After I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overs...moreAfter I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overshadowed by books with shiny, flashy covers and dime-a-dozen plots and characters. Imagine fifty or a hundred years from now: will the "classic" books for young adults be some paranormal insta!love angst fests that (sadly) have the large audiences (and large print runs) in the here and now? What will happen to these hidden gems that sadly go out of print before their time? Will they be left to collect dust in libraries, sold off at used book stores, and forgotten as we continue to plough our way into an all-digital age? When people look back (if they look back at all), will this era of booming young adult literature merely be categorized by the easy sells and the cheap plots? If so, what a sad, sad thing that is to me.
In a way, The Raging Quiet left me with many of the same feelings I had upon finishing Keturah and Lord Death (another hidden gem which is sadly out of print) and many of Melina Marchetta's books (particularly her fantasy offerings). All the stories mentioned show realistic shades of suffering, pain, longing, redemption, and love -- but The Raging Quiet felt even more resonant, given that I could almost imagine such a tale occurring long, long ago.
Marnie Isherwood has not been dealt the kindest blows in life: she finds herself married to a much older man after her father's health declines and her family's well-being is threatened by jealousy and lies. Though at first she thinks her husband a kind and honorable man, she quickly learns that he is far from the man she had thought him to be. Now nestled in a cottage by a cove, just outside the small town of Torcurra, Marnie feels more alone and hopeless than ever. But there are glimmers of hope in two people she meets: a kindly priest and a mad boy believed to be possessed by demons.
The Raging Quiet is a thoughtful book, the kind that comes along rarely and catches you off-guard with its sincerity in showing both the joys and pains of life. The novel is one-part morality play, one-part coming-of-age journey, and one-part love story. Though all those elements on their own are not noteworthy or unique by any means, together they wield surprising weight in making this tale -- of prejudices and punishments, bonds and brokenness, realizations and rejoicing -- an unforgettable read.
Undeniably, however, what really makes this novel pull at the heartstrings is the cast of characters, namely Marnie and the "mad boy" (who comes to be known as Raven). It's amazing and heartwarming to read how the two characters grow into both themselves and their friendship over the course of the story -- and how their companionship is often what saves them when they are in threat of losing themselves to darker thoughts and actions. That kind of character growth and depth isn't found often, so I relished every page I had with these two characters.
Needless to say, The Raging Quiet is a book I wholeheartedly recommend for its great heart and meaning. Even if historical fiction isn't your fancy, I can guarantee that there is at least something you can glean from reading this book. Just think: odds are that you'll likely enjoy it as much as, if not more than, the commercial young adult books out there on shelves now. Do yourself the favor and consider it, for you may find yourself surprised in the end.
(My thanks go out to Lora, without whom I would never have even known about this book. I owe you a great book recommendation, darling, for steering me towards this wonderful gem of a novel!)(less)
It seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I...moreIt seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I don't think a book in recent memory has made me dread or hope as much as this one did.
Prized made my heart a knotted mess, and then slowly -- painfully -- the knots began to untangle and leave me even more stricken.
This book and its predecessor Birthmarked are so much more than run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novels. They are rife with important topics (and even some criticisms): the merit of choice for women, their bodies, and their love lives; the shades of sexism that can lead to one sex dominating over the other; and the truth that difficult circumstances ultimately try who you are, what you believe, and who you will become.
I love Gaia, the heroine, for being a confused sixteen-year-old who is still more sensible, honest, and free-willed than most heroines in YA today.
I love Leon, the hero, for not being the "perfect guy," the be-all-and-end-all for Gaia. He has deep layers and dark shades, but he is not the "bad boy" stereotype many of us have come to loathe.
I love that their romance is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, yet always passionate.
I love the story for speaking out about so many important things in quiet and subtle ways.
And I love Caragh O'Brien for giving me these books that I'll want to devour again and again. Please keep challenging me, making me ponder, making me fall in love with your characters in both their good moments and their bad. You even have permission to break my heart with your words and your characters (as you did with this installment), so long as you offer enough hope for me to piece my heart back together again.
