Today for something a little different. A short, illustrated, dark-humored novel about surviving a civil war, illustrated by the author, Ron Tanner.
Let’s briefly peer behind the curtain. I assign books to each reviewer, usually mailing two at a time. I try to mail one “sure thing” and one…experiment. Something that has potential but could go either way, in quality or teen appeal. A few weeks ago, I was perusing my shelves and this book stuck out. After a little research and a browse through the pages, I decided to send it along with another book that I considered a sure thing. Quite the opposite in both cases, it turned out. I love a pleasant surprise!
I’m not sure how many of you have discovered Largehearted Boy’s Book Notes blog entries, in which writers are asked to create a music playlist for their work. Ron Tanner’s playlist is a good place to start. A lot of fun, and revealing of the novel itself.
And finally, Ron Tanner writes a blog of his own. He is in the middle of a series of posts titled How to Sell a Book in America. This link will take you to the first, with links to others at the bottom of the page. It is interesting to read his perspective as a debut author working to bring attention to an unusual, but well-reviewed novel.
Adult/High School–Tanner’s debut novel opens with such a bizarre mixture of absurdity, revulsion, and humor–a mother, Penelope, feeds her 13 starving children sawdust and socks–that readers might be forgiven for believing that they have stumbled into a Roald Dahl novel (there are even sketchy line drawings reminiscent of Quentin Blake’s work). Penelope, though, is no Dahl-ian villain–she is struggling for her family’s survival through a rebellion in which her husband and eldest son are fighting on opposite sides. The author delicately balances the deadly serious nature of these events with his satirical vision of war. On the one hand, though almost half the novel comprises the stories of Penelope’s husband and son, readers are heartbreakingly aware that these stories are only Penelope’s dreams of events about which she may never learn the truth. On the other is Tanner’s biting version of dystopia–a society not much different from ours that has been slowly crushed by the excesses of a corporatized pleasure principle, recalling such works as Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (Orchard, 1994) and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens (Scholastic, 2011). This vision of society is embodied by the unnamed country’s tyrant, called only “The Man,” who idolizes trashy pop culture, his countless dogs, and Gregory Peck. Tanner’s prose is dense and sometimes challenging, but the power of his vision is undeniable, and as the comparisons to Dahl, Bray, and Farmer should make clear, this novel has plenty of potential for cynical teens everywhere.–Mark Flowers, John Kennedy Library, Solano County, CA