Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Perks of being a Children's Librarian...

One of my most favourite, favourite things about being a librarian is that I am surrounded by books all day. Good books. Especially Teen Lit, which I really, really love. So I've been reading up a storm.

The Raintree Rebellion - Janet McNaughton

This is the sequel to The Secret Under My Skin which those of you who were in Anna's Children's Lit class will be familiar with as the book everybody (except me) hated. I mentioned The Raintree Rebellion a few months ago and said, rather defiantly, that I was going to read it, and I was going to like it, so there. Well, I'm not done the book yet, so I hate to pass premature judgement, but I gotta say, I don't think it's a good book. The premise is good; a dystopic, technophobic future set in Canada. But McNaughton just doesn't pull it off. Let's compare it to reading something like Philip Pullman's Golden Compass Trilogy. Reading The Golden Compass is like eating expensive chocolate truffles. Like the small, solid, round truffle, the plot is tight, compact; everything has a purpose and works toward enhancing the story. Yet every single tiny molecule of the truffle is bursting with sweet, chocolatey flavour, and you want to savour every single morsel. In contrast, The Raintree Rebellion is kind of like eating overdone steak. The cook has done a very good job coating the outside with a tasty barbecue sauce, so it's not completely unpalatable, but man oh man do you ever have to chew a lot to get it down.

Despite the fact that I did enjoy reading The Secret Under My Skin and subsequently defended it in class, I never denied that there were flaws; these same flaws continue to exist in Rebellion - only this time around I can't be as forgiving.

First of all, the world in the 24th century, as described by McNaughton, is kind of mixed up. They are technophobic, and yet they have inexplicably integrated various frivolous technologies into their lives such as walls that can change colour, and a ceiling that mimics the sky outside (total Harry Potter rip-off BTW). They all keep saying that it's such a mystery what happened during the technocaust, but Blay is only 18. She was two when it happened. That's only 16 years. We're not talking 50 or 100 years. There should be many, many people around who remember what happened. You also find out in the sequel that the Technocaust only happened in North America. So they ask places like Australia and South Africa to send them news reports to help them piece together what happened. Huh? The whole reason the Technocaust happened is because the world was an ecological disaster and people blamed technology for making it that way. The Ozone layer affects the entire earth people, so how come good old Australia managed to hang onto democracy and didn't descend into chaos? The first book was like this too; it was like she would be writing along and then all of a sudden remember, oh yeah, this is the future, let's throw in a bit of inexplicable, useless technology. Oh yeah, this is supposed to be a dystopic future, let's throw in some sort of description of the degredation of society. It's patchy at best, and I don't think the book hangs together very well. We're left with too many Whys?

She also has a tendency to overexplain some things. And I think she is perhaps trying to make up for the fact that parts of it are indeed hard to understand, but she explains the wrong things to you. Finally, I have a little bit of a problem with characterization in this one. And this is maybe why I forgave the first one its flaws, but couldn't forgive this one: I liked Blay as a character, but in this book she's angry all of a sudden, and I was like, "Huh?" Blay was just not the type of person to get or stay angry at someone.

Anyway, all in all, I think we can say skip this one. It's not worth it.

I have however, done some really good reading too.

Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine.

I'd never seen the movie or read the book, so when I came across it on the shelf, I just had to have a go. And coincidently, the day after I finished reading it, the movie was on TBS, so I got to do both. And the book isn't as goofy as the movie. The movie makes fun of itself quite a bit, there is a lot of parody, etc. The book takes itself more seriously, but it is equally good, if not better, in its own way. It is a re-telling of the Cinderella story, complete with evil stepmother and stepsisters, a handsome prince, glass slippers, and a masked ball, and a couple of fairy godmothers, but the funny thing is that I didn't realize this until near the end when it became painfully obvious, so it really is quite a different story than the original Cinderella. I really recommend this, even if you have already seen the movie.

Dairy Queen - Catherine Gilbert Murdock

This was so good. It is set on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and it is about a girl who, over the course of the summer, ends up training the rival school's snobby football quarterback. She ends up liking the football quarterback guy, and has so much fun training, that she decides she wants to go out for her own school's (all-male) football team. Will the quarterback like her back? Will her school let her play? And if they do, how can she play against the guy that she likes? I'm not going to answer these questions because you should read the book. I just thought that the whole setting - small, rural community; rival towns; schools that are absolutely obsessed with football - oh yeah. I lived it. And every once in awhile, it's good to go back.

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