I wait with an anxious (and dread- and hope-filled) heart for the third book, Promised, and can only hope that the characters I have come to love will reach the places they need to be.(less)
Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is a book bound to divide book lovers into the "loved it" and "hated it" categories. Some people will adore the prose; others will despise it for being flowery and excessive. Some readers will hate the false promises the blurb on the jacket copy offers; others will still find something magical to love and admire in this novel despite the deception within the blurb. As for me, I was divided in my opinions. I mean, I really, really wanted that story the blurb promised about a "fierce competition" and "a deep, passionate, and magical love." I still want someone to write it since, sadly, Morgenstern didn't give it to me.
What Morgenstern did give me, however, was a lovely novel about the passage of time surrounding a circus concocted by magical means. The circus here is not just a location: it too is a character, one that is more vibrant than many of the other characters within this story. Morgenstern succeeds at making the magic wondrous and enchanting, although those looking for the rules to the enchantments will come away disappointed. There is no rhyme or reason to the magic here: it simply is, and that is as much a strength as it is a deficit.
The novel has no consistent timeline or narrative either, given that the chapters alternate among the past and present, standalone moments from the circus itself, and character viewpoints of varying importance. Although The Night Circus contains literary merit, it doesn't have quite enough spark to achieve everything all its build-up promised.
Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) has an uncommon inception within London in 1873: two gentlemen, one who calls himself Prospero and the other who dons a grey suit and is known as Alexander, make a wager that two pupils of theirs will undergo a magical competition. Prospero's choice is his daughter, Celia, whom he has only been aware of for the past six months. Alexander, however, does not make his choice until the following January: an orphaned boy whose name Alexander does not care to know. These two children become bound together by a magical pact, but they remain unaware of each other for many years. Only once the magical circus, the chosen venue for the competition, is in its planning stages does the real game begin...
"Competition" doesn't quite fit what transpires within the circus because of the magic of Celia and Marco (the orphaned boy). There are no showdowns, no competitive scenes, no dangerous moments. Instead, the novel showcases how Celia and Marco try to one-up each other with how enchanting their various contributions to the circus can be. These enchantments, however, devolve into almost a flirtation between the two as they silently create new tents and exhibits for the sole purpose of impressing one another. It's a nice idea, but it would have born more weight if both sides had been aware of each other's identities sooner in the novel. Somehow, we're meant to believe that, with so much secrecy abounding, these two can honestly, truly fall in love. And that is one of the greatest flaws within The Night Circus: the love story is not deep, passionate, dangerous, or even really sensical, and it makes the story weaker than it otherwise might have been.
The first meaningful conversation between Celia and Marco occurs halfway through the book. Then, Morgenstern does the unthinkable: the next chapter is set three years later, and suddenly Marco is proclaiming, "I'm in love with her." Really? Really? There needed to be some transition between the two chapters, something to bridge the gap to show that something was growing in the hearts of these two individuals now that they were both aware of one another. Instead, the love between the two is shoddy and gimmicky, the stuff of an hour-and-a-half movie rather than a nearly 400-page novel with a literary bent.
Now, you must be wondering: "Jillian, if you had such a problem with the love story, why give the novel three-and-a-half stars?" Because the novel isn't just the love story. There was plenty more for me to like in this novel: the segments about the circus's various attractions, a plot line following a boy named Bailey who's in love with the circus, and the inclusion of rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus around the world. Basically, the circus is the main character...and, given what I read about it, I knew that if such a place existed I would probably be in love with it too. So I couldn't dislike the novel simply because the story introduced me to such an intriguing, enchanting place.
All my qualms and opinions aside, The Night Circus is a charming story, but it won't be for everyone simply because it's not as universal as it could have been. It may be a literary smash-hit for a time, but will it be a classic read in the decades to come? I doubt it. However, if Erin Morgenstern can hone her craft a bit more, then maybe someday she really will become a household name. For now, though, The Night Circus is the debut novel that will either enchant or alienate readers. Whether you will be one or the other, that all depends on how you fare with the circus and its offerings if you give this novel a go.(less)