Monthly Archives: December 2014

Tuck Everlasting… What if you could live forever?

life's got to be lived

… What if you could live forever?

Natalie Babbitt raises some very interesting questions within this relatively simple story of Tuck Everlasting. Winnie Foster is a rich little girl who feels oppressively confined within the gates of her own home. Her mother and grandmother are constantly watching her… asking where she is… wondering what she is doing… it’s positively stifling! She dreams of running away… and even tells a little toad all about her wondrous plans of escape. But Winnie is a good little girl — she wouldn’t actually run away. Where would she run away to? Who will she run away with? So she just wanders into the woods near her home. Once there, she sees a boy sitting by a tree, and watches him sip some water from a spring. Soon, his mom and older brother join him — and they must explain to Winnie why she must never, ever drink from that spring or tell anyone about it!

The spring is magical. It allows those who drink from it the ability to live forever… unchanged. The Tucks discover this the hard way, over 8 decades ago. And while some might consider living forever a blessing — or a profitable business — most of the Tucks feel that this has caused them to lose far too much. Nonetheless, unsure about whether Winnie really believes them or not, the Tucks take her to their cottage to speak with the father… surely he can make sure she understands. Technically, this is kidnapping… but Winnie goes willingly. Finally, an adventure of her own! Unfortunately, an awful and greedy little man who has been looking for the Tucks and is curious about their secret, sees them taking Winnie… and hears their story. He runs right back to Winnie’s family hoping to coerce them into selling him the woods… and thereby, the magical spring.

There are opposing views about whether the spring is a blessing or a curse. The greedy little man sees it as a way to profit — he wants to be able to see the spring water to a select few people: only those he deems deserving of everlasting life. But should such a questionable character even be allowed to make that kind of judgment calls? Mae Tuck doesn’t seem to mind it much, so long as she can see her boys every so often. Miles, her older son, does mind a bit: he lost his wife and daughters once she noticed there was something odd about his inability to age. Jesse loves it — he can see that there is so much to do when you can live forever… and yet, he wants Winnie to drink from the spring, so she can join him on his adventures later on — clearly, even he is a bit lonely. Meanwhile, Angus — the father — sees the loss this has brought along with it; the life cycle has been disrupted, and he feels the Tucks are stuck… unable to pass on, but still unable to join life fully. They cannot be like regular families — makes people suspicious after a couple of years. They cannot ever die, but they must watch those around them age and die instead.

In the end, is the moral of the story that living forever is a curse? Seems to me the idea is that, as Mae cleverly states, “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short.”

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Filed under Book Review, fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction

Bridge to Terabithia: a Bridge of Tears and Courage

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Bridge to Terabithia is the story of Jess and Leslie — the very bestest of friends. Jess is the only boy in his large family — way too many girls, he has tons of work to do around the farm, his dad works away from home for most of the week to make ends meet, his mom is busy keeping track of his millions sisters… life is tough for hard-working little Jess, who’s about to enter the 5th grade and wants to be the fastest kid around! But then he meets Leslie; she has just moved into town, her parents are writers… she calls them Bill and Judy — and even though she’s a girl, SHE’s the actual fastest kid in 5th grade. They don’t exactly hit it off right away… but then, they click… and they’re inseparable!

Leslie has a beautiful imagination fueled by the many stories she’s read, and her natural ability to create magical worlds with her words. Jess loves being around her, exploring the magic of friendship, and being away from his many daily chores and sisters. Out in the woods, and across a dry creek, they create a world of their own:

“‘We need a place,’ she said, ‘just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.’ Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. ‘It might be a whole secret country,’ she continued, ‘and you and I would be the rulers of it.'”

… and so, Terabithia is born!

Life is great for Jess and Leslie for a good while… they tackle bullies at school, find the best of gifts to exchange, even visit Church on Easter. But as the rain beats down on their town, and the creek leading to Terabithia overflows, Jess’ fears begin to get the best of him. He’s afraid of the water —  the fear of drowning begins to be too much for him to venture any more visits to his kingdom until the waters recede. But how can he tell that to Leslie? How can he admit he’s scared? How do you simply lay your biggest secret out in the open… even to your best friend?

Unfortunately, a tragic event prevents Jess from ever telling Leslie his secret. Jess’ reaction (right after denial) is anger: “She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there — like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”

Leslie changes Jess for the better. She expands his imagination, encourages his dreams and ideas to flourish, and even makes him king of their small little place in the woods. But then she’s gone… yet Jess is still changed. He is braver, he is kinder, and he is forever indebted to Leslie’s friendship for the gift of every day magic.

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Filed under Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction, Realistic Fiction

I’ve been a little silent…

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Contrary to what might rightfully now be popular belief, I read grown up books, too — well, sort of. I’ve been a little silent since I had a bit of a deadline for some reviews for the San Francisco Book Review. I’ve been quite busy immersing myself in Resisting the Enemy by Lorraine Campbell, The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich, The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond, and Grail Knight by Angus Donald.

From Robin Hood and his quest for the Holy Grail, to World War II and clandestine missions, to alternate historical worlds in which Hitler may have conquered the Americas, and a little time travel with steam-punk flare to ensure it all makes plenty of sense, these books have been a really fun read. The reviews will be available in January’s edition of the San Francisco Book Review.

I now hope to get to a few other stories I’ve been meaning to delve into… and a little Rick Riordan, too, of course!

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A Trilogy Comes to an End with The Serpent’s Shadow

serpent

The Serpent’s Shadow brings the Kane Chronicles to an end as the third (and “probably”) final recording of Sadie and Carter. Just like the previous two novels, this one has a great hook:

“Sadie Kane here.
If you’re listening to this, congratulations! You survived Doomsday.
I’d like to apologize straightaway for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you. The earthquakes, rebellions, riots, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and of course the giant snake who swallowed the sun — I’m afraid most of that was our fault.”

So there you have it: Apophis swallowed the sun! That’s one burning question down, and a whole lot of others to go — like, how did they survive Doomsday if the snake got away with his plan? Well, I guess that’s when you need to read and find out.

However, I did have some other very serious questions at the end of The Throne of Fire:

Are they making the right decision? Despite Ra being a crazy old guy who played with cookies, he was rather needed. 

Is this a trap? Everything’s a trap! You need to go with it anyway. 

Why would anyone try to ride a double-headed snake? Clearly this earned Carter some serious street cred. It was totally necessary.

What’s with the zebras and the weasels? Well, Zebras are clearly awesome and Ra’s very favorite… and Weasels are sick… though not beyond salvation. 

Who’d make a better boyfriend, Walt or Anubis? The answer is… YES.

So many things go wrong as Doomsday approaches — go figure. Sadie and Carter, along with Walter and Zia, the Brooklyn House, and any stragglers… er, supporters, of the First Nome, must fight the greatest threat to human kind. What could possibly go wrong? … Well, they survive to tell the tale, so clearly a few things go right.

The Serpent’s Shadow is driven not only by the impending deadline of the end of the world — as Sadie and Carter search for a way to defeat Apophis and vanquish him– but also by the characters’ interactions, hilarious events (just imagine a kindergartener running around with crayons, screaming “Die! Die! Die!”), and senile senior gods who just want to partake in the fun of fighting the forces of chaos. The third and final installment of this trilogy may not tie everything into a neat little bow (because we know Rick Riordan loves his loose ends… as do we, since it leaves the possibility of continuing the tale), but it is a satisfying end.

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Filed under Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction, Mythology