I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItThis novel was a very positive surprise. It operates on two quite different levels: the level at which most of us function most of the time and the level at which some of us operate some of the time in order to manage to survive.

On the level on which most of us function most of the time (or all of the time) there is a another life which exists which we don’t acknowledge to most of our friends. This is the level upon which the key characters in this novel function most of the time in order to be able to tolerate the rest of the world. The latter includes their parents.

The main characters are Gustav and Stanzi and the secondary characters are China Knowles and Lansdale Cruise. There are some minor characters and these include Patricia and Ken.

The first division is a prologue divided into three sections. Each section begins in a slightly different way:

1. Gavin is building a helicopter.
2. Gavin believes his helicopter is invisible, and because he believes it, it is so.
3. Gavin is building a red helicopter. It is not invisible. If I want I can see it on Tuesdays.

The above three divisions are all written by Stanzi who is Gustav’s best friend.  Stanzi believes that Gustav is a genius but her mother, Mama, believes that Gustav is “mad crazy”. Mama “says lies about Gustav like “That boy isn’t right in the head” or “He’s going to end up in the looney tunes if he’s not careful.”

Stanzi’s parents, Mama and Pop, take vacations. Sometimes they take Stanzi who is a senior in high school. When they went to Newtown, Connecticut they wanted to go alone. They asked if she could heat up her own TV dinners and stay safe overnight. Newtown was where the 2013 Sandy Hook massacre was. Stanzi can’t go to anymore such sites. She has been to Columbine and Red Lake, Minnesota and even to Dunblane, Scotland. She can’t go to anymore.

“China says she can feel her cells. China is my best friend. China is inside out, so I bet she knows more about her cells than anyone.”

“Halfway to Gustav’s house, a man steps out from behind a bush and asks me if I want to buy an H. I say I do not. …How about a K? he asks. …I keep walking…but I can see the details that tell me he is an animal.”

“Sometimes when I look at Gustav, I can picture him twenty years from now with a wife and kids – all of them flying around in his helicopter. I write them letters. The whole family. I write them postcards from my parents’ creepy trips.”

The school has been getting bomb threats. The most recent one has been in a box and was sent with two things: a hex nut from a helicopter kit and a dehydrated frog liver. Suspicious? After the recorded message is finished, the students are escorted outside. The bomb threats come daily, sometimes twice daily. There is always a police car outside the school.

“I am China – the girl who swallowed herself. I just opened my mouth one day and wrapped it around my ears and the rest of me. Now I live inside myself. I can knock on my rib cage when it’s time to go to bed. I can squeeze my own heart. When I fart, no one else can smell it.

I write poems.

They look like those Salvador Dali paintings I saw in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

“Since the day I swallowed myself, I haven’t been in any trouble. I quit smoking. I don’t kiss any more boys. I got away from my skanky friends and I don’t log onto the Internet. It’s probably the best thing I ever did for myself apart from that time I ran from Irenic Brown last summer. But that’s another story, and girls who swallow themselves can’t tell stories. But I ran fast. I ran so, so fast.”

China continues: “Gustav told me in physics class yesterday that he’s not afraid to die. I thought about it all day. I think he’s bullshitting.
Gustav once wore snowshoes for a week because he learned about string theory and didn’t trust the molecular makeup of matter, and he says he’s not afraid to die? How can he think he’s fooling anyone? Everyone is afraid to die.”

And now from Stanzi:  “Truth is, my name isn’t Stanzi. I only call myself Stanzi after watching the movie Amadeus too many times with Gustav. Truth is, my name doesn’t really matter. I’m a character in a movie. In your book. In your mind. I play tug-of-war. I am a coward and a soldier. I am a pacifist and a warmonger. I am behind the bush with the man who sells letters, and I tell him secrets about who sends bomb threats to the our school every day….Constanze was a braver woman that I am….I dare you to go back to 1779 and be seventeen years old. You would be searching for light switches and toilets. You’d kill for a thermostat. A refrigerator. A telephone. You would pray for a 50% survival rate for your babies, and when you were blessed with one who lived through infancy, I bet you would do more than standardize it with tests or plop it in front of the TV.”

