Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Book of Iona by Bruno Coulais [The Secret of Kells soundtrack].
My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)
I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 bestselling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).
Published: September 27, 2011
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Current Amazon Rank: #25,911
Author's Website: Anne Ursu
Want it? Find it here.
The First Line:
It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms around it into a different kind of place. You know what it's like--when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smokey poof when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.
And magic did come out.
As you can see, I added more than the first line. Much more, in fact. I honestly couldn't stop, because I wanted you to see what kind of world Anne Ursu builds with this story and how it draws you in. Tell me you don't want to read the next page after reading that.
This is a story about a girl named Hazel, and her friendship with a boy named Jack. They do everything together. Jack doesn't mind that she is a girl. They talk and draw and play together, helping each other through their problems. And they each have them. Hazel's dad and mom are divorced and Jack's mom draws herself away from everyone at unexpected times. Hazel's mom does her best to get by for them, but Hazel has had to move from her private school to this new one where the teachers do not seem to understand her and the other kids torment her. But she doesn't mind, not too much at least. Because she has Jack. That is, until the day something happened when the snow fell and Jack stopped talking to her.
I do not want to give away too much, but I will say that this is a retelling of The Snow Queen. Or perhaps a better way to describe it is as an extension of that lesser-known fairy tale. I loved this book. From the language that positively begs to be read aloud (and is one of the best ways to determine the best MG books, in my opinion) to the characters and setting, it is immersive. You want to be lost in it. References to A Wrinkle in Time, The Golden Compass and Jack and Hazel's own "shrieking shack" are so original and done so seamlessly that feels instantly both timeless and at the same time utterly new for this generation. When you get to the fairy tale, let's say you had better be up on your fairy tale primer. There were references to Anderson's fairy tales that even I failed to place, and I loved that because it made the characters even more real. So when I got to the matchstick girl, I was rooting for her in more ways than one.
But don't get me wrong. This feels like a complete and original story. It is not an episodic checklist from one fairy tale to the next. Hazel goes into the woods to find her friend and things start to blur. And can I say Hazel is one resourceful little girl? She absolutely rocks. I would love to have her as a role model for my kids. This story is both light and deep. You will not always be happy, but you will not always be sad, either. It is a story to sink into. I did not find my way out easily.
The Final Word:
Such a wonderful gem of a story. Hazel is an amazing character for both boys and girls, but also surprisingly for adults. You will take away a whole additional layer the kids might not see in this book of friendship. A beautiful story, cool and fun. What more could you want?
(by the way, this cover? Hardcore LOVE)