I've actually had this all but finished for weeks, but got distracted and realized that I hadn't finished up the last few pages or so (oops). Definite...moreI've actually had this all but finished for weeks, but got distracted and realized that I hadn't finished up the last few pages or so (oops). Definitely enjoyed. Full review (and an interview with its ghostly narrator) to come. =)(less)
I've been meaning to share this review with you for ages;I've talked about the book a ton in various other postsand vlogs, and have had the review nearly completed for months — it just kept slipping my mind, and for that, I'm sorry, because I think this book could use the push, and I am more than happy to push it on you. While I don't think everyone will like this, with its cold-fish narrator, Tula, and her detached, inhuman way of relating her story, I think that those who connect to it will find a very unique, compelling story with surprising depth and power and memorable characters.
I've said before that I'm a sucker for those cold-fish characters. [My chronic Resting Bitch Face may give some insight into why this is. Whatever.] I don't think it's just because they're understated that these books appeal to me, but that by their very nature, these characters speak to something in me — despite being a fairly gregarious and outspoken person in most situations, personally, I can be very reticent; I gravitate towards prickly people and hopeless situations; I like a challenge. But beyond the reasons I relate, or at least find myself drawn to, these characters, I find them necessary and psychologically true. I'm going to try really hard not to go off on some absurd philosophical tangent (once again), but the fact is, some people deal by shutting down, or shutting people out. To have those personality types represented is not only right in the sense of creating characters that those types of readers can relate to, but also makes some scenarios more believable for me, varies things up, and adds a layer to the story that I may not otherwise get (enhanced by the challenge these characters present, which is simply just pleasing to my puzzle-loving brain).
Nowhere is this better used than in Tin Star, where the main character, Tula, is literally the only human in her corner of deep space for years, with no hope of seeing another human for the rest of her life. It makes perfect sense that Tula would shut down as not only a coping mechanism, but as a means of survival. Surrounded by alien lifeforms, in a potentially hostile environment that doesn't look kindly on what it means to be human, it's fitting that she'd begin to lose some of the signifiers of 'humanity.' Ironically, it's the very human trait of mimicry, of conscious and unconscious mirroring as means of forming & cementing a place in a community (something humans do with such frequency and ease, we don't always realize we're doing it), that allows Tula to lose some of her humanity alongside the loss of human connection, and become more alien while she seeks connection elsewhere. Think about that for a minute. Her very humanity helps her become alien and lose her human-ness. I can't begin to tell you how much that aspect of the book pleases me, both as a reader and a ponderer.
Of course, while that may please and make the story infinitely more fascinating to me, that same trait is what may put some readers off the book. Tula becomes progressively more alien-like, and more detached and wooden (and that may be the only instance of me ever using wooden in a good way when describing a book), which intrigues me and makes me curious to see what — if anything — will ever break her out of it. BUT, there are many readers out there that want immediate connection and root-for-ableness, and may give up on Tula and Tin Star when they don't get it. People read to escape, and often they want a character to empathize with and — most of all — want something immediate and engaging and always, always, likable. Many readers may not want to work at finding what Tula has to offer, or may not find what she has to offer worth the effort. And while there's nothing wrong with wanting something that simply entertains and takes your mind off things, or makes your heart race and your stomach somersault, the lack of those bells and whistles is what makes this a love it or hate it book.
So it might make me a bit of an odd duck* that I liked this so much, but as has been shown in the past, I like distant, cold-fish characters. I like it even more so when it's so perfectly suited to the world and the disconnect from our own reality that it goes beyond being a gimmick or a trait, and actually adds a whole new dimension to the story. Tula's personality and situation adds a sense of loneliness and isolation, which is made even more poignant by the fact that to survive, to keep sane, Tula steadfastly denies to herself that there's even anything wrong. She pretends to be fine, she makes connections only as deeply as she must to get by, but not so much as to get hurt, if she can at all avoid it, and then she gets back to the day to day business of surviving. And in this, she has a remarkable amount in common with the aliens around her. There is a great sense of Otherness that is explored in Tin Star, both for the aliens and Tula, and the ways in which each is demonstrated to be notably Other, while still maintaining some relatable commonality, is just brilliantly and subtly done. The character dynamics worked both in a human, relatable way, and in a way that was wholly foreign and fascinating. For the love of all things bookish, not only did Castellucci make me care about these aliens, but she may have even made me bookcrush on one. Hard.
