Heather's Reviews > Fire and Hemlock

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
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Aug 06, 10

bookshelves: library-books, kids-ya
Recommended to Heather by: Megan
Read from August 03 to 06, 2010

19-year-old Polly is supposed to be packing, getting ready for another year of college, but she's been reading instead. As she reads, she pauses and realizes a funny thing: though the cover on the book, which is similar to a picture that hangs above her bed, is familiar, she's sure the book used to be called something different, and she's sure that it used to contain different stories. She flips through it and can't find half the stories she remembers having read in it, which makes her panic a bit: she wonders if she's dreamed those other stories, or if, somehow, she has two sets of memories, like one of the characters in the book does. But this makes no sense: "Why," she wonders, "should she suddenly have memories that did not seem to correspond with the facts?" (p 4). So she leaves the suitcase empty and tries to remember, thinking back to the pictures that hangs above her bed and how she came to have it. It started when Polly was ten, with a strange and dream-like adventure: Halloween, and too little sleep, and running through back gardens with a friend. Then, somehow, a funeral, and a game of make-believe with a friendly stranger, a man named Thomas Lynn.

Without saying much more about the plot, there is so very much to like in this book, which has roots in the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. There's a great story-in-a-letter, early in the book, and indeed a whole often-epistolary friendship, and lots about storytelling, imagination, and heroism and choice. I like how, when Mr. Lynn gives Polly a book of fairy tales, she's unimpressed, though he promises that each story "has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you look" (p 177). And there is lots of really pleasing writing, whether ordinarily/satisfyingly descriptive or thought-provoking/interesting thematically.

I feel like I cannot properly express how good this book is: the plot is exciting and the end is wonderfully satisfying (like: can't stop reading for the last 60ish pages) and the whole thing is just so well put together and well-described; all of it feels like a story very well told and well integrated: the ordinary school and home bits, Polly and her awful parents and her excellent grandmother and her various friends, and then also strange magical bits and sinister bits and adventure-y bits. And without saying too much about the end, how much do I love books that remind you that there isn't just either/or, that there are other ways and other places, if you're only looking for them? I love them lots, yes.
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