Johnson's voice is sharp, funny, insightful. I've got to check out more of her books. The story: Jane Jarvis, who is short and feisty and a senior at...moreJohnson's voice is sharp, funny, insightful. I've got to check out more of her books. The story: Jane Jarvis, who is short and feisty and a senior at a Catholic school, is worried that her best friend Allison (who is kind of wimpy as well as clueless) is going to get burned badly in a yearly event. Jane is so right …and so wrong. Because Allison goes down for a more spectacular fall than anyone could have guessed—and yet returns from it stylish, with nifty things, and an attitude that surprises students as well as teachers. Jane wonders if it's too good to be true. She's warned by the school's single priest, Brother Frank, to watch out and be careful of her soul. She figures his words are just more adult preaching and goes on a hunt to figure out what happened to her best friend. Because Jane's smart, she can take care of herself. Right? Well, maybe she can, against her fellow human, but what about …demons? Oh, yeah, right, demons, ha ha ha. Ooops. The story gets more tense and exciting as the pages turn, the characters interesting, the story fascinating because it manages to present the supernatural with hints of a greater structure to the universe without committing to any party line. Even more daring and incredibly innovative these days, Brother Frank is not a child molester! Wow! Even more amazing, the nuns are not stupid, venal, sex-starved witches. Stunning and radical new idea! (less)
Anyone who loved, as I did, any of the author's three delightful stories in Tor's Starlight anthologies was yearning for this book to come out. I read...moreAnyone who loved, as I did, any of the author's three delightful stories in Tor's Starlight anthologies was yearning for this book to come out. I read it over a week, in a slow, leisurely way: I discovered it was intellectually, but not emotionally, engaging. Easy to put down, but I always looked forward to picking it up again.
So even though Shogun, to mention a doorstop-sized read previous to this book, was not quite as well written, it was far more compelling, the characters changing, the story headlong as well as complex and I devoured it in four days though it was half again as long.
Here we have an increasingly strange England weaving itself into the history I know so well, and watching that happen was a joy. The puzzle of what happened to English magic and when would the two eponymous magicians discover what the reader is seeing, piqued the mind, but not the heart. The book is strongest on images, on the clever voice, the playful structure, the strikingly imaginative and weird magic, the ways in which it interacted with history and tweaked it subtly here and there. The book's energy is in the weird, the fun she has with history, the style, the imaginative magical background. No predictable cheats—this is one novel that shows ten years of structural complexity. The only disappointment, though that word is maybe too strong—it does relate to the lack of engagement—is that female characters, promising, smart, witty as they are—stay firmly on the periphery of the action. The characters are all interesting, but no one really changes. This is a "do" novel, not a "be" novel, if my own shorthand makes any sense.(less)
I know this is a best-loved classic, but I cannot express the profound hatred I had for it all my life.
I was given it at age ten. Books were too rare...moreI know this is a best-loved classic, but I cannot express the profound hatred I had for it all my life.
I was given it at age ten. Books were too rare in my life, so I approached every book with wonder (though I was a bit wary after the horror of plowing diligently through Andersen's fairy tales at age seven, and wondering why little girls always had to have rotten endings). This book never made sense, it made me feel exactly the same way the world felt when I had a high fever.
When I had to read it in college to write a paper on it and existentialism, I just found it coy and wearying. The talk about mathematical symbolism caused a big whatever as my brain is incapable of dealing with math.
When I became a teacher, and kids were sometimes given it by parents for book reviews, I realized that what I hated was the anxiety Alice expressed all the way through. She never had any fun--she was always hurried without knowing the time, or how to get anywhere, she was afraid but couldn't find the clues to escape . . . in short, it made an already anxious kid even more anxious. Of course I hated it. I read books to escape anxiety.
So I put that one star up there in case just once it catches a parental or teacherly eye, and causes someone to stop, reflect on the potential kid reader, and realize that not all "classics" are automatic fits for all kids.(less)