Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

From the get-go you know this is going to be a different story with the first line of chapter 1: The corn was talking to him again. A mix of fairy tale, Greek myth, mystery, science and realism, Laura Ruby creates a tale of her own that doesn't quite adhere to any one genre. I'm not sure how my realistic, non-fantasy reading buddies would like it (Angela and Karen). It worked for me and reminded me a bit of a young adult version of "Breadcrumbs," by Anne Ursu. Layers of meaning are honeycombed throughout the plot making for discussions on abuse, bullies, definition of beauty, treatment of women, disabilities, parental absence, peer pressure, and more. The imagery, word choice, and symbolism found in the bees, names (or lack of), agrarian setting, and myths of past literature enrich the plot and make for a page-turner targeted toward middle school, high school, or adult readers. This goes on my burn-the-dinner list.

Eighteen-year-old Finn O'Sullivan doesn't look anyone in the eye, but the small town of Bone Gap accepts his idiosyncrasies until the day Roza disappears. As the only eye-witness, Finn watched her leave and is not sure if she went of her own free will or was kidnapped. Finn along with his older brother, Sean,  try to cope with two people abandoning them in their lives. Their mother had left them for an orthodontist a few years earlier spoiling Sean's plans to go to medical school and leaving Finn in his care. Finn can't describe the man Roza left with in great detail and blames himself for letting her go or not rescuing her.

The various points of view include Roza's story that takes a magical turn when her abductor does the impossible of creating alternate worlds and answering her any wish, (except the only one that matters which is to set her free). The author shrouds Roza in mystery slowly unveiling her past, providing good pacing and tension. When a magical black horse shows up and Finn takes interest in Petey, an unattractive peer, the mystery or myth starts to unfold and take shape drawing all the different elements and genres into a satisfying ending.

*spoiler* I'll try not to reveal too much of the plot.

Comparisons with the Greek myth of Persephone and Roza are obvious. Persephone represents the harvest and fertility of vegetation. Much imagery is devoted to Roza who can grow anything in the boy's garden, goes to school for botany, and whose plants wilt and die after she leaves. In the myth Persephone's beauty draws unwanted attention from other gods and when Hades kidnaps her she becomes Queen of the Underworld. Roza's preternatural  beauty causes her to be abducted by a man in a black SUV who gives her anything she wants but won't let her leave his domain; there is even a reference to pomegranates. Roza has had to deal with unwanted attention from men in the past and she reflects on it while imprisoned.

When a magical black horse shows up at Finns house, he and Petey take some midnight rides that don't seem quite real as the horse leaps distances that are impossible. I knew I was missing the significance of this reference and it wasn't until I read a Maile Meloy's New York Times article  did she remind me that Persephone's mother, Demeter, went in the form of a black horse. She's referring to the myth where Poseidon raped Demeter when she was searching for Persephone; they were in the form of horses and she became pregnant from the episode. The river in the book is surreal too and reminded me of the River Styx.

The subplot of Finn falling in love with Petey and the idea of beauty evolves throughout the story. Roza and Petey are judged by their appearances but the two do not let the world define them as such. Roza is competent and practical. She can stitch up a gash, grow enough food for the three, and jump out of a moving car to save herself from unwanted attentions. Petey, who is considered ugly, determines that she is interesting, even beautiful, inside. The way Petey reflects about this through the science of bees is fascinating and not overly technical.

Finn and Sean, as characters, must deal with male expectations. Sean is expected to be a conventional hero and save Roza, but he is broken and hurt inside from being abandoned by his mother. Finn, being good-looking and "pretty", is attracted to what society would label an unattractive girl. Both boys have to come to terms with societal versus individual expectations and find the courage to be true to themselves. The author's deft character development is one of many elements well done in this tale. Don't miss it.

5 Smileys

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (BBC radio dramatization)

Three strikes in three decades is my score for trying to read, "The Lord of the Rings." The pacing at the start puts me to sleep. I struggled with "Slaughterhouse Five" as a college student, but later listened to the audio book  and was able to finish it. Ditto Shakespeare. This audio book on "The Fellowship of the Ring," was a winner and the dramatization included music and sound effects that slammed the door on my problems with pacing or focusing issues. I listened each night on the elliptical machine and found it hard to turn off. A study in high fantasy with a classic hero in Aragorn and a common hero in Frodo.

Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit, lives a comfortable life in the Shire and has inherited the Ring of Power from Bilbo Baggins, the hero from "The Hobbit." When the wizard, Gandalf, comes to his house and reveals that the evil wizard, Sauron, is after the ring to control all the earth, Frodo sets out to destroy the ring. He is an unlikely and simple hero aided by friends, including the most heroic of the men, Aragorn. The task of the ring falls on the weakest of them, a hobbit who would prefer not to sacrifice himself, but he rises to the occasion and is the only creature able to resist the ring because he is not drawn by desires to seek power and worldliness. His naivety and simpleness make him the best candidate for success at destroying the ring as Gandalf and Aragorn both know when Frodo offers the ring to them and they realize the the power would be too tempting for them. Frodo's lack of desire for power makes him the best candidate for the quest.

I read a terrific book, "A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18" by Joseph Loconte that shows how the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an allegory for World War I with the Hobbits similar to common soldiers and Aragorn and Gandalf similar to military and political leaders making decisions regarding the war. It is a fascinating look at history and analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis's novels. It was one the main reasons I decided to try and read the book again. The hobbits are like the common soldier and don't really know what danger they are approaching, but they have each others backs no matter what and are willing to die for one another. Gandalf and Aragorn are like the world leaders involved in the war.

I still think the start is slow before launching into the quest and picking up in excitement. But this time the audio book helped me be patient. I think Tolkien's in-depth background development of the Shire is to show the domestic contentedness of the hobbits and their lack of desire to be heroes. They are drawn into a battle that they have no desire to be a part of. Because they like simple pleasures and are not tempted by power as most of the other characters in the book, they show the common person as being the hero and this allows the reader to empathize with them.  Aragorn proves his king-like qualities not by physical strength but his handling of the hobbits when he first meets them by playing on their fears and then using wit to ingratiate himself before revealing his letter from Gandalf.

It's the hobbit show, not Aragorn's victories in battle, that save and endear the reader. Frodo incorporates the high qualities of Aragorn's world and the hobbits because he is the wisest and bravest in that he is humble and admits his fears but still strikes forth on the quest to destroy the ring. This is why he is chosen for the task. Only he can resist the corrupting power of the ring to at least get it to the edge of the fire until powers beyond his control destroy it.  Even Frodo cannot resist the temptation of the ring. Tolkien's world building, character development, linguistic genius is astonishing in its brilliance, as most of you know. If you are having problems getting through a book, try an audio book. It felt like a home run this time round.