Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of...more Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of Asgard series: The Strange Maid. I stayed up late into the night, with goosebumps raised on my arms, to finish this book. The story, the writing, and the characterization are all beautiful, deep, and complex. I love a book like this that prioritizes character development over plot, but The Strange Maid still manages to combine the two well. Most of all, though, I love the risks that this book takes with characterization, theme, and source material.
Signy Valborn is a girl on the verge of Odinist glory as a Valkyrie, and she embraces the dark things she believes that should include – blood and death and violence and chaotic, passionate things stirring inside her soul. I love that Gratton was willing to create a wild, out-of-control, and fearsome female character; in doing so, she affirms that madness, desire, and a longing for revenge can be felt by all, not just males. Signy, however, is not a one-note character; she also experiences fear, doubt, and love. The other characters who flank and support Signy are also well-developed, from Soren Bearstar of the first book to Ned the truth-teller who hides behind his poetry to the gods and other Valkyries themselves. I also so appreciated the themes conveyed in the story about loss and revenge, the balance between chaos and control, choice versus destiny, and the types of relationships that matter in our lives.
In addition, Gratton skillfully plays with and updates Norse mythology to create a modern tale that pays homage to the violence, strength, and madness that was celebrated in Old English works like Beowulf. Because of this and the adept way the characters are portrayed, this book felt more mature than most other YA titles I’ve read. This is a complex and evocative tale that will be best appreciated by readers who aren’t afraid to feel uncomfortable from time to time while reading. Reading the first book in the series or having a background in Norse tales isn’t necessary to understand and appreciate the story, but it will likely help.
I have always been a fan of Gratton’s work, but my appreciation for her craft and the intentionality of her writing has been taken to a new level after my reading of The Strange Maid. I can’t wait to see what the next book in the series brings, and I will definitely be recommending this title to my friends and older students alike.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.(less)
Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But...more Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But it is also more than that: it is a beautifully written story about friendship, love, regret, and the evil that can lurk under the most benevolent of façades.
It's infrequent that I read a book and can tell how much time and planning an author put into it by the way the story unfolds, by how the details that seemed initially irrelevant are brought into play. However, this craftsmanship was readily apparent by the time I finished reading FAR FAR AWAY. Tom McNeal uses his words to describe a sleepy, small town called Never Ever where every person, place, and situation has the hint of a fairy tale embedded into it. The ghost, Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm Brothers, was a wonderfully insightful and sympathetic narrator whose voice sounded genuine, and the other characters, all quirky in one way or another, will delight many readers. The plot points wove together in small, nuanced ways that all coalesced by the conclusion. And when the plot turned dark, it went very dark, and in doing so, the story stayed true to its roots in the original Grimms' tales.
Even with all of these strengths, I felt oddly disconnected from this story. For much of the book, I felt unsure of whom the intended audience was meant to be or how much of the town, its people, and their stories were meant to be taken seriously. The plot develops very slowly and does not pick up until nearly 70% into the text. Though I appreciated how everything came together, it felt as though it took a very long time to get there. When the pacing does change, the tone also shifts abruptly from one of small-town musings to that of a very dark and sinister variety. Most of the characters were described in broad strokes, and some were little more than caricatures. I believe this framing was intentional, as the story is a fairy tale about fairy tales, but I longed for more character depth. The two main characters, Jeremy and Ginger, also spoke and acted much younger than their purported age of fifteen.
If I were to rate this book based solely on my enjoyment of it, I would give it three stars, but McNeal's obvious mastery of his story and the language he uses to tell it make me bump it up to four stars. I would recommend this story most to those between the ages of 11 - 14 or to adult readers who want to immerse themselves in the Grimm-influenced lore. Given the right reader with a patient disposition, FAR FAR AWAY should be a treat of fairy tale proportions.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. (less)
What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the...more What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s. The author's use of Petrarchan sonnets in the round (a corona) was outstanding, and the artwork complemented it perfectly.(less)
Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the...more Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement. Well-written, moving non-fiction that could be great as a text to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird or similar for classroom use.
ETA: I've since found some claims re: a few factual inaccuracies in the book, but if true, they are still minor enough to not take away from text too much.(less)
Some poems were funny, others brought me to tears, but they all portrayed God/god in a sympathetic, human way that gives children and young adults a s...moreSome poems were funny, others brought me to tears, but they all portrayed God/god in a sympathetic, human way that gives children and young adults a safe place to think about God and how they perceive Him/Her/It.(less)