Do you get it? Well, all of the above is only in the first 34 pages of the book so you have pages and pages to go before you sleep.

 

The Candy Darlings by Christine Walde

Epigraphs:

“There is no such thing as just a story.” -Robert Fulford

“Narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation
of the blood.”     -A.S. Byatt

EUGOLORP       I like word puzzles! Is this a remnant from my adolescence or just something that has always been a part of me and probably always will be? In any case, I thought it was an appealing opening strategy.  It is prologue by the way in case you aren’t into word play (and that’s okay). The prologue is titled “The Real Story” and it starts like this:

“Once upon a time (oops! should we be suspicious already?), I saw the world the way I thought I was supposed to: as a place where the normal reigned and the weak perished under the strong. But I was wrong. And this is the story about that story. One of the many tales that I must tell.
Megan would have been proud of me. For it was she who first made me seethe candy darlings differently. She turned the world into one of stories – candy-coated, candy-colored, sweet and raw and square and round – composing words I would consume and devour, take whole inside my mouth and suck down into nothing.
What I didn’t see was that there was something more behind them. More than what I had been told. More than what I had been made to understand. Because Megan made me believe that that was all they were. Stories. (check first epigraph)
In the end – whatever the truth is – this I know: whatever Megan told me, I believed it because I wanted to. Not because she made me. Megan was only doing what she had to. I was the one who didn’t want to see what other truth there was.  What the real story could be.”

TRAP ENO  THE GNINNIGEB  The back story is that the narrator’s mother died in April after a long illness. Her daughter used to watch the glucose drip through the apparatus beside her mother’s bed and she imagined the solution “as a kind of liquid candy”. She thought of the liquid as an “invisible fire” burning inside her mother. Images of the glucose line dangling along the floor the day her mother dies…” sugar water dripping slow as tears” …left her believing that “glucose had been the disease, the sugar water the true cause of my mother’s death. She had died full of liquid candy.”

She promised herself never to eat candy again.

Father and daughter move to a smaller town and make the attempt to recover and find a new way of being. They had a house in a quiet subdivision. They both wanted to move. They were seeking normalcy after an irreparable loss for both of them. They were in need of a house “with no trace” of wife or mother.

Our narrator’s hope was that she “could transform into anyone” she wanted to be. “Her plan was simple. Be popular. Be cool. Fit in. No matter what happened: be normal.”

Things started out well enough. She met Tracey Reid and Blake Starfield whom she was warned to stay away from because “he’s weird”. Blake had a lazy eye and sat behind our narrator.

She met three girls who represented the epitome of normal and she knew she wanted to “be a part of them”. They were beautiful and their names were Meredith, Angela and Laura. She met them after school and went to Meredith’s house where the girls talked about boys and admired each other’s clothes and called Tracey a loser and thought about doing something “to her”. Our narrator had “actually thought Tracey had been okay but she wasn’t about to reveal that to  the others.They decide to send a letter to Tracey from Blake and then they decided that our narrator would be the one to deliver it.

“After all, it was your idea,” Angela said. In reply to Meredith’s “That’s OK with you isn’t it? ” Our narrator, neatly trapped between the three of them, swallowed nervously and replied “Sure…I can do that.”

For a week she hung out with the three girls and although she “should have been proud of what [she’d] done…[she] wasn’t”. She felt awful. BUT….she was liked, she was part of a group, she was almost normal and almost happy.

And then she met Megan Chalmers.

When Megan was introduced to the class and Mr. King asked her to tell the students something about her background,  “She flashed the class a fuck-you grin and took her seat.” Because she kept staring at Megan, Mr. King appointed out narrator to show Megan around the school. Megan is sucking on a lollipop and offers our narrator some. The latter refuses of course. They get into a conversation (mostly one-sided) about the school and, in particular, about Meredith, Angela and Laura whom Megan has christened MAL and whom she has identified as controllers of the social dynamic of the whole, a control that arises from their privileged standing at the school and in the community.

