Roderick Mcgillis's Reviews > Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic by Jean Stringam
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's review
May 24, 2013

it was amazing

Solstice Magic is the first in a series of books by Jean Stringam set during and around the Calgary Stampede. The book is inventive, witty, thoughtful, and surprising. Just imagine a teenage girl living in rural Alberta; she has a pet rabbit that she trains for hopping competitions. Her paternal grandmother, newly arrived from the Ukraine, is sour and mean; she also dislikes the pet rabbit, a creature she dubs “vermin.” Granny (Baba Dolia) has a huge dog, a Caucasian Ovcharka (a truly huge breed of dog) that threatens to gobble up the pet rabbit. In a strange bit of summer solstice magic and domestic dysfunction, Granny emits a curse and the rabbit finds itself trapped inside a pysanka, an intricately decorated goose egg. From here things turn even more weird, or ought I to say uncanny? Somehow the trapped rabbit finds itself transformed into a human who is in the midst of performing as a clown at a small Alberta rodeo, dodging Brahma bulls. The rodeo clown has the name Susie Lago, but because rodeo clowns are always men, Susie disguises herself as Swayze Lago. She meets a bull rider by the name of Vince Lapin. The names of these two should indicate what they have in common. What is to happen to a transformed rabbit, a metamorphosis worthy of an anti-Ovid, once the solstice has passed and the Stampede is over? This is the question that hovers over the action giving this novel something of the feel of a Young Adult work by William Steig (one of my favourite picture book artists). I know, William Steig did not write YA books, but his picture books have the kind of magic realism that appears in Solstice Magic.
And so we have a realistic story about life in rural Alberta with a deft recreation of the Ukrainian culture. Clearly Jean Stringam has done her research well. This realistic story then has its overlay of fantasy as Susie the pet rabbit, in a reversal of what happens to Gregor Samsa, becomes human. Setting the plot out this way strikes me as rather crazy, but Stringam pulls it off splendidly. The transformation from animal to human achieves its wiling suspension of disbelief in this reader. And the shifting point of view from human to animal throughout the book also works, and works to reinforce the book’s theme of integration. In other words, this is a book that cares about both the animal and the human worlds and argues that these worlds are not separate, but rather symbiotic.
Much is going on in Solstice Magic. The book is about immigrant culture, specifically Ukrainian culture, about teenage romance, about sheep dog handling, about bull riding, about animal and human relations, about friendships and family. The characters are strong and the writing lyrical, especially when we get what the book terms “rabbit-lip,” a form of prose expression that combines the lyricism of poetry with the mystery of unexpected expression. When a character speaks in rabbit-lip, we are disarmed by the novelty of the prose and drawn in by the desire to understand this strange lingo. The rabbit-lip is perhaps an indication of this book’s uniqueness, its imaginative originality. What Stringam has created is a daring mixture of not only genres, but also reading levels. The plot with its intermittent brutal reality will appeal to readers both young and not so young. I suspect this book fits the classification “crossover fiction.” It is, finally, a triumph of imagination.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 23, 2013 – Finished Reading
May 24, 2013 – Shelved

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