Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fantasy Reviews: Sarah Renee and Catherine Condie

Fantasy thinking is an art.  It can happen anytime.  I used to fantasize about wonderful things happening, successes and of course romantic outcomes, only to be disappointed.  Last weekend, while enjoying yet another day of a summer so idyllic that it didn’t even include a storm with power outages, I was being attacked by the worst mosquitoes recorded.

I was wearing shorts and waiting for a garage sale to open when I noticed gnat-like insects near my feet.  I’d not needed mosquito repellent all these years in Duluth so I donned my shorts and waited 20 minutes for a book collector’s estate sale to open the next day.  People were talking about the “new crop” mosquitoes.   The surprising high value book I found was a children’s book, Boy of the Pyramids.  A pharaoh’s curse?

In the next 48 hours, my legs were covered with bites that made my legs look like a leper’s.  Mosquito repellent and calamine lotion were all sold out at the drugstore.  My mind raced.  What kind of mosquitoes were these?  What if they carried disease?  The whole world would change if these awful mosquitoes became the assailants of the human race.  Four days later, I began to think the world we know would end with a bite, not a bang.

Fantasy has rules, I read in grad school.  In children’s fantasy, the fantasy world is an author’s creation with rules of its own.  I suppose that’s because children are always entering a new world, one with rules that are strange to them.  My fantasy realm in The House in Windward Leaves centers on children becoming the identity of their Halloween costumes.  When the fantasy realm convinces, a reader wants to explore that new world as I did, reading Sarah Renee and Catherine Condie.

In Sarah Renee’s fantasy The Tiger Princess, the title tells the rules.  Losing her security, the protagonist becomes more tiger than princess.  Princess Sederia belongs to a world where she lives in many ways like a girl though she has paws and the intent curiosity that opens up the secrets of her parents’ death in a fire. At first, she lopes in and out of the palace, giving excuses to her aunt and uncle, the royals now, while she investigates.  It’s as if her tail begins to curl as she slips behind doors to find keys and her mother’s diary.

I relished the Princess Sederia becoming more tigerish as she roams the forest and eventually fights Dastarius, the lion whose counsel has betrayed her. 

This is more than an accomplishment that Sarah Renee has written in her teenage years. She has entertained and created entrancing characters for young readers. Sarah Renee is an author to watch!

This fantasy caught my reader’s eye at with its potters wheel and the physics of time-travel contrasting with the wheelchair that slows down its protagonist.  The wheel became the fantasy rule here, a symbol for the similar plights of children who are separated by more than five decades.

Whirl of the Wheel has a mystical shape, taking its reader in cycles of time-travel that hold together like a vase on a potter's wheel. I was enamored with the characters, Connie's leaving her wheelchair during 1940s air raids and her brother's leaping the gap of decades.  It is cleverly wrought while portraying the displacement of children during World War II.

Catherine Condie's colorful prose almost camouflages the fantasy and the Wendlewitch while drawing the reader into the character challenges. When Malcolm, the son of a developer who is displacing Connie's family, shows up in the time travel, the plot takes an irresistible swing. It's a very satisfying read as the treatment of the characters is rounded, spirited, and retains its mystical quality throughout. The construction feels seamless at times while being hospitable to young readers.

Although The Switch isn’t fantasy, I’ve added my review here because I read it while writing this post.  It’s a fantastic book, not fantasy as I said, but the kind of book that is one person’s fantasy, another’s person’s reality novel.  This brings up the point that fantasy is going on with real life.  A reader would probably assume that Lily, the protagonist in The Switch, may have fantasized about living in France as an exchange student.  But as often happens in real life, whatever she expected or fantasized was entirely different from what happened.  Fantasy about the real world is often interrupted by bothersome facts.  Lily wouldn’t have dreamed that her experience in France would be so frightening.

From the first, The Switch has exciting momentum.  The infrequent switches to the French language are explained well in dialogue while the setting and characters emit the flavor of France.

That's in fast flow because Lily is caught up in a drug bust that involves the brother of her exchange friend.  Lily's tourist camera catches some of the events, and while she suspects the boy's step-father, a policeman. But an ex-policeman is implicated and he follows Lily to the Eiffel Tower after a second confrontation.

Later, Lily's mother says that she thought a policeman's family might be a safe one for her exchange. Though adults in this book calm Lily, her witnessing of the boys' injuries keep this book at breakneck pace.  As Lily grasps each development, the Parisian scenes and her emotions are told in poignant detail.

The Switch is a stunning book. I'd expect that teens would be even more compelled to read it!

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