Megan tells our narrator that she has recognized her as different from these clones that dictate social policy to the whole school. She examines our narrator’s palm and identifies her recent loss and tells her she is lying about who she is. Megan says they are destined to be friends. Our narrator tells Megan she doesn’t believe in fate or destiny. Megan says “Sure you don’t. And monkeys fly out of my ass.” Megan thanks her for the tour and goes her own way.

It only gets better after this. The friendship itself is fascinating and the adventures the two girls have are packed full of life lessons that all girls the same age probably have but not everyone learns as much from their experiences as these two do. My favourite experience is the one the girls have when they volunteer at St. Teresa’s Hospital where their responsibility is to take the candy and magazine cart around to all the rooms and see who wants to buy some. It is there they meet Edie who has potted plants all over her room and all kinds of candy including scotch mints, butterscotch melt-aways, Russell Stover chocolates, Jelly Belly jelly beans and raisin Glossettes, M & M’s,Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups etc. etc. Edie takes many pills and she says the bottles say take with food and she has determined that candy is the best for that purpose.

A good balance between entertainment and thoughtful insight. I would recommend it for young women capable of extracting, or craving, life lessons from their reading.

 

 

One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote

This collection is from Arsenal Pulp Press and is the sixth story collection from Ivan E. Coyote and her first written specifically for queer youth. For those readers not familiar with Ivan E. Coyote, I quote from the back cover of this book: “…is one of North America’s best-loved storytellers; her honest, wry, plain-spoken tales about gender, identity, and family have attracted readers and live audiences around the world. For many years, Ivan has performed in high schools, where her talks have inspired and galvanized many young people to embrace their own sense of self and to be proud of who they are.”

One in Every Crowd“Included are stories about Ivan’s own tomboy past in Canada’s north, where playing hockey and wearing pants were the norm; and about her life in the big city, where she encounters both cruelty and kindness in unexpected places. Then there are the heartfelt tales of young people like Francis, the curly-haired little boy who likes to wear dresses, and Ruby, a teenager who tells Ivan, “You remind me of me. And nobody ever reminds me of me.”

Here is Ivan’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to Francis, Frances, Felice, and Zrena, for making me make myself into a better human, and a better writer, and for making my world a more honest and beautiful place to live in. You are my teachers, my friends, my family, and my future, and this makes me feel lucky and blessed.”

By way of an introduction, Ivan writes a letter to herself and addresses it “Dear Kid I Was”. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“Hey there. It’s me. I mean you. It is you/me, writing to me/you, from the future. We are almost forty-three, and I sure do wish there was a way for me to get this message from future me to past you, but so far, humankind hasn’t invented anything like that yet, not that I know of anyway, so all I can do is write this letter and put it in the front of this book, and just maybe it might help out some other poor kid who feels all alone, just like you and I did, way back when.”

“I want to tell you a couple of really important things. First, school is more important than youOne in Every Crowd even thought it was. And I don’t mean this in a boring i know it all and I am here to tell you kind of adult way, I am talking in the just between you and me as equals kind of way. Educating yourself right now is your ticket to options, my friend. And I know you. You like options. …I am here to tell you that every single thing you will ever manage to learn, every skill, every course, every bit of school or college or university you attend is going to help you on your way to becoming exactly who we always dreamed of being.”

“One sure fire way to figure out who you are is to never listen to anyone else tell you who or what you can be. Never let someone else decide for you what you are capable of being….I only wish that we hadn’t listened to the guy who told us when we were thirteen that girls couldn’t play drums, because then I would have started playing them thirty years ago.”

