Friday, July 23, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Once upon a time a book-loving sixth grader met a generous intelligent librarian. This librarian, wise in the ways of tween girls, introduced our heroine to the world of fantasy books. Recognizing the dreams of young girls to be princesses and marry princes the librarian offered the young girl Robin McKinley’s books, in particular The Hero and the Crown.
Across the miles and years a tween boy entered the realm of fantasy reading the classic tale of Robin Hood as retold by Robin McKinley in The Outlaws of Sherwood.
Time passed, the two met and shared a love of good fantasy, Robin McKinley having faded into the background of other authors and works. Until the day when our heroine brought home Rose Daughter thrilled to read a new book by the person who introduced her to fantasy. Her husband (and very own prince) saw the book at home and exclaimed, “I remember Robin McKinley. She was …” and our heroine, older, wiser, and no longer desiring the life of a princess finished his sentence, “…one of the first fantasy authors I ever read.” And so ends our story…
Yes, I’m a cheeseball. But yes, it’s true. Both my hubby and I first delved into fantasy reading Robin McKinley’s books. She is the idyllic fantasy author for tween readers. Her stories offer romance and adventure and magic but they are innocent and appealing. Many of her works are retellings of famous fairy tales and Rose Daughter is no exception. As a matter of fact it is the second book by McKinley to retell the story of Beauty and the Beast (the first being her well-loved and recognized Beauty.)
In Rose Daughter McKinley works all the details of the infamous story of Beauty and the Beast into a nuanced version which focuses around the importance of the rose. In this version Beauty is one of three daughters, her special talent being gardening. When she travels to the Beast’s palace she focuses on bringing his rose garden, housed in a large greenhouse, back to life.
The story was intimately familiar but yet novel enough to not be boring. Robin McKinley has an incredibly vivid descriptive writing style without laboring over too many details. All in all, Rose Daughter reminded me of my introduction to the world of good, innocent (romantic) fantasy. A great light summer read.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Prep satisfied everything that the last two books I read have not satisfied. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even if it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be.
My husband noticed me reading a new book the other night and asked what I was reading. Based on the quotes on the cover I replied, "A female version of A Separate Peace.” My answer was largely tongue-in-cheek but having finished the book, it was actually an extremely apt description. Prep is the story of a fish-out-of-water and her four year experience at an elite East Coast boarding school. From the first day Lee Fiora does not match the stereotypical description of a boarding school student of which she is hyper aware. Throughout the novel her comfort level waxes and wanes and she makes friends, learns to navigate academics, and explores sexual relationships. I think there is something of Lee in every girl.
So many of the conundrums Sittenfeld places on Lee resonate with modern teenagers - whether in boarding school or at home. As I read I found myself personally relating to the angst Lee felt. But I also found myself reflecting on my friends as we traversed the high school issues. One friend in particular suffered from so many of the self-doubting characteristics of the main character that I felt as though I were in her head and I began to understand her better.
I had friends who went to boarding school and while some of the challenges were undeniably unique, I don't think this book speaks exclusively to that audience. I found myself thinking back to college classmates who had gone to boarding school and middle school friends who chose boarding school. In some ways they always seemed a world apart; they had an experience to which I could hardly relate. Yet, I found myself thinking about the intense dynamics of dorm life - even if Lee suggested college dorms were quite different from high school ones. And if nothing else I have read a distinct canon of boarding school literature which addresses similar themes across the ages.
I loved this book as much as I disliked The Secret History. To some that may seem antithetical - after all they are both "academic/literary fiction" - situated in the insular worlds of rich East Coast academia. So I think it only fair to explain the differences in my mind. Neither book is particularly plot driven. Yet I found this one so much more engaging because it was about the development of a teenage girl on an individual and extremely personal level. Interestingly, in the Reader’s Guide Sittenfeld says,
I consider plot above everything else except character. There’s nothing I hate more than some book that’s all just exquisite language. That’s so boring….I very consciously think about plot and say, I want there to be a twist here or I want there to be a surprise.
To me that is indicative of the difference in the two novels. Moreover, Sittenfeld felt like a real person in her interview whereas Tartt annoyed me in hers.
The other main difference between the two stories was the characters. I could empathize with Lee’s plight and I could understand her angst. She was flawed and at times annoying, but generally I would describe her as a character I enjoyed reading. Tartt’s characters were so flawed as to be unlikable.
I read Prep in less than 48 hours. It was a book I thought about and couldn’t wait to pick up again. Now that I’m done I still find myself think about Aspeth and Dede and Martha. I am curious how these individuals lived and worked together. More than anything longevity of thought is a sign of a great book.