...so if I haven't scared you off by this long, rambling review, let me just end by saying this gets a very high (a surprisingly high) recommendation from me. I found myself thinking about these characters long after I'd finished the book, and feeling a little bereft that it was over and I couldn't keep exploring their isolated little world and all the differences and sameness that make their dynamics work. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it sounds like it may be yours, please pick it up and let me know what you think.
*See what I did there? 'Cause Odd Duck is a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci? Yeah... ;)(less)
3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have...more3.5 I've said many, many times before that I think Kiersten White is a good funk-breaker author. I look forward to her stories, especially when I have a lot on my plate, because I know I'll tear through them, they'll keep me entertained, and they'll jumpstart a good reading kick. They just get me in the zone; she has this quality to her writing that draws you along and makes you keep turning pages - even when it's flawed, it goes down like candy.
But surprisingly, The Chaos of Stars didn't quite get there for me. It was still candy, I still devoured it pretty quickly, but it was like the candy in the vending machine that wasn't quite what you were craving, but you got anyway because at least it was chocolate...
Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discus...more Previously: Saw the cover for this tonight at Written in the Mitten. Gorgeous (though now all I'll be able to think about when I see it was the discussions it caused on horse and dragon proportions and genetics (ish)...) =D And then: Just for my own records, my copy has 320 pages, not 240. 320 glorious pages. This is 2 lovely, perfect books in a row now; I am decidedly in Merrie Haskell's corner.
Review: A couple of days ago, I gushed about The Princess Curse, which is sort of loosely connected to Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Though it may not be a fairy tale retelling as The Princess Curse was, it has a lot in common with that charming middle grade book that took over my brain. They have similar worlds (separated by some centuries and location, yes, but with a generalized medieval Easter European setting), and there are also subtle little "easter eggs" that link the two books more fully. Both feel complete as stand-alones, but also work as companion pieces in the larger framework of Haskell's two (so far) apprentice stories. But what they share most strongly is their excellent, plucky, admirable main characters.
I talked a bit in my review of TPC about how Reveka was exactly what I wanted - and needed - in a female protagonist as a kid, and how she's the type I still immediately fall for now. Tilda, the main character of Handbook, is much the same. Haskell has a way with plucky, awesome characters, girls with strength and determination and spirit, and a passion to make them memorable. You can't help but root for and love Haskell's characters; they're fresh and vibrant and thoughtful. And most importantly to me, they're smart - not in an obnoxious, precocious way, but there is a subtle layer to both characters that tells the reader (ie mostly young girls) that these girls are smart and talented, and they use those smarts and talents to follow their passion, and that's what makes them awesome. At the risk of sounding boring and cliched myself, they're role models - but they're not boring and cliched. [See what I mean about how Haskell's books were exactly what I wanted/needed when I was a kid?]
On a similar note, Handbook's main character, Tilda, has a clubfoot. This is a painful-enough affliction on its own, but in medieval times when modern medicine and pain relief are hard to come by, if not non-existent, and you're a princess who's supposed to be seen as strong leader material? Needless to say, this is a huge plot point for Tilda, and I thought it was handled really well. Tilda suffers, but she isn't a whiny martyr; it does have an undeniable influence on who she is and how she reacts to the world around her - and how she expects the world around her to react to her, but in the end, she won't let it define her. I thought Haskell made a lot of smart choices in the handling of Tilda's disability, and the fact that there's no magical resolution was an excellent choice for me. Not only does it make her more relatable and sympathetic, and add a great deal of "interestingness" to her character, but to have a magical, fantastic story that doesn't wave a wand and do away with any "unsavory" bits is exactly what I would want, and what I think is needed. Having a clubfoot doesn't make Tilda less, and though she has this brief moment where she thinks (hopes, longs for, wonders if) maybe she could be magically cured, I think it was an excellent choice on Haskell's part not to.
There's a lot going on in this story...many, many plot points, and to some it may feel chaotic or confusing. I never found it too much to keep track of, and I think the points played well off of one another, but I can see why, to some, it may make it harder to follow, or make them feel like the story was rushed or scattered. But to me, it's a sprawling adventure story in that grand way that you only seem to get in kids books, and reading it brings back some of that irrepressible eagerness and energy that comes with being a kid. As a middle-grader, I would have been completely engrossed and would, without a doubt, have fallen in love with Haskell's world, her characters, and their adventures. As always, highly recommended for those who like middle grade, have middle graders, or want a fun historical fantasy/adventure with a strong, likable female lead.(less)