“Remember when everyone in school called boys who liked drama class or played the flute or who wanted to be cheerleaders fags? You know that guy Corey from home economics class, and Michael, and that blonde kid, his name started with a D, I forget his name? Remember how that blonde kid did that dance number for a talent show that one time in grade nine, and he could really dance, remember him, his name started with a D, and you don;t know this yet because it hasn’t happened, and you might wanna sit down because I know you, you are sensitive and this next little bit of news I am bringing you from the future is going to tear your tender heart right out, but I need you to know that he will go on to shoot himself in his father’s basement with a rifle one winter a couple of years after we graduate. And Corey, he will asphyxiate himself in Yellowknife in a car inside a garage in the dark of a long northern winter and see, I don’t think either of these boys had to die, and that is why I am going to ask you a favour. Oh, Michael will make it by the way. In fact, Michael will turn out to be a real nice guy who works with your sister and grows orchids in his spare time. But those other two guys, well, it didn’t have to go down the way it did with them.”

This is a powerful collection and it is to be hoped it reaches as many adults and young people as it possibly can. It needs to be read and read again.

 

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers (her full name is Diandra Xenia Alpers) is a student at St. Anselm’s, a prestigious private school in Brooklyn where tuition is thirty thousand dollars annually. She is in her senior year. The students see themselves as special, exceptional: “We’re supernovas, every single one of us.”

They talk like this: “…you can’t even approach Flock of Seagulls without getting caught up in the metafictive paradigm,” somebody says.
And “Plastic Bertrand can, I think, best be understood as a postironic nihilist referentialist.”
And “But, like, New Wave derived meaning from its own meaninglessness. Dude, the tautology was so intended.”

Andi plays guitar, wears a silver key around her neck on a red ribbon which is not to be touched – we learn this in the early pages. She also wears several skull rings. Her best friend in Vijay Gupta, “President of the Honor Society, the debate team, the Chess Club and the Model United Nations. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, a literacy center, and the ASPCA. Davidson Fellow, Presidential Scholar candidate, winner of a Princeton University poetry prize…” Andi thinks Vijay sees he as “some kind of rehabilitation project, like the loser dogs he cars for at the shelter.”

When winter break begins Andi has not turned in any college applications nor has she submitted the outline for her senior thesis. She has chosen a subject for her thesis: “an eighteenth-century French composer, Amadé Malherbeau…one of the first Classical period composers to write predominantly for guitar.” The headmistress has sent letters home,one to each of her parents. Andi’s father doesn’t open his mail and her mother is not well.

Her response to the headmistress is: “…I just don’t see it happening, Ms. Beezemyer, you know? The senior thesis. Not really. Can’t I just get my diploma in June and go?”

Andi knows completing the thesis to a satisfactory level is a condition of earning her diploma but she doesn’t care. The headmistress expresses sympathy because she understands Andi’s situation but she names Andi’s brother Truman and this is intolerable for Andi.

“The rage is there again, rising higher, and I can’t stop it.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about you,” I tell her. “It’s about the numbers. If two seniors got into Princeton last year, you want four in this year. That’s how it is here and we all know it. Nobody’s paying tuition that equals the annual median salary in the state of New Hampshire so their kid can go to a crap school. Parents want Harvard, MIT, Brown. Julliard looks good for you. For you, Ms. Beezemeyer, not me. That’s what this is about.”

Beezie looks like she’s been slapped. My God, Andi,” she says. “You couldn’t have been more hurtful if you tried.”

“I did try.”

So now you know Andi. Then you meet her mother who spends almost all her waking moments trying to draw Truman, Andi’s brother, but not being able to get the eyes right. And then we learn the story of the key Andi wears and its relationship to Truman and Andi and their father.And we learn that Andi is taking a medication called Qwellify which is supposed to control her anger,her sadness, her suicidal urges but which is losing its effectiveness.

Then her father decides to take Andi with him to Paris over winter break and she is to complete the thesis outline there. Andi goes only because she thinks it will be worse for her to stay.

