This book was beautiful. And so so hard. Thanks go to my mom and my little sister for the recommendation. I really admire an author that can keep me that close to laughter or tears for page after page. Maybe if I keep reading books like this some of that perfection will rub off on me and infuse my own words.
I started this with the impression that it was going to be a happy story. I’ll warn you, it’s not. But it is real. I try not to spoil endings in my reviews, but I want to say that bad things happen. Humans can be awful. And sometimes we have to make our own sort of happy ending through all the crap. Sharon Draper recognizes this and doesn’t try to dip it in honey.
I did feel like the story started off slow. It took about ninety pages to establish Melody’s “ordinary world” before things started changing and she could start growing. Still, I was caught by Melody’s voice from her first words. She was brilliant and funny and courageous, and I even found myself wanting to be her at times. Every witty observation, every sharp retort made me appreciate the irony: I loved the voice of a character who couldn’t actually talk.
The same irony was woven through most of Melody’s struggles. She wants to be normal. She doesn’t want to be one of the “special ed” kids. But she also doesn’t want to be the star. She wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to look stupid. She wants the other kids to like her. What “normal” eleven year old hasn’t wished for all of these things? Melody had no idea just how relatable she really was.
My favorite aspect of this book was Melody’s role as an observer and how that changed through the story. She was the ultimate anthropologist, seeing and cataloging the people around her until she finally found the means to affect the world she had been studying. We watched her reach out to change the way people saw her, watched her learn there were some things she’d probably never be able to change. And in the end we watched her decide which was more important....more
A good book makes me feel the whole gamut of emotions: joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, and shock. A great book does all that, but it also keeps me thinking long after I’ve turned the last past. Breath didn’t have the most engaging plotline or amazing characters, but it had some fascinating things to say about health and illness, disability and heroism, faith and hypocrisy.
I know Donna Jo Napoli for her fairytale re-tellings. I really liked Beast and I’ve got Sirena waiting on my to-read shelf. I’m a huge sucker for fairytales, so when I realized Breath was a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (one of the more chilling fairytales) and might possibly have something to do with the plague (a subject I find morbidly riveting), I grabbed it without a second thought. Then I realized I had a disability topic in my hands.
Salz suffered from Cystic Fibrosis, something that should have killed him long before, but among the medieval remedies his grandmother dosed him with were some potent pieces of wisdom which kept him alive. Someone suffering from Cystic Fibrosis today wouldn’t necessarily do a hand stand every time they start coughing, but the acrobatics helped Salz clear his lungs and breathe easier.
I loved how intertwined the perceptions of health and illness were in this book. Salz is sick. Really sick. Sick enough that everyone’s surprised he’s still alive and Salz himself hesitates to make plans for his future. His illness is met with derogatory reactions not unexpected in this time period. His family thinks he’s useless, his grandmother is the only one who shows any affection toward him, and when it comes down to a choice between Salz’s life or his older brother’s, his family chooses to throw him under the metaphorical bus without a second thought.
But in the end the Cystic Fibrosis protects him from the disease that ravages the rest of the town. It saves his life even as it threatens to kill him. And of course, being “healthy” puts him at risk again when the townspeople accuse him of being the source of the disease through witchcraft.
There was such an interesting give and take between being healthy and being sick. Salz’s weakness is what keeps him from leaving with the children when the piper demands his due, but it is what leaves him healthy enough to go after them. So the invalid becomes the hero. The line between disabled and enabled blurs.
I read this with the disability and illness themes in mind, but already, I know that it deserves a re-read. I want to go back and look at how Napoli handled faith and hypocrisy as well. I caught a glimpse of them out of the corner of my eye as I barreled through and I can’t wait to revisit them....more
My mom read this to me when I was a kid. At that point, I loved secrets and the idea that two ten year olds could coax a garden to life with no adult supervision was a thrilling one. I also really liked Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards, a book about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage and makes it her own. I guess I had a fascination for independence… and domestic chores. Not sure what that says about me. But now I’m grown up and certain things have happened to me, and when I picked this book up to read it again, I was drawn to the memory of Colin. I wanted to see what Frances Hodgson Burnett had to say about living with a disability (especially in 1911). Funny thing though, about three quarters of the way through I finally realized it’s not about living with a disability at all. It’s about the perception of disability and the perils of living too much in your own head with nothing but fear for company. It’s about the transformative powers of challenge and determination. It’s about redemption.
Colin’s illness is a direct result of the fears and misconceptions surrounding disability and infirmity in the world as a whole and Mistlethwaite Manor in particular. There’s nothing physically wrong with him. But his father is a hunchback (really just some severe scoliosis), and from his birth everyone around Colin assumed that he would be the same. The assumptions grew and multiplied until it was whispered that his back was weak, his legs were crooked, he was half-witted, and it was only a matter of time until he died. Even if all that were true, his ears worked just fine, so is it any wonder he believed all the horrible whispers, especially since no one ever bothered to say anything nice or positive to counteract them?
That is, until Mary shows up. I love the symmetry of Mary and Colin. It takes a sour, miserable little girl to shake a sour, miserable little boy out of the prison of his thoughts. It’s through Mary that we can see under the tantrums and the imperious demands to find and comfort the terrified boy underneath. Colin doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to wake up one day and find that his back has started to twist. But no one has ever bothered to give him something else to think about and hope for. Mary cuts though his despair with her own kind of harsh wisdom, giving him such simple childhood gifts like laughter and a belief in magic.
