Monday, April 29, 2013

A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty: Oh, Cello there, you manic pixie dreambook!

A Corner of White
Jaclyn Moriarty
New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-54539736-0
ARC copy via NetGalley

Realism and magical realism entwine to make beautiful music together in this enchanting first book in a planned trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty.  In two cities populated by two quirky, endearing, supporting casts, two hugely likeable teenage protagonists grapple with missing people, life and familial changes, challenges, and adapting to them.   Serial runaway Madeleine has finally made it permanent by bringing her mother along.  She is struggling to adapt to her new life, and begins to worry about her mother’s health as she attempts to complete a home-school history assignment to channel Isaac Newton.  Town golden-boy Elliot, however, is eager to find his missing father, who disappeared in the same storm that killed his uncle.  He reluctantly agrees to delay his trip to help his mother prepare to rent his fathers shop to the strange newcomers to town.  Things begin to come together when each teen finds a mysterious letter, tucked away in an unlikely place, and begin the most unusual pen pal exchange ever to occur between the Land of Cello, and the world.  Playful, yet deeply thoughtful and well written, this is a unique and delightful novel.  Parts epistolary, narrative, fantasy, realism, it abandons genre and reader expectations and is wholly, whimsically, realistically, magically fantastic.  It is strongly recommended for both teens (grade 8 and up, but younger readers who can hang with complex plots with like this too) and adults.  

If you couldn’t tell, I maybe kind of really enjoyed this book.  I suspected I would; I have found Jaclyn Moriarty’s books to consistently be majorly delightful, and was pumped to have at A Corner of White.  You guys – she did not let me down.  In fact, I was so engrossed that I didn’t realize until about 60 pages that I had no idea how two such seemingly disparate stories would, or could even come together – and then was like I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE when she did, in a way that was very true to her previous books.  I won’t say any more to spoil it though!  I will say that there HAS to be something in the Australian water – yet again I’ve fallen for the charm from down under!

I took copious post-it notes, while reading this on a bus to and from Newark, NJ, to hang out with ¾ of the super fabulous Brown family (hi guys!).  Being that my copy came from NetGalley, this was a slightly weird process, whereby I stuck them all to the back of my Nook, and now can’t read them, because who writes legibly on a bus?  I’m also pretty sure a bunch of them fell out…because I swore there were more than four.  But I digress.

This book is elegantly constructed and slowly unraveling as it leaps between narrators and their own intricate stories, and it is eloquently descriptive.  I found myself enraptured with some of the language Moriarty uses, like her detailed depiction of the color of her characters eyes (comparing the green to the green of grass, etc.).  Her books and characters have always been playful, sassy, quirky, and funny in an intelligent way (I cackled my way through The Year of Secret Assignments), but let’s be honest, if you’re going to write things that are funny in a way that is self aware and smart, you’re probably pretty smart, funny, and able to write really well.  In A Corner of White though, the funny is muted a bit (though I did love the tone of the Princess editorials), and the slightly more serious tone allows her to take her writing to another level.   Beautiful things like this (which has really stuck with me for some reason) come of it: “It was late, and the vinegar was sharp, but the street lights and the moonlight were soft.” (52). Doesn't that just make you sigh a little bit?

I want to visit both worlds, but the experience of reading about both of them is so rich, I already feel like I have.  Cambridge is great, and very realistic, yet almost magical as we get to see it through Madeleine’s wary yet hopeful eyes, and Jack’s pragmatic, totally loveable awkward teenage boy thoughts.  I love his rumination on the coarseness of his hair; it feels so much like a real conversation!  Cello reminds me a little of the show Pushing Daisies, crossed a little bit with Stars Hollow from the Gilmore Girls.  There's the adorable Watermelon Inn, with ridiculously delicious sounding breakfasts!  I want to go to there!   Then again, the characters in BOTH towns feel like they might have leapt from Stars Hollow into the pages of this book – so it’s got that going for it!  I initially felt I could do without the murderous colors (that took a while to get used to, and I’m still not sure I agree that my favorite color, yellow, should be the most dangerous of all!), but I honestly kind of dig it now; it’s actually a rather clever and (I thought) original type of magical…thing? I did love that BOTH magic and science can inform each other in this book.  And don't even get me started on the cuteness of the idea of a manic pixie dreamgirl of a Butterfly Child living in a dollhouse.  I can't even...

I felt such strong pangs of wanting to go to Cello throughout that before I finished the book, I found myself craving Elliot’s banana bread and pecan pie, and the cakes that Jack, Bella and Madeleine always seem to be eating at the tea shop.  I just had to have it.  And I don’t even LIKE pecan pie.  WHAT?  So I created Pecan Pienana Bread, a hybrid of all of the foods that Jackyn Moriarty made me drool over indelicately.  If there is a snowman’s chance in the Sahara that Jaclyn Moriarty is reading this, is there is an actual recipe for the banana bread, pecan pie, or other treat that inspired those dishes?  And can I go to Cello to eat it?  I can’t wait to jump back into this story when the next one comes out…soon, I hope! 

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