They stay with her father’s friend Guillaume Lenôtre and his wife Lili who live in an old furniture factory full to bursting with artifacts of the French Revolution. The factory was located in the workers quarters which were the “heart of the Revolution”. Lili knew Andi’s mother : they were roommates at the Sorbonne.

The artifacts in Guillaume’s old factory (residence is on the upper floor) include things like Revolution“marble busts, a stuffed monkey, a wax mannequin, a collection of muskets standing upright in an old barrel, and a huge clock face. I see a wreath made of hair, painted tea chests, shop signs, glass eyeballs, and a cardboard box tied with a ribbon. Last Letters of the Condemned, 1793 is written on it in old-fashioned script. I open the box and carefully lift a letter out. The paper is brittle. The handwriting is hard to read. So is the old French.
Farewell, my wife and children, forever and ever. Love my children, I beg you, tell them often what i was, love them for both of us. …I end my days today…
I pick up another: My last linen is dirty, my stockings are rotting, my breeches are threadbare. I’m dying of hunger and boredom…I shall not write to you anymore, the world is execrable. Farewell!
And a third: I do not know, my little friend, if it will be given to me to see you or to write to you again. Remember your mother…Farewell, beloved child…The time will come when you will be able to judge the effort that I am making at the moment not to be moved to tears at the memory of you. I press you to my heart. Farewell…
God, what a bummer. I can’t read any more so I put the letters back, close the box, and keep poking around.There’s a toy guillotine on the floor, complete with executioner, victim, and victim’s papier-mâché head staring up in shock from a tiny willow basket. ” The list goes on.

Andi trips over a long wooden case, “the kind that guitars come in.” In the case she finds “the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever seen. It’s made of rosewood and spruce with an ebony fingerboard. The rosette and the purfling at the edges are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory and silver. Guillaume explains that it is a Vinaccia, made in Italy in the late seventeen hundreds, very rare and very expensive. He bought it thirty years ago from a “man who found it in the catacombs. A worker. There was a cave-in in one of the tunnels.”  The guitar was apparently lying under some skeletons, “Headless ones. Which suggests the Terror. You would think the whole thing would be ruined – lying underground for over two centuries – but no. Perhaps the cool air preserved it.” He encourages Andi to play it.

Have you heard of the catacombs under the city of Paris? Join Andi in an amazing journey to the time of the French Revolution while she gets first hand information on her senior thesis subject and meets Alexandrine Paradis,  a seventeen year old  who tried to save Marie Antoinette’s son. The two time periods are linked almost seamlessly and the story is extremely compelling.

 

Eona, The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman

This is the sequel to Eon, Dragoneye Reborn which I reviewed here early in the month of April 2014. (Go to Archives listed on home page in the left hand column) At that time, I had a copy of Eona in my possession but felt obligated to finish some other reads before delving into the sequel immediately. The latter disciplinary action was not easy and if you go back and read my review of Eon you will get a sense of why that was the case. I am glad that I waited: it made the experience even more delicious.

It is probably only fair to declare upfront that I have a soft spot for all books about dragons. If you do not have such a soft spot and are ambivalent about dragons, I can only offer you my deepest sympathies and encourage you to look elsewhere for your reading pleasure.

Now, to the continuing saga of the celestial dragons and Eona the newest dragoneye and her crimson companion who has not appeared in 500 years, the Mirror Dragon.

It should be noted that some sources have indicated that this book is a standalone or can be treated as such! Let me dispel that notion immediately: unless you don’t like to know the background of a story you are reading then go ahead and expect to be completely at a loss about what is happening in this book. If you are a serious follower of dragons then you would never question reading the first book first so we shall say no more.

From the Preface written by Prahn(teacher,Imperial Librarian and tutor of His Majesty, Kygo, rightful heir to the Imperial throne), son of Mikor,  “on this twentieth day of the new Rat Dragon”: “I can confirm a report that Lord Ido – the Rat Dragoneye – was instrumental in killing almost all of his fellow Dragoneyes and their apprentices in the quest for their power…I saw the bodies and we have all felt the tremors in the earth…Now the only Dragoneye Lords alive are the treacherous Lord Ido and the new Mirror Dragoneye, Lord Eon, who was seen escaping the palace. Lord Ido’s apprentice – Dillon – is also believed to have escaped.