Normally, I’m not a fan of stories where a disabled character is healed (whether miraculously, magically, or through their own hard work), but since Colin’s disability was a product of fear and his unwillingness to test his own strength, his recovery was about something more than just slapping a pair of legs on a crippled boy as a reward. Colin’s healing was his redemption. He grew from a miserable, nasty child into a strong healthy boy determined to leave his “queerness” behind. He triumphed over his own mind, his fears, and his beliefs.
Colin’s recovery fit. But what bothered me at the end of the book was that his father’s return and their joyous reunion seemed to reinforce Colin’s belief that if only he were strong, if only he were well, then his father would love him. Archibald Craven’s feelings regarding his son aren’t very well defined. He wonders what he should feel when he visits the sleeping boy. And he only returns because of a vague feeling of happiness and the nagging of a local mother. In the Broadway version, it’s much clearer that Archie loves his son and only stays away because he’s been led to believe his presence would disturb Colin and make him more ill. Their reunion in the garden is bittersweet as they forgive past neglect and move into the future with hope and promise. However, I was very dissatisfied with the ending of the book. I wanted Archibald to be redeemed and Burnett obviously wanted us to believe he was but it just didn’t ring true to me. Too little, too late, Archie.
And not only does Archibald Craven’s love and care for his son seem to hinge on Colin’s new strength and ability, but also, Mary disappears. In remembering his son, Archibald is still forgetting the other young life dependent on him. Though given Mary’s independence and the lessons she’s learned, I think she’ll probably do just fine, even if her uncle can’t get his act together....more
The problem with being lucky enough to read a book early is that when you finish it you realize there’s still three months before it actually hits shelves. And more importantly, an entire year before you can read the sequel. Impatience and irritation abound. Well, I did y’all a favor and waited to tell you how awesome Finn Finnegan is until you didn’t have to wait so long to read it. It comes out this March so go ahead and preorder a copy.
While I loved the characters and the premise, what made this book was the ending. I was so sure I had it all figured out about a quarter of the way in; smug and a little disappointed Darby couldn’t trick me… I should know better by now. Darby is particularly good at indulging your expectations until the last possible moment when she says “That’s cool, but what about this?” and you’re left with your jaw on the floor.
Another thing I always look forward to is the unique problems her characters face in the normal world. They have unearthly powers to draw on, but more often than not, those very powers earn them more problems than they solve. Finn and Gideon were no exception, and I can’t wait to see how they get out of their new set of complications in the next book. Oh, if only they could tell people why Finn keeps ending up so black and blue. But where would the challenge be in that?
I was a little worried that Finn Finnegan would be too similar to Griffin Rising given the importance of the master/apprentice relationship in both books. But Finn and Gideon had a completely different dynamic than Griffin and Basil. They still had a strong, loving bond but it was fascinating to see Finn and Gideon’s particularities.
All I can say is, write faster, Darby. Write faster....more
This is not my usual genre. The Door in the Wall isn't fantasy, it's historical fiction. Nevertheless, there is something magical about this book. Robin lives in fourteenth century England, and at the beginning of the story, he has contracted some kind of illness resulting in paraplegia. You might think that a book about a crippled ten-year-old might be depressing, but you'd be wrong. Because of the way he faces his disability, Robin's tale is fun and encouraging.
He faced challenges but encountered none of the prejudice or misunderstanding that was probably aimed at those with disabilities in the Middle Ages. There was really only once that someone told him he couldn't do something. Not exactly realistic, but this is a middle grade book (geared for kids 9-12ish), so I wasn't expecting really heavy themes. Let's not scare the kiddies with lifelong infirmity, please. However, the theme that did come across loud and clear was extraordinary enough and one that some adults have plenty of trouble with: that when you come up against a hardship or challenge, there is always a way through. You just have to find the door in the wall.
One of the things that roped in my disability-and-all-its-quirks-obsessed mind was the friar who took Robin in and cared for him. Brother Luke not only feeds and bathes him, performing the role of care-giver, but he also massages Robin's back and legs and makes him build up his stamina by sitting up and then swimming. I kept wanting to point and say “Look! A fourteenth century physical therapist.” I don't know what illness Marguerite de Angeli had in mind when she wrote Robin – it could be any number of things from guillain barre to lyme disease – so I can't say how accurate his recovery is, but Robin regains some strength from all this. He can support his weight enough to get around on crutches, and he can swim like a fish (granted, a gimpy fish, but he doesn't drown which is the important thing).
As if care-giver and PT weren't enough, Brother Luke also takes on the role of counselor and occupational therapist. He teaches Robin carpentry, how to read and write, and how to sing and play the lute, giving him some very valuable emotional stability. Robin learns that he can be helpful and useful, even if he will never be a knight. Do you know how long it took me to realize that just because I couldn't be a PT, it didn't mean there wasn't something equally important I could be doing? I'll just say this ten-year-old kid beat me to it. Sure Robin still frets about whether he can do certain things, and he worries about what his parents will think when they find out about his new limitations, but Brother Luke's efforts have given him a self confidence that would be the envy of most healthy adults. And when the castle is threatened, he steps forward to accept his role. In fact he's the only one with the right combination of skill and innocence to pull off the mission and he embraces it wholeheartedly, saving the castle and becoming a hero in his own right. Oh sorry, was that a spoiler? What? Did you really think he wasn't going to do it?
So you can see why I liked it so much. I thought it was highly deserving of the Newberry Medal it received. In 1949. Did I mention this was written in 1949? Seriously, some of the books I've read from this year aren't this enlightened. You can bet this is a book I'll be reading my kids just as soon as they're old enough to get past all the thees and thous. ...more