ever:

Universe, I dare you to outdo this.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blink and Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones: Canada - Land of Adventure, eh?

Blink and Caution,  
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press ARC - Publication date March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3983-9

Blink and Caution are two invisible Canadian runaways living rough in Toronto. Blink, actually homeless, has run from his abusive family and finds himself living day to day, surviving by playing The Breakfast Game, or sneaking into hotels to eat leftover room service. A fateful round of the Breakfast Game game leads Blink to witness what appears to be a crime, and leaves him chasing lose ends and a photo of the alleged victims daughter. Caution has been living running from her own demons and living with a drug dealing older boyfriend. She realizes he's cheating and makes off with his stash of money. Both on the run, the two meet when one robs the other but has a change of heart. It's not long before these two are reliant upon each other when they find themselves in cottage country Canada in this fast paced, high stakes adventure. Tim Wynne-Jones makes us feel their pain, shame, and pride in being strong enough to run away, but shows us they need to be lost to help each other find themselves. This Canadian thriller has a surprising ending, and is best for teens aged 13 and up for mild sexual references, business lingo, and some philosophical soul-searching.

While I enjoyed reading this book, I thought it would be a lot crazier in the action/adventure department so I'm in turn pleased but not extraordinarily enthused. Except about the Canada parts...which I will get to. I think it's because the stakes seem high until they are laid out and because SPOILER ALERT: nobody gets hurt at all. It's more a story of kids with nothing and nothing to lose finding themselves; like I said in the review proper, these lost kids needed to lose themselves to find themselves and recover from their respective pasts.
I personally enjoyed the Canadian scenery; as an alumni of a certain university in Kingston, Ontario, I spent a goodly portion of the first half of the book eagerly awaiting their arrival. Having lived there in fall and winter, I assure you that when Tim Wynne-Jones describes the desolate color of the sky ("The sky over Kingston looks like someone stuck a giant syringe into it and sucked out all the color," p 181), he is not exaggerating. Nor is he exaggerating when he describes the location of the Sleepless Goat and the Army Navy Surplus! It was like strolling down memory lane. Snaps for your invocation of vivid walks down Princess, Senior Wynne-Jones! You saved me a seven hour car ride and a trip through customs!

All in all, this is a fun book and while it may not be for everyone (judging from the somewhat anticlimcatic yet satisfying climax), it would be best for the 7th-9th grade crew (some mild sexuality and the need to understand why someone would choose to be lost required), and may be sellable to the type who only reads thrillers.

Book Talk Hook: Read the passage about Blink sneaking up to the lodge at the tail end of Chapter 29 - cliffhanger!
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