…No one knows the whereabouts of Lord Eon. I pray that he is hidden far from the City. I know that he was under the protection of Ryko, one of the elite Shadow Men guards, and Lady Dela, a twin soul with a man’s body and a woman’s spirit…it can only be hoped that their combined skills will keep the young Dragoneye safe. Amid all the fear and lies circulating the Palace, a foul whisper has arisen that Lord Eon, a brother eunuch, is in fact a girl.” As readers, of course,Eona we have more information than Teacher Prahn and we are much more optimistic about the future of the youngest Dragoneye but we shall let the teacher continue as he updates or reminds us about the story to date.”

“I do not know how our Empire can survive with only two Dragoneyes and their beasts to control the elements, especially when one Dragoneye is an imprisoned traitor and the other an untrained boy. Although Lord Eon is quick and clever, he cannot control the earth energies by himself. For as long as can be remembered, it has taken the combined power of eleven Dragoneyes and their beasts to nurture the land. When the missing twelfth dragon – the Mirror Dragon – returned from exile and chose Lord Eon as the first Mirror Dragoneye in five hundred years, it was seen as an omen of renewed strength and good fortune. I pray that this is so, and that the return of the Mirror Dragon to the Circle of Twelve spirit beasts is not an omen of annihilation. A resistance force has long been gathering against Lord Sethon’s brutal war-mongering, but now they will have to stand against the entire army, and such a struggle will tear our land apart.”

In addition to the political setting described above there is the problem of the ten bereft dragons whose dragoneyes have been murdered. The only two remaining are Lord Ido’s blue Rat Dragon in the north-northwest and Eon’s red dragon in the east: “The Mirror Dragon. The queen. The other ten dragons had still not returned from wherever spirit beasts fled to grieve.”

“Tentatively, I formed our shared name in my mind – Eona – and called her power. Her answer was immediate: a rush of golden energy that cascaded through my body. I rode the rising joy, reveling in the union. …Deep within me, a sweet greeting unfurled – the wordless touch of her dragon spirit against mine – leaving the arm spice of cinnamon on my tongue.”

Then an attack by the returning dragons crashed into them: “sorrow tore at my hold on earth and heaven, I was spinning, the bonds of mind and body stretched and splitting. I had to get out or I would be destroyed.” Then she realized they would not attack their queen but that meant there was a new problem. “Perhaps this was the start of the String of Pearls, the weapon that brought together the power of all twelve dragons – a weapon born from the death of every Dragoneye except one.”

And so Eona begins to reflect upon what she needs to do. She has to learn to direct the Mirror Dragon’s power and also the force of ten spirit-beasts “reeling from the brutal slaughter of their Dragoneyes”. She has to study the red folio that has been passed to her through her ancestor Kinra which is written in Woman Script and which holds the secret of her hereditary power passed through the female bloodline, the only hereditary Dragoneye power in the circle of twelve. Eona’s union with the Mirror Dragon had heeled her lame hip and she could now run and walk without pain or limp but she was facing incredible challenges.  Her friend and supporter Ryko was dying of terrible injuries. Rain, storms, floods and earthquakes were threatening the land. And their General, Tozay, was warning that they must move on before Lord Sethon’s armies were upon them.

Alison GoodmanAll of the above information is conveyed in the first eleven pages in the second installment of this exciting story. Oh, and there is romance too but you will have to read about that as it is unfair and unkind to reveal all. And what of the future of Eona and the Mirror Dragon? What happens to Lord Ido? Dillon? Ryko? Dela? Vida…oh, sorry, you haven’t met her yet.

Do visit Alison Goodman’s website http://www.alisongoodman.com.au/ to learn more about her and her writing.